IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?
FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons - London) DD
Commentary on Joshua Chapters 9-12. Defeat of the Southern And Northern Confederacies. Israel are Established in the Land.
Having won their initial battles Israel were now free to settle in the central hill country while maintaining Gilgal in the Jordan Rift Valley as their fighting base. The central hill country was relatively sparsely populated because of its lack of water, and the Israelites would have made plentiful use of cisterns for storing rain water. They had learned through their wilderness experiences how to preserve water. It was also heavily forested, as indeed were large parts of Canaan. This gave them further protection. Indeed when some complained to Joshua that they had no land his reply was that they could clear land for themselves. This was advice which they then successfully followed.
Meanwhile Canaan was mainly populated by peoples who lived in a multitude of small independent city states which were surrounded by such forests. But these city states had become alarmed at this large group of migrant people who had come among them and had to decide what to do about them, and that in most cases resulted in their seeking to prevent Israelite occupation, although at least one important city decided to obtain a treaty with Israel by subterfuge..
This section commences then with the mistaken treaty made with the powerful city of Gibeon as a result of the deceitful and false approach of their leaders, who pretended not to be Canaanites. This is then followed by Joshua’s defeat of a confederacy of five major Canaanite kings who came from the southern hill country and the lowlands, and this was accompanied by the taking of a number of their cities, (although not Jerusalem itself in spite of his defeat of its king), with many of their inhabitants fleeing into the widespread forests. He was probably not, however, able to leave men in these cities in order to take possession of them and occupy them because he did not have enough men for the purpose. Thus many of them would have been repossessed by returning ‘refugees’ and would later have to be retaken. His initial intention was rather to weaken all who were in opposition and stop their constant incursions against his people so that Israel could settle in the land. Having initially accomplished this he returned with his forces to Gilgal.
Meanwhile the Canaanite kings of northern Palestine had heard of what had happened in the south and had raised up a further confederacy under the King of Hazor, a powerful city state. But this did them no good, and they also fell before Joshua, with the large city of Hazor being taken and put to the sword. Once again, however, it had to be abandoned so that it was able to be repossessed by the Canaanites. Joshua then proceeded with a slow aggressive warfare against many other kings of other cities who raised armies against him. It was not an easy task, nor one that could be accomplished quickly. As the record states, ‘Joshua made war a long time with all those kings’ (11.18). But in the end he defeated them all with the result that they ceased to oppose Israel and accepted their presence in the land. Then, ‘the land had rest from war’ (11.23).
This was not, however, to suggest that Israel now possessed the land. While the Canaanites were bruised and battered they still returned and repossessed many of their broken down cities and continued life as before, although in a much weaker state, having learned to leave Israel alone. Meanwhile Israel were initially settling permanently the relatively sparsely inhabited hill country, by using lime plaster cisterns, with Ephraim and Manasseh settling the hill country in the middle of the land, and Judah commencing the clearing of the more populated hills in the south. This was preparatory to the tribes moving out to take possession of other parts of the land. Chapter 12 sums up Joshua’s successes up to that point.
It will be noted that Joshua’s success is rated in terms of kings defeated, not in terms of cities permanently possessed. That would take longer once the land had been divided up among the tribes, and each had taken responsibility for a section (see Judges chapter 1 in respect of this). But at least his victories enabled Israelites to get a foothold in many parts of the land, often initially by clearing forest land, without their needing to fear constant attacks from belligerent enemies. The Canaanites learned to treat Israelites with respect, lest Joshua took note of their lack of such respect.
Chapter 9 The Treaty with Gibeon.
This chapter describes the fear of the various kings of Canaan when they learned of all that was happening, and the craftiness of the Gibeonites, who pretended that they were ambassadors from a far country, who desired to enter into a treaty with Israel. Because Joshua believed them they obtained their treaty, but Israel consequently discovered who they really were. As a consequence the princes of Israel got together and declared that, whilst they themselves must abide by the treaty, from then on the Gibeonites must be hewers of wood and drawers of water. This having been agreed Joshua summoned the men before him, and berated them for deceiving him, and once they had made their excuses, he ordered them to the service that the princes had proposed.
The General Fear Of Israel (9.1-2).
As a result of the news getting around of the presence of the Israelites, and of what they had already done, the independent Canaanite cities became very much afraid and began to plot what they could do in order to oust these ‘strangers’. Each began to muster its forces with the intention of resisting Israel’s presence in the land, for they were quite well aware that in the end it could spell disaster for themselves. And some even began to get together in confederacies.
9.1 ‘And so it was that when all the kings who were Beyond Jordan, in the hill country and in the lowland, and on all the shore of the Great Sea in front of Lebanon, the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, heard of it.’
Note here the use of Beyond Jordan (compare ‘Beyond Jordan westward’ - 5.1). It would seem that the name could apply to land on both sides of the River regardless of where the speaker was. It was a region on either side of the Jordan, especially the land in the Jordan Rift Valley, the Arabah. The point of the whole description here is to include the whole of Canaan. The Arabah, the hill country (central mountain range), the lowlands (the Shephelah - the lower slopes to the south and the south west), the coastal plain, right to the Mediterranean (the Great Sea) and up to the Lebanon Range (compare Deuteronomy 1.7).
The kings of all these people heard ‘about it’. Was this about the children of Israel and their arrival? Or was it about the covenant ceremony and the absorption of a Shechem which was already somewhat feared because of its previous activities? Or was it about the writing of the Law of YHWH on the stones, a sign of taking possession of the land for their warlike God. Or was it about the defeat of Ai and Bethel? Or was it about all four? ‘It’ does in fact probably mean ‘all that was happening’.
For the idea compare 5.1. These six nations are also mentioned in 11.3; 12.8 compare Exodus 3.8, 17; 23.23; 33.2; 34.11; Deuteronomy 20.17; Judges 3.5 but given in differing orders. In 3.10; 24.11; Deuteronomy 7.1 the Girgashites are added. They reveal something of the mixed nature of the ‘Canaanite’ population.
9.2. ‘That they gathered themselves together to fight with Joshua, and with Israel, with one accord.’
This was not intended to indicate that they formed a huge alliance, although some did form alliances, but that each in his own way gathered his forces ready to meet this new threat and consulted with neighbours, while also making wider contact with others. They were all of one mind, acting at the same time, although semi-independently. The whole country was stirred by what it was hearing. It is, however, quite possible that messengers gradually passed between them all, in spite of the difficulty of travel, so that there was specific spoken general agreement between them.
Their aim was to fight ‘Joshua and Israel’, Joshua as the great general and leader and Israel as the people of God (and in their eyes as the intruders). The mention of both brings out that the latter is being stressed. A nation would normally be assumed without mention when its leader was mentioned. But the reason for it was partly because Israel had to be faced on two fronts, on the one hand as a large army under Joshua, and on the other as a people as a whole gradually encroaching and settling in different areas.
The Gibeonite Conspiracy (9.3-27).
The next shock that shook Canaan was that, with Jericho, Ai and Bethel defeated, and a way into Canaan having been obtained, and with the covenant having been made by Israel with the ‘foreign’ people of Shechem, the large and powerful Canaanite city of Gibeon capitulated and sought a treaty with the newcomers. The Israelite power base was growing. It is this capitulation of Gibeon, who obtained a treaty through deceit, that the remainder of this chapter is about.
9.3. ‘And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai.’
The inhabitants of Gibeon may well have felt that they were next on the list to be attacked. Messengers would have raced in to give them warning to prepare themselves and have described in vivid detail the total destruction of Jericho and Ai and the decimation of the army of Bethel.
Gibeon was a fairly important ‘city’ over a small confederation of smaller ‘cities’ (as shown by its description as ‘as one of the royal cities’ - 10.2 and see 9.17) inhabited by the Hivites/Horites (verse 7 - compare Genesis 26.2 with 20) and ruled over by a council of elders (verse 11). It was what we now know as El-Jib, nine kilometres (five to six miles) north of Jerusalem. This is one case where we have actual evidence as to the identity of a site, in that the handles of storage jars were found at the site, stamped with a royal seal or inscribed with the owners’ names and the name Gibeon. In the time of David the Tabernacle was set up there (1 Chronicles 16.39; 21.29 see also 1 Kings 3.4-5)
The site has not yet revealed traces of a late bronze age settlement but burials at the time do indicate that it was then occupied. Thus it was probably not then a large city or one with a good defensive capability. It is described as ‘greater than Ai’ (10.2). But we must remember that they were described as ‘but few’. They clearly had little confidence in being able to defend themselves against a nation the size of Israel whose God could do such wonders as those that they had heard of. God’s ‘hornet’ of fear and doubt was doing its work.
9.4 ‘They also did work subtly, and went and made as if they were ambassadors, and took old sacks on their asses and wine containers, old and torn and bound up.’
It was clearly well known that Israel were set to destroy all Canaanites. Their probable alliance with Shechem was also well known. These two factors explain the Gibeonite approach. If they could pretend to be non-Canaanite YHWH admirers (9.9) like Shechem, they might be able to unite with these fierce and uncompromising people.
The ‘also’ refers to the many different ways in which peoples were preparing themselves to battle with Israel as they sought to work out ways to deal with the Israelite menace. It may also have in mind the cunning of the king of Ai in secretly introducing troops from Bethel without the Israelites knowing about it, and the act of the inhabitants of Jericho in shutting themselves up in their city. Alternately it may refer to the subtle cleverness shown by Israel in capturing Jericho and Ai (stories had no doubt begun to circulate which demonstrated this).
‘Went and made as if they were ambassadors.’ The word is tsayar in the hithpael (reflexive - ‘made themselves ambassadors’), a unique usage in the Old Testament. Its root is related to the word translated ‘ambassador’ in Isaiah 18.2; 57.9; 59.19. The versions translate it as ‘took for themselves provisions’ which requires a small change in the Hebrew text (tsyd - see verses 5 and 12 - instead of tsyr - ‘d’ and ‘r’ are very similar in Hebrew) but that may have resulted from the fact that they did not recognise the original word. It is a good principle not to alter the Hebrew text without extremely good cause. Thus the idea here is that they wanted Israel to think that they were ambassadors from a non-Canaanite country.
‘Took old sacks on their asses and wine containers, old and torn and bound up.’ They wanted to give the impression of having come on a long journey (see verses 9, 13). The ‘binding up’ indicated the use of cord or similar to give the impression of trying to keep the old skins together.
9.5 ‘And old shoes and patched on their feet, and old clothing on them and all the bread of their provision was dry and had become mouldy.’
They wore shoes that were clearly in bad condition and had had to be patched and otherwise held together. Their clothing was old and ragged. Their bread was crumbling and spotted and therefore mouldy. They gave all the appearance of having come on a long and arduous journey.
9.6 ‘And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him, and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country. Now therefore make yourselves a covenant-treaty with us.” ’
The covenant was to be between people and people so that emphasis is placed on ‘to him and to the men of Israel’. The ‘men of Israel’ would be the leaders and elders of the people. If Joshua and Israel had just concluded a similar covenant with the men of Shechem which had had the approval of YHWH we can understand why Joshua felt no harm in it. He had grown complacent and so did not consult YHWH. He probably saw them almost in terms of Shechem. One step led to another, but God should have been consulted all the way. The same failure to consult had happened at Ai.
Once the covenant was entered into it would involve mutual protection and mutual responsibility. Such a covenant was looked on as inviolable and sacred. Even when it was discovered that it had been obtained by false pretences it could not be changed or cancelled. And it was binding through the centuries. When Saul slew some Gibeonites without good reason, punishment had to be exacted (2 Samuel 21.1-9).
‘We have come from a far country.’ This was a direct lie, but necessary for the purpose that they hoped to achieve. They were denying that they were Canaanites. It made the elders of Israel think that they were simply protecting their future.
9.7 ‘And the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps it may be that you dwell among us, and how shall we make a covenant-treaty with you?”
The elders of Israel were not fools. They were suspicious. They wanted proof that these men were what they said they were and not inhabitants of the land. But they did not know that they were Hivites. The fact is pointed out to bring out the folly of what they did. A covenant-treaty with the Hivites was forbidden (Deuteronomy 7.1-2). The Bible tells us that we must be as wise as serpents, and that the elders of Israel in this case were not.
9.8a ‘And they said to Joshua, “We are your servants.”
In the face of such an objection silence was the wisest precaution. They simply responded humbly and awaited further events. The idea of ‘servant’ was not literal. It was a typical Near Eastern show of humility that was not intended to be taken too literally. Perhaps this should have alerted Joshua. If they had been genuine they would have protested vigorously. But Joshua, perhaps elated at the success in Shechem, was not thinking clearly. Even godly men can drop their guard at times, and they can tend to assume honesty in others. But we must remember that we live in a deceitful world.
9.8b ‘And Joshua said, “Who are you? And from where have you come?”
Both were necessary questions. Their descent and present whereabouts were of supreme importance. The problem was that he believed their answers. It is not spiritual to be naive.
9.9-10 ‘And they said to him, “Your servants are come from a very far country because of the name of YHWH your God, for we have heard the fame of him, and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites, who were in Beyond Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, which was at Ashtaroth . ” ’
Their claim was that they lived in a far country and had come because they knew the reputation of YHWH and wanted to be in alliance with His people. The suggestion was that they too wanted to know YHWH. Joshua knew that Israel was to be a kingdom of priests ministering to the nations (Exodus 19.6). We can therefore understand why he found the idea here tempting. We can often be so eager to do spiritual service that we forego caution.
Compare on this verse Rahab’s description of the same incidents in 2.10. For Ashtaroth see 12.4. For Egypt see Exodus 1-15. For the defeat of the two kings mentioned see Numbers 21.21-35. Their subtlety comes out in that they made no mention of Jericho or Ai. News of that would not have had time to filter through to a far country.
9.11 “That is why our elders, and all the inhabitants of our country, spoke to us saying, “Take provisions in your hand for the journey, and go to meet them, and say to them, ‘We are your servants’. And now make yourselves a covenant-treaty with us.” ’
The non-mention of a king may suggest that Gibeon were ruled by a council of elders and not a king, but alternately it may have been part of the subterfuge. When men are taken in a lie you can believe nothing that they say. They were concerned to establish that all their people were behind them, a country seeking YHWH! Again the reference to servants is Near Eastern hyperbole, but there is in the writer’s mind the fact that they did indeed become slaves to Israel.
The idea that they wanted to present was that they feared that once Israel had conquered Canaan they would look for further conquests, and they wanted to prevent it by a treaty alliance.
9.12 “This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came out to go to you, but now, behold, it is dry, and has become mouldy. And these wineskins, which we filled, were new, and look they are torn, and these our clothes, and our shoes, have become old by reason of the very long journey.”
They then presented their masterstroke, the condition of their bread, wine and clothing. They pointed out how old it was and how long they must have been on their journey for it to become so. Worn out shoes, clothes showing signs of wear, mouldy food, torn wineskins. What more proof did they need?
9.14. ‘And the men took of their provisions and did not ask counsel of YHWH.’
O how foolish we are when we do not consult God. Convinced by the false evidence the food was accepted by the elders of Israel, Joshua among them. It would only be a token participation to demonstrate acceptance in view of the condition of the food, although they were more used to eating mouldy food than we are. But it was specifically done without consulting YHWH (see Numbers 27.21). How careful we should be before we come to decisions, especially decisions which bind us to alliance and working together, without giving time for full consultation with God.
9.15 ‘And Joshua made peace with them, and made a treaty-covenant with them, to let them live. And the princes of the congregation swore to them.’
Following up the token eating of their food to indicate acceptance (compare Genesis 31.54; Exodus 18.12; 24.11) a treaty-covenant was drawn up. Peace and non-belligerence was promised. ‘To let them live’ indicates the practical effect as described in verse 24. Once these oaths were made it would not be possible to destroy these people as God had commanded. And the oaths were taken by all the princes of the congregation, the leaders of the whole of Israel. It is noticeable in all this that Joshua does not act as a dictator but in consultation with the elders and princes of Israel. When in battle he was in command, but for day by day affairs of government responsibility was shared.
‘The princes of the congregation’ is a regular Mosaic expression (Exodus 16.22; 34.31; Numbers 4.34; 16.2; 31.13; 32.2). Israel was seen as ‘the congregation’ because they gathered together as one to worship YHWH. There are no good grounds for not seeing the expression as Mosaic. There was a regular ‘congregation’ and there were ‘princes’.
9.16 ‘And so it was that at the end of three days, after they had made a treaty-covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours and that they dwelt among them.’
Then after a few days had passed (the regular ‘three days’) the Israelites learned that the Gibeonites in fact ‘lived in the neighbourhood’ and ‘were dwellers in the land’. Note the parallel descriptions of their status which would ensure the point got over to the hearers. It was not the kind of secret that could be kept for long. Soon everyone would know about it. People would be gloating and laughing at the way that the Israelites had been duped. It was too good a story not to pass on.
9.17 ‘And the children of Israel journeyed, and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon and Chephirah, and Beeroth and Kiriath-jearim.’
Once they heard the news and realised how they had been cheated the Israelites moved in force to the area where they were to be found. It was a four city confederacy. Chephirah was a Hivite fortress on a spur eight kilometres (five miles) west of Gibeon, now modern Khirbet Kefireh, dominating the Wadi Qatneh that leads down to Aijalon. Ezra 2.25; Nehemiah 7.29 link it with Kiriath-jearim. It became a Benjamite city.
Kiriath-jearim (city of the forests) was on the Judah-Benjamite border. It first belonged to Judah (15.60) but then to Benjamin (18.28). Its alternative name Kiriath-baal (15.60) suggests that it was an old Canaanite high place. It is possibly to be identified with modern Kuriet el-‘Enab (Abu Ghosh). Beeroth means ‘wells’. This may be el-Bireh where there are several wells and ruins. It is eight kilometres (five miles) north east of Gibeon. And then, of course, there was great Gibeon itself.
‘On the third day.’ Basically after a day’s travel. They made the covenant, learned of the deceit, set off on the next day and arrived the following morning.
9.18 ‘And the children of Israel did not smite them, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by YHWH the God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes.’
True to their treaty-covenant the Gibeonites were spared. Such a treaty was totally binding and unbreakable. But the people themselves were not happy. They wanted to get their own back on these Gibeonites who had made such fools of them, but the princes would not let them.
9.19-20 ‘But all the princes said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by YHWH, the God of Israel. Now therefore we may not touch them. This we will do to them and let them live, lest wrath be on us because of the oath which we have sworn to them.’
The princes explained their reasons. A solemn oath had been sworn, a solemn covenant made. Therefore it had to be kept otherwise the wrath of God would come on Israel (see 2 Samuel 21.1-9). The Gibeonites were inviolate. They could not be touched.
‘This we will do to them.’ Then would follow the details found in verse 21. (The words hanging in suspense would also keep the listeners in suspense for a few moments).
9.21 ‘And the princes said to them, “Let them live, so they become hewers of wood, and drawers of water to all the congregation”, as the princes had spoken to them.’
Now the explanation was given of what would be done to them. They would become slaves to Israel. No Israelite could be made a slave. But these were not Israelites. Thus slavery was to be their lot. ‘Hewers of wood and drawers of water’ were the lowest of the low (Deuteronomy 29.11). Their slavery would involve the most menial service in the sanctuary (verse 23), and also the fulfilling of meeting the general and continual need for wood and water throughout the tribes of Israel.
9.22. ‘And Joshua called for them, and he spoke to them, saying, “Why have you deceived us, saying ‘we are very far from you’, when you dwell among us? Now therefore you are cursed, and you will never cease to provide bondmen (literally ‘there shall not be cut off from you a bondman’), both hewers of wood and drawers of water, for the house of my God.” ’
Up to now the conversation had been between the princes and their tribespeople. The initial decision to make the treaty-covenant had been the work of all the leaders (verse 14) acting on behalf of their people. Now they had had to justify themselves to the people. But the final decision was then left for Joshua to pass on as their general and spokesman. The whole process brings out the tribal nature of their society. They were a confederacy of twelve tribes with each tribe self-governed but responsible to the centre, here it was Joshua, later it would be ‘the priest’ at the central sanctuary.
Joshua informed the Gibeonites that their deceit had brought them under a curse. They were to be permanent bondmen, serving Israel and serving the sanctuary in all menial tasks. Their cities were to be taken from them and would presumably be taken over by Israelites.
‘For the house of my God.’ Compare Genesis 28.17; Numbers 12.7. In Numbers 12.7 ‘My house’ surely refers to Israel. Thus God saw Israel as ‘His house’. Joshua may thus have been speaking of the whole ‘house of Israel’ (Exodus 16.31; 40.38; Leviticus 10.6; 17.3 compare Exodus 19.3) as ‘the house of my God’. The word ‘house’ is used regularly to describe a group of people connected to a common head, e.g. ‘the house of Israel’ and ‘the houses of their fathers’. Or it may be that he saw Canaan in that way in contrast with Egypt, not the house of bondage but the house of God, in view of the wonderful things that were to happen there. Egypt was constantly described as ‘the house of bondage’ (24.17; Exodus 13.3, 14; 20.2; Deuteronomy 5.6; 6.12; 8.14; 13.5; 13.10). Jacob had acknowledged Bethel as ‘the house of God’ because of wonders observed there, how much more could the whole of Canaan (seen prophetically as completely controlled by Israel once the final conquest had been achieved) be seen as ‘the house of my God’.
But the Tabernacle could also be described as ‘the house of YHWH your God’ or ‘the house of God’ (Exodus 23.19; 34.26; Judges 20.18, 26, 31; 21.2) for it was where God ‘abided’ with them. Compare for the full phrase 1 Chronicles 29.2-3; Nehemiah 13.14; Psalm 84.10, although these were much later and referred to the Temple. (The equivalence of a tent and a house in Israelite minds comes out in that going home was regularly described as returning ‘to their tents’ even when they lived in houses. A house was a tent, and vice versa).
9.24 ‘And they answered Joshua, and said, “Because it was assuredly told your servants, how that YHWH your God commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you. Therefore we were sore afraid of our lives because of you, and have done this thing.” ’
At this stage the reputation of YHWH and the great prophet Moses were at their highest among the nations. They were afraid of Him and His servants. That was what would be lost through the failure of His people later to be obedient. The word had got around that YHWH had given Canaan to Israel (compare 2.9) and had commanded destruction of the Canaanites, and the peoples were afraid that He would be able to do it, and were terrified.
9.25 “And now, behold, we are in your hand. As it seems good and right to you to do to us, do.”
Having admitted their reasons they acknowledged that, apart from disobeying the strict treaty-covenant conditions, Joshua was within his rights to do whatever he wished with them. There seems little doubt that one requirement was submission to the tribal covenant, although not as full members but as resident aliens (2 Samuel 21.2). They would be required to abjure their own religion and worship YHWH and submit to His Law. Their presence is referred to in the future and there is never any suggestion that they led Israel astray. They appear to have genuinely become Yahwists. Indeed as slaves they could be required to.
9.26-27 ‘And so did he to them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not. And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of YHWH, to this day, in the place which he should choose.’
It is quite clear that the people of Israel as a whole were incensed at the way in which they had been tricked and probably wished to carry out The Ban on Gibeon, destroying the people and their cities. But Joshua’s move was enough to assuage their anger somewhat so that they were willing to allow them to live. They would grudgingly recognise the force of the treaty-covenant.
Thus the Gibeonites were granted the position as bondmen in the lowest position in society. They would ‘be hewers of wood and drawers of water’ (i.e. would do all menial tasks) to the whole of Israel, losing their cities and their possessions and accepting drudgery. Within this they would also be hewers of wood and drawers of water ‘for the altar of YHWH’. That does not mean that they entered the Tabernacle, only that they did the necessary menial work with regard to it (actually caring for the Tabernacle itself was not seen as menial work. It was seen as a huge privilege).
‘To this day, in the place which he should choose.’ When this was written this was still their task. They served as servants to the servants of the Tabernacle wherever YHWH chose for it to be set up (Deuteronomy 12.5).
One problem for the future will be in knowing when the term Gibeonite means one of these people, or one of those who took over Gibeon from them. Gibeonite may not always refer to a member of the original Canaanite group, who lost their rights to Gibeon. It was in fact set apart as a Levitical city (21.7). It is an interesting question as to whether Gibeonites became, and were included in, the Nethinim (‘those given’). In 1 Chronicles 9.2 the priests, the Levites and the Nethinim are described as placed in their inheritance. Thus the Nethinim were seen as lower levels of Temple servants.
(The term Nethinim probably means more than the Gibeonites, and is to be seen as including all slaves separated to this service. They were described as given by David and the princes for the service of the Levites (Ezra 8.20), in the same way as the Levites had been given by God (‘as a gift’ - Nethunim) for the service of the priests (Numbers 3.9; 8.19). Thus David presumably added to their number from prisoners-of-war, as did Solomon (Ezra 2.43-58). Note their foreign names. This being so their presence is fully explained without needing to invent such an account as that of the Gibeonites. That account is described because it happened. Who indeed would invent an account which made such fools of Israel?).
Chapter 10. Defeat of the Canaanite Confederacy - The Invasion of the South.
In this chapter we read of an alliance of five Canaanite kings who came together against the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites then appeal to Joshua for assistance, in virtue of their treaty rights, something which Joshua has no alternative but to grant. This is followed by the slaughter of the Canaanite armies by the forces of Israel, aided by hailstones from heaven, and by the ‘silence’ of the sun and of the moon while vengeance was being taken on them. The five kings then hide in a cave, and we are informed of what was done to them when they were taken. This is followed by the taking of Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir, which indicated the initial conquest of the southern part of the hill country and lowlands.
The Five-King Alliance Against Gibeon And Joshua’s Response. YHWH Works On Behalf Of Israel (10.1-15).
10.1 ‘Now it happened that, when Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it, for as he had done to Jericho and her king, so he had done to Ai and her king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them.’
News soon reached surrounding city states about what had happened. One of these was Jerusalem, whose king was made aware of the full situation. Israel had captured both Jericho and Ai and had totally destroyed them and annihilated their inhabitants, and had now entered into a treaty-covenant with the Gibeonite confederacy. There is total silence about the treaty-covenant with Shechem. That is because the writer was concentrating on conveying the picture of the capture of the land by Joshua, and did not want the picture to be affected by such an idea. He was writing a record of the triumph of YHWH, not the history of the conquest. The Gibeonite treaty was a different matter as it was obtained by subterfuge and resulted in the total submission of Gibeon to slavery. However, the total picture is clear. The way into Canaan over the Jordan and the central hill country was now mainly in the hands of the Israelites, while the way had been laid open for the settling of the southern hill country and lowlands.
‘Adoni-zedek’. The name means ‘my lord is righteous’ or ‘Zedek is my lord’. We can compare the former king of Jerusalem ‘Melchizedek - my king is righteous’ or ‘Zedek is my king’. There is not sufficient evidence for a god Zedek in Canaan so that the other meanings may well be the right ones. At the time of the Amarna letters the king of Jerusalem was Abdi-heba. The letters also referred to Uru-salim as the name of the city.
10.2 ‘That they were deeply afraid, for Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai and all its men were mighty men.’
The shock of the capitulation of Gibeon was greater than that of the defeat of Jericho and Ai. The latter was only relatively small, but Gibeon and her confederacy were seen as powerful and militarily effective. Yet they had surrendered without a fight. It provided even greater reason to fear Israel. ‘A great city’, that is one with other cities under it and in confederacy with it. ‘As one of the royal cities’ may refer to the fact that Gibeon, which was ruled by its elders, was as great as the royal cities which had kings. Indeed there was a feeling that Gibeon had betrayed them by joining with Israel.
‘They were deeply afraid.’ ‘They’, that is Adoni-zedek and his advisers. Terror struck them for they recognised the fate that awaited them and the calibre of the forces they faced.
‘All its men were mighty men.’ Its army had a reputation for being good fighters. Gibeon is often depicted as cowardly, but some might feel that they were wise. They were right in the path of the victorious Israelite army.
10.3 ‘For that reason Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem, sent to Hoham king of Hebron, and to Piram king of Jarmuth, and to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying.’
In view of the disturbing situation and the capitulation of Gibeon, the king of Jerusalem connected possible allies in the southern hill country and the Shephelah (the lowlands or lower slopes). We know from the Amarna letters that Jerusalem headed a small confederacy, and along with Shechem, was one of the two most powerful forces in the hill country. In the time of Abraham its king had been an influential figure to whom Abraham had paid tribute (Genesis 14), because he was allowed to graze his lands.
Hebron (el-Halil) was about thirty two kilometres (twenty miles) south of Jerusalem, Yarmuth (Khirbet Yarmuk) twenty five kilometres (sixteen miles) west south west, Lachish about forty kilometres (twenty five miles) south west and Eglon (el-Hesi) thirteen kilometres (eight miles) beyond Lachish. Hebron and Lachish were major cities. Lachish is a thirty one acre tell but was unfortified at this time, although the houses on the edge possibly formed a defensive ring.
10.4 “Come up to me, and help me, and let us smite Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua, and with the children of Israel.”
The first plan was to smite Gibeon. In their view what Gibeon had done had been an act of treachery against them, and their aim was to weaken the new alliance (as they saw it. They would not know the full story) and would be a warning to other cities not to ally themselves with Israel.
10.5 ‘Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Yarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped against Gibeon, and made war against it.’
The five kings of the five city states gathered their combined forces for the purpose either of bringing Gibeon back into the Canaanite fold, or of punishing them severely for their treachery against their neighbours. It was an alliance forced on them by circumstances, each recognising that it was not powerful enough to face up to Gibeon and Israel on its own.
‘Five kings of the Amorites.’ The term ‘Amorites’ was often used as a general name for the dwellers in the hill country (and sometimes for all of Canaan), although Jerusalem was in fact inhabited by Jebusites. These kings went with their fighting men and besieged Gibeon.
10.6 ‘And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, “Slack not your hands from your servants. Come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered together against us.” ’
Seeing the forces ranged against them the Gibeonites took advantage of their treaty-covenant with Israel and sent to Joshua for assistance. By that time Joshua and his forces were back at Gilgal, but no doubt an Israelite contingent had remained in Gibeon so as to keep an eye on Israelite interests. The Gibeonites pleaded for rapid action in view of the size of the forces against them. The strength of Gibeon comes out in that it was able to hold out long enough for help to come.
‘The Amorites who dwell in the hill country.’ Strictly speaking only two of these cities, Jerusalem and Hebron, were in the hill country, the remainder being in the lower hills, the Shephelah. But this was a general description. ‘Those who were in the hills’.
10.7 ‘So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valour.’
Joshua’s response was immediate. He gathered the Israelite forces together, ascended into the hill country, and made for Gibeon. He would leave enough men of war to guard the camp, especially possibly some of the older men who would find the climb and rapid movement more difficult, but he took his main striking force.
10.8 ‘And YHWH said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them for I have delivered them into your hands. There shall not a man of them stand before you.” ’
This time Joshua did not fail to consult YHWH and he received assurance from Him of complete victory with the help of YHWH. YHWH was assuring him that He would be active on his behalf. The whole of the enemy forces would be put to flight.
10.9-11 ‘Joshua therefore came on them suddenly, for he went up from Gilgal all night. And YHWH discomfited them before Israel and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them by the way of the ascent of Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and to Makkedah, and so it was that as they fled from before Israel, while they were on the descent from Bethhoron, YHWH cast down great stones from heaven on them, to Azekah, and they died. They were more who died with the hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.’
Joshua made a sudden surprise attack, having travelled by forced marches through the night for the purpose, and would have caught the enemy napping, something which resulted in great slaughter and a precipitate flight They chased them up the ascent of Bethoron, while some of the Canaanite forces fought a rearguard action to allow their comrades to escape. But there was no escape from YHWH, for as their comrades sought to escape down the descent on the other side of Bethhoron, great hailstones fell from heaven and decimated the fleeing forces, so much so that more died by this means than in the actual fighting.
Note the combining of the activity of YHWH with the people of Israel. In one sense it was all the work of YHWH, in another much of it was the activity of Israel. Great hailstones the size to kill a man, especially when they were descending hazardous paths, fell on the retreating troops. Such huge hailstorms have been known in the Mediterranean region where hailstones weighing more than twelve pounds each have been known to fall (compare Revelation 16.21). Defeat in this way was devastating for the Amorites. One of their main gods was Baal, Lord of rain and of storm. Yet here he seemed unable to help them against the might of YHWH.
