Joshua 10 and my story

In church at the moment we are going through the book of Joshua. Today I was teaching on Joshua 9-12, though I chose to focus on chapter 10. I did it in the form of two stories. We are finding story-telling a great way to engage our largely non-book congregation (as well as being how the Bible itself most commonly communicates). I tried to set the story in the context of the wider Bible story in a way that gives the story of Joshua meaning for us without stating that meaning as a series of propositional statements. I did the application by including my own story as another chapter in the story. I also did a version of the children’s worksheet to give to the adults at the end which included an invitation for them to write down how they battle with Satan and perhaps to think of crushing it beneath their feet.

Story No. 1: The battle between God’s people and Satan’s people

A long time ago, perhaps even before the first human being walked on earth, there was an angel called Lucifer. Now he goes under many names – Satan, the Devil. But then he was just Lucifer. It means ‘the Bearer of Light’. Lucifer was the most marvellous angel of all. He lit up heaven with his presence. But it was not enough for him. He became jealous of God.

Exactly what happened is lost to us. It has become the stuff of myth and legend. But as best as we can determine, it went something like this.

One day Lucifer led a rebellion against God. He demanded to be equal with God. He rejected God’s love. He rejected God’s glory – the very glory that made Lucifer glorious. But God is God. No-one can take his place. And so Lucifer was thrown out of heaven. Once he had been the Bearer of Light. Now he became the Prince of Darkness. Once he had lit up heaven. Now he fumed against God in hell.

It was the beginning of a battle that would rage on throughout history.

Lucifer’s first act in the battle was to get humanity to switch sides: to leave God and join him in his rebellion. This is where we do know what happened. It went something like this.

In the days when the first human beings walked on earth, Lucifer came to them in the form of a serpent. God had given the first man and woman a beautiful home in a beautiful garden. It was a place of security and provision. And he had invited them to know him and trust him by giving them a single command: he told them not to eat from one particular tree. But the serpent came to the woman and said, ‘Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?’ See what he did? He twisted God’s word. He made the woman doubt God’s word. He made God out to be a tyrant. God had given them everything, but the serpent insinuated that God was holding them back. And so the first man and woman took the fruit of the tree. They rejected God. They switched sides. They join the rebellion of Lucifer.

This could have been the end of the story. God could have consigned humanity to hell along with Lucifer. But God was patient and gracious and loving. So he made a promise – a promise to start a new humanity. This is what he said to the serpent (Genesis 3:15):

I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.

God said history would be the story of the conflict between Satan’s people and God’s people. It was a call to battle. God was going to create hostility between the serpent and the woman, between Satan’s people and God’s people. In that conflict Satan would harm God’s people: he would strike their heel. But God’s people would be the winners: they would crush the head of Satan, they would stamp on the head of Satan’s forces.

Lift up your foot and bring it down on Satan’s head.

Now I want to fast forward the story on many hundreds of years. God chose a particular nation, the nation of Israel, to be his people. People from other nations could join them, but they were God’s people. And God promised that from their offspring would come the one who would finally crush Lucifer or Satan. That put these people on a collision course with Satan. If Satan could eradicate the people of Israel, God’s people, then he would win.

Satan had tried to wipe out God’s people while they were living in Egypt. But God had rescued them. Now God had brought them to the land of Canaan which he promised to them.

The king of Jerusalem was Adoni-Zedek. We know Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But then it was an enemy town. The king of Jerusalem called together four other kings from Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon. Together they agreed to attack the people of God and wipe them out. The people of this world hate the people of God. Of course they do, God himself had created hostility between his people and Satan’s people.

The Israelites had a made a deal with people from a town called Gibeon (Joshua 9). They weren’t supposed to. But they hadn’t consulted God. They hadn’t taken time to listen to God. It’s important to listen to God. But they couldn’t be bothered. And so they had ended up with a duff deal. But a deal is a deal.

The five kings – the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon – were furious with the people of Gibeon because of this deal. So they went to attack Gibeon. And so, because a deal is a deal, the people of God came to help them. God said to Joshua, the leader of Israel, ‘Do not be afraid of them, for I have given you victory over them. Not a single one of them will be able to stand up to you.’ (Joshua 10:8)

This is what happened. Joshua marched his army through the night from their camp at Gilgal to Gibeon. Do you know how far that is? It’s three days. Three days walk in one night! It was a quite a feat.

Imagine the soldiers of the five kings lying in bed in their tents. They can perhaps hear a few birds singing, but it’s still dark outside. One of them is just stretching. Another is still snoring. And then suddenly there is shouting, the clash of sword on shield, screams, the smell of sweat and blood. They jump up, start looking for their armour. But it’s still dark. They result is complete confusion. Most decide to run for it.  And as they run the people of God pursue them, cutting down the stragglers. And as they run, God sends a fierce hailstorm. He hurled down huge hailstones on them from the sky – crashing down, crushing down, exploding in their path. More people were killed by the hailstones than by the sword.

In the middle of the battle, Joshua cried out: ‘Sun, stand still, moon, stand still.’ Now that is an amazing thing to shout. But more amazing is that the sun and moon did stand still. Maybe there was a solar eclipse that left the army of the five kings in the dark. Maybe there was a longer day that left time for Israel to finish off the job. Either way it was the most amazing thing. ‘The Lord obeyed the voice of a man. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!’ (Joshua 10:14, esv and nlt)

The five kings fled into a cave at a place called Makkedah. So Joshua told the soldiers to roll large rocks across the entrance and left a few men to guard it. Then they got on with finishing the battle. Nearly the whole army of the five kings was destroyed.

At the end of the day Joshua said: ‘Open the mouth of the cave and bring out the five kings.’ And then he did something very significant. He got the five kings to lie on the floor, face down, and told his army commanders to place their feet on the necks of the kings. This is what he said: ‘Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is going to do this to all of your enemies.’ (Joshua 10:25)

Many years before God had told the serpent that the offspring of the woman ‘will strike your head.’ My people will crush your head. Now the people of God stand with their feet on the necks of Satan’s people. And Joshua says: ‘Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is going to do this to all of your enemies.’

Lift up your foot and bring it down on Satan’s head.

I want to fast forward the story again to a man hanging on a cross. This is God’s man, God’s king, God’s promised Saviour. This is Jesus. This is the one who will crush Satan. But he is dying. He is dying in agony and shame and defeat. And Satan and his people are laughing.

Do you remember what God had said to the serpent? ‘You will strike his heel’. Satan thinks he has crushed Jesus, but he has only struck his heel.

This is what Jesus said about his death on the cross before it happened. ‘The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.’ (John 12:31-32)

On the cross Satan’s hold over us is broken. Satan says to God, ‘They’re mine. They’re rebels. They’re part of my rebellion.’ And Satan is right. We are rebels. We are on his side. But Jesus dies so that God can forgive us. He takes our punishment in our place. Now we can switch sides. When we see Jesus lifted up on the cross, he draws us to himself and away from Satan. Satan thought that the cross meant he had won because he had wiped out God’s Saviour. But it was in that moment that he lost.

Lift up your foot and bring it down on Satan’s head.

Let me fast forward the story one more time to last week. This is where it becomes my story. Now God’s people are not the physical descendants of one nation. They are the children of faith. And so the battle is not a physical battle with swords. ‘We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 6:12)

Last week I was weary and despondent. I was irritable and self-pitying. I knew it was spiritual. There was nothing physically wrong with me. I’ve had to deal with some relational problems and that had sent me spiralling down – brooding, self-absorbed, self-pitying. Satan was winning all over again. He was getting his way.

But Satan isn’t the winner. Jesus is the winner. I don’t belong to Satan. I belong to Jesus. I can stand like Joshua’s commanders, with my feet on Satan’s neck and tell myself: ‘Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is going to do this to all of your enemies.’

I can stand with feet on my despondency and self-pity, and say: ‘Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is going to do this to all of your enemies.’

You can stand with your feet on your sin, your temptation, your fears, your bitterness, your anger and say: ‘Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is going to do this to all of your enemies.’

Think of what it means for your to battle with Satan – perhaps a temptation with which you struggle, perhaps dark thoughts that keep troubling you or perhaps a situation in which people make life difficult for you because you’re a Christian. Imagine them lying before you.

‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.’ (Romans 16:20)

Lift up your foot and bring it down on Satan’s head.

Story No 2: The battle between God and humanity
Let’s rewind the story back to beginning again. The story of the battle between God’s people and Satan’s people is actually only a sub-plot of the main story. The main story is the story of God’s battle with humanity.

When human being switched sides they became God’s enemies. They joined Satan’s rebellion and became rebels against God. I can’t begin to tell how horrible and ugly the results have been. We all see it for ourselves, but none of us can grasp just how bad it is. The result has been hatred: hatred, envy, abuse, greed, conflict.

We see that straight away in the story. When the first man and woman become rebels they start blaming each other. Think of all the problem with marriages, problems with sex, problems with relationships. Think of all the pain they’ve caused throughout history. Imagine if you could take it all and put it somewhere. It would be a vast, ugly, seething mass of hurt.

And then in the story Cain kills his brother Abel out of jealousy. Think of all the family problems, the jealousies, the hate, the violence. Imagine if you could take it all and put it somewhere.

God is love. We can see that hatred is bad, but we can’t see how bad it is because we’re not love. But God is love, pure love. And so he fights against hatred. He fights against rebels.

We see that straight away in the story. He banishes the first man and woman from the garden. He shortens our lives so our hatred and rebellion cannot grow unchecked. Praise God that tyrants die! When human wickedness grows really bad he wipes out humanity in a flood and starts again with Noah. When human beings come together to plot still greater wickedness he confuses them by sending different languages.

God is determined to rid his universe of hatred and wickedness.

Fast forward the story again to Joshua. Joshua kills nearly the whole of the army of the five kings (Joshua 10:20). He kills the five kings and impales them on stakes (Joshua 10:26). He then goes to each of their towns, one by one, and utterly destroys them (Joshua 10:29-43). He defeats the rest of the inhabitants of the land to the north and to the south (Joshua 11-12).

It’s not pretty. It’s bloody and violent. But that’s how God feels about rebellion and hatred. If it feels over the top to us, that’s because we don’t feel the horror of rebellion and hatred as much as God does. God is determined to rid his universe of hatred and wickedness.

Here’s the problem. One day we will all die and we will all face God. And we are all rebels. We will all be utterly destroyed by God’s judgment. The fate of the five kings will be our fate. And then God will have no people. But God has an amazing plan.

Fast forward with me from Joshua to the cross of Jesus. A moment ago I invited you to imagine the pain of broken relationships and conflict, violence and hatred from every person across history, all piled up in one place: a vast ugly, seething mass of pain and hatred. Where could you put that? Where could you neutralise it? Imagine it like a vast ball of radioactive material. Where could you put it so that it was no longer deadly? The answer, of course, is that God put it on Jesus. Jesus took my sin. He took my pain. He took my punishment. He did it for all God’s people. So that we could be free and forgiven and clean.

Do you ever watch the programme Whose Line Is It Anyway? It’s a television programme in which people have to improvise sketches based on random suggestions from the studio audience.

Well, today I’ve told you two stories. You know act one: the story of God’s wonderful creation. You know act two: the story of human rebellion and hatred. You know act three: the story of Israel and Joshua. You know act four: the story of Jesus and the cross. Now you have to improvise act five: your story, our story. Act five has not yet been written: you’re about to write it this week.

So think what we have learnt about the character of God. Think what we have learnt about the character of human beings. Think what we have learnt about God’s people. And then think how you are going to improvise act five this week.

One thought on “Joshua 10 and my story

  1. Tim – just a quick note to say how great an encouragement it was to be listening to the Word last night. I was hungry for some truth and it was great truth – very satisfying for a weary teacher!

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