Conquest and Settlement in Canaan

Conquest and Settlement in Canaan

The conquering and settlement of Israel in Canaan demonstrates the “Dark Ages” of Hebrew history, which were characterized by weak concessions and easy ideal surrendering. Samuel’s actions caused the dense darkness to start to fade.

Conquest and Settlement in Canaan

(JOSHUA 1-24, JUDGES 1-21, RUTH 1-4).

This period of (conquest and settlement in Cannan) Hebrew history is a significant one. It extends over about 300 years (1400-1100 B.C.). The events of the period are confined to the narrow limits of the little land of Canaan. It is characterized by striking contrasts — brilliant hard fighting at first, followed by weak compromises; high patriotic fervour in the conquest followed by a demoralization of ideals and, purposes. After the hard years in Egyptian bondage and the long, weary wanderings in the wilderness, they entered the long-awaited promised land.

They were at home at last. After the hard fighting came the thrill of settling in their respective territories, the selecting of claims of land, and the building of their homes. Patriotic enthusiasm was at high tide as they followed Joshua from victory to victory and then in solemn assembly pledged their fidelity to the law of Moses. At last, their nation was on its way to the realization of its great: mission. But this enthusiasm was soon chilled by weak compromises and easy surrender of ideals until the latter half of the period came to be known as the.”Dark Ages” of Hebrew, history. Toward the end of the period, the dense darkness began to Disappear with the activities of Samuel, the young man who was. destined to lead the way to a better day for his nation.

Conditions Favoring the Conquest

The conquest of the land of Canaan was a magnificent achievement.

It was no small accomplishment for a company of former slaves, inexperienced in the art of warfare, to march Successfully through the territory of several strong kingdoms and then in a series of brilliant battles wrest their new homeland from the here-fighting tribes that claimed it as their own.

The various nations surrounding Canaan and the tribes inside the land were not united in opposing the advances of an invading nation. Had Edom, Moab, Amnion and other nations outside Canaan allied and combined their fighting forces against Israel presumably they could easily have prevented them from ever reaching eastern Palestine.

From the statements made to the spies sent by Joshua into Jericho these people had heard reports of the coming of this invading army of Israel and were filled with fear at their approach. Had the Canaanites, the Girgashites, the Hittites, and other such groups formed a strong alliance, the results might have been different. It appears that the Hebrew people came to their new homeland at just the right time, a time when conditions were such as to make its conquest easier than it might’ve been at other times


Conquest and Settlement in Canaan
Conquest and Settlement in Canaan

Inhabitants of Canaan.

West of the Jordan lay the larger and better part of Canaan, the territory which was to be the real home of the Hebrews. At this time it was occupied by several fierce tribes, who naturally would resist the invasion of other people. In the Jordan valley, in the plain of Esdraelon, and on the Mediterranean coast lived the Canaanites and the chief of the tribes. The fortress later to become Jerusalem was held by the Jebusites. Southern Canaan was occupied by the Hittites. The Ammonites occupied Southeastern Judah, while the Hivites lived in central Samaria. The Perizzites dwelt near Carmel, while the tribe of Jubin lived in the mountainous region of Galilee. The Philistines, not challenged in the conquest, occupied the coastal territory between Judah and the sea. The Phoenicians, who likewise were not involved in the wars of conquest, lived on the narrow strip between the mountains and the sea in the extreme northern end of Canaan.


1, Under the New Commander,

It will be recalled that Moses, just before he died in Moab, did much in getting the Hebrews ready for the important venture of the son of Nun, who was selected and instructed by Moses. Several incidents illustrating his activity and loyalty are given in the Biblical account. (Exodus 17:of, 23:13, 32:17; Numbers 13:8, 16, 14:38, etc.). He was the logical one to succeed Moses, the great leader now removed from them.

Upon the death of Moses Joshua assumed command and began at once his plans for the big task ahead. Considering the pre-eminent leadership of his predecessor it is no wonder that Joshua was keenly conscious of the heavy responsibility now thrust upon him. He was brave and competent, though he was frequently- exhorted to be courageous in his great undertaking. It appears that the people accepted him and followed him with confidence. They were now in the hands of a new leader, younger and less experienced than Moses, but one who trusted in Jehovah and sought with all his powers to measure up to his heavy responsibilities.

2. Eager for the Great Adventure.

As the Israelites, encamped east of the Jordan, made final preparations for the last stages of their venture in getting their new home, there was an air of expectancy among them. At last, after the bitter years of bondage and wilderness wanderings, they were on the threshold of their new home. Behind them were the years of wilderness hardships; ahead of them was the homeland. How eager they must have been to finish the conquest and settle their families in the new, home which offered so much to them. No doubt some were too eager to proceed and were impatient at the delays necessary for successful conquest. Joshua, however, would not be rushed and wisely planned the details of the new adventure.

3. Preliminary Precautions.

Across the Jordan at the foot of the mountains of western Canaan lay the strategic city of Jericho. It commanded the main pass up into the mountains. It was necessary, therefore, that this strongly fortified city should be taken first. To proceed intelligently, Joshua needed to have accurate and detailed information about this city and the region’s roundabout. Accordingly, two spies were selected and sent across the river to reconnoitre this strategic city. They gained access to the home of a woman named Rahab. who fortunately co-operated with them. The king of Jericho got word of the coming with them for the saving of her family when the Israelites should conquer the city. She reported to them the fear that the inhabitants of Canaan had concerning this invading army that had so successfully defeated the nations east of the Jordan under the leadership of a God of such marvellous power. For this assistance, the spies promised to spare their house of Rahab and agreed with her that her house should be. ,. marked by a scarlet cord in the window. They were then let down from the window outside the walls of die city and proceeded to make their way back across the Jordan to report to Joshua.

In the meantime, Joshua was making final plans with his people. Food was provided, the order of the march was arranged, and the people were given instructions for any exigency ahead.

4. Crossing the Jordan.

The time had now come for the decisive move. The confident report of the spies from Jericho inspired Joshua and the people to proceed at once. Early in the morning, which was four days before, the rime of the Passover, they left their camp and came down to the Jordan. The priests bore the Ark marching three thousand feet in front of the people, and as they reached the banks and stepped into the waters of the river, which at this season overflowed its banks, “the waters which came down from above stood., and rose in one heap a great way off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those that went down toward the sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, were wholly cut off; and the people passed over right against Jericho.” (Joshua 3:16.) With, the opening of the waters the priests moved to the middle of the river bed and held the Ark while the people passed by them to cross to the other side. When the crossing was completed and the priests had come upon the western banks, the waters of the river came rolling down and again overflowed its banks.

