Israel settled in the Promised Land but “when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out” (17:13). Interpreters sometimes note two concerns, here, and with reference to Joshua 15:63 – “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” (15:63). One, this reality recalls Moses’ repeated warnings against allowing the Canaanites to continue to live among them and influence them and lead them away from God. Second, the question must be asked, “Why were the Israelites unable to drive out their foes?” The ESV Study Bible notes exclaim, “Surely the god of the Jebusites is not stronger than the God of Judah!”
Yes, Israel’s foes were numerous and they possessed great war machines such as “chariots of iron.” Israel should have remembered Joshua’s assurance that “the hand of the Lord is mighty (4:24) and God’s promise to Joshua and Israel: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (1:5-6). Trusting God and being strong and courageous, we can sing:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head. --William Cowper (1774)