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Israel in Canaan Under Joshua and the Judges


The Battle of Gibeon - Conquest of the South of Canaan - The Battle of Merom - Conquest of the North of Canaan - State of the land at the close of the seven-years' war.
(JOSHUA 10-12)

THE surrender of Gibeon would fill the kings of Southern Canaan with dismay. It was, so to speak, treason within their own camp; it gave Israel a strong position in the heart of the country and within easy reach of Jerusalem; while the possession of the passes leading from Gibeon would throw the whole south of Canaan open to their incursion. In the circumstances it natural that the chieftains of the south would combine, in the first place, for the retaking of Gibeon. The confederacy, which was under the leadership of Adoni-Zedek,*  king of Jerusalem,**  embraced Hoham,***  King of Hebron (about seven hours' south of Jerusalem); Piram,|*  king of Jarmuth, the present Jarmuk, about three hours' to the south-west of Jerusalem; Japhia,|**  king of Lachish, and Debir,||*  king of Eglon, both cities close to each other, and not far from Gaza, to the south-west of Hebron.

* The reader will notice the significant change from Melchi-Zedek, "My King righteousness," to Adoni-Zedek, "My Lord righteousness," marking the change of dynasties. See History of the Patriarchs, p.86.

** Jerusalem, either the habitation of peace, or the possession of peace - perhaps originally the habitation of Shalem.

*** Hoham: "the Jehovah of the multitude."

|* Piram: "coursing about," wild and free.

|** Japhia: exalted.

||* Debir: scribe.

The march of the combined kings was evidently rapid, and the danger pressing, for it seems to have found the Gibeonites wholly unprepared, and their entreaty to Joshua for immediate succor was of the most urgent kind. That very night Joshua marched to their relief with "all the people of war, that is, the mighty men of valor."* 

* We have so rendered the Hebrew particle "and" which is here used explanatively.

The relieving army came upon the enemy as "suddenly" as they had appeared in sight of Gibeon. It was probably very early in the morning when Joshua and his warriors surprised the allied camp. Gibeon lay in the east, surrounded, as in a semicircle, north, west, and south, by its three confederate cities. The five kings had pushed forward within that semicircle, and camped in the "open ground at the foot of the heights of Gibeon." Animated by the assurance which God had expressly given Joshua: "Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee," the host of Israel fell upon them with an irresistible rush. The Canaanites made but a short stand before their unexpected assailants; then fled in wild confusion towards the pass of Upper Beth-horon, "the house of caves." They gained the height before their pursuers, and were hurrying down the pass of the Nether Beth-horon, when a fearful hailstorm, such as not unfrequently sweeps over the hills of Palestine, burst upon them. It was in reality "the Lord" who, once more miraculously employing natural agency, "cast down great stones from heaven upon them;" "and they were more which died from the hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword."* 

* A German writer has noticed that a similar hailstorm determined the battle of Solferino against the Austrians in 1859

It was but noon; far behind Israel in the heaven stood the sun over Gibeon, and before them over Ajalon in the west hung the crescent moon. The tempest was extinguishing day and light, and the work was but half done. In the pass to Nether Beth-horon Israel might be readily divided; at any rate, the enemy might escape before their crushing defeat had assured safety to Gibeon, and given the south of Palestine to Israel. Now, or never, was the time to pursue the advantage. Oh, that the sun would once more burst forth in his brightness; oh, that the all too short day were protracted "until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies!" Then it was that Joshua burst into that impassioned prayer of faith, which is quoted in the sacred text from the "Book of Jasher," - or "Book of the Pious," - apparently, as we infer from 2 Samuel 1:18, a collection of poetical pieces, connected with the sublimest scenes in the history of the heroes of the kingdom of God. In this instance the quotation begins, as we take it, Joshua 10:12, and ends with ver. 15. This is proved by the insertion in ver. 15 of a notice, which in the historical narrative occurs only in ver. 43. For it is evident that Joshua did not return to Gilgal immediately after the battle of Gibeon (ver. 21), but pursued the war as described in the rest of ch. 10, till the whole south of Palestine was reduced. Thus verses 12-15 are a quotation from "the Book of the Pious," inserted within the Book of Joshua, the narrative of which is resumed in ver. 16. The quotation reads as follows:

"Then spake Joshua to Jehovah,
In the day Jehovah gave the Amorite before the sons of Israel,
And he spake in the sight of Israel.
Sun, on Gibeon rest still,* 
And moon, on the valley of Ajalon!
And still rested the sun, And the moon stood,
Till the people were avenged on their foes.
(Is not this written in the 'Book of the Pious?')
And the sun stood in mid-heaven,
And hasted not to go - like (as on) a complete day.** 
And there was not like that day, before or after,
That Jehovah hearkened to the voice of man - For Jehovah warred for Israel!
And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him to the camp, to Gilgal."***

* The word probably means "to become dumb." Accordingly, a recent Italian writer has regarded it as a poetical expression for "ceasing to shine," and treated the event as an eclipse of the sun. But the context shows that this view is untenable, and that "to become dumb" means here to rest silent or stand still.

