June 10, 2010 David Balzer

Joshua 9: A Sneaky Scheme

Have you ever had one of those “It seemed like a good idea at the time” moments?

It used to happen to me all the time when I was a kid. When the Hills hoist clothes line seemed like the perfect toy. Take a running jump, hang onto one of the arms, while the hoist spun around and around.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Until the centre pole buckled under my weight, and the clothes line wouldn’t swing around anymore.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Or the time I climbed a great big tree. I was very good at going UP. Even though it was a real struggle to make it up some branches. But when I got to the top, and started trying to come down. I realised it was a lot easier going up than coming down.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Often there are things that/ from a HUMAN point of view/ seem like a good idea. But they can be DECEPTIVE. When we go to the trouble of finding out what GOD’S opinion is/ it’s a different picture.

Last week I received a circular letter. It was advertising a church open day. The leaflet said many families were struggling to stay together these days, and that people needed a close family. True point! One of the highlights of this Open Day was a seminar on “Keeping the Family together”. From a HUMAN point of view, it sounded pretty good.

They wanted us to invite people we knew to their Open Day. Which was all very well – except they were from the local Mormon Church! A FALSE church who say they’re Christian – but who know very well they don’t believe what Christian denominations believe.

I wonder how many people they’ll deceive at their Open Day!

Halfway through last year I was sitting down at Woodcroft lake one Sunday afternoon with Luke Jackson, and a pair of Mormon missionaries who were trying to convince Luke to come and be baptised into their church. And I was trying to convince him NOT to.

From a HUMAN point of view, they’re such nice guys, and very convincing. But they’re DECEIVED, and they deceive others. They don’t teach the TRUTH of the Bible about who God is, who Jesus is, or how we become friends with him.

Beware that you’re not deceived. Don’t look at things only from a human point of view.

1. The Sophisticated Scam

That’s advice that Joshua would have liked. Because, here in Ch 9, he falls “hook, line and sinker” for A SOPHISTICATED SCAM.

The news about the success of Israel had made it to the town of Gibeon – only about 5 –10km away. And while SOME nations decide to FIGHT, the people of Gibeon come up with a DIFFERENT plan. Verse 3.

(Josh 9:3-5 NIV)  However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, {4} they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, ed and mended. {5} 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.

The whole idea was to make it seem like they’d travelled from their country which was a long way away. So Israel wouldn’t realise they were actually neighbours.

Because, at the end of the chapter, when they finally come clean, we learn what they’d been thinking. They’d heard that every inhabitant in the land was going to be slaughtered. And so the aim of the whole disguise was to convince Israel that they WEREN’T inhabitants in the land AT ALL. This was the only way they could avoid . It’s a bit hard to be too hard on them. You can justify most lies if peoples’ lives are on the line.

And so, in v6, they arrive at Israel’s camp. And tell their tale to Joshua. “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us”

The plan was the only way Joshua would make a peace treaty with them/ was if they were foreigners.

2. The Scientific Substantiation

And in v7, Joshua and the leaders start with what SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME. They start to grill them. Check out their story. It’s the start of their scientific substantiation.

(Josh 9:7-8 NIV)  The men of Israel said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?” {8} “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua. But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?”

And then the Gibeonites start with their prepared speech. About how they’d heard of God’s fame. And how scared everyone was. Verse 9.

(Josh 9:9-10 NIV)  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, {10} 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.

And then they pull out their old bread, and their ed wineskins, and their worn-out shoes. It’s the clincher. The “scientific proof” that they’re telling the truth.

It’s like those ads on tele. Which paper towel is better. Two beakers full of blue liquid. With two different brands. And one sucks up the water faster than the other. That makes it better. And just in case we’re not convinced/ an actor in a white labcoat TELLS us which one is better. Scientific proof!

Israel saw all of this stuff. Verse 14 even says they TASTED it! From a HUMAN point of view, they probably couldn’t have done much more! They interrogated. They observed. They tasted.

But they made one big mistake. It was their self-sufficient slip-up.

3. The Self-sufficient Slip-up.

Look at the second half of v14.

(Josh 9:14 NIV)  The men of Israel sampled their provisions BUT DID NOT INQUIRE OF THE LORD.

As far as they were able, they tried to check out the Gibeonites’ story. But they forgot their most important test. They didn’t ask for God’s advice.

It’s the assumption/ that THEY KNEW BEST. That their eyes could see everything worth seeing. Their mouths could ask every question worth asking.

One writer puts it like this;

“It wasn’t that they were sloppy in their investigation, but that they were alone in their decision. It wasn’t that they didn’t think, but that they didn’t pray.”

And that’s the simple application for us.

WHEN IT COMES TO MAKING DECISIONS/ AVOID BEING DECEIVED/ AND LISTEN TO GOD. (repeat)

How can we listen to God? What’s the process?

The first step is to ASK God to help. In James Ch 1 v 5 God gives us a promise.

(James 1:5 NIV)  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and IT WILL BE GIVEN TO HIM.

Ask God, and he will give you wisdom. He’ll give you HIS perspective on the situation. That’s the first step. Ask.

The second step is to listen to God’s answer. He might do that in a number of ways.

The first, and most important, and clearest, way that God communicates to us is through his word – the Bible.

If we think back to the situation with the Mormon church’s Open Day. The Bible tells me that God is eternal, and that he existed before creation. So when the Mormons tell me that God was once a man who lived on another planet, and who then became a god, I’m not deceived by them.

But I need to KNOW WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS about God before it’s any use. So I need to study the Bible. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible. And it’s a wonderful poem about how wonderful God’s Word is. This guy loved God’s law. Listen to v14-18.

(Psa 119:14-18 NIV)  I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. {15} I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. {16} I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. {17} Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word. {18} Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

And a bit further on, he says (v105)

(Psa 119:105 NIV)  Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

It’s God’s word that shows us the path ahead.

But you might say, “There’s lots of specific things the Bible DOESN’T talk about!” (Who you should marry. Which job to take. What to buy your mum for Christmas)

This is where your prayer for wisdom comes in. When it comes to making decisions/ The Bible gives us lots of GENERAL PRINCIPLES. But when it comes to specifics, God often wants us to USE THE WISDOM HE’S GIVEN US. The wisdom we’ve asked for. That’s still turning to God.

In lots of situations there might be SEVERAL wise choices we could make. And God can do great things in EACH of them.

Sometimes/ God’s help in making wise choices/ comes through OTHER PEOPLE. It might be conversations, or books, or songs. It may even be research done on the internet. But once again, the important thing is to PRAY that God will guide you/ as you look for what he wants.

One thing I can be SURE of. God’s directions (however he chooses to guide you) will NEVER go against his word in the Bible. (repeat)

God’s directions will NEVER go against his word in the Bible.

Dad tells me about a friend of his. Who announced one day that God had told him to leave his wife and family and move to the other end of land. And Dad replied, “I’m sorry. But God’s told me that you’re NOT to!”

The Bible tells us that’s NOT what he wants. This friend was simply using God as an excuse to do what HE wanted.

What are some other situations where we can be deceived?

1. The world tells us that happiness and success come from THINGS. The more STUFF you have the happier you’ll be.

And from a human point of view/ that seems fair enough. But don’t be deceived. God says (Mt 6:31)

(Mat 6:31-34 NIV)  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ {32} For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. {33} But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. {34} Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Deceiving church leaders, false teachers, lies of the world – work/ success/ family. Success of a church. Beggars)

WHEN IT COMES TO MAKING DECISIONS/ AVOID BEING DECEIVED/ AND LISTEN TO GOD.

But back to Joshua. Israel sampled the provisions, but failed to inquire of the Lord.

And once they’d made that SELF-SUFFICIENT SLIP-UP, the rest followed easily. They fell hook, line and sinker/ for THE SOPHISTICATED SCAM. Verse 15.

(Josh 9:15 NIV)  Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.

Even though God had told them NOT to make any treaty with the people in the land – that’s just what they did.

Pretend you haven’t heard this story before. What do you expect to happen now? They’ve disobeyed God. So God’s going to act. Put things right! He’ll let them know – one way or the other – that they’ve done the wrong thing. Right? Wrong!

We’re not told that God does ANYTHING. In fact, God’s got no part in this whole chapter. He doesn’t DO anything. He doesn’t even SPEAK. He’s only talked about. Everything that happens/ happens at an EARTHLY level. Human beings doing this and that. All on their own.

And I think that’s the point. Because that’s exactly the attitude the Israelites had about the situation. They were pre-occupied with what was happening on THEIR level. And God wasn’t included at all.

So what DOES happen next. Verse 16. The Gibeonites go home. Perhaps they were even followed. Because three days later, Israel finds out the REAL story. And so they pay Gibeon a little visit.

And the people aren’t too pleased. Perhaps they’d been eyeing-off some of the choice bits of farming land, or they saw some cattle they liked the look of. And now because of the leaders’ blunder, they miss out. Verse 18.

(Josh 9:18-19 NIV)  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, {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.

They’re in a pickle. What should they do? They disobeyed God in making the treaty in the first place. Now, they can either break their treaty and risk God’s punishment for THAT. Or they can keep their word, not destroy Gibeon, and risk God’s punishment for THAT.

So what’s the first thing YOU would do in the same situation?  What’s the lesson of this whole chapter? They should ASK GOD. But do they do that? Of course not! Look at v20.

(Josh 9:20-21 NIV)  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.” {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.

Once again, they make up their own mind. God is silent, because they don’t ask for his advice.

And that’s what they do. The people of Gibeon become house-slaves for Israel. They cut wood and carry water. But at least their lives are spared. And that sounds good when the only other alternative is .

And it probably even sounds like a good deal for the Israelites. They get free labour – nice chopped wood piles, plenty of water. But it’s only from A HUMAN POINT OF VIEW. And that’s the point of the whole chapter.

God’s opinion is neither asked for, or given. But his word still stood. Don’t make treaties. Kill all the inhabitants of the land.

And we don’t have to look too far forward to find out why. Listen to how things turn out. From God’s point of view.

Judges Ch 3 v 3.

(Judg 3:3-7 NIV)  the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. {4} They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses. {5} The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. {6} They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. {7} The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.

From a human point of view, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But if they’d only asked God’s opinion, he would have filled them in on HIS perspective. The way HE sees things.

What seemed to be a neat solution to a curly problem/ was nothing more than giving in to the forces of evil who wanted to drag God’s people away from him.

We need to be on our guard that the same doesn’t happen to us. That the world, or even false teachers inside the church, don’t lead us away from what God wants us to be doing.

May God give us the FAITH to ASK FOR HIS HELP, the WISDOM to KNOW HIS WILL, and the STRENGTH AND COURAGE to do it.

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