TODAY’S READING: Joshua 22–24
The missionary call is a collective one—it is given to the whole body of Christ. The Church exists for missions, and missions is the collective assignment of the Church. As the brotherhood of believers, we then have a joint responsibility to keep each other focused and obedient. Joshua commended the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh because they stuck with their brothers and remained dedicated to the big picture even though their land was gained (Josh. 22:1–3). Joshua commended and commanded them: “Well done! But don’t stop. Keep loving the Lord and keep fighting for His glory among all nations” (see vv. 5–6).
When these two and a half tribes crossed to the east side of the Jordan River, they erected an altar of witness. This altar caused consternation and nearly a civil war. The tribes on the western side of Jordan misunderstood it. They thought the eastern tribes gave up on the assignment and removed themselves from the covenant with Jehovah. Those on the east explained: “We are still on board. We are still committed to Jehovah being our God, to us being His people, to living holy lives so He can bless us, to using that blessing for His glory in all the earth among all nations” (see v. 27). Relieved to hear that no missional drift occurred, the western tribes calmed down and the altar was named “Witness” (v. 34). What a great name for the symbol of what we are committed to do, what a great name to remind us of our assignment.
Missions is a collective assignment. If we don’t finish the task, the Lord will hold us all responsible. If we don’t preach the gospel in all the world to every people group (Matt. 24:14), then we’re all culpable, even if some of us obeyed while others rebelled. Disobedience by one part of the body signals demise for us all. This is why brothers keep brothers on point, even if that means confrontation. If we truly love the other, we won’t quietly stand by as they make decisions that will destroy their souls. If one part of the body gets gangrene, the whole body is at risk. To see one member disobey or decay spells doom for us all. In missions this is doubly true as we can’t fulfil this grand assignment without every member of the body fully engaged. Altars of witness speak in two directions: To those disengaged from taking the gospel to unreached peoples, the altar shouts: You have a part! To the arrogant who overlook or despise the younger, smaller members of the body, the altar of witness speaks for them: We have a part! From time to time, the body needs both reminders, no matter how uncomfortable that family discussion may be.
Both Joshua the book and Joshua the leader come to an end, and in the final speech Joshua rehearsed the big dream. He mentioned Abraham and the multiplied descendants. Abraham was blessed to bless all the unreached peoples of earth. This again is the metanarrative for the people of God. Joshua mentioned that all the acts of God are played out in front of the nations: Egyptians (24:6), Amorites (v. 8), Moab (v. 9), Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites, and Jebusites (v. 11). Joshua reminds us all that God does the major work and we are privileged to serve Him (v. 12–14). Then Joshua wrapped it all up with: “You choose how you are going to live your life. I know what family I belong to. I belong to the family of Abraham. My family was given the privilege of God being our God, we being His people, His presence dwelling among us, His blessings pouring over us, and His goodness extending to the ends of the earth. You choose if you are going to maintain this collective family calling. You choose. But I have made my choice. I stand with my fathers, I and all my children will serve the God of missions. We will live and die for His glory in all the earth” (see vv. 15–18).
And the people responded in chorus that they too would serve the God of missions (v. 24) saying: “We are witnesses” (v. 22). So Joshua released them, each to their own inheritance (v. 28), which was to win the nations for the glory of God. Joshua and Jesus—same name, same commission, same last words: You are witnesses. Go glorify God among all unreached peoples [lest you deny your God (v. 27)].