Questions From Readers
● Why was Joshua commanded to hamstring horses? Does this have any meaning for Christians today?—R. B., United States.
The command referred to appears at Joshua 11:6 and reads: “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow about this time I am abandoning all of them slain to Israel. Their horses you will hamstring, and their chariots you will burn in the fire.” And Joshua 11:9 tells of Joshua as doing “just as Jehovah had said to him: their horses he hamstrung, and their chariots he burned in the fire.”
The hamstrings of a horse are the back tendons above the hock of the hind legs of the horse; the hock of the hind legs corresponding to the knee of the horse’s front legs. By cutting these tendons the horses were crippled and no longer able to serve war purposes, either for cavalry or to pull war chariots. This was the simplest way to put a horse out of the battle. Of course, after these horses were hamstrung, disabled, they would be put to death, destroyed, even as were the war chariots.
Concerning horses McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopædia states: “The most striking feature in the Biblical notices of the horse is the exclusive use of it for military operations. In no instance is it referred to as employed for the purpose of ordinary locomotion or agriculture.” They were, however, used for affairs of state. (Esther 6:8; 8:14) They were especially associated with Egypt, as we note at Isaiah 31:1, 3: “Woe to those going down to Egypt for assistance, those who rely on mere horses, and who put their trust in war chariots, because they are numerous, and in steeds, because they are very mighty, but who have not looked to the Holy One of Israel and have not searched for Jehovah himself. The Egyptians, though, are earthling men, and not God; and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.” Similar unfavorable references appear at Psalm 20:7 and Ps 33:17.
Concerning the king of Israel in particular, warning was given: “He should not increase horses for himself.” (Deut. 17:16) No doubt, among the reasons why Jehovah, by the requirements set out in Leviticus 11, showed that the horse was to be viewed as an unclean animal was so that the Jews would not be tempted to acquire horses for food and then use them for war purposes and place their trust in them. Joshua’s action was according to divine instructions that, in turn, were in line with this divine principle. He was the judge of Israel under the invisible King Jehovah God. In obeying the divine command to hamstring the forces of the enemy, he did not appropriate them to himself and thus increase horses for himself as the judge of Israel.
All this, however, serves for more than historical interest, for it is included in “all the things that were written aforetime [which] were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) Joshua’s diligently complying with these instructions, doing “just as Jehovah had said to him,” pictures that Jehovah’s people of today do not rely upon the world’s means of carnal warfare. They renounce the carnal warfare of this world and beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. This corresponds to the hamstringing of the war horses of the ancient Canaanites.—Isa. 2:4.