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The Day God Obeyed a Man

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Date September 17, 2002

THE DAY GOD OBEYED A MAN

The LORD fought for Israel that day and the army of the Alliance was thrown into panic and disordered retreat. As they fled, the LORD also sent down the hailstones on the fleeing soldiers, and more were killed by hailstones than by Joshua’s army. 

by William Smith

Old Testament Reading: Joshua 10:1-14
New Testament Reading: Luke 23:26-24
Texts: Joshua 10:14, Luke 23:34

All of us have in our lives those days that are days like no other days. For some those are happy days, the day of a marriage, or the birth of a child, or the attainment of a degree. For others it may be a sad day, the day of a divorce, or the death of a loved one, or the collapse of one’s dreams.

There are also special days in the corporate life of a peoples and nations. Franklin Roosevelt said December 7, 1941, the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, would be "a day that would live in infamy." Some have called September 11, 2001, "the day that changed America."
 
God’s people, too, have those days that are set apart from all other days. We have read of one in the book of Joshua – "no day like it before or since."  As we come to the Lord’s Table tonight, I want us to think of Joshua’s great day and of the far greater day of Joshua’s namesake, Jesus.
 
 I. JOSHUA’S DAY

The occasion of Joshua’s great day was a war with Canaanite kings. Joshua and the Israelites had made an impressive beginning of their conquest of Canaan. By war and by a treaty with the city of Gibeon they had cut a swath through the central plateau of the land and now had it under their control. The kings in the South could read a map and its implications as well as we, and the kings to the South saw that military situation was becoming critical. They had to attack Gibeon and bring it and its area back under their control, else Joshua would have the freedom to mop up the South and then the North of Canaan from his position of strategic advantage.
 
The terms of the treaty with Gibeon required Israel to come to its defense if it were attacked, and the Gibeonites immediately invoked the terms of the treaty. Joshua honored the treaty and marched a great army to do battle with the Southern Alliance. The Lord gave to Joshua for this specific situation reassurance in terms of the promise He had given to Joshua when he first assumed leadership of Israel. There was no need to fear for the LORD would be with Joshua and give him the victory. But divine assurance of success did not do away with the need to human initiative and strategy. Joshua marched his troops through the night and mounted a surprise attack very early in the morning.
 
The LORD fought for Israel that day and the army of the Alliance was thrown into panic and disordered retreat. As they fled, the LORD also sent down the hailstones on the fleeing soldiers, and more were killed by hailstones than by Joshua’s army. 
 
It was during the pursuit of the army of the Southern Alliance that Joshua commanded the sun and moon to stand still, and the day was lengthened that Israel might take further vengeance on her enemies, and the LORD’s promise that "not a man of them shall stand before you" might be fulfilled. Conservative scholars differ as to the exact nature of the miracle. We cannot go into the theories now, but it will suffice to say that this was a miracle and a powerful miracle in the realm of nature.
 
We may wonder about this event, God’s fighting for Israel and killing many men and God’s lengthening the day so that Israel might kill more. The reason we may feel squeamish about it all is that we have reduced the LORD of the Bible to a domesticated, politically correct, non-threatening God, who is made in an image acceptable to human sensitivities. But that is not the God whom we know from the Bible and from the ultimate revelation of Himself in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. One commentator says that the church has reduced the Lord Jesus to one who is "soft and prissy" and "comes to us reeking of hand cream." But the God of Israel and the God who is in Christ is a Warrior who fights for His people and whose acts of salvation on their behalf are also acts of judgment on His and their enemies.
 
For now I want to note and underline the uniqueness of this day. As our English Standard Version has it, "There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD obeyed the voice of a man." This book probably was written sometime after the death of Joshua and the death of Samuel. So we go back over the whole history of Israel up to the time of her first king and there was no day like this one. Think of what has happened till now. There were the days of the miraculous plagues sent on Egypt to bring about Israel’s salvation. There was the day that Moses stretched out his hand over the Red Sea, and it was divided so that Israel crossed on dry land. There were the days of miracles in the wilderness as God guided, fed, and protected His people. In the days of Joshua and the beginnings of the Conquest there was a day the LORD stopped the flow of the Jordan River that the people might cross over into the land. There was the day the walls of the city of Jericho fell down. Yet this is the greatest day of them all. In fact, since the only cluster of miracles found in the history of Israel after Joshua were those that occurred in the days of the prophets, I think we are safe in saying that this day probably stands out among all the days of the Old Testament – "no day like it before or since."
 
But we must also place the bold print cursor over what was unique about that day. It is not the miracle itself that stands out so much, but the way the miracle came about. "There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD obeyed the voice of a man" (emphasis added). When I first read this account in the ESV a couple of weeks ago I was struck by this translation, "when the LORD obeyed the voice of a man." The word for obeyed in Hebrew is a word that can be translated as "hear," or "listen," or "hearken." Perhaps the most famous use of this word is in Deuteronomy 6, the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one." But this Hebrew word is not a neutral word that allows one to listen or hear and remain the same. It usually calls for action. We might say it means, "to hear and to act." So, even the translations that translate this as the Lord’s listening to or hearing a man, carry with them that the remarkable thing is that the Lord listened and acted. But there is something more in the text of Joshua. Joshua addressed the sun and moon, and told them what to do, and they did it. Now Joshua had no power to cause the sun and moon to respond as they did. Only God controls the sun and moon. The remarkable thing is that God made the sun and moon do exactly what Joshua commanded them to do. In that sense God did just what Joshua commanded, "the LORD obeyed the voice of a man." Of course, we cannot deny the sovereign freedom of God, nor can we make God our servant or errand-fix-it-boy. But here we see something of the power of faith. And here we see a God who, as it were, chose to put Himself under the command of His servant Joshua and obeyed his voice causing the sun and moon to do what Joshua commanded.
 
Isn’t that a wonderful thing? An amazing thing? That the sovereign Creator and Holy One should listen to the voice of a created and sinful man and do as he says? There was no day like it, at least from the completion of creation till the times of the kings, perhaps not in the whole of the Old Testament. This is a God to worship, admire, fear, love, trust, and serve, a God who obeys the voice of a man!
 
ii JESUS’ DAY
 
As great and unique as was the day of Joshua when "the Lord obeyed the voice of a man," there is a yet greater day that robs Joshua’s day of its uniqueness. That is the day of Joshua’s namesake Jesus. You know, don’t you, that Jesus is the New Testament form of the Old Testament name Joshua? Jesus’ name in Hebrew would have been Joshua. He was not the first or only man in history to bear this name. Joshua-Jesus – the same name. And what does the name mean? It means "the Lord saves." Both Joshua and Jesus were men whose names testified to the saving work of the LORD and both were men through whom God worked His salvation and deliverance for His people. Old Testament Joshua was given the privilege and task of working the LORD’s salvation for His people by delivering them, and giving them rest from their enemies, and settling them safe in the Promised Land. The specific work of New Testament Joshua, of Jesus, was spelled out by the angel who told Joseph what His name must be: "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." We might say that Joshua could deal with the symptoms but only Jesus could get at the root cause of all human misery and take away the barrier to God’s fullest blessing, for Jesus alone could address the problem of sin.
 
How did He do that? Well, certainly He did it in His life in which He offered up to God, on our behalf, the perfect obedience that God requires of man. But had Jesus only lived such a life our salvation would not have been accomplished. His death, in which He offered up His life to God, on our behalf, as the sacrifice God in His justice requires for sin, was absolutely necessary. As we learn in the Catechism "every sin deserves the wrath and curse of God forever." Unless the wrath and curse of God are removed from us, then we must experience them. The point of the cross is that Jesus experienced all the wrath and curse of God on all the sins of all the countless multitude of sinners who will be saved by His death.
 
Jesus went to the cross, as gruesome as it was and the Victim that He was, as a Warrior. He went there to do battle with death and sin and with the devil himself, so that He might deliver God’s people from sin and all its evil effects, and so that He might give His people the true rest of free forgiveness, and so that He might bring us at last to the Promised Land of life and peace and joy forever. The Victim comes through the horror of the cross and emerges on the other side the Warrior, now mighty Victor, who has vanquished all His foes and defeated all our enemies. 

As Jesus did this work on the cross He said something most remarkable as He began His sufferings, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Jesus was interceding on behalf of His persecutors – the Jewish authorities, the Jewish multitude, The Roman authorities and soldiers – who with full responsibility yet ignorance crucified the Lord of glory. And there is no doubt that many of them received forgiveness for their sins. A number of those converted on the Day of Pentecost, as well as during the early days of the Jerusalem Church, no doubt were among those for whom He prayed and in whose lives His prayer was effective.

But Jesus was not just praying for those at the cross. He was thinking of all the guilty, ignorant sinners He came to save. Sinners such as you and I. He knew us even then. Our name were written on His heart. He went to the cross, not merely to pray for our forgiveness, but to obtain it. By the time Jesus completed His sufferings on the cross His prayer for us was not just a request but a command that we should be forgiven.

When Jesus at last shouted, "It is finished!" He had done all that was necessary to save His people from their sins. The Father could not refuse the prayer of His own Son who had now done everything needed for the full and free forgiveness of every sinner He came to save. This is the day that stands apart in all history as the day that God obeyed a man. There was never a day like it before and there will never be a day like it again in all of history. It was the day God obeyed the word of a Man – the Man, His own Son, Jesus, who got for you and me and every believer the forgiveness of all our sins – the least of them and the worst of them, the public and the desperately secret ones, the sins of ignorance and the high handed ones. On this day Jesus spoke, and God listened and did all that He said.

We come now to the Table, and you want to know if Jesus spoke to God the Father about you that day. There is one way to know: Is your faith in Jesus
– Jesus only, Jesus wholly – for the entire forgiveness all your sins? The devil, and conscience, and even other men and women may accuse, but those accusations, while tormenting to us, mean nothing to God, if at Jesus word and for His sake, God has granted you forgiveness. Assured of forgiveness, obtained, not by us, but for us by Jesus, we can hush all the accusations and come confidently, boldly, and joyfully to the Table where Jesus gives us His body and blood for the comfort, assurance, and nourishment of our souls.

"Five bleeding wounds he bears,
Received on Calvary.
They pour effectual prayers,
They strongly plead for me.
"Forgive him, O forgive," they cry,
"Nor let that ransomed sinner die."

William Smith, Huntsville AL

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