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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 11

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And it came to pass when Jabin, etc In this new league also we have a bright manifestation of the more than paternal care of God, in warding off dangers from his people, and also in assisting their weakness by kindness and indulgence. Had Jabin, with the confederates of whom mention is now made, openly declared himself the ally of the neighboring kings, a much more formidable war would have broken out against the Israelites, and greater solicitude and anxiety must have seized their minds. It would, indeed, have been easy for the Lord, as well to put all their forces at once to the rout, as to dissipate all fear and dread of them. He was unwilling, however, to press beyond measure his own people, who were otherwise feeble, lest the excessive numbers of the enemy should strike them with terror, and drive them to despair. He therefore kept the many nations, whose interest it was to have rushed hastily to arms, in a state of lethargy and amazement, until the chosen people had been animated by signal victories, to carry on the wars which still remained. They pillage and devastate a large territory, and leave it destitute of inhabitants and stript of resources. None of the neighboring powers, who were afterwards to act on the offensive, makes the least movement. The Israelites revisit their wives and children in safety. When they had gathered courage, and were ready for a new war, suddenly a very large army appears, composed of different nations, who had hitherto, by remaining quiet, furnished opportunity for victory. Their coming thus forward at a later period, was the same as if they had entered into a truce. Thus God not only fought for his chosen people, but by dividing the enemy, increased their strength manifold.

How formidable must the onset have been, had not the Israelites been gradually trained to confidence in battle, and at the same time experienced the manifest assistance of God? First, their numbers are compared to the sand of the sea, and then they have horses and chariots. As the Israelites were altogether destitute of cavalry, it is strange that they were not terrified at this array. Therefore they were gradually brought forward till they were able to bear it. For, in their former battles, he had only exercised them by a kind of pleasing preludes. (110) It may be added, that the Lord had, by several victories, ever and anon borne testimony to his power, that they might not think more lightly of it than was meet. Had all their enemies been routed at once, they might, indeed, have magnificently celebrated the praises of God, but they might also have easily lost the remembrance of them. It was necessary, therefore, that repeated proofs distinct and apart from each other, should be held forth to their view, lest they might attribute one victory to a stroke of fortune.

(110) Latin, “Judundis praeludiis.” French “Escarmouches plaisantes;” “Pleasing skirmishes.” — Ed.

Verse 6

6.And the Lord said unto, Joshua, etc The greater the labor and difficulty of destroying an army, so numerous and so well equipped, the more necessary was it to inspire them with new confidence. The Lord, therefore, appears to his servant Joshua, and promises the same success as he had previously given him on several occasions. It is to be carefully observed, that as often as he reiterates his promises men are reminded of their forgetfulness, or their sloth, or their fickleness. For unless new nourishment is every now and then given to faith, they forthwith faint and fall away. (111) And yet such is our perverse fastidiousness, that to hear the same thing twice is usually felt to be irksome. Wherefore let us learn, as often as we are called to engage in new contests, to recall the remembrance of the divine promises, which may correct our languor, or rouse us from our sloth. And especially let us make an application of that which is here said in general, to our daily practice; as the Lord now intimates, that that which he had declared concerning all nations would be specially sure and stable on the present occasion.

We infer from the account of the time employed, that these kings had marched a considerable distance, in order to attack Joshua and the people in Gilgal. For immediately after the divine intimation, mention is made of the expedition used by Joshua. (112) He is promised the victory on the following day. Hence they were not far distant. And the lake of Merom, where they had pitched their camp, is contiguous to the Jordan, and much nearer to Gilgal than Gennesaret, from which district some of the enemy had come. (113) It is said that this lake diminishes or increases according to the freezing of the snow on the mountains, or to its melting. Moreover, the command given to Joshua and the people, to cut the legs or thighs of the horses, and to burn the chariots, was undoubtedly intended to prevent them from adopting those more studied modes of warfare which were in use among profane nations. It was indeed necessary that they should serve as soldiers, and fight strenuously with the enemy, but still they were to depend only on the Lord, to consider themselves strong only in his might, and to recline on him alone.

This could scarcely have been the case, if they had been provided with cavalry, and an array of chariots. For we know how such showy equipment dazzles the eye, and intoxicates the mind with overweening confidence. Moreover, a law had been enacted, (Deuteronomy 17:16) that their kings were not to provide themselves with horses and chariots, obviously because they would have been extremely apt to ascribe to their own military discipline that which God claimed for himself. Hence the common saying, (Psalms 20:7)

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”

God wished to deprive them of all stimulants to audacity, in order that they might live quietly contented with their own limits, and not unjustly attack their neighbors. And experience showed, that when a bad ambition had impelled their kings to buy horses, they engaged in wars not less rashly than unsuccessfully. It was necessary, therefore, to render the horses useless for war, by cutting their sinews, and to destroy the chariots, in order that the Israelites might not become accustomed to the practices of the heathen.

(111) French, “Elle secoule et evanouist; “It” (faith) “melts and vanishes.” — Ed.

(112) Latin, “Oraculo enim subnectitur expeditio Josue.” French, “Car l’expedition de Josue est conjointe avec l’avertissement que Dieu luy donne;” “For the expedition of Joshua is conjoined with the intimation which God gives him.” — Ed.

(113) Latin, “Et lacus Merom, ubi castra locaverant, qui Jordani contiguns est, longe propius accedit ad Gilgal quam Gennesara ex cujus tractu pars hostium profecta erat.” French, “Et le lac de Merom ou ils s’estoyent campez, qui est contigu au Jourdain, approche beaucoup plus pres de Gilgal que ne fait Genesara, du rivage duquel ume partie des ennemis s’estoit levee;” “And the lake of Merom, where they had encamped, which is contiguous to the Jordan, approaches much nearer to Gilgal than Gennesaret does, on the shores of which a part of the enemy had been raised.” The geographical details here given, and more especially those relating to the lake of Merom, are both defective and inaccurate. The impression left by the Commentary is, that after the kings, composing this formidable league, had united their forces, they began to march southwards, and had arrived within a moderate distance of Gilgal, where they probably expected to come suddenly on Joshua, and take him by surprise. Meanwhile they encamped by the lake of Merom, and Joshua having, in consequence of a divine intimation, set out hastily with his army, gives them the surprise which they expected to have given him. According to this view, the lake of Merom was comparatively near to Gilgal, and hence this is distinctly asserted in the Latin and French quotation which commences this note. The French says plainly, that there was a shorter distance to Gilgal from the lake of Merom than from that of Gennesaret. And the Latin, though not free from ambiguity, says, either the same thing or something still more inaccurate, namely, that the lake of Merom was nearer to Gilgal than to the lake of Gennesaret. On the contrary, it is now well known that the lake of Merom, the modern El Hule, is situated ten miles to the north of the lake of Gennesaret, and consequently is exactly that number of miles farther from Gilgal than the lake of Gennesaret is, the distances of the lakes from Gilgal being respectively, for Merom, about seventy-five, and for Gennesaret sixty-five miles. Such being the fact, it is obvious that Joshua could not have been at Gilgal when he was honored with a divine communication, promising him the victory on the following day. The true state of the case seems to be, that after Joshua had conquered the central and southern parts of the country, a number of kings or chiefs, whose territories extended over the whole of the north of the promised land, entered into a common league, and appointed the lake of Merom as their place of rendezvous. Joshua, well informed of the league, and alive to its formidable nature, did not wait to give the enemy time to mature their schemes, or remain inert till they were actually within a day’s march of his camp, but set out with a determination to act on the offensive, and with this view had advanced far to the north, into the very heart of the enemy’s country, when any fears which their formidable array might have produced, either in himself or his army, were completely removed by the assurance of speedy and signal success. — Ed.

Verse 8

8.And the Lord delivered them, etc The greatness of the overthrow may be inferred from this, that the slaughter continued as far as Sidon, which was far distant from the lake of Merom. Sidon is called great, from its celebrity as a commercial emporium and the great number of its inhabitants. There is no comparison instituted between it and a minor town of same name. The Hebrew noun Mozerephoth, which some retain without change as a proper name, we have preferred to translate “the boiling of the waters,” because it is probable that there were thermal springs there, which boiled. Moreover, as the panic which hurried them away into such a scattered flight, plainly shows that they were driven headlong by the secret terror of the Lord. So it is certain that the Israelites who dared to follow the fugitives through so many dangers were carried to a higher pitch of valor than human by celestial agency.

Praise is bestowed on Joshua as well for his abstinence as for his prompt obedience. Nor would he have submitted so willingly to the loss of so many horses and chariots, had not the fear of God overawed him. For such is our ingenuity in devising pretexts, it would have been plausible to allege, that though he could not fit them for military use, still their value was by no means to be despised. But he thought that he had no right to take anything into consideration but the pleasure of God. Then, as he had succeeded by his own good conduct, in making the people willing and obedient, he, as an individual, justly received the praise of what had been performed generally by all.

Verse 12

12.And all the cities of those kings, etc Having routed the army, they began to plunder and lay waste the country, and to take and demolish the towns. From its being said that the cities which remained entire were not burned, it may be inferred with some probability, that some were taken by force and assault, and so razed. Hazor, alone, after the siege was over, and the heat of the struggle had cooled, was destroyed by fire, because it had held forth the torch which enkindled the war. But in accordance with the explanation already given, it is repeatedly and more clearly stated in this passage, that Joshua did not give loose reins to his passion, when he slew all from the least to the greatest. For there is now a distinct statement of what had not yet been expressed, namely, that Joshua faithfully performed his part, by fulfilling everything which the Lord had enjoined by Moses. It is just as if he had placed his hands at the disposal of God, when he destroyed those nations according to his command. And so ought we to hold that, though the whole world should condemn us, it is sufficient to free us from all blame, that we have the authority of God. (114) Meanwhile, it becomes us prudently to consider what each man’s vocation requires, lest any one, by giving license to his zeal, as wishing to imitate Joshua, may be judged cruel and sanguinary, rather than a strict servant of God.

(114) Latin, “Deum habere authorem.” French, “Que nous ayons Dieu pour garant et autheur de ce que nous faisons;” “That we have God as guarantee and author of what we do.” — Ed.

Verse 16

16.So Joshua took all that land, etc In the uninterrupted series of victories, when the land, of its own accord, spewed out its old inhabitants, to give free possession to the Israelites, it was visibly manifest, as is said in the Psalm, (Psalms 44:3)

“They got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou had a favor unto them.”

The design of enumerating the places and districts is to let us know that the work which God had begun he continued to carry on without interruption. But it is a mistake to suppose: as some do, that by the name Israel a certain mountain is meant. For it will be plain, from the end of the chapter, (Joshua 11:21) that the term is applied indiscriminately to the mountainous part of Israel and Judah. There is therefore an enlarge in the enumeration, because the mountains of the ten tribes are tacitly compared with the mountains of Judah. Accordingly, an antithesis is to be understood. In the other mountain (Joshua 11:17) the surname is ambiguous. Some understand it to mean division, as if it had been cut in two; (115) others to mean smooth, as it was destitute of trees, just as a head is rendered smooth by baldness. As the point is uncertain, and of little importance, the reader is at liberty to make his choice.

(115) Latin, “Dissectus.” French, “Couppee ou fendue;” “Cut, or cleft.” — Ed.

Verse 18

18.Joshua made war a long time, etc Before, he had, in a short time, and, as it were, with the swiftness of running, seized possession of five kingdoms; in the others the case was different, not from hesitation, or weariness, or sloth, but because the Lord exercised his people variously, that he might give a brighter display of his manifold grace, which usually loses its value in our eyes, if it is exhibited only in one and the same way. Therefore, as the divine power had formerly been signally manifested by incredible facility of accomplishment, when the enemy were routed in an instant, so a lingering warfare now furnished numerous proofs of heavenly aid. (116) Nor did this happen suddenly and unexpectedly; for God had foretold by Moses that so it would be, lest, if the land were at once converted into a desert, the wild beasts might gain the ascendancy. (Deuteronomy 7:22) In short, we here perceive, as in a mirror, that whatever the Lord had promised by Moses was accomplished in reality, and by no dubious event. But while we recognize the certainty of the promises of God, we ought also to meditate on the favor confirmed towards his chosen people, in that he acted as the provident head of a family, not neglecting or omitting anything which tended to their advantage.

(116) According to Josephus, (Antiquit., 5:2,) the time which Joshua spent in his wars was five years; others make it seven, and justify their estimate by the following calculation: — In Joshua 14:7, Caleb says that he was forty years old when he was sent from Kadesh-Barnea to spy out the land, and that since then to the present time (apparently that when the wars had just terminated) forty-five years had elapsed. Of these forty-five years, thirty-eight were spent in the desert, and consequently the remaining seven constitute the whole period which had elapsed from the passage of the Jordan up to the time when Caleb made his statement. — Ed.

Verse 19

19.There was not a city that made peace, etc This sentence appears, at first sight, contradictory to what is everywhere said in the books of Moses, that the Israelites were not to enter into any league with those nations, or make any terms of peace with them, but, on the contrary, to destroy them utterly, and wipe out their race and name. (Exodus 23:32; Deuteronomy 7:2) (117) Seeing the nations were thus excluded from the means of making any paction, and would in vain have made any proposals for peace, it seems absurd to ascribe the destruction, which they had not even the means of deprecating, to their obstinacy.

For, let us suppose that they had sent ambassadors before them with olive branches in their hands, and had been intent on pacific measures, Joshua would at once have answered that he could not lawfully enter into any negotiation, as the Lord had forbidden it. Wherefore, had they made a hundred attempts to avoid war, they must, nevertheless, have perished. Why, then, are they blamed for not having sought peace, as if they had not been driven by necessity to right, after they saw they had to do with an implacable people? But if it was not free to them to act otherwise, it is unjust to lay any blame upon them when they acted under compulsion in opposing the fury of their enemy.

To this objection, I answer, that the Israelites, though they were forbidden to show them any mercy, were met in a hostile manner, in order that the war might be just. And it was wonderfully arranged by the secret providence of God, that, being doomed to destruction, they should voluntarily offer themselves to it, and by provoking the Israelites be the cause of their own ruin. The Lord, therefore, besides ordering that pardon should be denied them, also incited them to blind fury, that no room might be left for mercy. And it behooved the people not to be too wise or prying in this matter. For while the Lord, on the one hand, interdicted them from entering into any covenant, and, on the other, was unwilling that they should take hostile measures without being provoked, a too anxious discussion of the procedure might have greatly unsettled their minds. Hence the only way of freeing themselves from perplexity was to lay their care on the bosom of God. And he in his incomprehensible wisdom provided that when the time for action arrived, his people should not be impeded in their course by any obstacle. Thus the kings beyond the Jordan, as they had been the first to take up arms, justly suffered the punishment of their temerity. For the Israelites did not assail them with hostile arms until they had been provoked. In the same way, also, the citizens of Jericho, by having shut their gates, were the first to declare war. The case is the same with the others, who, by their obstinacy, furnished the Israelites with a ground for prosecuting the war.

It now appears how perfectly consistent the two things are. The Lord commanded Moses to destroy the nations whom he had doomed to destruction; and he accordingly opened a way for his own decree when he hardened the reprobate. In the first place, then, stands the will of God, which must be regarded as the principal cause. For seeing their iniquity had reached its height, he determined to destroy them. This was the origin of the command given to Moses, a command, however, which would have failed of its effect had not the chosen people been armed to execute the divine judgment, by the perverseness and obstinacy of those who were to be destroyed. God hardens them for this very end, that they may shut themselves out from mercy. (118) Hence that hardness is called his work, because it secures the accomplishment of his design. Should any attempt be made to darken so clear a matter by those who imagine that God only looks down from heaven to see what men will be pleased to do, and who cannot bear to think that the hearts of men are curbed by his secret agency, what else do they display than their own presumption? They only allow God a permissive power, and in this way make his counsel dependent on the pleasure of men. But what says the Spirit? That the hardening is from God, who thus precipitates those whom he means to destroy.

(117) The Septuagint, as if influenced by considerations similar to those here mentioned, has evaded the apparent inconsistency, by rendering the 19th verse (Joshua 11:19) as follows, “And there was not a city which Israel did not take: they took all in war.” There is a various reading, however, which correspond almost verbatim with the common rendering. — Ed.

(118) French, “Dieu les endurcit, afin qu’ils se monstrent indigne de toute pitie et compassion qu’on eust peu avoir d’eux;” “God hardens them in order that they may show themselves unworthy of all pity and compassion which might have been felt for them.” — Ed.

Verse 21

21.And at that time came Joshua, etc Of the sons of Anak we have spoken elsewhere. They were a race of giants, with the account of whose mighty stature the spies so terrified the people, that they refused to proceed into the land of Canaan. Therefore, seeing they were objects of so much dread, it was of importance that they should be put out of the way, and the people made more alert by their good hopes of success. It would have been exceedingly injurious (119) to keep objects which filled them with alarm and anxiety always present before their minds, inasmuch as fear obscured the glory ascribed to God for former victories, and overthrew their faith, while they reflected that the most difficult of all their contests still awaited them. Therefore, not without cause is it mentioned among the other instances of divine aid, that by purging the land of such monsters, it was rendered a fit habitation for the people. The less credible it seemed that they could be warred against with success, the more illustriously was the divine power displayed.

(119) Latin, “Perquam noxium.” French, “Fort dangereuse;” “Very dangerous.” — Ed.

Verse 23

23.So Joshua took the whole land, (120) etc Although it was far from being true that Joshua had actually acquired the whole land, yet he is truly said to have obtained it as God had declared to Moses, the latter clause restricting the meaning of the general sentence. For it had been expressly added that the conquest which God had promised would be made gradually, lest it should afterwards become necessary to war with the ferocious wild beasts of the woods, if they pressed forward into a desert waste. Therefore, we are at liberty to say, that though the Lord had not yet placed his people in possession of the promised land, yet he had virtually performed what he had agreed to do, inasmuch as he gave a commodious habitation, and one which was sufficient for the present time. And the words used imply that other district, which had not yet come into their full and actual possession, are included; for it is said that that which they had acquired was distributed according to families. And, in short, we afterwards see in the division that the lands were divided into lots which were not actually subdued by the people till Joshua was dead, nay, till many ages after. (121) The meaning of the words, which is now plain, is simply this, that while Joshua was still alive, a certain specimen of the promise was exhibited, making him feel perfectly secure in dividing the land by lot. (122)

(120) The Latin text of the 23rd verse, (Joshua 11:23), beginning thus, “Accepit itaque Josue totam terram prorsus ut dixerat Jehova Mosi;” “Joshua, therefore received the whole land entirely, as the Lord had said to Moses,” removes the apparent inaccuracy, but it is only by a sacrifice of the literal meaning, which is perfectly rendered by the English version. “So (And) Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord said unto Moses.” This is certainly superior to the Latin, which endeavors to obtain by a gloss that which the English equally well obtains by a literal rendering. In the commentary, the words of the 23rd verse, (Joshua 11:23), as quoted, are, Et cepit Josue . This makes it not improbable that the Accepit of the text is only a misprint of Et cepitEd.

(121) French, “Or en la division nous verrons puis apres, que les regions qui furent assujetties a l’empire de peuple apres la mort de Josue, voire plusieurs siecles depuis, furent mises en sort pour voir a qui elles escherroyent;” “Now, in the division, we shall afterwards see that the countries which are subjected to the dominion of the people after the death of Joshua, nay, several ages after, were put into the lot, in order to see to whom they should fall.”

(122) Latin, “Exhibitum fuisse certum specimen promissionis ut secure licuerit terram sorte dividere.” French, “La promesse fut tellement ratifice, et si bien eprouvee par effect, qu’il leur fut loisible de diviser la terre par sort;” “The promise was so far ratified and proved by fact, that they were able to leisure to divide the land by lot.” — Ed.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 11". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/joshua-11.html. 1840-57.
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