Joshua 15: The Jebusites

With the start of Joshua 15, we begin to really dig into the details of how the land was divided among the tribes – and even clans – of Israel, starting with the tribe of Judah. It made sense to start with Judah since it was at the south end of the promise land and we already saw a member of Judah, Caleb, receive his inheritance in chapter 14.

So we start out with the overall boundaries of the land of Judah, which is marked by the Dead Sea on the east, the Gulf of Aqaba on the southern tip, the Mediterranean on the west, and a mountain on the north. It is interesting to note that, while this represented the largest single tribe’s inheritance,  a good deal of this territory was rugged and mountainous, and also rather dry as the climate shifted toward desert on the southern end. Also, the tribe of Simeon was to be later carved out of its middle. And then, of course, we have the fact that most of this area had not yet been conquered.

So basically, Judah was given the task of pushing southward, driving the current inhabitants out before them, and establishing themselves as the southern guard for the nation. It was a tall task, to be certain. But Judah was also one of the largest tribes, so it should have been entirely doable. And so Joshua proceeded to divide up all the cities and villages in the region, assigning each clan to a section of the land.

And then, as we come to the end of the chapter, we have an abrupt and curious caveat to the entire thing: verse 63.

To be honest, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked through this passage and essentially skimmed right past the revelation that Judah was unable to dislodge the Jebusites who inhabited the city of Jerusalem. I mean, I’ve known since I was a kid that Jerusalem wasn’t finally captured until David came to power, but I guess I’ve never really thought about it all that much. Today, though, as I consider this discovery anew, I am compelled to realize a couple of things.

The first is the wording of the verse: “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites.” I believe this is a critical point. Indeed, in the previous 14 chapters, we see time and again that God could do anything! In 3:15-16, we discover, “As soon as the priests who carried the ark [of the covenant]” – which represented the very presence of God with Israel – “reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.” God stopped the Jordan from running, even at flood stage. Again, in 6:16, as Israel finished its seventh lap about Jericho, Joshua cried, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!” And it was so. In 7:1, “the Lord’s anger burned against Israel,” and later in the chapter, they failed to take Ai. In 8:1, though, after they had dealt with Achan and his sin, God said, “I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.” And that’s exactly what He did. In 11:8, we read, “The Lord gave them into the hand of Israel.” In 11:20, we see, “It was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally.” In 13:6, God vowed, “I myself will drive them out before the Israelites.” In 14:10, Caleb asserted, “Just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years.” And in 14:12, he declared, “The Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” God could do anything! And 15:63 aims to make absolutely clear that this truth was not at all in doubt! But Judah, when they failed to rely on God to help them… Judah, all by themselves, couldn’t dislodge the Jebusites from Jerusalem.

A second thing that catches my eye here is how long the Jebusites were permitted to stick around in Jerusalem. The verse says, “to this day the Jebusites live there.” Now, we need to understand that Jerusalem was a fortified city. It had a wall around it to protect it from invaders who wanted to get in. And I’m sure the Jebusite army, weakened as it was back in chapter 11, nevertheless rallied at least a small force of absolutely determined defenders to man those walls. Even so, history shows that the city was far from impregnable. Even after the Israelites took over and did some serious upgrades to the defenses, it was susceptible to siege. In fact, on at least a couple of occasions through the Kings and Chronicles, Jerusalem was on the brink of defeat when foreign armies showed up and started blockading the place. They relied on food and water from outside the wall to survive! So the question is, why didn’t Judah just set a siege and wait them out? The Jebusites would have starved in a matter of months. They certainly wouldn’t have been around “to this day.” So we must conclude that the people of Judah allowed them to stick around.

And that brings us to the third thing that I realized today. The writer concludes the chapter with perhaps the most shocking statement of all: “the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah.” Did you catch the preposition there? Notice that we don’t read, “The Jebusites lived there in spite of…” And we don’t read, “The Jebusites lived there against…” We don’t see that they stayed in Jerusalem beside, in the midst of, or even around. Rather, we read, “The Jebusites live there with the people of Judah.” This word is as significant as it is subtle. You see, it carries with it the idea that the people of Judah actually allowed the Jebusites to remain. The people of Judah mingled with the Jebusites. The people of Judah actually liked having them around.

All of a sudden, the picture of what was happening here in vs 63 is radically different. We don’t just have a simple failure on the part of the Judah-ites. Rather, we have a deliberate compromise.

The people of Judah knew what God had commanded about the inhabitants of the land. And yet, for whatever reason, they decided to allow the Jebusites to remain. And the crazy thing is, they didn’t even compel the Jebusites to become their servants or slaves, as they had the Gibeonites back in chapter 11. No, the people of Judah allowed the Jebusites to live there with them.

It’s shocking. Appalling. Maybe outrageous. And as I think about it even now, I find myself angered by the entire notion. What were they thinking? And then, all of a sudden, I realize that we do exactly the same thing.

We all have a tendency to press forward with God’s plan until we decide we’ve done enough or, maybe even more often, we run across a friend/temptation/sin that we just have too much fun with. And then we stop.

Of course, when someone confronts us about it and asks why we’re allowing that inconsistency in our testimony to remain, we have a great excuse ready to roll: “We couldn’t dislodge that from our lives.” It sounds well and good, even gives the impression that we tried, and at least on the surface, at least aims to lay the blame for the problem back at God’s feet, as though He somehow failed. And yet, when all is said and done, the fact remains that it is we who have allowed that sin to live there with us to this very day.

So, what sin are you allowing to remain a part of your life? And whose fault is it really? Maybe it’s time to repent and expel that problem once and for all.


