The previous perek to the circumcision perek ends with describing the Canaanite nations being totally melted into a state of fear and hopelessness and therefore immobile to attacking Bnai Yisroel.
I believe the next three questions can be answered by one idea. Bnai Yisroel were leaving their state of total dependence on Hashem and both the Nation and Yehoshua were learning a whole new set of survival rules.
The Angel was there to put Yehoshua back on track.Not having Hashem constantly monitoring his activities he had forgot ton to bring certain sacrifices and had forgo ton to study Torah. New leadership roles did not exempt him from Torah study. he had to be put back on the right path as a leader.
The nation had to learn communal responsibility. Not everything would continue to be provided for them by Hashem, as was the case previously. They would now be responsible for each other actions and they were being taught to be their brother's keeper. They had to be put back on the right track and the Achan story was to be a lesson not to be forgot ton.
The ambush was another lesson. Every victory would not be like Jericho, a victory that was totally Hashem's doing . They would need to learn that they had to do something too. They had to dev lope skills of warfare. They would have to be able to outsmart the enemy. Victory would be a partnership between Hashem and their own skills. This ingenious military victory would further destroy the morale of the Canaanite enemy.
Achan confesses, yet is killed anyway; he is not shown any leniency for having confessed. Here, honesty results in death.
The Givonites trick the Jewish ppl into a treaty which we honor. However, none of the other city-states have the opportunity. Here, dis-honesty results in asylum. One commentator I saw, based on 11:19-20, claims that the oother nations could have signed treaties, if they wanted to. However, this commentator seems to be contradict D'varim 20:11-18.
Also, the whole chapter on the Givonites is interesting based on this passage in Dvarim. It seems almost as if the Givonites had read this passage and knew that the trick to signing a treaty was to be from far away.
Finally, on the subject of treaties, in sefer Shoftim many Shvatim signed treaties with surrounding nations, and we're criticized strongly by G-d for this. A question that needs to be reviewed--why is it that razing the enemy to the ground is considered the moral action, while signing a treaty is not? I think the passage in Dvarim i qtd above offers a hint as do other passages in Dvarim (and Tanakh), but the question needs analysis.
I think a possible answer to Shimon's moral dilemma question as well as a question that Bea Mauskopf discussed with me at Tashlich can be found in the first Rashi in the book of Bereishis. Bea's question was how can we justify all the violence, destruction and murder of people, animals and property in Yehoshua's conquest of the land. It just doesn't seem like a Jewish value.
Rashi's point in the first passuk in Bereishis is that God is speaking directly to the Jewish people "The whole earth belongs to the Holy One, He created it and He gave it to the one found proper in His eyes. By His wish He gave it to them,and by His wish He took it from them and gave it to us" We should realize that Hashem took the land from the Canaanite nations who were not worthy and gave it to us. Hashem made the decision.
The pesukim in Devarim 20:10-18 kind of back this up. It is Hashem's commandment that we utterly destroy these Canaanite nations because of their abominable life style. This is their punishment and we have no choice in the matter but to fulfill Gods commandment. Another theme in Devarim and in Nach is that the land of Israel itself can't stomach such amoral deviant behavior. Unfortunately had we only listened to Hashem and not made treaties that the Shevatim made with the Canaanite nations in the book of Shoftim we would have been better off. Letting these Canaanites live among us did eventually corrupt us and led to the many problems we had in the time of the Judges and early prophets. This was a failure in Joshua's leadership that ultimately corrupted the Jewish nation.
But we were not as brutal as it looks. According to Rashi in Devarim 20:18 If the Canaanite nations repented and converted we could accept them and not kill them. This point is also made in Artscroll quoting the Rambam (Hil. Melachim )in Yehoshua 9:1 "It is forbidden to declare war against any nation without first offering to make peace, and this applied even to the seven Canaanite nations .Accordingly, before Israel crossed the Jordan, Joshua sent three messages to the Canaanite kingdoms 1)They were free to evacuate the land and they would not be harmed. 2)If they wish to remain, they must keep the 7 Noachide Laws ,pay taxes and perform national service 3)total war utter destruction." The Girgashite nation actually accepted the first choice and fled to Africa. The Gibeonite pulled their ruse and the rest were supposed to be destroyed. The Gibeonites are not held in high esteem in Nach for what they did. They become problematic during the period of the Jewish Kings. The story is there because we acted without consulting Hashem and therefore would pay a price for our blunder.
The emphasis in Yehoshua is on the commanded destruction of the Canaanite people and the Achan story because this was the lesson that Bnai Yisroel were supposed to learn. Listen to Hashem completely obey his commandments completely be totally responsible for each other. No short cuts ,leniency or making one's own rules would work.
I think Shimon raises some great questions, and I just want to add on to Herb’s response.
The Rambam’s comments in Hil Melachim are very telling. Note that there wasn’t a fourth choice, ie live peacefully in your own ways, mind your own business, and we will leave you alone. The three options that were given have a common theme, they all accomplish one end goal – the obliteration of a lifestyle that was not just a disconnect from the Torah way of life, but the antithesis of Torah ideals. Meaning to say, each of the three options would result in a land that rejects the former inhabitants’ way of life and embraces a life dictated by G-d.
I don’t think it was just a pragmatic thing, ie because of the threat the nations posed to the Jews (spiritual or existential) . If it were, then that fourth choice (live quietly in your own secluded areas, mind your business, and you could do whatever you want) would’ve been included in the Rambam’s list. The limit to three choices demonstrates (perhaps) that the goal was to establish a Malchut Yisrael b’Eretz Yisrael, and part and parcel of that entailed uprooting any vestige of a lifestyle that ran contrary to the Torah way of life. The mere existence of such a philosophy in the land of Israel is itself a lacking in the malchut that we were set to establish.
I could be way off mark, but these are my thoughts...
Herb's and Ovadya's answers seem to raise more--and broader--questions:
How are we--with our modernized, Westernized sensibilities--supposed to react to these arguments? (Do you think that the Canaanites would have found these answers satisfactory?) Can an "orderly" world entertain the concept of military initiatives based on divine commands of different religions? (What happens if Osama bin Laden honestly and sincerely believes that his divine mission is to rid the world of the infidels? Is he morally entitled to act on those beliefs?) Are conditions perhaps different now, from either a divine/revelatory point of view or from a "state of the world" point of view--so that such initiatives were once legitimate but are no longer legitimate? Or are they legitimate only if we get them but not if the other guy gets them?
How do we, as believing Jews, deal with these issues?