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Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it hath made peace with Joshua.
To arms! To arms!
The greatest poet of Greece has sung in stately numbers the deeds of heroes whom his race adored. We listen to their counsels, we hear their battle shouts, we see their awful blows. Yet after all this plain, unvarnished tale depicts with more fidelity and power the progress and results of a conflict, the most sublime in its accompaniments that this earth has ever seen. In this chapter we have recorded not only one of Joshua’s most brilliant victories, but one of the world’s greatest battles: a struggle surpassing in importance and interest Issus or Arbela, Marathon or Cannae, and affecting to an incalculable extent the religious and political, the moral and the material, welfare of mankind. First of all we listen to the summons--“Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon,” &c. Notice from whom the summons comes. From Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem. This is a strange thing. From this man’s name, Lord of Righteousness, and from his heritage, Jerusalem, we would have expected something very different. He is certainly the successor, probably the descendant, of Melchizedek. Here is a man who bears the best of titles, but is, alas! unworthy of it. Nothing could be better than his name; few things are worse than his fame. Learn from this sad lesson that piety is not hereditary. The descendants of the righteous may be a wicked seed. This is a sad thing. A noble ancestry is not a thing to be despised. It is unwise and ungrateful to ignore the records and the glories of the past. This is also a dangerous thing. The opposition of those who have thus fallen is always most dangerous. None are so bitter and remorseless, so vehement and virulent, so venomous and subtle, as renegades. Notice to whom Adoni-zedek’s message was sent. It was not sent to all the members of the great national league. That was impossible, because the submission of the Gibeonites had split the confederacy into two unequal parts. Instead of one vast army marching to crush the invader there must now be two: one in the south, the other in the north. That of the south is smaller, therefore more easily set in motion; and it is also placed nearer the centre of attack. Thus we see how God has restrained the wrath of the enemy and deprived him of half his might. Even so all coalition against Him must fall to pieces. Transgressors are always lacking in cohesion. It was to Gibeon that Adoni-zedek summoned his confederates. Thus his enmity was manifested against their defection. Still this summons of Adoni-zedek betokens fear. It is to some extent the blustering of a bully who is at heart a craven. We know this, for we are told that “When Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem had heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it . . . that they feared greatly.” Therefore because they fear they do not come alone. They keep their courage up by company. How many are like them. They do fear when spiritual truths are brought before them, when God’s judgment stares them in the face; yet they try to find comfort in the thought, “Well, if I am lost a great many will be badly off.” Nay! nay! It is a vain thing to banish fear by such thoughts. Such a fear as that works destruction; because being accompanied, by a rebellious heart and a darkened mind it led to union against God. Hatred against the Gibeonites is a very distinct characteristic of Adoni-zedek’s message. Yet, after all, what right had they to be thus angry with their old friends? Had not the Gibeonites a right to have a mind of their own, especially in a matter that concerned their very existence? But the human heart remains the same. When the sinner turns from his rebellion and humbles himself before God, then is the time for the wrath of man to be revealed. This hatred is most unreasonable, for, like these Gibeonites, the penitents in throwing down the weapons of their rebellion set an example which it is the highest wisdom to follow. The cunning and the impiety of these Canaanites are also revealed by this confederation. They will prevent further defection; they will gain one of the most important strongholds in the land; they will make the old league possible. Thus they displayed their craft. And in doing so they proved their impiety. (A. B. Mackay.)
Rage of the world against deserters from its ranks
It is thus in the spiritual life. Upon no outer enemy does the world turn with such rage and resentment as upon those who desert their ranks to join the Lord’s host. All the legions of hell are marshalled forth against the young believer who has newly signed the terms of treaty with the Joshua of the better covenant. As Bishop Hall says, “If a convert come home, the angels welcome him with song, the devils follow him with uproar and fury, his old partners with scorn and obloquy.” In spite of all this, let not those who have become allied to the Israel of God quail; but let the sequel here before us reassure them. (G. W. Butler, M. A.)
Combinations against the Church
What combinations have been formed, what artifices practised against the Church!--one wile to allure, another to frighten, and sometimes to destroy. As against the Lord Himself, so against His people, the great and the mighty of the earth have consulted their ruin, and for a season availed to harass and distress the saints; nor can this be matter of surprise to those who know their own character, and remember what themselves were till converted by the grace of God. The Church’s gain is the world’s grief, as it is the world’s loss. Oh, what oppositions in families, what combinations out of old connections and associates, have been raised against those who, no longer of the world, have been chosen out of it, and through grace enabled to turn their backs upon its vanities and pursuits! No sooner is it known that any have made peace with our spiritual Joshua than the world is up in arms, and war declared, lasting as the irreconcilable enmity of fallen nature. Not one who openly declares himself on the Lord’s side, and is inwardly devoted to His glory, but, according to the station he occupies, and the influence of those around him, will experience a full measure. (W. Seaton.)
Come up . . . quickly, and save us, and help us.
The chapter opens with a cry from Jerusalem, the summons of Adoni-zedek--“To arms! To arms!” Here we have another and a very different cry, a cry from Gibeon; a cry to Joshua for help.
I. The trouble of the Gibeonites. They are in sore straits. What a vivid picture of spiritual truth have we here! “He that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.” Do you make your peace with God? that instant, and by that act, you are at war with Satan. No sooner is the treaty of salvation signed than the infernal hosts are rallied. The ink is scarcely dry before he begins his attack. Old friends become new enemies. A man’s foes are often those of his own household. When we come into such trouble let us not think that a strange thing has befallen us. It is the common fate of God’s children, from the highest to the meanest, and to the end of time. Though the Captain of salvation is the Prince of Peace, He has come not to send peace on the earth but a sword; and so will it be till every enemy is cast out and all flesh shall own Him Lord. These Gibeonites felt this attack all the more dangerous because it was the onset of men with whom in the past they had been on such intimate terms. All their conditions and resources were as well known to these five kings as to themselves. And the remembrance of these things made this attack all the more formidable. But what was all the knowledge which the five kings had of the Gibeonites compared with the knowledge Satan has of us? Therefore, how terrible must be his attack! If we are not ignorant of his devices, he is not ignorant of our weakness.
II. But if this cry suggests the trouble of the Gibeonites, it also points out their resources. If they are in great trouble they are not without resource, and at once they avail themselves of it. They dwelt in a fortified city, but they did not depend on its walls and bulwarks. They had no confidence in themselves. Their own resources were insufficient. All their confidence was placed in Joshua. Would that we always showed like wisdom! Sin and Satan are more than a match for the strongest saint. As they looked to Joshua, so must we look to Jesus. As they depended on that covenant of peace which had been ratified, so must we. As they dispatched runners post haste to Gilgal, so must we send out swift-footed messengers of prayer. Our very existence as saints depends on their success.
III. The earnestness of the Gibeonites. How keen and piercing is their cry! How urgent is their request! The message was no doubt short, they did not waste their words; but it was full of earnestness. It was the message of men thoroughly roused and anxious. Though short it was very full. They sought to stir up Joshua’s energy. It is as if they said, “We have no hope apart from you. We are all dead men if you fail us. We know you can save us and trust you will.” They also manifested faithfulness to Joshua, by the last two words of their message--“Help us.” Why were these words added? “Save” is the word of dependence--“Help” suggests the determination to do what they can. It is as if they said, “While we feel that in our own strength we must be worsted, yet we are determined to make a stand against them. On no account will we come to terms. We will never open our gates to the enemy. We will not even hold parley with him. Till you come, and even if you do not come, we will do the best we can.” Accordingly this shows that they were faithful to their new leader. Surely their conduct in this emergency may well be imitated. Oh, for like earnestness in crying, “Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord!” How languid are our prayers! How unconscious are we of danger! It is good for God to open our eyes by trouble, if it leads us to cry like these Gibeonites.
IV. The succour of the Gibeonites. Help was sure. Joshua would have belied his name, would have been unfaithful to his covenant, would have been untrue to his nature, if he had not hastened to their relief. And help came speedily. Joshua lost not a moment. Help also came in time. Joshua was not too late. The Gibeonites did not become a prey; they had cause to rejoice over a great deliverance. Do we in every extremity cry to God? Help must come. God never said to any, “Seek ye My face,” in vain. Jesus, like Joshua, is never too late. If He tarries there is good reason for it. It is always for our good. He may come when Lazarus is laid in the grave, but He never comes too late. He is never too late in history. The world had a long time run its course before He came. Why? Because that time was set. “In the fulness of time God set forth His Son.” He has promised to come back again, and depend upon it He will not come back too late. What though 1,800 years have passed away? nothing will divert Him from His purpose; nothing will prevent His appearing. “Amen,” therefore we say, “Amen, even so, in Thy good time, for that is quickly, come, Lord Jesus.” And notice, in conclusion, that it may be said of these Gibeonites that they were twice saved, First they were saved from the wrath of God; then they were saved from the wrath of their enemies. So we are saved from the wrath of God and from the wrath of Satan. The Gibeonites were saved by faith, for they trusted in Joshua and in the God of Israel. They were saved by works, for they determined to oppose Adoni-zedek or die. They were saved by hope, for they looked to Joshua for succour and were not disappointed. So we are saved by faith when we fall at the feet of Jesus and put our trust in Him. We are saved by works, when in the strength of God we wrestle against principalities and powers and spiritual wickednesses in high places. We are saved by hope when we look for the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour. The Gibeonites were saved by coming to Joshua in their fear of judgment. They were saved by Joshua coming to them and extricating them out of all their trouble. So we are saved by coming to Jesus. The instant we fall at His feet we receive the salvation of our souls. And we are saved by Jesus coming to us (Hebrews 9:28). (A. B. Mackay.)
