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I was reading Joshua 21:43-45

Joshua 21:43(A)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 (B)And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. (C)Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for (D)the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 (E)Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

And I needed clarification.

According to Gensis 15:18

Gensis 15:18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

And Joshua 1:4

Joshua 1:4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.

This was the territory that was promised. Now in Joshua 21:43 it claims that the LORD gave all the land that was promised and that they took possession of it, but I thought Israel only took a partial possession of that land at the time? So the common interpretation is that the promise is yet to be fulfilled yet Joshua 21:43-45 claims it was already fulfilled (at the time). Did Israel actually possess all that land at the time the book of Joshua was written?

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  • The land referenced there was the land of Canaan(e.g. Exodus 6:4, Deut. 34:1-4).
    – user21676
    Apr 29, 2021 at 22:46

3 Answers 3

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Territory as far as the Euphrates is claimed at a few points in later history. That is, of course, the northernmost stretch going through the mountain country, rather than the broader river going through the Mesopotamian plain. In other words, the territory in question equates with Syria.

This area is mentioned in the campaigns of David. "David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to restore his power at the river Euphrates" (2 Samuel ch8 v3). Then "the Syrians became servants of David and bore tribute" (v9).

And again "Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the land of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life" (1 Kings ch4 v21). However, the previous vv17-19 have already shown us that only the Twelve Tribes were under the direct supervision of Solomon's officers. So the "ruling" in v19 needs to be understood in the weaker sense of allowing the local rulers to stay in place and extracting tribute on demand or annually. This was a common formula for empire in those days.

Those tributary states fell away quickly after Solomon's death, but the eastern territories from Syria to Edom were reclaimed briefly for the northern kingdom by Jeroboam II, who "restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the sea of Arabah" (2 Kings ch14 v25). Again, that probably means that he was making them pay tribute.

The memory of the extent of David's wider empire could have inspired, or at least supported, the understanding that these lands were part of the Promise.

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Good question.

Joshua 21:43 New International Version

So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there.

Pulpit explains it this way:

All the land. As has been before remarked, the Hebrew כל must not be pressed to mean literally "all." Yet, in a sense, the word is true here. The land had been put in their power. They had only to exert themselves to complete its conquest. This they failed to do, and not only so, but violated the conditions under which the land was granted them. Thus they soon fell under the dominion of those who had been their own vassals.

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Did Israel actually possess all that land at the time the book of Joshua was written? Definitely not. But the question begs another: when was the book of Joshua written? There are two basic theories:

-Traditional view. It was written either by Joshua himself or by a somewhat later writer who had access to eye-witness documents.

-Critical view. It is a compilation of several sources some of which date to the time of King Josiah, 640-609 b.c.e.

But in either case the answer is still "no." The traditional view would explain the matter as @user35953 did: it says "all" but it does not really mean "all," because the Israelites failed to take what God gave them. Critical views are various, but Israel Finkelstein in The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts has notably suggested that Joshua was written in part to urge the "yahweh-only" reforms together with the expansionary campaign of King Josiah, which tragically ended when the king was killed attempting to attack Pharaoh Neccho II in 2 Kings 23.

So the answer is no. The reason differs based on whether Joshua was written at the time described or long after the fact. If it as written close to the time in question, then the reason Israel did not possess "all" the land is that they failed to obey God's commands. If it was written during the reign of Josiah, then the author knew that Israel never possessed "all" the land but wished to urge the nation to take the lands that God had promised once upon a time.

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