Weird Bible Stories, Part 6

Time. It’s the one thing we all have; it’s the one thing we all take for granted. We waste it, yet we wish we had more of it. Sometimes, time drags on and on, but other times it flies. Time. We’ll all get to the day when we’ll do anything for just a little bit more of it. Which is sad, because so many of us spend our time killing it. As Thoreau wrote,

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.

I dare say there many of us who, probably in our youth, did much injury to eternity as we frittered away the hours, killing each moment not realizing there would come a day when we’d be desperate to get them back. But, alas, once you use up an hour, you can’t get it back. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t get more than 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day. Or can you? Once upon a time, there was a man who managed to make time stand still. It’s never happened again, but it did happen once. And that’s our weird Bible story: Joshua’s long day.

It all began with a political coalition of five kings, allied against God’s people. You just know things will end badly for those five kings; going against God’s people is never a good idea, but that never stops some people from trying.

A peace treaty leads to war

If you know your Hebrew history, you know that by Joshua 10, the Israelites had finally begun to take the Promised Land, as per the Lord’s instructions. Their 40 years of wandering around the desert was over, and under Joshua’s able leadership, the land promised to them centuries before was theirs for the taking. But nobody said it would be easy! You probably noticed this in your life: Serving Him isn’t all sunshine and roses. Being obedient to the Lord’s will isn’t always easy, not because His will is all that difficult, but because those around you won’t always like the direction your life will take. Often, though not always, following God’s will can take you away from the will of others.

God was fighting for Israel as she pressed into Canaan, so all they had was success. Of course, this scared the local kings, who were afraid of losing their kingdoms to Israel. One of those frightened kings was the king of Jerusalem. Interestingly enough, this is the first time we read of Jerusalem in the Bible. His name was Adoni-Zedek, a name that means, “the Lord of righteousness.” His kingdom, Jerusalem, was formerly known as “Jebus” because it was where all the Jebusites lived. Of the Jebusites, this was said:

This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. (Joshua 3:10 | TNIV)

Israel was doing just that, and they were closing in on the Jubusites.

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 had become their allies. (Joshua 10:1 | TNIV)

It was that peace treaty with Gibeon that caused Adoni-Zedek to create the five-kingdom alliance to stop Israel.

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.”. (Joshua 10:6 | TNIV)

Gibeon was a huge city, although it didn’t have a king. The fact that this large city-state would defect and join Israel would send signals to other city-states that the only way to survive Israel’s invasion would be to join them. This was what terrified Adoni-Zedek, who quickly created a powerful alliance that, as far as he was concerned, would stop Israel in its tracks. He reasoned that punishing Gibeon would stop others from signing peace treaties with Israel.

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.”. (Joshua 10:6 | TNIV)

Looking at the Gibeonite situation, Christians can learn a some lessons. First, when people identify themselves with God (or even God’s people), opposition arises. Our Lord understood this:

Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22 | TNIV)

The second thing we can learn from these Gibeonites was how they confronted this potentially devastating situation. In fact, they did three brilliant things:

• They unashamedly cried out to God’s people for help. All their other friends had turned against them.
• They showed that they had a very simple faith in God as One who had greater power than all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains. This simple faith was based upon the reports they had received of God’s miraculous work on behalf of Israel.
• And finally, they accepted the ready response to their need. From Gilgal came Joshua and all the people of war with him, and the Gibeonites discovered that identification with God’s people may lead to problems, but being on God’s side was much better than they ever thought possible.

The long day

Even as Joshua prepared to fight for the Gibeonites, the Lord reassured him of certain victory:

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.”. (Joshua 10:8 | TNIV)

That’s not a new promise from God; He had reminded Joshua many times not to be afraid, that victory was guaranteed. But there are two sentences in verse 8 and we’d better read that second one and talk about it. Yes, Joshua had been commanded by God to “not be afraid of them.” The “them,” of course, refers to the five-king confederacy and their combined military might. Any sane man would be fearful facing that, but the man who trusts in God is the most sane man. But it’s that second sentences that gives pause: “Not one of them will be able to withstand you.” In other words, victory was assured but Joshua and his army would have work to do; God’s people would have to do their part.

Many of God’s promises are just like that. God promises to do such and such for us, but we have to put forth a good-faith effort and the blessing comes as God takes our – sometimes – pathetic attempts and makes them more than adequate to the situation. Of course, salvation isn’t like that. We have no “part to play” in God saving us. But once we are part of His family, we have responsibilities; God won’t do everything for us.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17 | TNIV)

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God…. (Deuteronomy 28:1, 2 | TNIV)

Deuteronomy 28 was written specifically for the Jews, but the precedent is there for all believers. Accepting Christ as your Savior is obeying God, and therefore you qualify to have God’s blessings “come on you.” That English phrase comes from a Hebrew phrase meaning, “over power,” giving us a picture of two people running. “Over power” means that the person behind you is coming after you with greater speed and will soon pass you. God’s word is clear! As you journey through life, living in obedience to God and His will, there are blessings running after you and eventually you will be literally overwhelmed by those blessings! These are supernatural blessings. They are moving at a higher rate of speed than you are, and they are targeted especially for you. But the conditions have to be right. You have to do your part, just like Joshua did his.

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. (Joshua 10:7 – 9 | TNIV)

That was what Joshua and his men had to do: Show up, ready to fight. It wasn’t easy, marching all the way from Gilgal to Gibeon. It was a long trip and they had to carry all their weapons of war. “Doing their part” wasn’t easy. But if God’s people wanted victory, they had to.

Verses 10 and 11 are the result of what Joshua did in verses 12 and 13:

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, 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. (Joshua 10:12, 13 | TNIV)

Many pages in many Bible commentaries are devoted to trying to explain how the sun could stand still. Did it really? Did the earth stand still, too? Did God halt the entire universe for the sake of His people? Verses 10 and 11 recount the results of Joshua’s prayer; the result of the sun standing still:

The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely 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, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites. (Joshua 10:10, 11 | TNIV)

“Joshua’s long day” is not easily explained scientifically. And this causes skeptics to mock and make fun of what they believe to be a fantasy. The fact is,  nobody can prove that the sun stood still. Then again, nobody can prove that love exists, either. How do you know when somebody loves you? You just know. You can’t see the love that exists between a mother her and children, but nobody doubts that it exists. And only a fool would question “Joshua’s long day.”

We must all realize that He who made the laws of nature has a right to use them. He who used hailstones as weapons of mass destruction against the enemies of His people can certainly use light and darkness to accomplish His purpose. God’s sovereignty over nature enables Him to support His spiritual kingdom by the use of the physical world. The Psalmist emphasized that the whole visible universe exists for spiritual ends.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (Psalm 19:1, 2 | TNIV)

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. (Psalm 24:1, 2 | TNIV)

The uniqueness of a miracle

Verse 14 serves as a kind of commentary-summary of the whole story, and we can learn a lesson from what it says, too:

There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:14 | TNIV)

Well, of course, the Lord listens to His people all the time. God answered Joshua’s prayer in spectacular fashion, and he became as much a leader of God’s people as was Moses. The Lord did fight for Israel, after Joshua asked Him to.

This miracle has never been repeated, which is why we call it a “miracle.”  A miracle by its very nature is rare. Verse 14 teaches us that God uses miracles carefully and with great reserve. He guards against man becoming dependent upon them. He insists that we depend upon Him, the miracle-working God himself, and not on the miracles themselves.

“Joshua’s long day” is a weird story that teaches Christians some very important lessons that get lost the more we try to rationalize a true miracle.

 

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