Several weeks ago we had our teen In-Town trip; that’s where the teens stayed at the church, do work projects in the community in the mornings, and put on a VBC in the afternoon. Thanks to our elders, we hired two of our adult leaders to watch the teens at night, so I could go home and get a little more rest. At least that was what was supposed to happen. I don’t know if it was Tuesday or Thursday that this happened, but at 1am in the morning on one of those nights, I get a call from our male leader that one of our boys kicked another boy extremely hard in the face.
At 1am in the morning, I was not happy to be woken up to deal with such a situation. And to tell you the truth, I was ready to bring down heaven upon the teen who did it. When I got to the church, I saw the boy who’s hurt sitting on the platform. I walked into the boys room where the perpetrator of the act was, and that’s when I learned, the two boys had been roughhousing and it got out of hand. I went from being angry at the one boy, to being indifferent to the plight of the other. I told the perpetrator something along the lines of, you need to knock it off or I’m taking you home, and then I went to the other boy, who I told I have no sympathy for you because he was participating in the roughhousing. Then I told him to put ice on his jaw, because he probably hyperextended it and there was nothing anyone could do for him, I know because it had happened to me. I told all of the boys to get in bed, and I was going home.
I was angry because it was 1am, which everyone should have been in bed and not messing around, and because I didn’t get the whole story. Once I did, everything was put into perspective, and I was no longer angry in the same way.
Getting the whole story before you make a decision is really important and that’s what brings us to the book of Joshua today. A situation where the whole story is unknown, and it gets the people into a bit of trouble.
So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in the book of Joshua chapter 9 starting in verse 1 this morning. And as we get back into the book of Joshua chapter 9, we need to recap what we’ve previously been talking about, because we’ve had a few weeks off.
In the first 8 chapters of Joshua, we’ve seen a focus on God’s relationship with the nation of Israel and specifically their leader Joshua. God has done great things for them, like part a flooded river so they could walk on dry land and bring down impenetrable walls by having them walk around them. God also called them to deep trust by having them be vulnerable when he called them to be circumcised. This call to deep trust was to help them rely on God and not themselves for the victories that were about to happen.
But even with all that God had done for the nation, we saw in chapters 7 and 8 that Joshua and the nation of Israel got ahead of themselves. They trusted their own strength and fell into sin. First by taking things that weren’t their’s from Jericho, and then fighting a battle that God hadn’t prepared them to fight.
That’s when we saw at the end of Joshua chapter 8, the nation of Israel repent and refocus themselves back on the reality that it is God who wins their victories for them.
Now as we jump back into the book of Joshua at this point, let’s see how long that renewed focus on God lasts. Let’s start reading in chapter 9 verse 1 of the book of Joshua.
1 Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things—the kings in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the entire coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far as Lebanon (the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites)— 2 they came together to wage war against Joshua and Israel.
3 However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy.
Stopping there, we see that God’s promise to Joshua in the first chapter of this book is being fulfilled. The nations in Canaan are fearful of Israel, and they respond in one of two ways. Either they decide to band together and prepare for the fight that’s to come, or they try to deceive Israel and make peace. The Gebeonites try peace, and they go about it very sneakily.
If we read ahead to verse 24 we find out that the Gibeonites had heard that the Israelite God told Joshua to destroy all the people of Canaan. And if we read ahead to verse 24, then we would have read verses 9 and 10, that the Gibeonites had also heard of what happen to the the kings Israel had defeated before and after they crossed the Jordan.
So in desperation, the Gibeonites come up with an idea to trick the people of Israel into making peace. They get their worst clothes, their worst sandals, and their worst supplies and they make a roughly 7 mile track from the city of Gibeon to the camp of the Israelites. And it’s there they try to trick the Israelites into making peace with them, something God had told the Israelite nation not to do way back in Deuteronomy 7. But let’s keep reading in verse 6 to see what happens.
6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”
7 The Israelites said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?”
8 “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua.
But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?”
9 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, 10 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. 11 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.”’ 12 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. 13 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.”
14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.
So the trick worked. The Israelites believed the Gibeonites and a peace treaty was established. So, how long did it take for the Israelites to figure it out? Well, in verse 16 we’re told that it was three days. It took the leaders of Israel three days to figure out that they had been deceived and made a bad treaty. Why three days? Because that’s how long it took them to arrive at the Gibeonite city.
Now when they arrived, what did the Israelites do? Did they attack, and break the treaty? Or did they honor it? Let’s pick up in verse 18.
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, 19 but all the leaders answered, “We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now.
So we see that Israelites honored their treaty with the Gibeonites. Even though, God had told them to not make any treaties, but rather to destroy the people of the land.
We find out in the last verses of the chapter what the Israelites, and more specifically what Joshua did with the deceitful Gideonites. Verse 26 starts out reading, “26 So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. 27 That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t blame the Gibeonites for doing what they did. They knew they were going to be wiped out by the Israelites when they came. So they did what they thought was best, they took a gamble and tricked the Israelites. And in the end, it saved them from being wiped out. Now they did go into forced labour; felling trees and carrying water is hard work, but they were able to survive.
My issue isn’t with the Gibeonites, but rather it’s with the Israelites. The Gibeonites are not followers of God, and so they don’t have the same understanding of right living that the Israelites did. To me it’s another Rehab situation from back in chapter 2. So my issue isn’t with these non-followers of God deceiving; people far from God will do things like this. My issue, is with the nation of Israel, because they’ve taken their eyes of God again. See, in chapter 7 Joshua comes off the victory of Jericho and heads straight into a battle with the city of Ai. The Israelites are defeated because they didn’t find out if God was wanting them to proceed. And God wasn’t desiring that they move forward in their battles, because there was sin within the people that he wanted to take care of first.
