Joshua, Part 4

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Here’s another favorite story among preachers, although Joshua probably wished it had never happened.   The conquest of the Promised Land had begun, and there were essentially three dreadful enemies that needed to be dealt with:  Jericho, Ai, and the Gibeonites.  You’ll recall that Jericho was taken easily, not because the people of Israel were fantastic fighters, but because every movement was done in complete obedience to God’s wishes.  The awful failure at Ai was due to the disobedience of one man and almost compounded by a failure in Joshua’s leadership.  Now Joshua would have to deal with another people:  the Gibeonites.

Of these three enemies of Israel, Dr McGee makes this interesting observation:

These three enemies represent the enemies of the Christian today.  Jericho represents the world; Ai represents the flesh, and the Gibeonites represent the devil.

Whether or not that was God’s design, it is a good way to look at it.  God’s will was for Israel to simply take what He had given them and all they had to do what He told them to do.  It sounds so simple!  Obeying God is simple, but apparently difficult, as your life and mine attests to.  Israel, too, had a difficult time staying focused on the Lord’s will.  And what happened with the tricky Gibeonites is proof that one wrong decision – one moment of inattention and disobedience – can lead to a lifetime of troublesome consequences.

Joshua’s battle plan was sound.  Take Jericho first; it was located in the center of the land.  Then on to Ai, which was located to the north and the east.  Finally on to the south, the stronghold of the Gibeonite Alliance.

Strange Alliance

When the kings of the surrounding area heard what had happened to Jericho, they quickly combined their armies to fight for their lives against Joshua and the Israelis. These were the kings of the nations west of the Jordan River, along the shores of the Mediterranean as far north as the Lebanon mountains-the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.  (Joshua 9:1, 2  TLB)

News of the Israelite might spread, Ai notwithstanding.  Gibeon was one of Canaan’s “royal cities” and it boasted of a highly capable military force.  The Hivites lived in Gibeon and surrounding that city were some smaller cities, which were dependent on the much larger Gibeon.  All of these people were willing to set aside personal differences and unite in order to resist the Israelites.  This is powerful testimony to the power of God manifested in Israel.  It should serve as a powerful lesson to Christians, too.  We manifest the same power when we live in obedience to the will of God.

These very people already feared the Israelites:

When the nations west of the Jordan River-the Amorites and Canaanites who lived along the Mediterranean coast-heard that the Lord had dried up the Jordan River so the people of Israel could cross, their courage melted away completely and they were paralyzed with fear.  (Joshua 5:1  TLB)

It is entirely possible that the apparent weakness of Israel at Ai was the catalyst that moved the member cities of the Gibeonites to join forces in an attempt to put a stop to their conquest of Canaan.

In a sense, this kind of organized opposition could have served to give Joshua and Israel courage as they prepared to advance.  Isaiah made this observation:

…no weapon turned against you shall succeed…(Isaiah 54:17  TLB)

The psalmist wrote:

He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.  Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.  (Psalm 2:4, 5 KJV)

Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.  For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.  (Psalm 37:1, 2  KJV)

Joshua and the Israelites had nothing to fear from the Gibeonites.  And we have nothing to fear, either.  As Christians, we are filled with the same power that raised Christ from the dead.  If we’d only learn how to tap into that divine power, we’d find out how unstoppable we really are.  But be advised:  the more Christlike we are, the more evil alliances we will face.  Zac Poonen, pastor of Christian Fellowship Church in Bangalore, wrote words of truth when he wrote this:

The more useful we are to God, the more we will be attacked by the enemy.

A Plan of Deceit

But when the people of Gibeon heard what had happened to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to trickery to save themselves. They sent ambassadors to Joshua wearing worn-out clothing, as though from a long journey, with patched shoes, weatherworn saddlebags on their donkeys, old, patched wineskins and dry, moldy bread.  (Joshua 9:3 – 5  TLB)

These were crafty people who acted with great cunning.  This was clever ruse, those involved spared no expense to pull it off.  What’s interesting about these people was that, in a way, what they wanted to achieve wasn’t different from what Rahab wanted:  to be spared destruction; they simply wanted to live.  How they went about it, though, was completely different from Rahab.  Where she manifested some faith, they people simply resorted to trickery.  They tried to get God’s blessing through deceit and manipulation.

The Gibeonite ambassadors represented four cities in all and, another interesting point is that they all had knowledge of God’s activities and they seemed to know what He was going to do.  That’s really amazing, when you stop and think about it.  These heathens knew more about God and had a deeper understanding of His activities than the average American does today, who goes around blissfully thinking that what he sees is all there is!  Andrew Strom observed:

It should not surprise us that there are strong deceptions around today, for this is exactly what the Scriptures predict will happen.  All the way through the New Testament we are warned of these days – over and over again.

Chester Mulder notes three lessons Christians should learn from this Gibeonite deception.  First, appearance may be very deceiving, therefore, you should never believe what you see at first glance.  Second, very good and godly men can be deceived and taken advantage of.  No wonder Jesus gave this piece of sage advice:

“I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wary as serpents and harmless as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16  TLB)

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the pretense of being spiritual may fool many Christians and throw them off their guard.   For whatever reason, a lot of people join churches and get into leadership positions by acting like believers when in fact they are not at all.  These kinds of people invariably get found out, but usually not before they’ve caused trouble and embarrassed true believers.

Distracted by Deception

What happened to Joshua reminds me of this somewhat famous verse:

For false Christs shall arise, and false prophets, and will do wonderful miracles so that if it were possible, even God’s chosen ones would be deceived.  (Matthew 24:24  TLB)

Well, it is possible because Christians and Christian leaders are hoodwinked all the time.  Joshua had the wool pulled over his eyes by the Gibeonites.

Joshua and the other leaders finally believed them. They did not bother to ask the Lord but went ahead and signed a peace treaty. And the leaders of Israel ratified the agreement with a binding oath.  (Joshua 9:15  TLB)

In all, Joshua did two things for the Gibeonites.  First he entered into an alliance with them and, second, promised to protect them.

Too Little, Too Late

That Joshua blew it came out soon:

Three days later the facts came out-these men were close neighbors.  The Israelite army set out at once to investigate and reached their cities in three days. (The names of the cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim.)  But the cities were not harmed because of the vow which the leaders of Israel had made before the Lord God. The people of Israel were angry with their leaders because of the peace treaty.  (Joshua 9:16 – 18  TLB)

“Three days later” is an interpretation.  The facts could have come out as early as the next day!  Essentially, the ink hadn’t dried on the treaty before the truth was revealed.  God works like that sometimes.  We do something we think is very smart, when it’s really dumb, and very soon afterward the truth comes out (as it has a habit of doing) embarrassing us.

What Israel did wrong was more than just believe a lie.  They actually went out of their way to disobey a direct command of God.  They not only spared the very people they were commanded to destroy, but because of ill-conceived treaty, they now had to protect these very people!   Worst of all was the long-lasting consequence of this fowl-up:

“For in the cities within the boundaries of the Promised Land you are to save no one; destroy every living thing.  Utterly destroy the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. This is the commandment of the Lord your God.  The purpose of this command is to prevent the people of the land from luring you into idol worship and into participation in their loathsome customs, thus sinning deeply against the Lord your God.”  (Deuteronomy 20:16 – 18  TLB)

Joshua didn’t know it, but because of his terrible lapse of leadership and unintentional disobedience to a direct command from God, he initiated a life long problem – an irritation – in the land:  having to deal with people that never should have been allowed to remain.

They replied, “We did it because we were told that Jehovah instructed his disciple Moses to conquer this entire land and destroy all the people living in it. So we feared for our lives because of you; that is why we have done it.  But now we are in your hands; you may do with us as you wish.”  (Joshua 9:24 – 25  TLB)

Joshua found out the truth, not that he could do anything about it.  He had given what amounted to God’s word to the Gibeonites.  To their credit, the Gibeonites didn’t want anything from the Israelites, save their lives.  They just wanted to live.

In this story of the Gibeonite deception, we see, in a round about sort of way, an expression of mercy – mercy extended to all those under a death sentence.  These people had believed Israel’s God to be greater than their gods.  They believed they were going to die at the hands of Israel.  They used the only means their unsaved, pagan minds could devise to obtain mercy. And they surrendered unconditionally to Joshua and Israel; basically pleading for their lives.

Joshua, the Jesus of the Old Testament, did what he determined to be right and fair.  He spared their lives when they deserved to die.  This, by the way, was personally humiliating for Joshua.  He then made them public servants.  They were not slaves; they were like “state employees.”

God, in an act of mercy directed toward Joshua and Israel, apparently approved of his treatment of the Gibeonites.  When King Saul messed with the treaty, disaster ensued:

There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted year after year for three years, and David spent much time in prayer about it. Then the Lord said, “The famine is because of the guilt of Saul and his family, for they murdered the Gibeonites.”  (2 Samuel 21:1  TLB)

This curious incident in Hebrew history may be viewed in both a negtive light and a positive one.  It never should have happened.  But it did, and our sovereign God was able to make the best out of man’s mistake.  It brings to mind Romans 8:28 –

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (TNIV)

What became of the Gibeonites?  There is a hint in Nehemiah that in time they became completely assimilated into Israel.  Donald Madvig ends his study of the Gibeonites in a positive way:

This is another example of the omnipotence of God, for His divine purpose was served even by the foolish error of His people.  

 

 

 

 

 

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