1 Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites came to Eleazar the priest and to Joshua the son of Nun and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel. 2 And they said to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, “The Lord commanded through Moses that we be given cities to dwell in, along with their pasturelands for our livestock.” 3 So by command of the Lord the people of Israel gave to the Levites the following cities and pasturelands out of their inheritance. …
… 45 The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands. 42 These cities each had its pasturelands around it. So it was with all these cities.
43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:1–3, 41–45 ESV)
The land is taken. The promise is fulfilled. God has acted, and delivered his people, and brought them to the place of promise. This is a moment when everyone in Israel can breathe easy, relax, say “thank you,” and enjoy the peace and the quiet of God’s good provision.
But just remember, Israel did not take this land — The Lord gave it. Israel did not defeat their enemies through cunning, guile, and brute force — the Lord gave them into Israel’s hands. Some were expelled, some were killed, some were subdued, and some made peace on fraudulent terms. But they were given. Land and enemies — all of this was a gift to Israel, and Israel took that gift. Because that’s what you do with gifts from God, you grab hold of them and you take possession of them. They are gifts, unearned and even unasked for. This one is clearly conditional, as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 and 30 emphatically show, but right now, at this place in Joshua;’s story, we reside in that moment between receipt of God’s gift and our response to giving.
It’s also important to remember that in this moment of peace, when the writer of Joshua acknowledges that none of the Lord’s promises to Israel have failed, and there is peace and rest across Canaan, the land is still full of Canaanites — enslaved, conquered, subject, foreigners. The rest Israel enjoys on all sides is also a gift from God, and not something Israel secured for itself.
Soon enough, this victory and peace will come to nothing. (Though the promises of God will never fail.) Because as we will see, the most human response to the gift of God is not thankfulness, but ingratitude. And a callous expectation of merit and entitlement that comes from forgetfulness.