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.