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The kings . . . on this side Jordan . . . gathered themselves together.
A Canaanitish league
I. The characteristics of this league.
1. It was very wide, embracing every tribe in Canaan, those of the hills as well as those of the plain, and those of the sea coast as well as those inland. Even so has it been in all ages. Men of all ranks and occupations can be found to sneer at, condemn, and crush if they could, the pure gospel
2. It was very singular. Strange elements were brought together on this occasion. A common danger, a common enemy, a common hate, makes them forget old feuds, bury the war-hatchet, and unite on common ground for a common object. Who ever hated each other more cordially than Pharisee and Sadducee? yet they united in crying, “Crucify Him,” and in compassing His death. Pilate and Herod cemented their broken friendship with His blood.
3. It was spontaneous. No pressure was employed to gather the clans together; none was needed. On every side there sprang up a desire to take united action. It is a sad and a terrible fact that the deepest thing in the natural heart is enmity against God. Every sinner is potentially a Deicide.
4. It was crafty. The wisest heads in Canaan were here drawn together, and engaged in strengthening this league. Their most skilful diplomatists, their most wily warriors, would give their advice, and seek to help the league in every way. The rich would give of their substance, the poor would give their strength, the wise would use their wits in discussing and arranging plans; and thus by their united energy all might yet be well. Thus again and again has all man’s wisdom been brought to bear against the purposes of God.
5. And who could deny that such a league was powerful? It was powerful because of all the accumulated experience and wisdom that could be brought to bear upon the work; because of the minute knowledge of the country which the common people as well as the leaders possessed; and because of the immense resources they could fall back upon.
6. And it is also very plain that this league was heartily, yea, even enthusiastically, entered into. Like the great sea billows they rage against this bark, and with implacable wrath would smite and overwhelm it. Alas, frail bark! Alas, poor Israel! what canst thou do against such a league, so wild, so strange, so spontaneous, so crafty, so powerful, so zealous?
II. The occasion of this league. No doubt many things contributed to bring it about, but one thing is specially singled out and mentioned by the Holy Ghost in this connection. When they heard of that strange march and the solemn ceremony in the vale of Shechem, then they gathered themselves together to fight with Joshua and with Israel with one accord. This shows that these Canaanites understood something of the significance of this action. They interpreted it rightly as an act of dispossession, so far as they were concerned. How often does the pious devotion of God’s people provoke and exasperate the unrighteous above everything else! The sinner hates above all things the holiness of the saint, because it is his most emphatic condemnation. Perfect surrender to God’s will always brings the enmity of the world to a head. Would you learn the true spirit of the world? March to Ebal and Gerizim, and pitch your tent in that sacred and fruitful vale Of utter consecration. But if such a life as this stirs up of necessity the evil which reigns in the heart of man, it is also to be remembered that such a life alone is powerful to do good to man or bring glory to God. Who can measure the strength of such consecrated souls? John Wesley knew something of this when he said, “Give me ten men who hate sin only and love God only, and I will shake the gates of hell.” Its enmity will be roused, even as that of the Canaanites by the consecration of Israel; but it will be roused, only like theirs, to be utterly broken.
III. The purpose of this league. They banded themselves together “to fight against Joshua and against Israel.” Though great wonders have been wrought before their very eyes, they will oppose this people. Therefore their action cannot for a moment be classed with the resistance which, e.g., the Britons offered to the invading Romans under Caesar. The position of these Canaanites was altogether different. In fighting against Israel they deliberately set themselves against Israel’s God, Jehovah. They knowingly pit the strength of their idols against that of the Lord of hosts. At Him they aim their shafts through His people. Earth loves not its rightful Monarch. It rebels against His edicts, it cleaves to the great usurper’s sway. What daring rebellion have we here! men plotting under God’s very eyes. Conspirators usually meet in secret, in the darkness of night, screened from the eye and sheltered from the hand of the power outraged; but here these sinners gather together openly, to take counsel against Him who is marching through their land in awful majesty. Oh, hardened soul, remember the only alternatives. Bend or break; turn or burn. What utter futility have we here? Could we conceive anything more useless, more inefficient, more foolish, more powerless, than this league? The only consequence to these leaguers will be their own ruin. For this they plot, and not in vain. It comes upon them as a whirlwind, certain, irresistible, terrible, complete, irretrievable.
