Passage: Joshua 9
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Key Goals: (Know) Learn the importance of seeking God’s counsel. (Feel) Be energized by the fullness of God’s grace. (Do) Prayerfully act upon the counsel of the Lord in all circumstances.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to open God’s word with you this morning. Today, we are going to continue walking with the Israelites as they march into the promised land and experience the faithfulness of God. Until this point, we have looked at how God, as a faithful warrior, has delivered the land of Canaan into the hands of his people. Ultimately, the story of the book of Joshua, like all of the Bible, is God’s story.
But, before we begin to journey further, I have a confession to make. As I read the book of Joshua, I am always a little shaken by the extreme measures God has called the people to take. Why would God instruct the nation of Israel to storm the land and slaughter its inhabitants? For the modern reader this, rightly, creates a lot of tension. To answer this question, we need to travel back in time some 500 years prior to the book of Joshua. It begins with a man named Abraham. In Genesis 15:13 & 16 God tells Abraham, “Your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years… Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”[i] This verse helps us to understand this question. You see, the time of captivity in Israel coincides with God’s plan for judgment upon the inhabitants of Canaan. For 400 years, while the descendants of Abraham cried out to God for mercy, God was demonstrating mercy and longsuffering towards the Canaanites. Yet, God would only tolerate their sin for so long. When the time for God’s grace had passed, he had raised up a people to act as the instruments of his judgment, much as he would do against the Israelites in the years to come. God, concerned that the practices of the inhabitants of the land would corrupt his people, orchestrates their destruction. God does not mess around when it comes to sin!
The book of Joshua begins with God’s instruction to his chosen leader, Joshua, to lead the people into the land. Joshua 1:6 states, Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit a land that I swore to their fathers to give them. It is with this promise that the people of God, following a rather strange battle plan, march against the city of Jericho. God, true to his word, delivers the city into their hands. Eventually, after dealing with the sin of the Israelites, God would also deliver the city of Ai.
Last week, we finished chapter 8 at Mt. Ebal, in which the entire law was read before the nation of the Hebrews. Surely, in the midst of rereading the law, Joshua would have read the words of Deut 7:1-2 When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. “You shall make no covenant with them.” How these words would later haunt the people.
Today, we are going to pick up in chapter 9. Sadly, we are going to see yet another failure on the part of the Israelites. My hope for today is that we will be encouraged by the example of God’s people to prayerfully pursue the counsel of the Lord.
Joshua 9:1-2 As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.
Clearly, word had spread to the inhabitants of Canaan about what Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, had done to Egypt, the kings beyond the Jordan, Jericho, and Ai. The people were frightened… they were right to be, they were next in line. Thus the kings of the peoples came up with a plan. If Jericho, with its impenetrable walls, and Ai could not individually withstand attack, then the best strategy would be to combine forces into one large army. Surely, this would be the only way to survive. Yet, the people of Gibeon were not convinced that brute force would be the wisest response. They decide upon another course of action: cunning and deception. Now, we need to understand that Gibeon is a city-state about 6 miles NW of Jerusalem. Chapter 10 tells us that Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities and greater than Ai, and all of its men were warriors. The important thing for us to remember is that Gibeon lay just down the road a bit.
Wisdom: They did not have because they did not ask
Joshua 9:3-15 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, "We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us." But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, "Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?" They said to Joshua, "We are your servants." And Joshua said to them, "Who are you? And where do you come from?" They said to him, "From a very distant country 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. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, 'Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, "We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us."' Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey." So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
Consider the brilliance of the Gibeonites’ plan to deceive the Israelites. They pretend to be from a far distant land seeking to make a covenant with the Hebrews. They have worn-out sacks, worn-out wineskins, worn-out clothes, and moldy old bread. They mention all the things God had done to the kings on the other side of the Jordan River. This is old news. Yet, they neglect to mention anything about Jericho or Ai as that news would be too recent. Do you see what they are doing here? It seems that the Gibeonites are aware of God’s command not to make a covenant with the people of the land. They also seem to be aware that God granted permission for the people to make covenants with nations in far off places. Notice how the Gibeonites appeal to the Israelites by calling themselves servants and lifting up the name of the LORD God.
It is at this point that Joshua and the elders of the people make a crucial mistake: they fail to seek the wisdom of God. Instead they rely upon their own understanding. Their problem was not lack of common sense. Clearly, there were moments in the explanation of the Gibeonites that raised red flags for the elders. Some things didn’t seem to add up. They even suspect that the Gibeonites might actually be from close by rather than from a distance. Joshua even steps in to evaluate the “evidence” that the representatives offered. Yet, Israel’s leaders failed to do a crucial thing: they failed to ask counsel from the Lord; they didn’t pray.
I would like to take a step outside the story for a moment to camp on this. I fear this shortcoming of the Israelites might be the very same trap that many believers fall into—we don’t pray; we don’t seek the counsel of the Lord. There are many reasons that a person might fail to seek guidance from the Lord. Perhaps they don’t feel that prayer is effective, there doesn’t seem to be enough time, they aren’t sure what to pray about, or they just forget. But, there is sometimes an even more sinister reason. Sometimes we don’t pray simply because we are arrogant. We think that we don’t really need God’s help. Joshua had evaluated the evidence, interviewed the messengers, and made a decision. On the surface, it looked great. What nation wouldn’t want to have a potentially powerful foreign ally? Yet, to arrogantly make a decision like this without seeking God’s counsel was clearly a mistake.
How about you? Have you ever made a mistake? Have you ever made a big mistake? Was it because you did not seek the counsel of the Lord? Seeking the counsel of the Lord through prayer is clearly emphasized in the Bible. God wants us to come to him as we make decisions. This is particularly true as we too have an enemy, prowling about, looking to deceive us so that he may devour us. We must be a people on our knees seeking the heart of our God. There are a number of passages in God’s word that instruct us to this end. Here are just a few:
- Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
- Continue steadfastly in prayer… (Colossians 4:2)
- Pray without ceasing… (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
- If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)
Integrity: Keeping an oath even when it hurts
Joshua 9:16-20 At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and that they lived among them. And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. But all the leaders said to all the congregation, "We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.”
Thus, the leaders of Israel blew it. They made a covenant with a people with whom they were clearly not allowed to make a covenant. Because of this, all of the people murmured against the leaders. It’s easy to murmur against leadership when they make mistakes. There is no question that the leaders made a mistake. Yet the people begin to grumble and complain against them and put pressure upon the leadership because of their blunder. Can you imagine how the leaders probably felt having to explain to the people that they had blown it again? How easy it would have been to try to call a “mulligan.” It would have been easier to just disregard the oath that had been made. Besides, it was a mistake born out of deception. Yet, even though Israel had entered into a bad alliance, they remained true to their oath. In their minds, two wrongs did not make a right. It turns out that this was the correct course of action. Some 400 years later, King Saul would fail to keep this covenant. In his zeal for the sons of Israel, he sought to put the Gibeonites to death. Because of this, God brought a famine upon Israel until David sought to make it right with the Gibeonites. We serve a God who is faithful to his covenants and, as such, expects his people to keep their word.
We need to learn from this. God does not change; he keeps his covenants. “Thank God that He is a covenant keeper. Throughout Israel's history, His chosen people stiffened their necks and disobeyed the One who saved them from slavery in Egypt. How easy it would have been for God to wash His hands of this rebellious people. But God kept His covenant. He kept it by bringing adversity on His people when they sinned (such as the famine which came on Israel in David's time), but He also provided a Savior, who perfectly kept the Mosaic Covenant and fulfilled the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. He inaugurated the New Covenant, by which sinful men are saved through faith in Jesus Christ and His blood, which was shed to make an atonement for the sins of men.”[ii] God in turn expects us to keep our covenants. It is too often tempting to pull out of an obligation because we “made a mistake,” even though we gave our word. Men, how is your covenant relationship with your wife? Ladies, how are you treating the covenant you made with your husbands? Are you longing for a way out of the relationship because you made a mistake or because you entered into it foolishly? Let us remember that the Lord will hold us to our word.
Grace: Better is one day in his courts than a thousand elsewhere
Joshua 9:21-27 And the leaders said to them, "Let them live." So they became cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, just as the leaders had said of them. Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, "Why did you deceive us, saying, 'We are very far from you,' when you dwell among us? Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God." They answered Joshua, "Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it." So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, to this day, in the place that he should choose.
So finally, we come to the “big reveal.” This is the moment in which Joshua finally confronts the Gibeonites for their deception. He begins his interrogation by asking a simple question, “Why did you deceive us?” The answer of the Gibeonites is telling. “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing.” The Gibeonites feared the Lord. Was this fear indicative of their salvation? Probably not. Yet it is this fear of the Lord that moved them to action. In many ways this mirrors the story of a prostitute in Jericho named Rahab. Like Rahab, the Gibeonites were moved to action because they came to the realization that Yahweh, the God of Joshua, was truly worthy of fear. Yet, ultimately through this encounter they were introduced to the God of grace. Both Rahab and the Gibeonites are accepted by Israel, even if it was under dubious circumstances. “Rahab and the Gibeonites did not deserve to receive this acceptance. Neither, however, did Israel deserve to receive the promised land (Deut. 9:4-6). Neither do we deserve to receive forgiveness and acceptance as part of God’s people. In all these cases, it is not due to us, but due to God, his mercy, his grace, and his love.”[iii]
My friend, have you come to terms with the God of Israel? If not, what are you waiting for? There are some who will hear the message of the Gospel and choose to walk away from it, assuming that it does not relate to them. If this is you, let me point you again to the example of the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites’ response of fear before God was appropriate. Truly the writer of Hebrews was right when he said It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The truth is that the Gibeonites were not worthy of the grace of God, neither was Rahab. Likewise, the Israelites were not worthy to be called the people of God or to inherit the land. Neither do we deserve forgiveness and grace. Yet God’s unconditional love through the shed blood of Jesus Christ makes it possible for a prostitute, a deceiver, and Gentiles like us to come into relationship with him.
Perhaps you are one who has been convinced that you have blown it too much. That there is no hope for you because you have just pushed God too far. That somehow God could not love you. If those voices are in your head, can I just suggest to you that you have been listening to the Deceiver. He would like nothing more than to drive a wedge between you and the Lord. But again, look at the Gibeonites. We aren’t given a list of redeemable traits that convinced God to bring them into his people. And that is the beauty of it. God is not looking for us to somehow get it all together before we come to him. He calls us just as we are.
As for the Gibeonites, they were cursed by Joshua to serve the house of the Lord as woodcutters and drawers of water. Yet, as you look at their response, they seem to be completely fine with it. It was better to be a servant to the house of God than to be destroyed outside of it. In fact, hundreds of years later, when Israel returns to Jerusalem from captivity, the Gibeonites were among those who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with Nehemiah. I wonder if their hearts reflected the Psalmist when he said For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness (Psa 84:10). Oh, how good it is to be in relationship with God, regardless of what our lot in his kingdom may be.
So, what can we learn from Joshua 9?
1. God is the giver of wisdom. God desires his children to seek him out in prayer. It is often because of the negligence of believers to pray that we make dire mistakes. How about you? Do you place all of your trust in the Lord or do you still rely upon your own understanding?
2. God is a keeper of covenants. The Bible tells us that God cannot lie. He has made covenants with his people and he is faithful to complete them. This is great news for us! It is because of the covenant with his people that we have access to the throne through Jesus Christ. As such, he requires his people to keep their covenants as well. How about you? As a representative of Christ, are you willing to keep your covenants, even to your hurt?
3. God is a fountain of grace. Remember that God does not wait for us to get our act together before we can enter into his kingdom. The good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus has already paid for our sins through his atoning work on the cross. Just like Rahab, the Gibeonites, and the Israelites, we can be the recipients of God’s grace. Let us remember and celebrate God’s grace in our lives.
[i] All Scripture quotations are from ESV: Study Bible (2007): English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles.
[ii] Deffinbaugh, R.L., (June 1, 2004). Promise Breakers and Promise Keepers. [article]. Retrieved from https://bible.org/seriespage/19-promise-breakers-and-promise-keepers-2-samuel-21
[iii] Ford, W., (March 22, 2016). The Merciful God of the Conquest? [article]. Retrieved from https://www.belfastbiblecollege.com/the-merciful-god-of-the-conquest