Battle of Beth-Horon

BETH-HORON, BATTLE OF. Fought between Joshua and five kings of Canaan around Gibeon, Beth-horon, and the valley of Aijalon.

Joshua 10 describes in some detail the battle of Beth-horon which often is characterized as “the day the sun stood still.” The battle is a strategic one for the program of conquest under Joshua. Jericho had fallen, Ai was subdued, and now the SW part of Canaan was next on the route of possession. The Gibeonites, realizing that their territory was in imminent danger from the hitherto highly successful invaders, sought and succeeded in making a treaty with Joshua. The guise under which they approached the general is described in Joshua 9:1-15. The latter part of that same ch. relates how Joshua discovered their duplicity and subjugated them to servitude, but did not destroy them because of the treaty.

From the point of view of the other Canaanite cities in the area—Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon—Gibeon was a traitor to the cause, so the kings planned to attack Gibeon, which is today called el-Jib. The Gibeonites immediately appealed to the treaty (Josh 10:6). They asked Joshua to protect them. “So Joshua came upon them (i.e., Gibeon’s attackers) suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon, and smote them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down great stones from heaven upon them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the men of Israel killed with the sword” (Josh 10:9-11).

As one traces this strategy of Joshua’s on a map he sees that the followers of Adoni-zedek, the king of Jerusalem, fled in a direction away from home—NW down from the hills into the valley of Aijalon. Joshua had apparently cut off their line of communication by intercepting the road between Jerusalem and Gibeon. Having gone down the Beth-horon pass, they angled southward again to the two towns named in the text. The enemy having fled, Joshua gave his famous command:

“Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon,

and thou Moon in the valley of Aijalon”

(10:12)

There are several interpretations of this celestial phenomenon. The most common is that the daylight was lengthened so that Joshua might catch his enemies. Another is that the clouds obscured the scorching sun so that in the relative coolness they might pursue the enemy. The text clearly implies that the day was extraordinarily long (v. 13f.). In any event, the miraculous hailstones did most of the damage to the enemy while the lengthening of the day is not said to have had any particular effect on the battle. Later the five kings with their armies were destroyed by the Israelites and Southern Canaan was thus opened for possession and settlement by the tribes of Israel.

Bibliography

E. W. Maunder, “Beth-horon, the Battle of,” in ISBE, I (1929), 446-449; I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (1950); R. B. Y. Scott, “Meterological Phenomena and Terminology in the OT,” ZAW, 64 (1952), 19, 20; J. S. Holladay, “The Day(s) the Moon Stood Still,” JBL 87 (1968), 166-178.