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Stephen R. Clark
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Oreland, Pennsylvania
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Delivered August 4, 2019 | Huntingdon Valley, PA | Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church
You can listen to the sermon here: https://www.hvpc.org/sermons/sermon/2019-08-04/oh-the-weather-outside-is-frightful

Oh, the weather outside is frightful!

Joshua 10:1-21

Readings -- Joshua 10:1-21, ESV

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+10:1-21&version=ESV

Review

Before we dive into the first half of chapter 10 this morning, let’s do a little review.

The children of Israel have entered the Promised Land, Canaan, after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Moses, their original leader who helped free them from the Egyptians, has died. Joshua, his protégé, has taken over the leadership.

Of the original 600,000 plus people who left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea described in Exodus 14, only two remain alive. These are Joshua and Caleb. You can find their story in Numbers 13 and 14.

Still, the number of those who crossed the Jordan into Canaan also numbered at least 600,000 since, as they wandered the desert, children were born, grew up, married, and started new families.

The 600,000 actually represents only the able-bodied men. It’s estimated that the true number of Israelites on this trek was as high as 2.4 million. That’s a lot of mouths to feed!

The area they are entering comprises about 60,000 square miles. Roughly 144 miles long by 40 miles wide.

Keep in mind that their main mode of transportation was their feet. They also had horses, chariots, and carts drawn by various animals. Moving from one place to another took time.

This sense of time is lost in much of the narrative of Joshua. For instance, in today’s passage we hear that they were in Gilgal and then suddenly in Makkedah, which was about 40 miles away.

Think of it like a movie or a TV show where, the characters who are in L.A. declare the need to go to Atlanta, and then in the next scene seconds later, they are deplaning at the Atlanta airport. We don’t need all the travel details to understand that time has passed as distance was traveled. The same is true with the narrative of Joshua. 

From chapter 1 through chapter 9, we have seen Joshua’s leadership skills emerge and mature. Also in this time, Jericho has been conquered, Rahab and her family have been integrated into the nation, and at Ai they learned an important lesson -- not to steal from God -- and were able to successfully conquer the city after purifying their camp.

Last week we learned how the Gibeonites used deception to avoid being destroyed. At the same time, Joshua learned one more hard lesson because he failed to ask the Lord for guidance. A lesson all of us can probably relate to!

And so we arrive at chapter 10 and a new challenge arising against the children of Israel.


Introduction

This first half of Joshua 10 breaks out into five scenes:

  • King Me! - Verses 1-5

  • Call & Response. - Verses 6-8

  • Hail from the Chief! - Verses 9-11

  • Sun! Be Still! - Verses 12-15

  • Opposition is Futile. - Verses 16-21

We’re going to walk through each of these in order.

King Me!

Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, hears about the alliance between Gibeon and Israel and panics.

Compare what happens here at the beginning of chapter 10 with the opening of chapter 9.

When the Gibeonites heard what had happened to Jericho and Ai, there response was not to make war. But rather, they recognized the awesome power of God that was driving Israel and understood they could not stand against it. They were motivated to find a way to survive.

They came up with a plan -- a deception -- to save their skins and create an alliance with Israel, even if it meant endless servitude. While it was dishonest, still, it wasn’t a stupid course of action. It was action taken after a sober evaluation of all they had heard regarding the children of Israel and their God.

And remember Rahab’s response, in Chapter 2 verses 8-11:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”

Rahab also seeks an alliance with Israel, understanding, at least in a cursory way, who God was. She understood Israel, and Israel’s allies, were not to be trifled with or opposed.

Yet, when Adoni-zedek hears about what happened to Jericho and Ai, coupled with the resulting Gibeonite alliance, instead of choosing to find a way to make peace with Israel, he chooses to go to war.

But notice, he didn’t take aim at Israel. He decided to take aim at the Gibeonites.

Seeing what a formidable combined force both Israel and the Gibeonites are, Adoni-zedek reasons that by creating a larger coalition and only going up against Gibeon, there was a chance they would prevail. Divide and conquer.

Look at the progression of how things played out in these first five verses of chapter 10: he heard, feared, sent, gathered, encamped, made war.

Rahab heard, feared, and surrendered.

The Gibeonites heard, feared, and sought an alliance.

Adoni-zedek heard, feared, and then looks to make war, to oppose Israel, to induce others to join in, and thus oppose the plan of God. The reality is that for Adoni-zedek, fear was also a form of unbelief. Regardless of the reports, he did not believe he was facing off with anything greater than mortal men.

It’s interesting that here we learn that Gibeon was a “great city,” “greater than Ai,” and “all its men were warriors.”



Yet, despite its greatness, Gibeon recognized how powerless it was against the God of Israel. On the other hand, Adoni-zedek irrationally reasons that by gathering a coalition of kings, they can overpower Gibeon and then take down Israel.

The decisions being made and the strategy developed were not soberly reasoned. The were driven by fear, pride, and arrogance. Four other kings joined him in attacking the Gibeonites.

Satan does the same thing. He knows better than to attack God directly -- that would be foolishness. Yet, he seems to reason that if he can take us down -- God’s followers -- then he will weaken God. It’s a fool’s game. Because we are God’s, we have God’s protection. And God doesn’t like it when the enemy messes with his kids. God will come to the rescue, defending us against the darts and arrows of the evil one.

Call & Response

This is modeled and lived out by Joshua, who, in this instance, is in a sense, taking on God’s role in relationship to the Gibeonites as their protector and defender.

As they are being besieged, Gibeon sends to Joshua for help.

Now, you might think, here’s an opportunity for Joshua to get out of the agreement that came about by deception, and a way to eliminate the Gibeonites. A loophole if you will.

After all, if Joshua did nothing, perhaps the alliance of five kings would wipe out the Gibeonites, the covenant would be null and void, and all would be well again. Joshua’s original error would be erased.

But no. Just as God lives up to his promises, Joshua lives up to the commitment made to Gibeon. Joshua is a strong, take-charge leader showing great integrity. A kind of leader this country could use more of these days.

Joshua made a promise, and just as he expected God to live up to his promises, Joshua knew he had to live up to the promise Israel made to the Gibeonites.

He does not hesitate. He rouses his men and they march through the night -- uphill for about 20 miles -- and lay in ambush for the five kings.

In the midst of these preparations -- only after he has responded -- Joshua receives assurance from God that none will stand before Israel. Joshua, with God’s help, will be victorious.



I love verse nine where it declares “suddenly” they came upon the enemy.

This strikes me as being akin to people who are declared an overnight sensation. As if one day they didn’t exist at all, and the next day they’re the greatest thing since the invention of the internet.

The reality is that before someone becomes an “overnight sensation,” there are years of blood, sweat, and tears being expended. Hard work, enduring through failures and setbacks, and dogged persistence all go into creating any “overnight sensation.”

With Joshua, there had been years of serving alongside Moses. Years of learning about God and how to worship Him. Years of wandering in the desert and caring for the people. There were the recent lessons of Jericho and Ai. And even more recently, there was the hours-long overnight march. All of this led up to the “suddenly” moment!

And it was definitely a “suddenly” moment for the forces of the five kings. They didn’t see this development coming.

Hail From The Chief!

In response to Joshua’s faithfulness and prompt willingness to honor Israel’s commitment to the Gibeonites, God induces panic in the enemy. Israel sweeps in and strikes a great blow. God and Israel, together, chase the enemy and God adds in the special effect of targeted hail stones.

Right off the bat, there are two supernatural weapons provided by God. This is an instance of clear cooperation between man and God.



I like what David Firth says in his commentary on Joshua about this episode:

“Yahweh here shows himself faithful to his promises only after the people of Israel have shown themselves faithful to theirs. God expects faithfulness on the part of his people, and that includes in their relationships with others as well as in their relationship with him. Or, as Jesus puts it, we should be people whose ‘yes’ and ‘no’ mean exactly that, so that all can trust us. Looking for loopholes in order to break a promise is not how God acts, and neither should it mark the life of his people.”

Joshua was a man of his word, as well as a man of God’s word.

By manipulating natural forces and bringing the hailstones to bear, God is offering encouragement to Joshua and the children of Israel, by manifesting his presence in order to rout the enemy.

God is also declaring to everyone else that his kids are not to be messed with. That he is sovereign and he’s got the backs of Joshua and his people.

But overarching and bracketing all of this activity is one more supernatural event.

Sun! Be Still!

Here, seemingly in the middle of the action, we come to a narrative aside. An, “oh, by the way” sidebar.

A sidebar in a book or article contains relevant information that doesn’t necessarily fit the flow of the narrative. The information can help clarify or at least complement the narrative.

Here, verses 12-15, time-wise actually encompass the beginning of the battle through to the end. In other words, the action being described has both already happened and is yet to happen within the context of the chapter.

Verse 15 and verse 43 are identical because they are describing the same event. This explains why in verse 15 Joshua is said to be in Gilgal when in verse 16 he is said to be in Makkedah. At this point in the story, he’s in Makkedah and hasn’t yet arrived in Gigal.

Keep in mind the book of Joshua was written well after the fact, with the advantage of hindsight. And just as others had heard of their exploits, others had also written about them.

Here, the Book of Jashar is quoted. The book is also referenced in 2 Samuel 1:18. The actual Book of Jashar no longer exists. It is believed to have contained exploits of the children of Israel in the form of epic verse.

At any rate, the writer of Joshua interjects this little factoid and quote, explaining an unusual aspect about the day of the battle.

As if the spontaneous confusion and targeted hail wasn’t unusual enough, now we have the sun standing still, lengthening the day.

This passage has caused consternation for both atheists and even some commentators.

Atheists have pointed to the passage to prove how dumb Christians are. After all, everyone knows the sun does not rotate around the earth! The earth rotates around the sun! So to say the sun stood still is just foolish.

But reasonable people understand that the passage was written poetically using common idioms. Even today, this is merely how people talk about sky-based phenomena.

We don’t say, “Look at this attractive rotation of the earth out of the sun’s direct light.” Instead we say, “Look at this beautiful sunset.” Or, “Look at the lovely sun rise.” And we watch the stars move across the sky. We say these things knowing full well what’s moving around what.

Beyond this silly quibbling over language, some question how in the world it’s possible the earth could be made to stop rotating. Certainly this is not what actually happened!

After all, this would cause massive upheaval with the loss of gravity. Surely there’s another explanation of what’s really going on given that this must merely be poetic, metaphorical language.



Various explanations offered include:

  • It was actually some sort of eclipse.

  • Instead of a full stop, the earth’s rotation was merely slowed.

  • By some miracle of refraction, the day just seemed longer.

  • It wasn’t the day that was made longer, but the previous night was shortened.

Here’s what baffles me about these alternate ideas as to what is meant by “the sun stopped.”

First, they all still need a miracle component to have occurred at that specific time and place after Joshua prayed.

Second, no one is raising an eyebrow over the targeted hailstones or spontaneous confusion.

For me, I just put the stopping of the sun into the context of the parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. The creation when God spoke all things into existence from nothing. When the plagues tormented Pharaoh. When the day was watched over by a pillar of smoke and the night by a pillar of fire. When the manna appeared. And when Jericho was flattened by the hand of God.

Here, with confusion, hail, and a long day, God intervened. And when God intervenes he can do whatever he wants.

One of my favorite passages is Colossians 1:15-17:

“15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Did you hear that final phrase?

“In him ALL things hold together.”



There’s a song we sing called Great Are You Lord. One line goes, “It’s Your breath in our lungs.”

Think about that. Because it’s true.

Do you really comprehend what it means?

Every breath we take. Every move we make. It’s because of him. (My apologies to Sting and The Police.)

Everything in this world, in our universe and beyond, is held together by the will and word of God. Constantly.

So, could God make the sun “stand still” and stop the earth’s rotation, while at the same time sustaining all life on the planet and all that exists in creation in order to accomplish his purposes?

Yes.

Yes he can, and yes he did.

I don’t know the specific details of how he did it. I wasn’t there. You weren’t there. And the account in Joshua is a gloss leaving out all the finer details.

I’m okay with that. I’m okay with the details being left in the realm of mystery. I don’t need to know them to know that God is a great big, very powerful, all loving God who holds my life and yours, carefully, in his hands.



One of my favorite poems is “Fence Wire” by James Dickey. It evokes this idea of everything being held together by God.

In the poem, a farmer stands at his fence that encircles his property. His hand is on the top strand of wire, described as a “thread tuned to an E / Like the low string of a guitar. It hums, intones | Like a psalm.”

The fence runs over the ground, “disappear[s] left and right | As far as the eye can see | Over hills, through woods, | Down roads.”

As the poem draws our eyes to follow this top fence wire, it becomes snow, then a hawk, then a robin, then a boy, as the man stands gazing out, “His palm on the top tense strand | With the whole farm feeding slowly” into his hand.



The point of the poem is that the farm and all it contains is there and is held together by the will of the farmer.

This is an image of God and his creation. In him, we and all things are held together.

And once, he made the sun that he created stand still.

Opposition Is Futile

Finally, this day like no other ends with the routing of the enemy. The five kings run and hide in a cave yet are quickly discovered at Makkedah. Joshua orders stones rolled in front of the cave to seal the fate of the kings. In the meantime, Israel keeps pursuing the enemy forces that remain.

So for at least a few hours, the five kings are stuck together inside this dark, damp cave. One wonders how Adoni-zedek was faring against the complaints and accusations of the other four kings he convinced to join him in attacking the Gibeonites. Too late, they were all realizing how foolish their plans and actions had been.

They were beginning to comprehend that they had not gone up against mere men, but had opposed the living God.

We’ll come back to them next week. But for now, look at the end of verse 21. “Not a man moved his tongue against any of the people of Israel.”

The enemies of Israel, and by extension, the enemies of God, were left speechless. Dumbstruck.

This is often what happens when non-believers are exposed to the power of God.

Remember back to the Charleston shootings? On June 17, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. He joined a Bible study of 12 people, and sat briefly listening to the discussion. As the group began to pray, Roof pulled out a gun and started shooting. He killed nine people, ranging in age from 26 to 87 years old. It took only six minutes.

Later, as reporters talked with survivors, those reporters were stunned speechless when person after person, both friends and relatives of those killed, said they forgave Roof.

When the world encounters a true act of God, manifested either in his holy and righteous wrath, or in the quiet power of his grace channeled through his people, the world is silenced.

Application

There’s a lot we can draw from this passage, a lot more we could unpack, but I want to end on only one simple point:

When God’s people are in synch with God’s will, he is there in their midst, and together they will accomplish great things that will stun, silence, and transform a watching and hurting world.

=====

 Let’s pray.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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