The end came for Jabin, king of Hazor, only minutes after he ordered the gates closed. The thousands upon thousands of Israelites swarmed up to the walls with their triple-hook ropes, hurled the heavy hooks over the walls and surged up and into the city in such numbers and force that the relatively few would be defenders fell back in helpless fright.
The gates were stripped of their bars by the wall-scales, and Israelite soldiers thronged into Hazor to promptly sly every Canaanite. The king was found hiding in remote quarters. No mercy was given to this idolatrous man who had plotted the destruction of the Israelite army.
According to directions from Joshua, the Israelite soldiers set fire to Hazor as soon as their grisly task of slaying was done. It wasn’t God’s will that this capital city of idol-worshippers, long the home of pagan rulers, should continue to exist as a temptation in the land where God’s chosen people were to dwell (Joshua 11:1-11). God knew idolaters would soon corrupt the morals of the Israelites (Num. 25:1-3; Num. 31:14-16).
From Hazor, Joshua’s forces swept to the west and to the south to conquer the cities of the kings who had joined Jabin against Israel. They slew these kings and all their subjects and took for booty everything they could use except those things used in the worship of heathen gods (Joshua 11:12-14).
Although Canaan wasn’t a vast land, it took much time to conquer enough of it that the twelve tribes of Israel could move into the respective areas they were to take over. The army moved slowly because it was on foot. Careful planning often took days and weeks. Scouts were sent out to bring back information. They often didn’t return for weeks. It was a long, drawn-out task to take over Canaan (vs. 15-23). After six years had passed, Israel had taken over the small kingdom and cities of about thirty-three enemy rulers (Joshua 12).
Still there was more places to be conquered, and God made it known to Joshua just where those areas and cities were located (Joshua 13:1-6). For one example, there was the land of the Philistines, which was on the coast of the Great Sea, and southwest of Canaan. When Israel had set out from Egypt, God had purposely caused His people to give this region a wide berth because the people were war-like, and the Israelites at that time, being newly freed from slavery, were not trained or prepared to resist a large army by physical means (Ex. 13:17-18).
By the time most of Canaan had been conquered, God told Joshua that the time had come to partition the land to the various tribes, even though there were still many people to drive out of Canaan (Joshua 13:7).
A meeting was held in which Joshua, Eleazar the priest, and the heads of the tribes of Israel gathered to learn by lot which areas of Canaan should be occupied by the various tribes. Moses had already indicated how these matters were to be handled. A drawing of lots would make plain what God had planned.
The drawing of lots could be done in various ways, but in this matter of choosing areas for the tribes of Israel, it probably was a matter of writing the names of the tribes on pieces of wood or stone and shaking them together in a container. The names or numbers of the various sections of Canaan would be written on other pieces. Then, if Joshua were to draw name from one container, and if Eleazar were to draw from another container a number to indicate a section of Canaan, and so on, the future locations for the tribes could thus be determined.
However it was done, God caused the lots to be drawn according to the way in which He had already decided matters. Two and a half tribes had already been given their areas east of the Jordan, so nine tribes and a half were yet to receive their inheritance (Joshua 13: 7-33; 14:1-5).
As it turned out, the determining what land should go to which tribe didn’t progress very fast (Joshua 14; 15; 16; and 17). For one thing, there was murmuring and dissatisfaction by the people of the tribes of Joseph – Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh. Their elders claimed that because they were two large and powerful tribes, they should be given two tribal allotments of land. Joshua then gave them an additional allotment in a timbered mountainous region (Joshua 17:14-15).
“Why have we, two leading tribes, been given a wooded mountain rage in the north right next to a valley where the enemy Canaanites are armed with terrible iron chariots equipped with huge, protruding knives?” the elders of these tribes asked Joshua. “We will still be crowded for space.”
“Since you are a great people, then you should be able to create a wealthy lumber industry in those mountains while you are clearing land for agricultural use,” was Joshua’s reply. “Also, since you are leading tribes, you will have the power to overcome the Canaanites who have chariots. By the time you clear your mountain land of much of its timber and rive the Canaanites out of the valley, your two allotments will be enough land. It is a fair and just God who has decided where every tribe shall dwell” (vs. 16-18).
At that time lots were drawn only for two and half tribes – Ephraim, Judah and the half tribe of Manasseh. Various time-consuming matters continued to come up. One of many had to do with the request of a man who had been one of the twelve Israelite scouts who had been sent to look Canaan over forty-five years previously. This man was Caleb, who had been Joshua’s right-hand man on that excursion. When ten of the scouts had told lies about the strength and size of the people of Canaan, it was Joshua and Caleb who had insisted on the truth and encouraged the people to boldly go in and conquer Canaan, trusting God for the outcome (Num. 13; Num. 14:1-10).
Caleb had been promised by God through Moses, because of his honesty and loyalty, a choice inheritance in Canaan. It wasn’t too forward of him, therefore, to remind Joshua that he and his family should be given the land God had promised in the mountainous Hebron area (Num. 13:22; Num. 14:24 and Deut. 1:35-36).
Although Caleb was then 85 years old, he was still vigorous and health, and promised that he and his relatives who would share his inheritance would conquer the giant ment who still remained in the region of Hebron (Joshua 14:6-12). Joshua honored Caleb’s request and gave him what he desired in the territory given to the tribe of Judah (vs. 13-15). Later, when Caleb and his family moved into the area of his inheritance, he promised one of his daughters to any man who would lead a successful attack against the enemies remaining there. One of Caleb’s nephews carried out an assault that overcame the local Canaanites, and he was given Caleb’s daughter to become his wife (Judges 1:12-15). However, their marriage was not a loveless arrangement. They were so much in love that she inspired her husband to accomplish great things. Many years later he became the first hero to deliver Israel form foreign oppression (Judges 3:7-11).
