Bridgewater, Massachusetts, November 17, 2002

Joshua 18:1-10
 The division of the land

The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the Tent of Meeting there. The country was brought under their control, but there were still seven Israelite tribes who had not yet received their inheritance.

So Joshua said to the Israelites: "How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you? Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it, according to the inheritance of each. Then they will return to me. You are to divide the land into seven parts. Judah is to remain in its territory on the south and the house of Joseph in its territory on the north. After you have written descriptions of the seven parts of the land, bring them here to me and I will cast lots for you in the presence of the Lord our God. The Levites, however, do not get a portion among you, because the priestly service of the Lord is their inheritance. And Gad, Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh have already received their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan. Moses the servant of the Lord gave it to them."

As the men started on their way to map out the land, Joshua instructed them, "Go and make a survey of the land and write a description of it. Then return to me, and I will cast lots for you here at Shiloh in the presence of the Lord." So the men left and went through the land. They wrote its description on a scroll, town by town, in seven parts, and returned to Joshua in the camp at Shiloh. Joshua then cast lots for them in Shiloh in the presence of the Lord, and there he distributed the land to the Israelites according to their tribal divisions.

Luke 14:28-30 Counting the Cost

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will you not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish."

True Christian Religion #620 A spiritual map

Spiritual rebirth must take place through faith and kindness. And without truths that teach and guide us, being reborn would be like sailing on a vast ocean without a rudder, or without a ship's compass and charts. It would also be like riding a horse in a dark forest at night.

The inner, mental vision of people who possess, not truths, but falsities (which they believe to be true) is like the sight of people whose optic nerves are blocked: the eye appears to be intact and seeing, while in fact it sees nothing. . . .

In such people, the rational, intellectual capability is blocked upwards, and open only downwards. As a result, the light of reason becomes like the light of their eyes, so that all their opinions are mere imagination, strung together out of pure fallacies. Such people are like astrologers standing in public squares with long telescopes and issuing empty prophecies.

This is what would happen to all people who study theology if the Lord did not open to them genuine truths from the Bible.

Joshua said to the Israelites . . . "Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it, according to the inheritance of each. (Joshua 18:3, 4)

As we arrive at the events in our story from the book of Joshua, the Israelites, under Joshua's leadership, have completed the initial conquest of the Holy Land. Coming north from the Sinai Peninsula after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, they first conquered the land on the other side--the eastern side--of the Jordan, where the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh requested and received their inheritance.

Then they crossed the Jordan and followed a classic "divide and conquer" strategy. First they cut a slice through the center of the land, overcoming the resistance there. This is where the two tribes of Joseph (Ephraim and the other half tribe of Manasseh) and the tribe Benjamin would receive their inheritance. So the youngest sons of Jacob--the sons of his favored wife Rachel--inhabited the center of the land, where Jerusalem also was.

The Israelites then swept through the southern part of the land, where Simeon and Judah would receive their inheritance, just across the Dead Sea from the tribe Reuben. This meant that three of the four eldest sons of Jacob, who were sons of Rachel's sister Leah, would inhabit the southern part of the land. From this southern part of the land, all the later Jewish people would descend, after the northern tribes were taken captive by Assyria and never heard from again.

Finally the Israelites, still under Joshua's command, conquered the northern part of the land, where the remaining tribes received their inheritances. These included Naphtali, Asher, and later Dan, three of the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, the women-servants of Rachel and Leah, and also Issachar and Zebulun, the two sons born later to Leah.

And what about Levi, the third of Leah's first four sons? The Levites had been set apart as a tribe devoted to the service of the Lord, including the priesthood and the various functions of worship and teaching the law of Moses. They did not receive a unified tribal inheritance. Instead, they were given forty-eight towns scattered throughout the allotments of all the tribes. In this way, the presence of the Lord would be felt throughout the land through the Levites, his special representatives.

