I Believe in Miracles

             I.      Introduction

Let’s start our lesson today in the book of Joshua, book 10.  We actually have to start at Joshua 1 to find our place in history, so let’s have a little background.

Moses has led the Israelites out of the land of bondage with the Egyptians.  For several reasons, Moses was not able to lead them into the Promised Land before he died, and that task was given to the Lord’s servant and prophet Joshua.  Joshua believed the Lord when he said in Joshua 1:3,

I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses.

The land of Israel belonged to the Israelites, and the Lord will deliver that land if His people just follow the Lord’s commands. slide2

When we get to chapter 10, Joshua has led Israel against several cities such as Jericho where the walls of Jericho miraculously fell before the conquest.  Joshua has conquered a city called Ai and completely destroyed it, and the town of Gibeon has effectively surrendered.

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The Amorites who lived in the land were greatly alarmed at this, and 5 Amorite kings banded together, joined forces, and set out toward the town of Gibeon to take it for themselves.  Joshua set out toward Gibeon with his entire army to confront the Amorites.

One thing we need to know about Joshua is his complete trust and obedience in the Lord and His promises.  When Joshua first came to Israel as a spy, it’s documented in the book of Numbers.  Ten of the twelve spies reported that the land was full of milk and honey.  And giants.  Caleb and Joshua, though, said the Lord has given the land to the Israelites, so nothing should stop them, including the giants currently living there.

Now, years later, Joshua is still the fierce warrior and dedicated servant of the Lord.  When Joshua hears that the Amorites have gathered against him, the Lord tells Joshua (Joshua 10:8):

The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for I have handed them over to you. Not one of them will be able to stand against you.”

The Lord said it, so Joshua believed it.  It is done.  Joshua attacks and defeats them and the Amorites begin to run.  Joshua doesn’t even have to chase them, verse 11:

As they fled before Israel, the Lord threw large hailstones on them from the sky along the descent of Beth-horon all the way to Azekah, and they died. More of them died from the hail than the Israelites killed with the sword.

The Lord is not slow about keeping His promise to Joshua.  A hailstorm from the sky on top of your enemy is certainly miraculous, but then something even more miraculous happens.  Joshua needs more time to defeat the remaining Amorites, so he prays for the day to be longer.

          II.      God Answers a Big Prayer

Joshua 10, verse 12,

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

And the Lord answers in verse 13,

And the sun stood still
and the moon stopped
until the nation took vengeance on its enemies.

Have you ever doubted something you read in the bible?  Over the years from my early days as a casual Christian to later years as a disciple of Jesus’ teachings, my level of trust in the bible has certainly grown.  But I still stumble over passages and wonder if what I’ve read is true.  Today’s passage is one of those.

When preparing to study for today’s lesson, I wanted originally to gloss over this passage.  I could focus on God’s promise to Joshua and God answering that promise, and I think we’re still going to do that today.  But the longer I pondered this passage, I realized I couldn’t just skip over it.  The Holy Spirit was telling me I had something to learn, and I wasn’t going to learn it if I skipped over passages I found difficult.   If Joshua’s faith was rewarded for believing in the Lord, then my doubts over something the Lord says tells me I have a lot to learn from Joshua.

The bible makes some grand claims, and sometimes does so in spectacular ways.  God said, “Let there be light.”

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God placed Adam and Even in the Garden and Eve, who were then deceived by a serpent.

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God sent rain for 40 days and 40 nights and flooded the earth.

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A prophet was swallowed by a big fish and lived to preach in Nineveh.

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God caused the sun and the moon to stand still for an entire day.

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God rose His son from the dead.

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       III.      Can I Trust God?

When I was younger, I made a lot of excuses for God.  The Garden of Eden is a figurative place, it didn’t really exist, but the imagery was useful in teaching about our relationship with God.  Or 40 days and 40 nights flooded a large area, and even though the bible said it flooded the whole earth, it just seemed that way to the people at the time.

There are four miracles attributed in the book of Joshua, we’ve already talked about two of them, the hailstorm and the day that the sun stood still.   Earlier, Joshua parted the Jordan River, and on another occasional, Joshua blew the horn and the walls of Jericho fell.  How much do I trust the scripture?

Let’s start with what the bible says about the bible.  We just finished studying the books of Peter recently, and in 2 Peter 1:20-21, Peter says,

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The bible tells us that the bible wasn’t written by men.  Sure, men put the words on the paper, but it was the Holy Spirit telling them what to write.  We can also look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Your version may translate “God-breathed” as “inspired,” which is more or less accurate, but the original Greek work packs a lot more meaning into it.  The word is “theopneustos,” “θεόπνευστος,” and literally means “divinely breathed by God.”  God spoke His Word to us with purpose for us.

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And let’s not forget the beautiful opening words of the book of John 1:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

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God did not intend for us to misunderstand His Word.  It’s a mystery only in the sense we have not completed our lifelong study of His will.  The words themselves are both simple to understand and difficult to fully comprehend.  As Mark Twain once put it,

It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

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The biggest problem I see it that when I try to determine which parts are true and which parts are stories, then I am essentially deciding to be the arbiter, the judge, of which parts of the bible I want to believe.  And then it’s a short step to decide on my own which parts I want to obey.  In essence, I have appointed myself God.

Is that what God meant when He breathed His word for me to read?  What if I take the Word at its Word?

Certainly, there are parts that are figurative, but for the most part, they’re labeled clearly.  The parables of Jesus, for instance, almost always start with the words, “Then Jesus told a parable…”  But Jesus himself described the Bible as historical and authentic and referenced on separate occasions Moses, Noah, Sodom, Johah, and Lot’s wife.  And Jesus did not leave an opening for me to choose some parts of the bible to be accurate and allow me to disregard other parts.  In Matthew 5:18, even the individual letters in the word are to be believed:

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Jesus asks me to trust the Word, because He *is* the Word.  The bible claims to be both infallible and inerrant.  It’s God’s Word.  When I start to question what I read, then I am reminded than the Holy Spirit Himself is directing the words, and doubting what I read in the bible is doubting God.

The understanding and trust of God’s word grows over our lifetime.  We begin our earthly lives as enemies of God, and this is how we understand God’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18,

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

And we spend our entire lives, practicing to be the very perfection of Christ, trying to live up to these words in Proverbs 3:5-6,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

In other words, we begin thinking everything we read is foolishness, and end with thinking everything we read is wisdom.

Which makes sense to me.  So I made a decision. When I have been given a choice between trusting God’s Word the way it is written versus trusting my own interpretation, then I will trust in the Word.  I will doubt my doubts.  I will believe in Him.

So back in Joshua 10, is it so hard to believe that God made the sun stand still?  Let’s look at this verse again,

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
And the sun stood still
and the moon stopped
until the nation took vengeance on its enemies.

Maybe I misread it, or it’s not translated right.  What does “stood still” mean?  The Hebrew word is “amad” “עָמַד” and means, “to stand, to cease, to continue, to dwell, to endure, to establish, to be, to raise up, to remain, to set forth, to wait.”  Ok, I don’t see a lot of wriggle room there.  The sun stood still.

I read lots of commentaries on this, from perspectives ranging from very liberal to very conservative.  Critics and liberal theists insist that the event was impossible.  Couldn’t happen so it didn’t happen.  And by the way, since you can’t trust this story, you can’t trust the rest of scripture either.

One explanation is that it’s figurative, a story.  For instance, maybe the Lord helped Israel win so decisively in such a short time that it felt like the day was longer.  But this breaks one of the basic rules of translations of the bible, in that one should translated literally until proven figuratively.  Joshua 10 is written as an historical narrative, not like a fable.  The text is simple, “the sun stood still and the moon stopped.

Or maybe there was some sort of natural explanation.  Some proposed that the planet Mars passed so close to the planet Earth that it tilted on its axis, making the sun hang in the sky longer than normal.  Not a whole lot of evidence for this one, the earth has never tilted on its axis like that and who knows what sort of earthquakes or tsunamis we’d see.

Or maybe it was just a local miracle.  Maybe the sun’s rays refracted off the moon so miraculously that the night appeared as bright as day.  Or maybe it was the earth that stopped spinning and then started back up.  The trouble with these explanations is that you’re basically replacing one miracle with another, and the basic problem skeptics have is that it’s a miracle in the first place.  That’s what they’re trying to eliminate.

Or we take the scripture at face value.  The simplest explanation.  The sun stopped, the moon stopped.  Indeed, the entire universe may have stopped in its tracks for a day, with all relative positions and motions simply suspended.  A miracle.  Joshua prayed for assistance to do the Lord’s will, and the Lord answered.

Why is it so hard to believe in miracles?  If we are going to believe God created the entire universe by speaking it into existence, well, let’s look at Psalm 33:8-9 –

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

An interesting thing about this passage is that other cultures record this same day.  In pagan culture, the ancient Greeks record in their Orphic hymns that the god-man arrested the course of the sun and the moon.  In Hindu culture in India, legend says that the sun stood still to hear the cries of the prophet when Crishna died.  In Buddhist culture, a holy Buddhist named Matanga prevented the sun at his command from rising.  The ancient Incas and Aztecs of Mexico also have a legend, as well as a Babylonian and a Persian legend.  China says that when Emperor Yeo died, the sun stood still.  Herodotus says Egyptian priests showed him their temple records with a strange account of a day that was twice as long as the natural length.  And Harry Rimmer in 1940 wrote that the Polynesians also have in their history of a day that the sun stood still.

The entire universe, the sun, the moon, and the earth are a miracle that exist because God says so.  And a God that can do that can do anything.  He can suspend the very rules He created.  I choose to doubt my doubts, the bible says what it says.  God spoke the world into existence and for that particular purpose on that particular day, God paused the Universe so that Joshua would win the battle.

          IV.      God Makes a New Promise

If we are going to fully understand God’s word, then we need to learn to accept God’s Word like Joshua.  Accepting some of the Word is a good start – it opens up even more of the Word.  The Word itself says so.  In Matthew 13:11-13, the disciples of Jesus ask Him why He speaks in parables.  Jesus says that one must understand a little of the scriptures before you can understand a lot.  So what’s with all the stories, Jesus?

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Jesus says if you want to understand the entirety of scriptures, start by understand what you already know, and more of the Word will be revealed to you.

             V.      God Fulfills a New Promise

Once we accept that the Lord performs miracles to serve His will, then it becomes much easier to accept that God has been at work throughout the human history and He is not finished with us yet.  In Isaiah 7:14, God describes in advance a miracle He is going to provide.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Two thousand years ago, a virgin conceived and gave birth to a son.  A miracle.

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The magi from the east came to Jesus, bearing gifts, by following a star.  A miracle.

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Jesus lived and died in accordance to prophecy, taking away the sins of the world.  A miracle.

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Today, I am assured of a place in heaven because I have placed my trust in Jesus and I believe.  A miracle.

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          VI.      Conclusion

Joshua believed the word given to Him, that the promised land belonged to Israel.  He acted with faith that the Lord’s word was infallible and inerrant, and the Lord provided a miracle so that Joshua would win the Lord’s battle.

We can believe the word given to us, that we too will win the battle and will one day dwell in the promised land.  And that is the true meaning of Christmas, the miracle of Christ the Savior.  A miracle we can believe it.

Isaiah 9:6 –

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government will be upon his shoulders.

And his name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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I believe in miracles.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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