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.
In this chapter, we see the end of the major battles between the Hebrews and the inhabitants of the land. God had commanded that his people drive out of the Promised Land all who lived there. And, over the past couple of chapters, we have seen that God miraculously worked with his people to bring about these victories.
Here, we see that all of the kings of the land eventually came out against the Israelites for battle. Not one of them thought to make peace with Israel except for the leaders of the Gibeonites who tricked the leaders of Israel in Joshua 9.
What stands out to me, however, is the fact that God is completely clear in this passage that the reason that all the kings wanted to war with Israel was because God hardened their hearts to lead them to do so. God, by his sovereign power and for his perfect and holy purposes drew these leaders of cities to war. God moved their hearts to do the things that God had planned for them to do, and God accomplished his plan.
It is, in my mind, significant that we see this clear depiction of God’s sovereignty at work. This is a passage that is more about the history of what has been done than it is about the theology of man’s free will or God’s sovereignty. Yet, in the very way that the Bible tells us the history of Israel, we see that God is sovereign over his creation, and that sovereignty includes the hearts of men.
Did God lead the kings to do something they did not want to do? Nothing in the text says that to us. There is no indication of a set of men who were, deep down, wanting to run away or make peace. There is nothing to indicate that they wanted to avoid a fight but just had an overwhelming desire to battle that they could not control. No, there is simply the statement that God hardened their hearts.
What, then, did God do? God worked in these men his will by strengthening or perhaps changing their desires. He can do that, you know. Were they all already aimed at fighting Israel? We do not know. What we do know is that God makes a claim here to have interfered with the workings of these men’s desires in such a way that their own actual desires were to battle against Israel in order that God might sovereignly oversee his plan’s accomplishment.
By the way, this is actually the same thing that I believe God did with me in order to bring about my salvation. I believe that, according to Scripture, I had a heart that was dead in sin and fully opposed to the things of God. I would not, on my own, have ever chosen God, as I lacked in myself the very goodness to do so. Yet God, because of his own will, moved my heart from death to life. God granted me the desire to come to him, drawing me to himself. Only he could have done this. And so, I, out of a strong desire to come to Jesus, confessed my sin, trusted in Christ, and asked for forgiveness and salvation. God granted that salvation. The desires were mine, yet I also know that those desires were ultimately given to me by God.
Some would now want to stop and judge the morality of God working his will by hardening or softening human hearts toward himself. But, as Paul said to the Romans, who are we to question God? His actions are right, because he is the Holy One. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His actions are right by definition, because he is the Creator and Lord over all.
This passage is a strong reminder for me of the power and sovereignty of God. He is good and mighty. He can change the hearts of men, of kings. He can move entire peoples and entire nations. Thus, I need not fear that his will is ever to be thwarted. God is over all. He cannot lose.
This passage in Joshua encourages me, like Joshua, to continue the mission that God has given me. He calls me to preach the word, to love the church, to make disciples, and so much more. I can know that God will empower his work to be done. I can know that people will come to faith in Christ and will follow God’s plan because I know that God is sovereign even over human hearts. I also know that some will oppose the work of God, and such are the kinds of people God will use still to accomplish his plan as we see in Joshua. Thus, in all this, I am called to trust the Lord and press on for his glory.