Message: The Coming King | Scripture: Joshua 10:16-43 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: May the Peoples Praise You, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Alas, Did My Savior Bleed (Sovereign Grace), Wonderful Merciful Savior.
My professor from seminary once told me about a cruise that they went on where they ended up making a number of friends, and one night, they decided to go to one of those after-dinner shows in the main theatre together. Now, this particular show included a game for married couples to test their knowledge of one another. So, someone in my professor’s new group of friends, one of the more boisterous young ladies, got it in her mind that she and my professor, Dr. York, should go up, playfully, on stage and pretend to be married—as a kind of innocent joke. In fact, each of their respective spouses thought it’d be a great idea!
So, when the MC asked for volunteers, the young lady grabbed Dr. York’s arm and raised her hand and yelled, “we’ve been married ten years!” But another couple said the same, so the MC said, “the couple whose anniversary is closest can come up,” and the young lady in my professor’s group immediately responded, “our anniversary’s today!”
Of course, her lies get them up on stage, and as they’re going up, she’s telling him, okay, for questions that require a woman’s name, they’d use Dr. York’s real wife’s name, and for questions that require a man’s name, they’d use the young lady’s husband’s name. So, they develop this pretty sound strategy, but what’s interesting is that they would get asked other questions, like asking the wives on stage what their least favourite habit of their husband was, and having not prepared, my professor answered, “picking my nose.” To which she also had written down on her board, “picking his nose.” It turns out, they answered every single question correctly. They won the entire game, received prizes, and as they were walking off the stage, everyone complimented them on their chemistry, and how obvious their love had grown in their ten years of marriage.
Now, by this point, not only was Dr. York’s shirt drenched in sweat due to the guilt he felt for all of this, but what he didn’t know was that this gameshow would air on the cruises’ tv network for the next 24 hours so that every cruise-goer could see their incredible lie. You can imagine, then, that as he and his real wife walked down the promenade of the cruise, hand-in-hand, they received a lot of unpleasant stairs. In fact, some people actually pulled his wife aside, and said, “he’s married, you know?” And the whole time, my professor is thinking to himself, “what have I done? I’m a Baptist preacher for crying out loud!”
To this day, he still feels a bit of the sting of embarrassment from doing something this foolish, but the good news is that he didn’t let it ruin his vacation with his real wife. If anything, it actually motivated him to move forward and focus on his time with her even more, making the trip one of their most memorable ones—one not defined by the gameshow but that saw the gameshow as a steppingstone to a greater opportunity.
See, the funny thing is that, despite Dr. York’s mortification over the whole thing, his wife, Tanya, thought it was hilarious and knowing what a good time she was having from it—knowing she wasn’t embarrassed by him, it allowed him to embrace the awkwardness. He made even more friends laughing about the whole situation than he did worrying about the optics. And by the end of the trip, he and his wife were closer than they had ever been—not because of the gameshow, but because of his intentionality to love and honour her more than he cared about his reputation or repairing his image.
In like manner, our passage this morning is about a people, the Israelites, who had to learn how to have a short-term memory for their own foolishness—to take their eyes off of themselves—to place their focus on someone far lovelier, and to do all they could to honour him above themselves, no matter the cost. They are a people who will exemplify for us what it looks like to move forward in faith while simultaneously ridding themselves of their tendency to be self-obsessed and unbelieving in God’s provision over them.
So, this is our proposition this morning: when we’ve sinned—when the temptation is to look back and think that God will not continue to care for or love us—stop looking at yourself, keep moving forward in faith and do not tolerate your tendency for unbelief—don’t tolerate the feeling that you’ve got to do this yourself and turn inward. Instead, turn outward. Turn to your God and trust him to bring about his good in your life. As I tend to do with long passages, like ours today, I’ll be reading the parts of Scripture that apply to our outline section as we come to them. Let’s turn our attention, then, to our first point—how is it that we keep moving forward in faith and not tolerate unbelief?
1) Do Not Worry About What Belongs to God
Read Joshua 10:16-21 with me. TWoL: These five kings fled and hid themselves in the cave at Makkedah. 17 And it was told to Joshua, “The five kings have been found, hidden in the cave at Makkedah.” 18 And Joshua said, “Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them, 19 but do not stay there yourselves. Pursue your enemies; attack their rear guard. Do not let them enter their cities, for the LORD your God has given them into your hand.” 20 When Joshua and the sons of Israel had finished striking them with a great blow until they were wiped out, and when the remnant that remained of them had entered into the fortified cities, 21 then all the people returned safe to Joshua in the camp at Makkedah. Not a man moved his tongue against any of the people of Israel.
These verses are actually a continuation from Joshua 10:11 as the five Amorite kings and their armies are running away from Israel. What these kings are starting to realize is that they cannot hide out in the open from God. So, perhaps their reasoning for running into a cave that normally has only one exit point is that it’s safer in the darkness of a den than exposed to the elements where God is able to attack from above. In other words, they go into the cave because they believe, in there, they can hide and control their fates—something they’d rather do than face their circumstances like men of honour or continue on with the rest of their army. Instead they desert them, and the irony is that these feeble cowards seek out this cave to be their refuge when, in reality, it shall become their tomb.
And it’s in their hiding within a cave that the author of Joshua intentionally compares and contrasts the circumstances and attitudes of these kings against the circumstances and attitudes of Joshua and Israel. See, while the kings are hunkered down, trying to hide from God, and as they’re found out and trapped in that cave—a temptation arises for Joshua and Israel. And that temptation is to stop and to think that the battle is won. These kings have been caught. There is no more work to be done. Why needlessly pursue the army?
But, in effect, Joshua tells them not to slow their hand—strike all of their enemies down. One might think here that Joshua’s being greedy. He doesn’t need to strike a blow this great because the kings have been captured. But Joshua isn’t focused on the kings, and he’s teaching his people that they, too, should not be focused on the kings. Rather, they ought to be focused on the command: devote all of the inhabitants of the land to destruction.
In other words, he’s telling them not to become just like these kings who sought out justice and revenge on their terms. He essentially says to Israel, “move forward in faith and obey God more than your ambition—more than your need for vengeance. Leave the kings where they are, close up the cave, and go after what God desires to give you because he desires to give you more than just these feeble men. These kings are not the goal. To God, they are nothing. Don’t settle for something unsubstantial and meaningless.”
Likely, underlying Israel’s motivation to deal with these kings now is a sense of insecurity and a desire for vengeance. Remember, all of this is triggered by Gibeon and Israel’s foolishness in that situation, so Israel probably wants to make a statement. They want to vindicate their name and exact judgment over these kings for trying to take advantage of them. But Joshua says in verse 19, “don’t stay there yourselves”—don’t be concerned about getting justice and revenge on your terms. Go and do what you’re supposed to do first. God will expose what cannot be hidden. He will exact vengeance on those who profane his name, as these kings have done by disregarding Gibeon’s covenant with Israel. As for you, Israel, keep moving forward in faith. Put your pride and unbelief that God does not have your best interests for you aside. Do exactly as he commands. And church, we would do well to heed these instructions in our own lives.
2) Cling to the Promise and Not to the Logic
Read Joshua 10:22-27 with me. TWoL: Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me from the cave.” 23 And they did so, and brought those five kings out to him from the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. 24 And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. 25 And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” 26 And afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees. And they hung on the trees until evening. 27 But at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set large stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day.
The focus of this next section really narrows in on the event that takes place in verses 24 and 25 where Joshua brings out the kings from the cave after Israel has completely devastated their armies, and he initiates a ceremony of sorts. But it’s not just any ceremony—it’s one of deep significance because of who the ceremony involves.
