WE CAN BE CONFIDENT OF VICTORY WHEN WE OBEY GOD’S COMMANDS AND EXECUTE HIS GAMEPLAN
Richard Hess: This passage is connected with chapter 10 and the conquest of the south. Similar verbs and expressions occur, as well as larger blocks of material whose organization resembles that of chapter 10. There is another coalition of town leaders led by a single named ruler. They are defeated; their armies are destroyed; and their towns and territories are captured by Israel. Finally, there is a similar theological pattern: God promises Joshua victory and instructs him; Joshua obeys and leads Israel; and they also obey and are victorious.
There are also distinctive features. This account is shorter than that in chapter 10. Only one town is described in detail and there are no lengthy descriptions of a chase or of miracles. This suggests an acceleration in the narrative. Moving ever more quickly, the text completes the description of the conquest. Although the information must be noted, there is no lingering over gory details of destruction.
David Howard: The account of the battle against the northern coalition, however, follows the pattern of that of the battle in chap. 10, in which
– the coalition gathered (10:1–5; 11:1–5),
– the battle was fought (10:6–15; 11:6–9), and
– the Israelites followed it up by finishing the task (10:16–27; 11:10–15).
The message here is the same as in chap. 10: God was working on his people’s behalf to give them the land of Canaan, no matter the odds or the coalition arrayed against them (cf. Deut 20:1). In this case, the coalition is much more impressive, seeming to come from all parts of the north (and even from the south), with a carefully designed strategy against Israel. There is no dramatic miracle of hailstones or a sign involving sun and moon here, but nevertheless it is clear that the battle was the Lord’s (see vv. 6, 8).
Kenneth Gangel: What seems like a bloody merciless war to us was really God’s way of providing the environment most conducive for righteous living on the part of his people.
We must understand that all these Canaanites had the same opportunity as Rahab and the Gibeonites to respond to their knowledge of Israel and God with faith, repentance, and a plea for mercy. Instead they resisted God, and God hardened their hearts so they came out to make war against Israel. They chose battle rather than belief, fighting rather than faith. So the Israelites wiped them out, not because this was their idea or plan; it was God’s.
Van Parunak: This section shows several patterns to which we have become accustomed:
• regional opposition to Israel
• direct divine guidance in addition to the general instructions of Scripture
• turning a battle in the open field into a campaign against the cities
I. (:1-5) MASSIVE THREAT OF THE NORTHERN COALITION
A. (:1-3) Impressive Geographic Coalition
“Then it came about, when Jabin king of Hazor heard of it, 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 who were of the north in the hill country, and in the Arabah– south of Chinneroth and in the lowland and on the heights of Dor on the west– 3 to the Canaanite on the east and on the west, and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Jebusite in the hill country, and the Hivite at the foot of Hermon in the land of Mizpeh.”
Robert Hubbard: In the late Bronze Age, Hazor undoubtedly was the largest, most influential city in all of Canaan. Its size was huge—200 acres, an estimated population of 30,000—and ideally situated for economic and political dominance. At the time Hazor controlled the entire northern Jordan Valley as far southeast as the Yarmuk River. Its strategic location and hegemony over a wide swath of northern Canaan made Hazor an unavoidable Israelite target.
David Howard: The coalition described in vv. 1–3 is not as neat and tidy as the five-king group in chap. 10. It was a broader coalition appears here as a force much more threatening to the Israelites, gathered as it was from such a widely scattered area. Only two kings are named (Jabin and Jobab), but four cities are specified (Hazor, Madon, Shimron, and Acshaph, v. 1), several regions are mentioned (the northern mountains, the Arabah south of Kinnereth, the western foothills, Naphoth Dor, v. 2, and the region of Mount Hermon near Mizpah, v. 3), and six peoples are listed (Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Hivites, v. 3). The overall effect of the listing of such widely scattered cities, regions, and peoples is to cast a dark cloud of impending doom over the Israelites. This makes the deliverance that is accomplished that much more impressive.
Here again, the enemy brought the attack to Israel. As we have noted earlier, only in the cases of Jericho and Ai did the Israelites initiate the conflicts. The Israelites were not to put their trust in military power: God again is given the credit for Israel’s victory. The reference here to horses is the first time these are mentioned in the book, and it certainly shows a contrast between the Canaanite conduct of war and the model of leadership that Joshua exemplified and that Israel’s kings were to exemplify: they were not to multiply horses for themselves (Deut 17:16), that is, not depend on their military might, but rather on God.
Gordon Matties: Neither description of coalition partners (ch. 10 or 11) implies the existence of “nations” in the modern sense. These are people groups linked to cities and their outlying villages and lands.
Van Parunak: The opposition is described from three different perspectives: political, topographic, and ethnic.
1) Political.—The cities they occupied:
• Hazor, at the head of the pass opening onto the Huleh valley north of the Sea of Galilee
• Madon, in Galilee, SW of the sea
• Shimron, in plain of Esdraelon due N of Megiddo
• Achshaph, at the NW opening of the Kishon pass Again, the opposition is a coalition of city-states.
Application: Notice how often coalitions form against God and his people.
• Ps 2:2, “the rulers take counsel together”
• Acts 4:27, “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together”
The whole world lieth in the evil one (1 John 5:19), and we should not be surprised to find popular opinion ranged against us.
2) Topographic.—As in 9:1, highlighting the different geographic features, this time of the northern part of the country. Translate, “and to the kings that were of the north: in the mountains, and …
• the mountains: of Galilee; especially upper Galilee, where the Waters of Merom are;
• the plains south of Chinnereth; arabah, the rift valley through which the Jordan flows;
• the valley: shephelah, probably referring to the central region of the Carmel range, topographically similar to the southern Shephelah; would include Megiddo and Jokneam;
• the borders of Dor on the west: the seacoast just south of Carmel.
Thus encompasses the entire northern section of the country. The writer’s interest is because this is the land that God has promised to Israel, and in surveying it in this way he is anticipating Israel’s possession of it.
3) Ethnic.—Israel’s justification in conquering these people is neither political nor territorial, but ethnic; they are of the races whose religious practices are abhorrent to the Lord, and who are called out for destruction in Deut 7:1-2; 20:17; per the verdict of Gen 15:16.
B. (:4-5) Impressive Number of Forces and Sophistication of Weaponry
“And they came out, they and all their armies with them, as many people as the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. 5 So all of these kings having agreed to meet, came and encamped together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel.”
David Howard: The impressive, even overwhelming, nature of the coalition arrayed against Israel—which is hinted at by the wide geographical spread in vv. 1–3—is made explicit now. The language in v. 4 is repetitive, emphasizing the vast numbers of the forces that came against Israel: the term rab/rob, “many, much,” occurs three times in this verse, and the forces are compared with the number of sands on the seashore. The fighting forces were strengthened by their horses and chariotry. Such a vast force surely would have appeared irresistible!
Robert Hubbard: The reader rightly imagines a dramatic scene around the Merom spring: a huge military force determined to stop Israel’s advance into Galilee. Verses 1–5 create the impression that everyone has come from everywhere—and with frightening firepower. The reader knows that this scene is no mere “show-of-force” to intimidate Israel. The biggest battle—the dramatic denouement of the entire conquest—is about to begin. The result could be Canaan’s last stand or Israel’s final triumph.
Gordon Matties: the effect of the description is hyperbolic: they are like the sand on the seashore (cf. Gen 22:17; 1 Sam 13:5; 1 Kings 4:29). The allusion to Abraham is not to be missed, since in Gen 22:17 the divine promise is that “your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies.” The irony here, however, is in the size the enemy’s army, which underlines Israel’s relative weakness.
