Joshua 11: Final Combat
January 23, 2011 Series: Joshua: Lord's Army
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Joshua 11:1–11:23
An uncivilized God
Because of the extreme level of sauciness with today’s text, I’d like to begin with a warning. Heb. 3.12-13 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The text of Joshua 11 is an offensive one, one that will tempt you toward unbelief in how God describes himself. If his description doesn’t challenge you, disturb you, and fill you with a sense of awe, then either you don’t understand what it says OR you don’t believe it. Joshua 11 causes me to fear and worship, because I realize that He is bigger than the box I had Him in.
Reading the Old Testament
We do not have a God who is tame, who fits in the box I have created for Him, who even reveals everything about himself. He is wild, he is big, and he is a mystery. I begin this because I have learned first hand how we tend to read Old Testament passages as if they are part of an old irrelevant book written by an old version of God whose day has come and gone. With pride we look back at what we consider an uncivilized people and believe we’re better; and we arrogantly look down on what we consider an uncivilized God and believe we’re nicer. God is not civilized if civilized means a house-broken God I can control. He is very much uncivilized and in control. And if we dismiss passages like Joshua 11 as full of antiquated descriptions, then we exchange the living sovereign Creator who never changes, for a dead idol we create that changes with our unbelieving heart. The book of Joshua was not only written for future generations to rejoice because God kept His promise to the Jewish people. It was written to clearly, sufficiently, and authoritatively reveal the character of the God who makes promises.
Our God began this story with a promise in: Genesis 15.18-20 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
Joshua is the divinely appointed leader in the Lord’s Army, fighting a war to possess this promised land.
After crossing the Jordan, God’s begins his attack with a central campaign and an attack on the strongholds of Jericho and Ai. This part of the war ended with a bad treaty and possession of the entire central plateau region. The southern campaign launched in response to an attack on Gibeon by the King of Jerusalem and his five cronies. As we read in Joshua 10, the southern campaign ends with their execution and eventual annihilation of all the cities in their confederation. In Joshua 11, the northern military campaign begins the same as the southern did, in response to an attack.
V. 1-5 God’s Sovereignty
When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, 2 and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, 3 to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. 4 And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. 5 And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.
Sovereignty and Impossible Odds
Jabin, the King of Hazor, leads the northern legion of doom. When he hears news of Israel’s Southern Conquest, like the king of Jerusalem before him, he sends to the other kings in the land. The kings agree to join forces and amass their state-of-the-art equipped troops together to attack Israel at the waters of Merom, just north of Palestine. The writer spends some time describing the enemy force. He gives lengthy details about the names of kings, tribes, ethnic groups, geographic areas. And because we know that Joshua is ultimately successful, as the writer does when he writes, we see that if he only wanted to report what happened, he could have easily written a nice one-sentence summary. We see his greater purpose revealed in verse 4; here he makes a point to metaphorically compare the number of troops to sands on the seashore, sand with cruise missles and tanks. The enemy is overwhelming. Despite their past success, the enemy has every numerical, and technological advantage over Israel. Our view of the power of sin to kill, destroy, and overwhelm not only determine how you view your need for sanctification, but it will also determine the means for it. In other words, the power of sin makes the supremacy of God that much more awesome and needed.
V. 6-9 Fear and God’s Sovereignty
In the face of impossible odds, God assures Joshua of His power and sovereignty: 6 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” 7 So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. 8 And the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. 9 And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.
Fear, our greatest enemy
God desires for Israel to be secure in Him alone, not confident in their strength or fearful in apparent strength of their enemy. The very thing that the enemy might boast, He promises to destroy. He guarantees that the horses of their enemies will have their hind leg tendons cut and the chariots they pull will be burned. And it should be noted that God did not say, “Don’t worry, they are given into your hand” in some sort of general conquest say. Rather, God makes a point to identify the very thing that Joshua and Israel fear most—the power of men. The fear of man is the greatest enemy to worship of God. Fear is what drives us to appeal to find functional-saviors, apart from Jesus, to save us from our personal hell. Fear of poverty leads us to worship money; fear of loneliness leads us to worship relationships; fear of disrespect leads men to abuse women; fear of not being loved leads women to tolerate abusive men; fear of losing face with people leads us to lie; and fear of dealing with pain leads many to eat, drink, or use drugs to excess. God is the only thing worthy fearing. Luke 12.4-7 4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
In the midst of a fearful situation, God says DO NOT FEAR, I am here, I am faithful, I am sovereign. What does sovereign mean? We often use the phrase “God is sovereign” without explaining what it means. , The doctrine of sovereignty is mysterious, but a simple definition is: God’s exercise of power over His creation.[i] To break it down a bit, this means FIRST that Lord is in total control of the world he created; that He is in but not a part of. That world includes all of nature, people, history, and culture. The Bible teaches nothing good or evil happens apart from God’s direction, outside of His control, whether it is the birth of a baby, the re-birth of a Christian, the death of a solider in a war, or the death of a sparrow in the forest. Mysteriously, a perfectly good, gracious, and just God purposes ALL things, even evil, to demonstrate His worthiness and glory. SECOND, sovereignty also means that God not only has the power to do this, but by nature of being God the Creator, he possesses the supreme authority and right to do so—it is His creation. He is the one and only God; He is the Lord; He is the only one worthy of worship and devotion, the one we have the ability but not the right to question. God’s power and authority should lead us to be worship.
God’s Sovereignty and Our Effort
Even a solid definition doesn’t save us from an over-simplistic view. The Sovereignty of God is not supposed to create apathy, foolishly declaring “If God is in control of everything, why do anything.” As we see with Joshua, a solid understanding of Sovereignty should create confidence, which calls forth effort even to the point of reckless abandon in the face of fear. Sovereignty shouldn’t paralyze or restrain us; it should empower and liberate us. So, having received divine assurance in spite of what he sees, feels, or thinks he knows, Joshua acts immediately in faith and springs a surprise attack routing the enemy and laying waste to all of their people.
V. 10-15 Devotion and God’s Sovereignty
10 And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. 11 And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire. 12 And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured, and struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor alone; that Joshua burned. 14 And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the people of Israel took for their plunder. But every man they struck with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed. 15Just as the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.
Devotion of Man to God’s Command
In Joshua we see how God’s ideal servant is supposed to act—faithlessly and fearlessly obedient. Throughout the battles, the emphasis is never on his brutality, but his obedience. I pray that when I go home to be with Jesus, there is a VERSE 15 description for me—just as the Lord Commanded His Servant, Sam did (without excuse, without complaint, without delay). Just as Joshua’s success is not measured by the size of his army, the cleverness of his strategies, or the record of victories, neither will yours be. Joshua’s record is one that evidences his faithfulness to God’s Word, especially in chaotic situations when disobedience may appear to be a justifiable alternative. Our record will be measured by one thing: did I place my trust in the obedience of Jesus to the Father, and in His Spirit working through me for mine?
Devotion of God to His Holiness
Not only do we see the devotion of a man to God’s command, we also see the devotion of God to His Holiness. Joshua’s devotion amounts to taking all the land held by the northern kings, and devoting all of the people to destruction. So that we’re not mistaken about exactly what happens, verse 14 ends with, “they did not leave anyone who breathed.” Though it is not graphic, this section of Joshua represents one of the most violent passages in Scripture. Following God’s command, he kills everyone. How do we reconcile a God of love with this? We fight this because it is emotionally repulsive, and it should be. But do not let your repulsion lead you to judgment and unbelief. God loves us in our sin, but not before He loves Himself in His Holiness.
V. 16-20 Sin and God’s Sovereignty
But wait, it gets even more disturbing. And this is where your mind will begin to dismiss this as the Old Testament version of God or, worse, twist what it clearly says to make it easier to swallow. Read verse 16…16 So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. And he captured all their kings and struck them and put them to death. 18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.
Joshua made war
Read verse 20 again! Similar to Pharaoh in the Old Testament, the hearts of the Canaanites are described as being hardened by God, SO THAT, they will fight, SO THAT, they will not receive mercy, SO THAT they will die. Disturbed yet? And as they die, God is not showing mercy, but it’s not that he hadn’t shown them mercy up to this point. As I stated when we started the study of Joshua, these men were not only guilty before God they were guilty before men—evil and perverse. God told Abraham that he would show these people mercy for over 400 years, but that there would be a day His mercy would end. Genesis 15.16 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” God did the same with Pharaoh, telling him: Exodus 9.15 15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.17 You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go. God purpose for showing mercy, grace, love, etc. is to demonstrate HIS POWER, and PROCLAIM HIS NAME and GLORY as Lord of all.
The Heart of Man
God is Sovereign, even over the sinful choices of men they willingly make. Are they making them? Men are responsible for and make choices according to their sinful desires that result from their sinful nature which came through their sinful Daddy back in the garden. God hardened their hearts, but God did not make hard. After the fall, there was no such thing as a SOFT heart. Because of sin, ALL MEN resist God. Scripture speaks to the condition of sinful men, describing them as dead, hostile toward God, refusing to seek God, knowing the truth and yet exchanging it for a lie. The Bible uses the heart as a metaphor for the core of who we are intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. It is the control center of our lives. Jesus says in Matthew 15.19 19 … out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. The prophet Jeremiah (17.9) says that the 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? In other words, man’s heart is already HARD—and the prophet Ezekiel describes it as a STONE.
Scripture teaches that God makes the HARD Canaanite heart HARDER—he makes their hearts “heavy” and increases their resistance to God. He does this because, though man is totally sinful, he is not absolutely evil in every way. In other words, if left to themselves, these men probably would have surrendered, like Gibeon. This is a “bad” person doing a good thing in the same way that many people do what we would call “good” things for reasons apart from faith in God. Sometimes people do good to feel good themselves. Other times, they do good because they don’t want to face the consequences of doing bad. In the end, we can say that any good that doesn’t proceed from faith cannot glorify God and is therefore sinful. God says in Isaiah 64.6 our good works are no better than filthy rags or polluted garments and again in Romans 14.23, For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin”
The Heart of God
They would have surrendered because, like a tortured terrorist, they have a breaking point. But that doesn’t make them American! They may choose not to die, but NOT because they would be choosing to love God. Like all men, they would remain rebellious to God unless God not only shows them mercy (by not killing them) but grace (by saving them). For one, he fairly gives what men justly deserve; for the other he gives what men don’t rightly deserve. For Jabin and the Canaanites, he hardened their hearts to resist God and fight against Him. For Joshua and Israel he actively softens that they might worship God and fight for Him. Over both, God is sovereign for the secret purposes of His plan to glorify Himself. And if you don’t like a God like that, you don’t know or believe in the God of the Bible then.
Conclusion V. 21-23 Sin and God’s Sovereignty
The chapter ends with a comprehensive summary that takes us back to where the story started, Numbers 13. Beginning in verse 21, 21 And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.
The First Promise
The writer ends the description of the conquest by mentioning the Anakim. Initially, when the 12 men first spied out the land of Canaan in Numbers 13, ten of them returned with a faithless report. They reported: .We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Anakim were a race of giants so BIG than their presence, irrationally, caused Israel to believe they were BIGGER than God. They ignored God’s Word, God’s promises and believed the promise of sin that said DISBELIEVE God’s Word, rebellion is safer, wiser, etc. It is a fitting end for the war, that the Lord declares Himself BIGGER than the BIGGEST thing in the land.
Do not be Afraid
You will be tempted toward UNBELIEF. Do not give into your fears,. God is Bigger. Do not be afraid of what you know about men or about what you don’t know about God. Hold on tightly to what we know about our own heart and about the heart of God.We know that when men chose to disobey God, the world fell, but God didn’t. God remained unchanging, still perfectly just, loving, and faithful. His plan was to save his people and restore the relationship they had thrown off. His plan included sending his son to die as our substitute which, even in the brokenness of men, would require employing evil men to accomplish his purposes. God ordained, even caused, men to deny his Son that he might be killed because he had a greater plan, His Glory through our Redemption. His culture didn’t believe him, his disciples didn’t believe him, the government didn’t believe him, but God was in control at every step of the way. Acts 4.27 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
We may not have an answer to why, but do have a God who has revealed himself as one who hates sin, one who is merciful to us despite our sin, and one has given us a new heart to trust that He is God and we are not.
Psalm 115.1-3 Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
[i]Grudem, Wayne A.: Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich. : Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994, S. 1254