It is worthy of note that an old account of a reputable historian tells the story of another crossing of the Jordan river that was regarded as miraculous. According to this account in the year 1257 AD. Sultan Bibers sent workmen to repair a bridge over the Jordan at this very point, to provide a crossing for a Mohammedan army in retreat. It was the time for spring floods and they naturally expected that the Jordan valley would be flooded so they could not do their work. To their surprise, however, as they came to die river they discovered that the river bed was almost dry. They rushed their repair work and had barely finished it when the waters came pouring down from the north. Upon investigation, they discovered that a great landslide up the valley had completely dammed up the waters of the Jordan.

This miraculous experience made a deep impression on the Hebrew people. Forty years earlier God had opened up the waters of the Red sea to provide deliverance from bondage and now again he opened up the waters to provide an entrance to their new homeland. The event must be kept fresh in their minds. In succeeding centuries prophets, poets, and other teachers would recount this experience to inspire greater faith in Jehovah. Even to our day, the event is kept fresh in mind by the use of such hymns “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” and “Guide Me, 0 Thou Great Jehovah.

5. The First Memorial in Canaan.

To commemorate this miraculous deliverance the twelve chief men brought from the bed of the Jordan twelve large stones with which to build a memorial at the place known as Gilgal on the western side of the river “And Joshua spoke unto the children of Israel’, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones: then ye shall let your children .know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land that all die peoples of this earth may know the hand of Jehovah your God forever.” (Joshua 4:21-24.)

The rite of circumcision commanded of Abraham, but for a long time neglected, was performed. This was followed by the celebration of the Passover, on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan. After this the supply of manna which Jehovah had provided. The Exodus had come to an end.

6. Jericho, the Key City,

The important city of Jericho which stood some six miles waster of the Jordan guarded the pass into the highlands of western Canaan. The ruins of this ancient city which are oval-shaped and cow some thirteen acres can be seen by travellers today. They are elevated about forty feet above the surrounding plains and are enclosed by a wall that excavators have studied with great care. This wall, some seven feet thick, was about sixteen feet high. On top of this scone wall another one about eight feet high, made of brick, was placed. On the north end was a citadel used by dead inhabitants in defence of the city.

Naturally, these walls have a great interest for Bible students who are given the unusual story of die conquest of the city by the Hebrews, Unfortunately, the archaeologists can’t give adequate answers to all the questions we have about the destruction of this ancient city. Despite the curse pronounced upon any who should attempt to rebuild the historic city, it was rebuilt again and again. It was in existence during much of the Old Testament history, and subsequently. Given these several rebuildings, it is difficult to reconstruct the original city as conquered by Joshua and his forces.

This “city of palm trees,” set. in beautiful surroundings, with springs of water and fertile plains, was famous for its balsam trees which produced a balm well known for its healing qualities. On Joshua’s day, a beautiful forest of palm trees some eight miles long and three wide stood immediately east of the city. Thus Jericho was almost concealed between the steep hills on the west and the forest on the east. This elevated city with its high walls must have appeared well nigh impregnable to the Hebrews as they advanced westward from the Jordan. But the city must be conquered if they are ever to succeed in wresting their new homeland from the enemy since it was practically impossible to get up into/the western highlands by any other route. It would be fatal to leave such a fortified city in the hands of their enemies. Jericho was indeed a key city.

Instructions for capturing the city were given to Joshua during a visit from a messenger of Jehovah. For six days the people of Israel were to march pace each day around the walls of the city as they were led by seven priests who “were to sound the trumpets. On the seventh day, they were to march around it seven times after which the trumpets were to sound along, loud blast. This was to be followed by a short blast after which the walls of the city were, to fall. Joshua and his forces were commanded to destroy .every living thing in the city, except the family of Rahab in keeping with the contract previously made by the spies with her. All property was to be destroyed except the metal vessels which were to be kept for use in service to Jehovah.

These instructions were carried out and on the seventh day the proud city was reduced to ruins and the first step in the conquest of western Canaan was successfully taken. This removed the barrier to the passing up into the western highlands, their future home in Canaan.

7. Plan of Conquest.

By reading the records of succeeding encounters it is easy to discern the general plan of conquest decided upon by the Hebrews. Their strategy was to move directly west towards the Mediterranean sea conquering a strip of territory through the centre of the land. This would forestall any possibility of the peoples of the south and the north joining their forces to offer united resistance to the Hebrews. This plan to divide and conquer proved to be effective. Joshua’s forces, “upon completing their drive to the west, turned southward and eliminated their leading enemies in this direction, and later advanced northward, subduing their opponents in this area. The last real battle of the conquest was fought far in the north near the waters of the little lake (Merom) a few miles above the Sea of Galilee.

8. Ai, Achan, Achor.

Highly elated, and perhaps over-confident after their decisive victory at Jericho, the Israelites were soon to taste the bitterness of humiliating defeat. Moving westward up the mountain from Jericho their next objective was the stronghold of Ai a city near ancient Bethel in the heart of western Palestine. They underestimated the strength of this city of some twelve thousand people and marched against it with only three thousand men. They were utterly defeated and driven back toward Jericho in great humiliation. This experience caused general consternation among them. Led by Joshua, they prostrated themselves before Jehovah and were then informed of the cause of their defeat. Contrary to the specific command that none of the valuables of Jericho was to be saved or appropriated, one of their numbers had been guilty of stealing and hiding certain articles. Upon investigation, it was discovered that a man named Achan of the tribe of Judah, had hidden in his tent a rich Oriental robe, two hundred shekels of silver, and an immense wedge or bar of solid gold. Confronted with the charges Achan publicly, confessed his crime. Thereupon he and all his family were taken to a valley south of the ruins of Jericho where they were publicly stoned to death. A mound of stones was placed above the place and the name Achor (trouble) was then given to the valley of execution.

A second attack upon Ai was now to be made. This time their strategy, which has been employed many times since then, proved successful. During the darkness of night 5,000 men were placed in ambush behind the city. Joshua and the rest of his army the next morning marched to attack the city. The king of Ai immediately moved to meet them in battle. Joshua’s forces, according to plan, began again to retreat. The enemy rapidly pursued them, thus leaving their city unprotected. The 5,000 men in ambush then entered the city, set it on fire, and set out in pursuit of the Aites. The forces led by Joshua now stopped their retreat and turned upon their pursuers who were caught between the two armies of the Hebrews, and were utterly annihilated. Ai was sacked and burned, the inhabitants were killed and their army was destroyed.

