As Israel began their conquest of the land of Canaan, God gave them victory after victory. After defeating Jericho and eventually Ai, the rulers of the territory in the north decided to stand together against this unstoppable invading force. Word quickly spread about the power of this new nation. One group of people, though, decided on a different strategy.
“But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning: they went and prepared provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys and wineskins, worn out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet and worn-out clothes, and all their provisions were dry and mouldy. They went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the Israelites, ‘We have come from a far country, so now make a treaty with us.’” (Joshua 9:3-6 NRSVUE)
As they later told Joshua, they adopted this approach because they knew they could not defeat the Israelites: “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land before you, so we were in great fear for our lives because of you and did this thing” (Joshua 9:24). But a question the Israelites should have considered was this: how did they allow themselves to be so easily deceived?
We would have to admit that those from Gibeon were clever: the lengths they went to dress like they had come a long distance and taking food that was dry and mouldy helped create the illusion they were from far away and not a threat. The reality was that they were from the central part of Canaan, not far from where the Israelites were camped. Rather than being from far away they were living among them!
The Israelites were deceived for at least two reasons. First, they trusted in what they saw. These people looked like they had come a long distance – in fact, a very long distance! Initially they did have their suspicions and even asked: “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a treaty with you?” (Joshua 9:7). But what they saw overcame their skepticism.
Secondly, and most importantly, they did not consult God (Joshua 9:14). They trusted in what they thought they knew and did not think they needed to ask God, as it looked so obvious that these people were not a threat because they lived far away. But looks were deceiving.
The Israelites made a treaty with Gibeon which they upheld even when they discovered they had been fooled. They spared their lives and those from Gibeon became slaves of the house of God, providing the wood and water that was needed (Joshua 9:18-21).
Is there not a lesson in this for us? How often are situations and ideas presented today as being what is right, loving, or just? Christians can hear these things and, because it sounds right or looks good, decide this is what God’s word says. Yet so often God’s word doesn’t say that and in fact says the opposite.
What is the solution? Like the Israelites, we need to consult God! How do we do this? By checking with his revealed word. This is why we need to know what the Bible says. It is amazing how often people think the Bible says something yet the Bible actually states something different. Because God has given us his word he expects us to know it and be able to use it to distinguish what is right from what is wrong.
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Readings for next week: Joshua 8-14