There has never been a day like it before or since,
a day when the Lord listened to a man.
Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!
(Joshua 10:14 NIV)
This amazing comment concludes the story of the time when God caused the sun to stand still over Gibeon so Joshua and the Israelites could defeat the kings who had come against Israel’s new ally. You can read the story for yourself in Joshua 10.
The notion that God is a mighty warrior is found throughout the Bible. So we are not surprise to find that God fought for Israel. However, that language is more subversive than we might see at first. Shouldn’t Israel be fighting for God? After all, who is God here? This is bit like saying that God works for us? Yet the Bible reveals a God who serves his people; what is a strange God, indeed.
The background of this particular story involves a covenant or treaty between ancient nations. The more powerful nation would conquer the weaker. Then the overlord would form a covenant (or treaty) with the vassal nation. The covenant would stipulate the responsibilities of both nations: on the one hand the powerful nation would promise to protect the weaker nation. In exchange, the weaker nation would pledge their allegiance to the conquering nation, which often include providing solders, and tribute. In fact, in this very story, Israel is fulfilling its covenant responsibilities to their new ally, Gibeon.
The Bible frames Israel’s relationship to God in the language of covenant or international treaty. Actually, the book of Deuteronomy looks very much like one of these ancient covenant.
Yet, there is more than mere covenant responsibility here. There is relationship. God seeks a relationship with his people. Notice how t his comes out in the text cited above. There had never been a day “when the Lord listened to a man,” says the narrator of Joshua. Did you hear that: when the Lord listened to a man. Now who is working for whom?
Our Bible is full of stories where this kind of give-and-take relationship is what God seeks and acts out. For example, once God shared with Abraham his intent for the wicked cities Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham interceded for them and God agreed to spare the cities if there should be ten righteous people living within them. Read about this in Genesis 18.
Again, but later, Moses intercedes for the people of Israel after they exchanged their loyalty to God to follow a golden calf. God wanted to wipe out the people and to start over with Moses and his descendants. Moses argued against God and pleaded for the people. Then, the Bible relates,
“Then the Lord relented (changed his mind?) and did not bring on the people the disaster he had threatened”(Exodus 32:14).
Yet later Moses seeks a face-to-face encounter with God.. Yet God concedes,
“I will do the very thing you asked …” (Exodus 33:17).
God is willing to go part of the way on this request
There are many other stories illustrating this give-and-take relationship that people can have with God. It works something like this: God acts, we respond, God responds, we act, and so on.
If this is how God really is, then, it would seem, that our lives with him ought always be filled with adventure and new surprises around every corner. Not only should we take God seriously, it appears from Scripture, that God takes us seriously as well. What we do counts!