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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 12

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


With this chapter the first half of the Book of Joshua is completed, and appropriately enough, this first section is concluded with a broad summary of the Conquest of Canaan. This conquest required a long war of at least seven years duration, and the Book of Joshua does not present any thorough history of that war, but rather confines its report to those events of particular bearing upon Israel’s relation to God, and to His redemptive purpose for mankind. This first half of the book deals principally with Israel’s taking of the land of the Canaanites, and the second half of it is concerned chiefly with the division of the territory of Canaan among the individual tribes. “The first part of the book closes with Joshua’s triumph, and the second ends with the record of his death.”(F1)

This chapter begins with a description of the Trans-Jordanian (eastward) conquests of Sihon and Og by Moses and Israel and the settlement of the two and one half tribes east of Jordan, as allowed by Moses. The author here evidently had two purposes in view by his placement of Joshua 12:1-6, as suggested by Woudstra, as follows: (1) “To draw a parallel between Moses and Joshua, and (2) to stress the unity of all Israel.”(F2)

In the second division of this chapter (Joshua 12:7-24); (1) “The kings in Southern Canaan are listed first (Joshua 12:9-16); and (2) the kings in Northern Canaan are listed last.”(F3)

Longacre attributed this chapter, indeed the first half of Joshua, to, “JE, RD, and P;”(F4) and Morton thought this chapter came from “D.”(F5) Our own opinion is that it came from JOSHUA! We cannot believe that P, or D, or J, or E, or R, or any of the rest of those imaginary writers were eye-witnesses or participants in the events here outlined. More recent scholarship is beginning to see the impossibility of receiving such allegations regarding the source of Biblical books. Boling, for example, writes: “It must be admitted, however, that there is no direct evidence to show that the label `P’ (or any other label, J.B.C.) must be placed on this chapter.”(F6) The death of all allegations of various sources for Biblical books is in three simple words: NO DIRECT EVIDENCE! Furthermore, we declare unequivocally that “there are no prior documents that were copied to make up the holy Bible.” If Biblical enemies want to get their “prior sources” accepted by believers, let them produce the documents! Joshua is simply not a piecemeal kind of book. As Lilley put it, “The overall effect (of merely reading it) emphasizes the unity of the book.”(F7)

Verses 1-6

“Now these are the kings of the land, whom the children of Israel smote, and possessed their land beyond the Jordan toward the sunrising, from the valley of the Arnon unto mount Hermon, and all the Arabah eastward: Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon, and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley and half Gilead, even unto the river Jabbok, the border of the children of Ammon; and the Arabah unto the sea of Chinneroth, eastward, and unto the sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, eastward, the way to Bethjeshimoth; and on the south, under the slopes of Pisgah: and the border of Og king of Bashan, of the remnant of the Rephaim, who dwelt at Ashteroth and at Edrei, and ruled in mount Hermon, and in Salecah, and in all Bashan, unto the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and half Gilead, the border of Sihon king of Heshbon. Moses the servant of Jehovah and the children of Israel smote them: and Moses the servant of Jehovah gave it for a possession unto the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh.”

“Chinneroth” (Joshua 12:3). This body of water is called Chinneroth, Tiberias, Gennessereth, and Galilee in the Bible, also with variations of “Sea of” or “Lake” in each instance. The “Sea of the Arabah” is the Dead Sea. Pisgah was a dramatic promontory overlooking the Arabah, which is the great rift in the earth in which the whole Jordan and the Dead Sea are found. “Pisgah lay near the northeastern corner of the Dead Sea.”(F8) “`Beth-jeshimoth’ means `house of wastes,’“(F9) an appropriate name indeed for a strip of land lying northeast of the Dead Sea and adjacent to it; “It is described by travelers as the most arid portion of the whole land.”(F10)

As for the scope of the territories that belonged to Sihon and Og, they may be described thus: between them, they controlled all of the Trans-Jordan eastward from the Jordan Valley, with the Jabbok river lying between their territories. Og controlled the northern area as far as mount Hermon, and Sihon controlled the southern sector south of the Jabbok. The mention of “half of Gilead,” indicates that the rather indefinite area called “Gilead” was divided about equally between Sihon and Og. (For further details regarding the conquest of Transjordania eastward, see notes, above on Deuteronomy, chapters 2 and 3. Also, see Vol. 3 in this series of commentaries, under Numbers 21.)

