Joshua 12

Chapter twelve brings us to the halfway point of the book and summarizes the end of the desert wandering (Numbers 21) and the first half of Joshua. In Joshua 12:1-6 Joshua recounted the defeat of “the kings of the land…on the east side of the Jordan.” These were taken care of while Moses still led the nation, before they crossed into Canaan. These included primarily the Amorites and Rephaites. This land was given to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh.

Joshua 12:7-24 lists “a total of thirty-one kings” whom Joshua led the people in defeating “on the west side of the Jordan.” These nations included “the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, and Jebusites.” It is important to note that they conquered only the main fortified strongholds in these regions, not each individual village or even entire nations. It was left to the tribes to clear their lands completely.

Joshua 11

Chapter eleven is essentially a replay of chapter ten, but in the north. Not learning from the utter destruction of the coalition of the southern kings, King Jabin of Hazor formed a coalition of kings from northern Canaan intent on defeating Israel (Joshua 11:1-5). No matter how many warriors Israel had, facing an army “as numerous as the sand on the seashore and…a large number of horses and chariots” must have struck fear into them.

God promised Joshua that Israel would win this battle in a single day and commanded them to hamstring all of the horses once it was over (Joshua 11:6-15). For some people, this seems cruel, especially since no specific reason is given in this chapter. Why did the horses need to suffer this fate? It likely has to do with God’s instructions in Deuteronomy 17:16. Prophesying that the people would one day ask for a king, God instructed that their king “not accumulate horses for himself.” Doing so would reveal a heart that trusted in military strength rather than on God. Thus, instead of letting Israel keep the war horses, they were to disable them, demonstrating their trust in God. In one of the best epitaphs of Scripture we read, “Joshua did as he was told. He did not ignore any of the commands the LORD had given Moses.”

The rest of the chapter (Joshua 11:16-23) is a brief summary of the land that Israel conquered from the Negev (far south) to the Lebanon Valley (far north). Verse 18 notes that this took “quite some time.” Specifically, it took about seven years to conquer all of Canaan (subtract the 38 years of wandering in the desert in Deuteronomy 2:14 from Caleb’s 45 years in Joshua 14:7-10). Only the Gibeonites made peace with Israel; the rest fought and were destroyed. Even the Anakites, whom the spies were deathly afraid of (Numbers 13:28), were no match against Jehovah going before the Israelites.

Joshua 5

Chapter five concludes the preparations necessary before the Israelites could begin their conquest of Canaan. In Joshua 5:2-9 a bit of history was necessary. The physical sign of God’s covenant that set Abraham apart from the nations around him was the circumcision of his sons (Genesis 17:9-14). The Israelites had done this for 600 years, until the Exodus, when God codified it into his Law. However, they did not continue to circumcise the sons born during the desert wandering, so when the second generation was ready to take the land, God told Joshua that they all needed to be circumcised first (approximately 602,000 men; Numbers 26:51).

In Genesis 34:25, when an entire village was circumcised, the men (understandably) were still in pain after three days. The nation had entered the land “on the tenth day of the first month” (Joshua 4:19) and celebrated their first Passover in the new land four days later, while they were still healing. Joshua recalled that they ate from the spring produce the next day, at which point the miraculous manna stopped appearing, and they never saw it again (Joshua 5:10-12; see Exodus 16:35).

God knew that Joshua needed one more assurance before beginning his conquest, so he gave him a special message. As Joshua (who had already been circumcised as a baby) stood surveying Jericho, he saw a man standing near him, holding a sword (Joshua 5:13-15). With his army still recuperating, he certainly had cause to be concerned of a possible sneak attack, so he challenged the man as to whose side he was on. His answer was both humbling and thrilling: “I am the commander of the LORD’s army. Now I have arrived!” Joshua must have recognized him and his voice at this point; he had stood by Moses countless times as Moses talked with Jehovah over the previous decades. This was not just a voice from heaven or a dream; the pre-incarnate Son was standing there, ready to lead all of Heaven’s army ahead of Joshua. Joshua asked what God wanted. The reply was simple: submission to Jehovah and worship. “The place where you stand is holy.”