9. Israel at Shechem.

The victory at Ai seems to have secured Joshua’s position in central Canaan, for he now called for an assembly of the people at the historic place called Shechem. Here were the twin’s mounts, Ebal and Gerizim which stood close enough together to form a sort of natural amphitheatre which was ideally suited for an assemblage. The time had now come for the ratifying of the law which Moses had commanded. This law used on this occasion was probably the Blessings and the cursings found in Deuteronomy 27. One-half of the tribes ascended Mt. Ebal, and the other six climbed Mt. Gerizim. In the space between these stood the priests, Levites, and other leaders, with Joshua. As the Levites read aloud the curses the assembly of Mt. Ebal responded with a great Amen, while those on Mt. Gerizim replied similarly to the Blessings. In this impressive manner, the Israelites publicly committed themselves to keeping of the law of Moses. Had they remained loyal to their vows the subsequent history might have been quite different.

10. Battle at Gibeon.

A group of Canaanite kings, now thoroughly alarmed at Joshua’s victories, were mustering their forces for a united stand against the Hebrew invaders. The people of… Gideon, one of the nearby cities, refused to join this alliance and we’re eager to make terms with Joshua for their protection. By a cunning stratagem, wearing old, tattered clothes as if they had come from a great distance, and assuming an air of piety they deceived Joshua into making peace with them. Three days later the Israelites discovered that the Gibeonites were their immediate neighbours and had cleverly deceived them. However, they kept their word and did not kill the Gibeonites but did reduce them to servitude.

In the meantime, the kings of five nearby cities (Jebus, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon) having resolved to destroy the Gibeonites, marched against them in great force. These besieged Gibeonites sent an urgent appeal to Joshua, who was at Gilgal, to come to their defence against these strong opponents. Marching by night Joshua came unexpectedly upon these armies on the plains of Gibeon. In a fierce battle, he put them to rout, driving them through the pass of BethHorton into the valley below the height. The five kings were taken from the cave where they had sought to escape death and were publicly beheaded. Joshua immediately hurried to the home cities of these five kings and destroyed their inhabitants. The effect was immediate. All opposition in southern Palestine now crumbled and thus, within a short time, the Hebrews had practically all of the land as far south as Kadesh-Barnea. The bigger part of the conquest was over.

11. Completing the Conquest.

The northern part of their land must now be wrested from the natives. Near the Lake of Galilee live Jabin the strong king of Hazor, who had summoned several other local chiefs to form a confederacy against Joshua’s army. Upon hearing of this Joshua 1 set forth with his army to meet them in battle. He came upon them as “they’ve encamped near the small lake called Merom, in the northern end of the land. In this battle, the northern kings were utterly defeated and their cities were possessed by the forces of Joshua. This victory was decisive. It led to the conquest of all northern Palestine and gave the Hebrews possession of much of western Palestine.

12. Locating the Tribes

The common task in which all were interested was the division of their new homeland among the various tribes. In a previous title, we saw that Reuben and Gad and a part of the tribe of Manasseh; upon their request, had been assigned the territory east of the Jordan. The remaining nine and one-half tribes were to be given their territory west of the Jordan. Joshua assisted by Eleazar the high priest, made, assignments, of most of this territory. It appears, however, that some groups with strong leaders went out and obtained certain localities for themselves., Caleb, reminding Joshua of the promise of Moses”-secured his permission to claim Hebron- in southern Palestine as his territory. He took with him a strong fighting force and in hard battle seized this region from the sons of Anak.

The casting of lots before the tabernacle was the plan used for determining the locality to be occupied by the nine and one-half, tribes. The first tribe receive-its assignment was Judah the strongest of all. This was a large territory that stretched westward from the Dead Sea across the western highlands to the borders of Philistia.

Much of it was rugged wilderness and barren hill country, but it was strategically situated and made a good home for the sons of Judah. Simeon was given the territory southwest of Judah which was a sandy hill country, whose borders varied from time” to time. Just northwest’, of Judah in the hill country sloping down to the sea, the tribe of Dan was first located. At a later date, however, this tribe moved to the far. } north above the lake of Galilee, the land j immediately north of Judah in the western highlands. The territory was much smaller than Judah’s, but it was a choice location. Benjamin, while not so large in numbers, was very prominent in national affairs and contributed more than her share of leaders in subsequent years.

Immediately north of Benjamin on the high ridge and extending er east to the Jordan and west to the coastal plains were the region given to, Ephraim of Manasseh. The territory, known later as the plain of Esdraelon and Galilee, was assigned to four tribes. Issachar received the fertile plain between Galilee and Samaria. This is the most historic area in Palestine and was the scene of many important events in both Old Testament and New Testament times.

The people of Issachar, however, seem not to have been very prominent in the life of the nation afterwards the far north was located in Zebulon, Asher, and Naphtali.

The careful student will have noted that in these assignments no provision was made for my tribe of Levi. And there were good reasons for this. This priestly tribe was to be supported by the tithes of cattle and agricultural produce from the other tribes. In addition to these tithes, each tribe was to furnish .four cities as homes for the Levites. Included in these forty-eight cities were six cities of refuge, Kedesh, Galan, Shechem, Ramoth-Gilead, Bezer, and Hebron.

13. Jealousy and Misunderstanding.

The allocating of territory having been completed, the people of Reuben, Gad, and part of Manasseh were permitted by Joshua to return to their homes east of the Jordan as previously, agreed upon. They began their journey homeward and upon coming down to the Jordan set up an altar as a perpetual witness that they were not divided, from their brethren west of the Jordan in religion or national purposes. Word of the erection of this altar came to some of their brethren west of the river, who without good reasons, jumped to the conclusion that these tribes had erected the altar to worship foreign gods. They hastily concluded to make war upon these eastern tribes, but wisely resolved to learn the facts first. When they discovered the honourable intentions of their brethren an unfortunate civil war was averted.

14. Joshua’s Farewell Address.

When the tribes had settled in their new homes the career of Joshua, the great soldier, and leader, came to an end. Having been warned of the imminence of his departure, he called for an assembly of the chief officials and leaders of the nation at ancient Shechem. In his wisdom, he foresaw some of the dangers that lay ahead for his nation. He and other trusted men like Eleazar and Caleb must pass on and leave younger men in charge. These new leaders should be prepared and tested. He saw the danger of gradual mingling and even intermarriage, with the pagan people, so many of whom were still left in their land. The Hebrews had not yet conquered much of the territory occupied by these foreign tribes who constituted a menace to their faith in God. They needed to become familiar with the law of Moses for

Their guidance. They needed also to pledge themselves anew to observe these laws since the welfare of the nation depended, upon their loyalty to the principles enunciated in them.

In his address on this impressive and historic occasion, Joshua reviewed hurriedly the big events in their national history and traced the protection and guidance of Jehovah their God in their life as a nation. He then challenged the people to pledge themselves anew to the service of Jehovah, their God. The people solemnly renewed the covenant whereupon Joshua set up a stone pillar as a memorial of this event. The people then departed to return to their respective localities.

