FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE IN EXECUTING MILITARY CAMPAIGNS DEFEATED CANAANITE KINGS AND GAINED ISRAEL THE LAND WHICH GOD HAD PROMISED
Robert Hubbard: If Joshua 11 (vv. 16–20, 23) wraps up the conquest in geographical and theological terms, Joshua 12 highlights the royal leadership and capital cities that fell to Israel in chapters 1–11. For good reason the book portrays Israel’s victories as responses to regional royal military alliances (see 5:1–2; 9:1–2; 10:1–5; 11:1–5).
Gordon Matties: In literary terms, it might be said that chapter 12 is a hinge that binds the main parts of the book together. It looks backward by presenting a list of kings who governed the various regions taken by Israel, both east and west of the Jordan. In doing so, it says more than the previous chapters tell. Many more kings are listed here than are included in the previous conquest accounts. And it looks ahead by providing the rationale for the distribution or the allotment of the land in chapters 13-21. Chapter 12 is at the heart of the book since it gives notice that these “kings” no longer govern. Rather, it is Moses, the servant of the Lord whose instructions shape a different kind of political entity. The chapter makes explicit that what Moses began east of the Jordan, Joshua has completed west of the Jordan. The chapter also reminds readers of the promises made in Joshua 1 and recalls the stories of the Transjordan tribes in the book of Numbers. . .
The chapter highlights an ironic meditation on the tension between completeness (11:16-24) and incompleteness (13:1). In a figural reading we might suggest a similarly analogous way of being for the church that lives, as it were, in the meantime. In his death on the cross, Christ has conquered the powers and all that is antagonistic to the divine rule in the world. Yet the church awaits the time when God will transform Christ’s resurrection, which is yet only a harbinger of the life to come, into a transformation of all things.
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.
Thomas Constable: Joshua’s conquest of the land anticipated the work of Jesus Christ. Both men defeated the enemies of their people. Both men had names that mean “God saves.” Both victories were long in coming, and were preceded by Israel’s apostasy. Both victories were God’s work through human instruments. Both victories only occurred because of trust and obedience. And both victories made possible an inheritance and rest for God’s people.
I. (11:16-23) SUMMARY CONCERNING THE CONQUERED LAND AREAS
David Howard: In this section, Joshua is highlighted as Israel’s leader. He alone is identified as the agent in almost all the activities here: he took the entire land (v. 16), captured and killed the kings (v. 17), waged war a long time (v. 18), destroyed the Anakites (v. 21), and took the entire land and distributed it (v. 23). Obviously, the nation was involved in these (v. 19 acknowledges this: “they took them all in battle”), but the emphasis on Joshua is striking. Also, the references to Moses in vv. 15 and 23 show Joshua fulfilling the leadership mandate given to him.
The chapter draws together the book’s central thematic threads and motifs:
– the unity of Moses and Joshua (1:1–2, 5, 17; 3:7; 4:10, 14; 8:32, 35; 11:12, 15, 23; 22:7),
– resistance by Canaan’s kings (2:10; 5:1, 9:1–2; 10:1–5, 42; 11:1–2, 17–18),
– lists of enemy peoples (3:10; 9:1; 11:3; 24:11),
– echoes of Yahweh war,
– special provisions for the eastern tribes (1:12–17; 4:12; 22:1–34), and
– land distribution (1:6; 11:23; chs. 13–19).
It underscores the astounding result of their faithful leadership—in essence, a kind of “golden age” for Israel spanning Moses’ triumphant last years and Joshua’s heyday.4
Clearly, the prior political order of petty kingships ruling city-states is gone, replaced by a united Israel in full possession of all the land on both sides of the Jordan. Within the book, chapter 12 marks a decisive literary turning point. Battle reports give way to tedious (at least, to moderns!) lists of tribal boundaries and towns (chs. 14–19). The literary change signals the dawn of a new day for Israel; the days of war (i.e., the Conquest) give way to the days of land distribution (i.e., the settlement). Chapter 22 may imply the dominance of Cisjordan as true Israel, but here one celebrates greater Israel proudly settled astride both Jordan banks.
