Sunday, 23 March 2014

(83) March 24: Joshua 9-10 & Luke 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider what is and isn’t commendable about Joshua’s dealing with the Gibeonites.

To ponder:
“All” the kings west of the Jordan form an alliance against Israel – except for the Hivites living in the city of Gibeon. Deuteronomy 20v10-15 required Israel to offer peace terms to more distant cities, so the Gibeonites send a delegation who by disguise and deceit imply they have travelled a large distance, and persuade Joshua to make a “treaty” with them. Here Joshua failed to apply God’s law in two ways: He did not inquire of the LORD through the Urim and Thummim (Num 27v18-21), and was quick to make an “oath.” For this reason Israel did not uncover the “ruse” and so could not destroy the Gibeonites for fear of God’s “wrath” actually coming upon them for breaking their oath. Instead they put the Gibeonites to labour (Deut 20v11) at the “house of God,” cutting wood for burning on the altar, and carrying water, probably for the purification rituals (9v23, 26). There is irony here. This is Noah’s curse on the Canaanites (Gen 9v25). But by it they experience the blessing of serving God’s house.
            In building the kingdom, the Christian faces numerous complexities requiring a godly response. These require much prayer for wisdom (Jam 1v5-8) and seeking God’s will in scripture to know the best way forward. Moreover, if a bad decision has been made, this doesn’t justify disobeying God’s will in some other area to rectify it, especially in breaking commitments made to non-Christians, which inevitably compromise one’s witness. Israel’s faithfulness to the oath would have proved the integrity of the people and been an encouragement to truly distant cities to seek a treaty with them.
           Hearing of all this, the kings of various other cities formed an alliance to attack Gibeon. It seems they worried that the Gibeonites might now assist Israel (10v2). Gibeon then asked Israel for help and Joshua honoured their treaty. He took his “entire army,” but was reassured by the LORD not to be afraid for he had given them into Joshua’s hand. Three times it is stressed God fought for Israel: He threw the enemy into confusion, “hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky,” and in response to Joshua’s request to the sun and moon, doubled the period of sunlight so that Israel could finish the job! It is then declared “Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!”
            In the clear up, the five kings were blocked into the caves in which they were hiding whilst Israel destroyed their armies. But a few escaped, leaving us wondering if Israel will ever fully conquer the land.
            As Israel return camp, the picture is of peace in which “no-one” uttered a word against Israel. The Kings are brought forward. Joshua gets his commanders to put their feet on their necks as a memorable illustration that they need not fear but must be courageous as God will do this to all their enemies. The Kings are then killed in line with those under God’s curse (Deut 21v22-23), and the utter destruction of Makkedah and the other southern cities is recounted – all as God “commanded.” The astonishing nature of this is stressed. Joshua “subdued the whole region” in “one campaign.” And all “because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.” They then returned to Gilgal.
            Once more this affirmed Joshua as God’s chosen leader and encouraged Israel that they could achieve absolute victory if God fought for them. Again, we can be encouraged of the absolute victory God has achieved over sin, death and the devil, and will bring to completion when Satan is finally crushed under our feet (Rom 16v20). That victory is also won by his governance of creation, but in resurrection and re-creation.

Praying it home:
Thank God that he exercises all his power to ensure absolute victory of his enemies. Pray for wisdom about how to act in a godly manner in your interaction with non-Christians.

Thinking further: The sun standing still
This event has led to much speculation. Some suggest 10v12-13 is just a poetic way of describing how the victory was brought about through an “all-night march” (so unhindered by the moon) and a day long battle (the sun standing still). However, the text must determine our understanding, and there are numerous suggestions this event is being portrayed as a literal miracle. It is stressed Joshua’s command is said in Israel’s presence and the event recorded in the “book of Jashar” as if to highlight there were two witnesses to its occurrence. Moreover, v13b-14 restate the event in non-poetic language and explicitly state there has never “been a day like it” when the LORD listened to someone like this. Furthermore, if the language was just describing Israel’s endeavours by night and day it was hardly proof of God fighting for Israel, nor more impressive than the raining down of hailstones.
So it seems we must understand that the day was in some way literally extended and the night delayed in response to Joshua’s words. Indeed, there are some records from other ancient cultures that suggest exactly this. Although an actual slowing of the earth’s rotation would have huge repercussions on weather, ecosystems and life, it is quite possible for the God who “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1v3) to ensure it didn’t. However, we do not need to presume this was how this miracle was affected. The language could describe the continuance of light and absence of darkness due to some astronomical phenomenon, or even the display of God’s glory that will mean there is no need for a sun in the new creation. There is always a danger that Christians tie themselves in knots trying to explain miracles. The point is that God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3v20), and so can certainly complete his defeat of all evil and our establishment in our own inheritance, the new creation.

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