Other Israelite tribes later taking up residence in their respective domains were not all as courageous and enthusiastic as Caleb’s nephew and his soldiers, and shamefully allowed some of the Canaanites to share their lands. This was not pleasing to God, who wanted them to gradually drive out all the Canaanites, and had repeatedly and plainly instructed Israel to completely rid the land of the heathen idol-worshipping enemy (Num. 33:50-56; Deut. 7:1-6). The only possible exception God would allow was that the Gibeonites. They had asked for peace, and had at least mentioned God as being the Supreme Ruler, and had shown some willingness to live under His laws (Joshua 9:24-25).
On inspiration from God, Joshua told the people that the time had come to break camp and move on to a point more centrally located in Canaan. The place was Shiloh, about twenty miles north of Jerusalem (Joshua 18:1).There were mountains in that area, but there were also a valley and adjoining flat regions in which Israel would have plenty of room to set up their vast camps and flock-feeding areas.
There were mixed emotions among the Israelites when they learned that they were to travel on. Some had tired of living at Gilgal, and welcomed the opportunity to move. Others regarded Gilgal as a comfortable area they disliked leaving.
In six years the main body of Israel had almost forgotten what it meant to be on the move. It was considerably more difficult for the millions of people to get going with their millions of animals than it had been when they were more accustomed to be constantly on the go. Nevertheless, they managed to be ready to leave for Shiloh at the time Joshua had already indicated to them well in advance.
When the people arrived at the Shiloh region, most of them were content with their surroundings. The tabernacle was pitched at once in the middle areas of the camp. Then it remained for many, many years while the tribes went their respective ways and fell into all manner of trouble because of their disobedience.
A few days after the people were settled and camp life in the new site had become easier, Joshua summoned the elders for a meeting.
‘I’m beginning to wonder just how anxious our people are to receive their inheritances,” Joshua told them. “It’s true that seven tribes haven’t yet been shown what lands to take over. But few seem interested in doing anything except camping together as we’ve been doing for so many years. Is it that you are afraid that if you divide into tribes your enemies will overcome you” (Joshua 18:2-3)?
“We would like to know more about the areas we are to go to,” some of the elders remarked. “The four tribes and two half-tribes that have already been given their lands have had a fair idea of where they were going, but little is known about the land that is yet to be divided among the remaining seven tribes.
“I still think that most of us would rather stay together then separate as God wishes,” Joshua replied. “But you point is one not to be neglected. It would be will to appoint capable men to survey the land to determine how it can best be divided.”
Quick plans were made to look over the little-known areas of Canaan to find out just what the land was like and how it could most wisely be apportioned. Three leading men from each tribe were chosen for their ability in surveying and in simply geometry. A relatively small military force was sent along with these men to protect them from any straggling Canaanite soldiers who might attack them.
Weeks later the surveying Israelites returned to Shiloh with a book of maps and information about the part of Canaan yet to be divided among the Israelites (Joshua 18:4-9).
Joshua met with the heads of the seven tribes and with Eleazar the priest to study the information and mark the mapped territory into seven parts. There was no guesswork. The borders, cities, streams, valleys, mountains, plains and elevation were plainly marked.
Again, before the tabernacle in God’s presence, lots were cast for the seven portions of land, and the seven tribes at last learned what their inheritances were and where they would go (Joshua 18; 19). The tribe of Levi, being supported by the tithes, offerings and sacrifices of the people, did not receive any land (Joshua 18:7), though they were later given cities to live in and adjoining fields for grazing their flocks (Joshua 21).
The last thing to be given for an inheritance went to Joshua and his family. This wasn’t a result of any demand made by Joshua, but was according to an unrecorded promise from God such as has been made to Caleb. Joshua had his choice of an area. He chose Timnath-serah, a small city in the land of Ephraim only a short distance west of Shiloh. There Joshua later planned and superintended the reconstruction of his city (Joshua 19:49-51).
God had already spoken to Moses concerning six cities of refuge that were to be chosen when Israel had taken over Canaan. These cities were to be places of safety for anyone who killed another accidentally or without plan or malice. Though it was possible for a guilty killer to also obtain temporary safety in these places.
In those times it was lawful for relatives to avenge the willful killing of any of their kin by slaying the one obviously responsible. Some, of course, would like to take vengeance even when the killing was accidental. To escape such an avenger, one could flee to the nearest city of refuge, where he could plead his case with the elders at the gates and be admitted to stay at least until there could be a complete hearing by the city’s magistrates. If a man were found guilty, he was to be expelled from the city or turned over to the avenger. If he were found to be innocent, he was to have the protection of the city as long as he remained within it.
Three of the cities of refuge were picked from the east side of the Jordan. They were Bezer, Ramoth and Golan. The other there were chosen from the land west of the Jordan. They were Kedesh, Shechem and Hebron (Joshua 20).
According to plans revealed to Moses, the Levites were to receive various cities in which to live, and closely surrounding areas in which to keep their livestock. This matter was next taken up by Joshua, Eleazar and the tribal heads. Lots were drawn having to do with the areas of all twelve tribes. The drawing determined which cities and how many should be given from the various tribes. From all the tribes the cities for the Levites totaled forty-eight, and included the six cites of refuge. The Levites received these cities as centers of living, along with the pasture lands surrounding the cities to the extent of less than a mile (Num. 35:1-5).
During the six years since Israel had crossed the Jordan, the soldiers from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh had faithfully fulfilled their duty (Num. 32:1-22; Joshua 4:12-13; 22:1-3). There were still about 40,000 of them because not one of Israel’s enemies were able to stand against them (Joshua 21`:43-45). Now that the main wars were over, Joshua had a pleasant surprise for these men.