Joshua 12&13: Conquered Lands

Joshua 12 lists the conquests of Moses and Joshua, while the beginning of Joshua 13 details the promised lands that still awaited them.


Chapter 12 outlines first the conquests and territories won by Moses, followed by the conquests and territories won by Joshua. This may not seem to be of great importance to us today, but there is a lot to be gleaned from it. For one, it explains a lot of the turmoil surrounding modern Israel. It also shows us the exact borders promised to Israel (which is much greater than that of modern Israel). Another interesting point is that many of the cities listed can easily be identified on a modern map!

Land Conquered by Moses

The Wadi Mujib
Photocredit: Shomali
Moses conquers land East of the Jordan river. This land is given to the Israelites, despite not being part of the promise, after the kings of the land attack Israel. Israel was ordered not to attack the people of these lands, however the people of the land chose to attack Israel, which left them no choice but to fight back. The territories won by Moses are now part of southeastern Syria and northeastern Jordan.

At the time, the land was inhabited by the Amorites, led by king Sihon and Og king of Bashan, and the Ammonites. Moses defeats both kings swiftly and the land is given to the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and 1/2 of Manasseh. Landmarks given to identify this land include the Arnon River, the Jabbok River, Gilead, and the Dead Sea (called the Salt Sea Biblically). The Arnon River is known as the Wadi Mujib today and located in Jordan just south of Dhiban.[1][2]

Land Conquered by Joshua

Joshua conquers a great deal of Canaan west of the Jordan River. Remember how God promised that He would deliver the kings of Canaan into Israel's hand? Well, Joshua defeats and kills 31 kings from the land of Canaan; they are listed in Joshua 12:9-24. The listing structure used in these verses has been likened to Egyptian reports of that era by some scholars.[3] The similarity could be explained as a continuation of Egypt's defeat at the hands of Israel. The Israelites were taking Egypt's place as the dominant nation in the land—where people would have murmured about the greatness of Egypt before, Israel was on the forefront of their minds, now. Perhaps, this is why the author of Joshua chose to list their victories in such a manner; it is also possible that this was just a holdover of Egyptian culture that followed them to Israel.

Not Yet Conquered

At this point in history, Joshua 13:1 tells us that Joshua had become too old to continue in battle. As such, God lists the land that should be conquered by Israel in the future, after someone else is leading the people. The lands listed by God are all on the outskirts of Israel and include the hotly debated territories of today: Philistine (Palestine) and Gaza. In this list of land to be conquered later, God also lists Lebanon. Note that in Joshua 1:3-5, He gives the Euphrates River as the northern (well north-eastern) border of Israel. For Israel to extend to the Euphrates River, it would have to include Lebanon and parts of Syria. To this day, Israel has not yet had possession of this land.[5] Some claim that this territory included all of Syria and Jordan along with parts of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.[6] This is because they use the Euphrates River as the complete eastern border. However, God explicitly says that the land of Moab, Edom, and Ammon were not to be taken for Israel (Deuteronomy 2). The only reason the Israelites had any land east of the Jordan was because the kings of those lands attacked Israel. Therefore the notion that the entire Euphrates delineates an eastern border is incorrect. This large chunk of the Middle East is called "Greater Israel" by some and is the reason many Arab nations fear Israel.[7]

Many forget that while the land was given to Israel, God foretells that they will be ejected from the land if they do not obey His commandments. As long as the Israelites strayed from God, they could not possess the full potential of the land, as evidenced in their defeat at Ai. The Israelites had difficulty keeping the law pretty much for the entirety of their existence which is likely why the land has never been claimed by them. Without recognizing Jesus (or rebuilding the Temple), it's impossible to carry out the law, and thus impossible for the Jews of today to claim that much of the land. Some think that during Jesus' 1000-year reign the land will be claimed.[5] Jesus made it clear that He did not rule an Earthly kingdom (John 18:36), so perhaps it was simply a gift the Israelites rejected.


  1. "Wadi Mujib Map". Google Maps. 2016
  2. Jastrow, M. Jr., McCurdy, J.F., Jastrow, M., Ginzberg, L. "Arnon". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906
  3. "Arnon". Bible History. 2016
  4. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 386-387. 2014
  5. "Has Israel’s territory ever encompassed the promise in Joshua 1:4?". 2016
  6. Sizer, Stephen. "The Promised Land - From the Nile to the Euphrates? ". Christian Zionism. 2016
  7. Pipes, Daniel. "Imperial Israel: The Nile-to-Euphrates Calumny". Middle East Quarterly. March 1994

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