Sunday, March 01, 2009

Matt's Messages "Even When"

“Even When”

Possessing the Promises: The Book of Joshua
March 1, 2009
Joshua 9:1-27

Last week, we learned that sin is serious. In chapters 7 and 8, Israel twice went into battle with the little Canaanite town of Ai. We watched Israel be first defeated by Ai and then victorious over Ai after purging sin from within their camp. Sin is serious.

With disobedience comes danger. And, with obedience comes blessing. At the end of chapter 8, the whole nation of Israel lined up on two different mountains and shouted “Amen!” at the reading of the blessings and the curses of God’s law. With disobedience comes danger. And, with obedience comes blessing. Amen!

Now, in chapter 9, Joshua and the leaders of Israel are faced with a new test.

It’s a test that comes not from frontal attack but by lies and deception.

Israel comes into contact with a people called the Gibeonites. And the Gibeonites lie to them.

How will Joshua handle this problem?

As we read the story, we’re going to see at least two points of biblical wisdom to apply our own lives even when it doesn’t seem like the thing to do. Even when.

Because, you know, what often seems right to us at first is not at all really the right thing for us to do. So, these two points of wisdom are for us to practice even when it doesn’t seem like it.

Joshua chapter 9.

“Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things–those in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the entire coast of the Great Sea as far as Lebanon (the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites)–they came together to make war against Joshua and Israel.” Stop there for a second.

You can see where this is going. Joshua and the Israelites have had victory so far, but now Canaan is awakening to the threat they bring and the Canaanite peoples are teaming up to take them on.

Perhaps the short lived victory at Ai has emboldened them. Or perhaps they see all-out war as their only defense against the Israelite onslaught.

Either way, they are banding together to take on Israel.

But not Gibeon. Gibeon (though probably a small subset of the Hivite people) decides to not try an attack–but to try a ruse.

Gibeon was a town just a few days journey from Ai. It was, perhaps, the next stop on Israel’s conquest agenda. V.2

“However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse [KJV: “they did work wilily”]: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy.”

Are you getting the picture? They are putting on their costumes for an elaborate performance. V.6

“Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.’ The men of Israel said to the Hivites, ‘But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?’ [You need to understand that God has spoken clearly in Deuteronomy about NOT making treaties and covenant with the people in the land. They would only ensnare Israel into false worship. People from far away they could make treaties with. People within the Promised Land had to get out or be killed. Obviously the Gibeonites know this. And that’s why they say v.8...] ‘We are your servants,’ they said to Joshua.”

“But Joshua asked, ‘Who are you and where do you come from?’ They answered: ‘Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan–Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, 'Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, ‘We are your servants; make a treaty with us.’' 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.’”

Wow. These guys are good, huh?

They could have won an Oscar with their performance. Maybe more than one Oscar: best screenplay, best makeup and costumes, best acting.

Everything seemed in order. At first, Joshua was skeptical. You can tell. “Who are you and where do you come from?”

But they sounded and looked the part.

And here’s the key sentence of the whole chapter. Verse 14.

“The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.”

You see the problem?

“The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.”

King James: “[they] asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.”

New Living Translation: “They did not consult the LORD.”

Here’s application point #1. They got it wrong.


It’s easy for us to point fingers at Joshua and the Israelites.

We saw the Gibeonites put on their costumes; we know that this is a trick.

But good tricks don’t seem like tricks! Joshua and the Israelites were fooled.

But they didn’t have to be.

They forgot one key thing: they know the LORD! And so they should be going to Him for direction.

But they didn’t.

And, so often, we do the same thing. We try to go it on our own without seeking the LORD’s direction.

Why do you think they made this mistake? What were they thinking?

Well, for one they were going on appearances. Everything seemed to be in order. And sometimes, we can make the mistake of not taking something to the Lord because it seems so obvious at the time.

And perhaps, they thought that this was a matter too small to “bother” the Lord with.

But the Lord had clearly spoken about these things in His Word, and it would have been right and good to take this case to Him to make sure that it fit His instructions.

Maybe they were emboldened by their recent successes at both Jericho and Ai. And they were “feeling their Wheaties.”

“Yeah, we can handle this one! Leave it to us.”

It probably boiled down to pride and a misplaced trust in their own understanding.

Remember what scripture passage we started the year with this year? Proverbs 3:5&6.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. [And does anybody know what verse 7 says?] Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.”

They should have sought the Lord for direction.

And so should we.

Can you think of a time in your life, maybe recently, when you went on your on? When you didn’t seek the Lord’s counsel? When you did what seemed right at the time, but it wasn’t connected to the Lord’s way of doing things?

Heather and I made a big decision in the last month to formally pursue a doctoral degree in biblical counseling from CCEF and Westminster Theological Seminary.

I have taken a bunch of classes over the last 5 years but have never formally enrolled in a program. I’ve always been some sort of a visiting student up till now.

But the Lord orchestrated it that I connected with just the right professor at just the right moment to potentially be the last student ever to enter this program that I’m so impressed by.

And it’s a lot of work and lot of money and a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

And Heather and I needed to make this decision.

And do you know what she suggested we do to make that decision?

[You know, don’t you?]

She said that we should pray about it first before I apply.

And I said, “You’re right. We should.”

And I thought, “Why I didn’t I think of that?”

I’m a pastor, and I didn’t think of that first!

I might have come around to it, but it sure wasn’t the first thing I thought of.

We need to seek the Lord’s direction even when it all seems obvious.

There are two main ways to seek God’s direction.

The first is prayer. That’s our asking God for the wisdom and direction that we need.

Joshua missed it that time. The sampled the provisions, “but did not inquire of the LORD.”

Prayer is vital for decision-making.

And God has promised to answer it. James 1:5 says that if anyone lacks wisdom he should ask God, who give generously to all without find fault, and it will be given to him.

Are you struggling with a big decision right now? Most of us have something that we’re working on, something on the front-burner all the time.

Are you taking it to the Lord in prayer?

Sometimes, we get to thinking that prayer is chore, just a duty.

I know that I struggle with that.

A few weeks ago, Pastor John Piper preached on prayer and he dealt directly with that mistaken notion.
“Is it true that intentional, regular, disciplined, earnest, Christ-dependent, God-glorifying, joyful prayer is a duty? . . . You can call it that.

* It’s a duty the way it’s the duty of a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes underwater.
* It’s a duty the way pilots listen to air traffic controllers.
* It’s a duty the way soldiers in combat clean their rifles and load their guns.
* It’s a duty the way hungry people eat food.
* It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water.
* It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts in his hearing aid.
* It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin.
* It’s a duty the way Pooh Bear looks for honey.
* It’s a duty the way pirates look for gold.”
That was really helpful to me. I printed it out and put it on my wall in my office.

Because prayer may be a duty, but it also should be my delight.

And it’s vital for decision-making–because the Lord wants to be Lord of my choices.

We need to seek the Lord’s direction even when it all seems obvious.

The first way is prayer. And the second way (also easily overlooked) is Bible.

In these pages, we have the Word of God! This is the main way and the clearest way that God speaks to us.

They did not inquire of the LORD. But we can by searching the Scriptures.

The more we are prayerfully filled up with the Bible, the wiser our choices will be. And that’s because in here that we learn the mind of the Lord.

Prayer is, primarily, our talking to God. Bible is primarily God talking to us.

And what the Bible says is often very different from what ‘seems obvious” at the moment. Because the message of the Bible is different from the message of the world.

And we grow in wisdom as we go deeper in the Scriptures.

How many are still reading towards pancakes in January 2010?

I want to get an idea of how sore my pancake-flipping arm will be in January!

That’s great!

Don’t just read to get pancakes. Read to get wisdom.

God said in Proverbs chapter 4: “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you” [Proverbs 4:5-8].

And you get that from God’s Word!

We need to seek the Lord’s direction even when it all seems obvious.

I know too many “Christians” who never open their Bible or never open their Bible to help them make a decision, at least. As if God hadn’t said anything to them.

No, He’s given us everything we need for life and godliness–right here.

Inquire of the Lord.

Seek the Lord’s direction even when it all seems obvious.

But that’s not, of course, what Joshua and the other leaders did. They (v.15) made a treaty of peace with the Gibeonites and let them live. They made an oath. V.16

“Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them.”

Three days. These guys are our neighbors. The Lord wanted us to fight them not make a treaty. V.17

“So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim.”

What do you think they’re going to do?

They’re going to keep their oath. V.18

“But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, but all the leaders answered, ‘We have given them our oath by the LORD, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.’”

“They continued, ‘Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community.’ So the leaders' promise to them was kept.”

And that was the right thing to do. Application #2.


Man, it must have hurt these leaders’ pride to keep their oath.

And it definitely hurt their popularity with the people.

Those were the consequences of their rash decision.

But the good news is that they took the responsibility for their bad decisions and lived with the consequences.

You know that there are often consequences for our bad choices, don’t you?

Sometimes, we like to think that there are no consequences.

But there normally are consequences–even for sins that are forgiven.

I used to drive my Dad’s copper-toned 1982 Chevy Citation with a sun-roof.

Woo! Was that sweet ride?! That little Citation had pick-up. I should have had more traffic citations in that Citation than I did.

Well, it had 99,999 miles on it and then it flipped over to...what?

It’s a 1982. What did it flip over to?

Zero! The odometer only went up to 99,999.

So, the odometer said that the car been forgiven. Nothing on the odometer!

A clean slate. Forgiven! Perfect. Miles free.

But, were there still the marks of 100,000 miles on that little car?

There sure were. And no-matter what the odometer said, there were still natural consequences that we had to accept.

It’s the same in our lives. We can be forgiven our sins where it’s most important–by the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

But we may still have to accept some of the consequences of those sins in our lives.

And one of those is the consequences that come with foolish promises. Promises that we, perhaps, should have never made.

Taking out a foolish loan that would saddle you with a burdensome debt.
Marrying an unbeliever.
Committing to a foolish business venture.
Agreeing to tie up your time in something you’ll later regret.

I’m sure that Joshua wished that they never made this treaty, never swore this oath.

It’s made things difficult.

But he doesn’t compound his error by breaking his word. V.19

“We have given them our oath by the LORD, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now.” V.20

“We will let them live, so that wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.”

Two wrongs do not make a right.

Psalm 15 describes a holy man. And it uses this phrase verse 4.

A holy man “keeps his oath even when it hurts...”

A holy man keeps his promises even when it hurts to do so.

Maybe right now you are disappointed with a promise that you’ve made.

Maybe you’re in a marriage that you wish you’d never committed to.
Maybe you have a loan that you need to repay that you wish you’d never taken out.
Maybe you’ve agreed to do something that now you see how it will cost you.

Keep your promises even when it hurts to do so.

Now, that’s not absolute. I don’t think that God wants us to keep our promises, if we’ve promised to do something sinful.

I don’t think that Jephthah’s daughter should have been sacrificed.

If you’ve agreed to cheat on your homework with someone, you still shouldn’t do so.

But, aside from things that are wrong, the general rule for Christians is that we should what we said we would do even if it isn’t to our advantage now.

And God will bless that.

That’s what happened to Israel and the Gibeonites. V.22

“Then Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, ‘Why did you deceive us by saying, 'We live a long way from you,' while actually you live near us? You are now under a curse: You will never cease to serve as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.’ They answered Joshua, ‘Your servants were clearly told how the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.’ So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the community and for the altar of the LORD at the place the LORD would choose. And that is what they are to this day.”

Israel ended up with good laborers because of this deal.

And Gibeon got enfolded, over time, not as a perpetual thorn in the side, or those who would drag them off into idolatry, but as loyal participants in Israel.

It’s interesting after the exile, hundreds of years after this, Gibeonites are listed as a part of Israel that returned under Nehemiah and helped to build the wall in Jerusalem.

There was grace for them and for Israel.

And, I think, that some of that came through the channel of Israel’s faithfulness to their promises. Even when it hurt.

We need to keep our promises even when it hurts to do so.

Because, as we keep our promises, as we stay faithful, we reflect the faithfulness of our God.

He made promises–binding promises. He made an oath.

He wasn’t fooled when He made His oath.

But it hurt Him even more to keep His promises.

His promises cost Him the death of His One and Only Son.

So that whoever comes to believe His promises will not perish but have eternal life.