God promised His children they would take possession of the land of Canaan. All that He had told them that He would do since delivering them from slavery in Egypt, He made good on His Word. Time and again He had demonstrated to the Israelites that they could trust HIm. God allowed an entire generation to perish in the wilderness for lack of belief. The next generation started out well by following His commands at Jericho and, after the incident with Achan, by gaining victory over Ai. Joshua, with the anointing of Moses, continued to faithfully pursue all that the Lord had said in gaining the Promised Land.
However, after several of the tribes claimed their allotted portions, the remaining tribes seemed hesitant to follow through to claim their parcels. The people of the tribe of Joseph – who were quite numerous – complained that they didn’t have enough room for everyone based on what they had so far. The half tribe of Manasseh was supposed to take land to the west of the Jordan River but failed to do so. Interestingly, Joshua 17:12 records:
Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land.
What was their problem? Was God’s right arm not long enough? No, it seemed they were fearful of the Canaanites who dwelled in the hill country because of their iron chariots and military prowess. Joshua had to remind them that they as God’s people had great power and would succeed. Despite that, there was a general reluctance on the part of the remaining tribes, necessitating Joshua to ask the question in Joshua 18:3:
“How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?”
This remained a problem in that the Israelites failed in many instances to drive out the inhabitants in the land. Canaanites remained, although for a time Israel was able to dominate them and use them as forced labor. This changed in the subsequent years when God’s people failed to follow Him, so that He allowed their enemies to grow strong as an object lesson (that they never fully learned).
What is the object lesson for us in this account? Let’s substitute sin in our lives in place of the Canaanites that were a persistent thorn in the Israelites’ sides.
It’s a fairly simple message. When we turn from our life of sin to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. We are transformed and become new creatures in Christ Jesus. As such, we’re to begin living for Him and like Him. However, just as God told the Israelites that He would not eliminate all their enemies at once because it would overwhelm them (Deuteronomy 7:22), so it is with some aspects of the sin in our lives. Our journey as followers of Jesus is one that must be taken a step at a time. We call the process progressive sanctification. Little by little we grow in the Lord, shedding the negative aspects of our past. This might mean that some of the sins from before our salvation cling to us. We are completely washed in the blood of Christ, fully forgiven and cleansed, but we haven’t yet taken out all the trash from the past. In other words, like with the people of Manasseh, we still have some Canaanites dwelling in our midst.
Now, just as Israel tamed the Canaanites for a time putting them to forced labor, we may be able to live our lives in Christ with some prior sins lurking nearby. We subdue them but don’t completely eliminate them. What this ended up meaning for Israel was that if they failed to completely follow the Lord, the Canaanites grew stronger and more numerous. This became a significant problem in the book of Judges.
This issue is one that many Christians face. Rather than living completely for Jesus, they do so half-heartedly and allow certain sins to remain. This can cause the problem going forward that when trouble strikes, those sins are ever-ready to rise up and contend for their portion of the land, i.e. the place in our life that they want to reclaim.
Joshua knew this would cause difficulties. It’s why he asked the remaining tribes who hadn’t yet done what God commanded how long it would be before they took full possession of all that He had provided.
In our Christian walk, Jesus asks us the same question: “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?”
How long will it be that we allow the sins of our past to live and to influence us? How long before we completely eliminate them from our lives?
When we follow Jesus in a half-hearted manner, we get a life that cannot receive all that God has for us. He wants to give us life and that more abundantly (John 10:10), but we have to eliminate all that will steal, kill, and destroy our life in Christ.