Bible Commentaries
Joshua 11

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-15

The Northern Campaign (11:1-15)

Israel’s successes were now so impressive that it became apparent to all the remaining Canaanite kings that a decisive stand against the Israelites would have to be attempted. The lead in the north was taken by Jabin, king of Hazor, who formed a powerful coalition of northern states. Their military strength rested not alone on huge numbers of available troops but upon strong contingents of horses and chariots (vs. 4). All were encamped near the waters of Merom, a valley carrying water from a perennial spring, some eight miles southwest of Hazor and ten miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee. It was a formidable host, and Joshua was rightly fearful of the outcome (vs. 6).

Again Joshua’s strategy was unexpected attack, probably after a long, forced march. The rugged hills and valleys of this area were ideally suited to Joshua’s type of guerilla fighting. It is probable that the Canaanites expected to meet the Israelites in a more open area for effective use of their horses and chariots. But Joshua forestalled this and scored a smashing victory. He hamstrung their horses, so that they could not later be corralled and used by other Canaanites, and he burned their chariots (vs. 9).

Joshua then turned back from the pursuit and destroyed the great city of Hazor. How great it was has been revealed in recent excavations. In the time of Joshua the city covered about 200 acres. It consisted of an upper city, which rested on a mound 25 acres in size—the oldest part of the city—and a lower city to the north, surrounded by a great beaten-earth wall. The area occupied by the lower city is so large that it was thought some years ago to have been only an enclosure for horses and chariots. But excavation proved the area to contain the remains of a well-built city. It is calculated that about 40,000 people lived in Hazor when Joshua captured it. The archaeologists found conclusive evidence that Hazor was destroyed about the middle of the thirteenth century, a date which agrees remarkably well with the statements of Joshua 11. Its history covers the period 2700-150 B.C., twenty-one city levels in all. Only part of the great site has been excavated during the four seasons of digging. But the discoveries (for example, of four Canaanite temples and well-preserved cult objects, which reveal that the religion of Hazor centered in the worship of the sun-god in association with a bull) are of sensational importance in understanding what Canaanite civilization was like in the time of the Hebrew invasion.

The summary of Joshua’s achievements here is sweeping and misleading to the casual reader. The generalizing statements "So Joshua took all that land" (11:16) and "So Joshua took the whole land" (vs. 23) by themselves give the impression that Joshua’s victories were both quick and complete. But these impressions must be qualified by the more sober statements, such as: "But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor only" (vs. 13); "Joshua made war a long time with all those kings" (vs. 18); and "there remains yet very much land to be possessed" (13:1), said to have been spoken near the end of Joshua’s life. The facts seem to be that Joshua did launch and carry through a series of smashing attacks on key Canaanite strongholds of the land; he demoralized the Canaanites and gained a foothold for the Israelite tribes in the land, but many areas of the land were too strongly fortified for his military capability. These were gradually overcome (Judges 1), and complete subjugation of the land was achieved only in the time of David two centuries later.

In verse 20 it is said that the Lord hardened the hearts of the Canaanites so that they would resist and be exterminated rather than surrender and be spared. According to the Deuteronomic point of view, all the Canaanites were to be wiped out. The statement that the decision to resist was the result of God’s hardening the hearts of the Canaanites in order to achieve their ultimate extermination is similar to that made in Exodus 4:21 and else-where concerning Pharaoh. Hebrew thought did not hesitate to ascribe the origin of evil and evil acts to God, who would make them turn out to the advancement of his purposes (see 1 Kings 22:19-23; Job 2:10; Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6). Later an evil spirit (Satan, Belial, Mastema, Be-elzebul) was seen as responsible for the instigation of evil, both natural and moral, and it was emphatically affirmed that God would destroy him and his works at the Last Day.

Chapter 12 consists of a general summary of the kings defeated and captured by Moses and Joshua, both to the east and to the west of the Jordan. It is not said that all of their cities were occupied and destroyed. Jerusalem and Gezer lost their kings (10: 22-27, 33), but we know that the cities were not captured until much later (Joshua 16:10; 2 Samuel 5:6-9; 1 Kings 9:16). The list of kings here (vss. 9-24) is drawn from the record as presented in Joshua 2-10 and from some unknown source. (Several kings listed here have not been mentioned previously in the book.)

Archaeological work has shown how strongly fortified the cities of Canaan were at this time and how advanced their civilization. Joshua’s achievements at the head of poorly equipped and pro-visioned bands from the desert must be regarded as phenomenal!

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Joshua 11". "Layman's Bible Commentary".