Meditations on “The Big Picture” 8. The Taking of the Land
Josh 1:1-3 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
Between leaving Egypt and fully taking the Land, there are really four phases. If you want a shortened version of all that happened, at least in respect of the first three phases, read Moses’ words in Deut 1-3 as he recounts all that took place. The verses above come at the beginning of the fourth phase but to catch a sense of al that took place we have to go back to the start of the first phase, the leaving Egypt and travelling to the borders of Canaan. He briefly refers to the first time they approached the Land forty years ago and they had suggested sending in twelve spies to see what the land was like. Ten of those spies came back with a negative view and put off the rest of the nation from entering that land (see Deut 1:6-33)
As a result of this refusal to enter, the Lord said that all of those of responsible age (20 and over) would be condemned to live in the desert for the next forty years until they had all naturally died off. That was thus the second phase – living in the desert for forty years. (see Deut 1:34-46, 2:14,15)
When they come to the end of that second phase they move into the third phase which was moving up the eastern side of the Dead Sea area. Now what tales place in this phase is quite significant. In Deut 2 we see the early stages of their progress towards the Land, and there are two significant parts to it, the first that was peaceful and the second involved fighting.
First we see how the Lord warned them not to provoke the descendants of Esau who live in Seir (2 :4-6), nor the Moabites (2:9), nor the Ammonites (2:19). That was part 1, the peaceful part. However, when they crossed the River Arnon (2:24 – which flows from east to west into the east side of the Dead Sea ) they were entering the territory of Sihon the Amorite, the hostile king of Heshbon, and were warned they would have to fight him (2:24). Nevertheless Moses sought to pass through peacefully (2:26-29) but Sihon refused (2:30) and led his army against Israel (2:32) and were destroyed by Israel. Next, when they approach Bashan, the Amorite king, Og, also came to fight them (3:1) and was completely destroyed.
These were Israel’s first two victories which would have been reported all over the area as we’ll come to see. Please note that they did not come as a marauding army destroying everything before them, which is what happened with most invaders. No, this was a strictly controlled advance, and the only fighting that took place happened because two kings refused to give them peaceful passage. That fighting took place purely because of the hostility of the two pagan kings.
These things, Moses said to Joshua, were meant to encourage him as he took the people in: “At that time I commanded Joshua: “You have seen with your own eyes all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. The LORD will do the same to all the kingdoms over there where you are going. Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.” (Deut 3:21,22) So we now arrive at the beginning of phase four, the taking of the land, and there are various important things to note.
First, God has two primary goals in what follows: a) to deal with the Canaanites in the Land – to remove their pagan practices and b) to get Israel into the Land for it to become their new home – and theirs as a unique people of God, revealing Him to the rest of the world.
Second, contrary to much popular opinion, God’s initial plan for Israel was NOT to destroy the Canaanites. In the various accounts, please note that there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and 4 to them being WIPED OUT; the overwhelming evidence shows the divine intent was for the inhabitants to be removed from the Land, which could have been bloodless and it was only their intransigence that meant that battles occurred with people being killed. Of those 31 references to them being driven out, at least thirteen of them are in respect of the Lord doing the driving out and the way He will do it is by using fear (see Ex 23:27-30 and Deut 2:25,25 and 11:25) and that fear was initiated by the way Israel had defeated the two pagan kings on the way in. Rahab told the spies how fearful her people were (see Josh 2:11) and the news of them spread across the land (see Josh 5:1) and the Gibeonites also confirmed it (Josh 9:24).
Third, it becomes clear that there were three possible outcomes which were determined by the occupants of the land:
- They could flee the land and live
- They could join the Israelites as God’s people (see Rahab & the Gibeonites)
- They could fight and possibly be destroyed.
Fourth, the end outcome was that Israel failed to completely clear the land of the Canaanites and so some of them became an ongoing thorn in the side of Israel and God would use them to test or try the hearts of Israel (see Jud 2:20-3:4) for years to come.
Fifth, we might note that the land was not fully under Israel’s control until the reign of King David who we will consider later. In the time of the judges, there remained pockets of resistance and troubles with their neighbours. King Saul started the cleaning up process but it was David who totally took control. The taking of the Land was thus very clearly a major landmark in the onward march of the history of Israel revealed in the Bible.