The site of Azekah is unknown but its signal lights could be seen from Lachish in the days of Sennacherib of Assyria.
10.12-13a ‘Then spoke Joshua to YHWH, in the day when YHWH delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
Is not this written in the book of Jasher?’
This poem was found in the Book of Jasher (the book of the righteous), mentioned also in 2 Samuel 1.18. The Book of Jasher was clearly a collection of songs, possibly put together over a period of time (compare The Book of the Wars of YHWH - Numbers 21.14). If the reference in Samuel refers to a poem written at that time, it was written at the time of Saul’s death. But some argue that 2 Samuel 1.18 should simply read ‘he instructed them to train the Judeans in bowmanship (‘song of’ is not in the Hebrew), the training-poem for which is written in the Book of Jasher’ and do not refer it to David’s poem at all. As we know that music was regularly used as a part of military training that is possibly the correct translation, and in that case it does not fix a date for the Book of Jasher making its appearance. Alternately this reference to the Book of Jasher here may be an added note by a copyist, the poem itself being contemporary with the event but having found its way into the Book of Jasher.
It is not quite clear from these words what happened or when it happened, and the extreme weather conditions. which must have included thick, dark clouds, must be noted. Does the reference to Gibeon mean that it happened while they were at Gibeon? If so it was while the sun was rising (verse 9), an idea supported by the fact that the moon was still visible. But why then ask for the sun to stand still at that point? If it was light that was in mind there would be plenty of time still left in the day. It is more probable therefore that he would want it to be ‘silent’, that is, not to rise, so as to be able to continue the advantage of the night attack. In that case ‘be silent’ would mean, ‘let it remain dark’. This would tie in with the visibility of the moon over Aijalon and its continuing visibility, the remarkable weather conditions, and the later hailstorm that destroyed the enemy from a black sky. It should be noted that there is no suggestion in the actual historical account of an excessively long day.
Alternately the reference to Gibeon may simply indicate the direction in which the sun was from looking from Joshua’s viewpoint.
For the meaning ‘be silent’, which is the primary meaning of the verb, compare Amos 5.13; Leviticus 10.3; Psalm 4.4 (5); 31.17; Job 31.34. For the meaning ‘be still’ compare Jeremiah 8.14; 47.6; 1 Samuel 14.9, but note that these latter could equally be rendered by ‘silence’, for they refer to the stillness of silence, to non-activity.
Or was it much later in the day when Joshua wanted more light to continue the battle and the moon had begun again to appear? That is how it is often taken. We must certainly recognise that weather conditions were very strange as is evidenced by the extraordinary hail. They were such as occurred very rarely indeed and must have resulted in freak weather conditions. Did such freak weather conditions result in the sun’s light reflecting even when it had gone down so that ‘the day’ (period of light) lasted longer, or result in the moon being excessively bright, so giving a continuation of a long day (period of light) which they naturally interpreted in terms of the sun? Certainly something unusual happened that was vividly remembered. But it was not such as to destroy the world’s environment. (The question here is not what God could do but what He would and did do).
We are not incidentally to see in it in any case the literal adding of a twenty four hour period. At the most it indicates additional daylight. ‘About a whole day’ would be in terms of the period between sunrise and sunset.
10.13b-14 ‘And the sun stayed in the midst of heaven and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that YHWH heard the voice of a man. For YHWH fought for Israel.’
This need not mean that they actually saw the sun stop in the heavens (which was unlikely given the known cloud cover and the hailstorm). Thus it could mean that the sun having begun to appear simply disappeared behind the thick, threatening clouds which resulted, among other things, in the hailstorm, and a big advantage for Israel. As far as they were concerned it would then have ‘stopped’ in the midst of heaven. The word in Hebrew means to stand still, stop still, thus here possibly meaning that they no longer saw its movement. As far as they were concerned it had stopped moving. It no longer produced any effect. And the day had gone very dark. They were describing what they saw. That would mean that that day there was no sun seen hasting to go down. And it was seen as all due to Joshua’s request, God’s response to the latter being seen as a unique event in history. It will be noted that what is stated as being miraculous was that YHWH heard the voice of a man with regard to weather conditions, not that the day was long.
Many, however, follow the traditional interpretation considering that the period of daylight seemingly lasted ‘almost twice as long as usual’, although we must allow for the possible overstatement of the writer. He had no means of telling the time. It must not be seen as a strict scientific statement, but as the awed statement of a believer. God had given them additional daylight! One question is how would the Israelites know this, having no measure of time, if sun and moon were not behaving normally? They certainly had no way of measuring the time accurately. One method may have been based on such things as the number of times cattle and goats had to be milked and fed, linked to a general sense of passing time. But this would not be reliable for cattle and goats can be affected by extreme weather conditions, while we have all known days that have seemed interminable. And we must keep in mind that to them ‘a day’ was a period of light, not necessarily a fixed period between sunrise and sunset (which they had no way of measuring). It would not have been a fixed number of hours, because hours had not yet been invented.
In this view then we are looking at what seemed an extra long day, a day in which unusual and remarkable weather conditions applied, which very conditions may have resulted in ‘daylight’ being seen as continuing into the night in some way. But given the unusual weather conditions, the appearance of the moon, and the rare nature of the hailstorm, it seems far more probable that the reference is to a dark day not a light one.
All we can really say with certainty is that there were hugely remarkable events affecting both the weather and the heavens, which were seen as the work of YHWH in direct response to Joshua’s prayer, an event unique in history up to that time. The important thing was that YHWH fought for Israel. It is interesting that the poem concentrates on the activities of sun and moon while the prose account stresses the remarkable hailstorm. The two were clearly connected.
10.15 ‘And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp to Gilgal.’
As will be noted from what follows this statement seems to be in an unusual place, for the following verses continue with the pursuit. However it follows the extract from the Book of Jasher and is therefore clearly intended to close off that section, seen as an independent insertion. Verse 16 is then to be seen as following verse 11. Putting the insertion (verses 12-15) in this place probably resulted from a desire to connect it with the other unusual weather phenomena. The point here is that for Joshua and Israel the whole venture ended successfully after the miraculous weather conditions, with the return to base camp, but in the context of the whole narrative the timing connects with 10.43.
Joshua Finishes Off The Enemy And Deals With The Five Kings Involved In The Invasion Of Gibeon (10.16-27).
10.16 ‘But these five kings fled, and hid themselves in the cave at Makkedah.’
Taken by surprise from the beginning, totally routed, their armies decimated both by sword and natural catastrophe, and totally exhausted, the five kings who had led their people into disaster took shelter in a cave in the area around the city of Makkedah. Possibly the point is that Makkedah itself refused to accept them. They were fugitives and could present a problem. Makkedah did not want to incite Joshua into attacking them. (If so it did Makkedah little good. But in such situations any attempt to prevent trouble is better than nothing). The site of Makkedah is unknown.
10.17 ‘And it was told Joshua saying, “The five kings are found hidden in the cave at Makkedah.”
Capturing the kings would be looked on by the captors as a real coup. They may even have felt that now the pursuit could be relaxed while they concentrated on entering the caves, dealing with any guards, and apprehending the kings. Messengers were immediately sent to Joshua. But Joshua was a wise general and knew that what was most important was to reduce as much as possible the manpower of the Canaanite cities which had taken part in the attack.
10.18-19 ‘And Joshua said, “Roll large stones over the mouth of the cave, and set men by it so as to retain them. But do not yourselves stay, pursue after your enemies and smite those who are at the rear. Do not allow them to enter into their cities. For Yahweh your God has delivered them into your hand.” ’
Joshua’s instructions were that while the kings should be held securely by trapping them in the cave the pursuit must go on. As many as possible of the armies must be killed, for there would then be less of a threat in the future. We are probably to see that the five kings had their bodyguards with them otherwise they could have been retained and bound. So they were not to waste time making the final capture but to concentrate on maximum effectiveness. The trapped kings and their bodyguards could be dealt with later. No doubt some local had been made to reveal whether there was any other way out of the caves.
10.20-21 ‘And so it was that when Joshua and the children of Israel had made an end of slaying them with a very great slaughter, until they were consumed, and the remnant who remained of them had entered into the walled (fenced) cities, all the people returned to the camp, to Joshua at Makkedah, in peace. None whetted his tongue against any of the children of Israel.’
At length the slaughter was over. All who had survived had by now reached their walled cities and taken refuge. There was no point in remaining there. (Note the assumption that the Israelites would have had difficulty in taking the walled cities, but after what happened at Jericho no Canaanite would trust to a walled city). So all the forces of Israel returned and gathered at Makkedah where Joshua had arranged to set up camp. They encountered no problems. No one sought to cause them trouble. ‘None whetted his tongue’ means that no one showed any belligerence against them (compare Exodus 11.7).
The various battalions of Israelite troops had dealt with the enemy who had fled to their different cities. We are not told which one Joshua himself concentrated on, but he ensured that he was back at camp in order to welcome his victorious but exhausted troops. For ‘fenced cities’ see 14.12; 19.35; Numbers 13.28; 32.17, 36.
10.22 ‘Then said Joshua, “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring those five kings out to me from the cave.’
All being now settled Joshua turned his attention to the kings trapped in the cave at Makkedah. He commanded his men to open the caves, deal with any opposition, and bring the kings to him.
10.23 ‘And they did so, and brought those five kings to him out of the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Yarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon.’
The kings were brought out. All had been captured. Not one was missing. YHWH had defeated them all. It should be noted that at this stage Joshua’s main aim was the defeat of the armies of the Canaanites and the weakening of their power. He made no attempt to take and subdue all their cities, only such as were fairly easily accessible or those that had attacked him and had been weakened by the defeat of their armies.
10.24 ‘And so it was that when they brought out these kings to Joshua, Joshua called for all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who went with him, “Come near. Put your feet on the necks of these kings.” And they came near, and put their feet on their necks.’
What Joshua now did was in order to give strength and encouragement to his commanders, and to their battalions. He wanted them all to feel involved. It would sustain the battalions in future battles to remember how their chiefs had been able to demonstrate their authority over these (minor) kings.
The putting of the feet on the neck was a symbolic action demonstrating overlordship. It is well witnessed on Assyrian and Egyptian representations. Compare 1 Kings 5.3; Psalm 110.1; Isaiah 51.23.
10.25 ‘And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed. Be strong and of good courage. For thus shall YHWH do to all your enemies against whom you fight.’
Compare 1.6, 7, 9, 18; 8.1. Joshua knew the value of encouragement. What he had done was not intended to bring glory to them, but to remind them of God’s power. It was to give them heart for the future. They had seen what God had done to these kings and their armies. Let them therefore recognise that none could stand against them. They had nothing to fear.
10.26 ‘And afterwards Joshua smote them and slew them, and hung them on five trees, and they were hanging on the trees until the evening.’