IV. The lessons of this league. Surely, to begin with, we are very plainly taught that the people of God in carrying out the purposes of God may count upon opposition. It always has been so; and it will be so to the very end, for we read that even the glorious millennium is ushered in with a terrible struggle. We are apt to get downhearted when we see the hosts of evil mustering on every side. We exclaim, “What can the poor Church of God do?” If she can do nothing more, she can look up. She can see a sight which can calm all her fears, and make her laugh to scorn her loudest foes. Look up, then! look up! See Him who sitteth on the circle of the heavens, and before whom the nations are as grasshoppers. God is keeping silence. God is having them in derision. The attacks which to us may seem formidable are to Him despicable. Let us therefore have good hope. The systems of corruption and error and oppression, however well compacted and widely organised, must in the long run be destroyed, and he who expects and prays and works for their downfall will not be disappointed. Let us look back when we are despondent and faint-hearted, and remember how often God has restrained the wrath of the enemy; how often, when iniquity was coming in as a flood, He has raised up a standard against it. Yea, look around, and see what God has wrought. Think of the diffusion of Christianity, and of its mighty influence, whether direct or indirect. But we may learn another lesson from this league. We may learn as the host of God to unite our forces more and more in prosecuting the work set before us. (A. B. Mackay.)
The inhabitants of Gibeon . . . did work wilily.
A Canaanitish stratagem
I. How this device originated.
1. Their wisdom suggested it. The selfsame facts suggest different courses of action to the Canaanites and to the Gibeonites. These events led the great majority to unite their forces against Joshua; they led this Gibeonitish minority to see if they could not come to terms with this irresistible foe. There was no sense whatever in the counsels of the kings. They ought to have assembled in a lunatic asylum, for their wisest counsels were but the ravings of a maniac. There is a spark of wisdom in the craft of the republican Gibeonites. They do come to a wise decision when they resolve to bear anything rather than provoke God against them by vain resistance. Let us, like them, humble ourselves before God’s irresistible might. It is our only wisdom. There is no use waiting till judgment is at the door; no use staying till our souls are besieged by sickness and death: “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.”
2. The fears of these Gibeonites also stimulated them, were a spur to their wisdom. Was the conduct of the Gibeonites ignoble? Our hearts always side with the man who against overwhelming odds fights with grim consistency a losing battle, who resolves to “Perish if it must be so; at bay, destroying many a foe.” But here again we must not lose sight of the religious element which was uppermost in the mind of all. It can never be right for the subject to rise against lawful authority. It can never be ignoble to throw down our weapons of rebellion and fall at the feet of the All-wise, the All-gracious, and the Almighty.
3. Also, there was faith at the bottom of this movement. It may readily be allowed that it was very small; microscopical, infinitesimal, if you choose. It may also be granted that it was also overlaid with error, guile, and selfishness. Yet notwithstanding all these things faith was there. These Gibeonites did believe that the purpose of God would come to pass. They did believe that God desired to give Israel the land, and that He was able to do so. With what mixed motives do we give up our rebellion and fall at the feet of Jesus! Can they bear full scrutiny? Are we pleased with them? I trow not. When we look back and analyse our thoughts and feelings, can we not discover a large leaven of mixed motives? Accordingly, there is here much encouragement to all. You ask, “Is my faith of the right kind?” See. If faith of this miserable description finds grace, who need despair? Perhaps our motives will not bear close examination; perhaps it is true that it is a selfish thing to fear hell; that it is nothing more than a hangman’s whip. But if that whip lashes us to the feet of Jesus, and works for us salvation, we shall bless God for it for ever.
II. How this plan was prosecuted. Anything is fair in war, so men say; and anything is fair in diplomacy, so men have believed in past ages. It need not surprise us, then, that these Gibeonites followed the universal rule. They show their craft both by what they did and by what they hid. They were no novices in the art of deceit. They also prosecuted their commission very courageously. The coolness and audacity of these men are marvellous. They must have had strong nerves, a great command over themselves, and a deep knowledge of human nature. These men were neither fools nor cowards after all.
