Joshua 13: The power of a word

Joshua 13 inaugurates a new phase in Joshua’s administration. Previously, he had been focused on conquering the promised land. Now, though, Israel had seized control of the heart of Canaanite territory, capturing a vast swath of land from east of the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and even though there were still “very large areas of land to be taken over,” it was time to start allowing the people to find their new homes and settle down. So Joshua sat down and started the process of dividing the land, starting with reaffirming the inheritances handed out to Manasseh, the Reubenites and the Gadites on the eastern side of the river.

Starting in vs 9, Joshua outlines what each of these 2.5 tribes were to receive and talks about how each of them would be responsible to finish driving out at least some of the Canaanite inhabitants that remained. But then, in verse 13, we run into a massive road block when we read, “But the Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah, so they continue to live among the Israelites to this day.”

Wait a second. The Israelites did not…? It’s an interesting choice of words because it would have been one thing had it said they could not. Had our author chosen this wording, it would have meant that there was something beyond control which prevented Israel from driving these people out of the area. As it is, though, we have the reality that they simply didn’t do it.

If they couldn’t do the task, then it would have been understandable, even excusable. The people of Geshur and Maacah were simply too strong, too fortified, too whatever. The Israelites couldn’t be blamed for the failure here because it just wasn’t possible for them to do what they were supposed to do. But then, whose fault would it have been? The people of Geshur? Of Maacah?

If the wording here had been that Israel “could not drive out” these people, the fault would have been God’s. He was the one that promised them the land. He was the one that promised to go with them. He was the one that promised victory. If they were unable to achieve victory, it would mean that those Canaanites were too strong for Israel – and Israel’s God – to defeat. The fault could have rested only and solely with God because He couldn’t do it.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time with that.

You see, I believe in a God who created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1. I believe in a God who wiped out the earth with a flood but saved Noah and his family in Genesis 6. I believe in a God who smote the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire from heaven. A God who parted the Red Sea. Who delivered water from a rock and manna from heaven.

I believe in a God who can do anything!

And so to say that He couldn’t drive out these two nations is completely out of the question!

So, then, what happened?

In the simple choice of the word “did” rather than “could,” Joshua revealed volumes about what happened. Israel simply didn’t do it. Oh, they probably told themselves that it was too hard. They probably convinced themselves it wasn’t really necessary. They probably sold Joshua some bill about needing these people to take care of the crops or flocks or some other line of garbage. But at the end of the day, they simply didn’t do it.

It occurs to me today that one of the greatest reasons for failure in my life, the life of my church, and the life of all of us, must be exactly the same. Of course, we have all these reasons and rationales to explain it all away, but when it comes right down to it, we simply didn’t do it.

Personally, this manifests itself as simply not doing our homework. Not pressing to finish a job. Not pushing to become truly successful.

And corporately, it appears as a list of things that we simply didn’t get to.

Of course, at the time, we tell ourselves things like, “I’m just not interested in doing that,” “I’m too busy,” or “I’ve got something else I’ve got to do.” But how often do we, after the fact, look back on those moments and, while we still tell ourselves those same excuses, know that they really don’t hold water?

I wasn’t interested in going to college. But man, I should have pushed through anyway.

I was too busy to spend time with my kids. But boy, I could have made the time.

I had something else I needed to do first – or instead. But you know, the truth is, I just didn’t do it.

As I look back on my life, I am unfortunately compelled to acknowledge that there have been many times this has been my story. Every time I contemplate such things, I tell myself that I will change. I will do the things I know need to get done. And yet time and again, I simply sit by and don’t do it.

Not anymore.

And I would challenge you to do the same. Don’t let your life’s legacy be that you just didn’t do it.

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