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Joshua 9 - The Gibeonites

Sun, Nov 01, 2020
Teacher: Chris Appleby
Passage: Joshua 9:1-27
Duration:19 mins 56 secs
THe Gibeonites lie, The Israelites make an oath based on that lie and then have to live with it. God's grace is extended even to the lying Gibeonites

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Common Sense isn’t all that Common

I love those movies and TV series that show con-men targeting dishonest or greedy people to steal their money. If you’re as old as me you may remember The Sting, or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, more recently remade into The Hustle, or perhaps the TV Series Hustle. Now I like them not because I approve of theft but because of the cleverness of their schemes. And today as the adventure continues we find just such a scheme at work in Joshua ch 9.

The Israelites have just come from the foot of Mt Ebal and Mt Gerizim, modern day Nablus, where they were reminded of the blessings and the curses that God had promised to his people. They’re now moving south to continue their conquest of the land.

The whole population of Canaan has heard about them by now and the kings of the land below the hill country join together to prepare a defence. But not the leaders of Gibeon! They’ve seen what’s happened to Jericho and to Ai and they figure the same fate awaits them if they resist. So they take a different tack. They prepare a subterfuge.

They prepare dried out provisions, worn out clothes & sacks, dry and cracked wineskins and patched sandals and go to meet Joshua at his camp in Gilgal.

They spin them a good story of how they’ve heard all about them even though they live a long way away.
- Half Truths & Deception
Naturally the Israelites are a little bit suspicious of this story. What if they’re lying and they actually live nearby? But they assure them that they’ve come from far away and all they want is to be servants of the Israelites. Then they throw in some flattery. “We’ve heard what you did to the Amorite kings, over on the other side of the Jordan, and we were so impressed that we’ve walked for weeks to come and join you”. They show them their bread and wineskins and clothing and it all looks very convincing. They spin a tale that’s full of half-truths and deception. They haven’t actually come from far away at all, but they have heard about the LORD and how he’s won the victory for the Israelites time and time again.

In fact they’ve heard not just of their victory over the Amorite kings but also over Jericho and Ai. But they don’t mention that. That would give them away.

Now at this point what should Joshua have done? Well, he should have asked God for guidance, shouldn’t he? God has told them what to do every step of the way so far. And that’s what Joshua needs to find out now.

James tells us: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5 NRSV) That’s all Joshua needs to do.

But he doesn’t. Instead the Israelites use their own judgement, their own common sense, which sadly turns out to be not very sensible in the end. They check out the food and it’s just as the Gibeonites have said: dried out and mouldy. They look like they’ve been travelling for weeks. So they believe them. The scam has worked.

Joshua and the leaders accept their offer and make a peace treaty with them, swearing an oath before the LORD.

Well, it only takes 3 days before the truth comes out. We don’t know how. It may be that as the Israelites moved towards the city of Gibeon it became clear that the Gibeonites knew where they were and gave it away. Maybe someone overheard them talking. Or perhaps they let on to someone who they really were.

In any case Joshua finds out and confronts them with their dishonesty.

A Promise is a Promise

Now at this stage some people would suggest that an oath based on deception is void. Why should they honour an oath gained by dishonourable means, based on a lie? But this isn’t just any old promise. This isn’t the sort of non-core promise that our politicians make and then change when situations make them difficult to carry out. No, this is an oath sworn in the name of the LORD. This is an oath that must not be broken. They promised to protect these people and protected they will be.

In fact 200 or 300 years later there was a famine in Israel and when David asked God about it he was told that the famine had come about because Saul had tried to wipe out the Gibeonites despite the oath of protection that Joshua had sworn. Saul didn’t care about a 300 year old oath, but God did.
I think this is one of the reasons that Jesus instructed his disciples never to swear an oath: because when you swear an oath God takes it seriously and expects you to keep it.

That’s a long way from the way people today think, isn’t it? To think that God would expect you to keep your promises even if it turns out to be at your cost! To think that God expects us to live obediently even after we’ve made foolish or hasty decisions! Most people would try to get out of their obligations in a situation like this, where they realise they’ve been tricked into making a foolish promise.

But not Joshua. He understands the significance of promising in God’s name. He acts as a representative of God: as God’s ambassador. Does that ring a bell? We’re called ambassadors of Christ aren’t we? Christ makes his appeal to the world through us. So how should we act when it comes to keeping our promises?

Listen to what we read in Psalm 15: “O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? 2Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; ... who stand by their oath even to their hurt; 5... Those who do these things shall never be moved.” (Ps 15). That’s a powerful statement isn’t it?

God’s grace extends to everyone.

But what about the Gibeonites? What should happen to them?

- even those who don’t deserve it.

Here we find an interesting sidelight to our story. God doesn’t cast them out. They’re totally undeserving of any benefit for their deception, yet God extends his grace to them anyway. We read, “The leaders said to them ‘Let them live.’”

Just as Rahab the harlot was allowed to join God’s people, so too these lying Gibeonites are allowed to stay with them. As we saw with Rahab God’s Grace extends to everyone irrespective of whether they deserve it. In fact, if you think about it, God only ever chooses to save those who are unworthy.
Mind you, they don’t get off scot free. Joshua takes them at their word and makes them the slaves of the people. Yet even there we see the grace of God at work. Do you see what work they’re set to do? He says: “23Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall always be slaves, hewers of wood and drawers of water” Yes, they’ll be slaves, but notice where they’ll be serving - in “the house of my God.” They’ll be slaves, but their slavery will be to the house of God. There they’ll be able to hear the word of God spoken, they’ll be in the most privileged of positions, able to go in and out of the tabernacle, close to where they can receive spiritual sustenance. 

- to those who have faith in God

But notice that it isn’t just the grace of God applied willy-nilly. God’s grace is necessary but so is faith on the part of the Gibeonites. One of the reasons they’re in this situation is because, like Rahab, they’d come to believe in God. Their belief may have been incomplete, as is that of the best of us, but it was true. They knew that God was the almighty God against whom no-one could stand and they chose to align themselves with him rather than stand with their countrymen and oppose him.

In the book of Zechariah God would tell his people that a time was coming when the people of other nations would hear about the Lord and beg to join them: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” (Zech 8:23)

Well here it’s happened already. The Gibeonites would do anything to go with God’s people. It’s like they’re hanging onto their coats and won’t let go until the Israelites let them come along.

God keeps his promises - Ch10

Finally we need to quickly dash through the following chapters. We won’t look at it in detail. All we need to note is that in Ch 10 we see the people of Israel winning victory after victory as they move south. First the 5 kings of the Amorites decide to attack Gibeon, the traitors. They knew that Gibeon was an important city, with good fighters so they figured they’d better deal with it fast. But Joshua is true to his promise and he marches in the middle of the night from Gilgal to Gibeon where God gives them the first of a series of victories over the Amorite and Perizzite kings. It seems that the Gibeonites’ deception has paved the way for Joshua to defeat 5 of the main tribes of the hill country around Jerusalem. The rest of the chapter outlines their progress through the foothills south to Eglon, across to Hebron and Debir winning victory after victory until virtually the whole southern part of the country has been defeated.

God is keeping his promise to give them the land. In chapter 11 we read how they then push north until the northern cities are also theirs. All that remains after that is to divide the land among the tribes and leave each tribe to clean up the remaining resistance in its own territory. We’ll see the final bit of that next time when we look at the story of Caleb.

But let’s think about what we’ve seen in this story of the Gibeonites. First we’ve heard a warning to make sure we ask God for guidance rather than just relying on our own common sense. Secondly we’ve seen the importance of showing integrity in the way we do what we say we’ll do. Jesus said let your yes be yes and your no, no. In other words just do what you say you’ll do.

Finally we see again that God’s grace is given to people who don’t deserve it. The fact that they’re totally unworthy to receive God’s friendship makes no difference. In fact that’s the given in every case. If we believe in him, if we ask for forgiveness he will give it to us.

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