9. Destruction of the Amorite Coalition (Joshua 10:1-43)
Chapter 10 describes Israel’s campaign and victory over the southern portion of Canaan. Something happened which provided Joshua with a great military opportunity for a quick victory over a number of the enemy at once rather than by a long, drawn out campaign against the cities one by one.
The Amorite Coalition
10:1 Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua captured Ai and annihilated it and its king as he did Jericho and its king. He also heard how the people of Gibeon made peace with Israel and lived among them. 10:2 All Jerusalem was terrified because Gibeon was a large city, like one of the royal cities. It was larger than Ai and all its men were warriors. 10:3 So Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem, sent this message to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish, and Debir king of Eglon: 10:4 “Come to my aid so we can attack Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.” 10:5 So the five Amorite kings (the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon) and all their troops gathered together and advanced. They deployed their troops and fought against Gibeon.
Being very alarmed over the news of the victories of Israel, as at Jericho and Ai, and hearing of the Gibeonite’s covenant with Israel which was viewed as treasonous, one of the kings of the south, Adoni-Zedek (Lord of Righteousness), king of Jerusalem, gathered other kings of the region together to attack Gibeon. They had belonged to the Amorite coalition which was probably a defense coalition against invading forces. So, in retaliation and also because of fear of the united power of the Gibeonites with Israel, the five kings listed in Joshua 10:5, moved against the city of Gibeon.
The defection of the Gibeonites was cause for great alarm for three reasons: (1) it was discouraging to see such a large city with an excellent army surrender to the enemy, (2) without Gibeon the southern coalition was severely weakened, and (3) they constituted a fifth column that would fight with Israel in time of war. Though it had no king (see comment on 9:11), Gibeon was “like one of the royal cities”; it was just as strong and influential as any city-state (cf. 11:12). There is a wordplay between “Gibeon” and “good fighters,” which is literally gibborim. Boling (p. 279) defines gibborim as “men trained in combat and prosperous enough to afford armament, squire, and leisure time for such activity.”61
10:6 The men of Gibeon sent this message to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, “Do not abandon your subjects! Rescue us! Help us! For all the Amorite kings living in the hill country are attacking us.” 10:7 So Joshua and his whole army, including the bravest warriors, marched up from Gilgal. 10:8 The LORD told Joshua, “Don’t be afraid of them, for I am handing them over to you. Not one of them can resist you.
10:9 Joshua attacked them by surprise, after marching all night from Gilgal. 10:10 The LORD routed them before Israel. Israel thoroughly defeated them at Gibeon. They chased them up the road to the pass of Beth Horon and struck them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 10:11 As they fled from Israel on the slope leading down from Beth Horon, the LORD threw on them large hailstones from the sky, all the way to Azekah. They died—in fact more died from the hailstones than the Israelites killed with the sword.
10:12 The day the LORD delivered the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua prayed to the LORD before Israel: “O sun, stand still over Gibeon! O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon!” 10:13 The sun stood still and the moon stood motionless while the nation took vengeance on its enemies. The event is recorded in the scroll of the upright one. The sun stood motionless in the middle of the sky and did not set for about a full day. 10:14 There has not been a day like it before or since. The LORD obeyed a man, for the LORD fought for Israel! 10:15 Then Joshua and all Israel returned to the camp at Gilgal.
The Call for Help (vs. 6)
Faced with the armies of the coalition and certain destruction, the Gibeonites sent a messenger to Joshua asking for help based on their treaty with Israel.
The Response of Joshua and Israel (vs. 7)
Humanly speaking, this was the perfect opportunity for Joshua to get rid of the Gibeonites. Why shouldn’t Joshua just ignore the very people who had deceived them? Why not let the coalition destroy them and rid him of the embarrassment? There were at least two reasons he could not do that: First, as a man of integrity who honored his word, Joshua did not consider that an option. They had given their word and were duty bound to honor it. Second, this now provided a unique military opportunity. Rather than a long, drawn out campaign against one city at a time, this gave them the opportunity to defeat and destroy several armies at once.
