A Land For Which You Did Not Labour

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Toronto, March 15, 2009

          I have given you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant. (JOS 24:13)

Our text for today is taken from the last chapter of the book of Joshua, and is a part of his final speech to the children of Israel when he was one hundred and ten years old and knew that he was about to die.

Joshua was born in Egypt while the children of Israel were still slaves. He had seen the Lord strike Egypt with the Ten Plagues and he had seen Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea. He had been one of the spies who went ahead into the land of Canaan and reported that it was a “land of milk and honey” (NUM 13:27). Joshua also reported that there were giants in the land, but he and Caleb were certain that they could be defeated with the Lord’s help. Unfortunately, the rest of the people were not so sure, and they rebelled, unable to trust in the Lord, and were condemned to wander in the wilderness until all those who had been born slaves in Egypt and thus who had a subservient, helpless mentality had died. Not one of those who had been slaves in Egypt would enter the Land of Canaan, except for Joshua and Caleb.

Joshua led the army in their very first battle against the Amalekites, the battle where the children of Israel would win only as long as Moses held his arms up. Joshua took the children who were born in the wilderness and trained them to be soldiers capable of the courage required to follow Jehovah into Canaan. Joshua was chosen to lead the children of Israel into Canaan upon the death of Moses, and because of his constant faith that it was Jehovah who fought their battles, they swept into Canaan and conquered the land, North and South, in a few years.

Finally, as an old man, near death, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together in Shechem, and there he reminded them of their history, how as a people they had begun when Jehovah had called Abram, the son of Terah, from Ur of the Chaldees. He reminded them that in the beginning, Abram and his family had worshipped idols, but how they had come to worship only Jehovah as they had seen so many different miracles that proved that He was almighty, and His power was everywhere. Joshua reminded them of all the times that the children of Israel had been in trouble, and Jehovah’s power had saved them. He also reminded them of all the times that they had turned away from Jehovah to worship other gods and how then the other nations had been able to defeat them easily. It should have been obvious to anyone that without Jehovah’s help they would have never been able to conquer the land, and without Jehovah’s help they would soon be driven out. Throughout his speech, Joshua’s emphasis was to remind that they had a covenant with Jehovah, that as long as they obeyed His commandments, and did not worship idols, He would be there to protect them from their enemies, and to help them keep the land of Canaan as their home.

The whole focus of Joshua’s speech was to draw attention to their dependence on Jehovah for everything, and in particular, to the fact that they had been given a beautiful, verdant homeland that they could have had no hope of winning without Jehovah fighting their battles for them. Joshua, speaking for Jehovah said, I have given you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant (text).

This is one of those verses of scripture that stands out because of its structure, and its symbolic message which applied literally to the children of Israel, and at the same time symbolically to people of all nations and all ages.

The doctrines of the New Church reveal that the whole of the Word, the Old and New Testaments, is a parable that has meaning on many levels. We read in Mark that, Without a parable He did not speak to them (4:34). These parables were then later explained to the disciples, revealing the meanings contained within them. But the disciples were simple fishermen, and although they could understand a deeper meaning to the parables, they could not see all the Divine meanings within. The Lord said, I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now (JOH 16:13), and told of a time when the Spirit of Truth would come to lead into all truth (Cf. JOH 16:14). It is our belief that by means of the Science of Correspondences, revealed through Emanuel Swedenborg, the Spirit of truth is revealed within the letter of the Word.

The Science of Correspondences gives us certain consistent rules which anyone can apply to passages from scripture to learn the spiritual truths which lead to eternal life which are contained within. For example, just as there is a trinity in the Divine Itself, there is a trinity in the Word. That trine is expressed in our text by the three rewards which are given by the Lord without labour on the part of the children of Israel:  food which they did not plant; cities which they did not build; and a land for which they did not labour.

In the Word, food represents the good that is from the Lord, while cities, because they are built of stones which represent truths, represent a religious doctrine. The land of Canaan itself represents heaven, the kingdom where all live to eternity performing uses for the Lord and one another. Thus it can be seen that there is a trinity of good, truth, and use in this passage.

There is also a duality in the Divine, the conjunction of the Divine Love with the Divine Wisdom. This too can be seen in our text:  The Lord has given us food to eat and a place to live. Olive groves and vineyards on the one hand, and a land with cities already built on the other. We see the duality of the Divine Good or Love, and the Divine Truth or Wisdom expressed here.

And again, each part has its own duality of good and truth:  The olive, because it produces an oil which is used for food, to cleanse, to light homes, and to anoint kings, represents the celestial kingdom, or love to the Lord, that is, those things that are good (See AC 2722, AE 617:13, 638:9). Vineyards produce wine, a drink, which represents the truth that we need to satisfy our “thirst” for knowledge. A vineyard in the Word represents the Spiritual Church, or the Church as to truth (See AC 2722, 9139).

A similar duality of good and truth is seen in the land with its cities. The land, because it nurtures and supports the growth of food, represents the feminine, the “mother” earth. Cities, because they are made of stone, and designed by man, represent the doctrines of the various churches, thus there is the duality of good and truth with the city of doctrine rising out of the good earth, showing us that a true Church has to be based on a life of good and charity toward the neighbour.

But the main thrust of the text is seen when these elements are viewed in the context of the whole. The history of the children of Israel begins when Abram is called by the Lord to follow Him. Abram, like his father Terah, worshipped idols, and thought God was one of his local gods, named Shaddai.

