“So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.” ESV Jos 11:23.
One of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life to wrap our heads around is: How much has changed, and how much hasn’t? We read passages like 2 Cor. 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” and we say to ourselves, “ALL things new? I still have so much of the old hanging on!” And confusion over this state can lead to times of near despair. You are not alone.
Fortunately, portions like the book of Joshua are meant – by means of their graphic descriptions of the invasion and conquering of the Canaan – to give us pictures of the Christian struggle as well.
So here, we have a pretty categorical statement: “Joshua took the whole land.” And if that’s all we read we think “wow! That’s it! It’s all done!” But in truth they were very, very far from “done” in terms of all God had called them to. Yes, they had entered the land. Yes, they had come to a place of dominance over the whole territory. Yes, they had rest from the necessary first invasion wars. But then we remember that the verse right before this one noted they had not been able to expel all of the Anakim – like those in Ashdod, Gaza and Gath; The very place where later, a descendant of the Anakim, Goliath of Gath would arise to challenge God’s armies. Nor have we read yet: Joshua 13:1 “Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess.”
Well which is it? Had they taken the whole land, or was there “yet very much land to possess”? Yes! It is an issue of what has been called “the already, but not yet” principle.
The idea here isn’t that the territory was entirely free of Canaanites, or that every inch of land was fully occupied. Rather, the whole was under Israel’s control. This is the same with the Believer and indwelling sin. Christ has won all of the territory of “self” for us. We now live in it so to speak – but not all sins are gone. Not every area of life is fully subdued as it ought to be and one day will be. But by God’s grace, we have entered the land and the decisive victory has been – even though there is massive work to be done.
Don’t be discouraged or downhearted Christian – if you are Christ’s – all things are indeed new – but not as new as they one day will be. Keep at the work. Keep battling sin. Keep looking to and trusting Christ , for one day, unlike the Israelites, you WILL be fully conformed to the image of Christ. Already new, justified, but not yet glorified. But you WILL be! By God’s good grace.