Joshua 11: Rest from war

Joshua 11 marks a milestone in Israelite history. After marching into the promised land; capturing Jericho, Ai, and Gibeon; and confronting Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem, and his allies in battle, Joshua launched an offensive which swept across the southern portion of the territory. Confronted with the prospect of Israel’s unmitigated success, Jabin, king of Hazor, recruited an even larger, more powerful army than Adoni-Zedek had. In fact, in verse 4, we learn that “they came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots – a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (NIV).

It must have been a sight to see. Impressive, to say the least. And when Joshua and the Israelites saw this army arrayed for battle, they must have been more than a little overwhelmed. But once again, with God’s help, they won the battle. Now, since all of the kingdoms to the north had sent their entire armies to make this last stand, Israel swept north, then west, and then back to the south again, wiping out Canaanite resistance and cities as they went. And when they were done, Israel had transformed its foothold in the promise land to a stranglehold, having cut a swath across its middle from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

But something strange happens at the end of chapter 11. In verse 20, we learn that “it was the Lord himself who hardened [the Canaanites’]hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally,” and once that was done, we discover in verse 23 that “then the land had rest from war.”

What? Rest from war? Weren’t there still areas needing to be conquered? Weren’t there still opportunities for Israel to expand its territory and wealth and power?

Well, yes. But the fact was that, if they continued on their offensive streak, they would have become overextended in fairly short order. You see, as large and powerful as they were, Israel was still just a relatively small nation. It was important that they didn’t spread themselves too thin; they couldn’t maintain the land that way. It would have been bad stewardship. And it could have been strategically disastrous. So instead, while there would still be small skirmishes here and there, they took a break from all-out war.

To put it in modern terms, they put an end to “combat operations.”

There are two things about this rest from war that I think we need to see. The first is that sometimes, we need to take a break from the battle to get a breath. The Israelites still had a long way to go before they would fully possess the land God had promised them, and there were many battles still to be fought. But for the moment, it was time to rest. They needed to spend time consolidating their power, establishing themselves in the land, and growing their families so they could responsibly claim the rest of the promise land.

Similarly, we shouldn’t expect to be constantly advancing the gospel message. Sometimes we have to take time to retask, retool, and grow spiritually.

The second thing I think we must draw from the rest from war here in Joshua 11 is that it was not indefinite. It lasted for months, maybe a couple of years, but in the end, the Israelites did resume their push to take the promise land. So, while sometimes, we need to take a breather and work on key internal matters, we must ultimately return to our primary objective: to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In other words, it’s okay to take a break from evangelism and outreach every now and again to rest, recharge, and retool, but we must not stop forever. So if you’ve been resting for awhile now, it’s about time you got back to work.

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