15 Responses to “Joshua 15: The Jebusites”

  1. 1 Sandy Noel Holliday June 18, 2012 at 5:41 am

    For whatever reason som times we agree to live with the very thing or people God wants us to repel. Well written!

  2. 2 Greg Morrison January 3, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Interesting thoughts, but I believe that they are flawed. There is another much more probable explanation.

    The Israelites “could not” drive out the Jebusites because of the oath Abraham made to Abimelech. (The Jebusites descended from Abimelech.)

    Remember, this oath also reminded Moses’ original audience that they could make peace with certain inhabitants of the land. (Another example of this is Rahab.) Abraham’s bond with Abimelech showed the Israelites they were to make peace with those who desired to embrace the blessings Yahweh had for the sons of Jacob. So even though they killed the king of the Jebusites “Adonizedek” and his entire army, they were obliged to make peace with the remaining Jebusites in Israel. A key part of verse 63 is the word “with” – i.e. “to this day, the Jebusites live there WITH the people of Judah.” Not in opposition to, not as slaves to, or as enemies, not next to… but WITH. Remember that when the Gibeonites were spared, they became slaves (woodcutters and water carriers, “to this day”), and the Canaanites in Gezer also were required to be slaves as well. But the Jebusites? They lived with the people of Judah in Jerusalem.

    New covenant believers are also called to be peacemakers, in order that many might enter the kingdom of Christ.

    • 3 jgeerdes January 3, 2013 at 6:17 pm

      Good thoughts, Greg. Definitely something to think about for motivations as to why the Judahites did not drive out the Jebusites. However, even if the Jebusites were the descendants of Abimelech as some Jewish historians assert (though there is some debate), it was the Jebusites who first broke the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech by allying themselves with Jabin when he went to attack the Israelites in Joshua 11. This act would have rendered any lasting covenant between the two peoples null and void. Further, the word rendered “could” in Joshua 15:63 is all about the ability to do something. In other words, even if they determined that they shouldn’t conquer the Jebusites, this passage would not have read “could not.” But really, the bottom line remains in that word “with.” You’re right that believers are called to be peacemakers, but we’re still called to be in the world but not of it. The word “with” here implies that the Israelites and Jebusites more than co-existed. They mingled. In fact, as I pointed out in the post, this was the only way the Jebusites could have possibly survived with the Judahites living all around their city: the inhabitants of Jerusalem could not survive without supplies from outside the wall. So it wasn’t just that the Judahites lived in proximity to the Jebusites. The Judahites interacted with the Jebusites, eventually embracing components of the Jebusite culture and religion, doing exactly what God had told them not to do.

      Even if Joshua and the Israelites were New Covenant believers (which they were not), there is an exceedingly fine line to walk between being a peacemaker and compromising. The language here seems (to me) to indicate that the Israelites strayed into the realm of compromise. And sadly, this wasn’t the only time that they would do this. In fact, if you continue into chapter 16 and beyond, it becomes something of a recurring theme: the Israelites were less-than-obedient on numerous occasions.

      Like I asserted in the article, they had excuses for their compromise. Some of them even sounded really good upon initial inspection. But when held up to scrutiny, they began to fall apart.

    • 4 Lanea June 25, 2013 at 11:54 pm

      If that were the case, why did God support David in taking the city and defeating the Jebusites, “David’s Enemies” in 2 Samuel 5?

    • 5 ekimyam March 21, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      Greg, your explanation does not make sense when you include Judges 1:19-2:5. Were those in the coastal plains also descendants of Abimelech? And if so, why would God be unhappy with them over this?

  3. 6 Matthew May 28, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    I stumbled upon this post when I made the same startling discovery of Joshua 15:63. I googled the question “why couldn’t the sons of Judah drive out the Jebusites?” and yours was one of the first articles to pop up. I kind of had the same thought, that they were doing it on their own instead of relying on God, that they were settling for a compromise instead of obedience.

    However, the application you thought of really hits home. I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks for your insight.

  4. 7 Mark June 4, 2013 at 1:07 am

    Zechariah 9:7
    I will grab the bloody meat from their mouths and snatch the detestable sacrifices from their teeth. Then the surviving Philistines will worship our God and become like a clan in Judah. The Philistines of Ekron will join my people, as the ancient Jebusites once did.

    This is a prophecy given of the Most High. Notice that the Jebusites joined His people.

  5. 9 Mark June 4, 2013 at 1:13 am

    I didn’t clarify what I was trying to say. The Jebusites joined The Most High’s people seemingly w/ the acceptance by HIM for it is He talking thru the mouth of the Prophet. But it’s very interesting, 2 Hametic people; Philistines and Jebusites joining the Children of Israel.

  6. 10 Amanda October 26, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing your insight on Joshua 15:63. I am currently reading Joshua as part of my daily bible reading plan, and that verse had me a little puzzled!! Your blog post was the first hit on my google search. I love how the Spirit leads us in our quest to know Him more.

  7. 12 Marcia September 6, 2014 at 1:35 am

    I felt the same way and relayed it to Lot picking the area of Sodom allowing the culture to seep into his belief system and in the end taint Lot and his family. We too become lackadaisical to what we allow close to us , mixing up and confusing our foundations in faith. I found it very thought provoking and an exciting possible discovery in my growth process.

  8. 13 ingridoxley November 2, 2014 at 6:38 am

    Didnt they have to allow them because of the covenant mase with the two spies?

    • 14 jgeerdes December 9, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      Are you referring to the covenant made between Rahab and the two spies Joshua sent to Jericho? If that’s the case, then I don’t think so. Jericho was an independent city-state, distinct from the Jebusites who controlled Jerusalem.

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