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Joshua—Taking Possession of the Land
Transitioning from the Pentateuch, or Law, to the Historical Books, Joshua records the conquest of the Promised Land under the capable leadership of Moses’ successor. Picking up where Deuteronomy left off, with the death of Moses, Joshua takes the reader through the Israelites’ entrance into Canaan, military invasion and subjugation of Canaanite kingdoms, division of the land, and settlement of their territory.
Again and again the theme of this book is emphasized by its very name, Joshua—which means “YHWH is Salvation,” Although the people are required to do their part, it is God who grants them victory, through many or a few, through conventional warfare or Divine intervention.
Although Joshua was no doubt responsible for the lion’s share of this historical record, many details appear to have been inserted later. The recurring phrase “to this day” in Joshua 5:9, 13:13 and 15:63 gives good indication that the final version of the book must’ve been compiled later—perhaps during the administration of King Saul.
Joshua Chapter 1
Joshua’s historical record begins with the words of YHWH to Moses’ successor: “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them…” (Josh. 1:1-2). As He had previously promised Joshua’s ancestor, Abraham, and his predecessor, Moses, the Lord now declared to Israel’s new leader that every place his feet stepped God was giving to His people (c.f.—Gen. 13:14-17, Deut. 11:24 & Josh. 1:3). He gave as the northern boundary of their territory everything from Lebanon to the Euphrates River, while their southern boundary would extend from Hittite territory to the Mediterranean Sea (Josh. 1:4). The Lord promised to be with Joshua just as He had been with Moses, so that no man would be able to withstand him all the days of his life (v. 5).
In addition to the three times He had already said it, as recorded in Deuteronomy 31:6, 7 & 23, the Lord commanded Joshua three more times in this chapter to be “strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:6, 7 & 9). In addition, the men of Israel admonished their new leader the same way (v. 18)—for a total of seven times that Joshua heard this! Do you suppose the fellow was a little intimidated by his new role and needed a bit of encouragement?
God promised Joshua would live to see the land of Israel divided among the tribes (6). In addition to acting in strength and courage, the Lord reminded Joshua to study and to keep the Law, which He had given to Moses—that would be the key to his success as a leader (7-8). Oh, that more of our heads of state, education, businesses and churches would grasp this concept! Finally, the Lord gave His servant the reason he could walk in courage and strength instead of fear: “for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9, NIV).
Joshua then summoned his officers and told them to get all their troops ready to move out, “for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you…” (vv. 10-11). He called aside the leaders of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, who had been granted territory east of the Jordan River, and reminded them of their commitment to help the other tribes conquer their territory before settling permanently in their own (12-15). The men replied, “All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go” (16). They pledged to obey Joshua, just as they had followed Moses, provided he followed YHWH as his predecessor had done (17). Anyone who didn’t cooperate, they vowed to put to death (18).
Joshua Chapter 2
This is one of the best-loved Bible stories for children. It’s got elements of danger, espionage, suspense and other ingredients that make for an exciting tale of intrigue. But more than that, the expression of faith by Rahab, an unlikely heroine, shows that YHWH was not just the God of the Hebrews, but that He was reaching out to people from all the nations of earth!
It begins with Joshua sending out two spies to check out the land they were going to invade—especially Jericho (Josh. 2:1). Not wanting to be too conspicuous, they did what many travelers would, and took up lodging in the home of Rahab, a known prostitute in Jericho.
Somehow word got around the city that there were spies among them, so the king sent soldiers to search Rahab’s house (vv. 2-3). Having hidden the men under some stalks of flax on her roof, she claimed they had visited her and given no information about their origins or intentions (4 & 6). After all, who bothers with personal information when they’re enjoying the hospitality of a prostitute! Convinced by the woman that the men had left the city, and might be overtaken, the soldiers went out and made their search, while the gate was firmly shut behind them (5 & 7).
That night, Rahab went to the men and told them how everyone in the land was terrified of Israel because of YHWH their God (8-9). Word had reached them about the crossing of the Red Sea and how God had delivered the two kings, Sihon and Og, into the hands of Israel (10). Expecting they were next on the list of those to be completely annihilated by the advancing Hebrews, everyone had lost courage (11). However, Rahab acknowledged YHWH as “God in heaven above and on earth beneath” and appealed to the men to spare her and her family, since she had sheltered them from the king (11-13).
They promised to “deal kindly and truly” with her, provided she did not betray them (14 & 20). She lowered them through a window of her house that was built into the city wall and gave instructions for them to hide in the hills for three days (15-16). The two men, in turn, instructed her to display the scarlet rope they had climbed down to mark her house when the army of Israel came, and then they told her only those who took shelter in her home would be safe (17-19).
When everything played out as planned, the men returned to Joshua with their report (21-23). They added this encouragement: “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us” (Josh. 2:24, NIV).
Joshua Chapter 3
Joshua got up early the next morning and moved the Israelite camp from Shittim (which means “Acacia Grove”) to the Jordan (Josh. 3:1). After three days, the officers circulated through the camp, telling everyone to be ready to head out as soon as they saw the priests carrying the ark lead out (vv. 2-3). They were all warned, however, to make sure they left a space of about half a mile between themselves and the ark, so they would all be able to see where they were going (4).
Joshua added, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you” (5). Did he have any idea, when he told the Levites to lead out (6), what God would do?
YHWH said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (7). He told His servant to let the priests know when they got to the Jordan, they were to step into the water and stay there (8).
Joshua, in turn, gathered the people and said God was going to perform a sign to show them “that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites” (9-10).
