However, a close reading of the tribal allotments indicates that the conquest was far from complete; there was much land within Canaan that remained under Canaanite control (Josh. 15:63; 16:10, etc.). Then, when we come to the book of Judges (ch. 1 especially), we learn that there is a need to continue driving out the native inhabitants. Soon thereafter, we encounter foreign oppressors in the land.
Space does not allow for a full development of all the nuances of the biblical presentation of the taking of the land of Canaan. There is evidence, for instance, that some of the native population (most notably Rahab) aligned themselves to the Israelite cause and faith, joining the “mixed multitude” that came up from Egypt (Ex. 12:38). Already the Gentiles were being gathered into the people of God. However, the conquest reached its dénouement, so to speak, only with David, whose defeat of the Philistines brought Israel peace with its surrounding enemies (2 Sam. 7:1) and triggered the building of the temple, the symbol of establishment within the land.
When did these events take place? At first glance, the Bible seems clear about this matter. Solomon started building the temple “in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt,” also identified as the fourth year of his reign (1 Kings 6:1). Scholars are reasonably certain that Solomon’s fourth year was 966 B.C. It seems obvious then, if we do the simple math, that the Exodus took place during the fifteenth century B.C. and the conquest followed on its heels. To make a long story short, however, some scholars argue that other evidence within the Bible (i.e., the name of the storage city Raamses in Exodus 1:11) pushes the date toward the thirteenth century (the time of a king named Raamses). It is further suggested that what we know of the archaeology of the time fits better with a thirteenth-century date, and then we are also provided with alternative ways of understanding the number in 1 Kings 6:1. One popular suggestion is that 480 is really a symbolic number representing the sum total of 12 generations of 40 years, whereas a real generation is more like 30 years. Personally, I find these explanations quite tendentious and stretched, and I still prefer the earlier date; however, we must admit that it is possible to present an argument in favor of a thirteenth-century date that does not impute error to the Bible.
Thus, the conquest is the account of the beginning of the establishment of God’s kingdom in the land in accordance with the promise to Abraham many years before. God, Israel’s warrior (Ex. 15:3), gave His people the victory and the already/not yet fulfillment of the promise.
Like the Israelites, Christians today are in a covenant with God, the new covenant that fulfills the old covenant. We look forward to entering our promised land. We also live in an already/not yet period of time as we look back to the cross, where Christ secured the victory over Satan, and look forward to the final victory anticipated by the book of Revelation. In the meantime, we may be assured that Christ, our warrior, is with us in our present spiritual struggles (Eph. 6:10–20).