The first several chapters of the book of Joshua display the significance of both Joshua’s leadership and Israel’s devotion to the law. Joshua 9-11 magnifies the purpose for which the Lord had given His people a leader and the law. Israel’s occupation in the land of Canaan, the central land-bridge of three continents and the locale of the major trade-routes of the day, was missional. As Israel occupied their inheritance and lived according to the law, the nations that surrounded them would witness God’s glory and want Him to be their God too (Deut 4:1-8; Psalms 67, 100).
However, Israel had a track record of partial obedience to the law, so much so that in Deuteronomy 28-32 Moses prophesied the people’s failure in Canaan. In Deut 7:2, the Lord commanded that after He delivered Canaan into the hands of His people, they were to “completely destroy” the inhabiting nations and “make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.” While the kings of Canaan were terrified of Israel (Josh 9:1-2), the people of Gibeon were able to trick Joshua and Israel’s leaders into making a treaty of peace with them (Josh 9:3-15; 22-27).
Joshua 10 records that the compromise with Gibeon did not decrease the dread that the kings of Canaan felt when they considered the threat posed by Israel. After forming a desperate alliance, these kings attacked Gibeon, perhaps thinking the tribe void of its strongest warriors (Josh 10:4-5). Israel demonstrated repentance through their faithfulness to help Gibeon (Josh 10:6-7) and was blessed by the Lord. He cast Israel’s opponents into confusion (Josh 10:10) and “threw large hailstones on them from the sky,” killing more people than Israel’s swords did (Josh 10:11). The Lord even caused the sun to stand still “until the nation took vengeance on its enemies” (Josh 10:13). In fulfillment of the law in Deut 7:2, Joshua killed all five Amorite kings (Josh 10:16-27).
The final section of these chapters describes how Israel routed the lands of what would later be known as Judah (Josh 10:28-43) and Israel (Josh 11:1-23). Joshua emphasized that the Lord delivered these nations to His people (Josh 10:30, 32; 11:6, 8) and that Israel completely destroyed their enemies (Josh 10:28, 32-33, 35, 37, 39, 40; 11:8-9, 11-15, 17). At the end of Joshua 11, Joshua wrote, “For it was the LORD’s intention to harden their hearts, so that they would engage Israel in battle, be completely destroyed without mercy, and be annihilated, just as the LORD had commanded Moses” (Josh 11:20). According to what the Lord commanded Moses, Joshua led Israel to conquer the land and distribute it to the tribes of Israel with the result that the land enjoyed rest from war (Josh 11:23).
Joshua 9-11 provides the opportunity to analyze the concept of mission in the storyline of Scripture. Israel’s missional success was based upon their static geographical placement. In Deut 4:1-8, Moses wrote that as Israel lived in the land in accord with all that God commanded them, foreign nations would see God’s greatness and inquire of Him. The author of Psalm 67 beseeched God to bless Israel that the nations would see His ways and praise Him. Jesus’ teaching differed in that He taught His disciples to scatter among all nations proclaiming the gospel (Matt 28:18-20). Just as the Lord placed Israel in the land-bridge of three continents, believers are to spread throughout the cities and towns of the globe, sharing the message of Christ in their neighborhoods and workplaces. In Rev 7:9-10, John saw the scope of Gentile inclusion as a white-robed throng from every nation and language standing before the throne singing songs of praise to God and to the Lamb.