Paul: The Missionary And Contextualizer

In Newbigin And Cultural Embodied Gospel article, I began a series of short articles that exploring the truthfulness of Newbigin’s claim, namely contextualizing the Gospel. In this second article series I attempt to explore a master contextualizer Paul of Tarsus, a leading cross-cultural missionary we encounter in Luke’s Acts of Apostles, way of doing cross-cultural mission.

Paul: A Missionary To All and For All

Apostle Paul was a church planter who was aware of what God was already doing in the cultures he was trying to reach. In each cultural context, Paul labored to communicate the Gospel truth into a language, beliefs, values, symbols, traditions and practices that were already familiar in that given culture.

In Thessalonica, as Paul and Silas were passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia in a Jewish synagogue, Luke reported that Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures (Acts 17:1-3), while in Athens, Paul reasoned with Athenian’s using their own inscription, “To an Unknown God”, and their love of spending time in nothing except telling or hearing something new (Acts 17:21).

Longenecker, a prominent New Testament scholar, correctly captures Paul’s art of contextualization as he explained that:

Paul does not begin his address by referring to Jewish history or by quoting the Jewish Scriptures, as he did in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch (cf. 13:16–41). He knew it would be futile to refer to a history no one knew or argue from fulfillment of prophecy no one was interested in or quote from a book no one read or accepted as authoritative. Nor does he develop his argument from the God who gives rain and crops in their season and provides food for the stomach and joy for the heart, as he did at Lystra (cf. 14:15–17). Instead, he took for his point of contact with the council an altar he had seen in the city with the inscription Agnōstō Theō (“To an Unknown God”).(Longenecker 1981: 475)

Paul utilized what God had already place in each cultural context. With God-fearing Greeks and Jews, Paul made use of their Jewish beliefs and their expectation of Christ, to persuaded them that the Jesus he proclaimed is the waited Christ and with the Athenians, Paul enter into their own world by identifying with their own, symbols, traditions and practices. Paul simply became “all things to all people” that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:19-23) by taking to consideration the context of worldviews he found himself in.

Newbigin understood and practiced Paul method of doing mission. After spending most of his working life as a missionary in India, he learned that he had to express the Gospel in a way, which his Hindu listeners would recognize in their own language. Newbigin argued:

“You obviously had to take seriously the whole Hindu worldview, with its great elements of rationality and strength, which I found enormously impressive. In that kind of situation you have to ask yourself, not ‘How can we fit the gospel into this?’, but, ‘At what points does the gospel illuminate this, at what points does it question it, at what points does it contradict it?’

As Paul, Newbigin chose to accept the way of his cultural context’s understanding, namely the Hindu worldview, to which he committed himself to a certain point with the aim of challenging it with the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

Next: Becoming All Things To All


How would you contextualize the Gospel to your atheist/skeptic friend in your local area?

[1] The passage’s context is the discussion whether or not Christians should eat meat sacrificed to idols.

[2] Torah: Laws of Moses

Newbigin: A Missionary and A Theologian Biography


Gaebelein, F. E., Tenney, M. C., & Longenecker, R. N. (1981). The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: John and Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Newbigin And Cultural Embodied Gospel

In Contextualization Without Compromise article, Tullian Tchividjian properly captured the tension facing missionaries and churches in contemporary culture when it comes to contextualization.  Tchividjian writes: “If you don’t contextualize enough, no one’s life will be transformed because they won’t understand you. But if you contextualize too much, no one’s life will be transformed because you won’t be challenging their deepest assumptions and calling them to change.”

“We must,” claimed Lesslie Newbigin, “acknowledge the fact that there is not and cannot be a gospel which is not culturally embodied. This is simply another way of affirming…the historical nature of the gospel”. Newbigin continued to contend that:

The gospel is about events which happened at a particular time and place in history.  The events were in Palestine and not in Japan or Africa.  The language in which they were told was in Hebrew and Greek, and not Sanskrit or Chinese. Wherever the gospel is preached it is preached in a human language, which means the language of one particular culture; wherever a community tries to live out the gospel, it is also part of one particular human culture. (Newbigin 2011: 525-6)

Newbigin contended that missionaries ought to communicate the gospel in ways that make sense to their listeners. I believe Newbigin is correct because the moment we share the good news of the redemptive drama of God the Father sending his Son, while we were yet sinners to live and die for us, we already are culturally embodying the Gospel to the particular culture we are trying to reach. We indeed have to acknowledge the fact that we do, in one way or another, contextualize the gospel.

Defining Contextualization: Setting Boundaries

Hesselgrave and Rommen defined contextualization as “the attempt to communicate the message of the person, works, Word, and will of God in a way that is faithful to God’s revelation, especially as put forth in the teaching of Holy Scripture, and that is meaningful to respondents in their respective cultural and existential contexts.”(Hesselgrave & Rommen 2003: 200)

It is an ability of turning the ear of once listener in a given cultural context, into an eye to see the spiritual truth of the Gospel that could not easily be seen or understood because of cultural diversity. Contextualization is an art of a missionary to consider the cultural context in which she pursues to communicate the good news, as she intentionally communicate the Gospel truth in a language and manner understood by that given environment and atmosphere.

Missions’ strategist for Central Asia[1] provocatively explained that we have to accept that our churches are not like “New Testament churches”. He argued that “[o]ur cultural context is dramatically different from the world of the New Testament, and as a result, any modern church would look bizarre and alien to a first-century Christian.”( 2009: 16-7) A Gospel that is not culturally embodied would simply be odd and foreign to the cultural context in which it is communicated[2].

Going together with a new With All I Am blog’ theme, I would welcome you to a series of short articles that explores the truthfulness of Newbigin’s claim, namely contextualizing the Gospel.

Next: Paul: The Missionary And Contextualizer


Should we contextualize the Gospel?

[1] Name not revealed.

[2] Cultural embodied gospel can also be seen in the English Bible translations. E.g. from Holy Ghost to Holy Spirit,  from “to know one’s wife” to “ to have sex” e.t.c.

Newbigin: A Missionary and A Theologian Biography


Newbigin, Lesslie excerpt from The Gospel in Pluralistic Society (1989 Eerdmans) in William Edgar, K. Scott Oliphint Ed. (2011) Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader. Crossway

David J. Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen, (2003) Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models. Pasadena: William Carey Library

Missions’ strategist for Central Asia (2009) Putting Contextualization in Its Place, 9 Marks, eJournal, July/August 2009

Changing Dippers For The Glory of God

How can I appreciate and delight in God as I change my daughter’s dippers? And mostly when I have already done it 8th times in just 2 hours? 🙂

Richard L. Pratt, Jr., captured the spirit of Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 10:31 as he reasoned that “Paul summarized his outlook into two principles. First, whether or not believers partake, they must do it all for the glory of God. The chief end of human beings is the glory of God; his honor should be the principle concern of those who love him (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37)”.[1]

Pushing the boundaries of the application of 1 Corinthians 10:31 in our daily lives, does Paul mean, I should change our(Lea and I) one month old daughter’s, Eloise, dippers for the glory of God?

As I pondered 1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossian 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”(ESV), came to mind. Not only do I have to change Eloise’s dipper for the glory of God but in the name of the Lord Jesus and giving thanks to God the Father.

Changing dippers is a simple task. I, as a month newly father, could simply do it without thinking about it. But I wanted more. I wanted to delight, enjoy and take pleasure in all I do for the glory of God. I did not want to change Eloise’s dipper because I had to, but because I love to.

Commenting on Colossian 3:17, Max Anders wrote: “The life transformation process is to include any and all areas and activities of life. In all places, in all ways, the believer is to honor the name of the Lord Jesus. […] Genuine spirituality is found in having our lives transformed into the character of Christ.”[2]

Looking in our daughter’s eyes, when she is smiling or crying, I could not deny the infinity awesome and amazing joy and love she brings in our lives. Joy and love that I never thought exist in me. Every time I change her dippers, she stares at me with her beautiful mom’s-brownish color eyes. It was in those staring moments that I found my delight and joy in changing her dippers. I started working wholeheartedly, as for the Lord and not for me. As a result, I found out that I began to change her dipper not only for the Lord but also for me. I love changing her dippers, for every time I do it, I do it for the glory of God who has blessed us with such a joy.


If you are a parent, how did you find joy and delight in changing your child’s dipper? (Mostly when is at midnight or many times in a short period)

If you are a theologian, did I apply 1 Cor. 10:31 and Col. 3:17 correctly? Give reasons.

[1] Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). Vol. 7: I & II Corinthians. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (170). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Anders, M. (1999). Vol. 8: Galatians-Colossians. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (332). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Christ: Perfect Divine Perfect Human

In Tertullian’s(c. 160 – c. 225 AD) De carne Christi, we read “Was not God really crucified? And, been really crucified, did He not really die? And, having indeed really died, did He not really rise again?” How is this possible? We seldom ponder in depth the splendid and scandalous oxymoron of a born, died and risen God when we proclaim that Jesus died for us.

Early Christians wrestled with how Christ Jesus is fully God and fully Jewish man. The doctrine of hypostatic union is the fruit of their labor.

Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church concisely defined hypostatic union as “ [t]he union of the Divine and human natures in the One Person (‘Hypostasis’) of Jesus Christ.” (Cross & Livingstone 2005: 818)

In Hebrews 1:3, Christ Jesus is said to be “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his hupostasis”, the Greek term that the English adjective hypostatic is derived and rendered as “nature”, while in 2:17, Christ is said to have been made like his brothers in every aspect. The author of the Hebrews argued that Christ Jesus is the exact imprint of God the Father’s nature and yet he was also made exact imprint of His brother’s nature. Perfect Divine and Perfect Human.

Guarded and standing faithful to God-inspired Scriptures, the early Church fathers confessed and subscribed to an orthodox doctrine of two unmixed natures in one person of Christ Jesus. Cyril’s epistle to John soundly captures this confession that was later modified and adopted in the Chalcedonian Creed. He wrote: “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, perfect God, and perfect Man of a reasonable soul and flesh consisting; begotten before the ages of the Father according to his Divinity, and in the last days, for us and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity, of the same substance with his Father according to his Divinity, and of the same substance with us according to his humanity; for there became a union of two natures. Wherefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord.”(Schaff & Wace 1885: 530). Led by Scriptures, the bishops anathematized any other views that did not sufficiently explain the two natures of Christ Jesus in one person.

The early Church fathers affirmed of both Christ’s full humanity since the Scripture affirmed that He was perfect in manhood; “ He hungered under the devil’s temptation; He thirsted with the woman of Samaria; He wept over Lazarus; He trembles at death (for “the flesh,” as He says, “is weak”); at last, He pours out His blood.” (Roberts, Donaldson & Coxe, 1885, 530) and His fully divinity since He is perfect in Godhead: “ the Son of God, who being, by equality of substance, one with the Father, is eternal and uncreate[d]“,(ibid, p.574) in one person inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably.

Latin Church father, Tertullian, remarkably recapitulated the two natures displayed in the person of Christ Jesus as God and man “in one respect born, in the other unborn, in one respect fleshly in the other spiritual; in one sense weak in the other exceeding strong; in one sense dying, in the other living. This property of the two states—the divine and the human—is distinctly asserted with equal truth of both natures alike, with the same belief both in respect of the Spirit and of the flesh. The powers of the Spirit, proved Him to be God, His sufferings attested the flesh of man”(Roberts, Donaldson & Coxe 1885: 525)

Fred Sanders put it well when he wrote: “According to the Chalcedonian explication of the incarnation, the Son of God took into personal union with himself a complete human nature, and thus existed as one theanthropic (divine and human) person. He did not cease to be God, but he took up human nature into hypostatic (personal) union with himself. He made that humanity his own, and in that appropriated humanity he appropriated real human death. He died the only death there is to die, our death.”(Sanders & Issler 2007: 15)

Hypostatic union, therefore, is the doctrine that teaches the divine nature and the human nature of Christ Jesus are hypostatically united without confusion, change, division or separation.

Questions: Do you agree that Christ Jesus is fully Divine and fully Jewish man? Give reasons to support your case?


Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (2005). The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Cyril Letter To John Of Antioch: A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume XIV: The Seven Ecumenical Councils. 1900 (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.) New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Tertullian, On The Flesh of Christ: The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Sanders, F., & Issler, K. (2007). Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.

Theological Bias In Bible Translations Of Acts 20:28

In How to choose a Bible version : An introductory guide to English translations, a professor of New Testament at The Master’s Seminary, Robert L. Thomas gives English Bible readers four methods of detecting theological bias present in English Bible translations:

  1. First, the theological viewpoints of the translators may be a matter of general knowledge( a “translation sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church would reflect the views of that church body as the New World Translation would support those of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Translators unconnected with a large organization will have biases too.”(p.103)
  2. Second, theological bias can be detected through statement(s) made in introductory materials found in the translations themselves.(“Occasionally translators will disclose their viewpoints on certain doctrines in these opening comments” p.104).
  3. Third, notes that accompany a translation will often disclose doctrinal perspectives in the translation.(“often print notes at the bottom of the same page as the Bible text, but sometimes they may be in the margin beside the text”.p.104)
  4. Fourth, theological prejudice may lay in the text itself.(“All translators are not theologians, so they cannot always foresee the nuances of meaning conveyed by various English expressions.” p.105)

Thomas used Matthew 16:16, Romans 9:5, Acts 20:28, John 1:1, Philippians 2:6, and John 9:38, as a Christological testing ground of theological biases in English Bible Translations: On Acts 20:28 Thomas writes:

Acts 20:28 is another testing ground for gauging a version’s support of the deity of Christ. The Greek text reads as in the KJV, the NKJV, the NASB, the NASBU, the ESV, the NIV, the TNIV, the HCSB, and others: ‘the church of God which he purchased with his own blood’ or a close equivalent of that. The words ‘his own blood’ refer back to ‘God’, furnishing a direct statement of the deity of Christ. The RSV avoids that direct statement, however, by adopting another reading that gives ‘Lord’ in place of ‘God’, thereby avoiding a clear statement of the deity of the Son. The NRSV recognizes that ‘God’ is the best supported reading in that verse by changing ‘Lord’ back to ‘God’ in Acts 20:28, but it has another way of avoiding a statement of Christ’s deity. It reads ‘the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son’. In effect, it adds the word ‘Son’ to the text in order to find a way to avoid stating Christ’s deity directly. The REB avoids advocating that Christ is God in a way similar to the RSV, and the NJB, the NCV, the TEV, and the NET shun the doctrine in essentially the same manner as the NRSV.(p.110-111)

Bishop of Antioch’s, Ignatius (ca. 30-107 A.D), Letter To Ephesians, chapter 1 gives a supporting evidence that “his own blood” refers to “God”: Ignatius wrote: “Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you.”

Thomas concluded that: “Most translators have striven to exclude their subjective opinions when producing English versions of the Bible. Hence, from any translation a person can derive a theology that is biblical in broad outline. Yet no translation has successfully excluded doctrinal bias completely, and it is doubtful that one ever could.”(p.120)

It is my hope that you will make use of Thomas’ four ways to detect some of theological bias present in your English Bible translation because some of them(e.g. the NWT’s) could lead us astray from the fellowship with the Holy Spirit, joy, delight, love and eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord and the glory and majesty of God the Father.


Thomas, R. L. (2000). How to choose a Bible version : An introductory guide to English translations. Fearn, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (p.52). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. (The quotes are from the shorted version of Ignatius Letters, emphasis added)

God And Hardening Of Hearts

It was few minutes to 7 a.m. of February 16th in the city train, when I came across Joshua 11:20 in my morning readings, prayers and reflecting on the whole Bible in a year. In this verse, Joshua recorded the reason why the Canaanites: Jabin the king of Hazor and his companions did not seek truce but wage war against Israel (Joshua 11:1-19).

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 11:20 ESV)

This concept of hardening of heart was not foreign to me. I had wrestled with in Exodus 5-9 (God hardening pharaoh’s heart to display his glory) in Bible College almost 5 years ago. It is still hard to chew and swallow this passages. In this article I would share with you my reflection of Joshua 11:20, as I go through different commentaries trying to wrestle with it again. My aim is that we may rejoicing and delighting in God’s breathed words. Mostly in the tough ones like this.

God Harden Their Heart And Idiom

Raising the bar up, Robert G. Bratcher and Barday M. Newman in A translator’s handbook on the book of Joshua wrote:

Verse 20 provides the theological justification for the wholesale massacre of the people: the Lord “hardened their hearts” (see rsv), that is, made them proud and stubborn (tev determined to fight). Again the Hebrew verb condemned to total destruction is used, and it is said that this was done in obedience to the Lord’s command to Moses. (Bratcher & Newman: 1983: 166-7)

Bratcher and Newman argued that many languages would have idiomatic expression equivalent to “harden their hearts” of the Hebrew; e.g. “stiffen their necks” or “make their eyes glare.” With that in mind, in a plan language, Joshua 11:20 could be understood as:

So that they would be condemned to total destruction and all be killed without mercy may be changed to an active construction and translated as a separate sentence: “He did this so that the people of Israel would condemn them to total destruction and kill them all without mercy.”

