[CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD AUDIO] …sermon starts at the 3:30 mark
Back in the summer of 2005, after my freshmen year at Auburn University, I signed up with Alabama Rural Ministry, or ARM, as a construction site coordinator. ARM hosts work teams, which were usually youth groups, during the summer. These teams stay for a week at one of ARM’s sites in rural Alabama. Poverty is widespread there. Each team works on home repair projects along with running a children’s day-camp. I worked at ARM’s site in Sumter County, which is based in Livingston, AL – a small town about 10 miles from where I grew up. Sumter County was my home and I thought that I knew it pretty well. Unlike the other ARM staff members, I knew all the shortcuts, the good places to go, and some of the people in the community. I was comfortable, connected, and secure; this place and these people were my home. However, little did I know, everything I knew and loved about my home was going to change in a big way over that summer. It turns out there were some roads in Sumter County that I had never traveled, some houses that I had never visited, and some hands I never dreamed of shaking. Like many communities – rural and urban, in the Northeast and in the Deep South, Sumter County is a very much divided place. It is crossed by clearly drawn lines – border walls if you will, much like the one shown in the slides – that tear it apart. I had lived my entire life there and was well aware of these border walls, but I had never imagined what would happen if I dared to cross them. But this was exactly what my service with ARM called me to do: to respond to the very practical needs of others who lived on the wrong sides of the many borders. When I did, I was surprised, amazed even, to find God waiting for me on the other side; already at work and inviting me to join. I can now say with certainty that, after crossing borders with ARM, my home and my heart have never felt the same.
In our text this morning, Joshua and the Israelites have a similar experience. They were in the midst of settling into their new home in the Promised Land. This was the place God had given them to be comfortable, connected, and secure. Under Joshua’s lead, they had just succeeded in winning two major victories over the cities of Jericho and Ai. They were striving to display a devotion to Yahweh according to the covenant they had renewed before crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land. This devotion to Yahweh was laid out in the book of Deuteronomy and it had three parts: keep the commandments, take the land, and eradicate the foreigners. Pretty simple right? Not really. After an interesting encounter with a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab that seemed to bend the rules, followed by an act of blatant disobedience to God’s commands by an Israelite named Achan, life in the Promised Land really gets complicated when the Gibeonites show up at Joshua’s door.
These people were inhabitants of the Promised Land and were therefore supposed to be destroyed by Israel. However, the Gibeonites easily tricked Israel into signing a forbidden peace treaty with them. When Israel discovered their ruse, they were quite upset but couldn’t break the treaty, so they made them servants. By coming to peace with the Gibeonites, Israel had screwed up in every way possible: they broke God’s c
ommand, didn’t take the Gibeonites land, and didn’t eradicate the Gibeonites. Major, major oops.
Then we come to the story told in our text, Joshua 10:1-15. Listen as I read.
When King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it, 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 became greatly frightened, because Gibeon was a large city, like one of the royal cities, and was larger than Ai, and all its men were warriors. So King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem sent a message to King Hoham of Hebron, to King Piram of Jarmuth, to King Japhia of Lachish, and to King Debir of Eglon, saying, ‘Come up and help me, and let us attack Gibeon; for it has made peace with Joshua and with the Israelites.’ 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.
And the Gibeonites sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, ‘Do not abandon your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us; for all the kings of the Amorites who live in the hill country are gathered against us.’ So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the fighting force with him, all the mighty warriors. The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear them, for I have handed them over to you; not one 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 inflicted a great slaughter on them at Gibeon, chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon, and struck them down as far as Azekah and Makkedah. As they fled before Israel, while they were going down the slope of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down huge stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the Israelites killed with the sword.
On the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord; 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 mid-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 a human voice; for the Lord fought for Israel.
Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.
The Gibeonites, Israel’s illegitimate, obnoxious neighbors, are under attack by a frightening alliance of Amorite kings. They cry out desperately for Joshua’s help. Listen in verse 6: “‘Do not abandon your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us.’” Now, Joshua’s leadership had been pretty inconsistent up to this point. Victories had been won but not without some major blunders. So, what is Joshua’s response? Verse 7: “So, Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the fighting force with him, all the mighty warriors.” He takes off. All the fighting force of Israel marches through the night to rescue Gibeon. But that’s not all: Yahweh is there too and Yahweh is revealed in an awesome, unprecedented way. Immediately following Joshua’s bold response, Yahweh offers assurance. Then, God throws the Amorites into a panic and rains down large stones in order to secure Israelite victory. If that weren’t enough, we find out that Yahweh – Creator, Almighty, El Shaddai – actually hears Joshua and responds obediently to his command. Listen to the astonishment in verse 14: “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice, for the Lord fought for Israel.” Wow.