At first, we are all idolaters. We worship many different gods:  we worship ourselves, the world, money, status, position, sports, entertainment – the list of gods in our pantheon is quite extensive. Abram, Isaac, and Jacob were led by many miracles and visions to see that Jehovah, as they came to know Him, was a very powerful god. Unlike other gods, He had power everywhere. He could help them in Egypt, and in Canaan. In their pragmatic approach to life, they could see that it was to their advantage to follow Jehovah, for He had abundantly shown that He had real power.

We make the same kind of pragmatic decisions in our own lives, we try many different ways of living, and we tend towards the way that is most in harmony with our view of life. We begin to realize that we cannot live just for the pleasure of the moment, but that we have to learn to delay gratification for the sake of some later benefit. We choose the god that is the most powerful. In so doing, we have to make choices. We have to restrain ourselves, and it is difficult to stop doing things we love to do. Like the children of Israel, in order for us to enter the land we have to fight and overcome many enemies. In our lesson we read how the children of Israel fought against the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Moabites, the people of Jericho, the Canaanites, and others.

Each of these nations represent different hereditary evils, natural inclinations to do evil that we inherit from our parents. The number and variety of nations that had to be conquered reflects our own observation that life in the world is full of temptation and spiritual combats as we try to live according to the standards we have set for ourselves from the Word, while at the same time we are beset by the desire to do all many of selfish and worldly things.

If we were to attempt to fight these Canaanite nations, these hereditary evils from our own strength, we would certainly fail. However, that is not necessary. We have to fight them as if of ourselves. That means that we must make the decision to fight from our own free will, but that the actual strength, the power to drive hell away is a gift from the Lord. As He said through Joshua, then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you – also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand (JOS 24:11).

Fighting against evil as if from self can be explained by thinking of a huge machine, a machine so powerful that it can scoop up and lift a whole truck full of earth in one bite. Such a machine may itself be larger than many buildings, and require huge amounts of power to operate. But remember, deep inside that machine is the operator, a human who controls every powerful movement with a simple push or pull or twist on a hydraulic control. The operator has no power to dig on his own, but through his freewill choices, he makes the machine dig.

Just as the Lord promised, with no more effort than it takes to utter a prayer, we can literally move mountains!

In a manner of speaking, we have been given control over the most powerful force in the universe. The Lord Himself stands ready to fight hell for us, but only we ask Him to, only if we consciously and deliberately choose to do what we know from the Word to be right rather than what we feel from ourselves to be pleasant.

When our life in this world is done and we have, with the Lord’s help, conquered in temptation, we will enter heaven, the kingdom of eternal uses. Heaven is a place for which we did not labour. The Lord created and continually maintains heaven, and welcomes all who wish to live there. It is He who drives hell away from man. It is the Lord who labours to bring us to our reward, who labours from His love for us. The Lord is the source of all truth, and the truths from His Word are the building blocks with which we build the church within ourselves. And our spiritual hunger and thirst are satisfied by the goods and truths that He provides.

All these wonderful things have been promised to us. We can believe that promise because we have seen the miracles that the Lord did for the children of Israel in our minds when we read the Word. As He established His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so He offers to establish His covenant with us. If we will turn away from other gods, and follow His commandments, He will give us eternal life in the spiritual land of Canaan. We will quite literally live to eternity in a “land for which we did not labour.”  We make the choices, but the Lord does the work.  And He’s happy to do it for us, just as any parent is happy to help a child that is struggling to get started in life.

Joshua spoke to his people, and to us, for the Lord when he said, I have given you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and the olive groves which you did not plant.  Now, therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served.... Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.... But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (JOS 24:13-15). AMEN.


First Lesson:  JOS 24:1-15

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. {2} And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. {3} ‘Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. {4} ‘To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. {5} ‘Also I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to what I did among them. Afterward I brought you out. {6} ‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. {7} ‘So they cried out to the LORD; and He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, brought the sea upon them, and covered them. And your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. Then you dwelt in the wilderness a long time. {8} ‘And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and they fought with you. But I gave them into your hand, that you might possess their land, and I destroyed them from before you. {9} ‘Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose to make war against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. {10} ‘But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you. So I delivered you out of his hand. {11} ‘Then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you; also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand. {12} ‘I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow. {13} ‘I have given you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’ {14} “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! {15} “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  JOH 16:5-15

“But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ {6} “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. {7} “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. {8} “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: {9} “of sin, because they do not believe in Me; {10} “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; {11} “of judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged. {12} “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. {13} “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. {14} “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. {15} “All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. Amen.

Third Lesson:  AC 620

‘The land’ is a term Word, and means the land where the Lord’s true Church is, such as the land of Canaan. ‘The land’ may also mean where the Church is not, such as the land of Egypt, and the lands of the heathen nations, and so stands for the nation which inhabits the land. And since it stands for the nation, it also stands for any such individual who is there. It is called ‘a land’, for example, the land of Canaan, on account of heavenly love, and ‘the lands of the heathen nations’ are so called on account of loves that are foul. It is called ‘ground’ however on account of the faith sown in it. For, as has been shown, a land includes the ground, and the ground includes the field, just as love includes faith, and faith includes the cognitions of faith that are sown in it. Here ‘the earth’ stands for the people among whom heavenly love and the Church perished utterly. It is from the subject that one may know what is attributed to it. Amen.

Copyright 2009, James P. Cooper
Page last update 15-March-2009