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The Southern Campaign (10:1-43)
In entering into a covenant with Joshua, the Gibeonites became the Israelites’ vassals ("servants," vs. 6). According to the suzerainty treaties of the time, Joshua was then obliged to protect them against their enemies (see comment on Deuteronomy 4:1-14). The reason for the hostility of the five kings is easy to see. Not only had the Gibeonites become collaborators with the enemy, but Joshua, if not hindered by the surrounding Canaanite kings, would use the resources of fighting men and provisions of the great city of Gibeon (vs. 2) to accelerate his attack against the whole land. The strategy of the kings was to frustrate the projected alliance of the Gibeonites and the invaders.
Joshua lost not a moment. By a forced overnight march from Gilgal near Jericho, still the base of military operations, he was able to pounce unexpectedly on the besiegers of Gibeon and put them to rout. Joshua’s success here, as so often, was due not to superior numbers and equipment but to the ferocious courage of his warriors and to the element of surprise. In rugged country like that between Jericho and Gibeon the hills and deep valleys provide excellent cover for advancing troops.
The routed armies fled to the northwest of Gibeon into the Beth-horon pass. This pass provides the only easy means of travel from the central mountains, where Gibeon lay, to the low, rolling hill country bordering the coastal plain, where Libnah, Eglon, and Lachish—three of the five warring cities—were located. The Israelites in a decimating pursuit, assisted both by a sudden downpour of hailstones and—according to the prose interpretation of a poetic piece from the "Book of Jashar" (vss. 12-13)—by a miraculously lengthened day, achieved a smashing victory.
The hailstones and the standing still of the sun require a moment’s comment. The Old Testament frequently claims that natural phenomena played a part in Israel’s successes. One thinks of the plagues in Egypt (some of which seem clearly related to aggravated natural conditions native to that territory), of the strong wind at the Red (Reed) Sea, of the probability of earth-quake shocks as the cause of the damming up of the Jordan River at the time of the crossing, of the storm at the time of the defeat of Sisera by Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:19-21), and the like. To one who believes in the providential ordering of history, as the Hebrew writers certainly did and as the Christian faith seems to require, the convergence of natural events and the di-vine purpose will not seem strange. Many may find it difficult to believe that God sent hailstones at that moment; but is it not possible that God used hailstones and other natural phenomena in the achievement of ultimate moral ends through the free choices of both the Israelites and their enemies? (See comment on Deuteronomy 7:1-26.)
In verses 12-13 a poetic fragment from the "Book of Jashar" is quoted. This book, from which another poem is excerpted in 2 Samuel 1:18-27, apparently consisted of a collection of ancient heroic songs, possibly compiled about the time of David or Solo-mon. The writer of the Book of Joshua seems to have literalized (vs. 13b) the figurative, dramatic language of the poem. One surely should not, for example, take literally the statement in Judges 5:20 that the stars fought against Sisera! In the poem the meaning is perhaps that there was enough time left in the day—it seemed miraculously—for Joshua to complete the destruction of his enemies.
The rest of the chapter records Joshua’s follow-up campaign against the strongholds of the southwestern hill-country (Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon) and the capture of Hebron and Debir in the mountainous territory south of Jerusalem. The exact location of Makkedah, where the five kings hid in a cave, is not known. Excavations have shown that three of the towns Joshua is said here to have captured (Lachish, Eglon, Debir) were burned at about this time. The destruction of two of them (Debir and Lachish) can be quite precisely dated at about 1250-1200 B.C. —a time into which Joshua fits very well. Gezer, an important stronghold of the low hill-country, was not captured at this time (16:10; 1 Kings 9:16), though a contingent of troops sent by the king of Gezer to assist Lachish was defeated (vs. 33). Jerusalem was not captured by the Israelites until the time of David (2 Samuel 5:6-9).
The summarizing statements in verses 40-43, while somewhat overly sweeping, are not to be entirely discounted on the basis of Judges 1, where a more gradual conquest seems to be described. It is inherently likely that Joshua carried out smashing campaigns into the center of the land (Jericho, Ai-Bethel), into the southwest and south (the six cities mentioned above), and into the north (ch. 11). Later sections of the Book of Joshua (11:13, 22; 13:2-13; 15:63; 23:12-13) show clearly that the writer knew that Joshua had not "utterly destroyed all that breathed" (vs. 40), but that much remained yet to be done after his time. Enthusiasm for Joshua’s exploits naturally led to exaggerated statements.
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"Commentary on Joshua 10". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany