Joshua 9

In the wars of Jehovah it was not always a question of hostile power. Indeed this is not the most serious evil which the people of God have to encounter in this world. The very same principle which was true of Israel then applies to the Christian now The wiles of the evil one are much more to be dreaded than his power; and Satan as a serpent acts far more grievously to the injury of the Lord's name among His people than as a roaring lion. Undoubtedly it is an afflicting thought, how far the adversary can, and does, employ the world to the hurt of God's people and God's dishonor; but grace is ever above evil, and through its full revelation in Christ we have now a new standard to judge of good and evil, more particularly for the Christian. He can thus say that all that is wrought by the mere enmity of the world, set on by Satan, cannot harm; for he is not like a Jew, called to the preservation of life in this world, or to any circumstances of ease and quietness; but, on the contrary, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
The rejection of Christ has to Christian faith changed everything to us here below, and the possession of Christ for heaven has made all plain to us, supposing there were the loss of anything here, of life itself; for what is aught now in presence of eternal life? And Christ is that life in resurrection power. Having Him as our life therefore, we have to do with a hostile world which Satan turns against us; but, in exciting the world against the saints, we only learn the strength of our blessing; for supposing the world, filled with hatred, inflicts its stripes or contumely, and deprives us of this or that necessary (it might seem) for subsistence, certainly for anything like a measure of comfort in this world, what then? If the effect of all that Satan can do is that we give God thanks, what does he gain? Praise to the Lord. Suppose, again, he put forth the world's hatred to imprison or to kill, we shall not give the Lord less thanks then, but rather praise Him that He counts us worthy of suffering these things for His name's sake.
So it is only a question of going forward at the will of the Lord. Just in proportion to the malicious keenness of Satan's strokes does the Lord give more grace. Thus are sufferings in the world, trials, persecutions, all invariably turned to the good of the souls that accept all; and we are entitled to do so, as Christ always did. It mattered not who the person or what the thing was; it might be Herod or Pilate as instruments. The Lord, viewed now as the blessed witness for God here below, always took them from God. “The cup which my Father giveth me,” He says, “shall I not drink it?”
No doubt there lay behind what was, if possible, deeper than the outward fact of rejection. For the expiation of sin God must act according to His immutable nature in righteousness, and not merely as Father. But whatever might come, the effect on our Lord Jesus was that He justified God, even when in atoning for sin there could be no sensible enjoyment nor expression of communion. It is impossible that the eternal Son, the perfect Servant, could welcome or be indifferent to divine judgment, when He for us became its object, which He necessarily must be, if we were to be cleared from guilt and ruin by His bearing sin away. Hence we find the Lord Jesus then, but in the expression of abandonment, not of fellowship, not in doubts or fears, as some have said blasphemously, but realizing what it was when God. made Him sin for us. Anything else would have been morally impossible and unsuitable at such a moment; but even then did He cherish unwavering confidence in God, reckoning upon Him, feeling the reality of His own position, entering in all the depths of His soul—and those depths were unfathomable—into all that God's moral nature must demand when the question was of sin, even though with Christ Himself, His only begotten, suffering for us in atonement.
We speak here of the cross of Christ in view of atonement. This doubtless is the one solitary exception. It belongs to Christ in atonement, and to none else but Christ there and then; and out of Him came, not only His praises forever, but ours with His, His in our midst. Apart from that which thus stands necessarily alone, where thanksgiving would have been wholly unseasonable and unsuited, not to say a mockery—apart from this one stupendous fact which refuses comparison with all others, because of its nature, and where failure could not be, because He was then as always absolutely perfect, ever do we hear Him blessing His Father. Jesus in all things glorified His Father; and in the final suffering His perfection shone most of all; not because He was one whit more perfect then than at any other time, but because never before had it been His so to suffer, and it never could be again.
Take the Lord at any other moment than His suffering for sins, and no matter what came upon Him, the effect was thanksgiving. Take Him gradually, yea, utterly rejected; take Him most despised, where He was most known, where He had done such works, where He had spoken such words, as never were before. Thoroughly He felt all, and He could say “Woe” upon these places. It could not be otherwise; for they had refused the gracious and rich testimony of the Messiah. But He turns to God with “I thank Thee, Father,” at the same time. So we see victory in Him always. We too are entitled to look for it. Only remembering that to stand in presence of the wiles of the devil, as we are called to do now, is a harder thing than before his power already broken for us.
