In my daily Bible reading I am currently in the middle of the Book of Joshua along with three other passages which in the scheme I use are currently Psalms, Jeremiah and Matthew’s Gospel. Of the four chapters, those from Joshua are the hardest going as they consist of long lists of place names and geographical locations, as the writer identifies the portion of the land allocated to each of the 12 Tribes.
In such circumstances, and these are not the only passages of scripture that seem of little value to us (compare 1 Chronicles chapters 1-10) where people’s names rather than geography are at the centre!), there is still treasure to be mined so do not give up. Let me explain.
At this point in the history of God’s people they are in the Promised Land. Jericho has been taken and the fear of God has fallen on the inhabitants of the land that God has promised to give to his people. They have been driven back from Ai and in 14.15 it is recorded that ‘then the land had rest from war’ even though it had not all been occupied and the resident tribes driven out. In 13.13 it is recorded that the Israelites ‘did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah, so they continue to live among the Israelites to this day’.
Then in 15.63 we read, ‘Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah’.
The notes in the ESV Study Bible comment in this way.
This statement is disconcerting in at least two respects. First it recalls Moses’ repeated warnings against allowing the Canaanites to survive and live among the Israelites. Second it raises a theological question: how is it that the people of Israel ‘could not’ drive out their foes? Surely the god of the Jebusites is not stronger than the God of Judah! This is not the first failure to occupy and it will not be the last. In 17.12 Manassites are unable to occupy certain towns because “the Canaanites were determined to live in that region”. In 17.16 the Ephraimites cite Canaanite possession of “iron chariots” as preventing them from taking the plains. These statements seem to be in tension with the dominant theological conviction of the Book of Joshua that “the hand of the Lord is powerful (4.24) and with the divine promise of the leader Joshua that “no one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life….you will lead these people to inherit the land (1.5-6). Joshua himself seem to agree with this assessment insisting in 17.18 “though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out.” Perhaps statements of what Israel “could not” do are to be read as early evidences of spiritual slippage – of failure to follow the Lord wholeheartedly (14.8) – which will become increasingly evident in the book of Judges.
Perhaps we may not see this as biblical “treasure” but it is, for we all need to be warned of the dangers of slippage. We need to read with the aid of the Holy Spirit so that we can see the challenges that we all too easily pass over if we fall for skim reading parts of God’s Word which we find hard or somewhat obscure.
We have observed slippage over the years in our own land as all too often the Church has failed to give the spiritual, Bible based teaching which is so key to right living and God’s blessing. We have also seen slippage in so many areas of national life as truth and morality are sacrificed for power and influence absorbing the spirit of the age rather than acknowledging that God is God.
We must heed all of God’s word lest we miss the promises and warnings that are sometimes missed in the harder parts of scripture.
Let us pray for the institutions of church and state that both may acknowledge that God alone is sovereign and that from these institutions righteousness and justice may flow to the glory of God and the blessing of the people.