Working the Land (Joshua 5)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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The land was of course bountiful by the standards of the Ancient Near East. But the blessings of the land went beyond the favorable climate, abundant water, and other natural benefits provided by the hand of the Creator. Israel would also inherit a well-developed infrastructure from the Canaanites. “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13, cf. Deuteronomy 6:10-11). Even the signature description of the land as “flowing with milk and honey” (Joshua 5:6, cf. Exodus 3:8) assumes some degree of livestock management and beekeeping.

There is thus an inextricable link between land and labor. Our ability to produce does not arise solely from our ability or diligence, but also from the resources available to us. Conversely, the land does not work itself. By the sweat of our faces must we produce bread (Genesis 3:19). This point is made quite precisely in Joshua 5:11-12. “On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.” Israel has survived on the divine gift of manna throughout their wilderness wanderings, but God had no intention of making this a permanent solution to the problem of provision. The land was to be worked. Sufficient resources and fruitful labor were integral elements of the Promised Land.

The point may seem obvious, but it is worth making nonetheless. While God may provide miraculously at times for our physical needs, the norm is for us to subsist on the fruit of our labors.