A Campaign Brought to Completion

Under Joshua’s leadership, Israel swept through Canaan and destroyed every city of the Canaanites. His first great victory was at Jericho. Next, he avenged the bitter defeat at Ai by crushing both Ai and Bethel. Then he defeated an alliance of kings in the south, in the hill country west of Jordan.

Joshua 11:1-5

News of Israel’s victories spread quickly throughout the region. The kings of the north saw that Israel had conquered not only all the land east of the Jordan, but now all the land west of the Jordan as well except for Philistine territory. It looked as if they were next. The leading city north of Galilee was Hazor in Syria. Its king, Jabin, sent out messengers to all the nations on three sides, to the west, north, and south, inviting them to come together in a grand alliance against Israel. The nations that consented to join included Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Hivites—all the pagan peoples that God long ago had sworn to remove from the land (Gen. 15:18-21).

The nations doomed to be destroyed gathered a huge army at the waters of Merom, a large lake directly north of the Sea of Galilee. Their horse-drawn chariots were the latest in military equipment. The weapons of the Israelites were primitive by comparison. The number of enemy soldiers was too great to be counted, like the sand of the sea.

Joshua 11:6

Even as the enemy assembled its forces, Joshua and his men were marching north. When he approached the waters of Merom, he heard, perhaps through spies, where the enemy was waiting. He heard also how large and strong the enemy was. But God told him not to be afraid. He promised that within twenty-four hours the entire enemy host would be slain.

Joshua 11:7-8

Joshua resorted to the same strategy that worked before. He hurried his men along and caught the enemy by surprise. When the Israelites suddenly fell upon them, the Canaanite soldiers scrambled to defend themselves, but it was too late. The Israelites quickly penetrated their lines and assaulted them from all sides. Soon, each enemy soldier was fighting just to save his own life. There was nothing he could do but flee. Within a short time after the battle began, the surviving warriors on the losing side were spilling out of the battlefield and running in all directions. The Israelites ran in pursuit, until the two armies were scattered over a wide area. Some of the enemy managed to get as far as the great city of Sidon in the west or the valley of Mizpeh in the east. But none escaped. Israel cut them all down. None of the enemy reached day’s end alive.

Joshua 11:9

After the battle, Joshua gathered all the enemy’s horses and chariots. In obedience to a command that the Lord gave him before the battle, he burned the chariots and "houghed" (pronounced "hoofed") the horses. It is obvious that the Lord did not want Israel to upgrade its military technology. If they had chariots, they might become confident in their own strength. The Lord did not want them to lose the privilege of saying with the psalmist, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God" (Psa. 20:7).

Joshua’s treatment of the horses shows compassion. He "houghed" them, which means that he slit a tendon in one leg, making it impossible for the horse to run or do heavy work, although it might still do light work. Thus, he did not kill them. Rather, he kept them alive and made them useful only for peace, not for war.

Joshua 11:10-18

Joshua next took his army to the city of Hazor. He captured the city, killed Jabin its king with the sword, and burnt the city to the ground. He did not want it to reemerge as the leading city in the region, lest in that prominence it should become a center of opposition to Israel.

Delving Deeper

Archaeological evidence

The ruins of ancient Hazor are the most extensive uncovered by archaeologists in the present land of Israel.1 At the lowest level they found a city spread out over 175 acres that had been destroyed by fire. The massive burn layer can be dated to the same time as Joshua's conquest of Jericho; that is, the so-called Middle Bronze Age. Within the ruins of the city palace, diggers found a tablet naming the king as Jabin, in agreement with the account in Joshua.2

Then for a long time, Joshua waged war against other northern cities until finally they were all taken and all the people destroyed. Yet Hazor was the only city besides Jericho that Joshua set on fire. He did not want Canaan to be a wasteland. Rather, he wanted it to be a place where the Israelites could immediately make themselves comfortable. When they went to occupy the land, they found nice homes already built for them, strong cities already developed, vineyards and olive groves already planted. Besides all this, it was a land overflowing with milk and honey (Num. 13:27). It was indeed a land of promise.

Joshua 11:19-20

As we have noted earlier, the merciless extermination of the Canaanites proceeded from their refusal to make peace with Israel and Israel's God. The text here says that the Lord hardened their hearts. It does not mean that God saw within them a simmering desire to become His servants also, but He extinguished it. No, He never hinders a person coming to repentance and faith, although he or she is the worst of the human race. Rather, the text means that He hardened the Canaanites' hearts against any attempt at peacemaking solely for the purpose of surviving as Israel's neighbors and maintaining their pagan civilization.

Doubtless the Canaanites had heard through process of rumor and through ancient channels of news that Israel's God had imposed on His people a rigid code of moral law, radically more demanding than their own legal codes. Their world in fact tolerated extreme wickedness in daily practice. Yet instead of coming to Israel's God and seeking His forgiveness, they stood away and resolved to preserve their wicked world if at all possible. God blinded them to the option of preserving it by pursuing peace. Therefore, they resolved to fight. They proved that rather than repent, they would prefer to die, so God gave them their preference. He commanded their slaughter.

Was the judgment that He decreed lacking in mercy? No, consider God's words to Abraham at least four hundred years earlier. After declaring that He was setting aside the vast territory including the land of the Amorites as an inheritance for Abraham's descendants, He added, "And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they [that is, your descendants] shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full" (Gen. 15:15–16). To gain the land for Abraham's promised seed, God did not immediately bring its current occupants under a stroke of judgment, because, in mercy, He was giving them more time to consider the evil drift of their society and to correct it by seeking a relationship with the righteous God who created them. He withheld wrath to allow repentance. But instead of turning in a better direction, the Amorites in coming years sank into worse and worse depravity. At last, His holy character required that He terminate their evil world.

How bad were the Amorites and Canaanites and other peoples of Canaan? Leviticus 18 is God's sobering indictment. He says, "For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled" (Lev. 18:27). These abominations include incest (vv. 6–18), homosexuality (v. 22), bestiality involving both men and women (v. 23), and sacrificing babies to the pagan god Molech (v. 21).

We forget that slaughtering the Canaanites was actually a touch of mercy upon the innocent among them. All the children died before the age of accountability. Therefore, they were spared from eternal punishment, and perhaps we will someday help their resurrected souls become integrated into the society of heaven.

Joshua 11:21-23

In the main territory of Canaan, the only remaining enemies to overcome were the Anakim, the race of giants who occupied cities in the hill country west of Jordan. Their chief center was the city of Hebron, not far south of Bethlehem. Therefore, Joshua led his people into war against them. The new campaign was wholly successful. Not only did Israel drive the Anakim from Hebron, but they rooted them out of all their strongholds in the hill country and utterly destroyed them.

The only survivors were the Anakim living in cities that Israel failed to conquer—in particular, the cities of the Philistines along the coast. It was from these, including Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod, that the giants reemerged in later years to trouble Israel. The most famous member of their clan was Goliath, the giant that David slew with a sling and a stone. From the Bible’s description of Goliath, giving his height as six cubits and one span (1 Sam. 17:4), we know that the Anakim were about ten feet tall. (A cubit is about 18–21 inches; a span is about nine inches.3)

Spiritual Interpretation

As we showed in the last lesson, the prolonged day when the army of Israel completed its mission of conquest over the southern portion of Canaan is a picture of the Church Age. The war then was for land. In our time, it is a war for souls, a war that will last until all the foreknown and eternally loved children of God have been brought into His kingdom. The final confrontation on that day when the sun stood still was between Joshua and the five kings opposing Israel. Joshua heard that they had hidden themselves in a cave at Makkedah. When he brought forces to their hiding place, they were powerless to resist. They were simply taken into custody and executed.

We said that this final confrontation pictured the battle that will terminate the Church age: the so-called Battle of Armageddon. The occasion will be the Antichrist's attempt to resist the coming of Christ. He will amass all his forces and invade the land of Israel, but when Christ descends from the clouds, there will be no real battle. Christ will simply smite him and the False Prophet, cast them into the lake of fire, and enchain Satan in the bottomless pit.

Does Israel's battle with northern armies allied with Hazor also have prophetic meaning? The future of this world will be marked by two battles of decisive significance in the war between good and evil. The first will be the Battle of Armageddon, leading to Christ's supremacy over an earthly kingdom that will last for a thousand years, a period known as the Millennium. Yet at the end of the Millennium will come another battle also between God and Satan. It is generally known as the Battle of Gog and Magog (Rev. 20:7–10). The fullest description of this final clash of titanic proportions appears in the prophecies of Ezekiel (Ezek. 38:1-39:16). Like the Battle of Armageddon, the occasion will again be an invasion of Israel. Prophecy clearly teaches that it will be supported by an alliance of kings, most prominent being Gog, identified as ruler of Magog, Meshech, and Tubal (Ezek. 38:1)—all generally identified as northern countries.4 Moreover the invasion will come from the north (Ezek. 38:14; 39:2) and will be defeated when God smites Gog's host upon the mountains of Israel (Ezek. 39:4). As the last battle before God's people occupy their Promised Land, which is the new heaven and new earth, it would seem to be the future event foreshadowed in Joshua 11 by the last battle before Israel gained full possession of Canaan.


  1. "Tel Hazor," Web (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tel_Hazor), 10/30/17.
  2. Thinking Man Films, Patterns of Evidence: Exodus (St. Louis Park, Minn.: Patterns of Evidence, 2015).
  3. Merrill F. Unger, "Metrology," in Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 720.
  4. Ralph H. Alexander, Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), 122.