The necessary executions had then to follow, for YHWH had commanded the slaying of all Canaanites who would not leave Canaan. And after they were dead their bodies were hung on trees as a warning to all around of what would be done to them if they troubled Israel. News would soon spread and fear would fill the hearts of the hearers. But in accordance with the Law the bodies were taken down at sunset lest they defile the land (Deuteronomy 21.23). Note the repetition of the idea of slaying in order to emphasise the fact to listeners.
10.27 ‘And so it was that at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua gave the command, and they took them down from the trees and cast them into the cave in which they had hidden themselves, and laid great stones on the mouth of the cave, to this very day.’
Once sunset came Joshua, in obedience to the Law, arranged for the bodies to be taken down from the trees. Then they were put in the cave where they had previously been hidden and the cave was sealed with large rocks. They were so prominent that they became a landmark and a memorial of what God had done ‘to this day’.
‘To this day.’ See 4.9; 5.9; 6.25; 7.26 twice; 8.28, 29; 9.27; 14.14; 15.63; 16.10; 22.3, 17; 23.8, 9, the last five included in words of Joshua. 6.25 suggests that Rahab was alive ‘to this day’, 8.28 that Ai was a heap ‘to this day, 9.27 that ‘to this day’ referred to the time prior to Jerusalem becoming the central sanctuary, 15.63 that the Jebusites dwelt among Israel ‘to this day’, 16.10 that the Canaanites dwelt among the Ephraimites in Gezer as taskworkers ‘to this day’. All this suggests an early date for the writing of the book.
Five Cities Are Taken (10.28-39).
10.28 ‘And Joshua took Makkedah on that day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and its king. He utterly destroyed (devoted) them and all the souls who were in it. He left none remaining. And he did to the king of Makkedah as he had done to the king of Jericho.’
The same day as he executed the kings, Makkedah capitulated, no doubt after bitter fighting. It may well have been unwalled. Its site is unknown. ‘He utterly devoted them’ i.e. the city, its inhabitants and their king. All in it was ‘devoted to YHWH’ (destroyed), apart probably from the cattle and the spoils (compare 11.14). The king was slain with the sword, and hung up as the king of Jericho had been (6.21 and 8.2 with 29).
What follows from here to verse 43 is a summary of the overall attack on the southern hill country and Shephelah. This refers to the initial defeat of these cities and a limiting thereby of their ability to prevent Israelite settlement. It would also limit their ability to resist later. Once Joshua had passed on to other battles the cities would be reoccupied by those who had fled and taken refuge in the forests and hills, and would have to be reduced again. But from now on they would be more vulnerable and far less strong. Their fighting power had been broken. There was little that Joshua could do about occupying them. He could not afford to leave forces behind in order to occupy each city that he conquered.
10.29-30 ‘And Joshua passed from Makkedah, and all Israel with him, to Libnah, and fought against Libnah. And YHWH delivered it also, and its king, into the hand of Israel. And he smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls who were in it. He left none remaining in it. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho.’
Libnah is another town whose site is unidentified. None of the suggestions made are really satisfactory. It was another of a series of towns in the Shephelah (lowlands). The city was captured, and its king and all its people put to the edge of the sword in the process, its king then being hung up until the evening after which he was buried, as had happened to the king of Jericho. Its cattle and spoils would be prizes to Israel. But as the reputation of Israel grew so would the number of people who would make their escape before they arrived. The accounts read matter-of-factedly but we need not doubt that there was hard and bitter fighting, although the result was never in doubt because YHWH was with them.
10.31 ‘And Joshua passed from Libnah, and all Israel with him, to Lachish, and encamped against it, and fought against it, And YHWH delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, and he took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls who were in it, in accordance with all that he had done to Libnah.’
Lachish was a very large city and put up fierce resistance. But its king was dead and its army decimated. Nevertheless Joshua had to encamp against it before forcing his way past their defences and capturing the city on the second day. But we know that it had no walls sufficient to resist a strong attack, being protected only by its outer layer of houses.
10.33. ‘Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish, and Joshua smote him, and his people, until he had left him none remaining.’
When Horam, king of Gezer, heard that Lachish was being attacked (they may well have had a mutual help pact) he hastened to help them. But he arrived too late and found himself having to face Israel alone. The result was that he was slain and his army decimated. Joshua must have been a brilliant general. But Gezer was a strong city and never fully occupied by Israel, although later subjected to taskwork (16.10). It was thus not taken at this time. It was later captured by Merenptah of Egypt and then by the Philistines, being given by Egypt to Solomon on his marriage.
Gezer was on the northern ridge of the Shephelah, overlooking the Valley of Aijalon, a few miles from the main coastal highway between Egypt and the north. It had been taken by the Egyptians in the 15th century BC, and is mentioned as remaining loyal (if vacillating) in the Amarna letters. But at this stage it appears to have been at least semi-independent. As mentioned it was later taken by Merenptah while the Israelite occupation was still under way. It would later be occupied by the newly arriving Philistines, possibly with Egyptian consent.
10.34-35 ‘And Joshua passed from Lachish, and all Israel with him, to Eglon, and they encamped against it, and fought against it. And they took it on that day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls who were in it he utterly destroyed (devoted) that day, in accordance with all he had done to Lachish.’
Eglon too had no king for he had been slain at Makkedah, although someone must have been acting as regent while the next king was appointed. Eglon could be Tell el-Hesi or Tell Eitun. This too offered more than token resistance but was subdued in one day. It was much smaller than Lachish. Its inhabitants were totally destroyed.
10.36-37 ‘And Joshua went up from Eglon, and all Israel with him, to Hebron, and they fought against it. And they took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and its king, and all its cities, and all the souls who were in it. He left none remaining, in accordance with all that he had done to Eglon. But he utterly destroyed (devoted) it and all the souls who were in it.’
Hebron was a different matter. Up in the highlands and forming a confederation of cities it was a more difficult enterprise, but the victorious Joshua did not fail. It had had time to appoint a new king, but he did not enjoy his position for long. For Joshua arrived with his army, captured it and put it to the sword, and probably set it on fire. These accounts are so brief, and yet they say a lot for Joshua’s generalship.
Many would, however, escape from the confederation into the mountains, and once Joshua and his army left on their next venture they would return and re-establish the city. Thus later it would have to be reconquered by Caleb under Joshua’s command, when Judah began to claim its inheritance (15.13-19)
10.38-39 ‘And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to Debir, and fought against it. And he took it and its king, and all its cities, and they smote them with the edge of the sword and utterly destroyed (devoted) all the souls who were in it. He left none remaining. As he had done to Hebron, so he did to Debir, and to its king, as he had done also to Libnah and to its king.’
Debir too was in the highlands and again part of a confederacy of cities. But this did not help it and once more Joshua was successful. This too was conquered and all its people put to the sword. But the same situation would arise with Debir. Once Joshua had passed on to the south Hebron and Debir were rebuilt as far as necessary (it is not said that he set fire to them) and re-inhabited, having to be captured a second time by Caleb under Joshua’s overall command (11.21; 15.13-19; Judges 1.10-15 which was a flashback).
This was not needless slaughter. Having demonstrated their belligerence against Israel their strength had to be seriously weakened for Israel’s sake in the future. Israel could not settle in the land while there were powerful alliances against them.
A Summary Of The Conquests So Far (10.40-43).
10.40 ‘So Joshua smote all the land, the hill country and the South (the Negeb), and the lowland (Shephelah) and the slopes and all their kings. He left none remaining, but he utterly destroyed (devoted) all that breathed as YHWH, the God of Israel, commanded.’
The purpose of Joshua’s invasion of the South was to break down resistance and to kill kings and decimate armies, and weaken the cities by destroying all the inhabitants who remained behind so that they would leave Israel alone. It was a softening up operation. In the nature of what he still had to do he could not occupy them or leave men behind in them. It was an exercise in breaking their backs so that later they would be too weak to resist when Israel finally sought to take them over. But many of the people would still have survived, and once Joshua had moved on, would return and seek to re-establish their cities and encampments.
Note the different areas involved, the southern mountains (the hill country), the south (Negeb) which was the semi-desert area on the southern borders with its oases, the low hills to the west (the Shephelah) sloping down towards the plain, the slopes (the meaning of the word is not certain), possibly the slopes and cliffs of the Negeb and the Shephelah. The campaign went on for a long time but he could not cover every inch of ground.
10.41-43 ‘And Joshua smote them, from Kadesh-barnea, even to Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even to Gibeon. And all these kings, and their land, did Joshua take at one time, because YHWH the God of Israel fought for Israel. And Joshua returned and all Israel with him to the camp at Gilgal.’
So after his victorious campaigns covering the whole of the south of Canaan Joshua returned with the army to their camp at Gilgal. Much had been done to prepare the way for conquest. But there had been no permanent occupation. That would follow later. ‘All Israel’ returned to the camp at Gilgal. It would be up to the individual tribes finally to capture and occupy their own inheritance. He may well have thought that he had destroyed most of the opposition, but there would be many people still surviving his attacks, and outlying peoples would gladly move in to occupy vacant territory. They would rebuild the cities and try to make them stronger (although they could not replace their decimated forces). There would still be much to do.
The account had a twofold purpose. It demonstrated that YHWH was able to give the whole country into their hands, and it showed that Israel later had no excuse for their failure to take full possession of it.
‘From Kadesh-barnea even to Gaza.’ This is describing the limits of the country dealt with. It does not necessarily signify that Gaza itself (on the coast) was taken. See 11.22. But the Philistines were probably not yet there, arriving later as their invasion of the territory also began (13.2-3). Kadesh-barnea was an oasis in the Negeb on the edge of the wildernesses of Paran and Zin. The city of Goshen is mentioned in 15.51, the ‘country of Goshen’ indicating widespread land connected with it. ‘Goshen to Gibeon’ possibly indicated a recognised area in the highlands bounded by these two cities.
Chapter 11. The Northern Confederacy - the Invasion of the North.
This chapter tells how the kings of the northern parts of Canaan now combined together against Joshua. It explains how YHWH encouraged him to fight them, delivering them into his hands, so that all their people were smitten by him. It describes how he captured their cities, destroyed their inhabitants, and took their spoil. The chapter concludes with an account of his destruction of the Anakim and declares that he had now ‘conquered’ the whole land. In consequence of all this there was a lull from fighting enabling the Israelites to establish themselves without being resisted.
Defeat Of The Northern Confederacy (11.1-15).
11.1-3 ‘And it happened that when Jabin king of Hazor heard of it that he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were to the north, in the hill country and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in the heights of Dor to the west, to the Canaanite on the east and on the west, and the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite in the hill country, and the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpah.’
When the king of Hazor heard of this triumphant army that had swept through Southern Canaan he decided that it was time for serious action. The name Jabin was probably a throne name. Another Jabin would face Barak and Deborah later (Judges 4.2). But Hazor was ‘a royal city’ and its king was called in inscriptions a ‘Great King’ (sarrum), permanent overlord over a number of cities. He thus had great influence. This would be the most powerful force that Joshua had yet faced.
Hazor (Tell el-Qedah) was an important city state in northern Canaan which had great authority over its neighbours. It was ‘ head of all those kingdoms’, (verse 10). Archaeology tells us that it had been there since the third millennium BC and in the second millennium was extended by the building of a lower city. At this stage it would have had about forty thousand inhabitants, a large city indeed, almost as large as Megiddo. The lower city contained a Canaanite temple and a small shrine. Hazor was referred to regularly throughout the centuries, by Egypt, Mari and Babylon, as an important political centre, and as mentioned above its ruler was given the title ‘Great King’ (sarrum), a status above that usually conferred on rulers of city states.
But the alliance he put together reached farther than that. Jobab, king of Madon (compare 12.19) was important enough for his name to be remembered, although Madon is unidentified. Possibly he was Jabin’s general in the same way as Sisera would be after him. Along with the kings of Shimron (12.20 has Shimron- meron, compare 19.15) and Achshaph he was probably a vassal of Jabin. Any identification for Shimron is tenuous (Tell es-Semuniyeh has been suggested but disputed) but Achshaph was near Acco and is mentioned in Egyptian lists and in Papyrus Anastasi I.
‘The kings who were to the north, in the hill country and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in the heights of Dor to the west, to the Canaanite on the east and on the west.’ A wide ranging alliance. Northern cities, cities in the Galilean hill country, cities in the Jordan rift valley (the Arabah) south of Lake Chinnereth (Numbers 34.11; Deuteronomy 3.17) or of the city of that name (19.35 - probably Khirbet el-Oreimah), and the heights of Dor which probably came under the jurisdiction of, and may have included, Dor, the important seaport on the coast south of Carmel mentioned by Raamses II and later conquered by the Sea Peoples (the Tjeker). It is noteworthy that the large cities of the plain of Esdraelon further South, Megiddo and Taanach are not mentioned, as they assuredly would have been had they been involved.
‘The Canaanite on the east and on the west, and the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite in the hill country, and the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpah.’ The list of the nations involved is then given in order to expand the picture. All six of the nations regularly mentioned are deliberately included. Canaanites are seen as spread from east to west of northern Canaan, the remainder are connected with the hill country.
Jebusites were usually mentioned as the inhabitants of Jerusalem but these were clearly resident elsewhere (Numbers 13.29), unless some came from Jerusalem, one of the few cities not to be taken by Joshua, in order to support Jabin against Israel after their own ignominious earlier defeat. But if the writer had seen Jerusalem as being involved he would surely have mentioned it. Hivites are seen in the centre of the country (9.7) but there were clearly some in the vicinity of Hermon, compare Judges 3.3. For the land of Mizpah compare verse 8. For the site of this Mizpah (there were a number of Mizpahs - the name means ‘watchtower’) Qual‘at es-Subeibeh, near the Lake of Huleh, has much support.
11.4-5 ‘And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, many people, even as the sand which is on the seashore for multitude, with very many horses and chariots. And all these kings met together, and they came and pitched together at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel.’
‘Many horses and chariots.’ This was something which Joshua had not faced before and for which YHWH had been preparing him. This was a major army and was equipped with many horses and chariots. Israel probably had no horses, and certainly no chariots. Thus they would have to face this great army on foot.
So the sections of this great army went out from their differing headquarters and met together under their kings at some rendezvous from where they proceeded to the waters of Merom. Merom is mentioned in the lists of Tuthmosis III. One possible site is the village of Meiron near Safed, which is near springs that feed the Wadi Leimun (or Wadi Meiron). Another is Maroun er-Ras which is above a valley leading to the Huleh basin north of Hazor. There they prepared ‘to fight against Israel’.
11.6 ‘And YHWH said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow about this time I will deliver them up all slain before Israel. You shall hough their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” ’
Joshua again sought the guidance of YHWH in the face of these powerful forces and YHWH assured him that he need fear nothing, for on the next day the whole force would be delivered into Joshua’s hand. And this was so certain that He now gave instructions as to what to do with the horses and chariots after the battle. The hocks of the horses were to be cut rendering them useless for warfare, and the chariots were to be burned with fire. In consequence it would be a long time before they could be replaced and meanwhile the conquest of the land could take place satisfactorily. But Israel were not to try to make use of them (Isaiah 31.1; Psalm 20.7). They must trust in YHWH. These instructions, especially reference to the next day, suggests that Joshua had already brought his army across towards the enemy in a forced march.
11.7 ‘So Joshua came, and all the people of war with him, against them by the waters of Merom, suddenly, and fell on them.’
The huge army gathered together, were probably still arranging tactics and leadership, not realising how close the Israelites were, when without warning the Israelite men of war, whom their scouts had probably told them were safely well out of the way, suddenly emerged and swept down on them catching them totally unawares. Their horses and chariots were unready and they panicked. They knew the fearsome reputation of these barbarians, and that they were seemingly invincible, with a God Who could do wonderful things. The alliance was a hotchpotch of armies, without unity, and may well have begun to fight each other, for in the panic they would be strangers to each other. Whatever the situation their unpreparedness resulted in panic and flight.
11.8 ‘And YHWH delivered them into the hand of Israel, and they smote them and chased them to Great Zidon (see 19.28), and to Misrephoth-maim, and to the valley of Mizpeh eastward, and they smote them until they left them none remaining.’
The battle appears to have taken place in Northern Galilee. The host scattered in a number of directions with the determined Israelites, heated for battle and inspired by YHWH, chasing them relentlessly, with instructions from Joshua that all must be slaughtered. Some were even chased so far that they were only caught as they approached the territory of Great Zidon, the important Phoenician seaport. (Zidon was split into Greater Zidon and Lesser Zidon). The non-mention of Tyre is significant as reflecting a time when Tyre had not yet come into prominence. Its rise to prominence began when the Philistines plundered Zidon in around 1200 BC. Thus this material is very early.
Misrephoth-maim is not certainly identified. It has been equated with the River Litani, south of Zidon. It was also in Zidonian territory (13.6). Still others were chased in the opposite direction towards Mount Hermon. Joshua’s relentless aim was to kill as many as possible in order to make a later campaign in the North a little easier.
‘Until they left them none remaining.’ That is, as far as it was possible. Some good number would inevitably escape.
11.9 ‘And Joshua did to them as YHWH commanded him, he houghed their horses and burned their chariots with fire.’
Joshua did not question YHWH’s command. He obeyed. It must have been tempting to keep the horses, especially with the chariots. But YHWH had commanded otherwise. We notice that they were not said to be ‘chariots of iron’. There were no iron accoutrements on these chariots. Those would come later. We must presume that the houghing of the horses did not render them totally useless, for if so, why keep them alive at all? It meant doing something that prevented them from performing at their best, and from being usable for military purposes. Alternately the purpose may have been to keep them for breeding purposes, but that would contradict God’s earlier command.
11.10 ‘And Joshua at that time turned back and took Hazor, and smote its king with the sword, for Hazor previously was the head of all those kingdoms.’
It is noteworthy that the king of Hazor, as with his successor in Judges 4, did not go out to battle himself. He had sent another, a general, to act on his behalf, probably Jobab, otherwise he would not have been caught in the city. This would be the only city that Joshua would burn with fire. That was because it was the head of the confederacy, a huge city, and therefore a constant future danger to Israel. While he could not yet occupy all these cities, he could weaken their power base.
11.11 ‘And they smote all the souls who were in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying (devoting) them. There was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire.’
Burning with fire was something he had only done to Jericho, Ai and now Hazor. Jericho because it was the firstfruits, Ai so as to counteract their defeat there and to offer thanks to YHWH for His forgiveness,, and Hazor because it was too powerful. It would at least render it powerless for some time into the future, although he must have been aware that people would return and rebuild it. Possibly he hoped that before that happened the conquest of Canaan would be complete. Archaeology has borne witness to the destruction by fire of Hazor at this time. In its restoration the lower city was not rebuilt. It never achieved its former power.
11.12 ‘And all the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them did Joshua take, and he smote them with the edge of the sword, and he utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of YHWH commanded.’
He also took the other cities that had taken part in the alliance, killed their kings (whether captured before or then) and slaughtered the people. This was in accordance with the command of God through Moses. None of the Canaanites were to remain alive lest they lead Israel astray after idols and into the gross immorality of their sexually perverted religion.
11.13 ‘But as for the cities that stood on their tells, Israel did not burn any of them except Hazor only. That Joshua did burn.’
The saving of all these cities (not the cities of the confederate kings, but others in the vicinity of Hazor), as he had saved the others in the South, was probably in the hope that when Israel eventually occupied them they would find cities in good condition for living in as YHWH had promised (Deuteronomy 6.10). Joshua was an idealist. He could not believe that Israel would finally disobey God and that these cities would therefore be turned against them. Some suggest that the writer was saying that he took all the cities of the kings apart from the ones that stood on their tells and were thus walled, inaccessible, heavily defended and would require long sieges to take them, and therefore could not be burned at the time. This is not, however, what the surrounding picture suggests, and is excluded by the statement that he took the kings and their cities. Had all the cities not been taken it would surely have said that he did not ‘take’ them. The account is brutally honest. Indeed the next verse seems to confirm that he did take them, leaving them as ghost towns.
11.14. ‘And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey for themselves, but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, nor did they leave any that breathed.’
All the spoil in the cities which he captured, whether gold, silver, household goods, corn, wine, oil, or clothing, together with cattle of every sort, all were taken by the Israelites for a prey, for their own use and benefit, as YHWH had allowed (8.2). But every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them. They left no human being alive.
11.15 ‘As YHWH commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that YHWH had commanded Moses.’
Joshua’s complete obedience is emphasised. He was fulfilling the work of God through Moses. He stood in Moses’ place. And he was faithful in his service. That is why in the end he would be given the honourable title ‘the Servant of YHWH’ (24.29; Judges 2.8), a unique title only specifically given by the people to Moses and Joshua.
So Joshua’s northern campaign came to an end. We should, however, note what is not said. There is no suggestion that he captured Megiddo or Taanach, the two great cities on either side of the plain of Esdraelon, (although he would kill their kings - 12.21 - so that they clearly acted aggressively against Israel) nor does it say that he captured Jerusalem or Bethel or Gezer. Nor is there any mention of capturing the cities of Gath, Ashkelon, Ekron, Ashdod and Gaza (10.41 does not say that Gaza was taken). And there were other great cities also unmentioned. The impression of overall victory has within it important silences. The record is honest about the non-capture of the coastal plain and Esdraelon, and other heavily defended cities. And it makes clear that in spite of the great victories that were obtained the cities were not occupied by Israel at this stage. His work was only a beginning, with the purpose of establishing Israel in the land. Others would have to follow it up and make the victories permanent. And this they failed to do as we know from Judges 1. But its overall message is that he was successful wherever he went, and that YHWH was with him.
‘He left nothing undone of all that YHWH had commanded Moses. Compare verses 20 and 23. There is a threefold emphasis on the fact that what YHWH had commanded Moses was being fulfilled.
A Summary Of Joshua’s Conquests (11.16-20).
This summary expands on the one given in 10.40-43. The land promised to Moses is gradually being taken over for YHWH more and more.
11.16-17 ‘So Joshua took all that land, the hill country, and all the South, and all the land of Goshen, and the lowland and the Arabah, and the hill country of Israel, and the lowland of the same, from Mount Halak, that goes up to Seir, even to Baal-gad, in the valley of Lebanon under Mount Hermon, and all their kings he took, and smote them and put them to death.’
With some important exceptions he had defeated the inhabitants throughout all the land. The central and southern highlands, the Negeb, the land of Goshen, the Shephelah, and the Jordan Rift (the Arabah). Also the Northern hill country and lowlands. And he had destroyed all their kings. (There is no mention of the Coastal Plain or of the plain of Esdraelon and Jezreel). Thus was the way paved for the children of Israel to take possession of the land. It is true that much of it they would have to retake, for the inhabitants who survived, and others from wandering tribes always on the lookout for an opportunity, would repossess the land and the cities once Joshua and his army moved on, but their strength had been broken. The opportunity of full conquest was now there and the presence of Israel in the land was secure.
Note the expressions ‘the hill country of Israel and the lowland of the same’. Israel were already announcing their presence by a renaming of parts of the land. The renaming may, however, have been by the inhabitants of the land after these parts had been captured and settled by Israel, a reluctant recognition of their presence. Either way they now demonstrated Israel’s permanent presence.
Mount Halek was probably Jebel Halaq, forty kilometres (twenty five miles) south of Beersheba, near the south east border of Judah where it touches the border of Edom (‘goes up to Seir’). Baalgad was in the far north of Israel’s territories at the foot of, and to the west of, Mount Hermon. It may be Tell Haus or Hasbeiyah, both in the Wadi et-Teim.
11.18 ‘Joshua made war a long time with all those kings.’
All this took time. Only the highlights have been described in detail. But gradually Joshua’s war of attrition succeeded. The last part of Joshua’s life was taken up with it. 14.7-10 may suggest a period of five or so years but we must recognise that Caleb was using round numbers (note how often such numbers related to age end in nought or five. There was no specific calendar and it is doubtful if many accurately recorded the passing of any but the most recent ‘years’, and ‘years’ were anyway seen differently by different people).
Certainly five or so years of continuous warfare would appear to be a long time (roughly the same length as the second world war).
11.19 ‘There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took all in battle.’
This may simply indicate the belligerent nature of the opposition, emphasising that Israel had no choice but to destroy them, or it may suggest that offers of peace were made to some on condition of withdrawal from the land, or even of entering the tribal covenant and converting to YHWH, and becoming ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ like the Gibeonites. But if so none, apart from Gibeon, were willing to accept the offer.
11.20 ‘For it was of YHWH to harden their hearts, that they might come against Israel to battle, that he might destroy them utterly (devote them), that they might have no favour but that he might destroy them, as YHWH commanded Moses.’
This indeed was within YHWH’s purpose. The offer of peace would have been made because it was humane, but the wickedness of their hearts was such that it was better that they were destroyed. And this was what YHWH had commanded Moses (Deuteronomy 7.2). The hardening of their hearts was an indication that in the end YHWH was seen as over all things, even men’s thoughts. But He would not have hardened their hearts if they had not hardened their own hearts.
As A Climax To His Campaigns Joshua Dealt With The Everpresent Menace Of The Anakim (11.21-23).
The Anakim were huge warriors, and a danger to Israel wherever they were found. Now we learn that Joshua removed this menace from the land, apart from in the Coastal Region.
11.21-22 ‘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 utterly destroyed (devoted) them with their cities. There were none of the Anakim left in the land of the children of Israel, only in Gaza, and in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain.’
This general statement explains that Joshua and his army also dealt with what was seen as possibly the greatest threat to Israel of all, the feared Anakim. ‘At that time’ is vague and simply means some time while he was conquering the land and while he lived. The mention of them shows that some had survived the original attacks on Hebron and Debir and were now resident again there. Also that they were widespread throughout the hill country, possibly acting as mercenary soldiers.
When Israel first moved into the central highlands and took it they would call it ‘the hill country of Israel’. Proud of their conquest they would set their symbol there and claim it for their own. Later when independently minded Judah captured the southern hill country they expressed their semi-independence by calling it ‘the hill country of Judah’. While this was the beginnings of the later split, such a split was not in mind at the time. It was simply a matter of naming two locations with convenient names which expressed possession.
Note the assumption of these verses that ‘the land of the children of Israel’ consisted at this stage of the hill countries of Israel and Judah, for while enemies outside that had been defeated, their land was not finally possessed. As God had said to Moses, final possession would take place little by little (Exodus 23.29-30).
The Anakim were fierce and very large, formidable fighters, (compare Deuteronomy 1.28; 2.10, 21; 9.2) who were mainly settled in the hill country, especially around Hebron (Numbers 13.22). They were seen as in some way related to the mysterious Nephilim (Numbers 13.33) and such a formidable foe that special mention is made of them. It is possible that Arba, as found in Kiriath-Arba, was considered their original ancestor (14.15; 15.13).
It would seem that when Joshua earlier reduced Hebron and Debir (10.36-39) and moved on, it was repopulated by those who lived around and those who managed to escape, including the Anakim. Now they had to be ejected again. This second ejection probably refers to what was in fact done by Caleb under Joshua’s generalship (15.13-19). Some Anakim, however still remained in the strong cities on the coastal plain, (possibly escaping there, but they would always be welcomed as mercenaries) and this is further testimony to the fact that these cities were not seen as taken by Joshua (compare 13.3). Goliath was probably their descendant.
Anab (15.50), a small city which is now a ruin but still called ‘Anab, was eight kilometres (five miles) south of Debir. It is mentioned as Kart-‘anabu in Papyrus Anastasi I and in the Amarna letters.
11.23 ‘So Joshua took the whole land, in accordance with all that YHWH said to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel, according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land had rest from war.’
Having accomplished what he had after five or so years of warfare (see 14.7, 10), Joshua returned to the camp at Gilgal. It was now time to begin spreading out and taking possession of the land. Thus began the allocating of the land between the tribes. This would take some time and plenty of negotiation, and while this was in process there was no fighting. ‘The land had rest from war.’ No one any longer sought to attack them. But the weakened and devastated cities were re-establishing themselves, and the remnants of peoples were recuperating, and would await the next assaults by Israel. This was in accordance with the words of Moses in Exodus 23.28-33.
‘The whole land’ is a slight exaggeration, and may refer to ‘the land of the children of Israel’ (verse 22), that is the hill country of Israel and Judah. There were important parts that had not been reduced. But his conquests had reached from the far north of the land down to the far south, and none had been able to resist him, so that it was a justifiable statement, and now the land would be divided among the tribes. Yet the process of possession, while initially fairly rapid, would soon slow down, and, as the Book of Judges reveals, some tribes would be reluctant to go about it. They would be content to stay where they were in the hill country and the Arabah.
Life was hard in the hill country, but secure. They overlooked the fact that if there were too many of them when the rains failed, their position would be especially precarious. This reluctance was true even in Joshua's lifetime. Note the remarks in Joshua 18:2-3 where Joshua rebuked the reluctant tribes, and the frustrated and half-hearted efforts recorded elsewhere (Joshua 15.63; 16.10; 17.12, 16). But it was one thing to follow a brilliant and successful general like Joshua. It was quite another when called on to do it on their own.
‘Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel, according to their divisions (12.7) by their tribes.’ This brief summary prepares for what is to come in the following chapters. It sums up what was in fact to be a huge task. The outlining of the allocations would in itself require great effort (they had no maps in front of them except such as they had prepared) although Joshua, as a capable leader and administrator, had no doubt made arrangements for suitable men to keep records and notes as they went about the country. Such a summary, followed by its fulfilment in detail, is typical of ancient narratives.
‘In accordance with all that YHWH said to Moses.’ As we have seen this is emphasised in this passage. See verse 15 and verse 20, and compare 9.24. What YHWH had commanded Moses had now been accomplished.
And what lessons can we take from all this? They are that if God be for us we need not be afraid, whatever the opposition. Though evil forces band against us we need fear nothing while we are living lives in obedience to God. But we must ensure that we trust Him, do not trifle with sin but drive it from our lives, and obey Him in all His commandments. Then we will have success, and then we will receive the spiritual inheritance that He has promised to us.
Chapter 12. A Summary of Joshua’s Success.
This chapter now gives a short summarising account of the conquests made by the Israelites in the times of Moses and of Joshua. It reminds us first of the kingdoms of Sihon and Og on the other side Jordan, captured in the times of Moses, which he gave to the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. These are particularly described. Then we are told of the kings on the western side of Jordan whom Joshua defeated in one way or another. Thirty one slain kings are named.
The Smiting East Of Jordan Of The Amorite Kings Sihon and Og Under Moses (12.1-6).
12.1. ‘Now these are the kings of the land whom the children of Israel smote, and took possession of their land, Beyond Jordan toward the sunrising (the east), from the valley of Arnon to Mount Hermon, and all the Arabah eastward.’
The two kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og were in mind. Their defeat is recorded in Number 21.21-35; see also Deuteronomy 2.26 - 3.17. The valley of Arnon was the southern border, the Arnon river flowing through a deep valley into the Dead Sea from the east and forming the border. Mount Hermon was the northern border. The ‘Arabah eastward’ was land in the Jordan rift valley, east of Jordan. For the description compare Deuteronomy 4.46-49.
12.2-3 ‘Sihon, king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon, and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and half Gilead, even to the river Jabbok, the border of the children of Ammon, and the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth, eastward, and to the Sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, eastward, the way to Beth-jeshimoth, and on the south under the slopes of Pisgah.’
Heshbon was taken from the Moabites by Sihon and made his capital city (Numbers 21.26). It was in the mountains some miles north east of the Dead Sea. Its site has not been identified. A Tell Hesban which was excavated contained buildings from the iron age but no trace of an earlier city. But there are late bronze age sites nearby one of which could be the original Heshbon.
‘Ruled from Aroer’, presumably his administrative centre. Aroer was on the banks of the Arnon overlooking its deep gorge. The site is modern ‘Ara‘ir about twenty two kilometres (fifteen miles) east of the Dead Sea. It was mentioned by Mesha, king of Moab, on the Moabite stone, who captured and rebuilt it, constructing a road connected with it.
‘(The city that is in) the middle of the valley.’ The words in brackets are not in the text but are supplied from 13.9; Deuteronomy 2.36. This may have been a suburb of Aroer further into the valley close to the water’s edge, possibly acting as a watchtower.