To sum up, the eldest sons of Jacob that received tribal inheritances all lived in the southern part of the land, the middle sons generally inhabited the northern part, and the youngest were mostly situated in the center, with representatives of each of these three echelons inhabiting sections of the land on the other side of Jordan. And the Levites were settled in towns throughout the land. There were a few loose ends--such as the tribe of Dan running out of room in its inheritance by the Mediterranean Sea, and conquering and moving into new territory in the far north of the land. But in general, it was a well-ordered plan for allotting the land to the various tribes of Israelite nation.

Of course, this orderly plan didn't come about by chance. Some of the tribes requested and received particular stretches of territory because they suited their occupations as herdsmen. Others were rewarded with certain territories because of their strength of leadership. And the rest, in our reading for today, were given their territories by the drawing of lots. Drawing lots is a method that today we might call leaving it to chance; but to the Israelites, it meant leaving the decision up to the Lord. This drawing of lots took place after Joshua had sent out surveyors to map out the land and divide it up into suitable parcels.

Mapping out the land. It has a certain ring to it, don't you think? But more than that, it is a necessary step to take before we embark on any undertaking. Jesus used a different metaphor to express the same idea. It would be foolish, he pointed out, to begin on a building project without first sitting down and estimating the cost to see if we have enough money to complete it. And in order to estimate the cost, we need to have a blueprint, a plan, a map of the building we intend to construct.

To give another example, let's say we decide at some point in our lives that we want to change careers. Before we do so, we will need to take stock and make a plan. Will we have to return to school for additional training? If so, for how long, and how much will it cost? Can we live for that long on reduced work hours and income, and with greater expenses? What will we have to rearrange in our lives in order to make it possible?

Yes, before we embark on any new plan, we need to sit down, count the cost, and map out our future.

Of course, we also need to put our trust in the Lord, and have faith that if it is the Lord's will, a way will be found. Our lives are an interplay between the Lord's work and our work--just as the Israelites sent out a crew to map out the land, but then let the Lord decide which tribe would settle where. And even after they settled in their tribal inheritances, given to them by the Lord, they still had to finish the work of subduing the remaining inhabitants of the land, who had had not been entirely wiped out in the initial conquest. Yet as in that initial conquest, they also had to trust in the Lord's strength, not their own, for the victory.

Perhaps some of us are at a point where it is time to survey the new land in which we find ourselves, and map out a future for ourselves.

This tends to come at a time when we have already accomplished much of what we had previously set out to do--just as the Israelites had already accomplished the initial conquest of the land. At these times, find ourselves on that momentary plateau of peace. This peace is represented by the setting up of the tabernacle at Shiloh, in the center of the land. The name Shiloh means "peace."

For us, it is the peace that comes after we have struggled to reach particular goals we have set for ourselves. Though we may not achieve them completely--just as the Israelites had not yet fully conquered the Holy Land--we do come to a time when all our work and struggle have borne fruit. We come to a time when we have largely attained the goals we set for ourselves in earlier years. And we can now take a certain satisfaction in our achievements, and feel a certain peace at the center of our being, knowing what we have accomplished with the Lord's help.

Yet this is also the time when we naturally begin to think, "What next?" Perhaps we have finished our schooling, and it is time to move on into our chosen career. Perhaps our previous employment has come to an end, and we need to move on to a new job. Perhaps our last child has left the nest, and we need to refocus our lives on new goals. Perhaps we realize that our current religious practices have brought us as far as they are going to, and it is time to take new steps, and tread new ground, in our spiritual life. Perhaps it is time to begin a new and deeper relationship with the Lord.

At any such turning point, any plateau of peace just before we move into the next phase, it is wise to send out an mental survey team. It is wise to map out the land around us, and having clearly discerned our options and our possibilities, put our lives into the hands of the Lord to guide us on our next steps. If we rush pell-mell into the first thing that presents itself, the results are not likely to be good. Instead, we need to give ourselves time and space to reflect, to consider our future carefully, and to spend time with the Lord in prayer, asking for the understanding and wisdom we need to map out our future.

