Moses was gone and God had replaced him with Joshua. Egypt with its leeks and cucumbers and the wilderness were a fading memory and the Promised Land with its milk and honey were a delightful new reality. The nation had reaffirmed its commitment to God and His Word (Josh. 1:16-18) and demonstrated that faith when a whole generation of men underwent circumcision (5:2ff). Jericho’s walls had fallen, and after Achan’s greed was eradicated, so had Ai. Israel had marched across the land to the sea, conquering as they went and then had taken the southern half of the land and finally the north. There had to be something of a collective sigh of relief and satisfaction. The land that Jacob and his sons had left now belonged to Israel again.
Or did it?
In the process of taking over the land, they made some minor concessions. A deceptive act by the Gibeonites tricked Israel into making a covenant with them so they were allowed to live in the land (see Joshua 9). We don’t know why, but neither did they drive out the Geshurites or Maacathites (13:13). Nor did they dispossess all the Canaanites from the land that went to Ephraim (16:10) and Manasseh (17:13). For all the obedience that Israel evidenced beginning with their arrival in the land until the time of the Judges (see 24:31), this one thing they left undone: they failed to completely eradicate the enemy.
“And it came about when the sons of Israel became strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely.” (Josh. 17:13)
What Israel failed to do physically in conquering the land of Canaan after their wilderness march is a temptation for us to do spiritually. It is alluring to consider the spiritual maturity God is developing in us and say, “That’s enough. I’m satisfied.” There is a tendency to contrast the new man to the old man and become complacent. But the appropriate contrast is not backward; it is forward. The maturing person asks questions like, “What yet lies ahead to be reached?” (Phil. 3:13), “How much more of Christ’s image can I reflect?” (2 Cor. 3:18), and “What sin remains that yet needs eradication?” (Rom. 6:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:22b).
The goal of the spiritual life is not to be content with what we are spiritually, but to have a “holy discontentment” — to so passionately crave the reality of Christ’s righteousness in us that we freely allow the Spirit to eradicate every vestige of the old man’s fortresses in our lives. God’s desire is to make us all that we can be in Christ. So don’t stop when a fleshly habit is conquered. Let Him transform your mind. And don’t stop when your thoughts are conformed to His mind. Let Him transform your heart. And don’t stop when your heart beats in time with His. Don’t stop until you see His face (1 Jn. 3:2-3).
Remember, the measure of a man’s spiritual depth is not what he is at mid-life, but what he is at the end of life.