Moses’ leadership of the people of Israel ended just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. “Knowing that it would not be long before he would die, Moses asked God to choose a successor to lead the Israelites in his place (Numbers 27:16). God selected Joshua, who had been Moses’ close associate and servant since the time the Israelites were still in Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:13; 32:17; 33:11). Even before their arrival in Sinai, Moses had appointed Joshua to be the leader of the army (Exodus 17:8-13). Joshua would make significant military achievements, but his public commissioning (Numbers 27:22, 23) involved much more that the role of military leader” (note on Numbers 27:15-23). Numbers 27:15-17 tells us, “Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, ‘Let the LORD, the God of the spirits or all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” The Hebrew word that is translated shepherd, raʿah (raw-awˊ) in Numbers 27:17 is translated wandering in Numbers 14:33 which refers to God’s punishment of the Israelites for not entering the Promised Land when they were first told to. It states, “And your children will be like shepherds, wandering in the wilderness for forty years. In this way, they will pay for your faithlessness, until the last of you lies dead in the wilderness” (NLT). The connection between the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and the role of the shepherd had to do with the people’s tendency toward going astray. Jesus used the analogy of sheep that have gone astray to describe people that have been deceived or are mistaken in their beliefs. The Greek word planao (plan-ahˊ-o) which means “to roam” is translated gone astray in 2 Peter 2:15 and is also translated as be deceived (Galatians 6:7), err (James 5:19, KJV), seduce (1 John 2:26), wandering (Hebrews 11:38), and wayward (Hebrews 5:2) (G4105). Jesus described himself as the good shepherd (John 10:11) and told his disciples:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)
Moses’ reputation as the shepherd of the people of Israel was dependent upon the miracles that God performed through him in order to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and then, to sustain them in wilderness for forty years. When Joshua took over as Israel’s leader, God told him, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). God acted as the gatekeeper of the sheepfold by being with Moses and Joshua. These two men were given special abilities so that they could lead the people effectively. It says in Numbers 27:18-20, “So the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey.’” The Hebrew word that is translated obey, shamaʿ (shaw-mah) means “to hear intelligently” or “to heed a request or command” (H8085). The authority that Moses invested in Joshua made the people willing to listen to what he said and to do what he told them to.
God’s instruction to invest Joshua with Moses’ authority had to do with Joshua’s physical appearance (H1935), but it likely had more to do with what could be seen in the spiritual realm than in the physical realm. The Hebrew word that is translated invest in Numbers 27:20 is similar to a Greek word that the Apostle Paul used in his discussion of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10-20. Paul told the Ephesians to put on “the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The Greek word that Paul used that is translated put on, enduo (en-dooˊ-o) means “to invest with clothing (in the sense of sinking into a garment)” (G1746), but it is often used by Paul to refer to believers putting on things that are invisible or indistinct in the physical realm. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (emphasis mine). Paul also said in Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (emphasis mine). What this may suggest is that when Moses invested Joshua with his authority, he gave him the center stage so to speak, so that everyone focused their attention on Joshua instead of Moses from that point forward. It says of Joshua in Numbers 27:21, “At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.” In other words, Joshua was calling the shots after he was invested with Moses’ authority.
The first test of Joshua’s use of his authority came after the Israelites’ victory over the city of Ai. Joshua 9:1-15 states:
As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.
But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
Moses expressly forbid the people of Israel from making a covenant with any of the nations that existed within the borders of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 7:2). The people of Gibeon were aware that they were going to be destroyed (Joshua 9:24) so they attempted to form an alliance with the Israelites in order to keep from being killed. In spite of his suspicions, Joshua made peace with inhabitants of Gibeon and found out three days later that he had been lied to (Joshua 9:16).
Joshua 9:14 tells us that the men of Israel took some of the Gibeonites’ provisions, “but did not ask counsel from the LORD.” Joshua had the ability to inquire of the LORD (Numbers 27:21), but he decided to trust the Gibeonites and relied on the evidence they provided him of their country being outside the borders of the Promised Land. Joshua’s lack of discernment or perhaps foolish pride compromised the LORD’s plan to have all of the inhabitants of the Promised Land destroyed. The Israelites couldn’t attack the people of Gibeon “because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel” (Joshua 9:18). Joshua’s frustration is evident in his response to the Gibeonites’ trickery. Joshua 9:22-27 states:
Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the place that he should choose.
Joshua noted the Gibeonites’ intentional deception and pronounced a curse upon them. It says in Joshua 9:3 that the inhabitants of Gibeon had acted with cunning. The Hebrew word that is translated cunning, ʿormah (or-mawˊ) means “trickery” (H6195) and is similar to the Greek word Paul used to convey the devil’s activity in believers’ lives (G3180), suggesting that there were probably spiritual forces of evil at work when the people of Gibeon acted with cunning to deceive the leaders of Israel and in particular Joshua who was responsible for deciding their fate.
Proverbs 22:17-21 indicates that all believers receive divine assistance when they place their hearts in God’s hands. It states:
Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
and apply your heart to my knowledge,
for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
if all of them are ready on your lips.
That your trust may be in the Lord,
I have made them known to you today, even to you.
Have I not written for you thirty sayings
of counsel and knowledge,
to make you know what is right and true,
that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?
The phrase what is right and true is meant to convey reality, that which is able to be known with certainty. The Hebrew word qoshet (koˊ-shet) “appears twice in the Wisdom Literature, meaning the vindication of a true assessment by reality (Psalm 60:4); and the realization of a person’s truthfulness by an intimate knowledge of the individual (Proverbs 22:21)” (H7189).
The people of Gibeon told Joshua that because it was told to them “for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives” (Joshua 9:24). The fear that the Gibeonites had was not simple fear, “but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). God’s truthfulness was evident to the people of Gibeon because they had witnessed the destruction of the cities of Jericho and Ai. Their strategy of tricking the Israelites into making a covenant with them was a wise move, given that their leaders were able to save everyone’s lives without fighting a single battle (Joshua 9:27). Unfortunately, Joshua proved to be out of touch with reality and neglected to ask for divine assistance when he should have. As a result of his mistake, the situation escalated and Joshua had to ask God for a miracle.
Joshua 10:1-5 tells us:
As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it.
Adoni-zedek may have thought that Gibeon would be left to its own devices, but the covenant that Joshua made with them entitled the people of Gibeon to God’s protection. “And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, ‘Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us” (Joshua 9:6). The phrase relax your hand comes from a Hebrew word that is connected with one of the names of God. The Hebrew word râphâh (raw-fawˊ) “means to heal, a restoring to normal, an act that God typically performs” (H7495). After God made the bitter waters of Marah sweet, he told the Israelites, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.” The Gibeonites wanted Joshua to save them and may have believed their only hope was God’s miraculous power which can bring the dead back to life.
God responded to the situation and provided divine assistance just as if it were the Israelites’ lives that were at stake. Joshua 10:7-14 tells us:
So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 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.” So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.
At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.
Joshua described what happened as the nation of Israel taking vengeance on its enemies (Joshua 10:13). When the five kings of the Amorites declared war on Gibeon, it was as if they had declared war on the nation of Israel because of the covenant that Joshua had made with the people of Gibeon. “At Joshua’s request, God caused the sun to stand still so that the Israelites could achieve a greater victory. This is one of two times recorded in the Old Testament when God interrupted time as a favor or a sign to a man” (note on Joshua 10:12-14). The fact that God did this miracle for Joshua right after he had made the mistake of making a covenant with the Gibeonites and was fighting a battle to defend the people that he was supposed to have destroyed showed that God’s faithfulness transcended human error and was not subject to a particular people being protected, but was based on God’s willingness to fight for anyone that would put his trust in him.