So it turns out here. We have seen that, when the full strength of the enemy presented itself after Jordan was crossed, Jehovah gave His people the most magnificent victory that this book affords. Alas, that it should be so that the first occasion should be brighter than the last! Ought it so to be? It was far otherwise with Jesus. His way was a shining one; but the brightest of all was the light that shone forth when it seemed to go out in death, only to rise again, to be enjoyed now by faith, then to be displayed in the kingdom and throughout eternity.
In this case we find Israel more than checked. There had been a severe repulse from Satan's power, and this because the people ventured to act without the guidance and protection of Jehovah. Having already proved the Lord's presence with them, they did what we are apt to do. They assumed that Jehovah must follow them, instead of their waiting on and following Him. It was human inference, and this is never safe in divine things. They took for granted that, Jehovah having brought them into that land, there was nothing for them but to go forward. What was that? A forgetfulness of the enemy and themselves?
More than that—a forgetfulness of God. Would it become men of faith to do without the Lord in the wilderness, not to speak of contending against the enemy in Canaan? Certainly not, if our souls had the sense of having to do with One that loves us; with One without whom we are nothing; with One who, having been glorified, has called us and saved us for the purpose of being glorified in us. Absolutely do we need Him; but besides it is our heart's earnest desire, though we are apt sometimes to forget it.
It was so with Israel, and even Joshua, upon this occasion. After having been victorious at Jericho, one can well understand the sad mistake in the matter of Ai. But was the profit now lost when, by the intervention of the Lord's gracious power, the mischief was retrieved? The Lord had put Israel in their proper place, disciplined them, broken down confidence in their own power. He had made them feel that there was nothing for Israel but to be subject to Him. They must not think, like the Gentiles, that it is a question, of marshalling strength against strength. Such thoughts leave out God, and are utterly unbecoming to those who are called to walk in the consciousness of His presence.
This was a most wholesome lesson. But there was more to learn; and now they must be tried after a new sort. “It came to pass when all the kings that were on this side Jordan, in the hills, and in the valleys, and in all the coasts of the great sea over against Lebanon, the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, heard thereof; that they gathered themselves together to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord.” In all probability these tribes were encouraged by the check before Ai. The fall of Jericho had struck them with dismay; but they learned through what took place at Ai that Israel were not necessarily invincible. So far they were right. They had learned that Israel might be beaten, and disgracefully beaten. They had learned that a much smaller force sufficed there to arrest that wonderful host of Israel, which before had filled them with consternation, and made their hearts melt at the very thought of their approach. They seem, however, to have consulted together, and judged that with a union of their forces the people whom Ai had stayed for awhile might be defeated. Even that little town, with its feeble resources, had contrived unaided to delay the advance of Israel, and was only afterward, when too confident and off their guard, taken by stratagem.
Evidently the Canaanites had no notion of the lesson God was teaching His people. Nor need we wonder; for the people of God themselves had not learned it thoroughly. They had profited, yet it had not so convinced their souls of the need of God's guidance, the one thing which ensured victory, but that now, in presence of all this muster of nations against them—Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Canaanites, and so on, when the inhabitants of Gibeon came forward and offered an alliance with them, this seemed to many a desirable and welcome aid. Israel then had some friends who would succor them against the enemy. It is true that a certain uneasiness was felt. “They went to Joshua, unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him and to the men of Israel, We be come from a far country.” This naturally threw the children of Israel and Joshua off their guard. They knew perfectly—and it is important to see how well understood it was that God had called His people to no peace with the Canaanites—that they were a doomed nation. It is hundreds of years before God had given that land to Abraham. The Canaanites were then in the land, but they had gone on undisturbed for centuries, and until lately had allowed themselves to think their settlement there not so dangerous. But, when the passage of the Red Sea was heard of, terror struck their hearts. Then when the people, after their long pause in the wilderness, crossed the Jordan, fresh pangs warned them of approaching destruction if they defied the God of Israel. No doubt they might have fled. It was open to them to leave Canaan. What title could they pretend to seize the land of God? Had God no sovereignty? Is He the only one who possesses in this world no right? What a thought of God prevails in this world!
