Joshua 15: The Borders
February 20, 2011 Series: Joshua: Lord's Army
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Joshua 15:1–15:63
Introduction to Boundaries
Repeat after me, All Scripture is profitable. If it is written, it must be so, and a meaningful interpretation must be possible apart from some crazy hermeneutical Yoga. The famous theologian Matthew Henry said, “where God has a mouth to speak and a hand to write we should find an ear to her and an eye to read; and God give us a heart to profit!” In Joshua chapter 15, Israel’s leader continues the distribution of the land, allotting the largest portion to the largest tribe, Judah. Though this passage may not be immediately invigorating, we must never forget that 2,500 years ago the Israelites savored every last detail of the boundary descriptions.
For purposes of time with a 63 verse book, I am going to focus more on the first half of this passage and less on the second half. The chapter begins with a description of the geographic boundaries of Judah’s inheritance and ends with the names of the 100+ cities within those boundaries. You can imagine what it meant for Judah to hear about the details of their portion. In the middle of the description, there is an awkward narrative following up with Caleb and his own portion. Beginning with this chapter, and lasting through the next few, we cannot avoid the repetition of the word BOUNDARY. In the first 12 verses, the word appears 19 times. The word is used to delineate the actual geographical boundaries of Judah’s allotment, the details of God’s promise.
But, if what Paul wrote in Romans is true, the Holy Spirit felt it necessary to write down these words also for our own instruction, to build our faith, perhaps to give us insight into spiritual portions, inheritances, and even boundaries.
Now our culture uses the term “boundaries” today to help individuals build and maintain healthy relationships—or protect themselves from unhealthy ones. There are hundreds of books written about how to set up boundaries in the different kinds of relationships we have. The aim of having boundaries is, quite simply, a pursuit of happiness with other people. Unfortunately, this pursuit of protective boundaries can actually hinder you from discovering the real problem in all of those relationships—your relationship with God. In other words, often “Boundary” issues have little to do with the sin of other people and everything to do with the sin in your own heart. The solution, therefore, isn’t finding the best ways to avoid fighting or fleeing, as much as it is discovering what I must confess and repent of.
These are not the kinds of boundaries we are talking about, though it is tempting AND foolish to make this passage about that. At the same time, these geographic boundaries should help us understand the responsibilities and restrictions for where God has given us to live.
Judah’s God-given Boundaries
The first 12 verses describe the boundaries surrounding Judah, ending with a definitive: This is the boundary around the people of Judah according to their clans. Once again we are reminded that not only are the portions given by God, but their exact shape and size is determined by God. In other words, we’re not talking about boundaries in our lives that YOU or I need to put up or remove in order to live responsibly. We are talking about the different BOUNDARIES that God has laid out so that there is no mystery about we’re responsible for and what we’re not. The truth is God has placed us in a time, a place, given us a personality, a family history, a set of experiences, perhaps a marriage, a job, different relationships, a neighborhood, and a church community. And within these boundaries we all have certain responsibilities—and if you don’t know where they are, you often end up hurting or getting hurt.
Inside JUDAH’S Boundaries
Consider Judah. Judah is given a chunk of land, outlined by God in detail. And within these boundaries, Judah is responsible to build, to provide, and to protect. If any aspect of the land is threatened or in need, the men and women of Judah have a mandated responsibility to lead and fight within their borders. They will function as Kings, constantly surveying the health of the land within the borders, the vulnerability of the land, the needs of the land, as they continue to cultivate the land. Beginning with verse 21 to the end, we read that there are not only regions that are given, but different cities. And it can be safely assumed that different clans probably possessed different cities, and thus took responsibility for even a smaller portion of the land. As the boundaries became more precise, then specific men were responsible for a more specific portion. And as a whole, the tribe of Judah was not commanded to concern themselves with another tribe’s land. They were not commanded to increase the size of their land. They were not commanded to cultivate the parts of their own land that were easiest. God marked out territory for them to LIVE in only and fully. Of course, as history demonstrates, that did not mean they didn’t help one another and cross borders. When all of Israel was threatened, then they all fought together. But primary and, most often, exclusive concern was for what God had told them to care for. It didn’t make problems in other tribes unimportant, only their own primary.