15. An Appraisal of Joshua.

Shortly after the assembly at Shechem Joshua, now no years of age came peacefully to the end of his days. He was buried in his home city, Timnath-Serah in Benjamin. After this, the Israelites buried the body of Joseph their great preserver which, in keeping with their promise to him, they had brought with them from Egypt. Joshua had served his people with great devotion at a critical time in their history. He followed Israel’s greatest statesman, Moses, and naturally was somewhat overshadowed by him, but his contribution was exceptionally valuable, and in his name, stands out as a very remarkable man. As a soldier he was brave and resourceful, showing unusual gifts in strategy. As a civic leader or statesman, he exercised fine foresight and sound wisdom. As a man, he was genuine, courageous, and honourable. In religious matters, he was humble,

genuinely faithful to Jehovah and was compromising in his efforts to lead his people to whole-hearted loyalty to the law of Moses. The life of Israel might have been vastly different without the wise and able leadership of Joshua during the critical years of conquest and settlement in Canaan.

16. Religion and Culture of the Canaanites.

In another connection, we have spoken of the various pagan tribes which occupied Canaan at the time of the conquest. Of these peoples, the Canaanites were the most powerful. With them, more than any others, the “Hebrews were to be involved in the next century. They were cruel, fierce-fighting people whose moral and religious practices were exceptionally wicked and repulsive. The Biblical account (Leviticus 18:21-30, Deut 12:30-32) tells something of these abominable practices. The discoveries of the archaeologists have given the most impressive corroboration to the Biblical record. The work of Dr Macalister at ancient Gezer, a. Canaanite city, was especially revealing. Uncovering this, ancient mound layer by layer, he came upon the stratum belonging to the 14th century B.C., the one belonging to the time of Joshua. Here he found the high place, the area where the Canaanites carried on their worship. The great high place at Gezer had its foundation in the second stratum below the Israelite. It was, therefore, one of the Canaanite high places. It contained ten monoliths or upright pillars, the tallest of which was ten feet and nine inches and the lowest .five feet and seven inches. These pillars (ran in a curved line in the general direction of north and south. All of these except one were of the kind of stone found in abundance around Gezer. These had been taken from the immediate neighbourhood and bore no marks of a tool. The one which was the sacred one (worn smooth in places by the continuous rubbing and kissing of devotees) was of stone found around Jerusalem. The excavators think that these were erected about the time of Abraham 2000 B.C. and were used with frequency each year until the time of the Exile 587 B.C. Hard by was two large caves connected by a narrow, crooked passage so that they could be used for the giving of oracles. The area of this high place seems to have been about 150 feet by 120 feet. No buildings were connected with it.

The whole area of this high place was a cemetery for newborn babes. In all probability, they were firstborn children sacrificed to the deity. These were enclosed in jars with the body put in headfirst. Two or three small vessels, usually a bowl and a jug, were put in with them. That these were sacrifices is shown by the fact that they were children. It could not have been a burial place since such was considered unclean and hence would not be near the place of worship. These gruesome discoveries of this high place make very real the horrible practices of the people just antedating the Israelites in Palestine. The large collection of suggestive images of Astarte found in this place bears convincing testimony to the immoral worship that went on here. All these images were designed to foster in the worshiper that type of service described in Isa. 57:3$. “Draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the harlot ye that inflame yourselves among the oaks, under every green tree, that slay children in the valleys.

Upon a high and lofty mountain though hast set thy bed, thither wentest thou up to offer sacrifice. Thou hast enlarged thy bed and made thee a covenant with them; thou lovest their bed where thou sawest it.” So many of these suggestive images and sketchings were found that Prof. Macalister was led to say: “No one who was not at Gezer during the excavating can realize how demoralizing the whole atmosphere of such a worship must have been.” Archaeology has revealed to us most vividly the character of the worship against which the prophets of Jehovah had to contend. The late Dr J. P. Peters of the University of Pennsylvania in his book “The Religion of the Hebrews” fills out the picture and gives us some conception of the nature of this worship that proved such a temptation and snare to God’s people in the days before they were finally led away captive. He says, “The Canaanite religion was the nature worship of an agricultural people. Baal gave grain, oil, and wine.

For this, his worshipers prayed to him and for this they thanked him. Baal was identified with nature. Its yearly revival and death were a revival and death of the god. In this revival and death, his worshipers took part. In connection with the latter it was their religion to mourn and mutilate themselves; in. connection with the former to give themselves over to the most unbridled merrymaking. Baal was the giver of life; he was also the destroyer of life. As the latter, men sought I to appease his wrath by offerings, even of their children; as the former men revelled in his bounty with the wildest orgies. The life of nature appeared to them to rest on the mystical process of generation, hence sexual immorality was a feature of their worship of the gods.

“Each city had a Baal as its god and in consequence of the likeness of the life of the various cities, there was no great difference between these various Baals. They were distinguished in general by adding the name of the city or place in which they were worshipped. They were represented often by symbols taken from the animal world, bulls and lions, cows, doves, and birds of prey, in which the generative force or the consuming ardour of the sun was represented.

“Along with the Baal was worshipped a Baal or corresponding goddess. Throughout the religion of the settled Semites, as we find it in Babylonia, Canaan, and among the settled Arameans, there was a duality of sex and a tendency to worship the goddess with immoral rites. At her shrines and in her name sexual license was permitted or commanded, and sometimes the sacrifice of female chastity was required in her service. At places, strange and unnatural lust formed part of her worship, and both female and male prostitutes inhabited her temples and served at her shrines.”

Such was the worship universally practised in Palestine at the time when Israel entered her promised home. In the conquest the devotees of this worship were not destroyed, instead, a policy of compromise was adopted which allowed these evil practices to continue, and corrupt the religious life of the Hebrews as it flourished in subsequent years. Every generation from their settlement in Canaan to the Exile witnessed the old, yet ever-new, struggle of Jehovah’s worship against Baal. This was not a far-off, unreal, imaginary evil, but was real, ever-present, alluring, and challenging.

17. Israel’s Cruelty to the Canaanites.

Some students have been puzzled by the command of God to exterminate the Canaanites. We should remember that the experiences in these cruel, barbarous days were more than 1300 years removed from the ethical ideals and standards of Jesus. We must judge them by the day in which they lived. We should keep in mind also the fact that by the standards of that day loyalty to the command of their god called for the extermination of all enemies of their god.