For each one of us, the map will be different. But the allotments of the different tribes suggests a pattern that we might consider no matter what our next steps may be.

Each part of the land has a particular correspondence, a particular symbolism. Collectively, they represent every aspect of our lives. And though we don't have time to consider each of the twelve tribes individually, we can look at their overall groupings, and gain an understanding of what elements must be present in our plan.

First (in time, if not in importance) our plan must be practical and useful. This is represented by the two and a half tribes that settled on the other side of Jordan. This was the remotest part of the land; as such, it represents the life of our outward behavior. A good plan cannot be merely theoretical. It cannot even be purely spiritual. It must involve an active engagement in good and useful service to our fellow human beings.

Yet as millions know who are caught in the rat race of working merely to provide for our material necessities, work alone is not satisfying. To add soul and life to our work, we need a connection to the deeper aspects of life. This is represented by the center of the Holy Land, where Benjamin and the bulk of the two tribes of Joseph settled. In the center of the land of our being is the spiritual side of our life, where Jerusalem and the Temple--our conscious worship and prayer life--are located. And though we may have to spend most of our time attending to the things of this world, if our plan is to be a good and true one--one that will have real meaning and depth--we must also allot a regular "inheritance" of our time to developing our spiritual life.

Moving south, we find the land of Judah and his immediate brothers. The south, closer to the equator and to the warmth of the sun, represents the life of our loves, our emotions, our feelings. Just as no plan of life has any meaning if God and spirit are not at the center of it, so it has no life if we are not motivated by love in the things we do. It will not do to pick out a future for ourselves that may be practical and sensible, but that we do not love. We must find something that we can put our heart into, something that we can feel joy and satisfaction in. Mapping out our future is not a cold, calculated process. It is a process that involves listening to the good, warm, and living desires of our inmost heart.

And finally, as the deeper and higher motives of our heart move us forward, we also need to engage our heads--our thinking, rational, intellectual capacities. These are represented by the tribes in the northern part of the land, cooler than the southern lands, but also a crossroads, more engaged with the realities and practicalities of the surrounding world. Yes, we need to use all the knowledge and understanding we have gained through our years of experience, and continue to learn more, in order to map out a good, loving, useful, and sensible future for ourselves. As Swedenborg says, in moving forward on our spiritual journey--which is the process of spiritual rebirth--we must have the truth that can teach us and guide us on our way. Otherwise we are like a ship at sea without compass, chart, or rudder. In fact, when we are beginning a new phase of our lives, we may well have to learn a whole new set of skills, and gain a whole new set of insights, in order to move forward purposefully, with a clear and coherent plan for our future.

A good map for our future, then, involves at least four key elements:

  1. It is practical and useful.
  2. It includes regular time to develop our spiritual life.
  3. It is something we love--something that engages our heart.
  4. It uses our knowledge and understanding--and involves learning new things, too.

But wait! There is one more detail that must be included to round out our map. Though Jerusalem and the temple are situated at the center of our spiritual land, there are also forty-eight towns for the Levites--the Lord's special servants--scattered throughout the entire land, north, south, east and west. This serves as a reminder that God and spirit are not to be reserved for our Sunday worship. Rather, the Lord is to accompany us everywhere we go, and our spiritual beliefs are to be our guide in everything we do. Whether we are learning, loving, or going about our daily work, God and spirit are to be our constant companions, continually lifting up to a higher level everything we think, feel, and do--even our most menial tasks and simplest pleasures. If we remember that the Lord is with us always, then our entire life will take on new dimensions and new depths of joy and peace.

Mapping out our future. It may take some extra time--time that we may feel we can't afford. And yet the time we spend consciously considering our options and planning our future in the light of the Lord's teachings will richly repay us year after year. Amen.

Music: Soul Search
2002 Bruce DeBoer

Used with Permission

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