Inside OUR Boundaries
So what does that mean for us? In a similar way, God has given us not only a unique portion, he has also given us specific boundaries for those portions. HE has marked out where the extent of our responsibility begins and ends. And it is within these boundaries that we are commanded to LIVE in primarily and fully. Genesis 2.15 says 15 The Lord God took the manand put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And earlier in Genesis we read that the garden has very specific boundaries. And it is within those boundaries, Adam was expected to work, maintain, and grow. The question for all of us is, have we every stopped to survey the boundaries that God has given us?
1. WHAT are your God-given BORDERS? And how are you determining that? Judah began with God’s Word. He didn’t begin with what he saw that he liked. And I believe it is safe to assume, if there was ever any confusion, they went back to what was written.
2. What have you been given to BUILD? And once you know where borders are, have you ever surveyed what is within it? What healthy structures exist and what is needed?
3. Where, within your borders, are the THREATS What have you been given to PROTECT? Knowing what to protect means knowing what is vulnerable? Where are the weak spots? What areas of the portion God has assigned you need more attention, time, energy, and troops to fight?
4. Who has been placed in your CARE? What or who needs CULTIVATION? What relationships has God made you responsible for? What family? What friends? What neighbors? What co-workers? What community members?
5. Where, within your borders, do you need to BATTLE? Do you have a strategy at all? Is there a battle plan to develop the portion that you have been given? Do you know what things you can let go, and what things have to be addressed immediately?
**There is a danger in talking about boundaries like this because we tend to become too OTHER ORIENTED. Even within our borders, we can wrongly adopt a savior complex and ignore the need for our own savior. Knowing your boundaries is important. But securing the boundaries of the land begins with your relationship with God. And while there are things you must do, and people you must care for, God wants you to deal with your own idolatry and sin BEFORE you worry about anyone else’s.
Outside our Boundaries
Let’s talk about what is outside our boundaries—because it seems that is the best way to avoid talking about our sin. As the boundaries of the inheritance are outlined, not only does JUDAH learn what IS their LAND, they also learn WHAT IS NOT. God’s borders are not only given so that we know where, what, and who we are responsible for. They are ALSO given so that we know where, what, and who we are NOT responsible for. Some of us have convinced ourselves that we’re Jesus. And like Jesus, we believe it is your responsibility to step in and fight other’s battles. This includes “helping” people see their sin by rebuking them at every opportunity (or criticizing them in front of others), “teaching” people what they should do with their lives (though they are not asking and your own is a mess), and “protecting” people by policing their behavior.
1. Do you know where your borders are? What is OUTSIDE your God-given BORDERS? Have you tested this by Scripture, prayer, counsel, before acting either way?
2. How much time and energy are you dedicating to BUILDING something God never told you to take ownership of? How has that building project distracted you from your own home becoming dilapidated?
3. What is NOT your responsibility to PROTECT?
4. What is THREATENED but not your job to save?
5. Who are you trying to “save” that God has not placed in your CARE? Who have you convinced yourself desperately needs your help?
6. What NEEDS do you have opportunity but NOT responsibility to meet? Why do you assume you are expected to meet that? Could it possibly hinder whoever is truly responsible from doing it?
7. Where are the BATTLES that you have NOT been called to fight?
Jesus didn’t help everyone
This is not about being self-centered or unloving, though I realize that is what those of us who struggle with this are thinking. You are not Jesus, so not make yourself a savior—the job is taken. And even if you wanted to BE LIKE JESUS….he did not help everyone! There are many people that Jesus did not heal, did not talk with, did not “care” for, because he was very clearly about the boundaries and purpose of his mission.
If I don’t help
Many of us have convinced ourselves that IF we don’t fight for that thing or person, no one will. Even in those, you must measure whether it is God’s Will for you to step in there. It is about doing what you’re called to do, finding contentment in it, and not stepping onto a battlefield that God hasn’t directed you to go. And even though you can justify your boundary extension with talk of sacrifice for others, you should know that the PRIDE that convinces you have it all together OR that you possess the power to save others is the reason Christ sacrificed at all. DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE BOUNDARIES ARE?
