The hissing sound from the sky was short warning to the Canaanites as to what was about to happen. Suddenly there was stinging pain from sharp blows on their heads and shoulders. Many were killed outright by falling objects. Others were beaten to the ground to quickly die as their prone bodies were exposed to more blows.
Some were able to reach the shelter of protruding rock ledges, and from there witness that they had been caught in a terrible shower of giant hailstones! Within minutes almost all the Canaanite soldiers and their animals were battered to death. Then the tremendous shower of heavy hailstones miraculously stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Some of those who had been spared managed to escape and take refuge in nearby cities, but most of them either died of their wounds or were later caught and slain by Israelite soldiers (Joshua 10:8-11).
Shortly before this event produced by God, the five kings of the five Canaanite cities, fleeing southward near Makkedah with their troops, held a hasty conference.
“There is no hope of holding out against the Israelites,” the king of Jerusalem remarked fearfully. “Our men have no more desire to fight. They’re frightened because it is still daylight, whereas the sun should have gone down hours ago, Israel’s God has something to do with this awesome thing. I propose that the five of us hide in one of the caves in this area, and let Israel pursue our troops. Then perhaps we can return later to safety.”
The other four leaders quickly agreed. They gave orders to their officers to proceed without them. Taking scant provisions, they hurried away from their men and sought out a cave some distance up the side of the ravine through which they had been moving (vs. 16-17).
They had been in hiding only a short while when the storm of giant hailstones struck. They realized that their remaining troops would hardly survive such an onslaught from the sky, but they were more concerned about themselves than about their men.
What they didn’t realize was that God had no intention of allowing them to escape. When the pursuing Israelites arrived to find dead Canaanites scattered throughout the ravine, a search was made for possible survivors in the rocks, defiles and caves. One soldier was as startled as were the five kings when he walked into the cave where they were hiding. He ran to notify Joshua at once, who gave orders to deal with them immediately (v. 18).
A short while later, as the occupants of the cave peered out at the main body of Israelite soldiers moving on to the south, they were surprised by large stones rumbling down from above and thudding in a growing heap on the ledge at the mouth of the cave. Almost before they realized that many men must be rolling the rock from overhead, they found themselves trapped by a solid bank of stones much too great to be removed from the inside!
Meanwhile, at Joshua’s command, the Israelites moved southward to seek out and slay most of the few enemy troop not killed by the storm of gigantic hailstones. They pursued them as far south as the city of Makkedah, where they temporarily camped.
Then Joshua sent men to the cave where the five kings were trapped. The men removed the stones piled there, seized the prisoners and took them to a spot part way between the cave and the city of Makkedah. There were a number of trees there, and five of them were chosen for a grisly purpose. The five kings were killed and their bodies hanged on the trees till sundown. Then they were cut down and taken back into the cave where they had tried to conceal themselves. For the second time great stones were piled against the mouth of the cave, this time to form an infamous burial crypt for the five men who had tried to lead their armies against Israel (vs. 19-27).
While the five kings were still hanging on the five trees, Joshua and his troops rushed into Makkedah and slew all the people and disposed of the king of that city in the same manner accorded to the ruler of Jericho (v. 28; Joshua 6:21).
In the days that followed, Joshua and his troops stormed over the southern region of Canaan to attack and overthrow a number of cities. The idol-worshipping inhabitants were slain and the leaders killed and hanged – all according to God’s instructions. God wanted idolatry and child sacrifice completely eliminated throughout Israel’s land. Included in these cities was Hebron, the place Israelite scouts had passed through four decades previously.
The campaign that had started out as a move to defend the Gibeonites turned into a tremendous victory for Israel. Successful because of God’s help, the soldiers returned to Gilgal with a great wealth of the spoils of war – household goods, tools, implements, livestock and farm produce (Joshua 10:29-43; 11:14, 16).
The defeat of the armies of these cities didn’t mean that all of the southern part of Canaan was conquered. There were still more cities and tribes to take over in that region. Even after many more military operations by Israel’s army during the next year or two there were still a few fortresses and armed areas to subdue.
Meanwhile, the most powerful ruler in the northern part of Canaan had been increasingly concerned about the Israelites. He was Jabin, king of Hazor, the foremost city of the upper region of Canaan, situated about nineteen miles west of where the Jordan River widens out to form Lake Huleb, in those days known as the Waters of Merom.
Regular reports of the Israelites’ success had been brought to Jabin, who felt that his city was safe as long as the Israelites stayed to the south. He knew that they would one day come north after they had conquered most of the southern territory, and that while Israel was still fighting in the south; no time should be lost in developing a fighting force that would more than match that of the invaders.
