January 13, 2019
One of the challenges we face when we’ve been Christians for a long time is familiarity. We’ve heard the miraculous stories, and they cease to impress, to amaze us. We’ve heard this before – what else you got? And we lose the sense of awe and wonder. Even incredulity and disbelief – if it was not for faith.
There’s a story that takes place in Joshua 10 that serves as an example. Now, we’re going to look at the conquest of Jericho next week. You may remember from Sunday School or your Bible reading that Joshua led the people of Israel into the Land of Promise. Moses, who’s story we’ll finish today, has died and Joshua has taken the reigns of leadership. After forty years of wilderness wandering, they finally cross the Jordan – miraculously, by the way – and conquer Jericho. That’s an amazing story, too. The conquest begins.
Roll the clock forward a little while – a few weeks perhaps – to Joshua 10. The Gibeonites, who have entered a covenant with Israel, are attacked by a coalition of five kings of the Amorites. The Gibeonites sent a cry for help to Joshua, who shows up with his army. They have to march through the night – 25 miles – but they catch the five kings by surprise. We pick up the story in verses 8ff:
8 The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.”
9 So Joshua came upon them suddenly by marching all night from Gilgal.
10 And the LORD confounded them before Israel, and He slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and pursued them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah.
11 As they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, the LORD threw large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword.
That’s the first miraculous story – Joshua goes up against this coalition, and routs them – they flee before the armies of Israel. But while fleeing, God Himself got in the act and hurled huge hailstones at the fleeing army such that more of them died from the hailstones than the swords of the Israelites. That’s amazing – God had pretty good aim – they’re involved in hand-to-hand combat, and the bad guys died, but not the Israelites.
Well, the story doesn’t end there. As they were fleeing, Joshua doesn’t want to let the enemy get away – apparently under the cover of darkness. This is a great battle opportunity in their conquest of Canaan. So the story continues:
12 Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.
14 There was no day like that before it or after it, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.
I want you to understand what we just read. Joshua is chasing the enemy. The sun is on its descent, but Joshua doesn’t want to lose his advantage. So he cries out to the Lord [notice, he’s not actually talking to the sun – but to the Lord], oh sun and moon stand still. Verse 13 actually says, the sun stood still and the moon stopped. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky for about a whole day – I guess that’s 24 hours.
Okay, what else you got? You understand – that is a bona fide miracle – that cannot happen. We understand the sun doesn’t actually rise and set – but rather, as the earth spins on its axis, it does so in about a 24 hour period. So the sun appears on the horizon each morning, and disappears on the opposite horizon in the evening – and it’s dark through the night as the sun is on the other side of the planet as the earth is spinning. Earth Science 101.
So, with the exception of the Resurrection, there is hardly another miracle in the Bible that is more difficult to reconcile with science than this one. This is crazy. One author suggests, “The problems for geophysics are so great that some other solution has been eagerly sought by scholars, both liberal and conservative.” What are those other solutions?
Some suggest this is just poetic language – Joshua was poetically asking for them to be able to do two days work in one day. That’s possible, I suppose. In Judges 5 in the Song of Deborah, after Israel’s victory against the Canaanites, she sings that even the stars fought for the Israelites.
Another solution is Joshua didn’t actually ask for the sun to stand still, but to stop shining – the word for stand still could be rest. Proponents of this view say in the heat of the day, the already fatigued Israelites who just marched through the night to engage the battle, were wilting in the heat, so Joshua called for some cloud cover. The challenge with this view is the text says the sun stood still and delayed going down for about a day.
Yet another view suggests that either Mars or Venus passed by especially close – or perhaps a comet – so as to provide light through the night. To that I would say, they would have to be very close to be mistaken for the sun. I leave for work very early, still dark, and I’ve noticed Venus has been shining rather brightly – but I’ve never mistaken it for the sun.
Another very popular view – and often held by conservative scholars – is God somehow refracted the sun’s rays to make it look like it was still up there – and provided the necessary light. That would be miraculous – a giant mirror or prism in the sky.
Now, why is this, along with all the other views, so often suggested? Well again, the sun is not actually rising and setting – the earth is spinning on its axis. To say the sun stopped in midair is to actually say the earth stopped spinning on its axis – and science tells us that’s not possible. Of course it isn’t – that’s why it’s called a miracle. (golf) To stop spinning would have been utter chaos. While I’m not a scientist – I understand that for the earth to suddenly stop spinning would have flung everything off into space.
Of course, another possible explanation of the miracle is God stopped the earth on its axis. That the God who created everything we see, the God who holds everything together by the word of His power, is able to do miracles – even if we don’t understand how. He did, after all, create everything out of nothing. What that means to us, by the way, is that God is powerful enough to faithfully fulfill His promises to His people. If He can stop the earth from spinning, He can take care of you. No obstacle, no matter how big it may appear to us, is a problem for God.
The point is, it was big miracle, one which is supposed to make us stop and say wow – God is amazing. Not look for some explanation as to what happened, as if God couldn’t really do something like that. And if I get to heaven and God says – um, actually Scott, it was just poetry, but thanks for thinking so highly of Me – I think I’ll be okay with that.
That’s a long intro to say, there is a reason we call it the Christian faith. There is a reason we believe in things hoped for, but not yet seen – because the God we cannot see – the invisible God of the universe – has proven Himself faithful over and over. Our faith is not in nothing – we look at what God has done in the past and trust Him for the future.
And He is big enough to handle any challenges we might face. And big enough, strong enough, faithful enough, to fulfill His promises to us. And so the author of Hebrews – the book we’re studying – is giving a great list of OT characters who believed God, despite the challenges in doing so. The challenges of opposition. The challenges of suffering – when our faith costs us. The challenges of not receiving the promises in our lifetimes. The challenges of trusting God – and His Word – despite the miraculous, perhaps even seemingly ridiculous nature of our faith. Really, He stopped the world. What have you got that is too big for Him? God has proven Himself reliable. So let’s trust Him – and be amazed by His miraculous, faithful power on behalf of His people.
We began a quick, two-week study in our look at Hebrews 11 at the life of Moses. I say quick, because, if we studied Moses fully, from Exodus to Deuteronomy, it would take awhile. But we’re just looking at a quick overview of his life, as highlighted by the author of Hebrews – as he uses Moses as example of enduring faith – even in the unbelievable – the ridiculous. Let’s reread the text from last week, into our verses for today – Hebrews 11:23-29.
Five times, the author uses the phrase, by faith. Meaning, he’s highlighting Moses’ life and actions prompted by faith. By faith, his parents hid him. By faith, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. By faith, he left Egypt. By faith, he kept the Passover. And by faith, they crossed the Red Sea. We looked at the first two last week – demonstrating that Moses chose mistreatment with God’s people and the reproach of Christ over the pleasures and treasures of Egypt. All this world has to offer. The application to the readers was obvious. Yes, it may cost you to be follower of Christ – but it’s worth it. These people of old did – follow their example – all the way.
Today, as we continue the story, we see Moses, by faith, trusted God to do the impossible. He trusted Him who is unseen. Because after all, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. What were those impossible things? They form our outline:
- By Faith, Moses Left Egypt (27)
- By Faith, Moses Kept the Passover (28)
- By Faith, Moses Crossed the Sea (29)
Now right away, that first one might throw you off a bit, because the verse actually says, “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king.” How did that show faith? And if you’re familiar with the story in Exodus 2 – after he killed Egyptian for abusing the Hebrew slave, and hid the dead guy in the sand, Pharaoh found out about it. And Exodus says Moses feared Pharaoh’s wrath, and fled Egypt. So how is that an act of faith? Further, what do we do with this seeming contradiction? Many acknowledge the apparent contradiction. But consider the text in Exodus 2:
14 But he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.”
15 When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.
And thus began his next forty years. The first forty were in Egypt, raised in Pharaoh’s household. The second forty will be in Midian. The third forty, by the way, will be leading the Israelites out of Egypt and in the wilderness. But notice the story in Exodus 2. The text does not specifically say that Moses feared Pharaoh – just that he was afraid. Yes, he fled – but who wouldn’t if your life was on the line?
The author of Hebrews seems to capitalize on this ambiguity – and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says Moses wasn’t afraid of Pharaoh. So what was he afraid of? That his role of deliverer had been discovered – that the Israelites apparently didn’t accept that role – and that he was forced to leave with the task unfinished.
But notice, by faith, he left Egypt. He fled to Midian, where he stayed on the backside of the desert for forty years, as God prepared him to be a shepherd of His people. Yes, Moses had learned to be an Egyptian leader – but that’s not what God was looking for. He wanted Moses to be a leader of His people. And his impetuous pride had to be broken – following God and His timing and His leadership was necessary.
But how was it an act of faith? Again, it seems clear from the Exodus account and Stephen’s story in Acts that Moses somehow understood he was to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. He was ready to act. But God said no – drove him from Egypt. And by faith, Moses left, trusting God would deliver in His time and His way. You say, isn’t that reading an awful lot into the text? What does the last line say? He fled and enduring, as seeing Him who is unseen – what does that mean? How does his leaving Egypt speak of his enduring faith in a God he could not see? Because, while he understood his calling – he trusted God for the timing. Even if it meant leaving – and wandering in a desert – learning as a shepherd for forty years. It was an act of faith. How easy it would have been to stay and raise a slave revolt – but it wasn’t God’s timing nor God’s way. So he trusted God. That’s the reason he left – not for fear of Pharaoh, but trusting God. And once he became humbled – largely unknown, he returned, and delivered.
Which brings us to our second point – by faith, Moses kept the Passover. It’s now forty years later. God has appeared to Moses in the famous burning bush, and commissioned him to go back to Egypt, to deliver His people. Now, it’s time. You remember the story – the author of Hebrews abbreviates it significantly. Moses shows up, and tells Pharaoh to let God’s people go – at first, to only go into the desert to sacrifice and worship their God. Pharaoh refuses, and so begins the ten plagues. Water to blood, frogs, lice, insects, cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness. Don’t miss that they were plagues showing the superiority of the God of Israel over all the gods of Egypt. They all led to the last plague, found in Exodus 11 and 12.
The last plague was the death of the firstborn. The death angel would go throughout the land of Egypt, and the firstborn of every house – from the lowest servant of Egypt to Pharaoh’s house himself – the firstborn of every person and even beast would die. But God gave Israel a way out – to avoid the death angel – the wrath of God being poured out on unbelieving Egypt. You know it as the Passover. It’s found in Exodus 12:
1 Now the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,
2 “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.
3 “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household….
5 ‘Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
6 ‘You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.
7 ‘Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.
8 ‘They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs….
11 ‘Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste– it is the LORD’S Passover.
12 ‘For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments– I am the LORD.
13 ‘The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.’
We know the story. They observed the Passover. They killed the lamb, spread the blood, the death angel passed through the land, and they were spared – he passed over them. Familiar story. Crazy story. Who would have thought the firstborn in every household would die? Well, of course, they’d seen the other nine plagues – although they had been spared. So perhaps they believed the death angel thing. But who have believed a little blood would rescue them? They did. By faith, he kept the Passover, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them.
Seems outlandish. It required faith. And then we remember, while our author doesn’t say so here – he has said earlier – without the shedding of blood – namely, the blood Jesus, there is no forgiveness. And Paul and other NT writers make very clear that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is our Passover Lamb.
Jesus died at Passover. As the Jews were sacrificing their thousands of lambs, the Lamb of God was being sacrificed for them. Those who believe in, trust their lives to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the Son of God – God’s wrath will pass over them. That story takes faith. It is a story much maligned and ridiculed today. Really, you believe Jesus was the Son of God? You believe He lived a perfect life, and died for your sins – such that those who by faith trust their lives to Him will forgiven and have eternal life? You believe that? Yes – we do. And we live by faith. Do you? Do you believe the good news of the gospel? And if you do, would you desert so quickly if it cost you…everything?
Which brings us to the last verse and story in verse 29. It advances the narrative yet further. After the death of the firstborn and the Passover, Pharaoh actually told them to leave Egypt. They plundered the Egyptians and left, heading toward the Sinai Peninsula. They were led by the Lord Himself, in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. And the Lord led them right to the shores of the Red Sea.
You remember this part – Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued the Israelites with his army. The Israelites were hemmed in – the Sea in front, the army behind them. They of course began grumbling against Moses. But listen to what Moses said in Exodus 14:
13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.”
That was some amazing faith. When up against it, Moses not only believed God – that is, had faith in God – but articulated that faith to a grumbling group of people. But that’s not what the verse says, It says, “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through on dry ground.” You know what happened. The pillar of cloud positioned itself – that is, the Lord positioned Himself between the army and the people to give them time to escape. He caused a strong east wind to come and separate the sea – a wall of water on each side.
And by faith, these grumbling Israelites entered the sea bed – and walked across. That took great faith. By the way, this is the only act of faith recorded of these Israelite adults – they continued to grumble and complain – and in Hebrews 3, we read they died in the wilderness because of unbelief.
But, there was this momentary faith, lauded by the author – and they entered the tunnel of water, and walked across on dry ground. But their faith was weak and momentary. It did not remain, and they died later. The author is encouraging these Jewish readers, and us, who know this story well – to not waver in our faith. To live by faith, to the very end of our days. And remember, these stories, while familiar, are stories of great faith in the power of God.
Who would have believed God would deliver the Israelites after the appointed deliverer left for forty years? Who would thought God would provide a way of escape from the death angel, by the blood of a lamb? And who would have believed the Israelites would walk through a sea on dry ground?
The same sea, by the way, the end of the verse says drowned the Egyptians. These are stories to both amaze us, and encourage us. We have a strong, faithful God. We are supposed to be amazed with these familiar, miraculous stories. The encouragement is to believe these crazy stories – they happened. God can stop the earth on its axis, spare people through the application of blood, divide a sea, walk on a sea, calm a storm, raise people from the dead. And if these are true – and they are – he is encouraging us to believe we have God who is able to fulfill His promises to His people today – no matter how crazy, how opposed, how miraculous. Live by faith, believe in our great God – until you die – and watch Him do the miraculous and raise you from the dead.