When God Holds His Breath

I recently preached on Joshua 11. Tucked into the last chapter detailing the violent warfare in Joshua, is an obscure couple of verses describing God’s sovereignty.  In describing why the Canaanite armies fought against Joshua, the Bible says:

18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.  Joshua 11:18-20

Without doubt, the passage is disturbing.  If it isn’t, we either don’t understand what is said or we don’t believe it.  Scripture teaches time and time again, that God is Sovereign, even over the sinful choices of men they willingly make.  Men are responsible for and make choices according to their sinful desires that result from their sinful nature which came through their Adam back in the garden.  God hardened their hearts, but God did not make hardAfter the fall, there was no such thing as a SOFT heart. Because of sin, ALL MEN resist God.  Scripture speaks to the condition of sinful men, describing them as dead, hostile toward God, refusing to seek God, knowing the truth and yet exchanging it for a lie.  The Bible uses the heart as a metaphor for the core of who we are intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.  It is the control center of our lives.  Jesus says in Matthew 15.19 19 … out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  The prophet Jeremiah (17.9) says that the 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  In other words, man’s heart is already HARD—and the prophet Ezekiel describes it as a STONE.  Scripture teaches that God makes the HARD Canaanite heart HARDER—he makes their hearts  “heavy” and increases their resistance to God. After I preached the sermon, a friend in our church asked a great question I thought I’d share.  He asked, “What do you think is the mechanism for hardening?  How does it work?” (I am probably screwing it up).  We talked a while about the possibilities as the Bible leaves this somewhat of a mystery.  But my friend has a great image that I thought I’d share:

He suggested that the world was like ONE BIG FREEZER.  It wasn’t always cold, mind you, at one time (before the fall) it was perfect temperature.  Everything inside the now freezer stayed fresh and looked good.  But when sin entered the world, things grew cold.  So cold that, if left alone completely, it would freeze and be destroyed completely (but not before growing weird-looking icicles all over and tasking like cardboard).  By God’s grace (common grace that is), God “breathed” on the contents of the freezer and it was able to maintain a warmth that preserved it.  It didn’t get HARD. Yet, there were a few pieces of whatever, that God decided he wanted to hard and, withhold is grace from or not show mercy to (however you want to look at it).  It was for these items in the freezer that God, held his breath.  The warmth of God’s grace did not reach the _________ and, as a result, it hardened.

Images like this are helpful, but may not be all together powerful enough to convince someone to believe the passage means what it plainly says.   Instead of dismissing this as the Old Testament version of God or, twisting what it clearly says to make it easier to swallow, perhaps we need to accept that God is bigger than the small box we had him in.


Author: Sam Ford

Sam Ford is a preacher, planter, and pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He is currently pastoring Restoration Road Church in Snohomish, WA.

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