Why in the world would God tell Israel to hamstring captured horses? Does he have something against horses?
After many battles in their conquest of the promised land, one day Joshua and Israel faced the mightiest army yet to be assembled against them. Joshua 11:4 says this army “came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots.” Their enemies had thousands of horses, and their chariots were most likely covered in iron and had hooks or scythes extending from the wheel hubs which ripped through enemy troops as they drove their chariots through them. They were terrifying. Yet God told Israel not to be afraid:
And the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel.” Then God gave them one of the strangest commands ever:
You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” (6)
And after God gave Israel the victory, they obeyed God’s command:
“And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.” (9)
Hamstringing crippled humans or animals. The horses would be completely useless. Can you imagine Israel after their victory? They might have said, “Look at these incredible warhorses and all these chariots. Now we’ll really will be able to crush our enemies.” Why did God tell them to cripple the horses and burn the chariots? So they would continue to rely on him:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God Psalm 20:7
God wanted to make sure Israel would continue to trust him and not rely on human means. All through their history when threatened by powerful nations, like Assyria, Israel was tempted to run back to Egypt with its horses and chariots for help. God warned them repeatedly like in Isaiah 31:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord. (1)
It’s so easy to be tempted to rely on our own strength to get through life. To rely on our own wits and intellect rather than trust God. To do things without seeking him. “I can do this,” we say to ourselves, “I can get through this.” We don’t pray or seek God, but plow ahead, confident we can handle things.
Often we put our trust in good things like Christian parenting books, or Christian forms of education. We think, “If I just do everything this book says, my kids will automatically be saved and grow up to be godly men and women.” “If I homeschool my kids or send them to Christian school or make sure they go to youth group they’ll follow Jesus.” As good as all those things can be, we must not put our trust in them, but in the Lord alone for our kids.
God loves us so much he’ll put us in impossible situations so we have no other hope but to trust him. Like when he told Gideon to whittle his army down from 32,000 to 300. Why did he do this? Because:
“The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Judges 7:2
God puts us in impossible situations so we’ll rely completely on him. So we’ll pray. So when God comes through we won’t say, “My own hand has saved me.” Are you facing an impossible situation? Whatever it is, keep trusting God. Keep crying out to him and looking to him. Nothing is too hard for God. His arm is not too short to save. Hey, if God himself would become a man and would die on the cross to save us, he will certainly help us no matter what we face.