Why were the Israelites unable to conquer some cities? (Joshua 17 & preceding)


The NABRE reports,

[quote=“Joshua 17:12-13”]Since the Manassites were not able to dispossess these cities, the Canaanites continued to inhabit this region. When the Israelites grew stronger they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not dispossess them.

So far, one neighboring tribe tricked Israel into making an agreement to spare them, but otherwise I recall no explanation for other cities Israel couldn’t conquer. I do think there is some narrative later on about them failing to execute the ban as ordered by God, but maybe this is something different – something about “Well, Lord, I thought you’d want these animals to be offered in sacrifice …” “No, I told you to kill them there.” …

So what’s the explanation here? Is this related to (or does it explain) the Palestinian conflict today, with people claiming heritage and ownership of certain land?

NABRE Joshua 18:3 suggests they were unwilling to wage war. Is this the explanation?


Some of the people who inhabited the land had “chariots of iron” and so were not able to be driven out.

Others inhabited the hills and so had high ground while Israel was able to take the low land and valleys.

This is Israel once again falling into the cycle of lack of trust in God. They didn’t trust God at Mt. Sinai when they worshiped the golden calf. Here they fail to trust God who said he would conquer the people himself and all they had to do was stand still and watch. It is a repeated cycle of lack of trust and relying on themselves, falling into sin, repentance and supplication and humility, rising to righteousness and then self-reliance again.



From what I understand those ‘chariots of iron’ were not exactly what it sounds like, as I believe even the Israelites had iron working skills back then.


Ironically, I had come here precisely to ask about this point. NABRE Judges 1:

[quote=“verse 19”]The LORD was with Judah, so they gained possession of the mountain region. But they could not dispossess those who lived on the plain, because they had iron chariots.

Tim’s explanation doesn’t seem to fit because of the first sentence: The verse sounds like, “Even though the Lord was helping them, they couldn’t …” rather than ‘they tried to do it on their own’.

The bit ‘all you have to do is watch’ sounds like hyperbole, not literally what they should be doing: Even though God did drive people out with hornets, in other cases He commanded they go to battle (through Moses and Joshua). … but I can see your argument: If God didn’t command them to go to war, then they shouldn’t. But maybe God said (in one brief verse) something otherwise about all the people remaining in the land …

NABRE Judges 2 confirms they didn’t keep faith in God and so not all the nations were driven out, however.


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