To accomplish this, Jabin told the kings of the various tribes and cities in that general region that all rulers should build up their armies and then combine to move against Israel.
By the time Israel had almost completely conquered southern Canaan, the kings of the north were ready to make their move. They began to assemble their forces together and head toward the level area by the Waters of Merom, not far from Hazor, which was not many miles north of the Sea of Chinnereth, the body of water now known as the Sea of Galilee. The total of these armies was very great. The Bible refers to their numbers as being like the number of grains of sand on a seashore (Joshua 11:1-5). One ancient historian claimed that there were 300,000 foot soldiers, 10,000 cavalry men and 20,000 chariots.
It was about ninety miles from Gilgal to the place where the enemy congregated. That was about a three-day march for hurrying foot soldiers, but it didn’t require three days for Joshua to learn about the powerful threat. He had kept lookouts and scouts constantly moving through all parts of Canaan for a long time, and his knowledge of what was going on in the land was generally rather thorough.
It was even hoped by the enemy that Israel would quickly learn that this mighty mass of fighting power was gathering in preparation to attack. It was part of King Jabin’s strategy that Israel would come up to meet the Canaanite armies so that they could engage in battle on level ground where his chariots and cavalry would have an advantage.
To learn if and when Israel would arrive, Jabin sent spies to the south. If they spotted the Israelites arriving by day, they were to race back to camp on fast horses with the word. If the Israelites were to reach the enemy by night, the spies were to signal by fire from a distant ridge.
From the moment he received news of the enemy war preparations to the north, Joshua lost no time getting his army into action. He wanted to meet his enemies long before they could reach Gilgal and threaten the women and children. For three days the greater part of the army marched hastily northward, resting during the night hours. Late the third afternoon officers brought excited Israelite scouts before Joshua.
“We have come to report that the enemy has just today assembled at the Waters of Merom, where the various armies have ample room to gather together,” the scouts told Joshua. “On our way down we happened across Canaanite spies who were waiting to report your progress to the north. We slew these men. Unless there are others lying in wait on the way for the same purpose, the enemy does not know we are very close to them and they will fail to learn when you will arrive.”
“We can’t take a chance on running into other enemy spies who would report our approach, “Joshua told his officers. “We’re probably much farther north than the enemy realizes because we have been marching so fast. By moving on within the next hour or so, we can get off the direct, natural route and swing around to approach the enemy from another direction!”
“Whatever your plans are, sir,” the spokesman of the scouts concernedly remarked, ‘we have one more vital thing to tell you. We have learned that the enemy hopes that you will come to do battle on the level ground where he is now camped. That is mostly because of his thousands of chariots equipped with huge blades that protrude from the sides of each vehicle. If those 20,000 chariots manage to charge in among our foot soldiers, one can easily imagine the horrible results! Our men would be cut down by the thousands – like a scythe reaping grain, in just a matter of minutes!”
When Joshua and his officers learned of this, they became depressed and fearful. Joshua went at once to his tent and asked God for help.
“Don’t be afraid of your enemies,” was the answer from God. “Take your troops onward tonight and surprise them before dawn. Use careful strategy, and by this time tomorrow there won’t be any more of their horses and chariots to fight against” (Joshua 11:6).
Because the Israelites had covered so many miles in their hurried march from Gilgal, they were already only a few miles from the enemy, and there was plenty of time to arrive at the enemy camp well before the night was over. Joshua decided that the extra time should be used by moving northwestward into the foothills and then northward into the ravines skirting the enemy’s position to the west.
Using scouts who knew just where to go, Joshua led his army up from the level valley area and into the hills. The closer the Israelites came to the area of the enemy, the more careful they were not to make any unnecessary noise. When they finally arrived at a point due west of where the Canaanites were camped, the hundreds of thousands of Israelite troops were spread out to poise behind ridges to the west of the slumbering enemy camp. Obviously no enemy spies had spotted the Israelites’ approach. Otherwise the Canaanites would have been ready.
Every Israelite soldier was instructed in what his specific duty would be. It was still night, but the low, flickering fires of the enemy gave just enough light to faintly point out the objects to be attacked. At a signal from Joshua, line after line of soldiers rushed down the slopes toward the enemy camp. Those to the north and to the south started first, so that they could swing in to envelop the Canaanites from the north and the south along with those Israelite troops who set out just a bit later to push in from the west.
