THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN
- Introduction -
The year was 1406 B.C. and a huge multitude of Hebrew refugees had arrived at the borders of the Land of Canaan (today's Israel). They were led by the brilliant General, Joshua who was planning a large-scale invasion of the land.
About 40 years earlier, the Hebrews had fled from the land of Egypt. They had lived in Egypt since 1876 B.C. where their Patriarch, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) had moved his family. By the time of the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt, there were probably more than 2,000,000 people. By the time the Israelites reached Canaan, their soldiers numbered over 600,000!
Joshua's war strategy was to cut through the land, east to west, annihilating or crippling the most influential tribes and cities. His army would then strike south, destroying the southern tribes as it went. The last phase of Joshua's plan was to secure the northern lands, this would complete his conquest.
- Crossing the River -
It was flood season by the time the Hebrews arrived at the River Jordan on the Canaanite border. The book of Joshua explains that, "...the waters which came down from upstream stood still...and were cut off..." and the entire Israelite army crossed over!
The army of Israel was divided into 12 sections or tribes, averaging some 50,000 men (a similar size to a modern corps). Each tribe was named after one of the twelve sons of Israel.*
The book of Joshua once again tells us that, "...the men of Reuben, the men of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed [for battle] before the [nation] of Israel." Joshua also tells us that, "About 40,000 men, prepared for war, crossed over..." These 40,000 men were the best troops from Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh.**
The rest of their troops (some 78,000 men) remained on the other side of the Jordan (these tribes had claimed land on the eastern side and now needed to defend it).
The city of Jericho was an immense Canaanite fortress, with massive walls and a huge gate, guarded by thousands of highly trained, well-equipped troops. But most importantly, the city had supplies that would allow it to withstand a siege for up to twelve months!
One day as Joshua was surveying the land, a man appeared before him. The terrifying stranger had his sword drawn! Joshua boldly challenged him, saying, "Are you for us, or for our enemies?"
"I am neither for you nor for your enemies, for I am the commander of Yahweh's army," the warrior replied, speaking of the God of Israel. He then proceeded to outline a detailed battle plan for Joshua.
Joshua returned to the Hebrew camp and hurriedly explained Yahweh's plan to the Israelite commanders.
The next morning, Israelite warriors (with representatives from each division) marched around the fortress of Jericho. For six days in total, the army marched around the walls in silence.
- The Battle of Jericho -
On the seventh day of marching around Jericho, something changed. The Israelite army marched around the walls not only once but seven times, then they stopped. The Jericho garrison must have leapt to their feet in anticipation of an attack!
All of a sudden, the Hebrew Priests blew a loud blast on their horns. Joshua exclaimed loudly, "Shout, for Yahweh has given you the city!" The troops shouted! All of a sudden there was a great rumble underground, then the massive walls of Jericho came crashing to the ground. Thousands of Israelite soldiers swarmed into the city and it fell before the end of that day.
- Other Conquests -
With the conquest of Jericho complete, Joshua could turn his sights elsewhere. To the small cities of Ai and Bethel. As was his usual habit, Joshua sent in spies to tell him how heavily defended the enemy city was. In the case of Ai and Bethel, these reports were extremely favourable, advising that Joshua send in only two or three thousand men. Joshua, on his spies advice, sent in some 3,000 men to attack the city of Ai first. Shockingly, the Israelite force was forced back viciously by the defenders. They lost thirty-six dead and many more wounded of their men.
Joshua and his generals were stunned by this defeat. When they asked Yahweh for advice, He said, "There is a wicked man among you. He has stolen from Jericho what was supposed to be given to the tent of Yahweh, he is hoarding money and possessions behind your very backs. This is why you lost the battle."
Once the traitor had been exposed and executed the Israelite forces once again converged on Ai and Bethel. This time Joshua selected 30,000 crack troops to hide in ambush behind the city. He stationed another 5,000 men in this same position on the west side of the city as reserves. To the North of Ai, the rest of the Israelite army camped. All of this was accomplished at night and when dawn finally broke, the king of Ai spotted the Israelite force. However, he overlooked the second Israelite force to the west. Instantly, hoping for another quick slaughter, the king ordered all of his men out of the city. He also called for the troops from Bethel to join the fight.
The battle was quick and vicious. Suddenly, the Israelite troops feigned flight. Shouting war cries, the men from Ai and Bethel rushed after them. To their horror, many of them turned to see their cities in flames with tens of thousands more warriors pouring out of them.
There was no escape for the soldiers of Ai and Bethel, their hatred for Israel drove them to their own ruin.
- Conclusion -
The defeat of these two strongholds and that of Jericho was only the beginning of the conquest of Canaan. The Israelite forces marched from city to city destroying the Canaanite tribes with little or no resistance.
The Israelites never quite subdued the entire land and this was to have dramatic consequences for the nation in the future.
Joshua lived to be an old man, his brilliant war tactic of divide and conquer is still used and taught in military school to this day.
Written and Researched By
Cody B. Mitchell
Summary: Canaanite tribes are smashed by an invading Israelite force. One tribe, Gibeon, creates an alliance with Israel.
Date: 1406 B.C.
Combatants: 600,000 Israelite soldiers led by the brilliant General Joshua versus numerous Canaanite tribes.
Location: The land of Canaan, modern Israel
Israelite - 600,000 experienced warriors.
Canaanite - Unknown but most probably hundreds of thousands.
Israelite Casualties - Unknown during most battles, but 36 men were killed during the attack on Ai.
Canaanite Casualties - Probably tens of thousands during town attacks (exact numbers unknown).
It's 1406 B.C. and the Israelites are approaching their promised land. In their way, however, are numerous vicious Canaanite tribes.
Can the Israelite's General Joshua successfully take over the land?
"Shout, for Yahweh has given you the city!"
*The entire Israelite nation was descended from these men.
Also note that the Tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim were named after the two sons of the brother Joseph - the brother Levi had no military contingent.
**Contrary to common belief, the Israelite army did not only number 40,000 troops, in fact (excluding the defending troops of Gad, Reuben and Mannasah) there would have been as many as 523,000 troops. Now that's a big army! No wonder when two of Joshua's spies were sent to Jericho, the nearest city, they returned saying that the people were terrified!