Message: The Incomparable God | Scripture: Joshua 10:1-15 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Come prepared to share and answer at least two of the following questions:
- Take some time to reflect on the sermon. What did you like about it? What did you not like about it? If you had some questions about it to ask one another (or Pastor Stephen) what would those questions be and try to answer them together.
- Be gracious, supportive, and receptive to one another and to your group facilitators in this because they/you may not have all the answers (and it is unfair for us to expect them to).
- If you get really stuck, give Pastor Stephen a call!
- One way God’s used this past sermon (or one of the previous few sermons) to grow you and challenge you.
- Perhaps in your understanding of God’s sovereignty in your life and the uncertainty you face in a specific situation.
- Perhaps in your understanding of what sin is and how it is hindering you from having fellowship with God/how it prevents you from seeing the wisdom of God lived out in your life.
- Perhaps in your understanding of what it means to relinquish control of the results that you want to see in your life or in the relationships that you think are too important to leave to God’s direction.
- Perhaps in your understanding of what it looks like to have a life of regular and concerted pleading/praying both individually and corporately. Is your inclination to pray and ask for help in every situation/in the bad AND in the good? Do you love praying with others (in your church)?
- Perhaps in the source of your joy when you get your way or in the source of your sorrow when you don’t get your way. Do you find your sufficiency in your effort? Do you think you deserve more? Do you think you could have done better?
- One way that we can pray for you as a group (if it is a sin, evaluate if this should be shared more wisely in your single-gendered accountability groups). Try and elevate your requests above basic needs for health or economy UNLESS you feel these things must be shared (such as being rendered immovable in bed because of a certain illness).
- One update of something that God is doing to apply his gospel in your life/how the beauty and preciousness of Jesus is being freshly applied to your current situation.
In late 2017, a fairly popular and somewhat infamous basketball player named Kyrie Irving said during a press conference that he believed that the earth is flat. Now, this came during a fairly controversial moment in a heated discussion with a reporter. So, a few days later, in an interview with another news outlet, a different reporter asked him about his views regarding a flat earth, acknowledging the circumstances around his first statement. And in the reporter’s question, Mr. Irving doubled down and said, “This is not a conspiracy. The earth is flat. All these things that particular groups, and I won’t pinpoint one group, they offer up this education.” They don’t want you to know [the truth]; “they lie to us.”
Now, I’m not sure who “they” are. Everything about Mr. Irving’s statements are utterly confusing. But what I am sure of is the fact that this is what happens when people wrongly think that because they’re experts at one thing, they’re experts in everything. This is what happens when you give a basketball player a mic and ask him to opine on matters that he has no training or background to give his opinion on.
Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Irving is a fantastic basketball player. But let’s be straight, his scientific claims are not quite so fantastic. In the same way, this morning, my objective in this text—for those of you who’ve read it beforehand—is not to give a science lesson and explain every little detail of the events that take place here in Joshua 10. Instead, what I desire to communicate with you is that I believe that God has made the world naturally and ordinarily wherein its processes are largely observable and expectable. Yet, I also believe that our God, at times, will do what is inexplicable because his nature incomparable.
When we make it our job to play God and explain everything we don’t understand, we don’t only lose the point, we deprive ourselves of the joy in the mystery that separates us as creatures from him who is our Creator. We deprive ourselves from the fact that he, alone, can do and does what we cannot do to bring us to himself and to show us his glorious wisdom in his way and in his time. So, let’s see who he is from his perspective now as we read his Word together in Joshua 10:1-15. TWOL:
1 As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction,doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2 he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. 3 So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it. And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” 7 So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 8 And the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” 9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. 10 And the LORD threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the LORD threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword. 12 At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” 13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel. 15 So Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.
Our proposition develops this theme of allowing God to do things in our lives that only he is able to do—and when I say allow, I hope you do not hear that it’s up to us whether or not God acts in our lives. God is already acting in and upon our lives whether we want him to or not. Rather, what I am hoping for is a change—that we might allow God to act in our lives because we desire him to act in our lives, and not only because he is able to. We must recognize that he acts for our good, and we need to get out of our own way long enough to see why and how that is the case. We have to let God act so that when we’re caught looking at the trees, he might come in and show us the forest. So, this is our proposition this morning: in the battle for your life, let God assure the victory—let him win the battle for you—let him do this by considering three specific things—three ways in which God brings about our good when things may not seem so good. And the first way he does this is in our consideration of the world’s self-defeating irony:
1) In the World’s Self-Defeating Irony
We pick up from where we left off in Joshua 9, and the events that took place in Gilgal between the Gibeonites, Joshua, his leaders, and the people of Israel. There we saw Israel act foolishly, acquiesce to the cunning and deception of the Gibeonites, neglect their responsibility to seek out the wisdom of God, and rush into a covenant relationship with people they should never had made one with. What is not made explicit in Joshua 9 is whether or not God is supportive of this covenant relationship. We might think implicitly that because Joshua and Israel have not suffered any divine punishment that he does support the inclusion of Gibeon. The problem with this is that it’s wholly from the perspective of Israel.
What about from the perspective of Gibeon? How do we know that God is not simply holding out to make Gibeon suffer in a greater way for their cunning and deception? How do we know that the punishment laid upon them by Joshua at the end of chapter 9 is sufficient? And if God is supportive of this covenant union, then to what extent does he support it? To what length will he go to protect these Gibeonites?
These are all questions that the author of Joshua answers for us in our passage. In fact, Gibeon continues to be the reason why the plot of our story thickens. Just when we thought that the tension was finally resolved, and Israel had hit its lowest point, we learn that there are greater repercussions to this relationship than we thought.
We pick up in Joshua 10:1-5 where Joshua 9:1-2 left off. Remember those previous verses when we’re told that the kings of Canaan were forming a coalition to attack Israel together? Well, Gibeon and their actions in Gilgal with Israel provide further reason for them to assemble and attempt to dissolve this Israeli-Canaanite partnership at any cost because the one who controls Gibeon controls what is called the fertile plain—this pathway between the mountains that allows those in the eastern parts of Canaan to access the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, this most convenient pathway for Amorite cities like Jerusalem will soon be occupied, fortified, and defended by people who have a growing reputation for making their kind disappear.
To add insult to injury, these Gibeonites are not known to be weaklings. The text tells us Gibeon was a great city, and all of its men were warriors. Said another way—these Gibeonites had presence. They were established as people who belonged to that area—perhaps the people of Jerusalem, Amorites, had fought against the people of Gibeon, Hivites, before for their land without much success.
Then comes these nomads from nowhere, possessing nothing, with no commonality of heritage, and all of a sudden, these Gibeonites want to make peace with them and become their servants? No fight. No fuss. It’s likely that, at the very least, the king of Jerusalem was expecting Israel and Gibeon to fight, and in their fighting, at least one of them would destroy the other and make it easier for Jerusalem to come in and take their chances against whoever was left standing. But the complete opposite is what takes place. So, it becomes pretty obvious why this king of Jerusalem wants to band together with these four other Amorite kings. Not only has Gibeon given away control to very desirable land, but this king knows that if he’s to possess it, he’ll need help to beat both Gibeon and Israel.
Underlying all of this is a deep sense of irony because the king of Jerusalem’s name is Adoni-zedek, which directly translated means lord of righteousness. Now, we know that a righteous man not only seeks to be obedient to some sort of law, but is one who is known for doing that which is morally upright—one who acts this way and calls others to act this way despite his own self-interest.
But what do we see is at the core of this man’s actions? It is not righteousness. He doesn’t see that Joshua’s and Israel have made peace with Gibeon and applaud the fact that the blood of his neighbour has been spared. He’s angered by this—he’s probably angry that Gibeon isn’t dead. He becomes motivated by fear and selfishness. His character betrays his name. And how does he act in his fear? He acts in absolute cowardice because he doesn’t go attack Israel. He attacks Gibeon (v. 5).
The cowardice of this man is highlighted by the fact that in the ancient near east, the honourable means to inherit a master’s servants was to either have the master surrender or to defeat him in battle. But this man is too afraid to do what is honourable. Instead, he’d rather go to the city that is like one of his own—a royal city known for its warriors. This king of Jerusalem, lord of righteousness, would rather attack people who are established in the land, people who he can identify with, and who have not caused him direct harm instead of try and remove those who are the actual threat.
Brothers and sisters, do you see why righteousness in the eyes of the world is not only deeply ironic but also utterly self-defeating? This Canaanite king would rather attack his own identifiable group and divide the nation due to his pride, fear, and self-interest than risk his well-being for the protection of the land’s inhabitants. What kind of king and righteousness is this? He is a king whose character betrays not only his name but also his people.
But our God, our king, our righteousness, is not ironic, and he cannot be defeated. For he does not only protect his own identifiable group—he protects those who have no right to identify with him—those who are on the outside looking in—those who are ironically self-defeating. He gives himself up to keep the peace. He lays down his own life to restore us to righteousness, and he does this willingly—not because he’s afraid of his enemy, but because he loves his enemy and would give up his life for them in order to secure their life. What kind of king and righteousness is this? He is a king whose character is worthy of his name. He is God almighty, and he alone assures the victory over the wages of our own evil and sin.
2) In His Exhaustive, Meticulous Control
What I desire us to notice right at the start of verses 6-7 is the posture of Joshua and his soldiers. These people have just suffered a demoralizing defeat because of their own foolishness. In normal, Godless—and sometimes Godly—people, losing would be the prime opportunity to feel sorrowful for themselves, or perhaps, like Israel, to feel justified in shortchanging the winner. See, Joshua is required under their oath to protect Gibeon—they had no option but to go in their defence, but how fast they moved, how intentional they were to satisfy their obligations—all of that was open to Joshua and Israel’s interpretation. They could have fulfilled their obligations and been rid of Gibeon simultaneously.
And yet, what does the author of Joshua tell us the people of Israel did when Gibeon triggered the terms of the treaty? They do not hesitate, and verse 9 tells us that they get there in perfect time. Joshua and his leaders might have been fools to enter into the treaty, but they do not lack integrity or enthusiasm in honouring its stipulations. They know that their words represent God, even though, like I said, it hasn’t been made clear to us whether or not God is actually for this union. What verses 7 and 8 do for us is to make it clear. They tell us that he, God, is not only for it, but that he is zealous after it. He has planned for it, and in this specific event with the five Amorite kings we find out why.
See what words God uses in verse 8 to encourage his people: “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands.” These words are not new to Joshua—they’ve been stated before in the first chapter of this book—but here, they are being “freshly applied to [Israel’s] current [and new] need” to defend people who were not originally a part of Israel.
This is where we see God’s perfect sovereignty because he’s about to turn Israel’s absolute and certain humiliation into the basis for one of its greatest victories. God uses the defeat of Israel against Gibeon not only to bring these foreign people in but also to secure Israel’s good. What Israel would not have known if they had destroyed Gibeon is that this journey of obtaining the land would have been much harder and longer. They would have had to have travelled the many miles to each of these Amorite cities in order to capture them, but because of their foolishness with Gibeon, God brings the nations to them.
And not only does God bring the nations to them, but in their coming, God says he’ll deliver them in an extraordinary way: “not a man of them shall stand before you.” In other words, in battle, these Amorites will either all die lying down or with their backs turned fleeing Israel. So, Gibeon is not only something God intended to use for the good of his people, but to show them that he is exhaustively and meticulously in control through Gibeon’s deceit and through Joshua and Israel’s foolishness. He doesn’t give the Amorites to Israel despite their actions, he gives them to Israel as a result of their actions.
Now, you may say that if God is exhaustively and meticulously in control of every event, then there is need for us to act. But verse 9 tells us that the exact opposite is true. What does Joshua do when God tells him about his absolute sovereignty? He gets energized and creative—they make the 25-mile hike overnight so that he might catch his enemy off-guard.
I said last week that sovereignty is what saves, but our confidence in his sovereignty is the means by which he saves. The motivation to see his sovereign purposes come about in our lives through our human activity may not affirm our absolute free will, but it’s where we find the source of our greatest joy. God does not desire to control us against our pleasure. He comes to us, tells us his plans, and we receive the joy of his fellowship as we make his plans ours as well. Joy isn’t found in free will, it’s found in fellowship and union with the sovereign God of the universe.
And verses 10-11 only further emphasize for us that victory in the battle comes from the Lord. Every single verb in verse 10—there are four of them—every single one have as their subject the Lord. The Lord threw the Amorites into panic, the Lord struck them with a great blow. The Lord chased them up to Beth-horon in the west. And the Lord struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah, 8 miles to the southwest from Beth-horon. Even more astonishingly, the way he strikes them is by throwing frozen rocks at them. How great the confusion of the Amorites must have been as they’re running away from the drawn swords of Israel while noticing that only their own troop are being struck by these pellets from the sky. How helpless they must have felt under the wrath of Israel’s God.
Don’t get me wrong, Joshua coming upon the Amorites in the early morning while they were sleeping would have sent them into panic. Joshua’s sword would have struck them with a great blow as they ran. Joshua was the physical presence chasing them up to Beth-horon. And Joshua is still involved as they run down to Azekah and Makkedah. But the author of Joshua does not want us to discredit who this victory belongs to: it belongs to God because he is exhaustively and meticulously in control.
I hope you notice how intentional I was to walk through every verse of this section because every line—every word—drips with the intentionality of the author to make it all about God. God will have his way. He will satisfy himself, but he gives us the option of whether we’ll find our joy and energy in walking alongside him, or if we’ll spend the rest of eternity in fear, trying to run away, unable to stand in his presence. Let God assure the victory in the battle for your life by submitting yourself joyfully to his exhaustive and meticulous control.
3) In His Creative Attentiveness to Our Pleading (we’re called to plead)
We come now to one of the hardest passages in Joshua not only interpretively but also grammatically in vv. 12-13. Interpretively, our text presents two main problems: (1) it’s not scientifically accurate—the sun does not move, and (2) in the event that the sun and moon stopped—or said scientifically, if the earth stopped rotating, all life on earth would cease to exist, not to mention the number of other cataclysmic events that would happen both cosmically and ecologically. The framing of this particular miracle has presented Jews and Christians with difficulties among the atheist community, perhaps, since it was recorded.
Yet, I want to present you with two options for how you might understand what is being said here—both of which I believe are suitable for the text. The first is that you take these verses directly and literally. God is the God over all creation. He is also omnipotent, mighty to save, and author and protector of not only those who have faith but all who have life. Thus, it is wholly plausible to say that the text is not making a scientific claim, but that the author is writing from the perspective of the observers—from their perspective, the sun and moon stood still, and from God’s perspective, he stopped the rotational axis of the earth, kept all the beings upon it alive and intact—especially his Israelites—without greater fallout.
The second possible interpretation of this text is to tell you that the Hebrew grammar and syntax are not quite so obvious. Translators have done a fine job with the traditional rendering of what this passage says, and I believe it to be true to how the author meant for us to hear them. However, without getting too technical, one can read these verses as to reference not the lack of motion from the sun, but the appearance that it had stopped moving, namely, that it was, for that day, darker for a longer period of time than what one would expect ordinarily.
Now, that might seem like a cop-out to you, but consider a few things. Joshua tells us that the Sun is over Gibeon—to the east, and the moon is over the Valley of Ajalon—to the west, which means Joshua makes his prayer early in the morning—perhaps before the sun is out, and perhaps as they are about to ascend upon the soldiers. So, if the Lord were to hide the rays of the sun and the reflection of the moon, the sense of panic in verse 10 becomes both a valid and likely scenario since the Amorites would not have had time to acclimate to their surroundings or evaluate the whereabouts of their enemy.
Furthermore, if I were to translate the end of verse 13 word-for-word, this is how it might read, “The sun took its place in the middle of the heavens and it did not hasten to come like a perfect, or completed, day.” In other words, it’s possible that the day felt prolonged because something extraordinary was taking place that prevented the sun from doing what it normally does.
Wherever you stand on the interpretation of this passage, I hope that its greater point is not lost on you. The emphasis isn’t on what happened but on who made it happen. As Creator, God is able to attend to our every need—he is both capable of stopping the sun or preventing the sun from fulfilling its normal functions. But he doesn’t do this simply to show his creative power—he isn’t just the omnipotent God who commands all things with the slightest whisper. He does all of this—he literally moves creation—to remind us that he is our God, that his love for us in incomparable, and that he is infinitely sufficient for us in all things—especially in battle.
Yet, the point of this text does not stop in the revelation of God’s ability to attend to our needs in incomparably creative ways or in the fact that he loves us. The author of Joshua brings all of our attention to bear in verse 14 when he gives the extraordinary reason why God has done all of these incredible things for Israel: because Joshua asked—because he prayed—because he pleaded with God—because he wanted the things that God wanted for them. And we’re told that not a day has come before or after it that was like it—when God joyfully moved creation and fought for his people at the sound of a man’s voice.
Let’s fast forward now about 1400 years in the city of Jerusalem. There crowds have gathered to witness the crucifixion of one man in particular, and after nailing his hands and his feet to the cross and raising him up into position between two other criminals on his left and on his right, he cries out to God saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And in describing what that scene looked like, Luke in the 23rd chapter of his book, in the 44th verse, writes this, “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this, he breathed his last. Now, when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly, this man was [innocent] righteous!’”
Brothers and sisters, nothing before and nothing after Joshua’s prayer ever resulted in something as spectacular as what was seen that day—that is, not until Christ came and prayed on our behalf that God might not count our wickedness against us. And after praying that prayer, God turned the sky dark, he stopped the sun from shining, and poured out his wrath upon that man, Jesus, as he was nailed to a tree so that that same wrath might not fall upon those who truly deserve it—so that it might not fall upon us.
What’s more is that unlike the events that transpired in Joshua 10:1-15—unlike the author’s assertion that there was no other day like it, when we pray now—when we plead for him to do the impossible of removing our sin as far as the east is from the west, to give us all that is according to his will, and to pour out his immeasurable grace upon us, we know he will do these things and more because through Christ our Lord, he hears our voice. And as our Lord—as the true Lord of Righteousness—as the one who is not just the King of Jerusalem but the mighty King of all Heaven and Earth, he fights for us.
How is it that we allow God to assure the victory in the battle for our lives? It is by considering how ironically self-defeating the world is. It is by relinquishing our own control over the events of our lives and submitting ourselves to the exhaustive and meticulous control of our God. And it is by pleading—in the power and pleasure of God’s holy will—that he might attend to our every need as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, which he has already done for us most wonderfully in the sacrifice of his own Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. [Come, give praise to our incomparable God.]