The Long Day of Redemption


Context: A great victory over Jericho, including faithfulness to the promise made to Rahab, was followed by several tests that manifest the sinfulness, inconsistency and, limited perception of the Israelites, and indeed all of humanity.

  • Believing that victory would be easy (7:3, 4), the Israelites were defeated at Ai, a clear indication that God was displeased with something in Israel.
  • Joshua has earnestly implored the Lord for intervention and was answered with a clear call to purge the people of sin (7:10-13).
  • Achan was found to be guilty of breaking the covenant of complete destruction by his covetousness. He took a cloak, silver, and a bar of gold and hid them in his tent. “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak,” precisely illustrates John’s description of all that is in the world and includes “the desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16).
  • Achan, the items he took, his children, and all his possessions were stoned and burned and buried beneath a heap of stones (7:20-26).
  • Ai was defeated through a strategy that took advantage of the manner in which Israel had been defeated earlier. The entire city was destroyed, all its inhabitants devoted to destruction, and the king was hung on a tree (8:29). This death indicates a particularly strong disdain for the king to put him away in such a humiliating way. Our Lord took upon himself this same disdain and humiliation in dying on the tree of the cross in our stead.
  • The covenant had been renewed including both the curses and the blessings and a new presentation of the law of Moses written in stone by Joshua. This probably was just the ten commandments; the rest of the law of Moses, all that he wrote, was read again (8:34, 35).
  • The men of Gibeon, having heard of the defeat of Jericho and of Ai, as well as Og and Bashan, and the utter destruction to which those cities were submitted, devised a plan to save themselves. They feigned being from a far country, convinced the leaders to make a covenant with them. We find David observing a similar situation in Psalm 18:44: “As soon as the heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me.”
  • When Joshua and the leaders discovered that they were among the cities that should be conquered., they honored the covenant, did not kill the people, but made them servants of Israel, wood-cutters and drawers of water. This position of servant was satisfactory to the Gibeonites in exchange for their lives. In Luke 15:19 the Prodigal Son desired this much favor from his Father, but instead found full forgiveness and restoration to sonship (Luke 15:21-24).

I. Verses 1-5 – Five cities of the land come against Gibeon because they made peace with Israel, the intended conquerors of Canaan. This alliance for destruction arose from two considerations.

A. Adoni-zedek had heard how both Jericho and Ai had been defeated and “devoted to destruction.” These, in the eyes of this king, were impressive victories and in themselves pointed to the invading Israelites as too powerful and cunning for one city to withstand.

B. Gibeon had now, apparently, avoided this destruction by joining forces with Joshua. The Gibeonites were themselves warriors and the city itself was “like one of the royal cities.” Thus, the strength of Gibeon itself and the overwhelming power of Joshua’s invaders called for a massive response (verse 5).

C. When people of the world are converted to Christ and fully engage their minds and hearts in the gospel, their former associates consider them as enemies (John 17:14; 1 Peter 4:3-5).

II. Verse 6 – The Gibeonites call upon Joshua to rescue them. At the appearance of this vast army, the Gibeonites did not recant and rejoin the alliance of the pagans. They took seriously their newly arranged covenant with Israel and called on them for protection.

A. They still confessed themselves as servants of Joshua and made their request on the basis of that status. They were not going to conduct themselves as an independent entity, but now considered themselves as inextricably connected to Israel and in need of their intervention.

B. Their language indicates that they looked to the strength of Israel as the power that would save them presently and continue to give them the protection they needed. “Come up to us quickly and save us and help us.”

C. The converted person sees clearly that all his hope is in the salvation accomplished by God through covenant. Christ is made unto him, by God, wisdom, righteousness, holiness, redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31; Philippians 3:7-9).

III. Verse 7 – Joshua honors the covenant and rises to protect to the Gibeonites. Even though they had entered into this relation by deceit because of fear, Joshua did not take lightly their status among the people of God, and that as their servants they were entitled to their protection. Rahab and her family were spared the destruction of Jericho and were brought into Israel, not only to preserve their lives, but to be fertile in producing the messianic line of descent. Now the Gibeonites, an entire city, are absorbed into Israel and become an integral part of the future development of the nation.

A. Jesus, the antitype of Joshua, has given himself to the battle for the salvation of the people given him by the Father (John 17:2, 11, 19).

B. Like the covenant with the Gibeonites, God’s covenant of redemption is made with enemies, those who should be devoted to destruction (Romans 5:6-10). Unlike the covenant with the Gibeonites, the covenant of salvation was not made reluctantly or as a result of deceit, but in invincible love as a matter of eternal sovereign will (Ephesians 1:3-6; Titus 1:1-3; Hebrews 13:20, 21).

C. We find later among the mighty men of David, a leader among the thirty, Ismaiah (1 Chronicles 12:4); Gibeonites helped rebuild Jerusalem after the return from Babylonian exile (Nehemiah 3:7; 7:25); Saul’s treachery against the Gibeonites resulted in a judgment on Israel (2 Samuel 21:1-14). This act against the Gibeonites is not recorded but certainly is consistent with the peremptory ruthlessness of Saul

IV. Verses 8-11 – The Lord encouraged Joshua with assurance of victory.

A. The decision of Joshua was based on two congruent truths. Either of these would have been sufficient to see this as the right action on his part. Both together compelled him to action.

  1. One, he recognized, though he had sworn “to his own hurt,” he would not change or take lightly this arrangement with the Gibeonites but must honor the word he had taken before God.
  2. Two, the cities that had come against Gibeon were to be taken out eventually and this offered an occasion to deal with the armies of five cites at once. This would mean one engagement on the field of battle instead of five. A victory would give him control of the central part of Canaan and establish an advantageous position for conquering the southern part of the land.

B. Joshua’s strategy was to move rapidly and come on the foe hours before they could have anticipated his arrival. He ordered an all night march from Gilgal to Gibeon. Their march began just east of the Jordan and they had to move on rising terrain for about fifteen miles. As a result, Joshua “came upon them suddenly.”

C. God’s intervention came in two ways; one was internal and the other external.

  1. God created a panic in the hearts of the men of the five armies encamped against Gibeon. Nothing is more debilitating than fear. Whether it is the prolonged fear of social interaction that presses personalities inward and makes painful any attempts at conversation or organized participation with other people, or the intimidation that arises when we know that systemic opposition from enemies works relentlessly to destroy us, or that sudden burst of panic in which we sense that destruction is at the doorstep—all of these have the power of making us shrink from the contest. God put such panic into the foe that they believed their only option was to flee for their lives. As they fled, this made them an easy target for the pursuing army of Joshua.
  2. God also intervened in an observable way in creating a great hail storm containing stones as large as rocks. The biblical narrative describes it graphically, “The Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them.” The hail killed more of the enemy than did the swords of the Israelites. Though not the same event, David gives poetic reportage of God’s employing the physical elements in the defense of his people: “The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.” This kind of phenomenon is not uncommon in Scripture and it should not surprise us or prompt us to seek some rationalistic explanation or dismiss it as superstitious naivety on the part of the biblical historians. The flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the parting of the Red Sea, the parting of Jordan, the creation of more bread and fish from five loaves and two fish, and the resurrection from the dead establishes the God of the Bible as the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and the earth. This God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who shares all these attributes of power and wisdom.

V. Verses 12-15: Joshua’s bold plea for divine intervention. In absolute confidence that their mission was of divine origin, Joshua prayed for an extension of the day until the operation could be completed. The battle and the pursuit of the enemy went as far as Makkedah to the southwest and Azekah to the west-southwest. Makkedah is about 30 miles from Gibeon and Azekah about 10 miles from Makkedah. Extended time was needed, to say nothing of the extension of the energy and strength of Joshua’s army that already had marched all night.

A. The language of the prayer is clear. Joshua asked for the moon and the sun to stay where they were so that the normal course of the onset of night and darkness would be delayed.

B. At the prayer, Joshua’s request was granted and “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped.”

C. This was for the purpose of completing the destruction of the armies against which they fought. The details of this fight are given in 10:16-28. Verses 15 and 43 refer to the same event. The verses from 16 – 42 described not only the long day but the subsequent conquest of the cities of central Canaan now depleted of any fighting men to protect them.

E. The historian noted several remarkable things about that day of battle.

  1. He had no doubt that the relation of the sun to the moon and the earth [and by necessary extension, the entirety of the integrated created system united by the gravitational nexus established by God], did not proceed in its normal manner for an entire period of twenty-hours (“The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day” -13). It continued its process later virtually at the same place timewise after the victories of that day (27).
  2. The Lord “obeyed the voice of a man.” The prayer of Joshua, issued aloud before all of Israel, was in pursuit of the assurance that God had given him (verse 8), an act of radical obedience to the covenantal commitment, under God, to Gibeon, and for the manifestation of the wonderful power of Israel’s God who is, as Rahab confessed, “the God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”
    God will indeed answer the requests of another man, who is the antitype of Joshua. “There is one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
    He will plead, and does plead, the provisions of greater covenant than of that with the Gibeonites, even the eternal covenant of redemption (Hebrews 2:17, 18; 4:14-16;10:12-14 [As the five kings were footstools for the feet of the Israelite men of war—Joshua 10:24—so Christ’s enemies have become a footstool for his feet]).
  3. The Lord fought for Israel. This truth (combined with all the other remarkable interventions on behalf of this people) makes the subsequent trajectory of unfaithfulness on the part of Israel baffling. It is explicable only in light of the radical sinfulness of the human heart and its proneness to lusts of the flesh and the god of this age, the prince of the power of the air.

F. Should we manifest any unwillingness to receive the testimony of Scripture about such physical phenomena, we can hardly claim to accept its testimony about the great transaction of redemption.

  1. We must never allow our perception of physical law to become superior to the reality that the entire physical order and all of it invisible powers that maintain stability in the integration of the whole system were created by God and are sustained in the orderly and cause-effect relations from moment to moment by his own power. Since its consistency resides in his will and power from the moment of its first existence until its consummation (2 Peter 3:12), the mode of its existence during that day was not fundamentally different from its original operation from the beginning. Nothing that exists outside of God himself has its own being in and of itself but has its existence and its operations come from the power and wisdom of God, to be used according to his purpose.
  2. His actions in the physical order call for the manifestation of his omnipotence. His work of redemption calls for a forgiveness that does not operate at the expense of his immutable righteousness and justice. Every element of the work of redemption, when considered in all its dimensions, defies belief much more than Joshua’s long day. None of its elements are superfluous, but as necessary as they are humanly impossible: the virgin conception, the unity of the eternal divine nature with created human nature in one person, the entire spectrum of miracles performed at the hands of Jesus, the imputing of our sin to the sinless one on the cross, the full satisfaction of eternal wrath in the body of the God-man during the hours on the cross, the resurrection from the dead, the ascension of the Son of God still in our nature to the right hand of the Father. If one cannot accept the parting of the Red sea, the falling of the walls of Jericho, or the long day that came at Joshua’s request, then the redemptive purpose and accomplishment of God will be accepted with even greater difficulty—that is, not at all.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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