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The LORD’s Northern Campaign

Joshua 11:1-23; 12:1, 7-8; John 6:38-40

August 13, 2017 ● Download this sermon (PDF)

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Congregation of Christ: In recent days, there has been much saber-rattling between the United States and North Korea. North Korea threatens to send a few missiles to the waters near Guam, and the United States has threatened retaliation “with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Both are flexing their nuclear muscles, but the whole world knows that the United States can destroy the whole world many times over with its weapons.

Both countries and all countries of the world today depend on their armies and weapons for either defense or aggression against other countries. But the Book of Joshua tells us differently: God fought for his people Israel. It wasn’t Joshua or the Israelite army who won their battles against God’s enemies, but God fought for them as the Divine Warrior.

Joshua and the Israelites believed the Lord and acted upon his promises in obedience. Last Sunday, they defeated an alliance of five southern Canaanite kings. So they secured the middle and southern regions of the Promised Land. They made an alliance with the Gibeonites in the central region, so when the Amorites in the south attacked Gibeon, Israel responded. The Amorites were defeated, and Israel returned to their main camp in Gilgal.

But the north still had to be conquered. This is what we read in our text today, Joshua Chapter 11. A northern alliance came up against Israel, but again, the LORD fought for Israel.

The Nations Rage Against the Lord and His Anointed

From the time that Israel was at the doorstep of Canaan, before they crossed the Jordan River, the various kings of Canaan “heard” about what the LORD did to Egypt and to the two kings of the Amorites in the east. We read of successive kings, from Jericho to Ai to Gibeon to the southern cities of the Amorites, hearing all the successes of the Israelites in their battles.

Now we come to verse 1, and it’s the turn of Jabin, king of Hazor, to be alarmed. He knew Israel would now turn its attention northward, so he gathered an alliance of all the northern kings to form a huge army, “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots.” They camped at the waters of Merom to attack Israel.

Did you know that the war between Israelites and Canaanites was prophesied by God way back in the Garden of Eden? After the devil tempted Eve and Adam to disobey God’s commandment, God cursed the devil, saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring” (Gen 3:15). After Adam and Eve bore Cain and Abel, it became clear that Cain was of the devil, and Abel was of God. And what happened? Cain hated Abel, murdering him in cold blood. This was a preview of the war between God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. But the godly line of Abel did not die, because Eve bore another son, calling him Seth (Gen 4:25).

From the time of Seth’s son Enosh, the godly line began to be distinct from the wicked line of Cain (Gen 4:26). That is why we see all throughout Biblical history that the wicked line of Cain – unbelievers, atheists, scoffers – have always despised, hated, persecuted and murdered believers. But God has always given his people victory over their enemies. They laughed at Noah and they perished in the flood. Pharaoh tried to kill baby Moses, but his army was destroyed at the Red Sea. The Canaanites made war against God’s people Israel, and they were decimated by the LORD under the command of Joshua.

King David had Israel’s enemies in mind when he wrote in Psalm 2:1-2, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed.” Many kings surrounding Israel who were vassals of King David continued to rebel against him, but he trusted in the LORD, saying, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psa 2:4-6).

God looks down on his enemies and laughs and ridicules them for thinking that they can oppose him. Because in the end, he will send his only-begotten Son Jesus the Christ, his Anointed, to be the Son of David who will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psa 2:9). Christ, the King of kings, will destroy all of God’s enemies.

This is our comfort when we daily face God’s enemies. They scoff at our Christian faith, our godly values and worldview, saying they’re obsolete. We see that we’re a very small minority in this postmodern culture. They ridicule the Bible, saying it’s all myths and legends and full of contradictions. They persecute, imprison, torture, behead and do all kinds of monstrous atrocities against our brothers and sisters in many parts of the world.

But God’s promise to us is, in Psalm 46, “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire” (verses 6-7, 9). In the end, God will end all wars, and all the unbelieving nations will be still, because they would know that the LORD is God, creator of heaven of earth (verse 10).

Not by a Great Horde, Chariots and Horses . . .

Joshua’s spies from Gilgal must have seen the great horde, chariots and horses assembled by the northern alliance at the waters of Merom. Notice that the writer did not just say that King Jabin assembled a great alliance, but took pains in listing all the kings and the nations. He wanted to impress his readers how mighty and great this alliance was compared to Israel’s small army. But in recording the massive army and resources of Israel’s enemies, the writer reveals the almighty power of God even more. When Israel was on the verge of the Promised Land, God promised Moses and the Israelites in Deuteronomy 20:1, “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

The sight must have been intimidating, even fearful. But the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel” (verse 6). So Joshua and his warriors marched nearly 100 miles from Gilgal, and attacked their enemies’ encampment again by surprise. Most probably, it was another attack before dawn, as he did at Gibeon.

To understand how the Battle of Merom unfolded, a brief geography lesson is needed. Jabin’s northern alliance assembled at the waters of Merom, some seven to eight miles from his city, Hazor. But Merom is at 4,000 feet elevation and not conducive to chariot warfare. Could it be that Jabin used Merom just as an assembly place, but intending to fight Israel on a plain, possibly at Megiddo or Esdraeldon? His chariots and horses would have made it nearly impossible for Israel to win the battle. So instead of waiting for Jabin to march down to a plain, Joshua pounced upon him at Merom when he was not prepared for battle.

The enemies of Israel, “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore,” at the Battle of Merom is also preview of the great Battle of Armageddon when Christ returns. We read in Revelation 20:7-9 about Satan’s attack against God’s people by deceiving all the nations, “their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them.” And we see previews of attacks by God’s enemies all around us and in all nations every day. But do not waiver, do not doubt, do not despair, for in the end, God will consume them with his wrathful vengeance.

. . . But by the LORD Himself

Again, Joshua’s military genius was in full display. But from where did his smarts come? It was from the LORD who used him to save his people from their enemies.

Notice also that after God’s promise to give Israel the victory in verse 6, verse 7 follows with a brief description of the Israelites’ march and surprise attack. The LORD also instructed him to “hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” What is hamstringing a horse? It involves cutting the large tendon at the back of the knee on the hind legs. This made the chariots and the horses useless. It was God’s way to show his people that they should not depend on their numbers, or on horses and chariots.

King David, a warrior most of his life as a king, knew this well, saying, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psa 20:7). Their help came from the LORD, as in our Call to Worship. But Joshua and David did not tell their warriors, “Let go and let God!” If they did, how would God hand their enemies to them in battle? Divine assurance does not forbid human obedience to God’s commandments.

After defeating the northern alliance at Merom, Joshua drove them as far as Sidon (in present-day Lebanon), and as far as the valley of Mizpeh to the northeast (near present-day Damascus in Syria). Joshua now proceeds to consolidate his victory by attacking the rest of northern Canaan. He turned back and captured Hazor, killing Jabin and all its inhabitants. Since the city of Hazor led the northern coalition, Israel burned it to the ground. It was the only city in the north that was burned. In all the other cities, the inhabitants were killed, but the cities and the spoil were left intact. This fulfilled God’s promise to the Israelites through Moses, “the LORD your God [will] bring you into the land that he swore to your fathers … with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant” (Deu 6:10-11). The bountiful land and cities of Canaan will be Israel’s inheritance.

In verses 19-20, the writer gives all the glory to the LORD, “For it was the LORD’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.” Then in verses 21-22, the writer then adds one last battle against the Anakim in the hill country. These are the same mighty giants whom ten of the twelve spies sent by Moses saw and feared. The writer is showing his readers that there really was no reason for Israel to fear any city in Canaan because God will give all the Promised Land to them.

Finally, in verse 23, the writer summarizes the Israelites’ campaign to conquer all the Promised Land, “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.” After as many as seven years of wars against the city-kings in Canaan, Joshua conquered the whole land. What follows in Chapters 12-21 of the book is a catalog of the defeated city-kings and then the distribution of the land to the 12 tribes.

Dear friends, I want to emphasize two more things about our text today. I already men­tioned that Joshua and the Israelites did not just “let go and let God.” In your Chris­tian life, God calls you to obedience to his Word. Notice in our text, and all throughout the Book of Joshua, these words after Joshua obeyed all of God’s command­ments, “according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses.”

As God’s people, our doctrine, worship and life are to be according to all of God’s will revealed in his Word. We believe that the doctrine of our church is the doctrine of the Bible. We believe that what we do in worship today and every Lord’s Day is confined to what Scripture says. And we strive to be transformed and renewed in our minds by God’s Word.

Second, in Hebrews 4:8-11, God shows us that the rest that the Israelites enjoyed after the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land was only a picture of a still-future final rest. It was not the Canaanites who were their most wicked enemies. Our greatest enemies are Satan, sin and death. That rest and inheritance are only a foretaste of that eternal, heavenly Sabbath rest that awaits you. Therefore, as God commands you, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Heb 4:11).

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