Bible Commentaries
Joshua 11

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1

With a format quite like that in Joshua 10, this chapter recounts the great Israelite victory over the Northern Coalition led by Jabin king of Hazor. Joshua is far from giving a detail of all the fighting that took place in the Conquest of Canaan, but, taking the over-all view, the author of this book bases the conquest upon three, and only three great campaigns:

(1) the fall of Jericho and the destruction of Ai;

(2) the defeat of the coalition under Adonizedek; and

(3) the defeat of the coalition led by Jabin.

Afterward, all of the opposition encountered by Israel was of a merely local nature. After the events of this chapter, the whole land of Palestine lay open to Israel, and there was no power in the entire area that could effectively challenge them. The great pity, of course, is that Israel desired peace so earnestly that they neglected to continue the conquest in any thorough manner. Consequently, some of the tribes did not actually "possess their possessions." Also, there was the settlement of the two and one half tribes east of Jordan, which drastically cut into the manpower available for a longer and more thorough conquest.

This third and final major campaign does not appear to have been providentially aided as in the instance of Jericho and Beth-horon, except in the commandment which God gave to Joshua to "strike now." The significance of that timeliness of the attack is evident in this comment by Cook:

"Taken by surprise and hemmed in between the mountains and the lake, the chariots and horses had no time to be deployed and no room to act effectively; and then, in all probability, the host of the coalition fell into hopeless confusion."[1]

God's command for Joshua to hock the horses may also be classed as providential aid. This rendered the horses and chariots useless either for offensive purposes, or for retreat and flight in case of defeat. Thousands of the coalition troops were accustomed to "riding in chariots," and not to the infantry-like retreat which made them extremely vulnerable to Israel's hardened and skillful attackers.

Jabin's great host which was enumerated by Josephus as being composed of, "Three hundred thousand armed footmen, ten thousand horsemen, and twenty thousand chariots,"[2] were hopelessly crowded into a restricted area, which, in fact, amounted to a trap. It appears that Jabin would never have selected this spot for a battle and that the congregation of his forces there was thought by him to be an appropriate staging area for the forthcoming battle, which Jabin no doubt thought would take place at his option and choice of the site for the conflict. Joshua's lightning-like attack caught them utterly unprepared, and the great host was cut into pieces without their having an opportunity to make any effective move against Israel.

A word about Israel's weapons is also in order here. Rea has this description:

"The chief weapon of the Israelites was the short, thrusting sword (10 or 12 inches to eighteen inches in length) protruding from a hilt fashioned like a lion's mouth (whence the metaphor, `the mouth of the sword') ... They also used scimitars (Joshua 8:18), bows and arrows (Joshua 24:12), slings with stone balls (Judges 20:16), thrusting spears or lances (Numbers 25:7,8), and hurling javelins (1 Samuel 18:10,11)."[3]

From the military viewpoint the "short sword" of Israel was the predecessor and forerunner of the famed "short sword" of the Romans which overcame the vaunted phalanx of the Macedonians and won for Rome the domination of the world for centuries. In fact, nothing could ever stand against that weapon (the short sword) until the invention of firearms.

"And it came to pass when Jabin king of Hazor heard thereof, that he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings that were in the north, in the hill-country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in the heights of Dor on the west, 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 under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, much people, even as the sand that is upon the seashore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many. And all these kings met together; and they came and encamped together at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel."

"Jabin king of Hazor ..." The name Jabin, "means the intelligent one!"[4] The city of Hazor, a metropolis at that time of some 40,000 inhabitants occupied a fortified site of about 200 acres and was in the times of Joshua, "by far the largest and most famous city in Palestine."[5] It is of interest that another king bearing this same dynastic name (Jabin) ruled over a rebuilt Hazor in the times of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4:2). Of course, critical enemies of the Bible could not resist trying to make the references various and contradictory accounts of the same event, as did Holmes, who wrote: "Joshua's victory here seems inconsistent with the account in Judges, where there is no reference to Jabin, but only to Sisera."[6] Rea emphasized the irresponsibility of such assertions, declaring that, "It is rash to assert that these stories are merely varying accounts of the same event."[7] Joshua indeed burned Hazor, but, as Israel did not settle there, the Canaanites rebuilt it, and much later they defeated Israel and oppressed the people for twenty years, until Israel again destroyed it. The destruction of the city analyzed by excavators almost certainly refers to the destruction mentioned in Judges.

