In our men's Bible study tonight at church, we read Joshua 11 and 12. Basically, a whole bunch of Canaanite kings joined forces to go against Israel. In verse 4 of chapter 11 it says that the number of soldiers coming against Israel were as many as the sand on the seashore, "with very many horses and chariots." In verse 6 God tells Joshua that, when the battle is over, he should hamstring the horses and burn the chariots. In verse 9 that's exactly what Joshua does.
The whole book of Joshua is a testament to the greatness of God as he empowers Israel to dominate their enemies and take the land that is theirs. The author of Joshua goes to great lengths to show that it is God who has the power, and not the people, and that the only reason the Israelites are successful is because God is fighting for them.
It seems reasonable to think that Israel, as a nation and as a military force, did not have access to either horses or chariots. There is significant evidence that this was the case. The question that seems to arise then, is this: why did the Israelites hamstring the horses and burn the chariots of their enemies? Why not take the horses and chariots for themselves? There was still some land that needed to be conquered, and people that needed to be kicked out of the Promised Land. Why not take the horses and chariots to aid in those endeavors? Certainly Israel would have been that much more of a dominating force if they had these resources. Or if not for battle, why not at least take the horses to use for transportation or labor purposes? It just doesn't seem to make sense. Why destroy such useful tools?
I can think of at least two reasons for why God had Joshua and the Israelites hamstring the horses and burn the chariots.
1) The use of chariots was probably the pinnacle of military technology at the time. In telling the Israelites to essentially destroy the things that could help them, God was telling them that they didn't need excessive technology or weapons to achieve what they wanted to achieve. They only needed God. If the Israelites were to take and use the horses and chariots of their enemies, they may have ended up trusting in their superior equipment or technology rather than God. Israel had this problem earlier in the book of Joshua, and it didn't work out well for them.
2) God was showing the Israelites that he was bigger and better than the best that man had to offer. The Egyptians were known and feared for their use of horses and chariots in military campaigns. In the ancient world, the army with the horses and chariots had a significant upper hand in any battle. Horses of the day were trained not to stop for anything. They were essentially trained to run over any and everything in their way. Thus a single horse-drawn chariot could be an extremely powerful weapon. The only way to stop it would be to kill the horse or the driver. But even with all the advantages that horses and chariots offered an army, those advantages were nothing compared to having God on your side and fighting for you. I think this was something the Israelites needed to see: God is infinitely better than anything man could offer. And when you have God on your side, things like horses and chariots seem to pale in comparison.
I think I need to hamstring some horses and burn some chariots in my life.