Once they had started to attack, the Israelites could no longer conceal their presence. The thump of thousands of feet alerted the enemy sentries, and the shrill blasts of alarm horns pierced the early morning air. By the time the Israelites closed in on the enemy camp, the Canaanites were on their feet, but only a part of them were armed and ready to fight. While they were struggling to organize and equip themselves, the Israelites fell upon them in line after line, quickly downing them with a furious onslaught by swords, spears, arrows, slung stones, and knives (Joshua 11:7).
As for the chariots with their gigantic blades protruding to right and left, they were quickly hitched with horses and manned with archers and drivers. But before those deadly vehicles could get rolling, Israelites surged in to cut down the drivers, slash the harnesses, and hough the horses, that is, sever the leg arteries and tendons just above the hocks of the horses so that they were unable to run, while they painlessly bled to death.
The Canaanite cavalrymen weren’t any more successful than the charioteers. Israelites soldiers swarmed in on them in such numbers that they couldn’t even begin a charge. Bridles were seized and riders were yanked to the ground, while the horses were houghed as the chariot horses were.
Jabin had counted on a swift disorganization of the Israelites by his bladed chariots and his cavalry, with his footmen to mop up whoever was left, but the quick destruction of his chariot forces and his cavalry reversed the picture entirely. Thus the main part of the battle didn’t last long, even though close to a million men were involved. Hemmed in by a lake and the Jordan River on the east and faced by Israelites from the other three directions, there was not much opportunity for the Canaanites to escape.
Nevertheless, in the heat of battle and in the semi-darkness of dawn, some of the Canaanites escaped to the west and to the east through the thinning lines of Israelites. Meanwhile, Israelite soldiers completely mopped up the camp of the enemy. All their horses were mercifully disposed of by bleeding and the chariots were hauled into a vast pile and burned (vs. 8-9).
Some may wonder why valuable horses and chariots were destroyed. It wasn’t God’s will that the Israelites should acquire horses at that time, because that could have caused the more adventurous Israelites to move faster and farther than God intended. Keeping the main part of them on foot meant keeping them together. And the Israelites did not need horses as farm work animals. They generally used bulls, which are proportionately stronger for draft animals, and they used a few camels and donkeys.
As for the chariots, they were, of course, useless without horses, but in the first place God didn’t want Israel to possess such an aggressive type of battle equipment at that time. He wanted Israel to learn that victory was based more on obedience to His laws than on heavy war equipment. These same chariots, if kept, would have made Israel as proud and vain as they had made Jabin.
Realizing that some Canaanites were fleeing to the east and to the west, Joshua sent troops in both directions in pursuit of the fleeing enemy soldiers. Some of the enemy almost reached safety in cities to the east, but were overtaken and slain. Some of those who went through the mountains to the west managed to get as far as cities close to the Great Sea, but still fell before the pursuing Israelites.
Among those who fled were the kings and high officers of the cities whose combined armies had started to move against Israel. Chief of these was Jabin, king of Hazor and the supreme commander of the combined forces. He had carefully arranged that the kings would camp at the considerable distance to the north of where the armies were camped. This was done to allow the Canaanite leaders the opportunity of escape in case of the remote possibility that Israel’s soldiers would overcome the Canaanites.
When the Israelites rushed in to suddenly overcome the Canaanites, Jabin was shocked to realize that his army was no longer in existence.
“Saddle horses for all!” Jabin shouted to his aides. “We must leave at once!”
Within only a few minutes the men who had come to lead their armies against Israel were headed northward back to Hazor and their other cities, leaving their troops to make out the best they could. The sad plight of these idol-worshipping kings mounted rapidly and the tragic penalty of their barbaric living became increasingly more obvious as each new move utterly failed. God was proving that there is absolutely no way of escaping His punishment (Amos 9:3; Gal. 6:7).
The kings’ return in defeat created great fear among their people. They realized that it would probably be only a matter of days before the Israelite army moved farther north.
In fact, as soon as Joshua’s soldiers had returned from pursuing the Canaanites and had enjoyed a well-earned rest for several hours, they received the order to move to the north. The army marched directly to Hazor, the ancient capital of upper Canaan (Joshua 11:10).
When Jabin was informed that Israel’s army was approaching, he became frantic with fear. He considered fleeing to some other country or at least to some hiding place in nearby mountains, but he was now in such disfavor with his own people because of his defeat that he was afraid to flee lest someone should assassinate him for cowardice. There was nothing to do but order the gates locked and hope that the few remaining soldiers could hold off the Israelites.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.