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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 12

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-6



Joshua 12:1. The river Arnon] Now known as Wâdy el Modjeb. Before the war, it separated between the Moabites and the Amorites of Eastern Palestine; it afterwards became the boundary between Moab and Israel. The river falls into the Dead Sea, and is described by Josephus as rising in the mountains of Arabia. Mount Hermon] Forming the southern extremity in the range of Anti-Lebanon, and thought to be about ten thousand feet high. It was famous for its appearance, and for its “dews” (Psalms 133:3). It is thought by some to have been the scene of the Transfiguration.

Joshua 12:2. Heshbon] Situated about twenty miles east of the Jordan, and near the boundary between Reuben and Gad. The ruins are more than a mile in circumference. The “fishpools in Heshbon” are named in Song of Solomon 7:4. Sihon had taken this city from the Moabites (Numbers 21:26), into whose possession it afterwards again came. Aroer] This city stood on the northern bank of the Arnon (Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 4:48). There were two other places of the same name; one assigned to Gad (chap. Joshua 13:25), and another in the south of Judah (1 Samuel 30:26-28). Half Gilead] The whole of Gilead reached from the Arnon to Bashan; the brook Jabbok, famous in the history of Jacob, dividing the territory about equally.

Joshua 12:3. The way to Beth-jeshimoth] i.e., “towards Beth-jeshimoth,” which was in the plains of Moab, near the place where the Jordan flowed into the Dead Sea, and to which point eastwards the Arabah extended. From the south under Ashdoth-pisgah] Or “towards the south under the slopes of Pisgah,” thus marking the southern extremity of the Arabah. The word “Ashdoth” is probably not a proper name, and should not be taken, as by Dr. Clarke, to indicate a city. It is a deriv. of “’eshed” = “a pouring out.” “A pouring out (of streams), a low place at the foot of mountains (Joshua 10:40; Joshua 12:8).” With “Pisgah” = “the roots (or springs) of Pisgah (Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49; Joshua 13:20).” [Gesen.] This word does not occur excepting in the Peutateuch and in the book of Joshua, whereas, on the theory of the “Jehovists” (cf. Art. on chap. Joshua 10:12-15), it would seem natural to find it occasionally, up to the time of Hezekiah, or even to the captivity, instead of its being so consistently confined to these earlier books of Scripture. Had it grown obsolete, “the Jehovist near to the Assyrian period” should have modernized it from his “Elohim documents.” As it is, it looks somewhat like “a footprint on the sands” of its own time.

Joshua 12:4. The coast of Og, king of Bashan] “The expressed intention (Joshua 12:1) was to give a list of the conquered kings, but here the kingdom is mentioned instead of Og the king.” [Masius] Og also ruled over the northern part of Gilead (Joshua 12:5), although his title refers to Bashan only. Dwelt at Ashtaroth and at Edrei] Not “the remnant of the Rephaim,” but Og, who resided at times in either city. Perhaps Ashtaroth is the Ashteroth-Karnaim of Genesis 14:5, but this is very uncertain (cf. Smith’s Bib. Dict.) In Deuteronomy 1:4 we have “Ashtaroth in Edrei,” yet these were evidently two cities (Joshua 13:12; Joshua 13:31; 1 Chronicles 6:71). Edrei is only named in Scripture in connection with the victory of Moses, but it is mentioned repeatedly in profane history.

Joshua 12:5. Salcah] Now called Sŭlkhad, situated at the south of the Jebel Hauran. Burckhardt places it at about seven hours’ journey from Bozra. The Geshurites and the Maachathites] Geshur was probably at the north or north-east of Bashan, adjoining Argob (Deuteronomy 3:14), afterwards called Trachonitis. Maachah seems to have been an adjoining province. The children of Ammon hired a detachment of Maachathites against David (2 Samuel 10:6). Absalom’s mother was the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur (2 Samuel 3:3). After the murder of Amnon, Absalom fled to Talmai for refuge (2 Samuel 13:37).



The summary contained in this paragraph is—

I. The record of a good man’s work, the worker having long gone to his rest. The victories on the east of Jordan had been won under Moses. At the time when this history was written, Moses had been dead at least several years. God remembers the labours of His servants after He has removed those who wrought them to another world. He who caused all scripture to be written for our admonition would have us see that the pious man, “being dead yet speaketh,” and speaketh not only to men, but in the memory of his Maker. God would have us also to remember the works of His departed servants. “Fresh mercies must not drown the remembrance of former mercies, nor must the glory of the present instruments of good to the Church be suffered to eclipse and diminish the just honour of those that have gone before them, and were the blessings and ornaments of their day. Joshua’s services and achievements are confessedly great, but let not those under Moses be overlooked and forgotten.” [Henry.] In the midst of his greatest honour, the true servant of the Lord will sometimes love to think of the foundation laid for his own work by the honourable service of others who preceded him.

II. The record of mighty works wrought by Divine power and Divine patience. The work of overthrowing Sihon and Og was, after all that may be said of the instruments, not the work of Moses, or Joshua, but the work of God. God prepared the Israelites for those great conflicts in several ways.

1. By the encouragement of a preceding victory (cf. Numbers 21:1-3).

2. By severe discipline on the way (Numbers 21:4-6).

3. By great mercies on the way. The brazen serpent. The gift of water, and the song at Beer.

4. By direct promises of triumph over both Sihon and Og (Deuteronomy 2:31-33; Deuteronomy 3:2-3). Thus were the people prepared by Divine patience, and helped by Divine power when the time of battle came.

III. A record made in brief chronicles which state results but omit the process. Even the fuller accounts given in Numbers and Deuteronomy tell us but few of the details. What fears, what hopes, what disappointments, what pain of some and gladness of others are necessarily omitted from the record! All history is more or less like that. Men can never set down anything but the prominent, and much which they think obscure is probably more noteworthy to God than that which they deem sufficiently important to be written. Our powers are too limited for anything more than a brief epitome of what we call life’s greatest events. But what are the “great events” of life? To our keener penetration and calmer estimate, everything is great—so great that, with our limited perception, all things seem great alike, when once we fairly confront them.

“There is no great and no small
To the soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh all things are;
And it cometh everywhere.”


And yet we go on epitomising and making abstracts of life, and needs must go on. With our straightened powers, it is the only way possible of getting the majesty of the past into the present. We have to transport it in fragments which are selected by the fancy of the moment, and then we name the fragments “history.” We call chapters like this before us “summaries”; to God our fullest histories cannot be even worthy of that poor name, albeit it so humbly confesses its own weakness. To the mind of the Infinite, our amplest records can only be summaries of life with the sum of life’s events left out. How glorious in its fulness and awful in its truth must be that “Book of Life” in the mind of the God of all the ages in which every thought and word and deed of men is accurately and completely written!

IV. A record which has regard not only to the glory of victory but also the glory of faithfulness. In the eyes of true Wisdom there are things greater than the taking of cities. The Israelites had found the territory on the east of Jordan a truly noble possession. The land was well suited to enrich a people hoping soon to settle down to quieter habits of life (Numbers 32:1; Numbers 32:4). The rest of the people, in the hour of victory, might feel some desire to share this fertile tract of country. But even these brief chronicles put faithfully on record, at the very time for dividing the spoil, the promise which had been made to the two and a half tribes (Joshua 12:6). These tribes had kept their word to Moses (Numbers 32:16-18); the rest of the people here indicate their readiness to fulfil the word of Moses to their brethren. No triumphs over others are so noble as our victories over ourselves. That nation is blessed indeed whose chronicles show its victories over itself, and its willingness to be subject to its own word.

V. A record thus briefly chronicled in its results to be presently rendered into heart-stirring song. The history here merely states the facts. The first five verses are almost entirely geographical notes of the territory taken; and the last verse hardly does more than tell us to whom the territory was to be given. The only expression which alludes to the conquest is the statement, in the first and sixth verses, that “the children of Israel smote and possessed the land.” Centuries afterwards the facts were embodied in two of the national songs of praise, in language of warm-hearted thanksgiving and gladness (cf. Psalms 135:10-13; Psalms 136:17-24). Are there not many events in our personal and national experience which, lying now in the past, with hardly a note to record them or a memory to recall them, shall presently be celebrated in joyful song before the throne of God itself? Meanwhile, let each of us learn to sing, even here, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”

Verses 7-24


Joshua 12:7. Baal gad.… Halak] Cf. on chap. Joshua 11:17.

Joshua 12:8. Mountains, etc.] Cf. on chapters Joshua 9:1; Joshua 10:40. Geographical notes on most of the places named in the following verses will be found under the Critical Notes of the preceding chapters, principally under chapters 10, 11.

Joshua 12:13. King of Geder] Geder is thought to be the Gederah of chap. Joshua 15:36, and was probably situated in the lowlands of Judah.

Joshua 12:14. Hormah] = “destruction.” The place was thus devoted on two occasions (Numbers 21:3; Judges 1:17). As the latter passage indicates, it was also called Zephath. The Israelites were defeated in this locality after the return of the spies (Numbers 14:45). The site is placed by Robinson near the pass es-Sufah, on the south of the Dead Sea. Arad] On the north of the wilderness of Judah (Judges 1:16), i.e., the southern part of this wilderness. It is thought to have been about twenty miles directly south of Hebron.

Joshua 12:15. Adullam] A city of great antiquity (Genesis 38:1), situated in the Shephelah (Joshua 15:33; Joshua 15:35), not far from Gath. It was fortified by Rehoboam, reoccupied on the return from the captivity (Nehemiah 11:30), and is mentioned under the name of Odollam in 2Ma. 12:38.

Joshua 12:17. Tappuah] Probably that mentioned in chap. Joshua 15:33-34, as in the Shephelah, or it may be the Tappuah on the frontier between Ephraim and Manasseh (chaps. Joshua 16:8; Joshua 17:8). There was also a Beth-Tappuah in the mountains of Judah (chap. Joshua 15:53). Hepher] = “a pit.” “In 1 Kings 4:10 we find it mentioned as “all the land of Hepher,” being named together with Shochoh as placed under one of the twelve officers whom Solomon set over all Israel. It should therefore be looked for near to Shochoh, i.e., in the Shephelah, and not, as by Knobel, be identified with Haphraim (= “two pits”) in the plain of Jezreel, belonging to Issachar (chap. Joshua 19:19). It is also to be distinguished from Gath-Hepher, or Gittah-Hepher, in the tribe of Zebulon (chap. Joshua 19:13; 2 Kings 14:25).

Joshua 12:18. Aphek] = “strength.” It might be applied, says Dean Stanley, to any fort or fastness. “It is so common a name in Palestine, that its mention in 1 Samuel 29:1 is not of itself sufficient to identify it with the spot so called near Jerusalem, in 1 Samuel 4:1; and the scene of the first Philistine victory must therefore remain uncertain, since there is nothing in the details of the battle to fix it” (Sinai and Palestine). The Aphek here named is thought to be the same as Aphekah, in the mountains of Judah (chap Joshua 15:53), while Keil holds it to be identical with the Aphek of 1 Samuel 4:1.

Joshua 12:19. Lasharon] Cf. Margin. Mentioned only in this place, and not known.

Joshua 12:21. Taanach … Megiddo] Two cities generally named together, situated on the boundary between Manasseh and Issachar, in the plain of Esdraelon by the river Kishon, into which the “waters of Megiddo” probably ran. The neighbourhood is famous as the scene of some of the most important battles in Hebrew history.

Joshua 12:22. Kedesh] “A Levitical city of refuge on the mountains of Naphtali (chap. Joshua 19:37; Joshua 20:7; Joshua 21:32), according to the Onomast., twenty Roman miles from Tyre. There are two other cities mentioned of the same name—one in Judah (chap. Joshua 15:23), and the other in Issachar (1 Chronicles 6:72)” [Keil.] Jokneam of Carmel] Belonging to Zebulon, and given to the Merarite Levites (chap. Joshua 21:34). Robinson thinks it may be placed at the modern Tel Kaimon.

Joshua 12:23. Nations of Gilgal] Lit.=“Goyim of Gilgal.” The Goyim are thought to have been certain tribes, as those named in Genesis 14:1, called by this term as a proper name, and living in Gilgal, now Jiljilia, near Antipatris.

Joshua 12:24. Tirzah] “Evidently near Shechem, and of proverbial beauty (Song of Solomon 6:4); selected by the first sovereign, Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:17), and then, during three short reigns, the habitual residence of the royal house (1 Kings 15:21; 1 Kings 16:8; 1 Kings 16:17; 1 Kings 16:23). [Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine.] Robinson identifies the city with Telluzah.


In the brief chronicles of these few verses, dull and unimaginative as they look, there may be traced two or three features not without their pathos, and not devoid of significance to us who are the tenants of life and time now.

I. Some of the dead are counted, and some are not counted. Here is one man put down as slain, to represent a kingdom of dead. That is done in each of the thirty-one instances. The slain of the army and the slain of the home, the slain who were aged and the slain who were young, slain men and slain women: all these are merely counted in their slain king. Modern registration may be more thorough, but in the minds and thoughts of surviving men and women now, the count of the dead proceeds on much the same basis.

1. Men count the few, and not the many. Only here and there a name of the past survives in the present. The living are too weak, in more ways than one, to bear in mind more than a few of the dead. We, too, count our dead representatively.

2. Men count the great, and pass over the obscure. In the realms of statesmanship, eloquence, literature, art, science, and the like, men can do little more than put down the names of their kings.

3. Men count the deaths which are unusually sad, and keep little reckoning of such as are more ordinary. Irrespective of those who may be left, it seems more than a common calamity for a king to be slain, or die. To pass out of all the magnificence and power of an imposing past into a stillness and silence and helplessness which differ nothing from that of a dead peasant, seems peculiarly sad for the dying man himself. So, for a little season, over whatever realm the departed king may have reigned, his survivors will remember him. They put his death down in their chronicles.

4. Men count the rich and forget the poor. Great wealth? then much marble, or granite; little wealth? only a small monument; just enough during life for life’s necessities? the barest measure of plainest stone must suffice in death; very poor? then no stone whatever, and, it may be, not even a grave to oneself. Such is the testimony given by the graveyards and the cemeteries; and, taking society in its broader aspect, the witness without is a pretty faithful symbol and record of the mind within. What county, or town, or parish, remembers a dozen of its poor of the last generation? Without murmuring against the inevitable, it may be well sometimes to mark the fact.

5. God counts, and will count, every one. He forgets no single person in all the host of the dead. From the youngest infant to Methuselah, from the poorest person to the richest, He remembers all. “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.”

II. These dead Canaanites, counted and uncounted, were all overtaken by a common judgment. Kings, and leaders, and people, fell in a general slaughter. Heedless of condition or character, every one appeared to be dealt with alike.

1. In this life the guilty and innocent often seem to be judged in the same measure. (a) Some men are conspicuously guilty. They are leaders in wickedness. They use high positions and great influence to lead others astray. (b) Others are comparatively innocent. Like many of these Canaanites, who, it may be, held aloof from the wickedness around them, they take little active part in the open wickedness of their fellows. (c) The innocent and guilty seem to be dealt with alike. Children and adults, worshippers of idols and those who refused to worship, fell in the same way before the swords of the Israelites. Men look on life as, in its degree, it everywhere repeats this history; and they say, “The ways of the Lord are not equal.”

2. The judgments of life are far more equal than they seem. (a) The particular way in which we may be taken out of this life is a very small item in the account of eternity. We must all die. Who can say what time is the best? Who can say what manner is the best? God has the right to choose both the time and manner of our departure. It is best so. We are thankful it is so. What a mass of embodied pain and crime and wrinkled wickedness would still crawl the earth, if men chose the day of their own death! Ahab and Jezebel and Judas and Nero would be with us still. What perplexity would fill men if they had to decide on the manner of their departure! Men would stand before the various diseases, and other ways of exit, saying, “What I shall choose I wot not.” To have made us all choose our own way of dying would have been for God to have doubled the ordeal: most men would have suffered at least one death in anticipation, ere they came to the fact. It is probably only our shortsightedness, and our recoil from the horror that is visible, which leads us to throw so much emphasis as we mentally do on the slaughter of these more innocent Canaanites by the sword. Anyway, the manner and time of death are small items in the matter of eternity. (b) God’s real judgment of every man is within the man. Much of punishment is the recoil of our own guilt. The true Nemesis is not some one with a pair of scales and a whip, standing without us, but something standing within us, making us to do our own weighing and our own scourging.

“Fear not, then, thou child infirm:
There’s no god dare wrong a worm.
Laurel crowns cleave to deserts,
And power to him who power exerts;
Hast not thy share? on winged feet,
Lo! it rushes thee to meet;
And all that Nature made thy own,
Floating in air, or pent in stone,
Will rive the hills and swim the sea,
And, like thy shadow, follow thee.”


(c) This judgment of God within a man is continued after this life, and is always true and equal to the man’s deserts. Thus, the Saviour, for once during His ministry, draws aside the veil that shuts out perdition, and shews us Abraham standing afar off, and saying in language of terrible significance to Dives: “Son, remember.” Whatever may be the outward state of the wicked on the other side of this life, surely this “remembering” will be the judgment.

III. These dead are all overwritten by a common epitaph. The counted kings, and the uncounted people, were those “which Joshua and the children of Israel smote.” They were not merely killed in a war; they were “smitten” because of idolatry. God had said: “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” and, till it became full, God waited. Then the Israelites were bidden to smite. Thus the common epitaph of all these Canaanites is really this: “Slain because of idolatry.”

1. The state of unrepented sin generally leads to some conspicuous sin, great in the insult which it offers God and in the injury which it does to men.

2. The conspicuous sins of men, which stand immediately connected with judgment, are but the outcome of a life of sin.

3. The conspicuous sin of this dispensation, with which the judgment of men is specially connected, is the rejection of the Saviour. The great epitaph which stands written over all those who enter into “the second death” is a very brief one. Of His children God writes, “These all died in faith”; of the rest of mankind it may be said, “These all died in unbelief.”

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/joshua-12.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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