Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hamstring the Horses and Burn the Chariots

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.


Anonymous said...

Hey Joel. thanks for posting this. I was just reading the Joshua story and wondering the same thing. Your explanation makes a lot of sense for one who follows God. I've got some friends that are reading the bible through for the first time and I'm pretty sure when they get to this story, they are going to think it's horrible that the Israelites did this. (They are extreme animal lovers.)

So many stories that don't make much sense on the first read through, know what I mean?

My God is waaaay bigger than I'll ever understand.

thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

Great blog!

Michael Sirmay said...


Anonymous said...

Gods ways are not our ways. He is sovereign and just but also loving and compassionate. He has the ability to take away the pain those horses would have felt. So many times in history when Christians were marryred, they were singing songs of praise to the very end. I believe this is a good example of the compassion of God and He cares about the animals too.

Robert Higgin said...

How much more cruelty and insanity needs to be perpetrated on the earth under the guise of "God's ways are higher than our ways" ? Christians are supposed to be followers of Christ not a bunch of bloodthirsty Israelites. The beatitudes recommend the development character attributes that absolutely preclude cruelty to animals and humans alike.

Michael Sirmay said...

Well Robert at least you had the guts to use your own name unlike these people who choose to defend cruelty anonymously

Suzi Goldsmith said...

It's true, God's ways are better than our ways! When I read that God asked Joshua to hamstring the defeated enemies' horses tonight, I nearly cried. I couldn't reconcile it with the character of the God I know.

But then I read your comment above about how martyrs went down singing and how God can ensure we don't suffer the pain we should. It reminded me - God hamstrung me once...

In second year of uni, I (stupidly) vowed to God that I would do my work 9 to 6 every day to honour him, trying to motivate myself to do my work and not procrastinate. It was well intentioned but stupid as I was trying to do things in my own strength. Within a few days of my 'vow' I sacked off my studies and went to play netball instead. During that game a girl trod on my heel and ripped my Achilles' tendon! I didn't realise that at the time though - even though it's supposed to be excruciating, I wasn't really in much pain at all - I just thought I'd sprained it! The doctors examined my foot though and I had to have an operation, and spend the next few months on crutches. This should have been awful but again God covered for me - I had an amazing aunt who lived in my university town, and she took me in. She did my cooking and washing and drove me into uni every day. It meant I had all the time in the world to get on with my studies, and I did so much better at uni because of that. God used it for good, and I really didn't suffer. Instead I learned a lesson in humility, that God doesn't want us to make vows and try and do difficult things in our own strength, but he wants us to do everything in his strength through prayer and obedience. It was an important lesson and I'm so glad I learned it. I'm just so grateful that God had compassion and removed the suffering from me during that time.

Hope this helps and bless you guys, Suzi

Joel said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. It's interesting to me that this post, by an enormous margin, is the most popular post on this blog. It's generated some interesting pushback, which I appreciate. Thanks for reading and engaging.