As we prepare for Joshua 10, here are ten things about this powerful chapter.
1. The Battle of Gibeon
Joshua 10 can be summarized as the battle for Gibeon or the Battle in the Valley of Gibeon (Isa. 28:21). In this chapter, the Gibeonites are attacked by their neighbors because of their peace-making with Israel. And thus Joshua is called to rescue them.
In this setting, Joshua 10 unites chapter 9 with chapter 11. In the former, Joshua 9 recalls the deception of Gibeon, which results in a covenant between Israel and their neighbors. Joshua 11 records multiple victories of Israel over the cities of Northern Canaan. Joshua 10 itself recounts the defeat of one five-fold federation (vv. 1–27), along with seven other city-states (vv. 28–43).
Together, these three chapters explain how Israel defeated peoples in the central region of Canaan in Joshua 9–10 (Jericho, Ai, Jerusalem, etc.), the Southern region of Canaan in Joshua 10:28–43 (Makkedah, Libnah, Gezer, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir), and the Northern region in Joshua 11 (Hazor, et al.). Joshua 9–11 hang together then by the theme of Yahweh’s defeat of the Canaanites and they are organized according to their geographical military campaigns.
2. The Outline of Joshua 10
On one hand, we could organize Joshua 10 as one unified narrative about Israel’s victory in the South. This is how Richard Hess frames the chapter. After identifying the five kings (vv. 1–5) and the cry of the Gibeonites (v. 6), he writes
The remainder of the chapter details Israel’s victory. The account is presented in a series of ‘panels’ or pictures that overlap in time but focus on different aspects of the victory. This technique was used in the stories of Rahab, of the crossing of the Jordan River and of the defeat of Jericho and Ai. The first panel (vv. 7-10) summarizes the victory. Then the details of the LORD’s work in the victory are considered (vv. 11-15). This is followed by details of Israel’s battles with the leaders (vv. 16-27) and with the towns (vv. 28-40). A summary reviews the success and returns the victors to camp (vv. 41-43). (Hess, Joshua, 212)
On the other hand, we could identify verses 6–27 as the main portion of the chapter and verses 1–5 and 28–43 as an introduction and conclusion, respectively, that frames the chapter. Arguing for this second approach is Joshua 11, which also has an introduction (vv. 1–5) and conclusion (vv. 16–23) that are similar to Joshua 10, while verses 6–15 focus on the defeat of Hazor.
If we approach Joshua 10 in this way, it helps us focus on the drama of the chapter, without forgetting the introduction and conclusion. In particular, we find two mirrored responses to Gibeon’s cry for help in verses 6–15 and verses 16–27. Here’s what an outline could look like:
Introduction: Five Kings Go to War against Israel (vv. 1–5)
Response #1: The LORD fights for Israel in response to Joshua’s Prayer (vv. 6–15)
 The Gibeonites cry to Joshua for help (v. 6) and Joshua responds (v. 7)
 Yahweh speaks to Joshua (v. 8) . . . and Yahweh fights for Israel (vv. 9–11)
 Joshua speaks to the LORD (v. 12) . . .
 Joshua said to the Sun (vv. 12–13) . . .
 The Book of Jashar says . . . (v. 13) . . . and the LORD fights for Joshua (vv. 14–15)
Response #2: Joshua leads Israel to defeat the Five Kings by means of God’s Strength (vv. 16–27)
[1’] Joshua is told about the five kings (v. 17) . . . and Joshua responds (vv. 18–27)
[2’] Joshua speaks (vv. 18–19) . . . and cities are defeated (vv. 20–21)
[3’] Joshua said “Bring the kings” (vv. 22) . . . and they were brought (v. 23)
[3’] Joshua said “put your feet on their necks” (v. 24a) . . . they put their feet on them (v. 24b)
[3’] Joshua said “Do not be dismayed . . . “ (v. 25) . . . and Joshua defeated them (vv. 26–27)
Conclusion: Seven Cities are Devoted to Destruction (vv. 28–43)
All in all, this chapter is one that focuses on the role of God as the Warrior who defends his people and who saves them through his appointed leader—Joshua in this case.