"Jobab king of Madon ..." "Madon was a Canaanite city on a hill overlooking Lake Tiberias."[8] It has been identified as the "mountain" from which Christ delivered the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew.

"Achshaph ..." Nothing is certainly known of the location of this place except that it was in the territory assigned to Asher (Joshua 19:25).

The various peoples solicited by Jabin to join the coalition are enumerated in Joshua 11:3,4, and, from the mention of the several racial groups that made up ancient Palestine, it seems that Jabin attempted to rally all of the Canaanites of the whole area for a war against Israel. Dummelow, however, thought that the racial groups cited here was more of a geographical than a racial identification."[9] This attempt succeeded in amassing an army of some 330,000 men, with the heaviest armour then known, namely horses and chariots.

"Hermon in the land of Mizpah ..." (Joshua 11:3). "The word Mizpah has about the same meaning that Belle View has in English, namely, "`Beautiful View.' There were several other names by which Hermon was identified, such as Shenir (as the Amorites called it), and Sirion (the name preferred by the Sidonians).[10] All of these names were similar to a name that the Indians of North America used, Shenan, meaning stars or shining, and from which our word Shenandoah (daughter of the stars) is derived. These names have been said to mean "glorious one," or "shining coat of mail," all such names being descriptions of the beautiful snow-covered Hermon with the sun shining upon it!

"The waters of Merom ..." This location was probably intended to be the staging area where full preparations for an assault upon Israel would be completed. Joshua's sudden attack frustrated that plan. "Merom lies between Lake Huleh and Lake Tiberias some ten miles west of Jordan, where copious springs feed a tributary to Jordan."[11]

Matthew Henry speaks of the tremendous confidence that must have built up in the minds of the Coalition and their leaders, due to the tremendous numbers of their armies,[12] and that may account for the element of their carelessness in the choice of a staging area in such a restricted location.

Despite the fact that many of the most accurate scholars have denied and refuted the critical assertion that the events of this chapter are a mere doublet of the various account of the same event in Judges 4, one still encounters the unsupported assertion of this error in much of the current literature. Even the Interpreter's Bible now affirms that, "It is more likely that the narratives of Joshua 11, and Judges 4, have to do with separate events."[13]

Verse 6

"And Jehovah said unto Joshua, Be not afraid because of them; for tomorrow at this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel. Thou shalt hock their horses, and burn their chariots with fire. So Joshua came, and all the people of war with him, against them by the waters of Merom suddenly, and fell upon them. And Jehovah delivered them into the hand of Israel, and they smote them, and chased them unto Great Sidon; and unto Misrephothmaim, and unto the valley of Mizpah eastward; and they smote them, until they left them none remaining. And Joshua did unto them as Jehovah bade him: he hocked their horses, and burned their chariots with fire."

The only providential assistance that Joshua received in this crucial encounter was the signal when to attack, and the strategy of hocking the horse and burning the chariots. The critics invariably deplore what they call the "brutal mutilation of the captured horses!"[14] These horses were the military equivalent of tanks in modern warfare, and the purpose of the many thousands of horses at this place was to use them in the destruction of God's people. Now, what could possibly have been wrong, inappropriate, or distasteful about killing all those horses? Furthermore, hocking was the merciful and decent way to kill horses. "The Hebrew word here indicates that the act of hocking the horses was not only an act by which the horses were rendered useless, but an act that destroyed them."[15] "Hocking the horses was done by cutting the sinews and arteries of their hind legs, so that they were not only hopelessly lamed but promptly bled to death."[16] Freedman, as quoted by Woudstra, stated that, "The purpose of hocking was to make the horse unsuitable for war, and employable only for domestic purposes."[17] That, of course, would refer to a very partial kind of "hocking," which it is certain the soldiers of Joshua would not have done. The same blow with a sword that severed the key tendon would also have severed the artery. The other kind of hocking would have required much more time and patience.

It was this hocking of the horses that deprived the enemy of their chance to escape. They fled on foot and were no match whatever for the hardened soldiers of Joshua.

There certainly appears to be more than one reason why God commanded Joshua to destroy the horses and chariots. The necessity of doing so from the military viewpoint is quite evident, but there was also the further reason that God did NOT wish Israel to own any horses and chariots. Deuteronomy 17:16 plainly warned Israel and their rulers NOT to go into the horse business, despite the fact of horses being in that period a prime element of military strength. When Solomon multiplied horses (having forty thousand of them), it was displeasing to God.

"Chased them unto Great Sidon ..." This was the city some 20 miles north of Tyre on the coast of the Mediterranean, but there is nothing unreasonable about a chase that extended that far. Holmes missed it completely when he asserted that, "The statement that Israel pursued the enemy that far is the result of the writer's ignorance of the distance between the battlefield and that city."[18] The writer who was ignorant, however, in such a comment was not the writer of Joshua. By consulting the map provided by Boling, it is clear that the distance between Sidon and the battlefield was only about thirty miles, which is well within the distance that a well-conditioned soldier could have traversed in much less than a whole day.[19] (It was DOWNHILL all the way!). We also appreciate Boling's comment here that, "Only Divine encouragement could account for Joshua's move against such odds."[20]

"`Misrephothmain,' although not as far as Sidon, was itself on the seacoast not far from Tyre."[21]

Woudstra pointed out that Joshua 12:21 lists Taanach and Megiddo as being among the cities captured by Joshua, showing that, "A number of military operations carried on by Joshua must have been passed over here in silence."[22]

The great victory which God gave Joshua in this chapter should not be attributed merely to the skill and efficiency of Joshua.

"The natural man attributes victory to human skill. The spiritual man acknowledges the truth that, "There is no restraint to the Lord, to save by many or by few" (1 Samuel 14:6). The issue of every battle is in God's hands."[23]

Therefore the success of Joshua was due to his prompt and faithful obedience to the things that God commanded. "And Joshus did unto them as Jehovah bade him ... (Joshua 11:9)."

Verse 10

"And Joshua turned back at that time, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor was beforetime the head of all those kingdoms. And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them; there was none left that breathed: and he burnt Hazor with fire. And all the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them, did Joshua take; and he smote them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed them; as Moses the servant of Jehovah commanded. But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, save Hazor only; that did Joshua burn. 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 that breathed. As Jehovah commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua: and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that Jehovah commanded Moses."

Joshua 11:13-14 here show that Israel took possession of a great many cities without the burning of them, only destroying all of the inhabitants, even the children, as Henry stated, "Lest those children should later on lay claim to the land in the name of their parents."[24] Also, all of the wealth, the treasures, and the cattle of many of those cities became the possessions of Israel. Henry also pointed out that this fulfilled a prophecy, "That Israel should dwell in great and goodly cities which they builded not" (Deuteronomy 6:10). As Woudstra said, "Joshua 11:13 seems to mean that Israel took possession of those cities that were not burned and lived in them."[25]

Verse 16

"So Joshua took all that land, the hill-country, and all the South, and all the land of Goshen, and the lowland, and the Arabah, and the hill-country of Israel, and the lowland of the same; from mount Halek, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and put them to death. Joshua made war a long time with all of those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: they took all in battle. For it was of Jehovah to harden their hearts, to come against Israel in battle, that he might utterly destroy them, that they might have no favor, but that he might destroy them, as Jehovah commanded Moses."

