My mind is drawn to Joshua 16:10 “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labour.”
Canaan was a grandson of Noah whose family was cursed (Genesis 9:22, around 3,000BC). By the time of Moses (around 1450BC) the Canaanites had drifted from worshipping the true God to worship a multitude of gods with practices that were increasingly degenerate. They and the emerging Israel were on a collision course.
How can a righteous, loving and merciful God require the Canaanites to be conquered? I accept the truth behind the question Abraham asked of God just before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). We are certain that the Israelites were no more righteous for as Deuteronomy 9:5 shows, “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”.
The Israelites conquered the territory, but some Canaanites lived on. So the Israelites made slaves of them.
Were Manasseh and Ephraim “… strong and courageous” in faith as they were directed to be (Joshua 1:6)? Or did they lack the commitment to the Lord resulting in the Canaanites not being driven out? I cannot judge them, for in my life there are many failures. Perhaps we are slaves to those unhelpful habits we have not conquered. Do we need to pay more attention to Hebrews 12:1, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”.
Our garden continually needs attention. If we’re not alert the weeds take over! When they do it needs more work than if we had got to it as soon as we noticed them sprout. Is this the same in our Christian walk? We have a natural bias towards disobeying God’s word – which makes it important to get rid of sinful inclinations or distracting practices as soon as God’s Spirit reveals them to us. This is persevering in the race God sets before each of us.
Turning to the proverbs, verses 18-20 concern four “amazing things”. These seem to be about hypocrisy because they are things that leave no trace behind them. Maybe it’s like us when we cover our tracks so that we won’t be “found out”. If this is so, it doesn’t take into account our omniscient God. Hebrews 4:13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”.
The three things that “cause the earth to tremble” (vs 21-23) are examples of people who are in a position they are not suited for. They act as if they are God, determining what they are going to do and when they are going to do it. They make decisions but they forget God. James 4:15 is the antidote.
Four things are “small, yet they are extremely wise” (vs 24-28). If God has given insects such wisdom through instinct, how much more will he give us who have the added ability to reason?
The three things that have “stately bearing” (vs 29-31) live confidently because of their position. If we “walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8) it does not mean that we are to feel inferior. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ we can be confident since God has made us one of his children. As James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”.