The third sermon in a summer series
on Joshua and the Judges
The 4th of July takes the prize for noisy, unsophisticated, flat-out enjoyment! Meat sizzling on a grill, charred just so, smoke clouding the air and stimulating the senses with hungry expectation; summer sides steamed or baked or chilled, buttered or spiced or sugared. And something cold to drink.
Bright primary colors of red, white, and blue are festooned everywhere. A picnic table, outside, under the glory of tall trees in the cool bath of the canopy’s shade. It’s a day of footballs sailing, Frisbees sweeping, horse shoes clanging, and John Philip Sousa resounding and resounding and resounding. Until the whole boisterous day comes to an end in an evening erupting with explosions of light.
And this year, sharing select company with a handful of years since our nation’s founding, witnessing additional verbal fireworks and all the howling hysteria over recent judicial decisions, coupled with the relentless punditry from the left and from the right, has us all convinced that our nation is headed to hell in a hand basket. So it feels all the more imperative that we enjoy Independence Day, this loud, customarily hot, dripping-sweat-at-your-elbows day under the rockets’ red glare.
Still, it is part of the preacher’s calling to say, “Yeah but…” Yeah, noisy, unsophisticated, flat-out enjoyment is good, but… there is room and need to remember. Lady Liberty’s torch is, as the definition of all torches goes, something which is passed. But is it passing among us…or from us?
All of which may seem like a long holiday excursion getting to our text. What’s the point? The point is liberty! Although the path to liberty is long, bloody, and violent. And Israel’s conquest of Canaan under Joshua is a long, violent, and very bloody saga! Joshua and Judges contain some of the hardest episodes to accept in all the Bible. Not that people don’t believe it, but that it’s all so violent and bloody at God’s command!
At this point in our saga, Israel has taken Jericho, and after the famous fall of those walls, they annihilated the city’s population—young and old, men and women and animals.
They have burned the city of Ai, likewise annihilating the population—young and old, men and women, though God said they could keep the animals.
The tribe of Gibeon is scared spitless by this slaughter. They trick Israel into making a treaty with them, pretending to live far, far away, rather than the reality that they are right in Israel’s path and the next domino to fall. So they survive, but they are now slaves to Israel. Israel is leaving a path of bloody conquest!
Why? Two things. First, it’s because of the promise God made to Abraham, to give his descendants the land of Canaan. And second, as God told Moses, “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations…. Because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.”
Judgment and promise. And the judgment is not hard to see. Those blasting rams’ horns. The crumbling walls of Jericho. The hellish fires of Ai. All that death. Judgment!
So much judgment that it should leave us speechless! It’s so severe. It’s a shame, then, that we people of faith have too often wished to press that violent judgment upon others! If Joshua was the sword of God’s wrath, why not us?!
Ah…but you see, what this record should do, rather than inspiring our own blood lust, is lead us to see that greater Yeshua… namely Jesus. Where the first Joshua visited the bloody judgment of God upon the many, the greater Joshua visits that bloody judgment upon the One…Himself. And there is blood. There is violence. There is annihilation. “My God, My God!”
And again, we who read this ought to be struck silent in the face of such a thing! To our shame we have too often sought to crucify those with whom we disagree…and we miss the promise.
Again…think of our greater Joshua on Good Friday. All that blood. All that violence. All that agonizing death. And yet right there is the promise. Jesus speaks. “Father, forgive.” “Today, Paradise.” “It is finished.” “Into Your hands.” In the very place where we are struck dumb, there is promise, faith, and salvation.
So at Jericho, Rahab believed and was saved. And here now in our text, there is a lot of salvation! In chapter 10, King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem (this is pre-Israel, pre-King David Jerusalem) recognized that the tide was against him. V3, He pulls together an alliance of Amorite kings to go punish those Gibeonites for their treaty with these invaders.
V6, the Gibeonites see the massed army of the 5 kings and play the only card they have…they send to Joshua for help! V7, “So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor.” More violence? Yes…but there is a promise. V8, “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands.’” God makes a promise. It’s a done deal. And Joshua believes God.
Oh…but this time Joshua is fighting the amassed army of 5 kings. Israel is winning, as God promised, but daylight is running out. So, v12, Joshua does a startling thing. He calls out to God, “‘Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley Aijalon.’ And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.”
The sun stood still? Yeah, right! Well, if you think I’m going to explain how that happened…guess again. But think about this. We have become so accustomed to viewing the universe in a mechanized way, like some big gearbox. God may have created the gears, we say, but the gears run the show. So, obviously you can’t mess with them or the whole thing goes to pieces!
Unless, that is, the universe is not a machine governed by laws, but rather those laws are simply the predictable actions of God, who works hand in glove with His creation. We see the glove, but it’s really the hand of God. Thus any of the so-called miracles of nature in the Bible are simply God’s hand altering His predictable actions. Can I prove that? No…but it’s something else to think about in all the snarky arguments about miracles.
But there’s something far bigger in this episode than a long day with the sun standing still. In the course of the battle, the five Amorite kings hide in a cave and are captured. At the battle’s end, v26, Joshua has the kings executed; “and he hanged them on five trees. And they hung on the trees until evening.” V27, “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…”
Kings, hung on a tree, dead, bodies thrown into a cave with a stone over the entrance. Now if you don’t hear Jesus in that… well…Sunday School starts again in a couple months!
With those crucified kings there is victory, because God listened to the voice of Joshua and prolonged the day. The greater Joshua, Jesus, is The King, crucified, dead, and buried.
But God also listened to His voice. And while prolonged darkness rather than sunshine came upon the land that Friday, yet there was a greater victory by the Word of grace and pardon…victory even for a crucified thief, let alone all the abominable world. A Word of promise rang out from that bloody, violent war of judgment where Jesus was hanged on a tree. The ultimate liberty tree, if you will…
So we have come full circle. In our greater Joshua we see true liberty, true independence, true freedom. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He takes the judgment. We take the prize. Yes, God is terrible in His judgment….but in His promise, received in faith, oh, His grace far outweighs His judgment!
So as we pass another 4th of July, accompanied by all the fireworks about how unalienable those rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness really are these days, we may be struck dumb by the violence in word and deed around us.
And because we people of faith do have a dog in this fight, we may be tempted to see in Joshua a rationale for a bigger sword… more judgment! Yet, this Joshua points us to the greater Joshua who bore the sword of judgment in His own flesh for the sake of all people…even us who can be abominable.
And in Him, in Jesus, though all around us we may see what appears to be God trampling out His vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, still…despite any and all signs of judgment, faith hears the promise and seizes hold of it. It is the promise of a greater Joshua who says to each one of us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And that is certainly worth celebrating!