But there is more to consider. We may have noticed, and it is important to bear it in mind, that it was under the fullest title on God's part that the Jordan was crossed. His was the ark of “the Lord of all the earth.” He would not abate His claims; He would not deny His rights. It was on this very ground, and with that banner as it were, that they entered the Holy Land. It was at the peril therefore of any who, knowing that God destined that land (and it was well known) for Israel, and who, having the warning voice of all that had befallen Pharaoh, and Amalek, and Og, and Sihon, and Midian, still dared to brave His host. Assuredly then they must take the consequences.
But the Gibeonites set to work after their fashion. If the mass of the nations trusted to force, the Gibeonites betook themselves to crafty counsel. There we may see typified the wiles of the devil. This represents some of them at least. The epistle to the Ephesians gives us divine authority for the solemn fact, that we need the whole armor of God in order to resist the two things—the power of Satan on the one hand, and the wiles of the devil on the other, and this with pointed reference to this very book of Joshua. Joshua 6 teaches us in contrast with Israel that, as they wrestled with flesh and blood, we, on the other hand, have to contend with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.
Thus the nature of the case comes before us very plainly. The Gibeonites denote those that are energized with Satan's craft to deceive the people of God into a false step, and how far this succeeded we have now to learn.
“They went to Joshua, unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him and to the men of Israel, We be come from a far country. Now therefore make ye a league with us. And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us.” To my mind this is painfully instructive. It was not Joshua that suspected the trick, nor yet the elders or princes of the congregation, but the men of Israel. How often simplicity is right where the best wisdom fails: God makes us feel the need of Himself. And if this was true of Israel, it is still more needful in the church of God. We cannot be independent of a single member of the body of Christ; where the simple-minded man has a suspicion roused that is given of God, it were well that the wise should heed what the Lord would use to bring all to a right conclusion. But it was not heeded at this time. It is not often, and it seems not natural, that men accustomed to guide and rule should listen to those who are used to obey and follow. But in divine things those who despise the least must pay the penalty; and so it certainly was now.
The men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us, and how shall we make a league with you?” Feeling, no doubt, that it was dangerous to talk more on so delicate a subject, they said, “We are thy servants.” This again seemed fair-spoken; but when Joshua put the question, “Who are you, and from whence come ye?” they said unto him, “From a very far country thy servants are come, because of the name of Jehovah thy God.” Here the unscrupulous deceit of the enemy comes out thoroughly. It was extraordinary to hear from the lips of a Canaanite the confession of the name of Jehovah; and this they knew well would tell more particularly with such a one as Joshua. He who most values the name of Jehovah would be apt to welcome it most where he least expected it. Accordingly, this weighed powerfully with him, when they added, “We have heard the fame of him and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Basilan, which was at Ashtaroth. Wherefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spake to us, saying, Take victuals with you for the journey, and go to meet them, and say unto them, We are your servants: therefore now make ye a league with us. This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came forth to go unto you, but now, behold, it is dry, and it is moldy. And these bottles of wine, which we filled, were new; and, behold, they be rent: and these our garments and our shoes are become old by reason of the very long journey. And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of God.”
The bait had taken, the mischief was done, and its effects wrought long. The men of Israel, who were not without fears at the beginning, allowed themselves to be ensnared. If Joshua led, we must not wonder that the rest followed. They “took of their victuals”—the sign of fellowship in its measure—“they took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of Jehovah.”
The enemy had defeated Israel. It was a fatal act, though the consequences did not yet appear. How much may be involved in what might be called the simple act of taking victuals! So another day, when it is rather the converse of this, we find in the New Testament. Thus to Paul's mind, who ordinarily made so light of meats or herbs, the truth of the gospel might be staked on eating or not eating. I do not even speak of the Lord's Supper, but of a common meal, when it was a question between the Jew and the Gentile, and this tried before no less a person than the great apostle of the circumcision. For a time was Barnabas carried away, and Peter too, by the old traditional feeling of the Jew. The good man and the fearless withdrew from the uncircumcision, ashamed or afraid of thwarting the feelings of the brethren at Jerusalem. Thus Satan gained a great point for the moment; but there was one at hand to vindicate grace promptly. Thank God, it was not yet that Satan had drawn away the whole church, or even those that best represented it. If there were together Peter and Barnabas, there was a Paul who resists, and Paul promptly decides, at cost (you may be assured) of every feeling. On the other side stood the man who had once shown him generous love, on the other side Peter, chief among the twelve, honored of God most signally among Jews and Samaritans, and even Gentiles (Acts 2-10), most to be honored of man therefore, and very justly so.
But who is to be honored if the Lord is to be put to shame in His grace? And so it was that Paul rose up in the might of his faith and in the simplicity of his jealous vindication of the truth of the gospel; for this was the question, this was what he saw involved in it. Who would have seen it but himself? But so it was; for there, and on that very occasion, the whole point of the gospel would have been surrendered, if Paul had consented to withdraw like the rest from the uncircumcision. Thank God, Satan did not succeed altogether in his wiles, though he did to a considerable extent.
But here it was God who was not consulted; and it is a more serious thing, beloved brethren, when it is not merely the men of Israel, but the elders, the princes, the chiefs of the congregation, yea, Joshua himself who thus left Him out of a matter which He only knew. And so it was on this occasion. They “asked not counsel at the mouth of Jehovah. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them to let them live, and the princes of the congregation sware unto them.” There they bound themselves by the name of Jehovah, and it is a very striking thing for us also to see that at this time there was no trifling with the honor of that name. They felt that they had been beguiled. This was true; but they did not therefore consider that it was open to them to break the oath of Jehovah because they had been deceived into it. We too must take care how, where we have committed ourselves to that which is wrong, we lightly deal with that name. No; the thing was done: it could not be undone. They could have asked counsel of the Lord again; we are not told that they did so. They had made a double error: they entered into it without the Lord, and when the thing was done, we do not find that they spread the difficulty before Him. Thus it is most manifest the enemy gained an immense advantage over the host of Jehovah on that day.
And may we be watchful in our day, beloved; for “these things are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come.” Nor is there a more important thing in difficulty, trial, or anything that may involve the feelings, and perhaps drag us into practical obligations, than that, before we venture on an opinion, before we take a measure, before we allow ourselves to be engrossed on this side or that, we should ask counsel of the Lord. This would spare us from many a sorrow, and it would hinder much shame and defeat before our enemies, and more particularly, I must say, in men that have wisdom, that are accustomed to guide; for there are few things harder than for such to retrace their steps, and the more so, the higher the character, the greater the experience, in the ways of God. If Satan gains such an advantage, the difficulty is enormous. We have only to apply it to ourselves. It is very easy to speak about what another should do; but let us only consider for a moment it to be publicly our case. It is easy to say what ought to be, and there is no doubt of it; but those who in any measure approach to it, and know the seriousness of such a position, cannot ignore, whatever others may theorize, that this mischief is incalculable. Therefore let us pray for one another; let us pray for those that most of all need counsel from God, that they may be ever kept from hasty words and measures either for themselves or for others, especially where the name of the Lord is involved with the adversary.
This then is, as I judge, the grave teaching that is brought before us in the account of the men of Gibeon. It is true that God permitted that they should bear a certain stamp of degradation in consequence. They were enslaved as the only course left open righteously. There was wisdom given so far to those who led the host of the Lord that the Gibeonites should be hewers of wood and drawers of water. After the treaty it would have been fresh sin, a crime, to have put them to death. The name of the Lord had been solemnly passed, and that can never be trifled with; but on the other hand, the Gibeonites were reduced to the most menial services for the sanctuary of Jehovah. Thus it was made plain that nothing preserved them but His name. Hence they were attached to the sanctuary, but this with the brand of slavery on them.
Nevertheless the wrong in the matter of the Gibeonites was of the most serious kind. It was not even like what had occurred before, where they sustained a temporary defeat, for there God looked to and brought them out of their humiliation; but here was a permanent difficulty that rose up witheringly for Israel at a later day, as we find elsewhere in Scripture. So grave and injurious were the consequences of the wrong step now taken through want of seeking the counsel of Jehovah.