The conquest of Canaan is a story of faithfulness—of God’s faithfulness to His promise to give Israel this land and of the importance of God’s people faithfully obeying Him. And as we will see, Joshua and Caleb also provided worthy examples of faithfulness to the Lord.
This study will take us through more than four chapters of the book of Joshua. These chapters give us the details of the Israelites’ victories in the promised land. After defeating a coalition of five kings of southern Canaan, Joshua and his army move forward in their conquest of this southern region.
Let me go back and touch briefly on something I have mentioned already. Why are the people of these nations killed by Israel, at God’s direction?
Well, to simply dismiss this as the act of a cruel and vengeful God encountered only in the Old Testament is to misrepresent—and reject—the teaching of both the Old and New Testaments. There is one God, and He doesn’t change. His love and compassion, as well as His holiness and righteous judgment, are evident throughout the Bible.
What we see here is simply God’s righteous judgment on the extremely cruel and defiant inhabitants of Canaan. They had developed into wicked, immoral, and brutal nations. Their religion actually involved child sacrifice. Imagine going down the street today in your neighborhood and finding a temple where people are going to kill a little child as part of their worship service! You would probably want those people arrested and given the death penalty for such brutality. Well, God is basically using the nation of Israel to carry out His judgment—the death penalty—on these nations.
There were four different categories of nations Israel would encounter, and each category of people was to be treated differently.
First, there were the indigenous people in the land of Canaan—people like the Amorites and the Hittites—Canaanite nations. Israel was commanded to bring the death penalty on all these unrepentant people (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 20:16-18).
But what if they repented? Well, some of them did. We have already seen Rahab and her family rescued because of their trust in God. Had these nations responded as Rahab did, there is no reason to believe that God would not have shown mercy to them.
Second were the border people, who dwelt on the outer edges of the promised land. These people were to be offered terms of peace by which they would serve the Israelites. If they refused, they were to be given the death penalty. Deuteronomy 20 spells this out.
Third, there were the protected people, who lived in regions Israel was to leave alone. The Israelites were to avoid conflict with them, if at all possible.
The fourth category were called sojourners. These were individuals or families who had immigrated to the land of Canaan, and Israel was not to oppress them (Exodus 22:21; 23:9). They could join the Israelite nation if they chose to follow the Lord.
So, Israel was to execute judgment only on the wicked, unrepentant people in Canaan who refused the warning of God.
Let me tell you something: the idea of grace ending and judgment beginning is not appreciated by our world today. But it is a biblical reality. Eventually the entire unbelieving human race will be swept into that final judgment at the great white throne recorded in Revelation 20, where mercy has come to an end, and eternal judgment begins for all who have refused to follow God.
The question you need to ask yourself today isn’t whether or not God was justified in judging these nations way back then, but where you stand with God today. Satan would love to distract you over these Canaanites, whom you will never meet; I want you to deal with God today, my friend, because one day you will meet Him.
Moving on, we find a brief accounting at the end of Joshua chapter 10 of Israel’s conquests in southern Canaan. Israel leaves these cities standing, which later fulfills God’s promise to give Israel cities they did not build (Deuteronomy 6:10-11).
In Joshua chapter 11, Israel turns to the north, where a coalition of kings have banded together to fight Israel. They’re not going to surrender to God; they’re going to die rather than repent. So, Joshua attacks and completely destroys them.
The rest of chapter 11 provides a summary of all the territory that came under Israel’s control. Then in chapter 12, we’re given a list of all the defeated Canaanite kings. Verse 1 sort of says it all here: “Now these are the kings of the land whom the people of Israel defeated and took possession of their land.” The list includes those kings east of the Jordan whom Moses defeated, as well as those Joshua defeated in Canaan.
The conquest under Joshua is only the first step. Each of the tribes and families of Israel will need to go in and take possession of their allotted land—their inheritance. And each tribe will have to fight battles in order to settle their inheritance. Details of the specific inheritances begins in chapter 13 with lands allotted to the tribes east of the Jordan River.
Chapter 14 then focuses on the inheritance of one family—that of the former Israelite spy Caleb. Joshua’s old comrade Caleb arrives and delivers a touching testimony in which he reviews the highlights of his life.
He says in verse 7
“I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers [the other spies] who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God.”
What a testimony! For Caleb the issue was never how big the difficulty was but how big God was. That’s the same issue for you today. You might think you could never be like Caleb because you don’t have great faith; but it’s not the amount of your faith but the object of your faith that counts. PQ Caleb was courageous, not because he had great faith, but because he served a great God.
Now frankly, you might expect Caleb to show up here as an angry, resentful old man. He had suffered for forty-five years because Israel wouldn’t listen to him. But instead, Caleb shows up here as eager as he was back then.
And in verse 12 Caleb asks for the hill country of Hebron, about nineteen miles south of Jerusalem. This was special land. This is where God gave Abraham the covenant promises; this is where Joseph tended sheep; and this is where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried. Caleb says, “I want this special land as my inheritance.”
Now that didn’t mean this was easy land to settle. Caleb says in verse 12 that the Anakim—the giants—are living up there. But he goes on to say, “It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”
He’s not bragging about himself. He’s depending on God. Caleb says, “I don’t know how God is going to work it all out, but I’m trusting Him as I move forward in faith.”
Beloved, faithfulness to God does not eliminate the battle. Just because Caleb was faithful did not mean God would make it easy.
Let me tell you, victory means there has been a battle. But God doesn’t just want to deliver you; He wants to develop you through the battles of life into a person of deeper faith and trust in Him.
Perhaps even now, the Lord is developing you, not by making things in your life simple, but by proving Himself to be faithful.