Joshua 11: Why Joshua is a Difficult Book to Read

Joshua 11 plays with your emotions.

It builds suspense, has intense action, and celebrates glorious victories.

Then it beats you down and leaves you questioning everything. Here’s what I mean.

Against The Odds

It seems that the chances of Joshua’s success decrease with each successive battle.

Jericho was a walk in the park. Ai had a bit of a hiccup, but ultimately Israel came out on top. Then came the battle of five armies from Joshua 10. Five against one! And Joshua still took them down.

Here is what he is up against in chapter 11:

Hazor, Madon, Shimron, Achshaph, the Northern Hill Country, Arabah, the Lowland, Naphothdor, the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Hivites (who didn’t defect).

Top that off with the fact that they are using state-of-the-art military weapons: Horses and Chariots.

There’s no way that Joshua can win!

Except that he uses the element of surprise to neutralize their advantage and wipes them out. It’s an exciting read. Go Joshua! They came out against you to fight and boy, did they get fought!

And Then You Read Stuff Like This

The towns of those kings . . . utterly destroying them . . .

. . . they did not leave any who breathed . . .

For it was the LORD’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Joshua utterly destroyed them with their towns. None of the Anakim was left . . .

This is the kind of stuff people raise awareness about on college campuses. Celebrities visit places where this is happening so that people will care.

I realize it is not the same magnitude as what has happened in Africa or Southeast Asia or even in our own history in the States, but it is still hard to read.

It’s hard to think that God hardened people’s hearts so they would fight and be “exterminated.” Yes, I realize that they were powerful and I realize this is pretty standard procedure for the ancient world and the gods they worshiped.

But it is hard.

What was it like rampaging through the cities killing anything that breathed?

Mothers and their infants.


It is one thing to defeat an army that has come out to attack you. It is another entirely to destroy them and then go to their homes and kill their families.

And no amount of theologizing about it makes me feel any better. If this kind of thing happened in our day, we would be horrified. We would wonder how a good God could allow it to happen. Chalking it up to “God’s will” and “we don’t deserve to live anyway so we should be grateful we get any mercy at all” just doesn’t cut it.

None of us live that way. None of us live like that is true. 

So to the people of those cities who were slaughtered so long ago, I say a prayer in hopes that the very same God who ordered your death will have mercy on you in the age to come.

I pray that you will see that your sacrifice brought about something good. I pray that you will forgive what needs to be forgiven and that you will one day make peace with the ones you made war with.

And I pray that one day all the earth will have rest from war.

5 responses

  1. Thomas Cahill wrote, “The history of the world, like the history of its hills, is written in blood, the blood of barbaric warriors and bold partisans, of old women and beardless boys, or the guilty and the innocent. And what is the ‘desire of the everlasting hills’? What could be the meaning of this phrase, taken from the blessing of Jacob on his son Joseph, the last of the patriarchs? [Gen 49:26] Is not the desire of the everlasting hills that they be saved from their everlastingness, that something new happen, that the everlasting cycle of human cruelty, of man’s inhumanity to man, be brought to an end?”

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