It’s easier to say, “God is sovereign,” than to accept what it means, especially since we are prone to think we know best and to question what we don’t understand. But the Bible doesn’t let us skate through big, complex ideas of God in a simplistic manner. If God is sovereign and in control of everything, then He remains true in every situation, in both the difficult and pleasant things, the dark things and the light things. Joshua 11 walks us into this reality.
The people of Israel were confronted with a massive army as several enemy kings banded together against them. Once again, the odds were against the Israelites, but God was on their side: “Do not be afraid of them, for at this time tomorrow I will cause all of them to be killed before Israel” (Joshua 11:6). And so it was, over time, that “all of them were taken in battle. For it was the LORD’s intention to harden their hearts, so that they would engage Israel in battle, be completely destroyed without mercy, and be annihilated” (vv.19–20).
Joshua’s actions were obedient to the commands of God and fulfilled what God had promised to Moses years earlier. “So Joshua took the entire land, in keeping with all that the LORD had told Moses. Joshua then gave it as an inheritance to Israel” (Joshua 11:23). This was God’s plan: to establish His people, to give them the land as inheritance, and to wipe out His enemies. He fought on behalf of His people, this fledgling nation of wanderers and aliens, to establish them in the land and prepare the way for salvation to come to the world.
Psalm 110 helps us understand God’s sovereign mercy and justice by pointing to the coming Messiah, who would be “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” and from the line of David (v.4, ESV). The psalm also describes how God will rightfully destroy those who rebel against Him (vv.5–6). God’s sovereign mercy saves even the least likely, and His sovereign justice must be satisfied as well. This is why we need that promised Messiah. Ephesians 1 tells us:
“In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…
In him we have also received an inheritance,
because we were predestined according to the plan of the one
who works out everything in agreement with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:7,11).
In Joshua 11, we see God’s justice being temporarily satisfied in the destruction of His enemies and Israel receiving the land as their promised inheritance. Such stories are true to God’s character, both just and merciful. And they’re meant to help us understand and be in awe of how God later fulfills His plan. What was temporary in Joshua becomes permanent and eternal in Jesus: satisfaction of God’s justice and a lasting inheritance in the final promised land.