Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
After years of wandering through the desert and then fighting an entire region’s different sets of peoples, the Israelites were able to claim the land that the Lord had promised them. We read about them preparing for this in Joshua 18:8-10,
As the men started on their way to map out the land, Joshua instructed them, “God and make a survey of the land and write a description of it. Then return to me, and I will cast lots for you here at Shiloh in the presence of the Lord.” So the men left and went through the land. They wrote its description on a scroll, town by town, in seven parts, and returned to Joshua in the camp at Shiloh. Joshua then cast lots for them in Shiloh in the presence of the Lord, and there he distributed the land to the Israelites according to their tribal divisions.
Finally, after all of this time and hard work and bloodshed, the land was theirs. The tribes could spread out and settle the land.
There was just one problem: much of the distributed land was still occupied by their native peoples. Yeah, the wars in Canaan opened up much of the land; however there were still pockets of Canaanites and other peoples living in the land. Not only that, but much of the outskirts had been untaken during the battles (or in some cases recovered by those driven from the land). Joshua already knew this though before they distributed up the land. We read just a handful of verses before in Joshua 18:3, “So Joshua said to the Israelites: ‘How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers has given you?’” Sure, much of the land had been cleared, but Joshua left it up to the people to take their full inheritance. Because of this, most of the tribes end up unable to take all of the land allotted to them. We read of Ephraim, “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor” (Joshua 16:10). Or Manasseh it is written, “Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region” (Joshua 17:12). Both Ephraim and Manasseh actually complained together to Joshua about this situation in Joshua 17:16,
The people of Joseph replied, ‘The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the plain have iron chariots, both those in Beth Shan and its settlements and those in the Valley of Jezreel.”
Even what we know as the center of Israel, Jerusalem, had not been taken by the Israelites during their initial campaign. Even though the Jebusites living there were completely surrounded by Israelites 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” (Joshua 15:63).
If the people weren’t completely driven out, why did the war stop? Joshua had already seen the war as being won, and any skirmishes could be taken care of by their respective tribes, Canaan belonged to the Israelites (for the most part anyway). We’re given a little bit of clarification on this issue in the book of Judges. We read,
These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses (Judges 3:1-4).
The Lord didn’t completely wipe the people out in order to train and to test the next generation’s quality. If you read through the book of Judges, this is a test that the Israelites utterly fail and continue to fail (and actually lose ground to) until Saul and David show up.
Likewise, when we’re saved, the war is won and we are given our promised land: eternal life. Jesus already died on the cross to save us from our sins. The last words our Lord and Savior spoke on the cross reflect the nature of our war, “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). Our war is over when we accept Christ into our hearts and believe in him. “But hold on a second here, when I was saved, I only felt some of my worldly desires and sinful thoughts go away, I’ve still got problems, Jesus!” Just like with the Israelites in the book of Joshua, the war is already finished, but there is still much land to be taken for a Christian. Jesus has already conquered death for us, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t iron chariots still in the land keeping us from our full potential.
Let me explain a bit better; for us, we are not taking physical land, but spiritual blessings and varied plans that the Lord has laid out for us. Yes, some things will never change, like the promise of heaven. However, after coming to Christ, the Lord opens up more opportunities both for glory on earth and treasures in heaven; we just have to be willing to fight for them. For the Israelites, there was a whole bunch of native Canaanites waiting to be conquered. But as Christians Paul tells us,
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).
We’re fighting against what is left of our fleshly bodies and our worldly desires. Some people are also called to help fight against the ills of the world as they claim their place in heaven. The Lord commanded the Israelites before entering the Promised Land to never give in and to never stop fighting until the Canaanites were wiped out. We read,
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations- the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hevites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you- and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).
In the same way we are called to show no mercy to our sins. God may have wiped our slate clean and he may have freed us from some of our constraints (be them addictions, handicaps, or parts of our heathen lifestyle before being saved), but he won’t get rid of them all for us. No, the Lord leaves some of our fleshy life in us in order to see if we can fight the big spiritual fights and if we will actually follow what the Lord tells us to do in his Word.
Many Christians think that after coming to Christ, the battle is over. This is only partly true, the war for our soul is over; but there are still battles ahead. I see plenty of Christians who after coming to Christ act the exact same as they would have without Jesus. Some pastors will claim that maybe they aren’t truly saved, but it is not my place to make that kind of suggestion. Paul dealt with this issue in his ministry, a person would come to Christ, but then just sort of live however they felt. Therefore he wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “’Everything is permissible for me’- but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’- but I will not be mastered by anything.” Throughout the book of Judges, we find the Israelites acting like pagans and then being mastered by their Canaanite neighbors. We may be saved, however, the Lord calls us to be obedient and to live our lives with a mindset that sees sin and idolatry as a target for genocide (remember, God said not to make treaties with the people in the Promised Land but to kill them all). Again, we aren’t fighting people; our fight is with that which wars in our hearts (sin, idolatry, ungodly behavior, disbelief). Paul uses the example of sexual sin when he writes, “’Food for the stomach and the stomach for food’- but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13). After being washed by the blood of Jesus, our bodies become the holy temple of God, and sin is not to be tolerated in the temple. Of course, after being saved, you can act however you want and theoretically you’re still going to heaven, but this isn’t what God has in store.
By using our second chance at life to its fullest, God will take notice and will bless us both in this life and in the life to come. If we can be faithful with what we have been given in salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we will reap a reward. Jesus tells us that for the faithful, more responsibility (and blessing at that) will be given. He tells us of the faithful servant in Matthew 25:21, “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” Wouldn’t you like to hear that from God when you get to heaven? But, by not driving out our sins, we are unable to fully claim what the Lord has ready for us. God gives us the tools we need to make our lives better. We have the Bible to help us understand right from wrong (a line that our modern age is continually blurring from a worldly perspective). We have the Holy Spirit to guide our decision making and to call us out when we’re doing wrong. And we have the promise that the sins and temptations the Lord has allowed to continue in our lives are not stronger than we can handle (with God’s help); for it is written,
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
God will always help us. I’ve heard plenty of stories of people who were addicted to some sort of substance before coming to Christ, but after Jesus came into their lives, the addiction was completely lifted- likely the Lord knew they wouldn’t be able to handle the physical properties of their addiction and so he blasted it right off the field. God will do what we can’t do. The Lord promised the Israelites before entering the Promised Land,
I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way (Exodus 23:27-28).
This promise is still intact today as we go into our battles. The Lord will be our strength against sin in our lives and will help us to claim the land if we try. The devil isn’t scared of you, but he is terrified of Jesus. Since those who have come to Jesus for life have him on their side, we can be confident in saying “Amen!” when James tells us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). If we keep Jesus in our hearts, the devil will run and we will claim the land God called us to take.
Never give up, brothers and sisters. The great city of Jerusalem wasn’t claimed until the time of David which was long after the Promised Land was settled. It is a long fight, and some of our sins refuse to be driven out, but if we keep at it, praying and resisting temptation we can each claim all that the Lord has given us already. And if we lead others to conquer their personal Canaans, surely the Lord will give us even more blessings in the life to come, so don’t forget to spread the Word of God’s amazing saving grace. For the Lord tells us today what he told Joshua long ago,
No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:5-9).
Rock on God!