In the last essay we concluded the portion of the book of Joshua that tells of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan. The conquest was a fascinating story fueled both by faith in the Lord and miraculous intervention by the Lord.
Now as we come to chapter 13, we begin the second major section of the book. The conquest was complete, at least in its first phase. And it was now time to divide the land. Verse one is very revealing. Up to this point in the book, the conquest of Canaan has been described in more or less absolute terms. The language seen in chapter 11 regarding the northern campaign is typical of what we have seen all along. For example, in 11:8 where the author was describing the mop-up of the northern Canaanite armies, he said, “They struck them down, until they had left no one remaining.” Then in verse 14 he wrote, “All the spoil of these towns, and the livestock, the Israelites took for their booty; but all the people they struck down with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed.” Everything is phrased to imply that the total ban was enforced, and every Canaanite was killed.
But now we see in 13:1 that the conquest was not absolute. The Lord told Joshua, “Very much of the land still remains to be possessed.” And then in verses two and following, the districts as yet unconquered are listed. For example, the region of the Philistines, Geshurites and Avvites in southwest Canaan was unconquered. Likewise in the north several areas are described.
Another factor also comes out in verse one. “Joshua was old and advanced in age. It isn’t possible to know exactly how old Joshua was; but he may have been 90 or older. Chapter 14 reveals that Caleb was 85 about this time 14:7, 10). And Joshua probably was older than Caleb. At any rate, if Joshua was to complete his work, which included the division of the land, before his death, he had to get on with it because of his age. So the Lord commanded Joshua to divide the land, even though it was not yet all in Israel’s possession (13:6-7).
I will not rehearse all of the details of the division of the land. Instead I will only touch on selected verses that are important for one reason or another. To begin, verse eight reminds us that Moses, at their request, had given two and a half tribes an inheritance on the east side of the Jordan. Then verses 9-13 describe that land.
Next, verse 14 reminds us that the Levites received no inheritance of land. Their inheritance came from the “offerings by fire,” as the author calls them, which included tithes. You can read about that in Num. 18:21-32.
Verses 15-23 describe in detail the inheritance of the tribe of Reuben. Verses 24-28 do the same for the tribe of Gad. And verses 29-31 describe the land given to the half-tribe of Manasseh. Then the chapter concludes with a summary statement in verses 32-33.
Now then, as we seek an application to our lives from the chapter, the first point I would make is that the fact that Israel did not conquer all of Canaan is more important than it might seem on the surface. Following the interpretation of the conquest as a type of entire sanctification, this is significant. Entire sanctification requires a conquest.
The Lord gave Israel the land as a gift, just as he sanctifies us as a gift. But even though that is true; and even though he helped Israel with an occasional miracle; they had to conquer the land themselves. Because we participate in our sanctification by means of a multitude of decisions, there is a sense in which we must conquer the “land” of full salvation just as Israel had to conquer the Canaanites.
We also must learn that God’s intention for Israel was that they possess all the land. But now we see that in spite of the absolute language used in the earlier chapters, they had not yet taken possession of all the land. In addition, it becomes clear later in Israel’s history that they never did take it all. In other words, in their entire history, Israel never did achieve God’s intention.
Now a Calvinist might want to argue that this fact proves their idea that we never can escape sin in this life. But that would be false logic. That Israel as a nation did not attain God’s intention for them under the Old Covenant proves nothing about whether or not individuals can attain God’s intention for them under the New Covenant. Remember we are dealing here with an Old Testament type, an analogy, and nothing more.
But the fact remains that Israel did not attain God’s intention for them. He intended for them to have the land of Philistia and the other unconquered territories; but they never conquered them. And the same thing can happen to us under the New Covenant.
The Lord intends for us to have all the mountains, the valleys, the pasturelands, the coastlands, and the cities of full salvation. But for many Christians, there is much of the “land” unclaimed. One area of unclaimed land for many Christians is quite fundamental; namely, knowledge of God’s Word. For multitudes of Christians, much of the Bible is as unconquered territory. Indeed it is as unpossessed for them as the unpossessed territories of Canaan were for Israel in Joshua’s day.
Another area of unpossessed “land” for Christians is in their inner person. Some have unforgiven sin hidden away in their hearts and minds. For example, some have secret sexual sins. Maybe they are involved in some sort of sex outside of marriage. Or they may have a secret pornography habit. And there are other kinds of secret sins, such as greed and pride. Of course there is no way that theses persons can become truly like Christ in that condition. Indeed they risk their very salvation.
Other Christians compartmentalize their lives. They are committed to Christ for Sunday worship, and perhaps for family devotions and the like; but they never have given their business life over to the Lord. That is something separate from their “religion,” they say. In other words they are not about to hand authority over their business to the Lord. And of course that attitude also does not allow for spiritual growth.
Still others have another kind of stronghold or enemy that is deeply entrenched within. It is the kind of enemy that hinders their spiritual growth, because it diverts their energy from absolute devotion to Christ. It can be scars from perfectionism that stems from a parent who never was satisfied with anything their child did. It can be scars from abuse, physical or sexual. It can be any number of inner hurts that make it impossible for the Christian to be everything the Lord wants him or her to be.
Yes, there is much land to be possessed by many. So what can we do to remedy the situation? Well, some of the problems we have mentioned might require professional help. But others simply require repentance and surrender.
The Lord must completely possess us, if we are to possess him in his fullness. And the Lord cannot completely possess us when we have unconfessed and unrepented of sin in our lives.