The Gates of Hell Destroyed

Bible Readings

  • Revelation 1:9-18
  • Joshua 12:1-6

Introduction

My dear family in the Lord,

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the day after Resurrection was devoted to telling jokes. They felt they were imitating the cosmic trick that God pulled on Satan in the Resurrection. Satan thought he had won, and was smug in his victory, smiling to himself, having the last word. So he thought. Then God raised Jesus from the dead, and life and salvation became the final word.

Whether this tradition is true or not, the fact it refers to is real.  The resurrection of Christ ushered his church into unshakable victory.  Our reading from Revelation stresses this breathtaking fact.  John had a vision of Jesus Christ:  

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But He laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17–18, ESV)

Our study thus far through the book of Joshua has helped us to understand that God’s saving acts on behalf of his people under the leadership of Moses and Joshua continue into the New Testament under the Headship of Jesus Christ.  God is faithful to his covenant promises; He promised Abraham that he would be a blessing to the peoples of the earth.  Under Moses and Joshua, this promise would be fulfilled through the nation of Israel, but mostly within the borders of the promised land.  Yet, the redemptive work of God through Jesus Christ is a complete fulfilment of God’s covenant with Abraham for all nations.

Under Moses and Joshua, we find spectacular displays—although in mere shadows—of the finished work of God in and through his eternal Son, Jesus Christ.

An ever-growing kingdom

Too easily, Christians are overcome with gloom and doom.  The church becomes vulnerable when it takes its eyes off the greatness of God.  It is left with the fear of what seems to be a losing battle. The events recorded in Joshua 12 are God’s sweeping acts of bringing his enemies to their knees in determined succession. 

Let’s backtrack a bit to last week.  Why all the bloodshed in the time of Joshua?  Because God judged the sin of the Amorites.  He was purifying the promised land from idolatry and sin.  Deuteronomy 9 helps us to understand. 

Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that He may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 9:4–6, ESV)

Jericho had fallen.  Ai had fallen. The kings of the Amorites had fallen—all because God was using his people—his church—to judge sin.  

Joshua 12 is looking back on how God added territory to the promised land on the eastern side of the Jordan river.  Quite quickly, we get bored by names and historical records in the Bible.  But God ordained these facts to be recorded, and we will do well to read attentively.

God added the territory of the two mighty Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, to the inheritance of tribes of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh.  About every time in the Bible when these two kings are mentioned, it speaks in awe of the irresistible works of Almighty God.  Rahab of Jericho confessed:  

For we have heard … what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. (Joshua 2:10, ESV)

The Gibeonites confessed the same.  Talking about the fame of the God of Israel, they said, 

…your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of Him, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. (Joshua 9:9–10, ESV)

Why were they filled with awe of the God of Israel?  Firstly, He destroyed the king of Egypt, who was worshipped as a demigod.  Then God destroyed Sihon and Og.  Who were they?  Why was capturing their land significant?

The land of darkness

If the extra-Biblical tradition has it right, the region of Og was considered the area where the sons of God of Genesis 6 descended on Mount Hermon to pollute the earth which led to the Flood of Noah. We know that all people, apart from Noah and his family, were killed in the flood, so this tradition can only have symbolic value.  Yet, there are significant references in the Bible to believe that arrogant and godless people of unusual large physical stature lived in Bashan – just like the kind of godless people who lived in the time of Noah.

The cities of Bashan and Ashtaroth had an alarming status in the wider Canaanite world because it was populated with arrogant giants who were in open rebellion against the God of creation.  

Ancient manuscripts describe the area as the residence of the god Molech, a long-dead king whom his subjects worshipped as a god. Molech’s name appears in snake charms associated with Ashtaroth, the female counterpart of Baal.  Molech was also connected to child sacrifice (1 Kings 11:7; Leviticus 20:1–5; 18:21). The cities of Bashan were therefore associated with the broader Underworld population, and the Amorites literally believed Bashan was the gateway to the Underworld—the dwelling place of the dead. It was the dwelling place of the Underworld cult of dead ancestors.  In other words, Sihon and Og, perhaps been worshipped as gods themselves, reigned over the territory described as The Gates of Hell.  

The two leaders were likened to the giants mentioned in Genesis 6.  Their clans were the Anakim and the Rephaim, who were people of extraordinary physical stature.  The Israelite spies returned to say that these folk were so tall that they felt as small as grasshoppers in comparison.  Deuteronomy 3:11 says Og’s iron mausoleum was nine cubits (4.3meters) long and four cubits wide (1.9meters)!  Amos 2 refers to them as 

… whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks. (Amos 2:9, ESV)

Goliath, himself a man of over nine feet, was a Philistine and most probably related to these giants.

All in all, no one dared to touch Sihon and Og.  They were feared because of their underworld connections, and their territories were considered to be indestructible;  besides, their physical appearance was terrifying.  

Who then would take on the Gates of Hell and its warriors?  

There is only one answer:  the almighty God of heaven employing his armies.  

King Sihon mustered his armies against Israel, but Israel defeated him and took possession of his land (Numbers 21:24).  Then, king Og and his whole army met Israel at Edrei—not by accident— because that particular city was considered to be the centre of the Gates of Hell.  God gave them in the hands of Israel; there were no survivors (Numbers 21:35).  The Gates of Hell was destroyed.  

David wrote about this episode in Psalm 68.  

O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan! The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them… (Psalm 68:15, 17, ESV)

Conquest completed

However, after kings David and Solomon, the kingdom was divided.  The abominable king Jeroboam built a temple for the Northern Kingdom at the city of Dan, not far from the foot of Mount Hermon. Dan was destroyed in 734 B.C., and the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity in 722 B.C. —purely because of their idolatry and rebellion against God.

Years later the Greek Empire extended into that region, who built a new city and temple which they named Paneas.  They devoted it to the god Pan, the half-man half-goat god of fright—where our word panic has its roots.

Under the Roman Empire, the city was renamed as Caesarea-Philippi.

The world was in the grip of darkness before Christ was born.  Isaiah prophesied that: 

the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2, ESV)

At the appointed time, God took on the forces of darkness by sending his own Son to conquer them.  

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5, ESV)

John saw his vision:  

His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:14–16, ESV)

He declares: 

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, ESV)

At one time, Jesus took his disciples to the region of Caesarea-Philippi.  He asked them, “Who do the people say I am?” Peter said, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:27-30).  Our Lord declared that Peter could not make that declaration by himself; it came from God (Matthew 16:17).

But after Jesus explained to them that He must suffer and be killed, Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him.  Jesus Christ then said something strange.  Get behind Me, Satan.  Why?

Not only was it essential that they had to know for sure who Jesus was, but that they understood the full implication of his mission because that is indeed the rock on which He would build his church.  They were in the very area where the Gates of Hell used to be in the time of Moses, and there where darkness dwelled, our Lord added:  

… and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18, ESV)

The death and resurrection of Christ was the victory of God over the Gates of Hell.  The disciples had to understand it very well, and so should we; it determines our mission and zeal.

Christ and his disciples remained in the area for another week.  Our Lord then took Peter, James and John with Him up a high mountain. , most probably Hermon.  He was transfigured in their sight.  

… and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark 9:3, ESV)

Elijah (as representative of the prophets) and Moses (as representative of the Law) were there, talking to Jesus (Mark 9:4).  Moses spoke with the One who would comprehensively deal with the forces of hell! 

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to fulfil the Law, and He came to set up is eternal Kingdom.  He, therefore, could declare to John, “I hold the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18)  He came to conquer the forces of darkness associated with the Underworld—and that the power He would give to his Church is sufficient to overcome them.  

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV)

With his Word, He smites the nations.  

And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Revelation 19:14–15, ESV)

Paul, in Ephesians 4:8, quotes Psalm 68, which we already know is referring to the victory of Almighty God over the armies of the Gates of Hell in Bashan.

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:8, ESV)

Conclusion

This is our Lord, Jesus Christ.  He is our Commander.  He disarmed the rulers of this world and made a public display of them by triumphing over them (Colossians 2:15).  It is He who declared: 

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

There is no reason for gloom or doom in our hearts.  But our mission is not to tell jokes like in the legend of the Orthodox Christians.  Our mission is to enter into this world, with joy, yet but in all seriousness, declare Christ’s victory over the Gates of Hades. His resurrection ushered his church into sure victory.  Him we must follow, obey and trust. He is our Commander, bigger and more glorious than Moses or Joshua.  

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 June 2019

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