III. How their stratagem succeeded. It succeeded to perfection. Their audacity, cunning, and knowledge of human nature were all conspicuous in this transaction, and served them well. The weakness of the Israelites helped to bring about the same result. It is one thing to be rudely suspicious, it is another thing to be over-credulous. But practically how often are men at a loss how to decide when placed in similar circumstances! Therefore we should not blame Israel too severely, but rather remember that the best cure either for over-credulity or over-caution is communion with God and distrust in self. The men of Israel are also very self-conscious. Pride had something to do with their decision to take these strangers under their protection. They felt honoured and flattered by the supposed circumstances which made them a centre of universal attraction. Would you be an instrument in the hands of another, a pipe producing just such notes as the player pleases, think much of yourself; give yourself out to be some great one; open your ears and give up your heart to the sweet blandishments of flattering lips. Contrariwise remember that the humblest soul is the most independent. The Israelites were also very self-confident, and this exposed them to the wiles of these schemers. No step that we take in life is too trivial to be made a matter of prayer. Only as we do so, consulting with God about everything, are we guided by His eye. Here the Israelites put right questions--“Who are you?” “Whence come you?” But sufficient care was not taken to sift the answer and see if it was true. “All is not gold that glitters.” Much ancient armour is manufactured all the year round at Birmingham. Not a few ancient statues are made to order in Italy in these days, and sold to innocent connoisseurs. Even so is it in things spiritual. The wolves are very clever at fitting themselves with sheep’s clothing; the make-up is often particularly ingenious. Let the Israel of God take heed “to the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this Word it is because there is no light in them.” And we should apply this also to the affairs of every-day life. How often do we involve ourselves in difficulties, hedge up our way with troubles, lead ourselves into danger, because we “ask not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.” We give a listening ear to plausible representations; we hurry headlong into inviting schemes; we enter heedlessly into doubtful connections without weighing the consequences or looking for Divine direction. But sooner or later we discover that no business, or engagement, or union can prosper without the counsel and approbation of the Lord; and often with shame and sorrow we have to seek His face to undo the evils which our Own rashness and unfaithfulness have brought upon us. But in considering this matter our view would be very superficial did we not look higher than man and his motives. The purpose of Jehovah had also to do with the result. Why did He allow Joshua to be thus deceived? To teach him and Israel a valuable lesson? No doubt; but it was also for the purpose of manifesting to all that He was not unwilling to show mercy to the very chief of sinners. If with all their guile and crooked policy He spared these Gibeonites, much more would He have spared them if they had honestly cast themselves on His mercy. Yea, He spared them because they came; He reproved them because they came thus. In this manner God separated the precious from the vile; He commended their faith in coming, and condemned their mode of approach. Accordingly, while it was well for them that they came at all, nothing was gained, but much was lost, by their crooked policy. Thus is it always, and therefore what encouragement is there here to the open and ingenuous.
IV. The result of this stratagem. They received a place in Israel. This was no small matter; far more than they had expected. This was no small favour where all would have perished. This place in Israel was obtained with difficulty. When it was discovered who these strangers were, the people were roused against the princes who had conducted the treaty with them, and murmured loudly at the result: How true to human nature is this murmuring. It is always easy to criticise these who are in authority, and find fault with the conclusions to which they come. Every toper in a village inn, were you to credit him, could conduct the affairs of the British Empire with greater success than the wisest prime minister that ever lived. The most ignorant and irresponsible individual in a congregation is confident he would never have fallen into the mistakes of his betters. These Israelites perhaps thought that they were very zealous for God in thus murmuring, but I am afraid that self-interest had a little to do with it. Was it not somewhat of a disappointment that they would not be able to finger the spoil of these Gibeonitish cities? How often does selfishness sharpen zeal! The proper time for murmuring or objecting would have been when the treaty was so hastily concluded. But these critics forgot that then also their heads were turned, and that in all likelihood they would have murmured if