The newly-converted assailed
1. No sooner is the soul brought into the bonds of the covenant with our Joshua or Jesus, but presently the spiritual enemies of the soul muster up all their forces against it, as the five cursed kings did against Gibeon as soon as they had entered into a league with Joshua here (2 Timothy 3:12; Acts 14:22).
2. The soul when thus assaulted must immediately send the messenger of prayer to its Joshua or Jesus.
3. As those new converts the Gibeonites showed their confidence in that God, whose religion they had newly embraced, therefore sent they for Joshua, not at all doubting of salvation by him. So the like confidence should be found in all new converted souls, that their Joshua will relieve them, and turn their spirit of bondage into the spirit of adoption. (C. Ness.)
The help required was great: “Slack not thy hand from thy servants.” It is not little the Christian needs. How often, in seeking Divine aid and security, has the believer to say, “Lord, how are they increased that trouble me”! &c. Ready help was intreated. “Come up to us quickly, and save us.” It was well they were not what they once represented themselves to be--the inhabitants of a far remote country; for then help had come too late, had it come with bottles rent and bound up, shoes clouted and worn out, garments old and threadbare. Great is the mercy to be near our mercies, that when life, and all that is dear to us, lies at stake, salvation may be found at hand. (W. Seaton.)
Value of promptitude in action
Let us note not only the nobility of this acknowledgment of the claims of the new allies, but also the promptitude and energy with which their rescue is undertaken. How many good resolves are marred and made of none effect by lack of decision in their execution. We rest in the thought of our noble plans, and meanwhile we hesitate and defer to carry them out in the performance: thus the evils we might have stayed grow beyond control: the opportunity has sped away; the hearts of those who looked for our help are sick with hopes long deferred. Too late! too late! is the disappointed cry with which they greet our tardy steps. (G. W. Butler, M. A.)
Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand.--
On the eve of a great engagement a wise leader often rouses the enthusiasm of his followers by a few well-chosen words. We know how the message of Nelson, before the battle of Trafalgar, stimulated every man in his fleet to do his utmost; and not only so, but it has also come ringing down the years that intervene with telling effect on every noble heart in great emergencies. God deals with His servants after the same fashion; therefore, here, before Joshua passes forth to the rescue of the Gibeonites, he gives them words of cheer. Notice when God gave this encouragement. It was when Joshua had resolved to set out to the help of the Gibeonites. There is no evidence that Joshua asked for or even expected such encouragement. He felt bound to do his duty, to keep faith with the Gibeonites, and while in the act of responding to their cry, this encouragement came. The very fact that this cheering word was unsolicited made it doubly sweet. We may have similar experiences. When we walk in the path of duty we may always reckon on the Divine encouragement. If we go to God’s work with good will, however hard it may be, and whoever may oppose, we may always count on the good will and the good word of God, and surely that ought to suffice. How encouraging, how comforting, how strengthening, is the answer of a good conscience towards God! Notice, also, the terms of this encouragement now given. They were very clear. They had no particle of ambiguity. How the healthy soul rejoices in certainty! How freely does God delight to give it! And the fact that the words Joshua now heard were familiar to his ear, phrases repeated again and again, made this assurance doubly sweet. God is dealing with him now as He has graciously done in all the past; and every repetition and new fulfilment of a promise adds to its value. For the old promise has been tried and tested again and again, and proved to be sufficient. It is good when we have such experience as Joshua; when we have not only a true word, but one which in our own experience we have tried and proved to be sufficient for every emergency. Therefore notice next the effect that this encouragement has upon Joshua. It fills him with new energy. The clearest assurance of success does not do away with the use of means, rather is it a sharp spur to make the most of them. Joshua, though thus assured, yea, because thus assured, acts as if everything depended on his energy and the swiftness and strength of his attack. And so in a very important sense it did. But we may not only trace the effect of this promise in the energy with which it filled Joshua and his soldiers, but also in that marvellous prayer which rose to his lips in the great crisis of the fight that ensued. It is this great promise of God which justifies and explains that great prayer of Joshua. Joshua “spoke to the Lord” on that day, and his words were wonderful. His prayer was very Short, but we are startled by its boldness. The prayer was public, therefore Joshua risked all his reputation on its answer. The prayer was humble. He had no desire to parade his power; he had no need to win the allegiance of Israel. His one thought was the perfect fulfilment of that work which by this promise God had said would be accomplished. God had spoken. His power and glory are pledged to the fulfilment of that word. Can He not perform? God gave Joshua a large promise, and Joshua laid before God a large prayer. Thus both God’s power and Joshua’s faith were magnified and made honourable. In like manner may we make use of all God’s promises; and we only prove our unbelief by leaving them a dead letter. Who can over-estimate the value of prayer, who can put a limit to its power? Did we believe in the promises of God as firmly as Joshua, we would be able more closely to imitate his prayers. Men make difficulties here where the simple soul can find none. As a living father can answer the request of his children, so the Lord can hear and answer the prayer of His people. And He answers every prayer addressed to Him; not always in the same way, but always in the best way. Now notice, lastly, the fulfilment of this promise. No doubt the good generalship of Joshua and the valour of his soldiers had much to do with it. They marched with swiftness, they laid on with might and main, they never paused in the pursuit, yet all that they did was obscured by the wonderful interposition of God. Joshua and Israel did what they could, and yet God did all. It is well to remember that nature may become one great arsenal for the defence of those that fear God, for the destruction of all His enemies. It was no superstition, but true godliness, which enabled our forefathers to see the finger of God in those storms which swept the great Armada to its doom. How often does God in His adorable Providence render the very objects in which men trust the means of filling them with shame and confusion of face! How manifestly was God with Israel! How evident is it that “The Lord reigneth!” Israel needed that assurance, and we need it too. Whatever may come to pass from year to year, from century to century, He and He alone is guiding the world and the Church to that goal which He has foreknown and appointed. This is the sheet-anchor of all our hopes for humanity. (A. B. Mackay.)
They were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.
The Lord’s artillery
We have seen how Gibeon made peace with Joshua. Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, was exceedingly displeased with the men of Gibeon for making peace with the enemy.
1. The Divine cause has enemies.
2. But the enemies of the Divine cause have both earth and heaven against them--the sword of Israel and the hail of God. The living God has two great forces; if you escape one, you fall under the power of the other. All things fight for God. The hailstones are His friends and allies; the stars in their courses beat and throb according to His purpose and express His intent. The bad cause has no friends; it comes to an ignominious end; it is overwhelmed by hailstones. It is so humbling. The bad cause perishes in contempt. The five kings ran away and hid themselves in a cave, and Joshua said, “Bring them out!” (J. Parker, D. D.)
The sun stood still, and the moon stayed.
