In this essay we conclude our study of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan. As we have seen in recent weeks, it is a fascinating story fueled not only by faith in the Lord, but also by miraculous intervention by the Lord. In our last essay, we studied the record of Israel’s second campaign, which was the conquest of southern Canaan. Now in chapters 11-12, which recount the story of Israel’s conquest of northern Canaan, and provide a summary of the conquest as a whole.
Having heard about Israel’s success in the south, king Jabin of Hazor undertook the same role in the north that Adoni-Zedek of Jerusalem had taken in the south. That is, he organized an alliance of northern kings against Israel, just as Adoni-Zedek had done with southern kings.
And a large army it was, the author tells us, as numerous as the sand on the seashore, with many horses and chariots (v. 4). The location of most of these cities is unknown, though all were in the north. Hazor was north of the Sea of Galilee, and “the waters of Merom,” where the northern army camped, was somewhere in upper Galilee, probably a little north and west of the Sea of Galilee.
The Lord encouraged Joshua in the face of this formidable force (v. 6). Then Joshua once again used the element of surprise. He attacked the next day, and won another great victory (vv. 7-9). Notice how far north they went. Sidon was the major city of ancient Phoenicia; and it was still a major city in Joshua’s day. It is located on the Mediterranean coast due west of Damascus, more than forty miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The location of Misrephoth-maim is unknown. But it must have been east of Sidon and north of the Valley of Mizpah, which is directly north of the Sea of Galilee. At any rate Israel clearly conquered the entire northern part of Canaan.
Notice that Joshua followed the Lord’s instructions regarding the horses and chariots. Instead of taking them for use by his army, Joshua hamstrung the horses and burned the chariots. That is quite interesting! Horses and chariots were the high technology of the day. It was considered a distinct advantage to have them, though against the Lord and his army they did the Canaanites no good. The Lord obviously did not want Israel to have them. The only adequate explanation is that he wanted Israel to remain dependent on him.
On the way back from the victory in the North, Israel attacked Hazor, whose king had led the opposition, and completely destroyed the city by fire, in addition to killing all the people. As they had done in the South, they killed all the inhabitants of the other cities, though they did not burn the towns in the north, other than Hazor. When all this was finished, the author suggests that everything the Lord had told Moses to command Joshua to do was completed (vv. 10-15).
In the rest of the chapter, and on through chapter 12, we find a summary of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Verses 16-17 state the extent of the conquest, and verse 18 tells us that it took awhile to get the job done. We get a clear picture of that in chapter 14, verses 7 and ten. In those verses Caleb testifies that he was 40 years old when he went into Canaan as a spy, and that he was 85 at the division of the land. Thus the conquest took at least forty-five years.
Coming back to chapter 11, the only town in Canaan that was not taken in battle was Gibeon (v. 19). Then in verse 20 we see the interesting statement that God hardened the hearts of the Canaanites so that they would challenge Israel in battle and be destroyed. This has to be understood in exactly the same way as the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in the book of Exodus. Pharaoh hardened his own heart a long time, before the Lord began to harden it after the sixth plague. Likewise the Canaanites sealed their fate by their wickedness and the hardening of their hearts long before the Lord brought the judgment of Israel upon them.
The reference in verses 21-22 to the Anakim is another item of historical interest. It was the Anakim whom the spies more than 40 years earlier had said were giants. “At that time” in verse 21 points to the “long time” that Israel fought against the kings of Canaan mentioned in verse 18. In other words, it was during the long war that these sons of Anak were wiped out. The author wanted to remind his readers of that fact, since the readers might have remembered how the spies had feared them.
And then verse 23 gives a final summary. Chapter 12 simply lists all of the kings that were conquered, including the two conquered by Moses on the other side of the Jordan before the invasion of Canaan. All of the slain kings are listed, not just those who formed alliances of war against Israel. There are 33 kings listed, apparently listed in the order in which they were defeated.
As we think about applications to our lives from this passage, I believe we must focus on the last sentence in 11:23: “And the land had rest from war.” Time and time again I have called your attention to the fact that the taking of Canaan is a type of entire sanctification. We not only are delivered from Egypt’s bondage to sin, we are invited to enter the Canaan land of full salvation. As we have seen, there is opposition and temptation as we seek to do God’s will in everything. But if we persevere; and if we are obedient; there will eventually be “rest from war.”
When we ask what the character of that rest is we see, first, what it is not. It is not the rest of exhaustion. When we live a life of obedience, with our wills in harmony with the will of God, he fights on our behalf. We may be battered and tired from the battles, but we will not be exhausted. The undergirding of the Holy Spirit will enable us every day.
Second, turning to a positive definition of what the “rest” of entire sanctification is, it is a rest of satisfaction. There is a joyful satisfaction in serving Christ, of being in his will and doing it. Indeed there is no satisfaction like it. It brings poise, assurance of meaning in life, and thus, deep satisfaction.
The “rest” of entire sanctification also brings, third, the rest of spiritual victory. All Christians have the rest of assured forgiveness, but the entirely sanctified Christian also has the rest of spiritual victory.
Thus there is no “rest” that compares to the rest of doing the will of God in all things. To have one’s will in harmony with God’s will, to desire only what he desires for one’s life, to have the power of the Spirit to enable one not to sin, to praise the Lord in all things, to pray at all times, to love him with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves, that is the rest of entire sanctification. May we all experience that to his glory.