JOSHUA 16, 17, and 18
Judah’s allotment of land had now been sorted and it was the turn of Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, to receive theirs next. Some of the time they were known collectively as ‘Joseph’ still. It is interesting that – as with Judah – there was a group of Canaanites that they failed to remove from their land, and who ended up as slaves. This neglect of God’s command would come back to ‘bite’ them in the future! The factor that may have contributed was having only half of the Manasseh tribe, since the other half were to live in the Transjordan territories; I wonder whether there was perhaps less ‘heart’ and commitment from these ‘distant’ tribal members, who were not really battling for land that they would occupy. In Christian mission activities, it is always good to help other believers in far-flung lands, but we are called principally to occupy the spiritual territory around where we live and socialize and work – that is what we should have the most ‘heart’ for.
The other distinction that needs to be made is between Joshua’s large-scale, united, military campaigns to neutralize the Canaanite armies and destroy the city populations – and the need for each Israelite tribal community to incrementally occupy the land and make their home there. Apart from one or two ‘mishaps’, the great battles were all won convincingly, and progress looked promising; however, the process of encroachment and occupation was much more ‘patchy’ and more prone to apathy on the part of the Israelites, who started to lose their appetite for warfare and just wanted to settle down comfortably.
This distinction can be carried over to the Christian mission activities: often we make great breakthroughs in terms of prayer, miraculous events, healings, and geographical breakthroughs in a locality, but then we lose the initiative, give up previously-won ground, and settle into complacency when we should be pushing on with our initial enthusiasm. Sometimes our relationship with the Lord suffers too – without the urgency of the heat of battle – and we get spiritually ‘flabby’! In any enterprise or organization, there are rhythms of intense breakthrough, surrounded by periods of consolidation and stepwise progress; any overall failure is generally due to a lack of perseverance in the latter.
We see that Manasseh similarly failed to drive out some Canaanites who drove fast chariots! After that (chapter 18) it was time for the remainder of Israel’s tribes to start moving out to claim their inheritances – quite why this hadn’t happened until then, I’m not sure. They had a fresh allocation ceremony at Shiloh (where the Tent of Meeting resided at the time) and the remaining seven tribes again had divine decisions on who was to live where. For us, it is really important to hear definitively from the Lord precisely what and where your mission field is, and to know what giftings you possess for occupying that mission field. Too many Christians wander around in a ‘daze’ for far too long, not really knowing where they are called and what ways they can most effectively serve God. Very few seek the advice of their leadership, nor do they spend time waiting on the Holy Spirit for direction.
The analogy between Israel occupying a physical land, and Christians working to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth is a good one, but sometimes causes misunderstanding. Our enemies are not other people, but the forces of darkness (see Ephesians 6); our territory that we incrementally occupy is the unsaved population that hopefully get assimilated into Kingdom ways of living and loving. But God is still the same God, and we still need his miraculous powers to succeed in a world that is the Devil’s stronghold. Our ‘Jericho’s’ are local strongholds that need toppling and taking over for the good of the entire surrounding population. Don’t attempt to storm them until you have (a) heard specifically from God; and (b) are certain that you are united as a group of believers.