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 assembled together reflects an attitude that they believe they must stop Israel now or never.
i. All this was prompted by what the northern kings heard regarding Israel’s success and victory. Walking in victory means that we become targets – when we are awakened, so is the devil.
b. They went out, they and all their armies with them: Two things indicate that now Israel faced challenges they had never faced before. 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. The challenges brought to Israel seem to increase at each step, from Jericho, to Ai, to the battle with the southern kings, now to this battle.
ii. We often find that the challenges facing us in our Christian lives increase at each step. God uses each previous victory as a springboard for what we 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 new, and more severe than previous challenges. Joshua needed a fresh confirmation of God’s promise for his life, and the LORD was faithful to bring 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 the encouragement.
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 them with an unexpected ambush.
b. 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 taking them for his own army.
i. 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.
c. They attacked them until they left none of them remaining: Joshua fought with passion and commitment; he did not let up until he had accomplished as much as he could.
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. There was none left breathing: The staggering completeness of the destruction (especially in human terms) shows us the completeness of God’s judgment, Israel’s obedience, and the depravity of the Canaanites.
B. Israel is secure 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. 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 did harden their hearts against Israel. The hardening of men’s hearts is when God gives man up to the sin that is in his heart (Romans 1:24-28).
b. As the LORD had commanded Moses: We need not think that God poured out some particular judgment upon the Canaanites. He dealt with their hearts the same way He deals with all men’s hearts, but God’s grace either hardens the heart 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).
b. None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel: Here, the foes of 40 years ago fall. 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 our lives.
iii. And we must allow God to manage those battles. All too often we are convinced that we must go out and fight the Anakim first, when God would have us 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 comes 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 brings us to another section of the book of Joshua. The power of the Canaanite kings within the land has 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.
b. 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. “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)
ii. In the same sense, Jesus has already defeated the enemy and conquered the land, but He also calls us into battle to gain what is ours.