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Joshua 9: A Deception and a Covenant Print E-mail
Joshua
Sunday, 09 March 2008

Biblical narrative is not an easy genre to understand.  Sometimes the lessons and principles are clear.  Yet, other times they are hard to discern.  Joshua 9 fits into the latter category for me.  As I was thinking about it this week, I thought it might be good to start with a review of Joshua 1-8.  We saw in Joshua 1 the call of God and His promise to Joshua and to the people to give them the land of Canaan.  Chapter 2 told us about Rahab and her protection of the spies.  In the next two chapters we are told of Israel crossing the Jordan.  Then in chapter 5 we read of the new generation being circumcised and of the first Passover in the Promised Land.  Chapter 6 gives us the details of the battle of Jericho.  It includes the fact that Rahab and her family are spared for their faith, even though they were Canaanites.  Then, the story takes a hard turn in chapter 7 with the discussion of Achanís sin and the consequences.  After being defeated at Ai and dealing with Achanís sin, Israel returns to Ai and defeats it through Godís help.  Some of the struggles that we have already seen in the book involve the ban (or Israelís call to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan) and Godís dealings with Rahab and Achan.

We have discussed the reason for the ban, but what about the contrast between Rahab and Achan that the author makes.  Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, believes in God (evidenced by her hiding the spies) and is allowed to become a part of the people of Israel.  In fact, she is actually a part of the lineage of Christ.  Achan, on the other hand, a seemingly upstanding Israelite, does not believe in God (evidenced by his taking some of the devoted things) and is cut off from the people of Israel.  She becomes an Israelite and he becomes a Canaanite.  Not necessarily what we expected.  Of course the trouble with the narrative is that neither of these characters are all good or all bad.  Rahab was a prostitute and lied in order to protect the spies (seemingly bad), while Achan eventually confessed his sin to Joshua (seemingly good).  I say all of this to just point out that biblical narrative can be difficult to interpret at points.  Yet, by trusting in the Spiritís promise to lead us into truth and by laboring hard over the text, we have much to learn.

Joshua 9 presents some of its own problems.  Since the story is not as familiar, let me summarize it.  Look at verses 1-2.  Before the defeat at Ai, the leaders of Canaan were fearful of Israel (see 5:1).  Yet, another consequence to Achanís sin is that many of the kings no longer feared Joshua and the people.  Thus, the rest of the conquest will be more difficult for that reason.  However, the Gibeonites were afraid of Israel and her God.  They knew (we are not told how) that God was going to give Israel their land.  Thus, they decided to trick Joshua and Israel into signing a covenant with them that would guarantee their protection.  Because they did not consult the Lord, Israel fell for the deception and agreed to the treaty.  Of course, when the people found out about it they were angry and wanted to attack the people, but the leaders would not allow it because of the covenant.  Instead, they made the Gibeonites their slaves and Joshua cursed them for their deception. 

The story raises some difficult interpretive questions.  Was the action of the Gibeonites good or bad?  What consequences would Israel pay for making this covenant?  Since the Gibeonites were deceptive should Israel keep the covenant?  I am not sure that I know the answers to all of this, but I do think that as we consider these and other questions, a couple of principles become clear in the text.  Let me point these out to us this morning.

First, God calls us to keep our commitments.

The idea of a Ďcovenantí is prominent in this story.  The Gibeonites make this their central request in verses 6-13.  Look at verse 6 with me.  They go on to tell Joshua and the people that their elders sent them to establish a covenant with them because they have heard of the acts of the Lord.  Their confession is similar to Rahabís in chapter 2, yet it is hard to know if it is genuine or if they are just saying this as part of their deception.  Either way, their goal is to deceive Israel into making a covenant with them.  They pull out all the stops: worn-out sacks and wineskins, worn-out clothes and sandals, dry and crumbly bread, all to convince Israel that they have come from a distant land so that they will agree to make a treaty with them.  In the end, the deception works and Joshua makes a covenant with the Gibeonites.

Immediately following the covenant agreement, which we know to be based upon a lie, Israel and her leaders find out the truth.  They travel to the cities that the Gibeonites are from and realize that they were not from a distant land.  Rather, they were part of the people that they were supposed to drive out of the land of Canaan.  So, surely this nullifies the covenant, right?  I mean the people of Israel had been blatantly lied to, so surely the Lord does not expect them to keep this covenant.  Well, actually no.  The Lord does expect them to keep it.  Look at verses 18-21.  Even though the people do not want to keep the covenant, the leaders make it clear that they must, which Joshua agrees with (see v. 22-27).  They tell them that if they break the covenant then the wrath of God will be upon them.  Instead of killing them, they make them servants and allow them to live among the Israelites. 

We will see next week that Israel and her leaders labor to keep this covenant with the Gibeonites.  Of course, you may be thinking, ĎWell, maybe Israel just got it wrong and they were supposed to break the covenant,í which by the way is a plausible question.  Yet, the reason this does not seem to be the case is 2 Samuel 21.  Years after this covenant was signed, Saul, King of Israel, breaks the covenant and tries to drive the Gibeonites out of Israel.  Because of this action, the Lord sends a three year famine on the land and tells David that Saul was guilty for putting the Gibeonites to death.  Thus, the Lord expected Israelís King to keep this covenant years after it had been agreed upon.  One of my commentators summarized it this way: ďBecause of the sacred, unbreakable nature of an oath, this treaty that the Israelites made with the Gibeonites, even though it was obtained under false pretenses, could not be revoked.Ē 1  I think we can say from this that the Lord calls us to keep our commitments.  As Jesus taught, He expects our Ďyes to be yes and our no to be no.í

Second, therefore we should consult Him and His Word before we agree.

What exactly did Israel do wrong in this passage?  Why were they willing to agree to a covenant with anybody at all?  Was this not against the Lordís instructions?  Actually, Israel could make a covenant with those who lived far off.  Look at Deuteronomy 20:10-15.  This is the passage that instructs Israel to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan.  Yet, the Lord does allow them to make peace with cities that are far off.  Seemingly the Gibeonites were aware of this and therefore went so far to convince the leaders that they were from a distant country.  So then, what was their mistake in this passage?  Look at verse 14.  Israelís major error in this text is that they did not consult with the Lord before agreeing to the covenant with the Gibeonites.  It is difficult to say what would have happened if they would have consulted the Lord, but it is clear in the text that that is what they were supposed to do.  Rather, they trusted in their own understanding and their own perceptions, and they were deceived. 

However, it should again be noted that the solution to this error was not to go back on their oath.  The Lord does not give them an Ďoutí in this way.  Rather, they are called to keep the covenant and to live with the consequences that it brings, which is what they do in chapter 10. 

As we said to begin, it is not always easy to identify the principles that we are to draw from biblical narrative.  The ones that we have identified this morning seem to be clear from the text, but others could be noted as well.  For example, it could be said that this story shows us Godís providential grace to other peoples.  In spite of the Gibeonites deception and Israelís failure to consult the Lord, He still used the circumstances to spare the Gibeonites and make them a part of His chosen people.  This points to the free offer of the gospel to all in the New Testament, be they Jew or Gentile.  Thus, other principles could be drawn from this text and it is not always easy to understand which were clearly intended.

So then, how do we apply the principles that we identified to Christians?  Let me offer two applications.  First, Christians must know the gospel and the Word of God well.  The enemy is constantly trying to get Christians to unknowingly compromise the gospel by listening and agreeing to ideas that are contrary to the truth.  We must make sure that we know the Word and the gospel well so that we are not deceived.  I was up the other night because my blood sugar was low and I came across a show that was asking for money to help a Jewish orphanage in Israel.  I have no problem with helping this cause, but instead of talking about our call to help orphans as a proper motivation (see James 1:27), the hosts said that our treatment of Jews will be the basis for the final judgment.  They based this assertion upon the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  They explained that when Jesus refers to helping my brothers in the text (v. 40) He was obviously referring to helping the Jews.  Granted, I think this text does call us to help the Jews, as well as all those in need, especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ, but to take Jesusí words to mean that we will be judged based upon our help of the Jews is a misunderstanding of the gospel and of what it means to be Jesusí brother (see Matthew 12:46-50).  Thus, we need to know what the Word says and what the gospel is so that we do not get deceived and mislead (whether intentionally or unintentionally).  This is the primary way that we consult the Lord as Christians and avoid being misled about the gospel and the truth.

Second, we must only commit to what agrees and advances the true gospel, namely repentance and faith in the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the dead.  Many will try to deceive us and they will want us to agree with and support their errors, but we must be faithful to the true gospel and commit ourselves fully to it.  We cannot afford to get the gospel wrong.  We cannot afford to commit ourselves to errors.  Thus, may we know well what Christ has done for us at the cross that we may follow hard after Him in keeping with all of His commands.  Amen.

1 David M. Howard, The New American Commentary: Joshua (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1998), p. 229.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 18 March 2008 )

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