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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 15–23
Verses 15–23

We have here the conclusion of this whole matter.

I. A short account is here given of what was done in four things:—1. The obstinacy of the Canaanites in their opposition to the Israelites. It was strange that though it appeared so manifestly that God fought for Israel, and in every engagement the Canaanites had the worst of it, yet they stood it out to the last; not one city made peace with Israel, but the Gibeonites only, who understood the things that belonged to their peace better than their neighbours, Josh. 11:19. It is intimated that other cities might have made as good terms for themselves, without ragged clothes and clouted shoes, if they would have humbled themselves, but they never so much as desired conditions of peace. We here are told whence this unaccountable infatuation came: It was of the Lord to harden their hearts, Josh. 11:20. As Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by his own pride and wilfulness first, and afterwards by the righteous judgment of God, to his destruction, so were the hearts of these Canaanites. To punish them for all their other follies, God left them to this, to make those their enemies whom they might have made their friends. This was it that ruined them: they came against Israel in battle, and gave the first blow, and therefore might have no favour shown them. Those know not what they do who give the provocation to divine justice, or the authorized instruments of it. Are we stronger than God? Observe here, That hardness of heart is the ruin of sinners. Those that are stupid and secure, and heedless of divine warnings, are already marked for destruction. What hope is there of those concerning whom God has said, Go, make their hearts fat? 2. The constancy of the Israelites in prosecuting this war (Josh. 11:18): Joshua made war a long time; some reckon it five years, others seven, that were spent in subduing this land: so long God would train up Israel to war, and give them repeated instances of his power and goodness in every new victory that he gave them. 3. The conquest of the Anakim at last, Josh. 11:21, 22. Either this was done as they met with them where they were dispersed, as some think, or rather it should seem the Anakim had retired to their fastnesses, and so were hunted out and cut off at last, after all the rest of Israel’s enemies. The mountains of Judah and Israel were the habitations of those mountains of men; but not their height, nor the strength of their caves, nor the difficulty of the passes to them, could secure, no, not these mighty men, from the sword of Joshua. The cutting off of the sons of Anak is particularly mentioned because these had been such a terror to the spies forty years before, and their bulk and strength had been thought an insuperable difficulty in the way of the reducing of Canaan, Num. 13:28, 33. Even that opposition which seemed invincible was got over. Never let the sons of Anak be a terror to the Israel of God, for even their day will come to fall. Giants are dwarfs to Omnipotence; yet this struggle with the Anakim was reserved for the latter end of the war, when the Israelites had become more expert in the arts of war, and had had more experience of the power and goodness of God. Note, God sometimes reserves the sharpest trials of his people by affliction and temptation for the latter end of their days. Therefore let not him that girds on the harness boast as he that puts it off. Death, that tremendous son of Anak, is the last enemy that is to be encountered; but it is to be destroyed, 1 Cor. 15:26. Thanks be to God, who will give us the victory. 4. The end and issue of this long war. The Canaanites were rooted out, not perfectly (as we shall find after in the book of Judges), but in a good measure; they were not able to make any head either, (1.) So as to keep the Israelites out of possession of the land: Joshua took all that land, Josh. 11:16, 17. And we may suppose the people dispersed themselves and their families into the countries they had conquered, at least those that lay nearest to the head-quarters at Gilgal, until an orderly distribution should be made by lot, that every man might know his own. Or, (2.) So as to keep them in action, or give them any molestation (Josh. 11:23): The land rested from war. It ended not in a peace with the Canaanites (that was forbidden), but in a peace from them. There is a rest, a rest from war, remaining for the people of God, into which they shall enter when their warfare is accomplished.

II. That which was now done is here compared with that which had been said to Moses. God’s word and his works, if viewed and considered together, will mutually illustrate each other. It is here observed in the close, 1. That all the precepts God had given to Moses relating to the conquest of Canaan were obeyed on the people’s part, at least while Joshua lived. See how solemnly this is remarked (Josh. 11:15): As the Lord commanded Moses his servant, by whose hand the law was given, so did Moses command Joshua, for Moses was faithful, as a law-giver, to him that appointed him; he did his part, and then he died: but were the commands of Moses observed when he was in his grave? Yes, they were: So did Joshua, who was, in his place, as faithful as Moses in his. He left nothing undone (Heb. he removed nothing) of all that the Lord commanded Moses. Those that leave their duty undone do what they can to remove or make void the command of God, by which they are bound to do it; but Joshua, by performing the precept, confirmed it, as the expression is, Deut. 27:26. Joshua was himself a great commander, and yet nothing was more his praise than his obedience. Those that rule others at their will must themselves be ruled by the divine will; then their power is indeed their honour, and not otherwise. The pious obedience for which Joshua is here commended respects especially the command to destroy the Canaanites, and to break down their altars and burn their images, Deut. 7:2-5; Exod. 23:4; 34:13. Joshua, in his zeal for the Lord of hosts, spared neither the idols nor the idolaters. Saul’s disobedience, or rather his partial obedience, to the command of God, for the utter destruction of the Amalekites, cost him his kingdom. It should seem Joshua himself gives this account of his most careful and punctual observance of his orders in the execution of his commission, that in all respects he had done as Moses commanded him; and then it intimates that he had more pleasure and satisfaction in reflecting upon his obedience to the commands of God in all this war, and valued himself more upon that, than upon all the gains and triumphs with which he was enriched and advanced. 2. That all the promises God had given to Moses relating to this conquest were accomplished on his part, Josh. 11:23. Joshua took the whole land, conquered it, and took possession of it, according to all that the Lord said unto Moses. God had promised to drive out the nations before them (Exod. 33:2; 34:11), and to bring them down, Deut. 9:3. And now it was done. There failed not one word of the promise. Our successes and enjoyments are then doubly sweet and comfortable to us when we see them flowing to us from the promise (this is according to what the Lord said), as our obedience is then acceptable to God when it has an eye to the precept. And, if we make conscience of our duty, we need not question the performance of the promise.