Given the .very wicked and licentious practices of these Canaanites, we may ask the question, Was not the complete extermination of such people the only safeguard, for the future: the life of his chosen people upon whom so much depended? The grave danger was that the Israelites might become amalgamated with these pagan people, gradually adapt their practices of vicious paganism, and lose all that they had been commissioned to give to the world. Indeed, this very thing did take place to an exceedingly dangerous extent. One wonders how much better it might have been had all these evil influences been removed so that the Israelites might have had an opportunity to develop without these insidious and inviting practices all about them. It might have saved them from the “Dark Ages” which followed the death of Joshua (Lev. 18:24-28).

18. Problems and Perils Ahead,

It was natural for the Hebrew—people-to-assume-^that with the settlement of the tribes in their new home the most difficult problems and hardest days were over. Gone were the hardships of slave life in Egypt, the dreary years of wilderness wanderings, and the hard battles of conquest. The days of struggle and problems Were-‘Over. Unfortunately, this was not the case. There were several very real dangers ahead for these people in their new home.

There was much of the land, both strong cities, and open country, still in the hands of these enemy tribes. The conquest was far from complete. .A_ very real peril was, the natural inclination to relax too early, with the enemy, rather than conquer him. These strong forces left with their land constituted a danger that might finally lead to the extinction of the whole nation.

* Social contacts with these alien tribes provided a real danger. It was easy to look upon these peoples at first as harmless neighbours, then to trade with them, then social relations would lead to marriage, and ultimately to amalgamation. With this occurring, they would lose their identity and forfeit their mission as a distinct race with a special mission to the world.

There, was the danger also of the loss of their distinctive religious ideals. The alluring” religious ‘practices of the Canaanites would ensnare many of the Hebrews and cause them to stray away from the strict law of Moses.

It will be remembered that originally the Hebrews were a shepherd, people. Now that they were in their new home they must adjust themselves to another type of life demanded of a settled agricultural people. This adjustment would not be easy.

Finally, they must work out some plan of governing themselves. This would call for a certain amount of experimenting in which there would of necessity be some mistakes. With these problems and dangers ahead the future was by no means secure.

Conquest and Settlement in Canaan

    Conquest and Settlement in Canaan

THE PERIOD OF THE JUDGES (Judges 1-21, Ruth 1-4).

1. Dark Ages of Hebrew History.

The period which we now enter is known as the “Sack.-Ages” of Hebrew history. It is characterized by..such .^words as apostasy, decline, disorder, and, demoralization. It was a time of decline in all areas” of life, economic, political, social, moral and religious. It was a time of compromise and acceptance by many of God’s people of the w ideals and standards of their pagan neighbours. The oft-recurring statement in the book of Judges is “The children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah.”

2. History Repeating Itself.

The book of Judges relates the stories of several leaders called “Judges.” Each story follows the same pattern. It may be called history repeating itself in four stages or steps. (1) The people of God doing evil. (2) Jehovah sent an oppressor to persecute and enslave them. (3) The people in distress praying for deliverance. (4) God raised a Judge or deliverer to defeat the enemy and deliver the people.

3. Functions of the Judges.

The chief was Military leaders to .deliver. ..the people from their, .oppressors. In some cases, their work ‘ continued as statesmen or political and judicial leaders after the crisis was passed. In some instances, they served as religious leaders. In most cases, these Judges seem to have passed off the stage shortly after the crisis was over. It should be remembered that the Judgestheir weaknesses are frankly recorded. For example, Jephthah, an illegitimate son, was a crude, barbaric person who believed in human sacrifice; Samson was weak ideals and moral, character. We should judge them” the light of the day in which they lived.

These men served very largely in local crises. They were not leaders of all twelve tribes, and were not, like kings, elected to succeed each other. There were probably times when no judge was serving while at other times two or more might be practically contemporary.

4. List of the Judges.

The number of these depends somewhat on the classification one accepts. For example, some students include both Ruth and Samuel as Judges while others do not.

Usually, the number is listed as the twelve followings (i) Othniel of Judah, (2) Ehud, a Benjamite, (3) Deborah, the prophetess, and Barak, (4) Gideon from Manasseh, (5) Abimelech the son of Gideon, (6) Jair of Gilead, (7) Tola of Issachar, (8) Jephthah of Gilead, (9) Ibzan from Bethlehem, (10) Elan of Zebulon, (n) Abdon, (12) Samson of Dan.

5. Othniel and the Mesopotamians.

Chronologically Othniel came as the first delivery and served not many years after the death of Joshua. The. .people of Judah had yielded to the temptation of indulging in the wicked ceremonies of Canaanite worship, having forsaken the worship of Jehovah. From far-off “Mesopotamia a king, Cushan Rishathaim was sent as an oppressor. For eight years his oppression grew steadily worse until the people called upon Jehovah. Othniel, the nephew of Caleb, rose as deliverer and in an encounter, the details of which are not given, defeated the enemy, drove them out, and thus delivered the people of Judah.

6. Ehud and the Moabites.

The next invader came from Moab east of the Jordan valley. Eglon, king of Moab, crossed the Jordan, captured Jericho, and for eighteen years oppressed the tribes east of the Jordan as well as the people of Benjamin and probably of Judah. Ehud, a left-handed warrior from Benjamin, went to the palace of Eglon and asked for a private interview with the king. When he has left alone with Eglon he. whipped out his dagger and stabbed him, .hurried from the room, locked the door, and quickly crossed the Jordan to Mt. Ephraim. Here he organized his army with which he seized the fords of the Jordan and blocked the retreat of the now panicky Moabites as..they sought to return to their home. According to the Biblical account, he slew ten thousand of the enemy and allowed no one to escape.

7. Deborah and Bara\ Against the Canaanites.

The Canaanites, who occupied much of the valley of Esdraelon, were the next foe to oppress the Hebrews. Jabin, their king, with his fighting forces threatened the very life of Ephraim and the other tribes in central Canaan Deborah, a prophetess who dwelt in Ephraim, served as He agreed to do this and to lead the fight, provided she would assist. To this, she consented with the understanding that in the event of victory credit should go to her. Barak was able to assemble an army of ten thousand men on Mt. Tabor overlooking the valley of Esdraelon. His army met that of the Canaanites on the banks of the river Kishon’in Esdraelon. / Sisera, with his nine hundred war chariots, led the” forces of king Jabin. The Hebrews led die attack and threw the Canaanites into confusion. Just then curious stroke over the valley rendering

I the flows of the Canaanites useless. The rapidly rising waters descending with flood proportions caused the heavy iron chariots to

bog in the mud. In this hopeless confusion Sisera leapt from his chariot and fled to the north; The victory against me Canaanites”‘ was decisive.

Sisera on his flight came to Kedesh in Naphtali, and was given shelter in the tent of a woman named Jael, the wife of Heber, the Kenite. Exhausted, he fell asleep. Then Jael_ took a long tent pin, drove it through his head, and fastened him to the ground in death.

