The questions here posed are legitimate. The same questions existed shortly after Jesus’ day, as His apostles were carrying the message of His paradoxical all-conquering victory via death and Resurrection into the world. To wit, in the second letter of Peter, one is able to read questioning words like “Where is His promised return? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4).
In the face of the message that Jesus had conquered death, hearers in that day were no less able than “astute observers” today (who always think that they are the first to notice that there is evil all around them), to take in their surroundings and see violence, death, and inexplicable destruction, and say “Nothing much has changed. Things pretty much look the same way that they have always looked.” It’s a legitimate observation, so how is the question to be answered?
Naturally, this is a difficult issue that has plagued all that have ever posited a God of love and a victorious Messiah. As they fought to take possession of that which they believed had been promised to them, Israel would have been tempted to pose the same type of statement and its implied question to their God. They could easily cast a collective gaze upwards and say, “Lord, You promised this land to our ancestors and to us. You brought us out of Egypt. You directed us to cross the Jordan and to re-claim that which you said is ours. Why don’t these people know this? You brought plagues on Egypt, parted the Red Sea, destroyed the Egyptian army, and gave us food and water in the wilderness, so why not just drive these people from the land with the obvious mighty power of your outstretched arm? Would that not be easier? Would that not be a greater demonstration of your power than us having to carry out these campaigns?”
One could even imagine the covenant people attempting to employ some reverse psychology on the Creator God by saying, “Seriously, Lord, if you just drive them out, then you will get all the glory. If we have to do battle against these people and these rulers, then we might get some of the glory too. We don’t want that. You don’t really want that, do you?”
How might the God of Israel be disposed to respond to such thinking? After all (and putting aside the potential ploy at reverse psychology), based on the reported experience of Israel in their journey out of and from Egypt, these are legitimate points. Returning then to the eleventh chapter of Joshua so as to pick up where this study left off, and in response to the concerns of the covenant people of the Creator God, it is said that “the Lord determined to make them obstinate so they would attack Israel. He wanted Israel to annihilate them without mercy, as He had instructed Moses” (11:20).
Without getting sidetracked by the thought that this, in isolation, paints the picture of something less than a loving God, one finds that though the land had been given to Israel, and though the people of the land had been handed over to Israel, the Creator God wanted His people to annihilate them (though some could certainly see such reports as after-the-fact justification). Regardless, the narrative suggests that Israel’s God did in fact desire that His people have a hand in the battle.
Indeed, Scripture seems to suggest that the Creator God wanted to work through His people and empower His people to come alongside Him and work with Him to deal with and overcome that which despoiled, defaced, and decimated their land of promise---that first part of the creation that was to be redeemed through the care and stewardship of His covenant people. In the end then, Israel should have been compelled to point to their God, and the power of their promise-making God, as the means by which they emerged victorious.