A Reason To Pray
So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.” (Joshua 9:14)
In America today, I don’ think there’s ever been a time when the cliché, “nothing is as it seems”, applies more. Recently, I read an online article purporting to give financial advice, but that ultimately linked to financial products and managers who actually wanted to spend my money. Perhaps a more useful illustration for Christians can be seen in the steady, overwhelming social justice movements of our day that masquerade as worthy, even godly causes, but upon inspection reveal themselves to be thinly veiled, modern expressions of socialism.
In Joshua 9, we have a situation that resembles much of what we see around us today. The motive of the enemy is clear in v. 2-3: the Gibeonites observed that no nation had withstood Israel and Israel’s God; they were fearful of being destroyed along with the other Canaanite nations. And they also knew that if they were going to survive, it would not be through victory on the field of battle. They would have to employ a more subtle, indirect tactic. They would need to deceive.
It might help to remind you that Israel was under strict orders from God: under no circumstances were they allowed to make covenants with nations within the land of Canaan. It would certainly lead to not only the worship of false gods, but the destruction of God’s people. Israel knew this and were committed to this, which makes what follows all the more tragic and instructive.
We could summarize the Gibeonite deception by two simple tactics. First, they came to God’s people with a strong appeal to their sense of mercy and compassion. We read this in v.4: “they took worn-out sacks…and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes.” Anyone with a heart would be instantly moved to compassion.
Secondly, they added to their appeal for mercy what can only be described as flattery. In v.9, they refer to themselves as Israel’s “servants”, servants who had come “because of the name of the Lord your God.” For Joshua and the leaders, this would be flattering. It would also be very hard to resist. Even people outside of Canaan had heard of them and their God. These people had even heard of what their God had done to Egypt.
What, of the two ploys we read about, would be most tempting for you—compassion or flattery? Speaking for men, I think we will always be seduced by an appeal to our own importance. But who among us—men or women—would not be moved in the face of poverty and suffering? Who among us wouldn’t want to help a group who, from the start, identify themselves as “our servants?” When you add both of these tactics together, you have quite a temptation!
In spite of the masterful temptation, the tragic decision to make a covenant with them was not determined by anything other than what we’re told in v.14: “…the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.” Think of the lesson like this: temptation alone did not lead to this sin; temptation first led to the sin of prayerlessness and self-sufficiency. Then and only then did they sin by yoking themselves to unbelievers.
Be ever vigilant today in fighting temptation and in searching for the truth behind the circumstance, but commit first and foremost to prayer and seeking God’s counsel. Only He can see beyond all appearances to what is true and real.