TOTAL VICTORY Joshua 9–12
“So Joshua took the entire land” (Josh. 11:23).The Bible says that Joshua waged war against Canaan’s kings “for a long time” (11:18). God never said victory was easy. He only promises that victory is sure.
Definition of Key Terms
These chapters repeatedly speak of destroying completely, or totally destroying, Canaanite cities and all their inhabitants. The reasons for this policy need restating. (1) The Canaanites were a wicked people whose religion and morals were corrupt. The war and its devastation were a direct divine judgment on the Canaanites for their sins. (2) The Israelites were called to a holy lifestyle. Any Canaanites left in the land would (and did!) corrupt Israel religiously and morally. The destruction of the Canaanites was intended as protection for God’s people. Joshua’s victories were complete, but he did not in fact exterminate all Canaanite peoples. Each Israelite tribe was to “mop up” any Canaanites left in the territory given to it. The failure of succeeding generations to carry out the divine policy of extermination led to the spiritual and national disasters that policy was intended to avoid. One final note. The various peoples who settled in Canaan represented larger populations than existed in other lands. God’s command to exterminate was limited to those living in Canaan, and did not involve extermination of an entire race.
The Gibeonites tricked Joshua into a peace treaty, which Israel honored (9:1–27). In a series of brilliant campaigns Joshua first crushed the southern (10:1–43) and then the northern (11:1–23) city-states of Canaan. The section concludes with a list of conquests (12:1–24).
Understanding the Text
“The men of Israel . . . did not inquire of the Lord” Josh. 9:1–27. The story of how the Gibeonites, who lived just a few miles from the Israelite camp, tricked Joshua into making a treaty is especially instructive. First, it reminds us of the importance of prayer. The Israelites examined the moldy bread and sour wine the Gibeonites presented as evidence that they lived outside of Canaan, and accepted their story without inquiring of the Lord. While you and I are to examine situations carefully before making decisions, we can’t rely on the evidence of our senses alone. We need to make important decisions a matter for prayer. Second, when the Israelites realized they had been tricked, they honored the “treaty of peace” they had made with the Gibeonites. Israel had made an oath and committed themselves. The fact that they were tricked did not invalidate the promise. We need to honor our word because we have given it. Whether others prove faithful or not, we are to be true to our commitments. Finally, God redeemed Israel’s mistake. The next chapter tells us that when other city-states in Canaan attacked the Gibeonites, Joshua came to the Gibeonites’ aid and struck the exposed enemy armies. When we are faithful, God can use even our mistakes to accomplish His purposes. “Five kings of the Amorites” Josh. 10:1–28. Five ethnically related kings of cities in Canaan’s hill country joined forces to punish the Gibeonites for making peace with Israel. Joshua responded immediately to a plea for help and, after an all-night march, surprised the Amorite forces. This was a great strategic victory, for the Amorite armies were caught in the open, outside the walls of their cities, where they could be more easily crushed. God’s intervention for Israel is seen in two circumstances. Hailstones killed many of the enemy. And the “sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day” so the slaughter of the Amorites could be completed. “So Joshua subdued the whole region” Josh. 10:29–43. The defeat of the Amorite forces left their southern strongholds undefended. Joshua immediately turned his forces southward, and crushed the major cities in that region. “They came out with all their troops . . . a huge army” Josh. 11:1–23. The northern city-states joined forces and gathered a huge army, which included a large chariot force. Josephus reports that this army had 300,000 foot soldiers, 10,000 cavalry, and 20,000 chariots! The word “suddenly” describing Joshua’s attack may intimate what happened. In biblical times chariots, often a decisive weapon in battle, were disassembled for transport over hills to the battlefield, and were reassembled there. It is possible that Joshua attacked the enemy before the chariots could be put back together and deployed. Whatever element of tactics was involved, “the Lord gave them [the enemy] into the hand of Israel.” We are to fight wisely, but the outcome of the battle is still entirely up to the Lord. “Hamstring their horses and burn their chariots” Josh. 11:6. Why was Joshua told to destroy the captured war material of the enemy? Most likely because Israel was to depend on God, not on military strength. Because Joshua did depend on God, this command was obeyed. “These are the kings of the land” Josh. 12:1–24. Most scholars believe that the Conquest, described so graphically in these chapters, actually took about seven years to accomplish. When total victory had finally been won, Joshua carefully listed the 31 Canaanite city-states that he defeated. Israel could look back on this impressive list and be encouraged. God, who had promised victory, had kept His word. Surely God could be trusted for victory in battles yet to come. In a series of brilliant campaigns Joshua first conquered central Canaan, splitting the land in two. (1) He then turned south and subdued that region. (2) Finally he attacked and crushed major northern strongholds. (3) His divide-and-conquer strategy, his tactics of all-night marches and surprise attacks, are still studied in modern military academies.
The All-Night March(Josh. 10)
I remember all too well how she used to sit there at the table, waiting for God to act. “I really want to serve God,” she’d say. And I think she meant it. But even when opportunities came—an invitation to teach a Bible study, a call from a friend who asked her to visit—she’d wait. “I can’t do anything on my own,” she’d say. “I have to wait till God tells me to go. I have to wait till I see Him act.” Of course, my friend had never met Joshua. Or watched Joshua put his faith into action. If she had, she might have been surprised. Joshua wasn’t the kind of person to wait around. Yes, he knew how important it was to listen for and to obey God’s voice. But Joshua also knew that in most situations a person has to use ordinary judgment. That’s what happened when Joshua received word from Gibeon that a combined Amorite force was attacking their city. Joshua didn’t say, “I’d better wait till God acts.” He got his army together, commanded an all-night march, and the next morning took the enemy by surprise. And then God intervened, joining in the battle by hurling hailstones on the Amorites and by causing the sun to stand still. Joshua’s all-night march had put him in the very place he needed to be for God to act. Sometimes we’re unrealistic in our expectations. We sit still and want God to act for us. The fact is that God usually acts only after we have demonstrated a faith like Joshua’s. It’s after that all-night march, when the battle is joined, that God acts. So the next time you have an opportunity to serve—to teach a class, to counsel a friend—don’t wait. Seize the opportunity. And expect God to act when you’re actually serving. That’s the place you need to be for God to work through you.
When opportunities to serve come, take them!