Updated: Mar 26
Israel’s Enemies as the Sand of the Sea (vv. 1-5)
Seeing that southern Canaan was now under Israelite control, the west and northern Canaanites united under Jabin, king of Hazor. These armies assembled at the waters of Merom, about 60 miles from the Israelite main encampment at Gilgal. Josephus records the size of the Canaanites army as 200,000 infrantry, 20,000 chariots, and 30,000 cavalry. This northern confederacy was “as the sand upon the sea shore.” Israel also had a large army, but it was becoming clear at this point in the campaign that the Lord was not going to throw down hail and halt the sun at every battle. He normally works through the means he has placed in our hands, which are empowered as we believe his promises. He still fights for us, and he fights through our earnest and believing use of his weapons (Eph. 6:10-18). It is the same for us today. Our enemies are the sand upon the seashore, and we cannot expect the Lord to do miracles that make our sacrifice and suffering, fighting and faith unnecessary. Instead, we must remember that he fights for us, has placed invincible armor in our hands, and calls us to live and fight by faith in his promises and dependence upon his strength.
Faith and Obedience Gain the Victory (v. 6)
The Lord knows how easily we grow fearful. Joshua had already led Israel to many impressive victories, but a large army faced him. We are quick to forget the Lord’s strength and faithfulness. Therefore, the Lord renews his promises to Joshua – do not be afraid of them. Tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand. Hamstring their horses and burn their chariots. This may seem harsh, but simply because man develops a technology, such as warfare by chariots, tanks, or bombs, this does not mean the Lord authorizes his people to use the technology. He commanded them along with the promise to get rid of Canaanite warfare technology rather than incorporating it into their arsenal. This has implications for the way we mindlessly adopt technology, without considering its origin, epistemology, or teleology. The Lord is not sentimental about horses. He made them, and we are to admire his power in them (Job 39:19-25). We are not to worship them, and since he owns them, as he does man, he can dispose of them as he sees fit. Thankfully, PETA was not present to spew their atheistic idolization of nature and treat horses as more important than humans, who are made in God’s image.
The Lord promised Joshua victory the day before the battle. Joshua went forward to meet a colossal force in the strength of that promise. He did not doubt the outcome, and therefore, he did not fear for his life, hesitate to engage the foe, or refuse to obey the Lord’s command. He believed the Lord. The same is true for us. He tells us to think of ourselves as “dead unto sin and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In the light of our Savior’s victory over sin applied to us by the Spirit, he commands us to resist sin in our bodies and present ourselves to serve God (Rom. 6:11-13). The promise goes before; the commands are to be obeyed in light of what the Lord has done for us and promises to do for us. We are told, to take another example, that the Lord Jesus appeared the first time to “destroy the works of the devil” so that we might be delivered from the fear of death and Satan’s enslaving lies (Heb. 2:14-15). Our lives are transformed when we believe his promises. “Resist the devil, and he will flee” (James 4:7). The promise comes before: “But he gives more grace” (James 4:6). In light of God’s grace and our Savior’s crushing of Satan at the cross, resist sin, resist the devil, and fight the good fight of faith. It is impossible for us to lose, for the Lord is with us. God’s promise means that we must trust him to take care of us and devote ourselves to obeying him in his strength. Our Savior has triumphed. He promises to lead us in triumph by his power as we walk in faith and obedience (2 Cor. 2:14; Phil. 3:21).
Joshua Did Everything the Lord Commanded (vv. 7-15)
Joshua quickly acted on the Lord’s promise and command. He moved his army to engage the northern Canaanite confederation. He fell upon them suddenly. Joshua believed that the opposing army was not too big for the Lord, and he plowed into them with his army. The Lord according to his promise delivered the Canaanites into his hand. He chased them south and killed them until none remained. He hamstrung the horses and burned the chariots as the Lord commanded. Then, Joshua turned back and burned Hazor to the ground – this was the city of the leader of the northern forces. He put all to death, as the Lord commanded him. The remaining cities stood empty, and Joshua did not burn them. He took the spoil as a prey for Israel. They left no man standing. This was Joshua’s battle plan: “As the Lord commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so did Joshua” (v. 15). Our entire security lies in full obedience to the Lord’s command. We should always be safe, be able to overcome fear, and meet the world’s taunts with confident hearts if we stood more in the narrow path of obedience to God’s word.
