In no ordinary manner did the Jewish people cross the Jordan in order to storm the first bastion of the Land of Canaan. They were to pass over the waters of the Jordan as miraculously as their fathers had passed through the waves of the Red Sea. On the tenth day of Nissan (2488), the river was full to overflowing. The priests advanced with the Holy Ark, and as the soles of their feet touched the waters of the Jordan, the waters at that point halted in their course, piling up into a wall, while the rest flowed down. Thus, the riverbed became dry, and the whole nation passed over. The people gazed with reverential awe upon Joshua, and they feared him as they had feared Moses. Twelve men, one from each tribe, then carried twelve stones from the bed of the Jordan to a spot on the shore, where they erected a monument to commemorate the historic and miraculous event. The people settled in Gilgal on the western shore of the Jordan, where they set up the Tabernacle which stayed there for fourteen years, until the land of Canaan was conquered and divided.
The Fall of Jericho
One supernatural occurrence succeeded another. A few miles to the west of Gilgal was the city of Jericho, surrounded by a thick wall on all sides. For a week the Jewish army besieged Jericho. They did not storm the city, but at the command of G‑d, they circled the city each day, headed by the priests carrying the Holy Ark and blowing rams' horns. On the seventh day, Saturday, they circled the city seven times, whereupon the walls crashed and sank, laying the whole city open to the jubilant Jews.
Joshua had commanded on oath that no one was to keep any of the booty from the city for himself. However, one, Achan, of the tribe of Judah, yielded to temptation, and appropriated some of the things for himself. This aroused G‑d's anger and caused some setbacks to the Jewish army, until the crime was discovered and the culprit paid for it with his life. Thereafter, the conquest of Canaan proceeded without mishap.
Conquest by Strategy
Further west was the fortress of Ai. This city, west of Bethel, was a very ancient one, and mentioned in Abraham's travels through the land. Following the advice of a few of the scouts, Joshua dispatched a small contingent of three thousand men to capture Ai. However, because of Achan's crime, which had not yet been discovered at that time, the Jews met with defeat and fled back to the Jewish camp after leaving thirty-six of their number dead on the field of battle. Realizing that a failure at this stage might prove fatal to the morale of the Jews, and at the same time bolster the spirits of the Canaanites, Joshua was very much grieved and prayed to G‑d. Then he proceeded to purge the Jewish camp of Achan's crime.
Joshua's second attempt to conquer Ai succeeded by a stratagem. He placed an army in ambush west of the city, while another army attacked from the east. The king of Ai immediately emerged from the city with his army to meet the attack. The attacking Jewish army feigned retreat, drawing the enemy further from the city. At a given signal, the army that lay in ambush entered the city and set it on fire. The enemy then found himself hemmed in on both sides and was completely annihilated.
Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal
In compliance with the commandment of the Torah, (Deut. 27), Joshua placed six tribes on Mt. Gerizim and six on Mt. Ebal, with the elders of Levites and priests in the valley between. The blessings and curses were read to them, to which they all answered "Amen."
The Gibeonites Sue for Peace
Soon after the conquest of Ai, Joshua received a delegation of ambassadors. Their clothes in tatters and their food moldy and dry, they professed to have traveled a long distance for the express purpose of declaring their nation at peace with Israel. The Jewish leader gave his word acknowledging their declaration for peace, and the messengers departed happily. Soon afterwards, however, Joshua learned that the messengers had actually come from neighboring Gibeonites who, fearing the same fate that had befallen Jericho and Ai, had resorted to this ruse. However, since a treaty had been concluded with them, Joshua was determined to respect it.
The Sun Stands Still On Gibeon
When the other peoples of Canaan heard of the surrender of the Gibeonites, they resolved to remove the traitors from their midst. Under the leadership of the king of Jerusalem, five armies converged on Gibeon.
Having received an urgent appeal for aid, Joshua led his army to the aid of Gibeon. Setting out from Gilgal, the Jewish army traveled for one whole night, and in the early morning attacked the unsuspecting enemy. The great confusion in the camp of the Canaanites was intensified by the miraculous falling of hailstones. It was Friday, and fearing that the battle might extend into the Sabbath, Joshua prayed that the sun would not set until the battle had been won. And for twenty-four hours the sun stayed where it was, until the Israelites had won a complete victory. The five Canaanite kings who had hidden in a cave, were caught and hanged, and a number of cities were captured, among them Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, and Devir.
But the heathens made one more attempt to struggle against the advancing foe. Jabin, King of Hazor, one of the Canaanite chiefs dwelling in the northern part of the land, had heard of the unparalleled success of the invaders; and, full of courage, he was determined to stem their progress. He sent messengers to the valleys of the south, to the eastern hills, and to the kingdoms lying on the sea-coast. He summoned all the chiefs to meet him with their armies at the northern lake of Merom, the first through which the Jordan passes in its course from the heights of the Lebanon. A vast army answered the appeal. "They were like the sand that is upon the sea-shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many." They encamped at the waters of Merom, defiant in their strength and confident of victory. But Joshua, undaunted and relying upon Divine Assistance, appeared at the head of his warriors before the enemy's gigantic army, and wiped out the last united resistance of the inhabitants of Canaan.
In all Joshua conquered thirty-one kings and their cities.