Our reading today begins with the account of the deception of the Gibeonites. We read back in Deuteronomy 20:10-15 God’s rules for offering peace before going to war with nations outside of the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 20:16-18, God tells Israel that this does not apply to the nations within the borders of the land, including the Hivites. Here in our passage today, because the Gibeonites, who were Hivites (9:7), were afraid of Israel (v. 3, 24), they try to fool Israel into a treaty with them (v. 11).
The important part of this event is verse 14: God’s people acted without counsel from God (the “ask counsel from the Lord” is literally “consult the mouth of the Lord”). We see in this a warning against acting without consulting the Word of God.* In verse 18 we see the dilemma: Israel cannot allow them to live because God commanded that they destroy them, but they swore by the name of YHWH to let them live. We see that acting rashly has put Joshua and Israel in a no win situation. Sin always begets sin. Israel allows the Gibeonites to live, but makes them slaves (v. 21, 27). This is not the last time Israel fails to destroy some of the people of the land. It will contribute greatly to their undoing.
In chapter 10, we see that some of the kings of the land band together not to attack Israel, but to attack Gibeon for their treaty with Israel (10:4). Already we can see that allowing the Gibeonites to live is causing problems for Israel. In verse 8, God tells Joshua that He will win the victory for His people. In verses 10-11, we see that God acts on behalf of His people and destroys more of the opposing armies than all the army of Israel did.
Verse 12 has a long history of dispute. The preposition rendered “to” in verse 12 can also be translated “according to”. So did Joshua speak to God, or according to what God told Him to say? If he spoke to God, is this indicating a prayer? Or did Joshua presume to demand something of God? In verse 14, we are told that this is the one and only time (up until the writing of the book, at least) that God “heeded” the voice of a man. I think it is best to view this similarly to what we will see with Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, when Elijah calls on God to to answer him in the sight of the people. In that case, as in this case with Joshua commanding the heavenly bodies to stand still (Josh 12:12), the display of power emboldens the people of God to destroy their enemies, which we see in the story of the five Amorite kings is exactly what happens.
In verse 25, we see Joshua encourage the people of Israel not to doubt God’s promise. And we see in Joshua’s actions his faith through his obedience. First, as with the king of Ai (8:29), Joshua obeys the command of God given in Deuteronomy 21:23 (v. 27). Second, in his complete destruction of Makkedah (v. 28), Libnah (v. 30), Lachish (v. 32 – note that God is the One really doing this), Gezer, (v. 33), Eglon (v. 35), Hebron (v. 37), Debir (v. 39), we see his obedience to devote to destruction the people of the land (Deut 20:17). The deliberate repetition of what he did to each of these cities shows the deliberate and consistent obedience God requires.
Chapter 11 records the conquest of the northern part of the land. We again see a cohort of kings band together to fight against Israel (11:1-5). Combined, they are a “great horde” that could not be counted (v. 4). God promises to win the victory (v. 6), and does (v. 8). We see again in verses 10-15 the intentional obedience by Joshua and Israel; the only appropriate response to God Who keeps His promises. In verse 20, we see again the sovereignty of God at work just like it was with Pharaoh. God hardened the hearts of the inhabitants of the land. Yet we also see that this does not negate human responsibility, as they were punished for their sin.
In verses 21-23, we see that the conquest of the land is (largely) completed with the destruction of the Anakim, the very inhabitants of the land that the previous generation feared (see Deut 1:28). Note in verse 22 that “some” of the Anakim remain in the cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. These will become three Philistine cities that are a thorn in Israel’s side for centuries to come. And note that the Anakim – giants – settle in Gath, from which an infamous giant named Goliath would one day come (1 Sam 17:4). God is indeed sovereign. Our reading today ends with a recap in chapter 12 of the kings God had delivered into the hands of His people.
Note throughout the book that names and geographic locations are recorded very carefully. We also read that some of this things that Joshua and Israel did are like that “to this day” (4:9, 5:9, 6:25, 7:26, 8:28-29, 9:27). This gives us insight into the purpose of the book, which since Rahab was still alive at it’s writing (6:25), had to be written not long after the events. Like Moses wrote Genesis to bring to remembrance the promises of God for Israel, Joshua was written to show the fulfillment of God’s promises played out in history for future generations of Israel. God said it. God did it. There is every reason to be faithful to Him.
*I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say they are “waiting on God” or “waiting to hear from God” when they have not searched the Bible for what God says about their situation or the issue they are dealing with. I am not sure how someone who is not a regular reader of God’s Word can ever expect to hear from Him…