After the overwhelming victory, Deborah composed her famous song which was used in celebrating this impressive deliverance. The student should read carefully this beautiful poem (Judges 5:1-31) which is one of the earliest songs of the Hebrew people.

8. Gideon Against the Midianites.

This oppression and deliverance, which is recorded at length, is perhaps the most familiar story in the book of Judges. The foes were the Midianites, the Amalekites, and probably Arab tribes who came from the east under the leadership of Zebah and Zalmunnah with the two chiefs Oreb and Zeeb. They destroyed the crops and inflicted the severest suffering on the Israelites for seven years.

Gideon, the deliverer, came from the tribe of Manasseh. While threshing wheat he received the divine commission to slay the Midianites. Upon his request for a sign to – corroborate the offering was miraculously consumed with fire. Later the Lord appeared.

Israel’s Incomplete Conquest of Canaan

Biblical authors struggled to explain why Canaanites remained on the land after Israel settled in it. Exodus (23:29–30) and Deuteronomy (7:22) suggest that Israel needed time to settle the land. The opening of Joshua reimagines the past to include an Israelite Blitzkrieg that removed the inhabitants entirely. Other approaches see the remaining Canaanites as a punishment (Judges 2) or a test of Israel’s resolve (Joshua 23).


The Slow Takeover of Canaan

At the close of the Covenant Code, YHWH cautions Israel not to expect an immediate conquest of the entire Promised Land. First, YHWH states that his angel or messenger (מלאך) will lead Israel safely on the way to Canaan and conquer it for them:

שמות כג:כג כִּי יֵלֵךְ מַלְאָכִי לְפָנֶיךָ וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ אֶל הָאֱמֹרִי וְהַחִתִּי וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי הַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי וְהִכְחַדְתִּיו… Exod 23:23 When my messenger goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I annihilate them…

YHWH then explains how the conquest will begin, first by frightening the locals with His terror (v. 27) and then by sending the tzirah (hornets) after them to drive them out (v. 28). But then, YHWH goes on to explain that the takeover will be a protracted process since the Israelites do not have sufficient numbers to replace the Canaanites if the land is conquered all at once:

‏שׁמות כג.כט לֹא אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִפָּנֶיךָ בְּשָׁנָה אֶחָת פֶּן תִּהְיֶה הָאָרֶץ שְׁמָמָה וְרַבָּה עָלֶיךָ חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה. כג:ל מְעַט מְעַט אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִפָּנֶיךָ עַד אֲשֶׁר תִּפְרֶה וְנָחַלְתָּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ. Exod 23:29 I will not drive them out from before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals multiply to your hurt. 23:30 I will drive them out from before you little by little until you have increased and possess the land.

An empty land would allow wild animals to thrive, creating a new threat to Israel’s existence. The full conquest of Canaan, therefore, will depend on the future growth of Israel’s population. This ecological understanding of the intertwined relation between land and people, a delicate balance that ensures survival, requires the postponement of the full occupation of Canaan.

YHWH’s Land Promise to Abraham

Delayed possession of the land appears already in the account of YHWH’s covenant with Abraham, though in a different context and for a different reason. First, YHWH promises Abraham that the land will be given to his descendants (Gen 15:18). Nevertheless, YHWH makes clear that this takeover will be delayed for centuries until the sinful ways of the Amorites multiply beyond forbearance, thus providing YHWH with the moral justification needed to transfer their land to Israel:

בראשׁית טו:יג וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה…. טו:טז וְדוֹר רְבִיעִי יָשׁוּבוּ הֵנָּה כִּי לֹא שָׁלֵם עֲוֹן הָאֱמֹרִי עַד הֵנָּה. Gen 15:13 Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in the land, not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years… 15:16 And they (your offspring) shall return here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.

Israel will have to wait out this period in Egyptian servitude until the grant can be made good.

According to the Exodus passage discussed above (23:28), even those Israelites freed from the lengthy bondage in Egypt, who eventually make it into the land, will experience further delays in taking control of all of it, given the natural constraints on a small population attempting to people a large swath of land. It is thus to Israel’s benefit, God explains, that the land will not be conquered in one fell swoop, but piecemeal over decades or even centuries.

Complete Conquest: Deuteronomistic View

Deuteronomy also knows of the wild beast concern and the promise of slow conquest:

דברים ז:כב וְנָשַׁל יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵל מִפָּנֶיךָ מְעַט מְעָט לֹא תוּכַל כַּלֹּתָם מַהֵר פֶּן תִּרְבֶּה עָלֶיךָ חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה. Deut 7:22 YHWH your God will dislodge those peoples before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them at once, else the wild beasts would multiply to your hurt.

Yet, elsewhere, Deuteronomy contradicts this passage, and speaks of the quick dispossession of the Canaanites:

‏דברים ט:ג …וְהוֹרַשְׁתָּם וְהַאַבַדְתָּם מַהֵר כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְ־הוָה לָךְ. Deut 9:3 …so that you may dispossess and destroy them quickly, as YHWH has promised you.

This passage does not share the concern about leaving the land empty. This is true as well for the opening half of the book of Joshua (ch. 1–12)—the locus classicus for the complete conquest of Canaan—a literary patchwork of traditional tales, edited and supplemented to reflect the theological conceptions of its Deuteronomistic author.

In Joshua 1–12, the whole of the Land of Canaan falls to Joshua and the invading Israelites, whose unfailing loyalty to the Teaching (תּוֹרָה) taught by Moses leads to their victory. It is a campaign of destruction; all the Canaanites perish. Joshua then parcels out the newly empty land to the Israelite tribes:

יהושׁע יא:כג וַיִּקַּח יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶת כָּל הָאָרֶץ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה וַיִּתְּנָהּ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ לְנַחֲלָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמַחְלְקֹתָם לְשִׁבְטֵיהֶם וְהָאָרֶץ שָׁקְטָה מִמִּלְחָמָה. Josh 11:23 Joshua conquered the whole country, just as YHWH had promised Moses; and Joshua assigned it to Israel to share according to their tribal divisions. And the land had rest from war.

A list of 31 kings of Canaan whom the Israelites have defeated (Josh 12), including 14 cities that do not appear in the earlier narratives in Joshua, rounds off this Deuteronomistic presentation of the complete conquest. The compiler of this list wanted to make sure that there were no misunderstandings: All of the Land of Canaan was indeed taken, even if there isn’t a story about the capture of every particular city.