the princes had proposed any other course than the one they are now condemning. But though equally deceived with their leaders, they were not like them bound by a solemn oath, and therefore they felt free to murmur. Yet it was a good sign that they went no further. Though they grumbled they submitted, and the Gibeonites were allowed to live. They owed their safety to the ability of Joshua and the princes of Israel. In this emergency the leaders displayed great firmness. They felt that it would be better far to fulfil their agreement at any cost rather than by any shift or quibble to retire from it. Surely in this steadfast adherence of Joshua to this covenant the seeker may find great encouragement. There have been murmurers in the house of God who have called in question the grace of that Saviour who forgives sinners. Remember the taunt of the Pharisees, “This Man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” The race of the self-righteous is not yet extinct; but Jesus is not less firm than Joshua, and justifies the ways of God to men in that glorious constellation of grace which the fifteenth chapter of Luke contains. Again, these Gibeonites received a definite place among the people of God. They became an integral part of the nation, with duties as clearly defined as those of the tribe of Levi. Henceforth they were an essential part of the people; Israel’s God was theirs; Israel’s friends were their friends, Israel’s foes their foes; and they were sharers in all Israel’s fortunes. The place which these Gibeonites received in Israel was, however, very humble. The lowest kind of drudgery was expected of them. But if their place and occupation are very lowly, their Master is very high and honourable, and He so arranged that they should not be private slaves, scattered through the nation, but that they should be attached to the tabernacle as servants to the priests and Levites. Now the humblest office under a great and good man may be better than the highest place a mean and bad master could offer. It would be better to black the boots of some men than to roll in the carriage of others. And if the place of these Gibeonites was humble, it was at the same time useful. This would be a great consolation to them, and would reconcile them to their lot. The place of these Gibeonites was also a hallowed one; their service was sacred. God brought them near Himself, attached them to His tabernacle, sheltered them under His wing. The altar of Jehovah was the centre of their service. They were nearer God than many in Israel. To be near God is the highest privilege and the chief joy of the renewed heart. And we come near to God just as we make the Cross of Christ the centre of all our service. The doorstep of God’s house is a happier resting-place than the downy couch in the gilded pavilion of royal sinners. Still further, these Gibeonites had a hopeful place in Israel, and that was a great advantage. In the service of such a Master they might well expect to rise, and they did. Ismaiah, one of David’s mighty men, was a Gibeonite. Melatiah, a builder of the wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, was another. These are instances recorded to show how they prospered and rose in Jehovah’s service. In England it is thought a great matter to be recognised in any way as connected with the royal house. The official appointment to such a position may frequently be seen framed and glazed and placed conspicuously in the window. The fact is noted in the gold letters on the sign, on every bill, and notice, and advertisement that is sent from the establishment. They strive to let no one forget or be oblivious of the fact. They find that it is profitable to do so. Much more laboriously should we in all things make it plain whose we are and whom we serve. (A. B. Mackay.)
League made with the Gibeonites
The customs and manners of modern times, in which is less of simplicity and more of parade, and when facilities for intercourse with far distant dwellers would render such a deception quite impossible, cannot be a criterion by which to judge of the policy of this expedient. Strange as it would be viewed by us, neither their appearance nor speech excited suspicion. Their falsehood stands no example for Christians, yet no one but must admire their ingenuity. Necessity is the mother of invention. The resources which have opened in invention have been such as were never thought of in ease and safety. They believed the report, and, being sore afraid, had no expectation of life but from alliance with the Lord’s people; therefore were saved in yielding, when others were destroyed in resisting. There is no hope for any but those who, in faith and love, are in league with the true Israel of God--those who seek by prayer, and obtain through grace, a share in their spiritual and eternal interests. And oh! when those tremendous evils which, in the Divine threatenings, impend over the guilty, are so apprehended as to fill transgressors with fears of dying, when the great concerns of another world lie in their full weight on the heart, and they see that all to be hoped for in the best state of future being is endangered and lies at