3. The Five Kings
The five kings are a historical fact, but they are also a critical factor to literary focus of this story. Three times their names are listed as “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” (vv. 3, 5, 23) and five times they are referred to as the “five kings” (vv. 5, 16, 17, 22, 23, cf. v. 26).
Based on this high attention to the number five and the location of these kings, there is considerable reason for seeing Genesis 14 in the background. In that chapter, five kings of Canaan captured Lot, Abraham’s nephew, as these kings went to war against four others kings. Like in Joshua, emphasis is placed on five kings (“four kings against five,” Gen. 14:9) and also it is God’s chosen son, Abraham, who comes to his rescue.
Thus, the five kings in Joshua 10 seem to be recapitulating the events of Genesis 14. Just as Lot received aid from Abraham’s warfare, so too do the Gibeonites. Likewise, just as Abraham proved himself greater than the kings of the land, so does Joshua. However, there is also a difference. In Genesis 14 Abraham encounters Melchizedek, to whom the former pays a tithe to the latter because of Melchizedek’s greatness. In Joshua 10, however, the ruler of Jerusalem is Adoni-zedek, which means “the Lord is righteous.” Unfortunately, this is the king who takes the lead to fight Gibeon and Israel, proving his name false.
Accordingly, while Genesis 14 may serve as a background to this passage, it also highlights the difference. No longer is there any righteousness in Canaan, as there was with Melchizedek. Now all the cities, minus the four associated with Gibeon, are wicked and deserving the judgment foretold in Genesis 15:16.
4. Gibeon’s Cry
The action of this chapter results from the threat on Gibeon (vv. 1–5) and Gibeon’s cry for help (v. 6). As verses 1–5 indicated, the five kings of Canaan direct their attention on Gibeon because (1) they made peace with Israel and (2) broke ranks with their neighbors. What is striking in this episode is the way that the kings take out their vengeance on Gibeon and not Israel directly. It is a reminder of the way the world works—God’s people are the object of the world’s aggression. And here is another example.
As a result of this threat, the Gibeonites cry out to Joshua (v. 6). As before, Joshua is the source of Gibeon’s salvation and the rest of the storyline relates how Joshua comes to their rescue. Immediately, verse 7 recalls his immediate response. Not only does Joshua honor the covenant made in Joshua 9, but he puts his army into harms way to respond.
In these actions, we see a model of how people of faith, when threatened, cry out to Jesus. And we see in Joshua’s actions the way he protects his people and fights for them.
5. The Lord is a Warrior
The big idea of Joshua 10 is that the LORD is a warrior. While Joshua is the leader on the ground, his prayer to God indicates who stands behind the victory. Moreover, the passage repeatedly speaks of God’s action on behalf of his people.
God’s action begins in verse 8, where he says to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands.” It continues in verse 10, where “the LORD threw them into a panic before Israel.” Debate turns on the next three verbs, but if the the pronoun ‘who’ relates to Yahweh, the rest of the verse continues, the LORD, “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.” In short, the Lord is the warrior who defeated the armies of the five kings.
Moreover, verse 11 confirms the Lord’s actions when it says, “while [the kings’ armies] 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.” Thus, the victory is directly a result of God’s actions. So much so that, verse 11 concludes, “There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.”
Finally, the Lord’s role as warrior is highlighted again when Joshua goes to prayer in verses 12–15. In these mysterious verses (see #6) we discover two things related to God’s actions. First, Joshua’s prayer is answered by God as the Lord uses creation to give the battle to Israel. Second, verse 14 directly states, “the LORD fought for Israel.” Hence, the entirety of this section posits the battle to the Lord. He is the victor and should be honored accordingly.
Widening our gaze to the whole Bible, this is a critical revelation for who God is. He is not simply a God mild-mannered and lamb-like. He is a warrior, a lion, who is ferocious in his justice. And thus, we should not be afraid to worship him as our divine warrior or cry out to him for help and protection. At the same time, we should be forewarned that refusal to repent invites his anger and should produce fear in our hearts.
6. The Sun and the Moon
The most difficult aspect of Joshua 10 is what Joshua says to the sun and moon in verses 12–13:
“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
How should we think about these words and their effect, which verses 13–14 record as “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”? Space does not permit a full inquiry, but here are eight observations to help consider the passage.
First, verses 12–14 digress to describe from a different angle what just happened in verses 7–11. In other words, with the introduction “At that time . . .,” we are led to consider that what just happened (i.e., the LORD fighting for Israel) is a result of Joshua’s prayer. This seems to be the main point, the one Joshua 10 calls us to consider first.
Second, verse 12 clarifies the prayerful aspect of this passage as it says, “Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel.” This indicates that Joshua’s prayer was effective and coordinated God’s actions. As with Moses in the battle with the Amalekites (Exodus 17) and like Joshua’s uplifted javelin in Joshua 8:26, Joshua’s intercession played a key role.
Third, if prayer is the focus, then it is not inappropriate to consider where the LORD is and from where his actions derive. Prayer is something the LORD receives in this heavenly temple and thus prayer must pass through the veil to reach him, and his actions must rend the curtain to come down to earth. In Joshua 10, this might look like “stones from heaven” (v. 11). Later, in 1 Kings 3–8, we will see that sun, moon, and stars are embroidered on the curtain in the temple. Here in Joshua 10, from Joshua’s perspective, it would look like asking the Lord to pass the sun and moon in order to help.
Put differently, if we read Joshua’s prayer in terms of Israel’s tabernacle and the cosmic temple, which were formed to resemble one another, and if we remember the personal assignment God gave to the sun and moon, to rule the day and night as two “governors” (Gen. 1:14–19), then we might see in these words a request for God to part the heavens and come down and fight for his people.
Fourth, the traditional reading of this passage is to see the sun’s light as continuing for the battle to continue, or for the sun’s light to never come up at the beginning of the day. There are linguistic and logical arguments on both sides for prolonged light and prolonged night. There are also figurative arguments, that Joshua is asking for a sign to encourage Israel or discourage the five kings who may have worshiped the sun and the moon. Anyone of these ideas could be true, but if we keep the prayer of Joshua and the warfare of God at the center, it could just as easily be a case where Joshua is asking God to take the place of his governors (the son and the moon) and to bring the victory.
Fifth, in defense of this heavenly temple interpretation, we might consider what Habakkuk 3 says. In a context where the sun and moon are described as “standing still in their place” and in a moment where the Lord’s is bringing active judgment on the earth, as in Joshua 10, we find these words:
You split the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high.
11 The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear.
12 You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger.
13 You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
In Habakkuk, the sun and moon stood still in response to the swiftness of the Lord’s aggression. Speaking poetically, without denying God’s activity in the world, these words give us a glimpse at how we might read Joshua 10. Conceivably, God heard the voice of Joshua and responded in haste. Cosmically, this might have included lengthening the day or extending the darkness of the night. Because sun and moon are servants of the LORD, either is possible. However, the point of the verse is not to answer scientific questions or protest scientific research; the point is to show the power of God in answering prayer and exercising swift judgment.
Sixth, the point of the cosmic disturbance is for the nation to avenge their enemies. Indeed, the point again focuses on the Lord’s action in war, not his actions in creation. The latter is in service to the former, but the former is what these verses teach us to consider first.
Seventh, the confirmation comes from the book of Jashar (which could be translated “the book of the righteous”). This is book “is a noncanonical book known only from here and 2 Samuel 1:18” From 2 Samuel 1:18–27 we can discern that “it included poetry and songs concerning heroic stories and major events” (Mathews, Joshua, 88). Indeed, from a comparison with 2 Samuel, it is suggestive that the citation, “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day,” may be poetic (i.e., figurative).
In other words, as Saul and Jonathan were described hyperbolically in the Book of Jashar, when it says they were “swifter than eagles, and stronger than lions” (2 Sam. 1:23) it is conceivable that the citation of the sun stopping in the heavens could also be metaphorical, and/or poetic of the events that took place. Certainly, there are places in Scripture (e.g., Exodus 14–15, Judges 4–5, even Genesis 1–2), where literal events are followed by poetical descriptions. Joshua 10 could include the same. This would retain the present and powerful work of God to answer prayer and render Israel victorious without causing the reader to question the cosmology behind the description of the sun and the moon.
Eighth, the value of this reading is that it retains the full inspiration and inerrancy of the passage without adding any scientific difficulties. Again, this is not denying the fact that God could prolong light and darkness; he has done that elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., in the ten plagues and on the cross). However, in both of those instances the text spoke of the light and darkness; here the focus is on celestial beings and, as everyone acknowledges, the interpretive challenges are manifold.
Thus, instead of forcing the text to fit our modern cosmology or denying the full weight of the text, a temple-oriented, prayer-centered, poetically-dependent reading seems to be most plausible.
7. The Uniqueness of Joshua’s Prayer . . . Now Made Ubiquitous
In Joshua 10:14, we hear that there has never been a day like this one “before or since.” However, what made this day unique? Was it the stoppage of the sun in the sky, or was it the answer to prayer? In the flow of verse 14, the answer is Joshua’s prayer, which resulted in Yahweh’s victory.
Importantly, the time stamp does not carry to this day (i.e. 2019 AD), it carries only to the time of the prophetic author of Joshua. Thus, the statement highlights the uniqueness of this prayer, that in the Old Testament is on par with only the likes of Moses, who spoke to God face-to-face (Num. 12:3) and David who was singularly called God’s son (2 Sam. 7:14). However, in the New Testament, Jesus has promised all who are united to him by faith has the same access that he has to the Father.
In other words, what was unique to Joshua is now commonplace to the Christian. Only what is ubiquitous for the Christian is by no means commonplace! That we can enter the presence of God and know that he hears us is an unfathomable gift. Joshua’s prayer moved heaven and earth and so does every prayer that is led by the Spirit, addressed to the Father, mediated by the Son.
One of the main points of this chapter is the power of prayer, and though it highlights the uniqueness of Joshua, in Christ this same power is granted to all who are in Christ. Considered from a different angle, Joshua’s prayer is prompted by the Gibeonite’s cry for help. Thus, typologically, their “prayer” to Joshua ascended to heaven because of their association with him.
So too, our prayers find their way to the Father through the Son, only we do not simply pray to Jesus for him to pray for us. We are invited to pray to the Father, because of all the Son has done. In this way, we see in shadowy form the kind prayer God grants his people in Joshua 10, but in truth what we have in Christ is greater!
8. More stones
When we come to the second half of the action in Joshua 10:16–27, we find multiple references to stones. In verse 18 large stones are placed in front of the cave to hold the five kings, and in verse 27 large stones are placed in front of the cave after the five kings have been executed, impaled on five trees (v. 26). Thus, we find in the conclusion of this chapter another instance of stones forming a memorial.
In fact, one of the key threads stringing Joshua 1–10 together is the use of stones. In seven different incidents, we see the place stones play in these chapters.
- Stones memorialize the Jordan River crossing (4:3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 20, 21)
- Israel picks up stones to put Achan to death (7:25)
- Stones are piled on Achan to remember his death (7:26)
- Stones are piled on the king of Ai (8:29)
- Joshua writes the law on uncut stones (8:31, 32)
- Yahweh throws down stones on the five kings of Canaan (10:11)
- Large stones are set against the mouth of cave where the five kings are captured (10:18) and buried (10:27)
From these events we can make a few observations.
- Stones are often associated with death, as Achan, Ai’s king, and the five kings are buried under stones.
- Stones are often used to render judgment, as in the stones that used to execute Achan and hailstones God throws down from heaven.