Joshua didn’t think of talking with God before the battle, and it ended in defeat. When Joshua does go to God, they take care of the sin, and eventually defeat the city of Ai. But here, we have another situation where Joshua doesn’t talk it over with God, but rather just goes for it. In fact we’re told exactly what happened.
Verse 14 states, “14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.”
The deception worked, because even though the Israelites had renewed their focus on God at the end of chapter 8, they didn’t go to God and find out if the Gibeonites were telling the truth. The people didn’t ask God about these foreigners, and because the didn’t ask God they were duped. I love how this all plays out, because I’ve had this happen to me on several occasions. Let me paint this in a way that makes sense in the whole context.
The beginning of chapter 7, the Israelite nation is in sin. It’s like when I’ve had a blow up with my kids, or I yell at that guy driving 25 in a 45, or I’ve been thinking things I shouldn’t.
Then at the end of chapter 7, the Israelites address their sin. After I’ve had my blow up, I get to church, and I’m convicted of my sin as I worship God. I agree that my blow up, my actions, my thoughts were not right and I bring them before God that Sunday morning.
Then chapter 8, the Israelites win the battle at Ai and praise God, refocusing them. That next week, after I’ve repented of my sin and am back in a right relationship with God, I’m doing pretty good. I think before I blow up, I don’t let the guy driving 25 bother me, I get my thoughts where they should be.
Then chapter 9, the Israelites get duped. At the end of my week, I’m tired and I watch that show I shouldn’t, I gossiped about someone, I say something that hurts someone else. Now I’m back in church that next Sunday repeating my repenting to God, and the cycle continues.
I love these chapters, because they show a cycle that isn’t about the Israelites and the Gibeonites, but it's about me. I have victories, then I have failures, then I repent, then I have victories, and failures and the cycle repeats.
And it would be real easy to take an easy way out. The Israelites could have said, forget you Gibeonites, you tricked us into making a treaty, so now we’ll just destroy you. But instead they took the hard way, they recognized their mistake, took the Gibeonites to task, but they honored their end of the deal. And in doing so, they actually fulfilled a prophecy made back in Genesis 9. Noah said in verse 26 of chapter 9, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem.”
The Gibeonites and all the people that Israel was now fighting were the descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan. And here, the Gibeonites were now fulfilling that prophecy of being slaves of Shem’s decedents the Israelites. This slavery lasts all the way to the building of the second temple under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:7), that’s almost a 1,000 years of forced labor.
But if the Israelites just killed the Gibeonites off, they would now have committed two sins. First, not listening to God in the first place, and two, backing off of their word. A sin to cover up another sin isn’t the way to go.
But that’s what we tend try to do a lot of the time isn’t it? Instead of dealing with the sin we know we have, we try to cover it up, which in and of itself is a sin. And if we continue doing that, that pile of sin and cover ups just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And it can get so big that we come to a point where we feel so overwhelmed by the pile and the cover up, that everything falls apart.
The harder way, is to repent of our sin, which leads us into the cycle of victory, sin, repent, victory, sin, repent. But if we move into a place where we’re on this cycle, we’re actually in a better place to experience God.
Now God desires us to get past the pile up, and even past the cycle, and eventually into a place where there is minute by minute victory.
But where do we start?
If we’re in the pile up, I have one word, repent. We have to recognize our sin. We need to bring it before God and lay all out. We need to bring it to the person we’ve sinned against and be apologetic and humble. The pile up ends, when we stop adding on to it and be honest with what we’re doing. Repenting stops the pile on, and opens us up to the moving of the Holy Spirit.
That leads us to the cycle. If we’re in the cycle, I have two words for you Bible and prayer. We have to get into God’s word with a prayer of change. Something like, “Father, work your Holy Spirit in me, and change me into the image of your Son, by getting rid of the sin I allow to control me.” When we pray prayers like this, then we need to get into God’s word and allow Scripture to permeate our minds and actions. One of the best Scriptures I think we can read for the cycle is Psalm 51. The Psalm of David, who himself was on the cycle. As we pray and read the Bible, the cycle of victory, sin, and repent will change. But we need to remember, no matter how many times we seem to get back on the cycle, do not get discouraged. The more we recognize our sin, the more we repent, the closer we are to the end of the cycle.
So how do we get to the minute by minute victory and never get back on the cycle? I don’t think, on this side of heaven, that it’s 100% possible, but what I do know is that the cycle can get to a point of longer victories, less sin, and deeper repentance. I love to tell the story of the old teacher and the young student.
A young student attending a Christian college came up to his professor one day and said, “I have never seen you sin, what is your secret?” The professor said, “When I was a young man about your age, I asked God to work out of me all the sins that people could see. When God had worked those sins out of me, I asked him to work out of me all the sins that my family could see. When that happened, I asked God to work out all the sins that only I saw, and that’s where I am today. So I sin every day, you just won’t see it.”
To me this is where God wants to take us, a place of deeper connection with him, that moves away from the pile on of sin upon sin, and into a cycle that has at the heart of it a desire for a deeper relationship with God. A relationship that is honest about our sin, and willing to have God change us, and take it away.
So let us seek to learn from the Israelites, to be honest about where we sin, and to bring it before God, that he will cleanse us from all our sins and that we may see his victories everyday of our lives.
My challenge for us today is to take the first step of repentance. No matter if your piling up sin, or you’re in the cycle, let us go to God with an open and honest heart confessing where we have failed, and asking for the Holy Spirit to move in our lives, that when we leave here today we will experience greater victories, less sin, and deeper repentance.
Let us take communion today with repentance on our lips, our eyes fixed on Jesus as our Forgiver, and victory on the horizon. Amen.