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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 11

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-23

Joshua 11:1-23

When Jabin king of Hazor had heard.

Take heed how ye hear

Healing and not hearing. The tidings of the overthrow of Sihon and Og, and the fall of Jericho, seem to have made almost no impression on the sleepy King of Hazor.

Hearing, but hearing in vain. When Ai fell there seems to have been a general movement all through Canaan west of Jordan (Joshua 9:1). Before Jabin had gathered the northern legions southern Canaan had been destroyed.

Hearing, and hearing to ruin. When Jabin did exert himself, it was but to proceed straight to destruction. Thus do the wicked delay heedlessly, awaken slowly, and finally bestir themselves to anticipate judgment. (F. G. Marchant.)

Be not afraid because of them.

Divine directions for the fight

The directions which God gave Joshua on this occasion were prefaced by words of encouragement according to the Divine custom. Though Jehovah is not to interpose with mighty power as on former occasions, yet He supports and strengthens His servant with timely encouragement. Nothing could be better timed than these words as a preparation for the work that had to be done. Joshua had been made fully acquainted with the foe. His scouts have returned covered with dust, and reported the position and numbers and equipment of this new enemy. As these particulars were all told we can imagine that the boldest held his breath for a time. Joshua’s generals would look at each other as if to say, “What shall we do now?” God knows human nature, therefore at this emergency He steps in with the words, “Be not afraid because of them, for to-morrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel.” God is always well timed in His announcements. When we seek with all our hearts to do His will we shall never lack encouragement, and the greater the enemy, the harder the task, the more emphatic will that encouragement be. And the encouragement God gave was very definite. He did not speak in a general way. He fixed the day, the hour, and the extent of the victory. Whatever our difficulties may be, if we only search God’s Word we will find definite encouragement, that which exactly meets our circumstances. The encouragement was also emphatic. We lose somewhat, in our translation, the emphasis of the original. The “I” is most emphatic. The army before Joshua may be as the sand of the sea for multitude, but what are the hosts of Jabin to the hosts of Jehovah? And the man who has on his side Jehovah of hosts can also count on the hosts of Jehovah. Therefore Joshua, even in the sight of such a foe, has no cause for fear. Does not God deal in the very same way with us? With what emphasis does He point to Himself as the glorious source of light and love and life, so that our hearts may be encouraged to put all their trust in Him, to the casting out of every fear. And the encouragement was also suggestive. God’s words bring to remembrance other scenes and other victories. Joshua was not the only one whom God had helped in similar emergencies. All the difficulties that may come upon us may be new to us, but not one of them is new to God. He has brought His people triumphantly through the same or worse before, and He can do so again.

