The success of Joshua’s attack and complete dispersion of the southern confederacy of Canaanite kings (chapter 10) now left the northern chiefs no choice except to either submit to him, or unite in one final effort against the Israelite invaders. Jerusalem had been the head of the southern city-states of the Canaanites, and Hazor was the head of those in the north – around and beyond the district which afterward came to be known as Galilee. The rendezvous of all these northern chiefs and their clans was at the waters of Merom. At the summons of King Jabin of Hazor (the acknowledged leader), these kings gathered from the northern mountains, the Jordan Valley, the plain of the western seacoast along the Mediterranean, and the region around Mount Carmel. Also gathered here were the remnants of the defeated tribes of the south – even from Jebus (Jerusalem) itself, whose king had recently fallen beneath the Hebrews’ hands. Josephus says that this great band of men numbered over 300,000, with 20,000 chariots strengthened with iron.
The “waters of Merom” were a lake that was formed by an expansion of the descending Jordan River. This lake was about seven miles long and five miles wide, surrounded by marshes and numberless streams, and bordered with thickets of papyrus. Here the enemies’ campaign was planned. But meanwhile, vigilant Joshua had received news of the resistance which awaited him, and of the formidable array which the Canaanites had assembled. Following his former tactics, Joshua marched with his forces towards the scene of the encampment – the journey probably taking several days. But as he neared the enemy, he was cheered by a Divine promise of complete victory! Such a promise was peculiarly necessary at this point; for the Israelites had never before been confronted by war-chariots, which were well-calculated to excite the alarm of an army consisting entirely of foot-soldiers. Adopting the plan which had been so successful at Gibeon, Joshua “dropped” upon the Canaanites (as the Hebrew reads); and then, following up the attack before the astonished enemy soldiers could rally from their panic, he drove them before him as they fled in headlong confusion.
The victory was promptly followed up, and two special precautions were taken by the victorious Israelites. Hazor was considered too important a stronghold to leave intact; and therefore, it was stormed and set on fire, and its king – Jabin – was captured and slain. Also, in order to effectually cripple the power of the Canaanites, the Israelites made sure that the horses of their war-chariots were hamstrung, and their chariots were burned.
The sacred historian briefly summed up the results of Israel’s succeeding campaigns, which lasted “a long time” (verse 18) – about seven years, in all. The boundaries and natural divisions of the country were also mentioned. We are further told that no tribe or city endeavored to make peace with Israel, except for the Hivites of Gibeon; for God had determined to execute punishment upon the entirety of the Canaanites, because of their abominable idolatries and crimes. As a judgment for their wickedness, they were left to the pride and obstinacy of their hearts, as well as to the power of Satan. All restraints being withdrawn, they brought upon themselves the vengeance which they justly merited – of which, the Israelites were to be the executioners, according to the commandment which the Lord gave to Moses.
The historian also appended a brief note describing the fate of the Anakim, who had been an object of special terror to the Israelites before their entrance into Canaan. It seems that this “gigantic robber clan” (as one writer calls them) represented one or more families of Amorite descent who were distinguished for their lofty stature – which, to the comparatively smaller Hebrews, seemed actually gigantic! Yet the Anakim – notwithstanding their height and prowess – were destroyed before the Lord’s people, wherever they were found. The remnant of them took refuge in Philistine territory, which seems to have been under Canaanite rule at this period.
It is with a feeling of relief that we come to the final sentence of this chapter: “the land rested from war.” Yet it does not mean a permanent cessation, but it rather denotes that the Israelites no longer needed to war unitedly against the Canaanites. The time had now arrived for the land to be divided among the different tribes, and the completion of the work of conquest was now to be left to the separate action of each tribe. There is a rest from war which is still remaining for the people of God – and into which, they shall enter, when their warfare is accomplished! But the believer must never put off his armor, nor expect lasting peace, until he closes his eyes in death. However, the Lord will not permit any enemies to assault the believer until He has prepared him for the battle. Jesus is the Captain of our salvation; He always lives to plead for His people, and their faith shall not fail – however greatly Satan may be permitted to assault them! However tedious, sharp, and difficult the believer’s warfare may be, his patience in tribulation may be encouraged by the joyfulness of hope – for he will, before long, rest from sin and sorrow in the Canaan above! What a precious thought it is to the holy warrior in Christ, that victory over all his enemies is sure in the blood of the Lamb! (Rev. 12:11)
Lord Jesus, we thank You for triumphing over our spiritual enemies; for in Your name, we are more than conquerors, and shall inherit the heavenly Canaan! Amen.
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