An Incomplete Conquest
“Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the LORD said to him, ‘You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess’ ” (13:1).- Joshua 12:1–13:7
It was not because of the Israelites’ righteousness that God gave them the land of Canaan. The gift of the territory was entirely by grace, for Israel frequently rebelled against God in the wilderness and proved unworthy of the promised land (Deut. 9:1–6).
Nevertheless, the Israelites were not passive recipients of the promises of God. They had to believe the Lord in order to take possession of the land. They had to have circumcised hearts and had to demonstrate that faith by obeying the Lord’s commandments, including His commandments for how to take the land from the Canaanites (10:12–22). By and large, that is what happened when Joshua led them into Canaan. When the Israelites believed God and lived out their faith by following God’s orders given through His appointed leader Joshua, they captured the central portion of Canaan and many cities in the north and south of the land. But when the Israelites showed a lack of faith by not obeying the Lord, they experienced defeat, as in the case of Achan’s sin at Ai (Josh. 1–11).
Still, in the days of Joshua, God kept His gracious promise to Abraham to give his children the promised land (Gen. 12:1–9). The list of kings defeated under Joshua found in Joshua 12 confirms that Israel possessed Canaan. Enough territory had been taken that Israel could be said to be governing the entire region in principle even if not every square inch yet belonged to the nation. Thus, Joshua 11:23 rightly says, “Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses.” God had given the children of Abraham the land, and He would certainly give all the land to them. Still, Achan’s example shows that life in the promised land was not guaranteed to every child of Abraham merely because he was physically descended from the patriarch. Those who proved they did not trust the Lord by not keeping His word would not get to live in Canaan (Josh. 6). But all of Canaan was as good as Israel’s if the nation as a whole continued to trust the Lord.
Under Joshua’s leadership, Israel substantially took possession of Canaan. However, Joshua 13:1–7 reveals that not every bit of territory was ruled by the Israelites during Joshua’s lifetime. More had to be conquered. Joshua 12 showed the ancient Israelites that God would keep His promises, and 13:1–7 indicated that they would not live in the land apart from their continued faith, demonstrated by following God’s commands to take the rest of Canaan.
The incomplete conquest under Joshua and the need to continue trusting in God in order to possess all of Canaan can illustrate the need to persevere in faith. It was not enough for Israel to succeed under Joshua. The people had to continue to believe in order to secure the whole inheritance. Similarly, our faith is not a one-time act. We must persevere daily in trusting in Christ. If we have truly trusted in Christ, we will certainly do that.