awful stake, what expedients are ready to be adopted I though none ever succeed but the one which the gospel points out as the never-failing provision of mercy. No decree is gone forth against such as cease hostilities, and who voluntarily yield themselves up to the reign of grace, but against those only who persist till they perish in their rebellion. The more deter mined and inveterate any have been in their opposition to the kingdom of God, the more heartily welcome they become when, in the fervent entreaties of deep-felt need, they apply for life and pardon through the merit of Christ. No sight on earth more interesting than to witness a spiritual subjection to our Divine and glorious Redeemer; to see a forsaking of the world for the Church, and, instead of fighting against God to destruction, sinners obtaining the assurance of life and pardon through faith. These suppliant strangers, with worn-out apparel and musty provision, and bearing every mark of having come a long journey, remind one of the true condition of those who apply to Christ, and who desire to obtain a portion in the inheritance of His people. They are really what these only feigned to be; and should they appear in the best robes of nature, whatever their own opinion, they would be esteemed but as filthy rags by the infinitely holy God, which, in self loathing, must be thrown aside for change of raiment, for garments of salvation and robes of righteousness. Their address is not less striking than their appearance, and may remind us of a suppliant for mercy, “We are thy servants: make ye a league with us.” The security of life they were willing should be held upon servitude of life. What is so dear as life? As Satan said of Job, “Skin for skin; yea, all that a man hath, will he give for his life.” And nothing is so much the concern of an awakened mind, as to live in a state of favour with God, and union with His people. It is accounted no slavery, but perfect freedom, as well as secure protection, and to be desired beyond all earthly advantages, to retain life in the service of God. The expedient adopted in their necessity availed. It was a precipitate act, and though highly reprehensible, in not asking counsel of the Lord, to whom all the affairs of His Church and people should be referred in humble and obedient faith, yet it was not to be rescinded. In the all-wise dominion of God it was overruled for mercy to many. Though the command was peremptory, and so utterly to destroy the inhabitants of the land as “to make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them,” yet the 20th chapter of Deuteronomy 5:10-5.5.11, would induce a hope that they who, whether near or afar off, yielded to the triumphant Church and renounced idolatry would have obtained mercy and been incorporated with the Lord’s people. Is not this the very constitution and procedure of the gospel, a most affecting and honourable covenant of peace, requiring only to be closed with and signed by the sinner in submission and faith? As the men of Gibeon came to Israel, have you applied to Jesus for peace? If so, the testimony of conscience will accord with the witness of the Spirit, in that happy hope and assurance which will attend the sealing of the covenant on the heart. Unspeakably blessed their state with whom the promise of life is confirmed: they cannot perish, neither shall any pluck them out of the hands of their covenant God. The sword that spares in mercy will protect in justice. Not long before discovery was made of their artifice. The surprise which this excited was not little, nor the apprehension of consequences to be feared from the precipitate and incautious engagements entered into; for the people all murmured against the princes. But the providence of God was in it, and His honour so involved in His people’s regard to their oath that the treaty made could not be broken. If in a case of fraud, and in a certain view the stealing of His mercy, God will not suffer an impeachment of His character by a forfeiture of truth in His people, what shall be said of the inviolability of those engagements of His love for the accomplishment of which He has voluntarily, in the view of all our unworthiness, pledged in solemn oath and promise His own infinite perfections? One cannot but conceive it designed to present us with an idea of the conversion of enemies to God, and afford a prelude of the accession of Gentiles to His Church. Such as God designs to save He inclines to sue for mercy. Servitude became their condition whose lives mercy spared; but that was honourable, as it was holy, and to be preferred to all the degrading liberties and superstitions of idolatry. Life was the constant reward of their service, and in many instances, it may be hoped, grace was connected with their labour. By spiritual instructions imparted in that temple where they served, though in the meanest office, the gracious among them would become sharers in more valuable blessings than any that could be connected with the highest earthly honours. None can be truly in the service of God but they will find better pay and purer satisfaction than any who are serving themselves or the world. (W. Seaton.)
