Take & Possess: Canaanites, Weeds, & Driving Out Enemies (Part II)

Burdock Weeds

Driving out -ites is effortful. It’s hard work to hold back weeds. Despite all our pulling and digging, wild mustard grows like gangbusters and burdocks keep sharing their spiny seeds.

In fact, I plucked some burdock off my running tights this morning. Two steps off the trail was all it took; they latched on before I knew. I ran all of five yards before the itch was too much and I had stop and pluck them off.

At least some of them.

When It’s Not Good To COEXIST

In Part I, I shared how God told the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land to drive out the current residents—the “-ites.” God promised through Joshua that he would be with them and give them success. So he called them to take and to possess the land. But they did not. They chose to coexist.

Neither God nor Joshua suggested the Israelites “coexist” with the Canaanites. Because coexisting with -ites leads to compromise (Deut. 7:16-26), “for that shall be a snare to you.”

The Israelites could not possess that part of the land where they coexisted with the Canaanites (Judges 1:27-34). Instead of destroying or driving them out as God had commanded, the Israelites allowed them to live in their midst.

But we are not called to dwell with sin in our lives and let burdocks to stick to our pants. With these we ought not coexist.

For we are called not only to take but to possess the land.

Take And Possess

In an insightful message called “Living With The Enemy,” pastor Bob Deffinbaugh explains the distinction between the Hebrew words“take” (lakad) and “possess” (yarash),

The term “to take” has reference to the initial conquest of a territory while the term “to possess” refers to the permanent occupation and control of that territory.

We may read of an earlier conquest of a certain city in Joshua only to discover in Judges that it had to be taken again and then possessed. When the Israelites first “took” the Promised Land under Joshua, there were too few people to occupy and possess the land. When the victorious Israelites moved on to fight another battle, the displaced Canaanites moved back to “re-possess” their land. Under Joshua, the Israelite tribes united to fight the Canaanites and make strategic victories (Joshua 1-12). Later under Joshua (Joshua 13 ff.), the land was divided among the Israelite tribes with each tribe allotted an inheritance. Then, in Judges, it is the task of each individual tribe to “possess” their inheritance. This usually required retaking the land and then occupying (possessing) it.

But these two JoyPrO posts are more than an Old Testament history lesson. They’re meant to help make sense of our struggles with “indwelling sin.”

Because if we focus elsewhere the enemy slips back in. This morning it was a bright yellow flower, a cowslip I think, that took my focus off the beaten path where the burdock got me.

They represent our besetting sins, the ones that are hard to shake, that “cling so closely.” We might “take” and name them: gossip or anger, grumbling or envy or anxiety. But we don’t fully drive them out.

They’re irritating. But it takes more time and effort than we’d like to spend to pull all that burdock off.

Or, I could say, to fully “possess” my pants.

Why They Didn’t Possess The Land

Like we said at the start, taking possession is effortful. The Lord’s rebuke of his people in Judges 2:1-3 makes that plain.

Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” 

The Israelites did not obey God. So God did not drive out the -ites. Which makes me wonder, does God drive out our sinful -ites while we stay friendly with them?

A Thorn In Your Side

The Lord had said that He would not drive out the Canaanites, but would leave them as a “thorn in the side” and as a “snare” to them (2:3). Thus, coexistence was a form of divine discipline.

God said to Israel, in effect: ‘If you make alliances with the people of the land, you shall no longer have power to cast them out. The swift rush of the stream of victory shall be stayed. You have chosen to make them your friends, and their friendship shall produce its natural effects, of tempting you to imitation.’ The increased power of our unsubdued evils is the punishment, as it is the result, of tolerance of them. We wanted to keep them, and dreamed that we could control them. Keep them we shall, control them we cannot. They will master us if we do not expel them.

Alexander MacLaren, A Summary Of Israel’s Unfaithfulness and God’s Patience

Their mastering us means we’ve become “worldly.” It’s an old fashioned word, but I think it just means if we’re on friendly terms with weeds and soul enemies, we’re worldly.

Worldliness & Weeds

Someone has said that worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange. Which reminds me of a garden of weeds.

Have you ever grown a garden of weeds?

