I read a link on social media recently which asked the question....
Which scenes do you always fast forward through when rewatching a movie?
- First 10 minutes and the last 5 of taken. Tight gritty dramas sandwiched between family schmudtz
- Knife fight scene from Saving Private Ryan.
- The Scene in Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug where they're tripping balls in the woods until the spiders show up
- Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker talks to Leah about the Force...
- More recently for me it would be the tube scene in the darkest hour when winston churchil goes rogue and chats to everyone on the underground – nice and all but a bit eye rolling.
And let me be honest, if a film were made of Joshua,, chapter 9 may be those same scenes you would fast forward through when rewatching.
Context of Joshua – God had promised to give them the land, they needed to clear the land of their enemies and start again. They were given God's promises, the assurance of His presence and 'I will not leave you, I will not give up on you. I have given you this land, you will inherit all the promises I swore to your forefathers. Don't be frightened, don't be dismayed, don't let the word of God depart from your mouth, meditate on it night and day. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Up until now, great battles, great victories, some dramatic tension of purging a thief from their number – some with war waged, others with marches, but it's been an action packed warring narrative. It's super adventure filled, God with them, action action.
And then we get to this chapter. Does it not feel to you like 'really? We've got a whole chapter on a weird deception? Like, old school copies of this book were made, scribes have painstakingly hand carve this chapter, word for word, handed down all to tell us, what?' Did it not seem weird or random or a bit of a non-event?
Do you not think, I'd fast forward through that another time round? I do
The story in a nutshell is that after Israel's victory, surrounding nations get twitchy and plan to counter attack. One nation, the Gibeonites, decide that they'll trick the Israelites into making peace with them by pretending to come from a far off land and therefore not pose a threat.
It works. But then the Gibeonites get found out, the people are annoyed with the leaders but a covenant was a serious thing in those days, which couldn't be broken. So the Gibeonites come before Joshua, hold their hands up saying 'yup, our bad' and they get to stay but have jobs as household servants in the temple.
I know, right, you'd definitely fast forward it when you read it again. Since this is God's word and since he has the remote and I don't, let have a look.
As we look at this chapter I think it tells us a couple of things – firstly about the lack of Faith in God's people, the presence of faith of the outsider and the Joshua who protects the faithful.
- The Faithlessness of God's people – don't be complacent
The chapter opens with a whole group of nations conspiring to come together to wage war on the people of God.
But in their number were the Gibeonites – they saw the situation, heard what God had done through Joshua in Jericho and Ai and didn't want to fight, as we'll see. So, a very simple deception was planned. Nothing hugely complicated, just a simple sleight of hand, an ego massage and a plea for peace. They come to Israel pretending to be from a far off, insignificant land wanting to make peace because they've heard great things. And initially, Israel was suspicious v7, guessed it by accident saying “ But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?’”
And the people replied not with a denial, not with a surrender, but with flattering plea
'We are your servants'
The reply of the Gibeonites was classic distraction through answering a different question. Verbal games. They were crafty – a sleight of hand followed by an ego massage.
Have you've ever noticed how much a compliment can throw you off guard? How flattery can be pretty intoxicating and bewitching? Don't know if you've waited to see friend or family member to have it out with them and they start the conversation with a 'you look great' or 'look it's my favourite person' – compliments have a way of ultimately distracting us – even and perhaps especially when the compliment is spiritual.
Listen to what the Gibeonites said
'We've heard of the fame of your God, we know of all he's done for you in all of your many incredible victories and we've made huge efforts to come to you, to make a covenant with you
They quoted what every Israelite would have wanted to here....
We love your church, we've heard about your community, we see that God is with you, it's obvious to us. We have come to make peace.
We'll come to whether this was genuine or not in a moment, but the point being that it seemed to distract them. It seemed to put them off pursuing their original enquiry, seemed to embolden them somehow.
Until finally they made peace.
Yet the narrator gives us the real reason. You see, in hindsight they may have concluded that it was a simple ruse and they should set up systems in place so this would never happen again. You could imagine all sorts of new policies of covenant making, a think tank group set aside to develop better ways of avoiding deceit, better ways to spot old sandals/bread/wineskins, lie detecting machinery....all of it. In retrospect that could've been the resolution – the moral of the story.
Yet the narrator wants it to be very clear what the real mistake was.
Do you see it, v 14 – 'they did not enquire of the Lord'
That was it – they did not enquire of the Lord.
They didn't seek him, they didn't talk to Him, they didn't ask Him, nothing.
When I was little I remember playing in my Nana's house in Birmingham. I learned later that it was on the market and she was in the process of selling it, so you can imagine the pristine nature of a house with frequent viewings. Anyway, me and my older bother were in the front room doing a jigsaw before children's tv was scheduled to come on at 3.30pm. And it got a bit cold, so we went over to the old gas fire and saw there was only one panel in the middle lit, so we tried to the get the other two panels to fire. In our 4 & 6 year old way, we reasoned, we had ideas and the best we came up with was that we roll up a piece of paper and light it through the grate and then put it against the panels that weren't lit in the hope they'd ignite. And to add extra protection to our hands, since we were getting near the fire, we wrapped them in paper towels. The inevitable happened and both pieces of paper and the towels set alight and me and my brother ran with a flaming torch on our hands through the living room to get help. You can imagine we were in big trouble. But once the burns were treated and we were sat down for the telling off, my Nana just said 'if you were cold, why didn't you ask me to turn the fire up?' – I remember sitting there, utterly floored by the question. We literally had no answer. The common sense of a small child prevailed. But Why didn't we just ask?
And Joshua in his narration is saying the same thing, almost as if the LORD is asking the same question – why didn't you just ask me? Now we don't know the answer but it could be they just thought they had this, it seemed reasonable thing, just common sense. We showed due diligence, we checked the food & it was mouldy, we examined the wine skins and they were battered, their shoes and saw the holes. Maybe it just wasn't a big thing – maybe they just thought 'we've got this'.
It wasn't a big, weighty, spiritual question, right? – it wasn't 'who shall I marry, what job shall I do, where shall I live, should I take this promotion, where shall we send our kids to school' – these are the biggies that we know we should enquire of the Lord– but the Gibeonites, well - it just didn't seem to need prayer. It didn't seem to need asking the LORD.
Now I don't think the point here is that we have to enquire of the LORD which flavour crips we buy when we're in the shops and can't choose. But somewhere between 'what flavour crisps' and 'what shall I do with my life' lies a vast array of decisions. And God's people must enquire of Him. He longs for us to. Like my Nana, she was confused that we didn't just ask, she felt hurt that we didn't, she was annoyed that it led to burn marks on the carpet, she was deeply upset that it led to burns on our hands.
And so we see the faithlessness of God's people exposed, making peace with the very people God had told them to drive out. Why? They were deceived, they had their ego's massaged, but
They did not enquire of the Lord
Secondly we see the 'faith of the unbeliever which gives us reason for humility'
- The Faith of the Outsider – be humbled
Now hear me out on this one, because I admit I'm drawing conclusions on things that we don't know for sure.
The chapter opens with all the kings of West of the Jordan hearing of the victories of God's people in battle. Naturally they decide on a counter attack, on vengeance, on war.
But not the Gibeonites. The last thing they wanted to do was go to war. Why? Well, maybe because the things they spoke about were true -
‘Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God v9
‘Your servants were clearly told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. 25 We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.’
It sounds a bit like Rahab – do you remember her? She was the one who hid the spies in Jericho at the risk to her own life. She said this to the spies in chapter 2
‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord ….
I've heard about Him and I want in.
The Gibeonites had heard what God had done, they believed His word. They sought peace rather than war, they appealed to the Word of the Lord – and even though they were deceitful, they sought covenant. They even went adrift from all their other kings and sought peace rather than war. Had they been found out, this could have been seen as treacherous. And we read in chapter 10 that Gibeon was a great city, of men who were amazing fighters, so it wasn't like they couldn't have really wounded Israel or put up a decent fight.
And did you notice that when Joshua confronted them and they were 'cursed' and assigned to be woodcutters and servants – basically manual labourers for the temple – they didn't object, they accepted what was deemed to be a right punishment – simply repeating 'we are your servants v.25 – 'now we are in your hands, do whatever is good and right to you'
You see, who can say what the genuine response of their hearts was, but I think they're supposed to really contrast with the faithlessness of Israel by showing a faithfulness of the Gibeonites.
Whilst Israel was enjoying the spoils of the victory, basking in the special privilege of knowing God, here comes a group of people devoted to, yes, trickery and deception, but with the desire to be under God's shelter too. And In the LORD's peculiar sovereignty, their deception worked, the oath was sworn and upheld.
It is humbling to see faith in the God we think we know by those we don't know about.
It is humbling when others take our faith more seriously than we do.
It is humbling when people hear the word of God and act on it – when we live in the spoils of His blessing and go it alone in our walk with Him.
So the faithlessness of God's People, The faithfulness of the Gibeonites
- The Joshua who protects the faithful
So as we've seen in reading through the book of Joshua, Joshua – who's name, like Jesus, means 'One who Saves' lays down the pattern of what the champion of God's people looks like. Now, Joshua being human, also shows us what being human is like but we pay careful attention to the role Joshua plays that's distinct from the people. Let's have a look at v.26 -
But do you see what happens when the Gibeonites are found out?
v.26 So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. 27 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. And that is what they are to this day.
The oath was made, the people grumbled wishing for it to be reversed, but it was upheld. For despite their not enquiring of the Lord, they knew the binding nature of an oath before him. And so strongly did they feel about this that when Joshua affirms the oath of protection to the Gibeonites, he's described as v. 26 – as saving them from being killed by Israel.... - killed in battle, or killed from anger at their deception....either or both!
He saved their lives, he spared them. Ironically here, he spares the lives of the outsider from death & hatred of the insider!
I mean, can you imagine what church was like the following week? There's the people of Israel, widows perhaps who've lost their husbands in battle, then the warriors who fought against Ai, leaders of the people, maybe looking bashful for having been tricked so easily. And then there's the Gibeonites, the ones ministering in the house of God! The 'curse' is an interesting one – your punishment is to be close to God, to serve him, to be employed in the altar of the Lord at the place the lord would choose. Joshua has saved your life and now you're completely in.
It's like playing for one country in the world cup one week, then bribing your way with false passports to convince another country to sign you and find yourself in the dressing room of the new country by the weekend!
It's outrageous grace. It's ridiculous grace, It's risky grace. But It's the only kind of grace there is. Well might the people of Israel grumble – sitting there saying 'but my family are descendants of Abraham, I've grown up in the church, I've given a lot of money to the work of the gospel, and there they are – they just lied and here's how they get rewarded.
There's no reward for good behaviour as a christian – grace gets us in and grace leads us home. We're no more worthy now that when God first saved us. I love the line in the hymn – grace has brought us safe thus far and GRACE will lead us home. THE WAY IN IS THE WAY HOME.
So as we conclude on what may have felt like the chapter you'd fast forward, we have two groups of people that we may identify with
There's the group of God's people who, being flattered and independent, did not enquire of the LORD. Perhaps we identify with them, perhaps we feel the independence from Him that has been a struggle and decisions we've made proven to be the wrong ones. Don't lose heart, do not fear, Jesus has got you – Jesus, the One who Saves – is able to make good on them, able to rescue in the big and the small.
But perhaps we feel more like the Gibeonites – feeling like as we sit here, we're only just in by the skin of our teeth, our moral reputation nothing to be proud of, our track record feels a bit dog-eared, our emotions frayed and we sit looking around us wondering how we manage to be here.
It's the same Jesus who meets you, who saves your life and welcomes you in. You're all good.
Let's take time before we sing to praise our Jesus
The one who longs for us to talk to him
The one who is able to redeem our past mistakes
The one who saves our lives and brings us to himself