On being compromised (Joshua 9)

Joshua base image The phrase "peace for our time" was spoken on 30 September 1938 by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain in his speech concerning the Munich Agreement. It is primarily remembered for its ironic value. The Munich Agreement gave the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in an attempt to satisfy his desire for Lebensraum ("living space") for Germany. The German occupation of the Sudetenland began on the next day, 1 October.

Chamberlain concluded:

"My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time [emphasis added]. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds."

Less than a year after the agreement, following continued aggression from Germany and its invasion of Poland, Europe was plunged into World War II.

In 1947 Noel Coward wrote a play by the same name “Peace for our Time”.  Set in an alternative 1940, the Battle of Britain has been lost, the Germans have supremacy in the air and the British Isles are under Nazi occupation. Inspired to write this play after seeing the effects of the occupation of France, the famously patriotic Coward wrote: "I began to suspect the physical effect of four years’ intermittent bombing is far less damaging to the intrinsic character of a nation than the spiritual effect of four years of enemy occupation."

1. Enquire of the Lord (9.14)

Sometimes God answers in unexpected ways (8:18; James 1:5)

The word translated here as “ruse” occurs only six times more in the OT.  In a positive sense it is used in Proverbs to mean "prudence” or “shrewdness" (Prov. 1:4; 8:5, 12) whilst in just one case it is used negatively (Exo­dus 21:14 – “treachery").  So whilst “ruse” suggests a negative connotation here, is that fair? Faced with the events of Jericho and Ai, it is of little surprise that the Gibeonites are looking for a way to survive.

So maybe to call their approach "treacherous" does not sound quite right. They show no malice toward Israel (unlike the military machinations of the local kings). It is not a stalling tactic to enable some hidden Gibeonite army to overwhelm an unsuspecting Israel.  So maybe we should be more sympathetic, maybe the Gibeonites were be “shewd”!

On the other hand, as a result of the ruse, Israel were compromised:

(1) They had entered into a treaty with a nation in Canaan which Moses has specifically prohibited; and failed to annihilate them without exception (Deut. 7:2; 20:16-17).

(2) They had not “inquired of the Lord” (9:l4), which was remarkable indeed following the Achan crisis.  They risked losing God’s favour and the land itself. Thus, this failure to pray was reckless and implies overconfidence.

But hold on! This assumes that if they had of consulted God, he would have unmask the Gibeonites and command Israel to kill them. Inquiring of God might have resulted in a surprising exception to herem.  In fact, as noted already, the Gibeonites wished Israel no harm, and God’s subsequent words, his first since 8:18 (his reassurance of Joshua and promise of victory at Gibeon) are telling. He said nothing directly about the treaty, but echoed 8:1 and this implies that Israel still enjoyed the same good restored standing. Indeed his relationship with Joshua, if anything, it seems to have become stronger — witness the astounding events of chapter 10 and 11. Furthermore, instead of luring Israel into idolatry, Gibeon historically served as a major centre of the worship of God before the temple was built (1 Kings 3:4-5). 

In fact, Joshua 11:15 and 11:19-20 show God’s approval of the Gibeonite treaty and imply that since they survived destruction, God had chosen not to harden their hearts — an act of sovereign divine grace. It is this sovereign guidance which accounts both for the Gibeonites’ request for peace and Israel’s agreement to a treaty.

So, on balance, I think that the “ruse” is much more “prudent” than “treacherous”.  The Gibeonites had a serious respect for God, no offensive idolatry, wanted peace not war, and seek a right treatment (9:25). On God’s side, he offers the kind of mercy to non-Israelites which he later offers to all nations.  This is wholly constant with my previous discussion on herem.

2. There’s a battle going on (Eph 6.12)

Great spiritual soldiers are:

  • People of integrity (9:15, Ps 15:4; Matt 5:37, 23:16-22)

  • People of mercy (9:24-25; Matt 15:22-28; 5:7)

  • People of prayer (Joshua 10)

3. Where are today’s Gibeonites? 

  • People near us who stand condemned?

  • People who only know a few basic things about God?

  • A way for us?

imageIn his book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Win the West, George Hunter says

The Church, in the Western world, faces populations who are increasingly "secular" — people with no Christian memory, who don’t know what we Christians are talking about. These populations are increasingly "urban" — and out of touch with God’s “natural revelation”.  These populations are increasingly "post­modern"; they have graduated from Enlightenment ideology and are more peer driven, feeling driven, and "right-brained" than their forebears. These populations are increasingly "neo-barbarian"; they lack "refinement" or "class," and their lives are often out of control.  These populations are increasingly receptive — exploring worldview options from Astrology to Zen — and are often looking "in the wrong places" to make sense of their lives and find their soul’s true home.

Hunter shows how St. Patrick and his missionary movement won the barbarian Celts in Ireland to Christ and re-vitalised the faith throughout Europe, by setting up diverse “monastic communities” near main roads and within villages and towns.). The communities had priests and nuns, scholars, teachers, craftsmen, artists, farmers, families, and children. Worship, study, and work filled the day, making the communities beehives of all kinds of activities. These communities intentionally cultivated ongoing contacts with outsiders and welcomed visitors. Hospitality was essential. 

They worked as a team in their evangelism and built good relationships with the surrounding community.  Through contact with the community, outsiders learned some Scripture, came to understand Christian beliefs, were prayed for regularly, and eventually asked about making a commitment to Christ. In short,  it was true of these monastic communities then and most new Christians today: "Belonging comes before believing."

There is a Chinese verse which fits the experience of this Celtic mission and could be our prayer today:

Go to the people.
Live among them.
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have!

Cell outline

1. Why do you think the Gibeonites’ ruse worked?

2. What do you learn about the tactics of the enemy? 1Peter 5:8

3. Can you think of any verses that describe Satan’s schemes?

4. Read Deut. 20:10-15 as background explaining why the Gibeonites claimed to be foreigners. Also read Deut. 20:16-19 to understand the Gibeonites words of 9:24.

5. What mistake did the leaders of Israel make in dealing with the Gibeonites? (9:14)

6. In what area of your life have you relied more on your own strength than God’s wisdom?

7. How can you “inquire of the Lord” the next time you have an important decision to make?

8. How did Joshua deal with the Gibeonites when he found out what they had done?

9. What do the actions of Joshua in this story teach you about how to deal with the consequences of your own mistakes?

10. What do you learn about the importance of keeping the treaties that you make?

Going Deeper

1. Are we as Christians immune from deception? 1 Cor 10: 6-12.

2. What can we do to guard against the deception of Satan, sin and the world? 1 Jn 2:15-17

3. What is God saying to you right now about the issue of deception?


Take time to pray for those whose life situations brings them into places of spiritual deception as well as those who are challenged to compromise their faith.

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