The theme which seems to dominate the second part of Joshua is the obvious fact that Israel failed in its mission.
Here are a few examples were this theme is apparent:
- “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites…” – Joshua 15:63
- “Ephraim and Manasseh did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer…” – Joshua 16:10
- “Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns…” – Joshua 17:12
- “Joshua said to the Israelites: ‘How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land’…” – Joshua 18:3
- “But the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory…” – Joshua 19:46
This theme is amplified in Judges:
- “But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan…” – Joshua 1:27
- “Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer…” – Joshua 1:29
- “Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron…” – Joshua 1:30
- “Nor did Asher drive out those living in Acco…” – Joshua 1:31
- “Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh…” – Joshua 1:22
- “The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country…” Joshua 1:34
So the question we need to ask is, how did the Israelites interpret the failure to take the promised land?
First, in the midst of many of the passages cited where it is explicitly stated that the Israelites did not or could not take portions of the land, the scriptures also say this:
So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there… Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; everyone one was fulfilled. – Joshua 21:43-45
Not one of their enemies withstood them? Not one of the Lord’s promises failed? Everyone was fulfilled? How are we measuring success here? If the Lord’s good promise was to inherit the land by conquering their enemies, then this passage seems to clearly contradict its own context.
Here is another difficult passage to contend with:
It was the Lord your God who fought for you… – Joshua 23:3
The Amorites gave the Danites a good beating and confined them to the hill country (Judges 1:34). If the Lord was doing the fighting, then did the Lord get beat by the Amorites?
These are a few of the passages I struggle with. I suppose I could take the easy route out by subscribing the the belief that the “entire book is a fabrication”, but doing so would have serious reprocussions for the rest of the scriptures since Israel’s entrance into the promised land is one of the major motif’s in the Torah and is carried on as a significant motif – taken seriously – by the rest of the scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments. It is clear that the Israelites themselves took the story of Joshua as actual history, as does the New Testament. Dismissing it as a fabrication because it goes against our sensibilities or because it presents difficulties simply will not do. A part of the challenge any serious student of scripture must take up is the wrestling with the difficult parts we don’t very much appreciate.
In the passage quote only moments ago where the Lord is said to have fulfilled his promises and that he fought for the Israelites, it seems the past tense (“fought” and “fulfilled”) are somehow blended with anticipation of what the Lord will continue to do.
Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain – the nations I conquered… – Joshua 23:3
The nations that remain are the nations that the Lord conquered. Which is it? Do they remain or have they been conquered?
I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 5:7: “Live by faith, not by sight”.
Our “Enlightened Sensibilities” tells us to see and judge. Obviously the mission was a failure since the nations which were to be conquered and driven out of the land were not conquered or driven out completely. But what if we abandon our Enlightened sensibilities for a moment and remember who we’re talking about: God. Though they remain, God has already conquered them. Don’t you believe that? Don’t you have faith?
Though they remain, he already conquered them. Now the other side of the coin. The side our rational mind sees and judges. And here it is: Though he already conquered them…
“The Lord your God will drive them out… He will push them out… you will take possession of their land… as the Lord your God promised you.” – Joshua 23:5
And there is the other side, the side that we all see: The nations remain. When God was saying that he already conquered them, he was giving us a glimpse of reality from the divine perspective (“is the Lord’s arm too short?”). From God’s perspective the job is already done. But then he takes us back down to our little “two-dimensional world”, our Flatland, and shows us what he is about to do.
Though they remained, he already conquered them. It was “Already, but Not Yet”. (Now there’s a slogan that sounds familiar.)