Sometimes the Old Testament really gets me down. When I finished the entire book of Deuteronomy the other day, I was bone weary of war. Then I turn to Joshua, and what do you know? More combat. There’s only so much carnage this former flower child can take. Long ago I made peace with Israel’s bloody history and God’s redemptive plan in it. What I don’t understand about God’s incomprehensible actions, both in the Old Testament and in my own life, is diluted in the ocean of what I do know about God’s character. Getting to this peace was no easy task, but I’ve learned to accept the darker mysteries, knowing that he is—above all—love.
But that doesn’t mean I enjoy reading the relentless march of battle stories laid out in Deuteronomy and Joshua. The more I read, the more I get impatient for the twelve tribes to get the fighting over with already and settle in the Promise Land. I become like a kid in the back of an un-air-conditioned car, kicking at her father’s seat, whining, “Are we there yet?” I am over it. And then I open to Joshua 12. Verse one starts out like this:
Here begins a catalog of the conquered.
Joshua stops to take stock. And I find I don’t mind reading about war from the victor’s perspective once peace is secured. That’s the beauty of war stories; that they’re told when war is over. What could be better than the rout of formidable foes like these?
I’ll tell you what: The rest on the other side.
In chapter 21, when all the cataloging is finally complete, Joshua says, “So He gave them rest from war on every side.” (Verse 44, the Voice) This verse never fails to hearten me when I read it. Even though I know the book of Judges will show ample evidence that this rest was, at best, a temporary detente. An unfinished, uneasy truce with an obstinate enemy. They won, yes, but only to fight another day.
The word for rest in Joshua 21 is the ancient word Sabbath. And, like the day of week, it didn’t last forever. That Sabbath was a hint of a better rest that was yet to come.
I love it when the Old Testament transports me straight to the Gospel.
The Gospel catalog of the conquered begins with death itself. All because Jesus Christ, the Eternal Ancient of Days, became a newborn babe, grew to a sinless man, died a sinner’s death, and rose to life on the third day. Even though we did nothing to secure this victory, those of us who trust in him actually have verses at our disposal with which to taunt this vanquished enemy:
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
(1 Corinthians 15:55)
But death was only the beginning. Our list of defeated enemies is way more impressive than those pesky Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Jesus conquered everything associated with death, too. He has victory over all of it, the warring tribe of enemies inside of us called…
Utter defeat means I don’t have to strive against these soul adversaries anymore. The Gospel-rest from war is a wildly transcendent version of what the Old Testament only hinted at. When Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross, he proclaimed this better Sabbath. “It is finished” meant his work was done and war was over.
Enemy routed, prize won. Now we get to rest.
There still remains a place of rest, a true Sabbath, for the people of God because those who enter into salvation’s rest lay down their labors in the same way that God entered into a Sabbath rest from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10, The Voice)