Joshua 11: Northern Kings Defeated
In the last passage, Joshua and the Israelites finished conquering all of the Southern kings in the Promised Land. In this passage, they continue the work.
Hearing what has happened to the kings in the South, Jabin, king of Hazor, decides to take decisive action against the Israelites. He summons all of the kings of the Northern areas of the Promised Land, and puts together a huge army—“as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (verse 4)—to battle the Israelites, and defeat them once and for all. But there’s nothing for the Israelites to be worried about:
The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over to Israel, slain. You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.” (verse 6)
So Joshua and the army attack these nations, wipe them out, and, as directed, hamstring the horses and burn the chariots. They capture every city, burn the city of Hazor to the ground (they didn’t raze the other cities), and destroy all of the people.
The passage—and, in a way, the whole book of Joshua—is summed up in these verses:
So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and struck them down, putting them to death. Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses. (verses 16–20)
Verse 23 tells us that after all of this, the land had rest from war.
This is a very rosy chapter; it leaves us with the impression that the Israelites did all that the LORD had commanded them, and destroyed all of the people in the Promised Land. (Except for the Gibeonites, of course, with whom they accidentally made a treaty.) However, this isn’t quite the case; the Israelites did a very good job destroying all of the peoples that they did battle with, in the last few chapters of Joshua, but, as we’ll see in later chapters/Old Testament books, the Israelites didn’t completely wipe out all of the people in the Promised Land. And the people that they didn’t wipe out will be thorns in the Israelites’ sides for pretty much the rest of the Old Testament.
Verses 16–20, quoted above, include an interesting comment, which comes up from time to time in the Old Testament: The LORD hardened the hearts of the nations who did battle with the Israelites, which is why they didn’t seek a treaty instead of fighting. On the theme of the LORD hardening people’s hearts, I talked about it when I blogged about Exodus 7:25–8:32, so I won’t cover it again. (If you want to read it, go down to the Thoughts section of that blog entry. Not that I properly explain it—as I mention in that blog entry, I don’t have a full explanation—it’s just that I don’t have anything to add here.)
I had read—I believe it was in the notes in my New Student Bible—a theory that the reason God had the Israelites hamstring the horses and burn the chariots is that it was new technology, that was either
- Too advanced for them, or
- Something He didn’t want them to have, since they might rely on it, instead of on Him
Joshua’s obedience in destroying the horses and chariots, shows his self-denial in compliance with God’s command. The possession of things on which the carnal heart is prone to depend, is hurtful to the life of faith, and the walk with God; therefore it is better to be without worldly advantages, than to have the soul endangered by them. (Jos 11:10–14, hyperlink added)