The Plan of Gibeon (9:1-13)
Israel has enjoyed success as they have entered the promised land as God has given them victory at the first two cities they faced, Jericho and Ai. But the other cities in Canaan are not going to sit idly by. The first two verses of Joshua 9 reveal that kings of the various cities banded together to fight against Joshua and Israel. But something interesting happens as the cities ally against Israel. The city of Gibeon did not join on this. Rather, when they heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they go for a different plan. They know that warring against Israel will not be successful. So they decide to put on a ruse. They make themselves look like wandering nomads. They come to Israel wearing worn out sandals and clothes. They also have their sacks and wineskins look worn out also. Their food was dry and crumbled. They come to Joshua and to the people of Israel and tell them that they have come from a distant country. Please make a treaty with them.
Now a little background information is important at this point. God specifically declared that Israel must not make any treaties with the inhabitants of Canaan, but they could make treaties with other nations and cities outside of Canaan (Exodus 34:11-12; Deuteronomy 7; Deuteronomy 20:15-18). So the Gibeonites come to the people of Israel as if they are from a far away country and it would be acceptable to make a treaty with them. The text wants to make clear that Israel was not to make a treaty with these people by what is stated in verse 7, “But the men of Israel said to the Hivites…” The author does not call them Gibeonites but Hivites and we know from Exodus and Deuteronomy that Israel was not to make a treaty with the Hivites.
But verse 7 reveals that the people of Israel are skeptical. They state that they might be deceiving them and that they are unable to make a covenant with anyone who lives in the land (9:7). But they say to Joshua that they will be servants to Israel. Joshua demands to know who they are and where they are from (9:8). So the Gibeonites continue their deception. They say that they are from a very distant country and have come because they have heard about what God had done in Egypt and to the two kings on the east side of the Jordan. Please notice that they are saying the same thing that Rahab said when she hid the spies in chapter 2. They prove that they are from a far away place because they have dry bread, cracked wineskins, and their sandals and clothing are worn out.
The Problem (9:14-21)
Verse 14 is the key declaration. “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.” The Israelites sample the provisions but did not ask God. The people failed to ask the Lord. They were not sure what to do and they did not ask. They relied on their own strength, wisdom, and initiative. Therefore, the people are deceived. This information causes Joshua to make a treaty with the Gibeonites, to let them live, and it was ratified by the leaders of the assembly with an oath.
But in verse 16 the problem is now revealed. Three days later they are able to determine that the Gibeonites are not a far away people but live in the land near them. The people of Israel come up against their cities of Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath Jearim. But they did not attack because of the treaty that was made. So the people of Israel complained against the leaders for not attacking. But the leaders answer that they cannot attack because they made an oath with them. The concern is that if they attack then they will violate the covenant that they made with the Gibeonites and God’s wrath will fall on them for that. Essentially, the leaders say that we made a mistake and we broke God’s law. But we are not going to make matters worse by breaking God’s law again by violating the oath they made with them. Disobedience is not a solution or an appropriate response to the consequences of an earlier disobedience. We have a saying today, “Two wrongs do not make a right.” This seems to be the basis of the leaders’ response to the people. We cannot do something wrong just because we did something wrong.
The Solution (9:22-27)
Now Joshua comes back to the forefront of this scene. Joshua summons the Gibeonites and asks why they chose to deceive them. Joshua then pronounces a curse on them for their deception and will be nothing more than servants for the house of God. The Gibeonites respond that they knew the Lord’s decree. They knew that God commanded Moses to wipe out all of the inhabitants. So they feared for their lives and that is why they came up with this plan. So they tell Joshua to “do to us whatever seems good and right to you” (9:25). Listen to verse 26. “So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them” (NIV). They were made servants for the people of Israel, providing the needs for the altar of the Lord. The rest of the account is recorded for us in chapter 10. But there are key messages that the Lord is giving in chapter 9 that we will look at in this lesson. What was God teaching Israel and what is God teaching us about entering the promised land?
The first lesson being taught for this text is to understand the danger of judging by what we see. The first failure we see from the people of Israel is that they made a determination by what they saw. The problem was that they did not have all the information. It is interesting how often we can make important decisions based on what we see, thinking that we are able to know all and see all that we need. You will notice from the event that it was not that the people of Israel were gullible. They did not initially believe what the Gibeonites were telling them. They were skeptical. They were slow to act. They did question what the Gibeonites were telling them. Yet they still made the wrong decision. It looked right, it sounded right, and it seemed right, yet it was wrong. It is so easy to make fleshly decisions rather than spiritual decisions because the decision seems right, looks right, and sounds right. We might have the agreement of others like the people of Israel did. But it was still wrong. You can probably think about how many decisions you have made in your life that, at the time seemed right, but actually turned out to be wrong. It is important that we look at our lives and consider if we are making decisions simply from a fleshly or worldly outlook. Am I just doing what seems best to me or am I thinking about the spiritual impact of my decisions? Am I doing what would make myself happy or what would make God happy? The scriptures twice in the Proverbs declare:
There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)
I believe this is something that is very difficult for us to accept. We want to believe that our thinking is good and flawless. There are decisions that are going to sound right to us that are totally wrong and even sinful. Our hearts and our logic cannot be the basis of our decisions. We need God and his word to be the basis by which we examine our decisions. This leads directly into the second point.
The primary failure was clearly declared in verse 14. The leaders did not ask for direction from the Lord. The reason we do not ask for God’s direction is because we think we have the answer. We think we see all that we need to see. We think that we do not need God’s help. We think we have it figured out. As I read verse 14 I just simply thought about how often we do this. How easy it is to not seek God’s counsel and direction! Then we make a mess of things because our ways are never God’s ways. Our natural inclinations are not godly or spiritual. The apostle Paul declared in Ephesians 4:17-18 that we naturally walk “in the futility of our minds” and are “darkened in our understanding.”
Therefore we need two things. First, we need more of God’s word in our lives. The way to change our futile thinking and darkened understanding is have God’s word illuminate our hearts and minds. We need our minds renewed and transformed so that we will adopt more God’s way of thinking and less of our own. We need to know God’s word and we need to consult God’s word. We need to know God so that we can make the right decisions and not make decisions simply on the basis of what we see. Second, we need to talk to God in prayer more often. We need to ask God what to do through prayer. Prayer is an amazing vehicle given to us that we are to use with our Father in heaven. We do not see all things and do not know all things. But God does. God wants us to talk to him and ask him. Prayer requires believing that God is presently active in the world. God does not only work through miracles. In fact, miracles were fairly rare throughout the canon of scriptures. But God is constantly working in the lives of every person we read in the scriptures. Prayer becomes more real and important when we recognize that God answers the prayers of his people. Look at this picture in Revelation 8.
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:1–5 ESV)
Our prayers are not stuck in the room where we speak them. Our prayers are pictured as a fragrant smoke rising into the throne room of God. Then we see God responding to the prayers of his people. We do not pray because we do not think God will do anything. We pray when we believe that God can do anything and hears the words of his people. Self-sufficiency is death to a prayer life. God wants us to seek his will. Look to him for what to do. Ask him for help. Ask him for direction. Ask him for wisdom. Ask him for anything you need at the moment of indecision and uncertainty. God is there for our prayers.
Finally, we need to see the redemptive picture presented here. We are seeing a people, who have no right to belong within the community of Israel but ought to be destroyed for their wickedness, being saved by Joshua. This reads even stronger in the Greek translation where Joshua’s name is Jesus. This is the thrust of verse 26. Joshua saved these people. The new Joshua, Jesus, comes and rather than destroying the outsiders who ought to be destroyed, saves those who plead to dwell as servants of God’s house. The Gibeonites mirror Rahab, a picture of outsiders who do not belong being rescued because they understood what God was doing and were seeking salvation. This is us. Seek the Lord to be saved. Fail to seek the Lord and receive the just consequence.