If you don’t know where your God-given boundaries are, then it is likely we will make our own. Man-made boundaries are often foolish and governed by the sin in us. Again, I am not talking about boundaries toward developing healthy relationships. I am talking about deciding denying GOD’S description of our responsibilities and dictating OUR OWN generated from our own emotions, intellect, or experience. Typically, our newly drawn lines are adjusted to include the land of others and cut off parts of our own. And we do this because it is easier to worry about other people’s sin, to see other’s insufficiencies, and to even help with other weaknesses—as a means to avoid our own.
The problem is that man-made boundaries are always in the wrong places. They are built according to our self-centered desires and moved according to our personal experiences.
Build My Own Boundaries: Sometimes boundaries start in the wrong place because we never actually listened to God when he read the land survey. This may be naïveté or ignorance. It may be the result of not being taught or of lazily ignoring what is clearly there. Sometimes just don’t know where the boundaries are other times we want to avoid the responsibilities we’ve been given.
Move God’s Boundaries: Other times we are listening and we do learn exactly where the boundaries are—we just don’t like them. When we don’t like them, we move them. Sometimes we extend our boundaries out of pride to gain the approval of men. Other times we change our boundaries based on experiences. We build up new boundaries to protect ourselves from every getting hurt again. Though God commands us, for example, to be part of a community of believers we resist because we were hurt by one.
Adopt Other People’s Boundaries: Most often, men and women know where the boundaries are for their lives but it’s simply much easier to focus on other people’s land. They dismiss their own God given responsibilities and instead focus on the needs of others. The hard part is that this person appears like an incredible servant and is often quite a help to others. Unfortunately, their own life is a mess and invariably they make a mess of those they love without even knowing it. In women this manifests itself typically in with gossip. With men, this typically manifests out with pride.
Conclusion V. 14-20 Caleb’s Borders
The temptation to do this comes from discontentment—you are not satisfied with what God has given you. Some will re-describe your discontentment by emphasizing your desire to help or serve. It’s just a cover-up for your idolatry. We’ll conclude by taking a look at Caleb and his daughter, in how they dealt with the borders of their inheritance. But in this passage, we have an example of someone who takes responsibility for his God given boundaries. In verse 14, After receiving his portion, Caleb proves to waste no time clearing the hills surrounding Hebron. 14 And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak. 15 And he went up from there against the inhabitants of Debir. Now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher. 16 And Caleb said, “Whoever strikes Kiriath-sepher and captures it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter as wife.” 17 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it. And he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife.
After having been given his portion, 85 year old Caleb wastes no time in securing his land. He isn’t lazy and doesn’t make excuses claiming it is too hard. Again, he sets the standard for all tribes to follow WITHIN their BOUNDARIES. Then there is small insertion about one of the cities, DEBIR, within Caleb’s portion. Debir had been once conquered and held by Joshua, but it appears to have been retaken by the Canaanites. Caleb offers the hand of his daughter in marriage to the man who conquers the city of Debir. Caleb’s nephew, Othneil, who will one day save Israel as the first judge (Judges 3.7-11), captures the city. His daughter Achsah is given to Othneil, and taken to her new home having been blessed with a gift of land as part of the marriage.
There are a lot of little lessons to learn from this passage, namely, find a stud just like you for your daughter to marry. I’d like to focus on the request his daughter makes in connection with the borders that you have. As I said, a lot of people are simply dissatisfied with their borders—for whatever reason they are not fulfilled so they either build new borders, move theirs, or adopt others. Caleb’s daughter is not satisfied with her inheritance. 18 When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she got off her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 19 She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs. The land she is given is dry—undesirable. So, she reverently asks for her bather to extend her borders. But she does not ask for her borders to be increased that she might have more, rather, that what she has becomes more satisfying. She asks for water. In other words, she doesn’t just ask for “different borders.” She asks to increase her borders simply so that she can have LIFE for the borders she has given. She ask for means by which to bring the borders she has been given to life.
If the land within your borders, don’t fight for different borders or run from the portion you have. Ask the Father for renewed life. That life comes through Christ. John 4.13-14 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.