CONQUESTS IN NORTHERN CANAAN
11:1-5 The Northern Alliance
11:1 When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, 2 and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, 3 to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. 4 And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. 5 And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight with Israel.
“Jabin” means “the intelligent” and is probably a title rather than a compliment, such as Pharoah in Egypt or Ben-Hadad in Syria. . The name shows up a few other times in the Old Testament, such as Judges 4:2. Jabin tried to accomplish in the north what Adoni-zedek failed to accomplish in the south, an alliance that could defeat the Israelites or, in reality, could defeat the Lord.
This alliance is bigger and from a larger area. Four cities, several regions and six peoples are involved.
As Adoni-zedek was the chief of the Canaanites in the South, Jabin was a leader in the North since he was king of an important city, Hazor. Hazor is now the largest Biblical Era archeological site in Israel. It is in the area later awarded to the tribe of Napthali, according to Joshua 19:36. It is located about 10 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Its location allowed the city to dominate a main brand of the Way of the Sea, or “Via Maris”. This commercial and military road led from Egypt to Mesopotamia through Syria and the Hittite region, or Anatolia.
Hazor is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets that compose the royal documents of Mari, or Tell Hariri, located in modern Syria (see picture). It was important enough for Hammarabi to correspond with its rulers. It had a population of around 40,000 at its peak.
Joshua described Hazor as the “head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:1-5, 10). Later, during the time of the Judges, when the northern Israelite tribes were subjected to oppression by their Canaanite neighbors, it was Hazor’s military commander Sisera who commanded the coalition of the “kings of Canaan” in their battle at the “waters of Megiddo”. See Judges 5:19-20.
Solomon rebuilt the city. It was inherited by the northern kingdom of Israel following the division of Solomon’s kingdom. Ben-Hadad I of Damascus invaded Israel at the request of King Asa of Judah and destroyed the city. It was rebuilt either by Omri or Ahab, doubling the size of Solomon’s city. It fell for the last time to the armies of Assyria during Tiglath-pileser’s first campaign against Israel in 733 BCE, according to II Kings 15:29.
This alliance produced a formidable fighting force, with an army so big it had as many soldiers as grains of sand on the seashore, which is Hebrew for humongous. They also had horses and chariots. The chariots were probably built of wood, but overlayed with iron for armor. It would be daunting to see this army head toward you. They had infantry, cavalry and an armored division. But the Lord had prepared Joshua and Israel by winning battles against smaller forces, sometimes by miraculous means. The believed God and participated in the victory.
11:6-9 Another Victory
6 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” 7 So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. 8 And the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim (“glass smelting houses”), and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. 9 And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.
God encouraged Israel not to be afraid, despite the size of the army. Psalm 20:7 says some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. The Israelites had the opportunity to put their trust to the test. Joshua and the Israelites rushed them and defeated them. Joshua hamstrung the horses, which means to cut their hamstring so they cannot run. He also burned their chariots. God provided a demonstration that he is more powerful than chariots or horses. He also did not allow them to keep the horses and chariots and have the temptation to trust in them in the future. The Lord wanted all their trust to be in Him. In fact, the Lord commanded that when a king was appointed, he was not to accumulate large numbers of horses or to return to Egypt for more horses, because the Lord said “you are not to go back that way again.” See Deuteronomy 17:16.
11:10-15 Joshua Destroyed the Cities
Joshua burned Hazor as he had Jericho and Ai, and destroyed it, then destroyed the people in the other cities. The Israelites kept the livestock and valuables as spoils, but not the people. Joshua obeyed the commands of Moses in this regard. He is shown as an exemplary leader who is faithful to God’s law. He is a model for future leaders as well as a worthy successor to Moses. In addition, God fulfilled his promise in Deuteronomy 6:10-11 that Israel would inherit large, flourishing cities they did not build.
11:16-23 Joshua Conquered Canaan
Verse 16-17 tells us the areas conquered. Through this series of battles, Joshua and the Israelites conquered the bulk of the land of Canaan.
Verses 18-20 are reflective, putting the events of the conquest in the proper historical and theological perspective. Verse 18 says he made war a long time with all those kings, so we can tell the fighting went on for some time, many days, even though the summaries are brief.
Verse 20 tells us God orchestrated the conquest. The Lord hardened the hearts of the Canaanites to fight against Israel so they would be destroyed. Only the Gibeonites tried to make a treaty with Israel. The time had come for judgment, and God used Israel to execute it. Moses prophesied this in Deuteronomy 7:1-2 and gave them instructions to carry it out. It is also a fulfillment of Genesis 15:16 in that God have the land to Abraham’s descendants and brought about the judgment of the Amorites.
Psalm 44:1-3 commemorates the victories in Canaan.
The last fighting was against the Anakites. The time reference is vague here. This battle may have been part of the southern campaign, as it fits there geographically. But the enemy was so significant it is mentioned last.
Joshua cut them off or cut them out of the hill country. The word means to uproot and exterminate. Only one note of failure is noted. In verse 22, it says “only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some [of the Anakim] remain. These cities are in Philistine territory, the southwest portion of Canaan, along the Mediterranean coast.
Remember the Anakim? When the spies were sent into Canaan by Moses, the say the descendents of Anak there, according to Numbers 13:22. In verse 28, the spies seem to be afraid of them. They said “the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.” The called them the Nephilim and said they were so big the Israelites felt like grasshoppers next to them. They thought of them as giants.
These cities later cause problems for the Israelites. One particular mention is a battle that made David famous, in 1 Samuel 17. David fought a giant named Goliath of Gath.
1 Samuel 5:1 records an event where the Philistines captured the ark and took it to Ashdod. Judges 16:1 records an incident where Samuel came to Gaza and spent the night with a prostitute. So you see all three of these Philistine cities continue to plague Israel after they were not conquered. In Numbers 33:55, the Lord said those inhabitants of the land you allow to remain will become barbs in you eyes and thorns in your sides.
Verses 23 gives us the summary of the narrative. Joshua conquered the land and gave it as an inheritance to Israel, allotting the land by tribes. And they had rest from war. This rest was given by God, but was temporary. There would be more fighting later. But, in this rest, Joshua would distribute the land and the people would begin to settle it. It was reached by those who had faith in the Lord, while those who had not believed and had rebelled were not allowed to enter into this rest.
Hebrews 3 and 4 explain this to us and uses this rest as a type of the rest offered by Christ. It is, of course, the better rest. It is a rest from works (Hebrews 4:10) and is entered into by faith. We obey by believing and, if we believe, we enter his rest.
Joshua 12 is a list of the kings conquered by Moses and Joshua as leaders of Israel and servants of God.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
We do not have to fear the size of the opposition or the obstacle if God has promised us the victory.
The Lord wants us to place our trust in Him and not in ourselves. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Winning small battles of faith prepares us for larger battles. When we are faithful in small things, God entrusts larger things to us.
Don’t use the devil’s tools to win your battles. Rely on the Lord.