Being a truth teller is fundamental to godly character (Ps. 15:2b). Where truthfulness is absent, godliness is absent. That’s one reason it is so important to keep promises. A promise-keeper is a God emulator. For God keeps His word. He always has. He always will. And Joshua 21 is one demonstration of that truth.
Hundreds of years earlier God had made a promise to Abraham that a great nation and God’s chosen people would be his legacy. And God also promised that through His nation would come blessing to the world and that He would also provide for them a land in which to live. As a ratification of the promise, God made a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:12ff). And Abraham even saw the promise beginning to be fulfilled with the birth of his son Isaac. But over the next few years, things began to look bleak. The land fell into famine, and one of the sons of blessing (Joseph) disappeared. And then the tiny seedling of a family moved to a foreign land (Egypt). “Can God be trusted?” certainly could have been a question that the 70 family members of Jacob asked as they moved to Egypt.
For 400 years they stayed in Egypt. No promised land was in sight. Then came a Pharaoh who did not know the story of Joseph and his people (Ex. 1:8). “These invaders,” he might have thought, “would make good slaves.” And while they eventually made their escape across the Red Sea and watched the warriors of Egypt die under the falling wall of water, they still wondered over the next 40 years if they had been sent to the wilderness to die, without seeing they land. “Where is God now?” they asked (Ex. 16:1-3; 32:1; Num. 14:1-4).
Could God keep His promise? Would God keep His promise?
The book of Joshua is a testimony to the fact that God is the promise keeper. Joshua led the Israelites (now a group of not 70, but more than 2 million!) in the conquest of Canaan (Josh. 6-12). And then the land was divided among the 12 tribes. For seven long chapters (chs. 15-21), the details of the division are provided. It would be boring reading of a list of unknown cities and land marks except for one fact. With each allotment, with each landmark, with each city, God declares: “I told you the truth. I have a place for my people. I am yours and you are Mine. And I will do for you what I said. I will do for you everything that I said.”
And that simple truth is affirmed by the writer: “Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (21:45). God was faithful to keep all of His promises to Israel.
Now those promises related to the land are not for us today. Yet the benefit from reading this passage is that we discover something about the character of God. He is the only true promise keeper. The hope for the believer today is that God is still the same kind of promise-keeping God that He was to Israel. He never fails (He cannot fail) to uphold His promises. God is faithful to keep all of His promises always to all His people.
The encouragement to us, as A. W. Tozer noted is that, “The tempted, the anxious, the fearful, the discouraged may all find new hope and good cheer in the knowledge that our Heavenly Father is faithful. He will ever be true to His pledged word. The hard-pressed sons of the covenant may be sure that He will never remove His loving-kindness from them nor suffer His faithfulness to fail.” [The Knowledge of the Holy.]