In today’s reading we encounter the people of God at a jubilant moment. After forty years of wandering in the desert they have crossed the Jordan river, entered into the promised land, and conquered the prior inhabitants of the land. Their next step is dividing up the land between the tribes of Israel.
The reading is dry but it provides a crucial glimpse into the relationship the people of Israel had with the land. The land was their inheritance (the word is used 17 times in chapter 19); it signified God’s love and promise to God’s people. In dividing the land equitably among men, the rulers ensure that every person in the community remembers that God protected and guided their ancestors to this very place.
The remembrance of God and ancestors reminds people that they do not belong to themselves. In many cases the current community members were not the individuals who wandered the desert, but their foremothers and forefathers. This generation is reaping blessings which they did not sow. This realization develops within the community a sense of gratitude and indebtedness that compels them to honor their parents and to honor God. They even go so far as to designate a specific plot of land for those being reconciled to the law of God and to ensure the foreigner receives the same protection they received in the wilderness.
The idea of land as inheritance might not strike the same resonance with us as it did with Joshua, but every day we experience the inheritance from our ancestors. We are products of labor that is not our own and we are encouraged to remember those who came before us.
In some cases this may stir deep gratitude for the strength of our ancestors. However, for many of us our histories include violence towards others. The legacy of the United States includes conquering land that was not ours, growing this country on the backs of slaves, and succeeding by ignoring the needs of other countries. As inhabitants of this country, we are simultaneously called to cultivate humility towards our ancestors while naming and denouncing this history of violence. Furthermore, we can commit our lives and our legacies to redirecting our inheritance to God’s dream of justice and wholeness for all people.
Prayer: Give me a grateful and discerning heart.
Reflection: How am I called to honor God’s dream through the things I have inherited?
Art: Today’s painting is “Entering the Promised Land” by Darius.
For a longer interpretation on the story of Joshua I recommend that you watch this sermon, preached by the Rev. Darrell R. Hamilton II of First Baptist Jamaica Plain.