** That is, like any ordinary complete day. We attach considerable importance to our rendering as here proposed.

*** It is impossible here to enter on a detailed criticism. Substantially our view is that of all the best critics, except that some regard the five lines after the parenthesis as the remarks of him who inserted in the Book of Joshua the quotation from the Book of Jasher. But the poetical terms used in these five last lines render this view, to say the least of it, most improbable. Poetical expressions, similar to those used in the text, will recur to the reader, specially Judges 5:20: "the stars fought out of their courses (not "in their courses," as in Authorized Version) against Sisera." See also Psalm 18:10; 29:6; 114:4-6; Isaiah 34:3; 55:12; 64:1; Amos 9:13; Micah 1:4. The passage Habakkuk 3:11 does not refer to the event in the text, as its correct rendering is: "The sun and moon enter into their habitation," that is, go into shadow. Our view does not, of course, militate against a miraculous intervention on the part of God.

And God hearkened to the voice of Joshua. Once more the sun burst forth, and the daylight was miraculously protracted till Israel was avenged of its enemies. Onwards rolled the tide of fugitives, hotly pursued by Israel, through the pass of Nether Beth-horon to Azekah, and thence to Makkedah.*  Here tidings were brought to Joshua, that the five kings had hid themselves in one of the caves with which that district abounds. But Joshua would not be diverted from his object. He ordered large stones to be rolled to the mouth of the cave, and its entrance to be guarded by armed men, while the rest of the army followed the enemy and smote their "rearguard." Only broken remnants of the fugitives found shelter in the "fenced cities." Joshua himself had camped before the city of Makkedah. Thither the pursuing corps returned, and thence the war was afterwards carried on (10:21, 29). On the morning after the victory, the five confederate kings were brought from their hiding-place. In a manner not uncommon in ancient times,**  Joshua made his captains put their feet upon the necks of the prostrate kings, who had so lately gone forth boastfully in all the pride and. pomp of war. But the lesson which Israel was to learn from their victory was not one of self-confidence in their supposed superiority, but of acknowledgment of God and confidence in Him: "Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall Jehovah do to all your enemies against whom ye fight."

* The locality of these two places has not been ascertained.

** It seems even to have been practiced by the Byzantine emperors long after the Christian era. See the reference given, Bynaeus in Kid's Commentary, p. 81.

The death of these five kings proved only the beginning of a campaign which may have lasted weeks, or even months, for we find that successors of these five kings afterwards shared their fate. In the end, the whole south of Canaan was in the hands of Israel, though some of the cities taken appear to have been afterwards again wrested from them, and occupied by the Canaanites.*  The extent of the conquest is indicated (10:41) by a line drawn south and north, westwards - "from Kadesh-barnea even unto Gaza" - and eastwards, "from the district of Goshen**  unto Gibeon."

* Such as Gezer (10:33), Hebron, and Debir (14:12; 15:13-17; comp. Judges 1:10-15). Masius rightly observes, that in this expedition Joshua had rather rapidly swept over the south of Palestine than permanently and wholly occupied the country.

** Of course not the province of that name in Egypt, but a district in the south of Judah, probably deriving its name from the town of that name (15:51).

The campaign thus finished in the south had soon to be renewed in the north of Canaan. The means, the help, and the result were the same as before. Only, as the danger was much greater, from the multitude of Israel's opponents - "even as the sand that is upon the sea-shore," - and from their formidable mode of warfare ("horses and chariots very many"), hitherto unknown to Israel, the Lord once more gave express assurance of victory: "I will deliver them up all slain before Israel." At the same time He enjoined "to hough (or hamstring) their horses, and burn their chariots with fire," lest Israel should be tempted to place in future their trust in such weapons. The allied forces of the northern enemy were under the leadership of Jabin,*   king of Hazor,**  which "beforetimes was the head of all those kingdoms." They consisted not only of the three neighboring "kings" (or chieftains) of Madon, Shimron, and Achshaph,***  but of all the kings "in the north and (on the mountain" (of Naphtali, Joshua 20:7), of those in the Arabah, south of the Lake of Gennesaret, of those "in the plains," or valleys that stretched to the Mediterranean, and in "the heights of Dor," at the foot of Mount Carmel - in short, of all the Canaanite tribes from the Mediterranean in the south-west up to Mizpeh|*  "the view") under Mount Hermon in the far north-east.

* Jabin seems to have been the title of the kings of Hazor (Judges 4:2).

** Hazor in the mountains, north of Lake Merom, was afterwards rebuilt, and again became the seat of royalty (Judges 4:2; 1 Samuel 12:9). Thence Sisera issued against Israel.

*** The locality of these three places has not been ascertained; but they seem to have been in the neighborhood of Hazor.

|* There were several places throughout the land bearing the name of "Mizpeh" or "view." This Mizpeh was probably the modern village Mutulleh, which also means "prospect," situated on a hill two hundred feet high, north of Lake Merom, whence there is a splendid view.

With the rapidity and suddenness which characterized all his movements, Joshua fell upon the allied camp by the Lake Merom (the modern el-Huleh), and utterly routed the ill-welded mass of the enemy. The fugitive Canaanites seem to have divided into three parts, one taking the road north-west to "Zidon the Great," another that west and south-west to the "smelting-pits by the waters" (Misrephoth-Maim), and the third that to the east leading to the valley of Mizpeh. In each direction they were hotly pursued by the Israelites. One by one all their cities were taken. Those in the valleys were burnt, but those on the heights, with the exception of Hazor, left standing, as requiring only small garrisons for their occupation. Altogether the war in the south and north must have occupied at least seven years,*  at the end of which the whole country was in the possession of Israel, from the "smooth mountain (Mount Halak) that goeth up to Seir," - that is, the white chalk mountains in the chain of the Azazimeh, in the Negeb - as far north as "Baal-gad," the town dedicated to "Baal" as god of "fortune," the Caesarea Philippi of the Gospels (11:16- 18). More than that, Joshua also drove the Anakim, who had inspired the spies with such dread, from their original seats in the mountains,**  and in and around Hebron, Debir, and Anab into the Philistine cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. From ch. 15:14 we infer that they shortly afterwards returned, but were conquered by that veteran hero, Caleb.

* This we gather from Joshua 14:10. From it we learn that forty-five years had elapsed since the spies returned to Kadesh. But as thirty-eight of these were spent in the wanderings in the wilderness, it follows that the wars for the occupation of Canaan must have lasted seven years.

** In Joshua 11:21 a distinction is made between "the mountains of Judah" and "the mountains of Israel." This, strange as it may sound, affords one of the undesigned evidences of the early composition of the Book of Joshua. "When Judah entered on his possession," observes a German critic, "all the other tribes were still in Gilgal (14:6; 15:1). Afterwards, when Ephraim and Manasseh entered on theirs, all Israel, except Judah, were camped in Shiloh (16:1; 18:1), these two possessions being separated by the still unallotted territory which later was given to Benjamin (18:11). What more natural than that 'the mountain' given to the 'children of Judah' should have been called 'the mountain of Judah,' and that where all the rest of Israel camped, 'the mountain of Israel,' and also 'the mountain of Ephraim' (19:50; 20:7), because it was afterwards given to that tribe?"

To sum up all, we find that the wars under Joshua put Israel into possession of Canaan and broke the power of its inhabitants, but that the latter were not exterminated, nor yet all their cities taken by Israel (13:1-6; 17:14, etc.; 18:3, 23:5, 12). Indeed, such a result could scarcely have been desirable, either in reference to the country or to Israel, while, from Exodus 23:28-30 and Deuteronomy 7:22, we know that from the beginning it had not been the Divine purpose. But there was also a higher object in this. It would teach that a conquest, begun in the power of God and in believing dependence on Him, must be completed and consolidated in the same spirit. Only thus could Israel prosper as a nation. Canaan had been given to Israel by God, and given to their faith. But much was left to be done which only the same faith could achieve. Any conformity to the heathen around, or tolerance of heathenism, any decay of the spirit in which they had entered the land, would result not only in weakness, but in the triumph of the enemy. And so it was intended of the Lord. The lesson of all this is obvious and important. To us also has our Joshua given entrance into Canaan, and victory over our enemies - the world, the flesh, and the devil. We have present possession of the land. But we do not yet hold all its cities, nor are our enemies exterminated. It needs on our part constant faith; there must be no compromise with the enemy, no tolerance of his spirit, no cessation of our warfare. Only that which at first gave us the land can complete and consolidate our possession of it.

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