Joshua 10:1-14

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; there shall not be a man of them stand before you.” (Joshua 10:8)

Check out the speeches of historic kings, presidents, and generals, speeches written in times of war, and you’ll discover an interesting similarity. Most of these leaders have endeavored to mobilize their constituencies to battle with the promise, “God is on our side.”

One of the most classic evidences of this is the slogan used by the Germans in their twentieth-century wars against the Allies. This phrase appeared in speeches. I’ve even seen it prominently attached to a soldier’s helmet. It reads: “Gott Mit Uns.” As you know, translated, that means “God with us.”

In many ways, this kind of sloganeering can end up being the Achilles heel of the Christian. I can rationalize my doing what I want to do by deceiving myself into thinking that “God is on my side.” Isn’t that the ultimate of idolatry? What a narrow perspective that brings to life. How self-centered. How destructive that can be.

What is it that I am saying when I say that God is on my side? I’m declaring that I am the center of the universe, a very important universe. The very Creator and Sustainer of that universe is mobilized by me to function at my whim. I rub the lamp, and He, my Genie, responds to my command. All too much of the contemporary Christianity smacks of this provincial egocentrism.
There’s another way of looking at this. I am told that Abraham Lincoln put it in these terms during the Civil War when both sides were claiming the help of God. He said, “The key issue is not whether God is on my side but whether I am on God’s side.” Do you find yourself fascinated as I do by that very subtle distinction in the use of words which produces a massive difference in one’s self-understanding?

Joshua is now a veteran of life. He and his colleague, Caleb, are the only two Israelites who remember Egypt. They know the struggles of having been slaves in an affluent, power-hungry environment. They know what it is like to be a minority, whose standard of living went down while the standard of living of the majority went up. In fact, as a slave class, they were a significant part of enabling that rise in the standard of living.

“Might makes right” was the attitude of the Pharaohs. As a young Hebrew slave, Joshua watched as the Egyptians claimed to have the gods on their side — various kinds of gods who served at their beck and call.

The God of the Hebrews didn’t seem that strong. If He was, He’d be of greater help, wouldn’t He? But then Joshua’s imagination was captured as an adopted son of Pharaoh stepped out of the closet declaring himself to be a Hebrew. Moses disappears for forty years and then returns to organize and lead these slaves out of bondage.
Joshua had observed that battle between Jehovah and the Egyptian gods. He’d seen the ten plagues. Finally, he and the rest of his people were led out of Egypt into the wilderness.
There have been times when God had seemed so close and times when God had seemed so distant. There is something strange about this God. He is elusive. He can’t quite hold on to Him. Sometimes when you need Him, He’s there. Sometimes when you need Him, He isn’t there.
Forty years go by. Moses dies. Joshua is now the leader. God gives him some promises. An interesting God this is. Those promises were conditional. Joshua knew this intellectually. He had to learn it the hard way, existentially.

You see, at first Joshua functioned as if God was on his side. Or perhaps, much more significantly, it was because Joshua was no longer on God’s side. He had presumed on the Deity. He had not checked the signals.

So strange it was and is. How much better things go when we don’t take God for granted but when we live in daily conversation with Him. When we do, we discover those Achans in our lives, those hidden sins which God cannot tolerate. We are drawn to repentance, to renewal, to new spiritual energy.
Joshua is learning his lesson. He conquers Ai. Then along comes this Gibeonite band. Joshua has learned to be on God’s side when it comes to battles. He forgets that lesson when it comes to making treaties. He is tricked. He is duped. Why? Because he doesn’t consult the Lord.

He enters into the covenant with Gibeon only to discover that he has been deceived. He keeps his vow. Why? He has learned his lesson. He has discovered the importance of obedience. Joshua is going to do things God’s way, not expecting God to do things his way. A very important discovery, isn’t it?
Now that he has this straight, Joshua is ready for battle. No, not for just the isolated battle. He’s ready for the conquest. He is ready to move in and occupy the land originally given to Abraham, once again promised to Moses and now to be taken by Joshua.

There are three specific messages to those of us who have learned what it is to be on God’s side.

When on God’s side, you will face opposition.