Incomplete Conquest in Joshua

The overarching Deuteronomistic view of the complete conquest that unites the first half of the book of Joshua (Josh 1–12) is immediately qualified in the succeeding vignette that tells of the remaining land not taken by Joshua:

יהושׁע יג:א וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הוָה אֵלָיו אַתָּה זָקַנְתָּה בָּאתָ בַיָּמִים וְהָאָרֶץ נִשְׁאֲרָה הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד לְרִשְׁתָּהּ. Josh 13:1 Joshua was now old, advanced in years. YHWH said to him, “You have grown old, you are advanced in years, and very much of the land still remains to be occupied.”

The remaining land, according to this text, consists of all of the Philistine cities and the extensive territories in distant Lebanon and Syria (V. 2–6).

Remaining Canaanites will be Thorns in Your Eyes

The theme of “remaining land” is picked up in Joshua’s farewell speech (Josh 23:4–5). Joshua warns the people not to merge with the local Canaanites or else YHWH will not continue to drive the locals out:

יהושע כג:יב כִּי אִם שׁוֹב תָּשׁוּבוּ וּדְבַקְתֶּם בְּיֶתֶר הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה הַנִּשְׁאָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אִתְּכֶם וְהִתְחַתַּנְתֶּם בָּהֶם וּבָאתֶם בָּהֶם וְהֵם בָּכֶם. כג:יג יָדוֹעַ תֵּדְעוּ כִּי לֹא יוֹסִיף יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם לְהוֹרִישׁ אֶת הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה מִלִּפְנֵיכֶם… Josh 23:12 For should you turn away and attach yourselves to the remnant of those nations, to those that are left among you, and intermarry with them, you join them and they join you, 23:13 know for certain that YHWH your God will not continue to drive these nations out before you…

If this should take place, Joshua tells them, the Canaanites will become a perpetual danger to Israel:

יהושע כג:יג …וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לְפַח וּלְמוֹקֵשׁ וּלְשֹׁטֵט בְּצִדֵּיכֶם וְלִצְנִנִים בְּעֵינֵיכֶם עַד אֲבָדְכֶם מֵעַל הָאֲדָמָה הַטּוֹבָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָכֶם יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם. Josh 23:13 …they shall become a snare and a trap for you, a scourge to your sides and thorns in your eyes until you perish from this good land that YHWH your God has given you. But Joshua’s old age is not the only reason for not completing the conquest.

Israel Leaves Many Canaanite Cities Unconquered

Another set of biblical texts in Joshua claims that Israel could not conquer the Canaanites since the latter was militarily more powerful. Several short notes in Joshua 15–19 (the town and district lists of the tribal allocations) tell of areas from which the native population has not been driven out and where it continues to live alongside the Israelites.

For example, the Judahites could not remove the Jebusite inhabitants of Jerusalem, who remain alongside them:

‏יהושׁע טו:סג וְאֶת הַיְבוּסִי יוֹשְׁבֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֹא (יוכלו) [יָכְלוּ] בְנֵי יְהוּדָה לְהוֹרִישָׁם וַיֵּשֶׁב הַיְבוּסִי אֶת בְּנֵי יְהוּדָה בִּירוּשָׁלִַם עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה. Josh 15:63 But the Judahites could not dispossess the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Judahites dwell with the Jebusites in Jerusalem to this day.

Ephraim experiences a similar coexistence, though the account claims that the Canaanites in that region have been enslaved:

‏יהושׁע טז:י וְלֹא הוֹרִישׁוּ אֶת הַכְּנַעֲנִי הַיּוֹשֵׁב בְּגָזֶר וַיֵּשֶׁב הַכְּנַעֲנִי בְּקֶרֶב אֶפְרַיִם עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה וַיְהִי לְמַס עֹבֵד. Josh 16:10 They (the Ephraimites) failed to dispossess the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer: so the Canaanites remained in the midst of Ephraim as is still the case. But they had to perform forced labour.

Manasseh, too, faces this problem, but once the tribe establishes itself, it is able to exact tribute from the lingering Canaanites:

יהושׁע יז:יב וְלֹא יָכְלוּ בְּנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה לְהוֹרִישׁ אֶת הֶעָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַיּוֹאֶל הַכְּנַעֲנִי לָשֶׁבֶת בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת. יז:יג וַיְהִי כִּי חָזְקוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּתְּנוּ אֶת הַכְּנַעֲנִי לָמַס וְהוֹרֵשׁ לֹא הוֹרִישׁוֹ. Josh 17:12 The Manassites could not dispossess [the inhabitants of] these towns (i.e., Beth-Shean, Ibleam, En-dor, Taanach, Megiddo [v. 11]); and the Canaanites stubbornly remained in this region. 17:13 When the Israelites became stronger, they imposed tribute on the Canaanites, but they did not dispossess them.

Israel Is Too Weak

The notes about Ephraim and Manasseh are accompanied by a brief story concerning the lack of sufficient land for settlement of the populous House of Joseph (Josh 17:14–18). They tell Joshua that they need more land, but they are powerless to face the Canaanites כִּי רֶכֶב בַּרְזֶל לוֹ כִּי חָזָק הוּא “for they have iron chariots, and they are strong” (Josh 17:18).

Joshua accepts this evaluation and accordingly advises them to cut down trees in the forest land given to them and settle there until they become powerful enough to fight the Canaanites at some future point in time.

Canaanite Enclaves in Judges

In the opening chapter of the book of Judges, those unconquered Canaanite enclaves mentioned in Joshua are repeated[13]and then augmented with “conquest lacunae” in other tribal territories:

Zebulun fails to drive out the inhabitants of Kitron and Nahalol (Judg 1:30); Asher leaves seven Canaanite-Phoenician cities behind (Judg 1:31–32); Naphtali acts similarly with respect to two cities (Judg 1:33). The Danites are pressed back by the Amorites who inhabit their inheritance, and they never make another attempt to take these lands; the area does fall to elements of the Joseph tribes sometime later (Judg 1:34–36).

What emerges from all these notations is that a considerable portion of the Land of Canaan remains out of the hands of the Israelites because of Israel’s inability to engage with superior Canaanite armies (v. 28 and 35). The continued Canaanite presence in a goodly portion of the land is nowhere denied, but it had to be confronted and explained.

Revising the Complete Conquest View

The continued existence of Canaanite enclaves in the land centuries after the purported conquest led biblical authors to reevaluate the terms and manner of YHWH’s land grant. Most of the reappraisals bear the marks of the Deuteronomistic circle which promulgated the complete conquest view. This is clearest in the introduction to the period of the Judges.

