OT History Part 4: The Conquest -- 1406-1400 BC

Table of Contents

Chapter 4.1: Conquest Begins

The psychology of battle is recognized as critically important in today's military services. Wise military leaders have always kept an eye on the mental and emotional state of their fighters. In the Ancient Near East it also mattered, but carried a totally different significance. The ancient soldier did not "psyche himself up" for battle courage. He invoked a spirit of battle frenzy, the sort of rage that ignored all risks and any injury that did not honestly debilitate him. For him, it was a literal spirit, a supernatural presence. If he could not summon this battle rage, then he assumed that his god was not with him. Thus, it was probably not the will of this god to proceed into battle. The Bible text uses the same sort of imagery. Troops in a hasty retreat were said to have "lost their spirit" in a literal sense: Their god(s) had deserted them. When the army of Israel fled before the enemy, this was regarded as proof that Jehovah was not with them, not supporting them in battle. Jehovah seems to have spoken in these terms Himself.

In the battles with the Canaanites, Jehovah's stated purpose was to remove an irredeemable race from the face of the earth. Our modern sensibilities make it difficult to grasp such a concept. We have already noted that Noah's son, Ham, was given to evil desires. We have seen where the Pentapolis, populated by his descendants, were even worse. They were found worthy of incineration by means of what appeared to be a natural disaster. Every record of the Canaanites unanimously notes their horrific morals and degrading religious rituals. Even the worldly Greeks were surprised by the depth of Canaanite depravity: drunken orgies where the custom was to have sex with anything that moved, parents making ritual sacrifice of their first-born in the arms of a super-heated bronze idol and a host of other unpleasantries. Whether this genocide was justified can best be seen by the failure of the Israelites to carry it out. The People of Jehovah were subverted by these miscreants and their practices at every turn.

Note the ritual instructions about booty and captives from Midian in Numbers 31:13ff. Keep in mind the ultimate human value under the Covenant was social stability. There were multiple threats from being too easy on the losing side. From ancient times, experience had shown that virgins alone would adapt to their new national identity. Even that was somewhat risky. This was no mindless prejudice, but a savvy grasp of how their victims acted when given a chance. The ritual cleansing of plunder and captives was also as much a matter of sanitation as religion. Disease was far more rampant than we can imagine, even up until just a couple of centuries before our time. However, the bottom line is this was a command from God, delivered in the same fashion as everything we've seen so far. We can guess some of the reasons, but His decisions are hardly subject to our biased review.

Moses also transferred his authority to Joshua at this time, in a public ritual before the nation (Numbers 27:12ff). At about the same time, he renewed the Covenant rituals that had lain fallow during the 40 Years (ch. 28-30; 33; Deuteronomy is more in depth). His last official act was to recount for this generation raised in the wilderness all that had happened starting with the departure from Egypt. Much of the material in Deuteronomy ("Reiteration of Law") covers the extended stay on the Plains of Moab, an area just north of the Dead Sea, where the Jordan Valley broadened a great deal on its east bank. At this point the "Cowboy Clans" got permission to leave their families on the East Bank of the Jordan, in the grassy hills and plains (Numbers 32). The general division of land for the tribes was discussed (ch. 34-36). The text ends with Moses' death somewhere on Mount Pisgah, buried by Jehovah Himself, in 1406 BC (Deuteronomy 34).

Joshua 1 -- The nation's new chief elder received from Jehovah a personal covenant calling him to take up the leadership duties of Moses, not the priesthood. After a public ceremony whereby the nation pledged to follow him, Joshua began making plans for the conquest of Palestine. This was no simple raid for plunder, nor a conquest such as was common in that time, taking over a land and people as the new upper class rulers. This was to be a multi-generational war of extermination, beginning with a purely religious conquest. In Israel's favor was that Egypt, under Amenhotep III, had lost interest in Canaan, which they still ruled legally as a tributary. There was to be no help from Egypt, in spite of the pleading letters sent by her Canaanite vassals. Further, the Philistines had not yet arrived in force to oppose from the southern coast of Palestine. Finally, the old Hittite Empire, somewhat overlapping that of Egypt, had already begun to lose any hold it may have had in this region. The Canaanite culture had sunk to the lowest depths of depravity and the people had little heart for a noble and coordinated defense against the invading Israelites.

Jehovah's people, on the other hand, had been conditioned by a full generation in harsh conditions. They had a vigorous culture that saw everything in terms of solemn sacred duty. In less than a year, they had become an army of combat veterans with a string of heartening victories. Joshua was a proven leader, trustworthy as a spokesman for their God -- a God who had promised to give them overwhelming victory, having already delivered on that promise several times. They were united strongly in a sense of destiny that they could set the world right. They had rested and were ready to move.

2:1-21 -- The Jordan River Valley just north of the Dead Sea was a lush tropical paradise. On the far bank was Jericho, a city-state ruled by a petty king. At this time, Jericho's one gate opened on the east, where a fresh-water spring flowed out of the ground. This city had already served as the symbol for the first thrust of any intent to make war further west. This was the price they paid for their favored location. It was a double-walled city, built on the mound of rubble and dirt left by previous occupants reaching back into pre-history. They had heard of the conquests already won by the hoard camping in plain sight across the Jordan. There may have already been some routine civilian contact between individuals from each side, as is common in every war in human history. Jericho had heard of Jehovah and dreaded the battle that must inevitably take place. Keep in mind, there were other tribal groups wandering the area, and a steady stream of trade traffic from all over that part of the world. The narrative sticks with the main thread of the story, ignoring all the bystanders.

Joshua, having been on the first spying mission some 40 years previously, wisely sent two spies to examine Jericho's defenses, but more importantly, the state of mind of its inhabitants. The general strategy of this conquest would be to split the land in two, driving a wedge between the north and south. Jericho was the obvious starting point. The city had not been occupied long, perhaps only since 1410 BC, after a period of about 150 years' vacancy. The previous occupants had been the Hyksos. The spies entered the city along with all the normal trade traffic any such city had. They sought out the traditional accommodations for wandering traders, one of possibly several hostels.

Every hostel would be an ideal place to hear all the news. In the Land of Canaan, Rahab's ("Proud") profession attracted none of the social stigma it would today. She ran a busy motel and also produced linen goods; prostitution was frankly a minor part of her business. When the king's soldiers came searching for the spies reported to have entered the city, she hid them under the piles of flax stalks, which were drying in the early spring sun (v. 6). These stalks would have been 3 to 4 feet long and had been soaked in water for a time to make them swell. Air drying would cause them to burst open along the length and release the linen fibers. It would be quite time consuming to move them in a search, not a pleasant hiding place, anyway. Her ruse was quite plausible. Rahab had already switched her loyalty to the new power in the land: Jehovah. After securing a conditional oath from the spies that she and her family would be spared in the coming battle, she let them down through a window that faced out over the wall of the city. The red rope, probably one of her trade products, was left hanging down the wall to mark her house as the only safe refuge in the city (v. 21).

2:22-24 -- The spies had but a short distance to travel straight out from the west wall of Jericho to the maze of caves in the limestone cliffs of the West Bank. They took advantage of the three day's delay Joshua had set as preparation time for the attack on Jericho. The pursuit force had returned to the city empty handed. On the eve of the march to Jericho, the spies reported to Joshua the good news.

3:1 -- The first day of movement saw the distance covered was but a mere ten miles or so, from Shittim ("Acacia Trees") to the very bank of the river. This movement was in proper military tactical order, literally translated as "in five parts" -- the vanguard of professional soldiers, with a similar group as a rearguard, a large body of the citizen warriors in the middle, and two wings of professional fighters on either side. They camped for an additional three days, a time of ritual purification, waiting on Jehovah to reveal His plan. This ritual of waiting on Jehovah became one of the critical parts of each battle. Noteworthy defeats came with failing to do so. In this case, the word from Jehovah was regarding the virtual impossibility of crossing the Jordan at that time of year. Not everyone was a swimmer, let alone of sufficient strength to deal with a spring flood current, swift and deep.

