The events in Joshua chapter ten followed right after the nation of Israel had been deceived into breaking the command of God. God had told them to march into Canaan and kill all the inhabitants of the land. Israel had successfully destroyed Jericho and Ai, but then the city of Gibeon sent men disguised as travelers from a distant land to trick Israel into signing a peace treaty and forming an alliance with them. In Exodus 23:32-33, God had specifically forbidden Israel from making any covenants with the people in Canaan. He said, "Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land." Israel fell for the deception of Gibeon, and by signing the treaty, they violated the command of God. Chapter nine ends with Israel’s realization of their sin, but look at how God turned their mistake into a victory in Chapter ten.
1 Now it came to pass, when Adonizedek king of Jerusalem had heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it; as he had done to Jericho and her king, so he had done to Ai and her king; and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them;
2 That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty.
3 Wherefore Adonizedek king of Jerusalem sent unto Hoham king of Hebron, and unto Piram king of Jarmuth, and unto Japhia king of Lachish, and unto Debir king of Eglon, saying,
4 Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it hath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel.
5 Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon, and made war against it.
When Adonizedek heard that Gibeon had signed a peace treaty with Israel, he really began to get worried. The news that Israel had defeated Jericho and Ai was already troubling, but Gibeon was one of the largest cities in all of Canaan. It would have been heavily fortified, and the Bible tells us that it was a city of warriors. Gibeon was also just a few hours’ march from Jerusalem where Adonizedek reigned. Imagine how nervous we would be if Canada suddenly decided to become an ally of Russia and let the Russian military set up bases on our northern border. Now, imagine how much more worried we would be if we were already at war with Russia when Canada decided to sign a treaty with them. That’s about how Adonizedek was feeling here in Joshua ten, so he did exactly what we would do in the same situation. He called on his allies to help him eliminate this new threat on his border.
6 And the men of Gibeon sent unto Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us: for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered together against us.
The Gibeonites saw this huge army marching toward them from Jerusalem, and they sent men to Joshua twenty miles away to ask for help. Now Joshua could have done what many of us would have done in his place. He could have said, “Yeah, I feel bad for you, guys, but you’re the ones who deceived us, remember? This is just God punishing you for how you treated us.” I know I would have sent a message like that back to Gibeon if I had been in Joshua’s place, but that’s not how Joshua responded.
7 So Joshua ascended from Gilgal, he, and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valour.
8 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.
9 Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night.
Joshua recognized that he still had a duty to uphold his vows to Gibeon even if the Gibeonites had been less than honest about their vows to Israel (Deuteronomy 23:21). So Joshua gathered all the soldiers in Israel, and they set out to defend the city of Gibeon. After Joshua and the men of Israel chose to uphold their vow, God came to Joshua and told him that he would win the battle. God confirmed that Joshua had made the right decision in going to Gibeon’s aid, but notice what else we see in these verses.
Joshua didn’t just march to Gibeon. The Bible gives us two additional details that make Joshua’s decision even more impressive. First, the Bible says that “Joshua ascended from Gilgal.” Gibeon was in the mountains near Jerusalem while Gilgal was in the Jordan River Valley near Jericho. This means that Gibeon was about 3,500 feet higher in elevation than Gilgal. Joshua’s army didn’t just stroll down the road to get to Gibeon. They endured a grueling climb up the mountain to fulfill their oath.
But that’s not all. Verse nine tells us that Joshua’s men marched all night to get from Gilgal to Gibeon. The distance from Gilgal to Gibeon is about twenty miles. That’s a full day’s march for an army of footmen. It would have taken them seven or eight hours to march that distance on level ground during the day. Imagine how much longer it took for them to go that far uphill in the dark. We’re looking at probably a twelve-to-fifteen-hour march fully loaded with armor and provisions climbing uphill through mountainous terrain in the dark, and that was just to get to the battle. They still had to fight the next morning after marching all night. That’s how committed Israel was to following God and upholding their vows. They didn’t let the mistakes of their past stop them or even slow them down from doing what God wanted them to do.
10 And the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah.
Israel probably arrived at Gibeon early in the morning and attacked the Amorites while they were still getting ready for the day. The Amorites would have vastly outnumbered the Israelites, but they were focused on Gibeon and were completely unprepared for an early morning attack on their flanks. God gave Israel a great victory in that initial surprise attack, but then the Amorites retreated toward Behhoron.
There is a road between Gibeon and Bethhoron that descends about 1,500 feet over a distance of five miles. Pursuing the Amorites along this road took the Israelites down the opposite side of the mountain they had climbed the previous night. They had now ascended 3,500 feet over a twenty-mile trek in the dark, fought a major battle against an army that outnumbered them, and then chased their enemy for five miles down the mountainside. Can you imagine how tired they must have been? There is no way that they could have kept up the same pace as the Amorites who had gotten a full night of sleep. I’m sure the Amorites were running as fast as they could to get away, and the Israelites were panting along after them, falling further and further behind as they struggled for breath. The Amorites were going to escape unless God stepped in to stop them.
