The Facts of History Recorded. The history recorded in this period follows closely upon and completes the story of the deliverance begun in the Exodus. But for the sin of Israel in believing the evil spies and turning back into the wilderness, none of the events of the last twenty-one chapters of Numbers and none of those found in Deuteronomy would have occurred and Joshua would have followed Exodus and have completed the story of Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt into Canaan. As it is, this history follows close upon that of Deuteronomy. Joshua, who had been duly chosen and set apart for the work, took command of the hosts as soon as Moses died. He was trained in the school of Moses and exhibited the same devotion to Jehovah and the same dependence upon His guidance.
The Story Naturally Falls Into Three Parts. (1) The conquest of Canaan, (Joshua. 1-12). In this section we have the story of the crossing of the Jordan, fall of Jericho and the conquest of the land both south and north. (2) The division of the territory of Canaan (Joshua. 13-22). In this section we have the assignment of the territory of Canaan, the cities of Refuge, the cities of Levites and the return of the two and half tribes to the east of the Jordan. (3) Joshua’s last counsel and death (Joshua. 23-24), in which we have his exhortations to fidelity and farewell address and death.
While the war itself probably did not continue but seven years, the entire period was not less than twenty-five and may have been as much as fifty-one years. The period marks a new era in Biblical history. Instead of the experiences of Nomadic or semi-Nomadic tribes, a people with a fixed abode and with a growing body of customs and institutions is described.
The Land of Canaan. It is well to consider at least three things concerning this little, yet wonderful country.
(1) Its geography. It is about four hundred miles long and from seventy-five to one hundred miles wide and is made up of plains, valleys, plateaus, gorges and mountains fashioned together in wonderful variety. There are many small bodies of land capable of supporting a group of people and yet so secluded as to allow them to develop their own individuality and become independent. Every traveler between Egypt and Babylonia must pass through Palestine which thereby became the bridge for the civilization and commerce of tie world. Here the Hebrew could easily keep in touch with the world events of his day. Later it became the gateway of travel from east to west. The territory naturally falls into three divisions: (a) Judah or Judea which is in the southern portion and about seventy-five miles long, (b) Ephraim or Samaria occupying the center of the country, (c) Galilee occupying the northern portion. Along the entire coast line there is a continuous coast plain. There are many mountains, the most important being Hermon, Carmel and Gerizim.
(2) Its inhabitants and the nations surrounding it. That the population was very dense is indicated by the mention of about three hundred cities and towns a large number of which have been identified. While there were many war-like people crowded into Palestine, seven, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites, the Amorites and the Canaanites, were the most important. The Canaanites, who had been there about six centuries, and the Amorites, who had lived there about ten centuries, were the two peoples that furnished greatest resistance to Israel’s occupancy of the country. They were virtually one people.
Around Palestine were many kingdoms, some large and strong, some small and weak. Among the more important were the Philistines, west of Judah, the Phoenician kingdoms on the north, Arameans or Syrians on the northeast, and on the east and southeast, the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites, the last three being kinsmen of the Hebrews.
(3) Conditions favorable to its conquest. Several circumstances conspired to make it a suitable time for the Hebrews to enter Canaan: (a) Egypt had crushed the Hittites and devastated their land; (b) Northern hordes from and through Syria had broken the power of Egypt and the Hittites and had also crushed the Canaanites; (c) Assyria had increased her borders to the coasts of Phoenicia and was feared by all other peoples; (d) Babylonia was not strong enough to displace Assyria as an Asiatic power but strong enough to dispute her supremacy; (e) For two hundred years, therefore, their weakness together with that of Egypt and the Hittites gave the Hebrews ample time to develop and grow strong.
The Crossing of the Jordan and the Fall of Jericho. To the Hebrews these two incidents have always been of first importance. As the two great events through which they gained entrance to their permanent home, they have been given a place in Hebrew literature almost equal to that of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The divine share in these great accomplishments was fully recognized. He it was who caused the waters of Jordan to separate and He it was who threw down the walls of Jericho. Not only did Jericho occupy a strategic position, being somewhat apart from other Canaanite cities, but the marvelous manner of its fall both encouraged the Hebrews to expect complete victory and also caused the Canaanites to fear them and expect defeat.
The Complete Conquest of Canaan. The conquest was a sort of whirlwind campaign that crushed the active and dangerous opposition of the Canaanites, the complete occupancy being accomplished by a piecemeal process of subduing one after another of the little cities and independent tribes. The campaign was well planned. The Jordan was crossed, Jericho was taken and then by pushing forward for the heart of the land, Ai was overcome and in a short time Joshua was in the center of the land, ready to strike either way. With his central camp established at Gilgal (Joshua. 5:10; 9:6) and the forces of Canaan divided, Joshua could advance by two lines of invasion. Whether he made simultaneous campaigns in different directions is not certain, but he seems first to have turned his attention to the southern territory and then to have completed his conquest by an invasion of the northern districts. After bending before this storm the Canaanites still held possession of the land and the piecemeal process of subjugation began. It was not all accomplished by the sword but aided by the peaceful measures of inter-marriage and treaties with friendly neighbors. Israel contended against a far superior civilization but finally won because the religious as well as the civil and social life was involved.
The Cruelty to the Canannites. Stress has commonly been laid on the cruelty to the Canaanites and upon their being driven out of their land when it should have been put upon their character where the Scripture puts it. This is a waste of false sympathy. The Scripture always speaks of the driving out of the Canaanites as a punishment for their sins (Dt. 9:4-5; Lev. 18:24-25). Some of the abominations which they practiced are described in Lev. 18:21-30 and Dt. 12:30-32. These abominations were practiced in the name of religion and were so shocking that one shudders to read the description.
Everything evil was worshiped. The chief god was Baal, the sun, who was worshiped at different places under different names, but everywhere his worship was fierce and cruel. His consort Ashtaroth, the Babylonian goddess Istar, the goddess of love, worshiped as the morning star, Venus, fostered in her worship abominations that are almost inconceivable in our times. It was a worship of impurity and could not be cured by ordinary means. God had borne with it for hundreds of years. Their destruction was therefore justifiable just as was that of the old world and the Jews were simply God’s instruments just as were the waters of the flood or the fire and brimstone in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah.
God was planning to begin, a new nation, to start a new civilization and by using this method of punishment for the Canaanites he impressed the Hebrews in a most striking way with the consequences of forsaking worship of the true God. It was a new thing in the world to have all idolatrous symbols destroyed and to worship an unseen God and yet Joshua constantly represented to them that all the evils they had inflicted upon the Canaanites, and greater evils, would be sent upon them if they should become idolaters. Little, therefore, need be said of the cruelty of the Hebrews nor of the suffering of the Canaanites. The Hebrews were the instrument of God and the Canaanites were reaping what they had sown.
The Significance of the War Against the Canannites. Of all the wars recorded in human history this was one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all. None was ever fought for a more noble purpose and none has accomplished greater ends. The fate of the world was in the balance. Old civilizations on account of their wickedness, were to soon fall and this series of conflicts was to decide whether a new civilization with a pure and holy purpose to serve God could arise in their midst. It was, therefore, a war (1) For purification. The individual, the temple and the home must all be pure. (2) For civil liberty. Israel was now, under God, to govern herself and thereby to give the world a pattern of government as God’s free nation. (3) For religious liberty. Idolatry, vice and superstition were everywhere and the people must be free to worship the one true God and Creator of all. (4) For the whole world. Israel was to be a blessing to all nations. Out of her and out of this land was to come Christ, her son, who should save the nations. The war was, therefore, for us as well as for them.
The Character and Work of Joshua. The name Joshua in the Old Testament is equivalent to Jesus in the New (Heb. 4:8). His character and work were well adapted to his age and he therefore made a deep impression upon this formative period of Israel’s history. He was fully prepared for the work of the conquest by his association with Moses and by such events as the defeat of Amalek which he accomplished by divine help (Ex. 17:10-16). With all he had been called of God and set apart for the work of subjugating the Canaanites. As a soldier and commander, he ranks among the first of the world. He is resourceful, brave, straightforward, fertile in strategy, and quick to strike (Joshua. 1:10-11; 2:1 etc.). In the councils of peace he was wise and generous. He displayed statesmanship of the highest order in mapping out the boundaries of the tribes and thus preparing the land for a permanent occupancy of the Hebrews. In the matter of religion he was actuated by a spirit of implicit obedience to God’s authority. He combined in his nature both courage and gentleness and exhibited in his dealings the disposition of both the lion and the lamb. His dying charge is full of earnestness and devotion. As a type of Christ he led the people to the “rest” of Canaan, though not to the rest of the gospel which “remaineth to the people of God.” A void still remained and they still had to look forward. He led them to victory over their enemies and became their advocate when they sinned and met defeat.
Lessons of the Period. Among many lessons suggested by this book the following should be considered and the student asked to suggest others. (1) God is at war with sin: (a) He thrusts out the Canaanites because of their sins; (b) He allows the defeat of Israel at Ai because sin was among them; (c) He allows Achan put to death because of it. He is, therefore, against all sin, personal, social and civic or national. (2) Religious victory and entrance upon spiritual rest is accomplished through a leader or commander and through a divine power, not through a law giver and by the works of the law. It was not Moses, the lawgiver, through whom they entered and not by their own strength. (3) God keeps his covenants in spite of all the weakness of man. (4) God decides the issues of battles and of wars with a view to the final on-going of his kingdom. Only God and not the relative strength or preparedness of the contending armies can forecast the final issues of war. (5) The fact that God is for one does not preclude the use of strategy and discretionary methods. (6) The failure or sin of one man may defeat a whole cause and that in spite of the faithful efforts of many others. (7) What is a just severity to some is often a great mercy to others. The destruction of the Canaanites was a severe penalty for their sins, but it was an unspeakable blessing to all the future ages because by it a true faith and a pure worship was preserved.
For Study and Discussion.
(1) Each of the lessons suggested above. Find a basis either in incident or teaching for each.
(2) The geography of the country with the principal cities mentioned.
(3) The several tribes of people mentioned in the narrative.
(4) The providential conditions favorable to the conquest just at that time.
(5) The cruelties of the Israelites to their enemies. Select examples and discuss each.
(6) The significance of the war.
(7) The character and work of Joshua. Point out incidents or acts that show elements of greatness and weakness in his character; also estimate the value of his work.
(8) The cooperation of the two and a half tribes in these wars.
(9) The several battles described. List them and decide what contributed to the success or failure of Israel in each case.
(10) The story of the fall of Jericho.
(11) The sin of Achan, its results, its discovery and punishment.
(12) The story of the Gibeonites, their stratagem, its embarrassment to Joshua and consequent slavery to them.
(13) The portion of land allotted to each tribe and how it was secured.
(14) The miraculous element running through the narrative. List and discuss each incident that tends to show or makes claim of such miraculous element.
(15) The place of prayer and worship in the hook. Give incidents.
(16) The element that is figurative or illustrative of truth revealed in New Testament times.