Good morning! Today’s passage (Joshua 9-11) describes the total military conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites, but not before a peaceful (though deceptive) overture by one group leads them alone to preserve their life against the Hebrew onslaught. This account recalls the earlier “total war” or “clash of civilizations” between Moses and Pharaoh in Egypt, while also explaining to later Hebrews how there came to be some non-Hebrews still living among them.
Joshua 9 tells the story of how residents of Gibeon (seeing the writing on the wall regarding their likely fate) proactively tricked Joshua and the Israelites into protecting them. Without consulting God (we’re told), Joshua and the other leaders promised protection because they believed the Gibeonites were from far, far away. When they found out otherwise, Hebrew leaders preserved their honor and declined to break their promise. As a consequence, the Gibeonites stay alive but end up becoming servants of the Hebrews, “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. This may have helped to explain why later in Israel there were Gentiles among the Hebrews, doing work for the Israelites (presumably especially on the Sabbath day). While this is a one-sided account that emphasizes the honor of Israel and the trickery of Gibeon, it’s an example of cohabitation between Jew and Gentile (any non-Jew) that continues to this day. The synagogue that my own family participated in had Gentiles leading music, serving food, and cleaning up at services on the Sabbath (when Jews are forbidden to do such work). Might the Joshua 9 account be an attempt to explain similar early interfaith collaboration?
The remainder of our passage describes the military conquest both south (chapter 10) and north (chapter 11) of the Hebrew encampment at Gilgal. In both directions an alliance of kings, towns and soldiers comes together to defeat the Hebrews, but this only makes it easier for the Jews to overwhelm them. Joshua displays supernatural power in stopping the sun’s progress through the sky so that the slaughter can continue unabated. After the southern territory has been conquered and its residents killed, a massive army gathers against Israel near the Sea of Galilee (“waters of Merom”)in the north. Their might is no match for Joshua however, who slaughters even the horses along with every soldier or resident of each Canaanite town. The text emphasizes Israel’s sheer military dominance, as well as Joshua’s obedience to the commands of God and Moses. Again we hear that God hardened the hearts of Israel’s opponents (just as with Pharaoh in Exodus), so that total extermination would be the only result. One final note: this narrative references Judah in the south and Israel in the north—boundaries that were not used until civil war had divided the nation into two after Kings David and Solomon. I can hope that the far-after-the-fact nature of this account means its descriptions of slaughter in every Canaanite town are more dramatic storytelling than historic reality. It would be easier to forgive literary annihilation rather than actual genocide, but perhaps that’s only wishful thinking on my part. “Happy” reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Joshua 12-14. Thanks for reading!