Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Now it came to pass, when Adonizedek king of Jerusalem had heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it; as he had done to Jericho and her king, so he had done to Ai and her king; and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them;X.
CONQUEST OF THE SOUTHERN CONFEDERACY OF THE NATIONS OF CANAAN.
(1) Adoni-zedec king of Jerusalem.—We may compare this name (Lord of Righteousness) with Melchizedek (King of Righteousness). (See Genesis 14:18 and Hebrews 7:1.) The similarity of the names makes it probable that the Salem of Genesis 14:18 is Jerusalem (see Notes). The title Lord or King of Righteousness may have belonged to the king of Jerusalem, not only as a local title, but also in relation to the surrounding tribes, over whom he may have been a suzerain. But we know nothing of the matter beyond what we find in the sacred text.
That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty.(2) As one of the royal cities.—One of the cities of the kingdom. Gibeon was afterwards the city of the first king of Israel, Saul (1Chronicles 8:29-30; 1Chronicles 8:33).
Wherefore Adonizedek king of Jerusalem sent unto Hoham king of Hebron, and unto Piram king of Jarmuth, and unto Japhia king of Lachish, and unto Debir king of Eglon, saying,(3) Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon.—Hebron, i.e., el-Khalil,
Jarmuth is identified as el-Yarmûk.
Lachish is still uncertain; but see Note on Terse 32.
Eglon is identified as Aglân in Philistia.
Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it hath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel.(4) Come up . . . that we may smite Gibeon.—It is remarkable that we do not read of one direct attack upon Joshua and his army in all the wars of Canaan. The Canaanites seem to have acted strictly upon the defensive: and this fact tallies with what we read of the alarm and depression that spread among them at the passage of Jordan by Israel. And the armies which did take the field were attacked by Joshua in each instance before they had ventured to attack him. In the present instance it was thought necessary to smite Gibeon, not only to make an example of the inhabitants, but also because of its importance as a stronghold in the hands of Israel. The position of the Hivite tetrapolis was strong enough to command the country. The fact that a man of Gibeon was afterwards selected to reign over Israel, and that the tabernacle was stationed there, so that Gibeon became a sort of metropolis during the latter portion of Saul’s reign, is a significant comment upon this.
And the men of Gibeon sent unto Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us: for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered together against us.(6) The Amorites that dwell in the mountains—i.e., in the mountainous district lying on the south of Jerusalem.
And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.(8) And the Lord said unto Joshua.—A distinct command is given for the commencement of this attack, as for all the important steps in the conquest of Canaan.
Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night.(9) And went up.—Better thus, And Joshua came upon them suddenly; (for) all the night he had marched (come up) from Gilgal. The expression “went up” is geographically correct, because the line of march from Gilgal to Gibeon is an ascent the whole way.
And the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah.(10) Beth-horon—is identified as Beit’ Ur.
(11) Great stones from heaven.—Compare Job 38:22-23, “Hast thou seen the treasures of the hail, which I have reserved against the time of trouble, against the day of battle and war?” The employment of the artillery of heaven against Jehovah’s enemies was there foretold by Himself.
(12-15)—The whole of this paragraph appears to be a quotation from the Book of Jasher. That book is mentioned also in 2Samuel 1:18, where the lament of David over Saul and Jonathan appears to be a citation from it. We may compare Numbers 21:14; Numbers 21:27, where reference is made to poetical passages either current among the people (as national ballads) or actually written. The name Jasher (upright) is not taken as the name of an author, and what it refers to no one knows. From the fact that all the passages cited in this way are more or less poetical, we may infer that there was a poetical literature among the Hebrews (partly written, partly unwritten) from which the inspired writers occasionally made extracts. The songs of Moses, including the ninetieth Psalm, belong to this literature.
The fact that the great miracle of the Book of Joshua is recorded in this form is, to those who believe that Joshua was the original author of the book, a remarkable proof of the impression which the miracle had’ made upon the minds of the people. Even before the death of the hero of the story, it had come to be told in a set form of words, in which the ear could tolerate no alteration. As in later times they sang, “Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands,” so. they appear to have recited the deed of Joshua. “Then spake Joshua to the Lord.” The form of the original sentence, “Then speaketh Joshua,” &c., is suitable to this view.
