June 6, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: The Israelites conquer Canaan

John F. Fink(Twenty-second in a series of columns)

The miraculous conquest of the country of Canaan by the Israelites is told in Chapters 6-12 of the Book of Joshua. When the conquest was finished, Chapter 12 lists 31 kings who were defeated and whose lands were supposedly apportioned to the tribes of Israel.

The conquest began with Jericho. Here God had the people march around the city for six days, with seven priests blowing rams’ horns. The Ark of the Covenant, signifying God’s presence, was carried in the procession. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times. Then, when the priests blew their horns, the people shouted and the walls collapsed. The people stormed the city and slaughtered all living creatures, except for the harlot Rahab, who had saved the Israelites’ spies, and her family.

I have led a number of pilgrimages to the Holy Land. When we visit the modern day Jericho, the people invariably are disappointed to learn that there is no archaeological evidence of any walls that might have collapsed. Rather, archaeologists tell us that Jericho was in ruins at the time of Joshua.

After the defeat of Jericho, the Book of Joshua says that the Israelites tried to defeat the city of Ai, but could not do so at first because one of the Israelite soldiers, named Achan, had taken some of the loot from Jericho, which was forbidden. Once this was discovered, Achan was stoned to death. Then Chapter 8 tells about the defeat of Ai and the slaughter of its people.

By this time, according to the book, the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites decided it was time to form an alliance against Israel. The Gibeonites, though, deceived Joshua by going to him dressed in shabby clothing and claiming to be from a far-off land. Joshua agreed to spare them and made an alliance with them. When their deception was discovered, Joshua kept his agreement but made the Gibeonites vassals.

Then Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem, and four other kings, learning that the Gibeonites had made peace with Israel, attacked Gibeon. Joshua came to the Gibeonites’ rescue and slaughtered many of the enemy. God himself hurled great stones from the sky, and “more died from these hailstones than the Israelites slew with the sword” (Jos 10:11). The five kings hid in a cave, but they were discovered and Joshua killed them.

The Israelites conquered southern Canaan, and then moved up to northern Canaan. Each time, God delivered the tribes into Joshua’s hands and each time he killed their kings. “Thus Joshua captured the whole country, just as the Lord had foretold to Moses” (Jos 11:23).

Chapters 13 through 22 describe the distribution of the land among the Israelite tribes. Chapters 23 and 24 report that, many years later, Joshua gathered all the tribes together at Shechem, where he lived. He recounted all that God had done for them—from the time of Abraham up to that day—and he urged the people to renew their covenant with the Lord, which they did. He then died at age 110. †

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