'Studies in the Old Testament'

God leads Israel into Canaan - 4

February 2010

(Continued from page 510)

God shows that it was His war!

The Israelites did not have any of these engines of war in Joshua's time and it was not until the time of Uzziah that Scripture tells us that they began to develop such sophisticated weapons. Thus we see that the task Joshua faced was, from a human standpoint, overwhelming. He had over 600,000 men, but no engines of war and no strategy.  Confronted with numerous, heavily fortified city-states which might require a two to three-year siege to conquer each one, he could spend fifty to one hundred years just laying siege to cities and conquering them before the land could be occupied. But this very lack of obvious human devices meant that the glory and might of God became evident.  This was His holy war and it was His occupation army moving into the land. 

God showed clearly that the victory was His by the supernatural nature of His "strategies" for victory.  Since He had promised Joshua a victory, He began by showing the children of Israel that it was His battle. Instead of laying a long siege against Jericho, as the man of that time would have expected, God demonstrated His power by causing the walls to fall flat.  Next, He caused a spirit of foolishness to enter the hearts of the people of Canaan so that, rather than staying inside the city, they ventured out to fight Joshua on the plains.  In this He also demonstrated His Sovereign ability and was dramatically successful. The Lord also sent swarms of bees and hornets to drive the inhabitants from their cities out onto the plains. Finally, He caused the kings to form confederacies so they would leave their cities to make united attacks against Joshua, enabling him to defeat several at one time. With divine intervention, the entire process of conquest was speeded up by our Sovereign God who, like a master chess player, moved these kings into the positions He wanted them in and so Joshua and the Israelites were victorious.

The spade of the archaeologist has provided considerable supplemental information about this period. In A.D. 1887, a peasant woman was digging in the fertile soil around the area of Amarna, (often called by its' full name, Tel-el-Amarna)5, Egypt, near Cairo, and unearthed almost four hundred small cuneiform tablets measuring from about three inches wide to as long as nine inches, and inscribed on both sides.  These tablets fully confirm the historical statements of the Book of Joshua, and prove the antiquity of civilization in Syria and Palestine. As the clay in different parts of Palestine differs, it has been found possible by the clay alone to decide where the tablets come from even when the name of the writer is lost. The inscriptions are cuneiform, and in the Aramaic language, resembling Assyrian. The writers are Phoenicians, Amorites, and Philistines, but in no instance Hittites, though Hittites are mentioned.  These tablets were the method used from about 1400 B.C. to circa 1358 B.C., to convey diplomatic correspondence between several Levantine vassal rulers in Canaan and the reigning Pharaohs of Egypt, Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV, the last of this dynasty. These dates encompass the time of Joshua's invasion and they mention the " Habiru," (sometimes called 'Abiri') which are generally agreed to be the Hebrews.

There occur the names of three kings killed by Joshua: Adoni-zedec, king of Jerusalem, Japhia, king of Lachish (Joshua 10:3), and Jabin, king of Hazor (Joshua 11:1).  We also learn from this source that the Hebrews (Abiri) are said to have come from the desert and, in one of the Amarna tablets,  Adoni-zedec (q.v.) writes to the king of Egypt informing him that the 'Abiri (Hebrews) had prevailed, and had taken the fortress of Jericho, and were plundering "all the king's lands."
The inscriptions on the tablets are informative and two of them include these statements:

Let my lord the king, the sun in heaven, take heed unto his land, for the Habiru are mighty against us. And let the king my lord stretch out his hand unto me and let him deliver me from their hands so that they may not make an end of us.

To the king my Lord say: Thus says Abdu-Heba thy servant; at the feet of the king my lord seven times and seven times I prostrate myself. The whole land of the king has revolted. There is not one governor who is loyal to the king.  All have rebelled. May the king hearken unto Abdu-Heba and send the troops, for if no troops come this year the whole territory of my lord the king will be lost. The Habiru are capturing the fortresses of the king. May the king care for his land. The Habiru are taking the cities of the king. If there are no archers this year, then let the king send a deputy that he may take me to himself together with my brothers, and we die with the king our lord.

So these tablets illustrate in a very remarkable manner the history recorded in Joshua 10, and indeed throw light on the wars of conquest generally, so that they may be read as a kind of commentary on the book of Joshua. Here the record of the conquering Abiri (Hebrews) is graphically described in different phrases: "Behold, I say that the land of the king my lord is ruined", "The wars are mighty against me", "The Hebrew chiefs plunder all the king's lands", "Behold, I the chief of the Amorites am breaking to pieces." We also read of Adoni-zedec imploring the king of Egypt to send soldiers to help him, directing that the army should come by sea to Ascalon or Gaza, and thence march to Wru-sa-lim (Jerusalem) by the valley of Elah.  It would seem from these tablets that the Egyptian troops had been withdrawn from Palestine before the Israelites arrived and that we have the story of Joshua's conquest of Canaan from the viewpoint of the desperate enemy who were unwilling eyewitnesses.

The biblical accounts that say Joshua swept on all the way to the Mediterranean coast (Joshua 10:40-41) are supported by the first mention of Israel in extra-biblical history by Pharaoh Merneptah (
ca. 1224-1211 B.C.), who led a raid into Canaan before Rameses III's confrontation with the Philistines. Upon his return, Merneptah boasted that "Israel is laid waste, his seed is not."  A broken bowl among the burnt debris of Lachish proved to be a record of tax payments to this Pharaoh.  Skeptics have claimed that the archaeological evidence is not always totally supportive of  the biblical account of the conquest and, at best, archaeology can only "prove" the destruction of certain cities at a certain time, it cannot tell us why the cities were destroyed, or by whom. However, the lack of evidence does not entitle us to contradict the Bible which would be an argument from silence.  There are also many good explanations for the scarcity of evidence from cities of this period. For example, the severe erosion of the Jericho site during the centuries it lay unoccupied accounts for the lack of Late Bronze evidence that archaeologists would desire to see here. Although similar explanation may also apply to Gibeon, it may also be that the city was located at a different place in Joshua's time for it was not all that unusual for Near Eastern people to relocate their cities when they were destroyed by war or natural disaster. The lack of destruction evidence at Shechem agrees with the Bible account that no destruction was necessary there and the Bible's report of destruction is beautifully corroborated by finds at Hazor, Lachish, and Debir (cf. Joshua 10:11, 30-31, 38-39).6

Joshua sent two spies to view the land, especially Jericho, and they went to the house of a harlot named Rahab. If they wanted information, they could not have gone to a better place for the house of a harlot was a place where merchants, military men, and politicians would be found.  To get inside information about a city the spies were bound to gain access to a full complement of influential individuals but, in conversing with these men, the spies became known to the inhabitants of Jericho and threats were made against them.  Fearing for their lives they made an arrangement with Rahab so that, if she would hide them and tell the officials that they had fled, her life and the lives of her family would be spared when the city was invaded. In order for her dwelling to be identified when the invasion began, she was instructed to hang a crimson cord from her window. (Joshua 2:18)

Rahab has proved to be a fascination throughout history for few people can naturally credit a  woman of "a house of ill-repute" with great spiritual actions.  Yet we have the clear evidence of her unusual nature from verse 9 where she acknowledges that the Hebrew God has given them the land. She had quickly identified herself, not as an idolater, but as one who evidently believed in the Lord of the Hebrews.  Possibly she believed before they arrived at her house or began to believe after their arrival but, in verse 101 she made it clear why the Canaanites were rightly in fear of Israel:

We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out  of Egypt, and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side  Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.

Obviously the inhabitants of Canaan would be aware of the miracles the God of the Israelites had wrought for His people - but Rahab was referrring to the miracle at the Red Sea which had been brought about forty years earlier.This gives us some evidence that she may have made up her mind about Yahweh God some time before the spies came to her house, or al least held strong opinions about Him. This is in many ways the pattern by which people come to faith even today. My own testimony follows this pattern, for I had a vague knowledge of His workings in my wife's life, although I had not witnessed His power first hand as far as I knew then, but I accepted that a God of Power must exist, having been brought up hearing of such miracles in Sunday school afternoon classes which I was sent to with my sisters!

Thus we learn that the Canaanites had been following the history of the Israelites with fear and trepidation since the Red Sea had been crossed, for Rahab admitted in verse 111:  "Our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you".  We can imagine the fear that had filled their hearts as this great swarm of people, like an advancing locust army, had arrived on the opposite banks as the Canaanites looked across the river into the Trans-Jordan!  They knew that the God of this people had dried up the Red Sea before them and of the victories over the kings of the Trans-Jordan area. Now they stood in fear of their lives anticipating the inevitable invasion.

However, Rahab was ready to help the spies of this fearsome God and wanted to put her trust and faith in the God of the Israelites to save her family too!  I am reminded of the centurion who came to Jesus and asked only that He speak the words and his servant would be well (Matthew 8v5-10; Luke 7v510) for, when the spies told her she must tie the scarlet cord in her window, she did not hesitate, though she must have known she had a few days. Verse 21 says that immediately after they left, "she bound the scarlet line in the window." Not for Rahab procrastination - she wanted assurance of salvation that very minute of that very hour and did not delay in carrying out the simple request that she knew would save her family.  Oh, that salvation was as readily accepted by the hearers of the deeds of God in our day.

(Continued on page 512)

'God leads Israel into Canaan!'

The Biblical use of round numbers

Canaan in the time of Joshua

Siege warfare

God shows that it was His war!

Miracle at the Jordan River

The great symbolic victory at Jericho

The Sin of Achan and its' impact on Israel

Spiritual lessons from Achan!

The result of the treaty with the Gibeonites

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