The generation of Israelites, who Moses had led out of slavery in Egypt, would never enter the land that had been promised to their ancestor Abraham (Genesis 15:18) because of their continual grumbling against the Lord and their disobedience.
But the root of this grumbling and disobedience was unbelief.
This was despite the amazing signs God had performed in front of their very eyes:
22not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times– 23not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors.
Only their children aged under 20 years old and Caleb and Joshua who were men of faith, would enter the land but they would have to wait 40 years till the last of that unbelieving generation had died (Numbers 14:26-35). Many years later King David recalled these events and inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote Psalm 95 to warn future generations not to behave in the same way as those Israelites:
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
8“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
9where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
10For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’
11So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
In Psalm 95:11 David refers to the Promised Land as God’s “rest”. The writer of Hebrews quotes this same psalm and explains that the “promise of entering his rest still stands” (Hebrews 4:1). The writer goes on to say that it was because of their unbelief that this generation of Israelites did not enter the land but that “we who have believed enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3). And Hebrews 4 tells us what this “rest” is –
Just as God has been at rest from His work since day 7 of creation (Genesis 2:2, Hebrews 4:3), so whoever enters God’s rest also rests from “their works”. The Promised Land is a picture of God’s rest and God’s rest is another way of describing the salvation He offers us freely as a gift of His grace, through faith and not by our works or efforts to earn it. It is impossible to earn salvation by our works- it is far too priceless, far beyond our capacity to earn – so we can only receive it as a gift by faith, which is why we are at rest from our works when we enter His rest because we enter by faith and not by works:
In the original Greek the word “saved” in Ephesians 2:8 is sesōsmenoi which comes from the root word sózó (σῴζω) meaning to save, heal, preserve, rescue. So salvation for us encompasses all of these things – Jesus came to save us, heal us, preserve and rescue us. And this is the inheritance we receive when we enter God’s rest, our Promised Land!
Therefore we have established that we enter into God’s rest by believing in the work of His Son Jesus and not by trying to earn it through our own efforts. Jesus also confirmed this when the people of Capernaum asked Him what works God required of them, Jesus answered:
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29
The Promised Land (or “rest”) was often referred to as the Israelites’ “inheritance” (Numbers 26:53) and it is symbolic of the inheritance we receive by faith in Jesus. So when we look at what happened to the children of Israel while they were living in their inheritance and the problems they faced in their Promised Land we can learn from them. The apostle Paul says these things were written down as examples to us (1 Corinthians 10:11) so that we can learn from their mistakes.
Before Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan into the Promised Land, God had told Moses that they should make sure to dispossess all the inhabitants of the land and destroy all their idols and places of idol worship:
When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 52drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. 53Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.
For us as New Covenant believers, the inhabitants of the land could be symbolic of the false beliefs we hold which lead to unhelpful behavioursand the sicknesses which oppress us and the idols and high places, refer to the things we put our trust in, in place of Jesus.
Though under Joshua’s leadership the next generation of Israelites had conquered many of the peoples of the land and taken much of the territory the Lord had given them, as the years went by and Joshua grew old there was still more land to be taken (Joshua 13:1) and enemies to be driven out. When Joshua allotted territory to the tribe of Joseph they complained that it was not enough for them as they were very numerous. So Joshua told them to take possession of the forested hill country where the Perizzites and Rephaites were living. But the tribe of Joseph was reluctant because these Canaanites living there had chariots fitted with iron. However Joshua encouraged them:
17But Joshua said to the tribes of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment 18but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have chariots fitted with iron and though they are strong, you can drive them out.”
So even though the Canaanites were powerful and better equipped, Joshua knew that if the tribe of Joseph trusted in the Lord they would be able to drive them out as they had before at the Waters of Merom (Joshua 11:6). Now the Lord had previously warned the Israelites that if they did not drive out all the Canaanites, they would only cause them trouble later on:
“‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.
Nevertheless Judges 1 tells us after the death of Joshua, not only the tribes of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) but also several of the other tribes did not manage to completely drive out the Canaanites who continued to live among them. And exactly what God had warned happened- throughout the approximately 400 year span when the Judges were leading Israel there were several periods when the Canaanites would become “barbs in their eyes” and “thorns in their sides” and intensely oppress the Israelites until God raised up various judges to deliver them.
And so it was that more than 166 years after Joshua’s death, the Canaanites with their 900 iron chariots were cruelly oppressing the Israelites. Finally they cried out to God for help. He raised up Deborah as a judge and under her leadership, the Canaanites were defeated. Hooray!! But the Israelites could have saved themselves years of suffering if they’d been obedient to the Lord and driven them out in His power when Joshua had told them to! In the beginning they had managed to coexist with these enemies and the Israelites had even ruled over them for a while when they became strong enough (Judges 1:19-36) but eventually they were bitterly oppressed by them (Judges 3onwards).
So what can we learn from the experience of the Israelites? Perhaps there are some “Canaanites” living with you in your “Promised Land” today? And perhaps your Canaanites have become “barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides”. Perhaps they have iron chariots and seem too powerful to defeat? You may even be able to coexist and overpower them for a while in your own strength just as the Israelites did. But eventually when your own strength is not enough they will make life increasingly hard. If you are struggling to cope with Canaanites living in your land today, whether they are unhelpful habits or afflictions or whether they are circumstances such as financial difficulties or family problems, Jesus does not want you to try and defeat them in your own power. In fact you will certainly not be able to. The good news is that Jesus took our “barbs” and “thorns” and wore them as His crown 2000 years ago.
“The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head.” John 19:2
He suffered in our place and won the victory over all of our problems to give us peace:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33
So how do we drive out the Canaanites from our Promised Land and tear down their idols and high places?
Well when the Israelites failed, it was always because of their unbelief and lack of trust in the Lord. In their eyes their enemies were more powerful than the Lord their God!
Beloved, today Jesus says to you what He told Jairus 2000 years ago:
“Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Mark 5:36
And He calls you once again to come and find rest in Him:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
The first and most important step in living a life of victory is to believe and trust in Jesus!
The apostle Peter gives us some helpful advice:
1 Peter 5:7-11
7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Just as the Israelites’ unbelief was the root of their failure so our enemy the devil’s aim is to fill us with fear and hopelessness and convince us that Jesus cannot or will not help us. But Jesus is faithful and trustworthy and will restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast!
So you can be “…confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6
Feed on Him in your heart today, don’t be afraid, only believe and He will give you rest from your enemies!
Crown of thorns picture from https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/8617719091