The Longest Day

Obstacles, Guidance, Wisdom

Our study of Joshua has been titled, “Overcoming the Obstacles of Life”.  We have been looking at the various obstacles that Israel faced in order to learn principles that can help us with mountains that stand before us. These obstacles come in various forms.

  • Physical handicaps and diseases
  • Tragic losses
  • Unrealistic demands from Employers or Others
  • Job Layoffs that result in extreme financial pressures
  • Emotional Problems
  • Family Stresses and Conflicts
  • Personal demons and addictions
  • Past failures that hinder or hang over everything you do
  • Family members inIraq or other danger spots of the world
  • Rising Prices and static incomes
  • Oppressive Peer Pressure

The list can go on and on.  As you look around you will see (whether you realize it or not) people who are going through one of these times of crisis.  We need the lessons Joshua can teach us.

Last week we talked about the treaty that Israel was fooled into making with the town of Gibeon.  The Gibeonites deceived Israel into thinking that they came from faraway, in reality they lived just a little ways down the highway.  Even though the Gibeonites were deceptive, the Israelites determined to show integrity and be faithful to the oath they took before the Lord.  They understood that they could not be God’s people if they did not seek to live consistent with God’s character.

In Joshua 10 we are shown the immediate consequence of this treaty with Gibeon.  (Being faithful sometimes makes life more complicated.) The surrounding cities and kings were upset because “Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters.” (v. 2)  So, one of the key components of this alliance had, in essence, defected to Israel’s side.  So, the alliance of kings decided that they would punish Gibeon for their defection.

The people in Gibeon knew they were no match for this alliance of five kings.  They sent a message to Joshua that we read in verse 6,

Do not abandon your servants.  Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us because all of the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.

I can imagine Joshua giving a heavy sigh when he received the message.  His alliance with Gibeon was already causing trouble!  How easy it would have been to say, “O great!  We sure didn’t need this.”  It is the same kind of sigh that many of us have given when we faced unexpected obstacles and surprises along life’s journey.  However, watch what happens!  What we learn from this situation can help us as we face our own obstacles in life.

Seek God’s Guidance

It would have been tempting to view this situation as God’s way of paying the Gibeonites back for their deception.  Israel had been faithful in keeping their oath and perhaps God was now going to judge Gibeon for their deception.  Joshua could have ignored the request for help and said, “This is not my problem.”  Instead, he rallied the troops and headed off to rescue the people.

Why did Joshua do that?  We are told that the Lord said to Joshua,

Do not be afraid of them (the alliance of five kings); I have given them into your hand.  Not one of them will be able to withstand you.” (v. 8)

I think Joshua must have called upon the Lord to see what He should do.  I suspect He asked the Lord whether he should go and protect Gibeon or whether this was God’s way of punishing Gibeon for their deception. I am sure Joshua had learned his lesson that he should not move forward before consulting the Lord.  Israel’s impulsiveness had gotten them into this situation to start with.

The principle here is a good one: As you face life’s obstacles and road blocks, seek God’s guidance.  In the book of James, the half-brother of Jesus addressed those who were going through an intense time of trial and hardship.  After encouraging them to “hang in there” he wrote,

5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. [James 1:5-8]

Notice the advice: 1) When you don’t know what to do ask God for wisdom because He wants to give it to you.  2) Ask with faith (believing that God will respond).  If you don’t believe God will guide you; He won’t.

Rely on God to Help

The most spectacular part of this account is how God intervened to help the Israelites.  There are four acts of God in this account.

First, (and this is easy to miss), God gave the soldiers the strength and stamina to travel 25 miles during the night (so they must have been moving at a rapid pace) and then gave them the continued stamina to fight all day and into the night.  God gave them incredible strength.  God is still doing that in the lives of believers all over the world.  We face situations and are buoyed by a strength that seems to come from nowhere.

Second, we are told that “God threw them (the armies of the kings) into confusion.”  He made them unable to fight back.  God often works in our circumstances to create opportunities for us.

Third, as the armies were seeking to escape Israel going down a steep hill, God caused large hailstones to fall on them!  We are told that the hailstones killed more soldiers than the Israelite army.

I read that the world’s heaviest recorded hailstone fell on September 3, 1970 at a place called Coffeyville, Kansas and it weighed an incredible 1.67 lbs.  It is estimated that it hit the ground at a speed of about 105 miles per hour.  Imagine being hit with one of these things.  That’s what happened to these soldiers.  The most amazing part of the miracle is that the hailstones hit the armies but did not hit the Israelites!

Then there is the most renowned miracle of the Old Testament.  The Israelites were pursuing the armies but it was getting late in the day.  If darkness came upon them the battle would effectively be over and the men would be able to get into their fortresses.  So, Joshua asked God to stop the descent of the sun!  In other words, he asked (I believe) that it remain daylight for a longer period of time.  Our text tells us,

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (13-14)

This is one of the most debated miracles in the Bible.  We all know that the earth is in a very delicate balance.  If the rotation around the sun stopped there would be all kinds of catastrophes on the earth.

There are four main interpretations by well-meaning scholars (there are others who immediately conclude that this did not happen because they believe there is no God and there are no such things as miracles).

  1. The word translated “stand still” can also be translated “be silent”.  Some believe Joshua was asking for God to grant continued cloud cover to facilitate the pursuit of the allies in the hot temperatures.  I find this weak based on a natural reading of the text.
  2. The rotation of the earth didn’t stop but God provided some method of refraction (like the sun bouncing off the moon at night) that kept it light even during the night.
  3. This is a figurative account.  The Bible is filled with poetic language and it could mean that as a result of Joshua’s prayer the men accomplished more than was possible in the time allotted . . . it was as if the sun stood still.
  4. The last option (the one I like) is that It happened just as it says.  The sun “stopped” and day was greatly extended. Since God is the Creator He could certainly suspend the laws of nature that He had set up for a period of one day.  He could have stopped the rotation of the earth and kept things from losing it’s delicate balance.  God also could have simply slowed the rotation of the earth to extend the daytime.  Or, God could have changed the tilt of the earth so that (like in summer) the day was much much longer (There are places that have daylight for 24 hours or more).

Be careful! From time to time you will read a story about Scientists who discovered a lost day and have traced that day to around the time of Joshua.  These are mythical stories and should not be appealed to.

In all the debate, don’t miss the point.  God heard Joshua’s prayer and intervened dramatically to help him. In the same way, God can and will hear your prayer and enable you to do more than you and I can imagine. I believe God heals bodies; I believe He changes circumstances; I believe God still provides for us in ways that stagger us and stun us. I believe He means it when He says, “If you remain in me, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.”

Is it possible that we are not seeing God work more powerfully simply because we aren’t asking or aren’t walking with Him?  God will not intervene in some extraordinary way simply to make things easier for us.  Sometimes the struggle is what builds our faith. However, He will act in extraordinary ways when we are doing all we can but still need His help.

Don’t forget some of the greatest of God’s interventions are those we often overlook,

  • The restoration of a broken relationships
  • The strength we find to endure what would crush others
  • The people that come to our aid when we have a need
  • The melting of a hardened heart that moves from hostility to faith
  • The courage He gives to speak the truth in love in the face of hostility

God doesn’t regularly make the sun stand still or cause hailstones to take out armies.  But He can.  If we will trust Him, He will do what is needed to help us.  Sometimes it will be dramatic.  Other times it will be subtle.

Attack the Problem Wisely

The last thing I want you to see is that Israel attacked the problem with wisdom.  They did their part.  They departed Gilgal at night and traveled 25 miles to surprise the alliance of kings and their armies in the morning.  It was a bold and brilliant military strategy.

We get into trouble and often make matters worse because we re-act impulsively rather than acting with wisdom.  We tend to choose whatever will get us out of a situation most quickly.

  • We leave the church
  • We quit our job
  • We divorce our spouse
  • We borrow money
  • We sell our home
  • We give someone a “piece of our mind” that frankly we can’t afford to lose
  • We make a major purchase (so we don’t have to wrestle with it any more)
  • We might even try to take our life

These things are impulsive acts designed to escape the pressure rather than to actually solve the problem.  The easy thing for Joshua would have been to say, “Hey, this is not my problem.  These guys are getting what they deserve.”  That would have been the easy thing; not the right thing.  God directed them to rescue the Gibeonites.

So how do we find the wise course rather than simply re-acting to life?  Here are some general principles on how to find God’s guidance.

  1. You must ask God.  The Bible is clear, If you do not ask, you will not receive.  Parents often stand back as their children struggle and wait for them to ask for help.  Help that isn’t asked for is generally resented.
  2. You must listen to God’s Word.  The Bible gives us many general principles that can be applied to help us make wise decisions.
  3. You need to walk with God on a daily basis.  If you picked a name out of a phone book and asked me to tell you what that person was thinking it would be impossible for me to answer.  Why?  Because I don’t know the person.  However, if you asked me what Maggie Goettsche was thinking, there is a much better chance that I could tell you because I know her, I live with her, I have studied her and have a relationship with her.

It’s the same way with God.  If you do nothing to develop your relationship with God on a daily basis, and then face some kind of obstacle and suddenly want God to know God’s will for your life, it is going to be difficult because you don’t know Him.  You will find it hard to distinguish God’s voice from all the other voices that are out there.  We develop this relationship just like any other relationship: we share our heart with Him through prayer; we listen to Him in the Bible, and we hang out with His family (through the church).  As we do, we start to know God’s heart.

  1. You discern God’s will from the body of Christ.  The counsel of solid Christian friends is invaluable.  God designed us to be interdependent.  To throw a ball, my eyes, arms, hands, muscles and brain all must work together.  If one part tries to throw the ball by itself it would fail.  Likewise God has given us the body of Christ so that together we could overcome obstacles and conquer challenges.  We learn from wisdom of other believers.
  2. Finally, we can often discern God’s will by circumstances.  This is the weakest of the ways to find God’s will because circumstances and feelings can be so easily manipulated.  However, if God closes a particular door there is a reason for that closed door.  If God opens a door there is a chance that God is giving you a new opportunity.  When circumstances align with all the other factors . . . you are usually on the right track.

I believe, if you are diligent and sincere about seeking God’s guidance, if you work to align your desires with the Word of God, if you have listened to the counsel of good friends, and you have been sensitive to circumstances and still don’t know what to do, then you need to either WAIT (because God may be getting you ready or getting the situation ready for you) or (if you absolutely can’t wait) do what common sense tells you to do. I believe God will give you the “sense” of what He wants you to do.

APPLICATIONS

Let me conclude with two different applications.  First, focus for a minute on the cities that formed this alliance.  These people had seen and heard about the power of the God of Israel.  They could have looked to Him for help, instead they chose to fight and resist Him.  As His power became increasingly evident in their first hand experience, they still refused to turn toward Him and continued to resist and fight Him.  The result was defeat.

Is this happening in your life?  Are you running from God when you should be running to Him?  Are you trying to do for yourself what you can only do in His strength? Do you still insist that you don’t need His help? If so, you should not expect your fate to be much different from the fate of the alliance that attacked Gibeon.

Second, there is a good chance that there is some obstacle in the middle of your life right now.  It may be something that has come about by your own actions or something that has “come out of the blue”.  You face a challenge that may at times seem overwhelming. You may feel you are beyond help.  You may even feel that your situation is impossible.  It’s not.  God specializes in impossibilities!  There is nothing too hard for the Lord.

Learn from Joshua. As you face your obstacle continually turn to the Lord. Open your heart to Him.  Seek His help.  Trust His provision, His love, and His grace.  Yield to the work of His Spirit in your life.  Open your Bible and read.  Ask a Christian friend to help you understand His Word.  Don’t worry about what you don’t understand right now . . . work at trusting and acting on what you do understand.  Seek His direction, pursue His wisdom, and then move forward . . . even if you don’t feel you can face the future.  God will go with you.  He will be your strength.  He will provide what you lack.

I wish there was a way to convince you that God cares about you.  I wish you could know how capable He is to help you.  You’ve heard Joshua’s story.  I can tell you about my experiences, your friends can tell you about their experiences of God’s work in their lives.  However, when it comes right down to it, it boils down to whether or not you think God is capable and trustworthy enough for you to rely on Him.  If you trust Him, I believe the Bible teaches that you will overcome your obstacles.  If you refuse to trust Him . . . You might want to stay inside if it looks like there is any possibility of hail.

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Scripture:

Joshua 10:1-15