So, looking over this story of how Joshua heard the Gibeonites’ plea and went to their rescue only to be amazed by Yahweh’s incredible response, here’s what I’d like us to consider: God responds to us when we respond to our Gibeonites.
It sounds simple enough on the surface, but for this story to come alive in us there are a few questions we should explore: who are our Gibeonites? What does our response to them look like? And, finally, where is God in all of this?
First, who are our Gibeonites? Here’s my definition: Gibeonites are all the people on the wrong sides of our many border walls – just like the families I came to know and serve in Sumter County. The Gibeonites were on the “wrong side” of all three of Israel’s covenantal border walls: they didn’t keep God’s commands, they were living on Israel’s Promised Land, and they were not God’s chosen people. In addition to all of that, they lied to Israel and made them look pretty dumb. Then, they get attacked and start whining. Sure seems like it would have been easy for Joshua to ignore them right? After all, they deserved some punishment. They had brought this attack on themselves by seeking peace with Israel. The text even says that the Amorite king of Jerusalem was scared of Gibeon because of its size and number of warriors, so why can’t they deal with this attack themselves? They’re so frustrating. Gibeonites: illegitimate, obnoxious people who deserve what’s coming to them, on the wrong side in every way. Any modern day “Gibeonites” coming to mind for you?
Well, I’ve got one that I’d like you to meet. His name is JB Lake, or just Mr. JB. I met him during the summer that I served with ARM. When we met, Mr. JB was in his mid-fifties and lived alone in an old, dilapidated single-wide mobile home. Mr. JB is African-American and has schizophrenia. He’s also a writer, with a degree, and loves to write poetry. He lives alone because his family has all but abandoned him. His income was about $600 a month in 2005, all from federal assistance. He called ARM’s office from the Sumter County Mental Health clinic. He said his home needed repairs. I asked for clarification: “Well, is it your ceilings, floors, walls, windows, bathroom…” His answer: “Yeah. All of that.” My staff partner and I visited his home a few days later and I’ll never forget it. You could barely see his driveway from the road and we parked on the street because we weren’t sure if we could drive up to the house; the weeds were chest high. This home was literally falling apart. He had closed off half of it because the roof leaked so badly. There were huge holes in the walls, rotten floors, broken windows, filth, smell, sweltering heat, no electricity, no running water, and no bed. He slept on the lightly covered frame of a couch and cooked canned food on a single gas burner. We stood inside his home and just stared, completely overwhelmed. I had seen poverty before, but this was not Central America – this was my home. Rather, this was my home on the other side, the wrong side, of several borders: race, socio-economic status, educational attainment, social compatibility, age, and even morality (there were big piles of beer cans and quite a few “adult” publications lying around his house). Meet my Gibeonite: Mr. JB Lake; a man who inconveniently shattered the sense of comfort, connectedness, and security that I cherished in my home.
Who are the Gibeonites in our lives today? They are the neighbors, the family members, the co-workers, the community group members, and the Kingdom Partners that, if given a choice, we would have chosen otherwise. They’re the ones we ignore because acknowledging their existence challenges us, it makes us uncomfortable, and it reveals our own pride and selfishness. They are the “outsiders.” They may even look like us, talk like us, and live like us, but, for whatever reason, we’ve built border walls to keep them away. Maybe it’s because they eat at Chickfila, or refuse to eat at Chickfila. Maybe they’re too conservative, or too liberal; maybe they’re the 1% or the 99%; maybe they’re not believers, or maybe they have “bad theology.” Our border walls come in all shapes and sizes; we create new reasons to divide ourselves all the time. In the end, the Gibeonites always live on the wrong side, and they always need us, God’s chosen Israelites, to bail them out of something; always disrupting our calm, interrupting our peace, and challenging our assumptions. And after all, we’re just trying to be good Israelites – it’s hard enough without all these distractions… do you know any Gibeonites today?
So, what does our response to these Gibeonites look like? Looking back at our text, we see that Joshua’s response was bold, decisive, and simple: rescue them, save them, and do not abandon them. In other words, cross the border walls and go to the “outsiders” and fight to secure their place as “insiders.” Maybe these people did trick or mistreat you, maybe they could handle this situation themselves, and maybe you didn’t choose to have them as your neighbors – none of that matters now because you have a relationship with these Gibeonites. Might as well forget about how God had commanded you to stay away from these people in Deuteronomy; the situation has changed and your response should change with it. Joshua wasted no time; he didn’t even stop to pray about it. He just took off toward Gibeon to save his illegitimate, not-chosen neighbors. When he acted, he committed Israel’s full fighting force to the task. With his bold response, Joshua secured a place for Gibeon within Israel’s Promised Land. The outsiders would become insiders.