A. (:16-18) The Comprehensive Scope of Joshua’s Conquests
1. (:16-17) Overall Summary of Joshua’s Success
a. (:16-17a) Capture of the Promised Land
“Thus Joshua took all that land: the hill country and all the Negev, all that land of Goshen, the lowland, the Arabah, the hill country of Israel and its lowland 17 from Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir, even as far as Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon at the foot of Mount Hermon.”
David Howard: This summary of territory conquered serves both as a summary of the northern campaign and a general summary to tie off the entire section (chaps. 9–11).
Richard Hess: The completeness of Joshua’s obedience is illustrated by the totality of regions conquered in the south (see Josh. 10:40–41) and north (see Josh. 11:2–3). Joshua then turns to the boundaries, from Mount Halak in the south to Baal Gad in the north. Mount Halak appears in Joshua 12:7, where it divides Israel and Edom. It may be identiﬁed with Jebel Halaq, midway between Kadesh Barnea and the southern tip of the Dead Sea. Baal Gad is the northern boundary. Located in the Valley of Lebanon and also below Mount Hermon (Josh. 12:7; 13:5), no certain identiﬁcation has been made. The Valley of Lebanon is usually equated with the Beqa Valley, but it may also include the valley of the Litani River to the south. This is the Valley of Mizpeh of verses 3 and 8. In this region, Baal Gad is to be sought. As with Joshua 10:40–41, the regions are described and then the boundaries (Josh. 11:21–22). This style anticipates the tribal allotments of chapters 13 – 19, where for many tribes speciﬁc places (towns rather than regions) within the tribal territory will be described as well as the boundaries of
b. (:17b) Capture and Execution of the Opposing Kings
“And he captured all their kings
and struck them down and put them to death.”
Richard Hess: the threefold verb sequence stresses the aggressive and destructive nature of the action.
2. (:18) Ongoing Warfare Requiring Perseverance
“Joshua waged war a long time with all these kings.”
Richard Hess: The emphasis is on the long and comprehensive nature of the struggle that Israel and Joshua experienced in their attempt to gain control of the land that was given to them by God.
Robert Hubbard: In the narrative, it is Israel who does everything, but as Joshua’s unique, memorable act the author singles out his capture and execution of enemy kings (v. 17b). Those moments befit his role as commander-in-chief, but they also serve further to enhance his stature in Israel’s eyes (cf. 3:7; 6:27) and to encourage the people that Yahweh truly is on their side (cf. 10:25). That Joshua battled all these kings “for a long time” attests his persistence and perseverance in pursuit of Yahweh’s plan (v. 18).
B. (:19-20) Obstinance Ordained by the Lord Destined These Cities for Destruction
1. (:19) Exception = the Hivites in Gibeon
“There was not a city which made peace with the sons of Israel
except the Hivites living in Gibeon;
they took them all in battle.”
2. (:20) Extermination Commanded by the Lord to Moses
“For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts,
to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them,
that they might receive no mercy, but that he might destroy them,
just as the LORD had commanded Moses.”
Richard Hess: For Israel, this was all a process of obedience to the word of God given by Moses. Thus the obedience of Israel is contrasted with the rebellion and disobedience of the Canaanites. This text demonstrates how for Joshua the reason for the destruction of the Canaanites was neither their wickedness nor their cursed origins (Gen. 9). Instead, it was their rebellion against the will of God for Israel, a rebellion that led to armed resistance.
C. (:21-22) Obliteration of the Anakites
“Then Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab and from all the hill country of Judah and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua utterly destroyed them with their cities. 22 There were no Anakim left in the land of the sons of Israel; only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod some remained.”
Richard Hess: One of the battles not previously recorded was that with the Anakites. The promise of Deuteronomy 9:1–3, which speciﬁcally predicts the defeat of the fearsome Anakites, is fulﬁlled. The association of the sons of Anak with the Nephilim (Num. 13:33), who elsewhere are themselves associated with the Rephaim (Deut. 2:11), suggests that they were mighty warriors slain by Israel.
David Howard: The Anakites were warriors of great renown, and they had figured prominently at a critical juncture in Israel’s history. Their fearsome presence had been the primary cause of the Israelites’ rebellion in the wilderness (Num 13:22, 28, 32–33). The Israelite spies had returned with a report that compared them to the Nephilim, who were descended from the Anakites’ ancestor Anak: “we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Num 13:33). As a result the Israelites feared going into the land and rebelled against Moses and Aaron (Numbers 14). Deuteronomy 1:28 states that the Canaanites, including the Anakites, were stronger and taller than the Israelites and that their cities were large, with towering walls. Deuteronomy 9:2 quotes a saying about the Anakites: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” Thus, Israel had absorbed a consuming fear of these people.
It is fitting, then, that the chronicle of Israel’s conquests should end with this account of a triumph over perhaps Canaan’s most feared inhabitants. The language used is picturesque: Joshua “cut off [or, “cut out”] the Anakites from the hill country.” This expression—”to cut off/out”—is commonly used to describe totally uprooting and exterminating something or someone (twenty-two times; e.g., Lev 20:6 [one who follows mediums or spiritists]; Deut 12:29 [the nations]; Josh 7:9 [the Israelites’ name]; etc.). Following this statement, the completeness of the extermination is reinforced in two ways:
– first, by the naming of the cities and regions from which the Anakites were cut out and
– second, by the verb rm, “to exterminate, destroy completely.”
D. (:23) Summary and Transition
David Howard: This verse brings the entire first section of the book to a close. It is remarkable in its simplicity and its comprehensiveness: in its short compass, it captures almost every important element of the book’s theology —
– Joshua’s leadership,
– the taking and giving of the land in fulfillment of God’s promises, and
– the tribes’ peaceful settlement of the land in their allotted territories.
1. Complete Conquest of the Promised Land
“So Joshua took the whole land,
according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses,”
2. Distribution of the Inheritance
“and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel
according to their divisions by their tribes.”
Richard Hess: The effect of this is to anticipate the distribution of the land. Along with the word for an inheritance (Heb. naḥălâ), it provides a transition to the following chapters. Inheritance is ﬁrst used here in Joshua, but it will recur forty-two times. It describes that which has been divinely given to the families of Israel for their possession. This could not become an inher
itance until God gave it to Israel in the conquest. Now that the conquest has occurred, it will form the concrete expression of the promised blessings of God’s covenant with Abram and his descendants.
3. Rest from War
“Thus the land had rest from war.”
Gordon Matties: Warfare and inheritance are incompatible realities, according to the book of Joshua. Although the rest of the opening and closing of the book is contingent on the rest that is a quietness without war (11:23; 14:15), it is juxtaposed with obedience (22:4; 23:1; cf. 22:2, 5; 23:6), as we find it in Joshua’s commissioning of the Transjordan tribes (1:13, 15). True rest is characterized by life lived in obedience to God.
Richard Hess: Land remained to be possessed, but there were to be no more wars from this point. This phrase recurs in Joshua 14:15, where it concludes Caleb’s campaign to conquer Hebron. There too it signals that the wars are ended. The prophetic promise of a land at peace is here realized, however brieﬂy, while the Israelites receive their allotments and reafﬁrm their covenant. For the Christian, the ‘battle’ against the powers of darkness has been won by Christ. At best the ‘rest’ for the Israelites of Joshua was temporary (Heb. 4:8). In Christ, eternal rest is promised. This rest comes through justiﬁcation (Heb. 4:10). It is described as the Sabbath rest of God’s people (Heb. 4:9), who will enjoy their inheritance forever (1 Pet. 1.4–5).
David Howard: The land’s rest in Joshua is a positive thing, and the intense mood of the confrontations and battles of chaps. 6–11 is dramatically changed with this final statement about rest. A much more peaceful and sedentary mood is found in chaps. 13– 24, and this statement sets the stage for those chapters. All the loose ends are being tied up. Joshua is emerging strongly as Israel’s leader, the entire land is now pacified, and there is no more war. All that remains before the important and much-anticipated task of the distribution of Israel’s inheritance is the list of Canaanite kings who were subjugated (chap. 12).
Van Parunak: This “rest” is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. It consists of Israel in the land and at peace from their enemies, Deut. 12:10.
• Israel enjoys it only occasionally and for brief periods during the OT history (cf. Judges, kings)
• The Lord Jesus offers it to the nation in Matt. 11:28, but they refuse it (Matt 12 gathers together the rejection stories, and the rest of the book builds to the crucifixion).
• Peter offers it in Acts 3:20-21.
• It will finally be established during the coming millennial kingdom.
II. (12:1-24) SUMMARY CONCERNING THE CONQUERED KINGS
David Howard: This chapter forms an appendix of sorts to the first major section of the book (chaps. 1–12). A narrative wrap-up is found at 11:16–23, but this chapter recapitulates with a list of kings and territories that the Israelites conquered. It is appropriate to have this list here—even if a sense of closure has already been achieved at the end of chap. 11—because of the great importance placed in the book on Israel’s inheritance of the land. Now that the major battles were over and the land subjugated for all practical purposes, the author appends this list, specifying in detail the cities and regions Israel subjugated. After the narrative conclusion in 11:16–23, it is as though the author were saying, “Here is the supporting evidence—the raw data—of what I have written about in the previous chapters.” Even though the list is primarily a geographical one, it is couched in terms of the kings of the geographical areas. However, the kings’ names are not important, so none are recorded (except for those of Sihon and Og), which contrasts to the practice of listing kings’ names elsewhere (esp. 10:1–5; 11:1). The conquest of lands is of paramount importance in the Book of Joshua.
A. (:1-6) Kings East of the Jordan (under Moses’ leadership)
1. (:1) Introduction to the Campaigns East of the Jordan
“Now these are the kings of the land whom the sons of Israel defeated, and whose land they possessed beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise, from the valley of the Arnon as far as Mount Hermon, and all the Arabah to the east:”
Richard Hess: In contrast to those west of the Jordan, these leaders controlled regions rather than only towns. These areas are outlined in the sequence of Israel’s victory over them.
David Howard: The down payment on the inheritance of the land had been the Israelites’ earlier conquests east of the Jordan, their victories over Sihon, king of Heshbon, and Og, king of Bashan. They were defeated under Moses, and their lands were possessed at that time (v. 6; the fuller story is told in Num 21:21– 35 and Deut 2:26 – 3:11. These lands were the inheritance of the two and one-half tribes that settled there. This list (vv. 2–5) is similar to the one found in 13:9–12.
2. (:2-5) Focus on Victories over the Most Powerful Foes
a. (:2-3) Defeat of Sihon King of the Amorites
“Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, both the middle of the valley and half of Gilead, even as far as the brook Jabbok, the border of the sons of Ammon; and the Arabah as far as the Sea of Chinneroth toward the east, and as far as the sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, eastward toward Beth-jeshimoth, and on the south, at the foot of the slopes of Pisgah;”
David Thompson: Sihon was a power-crazed ruler. When Israel wanted to pass through his land, he would not permit it and gather his military force to march out against Israel (Num. 21:21-23). That was his end. Israel took all his land, including Heshbon, his own city. Sihon represents the big and powerful enemy who blatantly tries to prevent God’s people from getting to where God wants them to be. Sihon-types will be defeated, no matter how impressive they may appear to be.
