Why Not Sooner? A Stupor from the Lord
It is one of our greatest comforts that the Lord governs his enemies. Imagine what the devil would do to the church (Rev. 12:17) if our Lord had not come to destroy his works (1 John 3:8) and break his dominion (Matt. 12:28-29; Luke 10:18; John 12:28-29; Rev. 12:10). The gospel would not go forward in the world. The wicked would have complete sway, and our lives would be in constant jeopardy. Even before the Son of God came, the Lord fought for his people and against his enemies. One way he fights is by restraining wicked men from doing all the evil they desire and plan. Had we been part of the Canaanite nations, would we have waited until Israel returned from Ebal before joining forces to mount a counterattack? After Israel’s defeat at Ai, the Canaanites should have mustered and attacked – or as soon as Israel crossed the Jordan. This did not happen. The Lord paralyzed the Canaanites with fear, and they holed up behind their city walls. This gave Israel time to get their footing in the land and learn what it meant for the Lord to be in their midst. The Lord is the governor of the nations (Ps. 22:27) and works on two fronts. He humbles and sanctifies his people to be his dwelling place. He works against his enemies to deprive them of energy, overturn their plans, and restrain their evil or by using their evil it to further the good of his people.
Fresh Off Worship and Covenant – Attacked!
God’s people were only recently returned from sacrificing and covenanting. It was then that the Lord allowed the Canaanite nations to form a league against Israel. He prepared them for this fight by forgiving their sins and renewing his promises to them. When we are assured of his favor, we can stand fast in the faith. If our consciences gnaw at us, resolve is weakened, and we shall have no confidence to fight against sin and Satan. But, when we hear that he loves us and binds himself to us in an unbreakable covenant, that he is reconciled to us through his Son, then we are encouraged to resist the devil. “If God be for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31-32)? Worship is unto warfare; warfare often follows after seasons of grace and worship. It is the one way the Lord tests our resolve, prepares us to see his mighty deeds that we may continue praising him, and teaches us to live depending upon him. It is also the way he shows that our faith and hope are not vain and that he truly fights for us as we take him at his word.
Our Enemy a Deceiver (vv. 3-14)
3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. And they took old sacks on their donkeys, old wineskins torn and mended, 5 old and patched sandals on their feet, and old garments on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. 6 And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, "We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us." 7 Then the men of Israel said to the Hivites, "Perhaps you dwell among us; so how can we make a covenant with you?" 8 But they said to Joshua, "We are your servants." And Joshua said to them, "Who are you, and where do you come from?" 9 So they said to him: "From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God; for we have heard of His fame, and all that He did in Egypt, 10 "and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan -- to Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who was at Ashtaroth. 11 "Therefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, 'Take provisions with you for the journey, and go to meet them, and say to them, "We are your servants; now therefore, make a covenant with us." ' 12 "This bread of ours we took hot for our provision from our houses on the day we departed to come to you. But now look, it is dry and moldy. 13 "And these wineskins which we filled were new, and see, they are torn; and these our garments and our sandals have become old because of the very long journey." 14 Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the LORD.
Fear, Flattery, and Falsehood – A Trap Suspected (vv. 3-7)
The Gibeonites lived only a few miles away and witnessed with horror the annihilation of Jericho, Ai, and Bethel. Victory by arms seemed impossible, and they did not join the Canaanite league. They tried lying. They must have known that discovery was inevitable, but it was better than immediate death. They took a store of old food and dressed in old clothes. Disguised Gibeonite ambassadors then went to Joshua at Gilgal and asked for a league of peace. The Israelites suspected a trap (v. 7). Perhaps you live nearby – how do we know? If the devil cannot overthrow our faith and hope by a direct assault, he will use an indirect one – pretended friendship, flattery that tempts us with overconfidence and the promise of an easier way so that we let our guard down – the crown without the cross. The Gibeonites said in effect – you do not need to fight with us. We desire peace. We live far away and pose no threat to you; let us be allies. They did not want peace on the Lord’s terms, as Rahab sought – by repentance and faith. Clearly, her example of faith is a powerful testimony that God’s “ban” upon the Canaanites might be overcome by turning to the Lord and seeking refuge in the God of Israel. This same “ban” or anathema lies upon the whole race of men, and we can only escape the wrath to come by fleeing to Jesus Christ for refuge (1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 6:18). The Lord directed Israel to make an offer of peace to nations that were far away, but not to those who were in Canaan proper (Deut. 20:10-18). How did the Gibeonites seem to know this distinction? Did they have spies at Ebal and hear God’s law read?
Makes Sense to Us – But Did Not Ask the Lord (vv. 8-14)
When Joshua asked where they were from, the answer was vague – a far country. We have heard the name of “the Lord your God.” “Yahweh” was by no means unknown to the Canaanites. What he did to the Egyptians was well-known throughout Canaan. Israel’s victories on the eastern side of Jordan were common knowledge. The Gibeonites wove quite a tale – our leaders sent us to seek you out (fame and flattery). Our bread was warm and our shoes and wineskins new when we began the journey (effort, distance). Israel did not enquire of the Lord. They had the Urim and Thummim, the Lord’s priests, and his constant presence to guide them. Instead, they trusted their eyes. We do the same when the world threatens us – God’s enemies are so powerful, wealthy, and well-organized. Or we are mocked for believing the Bible – the secular universities are sophisticated and well-funded, they must have something to teach us, and we really should try to gain their accreditation as far as we can. But the Lord is our Shepherd, and he tells us to follow him – not our eyes, experts, or experiences. When we are uncertain what to do, when the world pretends to be our friend, when unbelievers want acceptance and peace with us, we must ask the Lord to take us in hand and guide us (Ps. 73:24).
Survival by Lies Short-Lived (vv. 15-27)
15 So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them. 16 And it happened at the end of three days, after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbors who dwelt near them. 17 Then the children of Israel journeyed and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath Jearim. 18 But the children of Israel did not attack them, because the rulers of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation complained against the rulers. 19 Then all the rulers said to all the congregation, "We have sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel; now therefore, we may not touch them. 20 "This we will do to them: We will let them live, lest wrath be upon us because of the oath which we swore to them." 21 And the rulers said to them, "Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for all the congregation, as the rulers had promised them." 22 Then Joshua called for them, and he spoke to them, saying, "Why have you deceived us, saying, 'We are very far from you,' when you dwell near us? 23 "Now therefore, you are cursed, and none of you shall be freed from being slaves -- woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God." 24 So they answered Joshua and said, "Because your servants were clearly told that the LORD your God commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you; therefore we were very much afraid for our lives because of you, and have done this thing. 25 "And now, here we are, in your hands; do with us as it seems good and right to do to us." 26 So he did to them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, so that they did not kill them. 27 And that day Joshua made them woodcutters and water carriers for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, in the place which He would choose, even to this day.
A Lying Tongue but for a Moment (vv. 15-16)
Joshua made peace with them. His covenant with the Gibeonites teaches all men everywhere not to undertake anything without seeking the Lord’s blessing. We may have numerous victories under our belt, but the most experienced leader is capable of grievous errors of judgment. We might have succeeded at some task or responsibility a hundred times, but on the hundred and first, the Lord rebukes our presumption for not seeking him. He will be our Captain and Shepherd. He knows the danger of self-reliance. He knows the ferocity of our enemy. For a moment, Joshua forgot all this. The evidence was overwhelming. There did not appear to be anything amiss. He and the congregation swore to preserve the Gibeonites’ lives. Three days later, Israel discovered the truth. These distant travelers were near neighbors. How embarrassed Joshua and the elders must have been! Why did we not ask the Lord? We would not get into as many scrapes and would see Satan and his hosts held back, exposed, and scattered if we would live asking, seeking, as our Lord lived and commands us to live.
Israel Kept Its Promise (vv. 17-19)
Upon discovering the truth, Israel marched to the cities of Gibeon. Israel did not destroy the Gibeonite cities, because they had “sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel” (v. 18). The congregation murmured against its leaders – is this another Ai? Will the Lord kill more of us because of the sins of a few? The princes quieted God’s people. We made an oath to them in the name of the Lord. We may not touch them. It is likely that even having sworn in the name of the Lord, Israel was not legally bound by its promise. It was a promise made upon false pretenses. A marriage, to take a more personal example, that is established and even consummated upon false pretenses – bigamy, gross, unconfessed impurity – may be nullified. The same was likely true in this case. However, two considerations influenced the princes. First, they had sinned by not consulting the Lord. Thus, they shared a portion of the guilt for this situation. Second, they swore in the Lord’s name and felt a personal obligation to keep their vows. Our age looks for ways to get around promises, so perhaps we should instead admire the Israel’s princes for “swearing to their own hurt.” This seems to be the way we should take their vow. Centuries later, when Israel suffered famine, the Lord told them it was because Saul had killed some Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21). Thus, the Lord considered this covenant, even obtained under false pretenses, to be binding upon his people. As so many centuries had passed, we learn how seriously we should take our promises. The Lord remembers them forever.
Gibeon Survived – As Slaves (vv. 20-27)
Gibeon survived – to the days of Nehemiah – almost a millennium (Neh. 7:25). They survived initially as slaves. They did the backbreaking work of carrying water and cutting wood. This would be a great blessing to the Levites and priests. Gibeon willingly accepted this curse – like the Phoenician woman gladly received the “crumbs that fell from the table” (Mark 7:28-29). Their explanation is compelling – it was told to them that God had given Canaan to Israel. We were afraid for our lives. In a strange sense, they believed and trembled – at least at the level of recognizing their worthiness of judgment and seeking protection. The way they went about it brought a historical curse, but at least their sentence was lived out “in the tents of Shem.” Over the years, they heard the gospel and undoubtedly we shall meet some of them in heaven, sons and daughters of Abraham by faith in God’s promise. Joshua made them servants of God’s worship (v. 27) Some curse! What a blessing to them and to Israel! The Lord is able to bring so much good out of our sins and poor judgments! Let us worship him.
Children of Light in a World of Lies
Feigned Friendship the World’s Usual Method (Jer. 17:9; 2 Cor. 11:14)
The Lord had his people whom he wanted to save even among the Canaanites. He knows who are his (2 Tim.2:19). Whatever Gibeon became in time, it tried to save its skin by feigned friendship. This is the usual method Satan and ungodly men use to infiltrate and weaken the church. The world sometimes pretends it respects the church or is willing to tolerate it. It is better for Satan to come at us with fangs bared than to have the world nestle up to us with a smile. We must be readier than we have been for these kinds of deceptions. Man’s heart is “deceitfully wicked” (Jer. 17:9). Satan knows this, so he often slides up close as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14) – pretending that pluralism is the church’s friend, to take one example, and the best guarantee of its religious liberties. All the while, when the church gives validity to religious and political polytheism, she is welcoming the enemy into to her bosom. The world does not want friendship with God or with his people. It wants our death. This is the reason we are warned to seek no friendship with the world (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). Whoever would be the world’s friend must be the Lord’s enemy (James 4:4). And yet, this has proven a constant temptation – to make our peace with the world rather than fight it. We grow weary of doing good, weary of fighting, wearing of being “strangers and pilgrims in the earth.” But if we would finally arrive at our Father’s city, we must wear the mantle of warfare he has placed upon our shoulders – not being mean or angry, but speaking the truth in love, fighting the good fight of faith to the end of our course, and never growing weary of doing good – by the strength of Christ.
Wait upon the Lord to Guide You – Our Shepherd (John 10:4-7)
We often talk about being “led by the Lord,” and Israel’s sin of not seeking the Lord’s counsel brings this issue forcibly to our attention. He is our Shepherd. He claims for himself the office of guide. His guidance is not rubberstamping what we want to do and have already decided is best. The Lord is our guide when we submit all our plans to him, ask him to guide us through his works and word, providences, a multitude of counselors, or simply by allowing nothing to happen. Yes, nothing. But what if a decision needs to be made? Our sense of pressure or getting ourselves into these situations does not put him under any obligation to clean up our mess or work a miracle. He would have us wait upon him to guide us, wait upon him contentedly and quietly, and wait upon him in faith. The Lord Jesus is our Shepherd in very personal ways. When he “leads his own sheep out, he goes before them.” This is his pledge. We must endeavor to be quieter sheep, less unruly, less demanding, and less wayward.
Overconfidence after Victory Leads to a Fall (1 Cor. 10:12)
We see what happens when we rush head. Well, said the leaders of Israel, here is the proof of what these men claim – false proof! Perhaps Israel was overconfident. We are warned against self-confidence – if we think we stand, are doing well, can overcome in this particular situation, we are likely to fall. We are always weaker, far weaker than we think we are; we are never as strong as we think. Israel had conquered Jericho, Ai, Bethel, and likely other kingdoms on the way to Ebal. They were growing in confidence, which is a wonderful thing, provided that confidence is in the Lord’s grace, not in ourselves (2 Cor. 12:9-10). We can be as confident as we wish if we are praying, obeying, and seeking the Lord. If we are not seeking him, submitting our plans to him, and waiting upon him, it is best to have no confidence at all, for a fall is coming, likely soon.
Always Keep Your Promises – Dread Breaking Covenant (Col. 3:10; Ps. 31:18; Prov. 12:19)
The Lord would have us to be a truth-telling people. The old man of sin lies (Col. 3:10). The destiny of lying lips is to be silenced (Ps. 31:18). A lie takes a second to tell, is usually short-lived in its success, and brings eternal judgment (Prov. 12:19; Rev. 21:8). Israel kept its word to Gibeon, even when it was to “their own hurt” (Ps. 15:4). The Lord would have us be truth-tellers, to speak the truth in love, to learn to hate lies as much as he does (Prov. 6:16-17). He would have us keep our promises and covenants – as Christians, spouses, to one another, in society. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I urge you to let your word be your bond – it was our Lord’s, and he went to the cross for it. He promised to be surety for us, and even when it cost him his life, when he had to take our sin and judgment upon his holy soul, he did not draw back. He set his face like flint. He gave his back to the smiters and his cheeks to those who plucked out the beard. He did not hide his face from shame and spitting. Why? He kept covenant. He was the covenant (Isa. 42:4). Let it never be said of any of us who profess his name that we were public confessors but private sinners, covenant breakers, and liars. Let our children never have occasion to think us false friends of Christ by our words and attitudes. He desires truth, for he is the truth, and he will have us bear his truth to the world, tell the truth about ourselves, and keep the truth in our relationships, even when we make a promise and it is costly to keep. As each of us has promised to lay down our lives for him, should he call us to do so, and more commonly to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him, let this be a week of truth telling and living in our midst, repentance where needed, and casting ourselves upon him as the only one who can help us live in the blazing light of truth.
Build a Relationship of Trust and Dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ
How can we trust the Lord instead of rushing forward? Something in us howls to hear that we should distrust ourselves and do nothing unless the Lord is guiding us. It is the old man of sin, the old man that wants to kill you, the old man that desires to deceive you into trusting yourself so that you stay away from the Lord Jesus Christ. Why stay away from him? If we know him as our wisdom and strength, sin cannot get easy footholds in our affections. If we are in awe of him with the sword coming out of his mouth and his voice like rushing waters, we will hunger for his word. It will be a delight to us. We shall study it, pray over it, meditate upon it, and find ourselves growing fruitful in Christ. And the old man of sin does not want to die. He wants to live long enough to give you grief and make yourself miserable. No wonder the apostle bemoaned his wretchedness (Rom. 7:24). But he also magnified God’s grace through Jesus Christ (v. 25). If we want to know the Lord as our Shepherd and guide, we must build a relationship with him of faith and trust. We must live yielded to him, wanting his will to be done in our lives, even if his will means we must deny ourselves. I cannot think of this scene without thinking of Joshua meeting the Captain of the Lord’s armies before they went into battle with Jericho. And now, when they were tricked by the Gibeonites, hear him say to Joshua, “Why did you not ask me? I would have told you what was going on and exposed them. And so our Savior will do for us, for the great work of his church, for her purity in worship, doctrine, and life. He will guide us through all of Satan’s lies, the compromises of our own hearts, and the deceptions of wolves. But we must never trust ourselves and look to him to be our guide (Ps. 48:14).