“The Rephaim” (Joshua 12:4). “These were one of the various tribes of giants, like the Anakims, Zuzims, Emims, of whom we read in the land of Canaan.”(F11) It is of interest here that Og had two palaces, living both at Ashtaroth and Edrei. Matthew Henry commented that, “Israel took both from him, and made one grave to serve him that could not be content with one palace!”(F12)

Verses 7-8

“And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the children of Israel smote beyond the Jordan westward, from Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon even unto mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir (and Joshua gave it unto the tribes of Israel for a possession according to their divisions; in the hill-country, and in the lowland, and in the Arabah, and in the slopes, and in the wilderness, and in the South: the Hittite, the Amorite, and the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite):”

These verses are the beginning of a very long sentence running through Joshua 12:24, in which are recorded the 31 kings and their cities which were destroyed by Joshua and their land given to Israel. The first thing one encounters in the study of this is that there are a number of kings, along with their cities, which are not mentioned in the previous chapters, where is found a more detailed account of the overthrow of the majority of these. Cook explained this thus:

“Those cities mentioned in Joshua 12:10-18 either belonged to the league of the Southern Canaanites, the power of which was broken in the battle of Beth-horon, or were at any rate conquered in the campaign following the battle. Those mentioned in Joshua 12:19-24 were in like manner connected with the northern confederates who were defeated at the Waters of Merom.”(F13)

Significantly, Bethel is among the cities not previously mentioned as having been conquered by Joshua; but it will be recalled that in our study of the destruction of Ai, the defense outpost associated with Bethel, and located almost adjacent to it, that we speculated that it was at that very same time that Bethel and its king were also destroyed, the whole narrative of Joshua existing in the form of a general summary, rather than as a detailed account of everything that happened. This chapter confirms the probability of that being indeed the character of this book, i.e., a general summary, not a detailed account of everything.

Verses 9-24

Due to the nature of the remaining material in this chapter, we shall rely upon a different method of presenting it. Woudstra, and others, have also utilized this manner of reporting it:(F14)

the king of Jericho.....................one

the king of Ai, beside Bethel...........one

the king Jerusalem......................one

the king of Hebron......................one

the king of Jarmuth.....................one

the king of Lachish.....................one

the king of Eglon.......................one

the king of Gezer.......................one

the king of Debir.......................one

the king of Geder.......................one

the king of Hormah......................one

the king of Arad........................one

the king of Libnah......................one

the king of Adullam.....................one

the king of Makkedah....................one

the king of Bethel......................one

the king of Tappuah.....................one

the king of Hepher......................one

the king of Aphek.......................one

the king of Lasharon....................one

the king of Madon.......................one

the king of Hazor.......................one

the king of Shimron-meron...............one

the king of Achshaph....................one

the king of Taanach.....................one

the king of Megiddo.....................one

the king of Kedesh......................one

the king of Jokneam in Carmel...........one

the king of Dor in Naphath-dor..........one

the king of Goiim in Gilgal.............one

the king of Tirzah......................one

Together - thirty-one kings

A number of scholars refer to the Septuagint (LXX) in connection with this list, but we can see no reason for this. “The Septuagint says, `twenty-nine kings,’ and then sets down only twenty-eight, omitting the kings of Bethel, Lasharon, and Madon.”(F15) It would be impossible to find a more interesting list of names in ancient Palestine than the one here.

“Jericho” This was the place of Israel’s entry into Canaan. The name of the place probably signifies some ancient moon god, and its history reaches back some 5,000 years!(F16) It owes its existence to a marvelous spring that supplies an abundance of fresh water. Here Jesus Christ himself healed the blind beggar Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46 ff). Here Jesus ate with the chief tax-collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). And the memory of a palace in Jericho was still in Jesus’ mind when he spoke the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:11-27). (See my comment under these references in the N.T. series of commentaries.)

“Ai” In Hebrew, the name is always written with the definite article, “The Heap, or the Ruin. It is identified with the modern `Et Tell’ (Arabic: tall heap), two miles east of Bethel (Tell Beitin).”(F17) Here the events regarding Achan occurred.

“Jerusalem” Called by Jesus himself, “The City of the Great King,” from the days of the Monarchy, Jerusalem and its history are indeed the history of Israel. Here the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ occurred.

“Hebron” (See my notes on this under Joshua 10:1.)

“Jarmuth” (See my notes on this place under Joshua 10:3.)

“Lachish” (See my notes on Lachish under Joshua 10:3.)

“Eglon” (See my notes regarding Eglon under Joshua 10:3.) It is of interest that a king of Moab by the name Eglon was assassinated by Ehud (Judges 3:12 ff).

“Gezer” From the earliest times Gezer was an important city on the road between Joppa and Jerusalem. The Egyptians recaptured Gezer following the Conquest (about 1224 B.C.); and the place did not again become a possession of Israel until the times of Solomon, when Pharaoh gave it to his daughter, one of the wives of Solomon. Solomon fortified the place and rebuilt it; and it figured extensively in the Maccabean wars.(F18)

“Debir” Kiriath-sepher was an ancient name of this place which was a stronghold of the Anakim, located possibly a few miles from Hebron (Noth). It is unmentioned in later history.(F19)

“Geder” This is a southern town of Canaan, the location of which is unknown.