(12) And he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still . . .—It is not impossible to read thus: “And he said, In the sight of Israel sun in Gibeon be thou still (dumb); and, moon, in the valley of Ajalon.” But we do not seem to gain anything by supposing that the miracle was only apparent—i.e., that the light of the sun and moon was retained in its position, while the heavenly bodies themselves—viz., earth, moon, and sun—maintained their actual course (for the sun moves). Nor, again, can we accept the view of some, that it was the night, not the day, that was specially prolonged. The word used for the sun’s standing still is peculiar, and signifies to be dumb or silent. We may compare with this metaphor the words of Psalm 19:3-4, “There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Joshua’s command was that the sun should for the time silence that penetrating voice, and be dumb from those all-prevailing words. Translated into technical language, the command would be to suspend the motion of the earth round its axis, and that of the moon round the earth. At the same time the earth was left free to move round the sun, and the moon to revolve (if it does revolve) on its own axis. The objection which we sometimes hear, that if the earth had stopped in its orbit it would have fallen into the sun, is nothing to the purpose (supposing its Maker to have arrested its motion in such an imperfect and clumsy manner), for Joshua did not ask that it should cease to move in its orbit, only that it should cease the revolution which causes day and night to succeed each other at fixed intervals. Gravitation does not touch this.
How the miracle was done we are not informed. But if we understand the narrative literally, the problem is, How to suspend the motion of the earth upon its axis, and the motion of the moon round the earth, for twelve hours, the earth being free to move round the sun, and the moon free to revolve upon her axis, if these motions are independent of the others. And if they are not independent, it is not easy to say why a perfect solilunar cycle is not more readily obtained. This problem should be solved before men can assert the thing to be impossible. The late Professor Mozley has well shown, in his Bampton Lectures, that the presumption against a miracle of this kind is not a reasonable presumption. For, on the other hand, the presumption that the sun will rise to-morrow, and that the day will be of a given length, is not based upon reason at all, however strongly it may be felt by mankind. But many who do not doubt that the Creator could perform the miracle (as easily as an engine-driver can stop an engine at full speed, or a skilful finger arrest the progress of a watch without injury to the works), nevertheless hesitate to believe that He would have done such a thing under the stated circumstances and for the proposed end. The answer to this objection is, that the history of the chosen people in Holy Scripture is a series of miracles. The miracles of Moses and Elijah and Elisha are not less wonderful than this. The three days’ darkness in Egypt, the sign that was given to Hezekiah, which brought inquirers from Babylon (2Chronicles 32:31), the star that conducted the wise men from the East to Bethlehem, and the miraculous darkness at the crucifixion, were wonders of the same kind. Holy Scripture expressly informs us that there will be “signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars.” Astronomers speak calmly of the possibility of the extinction of the solar fires. Can they tell us what would be the effect of a partial, gradual, or momentary extinction? At least Holy Scripture is consistent throughout, in the view that the God of Israel never spared a sign or a wonder that might further His purposes towards His people. As for the remark made by one commentator, that the silence of other contemporary records is a presumption against the miracle in its literal sense, we ask, Where are the contemporary records that are silent?
At the same time, if any one finds it easier to believe that the motions of the earth, sun, and moon were continued, and the light only was arrested in its course, the Scripture does not forbid that view. But there is still a question left unsolved even then. Why did Joshua bid the moon stand still as well as the sun to be silent? In any case, indeed, this is a remarkable feature of the story. It must not be forgotten that while we know the law and rate of the earth’s motion, we do not entirely understand what the CAUSE of the motion is, and therefore it is impossible to state what must be done in order to arrest the motion for a time.
Upon Gibeon; and . . . in the valley of Ajalon.—The two prepositions are the same in Hebrew. It seems to be an order that the sun should not go down, and the moon cease to rise.
EXCURSUS TO NOTES ON JOSHUA. THE DEFEAT OF THE FIVE KINGS AT GIBEON
THE DEFEAT OF THE FIVE KINGS AT GIBEON(Joshua 10:10-12).