Trent Butler: The holy-war narrative emphasizes the impossible task facing the people of God. Israel had to face an innumerable army that had the best modern equipment. Horses and chariots were well-known and widely used in the ancient Near East, but Israel did not gain the wealth or necessary institutional control to manufacture and use such weaponry until the days of Solomon. “A multitude as numerous as the sands on the seashore” is traditional hyperbolic language pointing to overwhelming numbers (Judg 7:2; 1 Sam 13:5; 2 Sam 17:11; 1 Kgs 4:20). The odds were insurmountable. Such hyperbole “not only heightens the suspense but also presents the coming conflict in climactic terms, as though all the kings and peoples of the land are gathering for a final attack against Israel.” Yet, for Israel, God by himself was a force so great in number that no army was large enough to defeat him.
Helene Dallaire: The hyperbole “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” appears in several passages with reference to people, supplies, and wisdom. For example:
God promises to bless Abraham and make his descendants so numerous that they will be “as the sand on the seashore” (Ge 22:17).
Jacob fears his encounter with Esau and reminds God of his promise to “make his descendants like the sand of the seashore” (32:12).
Joseph stores such a huge quantity of grain (“like the sand of the seashore”) that it is impossible to keep count (41:49).
Gideon and his three hundred men face the Midianites, the Amalekites, and a multitude of people from the east who had settled in the valley with their camels that were as countless “as the sand of the seashore” (Jdg 7:12).
The Philistine soldiers who set up camp against Israel are “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (1Sa 13:5).
Hushai instructs Absalom to gather a band of men from Dan to Beersheba “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” to come against David and his men (2Sa 17:11).
The people of Judah and Israel grow to be “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” during Solomon’s reign (the mention of “Judah and Israel” is curious since during Solomon’s reign, the kingdom was not yet divided [1Ki 4:20]).
Solomon’s wisdom, insight, and breadth of understanding was so great that it is described as “measureless as the sand on the seashore” (1Ki 4:29).
(For additional examples, see Isa 10:22; 48:19; Jer 33:22; Hos 1:10; Heb 11:12 (Israel); Job 29:18; Ps 78:27; Rev 20:8.)
II. (:6-9) MAJOR VICTORY IN ACCORDANCE WITH GOD’S PROMISE
A. (:6) Divine Initiative in Promising Victory
“Then the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid because of them,
for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel;
you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.’”
Richard Hess: The victory will occur within a single day. The divine instructions are clear about every element of the threat. Hamstringing the horses ensured that nothing survived that would be usable in a future war.
B. (:7) Direct Engagement in Battle Led by Joshua
“So Joshua and all the people of war with him came upon them suddenly by the waters of Merom, and attacked them.”
C. (:8-9) Deliverance Orchestrated by the Lord and Executed by Joshua
“And the LORD delivered them into the hand of Israel,
so that they defeated them, and pursued them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim and the valley of Mizpeh to the east;
and they struck them until no survivor was left to them.
9 And Joshua did to them as the LORD had told him;
he hamstrung their horses, and burned their chariots with fire.”
Richard Hess: The pursuit appears to have taken the Israelite army on a tour clockwise around the borders of Galilee. Assuming that Greater Sidon (= Sidon) forms the north-western border of the tribal allotments and Misrephoth Maim the north-eastern border (located along the Litani River), it is possible to see a pursuit that moved westward initially into the Jezreel Valley and then through the pass (perhaps at Tel Hannathon) north along the Acco plain and around the ‘Ladder of Tyre’ past Tyre and north to Sidon. Then, turning south-eastward, the army crossed over to the Marj ‘Ayyun Valley passing Misrephoth Maim, and southward along the Litani River (= Valley of Mizpah) until it was able to enter the Huleh Valley and continue south to Hazor. All the kingdoms of the coalition were invaded and the territory that would become Israel’s northern allotment was toured.
David Howard: Joshua obeyed the Lord’s instructions of v. 6 to the letter; the wording in both verses is identical. Such exact repetition is common in Hebrew narrative and shows the careful execution of commands or fulfillment of promises. Joshua was being an exemplary leader and an obedient servant. Such behavior ultimately won for him the label of “servant of the LORD” (24:29). Joshua’s actions would have prevented any meaningful pursuit by Israel’s enemies.
Robert Hubbard: To close the scene, the author stresses that Joshua does to them precisely what Yahweh commanded (v. 9), thereby sounding a theme heard earlier—Joshua’s unwavering obedience to Yahweh. The object-first word order makes the point emphatically: “Their horses he hamstrung and their chariots he burned with fire” (my translation). The reader imagines a scene of fire, rising smoke, hobbled warhorses, and no enemy in sight. Israel owns the battlefield—a great victory, indeed!
III. (:10-11) MANDATED DESTRUCTION OF HAZOR’S KING AND CITY
A. (:10) Destruction of the King
“Then Joshua turned back at that time, and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword; for Hazor formerly was the head of all these kingdoms.”
Robert Hubbard: Given the gigantic importance of Hazor in antiquity, the short chiastic headline—(lit.) “[he] captured Hazor” // its king [he] killed”—smacks of stunning understatement!
The writer quickly explains that Hazor fell not because of an Israelite preemptive strike but because of its long-standing, regional dominance (“head of all these kingdoms”). The remark implies that Hazor sustained its lengthy, regional hegemony (see vv. 1–3) by violent oppression of its underlings—and that here Hazor finally receives its just desserts for the bloodshed. Its demise ends the last bastion of Canaanite rule—a very, very big deal for Israel—and inaugurates the Israelite period.
B. (:11) Destruction of the City
“And they struck every person who was in it with the edge of the sword,
utterly destroying them; there was no one left who breathed.
And he burned Hazor with fire.”
IV. (:12-15) SUMMARY OF VICTORIOUS NORTHERN CAMPAIGN
A. (:12) Common Fate of the Canaanite Cities and Kings
“And Joshua captured all the cities of these kings, and all their kings,
and he struck them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed them;
just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded.”
B. (:13) Unique Treatment of Hazor
“However, Israel did not burn any cities that stood on their mounds,
except Hazor alone, which Joshua burned.”
David Howard: The prominence of the city and its king explains why its destruction was singled out for special treatment: Hazor had the dubious distinction of being only one of three cities that were actually burned by the Israelites (the others were Jericho and Ai: 6:24; 8:19,28). The rest of the cities were left intact, so that the Israelites would be able to inherit “large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant,” just as the Lord through Moses had promised (Deut 6:10–11).
C. (:14) Contrast between Saving the Spoils and Livestock and Destroying the People
“And all the spoil of these cities and the cattle, the sons of Israel took as their plunder; but they struck every man with the edge of the sword,
until they had destroyed them. They left no one who breathed.”
Plunder = food, clothes, pottery, valuables, etc.
D. (:15) Commands of the Lord and Moses Faithfully Executed
“Just 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.”
Andrew Webb: Now Why is Joshua commended, what thing that he was commanded to do, might another leader who was less scrupulous about following the commandments of God not done?
Hamstrung the Horses and burned the chariots
The temptation would be to fire back – “No God, you don’t understand. We can take those chariots and horses and we can use them against the Canaanites we need them to finish the conquest!”
But you see in doing that, he would have switched to the worldview of the Canaanites. Trusting in horses, and chariots, and above all their own wisdom. Joshua, instead of doing what the Lord commanded would have been doing what was right in his own eyes.
The refrain of Judges – everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Why was Joshua commended, because he was so smart? No he was commended because he had the essential quality of a good servant, “He obeyed the commands of God” — That is what makes a good servant.
Helene Dallaire: The events end with a confirmation that all was ordained by God. The instructions to conquer the entire region had originally come from Yahweh through Moses to Joshua, who left nothing undone of what had been commanded. Since the military conflict was conducted under divine mandate, one could only anticipate victory for Israel. Although not explicitly stated, Yahweh acts as the military commander of the entire campaign. Under his leadership, victory is guaranteed. Israelite history shows that when Israel takes military matters into her own hands, the battle is often lost; but when Yahweh ordains the maneuvers, victory is guaranteed.
Gordon Matties: The polarity in the text is not “divine initiative—human participation in warfare,” but rather “divine initiative—human obedience.” The narrator cannot imagine Israel’s historical origins as anything other: God commands; Israel obeys.