Summary: Listening to God is vital, God’s grace extends to everyone & God keeps his promises
Common Sense isn’t Always
The Israelites have left Mt Ebal and Mt Gerizim behind and are now moving south to continue their conquest of the land. The whole population of Canaan has heard about them by now and the kings of the land below the hill country band together to prepare a defence. But not the leaders of Gibeon. They’ve seen what’s happened to Jericho and Ai and they figure the same fate awaits them if they resist. So they takes a different tack. They prepare a subterfuge.
They prepare dried out provisions, worn out clothes & sacks, dry and cracked wineskins and patched sandals and go to meet Joshua at his camp in Gilgal.
They spin them a good story of how they’ve heard all about them even though they live a long way away.
- Half Truths & Deception
Naturally the Israelites are a little bit suspicious of this story. What if it’s all a ruse and they actually live nearby? But they assure them that they’ve come from far away and all they want is to be servants of the Israelites. They throw in some flattery. They’ve heard what they did to the Amorite kings and were so impressed that they’ve walked for weeks to come and join them. They show them their bread and wineskins and clothing and it all looks very convincing. They spin a tale that’s full of half truths and deception. They haven’t come from far away at all, but they have heard about the LORD and how he’s won the victory for them time and time again.
In fact they’ve heard not just of their victory over the Amorite kings but also over Jericho and Ai. But they don’t mention that. That would give them away.
Now at this point what should Joshua have done? Well, he should have asked God for guidance, shouldn’t he? God has told them what to do every step of the way so far. And that’s what Joshua needs to find out now.
James tells us: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5 NRSV) That’s all Joshua needs to do.
But he doesn’t. Instead the Israelites use their own judgement, their own common sense, which sadly turns out to be not very sensible in the end. They check out the food and it’s just as the Gibeonites have said. Dried out and mouldy. They look like they’ve been travelling for weeks. And they believe them. The scam has worked.
Joshua and the leaders accept their offer and make a peace treaty with them, swearing an oath before the LORD.
Well, it only takes 3 days before they work out the truth. We don’t know how. It may be that as the Israelites moved towards the city of Gibeon it became clear that the Gibeonites knew the lay of the land. Maybe someone overheard them talking. Or perhaps they let on to someone who they really were.
In any case Joshua finds out and confronts them with their dishonesty.
A Promise is a Promise
Now at this stage some people would suggest that an oath based on deception is void. Why should they honour an oath gained by dishonorable means? But this isn’t just any old promise. This isn’t the sort of promise that our politicians make and then change when situations make them difficult to carry out. No, this is an oath sworn in the name of the LORD. This is an oath that must not be broken. They promised to protect these people and protected they will be.
In fact 200 or 300 years later there was a famine in Israel and when David asked God about it he was told that the famine had come about because Saul had tried to wipe out the Gibeonites despite the oath of protection that Joshua had sworn. Saul didn’t care about a 300 year old oath, but God did.
I think this is one of the reasons that Jesus instructed his disciples never to swear an oath: because when you swear an oath God takes it seriously and expects you to keep it.
That’s a long way from the way people think today isn’t it? To think that God would expect you to keep your promises even if it turns out to be at your cost! To think that God expects us to live obediently even after we’ve made foolish or hasty decisions! Most people would try to get out of their obligations in a situation like this, where they realise they’ve been tricked into making a foolish promise.
But not Joshua. He understands the significance of promising in God’s name. He acts as a representative of God: as God’s ambassador. Again that may ring a bell for you. We’re called ambassadors of Christ aren’t we? Christ makes his appeal to the world through us. So how should we act when it comes to keeping our promises?