Sermon for Sunday, November 6th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Deu 20:10-18 ESV] 10 “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. 11 And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. 12 But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, 14 but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.
New Testament reading:
[Phl 4:5-7 ESV] 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
[Luk 11:1-4 ESV] 1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
[Jos 9:1-27 ESV] 1 As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, 2 they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel. 3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4 they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5 with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. 6 And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” 7 But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” 8 They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” 9 They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”‘ 12 Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. 16 At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and that they lived among them. 17 And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. 18 But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19 But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. 20 This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.” 21 And the leaders said to them, “Let them live.” So they became cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, just as the leaders had said of them. 22 Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? 23 Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” 24 They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you–so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” 26 So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. 27 But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, to this day, in the place that he should choose.
Chapter nine of Joshua is the account of the deceit of the Gibeonites. And it is indeed about the deceit of the Gibeonites. But it is about much more than that. On the surface we have a warning against getting tricked or scammed. But at its heart this chapter teaches a more profound truth; a truth about our relationship with God. That truth is this: we should not forget to consult Him, but in ALL THINGS rely on God IN PRAYER. [REPEAT: we should not forget to consult Him, but in ALL THINGS rely on God IN PRAYER]
To understand the context of the story, we must remember that Deuteronomy chapter 20 God gave to Moses the commandment that if any Canaanite city does not surrender to the Israelites then they are to devote it to destruction. He said, “You shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”
Now, you might notice that the name “Gibeonite” is not on that list. But they are, apparently, part of the Hivites and indeed are called Hivites in our passage from Joshua 9. No doubt, the various tribes and distinctions among them can be quite confusing. The Gibeonites, who live a little north of Jerusalem, are part of the Hivites who are themselves part of the people known as Canaanites and, as we’ve seen before, the Canaanites are also called Amorites. So these group are mostly related to each other. Only perhaps he Hittites and certainly later on in history with the Philistines are there tribes quite different from rest. Otherwise, we’re looking at a variety of different tribes, cousins among the Canaanites.
And all the other tribes, except the Gibeonites, have decided to fight Israel. They’ve joined together in a pact or league. They apparently do not see that their case is hopeless. They do not realize that they are fighting a losing battle against the one True God.
I. The Gibeonites
But then there is the Gibeonites. They don’t follow the same path as the rest of their Canaanite cousins.
Perhaps they’ve concluded “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
They had heard “what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai.” But it is clear that they knew that this was not the work of Joshua, but of God. For it was the work of Joshua—just a man—they would certainly have joined the other Canaanites in their confederation against Israel.
But the Gibeonites have come to fear the Lord God. What precisely they believed and how deep their faith was, we are not told. But it is apparent that the Lord was working among the Gibeonites in a way that he was not working among the other tribes.
It is indeed true that the Gibeonites did sin in lying to Joshua and the elders of Israel about who they are and where they have come from.
But as one minister has said, we repeat about the Gibeonites saying “Although we cannot approve their methods, we can appreciate their motivations.” [REPEAT: “Although we cannot approve their methods, we can appreciate their motivations.”]
The desire of the Gibeonites was certainly to save their skins. But they had also made the determination that faced with death they would prefer to be servants of Israel and their God.
No other Canaanite nation made that choice. Only the Gibeonites.
Had they known of God’s words to Moses in Deuteronomy that Israel was to offer peace to cities, the Gibeonites would certainly have taken up the offer. God had said to Moses “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you.”
This result may have then been the destiny of the Gibeonites had they waited patiently on the Lord. And indeed they did end up being servants, but only through a deceitful covenant rather than an honorable one.
As we heard in the reading, the Gibeonites pretended to be from a far off land. They made it to look like they have traveled far across deserts and mountains and through many lands. And so they had work-out sacks from their donkeys, and worn-out and mended wineskins, and patched sandals, and worn-out clothes. Even their bread was crumbly.
And they tricked Joshua and the elders of Israel into believing their story.
So there is that surface warning. Be careful not to be tricked. It once was that traveling salesman would swindle you, but these days a person can do it over the phone or the internet from the comfort of their own office in Mumbai or Calcutta. So we are indeed wise to exercise caution and to not be gullible, falling for untrue stories from those who would seek to take advantage of us.
And so if you read the story just on that surface level you’d see that Joshua was wise to ask questions, and it was the Gibeonites who sinned in their deceit.
But, there is more to the story.
II. The Leaders of Israel
While Joshua and the elders were wise in being careful and cautious, they were foolish in failing to consult with the Lord. They did not pray, but acted independently of God.
So we have the Gibeonites fearing God, and the Israelites doing what they wish! How the tables have turned!
While outwardly the Gibeonites have sinned and the Israelites merely got tricked, inwardly it is the Israelites who have failed to consider God while the Gibeonites feared Him.
Here the very leaders of Israel have failed. A couple chapters ago we had the sin of Achan. Just a common man sinning. Now we have the leaders sinning. And while Achan’s sin was one of commission (an outward action), now we have a sin of omission (a sin of failing to act). So we that sin plagues both the common man and the leaders of the people, and extends from the wrongs we outwardly commit, to the inward failure of overlooking the Lord.
So it is that without consulting God, the Israelites agreed to a covenant with the Gibeonites.