This Divine encouragement was coupled with a divine command. The chief object of Israel’s fear would naturally be the horses and chariots which were Jabin’s pride and confidence; and it is to them that the command has special reference. God ordered His servants not to seize them and turn them against the enemy, but to destroy them utterly. This command is given for the express purpose of removing a temptation to carnal confidence. Jehovah wishes His people to look to Him alone for victory. This is to be their constant attitude, the holy habit of their souls. The bearing of this command on us is plain, and the lesson is much needed in our day. We are to carry on God’s work in God’s way. There are many of the weapons and devices of the world which ought not to be pressed into the service of the Church. To handle the iron chariots and the prancing horses of human philosophy against the hosts of unbelief, at the same time retaining our confidence in God as the Giver of every victory, and the consciousness that not a single soul can be savingly convinced except by His might--this is an attainment which the history of the Church from the beginning has proved a practical impossibility. Our one work in the prosecution of the campaign of salvation is to preach “Christ and Him crucified,” though fully conscious of the fact that to some it is foolishness, not worth a row of pins; and to others a stumbling-block, utterly repugnant. There is, and has always been, a fatal tendency to use the world’s weapons in the Church’s work; to worship intellect, learning, genius, scholarship, eloquence; to look on these things as the treasury and armoury of the Church; to depend on what is outward and human, instead of what is spiritual; to depend on that which appeals to the eye, the ear, the intellect, the emotions, rather than on the living God and His glorious gospel. They are the mightiest champions who, like the Master, do all the fighting “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and with power.” Thus encouraged and commanded, Joshua brought his army into close proximity to the foe. He rested during that night, and when the grey dawn was lighting up the rushy marshes round the waters of Merom, he burst like a thunderbolt upon Jabin’s camp. The victory could not have been more complete; and it was speedily followed up, as in the south, by the subjugation of all the leading cities in the northern portion of Canaan; the city of Hazor, Jabin’s capital, being destroyed with fire. As we think on this crowning victory we remember the words, “An horse is a vain thing for safety, neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.” Jabin found this out in that dire encounter. So will it be with all who harden themselves against the gospel of Christ. The more stout in heart they are to resist, the more terrible will be their overthrow. And if Jabin’s overthrow reminds us of these things, this last great victory of Joshua also places very emphatically before us the conditions of success in the work of the Lord. They are few and simple, and easy to be understood. They comprise wise purpose, believing courage, sleepless energy, scrupulous obedience, hard blows. As a young student said to a friend when they were speaking of the work to which they had devoted themselves, “Our great work in preaching to people is not to dish up dainty ideas, but to pound them with the truth.” Let us only listen to God’s encouragement, obey God’s command, march with unfeigned faith, and strike with all our might, and victory is sure. (A. B. Mackay.)

Types of Christian warfare

1. The enemies of Christ are very many in number.

2. Not only are the enemies of Christ very numerous, but they are perfectly united. There is a common consent amongst them. They hate the good. They are unanimous, and their unanimity is power.

3. The forces of evil are many, united, and desperate. They have made up their minds to work rack and ruin. (J. Parker, D. D.)

All the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves.--

Sharing the spoil

These at the end would amply make up for the toils and sufferings of conflict, and for all the privations and prohibitions they had been laid under. This is that which should engage the Christian’s hopes, and on which his whole heart should be set, the end of warfare, when He who poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with transgressors, will, in assigning the fruits of His eternal conquests, divide the spoil with the strong, and His portion with the great. Unsearchable the riches, and invaluable the spoils, to be shared in the heavenly world: treasures of everlasting bliss and glory that await every holy warrior. These are appropriate only to the elevation of perfect being and blessedness; and then to be enjoyed, when the conflicts of time end in the triumphs of eternity. Nothing will be found marked with a prohibition, nor anything less be obtained, than an unwithering crown of life. This will compensate for all the sufferings that can now be endured, and for all the sacrifices that may ever be made, the hope of which, as realised in the mind, yields no small support. (W. Seaton.)

Verse 15

Joshua 11:15

He left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses.

Things undone

“This year omissions have distressed me more than anything.” So speaks Andrew A. Bonar, concluding one of the years of his life. How many of us are similarly distressed!

The things undone are many. We have not left undone a duty here or there merely, but we have the painful consciousness of having missed so much that more seems undone than done. Darwin’s biographer relates that the great scientist “never wasted a few spare minutes from thinking that it was not worth while to set to work.” His golden rule was “taking care of the minutes.” And so he became rich and accurate in knowledge. How much more might we have done in the home! We deal negligently with those about us until change or death takes them away I How much more might we have done in the world! We have loitered in the sheepfold to hear the bleating of the sheep, when we ought to have been in the high places of the field. How much more might we have given and taught and toiled in the Church of God! We are always evading manifest obligations, which are also precious privileges. With what fiery energy the bird, the bee, the butterfly, carry out the special commission with which they are entrusted! In nature everything seems to be done that can be done with the granted measure of time, space, material, and energy. But we are conscious of a very different and far less satisfactory state of things in the human sphere. Here inertia, laziness, slipperiness, procrastination, prevail. There are great gaps in our work.