‘Half Gilead even to the River Jabbok, the border of the children of Ammon.’ Gilead was split into two parts by the great trench of the Jabbok, one half ruled by Sihon the other by Og. The name Gilead is used in various ways. Sometimes it refers to the section mentioned here (Numbers 32.1, 29), at other times to the northern section (17.1, 5; Deuteronomy 2.36; 3.15-16), and often to the whole area between the Yarmuk, south east of the Sea of Chinneroth (Galilee), and the Arnon (1 Kings 4.19; 2 Kings 10.33), The whole area is often described as ‘all Gilead’ (Deuteronomy 3.10; 2 Kings 10.33).
‘And the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth, eastward, and to the Sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, eastward, the way to Beth-jeshimoth, and on the south under the slopes of Pisgah.’ The eastern side of the Jordan rift valley from the sea of Galilee, then called Chinneroth, to the Dead Sea (the Sea of Arabah). ‘The way to Beth-jeshimoth’ would be a recognised travelling route. Beth-jeshimoth (house of the deserts) was near the north east shore of the Dead Sea (Numbers 33.49). The ‘slopes of Pisgah’ (Ashdoth-pisgah’) may refer to the entire edge of the Moabite plateau east and north east of the Dead Sea (compare 13.20; Deuteronomy 3.17; 4.49). Pisgah also refers to a specific peak or ridge associated with Mount Nebo (Numbers 21.20; Deuteronomy 3.27; 34.1).
12.4 ‘And the border of Og king of Bashan, of the remnant of the Rephaim, who dwelt at Ashtaroth and at Edrei, and ruled in Mount Hermon and in Salecah and in all Bashan to the border of the Geshurites and the Maachathites, and half Gilead, the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.’
‘And the border of’ finalises the description of Sihon’s kingdom as ending where Og’s kingdom started and the area of Og’s kingdom is now described. He was of the remnant of the Rephaim, who could be compared in stature to the Anakim (Deuteronomy 2.21). Bashan was called ‘the land of the Rephaim’ (Deuteronomy 3.13). These races of unusually large men were held in awe by their contemporaries. The name Rephaim was later applied to the ghosts of the dead which suggests that they might have been looked on by some as coming from a source that was ‘other worldly’ (compare the comparison of the Anakim with the Nephilim - Numbers 13.33). They did, however, suffer defeat at the hands of Chederlaomer (Genesis 14.5) and were not looked on as anything extraordinary by God (Genesis 15.20).
They were called the Emim by the Moabites (Deuteronomy 2.10-11) who seemingly either drove them out of Moab, or destroyed them, as the Ammonites destroyed the related Zamzummim (Deuteronomy 2.20-21). The valley of Rephaim near Jerusalem witnesses to their presence there at one time. While tall they were clearly not powerful, something that is often the case with over tall men, although there were always exceptions. Og’s basalt sarcophagus was no direct indication of the size of the man (Deuteronomy 3.11-12) although it may have affected people’s views about him afterwards. In the present day we can partially compare the Zulus.
Og ruled over the northern half of Gilead to the Yarmuk, and over Bashan which is north of the Yarmuk to the foot of Mount Hermon, and bounded on the west by the territory of the Geshurites and the Maacathites (13.11; Deuteronomy 3.14). He had palaces in Ashtaroth and Edrei. He also ruled Mount Hermon territory and Salecah. Salecah was seemingly a semi-independent border city (13.11; Deuteronomy 3.10 makes clear it was a city) under his rule. It may be modern Salhad, on a southern spur of the Hauran.
Ashtaroth was presumably a centre for the worship of the Canaanite goddess Ashtaroth and is probably Tell Ashtarah thirty kilometres (eighteen miles) east of the Sea of Galilee (Chinneroth). It is also probably to be identified with the ‘strt’ of the records of Tuthmosis III, the ‘astarte’ of the Amarna letters and the ‘astartu’ of Assyrian inscriptions. Edrei is probably modern Der‘a. It occupies a key point for communications in the Bashan area and has remains dating from the early bronze age. Bashan as a whole was famous for good pasturage (Micah 7.14), fat cattle (Ezekiel 39.18) and strong oaks (Isaiah 2.13).
12.6 ‘Moses the servant of YHWH, and the children of Israel, smote them, and Moses the servant of YHWH gave it for a possession to the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh.’
For details of the smiting see Numbers 21.21-35. For the bestowal on the tribes see Numbers 32. The description of the activities under Moses, seen as to the glory of YHWH, is now completed.
The Smiting Of The Kings West Of Jordan By Joshua (12.7-24).
12.7-8 ‘And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the children of Israel smote Beyond Jordan Westward, from Baalgad, in the valley of Lebanon, even to mount Halak, which goes up to Seir. And Joshua gave it to the tribes of Israel for a possession according to their divisions, in the hill country, and in the Shephelah and in the Arabah, and in the slopes, and in the wilderness and in the Negeb, the Hittite, the Amorite, and the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.’
We now come to the conquests of Joshua. For Baalgad and mount Halak compare on 11.16-17. Once again we are reminded that the land outlined, which belonged to the tribes mentioned, was given as a possession to the tribes of Israel according to their ‘divisions’, by tribe and sub-tribe. Now follows a list of the thirty one kings slain by Israel under Joshua seemingly given in the general order in which slain, although not necessarily strictly for Makkedah and Libnah at least are out of order chronologically. There is also a tendency to gather the names in areas, but not consistently. Note the ancient method of counting by ‘ones’.
12. 9-13a The king of Jericho, one, the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one, the king of Jerusalem, one, the king of Hebron, one, the king of Yarmuth, one, the king of Lachish, one, the king of Eglon, one, the king of Gezer, one, the king of Debir, one.’
The fate of these nine kings is described earlier in the book. The order follows 10.5, then 10.33, 38.
12.13b-15 ‘The king of Geder, one, the king of Hormah, one, the king of Arad, one, the king of Libnah, one, the king of Adullam, one.’
Of these Libnah is mentioned in 10.29. Geder is unknown (Gerar and Goshen have both been suggested). Hormah was an important city in the Negeb (compare Judges 1.17), and middle bronze fortifications six kilometres (four miles) to the west of Arad have been suggested as its site. Arad has been identified as Tell el Milh (Tel Malhata), twenty two kilometres (fourteen miles) east of Beersheba, also in the Negeb. Adullam is identified as Tell esh-Sheikh Madhkur midway between Jerusalem and Lachish. It should be noted that the death of the kings is not evidence for the defeat of their cities. Hormah and Arad may have formed an alliance in the Negeb (possibly with Geder) and been defeated in open battle there.
12.16-18 ‘The king of Makkedah, one, the king of Bethel, one, the king of Tappuah, one, the king of Hepher, one, the king of Aphek, one, the king of Lassharon, one.’
The king of Makkedah was slain in 10.28, assuming the same king is meant. But when one king died another became king. Thus it may not necessarily be the same king in view of the fact that this is out of place chronologically. If two kings of Makkedah were slain the writer may only have wished to mention one. But all it may show is that the order is not chronological. Libnah, Adullam, Makkedah, Bethel may suggest a return sweep from the Negeb.
There is no reason to think that the king of Bethel was slain when Ai was taken. Thus this was probably in a later battle. Bethel itself may not have been taken that time either (see Judges 1.22-26). Tappuah was probably the town in Ephraimite territory on the southern border of Manasseh (Joshua 16.8; 17.7-8). It is possibly sited at modern Sheikh Abu Zarad about twelve kilometres (seven and a half miles) south of Shechem. For Hepher, Tell Ibshar on the plain of Sharon has been suggested. Aphek means ‘fortress’ and could therefore be a number of places (see 13.4; 15.53; 19.30 among others). Lassharon (belonging to Sharon) is not known but has been connected with a site ten kilometres (six miles) south west of the Sea of Chinnereth.
12.19-20 ‘The king of Madon, one, the king of Hazor, one, the king of Shimron-meron, one, the king of Achshaph, one.’
These were the four kings mentioned in 11.1.
12.21 ‘The king of Taanach, one, the king of Megiddo, one.’
These were kings of two of the major cities of Canaan, situated on either side of the Plain of Esdraelon, each having a large population in the tens of thousands. Megiddo was the largest, controlling the pass that led onto the Plain. It is unlikely that these cities were taken. They were heavily fortified, and had Joshua taken them we would have been told about it. It would probably have required another miracle. They were important cities on the main trade route through Canaan, and for this reason were main targets for Egypt when Egypt was strong. They also had connections with Mesopotamia, and a fragment of the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh was found on the site of Megiddo. Possibly they joined forces against Joshua, becoming alarmed at what had happened to Hazor, and were then defeated and killed in open battle. Both later fell to Israel, (possibly after being attacked by someone else) but, instead of destroying the Canaanites, the Israelites, in disobedience to God’s command, set them to taskwork (Judges 1.27-28).
Megiddo was destroyed in c. 1150 BC, well after the time of Joshua and before the time of Deborah. This may have been the work of Israel, but it could in fact have had any number of causes. Israel were not the only predators. The small settlement then built on the site may well have been an Israelite village. But Megiddo was shortly to be rebuilt by Egypt.
Excavations in Taanach produced fourteen tablets written in Akkadian cuneiform demonstrating that the language was used even between local officials. In the debris of a late bronze age destruction a tablet was found in the Canaanite cuneiform alphabet. Taanach is mentioned by Thothmes III, by Shishak, and in the Amarna letters for raiding Megiddo which was loyal to Egypt.
12.22-24 ‘The king of Kedesh, one, the king of Yokneam in Carmel, one, the king of Dor, in the height of Dor, one, the king of Goiim in Gilgal, one, the king of Tirzah, one. All the kings thirty and one.’
Kedesh is probably Kedesh in Naphtali (19.37; 20.7; 21.32; Judges 4.6). It is the modern Tell Kudeish, north west of Lake Huleh, which was occupied during the early and late bronze ages. It was on the route south from the north and thus a target for any invaders from the north. Yokneam (19.11; 21.34) was mentioned in the list of Tuthmosis III. It is modern Tel Yoqneam, twelve kilometres (seven and a half miles) north west of Megiddo. For Dor see 11.2. Goiim (‘nations’) of Gilgal is unknown, it could mean ‘the king of nations in Gilgal’ referring to a foreign population. This Gilgal, being between Dor and Tirzah, was probably on the edge of the maritime plain of Sharon. Tirzah probably lay in the northern part of the hill country of Ephraim, at the head of the Wadi Far‘ah along which passed the road from Transjordan to the central hill country, to Shechem, Samaria,Dothan and other towns. It was assigned to Manasseh (17.2-3) and later became for a time the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel before Omri transferred the capital to Samaria.
Thus were listed the thirty one kings killed by Joshua. The common mistake is to assume that because the kings were killed the cities were captured, but that was not necessarily so. Indeed in the case of the king of Gezer we have good reason to believe it was not. But the deaths of so many kings had undoubtedly weakened the power of the Canaanites. It is noteworthy, and in accordance with what we have seen earlier, that there is no mention of a king of Shechem (see on 8.30).
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