Joshua 12: Lessons from God’s Defeat of 35 Enemy Kings

Introduction. Joshua Chapter 12 recounts God’s help in allowing the Jews to defeat 35 enemy kings. These were kings who were more powerful than the Jews. The defeated kings include two in Jordan, King Sihon and King Og. In addition, He helped the Jews to defeat one unnamed king in southern Lebanon and 32 Canaanite kings in Israel. This included 31 defeated in battle and one who surrendered, the King of Gibeon. Altogether, God led the Jews to defeat a total of 35 kings. Although the Jews defeated others like the Midianites and the Egyptians, this list is limited to victories where the Jews received and kept lands following their battles. God’s 35 victories for Israel symbolized His completed grace in giving the Promised Land to the Jews. The number 35 is a multiple of seven times five. In the Bible, seven symbolizes completeness, and five symbolizes God’s grace. The record of these battles shows His completed grace in giving the Jews the Promised Land. He gave these lands not because the Jews deserved them. Instead, He defeated the Jews’ enemies and gave the Jews these lands to show that He is faithful to keep His promises. From His victories, He reveals seven lessons about His grace.

First, Joshua began his summary of God’s victories by recounting the victories that took place previously under Moses’ leadership. From this, God reveals that He wants you to always remember His prior victories in your life. This will give Him the glory that He deserves. It will also help to boost your faith each time you face a crisis or a spiritual attack. Second, Joshua recounted the Jews victory over King Sihon, whose name means “sweeping away”. As his name suggests, he sought to sweep away the Jews. But God instead swept King Sihon away. From this, God reveals that He will sweep away your enemies when you take refuge in Him. Third, Joshua also recounted God’s victory over King Og. His name means “gigantic.” From his defeat, God reveals that no giant can stand in your way when you walk with Him. Fourth, from the decision of two and a half of the tribes not to enter the Promised Land, He reveals that He cannot force people to accept the eternal Promised Land that He offers. Sadly, many will reject the free gift of eternal salvation that He offers through Christ. Fifth, from Joshua’s invasion of southern Lebanon, He reveals that your spiritual inheritance awaits if you act in faith to seize it. Sixth, from His judgment of the six nations of Canaan (a symbol of the nations of mankind), He reveals that all have fallen short of His standard of righteousness and would be judged if it were not for Jesus. It is by mercy and grace that you are allowed to enter the eternal Promised Land. Finally, the Canaanite kings symbolized the evil of mankind. By recording only God’s victories and not the names of these kings, He shows that He promises to forget your evil acts in heaven.

1. To Boost Your Faith, Remember God’s Prior Victories for You. Josh. 12:1.

  • The record of Israel’s victories under Moses. After completing the southern and northern campaigns, Joshua first retold in summary format two of the nations and kings that God defeated both under Moses’ command: “1 Now these are the kings of the land whom the sons of Israel defeated, and whose land they possessed beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise, from the valley of the Arnon as far as Mount Hermon, and all the Arabah to the east:” (Josh. 12:1). These conquests are most likely recorded in God’s “book of wars,” a book that Moses revealed to exist during the Jews’ conquest of Jordan (Nu. 21:14). Although we don’t know its contents, we can assume that it also records Jesus’ righteous acts of judgment. We can also infer that other books exist recording our deeds in heaven. If you have lived a life full of acts of love, faith, and charity, there will be lots written in your book. Yet, if you have lived a carnal life, your book may be empty.

  • Remember God’s victories in your life. From Joshua’s example, believers must always remember God’s victories for them in the past. This serves two purposes. First, remembering His prior victories gives honor and praise where they are due. Second, remembering His prior victories will help to boost your faith then next time you face a crisis: “Note, fresh mercies must not drown the remembrance of former mercies, nor must the glory of the present instruments of good to the church be suffered to eclipse and diminish the just honor of those who have gone before them, and who were the blessings and ornaments of their day. Joshua’s services and achievements are confessedly great, but let not those under Moses be overlooked and forgotten, since God was the same who wrought both, and both put together proclaim him the Alpha and Omega of Israel’s great salvation.” (Matthew Henry on Joshua 12).1 Faith comes by hearing His Word (Ro. 10:17). Are you recording His prior victories to boost your faith for your next trial?