- There is reason to see stoning as a judgment of God mediated through human hands. In other words, stones do not just cause or memorialize death, they communicate the Lord’s place in executing judgment. This is clearly the case with the stones from heaven (10:11), but it is also true in any stoning from human hands.
- The stone memorials recall the judgment of God on various men. But even in the memorial of the Jordan River we can recall resurrection themes of this event.
All in all, the symbolism of stones and stoning in Joshua 10 highlights the work God is doing to bring judgment on the wicked Canaanites, even as he is providing salvation for his people, as they enter the land.
9. The Strange Work of God
For all this judgment and devotion to destruction, one might get the impression that God’s true delight is judging the wicked and destroying sinners. But this is anything but the case. And we know this not only because Scripture speaks often about God’s mercy and love, but from Isaiah 28’s commentary on the battle of Gibeon.
As with all the Prophets, Isaiah picks up events and places to recall what God has done in the past. With Gibeon in view, he calls attention to the fact that God will judge Canaan when he brings the the Babylonians to render judgment on his people. Only, this forthcoming judgment is called his “strange work.”
Truly, the Bible presents the mercy and love of God as God’s true character: God is love! Judgment, by contrast, is his strange work, especially when it is against his covenant people Israel. It is a work he does with zeal, but it is strange. As Isaiah 28:21 puts it, “For the Lord will rise up as on Mount Perazim; as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused; to do his deed—strange is his deed! and to work his work—alien is his work!”
From this commentary we can learn that God is a God of wrath and justice, but his judgment is always in order for the purpose of doing good to his people. Love and mercy are ends in themselves, but justice and wrath are always in service to some other end. Psalm 136 is a good reminder of his as it recalls God’s severity against Egypt for the sake of his love of Israel. And, of course, all of God’s actions are for the sake of his eternal praise and glory!
10. Under His Feet
Finally, we should see in Joshua 10 how God is putting all things under his feet. Indeed, another symbol that we must understand from Joshua 10 is the placement of the kings of Canaan under the feet of Israel. After the battle is done and Joshua returns to the kings, verses 22–24 read,
Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me from the cave.” 23 And they did so, and brought those five kings out to him from the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. 24 And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks
In these verses we get an image of “total humiliation and defeat, like a broken animal that submits to a plowman’s yoke (Deut 28:48)” (Mathews, Joshua, 98). However, we also find in the imagery something of the seed warfare that goes back to Genesis and runs all the way to Revelation.
In Genesis 3:15 the Lord says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” In this statement, we find an explanation for all the wars and rumors of war we find in the Bible and today. But even more, we find a particular warfare between the seed of the woman (believers like Abel) and the seed of the serpent (unbelievers like Cain).
Truly, there runs through the Bible a divide between God’s people and God’s enemies. This divide will not be resolved until the cross, where the seed of the woman (i.e., the son of God) is bruised by the seed of the serpent, which in turn crushes the head of Satan and his seed. But even then, this climactic event will not be fully experienced until the new creation. Until then, the enemies of God are being put under the feet of King Jesus, just as Psalm 110:1 describes.
In Joshua 10, we do not see the enemies of God under Jesus’s feet, but under Joshua’s (vv. 26–27 focus on Joshua). Thus, in this chapter the story of seed warfare advances, and incredibly like Psalm 110, whose warfare imagery comes from the lone mention of Melchizedek in Genesis 14, so too Joshua 10 harkens back to this important chapter in Israel’s history. By extension, we learn in Joshua 10 how God is working in the world and how he is putting his enemies under his feet. By means of raising up Joshua, he is defeating his enemies and establishing his people in their Promised Land.
In Joshua 10, we see this typologically. In Jesus, as the fulfillment of Psalm 110, we see this happening in real time. All God’s enemies are being put under his feet, until the day when there are no more (Heb. 10:13). This is our hope and this is why we continue to cry out to Jesus, trusting that he is our refuge and our protector. Truly, we see this foreshadowed in Joshua and soon we will see it face-to-face in the Kingdom of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds