Joshua 12 is one of those passages we might tend to treat as “fly-over” territory. What can we really learn from a lengthy list of names? Surely, Joshua could have condensed this passage to a few sentences and just given us what we needed to know.
The passage reads like a land survey. It marks out the territorial possessions of Israel in the north, south, east, and west of the land. The land was divided up before Israel actually conquered it. Just as God promised to give it to them, He faithfully delivered. All they needed to do was follow, and claim what He has set before them. In all, Joshua led the conquest of a total of 31 kings and kingdoms. The lands were of varied topography – valleys and mountains, wilderness and forest and city. It was a fruitful land, all given by God. Joshua gives a list of historical kings. This isn’t fabricated mythology; it is real history.
If we take 2 Timothy 3:16 seriously, we know that this passage is “breathed out by God.” It is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” How does Joshua 12 do all these things?
How does this passage offer training in righteousness? It shows us that God alone is righteous in all His ways, even in the allotment of lands and in the judgment of kings and nations. This passage records of the conquest of an idolatrous land. God directed Joshua to establish righteousness in the land. This passage asks us: how ought we walk in light of God’s righteousness? How are we also to drive out idolatry from our own hearts? Do we leave some territory unconquered? Is there still a Philistia in my heart?
How does this passage offer correction? First, it corrects us for dismissing the value of some passages of Scripture over others. God gave us this passage because we need it. Second, it reminds us that the records of Scripture aren’t myth or legend. We need to remember that they are real space-and-time history. Third, this passage raises questions about what God intends for the land of Israel today. An understanding of God’s providence in history ought to shape how we see our own world.
How does this passage offer reproof? We are slow to receive God’s gifts as He offers them. Like Israel, we want to skip steps, make shortcuts, take for granted what He has set before us, and as a result, we often make poor use of the grace He has freely provided. Lord, have mercy.
What does Joshua 12 teach us? God is faithful; He fulfills His covenant promises. God’s promises aren’t merely mystical; they are historical, reliable, and sure. The records of lands, kings, and nations declare: His steadfast love endures forever!