Then the men of Gibeon sent word to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal, saying, “Do not abandon your servants; come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites that live in the hill country have assembled against us.” So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him and all the valiant warriors. The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.” So Joshua came upon them suddenly by marching all night from Gilgal. And the Lord confounded them before Israel, and He slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and pursued them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. As they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword.
Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
“O sun, stand still at Gibeon,
And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.”
So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.
Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. There was no day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.
Then Joshua and all Israel with him returned to the camp to Gilgal. Joshua 10:6-15
My Experience with Failure
It is timely that I am up here this week teaching on Joshua 10. As a follower of Christ, one of the deep-seated idols of my heart is that of performance. I readily see the need in my own life to perform, and to perform well, whether that be my performance as a father, or how I perform as a leader in serving and loving the Remedy body, or most often in my role as an architect.
My desire is to perform well, and I recognize that the desire to excel at our responsibilities is good. However, when I find that I look to my performance to define my worth, or to determine my value, that is when the idol of my heart becomes so glaring. This seems to occur most often in moments of failure, such as a few weeks ago, as I was beginning to prepare for this message and had a day at work where I encountered my failings and shortfalls as an architect.
As a perfectionist, failure (or the threat of failure) can loom over me in my life, like the shadow of a great mountain. In the presence of failure in my own life, I become greatly discouraged to the extent that I am paralyzed in decision-making. This leads to me being set off course, and I find I want to flee and hide. This is my personal experience with failure – some of you may have a similar response to failure, and others of you may have a completely different response to failure.
But failure is something we all experience. By definition, failure means lack of success or falling short. We are broken, imperfect beings and despite our dire efforts, we will fail. We strive and work, and put up safeguards and implement disciplines in order not to fail (which is good), but failure still seems to show up, and failure can come in many different forms: spiritual failure, moral failure, relational failure.
But I want to remind us this morning that followers of Christ can rejoice – in our failures, we have the opportunity to see the glory of God come through in His grace to us and in His sovereign redemption. We will see this today as we look at the story of Joshua, the Israelites, the Gibeonites, and how God’s grace and redemption is evident.
In Chapter 9, the Israelites are encamped at Gilgal after their victory at the city of Ai, and they encounter the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites feared the Israelites because of their victories at both Jericho and Ai – word spread throughout Canaan, and other kings bound together to come against Israel.
The Gibeonites were crafty and cunning, and they deceived the Israelites to preserve their own existence. The Gibeonites dressed themselves in ragged clothes, took old and stale supplies, convinced the Israelites that they were from a foreign land, and sought out a covenant with Israel.
The Gibeonites were not from a foreign land, but were from a subset of the Hivites – they were among the people groups that God commanded Israel to remove from the land. Yet we see from scripture that the Israelites failed to seek the counsel of the Lord, and that Joshua made peace with the them and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
The Israelites stepped into a binding covenant with a group of people who God had commanded them to avoid a covenant with and drive out of the land. Listen to what God commanded Moses, as recorded in Exodus:
Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. Exodus 34:11-12
The Israelites not only failed to seek the counsel of the Lord, but also set themselves up to fail in keeping the commands of the Lord.
Response After the Failure
In Chapter 10, we see how Joshua and the Israelites respond after this failure, and we see God’s grace and redemption in their response.
At the onset of Chapter 10, the Amorite kings hear of the covenant made between Gibeon and the Israelites, and decide to join forces and come against Gibeon to make war. The Gibeonites beckon the Israelites to come to their rescue. By Joshua’s response, we see that he has embraced the reality of Israel’s covenant with a foreign people:
So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. Joshua 10:7
Although the covenant between the Israelites and the Gibeonites was contrary to God’s original command, Joshua responds here to fully honor and uphold that covenant which was made with the Gibeonites before God. A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties, and can often come with conditions. It is fair to assume that the Israelites were bound by this covenant to come to the Gibeonites aid, and Joshua didn’t hesitate in doing so.
One interesting point is that the kings of the Amorites came against the Gibeonites, and not against Israel. It would have been easy for Joshua to see this as an opportunity to allow the Amorites to wipe out the Gibeonites, thus freeing him from this mistaken covenant. But Joshua understands the greater value and integrity of honoring the covenant made before God, even in light of deception and misjudgment. Joshua knew the character of God, and he moved forward, trusting in God’s sovereignty.
Joshua was confident in his response to come to the aid of the Gibeonites because God reminded him of His promise to be faithful and to deliver them from the Amorites:
And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” Joshua 10:8
These words closely echo the words that God spoke to Joshua at the beginning of this book:
“Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
In verse 8, God reminds Joshua of His presence, empowerment, and faithfulness. Joshua’s confidence was in the Lord, and not in his own ability, either failure or success. God’s words to Joshua remind him that God has called him to where he is and that God goes before him.
So Joshua advances from Gilgal to Gibeon to fight the Amorite kings and defend the Gibeonites, who were his enemy just days before. This gives us a picture of the greater Joshua, Jesus. Though not deceived like Joshua was, Jesus sets up a covenant with us who were once His enemies through His life, death, and resurrection.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:7-8
Joshua and the mighty warriors of Israel risked their life to come to the aid of the Gibeonites, a people group who were originally condemned by God to destruction and to be driven from the land. How much more do we see that Jesus not only risked His life, but gave us His life, to rescue us from the clutches of evil and death, and to give us new life in Him.
By coming to the aid of the Gibeonites, the Israelites kick off a military campaign to drive the people from the land as God commanded. It begins with their battle against the five Amorite kings, where God fights on behalf of Israel, God hears the cry of Joshua, the sun stands still, and the Israelites experience great victory at the hand of God. The Israelites continue from this battle onward to the south and then to the north, experiencing numerous victories.
The significance of their victories against the Amorites and others is that Israel’s failure to seek God’s counsel about the Gibeonites did not define them as a nation, and thus they were not limited by the failure.
Now let’s circle back and look at the redemptive grace of God toward the Gibeonites. As was mentioned earlier, the Gibeonites were part of the Hivites, which were one of the people groups God instructed Moses to drive out of the land and not make a covenant with.
Yet the Israelites are deceived and a covenant is established. In His sovereign grace and power, God embraces the Gibeonites and redeems them as a people group as they assimilate into the nation of Israel.
- At the end of Chapter 9, Joshua made the Gibeonites servants for Israel, wood cutters and carriers of water. If nothing else, the Gibeonites would serve the one true God by maintaining wood for the altar.
- God fights for the Gibeonites. As the Israelites came to Gibeon’s aid against the Amorites, the Lord came to Gibeon’s aid in a picture of His grace toward the nation.
- In the book of Nehemiah we see that Israel has been in exile, and Nehemiah orchestrates the Israelites’ return to Jerusalem to reconstruct the walls. The Gibeonites are mentioned as working alongside the Israelites to rebuild the wall, indicating that the Gibeonites have fully assimilated into the nation of Israel (Nehemiah 3:7, 7:25).
A narrative that begins with Joshua and the Israelites failing to seek the counsel of the Lord and entering into a forbidden covenant ends with God redeeming that failure for His glory and the good of Israel.
1. We are not defined by our failures, thus we aren’t limited by them either.
Joshua and the Israelites were not limited by their failures because they knew and trusted in the character of God.
As disciples of Jesus, we must teach ourselves who we are in Him. It is essential that we know the truths of our true identity in Christ, and that we teach it to ourselves regularly. Otherwise, our performances, our failures, and our success will begin to define who we are, and thus limit us. In my own life, this is an essential tool of pressing into the Lord, and not falling way to the idol of my heart.
Scripture is full of promises of who we are in Christ. Here are a few:
- I am the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13)
- I am chosen and appointed by Christ (John 15:16)
- I am a son of God (Rom. 8:14,15)
- I am a citizen of heaven (Phil. 3:20)
- I am free forever from condemnation (Rom. 8:1)
- I have been made righteous (2 Cor. 5:21)
- I am God’s workmanship, His masterpiece (Eph. 2:10)
2. God is faithful to us, despite our failures.
God’s promise to Joshua, “the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go,” is as much true for us as it was for Joshua and the Israelites. Romans 8 tells us that nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus, and 2 Timothy 2 tells us that even if we are faithless, He remains faithful because He cannot deny Himself – it is against God’s nature to be faithless.
3. God redeems our failures for His purposes and glory.
The story of the Gibeonites gives us great hope. God, in His sovereignty, was able to redeem a people group for His glory. This story is a great illustration of the promise found in Romans:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
We serve a sovereign God who is able to take our brokenness, our flaws, and our failures, and use them for His glory to redeem a broken world. That is the beauty of the gospel.
In the Japanese culture, there is a tradition known as Wabi-Sabi. Wabi-Sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and reveres authenticity above all.
For example, when a white pottery bowl breaks, we might commonly glue it back together with white glue to disguise the breaks, making it look as new and complete as possible. But in the East, the bowl might be glued back together with glue sprinkled with gold to highlight the cracks and imperfections.
Japanese culture sees the aesthetic value of imperfection in wabi-sabi just as much as the Greeks valued perfection in their art. Wabi-sabi is seen as beautiful because it is imperfect and broken. The gospel is like spiritual wabi-sabi: it is the story of how God redeems imperfect, broken people and uses them to bless a broken world.
It’s a beautiful picture and illustration of the gospel. Be reminded this morning that God redeems our failures and uses them for His glory. Be reminded that God is faithful despite our failures, and know this morning that you are not defined by failures – you are a child of the almighty God who loves you dearly.