Turn to the 11th chapter of the book of Joshua. Joshua chapter 11.
Can you believe it? We’ve been at this series in the book of Joshua for 9 lessons now. And we’re only half way through the book at this point. But never fear, the last half of the book – chapters 13 through 24 – deal mainly with dividing the land. And while that kind of content is very interesting and helpful to our overall understanding of Scripture, it’s not the kind of thing where I imagine we’ll be spending a whole lesson on one or two chapters. Maybe I’ll prove myself wrong. But that’s what I’m thinking right now.
We’ve been through a lot in these nine weeks in our study. Lots of battles. Some failures. Some encouragements. But the end of fighting is nearly over. The last verse of chapter 11 will tell us that the land had rest from war. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to that. So let’s make our way there.
I’m going to very briefly cover what we’ve seen so far in this series. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses charges Israel to love God and do what he commands. If they do this, they will be blessed. And then Moses passes off the scene leaving all Israel on the east of the Jordan River looking over to the land of Canaan.
The book of Joshua opens with God encouraging Joshua to be the strong and courageous leader that God’s people needed. The people themselves also encouraged their leader to be strong and courageous.
With that encouragement, Joshua led Israel through the Jordan River and on to Jericho. And this is where the conquest of the land really begins in earnest. Israel goes on to destroy Jericho, Ai, and Bethel. Rahab is saved from destruction by her faith. Achan is destroyed by his disobedience.
Then Gibeon comes and deceives Israel into a covenant, which God actually honors because the covenant was made in his name. And Israel is forced pretty soon to act on this covenant. Gibeon’s neighbors attack them. With God’s help, Joshua and Israel destroy the enemies of Gibeon and then they go on to take the rest of southern Canaan.
And now here we are. The central and southern parts of the land taken. All that’s left is the north. And it turns out there are quite a number of folks in Northern Canaan who would like to remain in their land. Let’s see what they do in 11:1-5.
[KJV Joshua 11:1 ¶ And it came to pass, when Jabin king of Hazor had heard those things, that he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, 2 And to the kings that were on the north of the mountains, and of the plains south of Chinneroth, and in the valley, and in the borders of Dor on the west, 3 And to the Canaanite on the east and on the west, and to the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite in the mountains, and to the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpeh. 4 And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, much people, even as the sand that is upon the sea shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many. 5 And when all these kings were met together, they came and pitched together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel.]
This is a lot like what happened in chapter 10 last week. Last week we had one king organize opposition to Joshua. We have the same this week. Last week it was Adoni-Zedek, the king of Jerusalem. This week we have this man named Jabin and he’s the king of Hazor. Hazor is a city just north of the Sea of Galillee – or Chinneroth as we have it in verse 2.
What prompts this man, Jabin, to act? Verse 1 says he “heard”. Heard what? We could again rehearse all that we’ve seen in this book thus far but we won’t for the sake of your sanity. But the fact that we’re told that this king was moved to act because he heard something does solidify a pattern of this in the book of Joshua. Rahab heard about Israel’s exploits in Egypt and beyond the Jordan in chapter 2 and it caused both her heart and the hearts of the Canaanites to melt. In chapter 5 the kings of the Amorites and Canaanites heard about God drying up the Jordan River and their hearts melted. Gibeon in chapter 9 heard what Israel did to Jericho and Ai and so they deceived Israel into a military alliance. But here’s what we haven’t given much thought to yet. Let’s look back at chapter 9 verses 1 and 2. Let’s read that.
[KJV Joshua 9:1 ¶ And it came to pass, when all the kings which were on this side Jordan, in the hills, and in the valleys, and in all the coasts of the great sea over against Lebanon, the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, heard thereof; 2 That they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord.]
This is one verse prior to the mention of the Gibeonites’ reaction to hearing about Israel. In contrast to Gibeon’s response of fear and subsequent deception, these folks in verses 1 and 2 actually gather together to fight. And that’s all we hear about them through the rest of chapters 9 and 10. And then we get to chapter 11 today and who do we see being recruited by Jabin, king of Hazor? Yes, the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite. They haven’t settled down or backed off. I suppose they’re now more determined than ever to defeat God’s people and their leader.
Why do I say that? Did you see all the people that gather against Israel? Not only these nations that we just saw. But a number of other cities were enlisted to fight – several cities are named, and then we expand out to a number of wide regions in Canaan, those nations are mentioned, and then to kind of round out our understanding we have verse 4: “And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, much people, even as the sand that is upon the sea shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many”. Like the sand on the seashore. Horses and chariots – not a few, but very many. We don’t even get the impression from this book that Israel had any horses. Can you imagine the disadvantage they were at facing many horses and chariots? And the Israelites were surely outnumbered.
Now, let’s just think about the setting. We’re at the waters of Merom. We’re not real sure where this was exactly. But it seems it was probably slightly to the west of the Sea of Galilee. Where was Israel? The narrator says that all these folks gathered together to fight against Israel. But where did we last see Israel? They weren’t up north. They were down in the south and then returned to Gilgal. So how did they connect? I think it’s likely that Israel knew their work in the south was done. And the only place to go was north. The northern coalition, led by Jabin king of Hazor, knew Israel was coming and he called all of his partners together to fight. So there’s definitely an element of aggression in Jabin’s action. But there’s also somewhat of a pathetic futility in this. This is Canaan’s last stand, if you will. Israel and Joshua are coming to get them. And the best they can do is muster a ton of troops to try to resist the oncoming forces. And to the natural man, this should do it. I mean, walled cities haven’t stopped Israel. The main river in Canaan hasn’t stopped them. Even the southern coalition of 5 kings couldn’t stop Israel. Maybe myriads of soldiers, horses, and chariots can!
Let’s see how well Jabin’s plan works in verses 6 through 9.
[6 ¶ And the LORD said unto Joshua, Be not afraid because of them: for to morrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt hough [hock] their horses, and burn their chariots with fire. 7 So Joshua came, and all the people of war with him, against them by the waters of Merom suddenly; and they fell upon them. 8 And the LORD delivered them into the hand of Israel, who smote them, and chased them unto great Zidon, and unto Misrephothmaim, and unto the valley of Mizpeh eastward; and they smote them, until they left them none remaining. 9 And Joshua did unto them as the LORD bade him: he houghed [hocked] their horses, and burnt their chariots with fire.]
Do you suppose Joshua maybe was afraid of the huge army that he was about to face? Joshua is portrayed in this book as a man of war and a man of courage. And yet, do you suppose that even the bravest of leaders might have second thoughts when so obviously outnumbered? And remember, it’s not as if the Israelites have the latest military technology. They weren’t the strongest or the largest, either. Again, we don’t even know if they had horses or chariots. They had one strategy in war – the Lord. And it just so happened that this one strategy was all they needed. So God comforts Joshua and tells him not to be afraid.
Then the Lord gives Joshua encouragement to not be afraid in the form of a promise. He promises to deliver the enemy slain before Israel. He commands Joshua to hock or hamstring their horses and burn their chariots. Hamstringing a horse would render that horse incapable of any sort of speed. It would be useless for pulling a chariot or conveying Israel’s enemies in or out of the battle.
Verse 7 then starts telling us the fulfillment of this promise. Joshua comes suddenly upon the northern coalition at Merom. How did that happen? Was the northern coalition not expecting Israel? They were gathered together to fight against Israel. How did Israel surprise these myriads of soldiers? I don’t know. We’re not told. But I imagine God had some part to play in it, don’t you?
And when Israel comes they chase the northern coalition north to Sidon, which is on the coast of the Mediterranean, north of Israel’s northern border. Israel chases them northeast to Misrephoth-Maim and east to Mizpeh. And Joshua did exactly what God said he would – he hamstrung the horses and burned the chariots. Wait, why do this? Why not keep the horses and chariots for themselves? Surely they would come in handy during future battles! But haven’t we noticed throughout this book that God isn’t concerned with equipping Israel with the most advanced weapons of war? He’s not interested in Israel trusting in princes or horses or the arm of flesh. The Lord God wants his people to trust in his mighty hand and outstretched arm. So burn those chariots! Lame the horses. Israel doesn’t need them. She needs the Lord.
So the tremendous army that gathered against Israel is scattered and destroyed. Those myriads of men are reduced to nothing. And with them out of the way, Joshua completes the conquest of northern Canaan in verses 10 through 15.
[10 ¶ And Joshua at that time turned back, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms. 11 And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire. 12 And all the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them, did Joshua take, and smote them with the edge of the sword, and he utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. 13 But as for the cities that stood still in their strength [on their mounds – “tels”], Israel burned none of them, save Hazor only; that did Joshua burn. 14 And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves; but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any to breathe. 15 As the LORD commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses.]
Apparently either the king of Hazor escaped the battle and made it back to his city or this was a new king that Joshua killed later in that city. And Joshua didn’t attack only Hazor. He attacked all the cities of the kings who came to make war with Israel. But Joshua burned only Hazor with fire, not the other cities that stood on their tels or mounds. And take notice of the pattern of obedience here again. Moses commanded. Joshua did it. God commanded Moses. Moses commanded Joshua. And Joshua did it. He did everything God commanded Moses. What more could God’s people expect of their leadership?
And you know what? The narrator starts wrapping up the first 11 chapters right here in verses 16 through 20.
[16 ¶ So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same; 17 Even from the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baalgad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and slew them. 18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. 20 For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses.]
Israel took Mount Halak in the southeast all the way up to the valley of Lebanon which is far northeast. And from north to south Joshua destroyed all the cities and their kings. Only Gibeon made peace with Joshua. Boy, that’s pretty remarkable. Yeah, that’s what the narrator thinks, too. And that’s why he explains in verse 20 how this came about. Hundreds of years prior to the events we see here, God told Abraham that he would bring his descendants back to inherit the land of Canaan which God promised to Abraham and his seed. But God couldn’t and wouldn’t displace the Canaanites just yet, because, as God says, the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full. God patiently waited while the Amorites continued to sin against him. They sinned. He waited. They offered their children to their demon gods. The Lord waited, giving them time to repent. And finally about 500 hundred years later, God brings Israel into the land. It was of the Lord to be patient with them for so long. But now it was of the Lord to harden their hearts. Why? So that they would attack Israel and be destroyed. God was so patient with them. But ultimately he hardened their dark unrepentant hearts so that they would finally face the justice due them.
And the narrator wants to tell us one more thing about the conquest of the land in verses 21 through 23.
[21 ¶ And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel: Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.]
This is amazing. Do you happen to remember what for forty years kept Israel out of the land God promised to Abraham? Their disobedience at Kadesh-Barnea with the bad report of the 10 spies, right? Do you remember what the spies mentioned that melted the peoples’ hearts? One of the things was that the Anakim were in the land. That was an excuse the people used to rebel against God. But now what happens to the Anakim? Joshua cuts them off and destroys them utterly. They only existed in the Philistine areas. Wow, that sounds easy. Well, I don’t know how easy it was. But what the faithless Israelites thought was reason to disbelieve God’s promises was actually taken care of relatively quickly with God’s help.
Now, Joshua is going to partition the land starting in chapter 13. That’s what verse 23 looks forward to. And then we get this wonderful statement to end verse 23. The land rested from war. Do you feel like you’re in a war? Well, you are, if you’re a Christian. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. No, our war is not carnal. It’s spiritual. You can’t see it. You can’t see the bullets. You can’t see the flaming arrows. You can’t see the roaring blood-thirsty adversary roaming around unhindered like a hungry lion. But that doesn’t mean all these aren’t the reality. They are and this is why we need to put on God’s full armor.
And finally someday we’ll have rest from this perpetual war. It’s not the rest that Joshua gave, according to Hebrews. If Joshua had given them rest, God wouldn’t have spoken of another day after that, like he does in the Psalms. There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. And with God’s help, as the song says, we’ll work ‘til Jesus comes and we’ll be gathered home.