Now Joshua knew what God was going to do and told the Israelites:
“as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap” (13).
He didn’t tell them why, but he designated twelve men—one from each tribe—to be ready to perform a special assignment, as soon as the ark passed before them into the water (11-12).
As they carried out YHWH’s and Joshua’s orders, I’m sure everyone must’ve been a little nervous about approaching the Jordan, since it was at flood stage and overflowing its banks (14-15). Were the priests afraid to put their feet into the icy, rushing water?
If they were, they need not have worried, because God instantly stopped the flow of the river all the way back to a town called Adam a good twenty miles or more upstream. They stood in a heap there, while the rest flowed on downstream to the Dead Sea. So the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stood on dry ground in the midst of the river bed, while all the rest of the Israelites crossed over toward Jericho without even getting their feet wet! (16-17).
Joshua Chapter 4
When everyone had crossed over, YHWH told Joshua to have the twelve representatives from the tribes go back to the riverbed and pick up a stone apiece from where the priests stood and pile them up in the place where Israel made camp that night (Josh. 4:1-5). This was to serve as a memorial to the Israelites, so that any time the next generation asked about the pile of rocks, the elders would have the opportunity to tell them how God held back the waters of the Jordan to let Israel cross (6-8). Joshua also erected a similar pile in the midst of the riverbed, while the priests continued to stand there (9-10).
In addition to the other tribes, about 40,000 men of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh crossed over to go to war with their relatives, as they had promised (12-13). When everyone had made it over and everything was completed as God had commanded, the priests themselves came on over to the west bank (11). As soon as the last priest’s foot touched the dry land on the opposite shore, the flood waters of the Jordan resumed their flow from north to south and overran the banks of the river as before (15-18). Thus YHWH “exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life” (14). All this took place on the tenth day of the first month, some forty years after YHWH brought the Israelites out of Egypt (19).
Joshua took the twelve stones the men had carried on their shoulders from the Jordan and erected them in a spot in the midst of the place the people camped that night, just east of Jericho (20). In addition to what he had already said about the stones, Joshua told the people that the monument would not only serve as a reminder for the Israelites of what God had done at the Jordan, but “that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God” (Josh. 4:21-24, NIV).
Joshua Chapter 5
The next order of business was to circumcise all the males who had been born in the wilderness. Either because their nomadic lifestyle made it too difficult, or the people were simply disobedient, the men who had grown up since the people left Egypt never had this covenant ritual performed on them (Josh. 5:4-7). So YHWH had Joshua make flint knives to circumcise the men before they went in to take the land of promise (vv. 2-3). Fortunately, the miracle of God stopping the flow of the Jordan at flood stage had so freaked out the surrounding people, that no one bothered the men while they were healing from this painful procedure (1 & 8). The place where the people camped was called Gilgal, which means “rolling”—so-named because YHWH said, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you,” when the Israelites were circumcised (Josh. 5:9, NIV).
During their convalescence, the Hebrews celebrated the Passover on the plains of Jericho (v. 10). The next day, when they ate some of the parched grain and produce of the land, God stopped sending manna, so the people ate the crops of Canaan the rest of that year (11-12).
While Joshua was near Jericho, he saw what appeared to be a man with a drawn sword in front of him (13). When Joshua asked whether the fellow was for Israel or her enemies, he identified himself as “Commander of the army of the LORD” and ordered Joshua to take off his sandals (14-15). Naturally, Joshua obeyed and bowed with his face to the ground. We learn in the next chapter what the angel said to Israel’s leader after that.
Joshua Chapter 6
Assumedly through the angel, YHWH said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men” (Josh. 6:2, NIV). He then instructed the leader to have all the men of Israel march around the city once a day for six days, with the priests and the ark accompanying them (vv. 3-4). On the seventh day, they were all to make the circuit seven times, with the priests blowing their trumpets as they went. On the seventh time around, the priests were to make one long blast on their trumpets, signaling everyone to shout (5). When that happened, the Lord promised to make the walls fall flat, so each man could advance into the city.
Joshua passed along these instructions, and had the men of Israel march in their usual formation, with half the tribes preceding the priests and half bringing up the rear (6-9). For the first six days, no one was to say a word while they marched around the city (10). Day by day, they followed these instructions, each day returning to the camp (11-14). One wonders what the men of Jericho thought, shut up in the city with no one allowed in or out for the entire week, while these Hebrews performed their strange ritual (1)!
On the seventh day, after they marched seven times, Joshua told the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city!” (15-16). He warned that everything in Jericho was doomed to destruction, except for Rahab and her family, so no one was to take any of the loot for himself (17-18). Only the precious metals were to be saved—and these were to go into the treasury of YHWH (19).
Imagine the surprise, horror and confusion among the inhabitants of Jericho when the people shouted and the walls crumbled! As instructed, each Israelite warrior advanced straight ahead and slaughtered every living thing in his path (20-21).
Joshua sent the two spies to fetch Rahab and her family from the place where she had given them shelter, as they had agreed (22). “And the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her brothers, and all that she had,” and put them outside the camp of Israel, before they all burned what was left of the city to the ground (23-24). Verse 25 tells us that, at the time this record was written, Rahab and her family were living among the Israelites because she hid the two spies.
Hebrews 11:31 includes the former prostitute in the Hall of Faith. And Matthew 1:5 names her as one of Jesus’ ancestors. What an awesome God we have, who kept His word to Abraham and blessed this pagan woman, who put her faith in Him!
After the city was razed to the ground and reduced to ash, Joshua declared a curse over Jericho. He said whoever tried to rebuild the city would do it at the cost of his firstborn son’s life as he laid the foundation, and then his youngest son would die when he set up its gates (Josh. 6:26). I have heard some Bible teachers say the reason for this is that God intended the Israelites to give the city to Him as a first fruits offering of all the real estate he was giving to them. If the city was rebuilt and inhabited, it would be like taking back something that had been given to God.
“So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout all the country” (v. 27).
Joshua Chapter 7
Unbeknownst to Joshua and the other Israelites, one man disregarded the order to leave everything of value for the Lord or the fire, and “took of the accursed things; so the anger of the LORD burned against the children of Israel” (Josh. 7:1). Without consulting God, Joshua sent men from Jericho to the next spot on the map—Ai, a little town near Beth Aven, just east of Bethel—telling them to “Go up and spy out the country.” (v. 2).
When they returned, the men said the village was so small it wasn’t worth sending all the Israelites to fight it, just a few thousand (3). So 3,000 went, and thirty less than that came back to the Hebrew camp in defeat (4-5). Everyone was discouraged. Joshua tore his clothes, threw dust on his head and lay down before the tabernacle, asking why the Lord would’ve brought them across the Jordan, if they were not going to be able to stand before their enemies (6-8). “For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth,” he said, “Then what will You do for Your great name?” (9).
YHWH didn’t let Joshua and the elders remain long in this state of mourning and despair. He set the record straight, letting them know it was not a failure on His part, but that there was sin in the camp (10-11). The reason Israel was defeated was because someone had stolen, deceived and hidden some of the forbidden treasure from Jericho among his possessions (11-12). Until the guilty party was destroyed, Israel was doomed to destruction and would no longer enjoy victory or God’s protection.
The Lord instructed Joshua to sanctify the people and tell them God was going to identify the man who had brought this trouble on them by taking from the accursed things (13-14). The guilty man and all that belonged to him were doomed to be burned “because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel” (15).
Imagine the mounting terror of the man in question, as early the next morning, Joshua brought each tribe forward, and the tribe of Judah was designated (16-17). Zerah was chosen among the clans of Judah, and then the family of Zabdi was indicated. By now, the thief must’ve been trembling in his sandals! As each man of that extended family came near, the lot said “No,” until Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, son of Judah appeared before Joshua and the elders.
When the Lord indicated it was Achan who had stolen what did not belong to Israel, Joshua made a compelling but compassionate statement to the guilty man: “My son, I beg you, give glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me” (19). Even though God had singled him out from the multitudes of Israel as the one who had put all their lives in jeopardy, Joshua knew that Achan needed to agree with God and admit what he had done.
You can almost hear the relief, as the words tumbled from Achan’s mouth, and he unburdened himself of his dark secret:
“Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I have done: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.” (20-21)
When Joshua sent men to Achan’s tent, they found everything just as the man had described and brought it before the assembly for all to see (22-23). How it must have mortified the man’s wife and children to see that their lives were forfeit because of a pretty robe and a handful of metal! How they must’ve wept and cried for mercy, yet it could not be extended, because God’s curse was upon them.
“Then Joshua and all the Israelites took Achan, the silver, the robe, the bar of gold, his sons, daughters, cattle, donkeys, sheep, tent, and everything he had,” and escorted them to a valley nearby (Josh. 7:24, NLT). With the sadness of a disappointed father, Joshua said to Achan, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today” (Josh. 7:25, NIV). With that, the entire Hebrew community stoned the family and their livestock, and then burned everything there in the valley. They covered the remains with a huge heap of stones, and called it the Valley of Achor, which means “trouble” (v. 26). Once that was done, the Lord turned from His fierce anger against Israel.
Joshua Chapter 8
Now that the Lord had Joshua’s undivided attention again, and the Hebrews had eliminated the problem caused by Achan’s greed, He was able to give very specific instructions about how Israel was to take the city of Ai. First, YHWH encouraged Joshua that they would be able do it: “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed…See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land” (Josh. 8:1). And then He told His general how to do it: “[T]ake all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai…And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as booty for yourselves. Lay an ambush for the city behind it” (vv. 1-2). Contrary to what the spies had told Joshua, God wanted the entire army involved, and He wanted them to take the city by stealth, so He could rebuild their confidence after their recent defeat.
So Joshua selected 30,000 of the bravest men of Israel and sent them under the cover of darkness to the north side of Ai (3). He told them to stay close and stay hidden, watching the rest of the army carefully (4). When the Israelis approached the city, and then pretended to retreat as before, that was the signal for the men in ambush to come and seize the abandoned stronghold and set it on fire (5-8). So the men went and did as Joshua commanded, while he returned and spent the night with the rest of the army (9).
The next couple of days, all went as planned. Early in the morning, Joshua and the main body of Israel moved their camp closer to Ai, with just a valley between them (10-11). He sent an additional 5,000 men in ambush to the west of the city, between Ai and Bethel [most likely to cut off the possibility of any men of Ai escaping in that direction or gaining reinforcements from the neighboring town] (12). Then he and the army spent the night on the south side (13).
The king of Ai, meanwhile, mustered all his men and assembled on the plain outside their city, oblivious to the two groups on the other sides of the settlement (14). When Joshua and the Israelites played out their ruse, the men of Ai fell right into the trap. Emboldened by their previous defeat of Israel, when the king saw Joshua and company draw back, he was sure they were running scared as before and called every man from the city to pursue the retreating Hebrews (15-17).
At that moment, the Lord had Joshua perform an act with his javelin akin to what Moses had done with his staff when Joshua and the armies of Israel had fought Amelek decades before (See Exodus 17:8-16). YHWH said to Joshua, “Stretch out the spear that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand” (Josh. 8:18).
The men in ambush took that as a signal. With the city left defenseless, they were able to take it with no trouble and set the city on fire as directed (19). When the men of Ai saw the smoke rise from their city and realized they were surrounded by Israel’s armies on all sides, they knew they were doomed (20). Sure enough, Joshua and his men were able to kill every man of the city, but took the king alive as their prisoner (21-23). By the time the battle was over, every man, woman and child of Ai was dead—about 12,000 in all (24-25). “For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (26). Only the livestock and the spoil was taken by Israel, as the Lord had permitted them (27).
They burned the city to the ground and made it an uninhabitable heap (28). The king of Ai they hanged from a tree until evening, and then tossed the body at the gates of the ruined city and buried it under a pile of rocks (29).
Having done that, Joshua built an altar of stone at Mount Ebal and made sacrifices and peace offerings, as the Lord had commanded through Moses (Josh. 8:30-31; c.f.—Deut. 27:5-6). As directed, he set up two huge stones, painted them with lime, and then engraved the Ten Commandments into them (Josh. 8:32; Deut. 27:2-4 & 8). Then everyone assembled—half on Mount Ebal and half on Mount Gerazim—to declare the blessings and curses from the Law, as Moses had prescribed in Deuteronomy 27:9-26 [and possibly all of chapter 28, as well] (Josh. 8:33-34). Joshua 8:35 tells us that there was not one thing Moses had commanded Joshua that he did not read aloud to all the men, women and children assembled—both the Hebrews and the foreigners among them.
Joshua Chapter 9
It is amazing how quick we are to forget God and rely on our own understanding! While a bunch of the kings in Canaan formed a coalition to fight Israel (Josh. 9:1-2), one bright group tried another strategy to save their skin: pure trickery. Sadly enough, Israel fell for it, because they considered only the ‘evidence’ before them, and did not bother to check with God. Here’s how the New Living Translation sets the scene:
But when the people of Gibeon heard what had happened to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to deception to save themselves. They sent ambassadors to Joshua, loading their donkeys with weathered saddlebags and old patched wineskins. They put on ragged clothes and worn-out, patched sandals. And they took along dry, moldy bread for provisions. When they arrived at the camp of Israel at Gilgal, they told Joshua and the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant land to ask you to make a peace treaty with us” (vv. 3-6).
At first, the Hebrews were rightly skeptical. “How do we know you don’t live nearby? For if you do, we cannot make a treaty with you” (Josh. 9:7, NLT). The envoys truthfully said they had heard of all God did to Egypt and the kings on the east side of the Jordan, and that their elders urged them to go and make a treaty with the Hebrews (vv. 9-11). But they lied, when they claimed to have come from a far country, and that all their provisions were fresh, their clothing new, etc., when they departed (12-13).
The next couple of verses tell us, “The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath” (Josh. 9:14-15, NIV). Three days later, they learned of their mistake, when they found out the men were representatives of a city within their territory (v. 16). The Hebrews were pretty ticked off, when they found out their leaders had been tricked, and that they could not attack these foreigners, as God had commanded (17-18). But ‘a promise is a promise,’ as we say, and the elders knew they could not go against their word, or they would suffer God’s wrath (19-20).
Instead, Joshua put the Gibeonites under a curse to be woodcutters and water-carriers forever, since they had deceived the people of YHWH (21-23). The Gibeonites were cool with that, since they had heard that Israel was required to exterminate the people in the land God was giving them (24). They figured it was better to be slaves than dead; thus they submitted to Joshua, and he was able to keep the Hebrews from killing them (25-26).
Joshua Chapter 10
When the king of Jerusalem heard how the Israelites had wiped out Jericho and Ai and that the great city of Gibeon had allied itself with the invaders, he freaked out and gathered the forces of four other kings to attack the defectors (Josh. 10:1-4). While the five combined armies laid siege to Gibeon, the Jebusites sent word to Joshua to honor their covenant of peace and come save them (vv. 5-6).
So Joshua and all Israel descended on the aggressors at night from their camp in Gilgal, with the promise from YHWH that they would be able to defeat the Amorites (7-9). Not only did the Amorites flee from this surprise attack, but YHWH threw down monstrous hailstones on them, which killed more of the enemy than the weapons of Israel (10-11)!
That day, the Lord also did a phenomenal thing in answer to prayer—which apparently never happened before then, nor since: Because the army was so vast, there just were not enough hours in one day to catch them all, so Joshua prayed for God to stop the sun and the moon in their tracks to allow Israel more time to kill off all the Amorites. Remarkably, “the LORD heeded the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel” (12-14)! Because Joshua’s goal was in line with God’s, the Lord answered this extraordinary prayer.
Meanwhile, the five kings had deserted their armies “and hidden themselves in a cave at Makkedah” (16). When Joshua was informed of the matter, he told his men to roll large stones in front of the entrance, post a guard, and then get back to fighting the main body of Amorites (16-19). He did not want to give the soldiers a chance to make it back to their walled cities, saying “for the LORD your God has delivered them into your hand.” In spite of his urgency, some Amorites did manage to get to safety; however, not before Joshua, Israel and God had accomplished a great slaughter of most of the multitude (20).
After they made it back to Makkedah, Joshua ordered the guards to open the mouth of the cave and bring out the fugitive kings (21-22). When the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon were lined up in front of Joshua, he had his military leaders come and put their feet on the necks of the kings, as a sign of their conquest (23-24). Then he gave them a pep talk: “Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; be strong and of good courage, for thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight” (25). With that, he killed each king and hung them on some trees until sundown (26). Then they threw the bodies into the cave and heaped up stones over the entrance, sealing them into their make-shift tomb (27).
Joshua and the Israelites then preceded to take the cities of Makkedah, Libnah and Lachish, killing everyone, despoiling and burning the cities, as they had done to Jericho (28-32). When King Horam of Gezer came to help Lachish, Joshua and his army slaughtered these guys, too (33). From there, they advanced to destroy Eglon, Hebron, Debir and all the rest of the southern part of Canaan, wiping out every living thing in their path (34-40). All the territory from Kadesh Barnea as far as Gaza, Goshen, and everything all the way to Gibeon was conquered in one sweeping campaign, “because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel” (41-42). So all the Hebrews returned safely to their camp in Gilgal (43).
Joshua Chapter 11
At the urging of Jabin, king of Hazor, a massive army assembled in the north from every direction, composed of Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Hivites prepared to engage the Hebrews in battle (Josh. 11:1-3). Although the hordes of men, horses and chariots encamped at the waters of Merom were more than any could hope to count, the Lord assured Joshua that He would deliver all of them into Israel’s hands that very next day (vv. 4-6)!
Joshua and his army surprised the attackers along the banks of the Merom, and then proceeded to pursue and kill every last warrior among them (7-8). As instructed by the Lord, Joshua hamstrung the horses and burned every chariot with fire (9). He attacked Hazor, which was the leading city of this coalition of nations, and burned it to the ground (10-11). All the other cities were also taken, although Joshua did not burn the other fortified cities built on mounds (12-13). The spoil and livestock of all these places were added to the other wealth the Israelites had already taken, but every human being was annihilated, as YHWH had commanded them through Moses (14-15). How wonderful it is to read that Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded…” (15)!
Verses 16-17 summarize all the territory taken during these campaigns. To see maps depicting the people groups and areas involved in the conquest of Canaan, go to the website, Believer’s Magazine. Verse 18 tells us it took a long time to defeat all the kings. Furthermore:
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. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel…that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy (Josh 11:19-20).
Joshua also led Israel in wiping out all the giants that lived in the mountains of Israel’s territory (v. 21). The only place they remained was in the Philistine cities of Gaza, Gath and Ashdod (22). “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war” (Josh. 11:23, NIV).
Joshua Chapter 12
This chapter basically lists the kings of Canaan defeated by the Israelites from the time of Moses through the campaigns of Joshua. Joshua 12:1-6 credits Moses with the conquest of the territory of Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan east of the Jordan, which was given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh. The rest of the chapter lists the 31 kings and their territory defeated by Joshua and the Israelites during their extended campaign west of the Jordan (vv. 7-24).
According to what Caleb later said in Joshua 14:10, it apparently took Israel a mere five years to conquer these 31 kingdoms west of the Jordan. This senior saint told Joshua and the other leaders that he was 40 when he spied out the land, which we know was followed by 40 years of wilderness wandering due to Israel’s lack of faith (See Numbers 13:1-14:38). When Caleb made his speech, he said God had kept him alive 45 years from the time YHWH made His declaration regarding all of this and that he was now 85 years old. That gives us a difference of five years between when the Israelites crossed the Jordan into Canaan until they had subjugated the nations living there. It is amazing to consider how one nation could so quickly displace that many established kingdoms!
Joshua Chapter 13
The Lord told Joshua—who was about 80 years old when he assumed leadership of Israel—that it was time for him to retire, yet there was still a lot of territory to be taken by the Hebrews (Josh. 13:1). They still needed to conquer the Philistines, the Canaanites in the southern part of their territory, the land of the Sidonians in the north, and so on (vv. 2-6). YHWH promised to drive all these people out before Israel eventually, yet He wanted them to go ahead and divide the land among the remaining 9½ tribes now (6-7).
Verses 8-14 review the territory already allotted to Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh. Verse 13 tells us “Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maachathites” in that region, but cohabited with those people groups in the land. Verses 15-20 name the individual cities allotted to Reuben. We are also informed that Moses killed five Midianite princes of Sihon, along with Balaam the soothsayer who tried to curse Israel (21-22). Verses 24-28 list the towns given to Gad. We’re told the names of the major settlements given to half of Manasseh in verses 29-31.
Twice in the chapter we are informed that the Levites received no land grant, since their inheritance was the offerings made to YHWH (14 & 33).
Joshua Chapter 14
The land west of the Jordan was allocated to the remainder of the two families of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) and the other eight tribes besides Reuben, Gad and Levi. The division of the territory was determined by lot, under the leadership of Joshua, Eleazar the priest, and the tribal heads (Josh. 14:1).
Before this all began, Caleb approached the committee and reminded them of the time 40 years earlier, when he and Joshua gave a good report after spying out the Promised Land, while the other ten explorers discouraged the people from going to possess it (c.f.—Num. 13-14 & Josh. 14:6-8). Moses promised the two of them that the land they had explored would belong to them and their descendants forever, “because you have wholly followed the LORD my God” (v. 9). Caleb boasted that, not only had YHWH kept him alive all this time, but at age 85 he was as strong as he had been at 40 and fully capable of going to war (10-11). Knowing the Lord would enable him to conquer it, Caleb asked for the toughest part of the territory he had explored as his inheritance—fully prepared to take on both the giants and fortified cities that had so terrified the other spies four decades earlier (12)! So Joshua blessed him and gave Caleb the territory of Hebron (at that time called Kirjath Arba) as his reward for devotion to YHWH (13-15).
Joshua Chapter 15
The first allotment of land went to the tribe of Judah (Josh. 15:1). Their southern border touched the territory of Edom, starting at the Dead Sea, swinging over through several cities to the Brook of Egypt and ending at the Mediterranean Sea (vv. 2-4). The eastern border followed the shoreline of the Dead Sea to the mouth of the Jordan River, where it drained into the Dead Sea (5). The northern border wobbled westward toward the Mediterranean Sea, skirting the city of Jerusalem and ending up at the coast past Ekron of the Philistines (6-11). Of course, its western border was the shoreline of the Mediterranean (12). For an excellent graphic of the territories allocated to each of the tribes, check out this map of the Tribal Allotments of Israel.
Caleb wasted no time conquering his territory. He “drove out the three sons of Anak” from Kirjath Arba, named for the father of these giants (13-14). Later the name of the city was changed to Hebron. Next, he went to Debir, known at that time as Kirjath Sepher (15). Caleb may have been strong, but must’ve lacked the stamina of his youth, since he offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to the man who would take this city for him (16). Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, took on the challenge and gained not only a wife, but also property and a spring of water, when Achsah requested it of her father (17-19). We see this bold young man again in Judges 3:9-11, when he served as the first deliverer of Israel after Joshua’s generation died out.
Joshua 15:20-62 lists all the major cities in Judah’s territory. Some of the better-known ones include: Beersheba, Ziklag, Lachish, one town called “the House of Dagon” [named after the fish-god of the Philistines]; Ekron, Ashdod and Gaza of the Philistines; Goshen, Carmel, Jezreel and En Gedi. If you add up all the numbers from this passage, I believe you will find that Judah was deeded 112 major cities from the Lord. Verse 63 tells us that the tribe of Judah was not able to get rid of the Jebusites in Jerusalem, so by the writing of this book, those pagan people still lived in the midst of Judah’s territory.
Joshua Chapter 16
The next lot fell to the tribes of Joseph (Josh. 16:1). The southern border of their territory started just north of Jericho at the Jordan River, went through the mountains to Bethel, swept down to Gezer and then wound up at the Mediterranean Sea (vv. 2-3).
Ephraim’s territory started at that southern border, followed along the Yarkon River and then arched over several cities back to Jericho. Some of the cities of Ephraim overlapped Manasseh’s territory (5-9). You can see their territory on the aforementioned map of the Tribal Allotments of Israel.
Unfortunately, the Ephraimites left some unconquered people in Gezer. So these Canaanites lived among them and served as forced laborers (10).
Joshua Chapter 17
The first two verses remind us that the descendants of Machir—the firstborn son of Joseph’s firstborn, Manasseh, were given Gilead and Bashan on the east side of the Jordan River (Josh. 17:1). Therefore, the territory west of the Jordan was divided between the rest of Manasseh’s family—namely, Abiezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Hepher and Shemida (v. 2).
In Numbers 27:1-11 we met the family of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, who had no sons but daughters only. The Lord had told Moses at that time that they were to receive their father’s inheritance, but that the girls were obligated to marry within their father’s extended family, so that the land would not be lost to another tribe (Num. 36). When these five ladies approached Moses’ successor, Joshua, to remind him of this arrangement, “he gave them an inheritance among their father’s brothers” (Josh. 17:3-4). Therefore, the descendants of Manasseh received ten shares of land west of the Jordan (vv. 5-6).
So Manasseh received the land north of the territory of Ephraim to the Kishon River, where it bordered Asher and Issachar’s territory. Its western edge was the Mediterranean Sea; the eastern border was the Jordan River. It also shared some cities with the neighboring tribes. (7-11)
Unfortunately, Manasseh, too, had some towns in the hill-country which were left unconquered, so there were Canaanites living among them (11-12). When they grew strong enough, the Israelites enslaved the interlopers, but they were not able to drive them out completely (13).
Even with these two substantial plots of land on the west side of the Jordan, in addition to the inheritance already given Machir’s descendants in the east, the children of Joseph did not think their territory was big enough (14). Joshua suggested they clear some of the forests in the land of the Perizzites and the giants to make more room (15). They insisted the mountains were not enough and that the Canaanites in the valley were better equipped with their chariots of iron (16). Joshua reminded them that they were a numerous and powerful tribe; therefore, they were not getting any more land (17). They would simply need to exert themselves and take the country as he had told them (18).
Joshua Chapter 18
After the land was subdued, all the tribes got together and set up the tabernacle in the heart of Israel’s territory—at Shiloh in the land of Ephraim (Josh. 18:1). To the seven tribes that had not yet received the allocation of their inheritance, Joshua said, “How long will you neglect to go and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers has given you?” (vv. 2-3).
He told them to appoint three men from each tribe to go and survey the land and report back to Joshua (4). Then it would be divided into seven parts, and they would cast lots to see who got what, just as had been done with the three groups so far (5-6). He reminded them that the Levites would not receive the same kind of property as the others, since YHWH was providing for them through the priesthood (7).
As ordered the men went and did what their leader told them, and then came back and wrote everything down in a book (8-9). Then Joshua cast lots and assigned territory to the rest of the tribes, beginning with Benjamin. You can get a rough idea of the land masses covered by referencing the Tribal Allotments of Israel.
Between the territories of Judah and Joseph, the Benjaminites were given a strip of land that extended from the Jordan River at Jericho and wound through the mountains, through the wilderness of Beth Aven, along the south side of Bethel and Beth Horon. Kereath Jearim of Judah was its far southwester corner, and then it skirted the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and the northern edge of Judah until it met with the top of the Dead Sea. (11-20). With the 12 + 14 cities listed, Benjamin was allotted a total of 26 major cities (21-28).
Joshua Chapter 19
Next, fulfilling Jacob’s ancient prophecy that Simeon would be “scattered in Israel” this tribe received its inheritance in the midst of Judah (c.f.—Gen. 49:5-7 & Josh. 19:1). Because the territory of Judah was too large for that tribe, Simeon was given a total of 17 major cities and their villages in the heart of Judah’s allotment (vv. 2-9).
Third, Zebulun received a wedge of land that started at the Kishon River on the border of Manasseh and flared out north and east from there. It encompassed 12 major cities and their villages—including a northern “House of Bread” [Bethlehem], not to be confused with the one in Judah’s territory (10-16).
Fourth, just below Zebulun was Issachar’s territory, which bordered Manasseh on the north from the Jordan River to the Kishon. It encompassed 16 cities, including Jezreel and Beth Shemesh (17-23).
Fifth was Asher, which was allotted the coast of the Mediterranean and villages inland from the Kishon River in the south to the Litani River in the north. It bordered Zebulun and Naphtali’s territory in the east. The land of Sidon was part of Naphtali’s territory—including the great city of Tyre. That and a total 21 other cities made up the territory of this northernmost tribe (24-31).
Naphtali received the sixth allotment. It bordered both the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee in the east, Zebulun in the south and Asher on the west. The Litani River formed its northern boundary. A total of 19 cities and their surrounding villages were included in Naphtali’s inheritance, including Hazor, Kadesh and Beth Shemesh (32-39).
The final tribe to receive an inheritance was Dan. Their territory was supposed to start at the seaport of Joppa and sweep eastward from there between Judah and Ephraim to Benjamin, encompassing 17 towns, including some in Philistine territory (40-46). But for some reason, they moved outside this territory to take a town named Leshem, which they renamed Dan (Josh. 19:47; see also Judges 18, which calls the town Laish).
After Joshua allocated the land to everyone else, he himself was given Timnath Serah in the mountains of Ephraim, which he had requested from the territory given his tribe (Josh. 19:49-50). So there, at the doorway to the tent of meeting, Joshua, the elders and Eleazar the priest finally completed their work of dividing the land among the tribes (v. 51).
Joshua Chapter 20
Next came the business of appointing cities of refuge—where the person who had accidentally killed someone could run to and escape the avenger of the victim’s death (Josh. 20:1-3). The elders of the city would hold a preliminary hearing at the city gates to determine whether the man had killed the other out of malice and aforethought, or by accident—in which case he would be shielded from the avenger and stand trial before a larger court (vv. 4-6 & 9). By law, only after the death of the presiding high priest could a manslayer return home.
As prescribed in Numbers 35:13-14, they appointed three cities west of the Jordan, in addition to the three already on the east side, for a total of six cities in Israel (Josh. 20:7-8). These were Kadesh in Galilee in the territory of Naphtali, Shechem in the territory of Ephraim, and Hebron in Judah.
Joshua Chapter 21
Next, the Levites approached the leaders, reminding them that the Lord had commanded through Moses that they should be given cities and communal land to graze their livestock (Josh. 21:1-2). So from the various tribes, this is what was provided for each of the family divisions of Levi:
- The Kohathites, recipients of the first lot, were given 13 cities from Judah, Simeon and Benjamin for the Aaronic priests (v. 4). These including the city of Hebron [its fields and villages were retained by Caleb], Libnah and seven other cities from Judah and Simeon; plus Gibeon, Anathoth and two other cities from Benjamin (9-18).
- Another 10 cities from Ephraim, Dan and the western half of Manasseh were given to the non-priestly families of Kohath (5). Shechem and three other cities were given by Ephraim, four from Dan and two from the western half of Manasseh (20-26).
- The Gershonites received 13 cities from Issachar, Asher and Naphtali, as well as the eastern half of Manasseh (6). Golan in Bashan and one other city came from the eastern half of Manasseh; four cities each from Issachar and Asher and three from Naphtali (27-33).
- The Merarites received 12 cities from the tribes of Reuben and Gad (7). Four cities each came from Zebulun, Reuben and Gad, including Ramoth-Gilead, Mahanaim and Heshbon (34-40).
The total number of cities distributed among the Levites was 48, each with a certain amount of grazing land around each city (41-42).
The final verses of this chapter testify to the faithfulness of YHWH: He gave them all the land He’d promised them, allowing them to occupy and possess it; He gave them victory over and rest from all their enemies (43-44). Verse 45 concludes, “Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.”
Joshua Chapter 22
Next, Joshua called the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, who had chosen to live on the east side of the Jordan River (Josh. 22:1). He commended them for following through on their commitment to help the rest of the Israelites secure their heritage and released them to return to their new homes and their families (vv. 2-4). He also made a point of commanding them “to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,” before blessing the 2½ tribes and sending them on their way. (5-6). They were returning with a whole lot of spoils from the enemies they had defeated, which Joshua advised the warriors to divide with those they had left behind in their territory to the east (7-9).
As they approached the Jordan River, the 2½ tribes erected “a great, impressive altar” on the western side of the river (10). When the other tribes found out, they were literally up in arms about it (11-12). From Shiloh, where they had gathered to go to war against their relatives, the ten tribes sent a delegation headed by Phinehas, son of Eleazar the priest and a leader from each of the western tribes to confront the Transjordan tribes (13-15).
Thinking the worst of their brethren, the delegates said, “What treachery is this that you have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the LORD, in that you have built for yourselves an altar, that you might rebel this day against the LORD?” (16). They reminded the others of the trouble they experienced when Israel sacrificed to Baal of Peor, and how the congregation was still suffering the repercussions of that transgression (Josh. 22:17; c.f.—Num. 25:1-9). They worried that any sin the men of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh might commit would soon infect and affect the rest of the tribes (Josh. 22:18). If the land of their inheritance was somehow unclean, the others urged the 2½ tribes to come claim land for themselves on the other side of the river (19). In conclusion, they reminded the Transjordan tribes of how Achan’s sin brought about not only his death but also cost others their lives (c.f.—Josh. 7 & 22:20).
The Reubenites, Gadates and the half tribe of Manasseh were quick to rise to their defense, asserting that YHWH, the God of gods, knew their hearts and that they did not do this in rebellion (21-22). They had no intention of offering anything on the over-sized altar they had built; rather, it was a precautionary measure, in case the other tribes should attempt to exclude their descendants from the temple of YHWH in the future (23-25). They meant for the altar to serve as a witness between their children and the descendants of the other tribes, proving they had just as much right to worship YHWH as the tribes in the west (26-29).
When Phinehas and company heard this, they were pleased with the answer and said, “Today we know that the LORD is with us, because you have not acted unfaithfully toward the LORD in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the LORD’s hand” (Josh. 22:30-31, NIV). When they reported back to the rest of the tribes, everyone was satisfied and broke off their preparations for war (vv. 32-33). Meanwhile, the Transjordan tribes named their monument, Ed, which is Hebrew for “witness,” stating it was “a witness between us that the LORD is God” (34).
Joshua Chapter 23
Years later, an aged Joshua called all the leaders of Israel together and said, “I am an old man now. You have seen everything the LORD your God has done for you during my lifetime. The LORD your God has fought for you against your enemies” (Josh. 23:1-3, NLT). He reminded them that he had divided all their inheritance—both what the Israelites had already conquered under Moses’ and his commands, as well as that which remained to be taken (v. 4). He assured them YHWH their God would surely drive out the remaining nations before them, just as He had promised (5).
Knowing he was going to die soon, Joshua urged them to be courageous and keep the Law that Moses had given them (6). They were not to associate in any way with the pagan nations that lived among them, nor worship their gods in any way (7). They were to love YHWH wholeheartedly, recognizing it was He who gave them victory over their enemies, so that one could chase a thousand (8-11).
Should they fail to conquer their enemies, but choose to intermarry with them and adopt their customs, Joshua warned that things would not continue to go well for them: God would “no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you” (12-13).
The leader reminded Israel again that God had done everything He said (14). Just as all the good things YHWH had promised had taken place while they did what they were told, so the people could be certain that the bad things He had foretold would come upon them until they were destroyed, should they choose to disobey (15-16).
Joshua Chapter 24
Finally, Joshua gathered everyone together at Shechem (Josh. 24:1). Under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, he gave Israel a history lesson, starting with Abraham and continuing up to the conquest of the land (vv. 2-11). He said that the Lord had driven out the nations and given Israel a land for which they hadn’t labored, cities they didn’t build, plus vineyards and olive groves they hadn’t planted (12-13).
The retired general urged his people to “fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt” (14). Apparently, even the generation that had witnessed God’s discipline in the wilderness had chosen to hang onto the idols their parents had brought along with them from Egypt and Ur. Joshua said if YHWH wasn’t the God of their choice, then they should choose then and there whom they would serve—“whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell” (15a). In an oft-quoted statement of faith, Joshua asserted, “But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15b, NLT).
Recalling the miracles YHWH had performed and the victories He had given them, the Israelites said they would serve no other gods (16-18). Playing ‘devil’s advocate,’ Joshua said:
“You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good” (19-20).
Nevertheless, the people insisted YHWH was their choice, so Joshua urged them to put away their false gods and turn to the Lord alone (21-23).
When they vowed, “The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!” Joshua made a covenant with them, wrote everything down and set up a standing stone as a testimony of all they had said (24-27). Then everyone left the tabernacle and went home (28).
Joshua died at the ripe old age of 110 and was buried in his own territory (29-30). Verse 31 tells us: “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel.”
As Joseph had requested in Genesis 50:25, and Moses and his contemporaries had undertaken to fulfill according to Exodus 13:19, the Israelites finally interred the bones of Joseph “in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver” (Josh. 24:32). This historical record concludes by telling us Eleazar the priest died and was buried on a hill in the territory of Ephraim, which had been allotted to Phinehas his son (v. 33).
Not only is this book filled with exciting stories of conquest and victory, it’s also a great reminder to us to be faithful to God. When we trust in Him, rather than our own strength and understanding, amazing things happen. When we rely on ourselves, however; disaster can occur. Like Joshua, I’d rather experience the courage, success and blessing that come from obedience and submission to YHWH; rather than the fear, disappointment and defeat that result from anything less!
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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