Joshua: When God Makes Up For Our Stupidity

Sermon by on April 14, 2002

Joshua 9
When God Makes Up for Our Stupidity

The people of God can do the most stupid things. There is
a story of a man from Utah who married a woman after courting her in an AOL
chatroom for six months. He proposed and she accepted. They met briefly,
twice. The wedding took place in April 1996. Present at the ceremony in the
Ritz Carlton Hotel were 70 guests. The wedding was said to have cost around
$10,000, but four years later, police inspectors called at the house because of
credit card bills which the wife had run up, totaling some $60,000, and the
husband was told by the law enforcement officers who called at his house, to his
great surprise, apparently, that his wife for four years standing was in fact a
man. Now he wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the world, so it appears, and there
are questions which you are asking which I am not going to answer. My only
point is to underline that people can do the most stupid things.

The book of Joshua is a book about prophecy. It’s a
history book, of course, but in the Jewish canon, it actually falls in the
category of prophecy. And that because the book of Joshua is designed to teach
us more than just history; it is designed to teach us moral and spiritual
principles; principles of spiritual obedience. Joshua 9 teaches us a lesson
about humility. Joshua, after conquering Ai the second time, after a defeat the
first time, now comes across these Gibeonites. And it’s a delicious story.
It’s both entertaining and tragic, the way in which these Gibeonites pull the
wool over Joshua’s naпve eyes.

I. The naivetй of God’s people.
I want us to see four things tonight. Firstly, I want us to see
the naivetй of God’s people. The clue as to what’s going on here lies in verse
four, where we read that “they acted craftily,” your pew Bible says, I believe.
The NIV translates it using that beautiful word, a “ruse.” It’s exactly the
same word that’s used of Satan as he is first described in the opening verses of
Genesis 3, where “the serpent acted craftily.” The people of God will need
God’s power to conquer the land of Canaan, but they also need His wisdom.

It is interesting that the language that is used in
this opening section of the chapter is not the same language as was used in
chapters two and five, where we read that “the Canaanites trembled because of
the people of Israel.” Here, this is no longer the case. The opening verses of
chapter nine seem to define for us a group of Canaanites who perhaps had been
empowered by the defeat of Ai. They had begun to think that perhaps after all,
they may have some possibility in defeating these Israelites in their attempt to
conquer the land. Failure has ongoing consequences. The people of God have to
retread ground that they should have taken a long time ago.

Now, you remember the story. The Gibeonites come,
and somehow or other they have some old moldy bread and old sandals. Four times
in the account we read that their provisions, their bread, their clothes, their
sandals, their wineskins, were worn out. And they keep on repeating this
phrase, “We’ve come from a very far country.” If they had come from that far a
country, why would they need to covenant with the people of Israel? They were
no threat to Israel, and Israel would be no threat to them. Actually, less you
miss the point entirely, they’re no further than 30 miles away. They’re just
north of Jerusalem. Had Joshua asked even the simplest of questions, he could
have easily found out where they had come from.

Joshua begins to probe just a little, and seems
satisfied with their answer in verse nine, that “your servants have come from a
very far country,” and then these Gibeonites begin to say why it is that they
have come: because they have heard of the fame of their God. What God had done
in Egypt, what God had done to the two kings of Sihon and Og, before they ever
came across the Jordan. You notice they say nothing about what God had done in
Jericho and Ai, because having come from a far country, perhaps they wouldn’t
even have known about that. And the people of God sample their food. It’s
moldy.

And then in verse 15, they make a treaty of peace
that ensures that the Gibeonites are spared. It’s all very solemn, it’s
accompanied by oaths, it followed probably the pattern of ancient near eastern
treaties with a preamble and stipulations and promises an curses if there was
disobedience, violations of the stipulations of the covenant. It was a very
solemn affair, and Israel, you understand, has been conned.

The first way in which we need to characterize this
is to understand something of the spiritual gullibility that is taking place in
this chapter. These men of God seem to have failed to appreciate and realize
that past failure can weaken. They didn’t seem to understand what Jesus was to
say, that the children of light must be wiser than the children of the world.
Because often the reverse is true, that the children of the world are wiser, and
sharper, than the people of God. I thought of calling this sermon “Gullibles
Travels.” Appearances, you see, can be very deceiving.

I read a magazine just a few months ago about a woman
sitting in a parking lot, in her car, and holding her hand to the back of her
head. Apparently, she had been sitting in the car for over an hour, and a
person comes up and taps on the window and says, “Is there something wrong?”
She replies, “I’ve been shot in the back of my head, and I’m holding my hand so
that my brains don’t fall out.” When the paramedics arrive, they discover that
what actually had taken place was a Pillsbury biscuit can, in the backseat of
the car in the heat, had exploded, and the top of the can had hit her head, and
the dough had the same texture as what she thought was her brain. Things are
not always as they seem to be. And you understand that the Gibeonites are not
what they seem to be either.

We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices. We can be
taken in. Peter warns us, doesn’t he, in I Peter 5, that “Satan is like a
roaring lion, prowling about seeking whom he may devour.” Christians need to be
on the alert, Christians need to be wise, Christians need to be discerning, they
need to be asking the right questions, they need to be cognizant of the
stratagems of Satan. We need to be alert because we are living in enemy
occupied territory.

They were taken in by pious talk. Isn’t that
interesting. It wasn’t atheistic talk. They were taken in by the flattery.
“We’ve heard of your God. We’ve heard of the great things He has done. We’ve
heard of what He’s done in Egypt, and to the two kings, Sihon and Og. And they
failed to see through that external piety. They had all the right language, but
all the wrong motives. You see, not only were Joshua and the elders gullible,
they were also superficial. They were flattered by this talk, and Joshua sits
down and he writes a treaty. He never seems to ask the question, he never seems
to say to them, “Don’t move an inch until I make sure that what you’re saying is
true.”

The internet missionary church called “Greater
Ministries International” or GMI, took in over 550 million dollars. That’s a
lot of dollars. And they took it in from over 27,000 people. They were told
that their money would double in less than 18 months. Their security lay in the
fact that they had discovered in Liberia, just 15 feet below the surface of the
ground, 40 million dollars worth of gold. The money would circulate not by the
US Post Office, but by the Holy Spirit. All 27,000 investors regarded
themselves as Evangelicals. The head of GMI, if you’re interested, is in
Federal prison in the state of Florida today. Christians, you see, can be
superficial.

II. The impatience of God’s
people
.
In addition to being gullible and naпve, there is a more sober
assessment of them in verse 14. “They did not inquire, they did not ask for,
the counsel of the Lord.” Now in what form did that counsel take shape? In the
Old Testament, of course, there were the urim and thumin. The High Priest had
these two, probably stones, maybe they were different shapes or colors, we’re
not absolutely sure what they looked like, and you would ask a question and the
priest would bring out one or the other, and whichever one he brought out would
give you the answer. Is it a “yes” or is it a “no”? Is it this way or is it
that way? The urim and thumin were a guaranteed form of guidance.

You know how difficult guidance is. Some of you are
struggling with guidance, and you pray and pray and pray, and you’re still
puzzled. You still don’t know what to do. And you ask wisdom from this person
and that person and sometimes the wisdom can be in conflict. You know how
difficult guidance can be.

Well, in Israel there was this infallible means of
guidance, but they never consulted it. I can’t understand this. You see the
extent of how they were taken in by the flattery of the Gibeonites. Oh Joshua,
Joshua, how easily he was taken in.

And perhaps the most fateful error that they make is
that within three days time, in verse 16, they apparently discover where the
Gibeonites come from. And they come from 30 miles away. Actually, they come
from just north of Yazoo City. That’s how close. Can you imagine the
consternation, can you imagine. You know, it’s one of those moments. How in
the world could they have been so impatient that it only took three days for
them to discover this. We must wait for the providence of God to be in place,
and then alone, are we to act. We must ask for the wisdom that God promises in
His word, that “if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God who giveth liberally
and upbraideth not.”

Why is it that we drift outside of the will of God?
Well, it’s simple. It’s so simple you want to pinch yourself. We drift outside
of the will of God because, first of all, we make decisions without consulting
Him, without taking those decisions and laying them before the feet of our God
in prayer, asking Him to give us wisdom, to know whether this is right or
wrong. To know whether this is the best way forward, or not. And we move
outside of the will of God because we aren’t willing to wait for Him. You know
how impatient we are as Christians. Because we want instant answers. Joshua
wasn’t even willing to wait three days. And spiritual maturity calls for
patience.

III. Joshua’s integrity.
There’s a third thing I want us to see, and that is the
integrity of Joshua and the elders. And we need to focus now on the
extraordinary thing that God helped Israel’s leaders to do. He enables Joshua
and the leaders to receive the grace of integrity. And to take this sin on
their chin. By upholding what they do now as a consequence of discovering the
Gibeonites are, in fact, dwellers of Canaan, and ought to have been under the
ban, they must now act in absolute integrity and they must now uphold the
righteousness of almighty God. Despite the grumbling of the whole assembly, you
note in verse 18, the leaders’ promise had been given, and a promise made must
be a promise kept. So they keep their word to the Gibeonites, and they allow
the Gibeonites to live because they are honor bound to do so. They have entered
into a solemn oath and covenant for good or ill, and they cannot go back on it.

Well, aren’t some of you saying, “You know, as soon
as Joshua hears that they had lied, the deal is off.” There are dozens of
lawyers in here who could get Joshua off this covenant. Some would not only get
Joshua off, they would get Joshua reparations for emotional stress and character
defamation. But Joshua must live with his error. He must live with the
consequences of his actions. He refuses to take a stand that would multiply
his sin. For Joshua had made a covenant, and it would only compound his error
by breaching that covenant.

You understand, this is the stuff for books on
ethics. You come across a book on ethics, and you look in the index for Joshua
9, and it isn’t there, don’t buy it. This is one of the test cases of ethics.
No doubt, when we come to the ninth commandment, perhaps we will deal with it
there. There are lots of questions here. Are there any instances, parallel to
this, in which we are not bound to keep our word?

The great Prague reformer, John Hus, a wonderful,
extraordinary man of courage, one of the great early reformers, in the late 14th
and early 15th centuries, before the days of Luther and Calvin, when
he was asked to come before the Council of Constance, he was given assurance by
the emperor, Sigismund of Bohemia, that his life would be spared during that
journey he would make. But as he traveled, he was apprehended and burned at the
stake. Emperor Sigismund’s words were, “Nobody needs to keep faith with a
heretic.” Joshua felt he needed to keep faith with a heretic. Joshua felt, and
believed, that a word that had been given and a covenant that had been entered
into, with all the solemnity of ancient near eastern covenants, is a covenant
that must be kept.

Some of you know that all too well, of entering into
a marriage covenant and discovering that your partner isn’t all that they made
themselves out to be. Or all that you hoped that they would be. But that
marriage contract is still binding. And you pray for grace every single day and
God will give you give you grace every day, to live in that covenant. Thirty
years ago, Andre Rafery made what he thought was a great deal. He agreed to pay
a 90-year-old woman in France 500 dollars a month for her apartment, until she
died. And then when she died, the apartment would become his. It’s not as
strange a thing as it sounds. It’s often done, especially if the owner of the
apartment doesn’t have children or relatives to hand that property on to. It’s
a nice means of income that she can use in her later days. The problem is that
Mr. Rafery died in 1995, and the old lady has just celebrated her 120th
birthday. Mr. Rafery’s children are still paying the 500 dollars a month, and
to this point, they have paid over 250,000 dollars for an apartment that is
valued at less than half that amount. They had made a contract, and a contract
made is a contract that has to be kept. And we need to bathe in that, that the
Lord can help us live with our mistakes, in the context of the oceans of His
forgiveness.

IV. The largeness of God’s grace
There’s one more thing, and that is
the largeness of God’s grace. What did God do for the Gibeonites? Rascals that
they were, crafty as they were. Clever? Yes, clever as they were. Can you have
some sympathy for them? Don’t you feel for them a little? They would have been
surely killed had they not attempted this ruse. And God made them to be
servants to the Israelites for the rest of their days. Isn’t that wonderful.
He gives the Gibeonites grace despite their deceit. Their lives may well have
been menial, but better to be a doorkeeper in the house of our God, than to
dwell in the tents of wickedness. Later on, these Gibeonites will be serving
before the altar of the Lord and in Nehemiah’s day they will be there building
the blessed Jerusalem. God was determined that nothing would stand in the way
of the advancement of His purposes.

Which of us tonight has never been deceitful? Which
of us has never, ever, been deceitful? Twisting the truth a little bit, trying
to put on the faзade, when the reality is altogether different. And here in
Joshua 9, in this extraordinarily delicious story, don’t you feel the grace of
God, don’t you see that the God that Joshua and the Israelites were serving, and
our God, is a God who forgives deceivers. What a wonderful God He is. Let’s
pray together.

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