Joshua campaigned against these kings for quite some time. – Joshua 11:18 (NET)
As Israel was taking it’s promised land, and according to God’s command upon them, dispossessing the nations that were to be found there, we find that “Joshua conquered the whole land, including the hill country, all the Negev, all the land of Goshen, the lowlands, the Arabah, the hill country of Israel and its lowlands, from Mount Halak on up to Seir, as far as Baal Gaad in the Lebanon Valley below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and executed them” (11:16-18). It is these kings of whom it is said, “Joshua campaigned against these kings for quite some time” (11:18).
As we read about Israel’s conquering and taking of their land of promise, we need to bear in mind God’s purpose for Israel. Israel was to be His instrument for setting the world to rights, as they received the revelation of the Lord, so as to become a light to the nations and to all of creation, and to be the reflection of God’s glory into the world. Israel was redeemed by God, from the slavery of Egypt, so that they could be His instruments of redemption. Of course, this can be said of Jesus, as He was the embodiment of Israel; and it can also be said of all that would become God’s covenant people through the union with Jesus that results from a trusting allegiance in Him as Lord. For Israel, because that redemption from slavery and exile from God’s intentions was for both humankind and the creation itself, the land that they were promised can be seen as the first part of that creation that was itself to be redeemed. Israel was to drive all that was representative of evil from the land and occupy it.
Returning to Joshua, we read that “No city made peace with the Israelites (except the Hivites living in Gibeon); they had to conquer all of them” (11:19). Drawing the natural correlation from the responsibility of God’s covenant people Israel in that day, with that of the covenant people that are the renewed Israel in Christ, we can think here about what was written by the Apostle Paul, in that there would be a constant battle against rulers (principalities), and power, and against what he refers to as “world rulers of this darkness,” and spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12). Though we are not called to draw swords so as to extend the kingdom of God by violent force, just as Jesus challenged Israel in His day to forsake the idea that the kingdom of God was to be ushered in by bloody overthrow, we are well able to understand the use of the imagery of battle in the way in which they are employed by Paul. Yes, because of the corruption in the world because of sin, our very natures---the nature that had been designed to perfectly bear the divine image and to do that which was pleasing to God as glory-reflecting stewards of His creation---are corrupted. That corruption of our nature creates an internal conflict against being fully human (as God intended us to be), and falling short of the glory of God. Of course, that conflict is inward but expresses itself outward, and shows itself through our interaction with this world and with our fellow man.
Victory in this conflict is only made by the operation of the Spirit of God, and the very power of the Gospel, as like that which was experienced by Joshua and Israel, none of the corrupted parts of our nature want to make peace with a submission to Jesus. As it stands, just like Adam and Eve were successfully tempted with the idea that they could be like “divine beings,” we want to rule and worship ourselves, but all must be conquered. The analogy that is being drawn raises a question, especially in light of the Gospel declaration that Jesus is Lord. On the surface, we understand the need for Israel to enter the land and conquer. Or do we?
Israel had promises. Joshua had promises. After the death of Moses, God spoke to Joshua and said, “No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone” (1:5). None would be able to resist, but as we can see, that didn’t stop many from attempting. God continued His words to Joshua, saying “Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of the land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them” (1:6). So Israel had the promise that God would “hand over” the land to them, but as we read through the book of Joshua, and if we strip out the obvious supernatural intervention, it does not seem like much of a handover. It was a constant battle. As we have already noted, nobody was making peace with Israel, and they had to carry out a lengthy campaign in the land. This stand against Israel was the case, even in the face of what seemed to be well-known, as Rahab, the famous harlot from Jericho, who must have had “contact” with a diverse group of people from the whole of the promised land, says “I know the Lord is handing this land over to you. We are absolutely terrified of you, and all who live in the land are cringing before you” (2:9). We look at this situation with Israel, with their promises, and with the supposed existence of the terror of Israel of which Rahab speaks, and we are forced to think, “If Jesus’ kingdom has been established, and He is reigning at this very moment, then why do we still have to fight? Why must there be a battle? Why does death continue?”