Lessons from Joshua
- Joshua 9:1-27
- John 16:17-24
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
In preparing a series from the book of Joshua I am forced to preach the Word of God about the Gibeonites. I really wanted to get to the glories of God’s triumphal victory over the kings of Canaan in chapter 10, while I had, and maybe still have, questions about the place of the Gibeonites in this story. But point is, the triumphant battle over the kings of Canaan was ignited by the Gibeonites. It was the Gibeonites who got into trouble with the rest of the Canaanite kings because of their treaty with the Israelites, and Joshua’s decision to protect them from destruction by these kings which led to the Bible declaring, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man.” (Joshua 10:14)
So before we can get to this day, and what it means for the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, let’s ponder the Word of God from Joshua 9. I apologise for announcing different readings for today.
Let’s pray for the Spirit’s illumination of our minds.
The title for this sermon is, “Saved, by hook or by crook!”
Not the norm
If anyone would deduce from this passage in the Word of God that the Gibeonites is the norm for getting saved, he would make a real mistake. What happened here in Joshua 9 is not the description of the ordinary way of being included into the Kingdom of God. The lesson, I think, we should take from this chapter in the Word of God is not how the Gibeonites got into the sphere of God’s saving grace, but more to learn from the mistakes from Israel. I’ll explain.
Before the forces of Israel marched on to Jericho the spies met Rahab. Her past was chequered, having been a Canaanite prostitute, but the Bible records a marvellous verse. Rahab confessed:
The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Joshua 2:11, NIV)
This describes the conversion of Rahab to worship God and Him alone. Because of this fact the men of Israel made an oath to spare her and her family when God would destroy the city.
Up to this point Israel acted in good faith with the command of the Lord:
… and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. (Deuteronomy 7:1–2, NIV)
Visitors from “afar”
Now Israel one day received some visitors. Arriving with their clothes in tatters, their footwear worn out, and what was left of their food, mouldy and dry. They looked like coming from afar. This was all a facade to fool the Israelites. They were actually neighbours who have travelled less than a day.
Under false pretences they acted like helpless strangers in need of protection. What actually happened is that they were in some sort of alliance with other kings, most probably to stick together when one of them was attacked by some foreign army. Gibeon was part of that coalition, but they figured out that they would be the next in line for destruction by the army of Israel. They also did their sums and came to the conclusion that the forces of the alliance combined will not withstand the army of the Lord. They were correct. Their plan was to seek refuge with Israel: if you can’t beat them, join them!
They indeed heard about the wondrous deeds of salvation of God, but there is no evidence of worship of this God of Israel – not like Rahab. They were merely looking for a way to save their skins.
The leaders of Israel raised the possibility that they were indeed actually Hivites and would therefore be neighbours – to make a treaty with them would be to disobey the commandment of the Lord. “No, we are your servants!”, was their reply. They were saved, by hook or by crook.
The “mistake” of Israel
It seems, as I said earlier, that this episode was included into the book of Joshua not to first of all tell us about the deception of the enemy; rather, this episode is included to point out where Israel went wrong so that they would not repeat the same mistakes. We as the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ in our task in taking the message of salvation to the nations can learn from them. We’ll get to that later.
We read in verse 14:
The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. (Joshua 9:14, NIV)
Collectively the leaders and Joshua believed the story of the Gibeonites and disobeyed the command of the Lord to not make a treatise with a godless nation. It was all ratified by binding oath. But strangely enough there is not a direct indication in the Word that God condemned this action. In favour of Israel one could say that they entered the treaty not because they were looking for it, but because they were deceived. Besides, the covenant between them and the Gibeonites was not one between two equal partners; it was an agreement where Israel could dictate the rules and conditions. If the Gibeonites broke covenant they would be destroyed like all the other nations. They were not openly and darlingly compromising their relation with God as his covenant people.
With the luxury of hind site one can ask, “Was this really a mistake?” Well, yes and no. If they did not do it God would still have given them victory as He promised; there was no need for them to do it. But fact is it was risky, exposing them to the very reason why God commanded them to not do such a thing:
“… for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices … they will lead your sons to do the same. (Exodus 34:15–16, NIV)
The result of this “mistake”
When three days later they found out that they were deceived, they sent a delegation, but they did not attack them. Being men of God, they kept their word and did not violate the treaty. However, they did call them to account, but it certainly compromised their position as the people of God who needed to obey Him more and above all things and everything. There was disunity between the Israelites as to how they should handle the issue. Some wanted them dead, and they were right – that was the command of the Lord. But what about their arrangement with the Gibeonites – those who call themselves children of God do not come back on their word! How do you get out of this predicament?
It calls for a man with principles to keep direction in times like these. Joshua was such man. The deceivers were called in and Joshua gave the verdict: grace not to kill them; faithfulness not to brake covenant with them; righteousness to apply the Word of God; commitment to subdue them to the service of the Lord. So verse 26 states:
So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. (Joshua 9:26–27, NIV)
Joshua stood, as a type of Christ, between the righteousness of God and the demand of the Law. But the existence of the Gibeonites would only be secured for as long as they served the Lord at his altar by cutting the wood for the sacrifice and carrying the water for the purification of the altar.
The outcome of this “mistake”
Chapter 10 starts with a verse which is actually the same as chapter 9. The only difference between those verses is that the kings mentioned here understood that Gibeon walked out of the alliance to join Israel. The purpose of their meeting now was not to join forces to fight against their actual enemy, Israel, but to punish their former ally, which was an important member of their group: a royal city bigger than Ai has broken allegiance to join the enemy. From our perspective, that was a good thing: their eyes were taken off the ball to prevent the advance of their adversary and they became a house divided.
Gibeon, now in alliance with Israel, seems to understand the implication of siding with the people of God: when on God’s side, one becomes enemy number one of the forces of evil.
What now? You can trust those who had all reason to kill you but kept word and let you live. So they sent word to Joshua:
Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us. (Joshua 10:6, NIV)
After receiving assurance from God that he would have success, Joshua marched up against the kings and after an all night trek he attacked them at dawn. This turned out to be a fantastic outcome for the Lord and Joshua, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:14, NIV)
We will look at that next week in more detail. When they went to Israel to deceive them into a covenant with them, their knowledge of God was what they had heard of Him of the past, but now, here in their own city, they experienced exactly how wonderful and powerful the mighty hand of God can save. They saw how God took over, led the army of Israel and even hurled thunder and stones from the skies to destroy His enemy – all while He did not turn his anger at them for their deception!
In other words: they experienced first hand both the power and the grace of God. This experience would make them later discover the holiness of God as they served around the holy place of God as see the demand of God to save them from their sins.
What do we learn from this a Church of Christ?
We need to be diligent in doing God’s command
One of the lessons from Joshua here is that God’s command should and must be our priority. It seems to have been a mistake of Joshua to take the word of the Gibeonites over the word of God. They did not enquire of God.
How do we enquire of the Lord? Two things: by reading and obeying his Word, and by being diligent in prayer. Now, when we mention these things we understand that it should be true of each of us as members of the Church of Christ, but it surely means that it should be true as a body of believers: together we should study the Word, be under the discipline of the Word and be guided by the Word; together we should be praying for God’s direction and guidance. We are not a bunch of individuals here, we are members of the body of our Lord. In this we should be united, of one spirit and mind, aimed at the same targets and aims. Paul writes:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, (Philippians 1:27–29, NIV)
We should be diligent in keeping guard
We all know that not everyone who walks in the door of a church or who wants join the membership does so because of the purest of intensions. We cannot always see the hart of such a person, but we should always be on our guard to keep the church of our Lord pure. Never should anyone with his own ideas be allowed to become part of our membership. Never must the church of Christ compromise it Gospel of redemption in Christ. Never must the church of Christ ally itself with the world. Our survival does not lie in seeking to comply with the standards of this world, but to remain faithful to the Word of God.
Our faithfulness should be known to the world
There are many stories and examples of how the church of our Lord in the past stuck to its principles, and yet it was honoured for its faithfulness. Once we give our word, and that word is in alignment with the Bible, we should stick to it. There is nothing as distasteful to the world as Christians who do not keep their word, or a church that cannot be trusted. Joshua could easily have turned his back on the Gibeonites because of their deceit, but he kept his world and helped when they were in need.
God can use our seeming mistakes to the glory of his Name
There would be some Gibeonites who for selfish and short-sighted gain entered into the treaty with Israel, but surely, there would be others who got to know the Lord, not by hearing only, but by experience. They would never after this episode dream of worshipping another God or entering into a treaty with the enemy. In the same way, may we pray that whoever join the worship of God, for whatever reason, will come to know Him on the basis of what He has done in the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, that they would meet Him at the altar of his holiness, maybe first as slaves, but later on as saved sinners – may it be true of all of us.
Jesus, our Joshua
Not only did Joshua save the Gibeonites from the Israelites in their pursuit of righteousness, but our Joshua, Christ, the son of God, stood in our place to save us for that all-demanding righteousness by becoming our righteousness. Were it not for Him, all of us deserve to be woodcutters and water carriers at the altar of God, but He became the wood, the water, the sacrifice, the altar, the priest – everything so that we may go free to serve our Lord to his glory.
When in need we can also now cry out, “Come quickly and save us. Help us, the forces of hell hell have joined forces against us.” We have the answer of our Lord such a prayer, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24, NIV)
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 January 2014