  • Both the Old and New Testaments are important for your salvation. Moses represented the Law and the Old Testament. Joshua foreshadowed Jesus, who symbolizes mercy and grace and the revelation of the New Testament. The Jews’ journey to the Promised Land symbolized the journey of believers to the eternal Promised Land. Just as the devil did to the Jews, he will try to stop you on your journey. As symbolized by the fights at the Red Sea and east of the River Jordan, he fights people before they make their decision for Jesus. As symbolized by the battles to the west of the River Jordan, he continues to fight through a believer’s flesh after he or she accepts Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwells within them. To win the battle, believers must remember what is written in both the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament contains the Law, which the Holy Spirit will use to both guide you and convict you of your sins (Jo. 16:8; Ro. 3:20). The New Testament reveals the power of Jesus to defeat the devil (Phil. 4:13). Thus, just as Joshua celebrated His victories before and after crossing into salvation, you should do the same.

2. Take Refuge in Him and He Will Sweep Away Your Enemies. Josh. 12:2-3.

  • The territory of King Sihon. God’s prior victories for the Jews included the defeat of Pharaoh’s armies and the defeat of the Midianites. Here, to emphasize a theological point, Joshua’s record of God’s victories on behalf of the Jews begins with two battles fought under Moses’ command in Jordan: “2 Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the valley of the Arnon, both the middle of the valley and half of Gilead, even as far as the brook Jabbok, the border of the sons of Ammon; 3 and the Arabah as far as the Sea of Chinneroth toward the east, and as far as the sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, eastward toward Beth-jeshimoth, and on the south, at the foot of the slopes of Pisgah;” (Josh. 12:2-3). As the Jews approached the Promised Land, Moses wrote a letter to the Amorite King Sihon to request permission to peaceably cross his land (Nu. 21:21-22). But rather than letting the Jews pass in peace, King Sihon, whose name means “sweeping away”, attacked them (Nu. 21:23). God responded by crushing his army and Israel took possession of his cities (Nu. 21:24-31; Dt. 2:24-37; 3:4; 29:6-7). You may face enemies until the day you die. But He will sweep away your most important enemy when you make it to the eternal Promised Land.

  • God is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Immediately before this battle, the Jews sang praises at a place called Beer, which means “well.” (Nu. 21:18). The Jews sang “Spring up, O Well! Sing to it.” (Nu. 21:17). Jesus was in fact the water in the well which gave life (Jo. 4:13-14). Today, this song of praise is sung on the third Sabbath of every month in the Jewish temples. After singing God’s praise, the Jews were protected in their journey through the area we now call Jordan (Nu. 21:21-35). He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him (Prov. 30:5; Ps. 18:30). Singing His praise is an excellent way to take refuge in Him (e.g., Ps. 135:11-12; 136:17-22). When was the last time you felt defeated or depressed after you sang His praise?

3. When You Walk With God, You Will Defeat the Giants Before You. Josh. 12:4-5.

  • The territory of Kings Og. After facing King Sihon, King Og immediately led his armies to attack the Jews: “4 and the territory of Og king of Bashan, one of the remnant of Rephaim, who lived at Ashtaroth and at Edrei, 5 and ruled over Mount Hermon and Salecah and all Bashan, as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and half of Gilead, as far as the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.” (Josh. 12:4-5). Before this battle, God told Moses not to fear him. The Jews also defeated this second king and took his lands as well (Nu. 21:32-35; Dt. 1:4; 4:47; 29-6-7; 31:4). This defeat gave the Jews control over Transjordan, which prepared them to invade Israel. The Jews would not have understood God’s plan at the time in allowing these two kings to attack them. But they would later learn through the harlot Rahab that God used these victories to sow terror into the hearts of the people of Canaan (Josh. 2:10; 9:10). These battles would also serve the purpose of winning over the heart of a sinner (Rahab) who would later become part of the lineage of the Messiah (Matt. 1:5). The lesson is that God always has a plan for good, even if you cannot understand it (Ro. 8:28). Do you trust that God has a plan for good for you, even when you can only see evil around you?

  • With faith, you can defeat the giants who stand against you. As his name suggests, King Og was a giant. His bed was nine cubits long and four cubits wide (Dt. 3:11). This means that his bed was 13’6” long! The Jews previously turned back because they were afraid of the giants that stood before them (Nu. 13:32-33). Yet, by faith in God’s promises, they fought and defeated him. God has not given you a spirit of fear in facing the enemy (2 Tim. 1:7). You are to only fear Him (Prov. 1:7). And you fear Him when you hate evil (Prov. 8:13). Does fear govern any other portion of your life?

4. God Gives all the Free Choice to Live Inside His Promised Land. Josh. 12:6.

  • The missed inheritance on Ruben, Gad, and half of Manasseh. After recalling these two victories on the way to the Promised Land, Joshua retold the deal that Moses struck with two and one half of the tribes who did not want to continue on into the Promised Land: “6 Moses the servant of the Lord and the sons of Israel defeated them; and Moses the servant of the Lord gave it to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh as a possession.” (Josh. 12:6). The mention of these tribes is remarkable because no other tribes are mentioned in this chapter. Thus, God invites believers to look for the hidden meaning behind this reference to these tribes. Before entering the Promised Land, God blessed the Jews with the wealth from four wars. First, He defeated the Egyptians and allowed the Jews to keep their wealth (Ex. 3:22; 12:35-6). Second, He helped them defeat the Midianites (Nu. 31:7-11). From Midian alone, the Jews captured 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, and 61,000 donkeys (Nu. 31:36-37). Third, He defeated the Amorite King Sihon (Nu. 21:23-31; Dt. 2:24-37). Fourth, He defeated the Amorite King Og (Nu. 21:32-35). With the one exception of Moab in the south, the Jews controlled all of modern day Jordan. God gave the Jews these things to prepare them for the Promised Land. But the tribes of Rueben and Gad assumed that God gave them this wealth for their own benefit. Like the servant who was given a talent and hid it, these tribes decided to bury their talents in a foreign land instead of watching them grow in God’s Promised Land (Matt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:12-28). After receiving God’s many blessings, the tribes of Reuben and Gad noticed that they had “an exceedingly large number of livestock.” (Nu. 32:1). They also noticed that the conquered land that they were staying in “was indeed a suitable place for livestock.” (Nu. 32:1, 4). After realizing the comfort of God’s blessings, these tribes pleaded with Moses: “do not take us across the Jordan.” (Nu. 32:5). These lands would have been part of the Promised Land. Yet, Abraham brought Lot to Israel when God had not called him to do so. To avoid a conflict, Abraham later gave these lands to Lot’s descendants (Gen. 13:6-8). Moses later agreed to let these tribes live outside Israel. God cannot force people into His Promised Land if they don’t want to be there. But the two tribes then enticed others to also give up on God’s land. Half of the Manasseh tribe joined them in living outside of Israel (Nu. 32:33, 40-42). This is proof that bad company can corrupt a good individual (1 Cor. 15:33). Moses agreed to their request provided that they first fight to win the Promised Land. Yet, because these tribes chose not to live in the Promised Land, they never had a land to return to after the Jews went into exile. They became lost tribes.

  • Everyone is needed in the fight to bring others to the eternal Promised Land. Jesus is looking for people to serve in His army (2 Tim. 2:3). “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.” (Dt. 10:20). Like these two and a half tribes, every member of the body plays a vital role in His army (1 Cor. 12:25-26). If you truly love Him, you will want to serve out of love and not obligation: ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matt. 22:36-38). He wants you to fight to bring others to the eternal Promised Land. Are you fighting the devil by helping to rescue non-believers? Or, like the tribes of Reuben and Gad, are you focused on the worldly things around you?

5. Through Faith, Seize the Fullness of Your Spiritual Inheritance. Josh. 12:7.

  • The territory of the king of southern Lebanon. After recounting God’s victories to the east of the River Jordan, Joshua retold out of sequence the His victories in southern Lebanon: “7 Now these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the sons of Israel defeated beyond the Jordan toward the west, from Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon even as far as Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir; and Joshua gave it to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their divisions,” (Josh. 12:7). Southern Lebanon was part of the spiritual inheritance for Israel that God promised if the Jews were obedient in seizing it. Had they continued to act in obedience and in faith, He was ready to give them lands stretching as far as modern day Iraq: “Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness, and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even to the western sea shall be your border.” (Dt. 11:24). ‘“Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.’” (Josh. 1:3-4; Gen. 13:15, 17; 15:4-7, 18-21; Dt. 34:4; Ps. 105:8-11; Josh. 21:43). Joshua had the faith to invade all of Canaan and southern Lebanon. Because his faith pleased God, He rewarded the Jews: “For without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6). Yet, if Joshua had even more faith, he could have seized even more land for the Jews. While the faith of the first Joshua faltered, the second Joshua will come again and seize all of these lands for Israel during the Millennial Reign.

Joshua faithfully followed God’s direction in leading the Jews into battle2

Because he was faithful and obedient, Joshua led the Jewish armies to victory3

  • Don’t squander your spiritual inheritance. Acting in faith and obedience to seize your spiritual inheritance is a recurring theme in the book of Joshua. Most believers in Christ understand the inheritance that they have received in the eternal Promised Land (Jo. 3:16; Ro. 6:23). Many understand that they have also received the Holy Spirit as a down payment on their spiritual inheritance (Eph. 1:14). Yet, few seize all of their spiritual inheritance offered through the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23). Are you missing any of these things in your life?

6. Without Jesus, All Will Face Judgment for Their Sins. Josh. 12:8.

  • The territory of the six Canaanite kingdoms. Before listing the specific kings that God defeated, Joshua listed the six nations within Israel that God defeated: “8 in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, on the slopes, and in the wilderness, and in the Negev; (1) the Hittite,(2) the Amorite and (3) the Canaanite, (4) the Perizzite, (5) the Hivite and (6) the Jebusite:” (Josh. 12:8). In the Bible, six is the number of mankind. The six nations symbolized the nations of mankind. God showed his faithfulness in fulfilling his prior promise to defeat these nations: “Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out (1) the Amorite before you, and (2) the Canaanite, (3) the Hittite, (4) the Perizzite, (5) the Hivite and (6) the Jebusite.” (Ex. 34:11). Joshua in turn showed that he was faithful in fulfilling God’s command to Moses that he utterly destroy these six nations: “But you shall utterly destroy them, (1) the Hittite and (2) the Amorite, (3) the Canaanite and (4) the Perizzite, (5) the Hivite and (6) the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you,” (Dt. 20:17). This symbolized the judgment of mankind. None deserve God’s mercy and grace. He did not want to judge them. But He told Abraham that their sins would be ripe for judgment after the Jews spent 400 years in oppression (Gen. 15:13-16). He also does not want any to perish today (2 Pet. 3:9). But He will one day judge unrepentant sinners.

  • Give thanks for your undeserved salvation. Like the six nations of Canaan, everyone is sinful before God. There is nothing that believers can do on their own to be righteous: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Ro. 3:23). “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecc. 7:20). “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous.” (Ps. 143:2). “Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” (Job 4:17). “Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4). If you think that you can be righteous by being a good person or for your deeds, then Christ’s death served no purpose: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Gal. 2:21). Grace is, by definition, something that you do not deserve. If you are grateful for what Jesus did for you on the cross, what are you doing with your life to thank Him? (Ro. 12:1-2).

7. Out of Grace, God Will Remember No More Your Evil on Earth. Josh. 12:9-24.

  • The territory of the 31 Canaanite kings west of the Jordan. Finally, Joshua retells the defeat of 31 kings within Israel: “(1)9 the king of Jericho, one; (2) the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; (3) 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; (4) the king of Hebron, one; (5) 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; (6) the king of Lachish, one; (7) 12 the king of Eglon, one; (8) the king of Gezer, one; (9) 13 the king of Debir, one; (10) the king of Geder, one; (11) 14 the king of Hormah, one; (12) the king of Arad, one; (13) 15 the king of Libnah, one; (14) the king of Adullam, one; (15) 16 the king of Makkedah, one; (16) the king of Bethel, one; (17) 17 the king of Tappuah, one; (18) the king of Hepher, one; (19) 18 the king of Aphek, one; (20) the king of Lasharon, one; (21) 19 the king of Madon, one; (22) the king of Hazor, one; (23) 20 the king of Shimron-meron, one; (24) the king of Achshaph, one; (25) 21 the king of Taanach, one; (26) the king of Megiddo, one; (27) 22 the king of Kedesh, one; (28) the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; (29) 23 the king of Dor in the heights of Dor, one; (30) the king of Goiim in Gilgal, one; (31) 24 the king of Tirzah, one: in all, thirty-one kings.” (Josh 12:9-24). The only king not listed is the King of Gibeon, who used deceit to surrender to the Jews (Josh. 9). What is remarkable is that not a single name of any of these kings is remembered. Their names have all been forgotten. Only God’s victories over these cities will be remembered in heaven. This symbolizes the fact that your evil acts will be forgotten once you reach the eternal Promised Land. Only Christ’s victories in your life and your acts of faith and love will be remembered.

God’s victory over the Canaanite kings4

  • Out of grace, God will forget your sins. Through faith in Jesus, any believer is freed from the eternal consequences of their sins. He is faithful to forgive your sins when you repent (1 Jo. 1:9). Moreover, like the names of the evil kings of Canaan, He promises to forget your sins in heaven: “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Is. 43:25; Heb. 8:12; 10:17). There is also no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro. 8:1). If you are still carrying your old sins, your self-condemnation is not from God but from the devil. Likewise, if you are judging others for sins that God has forgiven, you are doing the devil’s work. Have you let go of your old sins that you have repented of?