And the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.
With the victory at Gibeon, the strength of Canaan was broken. The five kings that came against Israel there represented the strongest force that the Canaanites could ever hope to muster, and they had been utterly destroyed in one day, extraordinary day that it was. It could not but leave the remainder of the inhabitants of Canaan with a hopeless sense of terror. It would be a long time before any would dare to mount a massive offensive against the forces of Joshua again. But still for the children of Israel there was much to be done.
Once victory had been obtained at Gibeon, the army of Israel turned to the south on an expansive campaign of conquest. The campaign was hard and long. It must have lasted for months and years. Israel had to fight for every city to which it came. For, although the inhabitants of Canaan were terrified, there remained within them .a strong hatred for Israel and Israel’s God. There never again appeared a people like the Gibeonites, who were ready to come to Israel and ask for peace, Against each city anew Israel had to marshal a new attack and fight until every last inhabitant of the city was destroyed. But the Lord was with Israel, and with uninterrupted success city after city and district after district was added to the territory that Israel now possessed. Though the pace was hard and wearisome, when all was said and done none could doubt that the divine power of their God gave to them a strength in battle which was far beyond anything that mere human agency could ever possess. It was God that made Israel’s cause a complete success.
When finally the cities of the south had been completely taken, the armies of Israel turned again into the yet unentered territories of the north. Here lived kings and peoples who knew about the power of Israel only by rumor and who were not quite ready to believe it to be as invincible as was said. They were sure that if any army of sufficient power and size were gathered it would be able to route the forces of Joshua. Even more, they felt confident because they possessed weapons which the people of the south had not and which the children of Israel had never before met, horses with iron chariots. It was Jabin king of Hazor who took the lead. He sent messengers to many different kings of many different cities and nations urging them to come and join him in one great battle against the forces of Israel. When the army thus gathered finally came together it was extremely large, the largest force that Israel had ever met by far. It was gathered from the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites and others. They met in the plains of the Sea of Merom until they appeared as the sand of the seashore for their very number. With their many horses and chariots they appeared a formidable foe indeed.
Because of the unusual circumstances of that which threatened, Joshua received from the Lord a message of special assurance and instruction. The message was brief. “Be not afraid because of them,” said the Lord, “For tomorrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt hough their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.” There was no reason for Israel to fear because of the unusual weapons that were being brought against them in such number. Against them the power of God would be as effective as it had ever been. In fact the attack of Israel against them should be without hesitation and immediate, for within the day this great force of the enemy was to be destroyed. Neither should Israel begin to think that it might capture these horses and chariots to use them for their own cause. Israel’s strength was not to be in horses and chariots but in the strength of its God. Every chariot taken should be burned and every horse houghed, hurt in the hoof so as to be unusable for war.
Quickly Joshua called his army together and made preparation for battle. Suddenly, almost before the army of Jabin realized it was possible, the Israelites had descended upon them. The army of these Canaanitish peoples had begun to feel quite confident by virtue of its very size; but now before this attacking army of Israel it found itself frozen with fright. It was almost as if some supernatural hand had descended upon them and swept from them all of their strength. It was a tremendous slaughter. All the horses and chariots were completely without effect. Israel pursued the fleeing enemy, slaughtering them all along the way. As God had commanded, they houghed all the horses and burned the chariots with fire until little remained to remind them of that great army which had gathered with all its power. Jehovah again had given them the victory.
Just as with Gibeon in the south, this battle opened up the way to the conquest of the north country. The main resistance was now conquered and all that remained was to return to take the cities with the little defense they yet had left to offer. Still the territory was large and the immensity of this task not to be underestimated. Each city was walled and still had its protections. No more here than in the south was any city willing to make peace as the Gibeonites had. It was the Lord who willed it so and hardened the hearts of the people that all might be destroyed and removed to make way for the children of Israel. To Joshua and his army fell the duty of seeing that this was done.
Many years passed by as this work continued and still it was not finished. There remained most of the coast along the great sea and the northern mountain territories of Lebanon. These contained many hard and difficult pockets of resistance. But through the years Joshua had become-a very old man, and the children of Israel were weary of constant battle. In consideration of all this the Lord came to Joshua and said, “Thou art old and stricken .in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed. . . . All the inhabitants . . . will I drive out from before thechildren of Israel: only divide thou it by lot unto the Israelites for an inheritance, as I have commanded thee. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance unto the nine tribes, and the half tribe of Manasseh.”
In a very real sense this announcement was the fulfillment of what had been the hope of Israel for many ages. The individual Israelite was to receive what their fathers had never had, a land and possession to call their own. It was the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. And still, now that it had come, it did not hold quite the joy for them that might have been expected. In many portions of the land there were still living heathen people and the duty of overcoming them would now fall to the independent tribes. If they did not, those heathen would remain to corrupt them and to over run them after their strength had increased. Even more, through the years the Israelites had become a nomadic people used to wandering from place to place. To settle down now in one place with the responsibility of tilling and caring for the land somehow now did not seem as appealing to everyone as it had before. Here was a new way of life which they would have to become used to.
The matter of dividing the land was in itself a difficult task. First the general territories bad to be assigned to the various tribes and then the individual portions of land would have to be assigned to families and household until it could be determined exactly how large a portion would be needed by each tribe and what its exact border should be. This was possible done, as has been suggested, by using two urns, one filled with names and one filled with designations of individual portions of land. One slip was then drawn from each urn matching a name and a portion of land together. In this way the assignment of land would be free from all personal prejudice. The whole disposing of the lot would be of the Lord.
Before the distribution of land began, however, there stepped forward Caleb who had been the other faithful spy with Joshua forty-five years before. To Joshua he spoke and said, “Thou knowest the things that the LORD said unto Moses the man of God concerning me and thee in Kadeshbarnea. Forty years old was I when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadeshbarnea to spy out the land; and I brought him word again as it was in mine heart. Nevertheless my brethren that went up with me made the heart of the people melt but I wholly followed the LORD my God. And Moses sware on that day, saying, Surely the land whereon thy feet have trodden shall be thine inheritance, and thy children’s for ever, because thou hast wholly followed the LORD my God. And now, behold, the LORD hath kept me alive, as he said, these forty and five years, even since the LORD spake the word unto Moses, while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in. Now therefore give me this mountain, whereof the LORD spake in that day; for thou heardest in that day how the Anakims were there, and that the cities were great and fenced: if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the LORD said.”
Here was an example to be remembered. Already many of the children of Israel were hoping to receive portions of land far removed from what remained of the heathen nations. They were weary of battle and were hoping that they would be left free of the duty of fighting farther. Rut quite different was the attitude of Caleb. Although a man of eighty five years of age, he had come forward to claim for himself that portion of land in which the fiercest of all the inhabitants of Canaan were dwelling, Hebron the dwelling place of the Anakims who were giants. These were the men who had struck special fear into the ten unfaithful spies, and now already once Joshua had driven them from Hebron and they had returned. To just about everyone this would be sufficient reason to consider Hebron the least desired place in all the land; but before anyone else had opportunity to receive it, Caleb came forth to claim it for his own. He did have special claim to it, of course. Forty-five years before God through Moses had promised it to him and his children as their special possession. The significant part was, however, that Caleb claimed it so eagerly. That the Anakims were there troubled him not the least. In his mind there was no question that God would enable to drive the enemy out. In faith he came to receive the promised possession.
With Joshua there was not the least hesitation. He knew the faith and strength of Caleb and surely was not going to question it. He blessed Caleb and assigned to him Hebron for his inheritance. This was the faith of true Israel. As long as it remained within the nation, Israel would go forth as conquerors in the name of the LORD.