IT was not until I had an opportunity of verifying the course of the combatants on the large Ordnance Map with the sheets fitted together that I was able to form a clear and connected notion of the proceedings of that memorable day. It appears to me that the scene described is this:—
When the five kings of the Amorites besieged Gibeon, the Gibeonites sent a hasty appeal to Joshua for help. Joshua replied by a night march from Gilgal, which brought the host of Israel to Gibeon at early dawn. The Amorite army was surprised, and speedily took to flight. Being attacked from the east, they naturally fled westward, and took the road to Beth-horon. An ancient road from Gibeon (El-Jîb) still passes both the Beth-horons, first the upper (Beit’ur El-Foka), then the lower (Beit’ur Et-Tahta). They are about two miles apart. The road then turns southward (the Beth-horons lie slightly to the northwest of Gibeon), and leads to the border of Philistia. Beth-horon the upper Isaiah 2, 022 feet above the sea; Beth-horon the nether 1,310 feet above the sea; the points about Gibeon varying from 2,300 to 2,500 feet in height. But the road from Gibeon to Beth-horon appears at first to ascend slightly, and then to descend. From Beth-horon the upper there is a steep descent of nearly 600 feet in the first half mile, and from Beth-horon the nether a continuous slope towards Philistia. Ajalon (Yâlo), about five miles south-west of Beth-horon the nether, is only 940 feet above the Mediterranean. Azekah is not identified, but was probably somewhere near Amwâs. Makkedah is thought by Conder to be El-Mughâr, in Philistia, the only place in the district where there are caves. Ajalon and Gibeon are about nine miles apart in a straight line, due east and west of each other, and El-Mughâr (Makkedah) is about eighteen miles from Beth-horon the nether. These are the geographical data. Now as to what occurred.
When Joshua and his army were in pursuit of the Amorites from Gibeon towards the west, the sun was rising behind them. They presently saw—what we so often see in the early morning—the moon in front of them on the west, just setting in the valley of Ajalon, and the sun behind them over Gibeon on the east. It was the height of summer (as appears by the date of the passage of Jordan, and the commencement of the war, Joshua 5, 6), and in a little while the heat would prevent or greatly retard further operations. A sudden inspiration now seized Joshua, and he requested that the cool morning hours—the best time for battle—might be prolonged. Let the sun remain in the east, and the moon in the west, until the discomfiture of the Amorite army was complete. “So the sun stood still in the one-half of the heavens”—in the eastern hemisphere—“and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” It may be observed that the book which mentions the sun oftener than any other in the Old Testament describes his course thus: “The sun ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose” (Ecclesiastes 1:5). Between his rising and setting nothing else is named. So the sun arose on Joshua and on Joshua’s enemies. He arose, and his course was then arrested. He was not permitted to go down, or to pass over to the western side of the heavens, until the enemies of Israel had disappeared. We may add that the sun’s position in the east over Gibeon was the very best for Israel, and the worst possible for the Amorites. The pursuit being westward, whenever the flying Amorites attempted to turn and rally, the level or slant rays of the sun were full in their faces, and they could not see to fight, while their pursuers had the best possible view of them. Presently, in the descent of Beth-horon (not “the going down to Beth-horon,” as in the English Version; but either in the steep descent from the upper to the lower town, or more probably in the long descent from the lower Beth-horon to Azekah, on the borders of Philistia), a storm of hail burst upon them, and followed them to the plain. “They were more that died with hailstones than they whom Israel slew with the sword.” At length, after a flight of some five-and-twenty miles, the kings found shelter in the cave at Makkedah. Even then the pursuit was not ended. Under the shadow of the clouds that had obscured the heavens, while the sun made his way westward, the Israelites still hunted down their beaten foes, until the remnant found shelter in the fortresses. Then, in the afternoon, Joshua and his warriors returned to Makkedah, and unearthed the five kings to die. Even for the trained soldiers of the wilderness, that day’s work must have been a severe trial. The night march from Gilgal to Gibeon, and the pursuit to Makkedah, cover forty miles of country, measured in a direct line. The time is some thirty-six hours, allowing for the miraculous prolongation of the day. But the whole story is consistent; and Makkedah was an admirable starting-point for the attack upon the fortresses which followed, and which occupied the Israelitish army during the remainder of the campaign.
