Joshua was given a monumental task to carry out: to conquer the Canaanites and occupy the Promised Land. The Lord promised to be with him in this task and said, “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” (Joshua 1:3). Wherever Joshua would go to conquer and occupy the land, God would give him victory.
Based on Scripture, the basis for the promise to Joshua is found in the covenantal relationship God started with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Israelite occupation of the land of Israel was not just a military promise, but an ancient promise with the forefathers of Moses and Joshua.
God’s Promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
God’s promise to Joshua is connected to a larger promise that the Lord made with the Israelites years in advance (Joshua 1:6). Before Moses or even Jacob received promises from the Lord, Abraham was given the promise that his descendants would increase and inhabit the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:18-21).
A covenant was made between God and Abraham, which was a binding treaty that was punishable by death if either party failed to carry out their part of the covenant (Genesis 15:7-21). The Lord’s covenant with Abraham, though, was different than regular Near Eastern covenants.
Instead of two parties performing the ceremony, God performed the binding ceremony Himself when He walked between the sacrifices, indicating that He alone would be responsible to fulfill His promise (Genesis 15:17-21). God’s promise was guaranteed to happen and could not be broken.
Isaac inherited the promise from Abraham since God chose him to be the one with whom He would continue His covenantal relationship, instead of Abraham’s other son Ishmael (Genesis 17:21). Like his father before him, Isaac was given the oath by God that his descendants would receive the Promised Land (Genesis 26:3-5).
Because of this promise, Isaac did not go to Egypt when famine spread in the land but instead stayed in Gerar, which was part of the land of the Philistines (Genesis 26:1, 6). As is seen in this passage, Philistia was part of the promised territory the Israelites were supposed to inhabit when they occupied the land (Genesis 26:3).
Although Jacob used deceit to obtain the blessing and rights of the firstborn, he was the one to whom God chose to pass on His covenant promises (Romans 9:13). After Jacob fled from his home because his brother wanted to murder him, he received the promise of God as he slept. As is recorded in Genesis,
There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).
Repeating the same promises He had sworn to Abraham and Isaac, God reinstated His covenant promises with Jacob.
The Promise of Receiving Every Place He Set His Foot
Thus, the promise to receive the land was part of God’s covenant with Israel. God would fulfill this promise, but the Israelites had an active part in receiving the land. As He told Joshua, “‘I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses’” (Joshua 1:3). The idea of this verse is that Joshua and the Israelites after him must “set foot” in the land and fight for their inheritance.
As was recorded by Moses when passing on the Word of the Lord, “See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers — to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — and to their descendants after them” (Deuteronomy 1:8). The Lord had given Israel the land, but they would have an active part in taking possession of the land themselves.
As shown by multiple campaigns recorded in the Book of Joshua, fighting was involved but the greater component in possessing the land was faith to step in and take what the Lord had given them. For instance, when Caleb requested the land promised to him, he had faith that God would be with him to drive out the descendants of Anak from Hebron (Joshua 14:6-14).
Although Caleb was a strong, yet old man at that time, his faith in the Lord is what enabled him to take possession of the land (Joshua 14:10-12). Similarly, Joshua demonstrated steadfast faith in the Lord during the many conquests recorded (Joshua 6:20-21; 8:18-19; 10:12-14). God worked on the Israelites behalf as they stepped out in faith to conquer the Promised Land of Israel.
Israel’s Failure to Take Full Possession of the Land
Although the Israelites took possession of many parts of the land, they have never completely inhabited the entire land, which God promised to Abraham and his descendants. By the end of the Book of Joshua, the Israelites had not yet conquered all the areas of their inheritance (Joshua 13:1).
In fact, the Book of Judges deliberately records that multiple tribes of Israel failed to take possession of the land (Judges 1:27-33). Because the children of Israel did not “set foot” in every area of the Promised Land, they did not claim their complete inheritance.
Due to the Israelites’ failure to occupy the places God gave them, the Canaanites continued to live among the Israelites and negatively influenced them toward idolatry.
God had already warned them of this problem earlier when He said, “‘If you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live’” (Numbers 33:55).
Thus, the Israelites not only missed the blessings of occupying the entire land that God had given them, but they also ensnared themselves by progressively adopting the beliefs and gods of their pagan neighbors.
Knowing the Israelites’ failure to possess the Promised Land, some readers of Scripture may wonder if God kept His promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua. In one sense, He did keep His promise by giving the Israelites the land (Joshua 23:14), but they failed to take full possession of Israel.
However, God did make a covenantal promise to Abraham that cannot be broken. Because of the binding oath that God made with Abraham, which was repeated to the people of Israel, many scholars and commentators believe that the Israelites will one day inhabit the entire Promised Land in the future.
As is stated in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, “The prophets have declared that at the time of Christ’s return to earth He will regather the Jews and reign in the land over a converted and redeemed Israel. Full and complete possession of the land awaits that day” (Donald K. Campbell).
While there are different views on this issue, the fact remains that God made a promise that Abraham’s descendants would occupy the entire land with the boundaries listed in Genesis 15:18-21, but Israel has not yet fully possessed the land.
God Is Faithful
God promised to give every place Joshua set his foot because of the earlier promise to Abraham (Joshua 1:3). Although the Lord had given the land to the Israelites, they had an important and active part in taking possession of their inheritance.
By stepping out in faith, Joshua and the Israelites conquered wherever they “set their foot.” However, they never possessed the entire land promised by God, which seems to necessitate a future time when the Israelites will fully inhabit the Promised Land. Believers can be assured that God is faithful and will keep His promises (Numbers 23:19).
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.