Land Unconquered by the Time of Saul

Joshua 13:1-6; Judges 1:21-36

Though Numbers 32 and Joshua 13-20 carefully detail the boundaries of each Israelite tribe’s allotted land (see map), much of this land was still occupied by Canaanites, and the Israelites often struggled to establish dominion over their inheritance. In particular, the lands along the Mediterranean Sea, in the plain of Bashan, and in the Jezreel and Sorek Valleys proved to be very difficult for the Israelites to occupy. In some cases the Israelites were eventually able to drive out the Canaanites, but in other cases they were only ever able to subject them to forced labor while still allowing them to remain in the land. Some areas proved so difficult that the Israelites never fully succeeded in gaining control over them during the settlement period (i.e., the time of the judges). Such was the case with Philistia, which led much of the tribe of Dan to relocate to an area just south of Mount Hermon in the far north. The book of Judges explains that ultimately the Lord allowed many of these foreign peoples to remain in the land both as a punishment for the Israelites’ imitation of their sinful practices and also “in order to test Israel, whether or not they would take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their ancestors did” (Judges 2:18-23). Though individual towns no doubt changed hands during this time and the Philistines even managed to capture some of the central hill country for a time (1 Samuel 13-14; see map), for the most part the area controlled by the Israelites remained largely unchanged for much of the time of the judges through the time of Saul, Israel’s first king. This was also one of the primary reasons the Israelites eventually asked for a king–they wanted someone to lead them in battle against their enemies (1 Samuel 8).

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