"Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: AJBT. Joshua 10:1-14. Following God's Plan
Date: December 16th 2016
Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter. All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
Through its conquest of Jericho, Israel had established a foothold in the land of Canaan. Its further conquest of Ai was initially frustrated by the sin of one Israelite soldier who had taken for himself valuables from the spoils of Jericho, in direct violation of the command of the LORD not to do so, treating Jericho as the “first fruits” of the conquest that were to be sacrificed entirely to the LORD. When Israel sent a small army to take Ai in what should have been a “mop-up” operation, their men were utterly routed, and about thirty-six lost their lives in their hasty retreat to Jericho. The LORD revealed that their defeat came because of that single deliberate sin that had been committed in the conquest of Jericho.
Because of their disobedience, Israel could not continue the conquest of the land until this sin was revealed, confessed, and dealt with. The LORD revealed the one who sinned to Joshua through the presentation of the tribes when Judah was selected; then out of Judah the family group of the Zarhites was selected; then from the family group the family of Zabdi was selected, then from the family of Zabdi his grandson, Achan, son of Carmi was found. Confessing to his sin, Achan, his family and all of his possessions were taken to a nearby valley where they were stoned and burned. Achan’s entire family and all of his possessions were utterly destroyed.
This event illustrated to all Israel the importance of obedience to the LORD. The LORD promised to protect and preserve them, and to defeat their enemies as long as they were obedient to Him. However, even the sin of a single person could serve to place their protection in jeopardy if Israel allowed it to continue. The people of Israel would now approach obedience to the LORD in a much more sincere effort, and this would inform their decisions to come.
Joshua then led the Israelites in a rout of the city of AI. The nation was now ready to insert itself further into the land by the conquest of the next city to the west, Gibeon. The Gibeonites were quite aware of their inability to withstand the coming Israelites and devised a plan to obtain their safety. Prior to Joshua’s arrival in Gibeon he was met by the leadership of that city who posed as leaders from a far country, seeking an alliance with the Israelites. Such alliances were the normal means of protection at the time, and their request was not unusal. The Gibeonites wore tattered clothes and brought aged bread and wine in an attempt to deceive Joshua and the Israelites by inferring that they had traveled from a long way away over a long period of time. After a period of negotiation, Joshua made a covenant of protection with these leaders, promising to be at peace with them and provide protection for them.
It did not take long for Joshua and the Israelites to determine that these travelers were actually leaders from Gibeon and they had lied about their true identity. This brought no little crisis to Israel. The command of the LORD was to destroy all of the inhabitants of the Promised Land, including Gibeon, yet they had just given Gibeon their word that Israel would protect them. The people felt that, since the Gibeonites had lied about their identity, any alliance with them would be considered null and void. However, Joshua had to decide if his own promises could be trusted by the LORD and by others. Joshua decided to hold to his promise and refrain from the destruction of Gibeon. Likely, it was his intention to pass by this city in the continuation of the conquest.
Several of the kings of the cities and villages south of Gibeon, hearing of this alliance between Gibeon and Israel were in great fear of this alliance and the danger it posed to their own people.
The voracity of Joshua’s agreement with the Gibeonites was quickly put to the test. Since God had declared all of the land west of the Jordan River as anathema, all of its people were to be put to death, and spoils were to be gained from all of the conquered peoples (other than the first fruit: Jericho.) All Joshua had to do was withhold his protection from Gibeon, and God’s initial command to Israel would be promoted as the people of Gibeon would be destroyed by their southern neighbors.
This issue is complicated by the presence of the alliance that Joshua had sworn to. A defeat of Gibeon would be understood as a defeat of an ally of Israel, and Israel’s God under whom the people of Gibeon had placed their protection by their agreement to serve Israel.
Joshua 10:6. And the men of Gibeon sent unto Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us: for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered together against us.
The necessity of a decision concerning the voracity of Joshua’s promise was quickly challenged when the leaders of Gibeon came to Joshua seeking protection against the armies of the southern cities. How would Joshua resolve this seemingly impossible dilemma?
We may find ourselves in a similar situation when we have made promises that we fully intend upon keeping, only to find out later that we were unaware of all of the details surrounding that promise and when required to act upon that promise the decision can be very difficult. What we first believed to be a simple commitment becomes one where there is no seeming solution that does not bring conflict. How do we respond to such a situation?
