THEME: Nothing Is Impossible with God
This week’s lessons remind us of the unlimited power and ability of God to work for the good of all those who trust in him.
So Joshua passed the word to his troops to get ready for a march. They were going to proceed back up the ravine that led to the hill country at night. And then they were going to fall upon this confederacy of the southern cities in the morning. The arrival of the Jewish troops was so unexpected and sudden that it threw the Canaanites into a panic. They fled before Israel, fleeing south from Gibeon, where the battle began, to this town called Beth-horon, which was up on a ridge. Then from Beth-horon, they went down the other side in a precipitous descent to a valley which lay beyond. The road falls about 700 feet in two miles at that point. The hillside is cut into rocky steps that descend towards the valley. And this is the area that the fleeing Canaanite troops had to cross. You can understand how it happened, fleeing down these great, gigantic rocks towards the valley with the Jewish troops hot in pursuit.
Now, this is the scene that greeted Joshua as he arrived at the ridge. We’re told that God had intervened in the story by this time by sending a hail storm. This was an extremely bad storm; we are told that more died from the hail than from the swords of the Israelites. And as Joshua came up over the ridge—not in the front of his troops, but behind, trying to hold the thing together—he saw all of the united armies of the Canaanites fleeing down the hillside and across the valley. And over the valley was this great cloud out of which the hail was thundering down.
As that scene fell upon Joshua’s eyes, he must have recognized two things. The first is that this was an unparalleled opportunity to destroy the southern confederacy. Here were the hand-picked troops, the best soldiers of the best cities of this area of the country, fleeing in utter disarray. If he could just fall upon them and pursue them before they got back to their city fortresses, he could achieve a victory which would make further battles in that area more or less a mopping-up operation.
But at the same time, he must have understood something else. By this time, the battle had gone on for some time. The sun was passing through the sky and perhaps was soon to set over the Mediterranean to his right. He must have recognized as soon as he looked up and saw the sun that he didn’t have enough time to achieve the kind of victory that the military situation presented. So Joshua did an utterly unprecedented thing. He prayed openly in the presence of Israel, “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Adullam.” The next verse, verse 13 says, “So the sun stood still. And the moon stopped till the nation avenged itself on its enemies.” And the text goes on to say, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.”
Now that great miracle has been such a puzzle to so many scholars that there have been, as I suggested earlier, a number of attempts to figure out what was really going on here. Gleason Archer in his book, An Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, discusses this at some length. Some years before the publication of that volume, Bernard Ramm wrote A Christian View of Science and the Scriptures. He also examined the various explanations of this miracle that have been given. Let me suggest just a few of them to you.
The first is that the words are poetical, and therefore are not to be taken literally. There’s some argument that can be made in favor of this because in ancient times, it was quite natural for people to refer to the intervention of the sun, the moon, and the other heavenly bodies in things that were happening on earth. That’s even true in the Bible. For example, in Judges 5:20, as Deborah and Barak recite a hymn of praise to God for the victory they had achieved, say, “The stars fought on the side of Barak in the battle.” Some people conclude the same thing is happening in Joshua 10. It’s a poetical way of saying that God gave Joshua and the armies the strength they needed, and when they needed it, to achieve a great victory. After all, they were worn out. They had marched all night, and here they were fighting in the heat of the day, with time running out. God supplied their strength supernaturally so that to them it was as if the day was extended until they really did achieve the victory they desired.
But there are obvious difficulties with that. One is that it’s hard to believe that this language isn’t to be taken literally. Another one is that the miracle of the extending daylight is not the only miracle that’s involved. There is also the miracle of the hailstones. If the account of the sun and moon is poetical, then what about the hailstones? What do they represent? And if the hailstones aren’t poetical, but literal, why should the other be poetical and not literal, too? I think it begins to break down when you try to ask these kinds of questions about the text.
Even before Joshua asked the Lord to miraculously intervene, from the passage we learn that God had already acted on Israel’s behalf in two ways. What did God do?
What two things does Dr. Boice suggest Joshua must have realized at this point in his battle against the confederacy?
From the lesson, what is the first explanation offered for the miracle of the sun standing still? What difficulties does that explanation face?
While God promised Joshua to give Israel the victory over the Canaanite confederacy, his divine work took place through both his miraculous intervention and human activity. What means did Joshua need to use? Why would God choose to work through such human means, not only in Joshua’s case, but in ours as well?