GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO HIS LAND PROMISE TO ISRAEL IS TO BE CELEBRATED (IN ITS IMMEDIATE CONTEXT ALTHOUGH NOT IN TERMS OF ESCHATOLOGICAL FULFILLMENT)
David Howard: A glorious spiritual summary concludes the entire section devoted to the land distributions (chaps. 13–21). Davis calls it “the theological heart of the Book of Joshua.” Several significant themes from earlier in the book are reiterated here (esp. from chap. 1). It is a fittingly triumphant ending to the third major section of the book, the heart of the book in terms of the real-world lands, borders, allotments, cities, et cetera, that the Israelites inherited. Everything God had promised his people for centuries had now been meticulously delineated and allotted, with scrupulous attention to detail and fairness.
Structurally, it has been noted that this short passage summarizes everything that precedes. Verse 43 (which speaks of the land in which Israel settled) summarizes chaps. 13–21. Verse 44 (which speaks of the conflicts with Israel’s enemies) summarizes chaps. 1–12. Verse 45 summarizes everything that precedes. In terms of its content, Davis has well noted that this short section consists of praise to God. It is not just dispassionate reporting; rather, it praises him for his complete fidelity to his promises. Our awesome and reliable God is described in these verses.
These verses emphasize the totality of Israel’s success, the overarching picture of complete victory, and the all-encompassing nature of God’s faithfulness to his promises and his people. It is of a piece with similar passages, such as 10:40–42; 11:16–23; and 23:1. It does not echo the passages that stand in tension with it, which speaks of unfinished business, of lands that remained to be captured. Yet on its own terms, it does present an accurate picture of the prevailing situation at the time.
Kenneth Gangel: Let’s be careful to distinguish between the allotments of land promised in Numbers 34 to ancient Israel and the ultimate messianic kingdom described in Genesis 15 to Abraham. Obviously any newspaper on any given day would indicate that Israel does not possess the land promised to Abraham nor for that matter even the land promised in Numbers 34. The Jews have gone through a long period of dispossession. But the promises of God prevail, and the Abrahamic land allotment of Genesis 15 will eventually be Israel’s forever.
Trent Butler: The theme in Josh 21:43–45 is the faithfulness of God in fulfilling his promises. God has done his part. No matter what the political situation of Israel in a later generation, be it the divided monarchy, the fall of the northern kingdom, or the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, Israel could not blame God. God had faithfully done for Israel what he promised.
Helene Dallaire: As seen earlier, hyperbolic summaries are not unusual (11:16–23). The conclusion to chapter 21 provides an overstated synopsis of the events related to the conquest:
(1) all the land is in Israel’s possession;
(2) all her enemies have been given into her hands; and
(3) all of Yahweh’s promises have been fulfilled.
Israel has gloriously received what was promised to her forefathers centuries earlier (Ge 12:1–3; 15:18–21; 22:17–18; 24:7; 26:3; 50:24; Nu 11:12; 14:16, 23; Dt 1:8, 35; 6:10). The Lord gave rest to his people from their enemies round about (e.g., Dt 12:9–10; Jos 1:13, 15; 22:4; 23:1). Not one word from all of Yahweh’s good promises have failed.
But in reality, much work remained to be done, since the Canaanites could not be dislodged from the land (e.g., 13:1–7; 15:63; 16:10; 17:12–13). So, why do we find a discrepancy between the final summary and historical reality? Perhaps the author wishes to contrast Yahweh’s faithfulness in accomplishing all he had promised and the unfaithfulness of Israel in failing to accomplish the entire mission.
I. (:43) GRACIOUS GIFT OF THE LAND TO ISRAEL
“So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it.”
Gordon Matties: The first words underscore that the Lord is the main actor in this narrative of distribution (v. 43). The motif of divine gift of land echoes the divine speech at the beginning of the book, which also includes the motif of rest (v. 44; cf. 1:15). Joshua’s speech in Shiloh includes reference both to the divine gift and to the oath to the ancestors (18:3). The giving of rest provides a link to chapters 21-22 (21:44; 22:4). All the land (v. 43) reiterates the emphasis on the full conquest of the land, beginning with the command to spy out the whole land (2:3) and the report of the spies (2:24), the extent of Joshua’s fame (6:27), the confession of the Gibeonites (9:24), and the summaries of Joshua’s complete conquest (11:16, 23; 23:14). The overlap of those motifs along with the motif of rest on every side (v. 44) echoes the earlier statements on rest (1:13, 15; 11:23; 14:15).
Donald Campbell: Some theologians have insisted that the statement in Joshua 21:43 means that the land promise of the Abrahamic Covenant was fulfilled then. But this cannot be true because later the Bible gives additional predictions about Israel possessing the land after the time of Joshua (e.g., Amos 9:14–15+). Joshua 21:43, therefore, refers to the extent of the land as outlined in Numbers 34 and not to the ultimate extent as it will be in the messianic kingdom (Ge 15:18–21+). Also though Israel possessed the land at this time it was later dispossessed, whereas the Abrahamic Covenant promised Israel that she would possess the land forever (Ge 17:8).
Application: God graciously gives us everything that we need so that we can fully trust in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”
II. (:44) SECURE REST IN THE LAND FROM ALL ENEMIES
“And the LORD gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the LORD gave all their enemies into their hand.”
Trent Butler: This affirmation of victory and control, however, did not erase the other facts of life. Enemies abounded, and war was a constant threat. The book of Joshua stands as an example of how to act and gain similar victories in that future threat of war and defeat. War, just as peace, is to be conducted in accordance with divine command. The message of the book of Joshua is that obedient people must let God defeat their enemies and find God’s gift of peace. The book must not be misread as a call to universal war. It is a call to face all aspects of life in faith in the faithful God.
Application: God protects us from all our enemies so that we can rest in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
III. (:45) FULFILLED PROMISES TO ISRAEL
“Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.”
Trent Butler: Here is the major emphasis of the section. God’s word can be trusted, and God fulfills his promises. The faithful community of God reads history as the story of God’s directing promises.
F B Meyer: Such will be the summary of our lives, as we review them from the land of the sunset. We shall see plenty of our own failures, shortcomings, and sins, and sadly acknowledge them. We shall see that our unbelief and disobedience have deprived us of the enjoyment of much that God intended for us. We shall see that whatever was lacking was in no wise due to Him, but to ourselves. The land of our inheritance had been all given us in Jesus; but we suffered the lack of much, because of our failure to enter in.
- There may be long delays in the fulfillment of promise. — But delays are not denials; and it is better to let the fruit ripen before you pluck it. Wait till God drops it into your hand; it will be ever so much sweeter.
- There may be enemies and obstacles. — But they will give back, before the will of God, as the gates of night roll back before the touch of the dawn. Do not scheme, or fret, or be impatient; God is doing all to make thy life full of favour and blessing. Wait on Him, and keep his way; He will exalt thee to inherit the earth. Thou art as safe as if the gate of pearl were behind thee; thy joy cannot rust or be stolen; every wind is a south wind; every shore thy native land; every circumstance a rough packing-case containing the gifts of thy Fathers love.
- There may be ignorance and weakness. — But God can dear with this also. Take to Him thine imperfect apprehension, thy faltering faith, He can make right what is wrong, and adjust thee to receive all He waits to give. Heaven will be full of wonder at the way in which God has kept his word, and done all that He had promised, and more.
Application: God always keeps His promises so we should fully obey our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Cor. 1:20 “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes;
therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.”
Hebrews 13:7-8 “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”