This was what is somewhat ambiguous in tev. It actually refers only to the clause which begins so that; it does not refer back to the entire previous sentence. One may translate “The LORD had commanded Moses to kill all the people of the land.” (Bratcher & Newman: ibid)

God Hardening Their Hearts And Commentaries

In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Donald H. Madvig concisely commented on Joshua 11:20:

God hardened the Canaanites’ hearts, not to keep them from repenting, but to prevent them from surrendering to Israel in unrepentance. The examples of Rahab and the Gibeonites demonstrate the unchanging purpose of God that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13). As in the case of Pharaoh, God may be said to harden the hearts of those who harden their own (cf. Exod 8:32 with Exod 9:12). God was patient as long as there was any hope of repentance (Rom 2:4), but the sin of the Amorites had reached its full measure (Gen 15:16). The writer celebrated the annihilation of the Canaanites, which is so offensive to the modern mind, because he knew there was no other way that God’s gracious purpose could be fulfilled. (Madvig: 1992: 311-12)

As a person who is not satisfied with concise explanations, I want more. How do I deal with this “offensive” tough concept of “the LORD’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle”?

J. J. Lias quoted Julius Müller ‘Christian Doctrine of Sin,’ ii. 412, “Scripture never speaks of God’s hardening men’s hearts, save in connection with His revelations through Moses or Christ.” and point out how Joshua 11:20 evidently had not occurred to Müller in his writing. Lias went on to argued that:

We are not to suppose that the free-will of the Canaanites was in any way interfered with. God no doubt left them to themselves as the due punishment of their iniquities. Sin in general, by God’s own appointment, and especially the sensual sins in which the Canaanites were steeped, has a tendency to produce insensibility to moral or even prudential considerations, and to beget a recklessness which urges on the sinner to his ruin. Some have argued that had they all come, like the Gibeonites, as suppliants, they must all have been massacred in cold blood. But this is not likely. Rather we must imagine that God foresaw that they would not believe the signs He would give in favour of the Israelites, and that by meeting them in battle they brought a swift and speedy destruction on themselves. ( Spence-Jones: 2004: 192)

David M. Howard, Jr in The New American Commentary went deeper:

“Verses 19–20 show that the events of chaps. 10–11 were orchestrated by God himself. No city made peace with the Israelites as Gibeon had done (chap. 9); rather, Israel took them all in battle. The reason that no city took it upon itself to make peace with Israel was that God hardened their hearts so that he could completely destroy them. They had followed a pattern of opposing God by attacking the Israelites (see 9:1; 10:1–5; 11:1–5; and the comments introducing chap. 9). Thus, the text is stark and harsh: the idea and activity of hardening originated from God himself, and it was for the purpose of destroying the Canaanites through battle. The destructions wrought among the Canaanites had been anticipated and commanded by Moses (see especially Deut 7:1–5; 20:16–18). The people were to make no treaty with the Canaanites and show them no mercy (Deut 7:2). The Canaanites’ time for punishment had now come (cf. Gen 15:16).” (Howard: 2001: 273-274)

Howard also pointed out that God’s hardening the Canaanites’ heart recalls the drama in Exodus 9-11 viz.: God hardened the pharaoh’s heart and sent the plagues to show his glory and majesty. Pointing at Exodus 5:2 “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” and pharaoh’s repeatedly hardened his own heart (7:13–14, 22; 8:15), Howard argued that the drama of God hardening pharaoh’s heart is tied to pharaoh’s own defiance.

Thus, he continued:

God could have forced Israel’s release after just one plague, but his purpose was to display his own power against the Egyptians and against their gods (Exod 12:12 states this clearly: “I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord”). God’s hardening of the pharaoh’s heart must be seen in the context of the pharaoh’s stubbornness and resistance of the Lord.

We must examine the Canaanites’ resistance to the Lord in a similar light. We have noted numerous times that the Canaanites heard (šmʿ) about Israel’s victories (2:9–11; 5:1; 9:1, 3; 10:1; 11:1) and that they reacted differently at different times. Rahab and the Gibeonites were Canaanites who were spared, even if they were for different reasons. Those Canaanites who resisted Israel and its God, however, were shown no mercy and were annihilated. God’s hardening of their hearts, then, was due, at least in part, to their own stubbornness and resistance of Israel’s God. Had they been willing to react as Rahab (or even the Gibeonites) had done, undoubtedly the results would have been different. (Howard: 2001: ibid)

Joshua 11:20 And The righteousness of the Lord

Roger Ellsworth in Opening Up Joshua takes another angle in expounding Joshua 11:20. He notices that modern reader, like me, are ‘put off’ by the gory details of Israel putting Canaanites to death during the conquest. He advised that:

We must keep in mind that these nations were utterly corrupt. They practised every perversion conceivable, even to the point of sacrificing their own children to their idols. We should also remember that these same nations were given every opportunity to turn from their wicked ways, as Rahab did (Josh. 2), but adamantly refused to do so (Gen. 15:16).

The judgement of these Canaanites was a declaration that God is righteous and will ultimately judge all sin. His patience ensures that his judgement comes slowly, but his righteousness guarantees that his judgement comes surely. Instead of lamenting the judgement of ancient Canaanites, we would do well to lament the judgement that will come our way if we do not repent(Ellsworth: 2008: 97-8).

He went on to argue that a part of God’s judgment is his hardening of human hearts. If not for his mercy all human, after the fall, do not seek to surrender to God. We keep rejecting God’s truth and as a result he judges us by hardening our hearts against the truth.

Reflections and Application:

Reading Joshua 11:20, as a fallen creature redeemed by the blood of Christ and continuously sanctified by the Spirit, I could not help it but reach the conclusion that would be predictable by a fallen man’s logic, viz.: Is God fair? Paul also anticipated this conclusion when he wrote to the Romans:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.(Romans 9:14-18 ESV)

God shows no injustice. We all receive justice, but for us whom God mercifully gave a new heart, and a new spirit put within us as the Holy Spirit removes the heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26), His justice on us felled down on our Lord and Savor Jesus, at the cross.

We can demand God’s justice but never his mercy. Mercy is solely of God own pleasure.

After the fall, we are all Canaanites. We were hardening our hearts in sin. Paul would say “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”(Ephesians 2:3).

Glory to God that when we “did not see fit to acknowledge God”, He did not gave all of us up to our debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Roman 1:28). But gave his Son Jesus Christ(John 3:16-19 and Roman 5:8-9)

Reading Joshua 11:20 with Roman 1 in mind, I can see that God hardening of our hearts is not a cause of sin but a fruit of it.

A Prayer of Adoration

Holy God, like a Canaanite, I also was blind, deaf and dead in my sin. In my own freewill I hardened my heart. I could not come to Christ Jesus(John 6:44, 17:1-2,6,9,24). In my perishing, the message of cross of your Son was foolish to me (1 Corinthians 1:18), I did not love you O Lord, but you loved me. Thank you for drawing me to your Son. Thank you for the Holy Spirit breathing life in my dead body, sight in my blindness and your voice in my deafness. It is by grace you saved me through faith in the person and finished work of your beloved Son. O Lord all this, including my faith, is not my own doing; it is your merciful gift (Ephesian 2:8). Keep us falling in love with you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And like Joshua, may we walk in your ways. In Christ Jesus, my Lord and my God (John 20:28). Amen.

The Ending That Is The Beginning

It is few minutes to 11 a.m. of March 8th at home on my studying desk, when I finished my reflection and prayers on Joshua 11:20. Do I fully understand it now? Sadly no. But I can now delight with King David: “ Whatever Yahweh pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6). Yes, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”(Psalm 115:3)

Have you wrestled with Joshua 11:20? Be kind and share it with us.


Bratcher, R. G., & Newman, B. M. (1983). A translator’s handbook on the book of Joshua. Helps for translators. London; New York: United Bible

Gaebelein, F. E., Kalland, E. S., Madvig, D. H., Wolf, H., Huey, F. B., Jr, & Youngblood, R. F. (1992). The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 3: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel . Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

The Pulpit Commentary: Joshua. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Howard, D. M., Jr. (2001). Vol. 5: Joshua (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Ellsworth, R. (2008). Opening up Joshua . Leominster: Day One Publications.