I was finishing drama #8 last night in my series on the life of Joshua for Christ to the World Ministries. This particular episode dealt with what is often known as Joshua’s “longest day”—the day he ordered the sun to stand still. Many of us know that Joshua, in the heat of battle, commanded the sun to remain in place, and that it did so for a full day. But most of us—including me, until a couple weeks ago—could not have specified when or why this occurred. I only knew it happened sometime during the conquest of Canaan.
As Monk would say, here’s what happened. Shortly after the Israelites took Jericho, men from Gibeon tricked Joshua into forging an alliance with them by telling Joshua they lived far, far away. Making peace with anyone in Canaan was strictly against God’s orders. But Joshua and his officers didn’t check with God before signing on the dotted line, and by the time they found out the Gibeonites lived inside Canaan and not far way, as they had said, it was too late. They were bound by the terms of the treaty.
When Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard what Gibeon had done, he was incensed. He was afraid other cities would follow suit, and that soon all of Canaan would be on the side of Israel. He gathered four other kings to plan an attack and surround Gibeon. Gibeon immediately called upon Joshua, as the treaty bound Israel to defend its allies.
I’ve read Joshua 10 probably a dozen times as I’ve been writing this 25-minute radio drama. And here is where I began to notice the difference between Joshua and Adoni-Zedek as leaders.
Joshua rushed to defend the Gibeonites, even though they had tricked him. In fact, he and his men marched all night to engage the enemies of Gibeon in battle. He could have delayed, even just to give his men some sleep first. That would have sounded reasonable, but would have been disastrous for Gibeon. And is a little sleep worth dishonoring your word in front of your men?
Adoni-Zedek attacked his own countrymen without provocation.
Joshua fought alongside his men until the end.
Adoni-Zedek abandoned his men and hid in a cave when the going got tough.
When Joshua found the five kings hiding, he allowed his captains to place their feet on the necks of their enemies, a common sign of victory, instead of doing it himself, as was the custom of the day. Then he used that moment to encourage them: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.”
Joshua didn’t become a great leader overnight. Although he was the military commander of Israel’s armies under Moses, he was essentially Moses’s assistant for forty years before God declared him Moses’s successor. He came up through the ranks–the position wasn’t just handed to him as most kingships were handed down from father to son, giving him an entirely different perspective. And along the way he made mistakes, some of them costly.
Joshua wasn’t perfect, but I still think I can learn a great deal from him. He cared about his men. He cared about honor and integrity. He was willing to sacrifice it all for that. And most of all, he worshipped God with everything he had.