After two major victories (Jericho & Ai), Joshua takes time out to review Moses’ entire Book of Laws with his people in a formal ceremony.
“Joshua read every command that Moses had given” (Josh. 8:35).
So far, he’s doing everything right. He’s looking like a super-devoted, God-centered leader…so how is it that the next minute he is duped by the shady Gibeonites?
With Israel taking the land by storm, all the locals are in a panic. The people of Gibeon decide to use their brains instead of their swords in an attempt to save their skins, so they dress up in some old, worn out clothes, grab some moldy bread and ride over to Joshua’s camp playing the part of longtime travelers.
The Jews are instantly suspicious. They know they’ve been commanded to kill everyone in the land that God gave them, so when the Gibeonites ask for a peace treaty, they start grilling them about where they come from. The Gibeonites keep their answers vague and instead let their bread do the talking.
“This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey” (9:12-13).
All this evidence of a long journey is supposed to prove that they live very far away.
The little liars.
We’re told the Israelites taste the bread (yuck)–apparently to test just how dry and moldy it is. Then comes that fateful line: “but they did not ask the Lord what to do” (9:14).
What’s up with this? One minute they’re reviewing God’s entire Book of Laws and the next minute they’re forgetting to pray? It’s a classic problem that still happens in the Church today: we see ourselves going through holy motions and figure we’re protected. Daily devotions, Sunday church, midweek Bible class–what can Satan possibly do to us? A lot, actually. Reading the Word and hobnobbing with other Christians does nothing to strengthen our spiritual guard. We’re only as strong as our heart-to-heart connection with God. Mental check-ins with the Holy Spirit trump daily devotions every time. Talking with God when we’re by ourselves is way more powerful than getting swept up in a community sing. Fellowship is great, but let’s be real: intimate conversations don’t happen in large groups or when we’re grinding through some boring Bible passage just to assuage our sense of guilt. We’ve all known the married couple who were so busy running from one engagement to another that they never clocked any time alone together. No one is surprised when they get a divorce.
With two victories under his belt and a bunch of Scripture floating around in his mind, Joshua’s feeling pretty on top of things so he goes with his gut instead of seeking God’s advice. He makes an oath before God to keep the peace with the Gibeonites and three days later he finds out that he’s been tricked. Now he’s caught between a rock and a hard place: to keep them alive violates God’s original orders but to break the oath he made before the Lord violates God’s Law:
“Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth” (Deut 23:23)
The Israelites decide to compromise by enslaving the Gibeonites–that way they’re not killed, but they’re not totally free either. It’s a lousy situation and the first fatal step in not clearing out the land as God commanded. All this because Josh got self-confident and figured he could coast a few yards without God. We don’t have to make the same mistake.
The more we mature, the more we will embrace an attitude of total dependency on God in every area of our life. The more we know Him, the less we’ll want to make one move without checking with Him first. Self-reliance is an important skill that every good parent teaches his kid in this world–and it’s the same skill that God unteaches us in our walks with Him. There’s no room for self-reliance in a strong relationship with God. He wants kids who view themselves as utterly incapable without Him. This is where addicts, cripples, and invalids have a distinct advantage over others. They’ve already got the dependency thing figured out. They understand the concept better than most, they just have to learn how to apply it to their relationship with God, whereas other Christians have to endure a lot of pride grinding lessons before they can accept the idea that they can’t be superstars on their own. Of course the truth has always been that humans are frail creatures who can do nothing apart from their Creator. When God finally frees us from the delusion that we can take care of ourselves, we discover how what a joy it is to have a Creator who finds such delight in taking care of us.