Last week we looked at the story of Joshua and the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites tricked Joshua and the Israelites into signing a peace treaty with them, by pretending to be weary travellers from far away, rather than a neighbouring tribe who would pose a physical and spiritual threat to God’s people. Foolishly, the Israelites entered into a non-aggression pact with the Gibeonites. Without seeking God’s guidance, they rashly swore on oath not to attack them.
Even when the Gibeonites’ deception was uncovered, the Israelite leadership acted with integrity and promised to abide by their oath. Rather than finding a loophole in the law, rather than breaking their international treaty in a “limited and specific” way, Joshua and his colleagues were true to their word and refrained from any hostility towards the Gibeonites.
The integrity of the Israelites is an example to us all. As Christians, we should have a reputation for being honest, reliable and trustworthy. At work, college, in our homes, in our community, Christians ought to act with integrity. We follow a God who is totally honest and trustworthy, and so should we be. We shouldn’t be people who fiddle the figures, massage our accounts or engage in gossip. As Jesus himself said, we should be people for whom our ‘yes’ means ‘yes’, and our ‘no’ means ‘no’.
So instead of wiping them out, the Israelites chose to incorporate the Gibeonites into their community – they would give them a place within the people of God. They would to serve as water carriers and wood-cutters for the tribes of Israel. By God’s mercy, these menial tasks would put the Gibeonites in position where they could learn more about the Lord and his ways. The Gibeonites were graciously offered a unique vantage point to observe the character of God and share in the faith of Israel. As Christians, we all should be equally grateful to God for including us amongst his people, for giving us a place in his worldwide Church – for making us citizens of Heaven.
God’s people frequently face persecution (v.1-7)
As we re-join the story this morning, the Gibeonites’ peace treaty with the Israelites has not gone down well with their fellow pagans. In verses 1 to 5, the Amorite kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon join forces to attack and destroy Gibeon before they get a chance to incorporate themselves into Israel.
In terror, the Gibeonites send word to Joshua and the Israelites for help: “Do not abandon you servants, come up quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.” Their plea for help doesn’t land on deaf ears, and Joshua and his army marched to Gibeon to help their new allies. They took up arms to defend their friends from a godless attacker.
This narrative is a powerful visual reminder that God’s people often encounter opposition and persecution. Indeed, the New Testament promises us persecution. In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul says that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” That persecution may take many forms, in this country we may experience forms of rejection or ridicule for our faith.
But in many other parts of the world Christians can face physical abuse or even death because of their belief in Jesus. So let us not be surprised when opposition arises, and let us be committed in prayer for the persecuted Church worldwide. Organisations like Open Doors, Release International and the Barnabas Fund are a great source of information about persecuted Christians around the globe, and do great advocacy work on their behalf.
God is always present with his people (v.8-15)
Persecution may be a common experience for God’s people, but today’s passage also reassures us that God is always present with his people – especially in times of hardship and in the face of opposition.
We see this demonstrated vividly in the second half of our reading this morning. In verse 8 the Lord gives words of reassurance to Joshua. “Do not be afraid” of the Amorite kings he says, “I have given them into your hand.” Joshua will not be fighting on his own, but alongside almighty God. God’s powerful presence with Israel’s army is shown early the next morning, when (after an all-night march), the Lord throws their enemies into confusion. One might say that God went ahead of Israel’s army to “soften up” the opposition.
And when Joshua asks for more time to complete the rout, God even slows the setting of the Sun to help his people! It seems the laws of nature were temporarily suspended to produce the longest day. And finally, when battle was almost won, God hurled large hailstones down on the retreating Amorites to seal the victory.
When the day ended and the sun finally did set, Joshua must have been left in no doubt that the Lord was with him. He had received a word of promise from God, experienced an answered prayer and seen powerful acts of redemption. As the author says in verse 14, there has never been a day quite like it!
As Christians today we might long for similar words from God and visible signs of his presence with us. We might long for a word from the Lord that is as clear as the promise that Joshua heard. We might wish we could pray to God just like Joshua did. We might be envious of Joshua’s experience of miraculous divine interventions. But the truth is that we too have access to these things.
For example, in the New Testament the Lord makes almost identical promises to us as he did to Joshua. For example, how many times do we read of Jesus telling his disciples not to be afraid? And who can forget the risen Jesus’ parting promise in the Great Commission – a promise to be with us “always, to the very end of the age”.
And, thirdly, as we look to the New Testament we can pin our faith on the acts of God that are retold for us there. Our faith rests on the miraculous resurrection of the Son of God and a spectacular Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Events even more dramatic than a delayed sunset or heavy hailstones falling from above!
As I finish this morning I hope we’ve seen from our passage that although God’s people often face opposition, the Lord is always with us. He is a powerful ally, always present, always accessible by prayer.
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