Our first response is probably logical and rational: we consider what we know about the situation, evaluate whether or not the promise is important enough to keep, and make a decision to either keep or break the promise based upon an assessment of the pending fallout. However, such an approach may sound reasonable and rational, but is missing one important part of the decision process: the will of God for our lives.
Had Joshua used this approach to the request of the Gibeonites, his response would have likely been to break the promise and let the city fall, making the continued conquest of the land that much easier for Israel. He had every reason to do so considering that the original promise was made under false representation, and the people and leadership of Israel preferred to break the promise. However, Joshua sought the word of the LORD over both the advice of his people and the advice of his own heart. Was Joshua’s word to be trusted? It would appear that Joshua’s decision was quick and resolute.
Joshua 10:7. So Joshua ascended from Gilgal, he, and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valour.
Upon seeking the LORD, Joshua knew that the right decision was to keep his promise to the people of Gibeon. The few words, “ascended from Gilgal” belies the significance of Joshua’s decision. The distance from Gilgal to Gibeon is about 15 miles, or one hard day’s march. However, Gilgal is near the sea of Galilee, about 700 feet below sea level. Gibeon is on the other side of the mountains to the west, a rise of about 3,000 feet. Joshua was taking his entire army, all of those in the nation who could fight, on a long climb up a mountain with the intent of engaging an enemy that is encamped on the other side of its summit.
Joshua 10:8. And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.
Unlike Jericho or Ai, Joshua did not have the option of sending in “spies” to bring back tactical information with which to form a battle plan. All Joshua could do was amass his army and start the march toward Gibeon. However, having sought the LORD prior to his decision to fulfill his promise to the Gibeonites, the LORD assured Joshua that he did not need to fear. Using the past-tense that he had done when Israel approached Jericho, God told Joshua that He has already delivered them into his hand. The LORD assured Joshua that the army that was amassed against Gibeon would not be able to stand up to the Army of the LORD. This would be necessarily reassuring since the tactical disadvantages of the approach to Gibeon defy any reasonable military plan.
Joshua 10:9. Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night.
Note two important consequences of Joshua’s “battle plan,” (or lack, thereof.) First, in order to reach the summit of the mountain, the army of Israel had to spend the night climbing the mountain. The obvious tactical order would then be to crest the mountain and make an encampment allowing the fighters to rest. However, upon coming over the crest of the mountain they were immediately faced with the armies of the southern kings. There would be no time for rest or for planning.
The second consequence has to do with the timing of their unintended initial “attack.” The army of Israel crested the mountain ridge at daybreak, just as the sun was arising from the East… directly behind their backs. As the defending armies would look at the coming Israelites they were looking directly into the sun, blinding them to the details of the on-coming army. Considering the part that the sun would continue to play in this battle, it can be surmised that it was in a perfect position and shone exceedingly bright, making it very difficult for the defending armies to ascertain the size of the attacking force, or the appearance or identity of the individual Israelite attackers.
Joshua 10:10. And the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah.
We may recall that the conquest of Canaan and the surrounding region is taking place as a direct form of God’s purpose of fatal judgment against the utter wickedness and spiritual incorrigibility of its people. It is God’s plan to destroy the Canaanites as Israel takes over the land in a manner similar to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Consequently, just as the LORD had promised, He would be intervening in the battle in order that the defenders would be wholly routed.
The word that is rendered, “discomfited” is used in other places in the Old Testament where it refers to a breakdown of the defenses of the opposition to the point that they do not know who they are fighting, and turn even upon their own fighters. The defending army was actually a mosaic of tribal fighters from different communities, and blinded by the sun, anyone who looked like a stranger could be interpreted as an enemy, causing the defenders to fight among their own tribal groups. The slaughter was overwhelming, causing the defenders to drop their weapons and flee. As the fighters retreated, they fled to their individual home cities, bringing with them a very motivated Israelite army upon their own communities, their own families, and their own possessions.
Joshua 10:11. And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.
This is one of the first references to the LORD using His sovereignty over nature as a tool to discomfit an enemy of the LORD. Of course, we observed the LORD making repeated use of natural forces in the defeat of the Pharaoh of Egypt that led to the successful Exodus of Israel. We find in the prophecy of Ezekiel that the battle for Israel that started at Jericho will not end until a future time when the LORD demonstrates His own power when He brings natural forces to bear against Israel’s enemies and defeats them all in one final event. The Apostle John also writes in his Apocalyptic prophecy of the use of natural forces to defeat all of God’s enemies at the end of the age.
Though the scripture refers only to hailstones, one can envision the setting that would produce these. Even though the sun is shining from the East, directly over the retreating army is a great, black, and powerful thunderstorm. In order to generate hailstones large enough to kill, this would have been a storm like none had ever seen before. This storm alone would clearly convince the retreating armies that they were being attacked by a God, affirming the voracity of the God of Israel who was already known to use physical power against His enemies. One can envision this battlefield wherein the hailstones only fall on the Canaanites, causing them to drop in front of, and among, the Israelite soldiers.
Joshua 10:12a. Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
At some point in the battle for Gibeon, the rain of deadly hailstones abated, and it was necessary for Joshua to continue the battle to its completion. It is evident that, given the situation on the “battlefield,” Joshua was in need of more light in order to continue his advance on the fleeing Amorites. This may have been because of the darkness brought on by the storm, or as many hold, that more time was needed to complete the task. It was obvious to Joshua that the presence of the tremendous storm that served to supplement his offensive was a miraculous work of God that would further serve to “discomfit” the enemy and contribute to the salvation of Israel. With a need for more light, Joshua did not hesitate to pray to the LORD, and to do so quite boldly.
Joshua 10:12b-14. Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon;
and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
13And the sun stood still,
and the moon stayed,
until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.
Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. 14And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel.
This short passage of scripture has certainly prompted much interest over the years. The idea of the sun and moon stopping in their tracks across the sky is a very intriguing idea, and the narrative has spurred a lot of interest over the years in efforts to fully understand what happened that day as illustrated in this brief piece of Hebrew poetry. The Hebrew language lacks the large vocabulary and complex grammatical structures of Greek and English, and much has to be contextually inferred as the translation process takes place. Also, verses 12b and 13 are written in poetic form, drawing in the imagery and symbolism of Hebrew poetry that is often quite figurative rather than literal. Because of the great difficulty in accurately translating this passage, several hermeneutical positions, mostly based upon presumptive speculation, have been proffered including the following:
The earth stopped rotating and the moon held still in its orbit. This position holds to a literal interpretation of “whole day,” assuming that the word that is rendered “day” refers to a period of 24 hours. This position often requires some form of explanation by those who choose to hold to a literal interpretation of the text. In response, a few scientists over the years have rendered theories that purport to explain the gap in time based upon their solar calculations, but these are without exception presented as popular science and have not been verified by peer review. One can only imagine the geological impact that such a sudden deceleration of the mass of the earth would produce. The common explanation for defending this interpretation is simply that the LORD is the creator of the universe, and He can do whatever He purposes to do, nullifying any effort at a scientific or literal explanation. This is likely the most popular application of this text.
There are some who have come up with speculative interpretations that are consistent with the idea of a physical intervention by the LORD that does not require the stopping of the earth’s rotation.
The sun’s light lingered. Some seek to explain the passage by speculation about natural phenomena that would not demand the stopping of the rotation of the earth and the moon. One idea is that the sun and moon continued on their courses, but due to reflection from clouds in the sky the light lasted longer than normal.
The sun’s light was blocked. A related proposal interprets the Hebrew to reflect an opposite stance, that there was less light available, perhaps because of the dark clouds associated with the massive thunderstorm, and that the storm was miraculously cleared and the sun remained shining for the rest of the day.
Joshua was interpreting an astrological sign. Astrology was an undisciplined and varying “science” in the ancient near-east. Referring to the positions of the sun and moon on opposite sides of the valley, Joshua was interpreting an astrological sign, an omen that would serve to inform his understanding of God’s intervention in the battle.
Those who are serious students of the Hebrew text have come up with several variants that seek to apply the Hebrew grammar that eliminates the need of a physical miracle by an analysis of the poetry.
The text is figurative. When one engages only the Hebrew text, one finds that the passage is poetic, and Hebrew poetry tends to be written in broad strokes of imagery, and should not be taken literally. For example, it may also be understood that the phrase rendered “whole day” in the KJV is based upon the word Hebrew word transliterated as “yohm,” which can refer to any period of time, and is also rendered as “then” and “when” in other passages. The original Hebrew text does not necessarily demand a 48-hour explanation.
This is inserted text. Some hold that the source for this piece of poetry is not Joshua, but was instead inserted from the pages of a book referred to as Jasher. However, the grammar clearly indicates that quite the opposite is true: the story was also recorded in this second text, and the source of the material is still the same as the source of the material for the book of Joshua. This position is supported by a similar reference to the book of Jasher in the book of Samuel. Also there are no fewer than 46 similar uses of the “books of the chronicles of the kings” of Israel and Judah in the Old Testament books of 1,2 Kings and 1,2 Chronicles.
Because of the difficulties of translating ancient Hebrew into 21st-century language and our culture that demands literal scrutiny of modern text, there is no necessity to “draw a line in the sand” when it comes to the interpretation of the original Hebrew text. The best interpretation for any reader is that which they are the most comfortable with. For most, that position is that the sun and moon stopped in their courses across the sky, and no scientific or literal explanation is necessary.
The point of this pericope (a specific passage with a well-defined singular prose) is not that the sun “stopped” for a day: the point is that the LORD intervened in the battle using His sovereignty over natural phenomena in a means that was evident to all who witnessed it. When those who were subject to the overwhelming destruction of the enemies of Israel were able to testify to the details of the event, they would unanimously agree that this was a battle like no one had ever seen before: The LORD intervened using the physical forces of nature to inject His own “hand” into the offensive. Nothing like this had every been experienced before.
The route of the Amorites in the defense of Gibeon served to establish a fundamental truth that demonstrates the grace of the LORD towards those who love him. Returning to the impetus for this event we may be reminded that God’s command to Joshua was to destroy the Gibeonites. This was a clear command, and fundamental to God’s ultimate purpose for Israel. The LORD knows that failure to remove the Canaanites from the land will end with the destruction of Israel. So, how can God’s plan be intact while Gibeon still stands?
This event that took place at the beginning of the conquest of the land speaks to God’s love for us, we who are imperfect and make poor decisions. Joshua’s choice to trust the deceiving Gibionites was unwise, and the consequences of that choice would be a dramatic change from the path that God set for Israel. Yet, having given his word to the Gibeonites, Joshua felt committed to stand by his promises, placing himself into a dilemma. However, rather than throw Joshua off of the train, the LORD simply mapped a new path for Joshua and for Israel that would honor Joshua and his commitment to integrity.
My first introduction to a Global Positioning System (GPS) involved its use from our home in western North Carolina to that of a nephew who lived on the coast of South Carolina. Upon approaching the first turn, the GPS system insisted that I turn right, taking the highway to Atlanta. However turning left would take me on the very same route number that let to my destination, doing so without taking the longer, though mathematically faster route through Atlanta, a city that no GPS can predict passage. Upon turning left, the unit continued to try to get me to turn around until at some point it relented and mapped out a new pathway for me.
God’s grace is demonstrated in our failures. Joshua failed to execute the plan to destroy the Gibeonites, yet the LORD not only accepted Joshua’s decision, but He mapped out a new pathway for Israel. The LORD has a plan for all of our lives, but like Joshua, we often make decisions that take us off of that plan. However, because of His love for us, God demonstrates His grace, His GPS, God’s Positioning System. Rather than remove us from His plan, He simply forms a new path for us that allows us to, not only find obedience, but also find His blessing on the journey.
It is appropriate that people of faith seek to follow the LORD in obedience, and often find that task to be far from simple. We can be encouraged to know that is not the act of obedience that God looks to as much as our sincere desire to act in obedience. He can work with that sincere desire to work with us as individuals as He, through the work of the Holy Spirit, guides us through this maze we call life, doing so in the center of His will.
It is the position of many scholars that the “he” in this passage is the LORD, and the following poetic text was spoken by the LORD as a command to the sun and the moon. It is the position of this author that the “he” refers to Joshua, and this was a very specific prayer request.
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