Joshua 11-12

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, 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, 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. 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. And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

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.” [1]

 15 Just 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. [2]

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. [3]

As the conquest of the land proceeds, God hardens the hearts of the northern city-states and Joshua must direct his attention to this new region and its large coalition of forces. The parallels between this account and that of the southern campaign in chapter 10 are striking and deliberate. In each case the conflict is caused by a king who gathers a coalition of other leaders to join him in the fight against the Israelite advance.

In this northern campaign, the king is Jabin, king of Hazor (11:1) who forms an exceptionally large coalition with advanced weaponry in hopes of wiping out Israel. Just as in chapter 10, the test comes in a pitched battle with Israel. In chapter 10 the battle was at Gibeon. Here the battle is “by the waters of Mermom (11:7). In both chapters 10 and 11, Israel is given specific encouragement and instruction directly from the Lord enabling his people to inflict a crushing blow against her enemies. The initial victory in both chapters gives Israel a more secure footing in that part of the land, from which they are able to subdue and conquer all the remaining city states in that area.

The ultimate result is recorded in verse 23, “23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses.” This statement is the conclusion toward which this part of the book has been moving since Chapter 9. It’s followed by a kind of appendix in chapter 12 listing every one of the conquered kings, first under Moses and then under Joshua.


Chapters 9, 10, and 11 begin with the same formula. The enemies of Israel hear of the great victories that YHWH has won for his people. They immediately react with plans of resistance. The difference in 11:1-5 is the strength and geographical range of the northern alliance that Jabin is able to muster. Verses 1-2 envision many kings and no less than six people groups inhabiting the northern portion of Canaan are listed in verse 3.

This is a powerful army to overcome, “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (11:4a). But it’s not only the considerable numbers that makes this horde so daunting. They are also equipped with the latest in military hardware and weapons technology, “very many horses and Chariots” (11:4b). Hazor appears to have been a particularly important city with major influence in the area, and its readiness for war was like that of the Egyptians 40 years earlier when the Israelites first left the land of slavery.

Those advanced weapons along with Pharaoh’s elite troops found themselves at the bottom of the Red Sea, and in this space of a few verses this impressive alliance will also find itself disarmed and disarrayed (11:9). But at this point in the story they are determined to bring the attack to Israel, choosing the waters of Mermom as the location at which to base their camp (11:5), a site archeology has not identified.

True to the pattern the author has established in the book of Joshua, with the enemy encamped and ready to fight, the Commander of the Lord’s Army (5:13-15) takes the initiative with a direct word of revelation to Joshua. Despite the enemies’ numbers and impressive weaponry, Israel is not to be afraid (11:6a). Such a command can only be obeyed by trusting into the promise that accompanies it: “I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel.” The battle will be finished in a day, and the military capability of the opposition will be as hamstrung as their horses. “You shall hamstring their horses and burn their Chariots with fire” (11:6b).

In this battle there will be no hailstones, no 12 hours of darkness, no obvious miracles of God. Israel had to fight for it. But they did so with the direct divine promise from the pre–Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ that they would be completely victorious. Once again, the battle is the Lord’s and all the glory, and the praise, belong to him alone.

The author gives us no details of the battle other than the surprise attack made by the Israelites (11:7) and the fact that its success was the Lord’s work (11:8a). The sovereign God who ordains and sustains the whole of his creation “gave them into the hand of Israel.” Just like chapter 10, the alliance breaks up and the warriors scatter to their own cities with the Israelites in hot pursuit. The author describes the scale of victory by telling us that the opposition disintegrates to the west and to the east, only to fall into the hands of their pursuers and to see the weaponry they left behind destroyed (11:8, 9). The Israelites believed God’s promise and obeyed his command. The enemy had no hope of regrouping or counterattacking. Their defeat was total. The Lord has kept his promise.


The failure of the coalition armies results in disaster for their home city-states that they had set out to defend. Joshua is now able to move about the country and execute God’s justice (herem) on the entire northern territory. He begins with Hazor, the most powerful city of the region and the leader of the alliance. Its king and all of its citizens are destroyed, and the city itself, like Jericho and Ai, is burned (11:10, 11).

None of the other towns or villages are destroyed since God had promised his people they would be brought into the land, which would first mean living in “great and good cities you did not build” (Deuteronomy 6:10). These cities were to be resettled by the Israelites as the land was allotted to tribes, but the three that were burned to the ground represented the strongest and most determined opposition to God’s purposes.

The story of the northern campaign emphasizes Joshua’s detailed obedience to all that God had commanded Moses and was written in the Book of the Law (11:12). The physical buildings are not destroyed, but the spoil and the livestock are taken as plunder by the Israelites, and the Canaanite population is decimated (11:13-15). As Joshua strictly conforms to the written, recorded instructions of God, he is pictured as a second Moses, equally obedient an equally deserving the title “the servant of the Lord.

Part of the purpose of the book of Joshua is to memorialize his faithfulness to the Mosaic law. This faithfulness stood as a goal for all future leaders of Israel. Rather than being the lawmakers, the leaders of Israel are to be law-takers and law keepers. The same holds true for leadership in the church today. God demands that his leaders be law-takers rather than lawmakers.

Verses 16-23 conclude the story with a summary of the northern conquest that reads much like the summary of the southern campaign in 10:40-43. The conquered land is extensive. We get a sense of the great territories God had purposed to give his people back in 1:4. Many good commentaries cover the geographic details of the land, so we will not pause to consider the terrain.

What we do want to note is what the writer tells us in verse 18, “Joshua made war a long time.” Though we cannot say precisely how long this took, the best suggestion based on biblical evidence is that it was at least a seven-year campaign. Caleb was 40 years old when Moses sent him and Joshua to spy out the land (14:7). Deuteronomy 2:14 informs us that from the time of his initial work as a spy to the entry of the people into the land was 38 years. Caleb was 78 at the start of the conquest and 85 when he later claimed his inheritance (14:10). That is how we come to estimate that this was a 7-year-long campaign.

Just as Rahab was the only example of an individual Canaanite’s repentance and trust, so the Gibeonites were the only example of a people group who sought peace with Israel. Every other town and city had to be taken (11:19). In the end, their hard-hearted rebellion brought about their destruction. The emphasis here is on the divine purpose, God’s will, overruling the actions of men (11:20).

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.

Just as in Israel’s prior generation when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to resist the exodus in spite of (and perhaps because of) the plagues, the stubborn heart is due to God’s hardening process. But that in no way exonerates the Canaanites. Rahab and the Gibeonites were granted repentance and trust. But all the other Pagans God gave over to their own wickedness because they preferred a lie to the truth.

Nevertheless, the sovereignty and majesty of the triune God’s divine council is not limited by the will of man. That gives us some understanding of why the Canaanite resistance was so determined in spite of all the evidence that Israel was assisted by an overwhelming supernatural power. If you were to look at Pharoah’s story in Exodus 9 and 10, you would note that first Pharoah hardened his heart, then God decreed Pharoah’s heart should remain hard, so that there could be no repentance. That gives us some indication of how the wickedness of the Canaanites brought about their own destruction. It was an immovable reality for the Canaanites whose wickedness had to come under the judgment of their righteous Creator.

As Paul wrote in Romans 1:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. … 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. [4]

The mention of Joshua’s victory over the Anakim in verse 21 might seem out of place unless we remember that these were the very people who terrified the 10 spies Moses sent into Canaan. Only Joshua and Caleb did not fear them. These were tall and imposing people, the fear of whom resulted in 40 years of wilderness wanderings as Israel chose their own observation over God’s revelation. Now, by Joshua’s hand, through God’s power, they were cut off (uprooted and exterminated), their only refuge being in Philistine territory (11:22b).

What a fitting climax to the long narrative that stretches back to the original spies over four decades prior and now concludes this section of the book. These strong and fearsome people are no more now than a name on a list of Joshua’s extensive conquests, all because Joshua trusted in God’s revelation over human observation.

Verse 23a sums up seven long, hard years in three glorious sentences: “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.” At that moment there was temporary rest from war, but there would be much more land to be taken and the greater rest for the people of God to enjoy in the future.

Chapter 12 completes this section of the book dealing with the conquest of the land by listing all the tribal and city-state rulers defeated by Moses and Joshua combined. It marks the halfway point in the book, with the next half devoted to the settlement of the land and the allotment to the tribes.


Since we have reached the halfway point in the book of Joshua, it is a good place for us to stop and consider the wider application the book holds for us as Christians today. Hebrews 4 holds a key New Testament text that interprets the Joshua narrative. St Author of Hebrews writes based on an extended quote from the closing verses of Psalm 95 concerning the danger of hearts hearted through unbelief. And warns his readers not to fail to reach the promise of entering God’s “rest” (Hebrews 4:1).

That theme of rest comes from Psalm 95:11, which St Author quotes in Hebrews 3:11 where God, speaking of the exodus generation, says, “I swore in my wrath, ‘they shall never enter my rest.’” To that quote St Author adds the warning, “take care… lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Falling away from the living God was the fruit of their “unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). That danger was a present reality for the readers of Hebrews.

For us, this promise of entering God’s rest has been conveyed in the gospel and its promises. For the Israelites it was the promise of entering the land God was giving to them where they would experience his rest. But that could only happen for them if the promises were met with a living faith expressing itself in repentance and obedience. Joshua and Caleb had been given the faith to believe, but the majority of the spies had not. They discounted God’s promises in favor of their own observations and their own fear.

But St Author then explains that when David wrote Psalm 95 the land had long been in Israel’s possession (for several hundred years!). St Author reasons that the concept must have a greater fulfillment than the literal conquest of the land under Joshua. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on” (Hebrews 4:8). David was singing of a rest that was more than physical, an ultimate rest that Joshua, for all his godly leadership, was not able to provide.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). Reading the entire letter of Hebrews we understand that this rest equates with the eternal Kingdom, the heavenly country, the city that is to come, the new Jerusalem, which is the inheritance of all who believe the gospel. At one level it is already ours, entered into by repentance and trust into the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as rescuer and ruler. But at another level it is not yet ours in all its fullness of experience and enjoyment.

What we have already is a wonderful down payment, guaranteeing the rest that will one day be ours in all its fullness. Then we will finally have rest from our sin nature. Until that day, we are commanded to fight our sin, to root it out with repentance and trust. But can you imagine the day when all pain, tears, conflict, and death will no longer be a part of our eternal existence? The honest answer is, “No. You cannot.” Paul explains that to us in 1st Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in the mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

The “rest” we read about here in Joshua 11 is just a type and shadow of the “rest” that remains for the people of God in all ages who trust into the person and work of Messiah Jesus. All Joshua could do was be God’s helper in the physical, temporal sphere to forecast what Jesus has won for his people in the spiritual and eternal Kingdom. That is God’s gracious intent for his people. “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11), by which St Author means the fruit of unbelief.

Joshua points us to his infinitely greater namesake and to the liberation from our works into the rest in the new birthright of everyone who turns and trusts into Christ. “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7,8). In St Author’s context, his readers were in danger of being tempted back to Judaism with its visible, tangible realities of the temple and its sacrifices, the law and the offerings, the priests, and their ministries – the bells and smells. Also, Judaism was an official religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity was not; it was an illegal religion.

St Author’s argument is that all that was prefigured in the Old Testament era has been fulfilled in Christ. So he says, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1, 2). Both Joshua and his greater namesake, Jesus, grasped the eternal realities. Joshua’s earthly triumphs and earned “rest” were only the palest foreshadowing of all that Jesus earned for his people.

That incentive to keep on keeping on appears to be the purpose of Joshua chapter 12. To us it may seem like a tedious list. But in the context of what we have already seen in Joshua, it is in fact a glorious celebration of all the “rest” God gave to his people. Whatever spiritual blessings we enjoy, whatever victories are won, whatever experience of God’s rest is currently ours, it is not due to us but to our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to his eternal Kingdom (Colossians 1:13). To him alone be the glory forever!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 11:1–6.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 11:15.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 11:23.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 1:21–32.