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Conquering Canaan

The is the third entry in the “Year 1, Quarter 4 material. In this post, we will be discussing the conquering of Canaan. Check out the other topics for this quarter here:

  • What is sin?

  • Overview of the Books of History

  • Conquering of Canaan

  • Ancient Geography

  • The Story of the Bible

  • The Marginalized

  • Major Character: Joshua

  • Memory Verse: Joshua 1:7-9

What is Canaan?

Canaan was the name of the fourth son of Ham, the son of Noah (Genesis 10:6). He is known as the founder of various nations and prior to the Israelite conquest started a civilization along the seacoast of Palestine. This country was named after him and was known as God’s Promised Land to Abraham (Genesis 17:8) and is called Palestine in the present day.

Who Led the Israelites to Conquer Canaan?

Starting in Exodus 1, Moses was the man God chose to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land of Canaan. God explains in Deuteronomy 32:51-52 that Moses was not permitted to enter the Promised Land because “you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel.” God showed Moses the Promised Land but did not allow him to enter into it.

In Numbers chapter thirteen, Moses led the Israelites to the land of Canaan and sent twelve men to spy out the land. When they reported back they told Moses that the land flowed with milk and honey but the people who live there are large and the cities are fortified. They did not believe that they would be able to take the land. Joshua and Caleb were the only two spies who said trusted God and said that they would overcome the Canaanites. Because of their faith, Joshua and Caleb were the only Israelites who fled Egypt that would be allowed to enter into Canaan.

After the death of Moses, God called on Joshua to lead the Israelites into Canaan. In Joshua chapter two, Joshua sends two spies to view the land of Jericho where they were hidden by a harlot named Rahab. The king of Jericho told her to bring him the men she was hiding, but she told him that the men had already left the gates of the city. Because she trusted God and spared their lives, they promised to save her and her household when they conquered the city.

After the Israelites surrounded the city of Jericho, God commanded them to march around the city each day for six days. On the seventh day, they were to march around and have the priests blow their trumpets and the people shout. When the people shouted and the priests blew their trumpets on that seventh day the walls fell down flat and the Israelites utterly destroyed everything in the city.


  1. Why did the Israelites think they were supposed to enter Canaan? Who told them they could have it?

  2. When were they originally promised this land? Is God slow to fulfill his promises? Do you ever get impatient with God’s plans?


  • Joshua was one of the twelve spies sent into Canaan before their wilderness wanderings.  How do you think he felt, knowing that he would get to enter the promised land, but not until he was over 80 years of age?

  • God chose Joshua for this special task of leading the Israelite people.  Have you ever been given a difficult and important job? How does it feel to be given so much responsibility?

What Did The Israelites Do to Canaan/Canaanites?

When the Israelites conquered the cities of Canaan, God commanded them to push out all the people living there and destroy much of what they find. Is this just an example of a harsh and uncaring God? This is absolutely not the case. God promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites to be used as a holy land. It was a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ and would be God’s staging area to fulfill his final promise to Abraham to “bless all nations.” God knew that if the Canaanites were allowed to remain, they would corrupt His people and His land and it would quickly become unholy.

Additionally, God knew that the Israelites need to be free from these non-holy influences. As 1 Peter 5:8 says, Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. In order to remain faithful to God, the Israelites needed to be rid of these evil temptations. By pushing the Canaanites out of their land they would be less likely to fall into sin.

There are two other considerations here as well.  Often, we see that our translations say that the Israelites or Joshua ‘devoted to destruction’ a group of people or city (Joshua 2:10, 8:24, 10:35). This Hebrew term ‘harem’ is a cultural concept.  The idea being that any non-Israelite cultural markers had to be given up. Sometimes this means they must destroy or kill an offending person or thing. This would be the case of them being an non-Israelite influence.  For example, an idol or the king of a people give a people-group their identity so these things would need to be actually destroyed so that the people living there would no longer have a separate cultural identity to persuade the Israelites away from their God. This term certainly was not a genocidal term, otherwise, the Israelites would not have been able to make treaties with the Gibeonites, Rahab’s family, or let anyone in the land live (Check out this well-written review of John Walton’s excellent book on this topic for more information).

The second consideration is that the author clearly uses hyperbole at several points in writing of the conquest.  How do we know this? In several places, the author speaks of Israel destroying ‘every living thing’ in a town or area, but then a few chapters later, the same people are harassing or engaging with the Israelites (compare Joshua 10:35-39 to Joshua 15:13-15).  This type of war-language seems to be common in Israelite and surrounding cultures. It is difficult for us to hear, but the author is often trying to make a point that Israel was wildly successful and God was working powerfully to help them in their conquering (Check out this other post from The Bible Project on conquering Canaan for more information).

Compelling Questions

  1. Why did the Israelites think they were supposed to enter Canaan? Who told them they could have it?

  2. When were they originally promised this land? Is God slow to fulfill his promises? Do you ever get impatient with God’s plans?


  • Are there cultural forces in our own country, schools, teams that are turning our hearts away from our God?

  • If you were first a citizen of your country, and only second a citizen of God’s heavenly kingdom, how would you know?  What would need to be done to remove those influences and destroy them in your life?

Judges Begin ‘Helping’ After Joshua… What’s Up With them?

After Israel settles in Canaan, they begin to enter ‘cycles of apostasy.’  These tragic tales show how Israel pursues foreign gods and then as punishment are conquered by one of the surrounding tribes.  After a certain amount of time, Israel calls out to their God who raises up a judge to rescue them.

These judges are better thought of as tribal chieftains.  There are 12 mentioned in the book of Judges and some of them seem praiseworthy, but near the end of the book, the Judges are hard to tell apart from their non-Israelite neighbors. Each leader is presented as making a mixed bag of good and bad decisions, with later Judges making almost exclusively bad decisions.  

Another way to think about these figures in Israelite history is to think of them as tragic examples NOT to follow.  Tragic literature often allows us to see the mistakes of others and learn from their failures. A careful reading of the book of Judges will reveal how much even these leaders have strayed from God’s plans and teachings in the Torah.  

Additionally, this book helps us understand how Israel’s history moved towards the time of Kings that follows.  We can see how the book of Judges transitions the people of Israel from a wandering people to a loose confederation of tribes.  It is easy, then to understand why the people thought that a human king to unite their people would help them fight against the surrounding nations and their kings.

Compelling Questions

  1. What kind of person is a Judge in the Book of Judges?

  2. Is the book of Judges (or any book in the Bible) a set of positive, moral examples for us to follow?

  3. The cycles of apostasy all center around the people’s faithfulness to God.  How can we apply this idea to our own lives?


  • In our politics, we often find ourselves drawn to the idea of ‘safety.’  Politicians and news networks motivate their supporters largely based on fear.  Fear motivates humans powerfully but often leads to terrible outcomes because fear-based decisions can be irrational and hasty.  How do good leaders motivate people?

  • How can we learn from the Israelites during the time of Judges? They conclude that they need a human king, but that goes poorly for them later on.  What do they actually need?

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