When we find we are threatened by some dominant leader who seems to have targeted us, this is a good story to remember. God can destroy them and give us victory.
b. (:4-5) Defeat of Og King of Bashan
“and the territory of Og king of Bashan, one of the remnant of Rephaim, who lived at Ashtaroth and at Edrei, 5 and ruled over Mount Hermon and Salecah and all Bashan, as far as the borde
r of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and half of Gilead, as far as the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.”
David Thompson: Og was a king who literally had a bed of iron that was 6 feet wide and 13 ½ feet long. This was truly a “king size” bed (Deut. 3:11). Og ruled about 60 miles north of the northern boundary of Sihon, east of the Jordan. His territory featured some Rephaim, who were giants who were mighty warriors.
3. (:6) Leadership of Moses
“Moses the servant of the LORD and the sons of Israel defeated them; and Moses the servant of the LORD gave it to the Reubenites and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh as a possession.
B. (:7-24) Kings West of the Jordan (under Joshua’s leadership)
1. (:7a) Introduction to the Campaigns West of the Jordan
“Now these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the sons of Israel defeated beyond the Jordan toward the west, from Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon even as far as Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir;”
2. (:7b-8) Leadership of Joshua and Scope of Success
“and Joshua gave it to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their divisions, 8 in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, on the slopes, and in the wilderness, and in the Negev; the Hittite, the Amorite and the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite:”
David Howard: Verse 8 presents an overall, sweeping view of the lands taken, mentioning six areas and six peoples. The six areas have all been mentioned previously in the book, in the summarizing statements of 10:40 and 11:16, or elsewhere in the book: the hill country, western foothills, and the Negev in 10:40 and 11:16, the Arabah in 11:16, the mountain slopes in 10:40, and the desert in 1:4. The six peoples also have been mentioned in 3:10. The references both to territories and to peoples emphasize the completeness of the conquest to this point.
3. (:9-24) Detailed Listing of Conquered Cities
a. (:9) First 2 Cities Conquered – Jericho and Ai
“the king of Jericho, one;
the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one;”
David Guzik: These descriptions are also important because they make it clear that these things happened at a real time, and in real places. These are not fairy tales that begin with “once upon a time,” this is history that begins with specific places and people and rulers.
b. (:10-16a) Kings and Cities in the South (south-to-north orientation)
“the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one;”
c. (:16b-18) Kings and Cities in the Center
“the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one;”
David Howard: This shows that Jericho and Ai were not the only cities conquered in the central portion of the land.
d. (:19-23) Kings and Cities in the North
“the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shimron-meron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in the heights of Dor, one; the king of Goiim in Gilgal, one;”
David Howard: This portion of the list begins with the four cities of the coalition mentioned in 11:1 (although in a slightly different order): Madon, Hazor, Shimron-Meron, and Acshaph (vv. 19–20).
This is the Bible’s first mention of Taanach and Megiddo (v. 21), and they are most commonly mentioned together (17:11; Judg 1:27; 5:19; 1 Kgs 4:12). They were strategic cities in the Jezreel Valley, about five miles apart, and they controlled a heavily traveled pass going southwest into the Plain of Sharon. They were both part of Manasseh’s inheritance (17:11), and Taanach became a Levitical city (21:25), but the tribe of Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of either city (Judg 1:27).
e. (:24a) Tirzah in North-Central Hill Country
“the king of Tirzah, one:”
f. (:24b) Overall Summary
“in all, thirty-one kings.”
David Thompson: What I think is so interesting is that these political leaders seemed to sail along in life for quite a while. They had their power and they had their prosperity and they thought they were on top of the world. That is until God decided it was time for judgment. God knew each one by name and He destroyed every one of these God-mocking politicians. One by one God tracked them down and destroyed them.
Political leaders would be very wise to take a serious look at this chapter. They may sail along for a while; but there will come a day when God will track them all down. So one day the script will read God defeated and destroyed the Presidents of the United States who mocked Him and His Word. God defeated and destroyed the governors who made mockery of Him and His Word. God defeated and destroyed those mayors of cities that promoted things that were not Biblically right.