1 When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, 2 and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, 3 to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. 4 And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. 5 And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.
6 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” 7 So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. 8 And the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. 9 And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire. – Joshua 11:1-9 ESV
Chapter 10 ends with the summary statement: “And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.” God had given Joshua and the people of Israel a series of lopsided victories over the five-nation confederation from southern Canaan that had aligned themselves against the Gibeonites. Because of an alliance Joshua and the elders had made with the people of Gibeon, Israel was forced to come to their rescue. And because the Israelites had sealed their treaty with the Gibeonites with an oath made in God’s name, God protected the honor of His name by providing Joshua and the Israelite forces with success. They routed the combined forces of the enemy, executed the five kings, and then completed a campaign that captured and destroyed their cities. But this kind of massive military action didn’t go unnoticed, even in the days before mass media. Word got out and before long, the kings of northern Canaan began to fear the presence and power of the Israelites. Jabin, king of Hazor, located in far northern Canaan, decided to prepare for the worst, and called on his fellow kings of the north to form an alliance against the Israelites. This would prove to be a multinational effort, with troops representing the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Hivites coming together in a massive show of force. The text describes them as “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4 ESV). According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, this multinational force was made up of 300,000 armed footmen, 10,000 horsemen, and 20,000 chariots (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews).
Before Joshua and the people of Israel could enjoy a well-earned rest from the victory over the kings of the south, they found themselves facing an even greater threat from the north. The longer Israel remained in the land and the further they ventured into the interior, the more difficult the obstacles seemed to become. Each successive victory, while enjoyable for the moment, was followed by even greater resistance on the part of the remaining inhabitants of the land. No one was surrendering. The various people groups who occupied the land of Canaan were not giving up without a fight. And this time, the Israelites found themselves facing their most difficult test to date. These troops were well-trained and armed with chariots. The Israelites were outnumbered and out-gunned. They had no chariots or sophisticated, state-of-the-art weaponry. But they had God, and He had promised to go before them and fight their battles for them. He had already shown Himself true to His word, bringing down the walls of Jericho in a miraculous display of His power. He had also sent hail to destroy a large portion of the southern Canaanite forces. God was on their side and it didn’t really matter who or how many lined up on the other side. On paper, the northern alliance was the odds-on favorite to win this battle. They had everything going for them, except that they didn’t have God on their side. You might say that the Israelites had a secret weapon. They had a power at their disposal that no nation on earth could match. And, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, God provided Joshua with the assurance, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire” (Joshua 11:6 ESV).
But it’s one thing to hear the words of God and another thing to believe them. What God told Joshua didn’t make the enemy go away. They were still camped at the waters of Merom, and they were still intent on doing battle with the Israelites. Their numbers had not diminished and their chariots had not gone anywhere. God didn’t eliminate the threat, He simply guaranteed the victory. And Joshua had to take God at His word and lead his forces into a battle that, by all accounts, looked like a recipe for disaster. But Joshua did as the Lord commanded and led his inferior force into battle, taking the enemy by surprise. And the text tells us, “the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining” (Joshua 11:8 ESV).
Long before the Israelites arrived in the land of Canaan, God had promised to give them victory over their enemies, and He had told them that it would be accomplished in surprising fashion.
7 You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. 8 Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. – Leviticus 26:7-8 NLT
God doesn’t require superior forces to accomplish His will. He simply needs obedient servants who will trust His word and who will rely upon His strength instead of their own. Joshua knew he was out-manned. He was well aware that the odds were against him. But he also knew that God was for him. He was slowly learning to trust God and to step out in faith, knowing that the circumstances he faced were a lousy predictor of the outcome God intended.
If Josephus was right, the Israelites completely destroyed 300,000 armed footmen and 10,000 horsemen, and they set fire to 20,000 chariots. Any way you look at it, that is a remarkable accomplishment. It’s an act of God. The odds were against them, but God was for them. The enemy was superior in number, but God was superior in strength. Israelite lacked chariots and horses, but they had God on their side.
It was the future king of Israel, David, who would later write of secret weapon that is God Almighty.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:7-8 ESV
And Moses had told the people of Israel to keep their eyes focused on the strength of their God, not the size of their enemy.
“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!” – Deuteronomy 20:1 NLT
Joshua was learning to trust God. The enemies were not going away, they were actually increasing in number and growing in strength. But the power of God is best displayed against a backdrop of impossibility. It is when all looks lost and the odds are completely stacked against us that we find the power of God not only necessary, but most vividly displayed. The psalmist knew what it was like to be surrounded, outnumbered, and out-manned, but victorious in spite of the odds.
10 Though hostile nations surrounded me,
I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
11 Yes, they surrounded and attacked me,
but I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
12 They swarmed around me like bees;
they blazed against me like a crackling fire.
But I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
13 My enemies did their best to kill me,
but the Lord rescued me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory. – Psalm 118:10-14 NLT
Nothing is too difficult for God. No enemy is too powerful or circumstance too impossible for Him. In God, we have a secret weapon that no force in heaven or on earth can stand against.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.