In this essay we study Joshua 10, in which Israel’s conquest of Canaan continues. The overall conquest took place in a series of three campaigns. We already have studied the first, a thrust into central Canaan in which two things were accomplished. The major centers of Jericho and Ai were conquered; and whether consciously planned or not, Israel effectively split the opposition preventing a united counter-attack.
Then came the southern campaign, which is the focus of this study. And then finally, Israel made a northern sweep to subdue the rest of Canaan. We will be studying that in the next essay. Verses 1-5 of chapter 10 tell us the report that Israel had taken Ai and made a deal with the Gibeonites angered Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem. So he joined with several other Amorite kings to attack Gibeon in order to punish her for her alliance with Israel, and at the same time to check Israel’s advance. The places mentioned here all are located to the west and south of the Jericho-Jerusalem area.
In verses 6-11 we see that the Gibonites immediately called on Israel, their new masters and allies, to come to their defense, which Israel did. Note in verse eight that Joshua prayed this time (something he neglected to do before the first battle of Ai), and the Lord assured him that he would be victorious. And it appears that Joshua surprised the Amorites. He marched his army all night, a distance of about 15 miles, in order to get to Gibeon first thing the morning after he was informed, verse nine. The Canaanites were not expecting that.
The surprise attack caused a panic among the enemy; and Israel gained a great victory at Gibeon. However, Israel did not rest on her laurels. Instead Israel pursued the Amorite armies “as far as Azekah and Makkedah,” verse 10. Then we see in verse 11 that a huge thunderstorm occurred. Large hailstones began to pelt the enemy, killing more of their soldiers than Israel had killed. Israel understandably took this to be a divine intervention, because the stones hit and killed only Canaanites, and not the Israelites who were pursuing.
This was the first of two miraculous events that day in the opinion of Israel. The second is seen in verses 12-15. The author reports that Joshua had prayed earlier in the day and asked God to prolong the daylight hours until Israel could gain victory; and then in support, he presents a quotation from a book that is no longer extant, The Book of Jashar. “Jashar” means “righteous.” And the quotation is in poetic form. Therefore scholars believe that the quotation may have been from a song about the battle that was preserved in a book about “righteous” or “godly” men in Israel’s history. This seems to be confirmed by 2 Sam. 1:17-18, where we are told that David’s lamentation over Saul and Jonathan, which then is quoted, also was recorded in the Book of Jashar.
According to the Book of Jashar, Joshua asked that the sun stand still over Gibeon and the moon over Aijalon. Aijalon is to the west of Gibeon. So the moon would still have been in the western sky in the early morning, which was when Joshua attacked the Amorites. So it was fairly early in the day when the prayer was uttered. Then verse 13 goes on to say, “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.”
So what are we to make of this miracle? Well, many have offered reasons why such a miracle would not be possible, because of the consequences of such a miracle on the earth and the solar system. In my opinion, arguments of that type fall to the ground against the doctrine of divine omnipotence. God who created it all is all-powerful; therefore he is capable of handling the total picture and all of the consequences that spring from it.
On the other hand, it also is within the realm of possibility that the day may have seemed prolonged to Joshua and the army of Israel, because of the enormous accomplishments made that day, accomplishments that normally would take two days. To begin, Israel marched all night before the battle started. Then after winning the major battle at Gibeon in the morning, they pursued the Amorites all day rather than taking any rest. They saw a great storm produce hailstones large enough to kill enemy soldiers, and then they moved in to kill many more themselves. All of that happened in that single day.
We also must remember that Israel had no clocks. In order to judge that the sun was not moving, or that it was moving more slowly than normal, one would have to stay in one spot and watch the shadow cast by a tree or some other object to observe that the shadow was not moving. Israel was either engaged in battle, or on the move, the entire day. So, although it is possible that God worked some sort of miracle on the battle field that day, it also is possible that the day merely seemed supernaturally long to Israel, since they moved so far and accomplished so much in that one day.
In verses 16-27, the tape is rewound a bit; and a story is told about the disposal of the five kings who, during the battle had taken refuge in a cave (v. 16). The kings were discovered in the cave by the Israelites, but rather than stop the pursuit of enemy armies, Joshua ordered the cave sealed until the mop-up operation of the battle could be completed (vv. 17-19). Then, perhaps the next day, Joshua ordered the kings brought out of the cave (v. 22).
The placing of the kings on the ground, with the feet of Israel’s leaders on their necks in front of the entire Israelite army (v. 24) was not mere brutality. It was an important symbolic gesture that had at least two purposes. On the one hand, it was a standard symbol of the complete subjugation of the conquered peoples. Humiliation of a king way clearly symbolized the total defeat of the enemy. And on the other hand, the gesture was intended to stimulate the Israelite army. As Joshua put it in verse 25, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous; for thus the Lord will do to all the enemies against who you fight.” Then Joshua killed the kings, further humiliated them by hanging them on trees until sundown, and buried them in the same cave in which they had hidden (vv. 26-27).
The rest of the chapter lists the fortified cities that Joshua conquered in the rest of the southern campaign: Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir. You will notice that some of them were the same cites they had fought on the long day. But as verse 20 indicates, Israel did not take the fortified cities that day. That task was left to other days.
The passage ends with a summary of the southern campaign in verses 40-43. As you see from the description, they conquered the entire southern part of Canaan: the hill country, the lowlands, and the Negeb, which was the southern desert area. They defeated every city from Kadesh-barnea to Gaza, the country of Goshen (not the Goshen in Egypt where Israel once had lived as slaves), but a small country near Gibeon.
Some of these geographical expressions overlap. It was a way of expressing the completeness of the conquest. They not only took all of the land; they killed all of the people as God had commanded. “Then Joshua returned and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal” (v. 43).
What are we to take from this study? At the very least we learn that God’s power is available to us when we do his will. When Joshua and Israel did not consult God before the first battle if Ai, disaster was the result. When they did consult God, and did what he commanded, the result was victory and blessing. This is just as true in our spiritual walk with God, as it was for Israel in their very literal conquest of Canaan.