11 And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.
The city of Bethhoron is divided into an upper city on the side of the mountain and a lower city in the valley. Many years after this, Solomon would rebuild the city into two fortresses, but at this time, it was just two small towns with a path going up the mountainside between them. The Amorites fled past the upper town and began to relax as they realized the Israelites were falling behind. They saw the wide open plains just beyond the lower town ahead of them, and they knew their larger army would have a decisive advantage once they got out into the plains where they could spread out and surround the smaller Israelite force.
Then the sky began to grow dark with clouds. They heard a crash of thunder and then screams as massive hail stones crashed down among them with deadly force. Their relief turned to fear as they remembered the stories of the hail stones Israel’s God had sent against Egypt, and their relaxed pace turned once again into a rout of madness. They rushed past the lower town and ran as fast as they could toward the city of Azekah twenty miles away hoping to escape the wrath of God that was killing them by the thousands.
Israel was still making their way down the mountain panting for breath when they heard the screams. Lifting their heads, they would have seen the storm above their enemies, and they would have paused in confusion as they saw soldier after soldier being crushed to the ground by hail. I’m sure Joshua must have turned to them with a rallying speech lifting their spirits with a triumphant shout, “The Lord is on our side!”
But… Joshua was a veteran leader by now and a master strategist. He saw a problem that probably hadn’t yet occurred to the rest of his troops. The same storm that was sending hail down among their enemies also threatened to block out the sun and slow down his already weary army as they trudged along through unfamiliar territory in the dark. His troops had rallied, and their spirits had lifted, but how long would that last once they plunged into the darkness of the storm?
12 Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
14 And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel.
Joshua commanded the sun to stay at Gibeon and the moon to stay at Ajalon, but what does that mean? Gibeon was the city in the mountains they had just left. It was above them and to the east. Ajalon was out on the plains to the west. The Amorites were running southwest toward Azekah with the storm hovering above them. When Joshua commanded the sun and moon to stand still, they were perfectly positioned to shine underneath the clouds and light the way for the Israelites. With the sun at their backs and the moon highlighting the enemy before them, the Israelite army charged into the storm, cutting down any Amorite unlucky enough to have survived the hail.
God gave Israel a tremendous victory that day, and most of us have heard the story of the hailstones and the sun standing still, but we tend to forget how difficult that day was for the Israelites. Remember, their day of triumph started the evening before when they were reminded about how they had failed God and broken His command. That painful reminder was followed by a nighttime march that must have felt like pure torture. Then, after marching all night, they had to fight an enemy army that vastly outnumbered them, and when the enemy retreated, Israel had to run after them for five miles before God finally sent a hailstorm against the Amorites. But even with God fighting for them, Israel still had to pursue the Amorites another forty miles before they could finally stop, and on top of all that, their day of fighting after a long night of marching wasn’t just an ordinary twelve-hour day. It was at least twelve hours longer because of the sun standing still while they fought under the clouds! By the time the day was over, the Israelite soldiers had been awake for about forty-eight hours and had marched more than sixty-five miles. Yes, God worked miracles and gave them a great victory, but they sure had to work hard to claim it.
As I think about all God did for Israel on that day, I can’t help but also think about how things might have worked out differently. What if God had stepped in and kept Israel from making the mistake of forming an alliance with Gibeon? He certainly could have stopped them if He had wanted to, so why did He let them fail? I think God allowed the Israelites to make a mistake because He wanted to use their failure to teach them a valuable lesson.
Through the events of these two chapters, God taught Israel that He would always be there for them even when they disobey. He taught them that miracles and victories are still possible even after we fail. And they learned that they could do far more with His help than they ever realized they were capable of.
Can you imagine how these soldiers must have felt at the end of the day? At the end of chapter nine, the Israelites realized they had made a huge mistake, but instead of setting it behind them and pressing on in their conquest of Canaan, they let their mistake send them back to their old campground by the Jordan River. God used the battle against the five Amorite kings to bring Israel out of despondency and to encourage them to do great things for Him. It’s no wonder that this generation served God all their days (Joshua 24:31). God could have stopped them from making a mistake, but by allowing them to fail and then giving them such a huge victory afterward, God solidified their resolve to follow Him no matter what.
As we go through our lives, there will be times that we fail to do what God tells us to do. We’re going to make mistakes, but we need to remember that God doesn’t abandon us when we fail. "For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5). He already knows exactly what our mistakes will be, and He already has plans to use those mistakes to draw us closer to Him and give us greater victories than we ever thought were possible.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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