We are to be thankful people, expressing gratitude to our God for His blessings, however small they may be.
And these are the kings of the country which Joshua and the children of Israel conquered on this side of the Jordan, on the west…in the mountain country, in the lowlands, in the Jordan plain, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the South (Josh. 12:7–8a).
We have witnessed the successful conclusion of Israel’s war of conquest in Canaan. Although it soon will become apparent that the land is not completely empty of Canaanites, the Israelites have broken their hold on the land and made it their own. Now the time has come to divide the land among the tribes. First, however, the author of Joshua pauses to reflect on the conquest.
We must admit that this chapter and the successive ones that recount the partitioning of the land are not as exciting to twenty-first-century readers as the first half of the book. Matthew Henry refers to these sections as “a narrative not so entertaining and instructive as that of the conquest.” However, he adds, “it is thought fit to be inserted in the sacred history…[and] where God has a mouth to speak and a hand to write we should find an ear to hear and an eye to read; and God give us a heart to profit!” We shall profit—if we can put ourselves in the Israelites’ place. By doing so, we will understand the exultation, the joy, the thankfulness, and the awe the people undoubtedly experienced as they rehearsed these very specific acts of God on their behalf. They were counting their blessings, and we can learn much from their reaction to God’s goodness.
The author of Joshua begins by mentioning the lands Israel conquered east of the Jordan, the kingdoms of Sihon and Og. These were Israel’s first land-yielding victories; therefore, it is fitting that they be remembered. This record reminds Israel that the tribes which live in the lands across the Jordan are their brethren, and it sets the stage for the partitioning of Canaan, which Joshua will carry out just as Moses divided the lands beyond the river. The author then recounts all the victories of Joshua in Canaan. Thirty-one kings fell to the Lord’s army, he boasts. Most of the cities listed here are meaningless to us, but each was significant for the Israelites, for each represented a triumph of God, a corner of the Land of Promise delivered to the people. The hills, the valleys, the plains, the lowlands, the wilderness, and the northern and southern regions all had come into Israel’s possession. This is a song of praise, an inventory of blessing, a detailed record of the acts of the Lord. The author is extolling the triumphs of God and His faithfulness in fulfilling His promise to Abraham.
"Count your blessings; name them one by one..." So the old hymn exhorts us—with valid Biblical warrant. We are to be thankful people, expressing gratitude to our God for His blessings, however small they may be. Not mechanically, but devotionally, thank God for the rich blessings that we all tend to take for granted.