Jacob’s Redeemer

1 “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
    Israel whom I have chosen!
Thus says the Lord who made you,
    who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
    like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’
    another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
    and name himself by the name of Israel.”

6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
    besides
me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.[
    Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
    Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
    have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God
besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any
.” Isaiah 44:1-8 ESV

Just as He had at the beginning of chapter 43, here God addresses His people by the two names of the son of Isaac: Jacob and Israel. Jacob had been his original name, given to him at birth, and it meant, “holder of the heel, supplanter, or layer of snares.” This name had to do with the circumstances surrounding the births of he and his brother.

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:24-26 NLT

That was how Jacob came by his somewhat strange, but highly descriptive name. And this rather bizarre birth narrative reflects a message that God had given to Rebekah even before the boys were born. She had been barren and unable to give Isaac any children, so he had “pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife” (Genesis 25:21 NLT). And God heard his prayer and enabled Rebekah to become pregnant with twins.

But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:22-23 NLT

Jacob, though technically not the first-born, was going to end up having dominion over his brother. And later on in the story, Esau. in an act of impulsiveness, driven by physical desires, would trade his birthright for a bowl of stew. And not long after that, when their father, Isaac, was on his deathbed, Jacob and his mother would trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn. Jacob was a deceiver. And his actions brought the wrath of his brother down him, forcing him to run for his life and live in exile in Paddan-aram. But God eventually arranged for Jacob’s return, and that event was accompanied by a God-ordained name change

Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel. – Genesis 35:10 NLT

So, why is any of this important? Because God opens this passage by using both names of this man as a designation for the people of God. The first name, Jacob, is an apt description of the people of God. They were deceivers and supplanters, having replaced the one-true God with false gods. But the name Israel means “God prevails.” It describes the undeniable reality that God was going to use the people of Israel, in spite of the people of Israel.

His will for them would prevail, not because of them, but because He was a faithful God. All throughout his life, Jacob had tried to fulfill the will of God by using trickery, deceit, and his own human efforts. God had already told Rebekah that the older son would serve the younger, but she and Jacob were both guilty of trying to accomplish God’s will through human means. But in Isaiah 44, God seems to be reminding the people of Judah that it is He who will bring about their preferred destiny. He is the one who had made and chosen them. They had nothing to do with it.

And almost as if He is addressing Jacob himself, God assures him, “Don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen!” (Isaiah 44:2 NLT). God was going to do all that He had promised to do.

When Jacob had been forced to flee the land of Canaan in order to escape the vindictive wrath of his brother, God had visited him in a dream and made a covenant promise to him.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

And here is Isaiah 44, God is reaffirming that promise to the people of Judah, the descendants of Jacob. He uses another name by which to refer to them: Jeshurun. It means “upright one” and seems to be used to describe the ideal character God expected of His chosen people. And this is not the first time God used this particular name for Israel.

“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with
abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to
gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
– Deuteronomy 32:15-18 ESV

They had abandoned God, the one who gave the birth. They had gotten fat and happy, content with their lifestyle, and turned their backs on the one who had made them what they were.

And yet, here is God promising to bless them.

“For I will pour water on the parched ground
and cause streams to flow on the dry land.
I will pour my spirit on your offspring
and my blessing on your children.”
– Isaiah 44:3 NLT

God describes a future day when His people will once again take pride in being His children. Rather than boasting in their false gods, or taking pride in their wealth and material possessions, they will declare their job at being God’s chosen possession.

“One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord,’
and another will use the name ‘Jacob.’
One will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and use the name ‘Israel.’”
– Isaiah 44:5 NLT

And just to ensure that the people of Judah understand just who it is that is going to bless them, God refers to Himself as “the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 44:6 NLT). He is the Lord, Jehovah, “the existing one.” He is their King and sovereign. He is their Redeemer, actually their ga’al or kinsman-redeemer, who will ransom them out of slavery to sin. And He is the Lord of hosts, the commanders of the armies of heaven. With these four designations, God sets Himself apart from all other gods.

“I am the first and I am the last,
there is no God but me.
Who is like me? Let him make his claim!”
– Isaiah 44:6-7 NLT

It’s a rhetorical question that requires only one answer: No one. But just to make sure they understand the answer, God expands on it.

“Don’t panic! Don’t be afraid!
Did I not tell you beforehand and decree it?
You are my witnesses! Is there any God but me?
There is no other sheltering rock; I know of none.”
– Isaiah 44:8 NLT

They have nothing to fear because they are the people of God. Their future is in His hands and not tied to their own ability to live up to His exacting standards. They had already proven their incapacity to remain faithful. They had repeatedly shown their propensity to rebel against Him. They were deceivers and tricksters, always ready, willing and able to supplant the one true God with a wide array of false gods. But God assures them that He remains Jacob’s Redeemer. Just as He restored Jacob from exile, He will restore the people of Judah from exile. And He has even greater plans in store for them when His Son returns again.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Rejected and Despised.

18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood,
    who draw sin as with cart ropes,
19 who say: “Let him be quick,
    let him speed his work
    that we may see it;
let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near,
    and let it come, that we may know it!”
20 Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
    and shrewd in their own sight!
22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine,
    and valiant men in mixing strong drink,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
    and deprive the innocent of his right!

