Struggles of Israel Meditations: 5. Taking the Land (2)
Deut 7:17-19 You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” 18 But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. 19 You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear.
Purpose: Having laid out some of the outline material to be considered as we think about Israel taking the Promised Land, now we will add some Biblical content to get us well and truly grounded in the Bible. What is fascinating is that most of this material comes in the instructions from the Lord early on in the Exodus process. Later on, forty years later, Moses will reiterate these things when they are on the Plains of Moab about to enter the land, and before him going to die. These things make up the content of Deuteronomy. We’ll divide this study into two parts: first the Lord’s instructions at the outset and then the outworking.
Part 1: The Lord’ Instructions:
God’s Intent: “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (Ex 3:8) There it was laid out early in the first conversation between the Lord and Moses at the burning bush. “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.” (Ex 33:1) So it was time to leave Sinai and go and take this land.
A Gradual Removal: “But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you.” (Ex 23:29) There on Mount Sinai, immediately following the giving of the Law, comes the Lord’s intentions and explanations. To prevent the empty land being overrun by wild animals, the clearance will need to be gradual.
To be Driven Out: “Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you.” (Ex 23:30,31) As He continues He shows it will be a combined operation, involving both Him and them.
Remain Distinct: “Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.” (Ex 23:33) “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you.” (Ex 34:12) Moses will eventually reiterate these instructions again and again, perhaps summarized as, ‘Whatever you do, remain distinct from these peoples for you are God’s holy people, and if you don’t it will be your downfall, so make sure it doesn’t happen.’
A Forty-Year Aside: What is sad is that between these instructions and Moses affirmations of them in Deuteronomy, there is this forty year gap because when they arrived at the Land and Moses sent in twelve spies, ten of them came back with such negative reports that it put off the rest of Israel who refused to enter. As a result they spent the next forty years in the wilderness while everyone who was over 20 at that point died off leaving only the new younger generation (the oldest of whom would then be sixty) to enter the Land. (see Deut 1:19-46)
Part 2: The Outworking
Failures: The book of Joshua gives us the account of how Israel took the Land but we have to wait until the beginning of Judges to see how that finally worked out.
“The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.” (Jud 1:21) The first of the ‘failure references’.
“But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land.” (Jud 1:27)
“When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely.” (Jud 1:28)
“Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them.” (Jud 1:29)
“Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, so these Canaanites lived among them, but Zebulun did subject them to forced labour.” (Jud 1:30)
“ Nor did Asher drive out those living in … 32 The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out.” (Jud 1:31,32)
“Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land.” (Jud 1:33)
“The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain.” (Jud 1:34)
Was the writer of Judges making a point? In those verses in chapter one, seven of the twelve tribe names are identified as having failed to drive out the Canaanites. Now it is a strange thing but the big picture is that they did take the land BUT not completely: “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.” (Josh 11:23)
The Result: The trouble is, when you tolerate a wrong, it will eventually bounce back on you or undermine you and so within a relatively short time we find, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (Jud 2:10-13)
What then follows is the first of many identical cycles throughout the whole of Judges: Israel turn from the Lord, the Lord lifts off His hand of protection over them, enemies come in and oppress them, Israel cry out to the Lord, and the Lord raises up a deliverer. It happens again and again. Why? Because the source of their undermining was still there right under their feet the whole time, pagan, idol-worshipping peoples who led foolish Israel to follow their idols. I have said previously that I believe the Lord created Israel for three reasons. The second reason was to reveal the sinfulness of mankind, even in a nation that had known incredible blessings from the Lord. A sub-lesson might be that a character of sinfulness is the ability to forget so quickly the blessings of the Lord and to turn away from Him to human ungodly ways. The truth is that we are no different from what we have seen here of Israel, and this only goes to show even more clearly how we all need the salvation that only Jesus can bring to us – and to hang on to it!
But why? Continuing to ponder on why this was as it was, this failure after their successes that we saw in the previous study when they travelled up the east side of the Dead Sea, one cannot help but wonder about each of those failure verses above where just one tribe was mentioned. Previously Gad and Reuben had incurred Moses’ displeasure by wanting to settle in the land to the east. “Then Moses said to them, “If you will do this—if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle 21 and if all of you who are armed cross over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him— 22 then when the land is subdued before the Lord, you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the Lord.” (Num 32:20-22) The clear implication is that all the warriors of Israel need to move together to clear the Land. Instead, it appears that they split up, each tribe working to clear its own allotted area. One cannot help but wonder if they had moved as a body sweeping the land clean, if they would not have been more successful? Perhaps there is a lesson here for the ‘body of Christ’ today.
And Us? Lessons to be learnt? Surely the most powerful lesson from these accounts is that partial obedience is in fact disobedience and partial obedience leaves the door open for the enemy to come in and cause upset at some future date. It is that simple and that serious!