“Joshua captured the whole land—the mountains, the Negev, the foothills, and the slopes” (Joshua 10:40).
JOSHUA HAD 40 YEARS in the wilderness to perfect his strategy for conquering the Promised Land.
Forty years before the invasion, Moses included him among the dozen scouts sent on a mission to explore the defenses of what is now Israel.
That might explain why Joshua was able to defeat the armies of 31 kings with his ragtag band of lightly armed refugees. He knew his militia would face heavily armed warriors defending walled cities, some with the added defense of cavalry and a chariot corps boasting state-of-the-art iron hardware – the fear factor equivalent of an infantryman today facing a tank.
- Avoid the flat coastal plains where large armies, cavalry, and chariots have the advantage.
- Head for the hills, where a lightly armed strike force can maneuver easily, but where heavily armed warriors can’t.
[We had to cut the following text from the book because we ran out of pages before we ran out of words.]
Imagine the central part of Israel as a person’s back. A spine rises and runs north and south along the center of the country: the Judean hills. On the east, there’s the flat land Jordan River Valley. On the west, there’s a coastal plain, where some Spartan-like warriors are settling – a race called the Philistines. Most of the cities Joshua and his men would capture had planted themselves on Israel’s highland spine.
When Joshua crossed into what was then called Canaan, he set up a base camp at Gilgal, just east of the oasis city of Jericho, in the Jordan River Valley.
He had to take the eastern border town of Jericho first because it guarded the main road into the Canaan’s heartland. Joshua needed to control that road if he had any hope of pushing further into Canaan.
His next target: Ai, a walled city about 20 miles (32 km) west. After Jericho fell, Joshua figured Ai would be a pushover, sort of. He sent only about 3,000 men.
“They were soundly defeated,” (Joshua 7:14).
That was their only reported defeat during this conquest.
It’s a defeat the Bible attributes to a man named Achan. He disobeyed God by taking from the destroyed city of Jericho
- a robe imported from what is now Iraq
- 200 silver coins
- a gold bar
Joshua had ordered his men to take nothing from Jericho, but to leave everything in devotion to God.
Joshua had Achan and his family killed, in what many Bible students would say was overkill. Then Joshua led the second attack on Ai. He pulled a trick on the enemy, playing off their bolstered ego fed by their earlier victory.
He attacked from the north with only part of his army, which he used as bait to lure Ai’s soldiers out – sneaky. He ordered 5,000 others to hide west of the city and wait for an opportunity to ambush.
When the king of Ai saw Joshua’s army across the valley, he sent his soldiers to run them off again. Mistake.
Joshua’s diversionary force ran away like they had done in the first battle. The army of Ai chased after them, leaving their city defenseless.
Joshua’s 5,000 men in hiding rushed out to attack the city. They killed everyone and set the town on fire.
When the soldiers of Ai saw smoke rising from their city, they rushed back to defend it. Too late. Joshua’s strike force was already on the move toward them. The Jewish invaders had trapped their enemies in a pincer move, forcing them to fight one wall of soldiers in front of them and another wall behind them.
They died trying.
Operation: Southland tailbone
Joshua’s southland campaign started with the rescue mission at Gibeon, a local ally. Joshua’s militia annihilated the coalition forces that had laid siege to Gibeon.
That done, Jews controlled one of the main roads slicing straight across the middle of the Judean spine – cutting what is now Israel and the West Bank in half, splitting it north and south.
He turned his army south, possibly because he had gotten word that the five kings who led the coalition army against Gibeon were hiding in a cave near the city of Makkedah, location uncertain today.
He caught all five. Then he ordered his commanders to put their feet on the necks of the kings – an ancient ritual to show everyone who’s boss. Records of Assyrians in what is now Iraq, tell of Assyrian King Tukulti-Ninurta I (reigned about 1243-1207 BC) doing the same thing to a conquered Babylonian king: “I stepped on his royal neck, using it like a footstool.”
Joshua told his commanders that with God on their side, they should never be afraid of people like these kings. Then “Joshua killed each of the five kings and impaled them on five sharpened polls, where they hung until evening,” (Joshua 10:26).
The Bible writer says Joshua fought more than half a dozen battles in the Southland, naming several cities he destroyed. But many Bible experts say this report reads like just the highlights; there may have been other battles fought and cities destroyed.
Cities identified suggest Joshua concentrated on the Highlands, the foothills, and the sparsely populated Negev badlands in the far south.
Operation: Northland neck bone
When Northland kings heard what Joshua had done in the south, they merged their armies into “a vast horde,” (Joshua 11:4).
King Jabin of Hazor, a major Canaanite city north of the Sea of Galilee, orchestrated this merger of the allied force. He staged the coalition army nearby: infantry, cavalry, and chariots.
Joshua apparently caught them by surprise. He not only wiped out the combined armies, he destroyed their war-making machine. He burned their chariots. And he cut the hamstrings of the horses – that’s the big muscle at the top and back of a horse’s powerful legs.
Joshua’s men burned the city of Hazor, but they left all the other northland cities standing. The Bible writers says Joshua’s militia executed people, but the kept the livestock and everything else for themselves now that it was time to stop fighting and start getting settled as herders and farmers.
Jews now controlled the Highlands from the foothills of Mount Herman in the north to the Negev Badlands in south – in addition to the sprawling stretch of pasture on the Jordan River’s east side, where the Arab countries of Syria and Jordan are today.
Unconquered territory included the rich farmland around the Sea of Galilee along with the Mediterranean coast: “all the regions of the Philistines,” (Joshua 13:2). It would take the Jews centuries to overpower the Philistines. In fact, before Sampson came along, the Jews were in danger of becoming assimilated into Philistine culture. Sampson would drive a wedge into that budding relationship.
Blog subscribers who win books this week
- Nanci Craig
- Ginny Breckenfeld
I give away free books each week. It’s normally to randomly selected subscribers to my free blog and quarterly newsletter. But this time I picked two of the most recent subscribers. I’ll probably pick from the newbies for the next several weeks.
The winners will get the option of choosing my new release: A Quick Guided Tour Through the Bible – among about half a dozen other titles.