God’s people are always threatened by those who are not on God’s side. When you mean business with the Lord, the word has a way of getting out. Your mettle is tested. The sincerity of your commitment is challenged. Even the power of your God is measured.

Adonizedek, the king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had taken Ai as well as Jericho. He heard how a peace treaty had been established with the Gibeonites. He and his people “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 mighty” (Joshua 10:2).
Gibeon should have been one of his allies. They weren’t. They’d established the treaty with Israel. Alarmed, he intensifies his efforts at building an alliance with the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon. He is determined to crush any help the Israelites might eventually get from the Gibeonites. Instead of marching on Joshua, he and his allies march on Gibeon. He is not about to let the Gibeonite-Israelite covenant go unchallenged. Hell crush the Gibeonites while the Israelites are still camped thirty-two kilometers down the Judean hillside, alongside the Jordan River. This military alliance moves on Joshua’s ally, Gibeon.

I’ve noticed in my forty-four years of life that a commitment to the status quo provides a more placid, easy-going life-style. Set your sights high, commit yourself to changing people’s lives, and you’ll immediately stimulate opposition.

People are threatened by change. They end up making strange alliances. The kings that Adonizedek brought together were actually natural enemies. They quickly became allies when they heard the Israelites were coming. The reputation of Joshua and Israel was travelling in advance of them. It was spreading fear and terror in the heart of the enemy. If Joshua had been content to simply camp at Gilgal, setting up his own city-state, there probably wouldn’t have been as much initial opposition. It was this energetic commitment to obey God and occupy the land that God had given to Israel that stirred up the opposition.

I observed this happen in the church. Over fifteen years ago now, my good friend, John Guest, received a call to become the rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. Up to that point, John had been a wandering, British, Christian troubadour, singing and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With his long hair and winsome British accent, he attracted many confused, American young people. Somehow they saw in John a kind of Paul McCartney turned spiritual.

John had his own rock band. He instituted beach ministries at popular summer resorts. In the off season, he worked in the archdiocese of Pittsburgh as an Episcopal youth minister. His primary responsibilities were at the St. Stephen’s Church, a staid, affluent, play-it-safe, status quo congregation, where not too many people attended church on Sunday, especially not the men. On those few occasions that the rector allowed this young minstrel his chance to preach, the church filled up. The men related to John and the challenge he gave. And the women loved seeing their men come to church.

One day the long-term rector retired. A delegation went to the bishop to see if he would appoint John as the rector. Confronted with that kind of pressure, the bishop gave in. John was appointed. The congregation was happy, and “all is well that ends well.”

That’s not quite the end of the story. John meant business with God. He had been converted to Jesus Christ as a tough kid off the streets of Liverpool, England, through the evangelistic ministry of Billy Graham. Fire burned in his bosom. Certainly, it was an honor, as a young man, to be placed as rector of that sophisticated, wealthy, prestigious Sewickley Church, made up of so many of the heirs of America’s great industrial barons.

But a good salary and a prestigious post were not what John wanted. He wanted to see people come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He wanted to see them grow in their faith. He wanted to see them be deployed in servant ministries to others. He wanted to see renewal in that local congregation and within the Episcopalian church.
His was a no-nonsense ministry. He didn’t preach the little seven-to-ten-minute homily. He didn’t just pat the little babies on the head and play up to the suburban housewives. His was a radical New Testament message: that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; that Jesus Christ is God become man to die for the sins of the world; and that each of us will stand before Him in the judgment day, accountable as to whether or not we repented of sin and put our trust in Him.

Everything hit the fan. A church was divided, polarized by this young pastor who meant business with God and was faithfully preaching His Word. He refused to “play church” the conventional way. He was on God’s side. He would be faithful to His Word. He was vilified and heroized. Stalwart church members of decades worked to get him removed. When they were unsuccessful, they left. Some even went underground, preparing for battle at a time when John would be more vulnerable.

At this time, God was very much at work through John’s ministry. Many were coming alive in Christ for the first time. He spread the Word. It was contagious. Many hungering for spiritual reality were attracted to that church. A building program was announced. Again, controversy broke out. That would take money. It couldn’t be done.
By this time, there were hardcore, dedicated, committed Christian men and women who had caught the vision, who meant business, and who were prepared to face the opposition, in the knowledge that they were on God s side. John Guest, and every faithful servant of Jesus, such as you, is going to face strong opposition. Don’t ever forget this!
II

When on God’s side you’ll discover that God keeps His covenant.

Think of this. If God will stand behind a deal worked out by duplicity between the Gibeonites and the Israelites, how much more will He stand behind His covenant with Israel and with you and me, His new Israel?

Joshua 10:6-11 tells a fantastic story. The men of Gibeon look out and they see the alliance of those five kings led by Adonizedek, the king of Jerusalem, moving toward them and across the Judean hills. They observe as those enemy soldiers begin to set up for war outside the city gates, knowing, that as strong a city as was Gibeon, they could not prevail on their own. So they slipped messengers out the city gates down to Gilgal where Joshua is encamped.

Their urgent message said, “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 that dwell in the hill country are gathered against us” (Joshua 10:6).

What did Joshua do? Ill assure you he didn’t establish a long-range planning task force to evaluate whether or not it would be wise to follow through on the covenant established with Gibeon. He was a man of integrity. He had given his word, and he had done it in the name of the Lord. He called together his troops. He alerted them to the fact that they were going to march immediately.
As they were organizing for that march, he opened his heart once again to God in prayer. This time he did it before the battle, and God said, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; there shall not a man of them stand before you” (Joshua 10:8).

Joshua led his troops up those thirty-two plus kilometers of winding trails, climbing from thirteen hundred feet below sea level to close to three thousand feet above sea level, under the cover of darkness. It took them eight to ten hours as they rapidly covered that same terrain that had previously taken them three days at a more leisurely pace.
The five kings and their soldiers were thrown into a panic before Israel. Many of them were killed. Those who weren’t were chased further up the hillside and then down the ascent toward Bethhoron. The Bible says that, “… the Lord threw down great stones from heaven upon them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the men of Israel killed with the sword” (Joshua 10:11).

Never forget our God is a God of integrity. Our God keeps His Word. Some of His promises have conditions. We’ve seen the price that Joshua paid when he did not live up to the conditions. Our God, in His Word, describes the alternatives so clearly. You and I can live according to our own value schemes, independent of His love and His covenant, and well pay the price. Or, we can elect to be faithful to Him and discover His faithfulness.

Most of the troubles you and I have are the result of our own stubborn unfaithfulness to the covenant. Or, they result from the stubborn unfaithfulness of someone else whose resistance to God’s will impacts our lives.

A marriage partner in rebellion against God can cause a lot of pain for his/her partner. A rebellious child can create havoc in the family. Church leadership that does not live under the authority of God’s Word can spiritually paralyze a congregation.

Even in the darkest hour, one solitary believer who has kept the faith can experience the peace of God which passes all understanding. We are discovering case after case of this statement being verified in the experience of believers in Red China who, for over thirty-five years now, have experienced God’s faithfulness to His covenant in the most trying of circumstances.
This is how the prophet Jeremiah could write words of hope at a time when Jerusalem had been devastated by Nebuchadnezzar in 582 B.C. He was boxed in with gloom, his proud city destroyed, his friends taken captive, once beautiful people left rotting in the streets, infants with parched tongues cleaving to the roofs of their mouths, some so hungry that they turned to cannibalism.
In this desperate moment, what one has called his “Easter Eve” of the human soul, when all is lost, Jeremiah sensed hope within hopelessness. His soul, weighed down by God’s judgment, sprang forward with a confidence in the Lord’s unconquerable mercy as he wrote, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).

It is from this passage we receive those inspiring words of the hymn:
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided —
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Jeremiah and Joshua both had learned that God keeps His covenant with those who are faithful to Him.

III
When on God’s side, you have supernatural resources.
You are not limited strictly to that which makes sense in the terms of this world. You are in relationship with a God of supernatural power who uses His power to achieve His ends.
You’ve already seen this supernatural dimension with this particular military venture. God has communicated His promise to Joshua in a supernatural communication, a conversation in prayer between man and God. We’ve seen hailstones or meteorites. We’re not certain exactly what they are that bombarded the fleeing enemy so that more were killed by these “great stones from heaven” than by conventional, military weapons.

Then we read how Joshua asked the Lord for the sun to stand still and for the moon to stay until the battle could be completed. The Bible says, “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies” (Joshua 10:13). God heard the cry for help. He answered it with supernatural intervention.
Many theories have been advanced as to what actually happened that day. Some have declared that this is a fanciful notion, for any modern person knows that it’s not the sun that moves. It’s planet earth that rotates on its axis around the sun. It’s interesting to note that the same cynical person will refer to the sun “rising in the morning and setting in the evening.” Descriptive language continues to be used.

The Hebrew word daman in the RSV is translated “stand still.” Others translate it “be silent.” The Hebrew word amad, which usually means “to stand still,” can also mean to cease doing something. There’s a bit of controversy among scholars as to whether Joshua was calling for continual light so as to finish the battle or, actually was claiming a continuation of the darkness which aided him in his surprise attack upon the alliance. We’re not certain precisely what happened. What we do know is that there was a supernatural intervention in which God provided His promise, His military help, and the ideal atmospheric conditions to complete the battle.

You say, “That was nice way back then, but God doesn’t work that way today.” What do you mean, not today? Take a look at your life, particularly at those times in which you have been faithful to the Lord. They may not have been easy times. But can you see His divine intervention in ways that validate His faithfulness?

I look back and marvel at experiences which I have had that are nothing short of miraculous.
I lose my breath just thinking of what it took for Anne and me to ever meet, much more for that providential encounter which lasted no more than ten minutes in a military chapel in Taipei, Formosa, to eventually mature into marriage.

I look back amazed at how God led me through college, to Princeton Seminary, and caused certain calls I wanted to churches I coveted to not happen so as to bring about my pastorates in Key Biscayne, Florida; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and here. There is no way that I could have arranged events and circumstances to work out the way they did.
I reflect on our building program, way back almost five years now. We had a congregational meeting to discuss the building program. It seemed like there was no possibility of even beginning to raise the amount of money needed.

My phone rang at the office. My secretary alerted me that someone was driving down from Los Angeles just to see me for ten minutes and wondered if I could make time yet that afternoon. I’d only met that person once. I had no idea what could cause such urgency. I made room in my schedule.
An hour and a half later that person walked into my study and said, “John, I can’t be at the congregational meeting tonight. However, God has told me to do something and to do it today. I’ve been blessed in receiving a large amount of money that I never dreamed would be mine. God has told me to pledge one million dollars to the building program. My name must be kept anonymous, but you’re free to tell about this pledge at the congregational meeting this evening.”
I would have never guessed that this person had that kind of money. And, if I had known it, I never would have thought that this person’s heart would have been touched to give that size gift to St. Andrews.
What of the supernatural can you see in your life? In what significant ways has God intervened in answered prayer and special direction?
I’ve seen healings of a supernatural nature. My friend, Werner Burklin, dying of cancer in the late 1960s, major internal organs partially removed surgically, is alive and vital today in the service of Jesus Christ. In fact, he is one of the missionaries our church supports. My dear friend, Norm Cook, felled by encephalitis on the mission field over fifteen years ago, is vital and healthy today. Just recently, one of our own members, Bob Curtis, with heart problems, an apparent seventy percent blockage of three heart valves, came through his angiogram with the very words of the doctor being, “Bob, you had the miracle you prayed for. Your tests show no blockage whatsoever.”
Now I have to honestly acknowledge that God doesn’t always do what I want when I want it in a supernatural way. I’ve had illnesses myself that did not respond immediately to His supernatural healing. I have friends who are just as sincere Christians as those I’ve mentioned whose ultimate healings were death.
But what I can say and will say with all the authority of God’s Word is that ours is a God of supernatural power. He uses this power to achieve His ends. When you are on God’s side, you are part of those ends and are part of the victory which is His.
As I researched and prepared for today’s message, those haunting and emphatic words of the hymn written by Carolina M. Noel in 1870, kept circling around in my memory. They certainly summarize the power and promised ultimate victory of this One on whose side we are called to live and do battle.
At the name of Jesus
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess Him
King of Glory now;
‘Tis the Father’s pleasure
We should call Him Lord,
Who from the beginning
Was the mighty Word.

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