But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.”
Joshua 9:3 - 6
Those who claim the Old Testament is dry, difficult to understand and/or boring simply have no imagination. It's chock-full of adventure, battle, supernatural deliverance, deception and intrigue. Prophets foretell doom, yet the people are surprised when the prophesy comes true. Alliances are formed and broken, land is conquered and lost, faith is strengthened and abandoned.
The first half of the book of Joshua recounts the Israelite entry into the land of promise. By the time they crossed the Jordan, heading toward Jericho, the troops had already defeated the kings of Bashan and Heshban east of the Jordan. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh received their inheritance in this transjordan area, on the condition that all the fighting men would go with the main force to help in conquering the rest of the land.
After a stunning victory at Jericho, Joshua and company go up against Ai. To their surprise, they are defeated, suffering their first battle casualties. The Lord reveals that one of the warriors held back some of the spoils that were to have been devoted to the Lord. In the covenant community of Israel, the consequences of one man's sin came on the whole people.
Once the sin had been dealt with (via stoning by the entire community and burning of the remains) Israel once again goes up against Ai, using their previous defeat to deceive the opposition, ambushing and totally destroying their foes.
Word spread among the Canaanites that Israel was on the move, led by a strange God. The city-kings reacted in different ways, which brings us to today's verse selection.
"If you can't beat 'em, trick 'em" seems to be the motto of the Gibeonites. Aging their clothing and provisions to make it seem as if they have been on a long journey, they come to the Israelites, asking to make a covenant with them. It's possible that the Gibeonites knew the Israelites' instructions were to fully destroy all the inhabitants of the promised land, but that they were to deal more leniently with those from countries outside the promised land itself, inspiring this deception.
The Israelite response?
So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.
Oops. Trusting in their own instincts rather than consulting God, a covenant is signed. Once the deception is unmasked, Joshua makes the Gibeonites cutters of wood and drawers of water for the altar of God (Do you have any idea how much wood was needed to keep the fire on the altar burning for the multitude of sacrifices Israel was commanded to offer? Personally, I think being destroyed would have been an easier fate.).
Shortly after this, Gibeon is attacked by a coalition of kings. Israel is forced to go to the defense of their ally; God graciously provides a miraculous victory.
Dry and boring? Hardly. No application to present day? Let's see what we can learn from Israel's trials and triumphs:
- Partial obedience to God can bring disaster not only on the individual sinner, but on the community of believers.
- Not asking God for direction - even for what seems an easy or obvious decision - may lead you to make a choice that has lasting consequences.
- Following God whole heartedly allows Him to work in your life in ways you would never have anticipated.
Coming up in the next few weeks, we see Israel continuing into the land, but not obeying quite as well as at first. As a result, not all the inhabitants of the land are driven out. What happens then? Read along and find out!