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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 12

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Commentary on Joshua Chapters 9-12. Defeat of the Southern And Northern Confederacies. Israel are Established in the Land.

Having won their initial battles Israel were now free to settle in the central hill country while maintaining Gilgal in the Jordan Rift Valley as their fighting base. The central hill country was relatively sparsely populated because of its lack of water, and the Israelites would have made plentiful use of cisterns for storing rain water. They had learned through their wilderness experiences how to preserve water. It was also heavily forested, as indeed were large parts of Canaan, which gave them further protection. Indeed when some complained to Joshua of having no land his reply was that they could clear land for themselves, advice which they then successfully followed. Meanwhile Canaan was populated mainly by peoples who lived in a multitude of small independent city states which were surrounded by such forests. But these city states had become alarmed at this large group of migrant people who had come among them and had to decide what to do about them, and that in most cases resulted in their seeking to prevent Israelite occupation, although at least one important city decided to obtain a treaty with Israel by subterfuge..

This section commences then with the mistaken treaty made with the powerful city of Gibeon as a result of the deceitful and false approach of their leaders, who pretended not to be Canaanites. This is then followed by Joshua’s defeat of a confederacy of five major Canaanite kings who came from the southern hill country and the lowlands, and this was accompanied by the smiting of a number of their cities, (although not Jerusalem itself in spite of his defeat of its king), with many of their inhabitants fleeing into the widespread forests. He was probably not, however, able to leave men in these cities to take possession of them and occupy them because he did not have enough men for the purpose, thus many of them would be repossessed by returning ‘refugees’ and would later have to be retaken. His initial intention was rather to draw the teeth of all opposition and stop their constant incursions against his people so that Israel could settle in the land. Then he returned with his forces to Gilgal.

Meanwhile the Canaanite kings of northern Palestine had heard of what had happened in the south and had raised up a further confederacy under the King of Hazor, a powerful city state. But they also fell before Joshua, with the large city of Hazor being taken and put to the sword, although once again it had to be left so that it could be repossessed. Joshua then proceeded with a slow aggressive warfare against many other kings of other cities who raised armies against him. It was not an easy task, nor one that could be accomplished quickly. ‘Joshua made war a long time with all those kings’ (Joshua 11:18). But he defeated them all with the result that in the end they ceased to oppose Israel and accepted their presence in the land, and ‘the land had rest from war’ (Joshua 11:23). This was not, however, to suggest that Israel now possessed the land. While the Canaanites were bruised and battered they still returned and repossessed many of their broken down cities and continued life as before, although in a much weaker state, having learned to leave Israel alone. Meanwhile Israel were initially permanently settling the relatively sparsely inhabited hill country by using lime plaster cisterns, with Ephraim and Manasseh settling the hill country in the middle of the land, and Judah commencing the clearing of the more populated hills in the south. This was preparatory to the tribes moving out to take possession of other parts of the land. Joshua 12:0 sums up Joshua’s successes up to that point. It will be noted that Joshua’s success is rated in terms of kings defeated, not in terms of cities permanently possessed. That would take longer once the land had been divided up among the tribes, and each had taken responsibility for a section (see Judges chapter 1 in respect of this). But at least his victories enabled Israelites to get a foothold in many parts of the land, often initially by clearing forest land, without their needing to fear constant attacks from belligerent enemies. The Canaanites learned to treat Israelites with respect, lest Joshua took note of their lack of such respect.

Chapter 12. A Summary of Joshua’s Success.

This chapter now gives a short summarising account of the conquests made by the Israelites in the times of Moses and of Joshua. It reminds us first of the kingdoms of Sihon and Og on the other side Jordan, captured in the times of Moses, which he gave to the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. These are particularly described. Then we are told of the kings on the western side of Jordan whom Joshua defeated in one way or another. Thirty one slain kings are named.

Verses 1-3

Chapter 12. A Summary of Joshua’s Success.

This chapter now gives a short summarising account of the conquests made by the Israelites in the times of Moses and of Joshua. It reminds us first of the kingdoms of Sihon and Og on the other side Jordan, captured in the times of Moses, which he gave to the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. These are particularly described. Then we are told of the kings on the western side of Jordan whom Joshua defeated in one way or another. Thirty one slain kings are named.

Joshua 12:1

‘Now these are the kings of the land whom the children of Israel smote, and took possession of their land, Beyond Jordan toward the sunrising (the east), from the valley of Arnon to Mount Hermon, and all the Arabah eastward.’

The two kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og were in mind. Their defeat is recorded in Number Joshua 21:21-35; see also Deuteronomy 2:26 to Deuteronomy 3:17. The valley of Arnon was the southern border, the Arnon river flowing through a deep valley into the Dead Sea from the east and forming the border. Mount Hermon was the northern border. The ‘Arabah eastward’ was land in the Jordan rift valley, east of Jordan. For the description compare Deuteronomy 4:46-49.

Joshua 12:2-3

Sihon, king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon, and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and half Gilead, even to the river Jabbok, the border of the children of Ammon, and the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth, eastward, and to the Sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, eastward, the way to Beth-jeshimoth, and on the south under the slopes of Pisgah.’

Heshbon was taken from the Moabites by Sihon and made his capital city (Numbers 21:26). It was in the mountains some miles north east of the Dead Sea. Its site has not been identified. A Tell Hesban contained buildings from the iron age but no trace of an earlier city. But there are late bronze age sites nearby one of which could be the original Heshbon.

“Ruled from Aroer”, presumably his administrative centre. Aroer was on the banks of the Arnon overlooking its deep gorge. The site is modern ‘Ara‘ir about twenty two kilometres (fifteen miles) east of the Dead Sea. It was mentioned by Mesha, king of Moab, on the Moabite stone, who captured and rebuilt it, constructing a road connected with it.

“(The city that is in) the middle of the valley.” The words in brackets are not in the text but are supplied from Joshua 13:9; Deuteronomy 2:36. This may have been a suburb of Aroer further into the valley close to the water’s edge, possibly acting as a watchtower.

“Half Gilead even to the River Jabbok, the border of the children of Ammon.” Gilead was split into two parts by the great trench of the Jabbok, one half ruled by Sihon the other by Og. The name Gilead is used in various ways. Sometimes it refers to the section mentioned here (Numbers 32:1; Numbers 32:29), at other times to the northern section (Joshua 17:1; Joshua 17:5; Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 3:15-16), and often to the whole area between the Yarmuk, south east of the Sea of Chinneroth (Galilee), and the Arnon (1 Kings 4:19; 2 Kings 10:33), The whole area is often described as ‘all Gilead’ (Deuteronomy 3:10; 2 Kings 10:33).

“And the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth, eastward, and to the Sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, eastward, the way to Beth-jeshimoth, and on the south under the slopes of Pisgah.” The eastern side of the Jordan rift valley from the sea of Galilee, then called Chinneroth, to the Dead Sea (the Sea of Arabah). ‘The way to Beth-jeshimoth’ would be a recognised travelling route. Beth-jeshimoth (house of the deserts) was near the north east shore of the Dead Sea (Numbers 33:49). The ‘slopes of Pisgah’ (Ashdoth-pisgah’) may refer to the entire edge of the Moabite plateau east and north east of the Dead Sea (compare Joshua 13:20; Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49). Pisgah also refers to a specific peak or ridge associated with Mount Nebo (Numbers 21:20; Deuteronomy 3:27; Deuteronomy 34:1).

Verses 4-5

And the border of Og king of Bashan, of the remnant of the Rephaim, who dwelt at Ashtaroth and at Edrei, and ruled in Mount Hermon and in Salecah and in all Bashan to the border of the Geshurites and the Maachathites, and half Gilead, the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.’

“And the border of” finalises the description of Sihon’s kingdom as ending where Og’s kingdom started and the area of Og’s kingdom is now described. He was of the remnant of the Rephaim, who could be compared in stature to the Anakim (Deuteronomy 2:21). Bashan was called ‘the land of the Rephaim’ (Deuteronomy 3:13). These races of unusually large men were held in awe by their contemporaries. The name Rephaim was later applied to the ghosts of the dead which suggests that they might have been looked on by some as coming from a source that was ‘other worldly’ (compare the comparison of the Anakim with the Nephilim - Numbers 13:33). They did, however, suffer defeat at the hands of Chederlaomer (Genesis 14:5) and were not looked on as anything extraordinary by God (Genesis 15:20).

They were called the Emim by the Moabites (Deuteronomy 2:10-11) who seemingly either drove them out of Moab, or destroyed them, as the Ammonites destroyed the related Zamzummim (Deuteronomy 2:20-21). The valley of Rephaim near Jerusalem witnesses to their presence there at one time. While tall they were clearly not powerful as was often the case with over tall men, although there were always exceptions. Og’s basalt sarcophagus was no direct indication of the size of the man (Deuteronomy 3:11-12) although it may have affected people’s views about him afterwards. In the present day we can partially compare the Zulus.

Og ruled over the northern half of Gilead to the Yarmuk, and over Bashan which is north of the Yarmuk to the foot of Mount Hermon, and bounded on the west by the territory of the Geshurites and the Maacathites (Joshua 13:11; Deuteronomy 3:14). He had palaces in Ashtaroth and Edrei. He also ruled Mount Hermon territory and Salecah. Salecah was seemingly a semi-independent border city (Joshua 13:11; Deuteronomy 3:10 makes clear it was a city) under his rule. It may be modern Salhad, on a southern spur of the Hauran.

Ashtaroth was presumably a centre for the worship of the Canaanite goddess Ashtaroth and is probably Tell Ashtarah thirty kilometres (eighteen miles) east of the Sea of Galilee (Chinneroth). It is also probably to be identified with the ‘strt’ of the records of Tuthmosis III, the ‘astarte’ of the Amarna letters and the ‘astartu’ of Assyrian inscriptions. Edrei is probably modern Der‘a. It occupies a key point for communications in the Bashan area and has remains dating from the early bronze age. Bashan as a whole was famous for good pasturage (Micah 7:14), fat cattle (Ezekiel 39:18) and strong oaks (Isaiah 2:13).

Verse 6

Moses the servant of YHWH, and the children of Israel, smote them, and Moses the servant of YHWH gave it for a possession to the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh.’

For details of the smiting see Numbers 21:21-35. For the bestowal on the tribes see Numbers 32:0. The description of the activities under Moses, seen as to the glory of YHWH, is now completed.

Verses 7-8

And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the children of Israel smote Beyond Jordan Westward, from Baalgad, in the valley of Lebanon, even to mount Halak, which goes up to Seir. And Joshua gave it to the tribes of Israel for a possession according to their divisions, in the hill country, and in the Shephelah and in the Arabah, and in the slopes, and in the wilderness and in the Negeb, the Hittite, the Amorite, and the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.’

We now come to the conquests of Joshua. For Baalgad and mount Halak compare on Joshua 11:16-17. Once again we are reminded that the land outlined, which belonged to the tribes mentioned, was given as a possession to the tribes of Israel according to their ‘divisions’, by tribe and sub-tribe. Now follows a list of the thirty one kings slain by Israel under Joshua seemingly given in the general order in which slain, although not necessarily strictly for Makkedah and Libnah at least are out of order chronologically. There is also a tendency to gather the names in areas, but not consistently. Note the ancient method of counting by ‘ones’.

Verses 9-15

Joshua 12:9-13 a

‘The king of Jericho, one, the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one, the king of Jerusalem, one, the king of Hebron, one, the king of Yarmuth, one, the king of Lachish, one, the king of Eglon, one, the king of Gezer, one, the king of Debir, one.’

The fate of these nine kings is described earlier in the book. The order follows Joshua 10:5, then Joshua 10:33; Joshua 10:38.

Joshua 12:13-15 (12b-15)

‘The king of Geder, one, the king of Hormah, one, the king of Arad, one, the king of Libnah, one, the king of Adullam, one.’

Of these Libnah is mentioned in Joshua 10:29. Geder is unknown (Gerar and Goshen have both been suggested). Hormah was an important city in the Negeb (compare Judges 1:17), and middle bronze fortifications six kilometres (four miles) to the west of Arad have been suggested as its site. Arad has been identified as Tell el Milh (Tel Malhata), twenty two kilometres (fourteen miles) east of Beersheba, also in the Negeb. Adullam is identified as Tell esh-Sheikh Madhkur midway between Jerusalem and Lachish. It should be noted that the death of the kings is not evidence for the defeat of their cities. Hormah and Arad may have formed an alliance in the Negeb (possibly with Geder) and been defeated in open battle there.

Verses 16-18

The king of Makkedah, one, the king of Bethel, one, the king of Tappuah, one, the king of Hepher, one, the king of Aphek, one, the king of Lassharon, one.’

The king of Makkedah was slain in Joshua 10:28, assuming the same king is meant. But when one king died another became king. Thus it may not necessarily be the same king in view of the fact that this is out of place chronologically. If two kings of Makkedah were slain the writer may only have wished to mention one. But all it may show is that the order is not chronological. Libnah, Adullam, Makkedah, Bethel may suggest a return sweep from the Negeb.

There is no reason to think that the king of Bethel was slain when Ai was taken. Thus this was probably in a later battle. Bethel itself may not have been taken that time either (see Judges 1:22-26). Tappuah was probably the town in Ephraimite territory on the southern border of Manasseh (Joshua 16:8; Joshua 17:7-8). It is possibly sited at modern Sheikh Abu Zarad about twelve kilometres (seven and a half miles) south of Shechem. For Hepher, Tell Ibshar on the plain of Sharon has been suggested. Aphek means ‘fortress’ and could therefore be a number of places (see Joshua 13:4; Joshua 15:53; Joshua 19:30 among others). Lassharon (belonging to Sharon) is not known but has been connected with a site ten kilometres (six miles) south west of the Sea of Chinnereth.

Verses 19-20

The king of Madon, one, the king of Hazor, one, the king of Shimron-meron, one, the king of Achshaph, one.’

These were the four kings mentioned in Joshua 11:1.

Verse 21

The king of Taanach, one, the king of Megiddo, one.’

These were kings of two of the major cities of Canaan, situated on either side of the Plain of Esdraelon, each having a large population in the tens of thousands. Megiddo was the largest, controlling the pass that led onto the Plain. It is unlikely that these cities were taken. They were heavily fortified, and had Joshua taken them we would have been told about it. It would probably have required another miracle. They were important cities on the main trade route through Canaan, and for this reason were main targets for Egypt when Egypt was strong. They also had connections with Mesopotmia, and a fragment of the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh was found on the site of Megiddo. Possibly they joined forces against Joshua, becoming alarmed at what had happened to Hazor, and were then defeated and killed in open battle. Both later fell to Israel, (possibly after being attacked by someone else) but, instead of destroying the Canaanites, they set them to taskwork (Judges 1:27-28).

Megiddo was destroyed in c. 1150 BC, well after the time of Joshua and before the time of Deborah. This may have been the work of Israel, but it could in fact have had any number of causes. Israel were not the only predators. The small settlement then built on the site may well have been an Israelite village. But Megiddo was shortly to be rebuilt by Egypt.

Excavations in Taanach produced fourteen tablets written in Akkadian cuneiform demonstrating that the language was used even between local officials. In the debris of a late bronze age destruction a tablet was found in the Canaanite cuneiform alphabet. Taanach is mentioned by Thothmes III, by Shishak, and in the Amarna letters for raiding Megiddo which was loyal to Egypt.

Verses 22-24

The king of Kedesh, one, the king of Yokneam in Carmel, one, the king of Dor, in the height of Dor, one, the king of Goiim in Gilgal, one, the king of Tirzah, one. All the kings thirty and one.’

Kedesh is probably Kedesh in Naphtali (Joshua 19:37; Joshua 20:7; Joshua 21:32; Judges 4:6). It is the modern Tell Kudeish, north west of Lake Huleh, which was occupied during the early and late bronze ages. It was on the route south from the north and thus a target for any invaders from the north. Yokneam (Joshua 19:11; Joshua 21:34) was mentioned in the list of Tuthmosis III. It is modern Tel Yoqneam, twelve kilometres (seven and a half miles) north west of Megiddo. For Dor see Joshua 11:2. Goiim (‘nations’) of Gilgal is unknown, it could mean ‘the king of nations in Gilgal’ referring to a foreign population. This Gilgal, being between Dor and Tirzah, was probably on the edge of the maritime plain of Sharon. Tirzah probably lay in the northern part of the hill country of Ephraim, at the head of the Wadi Far‘ah along which passed the road from Transjordan to the central hill country, to Shechem, Samaria,Dothan and other towns. It was assigned to Manasseh (Joshua 17:2-3) and later became for a time the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel before Omri transferred the capital to Samaria.

Thus were listed the thirty one kings killed by Joshua. The common mistake is to assume that because the kings were killed the cities were captured, but that was not necessarily so. Indeed in the case of the king of Gezer we have good reason to believe it was not. But the deaths of so many kings had undoubtedly weakened the power of the Canaanites. It is noteworthy, and in accordance with what we have seen earlier, that there is no mention of a king of Shechem (see on Joshua 8:30).

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 12". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/joshua-12.html. 2013.
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