Joshua’s Complete Obedience to the Lord (vv. 16-23)
16 Thus Joshua took all this land: the mountain country, all the South, all the land of Goshen, the lowland, and the Jordan plain -- the mountains of Israel and its lowlands, 17 from Mount Halak and the ascent to Seir, even as far as Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings, and struck them down and killed them. 18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. All the others they took in battle. 20 For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 21 And at that time Joshua came and cut off the Anakim from the mountains: from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel; Joshua utterly destroyed them with their cities. 22 None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had said to Moses; and Joshua gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Then the land rested from war.
The Canaanites Did Not Choose Peace (vv. 16-20)
This campaign required around seven years to complete. We are given only the highlights and the final boundaries. None of these cities, and a more or less complete list is given in the next chapter, made peace with Israel except the Gibeonites. None sued for peace because the Lord hardened their hearts. Some will read this and then blame God, but “who are you, O man, to reply against God” (Rom. 9:20). A new and obedient heart is a special act of his sovereign grace; to harden an already dead and sin-loving hearts is an act of justice. We cannot complain against the Lord if to judge our rebellion, he further hardens our hearts. Thus, man hardens his heart against the Lord by sin and more sinning, and then the Lord righteously responds by hardening man’s heart so that he does not repent.
Repentance, we must remember, does not lie within our power; it is a gift of his grace (Acts 13:48). In this case, he did not want the Canaanites making peace with Israel, except for Gibeon. He must have had some people among them, but this was gracious on his part since the ban of his wrath applied equally to all. If from the mass of guilty men he chooses some to be vessels of his mercy, we must simply bow our hearts in wonder and leave the secret things to him. Since no one deserves any kindness from him, none can complain of injustice. “All we like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). It was also a special act of mercy to Israel that the Lord hardened the Canaanites’ hearts. First, it served to justify Israel’s campaign of divine justice against them, and second, is removed enemies that would otherwise have completely infiltrated God’s holy people. This, in fact, occurred, but this was due to Israel’s disobedience, for they did not press the battle to its full and promised victory.
The Anakims Destroyed (vv. 21-23)
Think of chapter 11 as a high level summation of the conquest of northern Canaan. Additional details are given in the remaining chapters. Here, for example, emphasis is placed upon Israel’s victory over the Anakim, descendants of Anak. It will be learned later that Caleb played a major part in dislodging them from the mountains near Hebron (15:13-20). The Anakim receive special mention because it was the fear of them that first led Israel to turn back from obedience to God (Num. 13:28). Now that the people are walking in faith and obedience, their most feared enemies fall. Caleb had to wait more than forty years to destroy these fierce enemies of God, but his zeal for God’s glory and his courage in battle never cooled. No one can stand before God’s people when he fights for us, when we trust him, when we take up the weapons he has placed in our hands. Joshua, therefore, took the whole land, the land as a whole. Pockets of resistance remained, and Israel unwisely left some in the land. But just as the Lord had said to Moses, the land of promises was given to God’s people. We should never doubt God’s promises, however impossible it may seem to us that they can be fulfilled. They are blood-sealed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). All things belong to us, because all things belong to Jesus Christ, and by him we are heirs of God himself, heirs of all his promises (1 Cor. 3:21-23; Gal. 4:7). No Anakim, not God’s strongest and most blasphemous enemies, can prevent God’s promises from coming to pass. Every knee must bow to Jesus Christ. He must be confessed Lord of all, as he is by his propitiatory cross, by his death-destroying resurrection, by his victorious ascension.
Take the Whole Land, People of God
Expect God’s Enemies to Unite against Christ (Ps. 2:1-3)
We might think that after seeing southern Canaan defeated, the northern Canaanites would have made peace or run away. But God’s enemies are inspired by Satan, and they will not stop uniting against him and his Son. This was true before he came to redeem us from the curse of the law (Ps. 2:1-3), and it is much truer now that he has been cast out of heaven, defeated, and consigned to a miserable life of stalking and looking for prey. We must not be surprised to find unbelievers and especially hardened enemies of God uniting to resist his truth. Pilate and Herod were implacable enemies, but they became friends when they united against Jesus Christ. It is the same today. The world lines up against Jesus Christ. He is blasphemed, marginalized, misrepresented, and disdained – even though he is the rightful and reigning King of heaven and earth. His name is still a rock of offense, and we must not expect any neutrality or quarter from those who have not bowed the knee to him. It is a good thing that secularism has shown its true colors – sodomy, Marxism, polytheism, and murder on demand. By all these evils Satan shows his true colors and leads multitudes captive to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26).
The Meek Will Inherit the Earth, for Our Savior Has a Sharp Sword (Isa. 11:2; Matt. 5:5; 1 John 4:4)
Against the confederacy of unbelief stand those who are armed with God’s word and promise – the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have so many “exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:4), but one in particular stands out: “The meek shall inherit the earth.” The promise to Abraham and to his seed, who is Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16), was that he would be “the heir of the whole earth” (Rom. 4:13). “In you and your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). Therefore, as Joshua went to battle armed with the promise of victory, we also move forward with the promise of victory. Our Savior has already gone to the Father’s right hand to rule over all things for our sake (Eph. 1:20-23). His sword is unsheathed, and he is striking the nations with his word as the gospel is preached (Isa. 11:1; Rev. 19:11,15). We cannot lose. The church has lost faith in God’s promise and in the certainty of our victory in Jesus Christ. We try to apologize for being Christians, change the Bible’s “no’s and yes’s” based upon cultural depravity, and then wonder that we have quenched the Spirit and lost all power to speak God’s truth. Nevertheless, God’s promise stands sure. There is no future in sin and rebellion. All the Canaanites on this planet will either be converted or destroyed by the brightness of our Savior’s coming (2 Thess. 2:8). Let us recover the old conviction that “greater is who in us than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Yes, great forces may be aligned against us, as numerous as the sand of the sea, but the Lord on high is mightier, and we are his dwelling place. He wields the weapons of our warfare when we wield them in faith.
Jesus Christ Worthy – Go Everywhere Gospelling (Acts 8:4)
Too much nationalism and militarism have unduly influenced our understanding of Christ’s kingdom. We think of his kingdom and our warfare in terms of fighting for our national flag, patriotism, and idolization of medievalism. The kingdom of our Lord Jesus primarily advances by the sword coming out of his mouth. We see this when the church in Jerusalem was persecuted. As they were scattered throughout Palestine and beyond, Luke records that they “went everywhere speaking the word” (Acts 8:4). “Speaking the word” is a verbal form of gospel; they went everywhere gospelling, spreading the gospel. Every time a faithful pulpit speaks God’s truth, our Savior strikes not only the immediate hearers but also the earth with his gospel sword. When we witness to our neighbors, he does the same. His word is either an aroma of life or of death (1 Cor. 2:14) – a double-edged sword. Therefore, if we deem our Savior worthy of our honor and zeal, we should join with him in exterminating the Canaanites in our area. This requires no blood-shed – it requires evangelistic faithfulness and a spirit of active discipleship.
Perhaps we could begin in our small groups by praying for unbelievers we know, and then for wisdom and opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. Since there is no way for a nation to be discipled unless its citizens are disciples, we must be far more committed to sharing the gospel – in the course of life, with the people already in our lives, and by fervent prayer for opportunity and effect. Yes, pray for effect to your witness, for the Lord Jesus to unsheathe his sword through your words to quicken dead hearts to faith and new life. Faithfulness in this is not so much about programs but active commitment to Jesus Christ. Share with men the same truths you share with yourself – a merciful God forgives sins by sending his Son to die for our sins and rise to new life. Do not wonder that men will not believe or commit to the gospel – unless the Lord quickens. So, with your sharing, you must be praying for the Spirit to guide and give effect to your witness. There are seasons of life for more active, outward gospelling. During family years, our children are our main battlefield – but even then, we must not neglect to pray for the salvation of the lost, support legitimate Christian missions, and be an outward facing, Canaanite confronting people. He is worthy!
Take Seriously Your Part in the Battle (Luke 21:3)
We know only a few names of the combined million-plus men who fought in these wars. The average fighting Israelite might have thought himself insignificant. But he had to do his part. The Lord did not simply hand over Canaan to his people. Each Israelite fighting man had to be committed to follow his Lord into battle, knowing he could die, but trusting in the Lord’s promise. It is the same with us. Our Lord spoke of the widow’s gift that was greater than all the rich men donated. She gave all she had. It did not matter that her gift was small. Do not think that because you may not be blessed with public gifts like teaching or governing that you do not matter. It will be seen, when the books are open and each soldier receives his reward, that many poor, praying men and women have done more to contribute to our Savior’s kingdom than many whose names we know. The Lord sees the heart. The Lord honors us when we do not offer to him what costs us little or nothing. He wants our heart, then he shows us his heart and covenant. Take seriously, Christian mother, your part in the battle, training disciples for Christ who will serve him after your days are finished. Take seriously how many ripples begin spreading out when you throw a gospel rock into the pond of someone’s soul. God never forgets where one seed of his word falls. Our Savior’s sword is active when you speak his word!