24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble,
    and as dry grass sinks down in the flame,
so their root will be as rottenness,
    and their blossom go up like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
    and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
    and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them,
    and the mountains quaked;
and their corpses were as refuse
    in the midst of the streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

26 He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come!
27 None is weary, none stumbles,
    none slumbers or sleeps,
not a waistband is loose,
    not a sandal strap broken;
28 their arrows are sharp,
    all their bows bent,
their horses’ hoofs seem like flint,
    and their wheels like the whirlwind.
29 Their roaring is like a lion,
    like young lions they roar;
they growl and seize their prey;
    They carry it off, and none can rescue.
30 They will growl over it on that day,
    like the growling of the sea.
And if one looks to the land,
    behold, darkness and distress;
and the light is darkened by its clouds.  – Isaiah 5:18-30 ESV

Isaiah has an additional four “woes” to pronounce against the people of Judah. Not only are they guilty of greed and debauchery, they seem to enjoy it. Isaiah describes them as leading their sins behind them like a favorite pet. He says that they “draw iniquity with cords of falsehood.” The Hebrew that is translated as “falsehood” is shav’ and it can mean “emptiness, vanity or worthlessness.” The New Living Translation reads, “who pull evil along using cords of emptiness.” There is an emptiness or meaninglessness to their efforts. Nothing good will come of it. And it’s as if they]re the weight of their sin is so great, that they are forced to use a heavy rope, like one designed for hauling a cart. 

And all the while they sinned, they goaded God, almost daring Him to act.

They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.” – Isaiah 5:19 NLT

No shame. No remorse. No fear of God. In fact, they were openly rebellious and blatantly disrespectful to God. Their sins weren’t accidental, but willful. It was as if they pulled them along behind them in broad daylight, virtually challenging God to do anything about it.

And they displayed no sense of right or wrong. Isaiah accuses them of confusing the two. They were guilty of saying “that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). They were living morally subjective lives that contradicted the expressed command of God. He is the one who decides what is right and what is wrong. It is not something that He leaves up to mankind. We don’t get a vote. And with God, there are no grey areas in which we get the opportunity to apply our own personal opinions or outlooks. “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5 NLT). And yet, the people of Judah were saying just the opposite, promoting darkness as the norm and light as something to be avoided at all costs. The apostle John put it this way:

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. – John 3:19-20 NLT

Sinful man loves to justify and rationalize his sin. He goes out of his way to paint his actions as acceptable and thoroughly normal. But in doing so, he contradicts the truth of God.

If we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:10 NLT

The next two woes have to do with pride and injustice. So, not only are the people of Judah greedy, hedonistic, rebellious and morally subjective, they’re arrogant and unjust. Isaiah describes them as being “wise in their own eyes” (Isaiah 5:21 NLT) and proud of their own inherent cleverness. But the apostle Paul would have told them, “If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). Human wisdom is insufficient and a lousy source discerning the will of God. Once again, Paul would remind them, “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20 NLT). No one ever came to know God based on their own intellect or reasoning powers.

God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom. – 1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT

A man who boasts in his own wisdom is no better off than a drunk who brags about how much liquor he can hold. There is no redeeming value in either boast.

And because they rely upon own their own faulty and misguided wisdom, marred by moral subjectivity, they end up committing acts of injustice. They see nothing wrong in taking a bribe that lines their own pockets while allowing the guilty to go unpunished. In a world ruled by their brand of wisdom, they guilty prosper, and the innocent suffer. It is a topsy-turvy, upside down world that is nothing like what God intended.

Therefore…

That word marks the transition point in this passage. As a result of all that Isaiah has just described, God is going to act. He will no longer overlook their blatant disregard for His will and arrogant rejection of His ways. Isaiah compares God’s judgment to a fire that burns up everything in its path. Why? Because “they have rejected the law of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies; they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:24 NLT). Isaiah leaves no doubt as to the reason for God’s coming judgment. They had rejected and despised. Those two words carry significant weight and meaning. In Hebrew, the word translated as “rejected” is ma’ac. It carries the idea of disdain or rejection based on contempt. They had rejected God’s law because they had no respect for it. And the second word, “despised,” is the Hebrew word, na’ats, and conveys the thought of rejecting God’s Word because it brings admonition and feelings of guilt.

The law of God was intended to bring conviction on the people of God, exposing their sins and calling them to repentance. Conviction should lead to confession. But the people of Judah rejected and despised God’s methodology, preferring to justify their own sins and turning a blind eye to God’s point of view.

And this was not the first time. God had punished the people of Judah before. He had been forced to judge them for their sins on numerous occasions over the years. And Isaiah warned his audience that God was not done yet.

For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still. – Isaiah 5:25 ESV

Past discipline would not cover their present state of sin. Their lack of repentance was going to require God to judge His people yet again. And Isaiah gave them a less-than-pleasant description of what was to come.

He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come! – Isaiah 5:26 ESV

Just as He had done in punishing the northern tribes of Israel, God was going to use a foreign power to bring His judgment upon Judah. Israel had fallen to the Assyrians hundreds of years earlier. Now it was Judah’s turn. And, in their case, it would be the Babylonians who would show up on their doorstep. In verses 27-30, Isaiah provides his audience with a graphic description of what they have to look forward to, and it is not a pretty picture. It all ends in darkness and distress.

Rather than the light of God, they would experience the darkness of defeat. Instead of enjoying the blessings of God, they would undergo unbearable distress. They had allowed their own greed, love of pleasure, rebellious tendencies, moral subjectivity, pride and injustice lead them down the path of destruction. And Isaiah makes it painfully clear that “no one will be there to rescue them” (Isaiah 5:29 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Every Knee Will Bow.

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” – Matthew 23:37-39 ESV

Jerusalem.gif

After pronouncing His seven woes on the Pharisees and religious leaders of Israel, Jesus turned His attention to the city of Jerusalem. And He spoke over it as if addressing an individual. The city of Jerusalem, the capital of the nation of Israel, was representative of all the people. It had been the the city of David, the great king, and contained the temple built by his son, Solomon. But the city and its inhabitants were guilty of unfaithfulness to God. Like their ancestors, who had rejected the prophets of God, the people of Jerusalem were going to end up rejecting the Messiah of God and the men whom He had chosen to take the good news of His kingdom to the world. Jesus had made it clear that this generation of Jews was just as guilty as those who had come before them.

Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.” – Matthew 23:31 ESV

The rejection of God’s prophets is a serious matter – one He does not take lightly. And to think that the people of Israel were guilty of murdering those whom God had sent to them is difficult to comprehend. But the people of Israel had made a habit of it. And their refusal to accept God’s messengers had eventually led to their fall and deportation to Babylon. God had brought judgment on them for their unfaithfulness and rebellion against Him. And Jesus warned His audience that they would be no different than their predecessors.

“Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town.” – Matthew 23:34 ESV

Not only would they reject Jesus as their Messiah and demand His crucifixion. They would continue to reject His apostles long after His resurrection and ascension. The Jews would continue to deny His claim to be the Messiah and reject His offer of salvation. Their track record as a nation would continue unabated. Centuries had come and gone, but little had changed. The rebellion of the people of Israel was undiminished and Jesus informed them that all the woes He had pronounced would “come upon this generation.”

But He expressed sorrow over their coming judgment. He longed for them to repent and return to God in contrition over their sin. He wanted to protect them like a mother hen protects her chicks. But they would refuse His offer. And, Jesus warned them that “your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38 ESV). That word, “desolate” is packed with meaning. The Greek word is erēmos and it can mean “uninhabited, deprived of protection” or can refer to “a flock deserted by the shepherd.” Jesus was predicting the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD at the hands of the Romans. And He will elaborate on His prediction in the very next chapter.

“Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:2 NLT

Jerusalem would fall. The temple would be destroyed. And Jesus told the people, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:39 ESV). This is an interesting statement, because it echoes back to His recent entry into the city of Jerusalem. Luke records what happened that day.

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” – Luke 19:37-38 ESV

The people of Jerusalem had welcomed Jesus as the King who comes in the name of the Lord. But as we will see, they will just as quickly turn on Him, demanding His execution at the hands of the Romans. Their shouts of praise and confession of His kingship had been a sham. He had not fulfilled their Messianic expectations, so they had turned on Him. They had rejected Him.

But one day Jesus will return and, when He does, things will be different. The apostle Paul would later pen these words, quoting from the book of Isaiah:

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” – Romans 14:11 ESV

And Paul would remind the believers in Philippi:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

The Jews would not accept Jesus as their Messiah, but the day is coming when all the inhabitants of the earth will bow before Him, recognizing Him as the King who comes in the name of the Lord. The apostle John provides us with a preview of what that day will look like.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

And when Jesus returns to the earth, He will set up His Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem, where He will reign for a thousand years.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4-6 ESV

The Jews could and would reject Jesus as their Messiah. But that would not stop the sovereign plan of God for the redemption of the world. The Romans would crucify Jesus, but that would not derail God’s predetermined outcome for His creation’s restoration. Even those who reject Jesus will one day recognize Him for who He is: The one who comes in the name of the Lord. They will bow before Him, either in veneration or subjugation. They will either revere Him or fear Him. But all will acknowledge Him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All Things Are Possible With God.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter saMy Sitesid in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” –  Matthew 19:23-30 ESV

It’s essential that we not separate the content of these verses from the encounter that Jesus had with the rich young man. Verse 22 ended wih the sobering statement: “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

He was wealthy and, when Jesus told him to sell all he possessed, give it to the poor and follow him, the man simply walked away. The cost was too high. In his mind, the price for eternal life was too steep to pay.

But we must not miss two important statements made by Jesus that will help give clarity to what Jesus told HIs disciples after the man’s departure. Two different times in His exchange with the young man, Jesus addressed the man’s desire to know what he had to do to gain eternal life.

If you would enter life… – vs 17

If you would be perfect… – vs 21

And in both cbases, Jesus had followed up those statements with action steps:

…keep the commandments. – vs 17

go, sell what you possess and give to the poor. – vs 21

But Jesus knew something the disciples didn’t know. It was not a case of whether the man would or wouldn’t keep Jesus’ instructions. It was that he couldn’t. It was impossible. While the young man claimed to have kept the five commandments Jesus outlined, there was no way he had done so perfectly. And it is painfully clear that the young man loved his wealth and possessions more than he loved God. In other words, he had broken the very first commandment, because he had made a god out of material things. And he was willing to sacrifice the hope of eternal life with God in order to hold on to his false god of materialism.

So, as the disciples watched the man walk way, Jesus had used the moment as a teaching opportunity. He made a statement that caught them by surprise.

“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-24 ESV

For the disciples, this statement made no sense. As Jews, they had always understood that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. They had been taught to believe that one of the primary ways in which God bestowed His favor on men was through material possessions. When they looked at the lives of the patriarchs, like Abraham, Joseph, and David, they saw men who had been greatly blessed by God with great wealth. And they aspired to be blessed in the same way.

So, the words of Jesus caught them off guard. They were inconsistent with their understanding of how life worked. Which explains their astonishment and their question to Jesus: “Who then can be saved?”

In essence, what they were thinking was, if those that are blessed by God are going to have a difficult time entering eternal life, then what hope did they have. The disciples were far from wealthy. They had little in the way of possessions. And nobody looked up to them or aspired to be like them. But their whole concept of God’s blessings was warped. They had not yet understood what Jesus had said in His sermon on the mount.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”

“Blessed are the merciful…”

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…”

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely…” – Matthew 5:3-11 ESV

When the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” they were not using the term in the same sense we would. They were not tying salvation to the gospel, but to man’s entrance into eternal life. And their understanding was much like that of the rich young man. They believed that eternal life was a reward for the good things done in this life.

But Jesus shocked them when He said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). The word “this” ties back the idea of salvation or the earning of eternal life. It is impossible for any man to earn his way into God’s kingdom. And not only that, it was going to be particularly difficult for a rich man. Why? Because, like the young man who had just walked away, they would find their wealth to be a barrier to saving faith. Materialism has a way of masking our need. It keeps us from recognizing our true spiritual poverty. Money can buy us a false sense of peace and security. It can make us feel invincible and invulnerable. 

And if you believe that your wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, you will have little impetus to see yourself as someone in need of God’s forgiveness.

This whole exchange began with Jesus describing the need for childlike faith. The disciples had been arguing over who was the greatest. They falsely viewed prominence and position as a sign of favor with God. But Jesus had told them, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV). Now, He was expanding on this thought by saying it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because a rich man lacked the humble, innocent, completely dependent faith that displayed his need for God.

And Jesus stressed the sheer impossibility of it all by using an extremely ludicrous illustration. A rich man could no more earn his way into God’s kingdom than a camel could squeeze through the eye of a needle.

Then, the always-ready-to-speak-up Peter asked, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” It’s obvious that Peter was thinking of the words Jesus had spoken to the rich young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21 ESV). In Peter’s mind, he had done what Jesus had asked. He had sacrificed greatly in order to follow Jesus so, he wanted to know what was in it for him. What would be his reward? Remember what Jesus told the young man. If he sold all that he had and gave it to the poor, he would “have treasure in heaven.” So, Peter wanted to know what he was going to get for all of his sacrifice.

Jesus answered Peter’s question, but not in the way that he had hoped.

“Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” – Matthew 19:28-29 ESV

Jesus assured Peter that he would have a reward, but it would be far different than what he was expecting. Jesus revealed that there was a day coming when He would establish His kingdom on earth. He would sit on the throne of David and rule from Jerusalem. But that day was in the far-distant future. He was speaking of His millennial kingdom, which would take place after His second coming. And in that kingdom, the 12 disciples would receive their reward. They would rule over the 12 tribes of Israel. They would have positions of power and prominence. They would rule alongside the Messiah in His millennial kingdom. But in the meantime, they would be called to sacrifice. They would be required to give up far more than could imagine. Most of these men would end up sacrificing their lives on behalf of the kingdom of God. They would face persecution and difficulty. And Jesus had already warned them of the reality of their future fate.

“But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  – Matthew 10:17-20 NLT

Their reward would be in the future. And it would be tied to eternal life in the kingdom of God. So, rather than seeking their reward in the here-and-now, they were to focus their attention on the hereafter. In this life, they would be required to sacrifice. They would have to die to self and serve God, not material things. Their faith was to be based on the future reward promised to them by God through Christ. They needed to stop viewing the kingdom from a worldly perspective. Wealth, power, and prominence in this life were no guarantee of eternal life. Salvation is a work of God. And nothing is impossible for Him. While we can never earn eternal life, God has made it possible for all who place childlike faith in His Son to receive the unmerited reward of life everlasting.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Rock.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. – Matthew 16:13-20 ESV

Caesarea Philippi

In this passage we see Jesus traveling as far north as He will ever go in His earthly ministry. He and the disciples journeyed all the way to Caesarea Philippi. At this remote location, far removed from the capital city of Jerusalem and beyond the reach of the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus isolated Himself with His disciples in order to prepare them for the events that were soo to take place. It would not be long before He began a return trip to Jerusalem, but this time it would be in order to sacrifice His life on behalf of sinful mankind.

It appears that one of the objectives behind this excursion to the very borders of Jewish influence was to get the disciples alone and allow them time to process all that they ahd seen and heard. From the moment they had answered the call to follow Jesus, they had been on a whirlwind journey marked by head-scratching messages and mind-blowing miracles. They had to have been confused by the confrontations between Jesus, a man they obviousl admired and the religious leaders, for whom they had deep respect. It had to have been disconcerting to see the Pharisees and Sadducees reject Jesus and to hear Jesus refer to these seemingly righteous men as hypocrites. It Jesus was the Messiah, as the disciples believed Him to be, why weren’t the religious leaders of Israel embracing Him with open arms?

Knowing that these men were wrestling with all kinds of questions and their own doubts about just who He was, Jesus removed some of the pressure by asking the disciples a fairly easy question:

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” – Matthew 16:13 ESV

And the disciples were more than happy to answer the question.

“Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” – Matthew 16:14 ESV

There were a lot of opinions out there. And notice that each of the three options provided by the disciples involve men who were dead. John the Baptist was the most recently deceased, but all three were no longer living. This provides a glimpse into the mindset of the average Jew. They believed that the miracles performed by Jesus were best explained as the byproduct of a resurrected prophet. He was somebody great who had been raised back to life and been given supernatural powers. But notice that no one was claiming Jesus to be the Messiah. He was great, but not that great.

Then Jesus turned His attention to His disciples. He wanted to know what they thought.

“But who do you say that I am?” – Matthew 16:15 ESV

This was the more important question of the two. Jesus knew full well that there were very few of the Jewish people who were willing to recognize Him as their Messiah. They had been blown away by His miracles and left wondering at the authority behind His teaching and the radical nature of His words. But He didn’t seem to measure up to their preconceived notions of how the Messiah would appear and act.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Peter was the first to speak up. This would not have been uncommon. He was an outspoken and sometimes rash individual for whom tact was missing character trait. Peter was always quick to speak and sometimes His tendency to put his mouth in gear before His brain was engaged got him into trouble. But in this instance, Peter gave a commendable answer.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” – Matthew 16:16 ESV

This answer, while very familiar to us, stood in stark contrast to the common perceptions of the people. Peter boldly and unapologetically proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. The term “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. So, Peter was unequivocally pronounced his believe that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. And, if you recall, John used very similiar words when he opened up his gospel account.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. – Matthew 1:1 ESV

But Peter refers to Jesus as the Son of the living God, not the son of David. This was an acknowledgement of Jesus’ diety. He was not just a man who had been sent by God, He was the actual Son of God. In other words, He was divine.

This statement by Peter was remarkable and Jesus acknowledged it as so.

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 16:17 ESV

In this statement, Jesus chose to refer to Peter in a manner that emphasized his humanity. He called him Simon Barjonas or Simon, son of John. And then Jesus revealed that Peter’s answer had not been the result of human wisdom or teaching, but because of insight provided by God Himself. God had opened Peter’s eyes and helped him recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Peter wasn’t smarter than the scribes and Pharisees. He wasn’t more spiritual than the Sadducees. He didn’t possess more discernment than the rest of his Jewish neighbors and friends. But God had made possible Peter’s astounding insight into Jesus’ true identity. Remember what Jesus had stated earlier in Matthew’s gospel:

“No one truly knows the Son except the Father…” – Matthew 11:27 NLT

And so, it must be God who reveals the identity of His Son.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” – John 6:44 ESV

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65 ESV

Peter had been drawn to Jesus by God. And Peter had been convinced by God that Jesus was the Messiah. And it was this confession that led Jesus to say:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18 ESV

Jesus used a play on words, referring to Peter’s name, which in Greek is Petros and means, “rock.” But He used another Greek word when He referred to “this rock.” It was the word petra. By choosing to use a different word, Jesus was placing the emphasis, not on Peter, but on Peter’s testimony. It was what Peter had said about Jesus that was critical. In other words, the church of Jesus Christ would be built upon the testimonies of those who expressed faith in Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. Contrary to what the Roman Catholic Church has taught for centuries, Jesus was not setting up a system of apostolic succession and establishing the office of the papacy. But the real “rock” in this passage is Jesus Himself. He is what Paul later refers to as the cornerstone of the church.

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. – Ephesians 2:19-21 ESV

And Peter echoed that same sentiment.

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone…” – 1 Peter 2:6-7 ESV

Ultimately, the church is built upon the rock of Jesus Christ. He is our foundation and the one who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). And to all those who build their lives on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, He promises to give “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19 ESV). Jesus switched from talking about their present view of His identity, to the future nature of their authority. He was referring the the millennial kingdom, not the temporal period commonly referred to as the church age. There is a day coming when all those who are children of God will experience the full power and authority available to them as heirs of the kingdom of God. And Jesus clearly articulates the nature of that power and authority when He says, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19 ESV).

To a certain degree, the disciples were going to experience some of that power and authority in their earthly lives, as they proclaimed the good news and released people from captivity to sin and death. They would have God-given authority to cast out demons and heal the sick and the lame. But the greatest fulfillment of Jesus’ words are in the millennial kingdom to come, when Jesus will sit on the throne of David, ruling in righteousness and justice.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Rest From War.

10 And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. 11 And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire. 12 And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured, and struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor alone; that Joshua burned. 14 And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the people of Israel took for their plunder. But every person they struck with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed. 15 Just as the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.

16 So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. And he captured all their kings and struck them and put them to death. 18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.

21 And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war. Joshua 11:10-23 ESV

joshua_conquest_of_canaan.jpgWhen Moses and the people of Israel had arrived at the borders of the land of Canaan the first time, he had sent in 12 men as spies and charged them with the responsibility of bringing back a report on conditions within the land. When they returned, they had good news and bad news. The land promised to them by God was abundantly fruitful and they had brought back samples to prove it. But there was a problem. The land was also full of well-fortified cities filled with well-armed people. The land of Canaan was literally crawling with potential enemies.

27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” – Numbers 13:27-29 ESV

This news kept the people of Israel from entering the land. Which was the cause behind God’s decision to let that generation die off in the wilderness rather than allow them to enter the promised land – the place of rest. But 40 years later, Joshua and the next generation of Israelites were in the land and discovering first-hand that the report of the spies was true. The land was full of fortified cities and formidable enemies. And yet, as this chapter reveals, Joshua and the people of Israel methodically eliminated any and all competition. As they stepped out in faith, obeying the will of God, they experienced unparalleled military success. From Hazor in the north to Debir in the south, Joshua and his troops made their way throughout the land of Canaan, racking up an impressive list of victories over the Amalakites, Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites. All those mighty warriors that the 12 spies had seen and warned the people of Israel about, were falling before the forces of Israel. Even the descendants of Anak, the people of Anakim. This particular group had been singled out by the spies as especially significant because they were seen to be giants. And yet, they proved to be no match for the Israelites. We’re told “There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel” (Joshua 11:22 ESV).

This chapter contains a summary of the military exploits of the people of Israel, but it is also provides an important reminder that this amazing feat was the work of God.

For it was the Lord‘s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses. – Joshua 11:20 ESV

God did His part and Joshua and the people of Israel did theirs. “Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Joshua 11:23 ESV). Joshua did exactly what God had commanded Moses to do. He followed orders and enjoyed unprecedented success. He had learned an invaluable lesson at Jericho, that disobedience has consequences. He had also discovered the hard way, that making decisions without God’s input is costly. His alliance with the Gibeonites, made without God’s approval, was going to haunt the people of Israel for generations. And the Gibeonites are conspicuously mentioned in this chapter as the only nation that was spared by the Israelites.

There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. – Joshua 11:19 ESV

Because of the unfortunate alliance Joshua and the elders made with the Hivites, they would remain in the land, protected from destruction and free to influence the Israelites with their pagan ways and false gods. This passing mention of the Hivites is important, because it reminds us that God had clearly included them in His list of nations to destroy.

1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 ESV

The Hivites were idolatrous, worshiping the false gods Moloch, Baal and Ashtaroth. Their worship of these gods involved the sacrifice of children and temple prostitution. So, their presence in the land would have long-term ramifications on the people of Israel.

But in spite of this one blot on Joshua’s record, he obeyed God, doing exactly as he had been told.

So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war. – Joshua 11:23 ESV

This does not mean that all of Canaan had been defeated and occupied by the people of Israel. There were still Canaanites in the land. But Joshua had broken the will of the people who occupied the land, having put the fear of God in them. There was no part of Canaan where the reputation of the Israelites and the name of Yahweh had not been heard. But now, the individual tribes of Israel were going to be held responsible to perform the necessary clean-up operations in their respective portions of the promised land. They would have to finish what Joshua had begun. God had brought them to the land, provided them with a miraculous entrance into the land, and assisted them in conquering the nations that occupied the land. Now it was their turn to populate and possess the land. The Canaanites were no longer a significant military threat, but they would remain a spiritual threat for generations to come. Yet, the Israelites would take the period of rest from battle that God was giving them and turn it into a time of complacency and compromise. Rather than complete the task that God had given them, they would eventually choose to allow the Canaanites to remain in the land, intermarrying with them and even worshiping their gods. Living in the rest that God provides does not mean we should relax our guard. We should not let down our defenses and become complacent in our obedience to His will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Joshua’s Secret Weapon.

1 When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. And the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire. Joshua 11:1-9 ESV

Battle at MemorChapter 10 ends with the summary statement: “And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.” God had given Joshua and the people of Israel a series of lopsided victories over the five-nation confederation from southern Canaan that had aligned themselves against the Gibeonites. Because of an alliance Joshua and the elders had made with the people of Gibeon, Israel was forced to come to their rescue. And because the Israelites had sealed their treaty with the Gibeonites with an oath made in God’s name, God protected the honor of His name by providing Joshua and the Israelite forces with success. They routed the combined forces of the enemy, executed the five kings, and then completed a campaign that captured and destroyed their cities. But this kind of massive military action didn’t go unnoticed, even in the days before mass media. Word got out and before long, the kings of northern Canaan began to fear the presence and power of the Israelites. Jabin, king of Hazor, located in far northern Canaan, decided to prepare for the worst, and called on his fellow kings of the north to form an alliance against the Israelites. This would prove to be a multinational effort, with troops representing the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Hivites coming together in a massive show of force. The text describes them as “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4 ESV). According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, this multinational force was made up of 300,000 armed footmen, 10,000 horsemen, and 20,000 chariots (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews).

Before Joshua and the people of Israel could enjoy a well-earned rest from the victory over the kings of the south, they found themselves facing an even greater threat from the north. The longer Israel remained in the land and the further they ventured into the interior, the more difficult the obstacles seemed to become. Each successive victory, while enjoyable for the moment, was followed by even greater resistance on the part of the remaining inhabitants of the land. No one was surrendering. The various people groups who occupied the land of Canaan were not giving up without a fight. And this time, the Israelites found themselves facing their most difficult test to date. These troops were well-trained and armed with chariots. The Israelites were outnumbered and out-gunned. They had no chariots or sophisticated, state-of-the-art weaponry. But they had God, and He had promised to go before them and fight their battles for them. He had already shown Himself true to His word, bringing down the walls of Jericho in a miraculous display of His power. He had also sent hail to destroy a large portion of the southern Canaanite forces. God was on their side and it didn’t really matter who or how many lined up on the other side. On paper, the northern alliance was the odds-on favorite to win this battle. They had everything going for them, except that they didn’t have God on their side. You might say that the Israelites had a secret weapon. They had a power at their disposal that no nation on earth could match. And, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, God provided Joshua with the assurance, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire” (Joshua 11:6 ESV).

But it’s one thing to hear the words of God and another thing to believe them. What God told Joshua didn’t make the enemy go away. They were still camped at the waters of Merom, and they were still intent on doing battle with the Israelites. Their numbers had not diminished and their chariots had not gone anywhere. God didn’t eliminate the threat, He simply guaranteed the victory. And Joshua had to take God at His word and lead his forces into a battle that, by all accounts, looked like a recipe for disaster. But Joshua did as the Lord commanded and led his inferior force into battle, taking the enemy by surprise. And the text tells us, “the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining” (Joshua 11:8 ESV).

Long before the Israelites arrived in the land of Canaan, God had promised to give them victory over their enemies, and He had told them that it would be accomplished in surprising fashion.

You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. – Leviticus 26:7-8 NLT

God doesn’t require superior forces to accomplish His will. He simply needs obedient servants who will trust His word and who will rely upon His strength instead of their own. Joshua knew he was out-manned. He was well aware that the odds were against him. But he also knew that God was for him. He was slowly learning to trust God and to step out in faith, knowing that the circumstances he faced were a lousy predictor of the outcome God intended.

If Josephus was right, the Israelites completely destroyed 300,000 armed footmen and 10,000 horsemen, and they set fire to 20,000 chariots. Any way you look at it, that is a remarkable accomplishment. It’s an act of God. The odds were against them, but God was for them. The enemy was superior in number, but God was superior in strength. Israelite lacked chariots and horses, but they had God on their side.

It was the future king of Israel, David, who would later write of secret weapon that is God Almighty.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:7-8 ESV

And Moses had told the people of Israel to keep their eyes focused on the strength of their God, not the size of their enemy.

“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!” – Deuteronomy 20:1 NLT

Joshua was learning to trust God. The enemies were not going away, they were actually increasing in number and growing in strength. But the power of God is best displayed against a backdrop of impossibility. It is when all looks lost and the odds are completely stacked against us that we find the power of God not only necessary, but most vividly displayed. The psalmist knew what it was like to be surrounded, outnumbered, and out-manned, but victorious in spite of the odds.

10 Though hostile nations surrounded me,
    I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
11 Yes, they surrounded and attacked me,
    but I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
12 They swarmed around me like bees;
    they blazed against me like a crackling fire.
    But I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.
13 My enemies did their best to kill me,
    but the Lord rescued me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has given me victory. – Psalm 118:10-14 NLT

Nothing is too difficult for God. No enemy is too powerful or circumstance too impossible for Him. In God, we have a secret weapon that no force in heaven or on earth can stand against.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

And the Lord Gave…

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. Joshua 10:29-43 ESV

003-joshua-sunThese verses chronicle the efforts of the Israelites as they wrapped up their defense of the people of Gibeon. After having defeated the combined forces of the five city-states and executed their kings, Joshua led his troops in a series of attacks on their cities. As you may recall, there had been four kings from southern Canaan who had alligned themselves with the king of Jerusalem, in order to attack the Gibeonites. This was all as a result of an alliance Joshua had made with the king of Gibeon.

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. – Joshua 10:5 ESV

But in spite of Joshua’s ill-advised and God-forbidden alliance, he was given victory over these kings because he had sworn an oath in God’s name to protect the people of Gibeon. So, God had given the people of Israel a great victory over them. But now, they had to do what God had commanded them to do and destroy all the nations of Canaan. While they could do nothing to harm the people of Gibeon because of their oath, they had no such alliances with the other cities of southern Canaan, collectively known as the land of the Amorites. So, beginning with Makkedah, the place where the five kings had sought refuge in a cave, Joshua and his forces began a methodical march through the land, conquering one city after another.

One of the most important factors behind these conquests is the obvious references made to God’s involvement. Repeatedly, the author tells us that God gave these cities into the hands of the Israelites. The victories were God-ordained and orchestrated. In fact, verse 42 tells us that “Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.” By obeying the will of God, Joshua and the people of Israel experienced the blessing of God. He fought on their behalf and their victories were evidence of His presence and power. Beginning at Libnah and ending at Debir, the Israelites made their way through the land, doing exactly what God had commanded them to do.

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. – Joshua 10:40 ESV

There were no compromises made or treaties signed. No cities were arbitrarily spared or kings allowed to live. Joshua seems to have learned a valuable lesson. He had discovered that things go so much better when you do things God’s way. With each victory, he was witnessing a miracle, because the nation of Israel was not a well-trained, well-equipped military force, but a rag-tag group of people who had spent the last 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Their blitzkrieg-like march through southern Canaan was the work of God. In just days, they defeated seven different kingdoms. Through simple obedience to God’s will, they were experiencing the benefits of God’s divine assistance. God gave them victory because they gave Him honor through their obedience.

As always, it’s important that we not view these events as some kind of land-grab as one nation attempts to illegally dispossess the rightful occupants. This is a spiritual endeavor, ordained by God and intended to set up the Israelites in the land so that, one day, He could send His Son to be not only the Jewish Messiah, but the Savior of the world. One of the cities that Joshua and his forces defeated was Jerusalem. This would become the capital of the Hebrew nation, where David reigned and where Jesus would die. And one day, Jesus will return to the city of Jerusalem, where He will set up His kingdom and reign for 1,000 years. God has a much larger, grander plan in mind than the defeats of a series of seven city-states. He is preparing the way for something far more important: The coming of His Son as the Savior of the world. In his gospel account, John describes Jesus as the light of the world.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

When Jesus came into the world, it was a place of darkness. It was filled with sin and its people were marked by a spirit of rebellion against God. The same thing was true in Joshua’s day. The land of Canaan was a place of spiritual darkness, filled with people who worshiped false gods and whose lifestyles were marked by open rebellion to the one true God. Paul describes their spiritual state in stark terms:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:19-23 ESV

It is important to remember that the spiritual darkness of Canaan was palpable and real. These nations were under the curse of God because they lived in rebellion against God. And while we may find God’s methodology of destruction and devastation difficult to comprehend, He was establishing Himself as the one true God and the people of Israel as His chosen possession. As we have already seen, the victories of Israel over their enemies were leaving an indelible impression. Those Canaanites who were not living in the cities Israel destroyed, were undoubtedly impressed by the power of Israel’s God. They were convinced that Yahweh was far greater and more powerful than their own gods. They had no doubt pleaded with their deities to give them victory. They had made sacrifices at their altars and begged their gods for divine intervention. But their gods had failed them.

Like the plagues brought on the people of Egypt, God had a purpose in all of this. He was displaying His power among the nations through His chosen people, Israel. He was letting everyone in Canaan know that there was a new God in town. He was great and greatly to be feared. He was holy and demanded of His people that they live obediently and in keeping with His revealed law. As long as they obeyed Him, they would enjoy His power and presence. All the way back at the Jordan River, when God dried up the waters so the people could cross over into the land of promise, Joshua told the people, “He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the LORD’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the LORD your God forever” (Joshua 4:24 NLT). God was displaying His power through the lives of the people of Israel. They were His light in the darkness. They were revealing what happens when a nation lives in relationship with the one true God and in willing obedience to His will.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Through God’s Eyes.

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.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 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.

“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! 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. 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.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 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.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

For the Sake of His Name.

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, 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. 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.” 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.” So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 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.” 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. Joshua 10:1-15 ESV

The reputation of the Israelites was rapidly spreading throughout the land of Canaan. News of their destruction of the cities of Jericho and Ai had gotten out, as well as the treaty they had made with the people of Gibeon. And Joshua was about to find out that his decision to swear allegiance to the Gibeonites brought with it an added responsibility to protect them in the event they were attacked by hostile forces. It seems that the Jebusites assumed that the Gibeonites, a powerful nation, who had allied themselves with the Israelites, were now a potential threat to their national security. So, Adoni-zedek, the king of Jerusalem sent a message to the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and 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” (Joshua 10:4 ESV). This five-nation alliance joined forces and surrounded Gibeon, intent on destroying them. But the people of Gibeon sent word to Joshua, demanding that he honor his treaty with them and come to their aid. Due to his ill-advised decision to accept the Gibeonites deceptive offer of an alliance, Joshua had unwittingly committed the nation of Israel to their protection. He was now obligated, by an oath to God, to come to their aid. He had sworn by the name of God and could not go back on his commitment without violating his word to God.

Back in chapter nine, we were left with the impression that Joshua’s treaty with the Gibeonites was simply a commitment to let them live.

18 But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19 But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. 20 This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.” – Joshua 9:18-20 ESV

But now, we discover that the Israelites had actually become the protectors of the people of Gibeon. Not only were they obligated to let them live, they were committed to keeping them alive. Their oath was going to be more costly than they had imagined.

And yet, God stood with Joshua and the people of Israel, promising to go before them and provide them with a victory over the five-nation alliance.

“Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” – Joshua 10:8 ESV

Joshua had sworn to the Gibeonites by the name of God and God was not about to let His name be denigrated or His honor be marred. His reputation was at stake. So, He acted and “threw them into a panic before Israel” (vs 10). Joshua and his troops chased their panic-stricken enemies as they fled for their lives. But this is when the story gets really interesting. Because Joshua had sworn an oath by God’s name, God was going to make sure that the Israelites, Gibeonites and the Amorites knew that this was His battle, not theirs. He got directly involved in the action, providing a miraculous display of His power to destroy the enemies of Israel.

…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. – Joshua 10:11 ESV

What makes this event even more significant is that Baal, the false god of the Canaanites, was worshiped as the god who controlled the weather. He was in charge of the rain, hail and floods. And yet, Yahweh, the God of Israel rained down hail on the worshipers of Baal, destroying them while sparing the Israelites.  And as if that was not enough, God honored a request from Joshua to make the sun stand still, so that the Israelites could have more daylight to capture and destroy the remaining forces of the Amorites. The Canaanites, a term used to refer to all the people living in the land of Canaan, were also worshipers of the sun and moon, considering them to be deities. So, when God affected the sun, He was revealing His superior power over the false gods of the Canaanites.

But that begs the question: What exactly happened here? Did the earth really “stand still” as the text suggests? There has been much speculation and even more debate regarding this issue over the centuries. There are those who argue that God caused the earth to rotate on its axis or slowed the earth’s rotation in order to lengthen the day. This would have been a world-wide phenomena. There are others who believe it was a localized event, whereby God somehow altered atmospheric conditions in that region, creating a refraction of the sun’s light as it set in the sky. And then there are those who speculate that God simply provided a separate source of light that gave the appearance of sunlight. The bottom line is that we don’t know how God accomplished this miracle, we just know that he did. The text matter-of-factly states, “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13 ESV) and then, as if to clarify that this was a God-ordained miracle, reads, “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” (Joshua 10:14 ESV).

While we can easily find ourselves debating and doubting the how surrounding the events in this passage, we must not lose sight of the who behind it all. While it is easy to find this story difficult to believe, it is intended to stress the supernatural power of God. The God of the Israelites is not like Baal or Molech. He is a living, all-powerful God who fights on behalf of His people. He is not some kind of distant deity who sits up in heaven, watching helplessly as His people struggle to live their lives on this planet. He is intimately involved in their lives, interjecting Himself into their affairs in miraculous ways that defy explanation. The Amorites had good reason to fear the Israelites, but it had nothing to do with Joshua and his military forces. It was because the Israelites were the chosen people of God Almighty.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson