Joshua 17: Whiners

Joshua 17 continues detailing the division of Canaan among the tribes of Israel by outlining the inheritance of the half of Manasseh that had not received territory east of the Jordan. The chapter outlines how the western half of Manasseh was given ten tracts of land which combined to make one of the largest inheritances of any of the tribes. Indeed, on paper, Manasseh’s allotment spanned the territory from the Jordan all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and was probably fifty miles north to south. It should have been plenty of territory, but there was a problem.

In verse 12, we read, “The Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region.” The region in question was in the northwestern corner of Manasseh’s inheritance, on the moist and fertile plain between the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the rugged mountains on the east.

It was highly desirable land, so it was understandable that the Canaanite inhabitants would fight tooth and nail to stay there. But one of the key factors in how they managed to stay there is mentioned in verse 16: “all the Canaanites who live in the plain have iron chariots.”

The last time the Israelites had encountered chariots was as they were fleeing from Egypt. The reason for this is really rather simple: until now, they had been fighting largely in the rugged terrain of the mountains, where the roads and potential battlefields were simply too small for a large iron chariot to maneuver effectively.

The plain, however, was a different story. Here, chariots could move, and they apparently proved highly effective in warding off the Manassites attempts to drive these people out.

The question that I have, though, is this: should the people of Manasseh been surprised by this?

Considering that God had said, way back in Deuteronomy 7:22, “The LORD your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you,” it would seem that the Manassites may have attempted to go too far too fast. Perhaps they weren’t quite ready to possess their entire inheritance.

I think we all have a tendency to have eyes bigger than our proverbial stomachs. You know the situation. You pull up to this amazing feast, and you load your plate with every amazing dish on the buffet. When you sit down and start eating, though, you quickly realize that you weren’t as hungry as you thought you were, and you struggle to finish the plate.

The thing is, none of this excused Mannaseh for what they did next. In verse 13, after noting the determination of the inhabitants of this territory, we read that, “when the Israelites grew stronger” – that is, when they were finally in a position to drive these people out and occupy the land – “they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely.”

Did you catch that? They had the power to subject the Canaanites to slave labor, but they chose not to push them out of the territory once and for all.

And then they had the nerve to complain about not having enough space for all their people.

What? Really? You chose to let Canaanites to continue to live in roughly a third of your territory, and now you’re complaining that you don’t have enough room?

But how often do we do that, too? We fail to do everything the Lord has commanded us to do, and then we sit around and complain that He doesn’t give us more! We want a bigger paycheck, but we’re not tithing on the paycheck we have. We ask God to send someone we can witness to when we’re not really witnessing to the people that are already all around us. We plead with God to grow our church while we just sit there and consume, rather than engage and serve in the body of Christ that the church is supposed to be!

Oh, we absolutely do this. And that’s why I absolutely believe that Joshua’s response to Manasseh’s request is so important. When they asked to be given an extra allotment, Joshua suggested that they move up into the hill country of Ephraim and clear land in the forests on the western plains. Their response was, basically, “But that’s too hard!”

Okay, so that was a paraphrase. But if you boil down their response, that’s what it comes out to in Jeremy’s Personal Translation. Just like my daughter stomps her foot and says she needs help to clean up her room because it’s too hard for her to do on her own, the people of Manasseh threw themselves huffed, puffed, and threw themselves a little tantrum.

And what did it get them? In vss 17-18, Joshua responded, “You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well.” In other words, he gave them exactly the territory that they said would be too hard to clear and challenged them to clear it. But that wasn’t all he said to them.

He said, “You are numerous and very powerful.” In other words, there are more than enough of you – and you are more than strong enough – to get the job done. And with God’s help, it was absolutely and undeniably true.

He said, “Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours.” In other words, do the work that you are supposed to do, and you will reap the reward. If we want more of anything, we must first do what we’re supposed to do. It’s kind of like when your mom told you to clean your plate before you went back for seconds. Only then will God give us more. But then again, who knows but that, once we’ve done that, it won’t be enough?

And he said, “though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out.” Just in case he wasn’t clear before, Joshua acknowledged that the people living in the forested hills were powerful. This wasn’t going to be easy. But with God’s help, they could get the job done. Indeed, the challenges that we face to accomplish God’s will for us are great. No matter who you are or what your situation is, they always have been, and they always will be. That’s why they’re called “challenges.” But if we set to work, with God’s help, we can get the job done.

So, the next time you’re tempted to whine about needing more, ask yourself if you’re already doing everything that God has called you to do with everything that God’s already given you to do it with. If the answer to that question is, “No,” then you have work to do before God will ever give you anything more. Now, get to work!


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