This summary of Joshua's victories is similar to that in Joshua 11:10, but this one goes much further and, "encompasses the areas conquered in the entire conquest."[26] This paragraph should certainly put an end to the impression that Joshua conquered all of Canaan in just two or three swift campaigns. However, it is clear enough that the THREE decisive campaigns recounted so far, "clearly put an end to the Canaanite political and social system."[27] The war which followed the campaigns thus far described in Joshua is described as a "long" one (Joshua 11:18); and, "the natural inference from Joshua 14:7-10, is that it lasted for SEVEN YEARS."[28] From this, it is plain that, "This and the preceding chapter contain a very condensed account of the wars of Joshua, giving particulars about leading events only."[29]

This paragraph makes pointed mission of God's hardening the hearts of the Canaanites in order to assure their destruction by Israel (Joshua 11:20). God's judicial hardening of unrepentant sinners is a phenomenon conspicuously evident in both the O.T. and the N.T. God's hardening the hearts of evil men does not exonerate or excuse their wickedness and rebellion. It just means that when a human being has morally rejected God's claim upon his life and persists in a course of wickedness, that God retaliates against that person by "hardening" or "darkening" his heart, thus enabling the wicked one to walk in the way he has chosen without further restraint. Paul mentioned this in Romans, and it appears that a course of wickedness willingly pursued by a sinner will result, even in these present times, in God's disabling, darkening, or hardening his mind (the Biblical "heart"), so that, having already chosen evil, the hardened soul is incapable of intelligent decisions involving morality, and even including many practical considerations. Even a fool, for instance, should have known better than to rush into the Red Sea following Israel's crossing, but Pharaoh, whose heart the Lord had hardened, went right in with his whole army, only to be drowned! Just so, here it seems that the "intelligent" Jabin should already have caught on from the instances of Jericho and Beth-horon that God Himself was helping Israel. Therefore, when this "intelligent" sinner formed his coalition against Israel, he merely proved what a fool he was! Just so, today, there are men with high positions of academic, political, or social power who are BLIND indeed to the simple truth of Christianity. Why? They love evil; they have already elected evil as their preferred course. And God has hardened their hearts! (See 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.)

Despite the truth that much fighting remained to be done, "The battles of Beth-horon and Merom and their aftermath were decisive, and the power of the Canaanites to resist the invaders was shattered. All organized resistance was broken down."[30]

Verse 21

"And 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. There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, and in Gath, and in Ashdod, did some remain. So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that Jehovah spake unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land had rest from war."

This note on the destruction of the giant Anakim is of interest because it was these very giants that discouraged the ten spies who brought back the evil report to Moses in the wilderness, but Joshua made a quick and final end of the vast majority of them, leaving only a few in the principal cities of the Philistines. Later in Jewish history, one of the descendants of this race, "Goliath of Gath" confronted David and was destroyed by him with a sling-shot to the forehead.

"The land had rest from war ..." (Joshua 11:23). This is true "in the sense that no more great pitched battles were required."[31] A long, long time was required to do the mopping up from this conquest; and the wearisome work "became the oft-neglected responsibility of the individual tribes."[32] Even when the individual tribes got around to "possessing their possessions," by driving out the Canaanites, they soon discovered the device of putting the conquered people to PAYING TRIBUTE instead of DESTROYING them as God had commanded. Joshua 17:13 has this: "When the children of Israel were waxed strong, they put the Canaanites to tribute, but did not utterly drive them out." Francis Schaeffer's comment on this is:

"The people did NOT go on and do what God told them to do for two reasons: (1) They wanted peace at any price; and (2) they wanted wealth. They were practical materialists. For the sake of ease and money, they did NOT go forward and do what God told them to do. Tribute! Tribute! Tribute! They demanded and let the people stay in the land ... Does that sound up to date?"[33]

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.