Scripture: The people of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us. Yet all the Canaanites who dwell in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.” Joshua 17:16-18 ESV
Observation: Having made good on Moses’ promise to give Caleb the land he scouted forty-five years earlier, Joshua begins the lengthy process of allocating the remainder of the Promised Land to the west of the Jordan (chapters 15-19). Amid the details of territorial names, at the midpoint of this recordkeeping matter, the author tells us that the people of Joseph’s clan (Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh) grumbled about not having enough land to represent their larger population in comparison to the other tribes. And they complain about the challenges of expanding their territory: the hill country is forested, and the well-equipped Canaanites defend the plains.
First, Joshua responds to their complaint about the labor-intensive additional allotment: “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you” (17:15 ESV). Then, in response to their fears regarding ousting the Canaanites, Joshua softens his response and encourages their leaders to remember that they are numerous, have “great power,” and thus will succeed (above verses).
Takeaway: There are two takeaways from the passage. First, noting Joshua’s change in tenor from confrontational to encouraging, we would do well to listen to the provoking of the Holy Spirit and know when to soften our words. In his closing remarks to the Galatians, Paul says: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). Similarly, Joshua rightfully understood that he needed to soften the blow and be encouraging to help his brethren to face their fears and get on with God’s plan.
The second takeaway pertains to the numbers. Israel’s history of warfare proves the size of their or their opponent’s armies have little bearing on the outcome if the Lord is or is not fighting for them. Thus, when Joshua exhorts them to be courageous because they have “great power,” he refers not to human numbers or effort but to divine guidance and strength. Undoubtedly, the running theme throughout the historical account of the conquest of Canaan is Israel is waging a holy war, “devoting to destruction” Yahweh’s enemies. Of course, under our New Covenant of Grace, Christ has defeated our ultimate enemy: unmitigated sin.
Thus, sin no longer condemns us, but our struggles to overcome its residual power persist. Thankfully, the odds are in our favor, for we possess the three most extraordinary powers in all creation: the Father’s love, the Son’s grace, and the Holy Spirit’s fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:14). In concert, our Triune God has set us free from the penalty of sin and is setting us free from the power of sin, and one day will free us from the presence of sin. So while we engage in spiritual skirmishes of this the Kingdom of God on earth, the only elements that must be “dedicated to destruction” are the sin patterns that sideline us. And the Holy Spirit is in charge of that crusade.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for possessing us with the “great power” of your love, your Son’s grace, and your Holy Spirit’s fellowship. Would you please help us to cooperate with your Holy Spirit in devoting to destruction the lingering sins in our lives that would otherwise sideline us? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling