In Joshua 11–12 we come to the close of the first section of Joshua. Here are ten things about those two chapters.
1. Joshua 11 repeats the same pattern as Joshua 10 . . . but faster.
Joshua 11:1 begins just like Joshua 5:1; 9:1; and 10:1. In each chapter, kings from Canaan “heard” of the exploits of Israel and Israel’s God. At first “the kings of the Amorites” feared the Lord (5:1), but then others sought to fight Israel (9:1; 10:1; 11:1). The difference in responses, it seems, is because Ai defeated defeated Israel when Achan sinned. A consequence of that debacle was an increase in hostility (and confidence) among the kings of Canaan.
This surge of confidence is what initiated the clash of Israel and the nations in chapters 10–11. And between these two chapters, we find a literary parallel. As Kenneth Mathews observes,
Chapters 10 and 11 have a general correspondence: both begin with a coalition of enemy kings (10:1–5; 11:1–5); both describe their respective battles (10:6–39; 11:6–11); and both contain a summary of the fallen (10:40–43; 11:12–23). There are details are similar, such as the Lord’s explicit directive to engage the enemy and the author’s attribution of the victory to the Lord (10:8, 14; 11:6, 8). (Mathews, Joshua, 102–03)
At the same time, there are differences between the chapters; the greatest difference being the speed with which Joshua 11 covers the material. In this chapter, “only one town is described in detail and there are no lengthy descriptions of a chase or of miracles. This suggests an acceleration in the narrative. Moving ever more quickly, the text completes the description of the conquest” (Hess, Joshua, 227–28).
This faster pace reminds us how biblical narratives are written. They are not intended to cover everything. Instead, in their selectiveness, they point the reader to the important (read: theological) facets of the story. For readers today, comparing chapters 10–11 helps us see how Joshua is written and what these battles reveal about God.
2. The chapters are organized geographically.
Complementing the pace of these chapters is the place of these chapters. First, Israel enters central Canaan with battles against Jericho and Ai (ch. 6–8). Next, Israel makes peace with Gibeon and goes to war against cities in the South (ch. 9–10). Finally, Israel goes to battle with cities in Northern Canaan (11:1–15).
Confirming this geographical organization is the summary in Joshua 11:16–17a. These verses move from the specific battle with Hazor and the great horde (vv. 1–15) to all the battles Israel endured in Canaan (vv. 16–17a). Geographically, these verses frame “all the land” that Joshua took with Negeb in the South and Mount Hermon in the North.
So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. (vv. 16–17a)
Similarly, Joshua 12 lists all the cities defeated by Moses and Joshua in geographical arrangement. They begin with the two kings (Sihon and Og) Moses defeated on the east side of the Jordan (vv. 1–6) and they continue by listing the cities in order from South to North (vv. 7–24). Thus, we find in this arrangement a comprehensive befitting the totality of the land given to Israel and taken by Joshua.
3. One word from God is more powerful than all the armies of the world.
As the chapter begins, the reader is struck by the size and strength of armies opposing Israel. Stressing the magnitude of the army, the first two verses list five kings (just like chapter 10), only the fifth king is plural and opens a second list of kings from various regions in the North (v. 2). After this, verse 3 lists all the six peoples in Canaan (the Canaanites, the the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and the Hivites). On top of this, verse 4 speaks of many horses and chariots, calling the entire army, a “great horde.”
In short, the author of Joshua spares no expense to describe the size and strength of Israel’s opponents. And verse 5 confirms these kings intentions, “And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.” From these five verses, we might think that a massive battle is about to take place—and it is. Yet, in chapter 11 the response is remarkably short.
In one verse, God says one thing, and it is sufficient to overthrow the entire horde.
Verse 6 says, “And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” Verse 7–8a reports the accuracy of these words: “So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. And the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel.”
From these verses, we learn a key lesson: One word from God is more powerful than all the armies of the world. Just as in Revelation, when the sword proceeding from Jesus’s mouth (a reference to God’s Word) instantly defeats his enemies (Rev. 19:15; cf. 1:16), so here the word of the Lord is absolutely sufficient for defeating the evil armies. What confidence this gives the saints: his Word is sufficient to defeat any enemy (cf. 2 Kings 19:20–37).
4. Hamstringing horses demonstrates Israel’s trust in God and the end of war.
In Joshua 11:6 we find instructions to hamstring horses. This command is jarring for at least two reasons: (1) it does not match other passages of Scripture which call for the care of animals and (2) it doesn’t match modern sensibilities towards animals (think: PETA). So why does God command this? Two reasons come to mind.
First, hamstringing a horse (lacerating the rear tendons of the horse’s leg) makes the animal wholly useless for battle. And hence, it ensures that Israel, in the long process of taking the land (see v. 18), does not trust in horses or chariots. This was a command to Israel’s king (Deut. 17:16) and a warning in the Psalms. Psalm 20:7–8 reads, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” Likewise, Psalm 33:17 says, “The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.” So the first reason for hamstringing horses is to keep Israel dependent on God.
Second, the destruction of warhorses in Canaan would contribute to the peace Joshua was bringing to the land. As Joshua 11:23 says, the land had rest after all the battles were complete. Thus, the destruction of these instruments ensured that future warfare was slow in coming.
It is worth noting, this interpretation does not lead to a pacifism or an anti-militarism. Neither does it support gun control in any absolute way. Why? The peace accomplished by God through Joshua typifies the peace Jesus Christ will bring in the new heavens and the new earth. The Promised Land is in no way typological of any country today; it is typological of a place and time where Jesus is ruling on his throne in the midst of his people. When this becomes true, then we will see the abolition of weapons (swords turned to plowshares), but until then the sword is given to the state and self-protection is viable in a world filled with evil and violence.
5. Burning the city is not typical.
While we have seen Israel burn Jericho (6:24) and Ai (8:28), the pattern of burning is not practiced in every city. This is most clearly seen in what Joshua 11:11–13 says,
And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire. And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured, and struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor alone; that Joshua burned.
In verse 13 Hazor is designated as the only city burned in the Northern regions. While this verse does not speak exhaustively of the Southern cities, the absence of burning in Joshua 10:29–43, where the Southern cities are listed, suggests they were not burned. Moreover, as Dale Ralph Davis has observed,
How foolish it would have been for Israel to make a practice of burning towns. Couldn’t Israel, if they were going eventually to settle the land, use cities and houses? Their practice in the Transjordan conquest reveals this (Num. 21:25), their Torah expects this (Deut. 6:10-12; 19:1), their restraint in the north assumes this (Josh. 11:11, 13), and their leader declares this (Josh. 24:13). Hence I would not expect to find much evidence for the conquest in terms of wholesale destruction of material culture. The biblical witness firmly supports this position. Granted, Israel was to rip down all Baal chapels and ‘Our Lady Asherah’ shrines (Exod. 34:13-16), but that did not mean they couldn’t sleep in a Canaanite house or hold court in a Canaanite city gate. (Davis, Joshua, 101)
The significance of this is twofold. First, it reminds us that Israel’s practice of herem (devoting cities to destruction) did not arise from a lust to destroy property or humiliate the innocent. Rather, these cities that were burned received the just judgment of God and Israel offered them to God as as burnt offerings that purified the land. The other cities whose citizens received the judgment of God became the towns where Israel’s people lived, as a gift from the Lord.
Second, archaeology that depends upon evidence of burning may not date the city appropriately. In other words, other nations burned cities too, and thus if one dates a Canaanite city according to Israel’s practice alone, it may or may not be correct. This matters especially in cases that seek to defend a late date of Joshua, as Davis observes in his commentary (Joshua, 100). The biblical timeline places Joshua’s conquest around 1400 BC, but some archaeologists want to date it closer to 1200 BC.
6. Joshua continues to prove himself faithful and thus deserving of honor.
Once again, Joshua’s faithfulness and excellency are highlighted in these chapters. First, we see how Joshua 11 stresses his obedience to all that God said. In particular, Joshua’s obedience is highlighted in Joshua 11:7, 9, 12, 15, 20, 23, and verse 15 reads, “Just as the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.” It is this “perfect” obedience to God’s Law that enables Israel’s success and Joshua’s exaltation.
This is the second thing we see in these chapters: Joshua is glorified for his unswerving faithfulness to God. This is evident in Joshua 12, where Joshua’s success is compared to that of Moses. To riff on Saul and David (1 Sam. 18:7), Moses killed his thousands (two kings), but Joshua killed his ten thousands (31 kings). In this comparison, we see the greater glory of Joshua.
We also see the glory of Joshua at the end of chapter 11, where again the episode resolves with credit being given to Joshua. While it was God who promised victory to Joshua (11:6; cf. 1:2, 3; 6:2; 8:1, 7, 18; 10:8), it was Joshua who is credited with taking the land, defeating the kings, ridding the land of the Anakim, and granting the people rest (11:16–23). Following a pattern that goes back to Rahab’s salvation, Joshua is credited with the victory because of his precise obedience. As verses 21–23 conclude,
And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.
7. The ultimate reason for the destruction of the cities is the hardness of their hearts.
Throughout the battles with Jericho, Ai, the five kings of Southern Canaan, and the great horde of Northern Canaan, the reason for hostility towards Israel has been veiled. In the final battle, however, it becomes apparent why these thirty-one cities have raged the way they have—God has hardened their hearts. As Joshua 11:18–20 explain,
Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.
Notice the explanatory clause in verse 20. As with Pharaoh (Exodus 4–14) and Sihon (Deut. 2:30), God hardened the hearts of these nations, which is to say, he let them be who they wanted to be. Or, as Romans 1:24, 26, 28 puts it, God handed them over to their sin (which is their greatest desire). God hardened their hearts by withdrawing his hand of restraining grace and letting their darkness shine through.
In the context of Joshua, this hardening may have looked like this: When the wave of fear passed, after Ai defeated Israel because of Achan’s sin, it gave these cities confidence to fight against God. More importantly (for them), this renewal of self-esteem gave them confidence to fight for themselves again. You might even here their voices in a passage like Psalm 2:2–3:
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
As a result of their hardness of heart, their judgment was just. There was not some measure of goodness within them that God overlooked or cruelly denied. No, God brought to light these nations wickedness through the long process of war in Canaan (v. 18).
Moreover, in the timing of his actions, God shows us how his sovereign hand steers the nations. Thus, without denying the responsibility (indeed the culpability) of men in these chapters, we see how God directed directed all the events of Joshua, let the nations rage, and put them to death as a just response to their wickedness.
Today, we must believe God does the same thing. Only, we do not have a divinely inspired book to interpret all of his sovereign actions. Nevertheless, we do have this book (Joshua). And in it we find reason to repent and bow the knee to the God of Israel. Truly, the sovereignty of God is not a reason to throw our hands up in despair. If anything, it leads us to lift our hands in praise and prayer, asking God to have mercy on us sinners!
8. God’s Sovereignty Leads Israel to Battle.
Adding to the theme of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is the fact that when Israel heard God’s promise to defeat their enemies, they did not wait in passivity; they acted with proactive courage. As Dale Ralph Davis notes, “Verses 6–7 contain an implicit recognition of the energy in God’s sovereignty. . . . In verse 6 Yahweh gives his sovereign assurance, ‘I will hand all of them over to Israel, slain’ (NIV); in verse 7 Joshua and Israel blast into the enemy camp in a surprise attack” (Joshua, 96-97). Davis continues,
I do not want to overplay the text. But isn’t the sequence significant? Divine sovereignty does not negate human activity but stimulates it . . . We frequently look at the teaching of divine sovereignty too simplistically. Some will allege that if God ordains something as certain it renders human effort irrelevant: “Let’s go [sic] and let God.” But Joshua knew better. His view was not let go but to grab hold. Divine sovereignty creates confidence, which calls forth our effort even to the point of reckless abandon. God’s sovereignty is not a doctrine that shackles us but a reality that liberates us, not a cloud that stifles but an elixir that invigorates. (Joshua, 97)
This is the biblical view of sovereignty and responsibility. It is compatible and not contradictory. Therefore, it is crass to make God’s sovereignty and human responsibility a zero-sum game, where God puts in his portion and we ours. No. God is Spirit, not flesh. His actions are not bounded by flesh. Thus, it is possible for God to work in and through his creatures (without ever confusing who is working). Similarly, it is unnecessary to suppose that the sum total of actions in the world are the sum of God’s actions and man’s.
As Joshua 11 illustrates this point: it is far better to see God’s antecedent promise and resulting actions in and through the work of Joshua and Israel. Indeed, from the human point of view, we can risk boldly and even live “recklessly” because God’s providence is so certain. That is to say, we can take risks that appear reckless because there is nothing reckless in God.
Likewise, to eviscerate another popular cliché, as Spirit-filled Christians we are not called to “Let go and Let God.” Rather, when we let God (lead, empower, instruct, direct, supply, etc.) us, we can say, “Let’s go.” Truly, those who believe most fully in God’s exhaustive and meticulous sovereignty are impelled to serve him mightily. Such service may not defeat thirty-one kings, but it may bring salvation to thirty-one nations. We don’t know what God will do with our meager efforts, but when we trust in his sovereign power, we are supplied to serve him with all the strength he supplies (Col. 1:28–29).
9. Israel’s inheritance depends on receiving this land from the Lord.
In Joshua 1–12 the words “passed over,” “devote to destruction,” and “take” have been repeated as Israel has entered the land and defeated the inhabitants of the land. Now as this process of warfare comes to an end, a new word is introduced: “inheritance.” Joshua 11:23 stresses the place of inheritance, saying, “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.”
In chapters 13–24, this word occurs nearly fifty times and stresses the distribution of the land that Israel has received. So in the book, as a whole, Joshua 11:23 serves as a hinge that turns from the conquest of Canaan to the distribution of the land to the twelve tribes. Joshua 12 will summarize the work the conquest in Canaan, but starting in chapter 13, Israel will begin to get comfortable in the land that God has given to them as their inheritance.
10. The Book of Joshua foreshadows the earthly ministry of Jesus in the Gospels.
As we have often considered, the book of Joshua foreshadows the greater Joshua, Jesus Christ. And importantly, it does this in two ways. First, Jesus in his earthly life follows the course of Joshua going to battle against the powers of darkness by means of obedience to God and his Word. Moreover, Jesus ministry with respect to geography also follows Joshua, as it begins by crossing the Jordan in the South and then going to the North, before coming back to Jericho on the way to Jerusalem. This Joshua typology sets up a final showdown with the unrighteous rulers of Jerusalem, just like Adoni-zedek in Joshua 10.
Indeed, there are many ways in which Jesus earthly life follows the patterns of Joshua’s warfare. As Warren Gage observes,
The intensity of the confederated forces of the Canaanites of the region afterward known as the Galilee is fierce but they are utterly defeated before Joshua, just like the large alliance summoned against him in what was later to be known as Judea had likewise been utterly overthrown before him. What a comfort the battle plan of Joshua must have been to Jesus, who like Joshua was to have arrayed against Him all the religious and political forces of both Galilee and Judea. Jesus too would traverse the promised country, pursuing His spiritual campaign like Joshua even into the region of Sidon (Mark 7:24–30).
But Jesus defeated His enemies not with the sword, but with the word of God (John 7:40–46). Jesus brought not bloody slaughter, but a message of the deliverance from death by His own bloody slaughter. Jesus went to Sidon not to kill, but to heal. All the nations in the region came to Joshua to war with him. Those same nations came out to Jesus to find mercy. How much in every way is Jesus greater than Joshua! Gospel Typology in Joshua and Revelation: A Whore and Her Scarlet, Seven Trumpets Sound, A Great City Falls. Fort Lauderdale, FL: St. Andrews House.
Truly, Jesus’s ministry, which continues in his Church today, goes into God’s world and encounters hostile forces. Yet, because Jesus has won the battle and promised victory (in the end), we can go with confidence wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and preaching the gospel. Such preaching invites conflict, but it also brings salvation to those who have ears to hear.
In this way, the warfare of Joshua anticipates the earthly ministry of Jesus and the onging mission of the Church, which is Christ’s ongoing mission to bring his rule into all the earth. In all these ways, we can see that the warfare in Joshua is not unrelated to our lives today. It prepares our hearts to trust God for his aid in our battles and to look to Joshua (Jesus) as our victory warrior.
To that end may we approach Sunday’s worship and our daily vocations.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds