The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.
It has been said that war is a deception. The Bible says to us, the members of Jesus' church, "Let no one deceive you” (Eph 5:6) or "Do not be deceived" (1Co 6:9; Gal 6:7).It also has been said, "The one who is deceived is worse than the one who deceives." God's children are supposed to be as wise as their Heavenly Father is.How can we be as wise as our Heavenly Father is? The answer is obvious: by studying God's word. So let us take a look at the passage for today and think about how we can be wise in dealing with the enemies' good, age-old tactic called "Deception."
First, our enemies look largely scattered but are in fact tightly united.
Look at vs. 1-2. "Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things--those in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the entire coast of the Great Sea as far as Lebanon (the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites)--They came together to make war against Joshua and Israel." The expression "they came together" already indicates that in the past they lived in their own respective lands, minded their own businesses, and without doubt, occasionally even must have fought against each other, just as animals such as dogs or chickens fight each other over some goodies like food or territorial dominion. But when they heard about the movements of the Israelites, they all formed a united front. They came together to make war against Joshua and Israel. According to Hebrew 10:1, "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves." Here the good things include Jesus Christ, the gospel he commanded us to preach and all the blessings that are associated with Jesus Christ and His blessed gospel. The law refers to the people, events, and teachings found in the Old Testament books, including those recorded in the book of Joshua. If this is indeed the case, it is not difficult to see that Joshua could be the precursor of Jesus to come, and Israel the newborn members of the church of Jesus, those who through the blessed gospel received salvation in the family of our heavenly Father. Then we can re-read the last part of v. 1, "They came together to make war against Joshua and Israel." This passage then opens our eyes to the reality that there is an absolute number of people out there who are going to come, (if they have not yet done so) together to make war against Jesus and those who stand under the banner of Jesus' leadership. Are you a member of Jesus' army?Have you recently sung the hymn entitled "Onward Christian Soldiers"? At the wedding reception, Shepherd Jonathan suggested the newly wed couple saying, "Why don't you sing Onward Christian Soldiers"?I thought it was a good suggestion. Maybe when they come back from their honeymoon trip, we can ask them to sing this song again to see how they are doing. Anyway, if indeed we belong to Jesus Christ and fight the battle the Lord marked out for us, expect tons of enemies that will arise from all over the world and try to come down on you to crush you.
Second, it is hard to defeat the enemy who uses trickery than the enemy who comes to us in outright rebellion.
Look at vs. 3-4. "However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse:" The expression "they resorted to a ruse" tells us that outright confrontation is not always the strategy our enemies are using.In fact it is a very primitive method. On many occasions, they use a more sophisticated tool called "deception." In fact this is what our enemies are using most often, garnering without doubt the most powerful results and therefore causing the greatest amount of damage to the Lord's army, in literally almost all battles. In v. 7, these Gibeonites are called "Hivites." In the Aramaic language the word "hivia" means "snake." So the Gibeonites, who were apparently known to the men of Israel as Hivites, were as shrewd as snakes. And as we see in the following passage, just as the first family Adam and Eve fell for the deception of the ancient serpent, Joshua and the men of Israel fell victim to the deception played by the snake-like people. This then reminds us of one Bible verse, Matthew 10:16, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." "Be as shrewd as snakes..." This is a command. So we must make our best efforts to obey this command.
Third, how did the Gibeonites deceive?
(1) They hid their identity (4-6)
Let us read vs. 4-6. "They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.’" Here we see that they made a lot of preparations. They got themselves organized by selecting perhaps the best deceivers of all. And then they formed a delegation. Like a lot of Hollywood movie directors, they prepared a lot of props to generate the facades which were made to look like what is truly real when in fact they are all fake inside. And in so doing they effectively hid their identity. They were nearby. They were members of the seven Canaanite nations. They were the ones the Lord God had already marked out for destruction. Yet, they generated the look that they were the people from a far-away country, perhaps way outside the boundary of the Promised Land.
Their practice reminds us of Jesus' warning in Matthew 7:15 where Jesus said, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."
(2) They took advantage of the crack in the unity between Joshua and the men of Israel (6,7,14,15)
Look at v. 6. "Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.’" Apparently the meeting took place at Joshua's office located at Gilgal. There in Joshua's tent, perhaps there was a table, and on one side Joshua and his men (called the men of Israel) were seated, and on the opposite side the members of the delegation were seated.
How did the meeting go? Look at v. 7. "The men of Israel said to the Hivites, ‘But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?’" At first there was great tension. After receiving the proposal from the Gibeonites, it was not Joshua but the men of Israel who spoke first. Maybe Joshua was still watching, and remained silent. So the men of Israel took over the conversation and spoke bluntly about their suspicion, saying, "Perhaps you live near us." Look especially at how v. 7 began. "The men of Israel said to the ‘Hivites.’" Perhaps they already recognized that the Gibeonites were Hivites. See, God gave each person an insight, which is loosely called a "gut feeling" or "gut sense" or "sixth sense."
When the Gibeonites heard this, maybe cold sweats might have broken out. They sensed that their trickery was going to go nowhere. So they quickly shifted gears. They turned to Joshua and said to him, "We are your servants." At that precise moment, Joshua should have stopped the meeting, go out with his generals to a separate room, perhaps leaving the Gibeonotes in the room, and talk further about the basis of the suspicion raised by the men of Israel. But Joshua did not do that. This is a small indication that there is a tiny crack in the unity between Joshua and his generals.
We see the same sign in vs. 14 and 15. In v. 14, while the men of Israel sampled out the enemies' provision, Joshua did not. In v. 15, Joshua signed the treaty but the men of Israel ratified it by oath. Perhaps Joshua gave the paperwork to the men of Israel without meaning to sign it by oath, but the men of Israel ratified it by oath. This is further indication of the crack in the unity between Joshua and the men of Israel. They did not communicate as closely as they needed.
This then tells us that in fighting the Lord's battle it is an absolute must for all members of the Lord's army to move with one mind, one spirit, and one message with one understanding. Yesterday in talking with Shepherd Teddy and his wife Liz, I learned one interesting story about a couple. This couple went on a honeymoon trip. The first day, the couple was having breakfast. His wife was conscious of her weight, so she ate little. Her husband got concerned and asked the wife, "Honey, why do you eat so little?" The woman said, "Honey, each time I see you, I lose my appetite." The man got really upset because he thought to himself, "Hey, do I look so ugly that this lady loses her appetite each time she sees me?" But later it turned out that what she meant was that to her, taking a look at her husband itself was so satisfying. In other words she feels so full that her appetite is all gone.
This episode teaches us that unless we make constant efforts to be one mind and spirit with the Lord and with our fellow coworkers, it is impossible for us to fight and win victories over our enemies.
(3) They played on the Israelites' desire to be more than what they really are (8,9,11)
When we read vs. 8-11, we see that the Gibeonites played on the Israelites' so-called ego. All fallen men have the sinful desire to be and look more than who and what they really are. Knowing this, in verses 8, 9, and 11, the Gibeonites kept calling the Israelites "masters." They repeated this three times. "You are our masters, you are our masters, you are our masters." Three is a perfect number. And three times were sufficient to cook the Israelites. After hearing these, the leadership got totally disarmed. They became all puffed up. And they fell victim to the enemies' deception.
This passage then teaches us that we must always remember who we are. Who are we? We are all forgiven sinners. Most importantly, without the Lord protecting us, we are all sitting ducks. For this reason we are told not to lean on our own understanding, but go by the Lord's council. Let us read Proverbs 3:5, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."
(4) They spoke about the God of Israel favorably and truthfully (9-10,24)
Let us read three verses: 9,10, and 24.
Joshua 9:9,10 - "They answered: "Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, And all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan--Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth."
Joshua 9:24 - "They answered Joshua, "Your servants were clearly told how the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this.
They spoke well of the God of Israel adopting words like "the fame of the LORD your God." They also spoke a lot of truths about God of Israel and His work, like the promise to give the Promised Land to Israel. This disarmed the Israelites. These statements made the leaders lower their guard.
But we must be careful. We must understand that our enemies know how to speak well of God. They know how to speak even truthfully about God. But this does not mean that they truly believe in God. No. And in the case of the Gibeonites, they never said, "This God is going to be my God or our God." All they said was "your God".
Fourth, fruit of deception (18)
(1) A crack in the unity between the leadership and the assembly (18)
Look at v. 18. "But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders..."
Grumbling is not good. We must always be respectful about the leadership. But this time the assembly had all the right reasons to complain. The leadership botched the matter. They did not make a right judgment. As Joshua so flatly admitted, the leadership got deceived.
(2) Loss of the enjoyment of the land for God's children (18).
One practical loss that came out of the Gibeonites' deception was that the Israelites lost ground to the Gibeonites. It rightly belonged to them, but now they had to let the enemies continue to occupy the land.
(3) Weeds growing with wheat (18-27)
Let us read vs. 18-27 responsively. 9:18 But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, 9:19 But all the leaders answered, "We have given them our oath by the LORD, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. 9:20 This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them." 9:21 They continued, "Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community." So the leaders' promise to them was kept. 9:22Then Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, "Why did you deceive us by saying, 'We live a long way from you,' while actually you live near us? 9:23 You are now under a curse: You will never cease to serve as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God." 9:24They answered Joshua, "Your servants were clearly told how the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. 9:25 We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you." 9:26So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. 9:27 That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the community and for the altar of the LORD at the place the LORD would choose. And that is what they are to this day.
Here we see the leaders continually saying, "Let them live, let them live." But let us remember that Joshua had to curse them. This shows that what is cursed dwells with what is not, those who are cursed are with those who are not. Plus, the blessed work of cutting wood and carrying water at the Lord's temple went from the Israelites to the hands of a slave class which Joshua newly created. This is terrible. And the expression "that is what they are to this day" indicates that history repeats itself again and again, repeating itself even in the context of the churches of the 21st century.
Six, victory over the enemies' deception (14)
How can we overcome these problems? What lesson is there for us to learn? Three things come to mind.
(1) We should not sample the enemies' provisions.
Look at v. 14. "The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD." This passage reminds us of what the Apostle John says in 1 John 2:15. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
(2) We must always inquire of the Lord in making decisions of our lives.
This is especially true with leaders, for v. 14 talks about the leaders not inquiring of the Lord. Look at v. 14 again. "The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD." Consistent with this exhortation, the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:6..."[I]n everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
(3) We should not listen to what our enemies are saying.
In vs. 6-13, we see one important red flag which resulted in the leaders being deceived. The leadership kept talking to the enemies. And the enemies kept spinning their own stories. And the leaders listened and listened. The more they listened, the more credible the enemies looked. So they fell for their ruse. This is just like the first woman Eve chatting with the serpent for a prolonged period of time. Then she fell for the deception. One word: pray always