Old Testament Tales - Conquest of Canaan

1. What happened at Ai?
2. Who were the Gibeonites?
3. What happened when the sun stood still?
4. What have chariots got to do with Joseph’s tribe?
5. What happened at Shiloh?
6. What was a city of refuge?
7. Where was Gilead?
8. Why didn’t Egypt defend Canaan?
9. Who said “One man of you shall chase a thousand”?
10. What happened at Shechem?

The tribes entering Canaan were just that, tribes, and the land they entered was governed by alliances of tribes, supposedly supported by Egypt, though Egyptian power was waning. Bible stories of how the land was conquered reveal a detailed and historically valuable account of tribal life and the lay of the land. Jericho provided a logical bridge-head for invasion, commanding important fertile ground and trade routes. Marching round the walls is a well-known military tactic, lulling defenders into false security; the walls may have fallen victim to invading force even as they tumbled down. Flush from this success, a small Israelite army entered the mountains to gain the high ground. They were repelled at Ai and Achan (Joshua 7) was found to have kept treasures from Jericho to himself, thus removing God’s protection from the people. Achan’s death would have roused the armies to try again, and the Israelites successfully destroyed Ai with a larger two-part army and clever strategy (Josh 8), possibly augmented with allies from the Gibeonites (Josh 9), building altars there to remind themselves of God’s care.

The Gibeonites separated themselves from other tribes of the plains and tricked the Israelites into an alliance. Soon the other tribes attacked Gibeon and Joshua marched to their aid under cover of night and forests, surprising the Amorites into fleeing. With a need to complete his success before dawn, Joshua prayed for the sun and moon to stand still (Josh 10:12). It’s not clear who measured the length of the day’s darkness, but mists and fog, together with a storm of (maybe hail)stones, by God’s miraculous timing, could have helped Joshua’s army complete their rout. The tribes spread through the hill country then finally encountered (iron) chariots when a northern tribal alliance fought against them. Surprising the enemy in an enclosed camp made it possible for the Israelites to start this ill-matched battle with victory (Josh 11) at the waters of Meron—a good central location from which to spread out. Unable to use chariots, Joshua’s army burned them, then continued a rapid deployment against their enemies.

The Israelite conquest probably began with sparcely populated mountainous regions, safe from enemy chariots and away from the cities. The Bible records how the Israelites didn’t destroy the cities (Josh 11:13), perhaps intimating their siege-craft skills were lacking, as would be expected of nomadic peoples. Joseph’s tribes pointed out the need to spread onto the plains (Josh 17:16-18) and were promised the chance to spread out from the forests onto plains at a later stage. The land west of the Jordan was split between nine-and-a-half tribes (only half of Manasseh having stayed East of the river), though other (foreign) tribes remained—in particular the Jebusites retained the city of Jerusalem (Josh 15:63) and Canaanites in Gezer became servants to the Ephraimites (Josh 16:10). Land was assigned by lot when the tribes gathered at Shiloh. Cities of refuge were defined where those accused of murder to hide in safety until fair trial (Josh 20:9), marking the beginning of national civilization. Forty-eight scattered cities were assigned to the Levites (Josh 21:41). Then the two-and-a-half tribes returned across the Jordan to Gilead leaving an altar in witness that they still belonged to the same God (Josh 22:34).

Joshua called the tribes together at Shechem before his death (Josh 24), reminding them of all they could do with God’s aid, and of their need to stay faithful to God.


Sheila, thank you again for your insights into the OT. I always enjoy reading your posts. God bless, Lloyd

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