Summary: Foolish carnal reasoning that led to a wrong decision
Chapter 9 – The Gibeonites
In our last study we were considering together the way in which Joshua and the people of God, having experienced a humiliating defeat at Ai, had returned to the place of defeat, re-engaged the enemy and gained a glorious victory over them.
In the course of our sermon I pointed out that whilst the ultimate reason for Israel’s initial defeat at Ai was the sin of Achan, it seems from the way the narrative is constructed in the early part of ch7 that another factor that led to that defeat was what we might call the humanly reasoned, common sense approach Joshua and the leaders had taken in adopting their strategy for attacking Ai. Instead of seeking counsel of the Lord they had gone ahead and attacked with just a few thousand soldiers, after all Ai wasn’t anywhere near as big a city nor as well fortified a city as Jericho, and well, Jericho hadn’t proven to be any great problem for them. And so they reasoned, let’s just send 3,000 of our troops up to capture this city. And from the human perspective this seemed a sensible decision. The problem with decisions based solely on a common sense approach to a given situation is that they are not necessarily the decisions God wants us to take, leading as they sometimes do to us following a course of action which is actually contrary to His will. This is what happened at Ai. Now you would think that having made such a faux-pas at Ai Joshua and the leaders of the people would have learned their lesson and not made the same stupid mistake again. You would have thought that they would have sought guidance from God whenever they were faced with any new decision making situation, especially if they were not 100% sure what to do. However, as we are going to see this evening, Joshua and his fellow leaders were just as human, and just as fallible as the rest of us and so just as liable to make the same mistakes over again.
After the victory at Ai Joshua led the people on a march of some 25 miles in a northerly direction until the came to the valley which dissected two mountains, Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim. Here the people of God renewed their covenant with the Lord. An altar was built on Mount Ebal and sacrifices were offered in worship and this was followed by the reading of the whole law, the Curses of the Law being read from Mount Ebal and the Blessings of the Covenant being read from mount Gerazim. Now this was undoubtedly a high point in the experience of God’s people. Under God they had just turned defeat in to victory. They had held a huge open air worship service and rededicated themselves to God. This was a time of great blessing. And it is against this background that the events recorded in Ch9 & 10 occurred.
As we turn to those events notice with me first of all
1) The Danger of Carnal Reasoning: Impetuous Decision-Making
We see this in the way in which Joshua and the princes, that is the other leaders in Israel, dealt with the issue of the Gibeonites. Gibeon lay about 25 miles from Gilgal and the people of Gibeon knew only too well that if Israel’s advance continued they would be the be the next city to be attacked. Although they had been invited to join the alliance that the other Canaanite nations had formed against Israel, the Gibeonites, probably realising that they were on a hiding to nothing despite the military power of the alliance, decided to opt out of the alliance and try to save their skin by using different tactics. They planned to deceive the Israelites into making a peace treaty with them and their planned was based on information they had somehow gleaned about Israel’s military policy in relation to nations that were not part of the seven nearby nations of Canaan. According to Deuteronomy 7 the Israelites were to destroy all these seven nations, sparing none. However according to Deut 20v10-20 Israel were allowed to offer peace treaties to other nations who lived ‘at a distance from them’. And so the Gibeonites decided to deceive the Israelites into thinking that they represented the people of a nation from ‘a distant land’ and on that basis to seek to negotiate peace terms. And so in vs 3-13 you have the record of how they went about this deception. They got together a delegation of men and made them up in such a way as to appear as though they had been travelling for a long time from a distant country. They put the oldest, most worn out sacks they could find over their donkeys and filled the sacks with dry mouldy old bread. They gave them old cracked wineskins and made the men in the delegation wear old worn out clothes. Then they worked out a convincing little story that they would tell the Israelites, about how they came from a country far away and how they had heard about the mighty things their God had done in Egypt and to the Kings on the other side of the Jordan and because of what they had heard abut them and about their great God they wanted to make a peace treaty with them. It was a great idea. But would it work?