“Hormah” This place was the farthest south to which the victorious Israelites chased the defeated Canaanites following the battle of Beth-horon. The ancient name of it was Zephath. Judges 1:17 mentions it in the episode of its defeat by Judah and Simeon.(F20)

“Arad” The battle that destroyed this place and its king took place in Hormah (the ancient Zephath, as described in Judges 1:17). Way identified the place as the modern Tell es Seriah, 15 miles southeast of Gaza.(F21)

“Libnah” This was a fortified city on the Shephelah (the plateau-like area between the high mountains of central Palestine and the seacoast). Joshua assigned it to the priests. It withstood a siege by Sennacherib; and it was here that Sennacherib’s army was destroyed on a single night by an angel of the Lord (2 Kings 19:8).(F22)

“Adullam” “We first hear of this place in Genesis 38, where Hiram the Adullamite is the friend of Judah. David hid there from king Saul (1 Samuel 22:1 ff). Psalms 52 and Psalms 142 were written here, and it was one of the places occupied by the returnees from Babylon (Nehemiah 11:30).”(F23)

“Makkedah” Makkedah means “the cave,” and was the place chosen by the five kings of Hazor’s confederacy for a hiding place from Joshua. They were executed and buried in that same cave. The location of the place is not certainly known, but it is supposed to be some seven or more miles from the Mediterranean coast in the vicinity of Aijalon.(F24)

“Bethel” Bethel is located at the modern Tell Beitin 12 miles north of Jerusalem on the high ridge road. Abraham built an altar here; Jacob had his vision of the ladder here, and set up a pillar. He returned to Bethel after the disaster at Shechem; Jeroboam set up pagan worship at Bethel; and the place figured prominently in the writing of the Minor Prophets.(F25)

“Tappuah” This means “Apple-city.” It was apparently near Lasharon and seems to have been an important city.(F26)

“Hepher” This appears from 1 Kings 4:10 to have been near to Socoh, but nothing more is known of it.”(F27)

“Aphek” There were several towns of this name… There is no certainty about which is meant.”(F28)

“Lasharon” “Sarona, between Mount Tabor and the Sea of Tiberias 6.5 miles southwest of Tiberias may be the Biblical La-Sharon.”(F29)

“Madon” (See my notes under Joshua 11:5.)

“Hazor” (See my notes above, under Joshua 11:5.)

“Shimron-meron” This is probably identical with the Shimron in the territory assigned to Bethlehem (Joshua 19:15), about 3 miles south-southeast of Bethlehem, but this is disputed.”(F30)

“Achshaph” (See my notes under Joshua 11:5.)

“Taanach” The Israelites defeated this city and executed its king; the place was assigned to Manasseh, but they were unable to take possession of it and keep it (Joshua 12:21; Joshua 17:11; and Judges 1:27).”(F31) It was located on the southern edge of the valley of Jezreel and guarded a pass over Mount Carmel. It is right here that we begin to see the need of Israel for those troops that were in Trans-Jordania eastward. Half of Manasseh was there, instead of here; and so the choice of those two and one half tribes was indeed a terrible hindrance to Israel in the subjugation of Canaan.

“Megiddo” This city was associated with Taanach; the name means “Stronghold.” Together these two places, assigned to Manasseh, controlled the southern flank of the valley of Esdraelon and the most heavily traveled route through the Carmel range to the plain of Sharon. Manasseh was also unable to hold on to this.(F32)

“Kedesh” This place must not be confused with a Kedesh in the north. This one was located between Taanach and Megiddo, in the neighborhood of Tell Abu Qudeis.(F33)

“Jokneam” This place was assigned to Zebulun near the border with Manasseh.(F34)

“Dor in Naphath-dor” This name has the meaning of “The Dune of Dor,” and is a reference to the famous sea coast town south of Carmel. “It was the capital of Solomon’s fourth administrative district (1 Kings 4:11), and was important enough to be governed by one of Solomon’s sons-in-law.”(F35)

“Goiim in Gilgal” The meaning of these words is “nations in Gilgal,” and most of the commentators cannot understand any meaning at all in the expression. Blair said, “The expression is unintelligible.”(F36) There is probably a textual problem here. The LXX has, “king of Goiim of Galilee,” and later translations prefer this. Woudstra probably has the best solution, proposing that, “This may be the same as Galilee of the Gentiles (Gentiles and nations have the same meaning).”(F37) Matthew 4:15 has this very expression, “Galilee of the Gentiles.” This indeed may refer to a place which had a king and which is mentioned here. Besides that, the use of “nations” in the titles of some of those ancient kings was nothing unusual, for example, “Tidal, king of nations” (Genesis 14:1).

“Tirzah” This place was the capital of the kings of Israel for a time during the events related in 1 Kings. Jeroboam’s wife went there after her interview with Ahijah (1 Kings 14:17); Baasha dwelt there (1 Kings 15:21); Elah was slain there by Zimri (1 Kings 16:9-10); and it remained the capital until Omri built Samaria.(F38)

Here concludes the summary of the mighty victories of Joshua. “This list is a song of praise to the Lord’s honor.”(F39) If Israel was to be protected against the seduction to the sensuous debaucheries of paganism, it was absolutely necessary that the inhabitants of Canaan be destroyed.

“Joshua was the man destined by God to carry out his program. He is not to be blamed for the severity with which he acted. Not only did he show exemplary faithfulness to the Divine command, but he also remained true to his given word in the case of Rahab and the Gibeonites, and without partiality applied the curse to Achan, one of Israel’s own.”(F40)

These great victories under Joshua are a pledge that God will always fight upon the side of, and in the interests of those who truly love him. “And we know that to them that love God, all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 12". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/joshua-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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