The patriarchal clan migrations may have been the beginnings of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. However, it becomes much more than that. While we are most familiar with Joshua’s account of a sudden, bloody, and complete conquest (Joshua 1-12), the text also suggests it was a long and complicated affair (Joshua 13. 2-6; 15.13-19,63; 23.7-13; Judges 1).
The complications become evident when we find the following among the people of God; alongside descendants of Jacob there are Egyptians (Leviticus 24.10), Midianites (Numbers 10.29-32), Amorites (Joshua 6), Kenizzites (Joshua 14.6) and other fugitives. The list could be made longer but this short list is enough to demonstrate Israel was growing even while in the wilderness. Even some who did not experience the exodus were becoming converts. The text does not always tell how but does reveal God has always been interested in bringing new people into the gathering He calls His own.
John Bright tells us many of those who were grafted into the people of God had long been settled in Palestine and joined the Hebrews when they arrived from the desert. Some who were without a place in established society would have gladly joined the Hebrews. That the God who had delivered slaves from the Egyptians would include them in an inheritance of promised land would have been appealing. In such a company one could find an identity and connection they had never experienced before. Numerous conversions were likely taking place. Bright says “Clans and villages by the dozen must have been converted to Yahwism.” While this likely benefitted in military ways, it does suggest a mixed people as suggested in Exodus 12.38 “Many other people went up with them” or by Numbers 11.4 “The rabble among them.”
The fact remains that for those who resisted, conquest was bloody and brutal. This is likely part of the reason numerous towns and villages were ready to join the Hebrews. After hearing the stories, who would want to resist? Sometimes this occurred willingly, sometimes out of fear (Joshua 9). Others were likely conquered without military action but from uprisings within. Although enclaves of other peoples remained and tension continued for many years, Israel was in possession of the land they would occupy for centuries to come. Not long after this representatives gathered (Joshua 24) and made a covenant to be the people of Yahweh and to worship Him alone. It is evident this is no longer just a clan religion.