The battle of Bethhoron
In some respects this victory had a special significance. In the first place, it had a most important bearing on the success of the whole enterprise; its suddenness, its completeness, its manifold grandeur being admirably fitted to paralyse the enemy in other parts of the country, and open the whole region to Joshua. By some it has been compared to the battle of Marathon, not only on account of the suddenness with which the decisive blow was struck, but also on account of the importance of the interests involved. It was a battle for freedom, for purity, for true religion, in opposition to tyranny, idolatry, and abominable sensuality; for all that is wholesome in human life, in opposition to all that is corrupt; for all that makes for peaceful progress, in opposition to all that entails degradation and misery. The prospects of the whole world were brighter after that victory of Bethhoron. The relation of heaven to earth was more auspicious, and more full of promise for the days to come. In the next place the tokens of Divine aid were very impressive. After the experience which Joshua had had of the consequences of failing to ask God for direction when first the Gibeonites came to him, we may be very sure that on the present occasion he would be peculiarly careful to seek Divine counsel. And he was well rewarded. Then as to the miracle of the sun and the moon standing still. It is well known that this was one of the passages brought forward by the Church of Rome to condemn Galileo, when he affirmed that the earth and the moon revolved round the sun, and that it was not the motion of the sun round the earth, but the rotation of the earth on her own axis that produced the change of day and night. No one would dream now of making use of this passage for any such purpose. Whatever theory of inspiration men may hold, it is admitted universally that the inspired writers used the popular language of the day in matters of science, and did not anticipate discoveries which were not made till many centuries later. A far more serious question has been raised as to whether this miracle ever occurred, or could have occurred. To those who believe in the possibility of miracles, it can be no conclusive argument that it could not have occurred without producing injurious consequences the end of which can hardly be conceived. For if the rotation of the earth on its axis was suddenly arrested, all human beings on its surface, and all loose objects whatever must have been flung forward with prodigious violence; just as, on a small scale, on the sudden stoppage of a carriage, we find ourselves thrown forward, the motion of the carriage having been communicated to our bodies. But really this is a paltry objection; for surely the Divine power that can control the rotation of the earth is abundantly able to obviate such effects as these. We can understand the objection that God, having adjusted all the forces of nature, leaves them to operate by themselves in a uniform way without disturbance or interference; but we can hardly comprehend the reasonableness of the position that if it is His pleasure miraculously to modify one arrangement, He is unable to adjust all relative arrangements, and make all conspire harmoniously to the end desired. But was it a miracle? The narrative, as we have it, implies not only that it was, but that there was something in it stupendous and unprecedented. It comes in as a part of that supernatural process in which God has been engaged ever since the deliverance of His people from Egypt, and which was to go on till they should be finally settled in the land. It naturally joins on to the miraculous division of the Jordan, and the miraculous fall of the walls of Jericho. We must remember that the work in which God was now engaged was one of peculiar spiritual importance and significance. He was not merely finding a home for His covenant people; He was making arrangements for advancing the highest interests of humanity; He was guarding against the extinction on earth of the Divine light which alone can guide man in safety through the life that now is, and in preparation for that which is to come. Who will take upon him to say that at an important crisis in the progress of the events which were to prepare the way for this grand consummation, it was not fitting for the Almighty to suspend for a time even the ordinances of heaven, in order that a day’s work, carrying such vast consequences, might not be interrupted before its triumphant close? One other notable feature in the transaction of this day was the completeness of the defeat inflicted by Joshua on the enemy. This defeat went on in successive stages from early morning till late at night. First, there was the slaughter in the plain of Gibeon. Then the havoc produced by the hail and by Joshua on the retreating army. Then the destruction caused as Joshua followed the enemy to their cities. And the work of the day was wound up by the execution of the five kings. Moreover, there followed a succession of similar scenes at the taking and sacking of their cities. When we try to realise all this in detail, we are confronted with a terrible scene in blood and death, and possibly we may find ourselves asking, “Was there a particle of humanity in Joshua, that he was capable of such a series of transactions?” But it must be said, and said firmly for Joshua, that there is no evidence of his acting on this or on other such occasions in order to gratify personal feelings; it was not done either to gratify a thirst for blood, or to gratify the pride of a conqueror. Joshua all through gives us the impression of a man carrying out the will of another; inflicting a judicial sentence, and inflicting it thoroughly at the first so that there might be no need for a constant series of petty executions afterwards. This certainly was his aim; but the enemy showed themselves more vital than he had supposed. And when we turn to ourselves and think what we may learn from this transaction, we see a valuable application of his method to the spiritual warfare. God has enemies still, within and without, with whom we are called to contend. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” When we are fighting with the enemy within our own hearts leniency is our great temptation, but at the same time our greatest snare. What we need here is courage to slay. And in reference to the outside world, want of thoroughness in warfare is still our besetting sin. If only the Church had more faith, and, as the fruit of faith, more courage and more enterprise, what help from heaven might not come to her! True, she would not see the enemy crushed by hailstones, nor the sun standing in Gibeon, nor the moon in the valley of Ajalon; but she would see grander sights; she would see men of spiritual might raised up in her ranks; she would see tides of strong spiritual influence overwhelming her enemies. Jerichos dismantled, Ais captured, and the champions of evil falling like Lucifer from heaven to make way for the King of kings and Lord of lords. Let us go to the Cross of Jesus to revive our faith and recruit our energies. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
Fixing of sun and moon in the heavens
I. Consider the arguments, usually advanced against the possibility of the sun and moon standing still in the heavens. Not merely is it objected that such an occurrence would be an unwarrantable interference with the laws of nature; but the historian’s veracity has also been called in question. It is argued that in recording the circumstance he does not express himself scientifically; but that, on the contrary, he evinces ignorance of the true principles of astronomy: that therefore he should not be regarded as an inspired writer, this circumstance being sufficient in itself to shake credit in his testimony. To this objection we reply--Joshua did not mean to furnish us with a treatise on astronomy. He expressed himself according to the opinion formed on scientific topics during the times in which he lived. Do not we, ourselves, who know that it is the earth which moves, and not the sun, commonly speak of his rising and setting; while perfectly aware that in reality he neither rises nor sets. Certainly the lengthening out of the day (on the occasion of Joshua defeating the five kings) must have been caused by the earth not revolving so rapidly on its axis as it usually does. It is well known that in the equatorial regions the earth moves from west to east at the rate of one thousand miles in the hour; and that the rapidity of motion gradually diminishes as we go from the equator to the poles; so that, at the poles, there is no motion whatever. Supposing that, instead of moving at its usual speed, our earth were to revolve, on its axis, only five hundred miles in the hour: the result would be that the day would be protracted to double the ordinary length, because the apparent passage of the sun first, and of the moon next, over the concave surface would be proportionally retarded. But it is further objected that such an interference with the course of nature would have occasioned irreparable mischief. What! Is anything too hard for God? Cannot He, who called nature into existence, suspend its laws and operations when He pleases? Is any man so well acquainted with the complex machinery of nature as to be prepared to say that the conception and development of animal life are possible things; but that the slackening of the earth’s rotary motion is an impossibility? And now, before dismissing this head of our subject, we shall adduce from pagan mythology a proof that the miracle referred to in our text did really occur. The superstitious Greeks, in olden times, worshipped the sun, under the name of Apollo, who (according to them) had a son who was called Phaeton. Apollo was supposed to drive the chariot of the sun daily through the skies. Phaeton requested his father to permit him to drive the chariot for a single day. Apollo granted the request. Phaeton proved an unskilful charioteer, in being unable to curb the horses, which therefore went out of the proper track. Jupiter (whom the ancient pagans regarded as the supreme god) irritated at Phaeton’s rashness, and fearing that a conflagration of heaven and earth might ensue, struck the youth with the thunderbolt and hurled him into the river Po in Italy. This heathen anecdote cannot be altogether an invention. There lies a truth at the bottom of it. Some irregularity in the sun’s apparent diurnal course must have occurred at an early period of history; otherwise ancient heathens would have no foundation whereon to build their superstitious legend. And let us observe that where heathen testimony can be brought to corroborate revelation the testimony is invaluable; because it is the testimony of enemies.
II. We proceed to show that there existed an absolute necessity for the miracle in question being performed. Yes; there is an intimate connection between this miracle and the redemption which is in Jesus Christ. If sun and moon had not stood still at Joshua’s command there would (on human calculation) have been no chance of salvation for a single member of our fallen race. If Israel had not had sufficient light to guide them in pursuing their Canaanite enemies these enemies would have escaped during the darkness of the night. Had they escaped the five kings might have rallied; and, instead of Israel exterminating them, they might have exterminated Israel. Thus the advent of the promised Redeemer would have been prevented: for God had decreed that of Jacob’s seed (in the line of Judah) Messiah should descend. No doubt the Divine plans have long been settled in the councils of eternity; and the Most High will take good care that Satan shall not defeat them. But then God employs second means to work His ends. He ordains every single step and event which will be conducive thereto in order that a single link may not be broken in the chain of His providential dealing.
III. The conflict which Israel, under Joshua, had to maintain with the wicked nations of Canaan prefigured that deadlier conflict which we ourselves, under a greater than Joshua, have to keep up with the world, the devil, and the flesh. TO enable us to make head against these spiritual foes, who have in view nothing less than our destruction, God in mercy lengthens out the day. There is a spiritual sun, and there is a spiritual moon: even as there exist a literal sun and moon. God has set these moral luminaries in the spiritual firmament, to give such persons as have hitherto turned a deaf ear to the gospel space to believe it and be saved, ere it be too late; and also to afford light to those who already believe that they may continue firm to the end. (John Caldwell, B. A.)
How Joshua stopped the sun
For ages multitudes of Bible readers have seen in this narrative a stupendous miracle. Seeing the statement some have rebelled against it, and refused to believe it. Others have conscientiously striven to believe the statement, and defend it. Now, if a miracle is really declared to have taken place upon that day, its stupendous nature forms no objection whatever to my faith. Every miracle is to me stupendous, or else it is no miracle at all. Where God is concerned nothing is impossible. What objection then is there? The first, that such an act would seem, at any rate to be out of keeping with God’s economy of power; it serves no direct purpose here. Mere flourishes of almightinesses are never found in the Bible. Every miracle in the Bible is a means to an end, and there is a proportion between the means and the end in view. There is no waste. I search the Bible in vain for any reference to the fact that the earth was stopped, or the sun stayed. I find no such reference at all. No use whatever is made of this in any other age, or in any other book. God led His people out of Egypt with a high hand, and the nation was cradled among miracles, and these miracles are appealed to time after time, age after age, to the end of the Bible. But there is a remarkable silence with regard to this. But my chief objection to the ordinary view is that I do not believe that the Bible says there was a miracle at all. I hold that, given a fair translation of this chapter, and an average amount of intelligence in the reader, and a reasonable freedom for traditional bias, the alleged stupendous miracle disappears entirely, and gives way to something far more valuable. And I claim that it is one of the inestimable and innumerable benefits conferred upon us by the Revised Translation of the Bible, that by its means the average reader can, without the help of any commentary, see at a glance how the case stood, and what really took place on that great day. Now, you will ask, What is the difference, then, between the Revised and the Old Version? Why, simply this. If you read this chapter in the Old Version the verses follow one another in unbroken continuity, and no hint what ever is given to the reader that when he arrives at the twelfth verse he is no longer reading what the author of the Book of Joshua himself wrote; he is not warned that the author, at the twelfth verse, breaks off from telling his own story, and introduces a quotation as a climax to the description of the battle, and that that quotation is a poetical one, taken from a book once popular, but now entirely lost, the Book of Josher. If you read the Old Version it would seem to you that from the twelfth to the fifteenth verses is as much prose as the rest of the chapter, whereas in the Hebrew Bible, from the first, these verses were marked as a piece of quoted poetry; and in the Revised Version the thing is done almost in the same way. So that the reader who just looks at this chapter as it stands in the Revised Version will see that in the first part of the chapter he has to deal with history, and in this part he has to deal with poetry--a poetical quotation introduced by the historian as the climax of his description of the great battle of Bethhoron. Now it appears to me that this simple fact solves the difficulty entirely--relieves the faith of multitudes from a great burden; and, best of all, deprives a certain class of unbelievers of a very coarse but at the same time a very effective weapon. What; have we here, then? precisely what we have in many other parts of the Bible--namely, two accounts of the same thing: one the sober account of the historian, and the other the more glowing account of the poet. For instance, you have the same thing in the Book of Judges. You will remember--for you are Bible readers--you remember the great battle of Mount Tabor, The Jews were groaning under the tyranny of Jabin, the king of Jerusalem, and at last there arose Deborah. She aroused Barak, Barak routed the army of Sisera; Jael completed Barak’s work, and with a tent-pin and a hammer killed Sisera in her tent. This is the story of the battle of Mount Tabor, as told by the historian. But in the chapter next to it you will find the song of Deborah, and in that song an inspired poetess gives her account of the battle from the standpoint of the poet. She says: “They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” It was Barak who did it, and Jael, and the tent-pin and the hammer. No, no; they fought out of heaven. “The stars in their courses,” says Deborah, “fought against Sisera.” Is there any man on the face of the earth that has ever stood up to say that because Deborah said that the battle of Mount Tabor was actually won by planetary impulses, therefore the stars really entered the Jewish army and fought against the oppressor? Who is there that does not see at once that in that case we have to deal with poetry? We have something like that even in the New Testament. Our Lord Jesus Christ said on the very first day when discipleship was born--He said to one of His first disciples--“Ye shall see the heavens opened, and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Did they ever? Never, never. They never saw the blue rent; they never saw angels walking up and down the body of Christ. Never; it was a poetical form--a great mystical spiritual promise thrown into the larger language of poetry. And so the Gospel closes--“They shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall do them no manner of harm.” Is that being carried out in everybody or in anybody that believes the name of Christ? No, not literally. The serpent will kill a Christian as well as an infidel. Poison is as effective on a saint as on a sinner. What does it mean then? It is a grand spiritual fact, put in the large language of poetry. And that is what we have in this chapter. But you will say, Is not the Bible a serious book? Of what value is the introduction of a bit of poetry like this when it misleads so many? I reply--
I. Yes, the bible is intensely serious. This is not quoted as an ornament; it is for use. And if you ask, What is the value of it? I reply it is immensely valuable. Apart from this poetical quotation the whole chapter is comparatively worthless. Why? Because a body without a soul is worthless. The Bible is valuable to us in so far as it touches my life and yours. To tell me that Joshua routed those people does not help me very much. That is the body of it. I want to get at the soul of it. I want to understand Joshua himself, to modernise him, to make him a brother and to get some good out of him. Well, this bit of poetry helps me: this is the key to it. If I read this i see how the thing is done, and I see how I can do the same thing, in a measure, when I am called upon to do it. This piece of poetry is a window through which we can look into Joshua’s heart. The great battle of Bethhoron was a battle that threatened to be a drawn battle. There stands the man on the ridge. The men have been running away faster than he has been able to pursue them, and at this moment it seemed as if nature were conspiring against him; as if he were not to have the usual hours of the day. A black, mysterious cloud was coming to help the people who were running away from him. Don’t you understand the agony that would come into a man’s soul at that moment?--the impassioned prayer that would go up to God from his heart--not to stretch the laws of nature till they crack--but to give him the usual day, to keep the sun from going down at noon. No child was Joshua, crying for the moon. No man with such sick fancies could have done the work he did. What this man prayed for was a fair day’s light to do a fair day’s work in the strength of and for the glory of God. And do not you know something of the fear that came over him? If you are trying to do any work you too will come to this point. It will seem to you as if God were going to make your day too short. You will see the night falling all too soon. The night cometh, and you will say, “Oh, for more light. Life is not long enough; I am being taken away in the very middle of my days.” And you will then know what it is to cry, “Sun, stand thou in the heaven; and thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon.”
II. “and the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation had avenged themselves.” That is the key--“until the nation had avenged themselves.” What was coming up from the Mediterranean was not some awful preternatural piece of night, as Joshua feared. It was only a shower: a hailstorm. It was not going to help his enemies, but to slay them. The sun was not hasting from the heavens; the heavenly orbs would do their work as usual. The sun and moon were to be depended on; but if Joshua really wanted to have a longer day than usual, that did not depend on the sun and moon, he had to make it himself. How? Just as he lengthened the preceding night. From Gilgal to Gibeon, how long? Three days’ journey. What did Joshua do? Why, he took the twelve hours and stretched them till they became thirty-six. He did three days’ march in one night. So if Joshua wants a longer day on Bethhoron, it is not the sun that can make it for him, nor the moon either. He must go back on his recipe of the night before, and take the twelve hours of the day and stretch them. It is for Joshua himself to make the day longer, for it is not up in the skies that days are lengthened, but here on earth. The secret of a long day lies with Joshua, and not with the sun. No, the sun will not wait for you; but you can quicken your pace, and so lengthen your days. The longest day in your life is the day in which you work hardest, think the closest, live noblest.
III. Is that all? No. Was nothing done by god? Yes, everything, “And there was no day like that,” says the old poet, “before it, or after, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man.” By stopping the sun? No; “The Lord fought for Israel.” That cloud coming up from the Mediterranean, that Joshua mistook for the night, was one of his own soldiers marching to meet him; it was one of his own allies. Nature herself was in league with him. It was the hailstorm, one of God’s reinforcements coming to do the work of God. It is one of the deepest truths of experience that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” The hailstorms are still in league with the Joshuas. Are you false and mean in your aims? Are your ways corrupt on the earth? Then I tell you, whoever you are, you may succeed for a while, or you may seem to succeed, as the tares that ripen in the autumn sun that the fire may burn them all the easier by and by. You may seem to succeed for a while, but the very framework of the universe must be shattered; God’s throne must crumble in decay; heaven itself must be carried at the assault of hell’s dark troops before you can ultimately and really succeed. You too will be caught some day between Joshua and the hailstorm of the Lord. But are you seeking to be true, trying to be right, yet often finding things arrayed against you? Then, in God’s name, go on. You misread the signals. The blackness that threatens you is only an ally in disguise. You are bound to succeed in the battle of the Lord. The nature of things is in league with righteousness.
IV. “and Joshua returned into the camp at Gilgal.” Did he know what he had done? No. He knew he had done something; that it had been a great day, but he had no idea how great it was. It was one of the thousand-year days of God. It is still with us. That sun that Joshua cried to is still shining, and the moon has never left the vale of Ajalon. Serve the Lord with all your might, and you will do a work greater than you imagine, or dream, or desire. Our time-tables are altogether wrong--sixty seconds to the minute, sixty minutes to the hour; that will do very well for the rough and tumble work in the city, but apply a time-table like that to Gethsemane. Read the Gospels, watch in hand, beneath the shadow of the Cross--“From the sixth to the ninth hour Jesus hung on the Cross, dying.” Sixty minutes to the hour, sixty seconds to the minute! It will not do. These are eternal things, and they upset all our calculations. We do not know what we do when we serve God. Life is greater, grander than we dream. Do not think life is small. We sow time, and, lo, we reap eternity. We may so live as to leave behind us a light shining till the world itself shall end. “Returned to the camp.” Ah, men and women, the pathos of that old phrase! You and I will return to the camp very soon. The day over. Well, you may arrest the sun before night; but the sun, once it has dipped beneath the western wave, cannot be brought back. Yesterday! Where is it? It is beyond, in the great eternity. Can you run after the lightning and catch it and bring it back? Sooner shall you do that than at the end of the day recover the sun that has set. We shall be returning to camp soon. What histories are we bringing back--you and I? The number of our days is with God; but the length, fulness, quality, and eternalness arc with us. (J. M. Gibbon.)
1. We may learn whither to have recourse for help whenever the state of the weather has proved unfavourable to our respective undertakings. Is our land drenched with floods, that threaten to wash away or decay the seed lately sown? or chilled by cold and blighting winds? or parched up with a scorching heat, unmitigated by a passing cloud or a solitary shower? To complain and murmur under such visitations is as vain as ii is impious; whereas prayer for their alleviation or removal will probably procure us God’s favourable consideration, and certainly work for our spiritual profit.
2. Again, we learn by what unlikely means the Almighty brings about the deliverance of His people and the discomfiture of His enemies. To promote this great end, all hearts are in His hand, all events are at His disposal; yea, He directs and controls the elements themselves, so as to extort from the sons of men the confession, “This is God’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.” What befell the Spanish Armada, fitted out for the invasion and conquest of Great Britain? “The Lord sent a great wind into the sea,” to destroy the remnant of those ships which had hitherto escaped defeat; so that the final discomfiture of the fleet was as much owing to the tempestuous violence of the ocean as to the desperate valour of the English. However inextricable your difficulties, however insuperable your dangers may appear, the time for surmounting or escaping them may be at hand: your last extremity is God’s gracious opportunity: the valley of Achor He is changing into the door of hope, and making the vast magazine of ordinary and extraordinary dispensations instrumental to your eventual happiness and eternal glory. But tremble, ye wicked, though peace and prosperity at present attend your path. The resources in the hand of a retributive Providence are leagued against you, which, if delayed now, will fall on your devoted heads with tripled weight hereafter.
3. But I may instance some still clearer points of resemblance between this special interference of the Almighty in the case of Joshua and His providential arrangements at the present day. Every year presents to us an appearance in the heavens as deserving our surprise and admiration as that which attracted the notice of the camp of Israel. From the depth of winter to the height of summer the sun gradually travels over a wider space in its daily course. Morning after morning it rises earlier; evening after evening later sets. At length it escapes nut sight for a few hours only; and during that short interval the twilight in great degree compensates for its absence. Lest, moreover, during winter nearly utter darkness should veil the skies, on account of the sun’s few and contracted visits, the stars on frosty nights shine with a brilliancy unknown in summer, while the unclouded moon supplies its place, a welcome substitute, guided by whose friendly rays at any time the wanderer may confidently rely on reaching his place of destination. I scarcely need remind you what assistance this lesser light lends the labourer in late harvests by rising about the full at the same hour for some evenings in succession; or how, when the sun does not rise above their horizon for months together, and they would otherwise be enveloped in continual darkness, Divine Providence lights up for the inhabitants of the polar regions the brilliant aurora borealis, or northern lights, to illumine and cheer their “noonday nights.” Is not as effectual a provision made for light by these contrivances as though the sun and moon in set terms stood still, and hasted not to go clown about a whole day? Are they not as hard to be accounted for?
4. By comparing this miracle wrought by the hand of Joshua with those performed by Jesus Christ, we may learn to ascribe all proper honour to His person, all due reverence to the religion He came hither to establish. (H. A. Herbert, B. A.)
The sun standing still
A new suggestion in regard to the standing still of the sun and the moon at the apostrophe of Joshua is given by the Rev. J. Sutherland Black in his edition of “Joshua,” issued as one part of the Smaller Cambridge Bible series. His new postulate is to the effect that no physical miracle occurred, or was desired; he thinks the cosmical features of the event do not touch upon the supernatural at all. His explanation runs thus: “To understand the quotation from the Book of Jasher, we must figure to ourselves the speaker at two successive periods of the summer day--first on the plateau to the north of the hill of Gibeon, with Gibeon lying under the sun to the south-east or south, at the moment when the resistance of the enemy has at last broken down, and again, hours later, when the sun has set, and the moon is sinking westward over the valley of Ajalon, threatening by its disappearance to put an end to the victorious pursuit. The appeal to the moon is, of course, for light--i.e., after sunset. The moon appears over Ajalon; that is somewhat south of west, as seen by one approaching from Beth-horon. There was, therefore, evening moonlight. Joshua prayed first that the sunlight, and then that the moonlight following it, might suffice for the complete defeat of the enemy.”
The desire and the improvement of life
It is the language of the passions, in the midst of a fervid and impetuous career. “Sun, stand thou still,” equally exclaim the sons of pleasure and of ambition: every rank, pursuit, and age joins in the same prayer. In the morning of our existence, when all things display their fairest aspect, and in the midst of a succession of pleasurable scenes time rolls rapidly along: should a moment of reflection intervene, who does not exclaim, with a sigh, “How brief, how vain is life! how silently and swiftly do the hours advance and vanish!” “O sun, stand thou still”; give us a few more of thy bright morning beams, that we may a little longer taste the sweetness of unsullied pleasure. When we advance to the noon of the human course; amidst all the weighty cares, the thronging projects and objects of strenuous pursuit, that by turns awaken our ardour and elude our expectation--if, amidst this busy scene, we throw a glance upon the enlarged and enlarging space we have already passed, and the short and shortening limits of that which remains--how naturally does the heart send forth the involuntary, fruitless wish, “‘Sun, stand thou still.’ Hasten not so precipitately to crush our aspiring hopes, and extinguish in untimely darkness our unripened purposes: shine a little longer in thy meridian brightness, that we may not only exert our strength, but reap some recompense of our toil.” Arrived at this period of imaginary tranquility--though many ties may be loosened which once bound us to the world, yet new objects of attachment rise, and new motives for wishing that our stay might be prolonged--or if expectation saddens, and all around the prospect grows more dim and desolate, still do we linger fondly on the verge of life, though bereft of its most valued comforts, from that unconquerable dread with which the untried and unknown future strikes the imagination. “O sun, stop, stop thy course. Stand thou still in the midst of heaven, yet another year, another day, to soften our removal from the cheerful light, from the society of our fellow-beings, that, with more composed and collected thoughts, we may stand before the tribunal of our Creator.” Thus various and inexhaustible are the excuses of each successive stage for wishing to lengthen out the brief span of life; and the same sentiment pervades all the different conditions and circumstances of mankind. If prosperity smile upon us, we think the sun, which lights us every day to a succession of pleasures, moves too quickly to his setting: “O sun, stand thou still” in the midst of this fair horizon--hasten not to draw the veil of night over these delightful prospects. And if adversity oppress our spirits, we complain that the days which are clouded with grief, like those which are illumined with joy, equally pass away never to return. “O Sun, stand thou still,” let the dark and lowering tempest pass from before thy refulgent orb: let thy sweet and pleasant light again gladden our hearts, that our few remaining hours may glide peacefully to the close. But if he, who, without his own fault, and by inevitable circumstances, has been deprived of happiness, may complain of the swiftness of time and the brevity of life, how much deeper regret must that man feel who is conscious of having wasted its most valuable seasons, in thoughtless inactivity! Well may he cry out to time, to suspend its course, “Sun, stand thou still,” or rather reverse thy flaming and impetuous career. On the other hand, the virtuous man. But who is so virtuous as to have no faults to repair, no defects to supply--the man, however, comparatively virtuous, whose youthful days have been introductory to a scene of honourable and useful exertion; who may justly look upon himself as a blessing to his fellow-creatures; and who is pursuing, with steady vigour, his well-chosen course; gradually extending his usefulness and his good affections; and is a progressive pattern of every social and every religious duty; though he may submissively await the Divine disposal, yet will he view, not without awe, the narrow space which even virtue itself can boast of here below; and will be almost tempted to wish that it might be the will of Divine Providence to protract the duration of a span so brief, so inadequate to his views and his desires: “‘Sun, stand thou still’; withdraw not thy precious and useful light so soon; let me still pursue the happy course on which I have entered.” Unavailing are all such wishes; the tide of time will be neither accelerated nor retarded by our entreaties; the sun will neither suspend nor deviate from his course. Since, therefore, we cannot rule the course of nature, let us endeavour to rule ourselves. If we are so unhappy as to have wasted our past hours in folly or to have abused them by misconduct it is in vain to sit down and fold our arms in melancholy inaction; wishing that the past might be recalled, and grieving that the future cannot be hindered from advancing. We should rather call upon our souls and all that is within us to amend our faults, and repair the ills we have thereby incurred, before it be too late; like travellers who having wandered from the right path hasten to regain it before the sun goes down. If, on the contrary, we have happily chosen the path of virtue, let us cheerfully and thankfully pursue our way. Pleasant but fleeting is the season of youth, life’s cheerful morning. You cannot prolong its absolute duration; but you can add inestimably to its value. You can extend its happy influence over every remaining period, and draw from it a rich harvest of knowledge, virtue, and true felicity. Youth is the blossom, the promise of mature years these are equally transitory with the former. In vain you implore the sun to stay, but you may call him to witness a train of pious and charitable actions as he passes; you may crowd into a small extent a multitude of valuable labours; it is not for us to fix the limits, but to fulfil the duties of life--well pleased to act in concert with the great first mover of all things, among the innumerable instruments of His benevolent designs, and not unwilling to cease from action, whenever He shall see fit to transfer the pleasing though arduous toil from ourselves to others. No sooner has the sun passed his meridian than the shadows lengthen and night approaches. The dawn, the noon, the evening, all glide with uninterrupted speed; and the hour when we must bid farewell to all their successive scenes nature cannot now long delay. All that remains is, by reason and reflection, by prayer and repentance, to calm the perturbation of our minds--by holy resignation to the will of God, and a cheerful performance of our remaining duties, to seek His aid and protection--then, though we cannot escape the stroke of death, we shall render it less painful and alarming; thus disarmed of its sting, it will lose its greatest terrors; and will appear somewhat like a sound and refreshing slumber, falling on the over-wearied mariner, who is within sight of his desired haven, and who expects, with the dawn of the succeeding day, to meet the glad congratulations of all whom he loves. (P. Houghton.)
Sun, stand thou still
“Oh,” you say, “the sun and moon didn’t stand still.” One man comes to me and says, “According to the Copernican system the sun stood still anyhow, and it was no miracle for it to stand still.” Another man says, “If you stop the sun, you upset the whole universe, and throw everything out of order.” Another man tells me it was only the refraction of the sun’s rays which made the sun seem to stand still. Another man tells me that all that was necessary to have this miracle right, was to stop the world on its own axis, and it was not necessary to stop it in its revolution through its orbit. The universe is only God’s watch. I suppose He could make it. Then I suppose He could stop it. Then I suppose He could start it again, and stop it again. Oh! not the sun standing still! Yes. A bad man does not live out half his days. His sun may set at noon. But a good man may prolong his days of usefulness. If a man, in the strength of Joshua, will go forth to fight against sin and in behalf of the truth, he shall live; a thousand years will be as one day. John Summerfield was a consumptive Methodist. He stood looking fearfully white in Old Sand Street Methodist Church, preaching the glorious gospel, and on the anniversary platform in New York pleading for the Bible until the old book unrolled new glories the world had never seen. And on his death-bed he talked of heaven until the wing of the angelic messenger brushed the pillow on which he lay. Has John Summerfield’s sun set? Has John Summer-field’s day ended? No! He lives in the burning words he uttered in behalf of the Christian Church. He lives in the fame of that Christ whom he recommended to the dying people. He lives in the eternal raptures of that heaven into which he has already introduced so many immortal souls. Faint, and sick, and dying, and holding with one hand to the rail of the altar of the Methodist Church, with the other hand he arrested the sun in the heavens, seeming to say, “I can’t die now; I want to live on, and live on; I want to speak a word for Christ that will never die; I am only twenty-seven years of age. Sun of my Christian ministry, stand still over America.” And it stood still. Robert M’Cheyne, of Scotland, was a consumptive Presbyterian. He used to cough in his sermon so hard that the people thought that he would never preach again; but thousands in Aberdeen, and Edinburgh, and Dundee, heard the voice of mercy from his lips. The people rejoiced under his ministry. His name to-day is fragrant in all Christendom, and that name is “mightier than ever was his living presence. The delirium of his last sickness was filled with prayer, and when in his dying moment he lifted his hand for a benediction upon his friends, and upon his country, he was only practically saying, “I can’t die now; I want to live on for Christ; I am only thirty years of age. Sun of my Christian ministry, stand still over Scotland.” And it stood still. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
No day like that.--
I. There had been none like it in the number and strength of the confederacy which was gathered against Israel. The highlanders, and lowlanders, and the maritime tribes combined their forces to oppose and crush the invaders, who now, by the defection of Gibeon, possessed a pathway into the heart of the country. Israel had previously dealt with separate cities, Jericho, At, Gibeon; but now six of the seven nations of Canaan joined together at the summons of the king of Jerusalem, who was allied with the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon.
II. There was none like it in joshua’s life for heroic faith.
1. It was a day of vigour. As soon as he received the message he saw the importance of at once vindicating the trust reposed in him. Inertness and indolence ill become those who are entrusted with great concerns. The stirring of God’s Spirit in man makes the pulse throb quickly, purposes form themselves in the will; and all the nature is braced, and knit, to subserve the heroic soul.
2. It was a day of fellowship. Soon after the first message had come, with surely a certain amount of startling surprise, God had spoken to him and said, “Fear them not,” &c. And so we may expect it to be always. Sometimes the assurance comes first to prepare us for what is at hand. But if not then it will reach us simultaneously with the alarm, reassuring us, and giving us quiet confidence in the midst of evil tidings, as the bird rocks in its nest over the rush of the waterfall, serene, though the branch beneath it sways in the storm. There are high days in human lives when thought and purpose, which had been quietly gathering strength, like waters swelling against a barrier, suddenly leap from their leash, and vent themselves in acts, or words, or prayers, such as stand out from the ordinary routine of existence, like the cathedral of Cologne from the mean houses that gather around its base. We are not, then, drunk with wine, but we are flushed, as to our spirits, with the exhilaration and sense of power which the Spirit of God alone can give, or, to put it in another form, we catch fire. There is too little experience of this capacity of rising into the loftiest experience of that Spirit life which is within the reach of us all, through living fellowship with God; but whenever we realise and use it, it is as when the feeble, smouldering wick is plunged into oxygen gas, or as when a flower, that had struggled against the frost, is placed in the tropical atmosphere of the hot-house. In such hours we realise what Jesus meant when He said, “Whosoever shall say unto this mountain,” &c.
3. It was a day of triumphant onlook. The kings were summoned from their hiding-place, and as they crouched abjectly at the feet of their conquerors, Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said unto the chiefs of the men of war, “Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings.” And whilst they stood in that attitude of unquestioned victory, there broke on the exalted spirit-kindled imagination of the warrior-chieftain the sure prevision of the ultimate issue of the conflict in which they were engaged. He already saw the day when every knee should bow before Jehovah’s might, when every king should be prostrate before Israel’s arm, and when the whole land should be subdued.
III. There had been none like it in the extraordinary co-operation of Jehovah. The Israelites were the executioners of Divine justice, commissioned to give effect to the sentence which the foul impurities of Canaan called for. There is a judgment-seat for nations as well as for individuals. Within the limits of the ages as they pass, and on the surface of this earth, that throne is erected and that judgment is proceeding. We get some glimpse of this in the hand that wrote the doom of Belshazzar’s kingdom on the walls of the palace which beheld a scene of wanton revelry lit by the light of the temple’s sacred lamps. And the almighty Judge sees to it that His sentences are carried out. He has many agents--the Persian legions to execute his sentence on Babylon, the Vandals on Rome, the Russian Cossacks on Napoleon, as the Israelites on the Amorites, whose iniquity was now full, and threatened to infect the world.
IV. Such days come still to men. There are days in our lives so extraordinary for the combination of difficult circumstances, human opposition, and Satanic combination, that they stand out in unique terror from the rest of our lives. Looking back on them, we may almost adopt the language of the sacred historian, “there was no day like that before it or after it.” But these days do not come if we are living in friendship with God, intent on doing His will, without there coming also His sweet “Fear them not, for I have delivered them into thine hands.” Our only anxiety should be that nothing should divert us from His path, or intercept the communication of His grace. Like a wise commander we must keep open the passage back to our base of operations, which is God. Careful about that, we need have no anxious care beside. The greatness of our difficulties is permitted to elicit the greatness of His grace. He covers our heads in the day of battle. He is our shield and exceeding great reward. Though an host should encamp against us, we will not fear; though war should rise against us, in this we will be confident. Moreover, these days may always be full of the realised presence of God. All through the conflict Joshua’s heart was in perpetual fellowship with the mighty Captain of the Lord’s host, who rode beside him all the day. The blessed colloquy between the two was unbroken, as between a Wellington and a Blucher, a Napoleon and a Marshal Ney. So amid all our conflicts, our hearts and minds should thither ascend and there dwell where Christ is seated, drawing from Him grace upon grace, as we need, like the diver on the ocean floor who inhales the fresh breeze of the upper air. At these times it is very necessary not merely to ask God to help us, because the word “help” may mean that there is a great deal of reliance on self, and whatever there is of ourselves is almost certain to give way in the strain of battle. Achilles was mortally wounded in the heel, the one place which did not share in the plunge given him by his goddess mother into the immortal stream. The Divine part of our deliverance will be nullified by the alloy of our own energy, strength, or resolution. Let us substitute for the word “help” the word “keep.” Let us put the whole matter into the hands of God, asking Him to go before us, to fight for us, to deliver us, as He did for His people on this eventful day. “The Lord discomfited them before Israel.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Bring out those five kings.
The prostrate kings
The kings of the Canaanites fled and hid themselves, but the Divine vengeance followed them; and after the rout of their hosts was completed they themselves were taken and put to death. Before this, however, they were humbled in the sight of Israel; and the captains were bidden by Joshua to put their feet on the necks of their foes. Thus their thorough subjection was pointed out; and the people of God were distinguished as triumphing over all opposition, even the most formidable.
I. No opposition is so great, no enemies so mighty, but the followers of the lord Jesus can overcome them. In outward and bodily things, and at the hands of men, the people of God are ofttimes sorely tried. Over and over again they have been slain all the day, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. The deep and mysterious providence of an all-wise God has suffered and ordered this. But inwardly, and as regards spiritual experience, is it not true that “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us”? As believers in Jesus we are exposed to constant opposition of a spiritual kind. As soon as ever the Christian life really begins, so soon does conflict commence. But is it not a good thing to change slavery for freedom; and to feel the opposition and rage of Satan rather than to be bound in his destructive chains? Then again, the rebel flesh puts forth its power, resisting the will of God, and proving that the carnal mind is enmity against God. But have we not found deliverance? We have heard the precious assurance, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper”; we have taken up the Christian’s war-cry, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me”; we have doubtless sung the believer’s song of triumph, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do I now speak to any soul in strong conflicts, and exposed to some sore temptation? Oh! poor tried and harassed one, look up, look up. Do not let the enemy engage all your attention: think of the mighty Friend who is standing by. Do not let the temptation quite swallow up your spirit; remember (1 Corinthians 10:13).
II. It is the lord Jesus who accomplishes this glorious work for and in behalf of his believing ones. Mark the circumstances in detail which are narrated in the text, and see how conspicuous Joshua was throughout the whole transaction (verses 22-26). Joshua called for all the men, summoned the host, then called out the captains, and bade them put their feet on the necks of the kings; then he encouraged his captains; then he executed the kings. The crowning speech, and crowning act, on that eventful day were his. Just so, it is only our heavenly Joshua who can make us conquerors, who can effect deliverance for us, who can enable us to set our feet upon the necks of those hosts, those temptations, those foes of whatsoever sort, which surround and assault us, and which, without His aid, are sure to be too many and too mighty for us to cope with and subdue.
1. In the help which we have received, or may now be enjoying, let us see the pledge of future victory.
2. It may be that some are in sore conflict and trial at this very time. Forget not who is able to save, even to the uttermost. The same Jesus who has strengthened thousands of conflicting souls and made them victorious is ready to help you. (C. D. Marston, M. A.)
Foes under foot
1. This solemn scene reminds us of the mad resistance of these kings. Here is the end of it. And what a contrast is this to that which they had conceived. As we look on these wretched kings we hear a voice asking in earnest, solemn tones, “Who hath hardened himself against God and hath prospered?” “Who can resist the arm of the Almighty?” And again it says, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Can the clay rebel against the potter? Will the tool lift up itself against the workman? Will worms defy the Almighty? Why, then, oh! why are there found, not a few, but many, who still resist Him?
2. This scene also reminds us of the despairing flight of these kings. Finding that resistance was useless, they sought to escape by flight, but this proved also vain. The sinner cannot flee from the judgment of God. Many a man has been able to escape the just judgment of his fellows. It can never be so with the Divine justice. It rolls forth no empty thunders. Seeing all flight is vain, our only hope is instant and complete submission, if haply the Lord will have mercy on us and spare us for His name’s sake.
3. The scene also speaks of their useless refuge. Their resistance was found to be utterly vain, therefore they had recourse to flight. But flight they found also unavailing, therefore they sought to hide, but this was also vain. By this new device they not only deceive themselves, they actually destroy themselves. Know that it is as vain to hide from God as to fly from Him. Yet the truth, “Thou God seest me,” is one not easily learned. Often, as in the case of Hagar, it is only in the hour of dire extremity that the soul becomes truly conscious of the fact. Nothing is more common or more natural for fallen man than to hide from God. Even in childhood, if unwelcome thoughts of God obtruded themselves, how quickly did we learn to bury ourselves in the cave of other and more congenial thoughts and hopes. And as we grow older, and the heart gets more unsusceptible to spiritual realities, how easily can we hide in indifference. How natural it is to let slip everything that has been taught us of spiritual truth, to forget all warnings and admonitions, to become engrossed with the pleasures that lie around, and to forsake the good habits in which we had been trained. And not a few seek to shelter themselves in hypocrisy. The Church is the garden of God; and not a few are hiding from Him among the trees of His own garden. They come to the solemn assembly. They give of their substance to His work. They maintain propriety of conduct, and yet they know not God; yea, they are hiding from Him all the time, and by these very means. Others are hiding from God in business. From Monday morning till Saturday night they are engrossed in earthly cares, and even on the Lord’s day their heads and hearts are more in their bank-books and ledgers than in their Bibles. But though men may for a few moments bury themselves in oblivion of God, they can never hide from Him. Soon the souls who thus hide will be dragged out to the bewildering light, to their shame and ruin. Have we, then, no hope? Is there no refuge for us? There is. We can never hide from God, but we can hide in God. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe.”
4. Here also we behold the utter degradation of these kings. It was far deeper than that of their subjects. As they were ringleaders in this revolt, their end was more terrible. They had to bow their necks under the feet of the children of Israel. This was a most significant act. It was a picture of the absolute subjection of all to the yoke of Israel. It was a pledge of the perfect conquest of the land, of the glorious ending of that work which had been so well begun. This also was written for our encouragement and instruction. All things must be brought into subjection to the true Joshua. They who follow Him are not overcome of evil, they are conquerors in the struggle against sin. However weak we may feel in ourselves, yet in His name we dare deal with the proudest and strongest sin that lurks in our hearts, as Joshua’s captains did with these kings. That man cannot be following Christ who is not putting all spiritual foes under his feet from day to day. And we have here not only a picture of this daily and oft-repeated triumph over sin which Jesus gives His followers, but also a picture of that ultimate and complete victory over sin and Satan that shall be granted. There were other kings in Canaan besides these five kings, and they gave Joshua and his captains much trouble. Though the victory so far was real and glorious, it was by no means complete. They have faced and overcome these particular foes; but many more remain. Even so the Christian, though he should and must obtain the victory over all known sin, and keep it ever under foot, learns the longer that he lives that there arc other sins which he had not dreamt of lurking in the recesses of his heart. Therefore he lays count for a protracted war. Yet he does not go forward with a faint heart to face these new foes. Rather, encouraged by the victories already granted, he goes on with assurance of like triumph.
5. We must also draw attention to the miserable end of these kings. Here, as we stand over the dead bodies of these kings, we hear a voice proclaiming, “So perish the king’s enemies.” There are judgments of God against sin in the past history of the world. In the future history of the world these judgments will again be on the earth. Between the past and the future He has erected the Cross. That also is a centre of judgment. Yea, the judgment against sin on the Cross is far more perfect than either that judgment which goes before or follows after; for it is a judgment finished, a cup of condemnation drunk to the last drop, and that can be said of no other, past or future. Identified with that Victim, nailed with Him to that Cross, cursed in Him with all the curse due to sin, banished with that forsaken Victim in the great darkness, there is no condemnation, no judgment, to them that are in Christ Jesus.
6. In these conquests of Joshua we have a faint picture of the victories of Jesus. However numerous His enemies may be, they will be all scattered as chaff before the wind, as smoke before the hurricane. However mighty they may be, they will bite the dust in terror and dismay. However wise and noble, they will be crushed under His heel. (A. B. Mackay.)
You all know something of a struggle that is continually going on in your own hearts between good and evil. You have all heard of the battle against sin. Well, the five kings are for us five sins, which day by day are warring against us. And let us be quite sure of this, if we do not conquer them they will conquer us.
I. Here is the first--king anger. What boy or girl is there who has not felt this king rising in his heart, and leading him on to unkind words and bad deeds. Kill the very first angry thought, and then it won’t have time to grow into a great king to trouble you and all near you.
II. “But,” says some child, “I’m not given to being angry. I have a very good temper. I’m not afraid of that king.” Don’t be too sure. He may turn up some time when you are not ready for him. And in any case I fear, from the way yon speak, that there is another king you will have to keep a very good look-out against--king pride. Do you know what he is? Some one gave a very good description of pride when he said that pride was a great big “I” and a very little “you.” Some of you, I am sure, have read “Alice in Wonderland”; and you remember what happened to Alice when she ate the piece of cake marked, “Eat me.” She found herself growing taller, and taller, and taller, until at length everything looked quite small beneath her. Now King Pride does for us all what the wonderful cake did for Mice. He puffs us up. He makes us very high and very great in our own sight. And the only way to deal with him is to do like Joshua’s soldiers, and to take this king and put our foot upon his neck, and crush him to the ground.
III. But we must pass on to our third king; and dangerous as were the first two, he is more dangerous still, for his name is king falsehood. Have you ever told a lie, ever said what was not quite true to get your own way, or to save yourself from punishment? If you have, then you are letting King Falsehood reign over you, and a cruel, hard master you will soon find him to be. Determine at all costs to say nothing but what is strictly true. Once a great and good man was thrown into prison because he had written paper which displeased King Charles I. He was tried and condemned to death for what he had written; but the king sent messengers to him in prison to say that if he would only deny having written the paper and signed it, he would be set free. And how do you think he answered? “I did sign that paper. I could save my life by telling a lie, but I would rather a thousand times tell the truth, even though my life must be the cost.” That was noble. Be like that hero, Algernon Sydney.
IV. Our fourth king need not detain us long--king disobedience. He needs no explanation, but perhaps you will remember best about him if I tell you how he was once conquered by a brave English boy. Henry Havelock was his name, and at twelve o’clock one day his father left him on London Bridge, and told him to wait till he came back. One hour, two hours, three hours passed, and still the father did not come; but King Disobedience did. “Why wait any longer?” he whispered to Henry. “Your father has forgotten you, and will not expect you to remain. It is quite excusable to disobey him now after all these hours. You had better run home.” But the boy would not consent. He had been told to wait till his father came, and like a soldier’s son he drove the enemy back at every point. At seven o’clock that evening his wife asked General Havelock, “Where is Henry? I have not seen him all the afternoon.” The General started up. “Oh,” he said, “he’s on London Bridge! I left him there at twelve o’clock, and told him to wait for me. In the hurry of business I quite forgot about him. But he’s there still, I’m sure.” And there indeed he was when his father went to fetch him. Seven long, weary hours he had waited, and fought King Disobedience. And hard though the battle had been he had won.
V. And now there remains only one king; but he is so big and so strong that I shall ask the printer to print his name in extra large letters--king self. Have you ever heard two voices inside you; one saying, “Please yourself. Take your own way. Why should you think about other people?” And the other saying, “No, be generous; be kind. Give up what pleases yourself, and help others.” I think you have, and I think you know which is the voice of King Self, and what a poor sort of a king he is to follow. He can make no one happy. Somehow the boy who is always trying to please himself is the boy who is never pleased at all. And then how uncomfortable he makes all round him. It was only because God had helped him that Joshua was able to defeat the five kings. And so shall we conquer if we fight in God’s strength, not in our own. Kneel down to Him then, and ask Him to be with you, and to make you “more than conquerors” for Jesus’ sake. (Morning Rays.)
Five modern kings
The names of the places may help us to consider the nature of their respective kings.
1. “The king of Jerusalem.” That such a king should have been slain works violently in our memory and whole thought, for “Jerusalem” means peace--the city of peace, the restful city, the sabbatic metropolis, the home of rest. But is there not a false peace? The king of false peace must be slain. He has ruled over some of us too long.
2. “Hebron” means conjunction, joining, alliance. Is not the king of false fellowship to be killed? What concord hath Christ with Belial? God has always been against unholy alliances. Many a man He has, so to say, arrested with the words, Why this conjunction? What right have you to be here, pledging your character to sustain a known dishonesty?
3. And the king of Jarmuth. The word means high, that which is lifted up. And is not the king of false ambition to be slain and then hanged--to have contempt added to murder? Contempt is never so well expended as upon false ambition.
4. Then the king of Lachish. The word means hard to be captured, almost out of reach, or so defended that it will be almost impossible to get at the king. Is not the king of fancied security to be slain and hanged?
5. King of Eglon. The Word “Eglon” means pertaining to a calf, and may be taken as representing the whole system of false worship. (J. Parker, D. D.)
All these kings and their laud did Joshua take at one time, because the Lord . . . fought for Israel.
I. God has an indisputable right to dispense his favours to what persons and in what proportions he pleases. As the sole proprietor, it is His to dispose of.
1. Worldly goods. One is accordingly born to affluence, while another is cradled in poverty. Before they existed they could, of course, have no claims or demerits; and therefore the difference in their tot must be owing to His sovereign disposal of events.
2. Bodily constitution and health. As variety marks all other of God’s works, so here it happens that one is naturally robust, another sickly, a third deformed, &c. Who is it that maketh the strong, the beautiful, &c., to differ? The answer may be found in 2Sa 22:30; 2 Samuel 22:35.
3. Mental qualifications. “The inspiration of the Almighty giveth understanding.” Much, it is true, depends on personal application. But much depends on natural capacity; given “to one five talents, to another two, and to another one”; and much on the opportunities, instructors, &c., which God either gives or withholds.
4. Spiritual privileges. Mankind soon began to have greater or smaller advantages in this respect, as they descended from families more or less holy; and the case is the same to the present day. Instance the Israelites and heathens formerly; Christians and pagans now.
II. God has an equal right to resume or to transfer his favours.
1. We have seen that whatever we possess is of free favour at first, from the original proprietor of all. Such the acknowledgment of the psalmist, “Of Thine own have I given Thee.”
2. No person becomes a proprietor of his possessions merely because he has long enjoyed them. Every blessing is a loan resumable at pleasure; and instead of gaining a right by holding it, the holder is becoming more and more indebted. The property is still God’s (Psalms 24:1; Psalms 24:10; Psalms 12:1-8.
3. On this ground He took His own land of promise from the Canaanites and transferred it to Israel. And He still puts down one and raises up another as it pleases Him.
III. God may justly punish every voluntary transgression of his righteous and equitable laws. Here we remark--
1. That His intelligent and moral creatures are what they are is owing to His sovereign pleasure. Thus Elihu (Job 35:10-11).
2. Since they are such, and capable of moral government, their nature requires a law, as a test of their obedience and for the exercise of their capabilities; and it is His prerogative, who is not only the sovereign Lord, but infinitely wise, to say what is right, to enact such law.
3. In order to make the law efficient it was necessary it should be guarded and enforced by penal sanctions. Whence it follows--
4. That truth requires, while sovereignty authorises, the just punishment of disobedience to His righteous and equitable commands.
IV. In executing his righteous purposes God may employ what agency or instrumentality he pleases. He doubtless can and may work immediately on any and every part of His creation. Yet He seldom does so. Oftentimes He employs angels, as in the case of Sennacherib or Herod. And oftentimes storm, pestilence, earthquake, &c. Deists do not object to these. Yet they cavil at God’s employing the sword of Israel; a difference merely in the circumstance of instrumentality. Let the subject teach us--
1. Reverence. “Forasmuch as there is none like unto Thee, O Lord,” &c. (Jeremiah 10:6-7). The opposite disposition is reproved (Romans 9:20), and threatened (Isaiah 45:9-10).
2. Dependence. We enjoy no more or longer than He blesses us, and live no longer than He sustains (Psalms 90:3; Psalms 9:14; Psalms 104:27-29).
3. Humility. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,” &c. (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Corinthians 4:7).
4. Gratitude. Who maketh thee to differ? (Sketches of Sermons.)
Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, unto the camp to Gilgal--
The old camp and the new foe
It must have been a great rest and refreshment for the weary warriors to come to such a camp from time to time. It would be to them a Sabbath amid their arduous labours. From this place they would after each visit go more boldly out to deal harder blows against the uncircumcised Canaanites. And it is the same with us in the war which we wage against the inner and the outer foe. We have our headquarters too, a visit to which should stimulate us even more than a visit to Gilgal did the Israelites. What is our Gilgal? The Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. That remains always our centre. We should come back to it at all times; not only when driven there by defeat, in order to have shelter, but also after every victory, in order to give thanks. Thus shall we maintain faith and a good conscience. Then issuing from such headquarters, so safe, so restful, so hallowed, so purifying, we shall be filled with a holy enthusiasm and unconquerable strength, and march like Israel from victory to victory. When Joshua had come back to the old headquarters word was brought to him of the gathering of a new foe. This was the most numerous army that had as yet been gathered against him. And it was the most powerful, as well as the most numerous army which Joshua had encountered. For the first time in this campaign we hear of war-horses being used, and the war-chariots of iron which were such a terror to the ancient infantry. This army is also better led than any other that had taken the field. Jabin was the commander-in-chief. One of his successors is called king of Canaan (Judges 4:2-24), and therefore he would in all likelihood have been the head of the great confederacy. The word “Jabin” is not a name, but a title borne by the kings of Hazor, and signifies “The Wise,” just as Adoni-zedek means “Lord of Righteousness.” Therefore, as we have seen the religious head of the Canaanites marshalling the southern army, so here we see the wise head of the Canaanites marshalling the northern army. The southern might be called the coalition of the priest; the northern the coalition of the sage. How graphically is the spiritual experience of the Christian depicted by these conflicts! No sooner is one set of foes subdued than another arises. There is no rest here. There is also a similarity in the kind of opposition which we have to encounter. As the advance of Israel was opposed now by Adoni-zedek and now by Jabin, so the advance of truth is opposed now by apostate Christianity and now by pompous philosophy. As it is with the Church collectively so is it with the individual. He may lay his account sooner or later to face these two, often in the same order. First comes superstition, with its high-sounding titles, its endless genealogies, its imperious claims, its elaborate ritual, its sensuous will-worship, its irrational bondage. It is resisted, it is overcome. Then comes rationalism, and it cries, “Well done. You have routed these infernal hosts. Now come with us. Finish the work you have so well begun. Cast from you the remaining rags of superstition. Follow the light of Reason. Shake off the remaining fetters and be free.” Then the sage who argues thus will, like Jabin, muster whole hosts of imposing arguments. How quickly they come at his bidding: from north, south, east, and west, like the sand that is on the seashore for multitude. And when he reviews them, how imposing is their array I It is a critical time for the soul when he stands gazing on that imposing array, if he is not assured that the Lord is on his side; if he hears not, as did Joshua, the words, “Be not afraid because of them, to-morrow will I deliver them up all slain before Israel.” But for faith in the Divine presence and this sure word the soul is in a sad case, and with quaking heart and tottering knees will quit the high places of the field. Alas! alas! how many in our day are dazed by the hosts of unsanctified science! The Christian soldier is not worthy of his name who is not ready with unfeigned faith in the truth of God to proclaim it boldly, whether men hear or forbear, to oppose all the glittering phalanxes of false philosophy with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. As we look at this new army mustered to oppose Joshua, we cannot but renew our wonder at the infatuation of the Canaanites. What a solemn thought it is that the greatest miracles will not in themselves lead the heart of man to subjection! Yet, after all, why should we wonder at these Canaanites, when we have greater cause for wonder in the unbelief of many around us? What were all the miracles of which these Canaanites were cognisant compared with those with which we have been familiar since our childhood? (A. B. Mackay.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany