Joshua 21:44: “The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them” (NIV).

Observation: The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had been in Canaan fighting alongside the rest of the nation to possess the Promised Land. Those national campaigns now concluded, these tribes prepared to return to their homes east of the Jordan. At this point we read this curious verse: they had rest, no enemies withstood them, and the Lord handed their enemies over to them.

Application: The verse seems possessed by internal conflicts. We are on the one hand told that they were given rest, suggesting secure borders and defeated enemies all around. The same breath that asserts rest, however, also states that none of their enemies withstood them. Which was it? Were they at rest, or were they busied withstanding enemies? Surely both cannot be true, can they? 

The passage seems to indicate that powerful attempts were made to defeat the fledgling nation, to no avail. Attacks had been withstood, overwhelmed, utterly defeated. How restful could that have been? But insight comes with the last phrase, shedding light on how a warring army can be at rest in the midst of battle: the Lord handed their enemies over to them. This is not to suggest that Israel’s army reclined at banquet as angelic beings flew in from the front lines serving enemies on platters like so many turkeys. No, this was an army fully engaged in warfare. Taking possession of the land God intended them to own required active fighting. Yet in the midst of battle, they relied confidently upon His superior abilities to empower them. 

Something akin to this must accompany troops avenging terror attacks today, a sense of being in the right, backed by overwhelming superiority. Despite ever-present danger, regardless of the heart-stopping adrenalin rush, confidence in their cause surely grants a sense of rest even as they war. What of the battles I now fight? Do I find myself striving in fear and sleeplessness, or am I enveloped in a cocoon of confidence in His ultimate victory? Do I fully engage the battles yet trust in Him, or have I elbowed God aside to fight this particular enemy in my own strength? At day’s end, am I fearful and exhausted, drenched in the sweat of self-effort, or am I truly at rest? Joshua understood the nation’s source of effectiveness in battle. Do I?

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, it is by You that restful victory comes. No legions of chariots nor scores of the latest weaponry will suffice. No amount of self-righteousness nor even the best lawyer’s arguments in my defense can produce rest amidst battle. Only You can, Lord. Only You.