Joshua 11:18-20 NASB

“Joshua waged war a long time with all these kings. There was not a city which made peace with the sons of Israel except the Hivites living in Gibeon; they took them all in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them, that they might receive no mercy, but that he might destroy them, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” ‭‭

The text says that the Lord hardened their hearts. Does this imply that these kings did not have free will?

  • 1
    This seems to be basically a duplicate of this question, which was closed as being off-topic. You might be better served by asking this as question on the Christianity or Judaism exchanges, as it seems to be more theological than hermeneutic.
    – retrace
    Sep 5, 2022 at 17:37
  • This belongs on SE-Christianity, in my own view.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 5, 2022 at 19:32
  • 3
    I think this question is NOT a duplicate but is asking a distinct question.
    – Dottard
    Sep 5, 2022 at 21:20
  • It may not be a duplicate, but it's very much offtopic as it will solicit only opinions and is not focused on understanding what the cited text says.
    – Robert
    Sep 6, 2022 at 5:08

3 Answers 3


Let there be no doubt that the destruction recorded in the book of Joshua appears, at first glance, to be harsh and significant:

  • Josh 5:13ff – Jericho destroyed
  • Josh 8 – Ai destroyted
  • Josh 10 – Jerusalem, King Adoni Zedek + five kings destroyted
  • Josh 10:28-38 – Makkadah, Libnah, Lackish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir
  • Josh 10:40 – no survivors!
  • Josh 11 – northern kings destroyed
  • Josh 12 – 31 more kings destroyed
  • 1 Sam 15 – Amalekites destroyed

By contrast with the above divinely ordained violence and death, we have clear directions that God hates violence and judged some perpetrators harshly, Gen 6:11, Hab 1:2, 2:17, Jer 6:7, 20:8, Isa 60:18, Ps 11:5, 55:9, 58:2, Eze 7:23, 8:17, 28:16, 45:9, Prov 4:17, Micah 6:12, etc. In Ps 11:5 we have this:

  • (NIV) - The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.
  • (CEV) - The LORD tests honest people, but despises those who are cruel and love violence.


However, the Torah contained laws of warfare and engagement as enumerated in Deut 20. In particular, the rules of engagement included this in V10-13 –

When you approach a city to fight against it, you are to make an offer of peace. If they accept your offer of peace and open their gates, all the people there will become forced laborers to serve you. But if they refuse to make peace with you and wage war against you, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God has delivered it into your hand, you must put every male to the sword.

Assuming that Joshua implemented Moses' (Joshua's mentor) offer of peace each time a city was approached, then it appears that each city was given a simple choice - submit and abandon your gods or face annihilation.


Two alternative interpretations are there in theology: the first both wrong and bad and the second both right and good.

The first belongs to Jan Kalvin who pushes to the extreme St Augustine's exaggerated stress on Lord's grace in his disputation against Pelagius, who downgraded the grace and stressed dangerously more on human free efforts. Thus, Kalvin clearly claims that God is as vile and capricious as to specially and on purpose harden somebody's heart, that is to say, to deprive a poor guy of an ability to listen to the command of God-given reason and common sense that must distinguish good from evil and better from worse. In this interpretation, God is quite schizophrenic, for He forces a poor guy's will and reason that He Himself gave to the poor guy to be abused not by the poor guy himself, but by Him, God Himself. It is like Him giving eyes to a man for looking at good things and then Himself forcing him to use those eyes for looking at pornography, but begone with this vile "theology" that even does not deserve this noble name and turn to the correct, second interpretation.

The second interpretation is that of Origen (who albeit being heretical in some other cases, here is good and sound) and the Church Fathers. For instance, St John Chrysostom writes that biblical authors in such instances do not speak literally about God, but imply simply that since the poor guys do not wish to listen to God, who wishes them to listen to Him and ontologically cannot not wish this, for He cannot go against His own will, permits them to be carried away by their vile desires, but this is not His but solely their, poor guys' responsibility. "God hardened their hearts", thus, means that God did not interfere in their abuse of their free choice and permitted them to act as they acted.

Just as the Lord did not wish poor guy Judas to betray Him, but permitted him to be carried away by this sinful intent, saying even to him "go, do your thing quickly". In fact, this command was not that He approved of Judas' treason, but seeing that he made himself carried away by the sinful intent so intensively as not being able to stop any more, commanded him not to despair after seeing how miserable he would feel himself after the treason committed and come back to Him for repentance as quickly as possible. In fact that is the reason for Lord saying him to do his treason-thing "quickly".


Joshua 11:18-20 leaves no room for free will if we take literally the statement that “it was of the Lord to harden their hearts." This problem comes up again and again in the anti-Canaanite narratives of Joshua, Deuteronomy and Kings where God instructs the Israelites to drive out the Canaanites and seems to endorse numerous actions that would be judged crimes against humanity today. But for some commentators, there is a justification.

The Sin of the Amorites

One way to deal with this problem takes us back as far is that time of Abraham, when God explains the reason for the Israelites having to go into Egyptian slavery.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions... And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Gen. 15:13-15)

The theory here is that the Israelites could not lay claim to the land without justification in God's eyes. The justification lay in the sin of the Amorites - a widespread and exceedingly wicked people - which was not yet "complete" in the time of Abraham. However, by the time of Joshua, the Israelites were justified waging holy war to take the land of Canaan because the Amorites, who were themselves descendants of Noah's son Canaan (Gen. 10:16), represented that land.

Some scholars hold that the Philistines and Amorites are synonymous, and the "Amorites" of Gen 15 include all non-Israelite inhabitants of Palestine. They occupied several major cities including Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, Eglon and various other places such as "hill-country of the Amorites" (Deut. 1:7-9) and the area north of Kadeshbarnea. There were also Amorites in Hazezon-tamar and Mamre (Gen. 14:7-13). Wellhausen ("Die Composition des Hexateuchs," ii. 341) believed that Amorites and Canaanites are synonymous expressions. "Amorites" refers to the Canaanites exterminated by Israel, while Canaanites refers to those living among the Israelites at the time of the kings.

The Jewish Encylopedia article goes on to say that Egyptian inscriptions call the land east of Phoenicia and north of Palestine "the land of the A-ma-ra." In the El-Amarna tablets the prince of the same region is called "Prince of Amurru." If all this is correct, the territory of the Amorites leaves very little room for the 'Canaanites' in the territory occupied by Israel. Moreover the terms sometimes seem to be used interchangeably.

If so, it was not that God hardened the hearts of the inhabitants; it was that their now-complete sin had made their hearts hard, and now the die had been cast against them. The author of Joshua expresses this awkwardly but the full measure of the "sin of the Amorites" is the underlying reality.

The above is not my personal view but I believe it deals with the OP question. My own opinion is that the narrative represents the view of the Deuteronomic histories in which the Israelites are supposed to the drive out the land's inhabitants because the latter are not God's people. This attitude raises many thorny ethical and philosophical questions for modern readers. Personally I have decided to accept them as beyond me, at least for now.

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