“And it came to pass, when Jabin king of Hazor had heard those things, that he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, And to the kings that were on the north of the mountains, and of the plains south of Chinneroth, and in the valley, and in the borders of Dor on the west, And to the Canaanite on the east and on the west, and to the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite in the mountains, and to the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpeh.
And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, much people, even as the sand that is upon the sea shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many. And when all these kings were met together, they came and pitched together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel.” (Joshua 11:1-5)
After hearing how Israel had been victorious over the Hivite confederation in the south, Jabin realized it would take a far stronger force to defeat them. Fear of Israel enabled Jabin to unite all the various kingdoms and groups from south of the sea of Chinneroth, known in our day as the Sea of Galilee, north to the present day boundary with Lebanon and Syria, including the area known today as the Golan heights. They assembled their armies at a small lake northwest of the Sea of Galilee called Merom, preparatory to an attack on Israel.
“And the LORD said unto Joshua, Be not afraid because of them: for to morrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt hock their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.” (Joshua 11:6)
God again spoke to Joshua, telling him Israel would certainly gain the victory. God would deliver them up dead before Israel and they were to burn the chariots and disable the horses. They were not to save the chariots and horses for future use. This command parallels the command in Deuteronomy 17:16, which forbid Israel’s kings to build up massive military power rather than trusting God. Deuteronomy 20:1 made it clear such forces would not be required if they served God.
“So Joshua came, and all the people of war with him, against them by the waters of Merom suddenly; and they fell upon them. And the LORD delivered them into the hand of Israel, who smote them, and chased them unto great Zidon, and unto Misrephothmaim, and unto the valley of Mizpeh eastward; and they smote them, until they left them none remaining. And Joshua did unto them as the LORD bade him: he hocked their horses, and burnt their chariots with fire.” (Joshua 11:7-9)
Catching Jabin’s army unprepared in a surprise attack, God gave Israel victory, scattering the army west toward the Mediterranean coast and east to the valley of Mizpeh where they were trapped and wiped out. These huge alliances actually enabled Israel to gain control much more quickly, by bringing them all together in one place. Otherwise Israel would have had to defeat them one at a time.
“And Joshua at that time turned back, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms. And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire. And all the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them, did Joshua take, and smote them with the edge of the sword, and he utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the LORD commanded.
But as for the cities that stood still in their strength, Israel burned none of them, save Hazor only; that did Joshua burn. And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves; but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any to breathe. As the LORD commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses.” (Joshua 11:10-15)
After wiping out united army, Joshua returned to Hazor and wiped it out, burning everything there because they had been the leaders of the alliance. The people were killed in the other cities but the houses and property were not burned, but saved for the people of Israel. The entire region that Moses had commanded Israel to take was conquered as Moses had commanded, although large populations of the former inhabitants remained.
"So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same; Even from the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baalgad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and slew them.” (Joshua 11:16-17)
When Joshua finished, Israel controlled the land from the border of Edom south of the Dead Sea to Baalgad in the Bekaa valley between Beirut and Damascus.
“Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Joshua 11:18-20)
Just reading through the account one gets the impression everything happened in a matter of a few days or weeks. In fact it took a long time. Even after control of the land was established, and the main cities were taken, numerous villages and communities had to be subjugated. Not one village willingly surrendered except the people of Gibeon, preferring to resist to the death. God hardened their resolve because he wished to wipe them out completely. Had they been willing to yield, they would have received the same treatment as Gibeon.
“And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel: Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities. There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained.” (Joshua 11:21-22)
Forty years before, the twelve spies had feared to enter the land because of the giants, the Anakims who lived among the other tribes. Under Joshua’s leadership, the Anakim’s forces were wiped out except for a few who took refuge among the Philistines in Gath, Gaza, and Ashdod. Five hundred years later, one of their descendants, Goliath of Gath would be killed by David.
“So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.” (Joshua 11:23)
With the land secured, Joshua could divide the land among the tribes and families and allow the army to return home to concentrate on building a nation.