The best is yet to come
‘Now Joshua was old, advanced in years. And the Lord said to him: You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed’ (Joshua 13:1).
‘Youth is a blunder; manhood a struggle; old age a regret’, wrote Disraeli, 19th century British Prime Minister. Sir Richard Steele, Irish playwright, expressed his views on old age in theSpectator (1 January 1712), ‘There are so few who can grow old with a good grace’.
Joshua reached old age ‘with good grace’; he did not think of old ageas ‘a regret’, but as a time to serve God in new ways. His zeal for God and concern for God’s people had not grown cold with the passing years.
We ought to value mature believers such as Joshua. To quote Peter Jeffery, aged believers are ‘treasured gifts of God to his church’. One day those who are now young will reach middle age, and then old age.
Will we reach old age with grace? Or will we spend our time criticising, complaining and constantly harping back to the past? Our attitudes and usefulness when we are older depend on what we are now.
Consider these points – If I don’t pray much now, I’m unlikely to pray when I have more time to pray. If I spend little time reading the Bible and wholesome Christian books while I’m younger, will I start in old age when concentration is more difficult?
If I’ve not used my life serving the Lord when in good health, how will I serve him when my body feels the aches and pains of old age?
However, some people are converted in later life, and others realise that life is quickly passing and they have wasted time instead of working for God. Is there no encouragement for these believers? Yes! There’s a wonderful promise tucked away in Joel 2:25 – ‘I will repay you for the years the locust have eaten’.
God promised the Jews bumper harvests to replace the locust-eaten crops. He restores the misused years if we yield ourselves completely to him. The apostle Paul commands us to make ‘the most of every opportunity’, whatever our age (Ephesians 5:16).
We read about Joshua when he was ‘old, and well advanced in years’ in Joshua 13. We are not told Joshua’s age in 13:1, but we know that he lived to the age of 110 years (Joshua 24:29).
Reviewing the past, Joshua probably felt satisfaction: ‘He has led a most useful and loyal life, which there is some satisfaction in looking back on. No doubt he is well aware of unnumbered failings … but he has the rare satisfaction … of looking back on a well-spent life … regulated amid many infirmities by regard to the will of God’ (William Blaikie).
Joshua could, like Paul, have said, ‘The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing’ (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Will we look back with satisfaction at what we have done in and through Christ or weep over squandered time and missed opportunities?
Since Moses’ death, Joshua held supreme power over the nation of Israel. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that he was corrupted by power. Leaders should rule with humility, especially in the church.
Peter wrote to his fellow-elders, ‘Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers ― not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…
‘All of you clothe yourselves with humility towards one another’. Was Peter remembering his Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, with the towel round his waist washing his disciples feet? (John 13).
Whatever Joshua’s age in Joshua 13:1, he is not about to retire. Apparently, his thoughts were on the land still awaiting possession when God said, ‘You are very old, and there are still large areas of land to be taken over … divide it as an inheritance among the nine tribes and half of the tribe of Manasseh’ (Joshua 13:1, 7).
‘Let the others do the fighting and you take care of dividing the land’ paraphrases God’s instructions to Joshua.
Why this change of work for Joshua? Perhaps ‘well advanced in years’ and ‘very old’indicate deteriorating health (13:1). If so, then the caring God gave Joshua a task requiring less physical exertion, but a job demanding great wisdom and tact.
How did Joshua respond to this change of ministry? ‘I am content to do whatever God wants’ may express his acceptance of God’s will. Joshua knew that it is important to do God’s will in God’s way at God’s time. As we get older and our strength declines, we too may have to adapt to serving the Lord in different ways. We may even find other ministries opening to us.
God who chose a fresh task for Joshua also determined which part of Canaan every Israelite tribe should occupy. This thought is wrapped up in the word ‘inheritance’that occurs over fifty times in Joshua chapters 13-24.
It means that God owned Canaan and he leased the land to his people. God determines where and how we are to serve him ― do we willingly submit to his plans? Are we content with the ‘inheritance’ he has given to us?
Moses had already declared the boundaries of Canaan (Numbers 34). Now Joshua showed his wisdom in dividing the land, by casting lots among the Israelites. The Israelites also required contentment because the land was not divided into twelve equal parts. We seek the Lord’s will through the Bible, his Word, not by opening the pages at random, but by the application of its teaching.
Some of the tribes received land from which the Canaanites had already been driven out. These tribes were expected to help the tribes in areas still occupied. The division of the land did not mean the division of the people. Sadly, however, a subsequent event reveals the Israelites’ tendency to fight one another instead of the enemy (Joshua 22)!
The wise Joshua sought to keep, and sometimes restore, peace among the Israelite tribes. Older believers, with their wealth of experience, ought to act as peacemakers in divided churches.
God never grows old; the Lord Jesus Christ is the same ‘yesterday, today, and for ever’ (Hebrews 13:8).
Whatever our age, it is reassuring to remember that ‘God never grows old and never gets tired! Generations are born, grow old, get tired and die, but God remains unchanged. Consistency among the people of God right through history lies in the fact that they are dealing with the same God on the same terms’ (Charles Price).