3:2-17 -- Marching behind the Ark of the Covenant for the first time required careful instruction (ch. 3). There had to be a space of some 3000 yards (2700m) between the holy Ark and the vanguard following behind it. At the moment the priests stepped into the shallows at the edge, the river simply stopped flowing from above. The water in the bottom ran on down, leaving a dry bed. The text (v. 16) describes a crucial point above the crossing -- Adam ("Red" as soil) about 15 miles upriver at the confluence of the Jabbok -- where the water was dammed, probably by the caving of the soft high banks in that area. This has happened at least twice since then and is well-documented. Most recently, in 1927, the river was blocked for 21 hours. The resulting temporary reservoir could easily flood some dozen miles back upriver. Such an event in connection with Israel's approach to Jericho would hardly go unnoticed and was attributed far and wide to the Israeli God. At the bottom of the riverbed, the priests stopped while the army crossed on either side, probably hundreds abreast, to complete the crossing in one day.

4:1-5:10 -- When the crossing was completed, a matching pair of stone monuments were erected, one on the western bank at Gilgal ("Circle" of stones) and one in the middle of the river where the priests had stood all day holding the Ark of the Covenant (ch. 4:1-9). At the precise moment the priests' feet cleared the river bed on the other side, the water above broke over the dam and returned to its normal flow. This whole affair fixed in the people's hearts their loyalty to Joshua. Their first residence in the Promised Land was the appropriate place to carry out the Covenant requirement of circumcision (ch. 5:2f). During the period of Wandering, this had been neglected, as the Covenant was suspended by the disobedience in the Wilderness of Paran. This would remove the stigma resulting from a people whose hearts had never left Egypt, were never really free. It required a week or so for recovery, after which they celebrated their first Passover in the Land; indeed, it was the first Passover since the one celebrated on the Sinai Peninsula. Having commandeered the now ripe barley in the fields belonging to Jericho (ch. 5:10f), the manna ceased to fall for their food in what is now late March or early April.

5:11-6:27 -- Gilgal was just north, over a wadi from Jericho. At the first sign of Israel crossing the Jordan, the king had ordered the gates of the city barred (ch. 6:1ff). The city considered itself under siege. With the confidence of having met the general of Jehovah's angelic army(ch. 5:13-15), Joshua gave the strange battle order: to march around the city mound once daily for six days. On the seventh, they were to make seven circuits. In this region known for seismic disturbances, it's not hard to imagine an earthquake, timed to the end of the last lap, could flatten both the inner and out walls. Jericho's walls were made of stacked mud brick, recovered from the previous Hyksos occupation. Recent archaeological work confirms that a small section of the western wall, where Rahab's hostel was located, was the only portion left standing at about this time in Jericho's history. Joshua had ordered the pact she made with the spies be kept, and only her family survived. She eventually married into the nation, and was an ancestor of King David. Everything else in the city was kherem: totally devoted to Jehovah, as the first-fruits of Conquest. In practice, this meant that everything of use in the Tabernacle service would be salvaged and ritually cleansed; all else was completely destroyed. No individual was allowed to keep so much as a souvenir. This act of delayed gratification came from the same discipline that kept the army silent while circling the city, with the inevitable ridicule this would have brought from the defenders on the walls. Even the city mound was put under the ban. Joshua's curse on the site came literally true in mid-9th century BC, under the rule of Ahab (1 Kings 16:34).

7:1-5 -- That a single member of the nation had, in effect, stolen from Jehovah was sufficient cause for Him to abandon the troops in battle. We may find it odd that the silver was buried deepest (7:22). That fact simply adds to the evidence that silver was more highly valued than gold in that part of the world, until Solomon brought so much into his kingdom that gold became the rarer of the two. Achan ("Troublesome") had secreted this loot from Jericho in his family tent and this caused the first Battle of Ai to bring such embarrassing results. We should also note that Joshua failed to consult with Jehovah on the plan of attack, relying completely on the report and recommendation of his scouts (vv. 2-5).

7:6-26 -- While this is not clearly stated, Joshua would surely have known of the problem had he first consulted God. It is worth noting here that the punishment for this violation of Achan's was in keeping with a trend that appears common in Jehovah's dealings with His people. The first violation that takes place merits the utmost penalty possible, in this case, execution of the entire household. Later offenses of the same kind didn't always bring such severity. Stoning in ancient times was not a mass pelting of fist-sized stones, except perhaps the first few rocks. For the most part, rather large stones were simply piled on the body of the victim until they suffocated under the weight of their combined mass. Marking the event with a large heap of stones meant simply adding a few more on the pile. This done, the wrath of Jehovah was averted.

8:1-30 -- The site currently identified as Ai is perched atop a high point on a ridge, which runs mostly north and south at that point. There is a gentle slope on the north and east side. It was the home of ancient pagan temples. Ai ("Ruins") was occupied just as its name suggests, by an Amorite tribe that had not yet fully rebuilt the impressive fortifications since their destruction sometime between 2500 and 2000 BC. It is not hard to imagine the Amorites, normally nomads, having pitched their tents inside the ruins, perhaps in preparation for rebuilding the city. Such an occupation would quickly become urban in nature, in spite of the use of tents. Whether the residents had begun using the temples again is not certain, but the city served at least to help protect Bethel, only 1.5 miles away. Bethel ("House of God"), the city near which Jacob had his dream, is scarcely mentioned at this point. Not only had its glory and importance declined, but nothing of significance occurred in connection with the battle. It is hinted that they came out in support of Ai, but their part in the battle does not enter the narrative. We know only that all the available men of fighting age came out to fight (v. 17). We also know that Bethel appears on the list of conquered cities later in the text (ch. 12:9ff).

In the first attempt, only three companies of conscript soldiers had been sent to Ai. An initial loss of 36 was a disaster on that scale, when one adds those killed as they retreated back down the valley. For the second battle, Joshua had the advantage of Jehovah's advice and promise of victory. He sent thirty professional soldiers to hide in ambush in a ravine on the south side and down-slope from the ruins. They were in place before dawn. There was another ambush of five companies to block reinforcements from Bethel. The main attack force of conscripts had camped the night before on the ridge to the north and in full view of the city, with a dry flat valley between them. When the Israelite conscripts formed up on the valley floor at dawn, the residents of Ai, emboldened by the previous victory, came out to meet them. Every man in the city wanted a share of the glory and the city was left totally undefended. As the Israelite conscripts fled from the Amorites, the ambush force moved in and took the city. They set ablaze anything that would burn. The smoke served as a signal to the army below to turn and fight. The ambush force descended on the Amorites' rear. Caught between the two, the fighters of Ai perished to a man. Then, the victors returned and slaughtered the rest of the panicked inhabitants, leaving only their king alive. He was executed by hanging or impaling on a stake (the word usually translated "tree" refers to the source of the item), shaming him as a common criminal. He was buried in the same manner as Achan, in the gate of his former city, once again a complete ruin.

8:30-35 -- We can be certain that there were other battles, but the necessity of fighting over Shechem is doubtful (ch. 8:30ff). There is evidence that this place, so sacred to the Patriarchs, may have remained in friendly hands, perhaps through some of Ephraim's children. We are certain that at least one left Egypt, returning to build Beth-Horon (1 Chronicles 7:24), approximately 13 miles northwest of Jerusalem, long before the Conquest. At any rate, the wedge had been driven between north and south Canaan Land and it was celebrated on the slopes above Shechem on either side, as prescribed by Moses before his death. Joshua brought up the families and clearly meant to begin occupying conquered territory. Thus, it was critical that Israel be made to understand, beyond all doubt, what Jehovah required of them. In an elaborate ceremony, where the nation -- "congregation" -- was divided between the two great bowl-shaped hollows on either side of Shechem, the Covenant Blessings were pronounced from Mount Gerizim ("Rocky") on the south and Curses from Mount Ebal ("Bald") on the north. Along with this ceremony, a symbolic altar to Jehovah, using only uncut natural stones, was raised on the top of Mount Ebal. The Law of Moses, which had been read aloud at the ceremony, was also inscribed on the stones of this altar.

Certainly things were not perfect, but it would be hard to ignore the obvious mood of determination and hope that flared in the heart of Israelite. Egyptian slavery was a dim memory, an experience few living could describe. The shame of rebellion had been wiped away, and victory was on-going. Thus we find ourselves at one of the highest points in the history of this nation.

Chapter 4.2: The Southern Campaign

Joshua 9 -- By this time, the various rulers in Palestine realized what Israel meant to do. There could be no surrender, since the aim was genocide. Whatever petty rivalries there may have been between the Canaanites were set aside as they allied to face this common threat. However, one city-state decided to capitulate, but deceptively, in hopes of surviving. They sent emissaries who would appear to have come from too far away to reside within the Promised Land (v. 3-14). Again, Joshua failed to consult Jehovah. He and the elders made treaty with these frauds, in terms that were absolute (v. 19). When the fraud was discovered, there was no legitimate way to back out. The Hivites ("Villagers") of Gibeon ("Hilly"), along with its dependent towns, thus survived to become virtual slaves of Israel (v. 27).

It must be borne in mind that an invading horde like Israel, while bringing their families, could not have moved far in one day. Research indicates that a large force, fully loaded with provisions and support people, seldom moved more than 5 miles (8km) per day. Consider that each day the routine was to tear down the camp, pack it up, form the various elements into marching order, and then move off. At the next site, there would be a reverse of the process. If they were security conscious, there would be an advance guard that would keep watch while everyone prepared to displace. The rear guard post security as the camp slowly emptied, then march out last. The advance guard would move out to secure a perimeter at the new site, followed by the lead elements. Late in the day they would be displaced again by the rear guard, which had held the line at the previous camp while the baggage elements moved out last. All the meal preparation would normally take place during the waning hours of the daylight at the new camp.

During the times that the nation of Israel was marching with families, there would be a good deal less of the full setup and takedown process each day. For example, the Tabernacle was erected only when the situation called for an extended stay. The text of Joshua indicates that the main body of Israel remained encamped at Gilgal for quite some months. Manna ceased falling because the found sufficient forage and grain crops there on the lush Jordan Valley floor. From this base of operations, most of the Conquest took place.

10:1-4 -- Whatever plans Joshua had will never be known, because the King of Jerusalem forced his hand. Upon learning that Gibeon, no small kingdom, had made peace with the invading Hebrews, Adoni-zedek ("Lord of Justice") called up his vassals to mobilize against the traitors. Hoham ("Lord of the Multitude") is named as the king of Hebron, which we noted was the name later given to the site. Apparently his city was Kiriath-arba ("City of Arba" named after a giant Anak) near the site of Hebron, on a hill just west of there now called Jebel er-Rumeidi. Piram ("Wild One") ruled Jarmuth ("High Place"), currently associated with modern Khirbet el Yarmuk, a very high hill in the rolling plains of southwest Palestine. However, the name probably had more to do with the pagan religious connotation of a "high place" as a shrine to various gods. Japhia ("Bright" or "Exalted") was lord over Lachish ("Impregnable"). This is one of the better-known sites, with evidence of a thriving community as far back as 3200 BC. Once established, the site was easily defended and controlled several major routes passing through the area. Debir ("Scribe") was the king of Eglon (place of the "Bull"), tentatively identified with modern Tell Nejilah.