The Promise of the LORD (vs. 8)
The fact that God now gives this promise might suggest that Joshua had inquired of the Lord and had received this answer and promise. With all these kings coming together, there was surely a certain amount of concern in Joshua’s heart. The situation was urgent, and God’s word of encouragement and his promise of victory were certainly needed.
The Battle Described (vss. 9-15)
Our text tells us Joshua and his men marched all night, about 25 miles and all uphill (some 4,000 feet) over steep and difficult terrain. This meant, with no opportunity to rest, his fighting men would be tired. They would certainly need the sovereign strength of the Lord. By marching under cover of darkness, Joshua was able to take the enemy by surprise and this created disorder in the enemies camp. Further, God sent hailstones to kill even more than Joshua and his army were able to put to death.
This passage provides an excellent example of the interplay between the work of God and the work of man in achieving victory. As Campbell notes: “certainly there are occasions when we can do nothing but wait for God to act; but usually we are to do our part with dependence on God to do His.”62 Here, then, is another example where man’s efforts and God’s sovereign intervention cooperated, but the clear emphasis is on the fact it was the Lord who gave the victory. God gives us responsibilities, things we are to do. We are to pray, witness, and minister to others in many ways, but ultimately, we must understand that if there is going to be victory, it is God who gives it.
We should remember too that these Canaanites were those who worshipped nature gods. What a shock when they realized that their gods, in which they had placed their faith, were helpless against the God of Israel. Perhaps they thought that their own gods were aiding the Israelites.
With verse 12, we move to one of the great miracles of the Bible. It is often called “Joshua’s long day,” or “the day the sun stood still.” This is the greatest of four miracles found in the book of Joshua: (a) The parting of the Jordan River (3:7-17); (b) The destruction of Jericho (6:1-27); (c) The hail and sword destroy the Gibeonites (10:1-11); (d) The sun and moon stand still (10:12-15). What was the purpose for this miracle?
. . . the day of the battle of Beth Horon was wearing on and Joshua knew that the pursuit of the enemy would be long and arduous. At the most the military leader had 12 hours of daylight ahead of him. He clearly needed more time if he were to realize the fulfillment of God’s promise (v. 8) and see the total annihilation of his foes. Joshua therefore took to the Lord an unusual request: O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.
10:13-15. It was noon and the hot sun was directly overhead when Joshua uttered this prayer. The moon was on the horizon to the west. The petition was quickly answered by the Lord. Joshua prayed in faith, and a great miracle resulted. But the record of this miracle has been called the most striking example of conflict between Scripture and science because, as is well known, the sun does not move around the earth causing day and night. Instead, light and darkness come because the earth rotates on its axis around the sun. Why then did Joshua address the sun rather than the earth? Simply because he was using the language of observation; he was speaking from the perspective and appearance of things on earth. People still do the same thing, even in the scientific community. Almanacs and journals record the hours of sunrise and sunset, yet no one accuses them of scientific error.63
But just how are we to explain this fourth miracle in the book of Joshua? Regarding this, Ryrie writes:
Views concerning this phenomenon fall into two categories. The first assumes a slowing or suspending of the normal rotation of the earth so that there were extra hours that day (either 12 or 24). God did this so that Joshua’s forces could complete their victory before the enemy had a night for rest and regrouping. The Hebrew for “stood still” (v. 13) is a verb of motion, indicating a slowing or stopping of the rotation of the earth on its axis (which would not affect the earth’s movement around the sun). Verse 14 indicates that this was a unique day in the history of the world. The second category includes views that assume no irregularity in the rotation of the earth. One such view argues for the prolonging of daylight by some sort of unusual refraction of the sun’s rays. Thus, there were more daylight hours but not more hours in the day. Another view supposes a prolonging of semi-darkness to give Joshua’s men relief from the blazing summer sun, accomplished by God’s sending an unusual summer hailstorm. This view takes stood still in verse 13 to mean “be still” or “cease,” indicating that the sun was clouded by the storm and no extra hours were added to the day. Verses 12-15 are quoted from the book of Jashar, a collection of songs praising the heroes of Israel (also in 2 Sam. 1:18).64