The things undone are often the things of the greatest consequence. Emerson speaks of “the science of omitting.” A very necessary and much-neglected science. “The artist,” says Schiller, “may be known rather by what he omits.” The master of literary style is best recognised by his tact of omission. The orator declares his genius as much by what he leaves out as by what he puts into his discourses. And in life the science of omission must have a large place. Life on its moral side, in its highest sense, becomes complete and successful by exclusion: if we are to make anything of it, we must reject much. When, however, an artist understands the science of omission, he leaves out the trivial, the vulgar, the irrelevant. Pater, speaking of Watteau, the French artist, says, “Sketching the scene to the life, but with a kind of grace, a marvellous tact of omission in dealing with the vulgar reality seen from one’s own window.” Yes, leaving out the vulgar features and commonplace detail. But the defect in our moral life is that in our science of omission we too often leave out the primary, the highest, the essential. The trivial, the fugitive, the inferior, the accidental, are given a place in our life, whilst the large, the noble, the precious, and the supreme are excluded. It is thus with us in questions of character. The weightier matters are more difficult, and we evade them. It is thus with matters of duty. We shirk the calls demanding courage, diligence, sacrifice, and content ourselves by doing abundantly the things which are more immediately connected with our pride, our interest, or our pleasure. Here we are often condemned. Great principles are left out of our character, because they are difficult to acquire and maintain; great duties are ignored, because they mean heroism and suffering; great opportunities are forfeited, because they demand promptitude and resolution; great works are declined, because they involve consecration and sacrifice.

The things undone are things for which we must be held responsible. We are often deeply concerned, as, indeed, we ought to be, with the things we have done amiss; but we are less troubled by the things left undone. Yet the negative side is as really sin as is the positive side. In these modern days it is rather fashionable for men of a certain type to stand quite aside from an active career. They are deeply impressed by the seriousness of life, by its difficulties, its mysteries; they decline, as far as may be, its relationships, its obligations, its trials, its honours, its sorrows. They will tell you that they have no gifts, no calling, no opportunity. But, however disguised, these lives are slothful and guilty. But most of us have somewhat of this slothful temper. True, we gloss with mild names this skirking of duty. We call it expediency, standing over, modesty, deliberation, forgetfulness, oversight; but it ought to be called sloth, hypocrisy, cowardice, sin. How much undone for God, for man, for our own perfecting! And as for the future, let us put into life more purpose, passion, and will. Let us be more definite, prompt, unflinching. Let us be at once more enthusiastic and more methodical. (W. L. Watkinson.)

It was of the Lord to harden their hearts.--

Resisted conviction

We must not suppose, of course, that God stepped in to produce, in the case of these Canaanites, a result which would not have accrued to them by the working out of the natural laws which He had instituted. God loved them as He loves the world. They were included in the propitiation of Christ. They might have been saved, as Rahab was. And when it is said that God hardened their hearts, we must understand that their hearts became hardened by sinning against their light, in accordance with that great principle which God has established, that if a man resists his convictions of right he becomes more inveterate in his sinful ways. God is thus said to do what is done by the working out of the laws of that moral universe which He has constituted. It is clear that the Canaanites knew that God was with Israel. Rahab said (Joshua 2:10-11). And the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:10). There is no doubt, then, that throughout the land there had gone forth the fame of God; and when the kings flung their hosts in battle against Israel it was as it has always been (Psalms 2:2). (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

Hardening the heart

I remember one day, in our natural history class, the professor explained to us how sponges became flints. He had all his specimens arranged along his table. He took the soft sponge, elastic and flaccid, that could bend any way--beautifully soft and fine. Then he took the next one; it was not so flexible: and he went on, each one only a little more flinty than the former, till he had the flint. That had been a sponge; though now its heart was so hard that you could strike fire from it with a steel. The sponge will become flint. There are little silicious particles that gather in the soft sponge; and by and by the silex is deposited in the interstices of the sponge; and on it goes till the silica has the victory, and the sponge becomes flint. A wonderful sermon from science. I have had companions like that--young men with hearts, oh, so soft I at their first revival. Impressions went home to them; they had tears and anxiety; yet, as years have passed, the hardness of heart has increased, as with one whom I met recently, who, since then, has bolted to America with a heart of flint instead of a soft heart. As the days went by, hardness increased; the silicious particles of rejection of Christ multiplied in number, till the man became a reprobate. Perhaps you are in that position. As I am preaching from the presence of God it has no effect. You are hearing it, but it is going in at the one ear and out at the other. See to it that the judicial hardening of your heart does not overtake you, and you learn by experience the despair of a lost soul. (J. Robertson.)

So Joshua took the whole land.--

The people for whom the Lord fights

The magnitude of their difficulties should be regarded as only the measure of their victories. “Joshua took the whole land.”

Their most signal victories are ever incomplete. The whole land, yet not the whole (Joshua 8:1).

The triumphs which they do win are ever the fruit of God’s promises.

1. According to all that the Lord said unto Moses.” This clause serves also to limit and explain the former. God had specially told Moses that the whole land should not be conquered too suddenly (Exodus 23:29-30).

The inheritance thus given by god should be the inheritance of all God’s people. “Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes.”

The rest which they obtain here faintly foreshadows the perfect rest hereafter. “And the land rested from war.”

1. Rest after severe strife.

2. Rest only through faith and obedience.

3. Rest, but rest which still requires that they watch and pray.

4. Rest, which though but an imperfect pattern, should stand for a sure prophecy of the rest which is perfect, If we really enter into the rest of faith, it will be by that holy Spirit of promise, “which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” (F. G. Marchant.)

Verse 23

Joshua 11:23

The land rested from war.

The fight from which they rested

Though the records of this war are short, we know that “Joshua made war a long time with all these kings.” Only the most striking and salient features are recorded, and these are such as are well fitted for correction and instruction. The campaign in all probability lusted for six years. God, had He so chosen, could have brought all the Canaanites together and crushed them at one blow. He did not do so, and He gives us the reason why He did not. So far as His people were concerned it was for their spiritual training. Had He wrought such a wonder, they might have magnificently celebrated His praises as at the Red Sea, but as easily forgotten His mercies as at Marah. Jehovah sought to teach them and us by the continuance of this conflict, that His heritage is our portion only through faith in Him and faithfulness to His word. Yet there is an opposite error that must be guarded against. If we are not to expect one great and decisive victory, much less are we to expect a series of disastrous defeats. If too great a triumph might have led to presumption on the part of Israel, too great a trial might have induced despair. Accordingly, God neither gave the one nor did He permit the other, but always tempered both to the necessities of His people. Is not this a true picture of spiritual experience, full of instruction and encouragement? How often does the young convert feel himself walking in a land of miracle? “Old things have passed away, all things have become new.” The chains of iron and the fetters of steel fall from his limbs. The bars of brass are broken, and he quits the prison house of Satan and walks abroad in abounding liberty and glorious triumph. Sometimes, indeed, in the buoyancy of his soul, he indulges in strange talk, shakes his head with precocious wisdom, and assumes unconscious airs of superiority in the presence of such as do not share his happy experience. But by and by he encounters some gross and humiliating defeat like that which befel Israel at Ai. He is humbled in the dust. With chastened spirit he begins to join trembling with his mirth, and he finds out, more and more every day, the need of constant trust and unquestioning obedience. He wakes up to the fact that in this fight of faith, as in that, the conditions of success are trustful courage, wise purpose, sleepless energy, scrupulous obedience, and hard blows. It will be interesting to notice the last foes encountered in this fight. We read in the immediately pre ceding verses: “At that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims.” These Anakim were the first to fill the hearts of the Israelites with fear, and they were the last to be faced. Compared with them the Israelites felt themselves grass hoppers, and it was well that their giant strength was not braved at the beginning of the campaign, but reserved to its close. Israel did not face these giants till it had been trained in the war of the Lord; till it knew how invincible was the man who puts his trust in Jehovah; till it knew from its own experience how one could chase a thousand--till, in short, it was able to measure the strength of the Anakim not against its own, but against the omnipotence of Jehovah. The opposition, which was once deemed invincible, now shrinks into insignificance. How often is it thus in the experience of God’s people. I have sometimes asked young converts why they had been so long in coming forward to confess Christ. And their reply has often been, “I saw what was required and expected of a Christian. I felt the many and great difficulties that lay in the way of confessing Christ. I knew some thing of the temptations and troubles that would come upon me if I became a Christian, and as I looked at these things I felt afraid, and shrank back conscious of my own weakness.” Exactly! Before these difficulties, that would come upon you by confessing Christ, you feel as grasshoppers. Does that express your present position? You are like Israel at Kadesh-Barnea. You are standing on the very borders of the land, with all its beauty spread before you. Yea, you also are spying it out. You are considering the promises and blessings of Christ for time and eternity. You cannot but confess that it is a goodly heritage, a pleasant land flowing with milk and honey. Even though you have not entered the good land, you know that you are refreshed by its blessed fruits. Then why not enter in? It is free for you. No walls rise up between you and it to shut you out. No deep river rolls to prevent your entrance. Ah! you are afraid. There are giants there, and strong cities walled to the sky. If I confess Christ I shall have mighty temptations and troubles to face and overcome. Are such your difficulties? Well, I do not say you are strong. I do not say that there are no Anakim in the land. But I do say that you utterly misunderstand the meaning of the situation. The instant you go forward you enlist on your side the strength of Jehovah, and there is no sin, no temptation, no trouble, however gigantic, over which He cannot cause you to triumph. But there are lessons here for the Christian veteran as well as for the Christian recruit. He has left Moses behind, as a leader who can give no rest, he has put himself under the flag of Joshua, he has entered into the inheritance and fought the good fight of faith, with encouraging measure of success. Yet still there remain some temptations, some sins, some sorrows, some bereavements, which look very dreadful. They are like gigantic Anakim, before which you quail. Do not measure your might with theirs. Pit them against the omnipotence of your Father God. Any temptation, any sin, any trial, is too much for us in our own strength; but strengthened with His might the meanest can face and over come the greatest of them all. Notice, again, that the fighting does not grow less severe as we go onwards. The Anakim were left to the last. So often the greatest burdens, sharpest trials, severest afflictions, fiercest temptations, come at the end. No man can ever rest here in fancied security. (A. B. Mackay.)

The rest for which they fought

The rest for which Israel fought had been promised more than four hundred years before (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:6-7, &c.). This promise, so old, so solemn, so wide, so definite, so clear, and so often repeated, was the formative and governing principle in the lives of all the patriarchs. This it was that made them Faith’s Pilgrim Fathers. They believed these promises, their hearts embraced them, said they confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers in the earth. But the promise was sure, though held long in abeyance for wise and loving purposes. The vision may tarry, but come it must; because God’s gifts and calling are without repentance, unconditioned by aught in the creature; and because God’s power and wisdom are without limit. He is the God of truth and of infinite resources. Through strange scenes, hard discipline, and varying experiences the seed of Abraham may pass, but all the time God is leading them to His promised rest. What a lesson in patience have we here! What encouragement to wait for the end of the Lord! Surely, as we consider them thus at the end of their toils and in the enjoyment of that great promise, we may exclaim, “Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.” Is there anything as good in store for us? There is better. God’s basket of bounty is not empty. God’s act gave this promise first of all. After He created all things He rested from His works. He had gone out of Himself to work; He returned to Himself to rest. As certainly as the old creation, through ages of convulsion and astounding changes, attained its crown and climax in God’s rest, so surely the new creation, by whatever mysteries and conflicts its development is characterised, shall usher in the glorious Sabbath of redemption. As surely as Joshua gave rest to those who followed him, so surely does Jesus give rest to all who put their trust in Him. The innumerable company of the redeemed have found in this promise a power sufficient to govern all their lives, a solace for every woe. But if the rest for which Israel fought was a rest long promised, it was also a rest which for a time was forfeited. “They could not enter in because of unbelief. Thou standest by faith. Therefore be not high-minded, but fear.” Let us fear with that fear which has strong confidence, with which we work out our salvation, which mingles with holy mirth, which lasts through all the time of our sojourn here, and which is our safety. “Blessed is the man that feareth alway.” Further, the rest for which Israel fought was imperfect. It was only a comparative rest. The land as a whole was taken. It was so far in their hands that they could with safety partition it among the several tribes, allowing each to perfect the work of conquest within his allotted territory. The Canaanites were unable to put an army in the field. Their united power was for the time utterly broken. Yet still they had cities here and there in their possession. They were to remain for a time, to prevent the land from lapsing into an irreclaimable waste, to exercise the people in war, and to be a test of Israel’s faithfulness. We have therefore here a master-sketch of Christian experience. The believer enters into life by a miracle of grace and power. He is buried with Christ by baptism into His death. He is raised with Him and seated with Him in heavenly places. He finds his Gilgal at Golgotha, where the reproach of sin is rolled away, and he receives nourishment for his soul. Here, also, he learns the mystery of the Divine leadership of Him who has said, “Lo, I am with you alway.” He takes Him as Prophet, Priest, and King. Then he learns the might of faith in casting down the walls which human pride and strength and skill have reared. He is also taught, it may be by humiliating defeat, the weakness of unbelief and disobedience, as was Israel at Ai. He is convinced that if he is not to make shipwreck he must hold fast “faith and a good conscience.” Then with bitter sorrow he learns the value of self-judgment and confession of sin. The dark and dreadful valley of Achor becomes the only door of hope. Then with deeper intelligence he repeats with restored soul the Amen of allegiance, deliberately takes the law of God for his guide, and depends on the Cross for power of communion. The camps at Ebal and Gerizim, in the very centre of the blessed inheritance, surrounded by its fairest scenes, when his heart knows the meaning of these words, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Then, from new consecration, rejoicing in Christ Jesus, and having no confidence in the flesh, he passes on to higher acts of faith and to nobler victories. Things in heaven as well as things on earth reveal faith’s power. Be can put his foot on the neck of tyrant sins, and laugh to scorn the horses and chariots of human might. Sometimes there are periods of desperate fighting, in which every fibre is strained to its utmost tension, Sometimes there are periods of comparative repose, a welcome lull, when the land rests from war. And in these happy days all the work may seem done, and perfect victory gained. Old and tough sins are conquered. Those that remain hide their diminished heads. Still they lurk in the dark recesses of the heart, ready to spring out and pounce upon us if for a moment we are off our guard. Therefore there is constant need of watchfulness. Lastly, the rest for which Israel fought was prospective. From the very fact of its imperfections it pointed forward to a better. (A. B. Mackay.)

Rest from war

Interesting period! What so much the anticipation of the heart in conflict? As long as the land remained unsubdued rest could not be enjoyed. Besides, had there been nothing else to annoy peace and disturb the inheritance of the Church, whose heart could have rested in his lot, and been free from distress, amidst the judgments of heaven upon guilty idolaters, and upon whom Divine authority made it an imperious necessity in Israel to execute a sentence of extermination? Sweet to the expectation and welcome of hope, a period when, in the perfect and undisturbed rest of heaven, war will cease for ever, and sighs of woe be eternally removed. The peace of heaven will be lasting as sweet. There no Canaanites will be left to dispute their right, or remnants of broken powers ever rise to assert, and attempt to restore their long forfeited claim. That land shall have rest from war, as long as the destroyer of sin and conqueror of death shall live. Joyous prospect! Soon the armour of light will be exchanged for robes of incorruptible glory, and the helmet of salvation for the conqueror’s crown. As under the dominion of the Prince of peace, and themselves the subjects of its reigning influence, Christians will rest from war; as commanded, they will cease from anger and forsake strife. Nor will they ever embroil themselves in the contentions of others, unless as peace-speakers and peace-makers. (W. Seaton.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/joshua-11.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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