All these kings came out to fight. Their combined armies formed a vast horde. And with all their horses and chariots, they covered the landscape like the sand on the seashore. The kings joined forces and established their camp around the water near Merom to fight against Israel. Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them. By this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over to Israel…. As the LORD had commanded His servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua. And Joshua did as he was told, carefully obeying all the commands that the LORD had given to Moses. (Joshua 11:4-6, 15 NLT) The kings of the northern cities had seen all that had gone on before. They had seen the destruction of Jericho and Ai after those kings had foolishly tried to withstand the Israelites on their own. They had seen the five kings from the south who had joined forces to no avail. But again, instead of seeking peace, surrendering to the Israelites, and submitting to their God, they hardened their hearts and, filled with selfish ambition and pride, chose to fight the Israelites. As Joshua led the Israelites to turn their attention to the north, the northern kings determined that their one chance of survival was for all of the armies of the north to come together.
i heard the phrase recently that “your enemy’s enemy is your friend”. i don’t know if that is always true, but it most definitely was in this case. The Canaanite tribes of the north were anything but friends, but their common fear of the Israelites drew them together in a common bond. All the kings came out to fight. And they selected the site of the battle, and established themselves with the high ground advantage. As they assembled their combined forces near Merom, they “formed a vast horde. And with all their horses and chariots, they covered the landscape like the sand on the seashore.” It is estimated that this northern Canaanite army consisted of 300,000 foot soldiers, 10,000 on horseback, and 20,000 chariots. Militarily they had a great advantage over the Israelites, positionally and strength-wise, since the latter never brought horses or chariots onto the field of battle. If we were filming a movie, this would be the climactic battle scene, and the protagonists would look grossly outmatched.
Please do not lose sight of the fact that from a human perspective the situation looked bleak for the Israelites. Yes, we know that God was for them – but we also have benefit of looking at this situation from after the fact. The situation looked bleak – even for a man of courage and faith like Joshua. There is a reason that the LORD said to him “Do not be afraid of them. By this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over to Israel….”Joshua needed that encouragement.
Let’s you and i step to the sidelines for a moment. You may be in the midst of a situation right now where your circumstances are bleak, and you feel pretty overwhelmed – and you’re discouraged. (That’s exactly how Joshua felt – and he felt responsible for the lives of two million people under his leadership.) Don’t beat yourself up if you are feeling discouraged. That doesn’t make you less of a Christian, or less of a leader. The issue is what you do with that discouragement. You can either allow it to defeat you, or you can take it to the Lord and turn it over to Him. Allow Him to give you a fresh word of encouragement. How many times had the LORD told Joshua to have courage and not be discouraged? (Deuteronomy 31:7, Deuteronomy 31:23, Joshua 1:6, Joshua 1:9, Joshua 1:18, Joshua 8:1 – and that’s just a few!) And as much as Joshua had heard those words from God in the past, and seen God deliver the Israelites by His miraculous hand, he still needed to hear it again. And so do we! Allow the LORD to say to you, “Do not be afraid.” “‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” (Jer 32:17 NKJ) And His arm has not grown weak! And remember, the circumstances did not immediately change when God told Joshua to not be afraid, and more than likely, neither will yours. And they may not change tomorrow like they did for Joshua and the Israelites. But trust Him at His word… and in His time… and in His way. And by the way, write His word down and read it over and over and over again. Recite it, rehearse it, remember it… and hold onto it… until you see it come to fruition!
i think it is worthy to note the progression of the opposition that the Israelites encountered in Canaan. First Jericho, where there was no attack from the enemy, just towering walls. Then Ai, a small city – but though they were aggressive they were greatly outmatched by the Israelites. Next came the five kings of the south – a larger force, but handily defeated again by the LORD. And now they face this vast horde. i am grateful that our LORD often allows us to grow in our trust and faith in Him through similar progressions, and most often, by His grace, does not start us out facing “the horde”. But i am also grateful that should He choose to do so, He promises to give us grace that is sufficient.
Lastly, the Israelites were faithful to leave nothing undone. Joshua led them to follow the LORD’s instruction completely, sparing no detail. A dear friend and brother of mine named Bryan used to constantly say, “I must clean my plate before I can expect the LORD to give me anything else. I can’t leave even the crumbs.” He knew that before the LORD gave him his next assignment, he needed to be faithful to complete every detail of his current assignment.
i find that too often in our Christian walk, we are content to just get by with the minimum – often leaving crumbs – and too often “big chunks” undone. But somehow at the same time we expect God to bless us to the maximum. And there is no question, we cannot outgive God anymore than we can earn His blessing. That’s what He calls “grace”. But too often, i fear, we use “grace” as our justification to be slackers and disobedient to His commands – which is not what “grace” is for. Reading through the Old Testament kings, we often read that king so-and-so did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, BUT he did not do all that the LORD had instructed him to do. (King Amaziah in 2 Kings 14:3 is just one example.) And as a result, we miss out on the fullness of the blessing of what God desires to accomplish in and through our lives. In essence He has established His best (His perfect will), but by our choice – and our lack of obedience – we settle for less than His best (His permissive will).
At Merom, the Israelites left nothing undone – and they experienced victory – and the fullness of God’s blessing – by His grace.
May God find us to be faithful – to leave nothing undone that He has commanded us to do. May He find that we have been faithful to “clean our plates”.