Concerning the difficulties of this passage, Boice says:
I confess that I have not great convictions as to what happened, and as I read the various articles and books available, I sense that no one else has very strong convictions on this point, either. I do not believe the words are poetry, in spite of their having been in the book of Jashar, a largely poetical book. I doubt if the earth actually stopped its rotation, even more that the sun and moon actually stopped in their passage through space. I tend to think that other phenomenal were used by God to prolong daylight, but I do not know, and all I can say is that I am content to wait until God himself reveals precisely what happened. What is certain is that God did something to give the Jewish armies a complete and decisive victory.65
The Defeat of the Rest of Southern Canaan
16 Now these five kings had fled and hidden themselves in the cave at Makkedah. 17 And it was told Joshua, saying, "The five kings have been found hidden in the cave at Makkedah." 18 And Joshua said, "Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave, and assign men by it to guard them, 19 but do not stay there yourselves; pursue your enemies and attack them in the rear. Do not allow them to enter their cities, for the LORD your God has delivered them into your hand. " 20 And it came about when Joshua and the sons of Israel had finished slaying them with a very great slaughter, until they were destroyed, and the survivors who remained of them had entered the fortified cities, 21 that all the people returned to the camp to Joshua at Makkedah in peace. No one uttered a word against any of the sons of Israel.
22 Then Joshua said, "Open the mouth of the cave and bring these five kings out to me from the cave." 23 And they did so, and brought these five kings out to him from the cave: the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. 24 And it came about when they brought these kings out to Joshua, that Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, "Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings." So they came near and put their feet on their necks. 25 Joshua then said to them, "Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous, for thus the LORD will do to all your enemies with whom you fight." 26 So afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees; and they hung on the trees until evening. 27 And it came about at sunset that Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and put large stones over the mouth of the cave, to this very day.
28 Now Joshua captured Makkedah on that day, and struck it and its king with the edge of the sword; he utterly destroyed it and every person who was in it. He left no survivor. Thus he did to the king of Makkedah just as he had done to the king of Jericho.
29 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Makkedah to Libnah, and fought against Libnah. 30 And the LORD gave it also with its king into the hands of Israel, and he struck it and every person who was in it with the edge of the sword. He left no survivor in it. Thus he did to its king just as he had done to the king of Jericho.
31 And Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Libnah to Lachish, and they camped by it and fought against it. 32 And the LORD gave Lachish into the hands of Israel; and he captured it on the second day, and struck it and every person who was in it with the edge of the sword, according to all that he had done to Libnah.
33 Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish, and Joshua defeated him and his people until he had left him no survivor. 34 And Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Lachish to Eglon, and they camped by it and fought against it. 35 And they captured it on that day and struck it with the edge of the sword; and he utterly destroyed that day every person who was in it, according to all that he had done to Lachish.
36 Then Joshua and all Israel with him went up from Eglon to Hebron, and they fought against it. 37 And they captured it and struck it and its king and all its cities and all the persons who were in it with the edge of the sword. He left no survivor, according to all that he had done to Eglon. And he utterly destroyed it and every person who was in it.
38 Then Joshua and all Israel with him returned to Debir, and they fought against it. 39 And he captured it and its king and all its cities, and they struck them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed every person who was in it. He left no survivor. Just as he had done to Hebron, so he did to Debir and its king, as he had also done to Libnah and its king.
40 Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. 41 And Joshua struck them from Kadesh-barnea even as far as Gaza, and all the country of Goshen even as far as Gibeon. 42 And Joshua captured all these kings and their lands at one time, because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel. 43 So Joshua and all Israel with him returned to the camp at Gilgal. (Joshua 10:16-43)
The five kings and their armies had left the safety of their fortified cities to fight Joshua and his army out in the open which gave Joshua a great advantage. He was determined to keep them from escaping to the safety of their walls which would prolong the campaign against that portion of the land. Verse 17 informs us that when Joshua received a report that the kings were hiding in a cave, he ordered the cave sealed with large rocks with men assigned to guard it. Capturing the five kings was an important event, but there were more pressing matters. He would deal with them later for the more pressing concern was to pursue the fleeing armies. Here we see the wisdom of a leader putting first things first. This is seen in his statement, “But don’t you delay! Chase your enemies and catch them! Don’t allow them to retreat to their cities for the LORD your God is handing them over to you.” Note how again we see the combined emphasis in Joshua’s thinking of human responsibility and tactical wisdom along with faith in the One who really gives victory.
Only after the battle is over and Israel’s army had totally destroyed the enemy did Joshua return his attention to the five kings. In this regard, he did two major things. First, following an ancient Eastern custom sometimes pictured on Egyptian and Assyrian monuments, Joshua made the defeated kings lie down in the dust before him and his commanders. He then called his commanders to come and place their feet on the necks of the five kings, which was symbol of victory and complete subjection. But Joshua, the wise commander did more. He used this as an opportunity to focus his commanders and his army on the Lord. With the feet of his commanders on the necks of the kings, Joshua said, “Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Be strong and brave, for the LORD will do the same thing to all your enemies you fight.” Then he executed the five kings by hanging them on five trees until evening (vs. 26). Thus, the defeat of the five kings and their armies gave complete victory over Southern Canaan.
Verses 40-43 conclude the chapter by telling us Joshua totally subdued the land according to its four regions: the hill country, the Negev (the desert area to the more distant south), the western foothills, and the mountain slopes. How did he do so? “… the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.” Thus the chapter closes with a familiar ring of Scripture. The battle is the Lord’s and He will fight for His people.
Our need is to keep our eyes on Him, to obey Him, and above all, to trust in His strength rather than in our own. This will usually mean expending great effort as we see Israel doing here all the while knowing that the Lord is also at work to enable and to fight for us.
I am reminded of Paul’s comments in Colossians. Speaking of his calling and the great effort involved in proclaiming the risen Christ, he wrote: “We proclaim him by instructing and teaching all men with all wisdom so that we may present every man mature in Christ. 1:29 Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me.” (emphasis mine)
Dr. Don Campbell, in his conclusion to this chapter which he titled, People Who Know Their God, has a focus that really provides a fitting conclusion to this study on the book of Joshua. He writes:
Most of us learn, early in our Christian experience, that we do not just face one enemy. We face a coalition of evil forces that have banded together in an attempt to destroy us. Those enemies are commonly called “the world,” “the flesh,” and “the devil.” The world pressures us and hammers us and tries to conform us to its mold. The flesh is the sinfulness within us which betrays us and undermines us and sabotages us, even though we want to serve God with our minds and our bodies. The devil is master strategist of the assault against us and sometimes attacks us openly, sometimes craftily, but always with an unerring sense of where our weaknesses lie.
Together, the world, the flesh, and the devil make an unbeatable combination—or they would be unbeatable, if not for the saving intervention of God. Without God, victory against such an alliance is impossible. With God, victory is assured …
Joshua was a man who knew God above all else. The results are impressively recorded here. As Daniel later wrote, “The people who know their God will display strength and take action” (Dan. 11:32). For Joshua, for Daniel, and for you and me, the key to victory is knowing God personally and trusting Him completely.66
As we saw in the introductory material of this study, Joshua is the book of possession in which Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, possesses their God-given possessions, but not without having to go up against hostile forces. The Christian life is precisely like this. In Christ we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). In Him, we are complete (Col. 2:10), but the appropriation of those blessings requires faith in the accomplished work of Christ, along with personal effort, not in the flesh, but the disciplines of godliness—things such as prayer, Bible study, meditating on God’s Word, and regular fellowship with other believers for encouragement.
7 So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, 9 where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. 10 That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ 11 So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. 15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”
16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (1 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)
7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (Hebrews 3:7-19, NASB)