Notice, that the people Joshua is talking to are the men of Israel, and in particular, the chiefs of the men of war, and he tells them to put their feet on the necks of these kings. In other words, these men that Joshua is talking to, they’re nobodies. They’re chiefs of Israelite soldiers. And who were the Israelites just a short time ago? They were nobody. They had nothing. They aren’t trained warriors. They haven’t been established in this land or any land for that matter. And they’re told to come up and place their feet on the neck of those in the world who are called kings—men of renown, importance, power, wealth, and might. Men who control other legions, and who are considered gods to their own people. “Come place your feet on the necks of these kings,” Joshua says.
And what it signifies is that Israel has humiliated their enemy and has won decisively. This act of putting their feet on their necks is tantamount to making their enemies a footstool for their feet. These nobodies are now absolute conquerors of kings and their nations. And Joshua follows up his instruction to these nobodies by encouraging them to continue moving forward—to continue pushing the boundaries in their faithfulness and in their obedience—“Don’t be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous” to go the extra mile for the sake of pleasing God. Why? Because God is the one who is fighting, and he is always pleased for us to do his will. God is the one who assures the victory.
See, you might be nobody and you might have nothing to your name, but so long as you have God and you desire to honour his name, you have everything, and he has made you greater than kings and queens of this world. He will make the greatest powers a footstool to your feet because God defeats kings. God makes his way for his people by laying low their enemies for their sake.
And I don’t want to equivocate on this because I know you all know that I’m not preaching to you about health and wealth. I’m not preaching to you about finding some sense of inner power or claiming what you are owed. I’m preaching you contentment and ultimate satisfaction in the one true God of the universe who loves you out of his sheer mercy and grace. I’m preaching to you about a God who desires to encourage and uphold you—as the one who gives you far more abundantly than anything you could ever deserve. Why? Because we weren’t just nobodies, we were enemies of God. We deserved to have the nations place their feet on our necks as a footstool, and yet God has raised us up with him and shared with us an inheritance fit not just for kings and queens but fit for his own Son.
This is what Joshua is doing here in our text. He is encouraging his people with what is currently invisible through what is visible. He’s trying to bolster their confidence in a God whose grace and mercy cannot be measured. This, brothers and sisters, is a sacrament. It’s an acted parable, an assuring sign of how YHWH would certainly place all their enemies beneath them. It’s symbolic as a visible encouragement to the people of God. And some may question how this symbolic act could ever reassure a person into moving forward in faith because, really, there’s no compelling logic to it. How can these men stepping on the necks of these kings in this instance be an assurance of things to come?
Well, as one commentator writes, “Like a bow in the sky to help Noah feel secure of God’s promise and how the stars might elicit Abram’s faith in a countless seed, it’s a mystery. Sacraments aren’t for skeptics but for believers to bolster the weakness of our belief,” and to remind us, in the depths of our souls of the magnitude of God’s relentlessness for us to show us his sovereign purposes and to fulfill for us his eternal plans. “They are not intended to convince us by cold logic but to nurture us by warm encouragement—to make us feel that God’s word is reliable and that his help is sure.”
He gives us these signs not to convince our minds of his truth—he does other things to accomplish that. Instead, he gives us sacraments—he gives us visible signs of his faithfulness to warm our affections—to acknowledge that he is a life-giver as much as he is a truth-revealer. And he does this for us because he knows we need it—sometimes we just have to feel what we already know.
And what is that the sacrament elicits in us? What does it elicit in the Israelites? It elicits a desire to respond in willingness and obedience to God. Verses 26-27 show us that they do exactly to these kings what they had done to the king of Ai. As men who are accursed, judged as those who bring sin into the land of God, they are hung from a tree. And just like they’re commanded to do in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, in the evening, before the sun goes down, Israel takes them down from that tree, and they bury these kings in the same cave that they attempted to hide themselves in.
What the author of Joshua is doing here is more than tell us the facts of this ceremony, he’s trying to tell us that Joshua and Israel are scrupulous in following the law and respecting the bodies of their enemies even in the midst of rousing victory. Why? Because this is about what God, and what he has done. All of this is still on God’s terms according to his wisdom over his creation. Joshua is teaching his people, and he is teaching us, that their focus and our focus is always to be on God. The logic, as we see or understand it, may not be crystal clear, but the cause and object of our affection and attention ought never be in doubt. God is at the centre of it all. He is both giver and commander of our lives, and we are to acknowledge him as such in both respects as Israel does in our passage.
What’s quite remarkable in all of this is that while a lot of what takes place in these few verses does not make much sense to the world, it makes perfect sense to us. Not because there is an explainable logic to all of it, but because, in reality, it is all quite inexplicable—that these kings might be buried in a cave in complete obscurity as the footstools to nobodies. Notice, we started in chapter 10 knowing the names of these kings, but here in our verses, not a single one of their names is mentioned. In what was supposed to be a campaign to promote their self-importance ends in us wholly forgetting who they are.
And the remarkable part is that we know of another King who came not in his self-importance, but as one who counted himself as nothing. He came not promoting his name, but the name of the one who sent him. And this King, unlike the Amorite kings, when faced with his own death, did not cower and hide while leaving his people to be pursued by their enemies. No, he gave himself up for his enemies. He was hung from a tree like a criminal accursed, and he was placed in a cave as one who should be forgotten.
But as we know, logic could not bind him. The cross could not bear him. And the cave could not hide him. No, our King, who counted himself as nothing, arose, against human reason, from that cave as one who had conquered the curse of sin and death, and by his blood, death, and resurrection, he emerged as our everything—as Lord and Saviour over all—as one under whom the Father has placed all his enemies as a footstool for his feet. No one remembers the name of the Amorite kings, but not a single person who’s heard it has forgotten the name of Jesus Christ because by his willing and perfect sacrifice on our behalf, he not only promises to save us and fight for us as those undeserving of his attention, but he promises, as our King, not to ever forget our names as well.
TCCBC, the logic may be absent from the text, but the promise of our God’s deliverance is not. God does not operate to satisfy our penchant for worldly reason. He operates to bring undeserving, unworthy people to himself at no cost to them through his Son—to bring those who had nothing into the possession of everything. There is no logic that can explain this. There is simply faith that God is doing what we cannot explain as the God who cannot be explained. So, move forward in faith. Don’t tolerate unbelief. Cling to the promise of our God to bring about what our logic and our reason cannot.
3) Identify Your Saviour and Persistently Pursue Him
Read Joshua 10:28-43 with me. TWoL: 28 As for Makkedah, Joshua captured it on that day and struck it, and its king, with the edge of the sword. He devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. And he did to the king of Makkedah just as he had done to the king of Jericho. 29 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Makkedah to Libnah and fought against Libnah. 30 And the LORD gave it also and its king into the hand of Israel. And he struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it; he left none remaining in it. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho. 31 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Libnah to Lachish and laid siege to it and fought against it. 32 And the LORD gave Lachish into the hand of Israel, and he captured it on the second day and struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it, as he had done to Libnah. 33 Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish. And Joshua struck him and his people, until he left none remaining. 34 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Lachish to Eglon. And they laid siege to it and fought against it. 35 And they captured it on that day and struck it with the edge of the sword. And he devoted every person in it to destruction that day, as he had done to Lachish. 36 Then Joshua and all Israel with him went up from Eglon to Hebron. And they fought against it 37 and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword, and its king and its towns, and every person in it. He left none remaining, as he had done to Eglon, and devoted it to destruction and every person in it. 38 Then Joshua and all Israel with him turned back to Debir and fought against it 39 and he captured it with its king and all its towns. And they struck them with the edge of the sword and devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. Just as he had done to Hebron and to Libnah and its king, so he did to Debir and to its king. 40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel commanded. 41 And Joshua struck them from Kadesh-barnea as far as Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, as far as Gibeon. 42 And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel. 43 Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.
Everything in these verses is intentionally written after Joshua’s told his people that the Lord will give all of Israel’s enemies to them. Did you notice that there’s not one sentence that talks about Israel’s military might or prowess? Not one mention about tactical genius or the brutality of war. All of it is depicted as if it’s a foregone conclusion. Israel won these battles. Seven cities are listed here, and all seven cities, their people, and their kings, especially, are brought to destruction. But the details outside of these three specific facts—the name of the city, the destruction of the people, and the death of their kings—are intentionally lacking.
And just like we’ve become accustomed to it, the author of Joshua isn’t giving us facts here simply to be practical or to detail the history. In fact, we know that this isn’t just history because the only places that are listed are royal cities. Cities that were established. None of the coastal villages or neighbouring towns are listed. This isn’t a comprehensive list despite being told that the southern campaign was now finished.
So, what we learn is that the author is trying to teach us something theological here, namely, that God is opposed to the model of rulership and authority in Canaan, especially in what’s found within these cities in their fortifications and structures of authority and worship. Israel is supposed to be distinct from Canaan. They’re to find their identity, their security, their salvation in YHWH. He is to be their Saviour. He is to be their sufficient King.
And he isn’t only supposed to be their fortress and king in this one moment. What we’re not to miss is the fact that a lot of information is intentionally left out in these verses. It’s quite likely that this campaign took months, if not years. We know this because at the beginning of Joshua 13, following the defeat of the northern portions of Canaan, we’re told that Joshua is old and advanced in years. And yes, the major emphasis of our text is that God did this work; he fought for Israel, but the lack of detail only reinforces for us that he’s done all of this through natural processes and through the prolonged, perhaps, sometimes painful, means of war.
What’s being made clear for us isn’t just that God is determined to set his people apart from the nations, but that he intends to do so with increasing measure. See, his promises for us are constant—they shall never change—but his processes—his pruning of us so that we might properly appreciate his promise—are just as constant. It’s one thing to say you confess belief in the name of Jesus Christ, but it’s another to actually believe and to bank your whole life on that belief. The process of holiness requires what is often painful and difficult. Killing sin and being satisfied that God is the only life raft available isn’t like swimming in a tideless pool—there are times where you feel you might drown, but God never says that the pursuit of his promises will be easy; he only tells us that it’s worth it.
Brothers and sisters, I do not preach to you, this morning, an easy believism. The gospel is not simply say magical words and receive eternal life. It’s: receive eternal life through repentance from sin and belief in the redeeming work of God to satisfy you more than your sin. It’s: repent and be pruned—having all that dead skin forcibly scraped off of you. It’s: Repent and work out the salvation that has been graciously worked into you with fear and trembling. God does not simply intend to save you from sin; he intends to keep you saved, and the sad reality is that if he does not mercifully prune us and conform us to his own likeness—if he leaves us to ourselves, we’d run right back into the arms of the world.
Yet, even in this, we do not lose heart, dear church, because just like he does for Israel in our passage, he does the same for us now. He fights for us, and he does so most deliberately by sending of his Son for us, so that in turning our gaze from ourselves and the world onto that cross, we might fight in this life for him who now reigns in heaven. And we are to do this persistently so that we might know him and have him because his fellowship, his joy, his love, his kingship—all of him is worth it.
None of these kings in Joshua 10 are worth any other mention than that they can be and have been destroyed. But our King is worthy of our faith. Our King is worthy to be our refuge. Because our King has conquered the enemy of our sin and our death, and he is coming again to finish the conquest. So, keep moving forward in faith, and do not, for a moment, tolerate unbelief because he has not saved you for a moment—he has saved you to himself forever. All glory be to our King who is our Saviour and our everlasting hope.