The Book of Joshua closes on a sobering note. The great military leader, Joshua, after finally marching into the Promised Land with the Israelites and doling out the land among the tribes, addressed his people and didn’t pull any punches when he did so:
“You will not be able to worship Yahweh, because He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not remove your transgressions and sins. If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, He will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you, after he has been good to you” (Joshua 24:19-20).
The people made promises in response; oh, how they made promises. But the book then closes with the death and burial of Joshua, their leader, the elders who outlived Joshua but had born witness to and participated in the conquest of the land, and Eleazar the priest. Their lives had been filled with battle and bloodshed, starting with the battle of Jericho and moving right on through the land. During those days, the Israelites marched and fought and plundered and no one could stand in their way. More precisely, no one could stand in the way of their God who had given them the land.
But Joshua knew their tendencies. He knew the frailty of their hearts. He knew the nature of empty promises and big talk. And one wonders if he died knowing that the future was not as bright as it might seem, for indeed it was not. Maybe part of that pessimism was due to what he had seen in his lifetime – a failure to follow through. Going back to their days of conquest, you see a pattern that extended right through the life and death of Joshua and into the period of the Judges. The Israelites failed to fully do, brutal though it might seem, what God told them to do:
- Joshua 13:13: …but the Israelites did not drive out the Geshurites and Maacathites. So Geshur and Maacath live in Israel to this day.
- Joshua 15:63: But the descendants of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem. So the Jebusites live in Jerusalem among the descendants of Judah to this day.
- Joshua 16:10: But, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer. So the Canaanites live in Ephraim to this day, but they are forced laborers.
- Joshua 17:11-13: Within Issachar and Asher, Manasseh had Beth-shean with its towns, Ibleam with its towns, and the inhabitants of Dor with its towns; the inhabitants of En-dor with its towns, the inhabitants of Taanach with its towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo with its towns—the three cities ofNaphath.The descendants of Manasseh could not possess these cities, because the Canaanites were determined to stay in this land. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they imposed forced labor on the Canaanites but did not drive them out completely.
- Judges 1:21: At the same time the Benjaminites did not drive out the Jebusites who were living in Jerusalem. The Jebusites have lived among the Benjaminites in Jerusalem to this day.
- Judges 1:30: Zebulun failed to drive out the residents of Kitron or the residents of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them and served as forced labor.
- Judges 1:31-32: Asher failed to drive out the residents of Acco or of Sidon, or Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob. The Asherites lived among the Canaanites who were living in the land, because they failed to drive them out.
- Judges 1:33: Naphtali did not drive out the residents of Beth-shemesh or the residents of Beth-anath. They lived among the Canaanites who were living in the land, but the residents of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath served as their forced labor.
- Judges 1:34-36: The Amorites forced the Danites into the hill country and did not allow them to go down into the valley.The Amorites refused to leaveHar-heres, Aijalon, and Shaalbim. When the house of Joseph got the upper hand, the Amorites were made to serve as forced labor. The territory of the Amorites extended from the Ascent of Akrabbim, that is from Sela upward.
This wasn’t, if you’ll pardon the expression, the violent nature of obedience God commanded. It was going halfway – an “almost” kind of obedience to His call, and one they would pay for in the years to come. It wasn’t that the commands of God were confusing. Nor was it that they were complicated. They were simple and straightforward with no middle ground. So why did Israel, time and time again, stop short of going all the way? You could argue there were many reasons. Perhaps it was lack of faith that God would continue to deliver them. Maybe it’s that there’s a tendency inside all of us to always look to the minimum required and try and do one step less than that. But I also think there’s a simple reason for their almost obedience, and one that’s in me as well:
They got tired of fighting.
I mean, come on – they had to do a lot of fighting. It wasn’t that the land was served up on a silver plate entirely. Sure, God would go with them. And sure, He would give them victory. But they were the ones who had to sweat it out in the armor. They were the ones always on the move. They were the ones hunting these people down. And perhaps there came a time when they were just tired of the whole thing. They wanted to settle down and put their swords up on the mantle piece of their homes, a relic of a more violent past that was only brought down to tell bedtime stories to their children.
They got tired of fighting, and so they failed to finish the work at hand.
I get that. I get it because there are many days, most days in fact, when I’m tired of fighting. Because, in reality, the Christian life is a fight. Ever notice in the New Testament how violently Paul talked about the sinful nature still alive inside the Christian? He says that we should “put it to death” (Colossians 3:5). He says that we should “crucify the flesh” (Galatians 5:24). These are not casual terms; they’re bloody. Nasty. They’re fighting words. And, if you’ve really looked inside yourself, you know that there’s a constant war going on there between the work of the Spirit and the person you once were apart from Christ. That person had died, but like a zombie that slowly creeps up behind you, he’s not going quietly into the night. Not without a fight.
So we get tired. Fighting makes you that way, especially when it seems like you’re fighting the same zombie you fought yesterday. You put him to death, but here he comes again, and at some point you or I might come to the conclusion that it would be far better and easier to simply make peace with that zombie. To live together in harmony. After all, it’s a big land (in the case of the Israelites) and a big, long life (in the case of you or I).
But we can’t. We can’t sheath the sword. We can’t hang it up. We must press on and keep in the fight.
The bad news, of course, is that the fight never ends for the Christian; the opponent only slightly changes over time. Victory, then, is not so much completely ridding ourselves of lingering sin, for only Jesus can do that (and, thank God, He will). Victory is being in the fight. Again and again.
Are you tired of being patient with your children? Stay in the fight.
Are you tired of holding up honest business dealings at your office? Stay in the fight.
Are you tired of being tempted to click where you should not on the screen? Stay in the fight.
Are you tired of praying for that family member who does not know Jesus? Stay in the fight.
Get in the fight. And stay in the fight. Don’t make peace with that which means to quietly conquer you. And all the while, be fueled by the truth that you are battling a conquered foe who is living on borrowed time.