God Fights for Israel
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: We must attack the enemy to win spiritual victory.
Goal: Identify a ministry initiative to attempt.
The scene is one of the most dramatic locations on earth. Standing 1150 feet above sea level, the massive rock outcropping is the largest I’ve ever seen, gray with streaks of metallic brown, flat and imposing. And towering above it is a gigantic cliff, dwarfing the valley below in every direction.
High up on that cliff our tour group could see a cave, the famous “Gates of Hades.” This cave leads to a shaft which bores down through the mountain and this plateau on which it stands, deep into the earth. That shaft is so deep that its bottom has never been found. Even the most sophisticated measuring devices have not been able to determine its absolute depth. I will never forget standing on that rock at Caesarea Philippi, looking up at the Gates of Hades.
As I stared in awe, my mind traveled back to a time when another man stood where I was this day. As he looked around himself he could feel the religious significance of the place.
Just a short distance away stood the brilliant white marble temple built by Herod the Great as an altar to the worship of Caesar, hence the name of the place, “Caesarea.” Beneath his feet was that cavern where the Greeks said Pan, their god of nature, was born. Scattered around the place were fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite fertility god, where the Syrians worshiped. Somewhere below was one of the origins of the Jordan River, the holiest river in all the Jewish faith, the water Joshua and the people walked through to inherit the Promised Land. And he thought of his own Jewish traditions and worship.
On this gigantic rock, standing in the midst of temples to every kind of god known to his culture, this man hears a Galilean carpenter ask, “Who do you say that I am?” And this man, standing where I stood, declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And he hears the Galilean say, “I will build my church.” Then, pointing to the cave towering above them, dwarfing this small group of peasants gathered below, he claims, “Even the Gates of Hell will not withstand your assault” (Mt 16:13-18).
Many Christians miss the analogy. It is common to think of the church as an ark, built to withstand the floods which surround us. Or a fortress, erected to provide safe haven amidst the attacks of enemy armies from our fallen world. But it is not. The church is an army, created to attack Hell. Commissioned to take the gospel to the world. Called to assault the enemy, wherever we find him.
Retreat is not an option.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president, he faced a nation mired in Great Depression, with world war clouds gathering on the horizon. The economy was in retreat; discouragement was epidemic; some were beginning to question the future of the American experiment with democracy. But the new president, himself crippled by polio, taught us a lesson we’ll remember so long as America lives: we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Had America retreated from her challenges and opportunities, what would have happened to Europe? To us?
In war, initiative is everything. If Joshua and his people had waited at the Jordan River until there was no water to brave, they’d be waiting there still. If they had waited at Jericho and Ai until the residents gave them the keys to their cities, they’d be waiting still. We are called to attack, to initiate, to find ways to take the good news of God’s love to our fallen city and world. And retreat is not an option.
Sitting on a bedside in East Malaysia while on a summer missions tour in 1979, I was asked by veteran missionary Chuck Morris if I would consider a career in missions. My reply: “I’d go if God opened the door.” Chuck pointed his finger at me and said, “No, go unless God closes the door.” It was a prophetic moment.
What ministry will you initiate this week? What will your class do to help someone follow Jesus, because you have taught them the truths of this text? To win the battle, we must engage the enemy. And retreat is not an option.
Pay the price of victory (10:1-15)
The oath Joshua and the leaders of the nation made with the Gibeonites would soon be tested. Our word and integrity will always face adversity. The rain proves the foundation (Matthew 7.24-27). But God is ready to transform and redeem any situation trusted to his care (Romans 8.28).
The Amorite kings in the region learned of Gibeon’s treaty with Joshua, and likely feared that it would be the first of many dominoes to fall. If such a formidable city and army would choose slavery to Israel over armed assault, who might follow their example? Thus their combined strategy against Joshua and his army, a gambit born of desperation (vs. 1-4).
It is ironic that their assault was initiated by the king of “Jerusalem.” The name means “Foundation of Peace,” but it was given to the city centuries after Joshua by King David. In Joshua’s day the city was known as Jebus, “City of the Jebusites” (cf. 2 Samuel 5:6ff). The writer/editor of our text used the name by which the city was known to Jewish history. In time, the “city of peace” would welcome and then crucify the Prince of Peace, that he might bring peace on earth and goodwill to mankind.
When the Amorites united against Gibeon, these slaves of Joshua appealed to their master for help. And God’s general responded by taking immediate initiative, choosing the best men and summoning his entire army for response. The Lord again exhorted him to courage, and promised that their fate had already been determined. They marched the 30 miles from Gilgal west to Gibeon, climbing some 3,000 feet of elevation, completing in one night what had earlier been a three-day journey (9:17). And so they surprised their enemy (v. 9) and won the victory.