Gullible - Joshua 9

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 20th July 2008.

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For most of my life, my family, my friends and those I have worked beside have taken great pleasure in reminding me that although I may have a few brain cells up here I have not been blessed with common sense.

Although I have protested for many years that this is not true, that this is a false analysis of my character, unfortunately, I’m afraid the evidence of my interaction with the world has told a different story.

In the last few months I seriously thought I had turned a corner. Got married. A new house. Not décor and cushions but practical jobs. Initially, I was keen to explore the benefits of PSE (Pay Someone Else), however, I soon started dabbling with a few DIY jobs around the house. Recently I thought I had cracked it. Filling, sanding, painting and I even bought myself a new drill – such was my new confidence. Well, I soon discovered that my old habits were still lurking beneath the surface when I attached the plastic handle to the rotating chuck and almost broke my wrist – I repeated this twice more before discovering my error!

Tonight I have great pleasure is announcing that the section of the bible we have laid out before us teaches the limitations of common sense.

In fact, we see God’s people mess up big time because rather than ask the LORD for his guidance when making decisions they rely on their own wisdom instead.

If you have been coming over the last few weeks you’ll know the story by now. After 40 years in the desert God has brought his people into the Promised Land of Canaan. They have been given their marching orders and so far have won two major battles – they have wiped out in the city of Jericho and in Joshua chapter 8 we read of their victory at the city of Ai.

As you would expect the other people in the land heard about these victories. News would have spread throughout the country about the danger posed by these foreign invaders.

Raised a big question: How would they respond to the clear and present danger? How would they prepare to face the threat that was now on their doorstep?

Have a look at what we are told in verse 1. Read verses 1-4a.

They all heard but they didn’t respond in the same way. Lots of the kings decided to gather together and make war against the people of Israel. They had seen the battle statistics from Jericho and Ai.

Breaking news had flashed on their TV screens and they had concluded that their only chance of survival was to share their resources and make a united effort to wipe this invading army from the face of the earth. We read about this war in Joshua chapter 10.

But our tonight our focus will be on this ruse, this cunning plan, that was crafted by the people of Gibeon.

Think yourself into their situation. They have also seen the battle statistics. Their conclusion is different. The frontal attack won’t work even with a united Canaanite army. So their use their brains and come up with a plan of deception. Verse 4.

Read verses 4-6.

The emphasis all the way through is on a distant country and we discover the reason for this in the book of Deuteronomy – remember these were Moses’ final words to the people before the invasion began. I’ve put these on the big screen.

Read Deuteronomy 20:10-18.

Do you see what the Gibeonites were trying to do? They only live a few miles north of Jerusalem so there is no way that under normal circumstances the Israelites will make a treaty with them so they come up with a cunning plan to pull the wool over the eyes of God’s people.

We need to give the people of Israel come initial credit. We are not completely gullible. Straight away they are suspicious. Look at verse 7.

Read verse 7.

Notice how they respond. With a little bit of flattery. Verse 8.

Read verses 8-13.

Notice how clever they are. They have not simply thought about their supplies they have thought long and hard about their story. We know the real reason they have come (verse 3) is because of these recent victories in Jericho and Ai but they don’t mention them to Joshua.

How would a distant people have heard of these so quickly? So they talk about the old victories. “Oh yes, we heard about what you did to Sihon and Og.”

Notice also that the Israelites don’t simply believe their story they also sample their provisions.

We would say that they are using their common sense in a confused situation. They have asked the right questions, they have heard the story and tasted the supplies and it all seems to fit together. It all seems to be very coherent.

And yet what was the problem? Verse 14. It’s the crucial verse of the whole chapter. “The man of Israel sampled their provisions but they did not enquire of the LORD.”

And as a result Joshua made a treaty of peace with the Gibeonites and let them live.

What’s the big issue? We see the Israelites making a mess of a confused situation.

People are trying to deceive them and they have a clever story and falsified evidence to back up what they say. The Israelites do the best they can with their common sense. And yet that is the problem. Not that they failed to ask questions but that they asked their questions and made their enquiries without any interaction from heaven. They did not enquire of their God.

What would it have looked like in their situation to enquire of their God? We have some clues from the book of Numbers. Let me put these verses on the big screen.

Read Numbers 27:18-21.

We don’t know exactly what the Urim were (perhaps Urim and Thurim as stones on the High Priest’s breastplate?) but the big principle is that Joshua had a way of enquiring of the LORD when making decisions and he decided not to do so.

We need to recognise that we are not in the days of Joshua. We live in the days when God the Father has sent his only Son into the world. We are in the last days when the full revelation of heaven has already been granted because Jesus has spoken. Jesus the Last Prophet has communicated with us. So the way God speaks with us is different today. We cannot simply say, “Well, because they did this then, we can do this today.” God promises to speak as his bible is read and explained. 

How we enquiry of the LORD will be different but that we must enquiry of the LORD as individuals and as a church remains vital.

How do we enquire of the LORD and when should we enquire of the LORD?

How should we enquire of the LORD?

•    Immerse ourselves in the Bible.

This is where and how we learn what the LORD’s will actually is. You will be amazed at how knowing the character of God helps us in situations.

Selection of church ministers. Every denomination has selection criteria. I was never asked what I believed. I could pass tests and was nice.

How can you tell if a minister should really be a leader in the church? Enquire of the LORD. Read what he has to say on the matter. Common sense will lead us into great difficulty.

Selection of a sexual partner. What will our common sense say? What does the Bible say? We must enquire of the LORD.

•    We should ask for his wisdom.

James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

We pray.

What will be the result of this prayer? May not feel incredibly wise but we need to believe the promise has been kept. Trust the word and not your feelings.

It allows us to chill out. Immersed in the Bible and prayerful people can rely on the goodness of God’s providence to be worked out. He loves us. We need to believe this is true of his character.

What does this mean? Yes individually but I would like to apply this corporately.

How do we as a church seek the LORD’s council before we make decisions?

Central meetings. Why don’t people go? Come and tell me. Let’s assume the best. We want to pray but something is wrong with what we do at them. Perhaps difficult time or day or childcare or perhaps you feel uncomfortable praying in a small group.
Don’t have to pray out loud but you can say your amen.

And who knows maybe over a period of time you may just say a simple little prayer to your heavenly Father. What was it that Jesus said about prayer? When we pray we shouldn’t be like the pagans who think they will impress god with their many words

We do have lots of wise people at St John’s but let us never get to the stage when we don’t consult the LORD.

When should we enquire of the LORD?

We often treat God like the emergency services. For most of the time he is there and helping others but in a crisis we may cry out for help. It is such an unhelpful picture and not a biblical picture of the relationship between God and his people. He is our Father and we his children.

Not saying that we need to ask wisdom if we need to choose between a chicken mayo or between a vegetarian delight. That’s an easy choice - no such thing as a vegetarian delight! We need a more healthy interaction between us and God.

I believe always better to build a fence at the top of the cliff than park an ambulance at the bottom. However, even when the fence is built things can still go wrong. What do you do when the mistakes are made? In verses 1-15, we see God’s people making a mess of a confused situation but  in verses 16-21 we see them making the best of a bad situation.

“Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbours, living near them.” So, verse 17…

Read verses 17-21.

Notice the emphasis on the oath – vs 18, 19, 20. Then verse 21 – the promise of the leaders was kept.

I think this is a really helpful principle for us. Bad decisions of the past may lead us into present difficulties but when we are in our present situation we need to respond in a godly way.

You can imagine how gutted the people of Israel were and how annoyed they were with their leaders. But in this new situation their leaders responded in exactly the right way.

They followed a God who kept his promises and so his people must reflect the character of their God – particularly because they had made an oath in his name.

Can you imagine the talk of the Canaanites if Israel hadn’t done this? “They broke their promise. Why? Well, no doubt it’s because their god is just like that.”

Vital for us to be known as people of truth. I know it’s hard but if we don’t then we are we saying about our God. It’s not easy but we must strive to be people of our word. The world calls it spin or massaging the figures but Jesus asks us to let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and ‘no’ be ‘no’. Be people of integrity. Don’t lie. Be people of truth.

Keep your promises. Don’t you hate being let down? I’m guilty of this. I have a big heart and find it hard to say no when I should do but in the end I let someone down because I know I can’t do it.

What’s the problem? Partly that I can’t say no but also because other people can’t say yes. We need both to happen so we can be people who keep our word.

One of the ways the Israelites made the best of a bad situation was by continuing to keep their promises.

I don’t know what situation you are in now because of a bad decisions or a number of bad decisions. God is forgiving but we often have to live with the consequences of our actions.

The second way God’s people made the best out of a bad situation was when Joshua made the Gibeonites servants for the people of God.

Read verses 22-25.

What do you think about the actions of the Gibeonites? They were going to be wiped out so maybe this was the best of the two options. This would be the case if there were only two options but actually there was another option presented in the book of Joshua.

Remember Rahab of Jericho? She became one of the Israelites by following their God.

Read Joshua 8:35. There were others as well.

We don’t come and make peace with God and his people on our terms but on his terms, but when we do we can enjoy peace with God and be incorporated into a new family.

This is the same principle we see being worked out in the New Testament.

Here is the picture. The human race is at war with God. He makes peace on his terms. It is wonderful.
And yet what do so many do today? They speak of having a relationship with God without a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and a sole truth in him alone.

•    You get those who are trying to work it out. Make up their own peace treaty.

•    You get those who deny there is a problem.

Bible says we are in trouble but God has made peace terms through Christ so come on and follow him.

When we begin this life he looks after us and he promises to grant us wisdom for decisions.

Why would you not want to start this relationship? And if started why would you not want to enquire of this LORD for the future of your earthly existence?

Let’s pray.

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