16 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.
22 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.
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. – Joshua 10:16-28 ESV
The kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon had formed a military alliance and attacked the Gibeonites because they had made a treaty with Israel. But Joshua and the people of Israel were obligated by that treaty to come to their aid, which they did. The five kings and their troops were put to flight by the Israelites and God provided divine assistance by sending large hail stones that wiped out more of the enemy than the soldiers of Israel did. Not only that, He somehow supernaturally lengthened the hours of daylight so that the Israelites could have more time to continue their pursuit of the enemy. While Joshua’s decision to make an alliance with the Gibeonites had been done without God’s input or approval, God honored it because Joshua had sworn an oath in God’s name. He had obligated God in the affair and so, God did what was necessary to protect the integrity of His name. He gave them a great victory over their enemies.
Once again, we have a story that challenges our modern sensibilities. It is a story filled with violence and seemingly barbaric imagery. We are told that the Israelites “wiped out” their enemies and “devoted to destruction every person” living in the city of Makkedah. And Joshua personally executed the five kings and had their bodies hung on five crosses. This all sounds so brutal and unnecessary. It seems to paint the Israelites as a bloodthirsty and savage nation who took delight in practicing genocide. Many people read these stories and are appalled by the violence and indiscriminate loss of life. They can even question the very goodness and holiness of God for the part He played in it all. But it is essential that we read these stories through God’s eyes, not ours. His choice of Israel was about far more than making them a great nation and doing so by eliminating all the competition. This wasn’t a case of divine favoritism. There was nothing inherently worthy about the people of Israel. God had chosen them because He had a plan to bring redemption to the world through them. The entire world was living under the curse of sin and death. Every man, woman and child was condemned to suffer not only physical death but the reality of spiritual death, eternal separation from God – all because of sin. Their fate had been sealed the moment Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God in the garden. But God, in His mercy, had a plan to do something about man’s condemnation and that plan had been in place before He created the universe. He had not been surprised by the sin of Adam and Eve. He had not been caught off guard and forced to come up with an alternative plan. The apostle Paul tells us that God’s plan of redemption was in place long before He made the universe.
4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT
It is so easy to read what Joshua and the people of Israel did to the five kings and their people and see nothing but the annihilation of innocent victims. But God would have us see the redemption of mankind. There is a much larger picture here that needs to be seen. There is an eternal story line running behind the scenes that, if missed, will make it impossible to understand what we read in the Bible and what we see happening in the world around us. It’s important to remember why God chose Israel in the first place, and Moses provided the Israelites with an explanation for their place as God’s chosen people.
7 “The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! 8 Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. 9 Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. 10 But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. 11 Therefore, you must obey all these commands, decrees, and regulations I am giving you today. – Deuteronomy 7:7-11 NLT
God had chosen them, not because they deserved it, but because He had made a covenant with Abraham. He had pledged to make of him a great nation and to bless the rest of the nations through his seed or offspring (Genesis 17:7-8). But Paul provides Spirit-inspired insight into what this promise really entailed.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 NLT
It would be through Abraham’s descendants that Jesus Christ would come. He would be born a Jew, an heir to the throne of the great king, David. God had set apart the people of Israel as His own, not because they deserved it, but because He had a plan to bring about the redemption of the world, and He had chosen to do it through them. He had chosen them and given them His law in order that they might understand the kind of life He required of them. The law was meant to show the people of Israel God’s requirements for living a holy life. But God knew they would never live up to His righteous standard on their own. In fact, Paul reminds us that the law was given “to show people their sins” and that it was “designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3::19 NLT).
But what does all this have to do with the destruction of the five kings and their people? God was out to protect His chosen people. Again, not because they deserved it or were somehow better than the other nations living in the land of Canaan. The Jews were just as sinful and prone to rebellion as any other people group. But they had been set apart by God so that He might send His Son through them. His redemptive plan involved the coming of a Messiah or Savior, a man who would live up to the righteous standard of the law and fulfill God’s demand for holiness. He would live a sinless life, in perfect keeping with God’s righteous requirements. And His holiness would make Him the perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of mankind. Jesus, the Son of God, was born a Jew, under the law, so that He might do what no one else had ever done – keep the law.
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 NLT
So, when we read of the destruction of Makkedah, Jericho and Ai, we must view it through the long-range lens of God’s redemptive plan. He was protecting the people of Israel, not because they deserved it, but because it would be through them that His Son would come. Their existence was essential to His plan. And God knew that, because of their predisposition toward sin, the presence of their enemies would provide a constant temptation for them to turn away from Him and bring about their own self-destruction. When we read these stories, we must learn to see the hand of God sparing and preserving the undeserving, so that He might one day redeem the lost and dying.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.