10:5-9 -- These all converged on Gibeon, which stood on high ground on the eastern side of a valley occupied by smaller villages, essentially suburbs of Gibeon. The combined forces had encamped in siege within this valley. Hopelessly outmatched, the Gibeonites appealed to their new masters for protection. Joshua wasted no time in assembling his troops to relieve Gibeon. Apparently he had sought Jehovah's word on this, for he was assured of victory. The hasty night march would have been some 26 miles (42km); proceeding without the usual support train, they covered in one night what usually took three days. In the cool of darkness, such a march would be somewhat less exhausting. They surprised the besieging troops at dawn, attacking without delay. This was exceptionally rare in ancient warfare, when opposing armies seldom joined battle the same day they came within sight of each other. Each side would be hoping for at least one good meal and a night's rest to fortify them for the demands of fighting. Since this was during the warm season, when the heat of day sapped a man's strength quickly, it was all the more unlikely any battle-wise commander would attack without resting his troops.

10:10-15 -- As Jehovah had promised, the combined Amorite, Hittite and Jebusite army melted before Israel's assault. The siege troops immediately fled west toward Beth Horon ("House of Caves"), 10 miles (16km) away, on the last ridge before the coastal plain. Quite likely, the intent was to disperse across the foothills where there was more room to maneuver and plan the next move. It was to Israel's advantage to slaughter the bulk of these local troops while they were confined in the upper hill country. The approach to Beth Horon was a narrow twisting gorge. Once reaching Upper Beth Horon on the ridge, it was a mad dash at least two miles (3km) down the rugged slope, made passable only by local residents having cut steps into the rock. Hoping to take advantage of this bottleneck, Joshua prayed to Jehovah for help.

For the Creator of the Universe to stop or slow the spinning of the earth, prolonging the hours of daylight, without disrupting anything else, would be hardly a challenge. However, given the circumstances, this would not have been a wise request, nor is it likely what Joshua actually prayed. The Israeli troops were already tired and hot; the best hope was that it would stay cool, in order to press the tactical advantage. The ambiguous Hebrew phrase appearing to ask that the sun "stand still" could also mean to be "held back" from shining. That the greater slaughter came at the hand of Jehovah from a hailstorm -- totally out of season -- would indicate a very thick cloud cover that would indeed keep the ambient air temperature relatively low for that time of year. It's hardly less of a miracle that there was any cloud cover at all, much less a storm producing deadly hail at that time and place, leaving Israel's troops unscathed.

10:16-27 -- The text includes overlapping accounts of the same event told from different angles, rather than a single chronological account. The army of Israel finished an exhausting day pursuing surviving remnants of the enemy back to their fortified home cities. During the battle, the allied kings were found hiding in a cave at Makkedah, 14 miles (23km) from Lower Beth Horon, where it stood at the head of the Aijalon Valley. Stones were rolled up to block the door and guards were dispatched from the command element so that the forward troops were able to continue their pursuit. Whatever support Israel had, whether it was the grateful Gibeonites or a delayed contingent from Gilgal, would have caught up late that day or early the next. Before recovering with food and a well-deserved night's rest, the army assembled at the cave and the kings were brought out. Combat leaders performed a ritual of victory by placing their feet on the necks of the kings, indicating total dominance. Then Joshua himself executed them and hung their bodies until evening (i.e., the next day in Hebrew reckoning).

10:28-40 -- None of the symbolic meaning in this was lost on the inhabitants of Makkedah ("Sheepfold"), for they had provided the shelter for these kings. The city was captured and the people slaughtered for it. While the phrase in the text rendered in English indicates it was all the same day, "that day" was a figure of speech often meaning "during that time." Taking out Makkedah was probably over the next day, or even a week, depending on the degree of fortification. There is some uncertainty over the site's identification today, so the degree of fortification remains an unknown. The campaign for the other cities mentioned there in the southern half of Palestine probably occupied the rest of that summer. That the "whole army of Israel" participated indicates waiting for the rest of the army to join them from Gilgal, setting up a full siege encampment against several of the targets.

Here in the Land of Canaan, religion was politics. The Southern Campaign was primarily aimed at shutting down major religious centers. In a few cases, there was a pure tactical motive. There was no hope of a political conquest at first, in the sense of taking control of every acre of ground. It would have been an awesome task to occupy every town, village and hamlet and then defend them, too. However, what was clearly happening was a conquest of hearts. The Canaanites saw that none of their gods would or could keep them safe from the nation of Israel. Every major temple city fell. The God of Israel was supreme.

Chapter 4.3: The Northern Campaign

Joshua 11 -- It appears Joshua simply extended the effort in the same year for the northern half of Canaan. The description is rather terse and routine, indicating that once again, it was the locals who sought a preemptive strike against the invading Israelites. Again, Jehovah promised victory, with descriptions of the subsequent destruction of the cities and inhabitants. Hazor ("Village") led the Northern Confederation under their king, Jabin ("Wise and Intelligent One") -- no doubt a title rather than a proper name. Having mobilized the entire army of the north, Jabin marshaled them around the Merom Springs that fed a major tributary of the Jordan via the Sea of Galilee (called the Sea of Chinneroth at the time). While they were preparing for their battle with Israel, Joshua had been marching troops up from Gilgal, so caught them by surprise. As in the south, having defeated the armies in the field, it was easier to capture the cities from whence they came. It is noteworthy that Hazor was one of only three cities -- along with Jericho and Ai -- that were actually razed and destroyed. Each was a symbol for Israel and for the inhabitants of the land. Jericho was "devoted" in that it could have no use by man again. At least part of the reason for destroying Ai was what it meant to Israel after dealing with the sin of Aachan. Hazor was probably the single most powerful city in the whole of Canaanite territory. Estimates place its population at some 40,000.

The Wars of Conquest continued for at least five years (see below). Once the primary source of resistance was removed, there was still a great deal of mopping up here and there, putting out small fires of resistance as they arose. This was all accomplished by soldiers on foot. Jehovah ordered Joshua to hamstring Jabin's horses and burn the wooden chariots, destroying the ancient equivalent of cavalry. It was more than just a means to keep them humble and dependent on Jehovah. These and other nations in the north used their chariots and horses in pagan rituals; their use in combat always represented a faith in pagan gods. The riders were a select group, sacred and apart from the common soldier. While Israel also had professional soldiers, they were hardly held as a class apart from the conscripted citizen-soldiers. Conscripted troops were drawn from a population that valued men brave and athletic, familiar with the weapons of war. Each man had his own short-sword of bronze, roughly a foot long (30cm), or a lance with a bronze head. Many had both. There were also lighter throwing javelins, along with slings and stones, mentioned previously. A few even had scimitars, such as Joshua used to signal the successful attack at Ai. It all compares favorably to modern Switzerland, where virtually every able-bodied person is a lifetime member of the defense militia and required to keep a weapon at home.

Consolidation and Occupation

Joshua 12-24 -- We know that Joshua was 40 at the time he helped with the original spying mission, then approximately 80 at the beginning of the Conquest. We also know his close friend Caleb was roughly the same age. When Caleb asks permission to possess the area of Hebron, he tells us that it has been 45 years since that first spying mission under Moses (ch. 14:6ff). His request seems to indicate that enough national targets have been removed that it was time to pass the remaining occupation fighting tasks to the tribes. In the 5-year interval between the first battles and Caleb's request, his inheritance must be re-taken from when the Anakim were destroyed (10:38-39). It was probably the remnants of the original residents.

When the primary targets of conquest had been disposed of, Joshua began the long task of parceling the land among the tribes. The text serves as the official record and goes into great detail (chs. 13-21), but many of the landmarks are no longer recognized by the names recorded. Overseeing the surveying and marking of tribal borders, plus settling a couple of disputes, took quite some time. When next we are told Joshua's age, he is 110. Jehovah told Joshua to retire, with a rough dating of 1387 B.C. With his retirement the flush of victorious conquest lasted well into the next generation. However, almost immediately, small failures of faith became readily apparent here and there. The tendency to pursue pagan gods and goddesses remained never far from the surface for a significant portion of the nation. To best we can determine, they never again rose the heights of faithfulness as during the Conquest.


Ed Hurst
23 February 2004, revised 03 February 2016

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