Recently I was reading again through Joshua 24, and dwelt a bit on these passages in Joshua’s address to Israel,
“And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow. And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat.” (Joshua 24:12-13)
We know (I Corinthians 10:11) that the events which happened to the children of Israel as they wandered the desert and entered the promised land are applicable to our own lives today as Christians in a typological sense. We know that it was Moses, representative of the Law, who led Israel out of Egypt (a type of the world). But it was Joshua, same name in Hebrew (Yeshua) as that of Jesus, who led the children of Israel into the promised land. So also it is the Law which reveals our sin to us and which God uses to draw us out of the world and unto Him, but it is the grace of God through Jesus Christ which leads us into the good land. Now, the promised land is NOT a type of heaven or of the kingdom of God in its eternal state. Rather, it is a type of the present Christian life. Remember that even for the faithful among the children of Israel, there remaineth yet a rest for the people of God which Joshua (called Jesus) did not give (Hebrews 4:8-9).
So, the entry into the promised land is typological of the entrance into the Christian life, with its ups and its downs. Looking at the passage above, then, a very salient point comes into focus – the absolute necessity of depending upon God to sanctify us if we are to in any wise grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.
So many Christians it seems have this idea that sanctification is something gotten by our own effort. While we are told to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), let us not forget that the very next verse (v.13) says that it is God that works in us to both desire to do, and then be able to do, His good pleasure. Sanctification requires our active participation, just as the taking of the land required Israel to actually get out there and fight. But, sanctification is not obtainable by our own ability, power, spirituality, or efforts apart from the sanctifying and strengthening ministry of God’s holy Spirit. God drove out the Canaanites from before Israel. Some commentators consider the “hornets” to be real, others consider the reference to be figurative, describing the terror of Israel which God put into the hearts of their enemies. I tend to think the literal interpretation is correct – there’s no real need or contextual clues to indicate it as figurative as far as I can see. But either way, the work of driving out the inhabitants was mostly God’s. The Israelites came in and mopped up. The work was God’s, the Israelites the beneficiaries of His grace in opening up and preparing the land for them. Likewise, we are the blessed recipients of God’s mercy to us in opening up the fruits of Christian growth and expansion of our ministry of service before him.
Similarly, the Israelites dwelt in houses and cities and enjoyed vineyards and olive stands which they had not laboured to create themselves. In our lives as Christians, we receive the blessing of God’s preparation and provision of His abundance for us, something which is of Him and which we have not produced ourselves.
So, how should we go about possessing the land and enjoying it? By submitting wholly to God in every area. Following His lead as He directs our efforts against sin and error in our lives. Going where He commands as He takes us in new directions in our lives and opens up new areas for growth and commitment. And foremost, trusting Him faithfully to be willing to go and do where and what He leads. Israel wouldn’t have enjoyed the fruit of God’s provision and protection if they hadn’t been willing to follow Him in faith and obedience into the promised land. Indeed, they didn’t do so the first time around, and got to spend 40 years enjoying the sumptious life of desert nomads. Though I must again emphasise that the work is God’s and the blessings His to give, we also have a part to play – that of active obedience. God directs, but it is our hands, feet, and mouths that perform the labour,
“For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” (I Corinthians 3:9)
Our labour is to acquiesce to God and to do as He directs. It is then that we truly become God’s building, i.e. that which God builds up into the spiritual houses (I Peter 2:5) that God desires us as individuals and our churches as corporate bodies of Christians to be. God has prepared and is preparing the land for us. God prepares this land for us a portion at a time, just as He told Israel he would do for them with the physical promised land (Exodus 23:29-30). As we grow into what we know to do, He opens up more for us. So let us keep growing and being obedient to take possession of that which He leads us to, until we come into the fullness of the blessing at His return.