Joshua 12: 31 kings in all

In theory, I fully endorse the proclamation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that “all Scripture is God-breathed and useful.” It’s a challenging principle which is crucial to every Christian’s understanding and pursuit of God. But every time I come to passages such as Joshua 12, I find myself scratching my head. Basically, what we have here is a merely list of all the kings that Moses, Joshua, and the people of Israel had conquered heretofore. (Personal note: How cool is it that I got to use the word “heretofore!”) Just like much of the book of Numbers, many of the lists throughout the Old Testament, and several other key passages littered throughout the Bible, I find myself scratching my head. Maybe these chunks are God-breathed, but useful?

Now, please understand, I’m not in any way disputing the notion that this list of conquered kings is somehow useful. I mean, my kids could fold this list into a paper airplane and use it as a toy. It’s just that I find myself challenged to figure out how to utilize it in my adult life, filled with all sorts of real issues.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, though, it’s an unanswered challenge.

And so, over the past week or so, as I’ve poured over this passage, I’ve found myself searching for something – anything, really – that I can utilize in modern, everyday life.

And I think I’ve found it.

Joshua 12 records the names and kingdoms of all the kings that had been conquered by Israel to date. It starts with Sihon of the Amorites and Og of Bashan, whose territories were captured by Moses after they launched an assault on Israel while they still were still on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Then it continues, four decades later, with the kings of Jericho, Ai, Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmoth, Lachish, and so on and so forth. At first glance, these names don’t seem terribly significant. But when you dig a little bit, think about it from a couple of different angles, they really do begin to show us something that I believe to be critical to everyday life.

Sihon ruled the Amorites, and Og the kingdom of Bashan. The text notes that Sihon’s throne was in Heshbon, and his kingdom spanned from “Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge… to the Jabbok River.” And Og had two capitols: Ashtaroth and Edrei, and his territory several key landmarks to the north. Ultimately, these two territories included all the land east of the Jordan River from north of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea in the south. What the text neglects to discuss for those of us unfamiliar with the area is the wide variety of terrain and climate that this region spanned. Right along the river, the area is relatively flat but also well below sea level and, subsequently, hot and dry. As you move east, the landscape climbs sharply into arid highlands. In the north and these higher elevations, there is adequate rainfall, but in the south, the region fades quickly into desert.

These kingdoms, conquered by Moses when Sihon and Og attacked Israel, were by far the largest, but probably not the most formidable. Jericho, for instance, had virtually impregnable fortifications. Situated just above a critical ford of the Jordan River, the city was still 300-ish feet (100m) below sea level, where the climate is still hot and dry, but it was built atop a spring which would provide its residents with means to sustain themselves almost indefinitely.

Ai, on the other hand, was located on the ridge to the west of the Jordan, nearly 2500 ft (750m) above sea level. The rainfall here was more plentiful, but the terrain was exceedingly rugged. A quick tour of the area in Google Earth shows it to be heavily etched, with steep ravines spreading out in every direction like a spiderweb, making maneuvering a large army a rather treacherous proposition.

There were the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon, who formed an alliance to launch a preemptive strike against Israel in chapter 10. The text there talks about their massive army which attacked the Gibeonites, but it forgets to outline how the Israelites, the entire generation of which had grown up at Shittim, nearly a thousand feet below sea level, would have struggled in the thinner air of the higher elevations of the “hill country.”

And then there were the northern kingdoms, the conquest of which is recorded through Joshua 11. There, in vs 6, God instructs Joshua to “hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.” Horses and chariots? Two things which would have been impractical in the hill country or the lowlands flanking the river!

Indeed, over and over again, as we look more closely at this list of kings that were conquered by Israel, we discover tactics that the Israelites had not encountered before; climates and elevations that would have challenged them, to say the least; and daunting armies which would have been absolutely overwhelming!

And yet, in Joshua 12:1, we read, “These are the kings of the land whom the Israelites had defeated,” and in vs 24, we see, “thirty-one kings in all.”

Thirty-one kings in all. All opposing Israel and, more significantly, Israel’s God. All massing tremendous armies. All defending their homes. All defeated.

Here’s why this is cool. Each of these battles presented unique challenges and difficulties. Each of these kingdoms presented real dangers. And yet, in the end, God enabled Israel to be victorious in every single one.

Regardless of our situation, regardless of the challenges we face, regardless of the enemies staring us down, regardless of… God can and will enable us to be victorious if we will trust and obey Him and resolve, as Joshua did clear back in chapter one, to be strong and courageous.

So, what situation are you facing today? What situation will God give you victory in?

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3 Responses to “Joshua 12: 31 kings in all”


  1. 1 Mom September 17, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Hits home with me!!

  2. 2 Lentryk October 8, 2014 at 4:41 am

    love this!

  3. 3 Paul May 2, 2016 at 8:16 am

    Thank you for your thoughts,


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