The Perils of Partial Obedience.

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. This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is counted as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim, in the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh.”

With the other half of the tribe of Manasseh the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance, which Moses gave them, beyond the Jordan eastward, as Moses the servant of the Lord gave them: from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland of Medeba as far as Dibon; 10 and all the cities of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, as far as the boundary of the Ammonites; 11 and Gilead, and the region of the Geshurites and Maacathites, and all Mount Hermon, and all Bashan to Salecah; 12 all the kingdom of Og in Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei (he alone was left of the remnant of the Rephaim); these Moses had struck and driven out. 13 Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day. Joshua 13:1-13 ESV

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israelChapter 12 presented a synopsis of the Israelites’ successful campaign against 31 different kingdoms. They had enjoyed unparalleled victories and had virtually eliminated all significant military threats. But their job was not yet done. In the seven years since Joshua had led the people across the Jordan and into the promised land, they had been engaged in an almost constant military action. But now, the time had come to begin taking possession of the land. Chapter 13 opens up with the announcement that Joshua had grown old. It is estimated that he was somewhere around the age of 80 by this time and the mention of his age provides a sense of urgency. There was still work to be done. It was necessary that the land be divided up between the various tribes and that the remaining inhabitants of the land be eliminated. God provided Joshua with a not-so-subtle reminder that his days were numbered and that his job was not yet finished.

“You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess.” – Joshua 13:1 ESV

Joshua didn’t have time to rest on his laurels or to start thinking about retirement. It was essential that he finish what he had begun and ensure that the people took possession of the land – in its entirety. So, God provided Joshua with a list of the remaining nations to be conquered and destroyed: The Philistines, Geshurites, Canaanites, Sidonians, Amorites, and Gebalites. But these nations would not be dealt with using the combined forces of the Israelites. It was going to be the responsibility of each tribe to conquer the nations still remaining in the land allotted to them as an inheritance.

Chapters 13-24 are going to provide a record of Israel’s efforts to obey God’s command to occupy the land. The land was legally theirs, having been given to them by God Himself. But they were responsible for taking possession of the land and this was to include the removal of all pagan influences and any potential temptations that might draw them away from worshiping God alone. But what these chapters will reveal is the partial obedience of God’s people. While they had successfully eradicated many of the threats against them, they were still surrounded by nations that posed a potential problem if left unattended. And one of the first nations God points out to Joshua is that of the Philistines. This was a people group who were native to the land. At one time, they had migrated from the northwest and had successfully dispossessed the inhabitants living in the southwest portion of Canaan. The land they occupied was part of the inheritance promised by God to Abraham. It belonged to Israel, but they were going to have to take it from the Philistines. But as we will see, the Israelites failed to eliminate the Philistines, allowing them to grow in strength and numbers. And they would prove to be a constant threat to the people of Israel for generations to come, not only militarily, but spiritually.

In Joshua’s day, the Philistines would have been few in number and should have been an easy target for the people of Israel. The land they occupied was located to the west of the land awarded to the tribes of Dan, Simeon and Judah. Their cities, including Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron, were to be considered Canaanite cities and, therefore, part of the inheritance God had given to Israel. But that little strip of land would prove to be a major obstacle in Israel’s efforts to obey God’s command to occupy the land of Canaan. And more than three centuries later, King Saul would find himself dealing with the constant threat of a much larger, stronger Philistine nation, all because the people of Israel had refused to do what God had commanded them to do.

The dangerous tendency of the people of Israel to practice partial obedience is revealed in verses 8-13, where we are provided an overview of the less-than-successful efforts of the tribes of Manasseh, Reuben and Gad to eradicate the enemies living in their allotted land east of the Jordan. Joshua had given these three tribes permission to occupy the land captured by Israel in the early days of their entry into Canaan. And while they had successfully defeated the two kings, Og and Sihon, taking over their cities and occupying their former kingdoms, the text provides us with a sad assessment of their overall efforts to obey God’s command.

Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day. – Joshua 13:13 ESV

This will not be the only time we read of Israel’s failure to rid the land of its inhabitants and to eliminate the potential threat of spiritual contamination from pagan influences.  These statements of partial obedience will appear throughout the remaining chapters of the book of Joshua.

But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. – Joshua 15:63 ESV

However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor. – Joshua 16:10 ESV

Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out. – Joshua 17:12-13 ESV

The various tribes would struggle to keep the word of God, choosing instead to make concessions and compromises, allowing the enemies of Israel to remain in the land. God had never commanded the Israelites to make the Canaanites their slaves. He had commanded that they be completely eradicated. Years earlier, Moses had clearly warned the people of Israel of God’s commands concerning the people of Canaan, and he had given them a strong reason for such drastic measures.

1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 ESV

Partial obedience to the will of God is not obedience at all. It is sin and it is dangerous because it comes with consequences. The Israelites would choose to allow their enemies to live. They would end up making covenants with them. They would eventually allow their children to intermarry with them. And they would find themselves led away from God because of them. The land of Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey. It was rich and bountiful. It was beautiful. And it was a gift given to the people of Israel by God. But it was marred by the presence of sin. It was filled with false gods and people who stood opposed to the one true God. Israel’s decision to practice partial obedience to God would prevent them from enjoying the fullness of God’s blessings. And their failure to obey now would have long-term ramifications for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson