ISRAEL'S CONQUEST OF CANAAN

 Copyright, John T. Stevenson, 2000

Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.

From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun, will be your territory.(Joshua 1:3-4).

We stated in the chapter dealing with the birth of Israel that there are three things necessary for any nation.

The book of Joshua relates the account of the final step of Israel becoming a nation the taking of the Promised Land. This book is actually arranged in the format of a large Chiastic parallel.

Thus, it can be seen that this book begins and ends with a focus upon the Covenant of the Lord with His people.

This is the message of the book of Joshua. It is that God has been faithful to keep His promises regarding a land and an inheritance for His people.

Because God has been faithful in the keeping of His covenant relationship, so also the people of Israel are to be faithful in keeping the terms of the covenant.

 

THE CONQUEST OF TRANSJORDAN

When we speak of the Transjordan, we are referring to those lands which lay to the EAST of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. The conquest of the Transjordan took place during the closing years of the life of Moses.

1. Conquest of Heshbron.

The Amorites had carved out for themselves a kingdom from the lands of their Moabite neighbors that reached from the Jabbok River in the north to the Arnon River in the south. They called their kingdom Heshbron.

The Israelites had carefully avoided a military confrontation with Edom, Moab and Amon, detouring around their territories to camp at Mattanah on the Arnon River.

From here, they requested permission to pass through the territory of Sihon, king of the Amorite kingdom of Heshbron.

In response, he sent an army to intercept the Israelites at Jahaz where the Amorites were routed and Sihon was killed.

2. Conquest of Bashan.

Moving north, the Israelites crossed attacked the giant King Og, ruler of the Jabbok River and Bashan.

Bashan was the country on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a rich, fertile land and the tribes of Reuben and Gad received permission to settle here, provided that their men assist in the taking of the Promised Land.

At this point, Israel controlled all of the Transjordan from Mount Hermon to the Arnon River.

 

THE AMARNA TABLETS

A series of letters were discovered at the ancient Egyptian city of Akhenaton, located on the east bank of the Nile midway between Giza and Thebes. The city has since become known as Tell el-Amarna by the combining of two names:

a. El-Til is the name of the modern-day village in the area.

b. El-Amarna is one of the Arab tribes which has settled in the area.

In 1887, a peasant woman found some tablets in the ruins of Tell el-Amarna. She sold them for ten piastres. The tablets were offered to European scholars, but were suspected of being forgeries and were rejected. The tablets were taken to Luxor and sold to tourists. By the time that scholars realized the tablets were genuine, a number of the tablets had been sold. Excavations began in 1891 and a total of 400 tablets were eventually uncovered.

The tablets date to the 18th dynasty of Egypt, specifically during the reign of Akhenaton. These tablets consist correspondence between the Pharaoh of Egypt at the kings of the cities of Jerusalem, Gezer, Lachish, Jarmuth and Eglon. However, they are written in Akkadian, demonstrating that this was the language of international diplomacy.

In several of these letters, there are complaints and requests for protection from invading Hapiru, a nomadic people who were overrunning the land. Some of these Hapiru had been joined by the Canaanites and some had offered their services as mercenaries.

The interesting thing about these Amarna Tablets is what they do NOT mention. There are no letters from Jericho, Ai, Bethel, or Gibeon - those cities which were destroyed by Joshua.

 

THE TAKING OF JERICHO

Following the death of Moses, Joshua sent two spies across the Jordan River to spy out the land, with instructions to pay special attention to the city of Jericho. It has always amused me that Joshua who, 40 years earlier had been one of the 12 spies, now decided to send only 2 spies. Perhaps he disqualified 10 others who might be inclined to bring back a negative report.

1. The City of Jericho.

As the Jordan River nears the Dead Sea, the river valley widens to a width of about 10 miles. On the western edge of this wide valley lies the ancient city of Jericho.

a. Strategic importance.

Jericho is one of the oldest known cities in the world, its earliest ruins dated at 7,000 B.C.

The military importance of this city is seen in that it stood at the crossroads of the Canaanite trade routes and controlled the door into central Palestine.

b. Physical description.

There are two Jerichos - an original site during the Old Testament era and a different site in the New Testament era. The site of the Old Testament city is a mound rising up 50 feet above the surrounding bedrock of the southern Jordan valley (Jericho is 825 feet below sea level). It is located about 10 miles to the NNW of the mouth of the Dead Sea and directly west of fords which make it possible to cross the Jordan except during the rainy season.

There is a natural spring known as Ain es-Sultan which originally attracted settlers to this site. This oasis gave the city its nickname, "City of Palm Trees."

Jericho was surrounded by a double wall about 30 feet high. The outer wall was 6 feet thick; then came an open space of 15 feet, followed by the inner wall which was 12 feet thick.

The city was fairly small (only 6 acres), but held a strategic position at the hub of four major roads radiating outward to Gerazim, Jerusalem, Hebron, and westward to the fords across the Jordan.

c. Archaeological digs have been conducted by...

He found scarabs of Hatshepsut, Thutmoses 3rd and Amenhotep 3rd in a cemetery at Jericho, indicating that the city was intact in the period from 1450 to 1400 B.C. (a scarab of Hatshepsut would have been especially rare), but none later.

Garstang created quite a stir when he announced that he had discovered the walls of Jericho which had been knocked down by the Israelites.

The following history was outlined by Garstang for the city of Jericho.

Designation

Description

Undesignated

Neolithic occupation (prior to 4500 B.C.). Already at this time the city was defended by a wall 12 feet high and 6 feet wide.

Undesignated

Chalcolithic occupation saw a number of successive cities (4500-3000 B.C.).

City A

Brick wall - Early Bronze Age - 3000 B.C.

City B

Founded around 2500 B.C.

City grows to 12 acres.

Destroyed in 1700 B.C.

City C

Hyksos period.

Larger than its predecessors - 15 acres.

High walls and a moat.

Destroyed around 1500 B.C., presumably by pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty.

City D

Constructed around 1500 B.C.

Scarabs of Amenhotep 3rd (1413-1377 B.C.).

Double wall system with a space of 12-15 feet between the walls.

Walls were about 30 feet high.

City only comprised about 6 acres.

Evidence of violent destruction - outer wall has fallen down the slope.

City E

Constructed in 860 B.C. (1 Kings 16:34).

The city was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.

The city was eventually abandoned and the New Testament city of the same name was built at a nearby location.

2. Rahab the Harlot.

...so they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there. (Judgess 2:lb).

Some commentaries have tried to suggest that Rahab was only an innkeeper. But that is not true. This woman was a prostitute. She was an ISHIH ZONAH - a woman of harlotry.

There is a lesson here. It is that the church is not a gathering for good people. The church is a hospital for sinners. We say we believe that, but our actions often show that we do not. We become proud of our own righteousness.

Rahab was a Cariaanite prostitute. She was of a cursed profession and of a cursed people. In spite of this, she had heard of the power of Yahweh and she had become a believer.

Now before they lay down, she came to them on the roof, 9 and said to the men, "I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt..." (Judges 2:8-10a).

She had heard the news of the miraculous deliverance from Egypt and she had placed her faith in the Lord. Her faith motivated her to action (James 2:25) and manifested itself as she hid the two spies in her own home.

As a result, she was promised protection and deliverance from destruction. Indeed, she later married Salmon and became the ancestress of Boaz, David and Jesus.

3. The Report of the Spies.

Escaping from Jericho, the spies hid for several days in the hill country to the west before making their way back across the Jordan River to the camp of Israel.

And they said to Joshua, "Surely the Lord. has given all the land into our hands, and all the inhabitants of the land, moreover, have melted away before us." (Joshua 2:24).

Their report reflects, not only their faith in the Lord, but also the terror of the Canaanites which had been engendered by the stories of the Exodus miracles.

4. Crossing the Jordan.

The Jordan River is usually forded quite easily. Indeed, until Roman times there were no bridges across the river. However, in the springtime, the melting snows of Mount Hermon combine with the latter rains to swell the river and cause it to overrun its banks.

On orders from the Lord, Joshua directed the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan.

And when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), 16 that the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. (Joshua 3:15-16).

Notice that the waters were held up far upstream at the city of Adam. This is located 16 miles north of Jericho where the Jabbok flows into the Jordan. Since Jericho is six miles north of the Dead Sea, this would have left over 20 miles of dry riverbed over which the Israelites could cross.

It is interesting that in 1927 a section of the cliff at Adam fell into the Jordan and dammed up the river for 21 hours.

5. Memorial Stones.

Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing, and they are there to this day. (Joshua 4:9).

As the Israelites crossed through the dry riverbed of the Jordan, Joshua had two groups of stones set up. They were a group of memorial stones. They were to be a constant reminder of the power of God which was able to stop the waters of the Jordan so that they could cross over.

Remembering is important. Nostalgia can be good. It is good to remember God and His faithfulness. We need reminders. The Lord's Supper is such a reminder. The real danger in Christianity is that we forget. That is how we fall into sin. Every time a Jew walked past that stack of rocks, he would be reminded of the power and the goodness of God.

There were actually TWO stacks of rocks. The first group is seen in verse 8. They are twelve stones taken from the riverbed and placed outside the river.

But there is also a second group. This group is seen here in verse 9. This group is also composed of twelve stones. But they are not placed outside the river. They are placed "in the middle of the Jordan."

Seems like a funny place to place memorial stones, doesn't it? After all, who is going to see them at the bottom of the river? Let me suggest that, in the same way that the first group was to remind the Israelites of the faithfulness and the power of God, so also this second group of stones would also be a reminder to the Israelites.

But when would they see this second group? Only in the dry season when the level of the river lowered. During the dry season, when the crops were in danger of dying and the people were praying for the coming rains, these stones in the middle of the river would become visible. They would be a reminder that God is faithful - even in the dry season.

 

THE TAKING OF AI

After the fall of Jericho, the next city on the path of conquest was Ai. This was a very small city. Its remains have not even been located with certainty by modern archaeologists.

The city of Ai is always found in the Hebrew with the definite article, "the heap" or "the ruin." Joshua 7:2 indicates that Ai was "east of Bethel."

The modern site of Et Tell is generally thought to be the location of the ancient city of Ai (it is within a mile and a half of Bethel). The following digs have been held at the site.

a. John Garstang (1928).

b. Judith Marqet-Krause (1933-35).

c. Joseph A. Callaway (1964).

There was a pre-urban occupation of the site as early as 3200-3000 B.C.

This was followed by a prosperous city in the Early Bronze Period (3000-2500 B.C.).

6:1

Central Campaign

Jericho

Victory through Faith

7:1

Ai

Defeat through Sin

8:1

Restoration

9:1

Southern Campaign

Gibeon

Deception

10:1

Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, Eglon

The Sun & Moon Stand Still

11:1

Northern Campaign

Hazor, Madon, Shimron, Achshaph

Surprise attack by the Waters of Merom

11:16

Summary

"There was not a city that made peace"

"It was of the Lord to harden their hearts"

1. The Sin of Achan.

Jericho had been cursed along with everything in it. God had commanded that nothing be taken from the ruins except for gold, silver and other metals for the Tabernacle treasury.

But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel. (Joshua 7:1).

Achan disobeyed the Lord and stole some goods from the ruins of Jericho. This was to have an adverse effect upon Israel.

There is a lesson here. It is that the consequences of sin are never private. The effects of sin always have a way of spilling over and touching the lives of others.

2. Spies Sent to Ai.

Not one to leave things to chance, Joshua sent spies out to search Ai for weaknesses.

And they returned to Joshua and said to him, "Do not let all the people go up; only about two or three thousand men need go up to Ai; do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few." (Joshua 7:3).

Upon their return, the spies related how Ai was not big enough to justify sending the entire Israelite army.

3. Defeat at Ai.

Only 3000 Israelites were sent out to take the city. They were decisively defeated.

Achan was found and punished, along with his entire household. Joshua led the entire nation of Israel in a prayer for repentance over this sin.

4. Fall of Ai.

Joshua took 30,000 men and hid them in ambush around Ai with another body of 5000 men hiding to the west of the city.

Attacking Ai with the remainder of his force, he feigned a retreat. The army of Ai began a pursuit and were drawn away from the city as they chased after the fleeing Israelites.

Suddenly, the Israelites wheeled and attacked the forces of Ai. At the same time, the hidden forced descended upon the unprotected city, putting it to the torch.

 

THE DECEPTION OF GIBEON

The city of Gibeon was one of the larger cities of Canaan (Joshua 10:2). It lay directly in the path of the Israelite invading army.

1. The Plan of the Gibeonites.

When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what had happened to Ai and Jericho, they dressed up their ambassadors in old, worn-out clothes and sent them over the hill to Joshua, telling him that their country was so far away that the ragged clothes they wore had been new when the set out.

2. Treaty with the Gibeonites.

Believing their story that their home was far away, Joshua made a peace treaty with the Gibeonites. The Lord had warned Israel against making treaties with the Canaanites (Exodus 23:32-33; 34:12).

Joshua did not consult the Lord or the high priest before making this decision. It was to plague Israel in future generations.

When the deception was discovered, the Gibeonites were allowed to live, but they were made servants to the Israelites.

THE SOUTHERN CAMPAIGN

Up to now, Joshua's strategy had been to cut the land of Canaan in half by a thrust across the central region of the land. He was now in a position to turn in either direction.

1. The Amorite League.

Gibeon had belonged to a league of Amorite cities until she deserted and made a treaty with the invading Israelites. The Amorite League saw this as a defection and determined to destroy Gibeon as a lesson to other cities.

The Amorite League was made up of the following cities of southern Palestine.

a. Jerusalem.

b. Hebron.

c. Jarmuth.

d. Lachish.

e. Eglon.

Each of these cities was located in the hill country of southern Palestine.

2. A Request for Aid.

When the armies of the Amorite League attacked Gibeon, a messenger was sent to Joshua, asking for help. That night, Joshua made a forced march from Gilgal to Gibeon, attacking the Amorites the next morning (Joshua 10:9).

3. When The Sun Stood Still.

It was during this battle that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still so that the enemy could not escape under the cover of darkness.

And it came about as they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, that the Lord threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword.

Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, "0 sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon in the valley of Aijalon."

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. (Joshua 10:11-13).

There have been several different interpretations offered for this passage.

    1. Poetical Interpretation.

Both the command and its fulfillment are seen as poetical language consisting in an appeal for renewed strength and vigor for the warriors of Israel.

On the other hand, if the sun literally set leaving only the light of the moon, then the call for the moon's light to assist them would make sense.

Joshua's prayer was answered by an icy hailstorm which both cooled the attackers and destroyed many of the enemy.

An obvious problem with this interpretation is that the moon is also said to have stayed. There would be no reason for this since the moon gives off no heat.

    1. Literal Interpretation.

The passage explains the words of Joshua by saying that "the sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day."

The phrase "the sun stopped" is waYA'MOR HaSHEMESH - "the sun stood". The verb can carry the idea of standing still.

Furthermore, the passage says that the sun "did not hasten to go down for about a whole day."

The Hebrew is WaLO-'ATZ LaBO' KeYOM TAMIM - "and did not hurry to go for a complete day."

If we adopt the literal interpretation, then we are still left with another question: Is this a localized phenomenon, or was it caused by a stopping of the rotation of the entire planet?

Such a phenomenon would have resulted in a long afternoon, a long evening, a long night, depending upon what part of the world the observer stood.

Irnmanuel Velikovsky s book "Worlds In Collision" (1950) attempts to document instances of writings from various cultures around the world which described a long night, a long evening, a long morning, etc.

The Biblical account states that "hailstones" from the sky were instrumental in destroying the Amorite army.

The earth rotates at a speed of 1000 miles per hour at the equator. The changing of this rate of rotation would have uprooted entire mountains and cast them across the sky in an unparalleled cosmic catastrophe. It may have been from this source that the Lord used the stones which destroyed the fleeing Amorites.

No matter which interpretation we choose, it should be recognized that this was seen as an unprecedented miracle.

And there was no day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel. (Joshua 10:14).

You cannot believe the Bible without also believing in miracles. Many people want to take the miracles out of the Bible.

Whether one believes in miracles or does not believe in miracles has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not miracles are true. Philosophers have said that the supernatural cannot take place. And so, they have tried to define miracles out of existence. But that doesn't make miracles go away. Reality has nothing to do with public opinion.

 

THE NORTHERN CAMPAIGN

When the king of Hazor heard of the defeat of the Amorite League, he called together all of the kings of Northern Canaan in order to map out a unified strategy against the Israelites.

1. The Northern Alliance was made up of the following cities.

a. Hazor.

The name Hazor means "enclosure" or "settlement." It was already an ancient city in Joshua's day. Hazor was the largest city in all of Canaan with a population as high as 40,000. Hammurabi had kept two ambassadors stationed at this city. Fortified with a double system of massive walls and a deep moat all the way around her, she seemed virtually impregnable.

Hazor comprises of two distinct sections: The upper city (the acropolis) and the lower city (the fortified enclosure) lying close to the north. Hazor was the largest site of the Biblical period of Israel. It was approximately 10 times the size of Jerusalem in the days of David and Solomon.

The palace was destroyed with the rest of Hazor, apparently in a conflagration that fired the bricks into very hard material. The remains of the Hazor palace were covered with ash and debris which contained fragments of Egyptian sculptures, ivory artifacts, jewelry, bronze figurines and statues and more.

Occupants

Dates

Description

Canaanite Occupation

2000-1700 B.C.

Confined to the upper city

1700-1400 B.C.

Lower city only, the upper city was not initially rebuilt

1400 B.C.

Massive burning on the plateau.

1250 B.C.

Destruction in post Amarna Era (possibly from the days of Deborah)

Israelite Occupation

1200-1000 B.C.

Small settlement

930-850 B.C.

City gradually expanded

850-732 B.C.

Major construction turned Hazor into a royal city under Ahab.

800-732 B.C.

City declined in importance. Destroyed by Tiglath-pileser.

Excavations begun on this site in 1955 under Yigael Yadin and resumed in 1968. Further excavations continue through the present.

A very large Canaanite temple was uncovered in the northern part of the city. It appears that four consecutive temples were built one on top of the other, between the 17th and 13th centuries BC. The first of these was modest, the last attained its greatest size in the 14th century BC. It consists of three large rooms built in a row, from south to north. The entrance hall in the south leads to a central hall, behind which was the holy of holies, the northernmost and the largest room of the temple.

b. Madon & Shimron: Royal cities located in Galilee.

c. Cities of the Arabah: Lay within the Upper Jordan River Valley.

d. Dor.

The Akkadian "duru" means "fortress." The city of Dor was located on the coast of the Mediterranean to the south of Mount Carmel. It was a Phoenician city.

e. Various Canaanite tribes.

Other tribes mentioned in this alliance included the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Hivites.

2 Mobilization at Waters of Merom.

This Northern Confederacy mobilized by the waters of Merom in the hill country to the northwest of the Sea of Galilee.

Israel was encamped at Gilgal near the ruins of Jericho (Joshua 10:43). The distance between these two armies was about 70 miles.

3. Surprise Attack.

Joshua faced a force that was both numerically and technologically superior to his own. It would be the first time that Israel faced an enemy chariot corps.

Utilizing the element of surprise and mobility, Joshua led his army in a forced march, falling upon the bivouacked Confederacy in a surprise attack and completely routing them. Another contingent of his army moved to Hazor and set fire to that city.

 

JOSHUA'S POLITICAL MISTAKES

1. He made a Treaty with Gibeon.

Gibeon remained as a spiritual cancer within the nation of Israel. This was to have an adverse affect upon Israel, causing many to worship the false gods of the Canaanites.

2. He failed to take Jerusalem.

Now as for the Jehusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the sons of Judah could not drive them out... (Joshua 15:63a).

Jerusalem was later captured by the sons of Judah after the death of Joshua and the city was burned to the ground (Judges 1:8). However, the Jebusites proved to be a determined people and they rebuilt the city, holding it until the days of King David.

3. He failed to permanently drive out the Canaanites.

Many of the Canaanite forts which were initially overthrown were later permitted to be rebuilt, especially those in the lowlands and in the plains of Jezreel.

The most dangerous thing about the Canaanites was their religious contamination. The basis of the Canaanite religion was the fertility cult. This involved sacred prostitution, child sacrifice, beastiality, homosexuality and snake worship.

The Lord had told Abraham 600 years earlier that the iniquity of the Amorites was not full in that day (Genesis 15:16). He gave the Canaanites a 600 year opportunity to repent.

Now, in Joshua's day, the time of judgment upon the Canaanites was at hand. Joshua's war against them was the Lord s judgment for their sinfulness.

The Canaanite contamination is seen in the fact that it eventually led to the downfall of all of Israel.

There is an important lesson here. The world's thinking today will accomplish the exact same thing if you let it go unchallenged. Just as Joshua fought against the Canaanites, so you are involved in a spiritual war. As Joshua had the power to drive the Canaanites from the land, so God has given you power to win your spiritual battles. But the danger is that you fall short. The danger is that some root of sin be ignored and allowed to remain.


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