THEY ANSWERED THE CRY FOR HELP
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
How do we enter into the promises of God? This is the theme of the book of Joshua that we have been studying. The answers have to do with faith, covenantal faithfulness, courage, obedience, spiritual battle - each of these we have already looked at. There is one more key however - and that we will discover in this passage.
1 Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and were living near them. He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters.
3 So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon. "Come up and help me attack Gibeon," he said, "because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites." Then the five kings of the Amorites--the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon--joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.
6 The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: "Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us."
7 So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. The LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you." After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. The LORD threw them into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the LORD hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.
12 On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: "O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon." So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a man. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel! Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.
16 Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah. When Joshua was told that the five kings had been found hiding in the cave at Makkedah, he said, "Roll large rocks up to the mouth of the cave, and post some men there to guard it. But don't stop! Pursue your enemies, attack them from the rear and don't let them reach their cities, for the LORD your God has given them into your hand." So Joshua and the Israelites destroyed them completely--almost to a man--but the few who were left reached their fortified cities. The whole army then returned safely to Joshua in the camp at Makkedah, and no one uttered a word against the Israelites.
22 Joshua said, "Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me." So they brought the five kings out of the cave--the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon. When they had brought these kings to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders who had come with him, "Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings." So they came forward and placed their feet on their necks. Joshua said to them, "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight." Then Joshua struck and killed the kings and hung them on five trees, and they were left hanging on the trees until evening. At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks, which are there to this day.
(What continues in this passage is a summary of how Joshua and his Army take city after city summarized in verse 41f.)
41 Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel. Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.
Wherever there are people there are problems! People, all by themselves often have problems with themselves, that's why at new years they resolve to do better. When you have two people, problems compound, when you have an entire community of people, problem solving becomes a ongoing task. This is true for every society, every family, including the family of the church.
Israel had these dynamics too. If you remember from last week, Joshua and the leaders of Israel had been tricked into making a peace treaty with the Gibeonites, their gullibility was a consequence of their failure to inquire of the Lord, yet the Lord sovereignly used their failure in leadership to bring the Gibeonites into the promised blessings of the land flowing with milk and honey. God in his incredible love will even allow you to deceive your way into the kingdom because confessing that we believe in Jesus is a starting point in our journey with God.
But the leaders of Israel still had a problem. The people were grumbling. The Gibeonite deception had shaken their confidence in the leadership. When confidence is shaken, distrust grows, imperfections become highlighted, immaturity and sin come to the surface, and in no time, leaders receive the sharp edge of the tongue over the dinner table.
But Joshua's problems were about to get worse.
The Gibeonites had made a peace treaty with Israel, and now the Amorite kings Adoni-Zedek, Hoham, Piram, Japhia and Debir, kings of peoples who at one time lived alongside of the Gibeonites decided that the Gibeonites were now their enemies. And so they decided to fight what had to be the weakest link in the entire Israelite nation - the Gibeonites, the ones who had just betrayed their own gods to align themselves with Joshua. Certainly the Gibeonite people, which had just as quickly change sides would do so again once they saw the battle was not going their way. Certainly they would change sides from the slavery they were experiencing in Israel. And certainly, Israel, when it recognized the risk and the hard task of climbing all the way from Gilgal to Gibeon, recognizing the risk, they would let those tricky Gibeonites fend for themselves, maybe trick their way into a new arrangement. The logic of their strategy is clearly apparent.
So together, these five kings attacked the city of Gibeon.
The Gibeonites sent a message to Joshua, even as he received this message, Israel was still grumbling about him and the other leaders. "Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us."
The temptation for Israel's leadership must have been immense. The first concern for the leaders of Israel was how to enter into the promised land and take ownership of what God had promised them. Besides, the Gibeonites were not really Israelites, they were unclean foreigners who only had become Israelite slaves by deception. On all levels they were expendable. And besides, Joshua had far bigger problems. These Amorite kings had to be defeated. Why not let the Amorite kings weaken their armies in a battled against the Gibeonites, who were good warriors, and then attack them all, one by one, after all, an enemy divided is much easier to conquer. The grumblers of Israel would have made quick work of this decision. We have to deal with our own issues and problems first! "Abandon the Gibeonites, they are not worth the effort. They certainly are not important to us."
By the sovereign grace of God, Joshua would not adopt the value system of the grumblers. He would not perceive human worth based on a track record, sins, history, ethnic identity. The Gibeonites had cried out for help, Joshua took his entire army including his best fighting men through the night, a very tiring uphill journey of 40KM, all the way to Gibeon and he attack the Amorite kings in a surprise attack.
Now there is an important reoccurring theme in this passage - the theme that the Lord did the fighting - first he threw the kings and their armies into confusion, then as they fled through a valley, the Lord hurled hailstones at them, more dying from hailstones than from the sword, and finally, in a miracle that is hard to fathom, the Lord caused the sun and the moon to stop their cycles of day and night for an extended period so that the fleeing Amorites could not escape. In so doing, the Lord demonstrated his value system - because it was the Lord, not just Joshua, who was fighting for the Gibeonites. Joshua and mighty warriors pursued the Amorites until they had eliminated the opposition, almost to a man, and when the whole Israelite Army returned to Joshua, at camp at Makkedah, verse 21 has a truly intriguing line. It literally says "and no one sharpened their tongue against them." If Israel had grumbled, now they had nothing to say. They had seen the Lord doing the fighting for the Gibeonites, the Lord's will had been accomplished.
This passage is laced with lessons for us all, including lessons for leaders:
God's strategy for entering into the promised blessings has everything to do with others. Notice in this passage - what opened the door to taking city after city, inheriting the land was not focussing on their problems, it was focussing on the Gibeonites who needed help. In doing that, Joshua recognized that in blessing others, the nation of the Gibeonites in this instance, they would be blessed. In so doing, he was fulfilling the covenant promises given to Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to many nations.
This is so true for us. We inherit the promised blessings, not by first of all focussing on our own issues, we inherit the promised blessings by giving ourselves to others. There is nothing that encourages our faith more than sharing your faith with others. There is nothing that strengthens our obedience more than helping others to obey the Lord. There is nothing that helps us learn the scriptures more than teaching it to others. In blessing others, we are blessed. Cast your bread upon the waters and in time it will return to you. This is true for us as individuals, this is true for us as a congregation. By blessing others, we invest in a return of blessing to us.
It was only when Israel choose to give its very best to those who were aliens among them, that they decisively took possession of the blessings of God.
Second, notice God's value system. Yes, God wanted Israel to inherit the promised land, after all he had promised it to them. But just because he wanted them to inherit the land did not mean that he would automatically be on their side. He was not their servant to do his bidding. In Joshua chapter 5:14, Joshua asks the commander of the Lord's army who's side he is on, and he says "neither!" In this we find God fighting for the Gibeonites, who used to be enemies of Israel. But God out of his love for them will fight for them, and in fighting for them, the Lord fights for all of Israel.
In the church, we tend to value those who belong, those who are core members, to the neglect of those who do not belong, those who are lost, those who don't fit in, something like Israel who would naturally have been so willing to neglect the Gibeonites. In Luke chapter 15 Jesus challenges us with this very same theme. God is like a women who searches for the one lost coin, like the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep, like the father who waits at the gate hoping for his lost son to return. God loves lost people. That is his value system. And it is in focussing on them that we will enter further into the blessings of God. Repeatedly this passage points out that God was doing the fighting - for the Gibeonites and for Israel.
Finally, on this day when we elect new council members, may this passage be an encouragement to us all. God is bigger than our failures as leaders. Yes, Joshua failed to inquire of the Lord, and by that failure, the Gibeonites came in - but his failure was part of a Sovereign God's plan to bring the Gibeonites into his promises. As you join council, lead with courage and care, Be faithful, obedient, pray, and God can even sovereignly use our mistakes. Do not be afraid to lead, God can use even your mistakes.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.