Joshua 11 – The Northern Canaanite Armies Defeated
A. The defeat of the northern kings.
1. (1-5) The northern kings of Canaan gather against Israel.
And it came to pass, when Jabin king of Hazor heard these things, that he sent to Jobab king of Madon, to the king of Shimron, to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were from the north, in the mountains, in the plain south of Chinneroth, in the lowland, and in the heights of Dor on the west, to the Canaanites in the east and in the west, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite in the mountains, and the Hivite below Hermon in the land of Mizpah. So they went out, they and all their armies with them, as many people as the sand that is on the seashore in multitude, with very many horses and chariots. And when all these kings had met together, they came and camped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.
a. And it came to pass, when Jabin king of Hazor heard these things: After hearing of Israel’s total conquest of the south, the northern kings came together to defeat Israel. The huge army reflects an attitude that they believed they must stop Israel at that time or be conquered.
i. All this was prompted by what the northern kings heard regarding Israel’s success and victory. Israel’s success awakened more opposition. The same principle may be the experience of believers today, who find greater spiritual opposition as they dedicate themselves to the Lord and His service.
ii. Hazor was north of the Sea of Galilee. Hazor’s “archaeological site is not disputed: its remains can be found on a huge mound, more than two hundred acres in area, about eight miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Biblical and extrabiblical evidence alike point to its having been a large and strategic city.” (Howard)
iii. “‘Jabin’ appears to have been a dynastic name for kings in Hazor—not a personal name—just as ‘Pharaoh’ was for kings in Egypt and ‘Ben-Hadad’ was in Syria.” (Howard)
iv. “’Mizpah’ means ‘watchtower’; consequently there are a number of cities with that name. This one was at the foot of Mount Hermon.” (Madvig)
v. “The coalition described in Joshua 11:1–3 is not as neat and tidy as the five-king group in Joshua 10. It was a broader coalition…a force much more threatening to the Israelites, gathered as it was from such a widely scattered area.” (Howard)
b. They went out, they and all their armies with them: Two things indicate that Israel now faced new challenges. First, the size of the enemy army: as many people as the sand that is on the seashore in multitude. Second, the technological superiority of the Canaanites: with very many horses and chariots.
i. Horses and chariots: “This expression occurs in eight other places in the Hebrew text. It describes the most fearful fighting machinery available.” (Hess)
ii. The challenges brought to Israel seemed to increase at each step, from Jericho, to Ai, to the battle with the southern kings and now to this battle.
iii. This is the experience of many believers, finding that the challenges facing them in the Christian life increase at each step. God uses each previous victory as a springboard for what His people will face in the future.
2. (6) God’s encouragement to Joshua.
But the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow about this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.”
a. Tomorrow about this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel: This attack was a new and greater challenge than before. Joshua needed a fresh confirmation of God’s promise for Israel, and the Lord was faithful to provide it.
b. Do not be afraid because of them: This means that fear was an issue for Joshua and the people of Israel. God has a reason for everything He does, and He would not have assured them do not be afraid unless there was a reason for that specific encouragement.
i. “The Bible does not say that Joshua was made fearful by the size and nature of the opposing forces, but it is possible that he was, since God intervened again to promise him success.” (Boice)
3. (7-9) Joshua attacks the northern armies, and they are defeated.
So Joshua and all the people of war with him came against them suddenly by the waters of Merom, and they attacked them. And the Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel, who defeated them and chased them to Greater Sidon, to the Brook Misrephoth, and to the Valley of Mizpah eastward; they attacked them until they left none of them remaining. So Joshua did to them as the Lord had told him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.
a. So Joshua and all the people of war with him came against them suddenly: Joshua fought with boldness and strategy; he surprised the Canaanite armies with an unexpected ambush.
i. “Joshua, being apprised of this grand confederation, lost no time, but marched to meet them; and before they could have supposed him at hand, fell suddenly upon them, and put them to the rout.” (Clarke)
ii. “The ‘whole army’ came with Joshua; this phrase is literally ‘all the people of war,’ an expression found only in Joshua, which apparently emphasizes the unity of the nation.” (Howard)
b. The Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel: Considering the size of the opposing armies (Joshua 11:4, 7), the technology used by the Canaanites (Joshua 11:4), and the encouragement needed by Joshua (Joshua 11:6), this was perhaps the largest and most consequential battle Israel fought in the conquest of Canaan. Yet, God sent no obvious miraculous intervention. There were no falling walls or giant hailstones for Israel. God equipped and empowered them in more “normal,” familiar ways and Israel won the battle.
i. “This battle was probably the most violent and bloody of the entire conquest, although very few details are given.” (Boice)
ii. Chased them to Greater Sidon: By some accounts, the Canaanites who came to this port city of Sidon made their way to North Africa. “It is said they founded Tingris or Tangier, where, according to Procopius [AD 500-565], they erected two white pillars with an inscription in the Phoenician language, of which this is the translation: We are the persons who have fled from the face of Joshua the plunderer, the son of Nave or Nun.” (Clarke)
c. So Joshua did to them as the Lord had told him: Joshua fought with obedience, doing exactly what the Lord told him to do, even destroying the Canaanite weapons (the horses and the chariots) instead of keeping them for his own army.
i. “Disabling the horses and burning the chariots (Joshua 11:9) showed disdain for modern weaponry; Israel’s confidence was to be in God alone (cf. Psalm 20:7).” (Madvig)
ii. Here is a lesson in the matter of “taking the devil’s tools.” Many Christians do not hesitate to use the “horses and chariots” of their spiritual enemy. Perhaps they should believe that God wants them to fight the battle on a different level – a level of complete trust in Him.
d. They attacked them until they left none of them remaining: Joshua fought with passion and commitment; he did not ease up until he had accomplished as much as possible.
