The Conquest of Canaan

    “The Conquest of Canaan,” Ensign, Oct. 1973, 46

    Special Issue: Old Testament, Exodus to Malachi

    The Conquest of Canaan

    Crossing the Jordan

    Joshua was directed by the Lord to move the people of Israel across the Jordan River to begin the possession of the land of Canaan. Spies were sent to Jericho, the first line of defense of the many fortified cities throughout Canaan. Their report indicated a fear among the inhabitants of the city. (Josh. 1–2.)

    Through the power of the priesthood, the waters of the Jordan were stopped for the crossing over of the children of Israel. This remarkable event, which took place during the high water season of the year, was a sign to the people of the mantle of authority, which was now held by Joshua. A memorial was erected at their new encampment at Gilgal, as a remembrance of the miracle of their entry into the Promised Land. (Josh. 3–4.)

    Gilgal was located near Jericho and was their base of operations for their initial excursions into Canaan. Here covenants were made and the anniversary of the passover of the children of Israel by the destroying angel was celebrated. Having partaken of the fruits of the land, manna was no longer provided for their sustenance. (Josh. 5.)

    Note: The record preserves only summary accounts of the major campaigns of the Israelites; however, the conquest extended over many years and was never fully completed on the terms the Lord had originally specified. (Deut. 7; Deut. 9:1–6; Deut. 20:10–19.)

    Conquests in the Central Regions

    First came the attack upon Jericho. After seven days of inactive siege, the walls were felled and the city completely destroyed. Only Rahab, who had aided the spies of Israel, and her family were spared. (Josh. 6.) Next came the campaign against the fortress city of Ai, near Bethel. After the initial attempt of active siege with a limited force had failed, Joshua employed the military strategy of decoy to destroy the city. (Josh. 7–8; cf. Alma 52:19–26.)

    The people of nearby Gibeon were fearful of the Israelites and sent a delegation to Joshua. They falsely claimed to be from a city far distant and offered an alliance wherein they would be tributes or vassal servants to the Lord’s people. This alliance was accepted through covenant by Joshua (Josh. 9:1–15), although the command of the Lord had been to utterly destroy the wicked peoples of Canaan (Deut. 7). Covenants of peace and vassalship could be offered, however, to cities far removed from Canaan. (Deut. 20:10–15.)

    Shortly thereafter, Joshua discovered that Gibeon was located near the center of the land, and despite their deceit, the treaty, which was considered sacred, was honored. (Josh. 9:16–27.) The Gibeonite covenant of tribute to the Israelites lasted for hundreds of years.

    Recognizing the strength of the children of Israel, five kings of the southern part of Canaan allied themselves with the intent of destroying the Gibeonite allies of Israel. This league of kings was from the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon. (Josh. 10:1–5.) The Gibeonites, under siege, sent an appeal for assistance to the Israelites. Faithful to the treaty, Joshua led the armies of Israel against the forces of the southern league of kings. With divine assistance, they were successful in routing the enemy, and this blessing was a great defeat to the city-state rulers. (Josh. 10:6–14.)

    The Armies of Isreal

    Invasion of the Southern Regions

    The defeated kings fled south and concealed themselves in a cave near Lachish. Intelligence forces of the Israelites entrapped them and later they were executed. (Josh. 10:15–27.) With some of the southern cities without leadership or military strength, Joshua led the forces of Israel against the cities of Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir. At Lachish, the king of Gezer brought forces and attempted to assist the Canaanites in their struggle, but his army was also defeated. (Josh. 10:28–39.)

    Joshua’s excursion continued southward to the Kadesh-barnea regions and then turned northward through Gaza and into the hill country. (Josh. 10:40–43.) Even though the Canaanites were severely weakened, further military action was necessary over the years to secure some of the cities for possession by the children of Israel. (Judg. 1:19–21.)

    Invasion of the Northern Regions

    The reports of Israel’s success in the southern portion of Canaan served as a warning to the city kings of the north. These northern rulers, allied under the direction of the king of Hazor, met the Israelites in battle in the heart of their own territory at the waters of Merom. The Canaanites were defeated and many of their cities destroyed. (Josh. 11:1–14.) This major conflict did not secure all of the land for Israel, but it did provide a basis for the settlement of the people.

    Note: The conquests of Israel were successful in obtaining the main hill regions and the Trans-Jordan areas for the tribes. The major military powers had also been destroyed, removing the threat of expulsion from the land. A catalog account reporting their victories indicates the extent of their accomplishment. (Josh. 12.) But Joshua grew old and was taken from the people, “and there remaineth yet much land to be possessed.” (Josh. 13:1.)

    Some primary groups had not been destroyed or removed from the borders of the inheritances of the tribes of Israel (i.e., Philistines and Sidionians or Phoenicians, Josh. 11:23; Josh. 13:2–6; Judg. 3:1–4). Even within the territories held by the tribes, various cities and peoples remained among them. (Josh. 15:63; Josh. 16:10; Josh. 17:11–18; Judg. 1:22–36.) Some that remained were permitted, in further contradiction of the Lord’s commandments, as tribute cities to Israel. (Judg. 1:27–28.)

    The tribe of Dan was so unable to control the people within its boundaries that they eventually migrated northward and took an inheritance. (Judg. 1:34–35; Judg. 17–18; Josh. 19:47.) Finally, it may be noted, the fortress of the Jebusites at Jerusalem, destined to be the capital of Israel, remained unconquered until the days of King David centuries later. (Josh. 15:63; Judg. 1:8, 21; 2 Sam. 5:6–9; 2 Chr. 11:4–8.)

    Archaeologists examine remains of ancient Jericho. Some claim this is a portion of the wall. (Photo by LaMar C. Berrett.)

    Joshua takes captive the five kings hiding in a cave at Makkedah.

    In this valley (1)—site of Shechem—and on the slopes of these mountains—(2) Mount Ebal (to the south) and (3) Mount Gerizim (1.7 miles to the north) occurred a great review of the Lord’s covenant with Israel. While Israel was “in the land of Moab,” Moses reminded them of the conditions upon which they were inheriting the promised land. He directed that when they entered the valley of Schechem they were to “set thee up great stones” (Deut. 27:2.); “thou shalt put the blessing upon mount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal” (Deut. 11:29.). Six of the tribes were to be “over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal.” “And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all men of Israel with a loud voice” the cursings if they turned against the Lord, and the blessings if they obeyed the covenant. All this Joshua did, including writing the law of the Lord on great stones in the presence of all the tribes. Years later it was to Schechem that Joshua returned and delivered to all Israel his great final discourse, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:15.) The valley had long since been important: here Abraham first offered sacrifices in Canaan, Jacob lived here after meeting Esau, Joseph came here to find his brethren, and generations after Israel brought Joseph’s bones from Egypt and buried them here. (Photos by LaMar C. Berrett.)