Just in case you think this is a one-off event, we should briefly look back at two other events in Joshua that we’ve already mentioned. The first major event in Joshua is the battle of Jericho. You’ve probably heard the story. It begins with Israel sending spies into Jericho to scout out the city. Once inside, they meet Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute. She feared Yahweh and believed that the land had indeed been given to Israel so she hid the Israelite spies and helped them escape. She and her family were spared when Jericho’s walls came-a-tumbling-down. An outsider, a woman – a prostitute even – became an insider. (You might recall that Rahab shows up in a very important genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew – you can look that up when you get home). After Jericho, Joshua marches straight into battle against the city of Ai but suffers a crushing defeat. What happened? Turned out an Israelite named Achan had disobeyed God by stealing some of Jericho’s forbidden goods and had kept them for himself. The defeat was God’s punishment on Israel. Achan and his family were stoned when his sin was found out. In this case, an Israelite insider suffers the fate of a Canaanite outsider. So, when we get to the story of the Gibeonites the text has already presented two encounters that reveal some distressing identity issues. Canaanites were being let in and Israelites were being kicked out. This theme of uncertain identity reaches its pinnacle in the Gibeonite story. All the border walls that Israel thought they could count on to keep themselves separate from the Canaanites, and therefore devoted to Yahweh, had been crossed. What does this mean for us?
It means that we are not called to be border patrol agents because the border walls we setup to divide ourselves are not as reliable as we think. In fact, if we are honest, we have to admit that these walls not only keep us from others – they divide our own hearts too. The Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, reflecting back on his experience of the Russian Gulag, said it best: “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” We’re all human, all fallen, and all made in God’s image. All of us, even God’s chosen Israelites, have a little Gibeonite mixed in. When we setup border walls, we rarely see how we’re actually sectioning off the pieces of ourselves that we don’t like, that we refuse to bring to the light. Border walls keep us from fellowship with others; they keep us from being whole; and ultimately, they keep us from God. I would suggest to you that there is scarce need for border patrol agents in God’s Kingdom.
Thinking back to my Gibeonite, Mr. JB Lake, I can remember several trips across the borders. Our first task was to completely re-roof his house and then to restore electricity and water. We got him a bed and fixed some of the holes in his floors, walls, and ceilings. Every week ARM hosted a dinner with the work team and invited all the families we had worked with that week. Mr. JB was a frequent companion at these meals. Of course, he didn’t own a vehicle so he needed a ride. Those trips back and forth to Mr. JB’s house, just he and I, were quite simply transformational. A minor hurricane hit Alabama that summer and we took Mr. JB to the local Red Cross shelter to spend the night. I remember leaving and being so worried about him there. I regret not staying with him instead of going back to my parent’s house with the rest of the staff. The shelter called promptly the next morning after the storm had passed for me to come get a very restless Mr. JB. We had some “complications” with one work team, a large group from Orlando, FL, with lots of teenage girls, when one of the girls discovered a pornographic cartoon. Of course, there were “concerns” after that incident. Getting along with Gibeonites, inviting them into your life and becoming a part of theirs, is not always pretty. It’s hard work and it takes time. The border walls will need to be continually crossed, and eventually, they cease to exist.
Our response to Gibeonites is simple: we cross borders to secure their place in our lives. The border walls are quite useless and there is really no point in patrolling them. As we also see from our text, our real enemies – the Amorite kings – will not be hard to detect. Evil will be exposed by its actions. Yes, there are some people that are best kept at arm’s length, if not farther, but we must always humbly examine ourselves and our reasons for this separation to ensure that we’re not ignoring the cries of Gibeonites. We’ll sometimes need help from our faith community to discern between friendly Gibeonites and violent Amorite kings, but this is not the core of our mission. We are not border patrol agents. When we hear the cries of our Gibeonites, which assumes we have taken the time to listen, our response is to cross the border walls to secure a place for the outsiders among the insiders. In a word: it’s hospitality.
Finally, where is God in all of our border crossing adventures? Looking back to the text, we can be encouraged by God’s faithful and active presence on the wrong sides of our border walls. It is interesting to note that Yahweh is silent throughout the entire Gibeonite debacle in Joshua 9 and into our text in Joshua 10. Notice when Yahweh decides to chime in; it’s immediately after Joshua sets out to rescue Gibeon. What does Yahweh say? Remember, this Gibeonite peace treaty was a MAJOR TRANSGRESSION of Israel’s mandate from Deuteronomy. Also, remember that God had already punished Israel once for Achan’s disobedience with a defeat at Ai. Surely, God has another defeat in store to punish Israel for making peace with these forbidden people. With all this in mind, Yahweh’s response in verse 8 is even more surprising: “Do not fear them [the Amorite kings] for I have given them into your hands.” Apparently, God is very much ok with Joshua’s decision. If there was any doubt of Yahweh’s approval, we see Yahweh kicking butt and taking names with these Amorites. Then, in a startling, completely unprecedented, blow your mind kind of event, Yahweh comes under Joshua’s command. Yes, this sounds heretical. I’m sorry – this is the Old Testament – it gets weird sometimes. Just listen to verse 14: “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice, for the Lord fought for Israel.” Saying that God “showed up” on the other side of the border wall would be quite an understatement. The sun was stopped in its tracks. The moon stood still. Stones rained down from the skies. Yes, I think God may have been in the area. We can’t forget the context for this incredible, nearly ridiculous, divine response: Joshua and Israel were crossing their covenant border walls to rescue Gibeon and ensure their place in Israel. Yahweh was there and no one could deny it.
Mr. JB, my Gibeonite, had lived in Bellamy, AL, my entire life. I had driven past the road to his house countless times before, but I had never thought to drive down it, much less to get to know someone who lived there. When I did, when I crossed those borders, everything changed. Going to Mr. JB’s house, I kind of felt like Moses walking up to the burning bush, it was like I was standing on holy ground. I don’t think I’m being ridiculous with this: crossing our border walls and catching a glimpse of God’s image in the people we would least expect is nothing less than a sacred event. Like Moses, we’ll probably be a little scared. Honestly, it scares me even now to go back to Mr. JB’s house. He still lives in Bellamy, and, while I have been home plenty of times over the years, I haven’t made the effort to see him. It’s not easy. His house has improved, but it is probably still in need of significant repair. He’s still just as poor, and probably just as lonely. But, I can’t ignore him. I’ve crossed the border and I found God waiting for me on the other side. What happened to me there explains why I’m even standing here today – training for full-time ministry at Palmer Seminary and Eastern University.
God is at work on the other side of our border walls. The Kingdom of God is waiting for us there. Why ignore it? When we ignore our Gibeonites, we ignore God, and we ignore ourselves. But how can we know, for sure, that God will be there on the other side? Our faith in Jesus as the Son of God confirms it. We know God will be there because, well, if we have faith in the New Testament, we can say with certainty that God IS ALREADY THERE. Just think: Jesus crossed the biggest border wall imaginable: “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” In the person of Jesus, this border crossing between divine and human was held in perfect tension. Remember also the stories of Jesus’s life: the woman at the well, the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes. Jesus’ life was FULL of crossing supposedly sacred borders. His death was no different. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus not only crossed the border walls on our behalf – he tore them to the ground. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus crossed the border between death and life, so that we might inherit the Kingdom of God. The Spirit of Christ takes up this same work. In the book of Acts, the Spirit falls on the Jewish disciples AND the Gentile believers – that border crossing really threw the early church for a loop. In his letter to the church at Colossae, the Apostle Paul summed up this new reality perfectly: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” Border crossing is an essential mark, the founding mark, of the abundant life we receive in Christ. Enemies become friends. Relationships are restored. The new creation comes to life and, like little children we enter and receive the Kingdom.
As we look back on this story, we can see that God responds to us when we respond to OUR Gibeonites. The Gibeonites are all the people on the wrong side of our border walls. They are the seemingly illegitimate people who get under our skin and call us to make good on all the commitments we’d like to ignore. Our response to Gibeonites will involve crossing borders to ensure a place where outsiders can become insiders. When we, like Joshua, set out boldly across these borders, we can know that God is already at work on the other side and is waiting, hoping, desiring for us to join in the Kingdom mission.
At Six:Eight, we are all about crossing borders. This fall our community groups will restart in partnership with those ‘out there’, our community partners. Too often, our church walls have kept us insulated from the world. But here we have a regular practice of scaling these walls and building bridges over our church borders into the lives of those in our local community. As we go to them and love them where they are, guess what? We have found that God is already there, always present with us. The Spirit is at work in Ardmore and Havertown, going before us, out over these church walls, preparing this community for the gospel message which falls from our lips, hands and feet. As followers of Christ at Six:Eight, we desire to join the Spirit’s work on the other side of all our borders, to live like Jesus in the midst of those we normally would not have lived among, and to manifest Christ to them in very real ways! Cassie and I along the Shalom in the Home community group have been doing this for a while now with Linwood Park. We cross borders by pulling weeds, planting flowers, showing movies, and playing games. Recently, we were invited to the wedding of the couple that oversees the Park. Border walls are coming down; now it’s time go out and cross these borders in love!
I wonder: who are your Gibeonites? You could take some time this week to reflect and make a list. Maybe you already know for sure or have some people in mind. How will you cross those borders? Or maybe you’ve tried to reach out before and were rejected or got scared. Try again. Be persistent. Reach out to your faith community for encouragement, prayer, and new ideas. You can do that now even – our prayer team would love to pray with you about a Gibeonite you are trying to reach. As you go about this work, remember that God is already there waiting for you. As we respond to our Gibeonites, God stands ready and able to stop the sun and moon on our behalf – Gibeonites included. Amen.
 Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956, 17.
 1 Corinthians 15:55-57