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Remnants of Sin

“But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day” (Joshua 15:63).

The Israelites did remarkably well in the conquest of the promised land. This generation, arguably the most faithful one Israel has ever known, marched into the land and fought against their enemies, trusting that God would be with them and give them the victory. Their faith was rewarded every time, as God continued to fight for them and give their enemies into their hands. Over the course of five years, the people conquered the majority of the land, decimating their enemies.

But then, they stopped. The account in Joshua moves to the distribution of the land among the tribes, where it lists the numerous cities that have been liberated. This exciting list, however, is sometimes followed by a sobering commentary: They failed to drive out everyone. When the people of Israel finally settled into their long-promised homes, some of the previous inhabitants still lived among them.

The Bible doesn’t state why the conquest stopped. Perhaps the people were tired. Perhaps they thought they’d demonstrated their authority enough so that the remaining enemies wouldn’t dare rise up against them. What the Bible does say is that God left some of the people there to test His own people, to see if they would continue to follow Him. The rest of the Old Testament shows that they failed epically at this test. After the faithful generation dies, it doesn’t take long for their descendants to turn to idols—the idols of the people who live among them.

Would this have been averted if the Israelites had been obedient to the end, fully driving out all their enemies? It’s impossible to say for sure. But by failing to eradicate the land of all vestiges of idolatry, they propped the door open for these influences to enter their lives. They didn’t take the problem of sin seriously enough. And so it crept back in, slowly but surely. Their history would become one of constant idolatry—just like the peoples around them.

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