I have. It didn’t start that way. It started as a garden of carrots and peas. But we went west for two weeks in June and when we got back we had a garden of weeds. Because vegetables take effort.

Worldliness is whatever makes

sin look normal and righteousness look strange.

-Kevin DeYoung, from David Wells

I’ve been thinking how worldliness is like my garden of weeds. It’s what happens if you don’t push back. And if you look at a garden of weeds long enough it looks normal.

Straight rows of vegetables interspersed with brown dirt looks strange.

A Foot in Both Worlds

If we try to walk with one foot in both worlds—compromise with the world and partial obedience to God—we won’t have the best of both worlds. When I’ve tried, I’ve experienced the worst of both.

For example, the moment I start sympathizing with myself, following the world’s wisdom, rather than taking God’s way to avert passive-aggressive, it all goes south. No spiritual victory and no blessing there. 

The world’s prescription for hurt is to hurt back or to retreat, but it’ll only make it worse— more self-focused and proud. I know this. The worldly way of handling hurt won’t help you grow.

We’ve got to cling to the Lord and obey his commands. Or the weeds will come back.

Cling to the Lord & Possess the Land

We see this in Joshua chapter 23.

Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. 

Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day…

11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you…associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.

The world will not yield an inch to the person who is not resolute for God. Like the -ites who became a trap and a snare. Like pesky, unyielding weeds. The world and the weeds come back. They’re invasive.

Worldliness is a garden of spiritual weeds.

But we don’t live those weeds.

Already & Not Yet

If you know Jesus, I know your address. Because it’s the same as mine: Between the already and the not yet.

The Book of Joshua speaks of both the complete fulfillment of God’s promises (11:23, 21:45) and the incompleteness of the actual possession of the land (13:1, 23:4-5). The writer speaks of the conquest as completed (21:43-45, 10:40-42, 11:23, 23:1, 14)—I have given them rest— but he also describes the occupation as incomplete (13:1-7; 15:63, 17:12-13, 18:3, 23:5). I will drive them out.

A country may officially be defeated and occupied before every part of it ceases resistance. I was after all jogging along with more prickers in my pants. But there will comes a time when they’re all plucked out.

We see the same truth in the New Testament: the power of sin is broken, but it’s still present in our lives. God has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing and our future inheritance is guaranteed (Eph. 1:3, 14).

But we don’t possess it completely. Not yet.

Able Not To Sin

Have you ever heard this progression? That after the Fall we were:

1) Not able not to sin. But when we were redeemed, we became

2) Able not to sin. Then, in glory, we will be

3) Not able to sin.

Zach Howard explains it well in context here. Near the end of the article he writes,

Although we are able not to sin, sin still plagues us. Scripture gives no promise of sinlessness in this life; indeed, it says the opposite (1 John 1:8). We’re never promised total victory over sin.

Instead, the renewal we experience in our life is a foretaste of future glorification. We will win battles against sin in this life, but we should not expect to win the war. We have the ability not to sin, but not the ability to eradicate sin…Our ability to achieve total victory over sin will never come in this life. But it will come. It will come because Christ will return.

As Christians we can live in hope — hope that God’s grace is sufficient for our fight against sin, hope that the Spirit is renewing us and restoring our ability to fight sin day by day, and finally, hope that we will one day be completely remade. 

Yes, battling our own sin and waging war on our weeds is exhausting! But God’s grace is sufficient and the Spirit of Jesus is with us to strengthen us day by day.

Our Joshua Is Jesus

Which brings us full circle to Joshua. Reading the book of Joshua started this two part post.

Remember that the Greek name Jesus simply translates the Hebrew name Joshua. The names are the same.

What Israel received in the Promised Land, they received through the hand of Joshua. What we receive from God we receive through Jesus Christ, our Joshua. For all God’s promises are “yes” in Christ. Joshua led Israel into Canaan. Likewise, Jesus goes before us.

So don’t go into battle against with a coexist mindset. For in this Land of Already and Not Yet we are, after all, able to not sin. Even if the burdocks stick us now and then, we will pluck them off.

Until one day, led by our Joshua, we will possess a glorious thornless and weedless land.

A land with a tree and a river.

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

Revelation 22:2-3