Joshua 10:16–28: Five Amorite Kings Killed
In the last passage, Joshua and the Israelites defeated five Amorite armies that they were facing (Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon). However, in this passage, we find out that the kings of those armies have hidden themselves in a cave, near a place called Makkedah. Joshua finds out about it, and commands his people to roll some large rocks in front of the cave, to keep them in there until he can deal with them.
The Israelites finish defeating the armies—“almost to a man” (verse 20)—and the few enemies who do escape make it to fortified cities. The Israelite army returns to Joshua, at Makkedah, and they’ve definitely gained the respect (and fear) of all of the surrounding nations, because, “no one uttered a word against [them]” (verse 21).
Having taken care of their armies, Joshua now takes care of the kings. He has them brought out of the cave, and, in verse 24, has his army’s commanders put their feet on the kings’ necks. In order to help you understand this act, I’ll commit a bit of plagiarism, and put in a quote from my New Student Bible:
10:24 Act of Humiliation This act—stepping on a neck—was the ultimate way to humiliate a king. It expressed utter, enforced submission. Egyptian and Assyrian sculptures frequently portrayed this custom.
Joshua then urges the Israelites to be strong and courageous, because the LORD will do to all of their enemies what they are doing to these five kings—and with that, Joshua kills them, and has them hung on trees. He leaves them there until evening, and then has them thrown back into the cave where they had been hiding, which is covered with rocks again.
Finally, Joshua and the Israelites take the city of Makkedah, and destroy it and everyone in it, including its king.
This is a grizzly passage. A lot of people have a problem with the Israelites taking over the Promised Land—or, specifically, with the LORD’s command that they are to completely destroy the people living there. (Remember that the word “destroy,” in this context, means literally that—destroy, for the LORD.) But when you think about the reasoning behind it, that their taking over the Promised Land is not just a gift of land to them, but also a punishment of the people living there, it starts to make sense.
Until you get to passages like this, where the Bible goes into detail about how it actually happened, and then you get reminded about what war is all about. “Oh yeah,” I think to myself, “‘destroying the people’ actually means killing them—every single one of them.” And it’s no longer abstract, but very specific, in my mind.
For me, it’s just a reminder that war is a horrible thing. Sometimes it’s necessary—or in the Old Testament, even commanded by the LORD—but that doesn’t mean that it’s good. One of my aunt-in-laws mentioned recently that if presidents in modern times had to actually lead their troops into battle, the way that kings used to do, there would be a lot less war these days. (I’m reminded of Michael Moore, in one of his documentaries (I believe it was Fahrenheit 9/11, although I could be wrong), trying to get senators to sign up their sons for the army. He didn’t get many takers.)