Canaanites Remain as a Punishment

According to the introduction to Judges, the constant return of Israel to sin after YHWH saves them prompts a change in the divine plan:

‏שׁפטים ב:כ …יַעַן אֲשֶׁר עָבְרוּ הַגּוֹי הַזֶּה אֶת בְּרִיתִי אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אֶת אֲבוֹתָם וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ לְקוֹלִי. ב:כא גַּם אֲנִי לֹא אוֹסִיף לְהוֹרִישׁ אִישׁ מִפְּנֵיהֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר עָזַב יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וַיָּמֹת. Judg 2:20 “…Since that nation has transgressed the covenant that I enjoined upon their fathers and has not obeyed Me, 2:21 I for My part will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died.”

The text goes on to explain the reasoning behind this change:

שופטים ב:כב לְמַעַן נַסּוֹת בָּם אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל הֲשֹׁמְרִים הֵם אֶת דֶּרֶךְ יְ־הוָה לָלֶכֶת בָּם כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁמְרוּ אֲבוֹתָם אִם לֹא. ב:כג וַיַּנַּח יְ־הוָה אֶת הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה לְבִלְתִּי הוֹרִישָׁם מַהֵר וְלֹא נְתָנָם בְּיַד יְהוֹשֻׁעַ. Judg 2:22 For it was in order to test Israel by them—[to see] whether or not they would faithfully walk in the ways of YHWH, as their fathers had done—2:23 that YHWH had left those nations, instead of driving them out at once, and had not delivered them into the hands of Joshua.”

It is not Joshua’s old age that explains the continued presence of Canaanites in the Land; rather, in this revised view, the Canaanites are seen as supporting actors in a preconceived divine plan to test Israel’s faithfulness. In order to implement this plan, Joshua is not granted complete victory. And as prefigured, the Israelites prove to be inveterate sinners, aping the behaviour of the remaining Canaanites to their undoing. By its disloyalty, Israel brings upon itself punishment and the continued delay in taking the Land.

Canaanites Remain to Teach Israel War

Another Deuteronomist sees it differently. YHWH leaves the Canaanites in the Land so that later generations may undergo the inspiring experience of wars of conquest:

‏שׁפטים ג:ב רַק לְמַעַן דַּעַת דֹּרוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְלַמְּדָם מִלְחָמָה רַק אֲשֶׁר לְפָנִים לֹא יְדָעוּם. Judg 3:2 That successive generations of Israelites might know war, to teach those who had no experience of it before.”

YHWH will then fight for them and reveal his awesome might, thus unifying Israel and strengthening its faith.

Useful as a Workforce

A different explanation of why some Canaanites were not conquered is offered by the Deuteronomistic author of the book of Kings. In his report concerning the fortresses and store cities constructed by King Solomon, he notes that corvée was imposed on the descendants of the nations:

‏מלכים א ט:כ כָּל הָעָם הַנּוֹתָר מִן הָאֱמֹרִי הַחִתִּי הַפְּרִזִּי הַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה. ט:כא בְּנֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר נֹתְרוּ אַחֲרֵיהֶם בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָכְלוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהַחֲרִימָם וַיַּעֲלֵם שְׁלֹמֹה לְמַס עֹבֵד עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה. 1 Kgs 9:20 All the people that were left of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites who were not of the Israelite stock—9:21 those of their descendants who were still left in the land, whom the Israelites were unable to destroy completely—of these Solomon made a slave force, as is still the case.

Now it is not surprising that Solomon needs labourers, given the picture of him as the foremost builder in Israel’s history; it is reported that Solomon even mobilizes Israelites for such service, particularly for the Temple project (1 Kgs 5:29–32).

What is surprising, however, is that as a Deuteronomist, the author of Kings does not express disapproval of Solomon’s violation of Deuteronomic law that designates the Canaanites as a doomed people (Deut 20:17). Depicted as a mighty ruler, one might expect that Solomon would have cleared Canaan of these idolators, yet he does not, and this is not counted among his sins. Solomon’s only explicit sin against YHWH is his abetting the idolatry of his many wives (1 Kgs 11:1–10).

The Historical Implications of the Unfulfilled Conquest

How to envision the conquest of Canaan was the subject of controversy in ancient Israel over the generations. Samuel R. Driver (1846–1914) remarks on the conflicting images of conquest present in different biblical passages:

The representation [in Exod 23:29–30] is in striking contrast to the idealized picture of rapid conquests drawn in the Deuteronomic sections of the book of Joshua, from which the popular conception of the “extermination of the Canaanites” is derived…, but it agrees with the accounts given in the older strata of Joshua and Judges, according to which there were many districts from which the Israelites were unable to expel the Canaanites, and the country as a whole was only occupied by them gradually…

The story of Joshua’s complete conquest, often spoken of as a Blitzkrieg, may have been attractive and heartening to some, but it was a fantasy about a past that never existed. Evidently, at one point after settling the land, perhaps as early as the reign of Solomon, the goal of completing the conquest was abandoned.

The need to rationalize the continuing presence of Canaanites and other assorted peoples as Israel’s neighbours, down to the end of the Monarchic Period, generated a proliferation of explanations. Israel sinned and was punished; fighting the Canaanites would be heartening for the people; Canaanites test the faith of Israel; Canaanites were too strong to conquer; Canaanite labour was useful for Israel’s early monarchs.

Thus, the ecological justification that the small population of the invading Israelites would be unable to settle the entire land, leaving much of it for wild animals (Exod 23:29–30), is only one of many justifications for the lack of a swift and complete conquest of the land.





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5 thoughts on “Conquest and Settlement in Canaan”

  1. While I quite agree with you on the point that the Israelites came at the time when there was little or no opposition from with canaan making the conquering of the land easy. But I believe on the supremacy of our God, irrespective of the time they could have come, they would still have won the battles and conquer the land 

    • Exactly bro. It’s all about God. Whether it’s day or night, God is God and victory belongs to him. God fights every war using those available. Thank God for Joshua and Caleb, that made themselves available and remained faithful to God. Thanks for this wonderful comment.

  2. Exactly bro. It’s all about God. Whether it’s day or night, God is God and victory belongs to him. God fights every war using those available. Thank God for Joshua and Caleb, that made themselves available and remained faithful to God. Thanks for this wonderful comment and remain blessed.

  3. I love to read the book of Joshua it is like an action pack movie where you see God’s promises coming to pass hundreds of years later as He helps His people to conquer their enemies. This event tells of a loving God that keeps His promise no matter how long it may seem to take God always comes through for us. God does not lie He always keeps His promise. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • so wonderful to hear from you once more Norman. just the way you said it, I derive more pleasure reading the action-packed book of Joshua. most especially, I love reading the old testament as it gives me a clear direction on the existence, exodus and pilgrimage of the people in bible times, culture and traditions. thanks for reading sir.


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