God’s reaction to this covenant is not specified. But one thing is clear. God had mercy on the Gibeonites. They are not killed. Though they are deceitful sinning Canaanites, by God’s grace they are spared, even to have the honor working for the house of God. Now indeed that is an honor, but their work was hard. They were for cutting wood and drawing water. They are physically demanding tasks. And they are never-ending tasks. Cutting wood and drawing day in and day out. Such is why this is called a curse in verse 23.
III. Relying on God in Prayer
At the heart of this story then is the teaching that all of our decisions should be made in prayer. [REPEAT: all of our decisions should be made in prayer] And not just a quick prayer asking God to bless OUR decisions, but honest prayer consulting the Word of God and obeying its directions and directives.
And this prayer not just in the big things. But EVERYTHING we do is to be done in prayer.
Paul tells us: [1Th 5:17-18 ESV] 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
We are to be in constant prayer and constant reliance on God.
And Solomon in the Proverbs says:
[Pro 3:5-6 ESV] 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
God is not who we go to only in times of need, but whom we are to be in fellowship with at all times. He’s not the mean rich uncle you dread needing to talk to, but he is the loving Father who you want to have a relationship with and speak to regularly.
In all things we are to rely on God in prayer.
So then I want to look at some applications from this passage.
1. The Importance of Honoring Covenants
First, there is the importance of honoring those covenants which we are bound to.
We are to pay our mortgage bills, we are to honor our marriage vows, and (this may be controversial in some place, but not here), we are to pay back our college loans.
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Even the Gibeonites knew the validity of covenants. They trusted in the integrity (though also gullibility) of the leaders of Israel.
And indeed we see that as an element of the importance of honoring covenants. We are called to integrity.
Perhaps that should be the subject of another sermon, on the virtue of integrity. Rare indeed is the man of integrity. But how greatly needed he is. That person you can trust. That man, like Job of Uz who is blameless and upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil.
Let us seek to be people of integrity, for our own benefit no doubt, but ultimately to give glory to God.
The Israelite leaders had been tricked. But they were not about to annul or disavow the covenant. Their word to the Gibeonites was good.
Implication for marriage. This is why Paul keeps the marriages together when of two unbelievers one comes to the faith. They are now unequally yoked, but that doesn’t necessitate the breaking of the marriage covenant.
We have a whole chapter, chapter 22, of the Westminster Confession of Faith that summarizes the Biblical view of Lawful Oaths and Vows. And, as it describes in part 7, there are vows that are to be canceled by virtue of them being against the Word of God. That is, no man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God. It seems that Joshua’s vow did not rise up to that level. And so, being a man true to his word, he kept the Gibeonites alive.
We too should be true to our vows, even if some element of them does not work out as expected. Vows are vows, and they are to be upheld.
Praise God that He has upheld His promises. Praise God that His covenant with us has not been canceled by our sin, but has been kept and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In God’s keeping of the covenant He gives us eternal life, and provides an example for us to learn to honor our own covenant vows.
2. Beginning and Ending With Prayer
Now a second application. All church meetings – worship services, session meeting, presbytery, and synod – are to begin and end with prayer.
The Constitution of the Bible Presbyterian Church even requires this saying: “Every particular Session shall be opened and close with prayer.” And “Each session of Synod shall be opened and closed with prayer.” Somehow they failed to note the same for Presbytery, but surely the idea extends to all church meetings.
The idea is that from beginning to end we depend on God in prayer. Not just in church meetings, but in all things.
For one it is good to start and end each day in prayer. But it is not about the bookends, it is about the books. Prayer is to be from beginning to end, not just at the beginning and end. Prayer is to be always in our lives, relying on God minute by minute, so that we do nothing without consulting Him.
3. Follow the Lord in Heart and in Deed
Now, finally, have a third application. Follow the Lord in Heart and in Deed.
The Gibeonites sought the Lord. Joshua did not.
But neither are the paradigm for us.
It is like this in our life. Your spouse asks “can you do the dishes?”
And there are two bad or mixed responses:
1. Saying “yes I’ll do the dishes.” And not doing them.
2. Saying “no, that’s not my job.” But later doing the dishes.
Neither is right. In all things let us both say and think “yes” and follow through in our actions. Let us Fear God AND consult Him.
The Lord God calls us friends and yet, do you make great decisions in your life without even consulting him? Do you know speak to God about it? What would your human friend think of such a slight?
Let us consult the Lord. How? In prayer. In vigorous heartfelt prayer to the Lord, knowing that He hears about prayers and is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Now, as we are focusing this week on prayer, I want to conclude with a final thought on the subject which I read this week in a commentary written by Joel Beeke. He wrote this: “When I was a boy, my dad once said to me, ‘Son, do you know what a child of God always possesses that the unconverted person doesn’t have?’ And he said, ‘A child of God always has a place to go.’”
Now, of course, a child of God always may come to church. But that is not what Beeke’s father had in mind. A child of God always has a place to go, and that place is prayer. He says “there is nothing so valuable in all the earth as an open throne of grace. Prayer is more valuable than all the money in he world. To neglect prayer was to neglect one of he greatest privileges we have on earth.”
So Joshua and the elders of Israel neglected prayer, that great privilege. Let us not neglect prayer but always go to the Lord.
Let us pray.