4. (10-15) The defeat of Hazor, the head of the northern Canaanite kingdoms.
Joshua turned back at that time and took Hazor, and struck its king with the sword; for Hazor was formerly the head of all those kingdoms. And they struck all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them. There was none left breathing. Then he burned Hazor with fire.
So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, except Hazor only, which Joshua burned. And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the children of Israel took as booty for themselves; but they struck every man with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they left none breathing. As the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.
a. They struck all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: The staggering completeness of the destruction (especially in human terms) shows us the completeness of God’s judgment, of Israel’s obedience, and of the depravity of the Canaanites.
i. Hazor was formerly the head of all those kingdoms: “The description of Hazor as the head of all these kingdoms is attested by its size and also by its prominence in second-millennium bc written records…. The archaeological evidence of a well-fortified city with international contacts confirms its leading status during the second millennium.” (Hess)
b. There was none left breathing: The Canaanites knew the judgment of God was coming against them and were afraid of it (Joshua 2:9-11, 9:24-25). They could have acted in faith like Rahab, surrendered like the Gibeonites, or left the area. Many did not, and those who remained fell under the judgment of God.
i. In this, God wanted a comprehensive judgment to be carried out not against guilty individuals, but against a guilty society or community.
·God did this with Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.
·God did this with Midian in Numbers 31.
·God did this with the northern kingdom of Israel in 2 Kings 17.
·God did this with the southern kingdom of Judah in 2 Kings 25.
·God did this with the flood in Genesis 7.
ii. In each of these cases, children and others who were not “individually” responsible for the corruption, rebellion, or degradation of a nation, culture, community, or society perished. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their soul went to hell, but their life on this earth was taken. All this is rooted in understanding God’s jurisdiction as judge; He is the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25).
iii. As such, God has the right to judge not only individuals but also communities of all different sizes. Such judgments go beyond punishing individuals for their personal guilt; judgment comes upon a society as a whole, including those who may not be personally and individually guilty (such as children). Sometimes God sends these judgments directly (as in the Genesis flood or with Sodom and Gomorrah), and sometimes God sends nations as instruments of His judgment (as with the Assyrians against the northern kingdom of Israel and the Babylonians against the southern kingdom of Judah). In the conquest of Canaan, God uniquely used His people (Israel) as that instrument of judgment.
iv. This harsh judgment often makes people uncomfortable but is rooted in both God’s fundamental right to judge (Psalm 9:8, 50:6), and in His merciful granting of much time for people to repent (Genesis 15:16). We can rest in the knowledge that God is a righteous judge (Genesis 18:25, Psalm 7:11).
c. He burned Hazor with fire: Hazor was one of only three cities burned by the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan, joining Jericho (Joshua 6:24) and Ai (Joshua 8:19, 28). The other Canaanite cities were taken and inhabited by the Israelites.
i. “Archaeological excavations indicate that Hazor was destroyed sometime in the late fourteenth century B.C. and was not rebuilt until the time of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 9:15).” (Madvig)
B. Israel’s secure place in Canaan.
1. (16-20) Complete victory over Canaan, over north and south.
Thus Joshua took all this land: the mountain country, all the South, all the land of Goshen, the lowland, and the Jordan plain—the mountains of Israel and its lowlands, from Mount Halak and the ascent to Seir, even as far as Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings, and struck them down and killed them. Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. All the others they took in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
a. Thus Joshua took all this land: This was a general description of the land of Canaan.
·The mountain country was part of the central highlands running north to south.
·The South was the southern desert area.
·Goshen was the region between the hill country and the south.
·The lowland ran from north to south between the central highlands and the coastal plain.
·The Jordan plain is the valley containing the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, continuing to the Gulf of Aqabah.
·The mountains of Israel refers to the central highlands that are called the hills of Ephraim.
·The lowlands are the coastal plains.
i. “When the writer says that ‘Joshua took this entire land,’ he means that he gained control of the whole region even though he did not take every city. The last of the Canaanites were not subjected to Israel’s authority until the reign of David.” (Madvig)
b. Joshua made war a long time with all those kings: It’s easy to read the record of Joshua and think it all happened quickly. This was a war that lasted, by many estimates, from five to seven years. God was with Israel, but it was not a quick work.
i. “The whole of these conquests were not effected in one campaign: they probably required six or seven years.” (Clarke)
ii. The extended conquest of the land served God’s purpose. He intended Israel to occupy the land little by little (Exodus 23:30, Deuteronomy 7:22). This also gave the Canaanites time to repent, if any of them were inclined to follow the examples of Rahab, the Gibeonites, and possibly the city of Shechem.
iii. “Undoubtedly the Conquest involved many battles that are not mentioned.” (Madvig)
c. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them: We are told that in part, this judgment on the Canaanites was accomplished when God chose to harden their hearts against Israel. This hardening of men’s hearts is when God gives man up to the sin that is in his heart (Romans 1:24-28).
i. God accepted truly repentant Canaanites who surrendered and submitted to the God of Israel. Examples of such were rare, but included Rahab and her family, the Gibeonites, and possibly the city of Shechem. What could not be accepted was a grudging surrender, a laying down of arms without true submission to the God of Israel. “God hardened the Canaanites’ hearts, not to keep them from repenting, but to prevent them from surrendering to Israel in unrepentance.” (Madvig)
ii. “Punishing them with a judiciary hardness, who were before hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and malice of Satan.” (Trapp)
d. As the Lord had commanded Moses: We need not think that God poured out an absolutely unique judgment on the Canaanites. He dealt with their hearts in the same way He deals with all men’s hearts, but God’s grace either hardens the heart of man or it softens it.
2. (21-22) The Anakim are defeated.
And at that time Joshua came and cut off the Anakim from the mountains: from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel; Joshua utterly destroyed them with their cities. None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod.
a. At that time Joshua came and cut off the Anakim from the mountains: It was fear of the Anakim – a tribe of exceptionally large and strong people – that had made Israel too afraid to enter the land some forty years before (Numbers 13:27-33).
i. “The promise of Deuteronomy 9:1–3, which specifically predicts the defeat of the fearsome Anakites, is fulfilled.” (Hess)
ii. Utterly destroyed them: “This short account of the elimination of the Anakites is unusual in its harshness and thoroughness, a factor to be attributed, no doubt, to the Anakites’ awesome reputation and their intimidating influence on Israel’s attitudes heretofore.” (Howard)
b. None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel: Here, the foes of 40 years ago fell in defeat. They were no match for an army that was blessed and directed by God.
i. Significantly, Israel faced the Anakim last, only after God had trained them in battle and in working with Him through the months of conquest.
ii. When Israel refused to enter Canaan out of fear of the Anakim, they did not realize that God would so guide events that they would face this most difficult challenge last. God knows how to manage the battles in the lives of His people.
iii. The believer must submit to God’s ordering of such battles. Believers may be convinced that they must go out and fight the difficult enemies first when God would have them face them last.
c. They remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod: The Anakim remained only in these coastal cities occupied by the Philistines. The giant Goliath came from the city of Gath some five hundred years later (1 Samuel 17:4).
3. (23) Complete victory, and the land rests from war.
So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had said to Moses; and Joshua gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Then the land rested from war.
a. So Joshua took the whole land: This marks another section of the book of Joshua. The power of the Canaanite kings within the land had been crushed, and in this sense, Joshua took the whole land. Yet not every small town and village had been conquered and occupied. That was up to each individual tribe to do in the land that was apportioned to them.
i. “The Germans’ ‘conquest’ of France in World War II involved the defeat of the French army and the occupation of most of France, but it did not thereby mean that all French people became German loyalists or that Germany permanently colonized France or that it killed every French citizen. So too with many of the cities of Canaan, which were ‘conquered’ or ‘subdued,’ but only temporarily or only in part.” (Howard)
ii. “Those who finally reign with Christ are they who, through his grace, conquer the world, the devil, and the flesh; for it is only of those who thus overcome that he says, ‘They shall sit with me on my throne, as I have overcome, and am set down with the Father on the Father’s throne’ (Revelation 3:21). Reader, art thou a conqueror?” (Clarke)
b. Gave it as an inheritance to Israel: This will be the theme of much of the rest of the book of Joshua. The land was conquered in a general sense; now it was up to the individual tribes to possess what God granted them by inheritance.
i. “Inheritance is first used here in Joshua, but it will recur forty-two times. It describes that which has been divinely given to the families of Israel for their possession. This could not become an inheritance until God gave it to Israel in the conquest.” (Hess)
ii. “Our Joshua, the Lord Jesus, has taken the whole land. All the fruit of Calvary is at the disposal of every one of His children, and He holds out in His arms the whole of it to give it to you as your inheritance.” (Redpath)
c. Then the land rested from war: The end of this phase of conquest was a greater invitation to the tribes to cooperate with God.
i. “Peace is the daughter of war; a fair and happy daughter of an ugly and direful mother.” (Trapp)
ii. “Much territory was yet to be possessed, but it was left to each tribe to possess what potentially it had received through the conquest of the whole people in which it had taken part. Each tribe was to apply individually the lessons it had learned in united war if it was to possess its inheritance. That the tribes failed to do so was not a reflection on the power of God, but on the failure to take for themselves what Joshua had given and allotted to each one of them.” (Redpath)
iii. In the same sense, Jesus has already defeated the enemy and conquered the land, but He also calls His people into battle to gain what is theirs.