In Dean Stanley’s account of the battle, the sun is made to stand still at noon—in the middle of the day. But the mid-day sun does not appear to be “upon” any place in particular; the morning and evening suns do. Gibeon and Ajalon are only about nine miles apart. To see the sun upon Gibeon and the moon upon Ajalon it must be early morning, and one must be between the two places. Five miles from Gibeon would soon be accomplished. If the battle began at daybreak, a single hour after sunrise would be sufficient to bring the pursuers and pursued to the required spot. “The midst of heaven” (Hebrew, the one half of the heaven) does not seem to mean the meridian, but the one hemisphere as opposed to the other.
Again, Dean Stanley makes the hail come up from the westward. But the narrative says, “As they were in the going down of Beth-horon, the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah.” All down the slope the hail followed them, for some seven or eight miles. It is much more natural for a storm of hail to come from the hills towards the plain than vice versâ. Do not the hail and snow in Palestine more generally come from the north and east than from the sea?
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.(13) And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed.—Literally, the sun was silent, and the moon stopped.
The sun stood still (i.e., stopped) in the midst of heaven.—Literally, in the half of the heavens—i.e., either “in the midst of heaven,” or “in the same hemisphere” (in the one-half of the heavens).
And hasted not to go down (or to go in) about a whole day.—The word cannot mean to rise, or ascend, and thus these words absolutely exclude the view that what Joshua desired was to prevent the sun from rising, in order to complete a night attack upon the Amorites.
And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel.(14) And there was no day like that before it or after it.—These words are meaningless, unless the writer intended to convey the idea that there was really a great miracle. We may compare the prophecy in Isaiah 30:26, “Moreover, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the Lord bindeth up the breach of His people, and healeth the stroke of their wound.”
And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, unto the camp to Gilgal.(15) Unto the camp to Gilgal.—This verse relates by anticipation, in the words of the Book of Jasher (Heb., Yâshar, upright), what we find in the narrative of Joshua at Joshua 10:43, viz., the return to Gilgal at the close of this campaign. The immediate return, at the end of the miraculous day’s operations, was to Makkedah, not to Gilgal (see Joshua 10:21).
But these five kings fled, and hid themselves in a cave at Makkedah.(16) In a cave.—Literally, in the cave in Makkedah, and so Joshua 10:17.
And stay ye not, but pursue after your enemies, and smite the hindmost of them; suffer them not to enter into their cities: for the LORD your God hath delivered them into your hand.(19) Smite the hindmost of them.—See Deuteronomy 25:18, the only other place where the same Hebrew verb occurs.
For the Lord your God hath delivered them into your hand.—It is worth while to observe that the command given to Israel to exterminate the Canaanites, though perfectly general, is notwithstanding limited as to time and circumstances by this very condition, in Deuteronomy 7, Joshua 10:1-2, “when the Lord thy God shall bring thee in, . . . and hath cast out . . . before thee . . . seven nations, and when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee, thou shalt smite them and utterly destroy them.” Again, Joshua 10:16, “Thou shalt consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee,” and Joshua 10:22, “The Lord thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little; thou mayest not consume them at once.” The extermination of each particular army or nation was to be determined (as to time and circumstances) by the mandate of Jehovah, whose guidance Israel must follow on all occasions. The present occasion was one for pursuit and slaughter without respite or delay. But though the army, as an army, was annihilated, a remnant of fugitives escaped into fortified places (Joshua 10:20).
And it came to pass, when they brought out those kings unto Joshua, that Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said unto the captains of the men of war which went with him, Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings. And they came near, and put their feet upon the necks of them.(24) The captains.—The original word occurs here for the first time (see Judges 11:6; Judges 11:11), and seems to mean the actual leaders, not merely the official heads, of the people, who had borne the brunt of the battle. These men having laboured, deserved to see the fruits of their labour; and the action of Joshua was well calculated to inspirit them, and to fire them with courage to lead their followers to the charge in battles that were yet to come.
