Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes.” Numbers 33.51-54.
The book of Numbers is the book of failure — the failure of those who were delivered from captivity in Egypt to go in and possess the land that God had given them. They had travelled through the wilderness to Kadesh Barnea but there they stopped, and in Numbers 13 and 14 we read of their failure to go in and take the land because of their disobedience to God’s command and their unbelief in God’s power. Then began the long years of wandering in the wilderness at the end of which that generation would all die. But not their children. The promise of the land belonged to them too and where their parents had failed, they would succeed. So in this morning’s verses we have God’s instruction to Moses as to what he is to command those second generation wilderness-wanderers. First, they are to clear the land of all that is not of the God who has given them the land. Second, they are to allocate the land as God determines that allocation by lot.
What is that to me? Well, “possession of the land” has always held significance for Christians. It has often been seen as a picture of “going to heaven” with “crossing the Jordan” being a picture of death. In the hymn Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah, we have the verse:
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside:
death of death, and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side.
But others (and I’m one of them) see the possession of the land as a picture of the present inheritance I have in Christ. Through the cross, I was rescued from the kingdom of darkness and received my inheritance in the kingdom of light (Colossians 1.12). But I need to go in and possess it. It is all too possible for me to be redeemed, to have my sins forgiven, to “come out of Egypt” but, like those first generation of wilderness-wanderers, to fail to enter into all the fulness of what God has given me in Christ. Christians can live joyless lives of failure and disappointment and defeat. But that is not what God wants for me. He wants me to enjoy living victoriously by his power in the kingdom that is now mine through Jesus.
The picture I get this morning is of myself, standing on a hilltop, holding the title deeds to a land that I can see stretching out before me in all directions but that I have only just begun to explore. I’ve followed that river a little way, walked through that wood, bathed in that lake … but there is so much more! And there is the reminder this morning that it is all enemy-occupied territory. To possess the land I must drive out all I find there that is not of God — and I have the power of God to enable me to do that. It is what Paul is talking about when he says to the Colossians: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3.5).
Thank you, Father, for all that I have in Christ. Enable me this day to take possession of more of my glorious inheritance in the power of your Spirit. Amen.