And Joshua said unto them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the LORD do to all your enemies against whom ye fight.(25) Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage.—The very words spoken to Joshua by Jehovah (Joshua 1:9) with the exception of the word for fear, which is stronger in Joshua 1:9. Even ordinary fear is needless. Alarm is not to be thought of.
And afterward Joshua smote them, and slew them, and hanged them on five trees: and they were hanging upon the trees until the evening.(26) And hanged them.—Here the hanging appears to have been a token of disgrace after death. Upon the cross of the true Joshua, the enemies of the Israel of God are exhibited. “He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15).
And that day Joshua took Makkedah, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and the king thereof he utterly destroyed, them, and all the souls that were therein; he let none remain: and he did to the king of Makkedah as he did unto the king of Jericho.(28) Joshua took Makkedah.—Perhaps better. had taken—i.e., before the execution of the five kings.
Then Joshua passed from Makkedah, and all Israel with him, unto Libnah, and fought against Libnah:(29) Then.—Better, simply and. The operations against Libnah are the commencement of a further stage of the campaign. Libnah has not been identified; but see Joshua 15:42.
And Joshua passed from Libnah, and all Israel with him, unto Lachish, and encamped against it, and fought against it:(31) Lachish has been variously identified, (1) as Um-Lâkis; (2) Zukkanjek; (3) Tell-el-Hesy, near Eglon. It cannot have been far from this latter place.
And the LORD delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, which took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein, according to all that he had done to Libnah.(32) On the second day.—With this fact we may connect two other facts of later history. When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, “came up against all the fenced cities of Judah and took them” (2Kings 18:13), although he “laid siege to Lachish, and all his power with him” (2Chronicles 32:9), he had to abandon the siege (2Kings 19:8). Again, when Nebuchadnezzar invaded the kingdom of Judah in the reign of Zedekiah, the last king, we read ( Jeremiah 34:7) of his army fighting “against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish and against Azekah, for these defenced cities remained of the cities of Judah.” All these notices of Lachish point to its being a fortress of considerable strength. And the undesigned and indirect agreement of these three passages, which lie so far asunder, is worthy of observation.
Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish; and Joshua smote him and his people, until he had left him none remaining.(33) Gezer is identified as Tell-Jezer or Tel-el-Jezar, about four miles from Amwâs or Emmaus.
And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to Debir; and fought against it:(38) Debir is not identified.
So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded.(40) Of the hills—i.e., the mountains of Judah and Ephraim.
The south—i.e., the Nêgeb.
The vale—i.e., Shephêlah, the plain of the coast, but not apparently including the Philistine territory, which was not conquered by Joshua.
The springs—or Áshdoth. Some render it the slopes or declivities, the country between the high hills and the low plain of the coast.
And Joshua smote them from Kadeshbarnea even unto Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even unto Gibeon.(41) From Kadesh-barnea (on the south-east) even unto Gaza (on the west, now Ghazzeh in Philistia), and all the country of Goshen (from the south to Gibeon in a northerly direction).
And all the country of Goshen.—This expression creates some difficulty. Goshen has been thought to be the town of that name mentioned in Joshua 15:51; but it is inconceivable that a single place of no importance in the mountains of Judah should give the name to an extensive district, which is manifestly intended here. If we knew the exact northern boundary of the land of Goshen assigned for a distinct residence to Joseph’s brethren in Egypt, it might help to clear up the meaning of this passage. That Goshen, at its Egyptian end, bordered upon the Delta is clear. But how far did Goshen extend towards the north? In 1Chronicles 7:21-22, we find that Ephraim’s children in his lifetime made an incursion into Canaan as far as Gath. But this was during the time that Israel dwelt in the land of Goshen. Did they suppose that they were in the land of Goshen when they plundered the men of Gath? If Goshen (frontier) could be the general name for the border-land between Egypt and Palestine, we can understand that the borders might vary with the power of the Egyptian monarchy for the time being. The country of Goshen, unto Gibeon, seems to be described from south to north; Gibeon being intended as the northern boundary.
And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, unto the camp to Gilgal.(43) The camp to Gilgal.—A central position, with Jordan and the conquered territory of the two and a half tribes in the rear.