In the Gibeonites there was faith--a belief that Israel was under the protection of a remarkable Divine power, under a Divine promise the truth of which even Balaam had very recently acknowledged--“I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” Undoubtedly a religious feeling lay at the bottom of the proceeding. A great Divine Being was seen to be involved, who was on Israel’s side and against his enemies, and it would not do to trifle with Him. But in their way of securing exemption frond the effects of His displeasure the grossest superstition appeared. They were to gain their object by deceit. What a strange conception of God! What blindness to His highest attributes, His holiness and His truth! What a miserable God men fashion to themselves when they simply invest Him with almighty power, or perhaps suppose Him to be moved by whims and prejudices and favouritisms like frail man, but omit to clothe Him with His highest glory--forget that “justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne, mercy and truth go before His face.” The conduct of the men was the more strange that it was impossible that they should not be speedily found out. And it was quite possible that, when found out, they would be dealt with more severely than ever. True, indeed, Joshua, when he did detect their plot, did not so act; he acted on a high, perhaps a mistaken, sense of honour; but they had no right to count on that. We cannot but respect the way in which Joshua and the princes acted when they discovered the fraud. It might have been competent to repudiate the league on the ground that it was agreed to by them under false pretences. It was made on the representation that the Gibeonites had come from a far country, and when that was seen to be utterly untrue there would have been an honourable ground for repudiating the transaction. But Joshua and the princes did not avail themselves of this loophole. The fact that the name of the Lord God of Israel had been invoked in the oath sworn to the Gibeonites constrained them to abide by the transaction. They carried out that great canon of true religion--first and foremost giving “glory to God in the highest.” But though the lives of the Gibeonites were spared, that was all. They were to he reduced to a kind of slavery--to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and the altar of God.” Does anything resembling this fraud of the Gibeonites ever take place among ourselves? In answer, let us ask first of all what is the meaning of pious frauds? Are they not transactions where fraud is resorted to in order to accomplish what are supposed to be religious ends? How can anything be a real religious gain to a man, how can it be otherwise than disastrous in the last degree, if it develops a fraudulent spirit, if it perverts his moral nature, if it deepens and intensifies the moral disorder of his heart? If men saw “the beauty of holiness,” “the beauty of the Lord,” they could never bring their minds to such miserable distortions. It is pure blasphemy to suppose that God could thus demean Himself. It is self-degradation to imagine that anything that can be gained by oneself through such means could make up for what is lost or for the guilt incurred by such wickedness. And this suggests a wider thought--the fearful miscalculation men make whensoever they resort to fraud in the hope of reaping benefit by means of it. Yet what practice is more common? The question is, Does it really pay? Does it pay, for instance, to cheat at cards? Does it pay the merchant to cheat as to the quality of his goods? Does it not leak out that he is not to be trusted, and does not that suspicion lose more to him in the long run than it gains? Or, to vary the illustration. When one has entrapped a maiden under false promises, and then forsakes her; or when he conceals the fact that he is already married to another; or when he controls himself for a time, to conceal from her his ill-temper, or his profligate habits, or his thirst for strong drink, does it pay in the end? The question is not, Does he succeed in his immediate object? but, How does the matter end? Is it a comfortable thought to any man that he has broken a trustful heart, that he has brought misery to a happy home, that he has filled some one’s life with lamentation and mourning and woe? We are not thinking only of the future life, when so many wrongs will be brought to light, and so many men and women will have to curse the infatuation that made fraud their friend and evil their good. We think of the present happiness of those who live in an atmosphere of fraud, and worship daily at its shrine. Can such disordered souls know ought of real peace and solid joy? All Eastern nations get the character of being deceitful; but indeed the weed may be said to flourish in every soil where it has not been rooted out by living Christianity. But if it be peculiarly characteristic of Eastern nations, is it not remarkable how constantly it is rebuked in the Bible, even though that book sprang from an Eastern soil? No doubt the record of the Bible abounds with instances of deceit, but its voice is always against them. And its instances are always instructive. Satan gained nothing by deceiving our first parents. Jacob was well punished for deceiving Isaac. David’s misleading of the high priest when he fled from Saul involved ultimately the slaughter of the whole priestly household. Ananias and Sapphira had an awful experience when they lied unto the Holy Ghost. All through the Bible it is seen that lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but they that deal truly are His delight. And when our blessed Lord comes to show us the perfect life, how free He is from the slightest taint or vestige of deceit! Is it possible for us ever to be worthy of such a Lord? First, surely, we must go to His Cross, and, bewailing all our unworthiness, seek acceptance through His finished work. And then draw from His fulness, even grace for grace; obtain through the indwelling of His Spirit that elixir of life which will send a purer life-blood through our souls, and assimilate us to Him of whom His faithful apostle wrote: “He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” (W. G. Blaikie, DD.)
Do we not see here, first and foremost, the pitiable shifts to which all spiritual fear is driven? The fear of Israel came upon the Gibeonites, and the result was an invention, a false arrangement, an attempt to escape the inevitable. This is the story of to-day. Volumes might be written upon this one thought, namely, that spiritual fear is always and of necessity driven to the most pitiable shifts. Spiritual fear says, “What can I do? I will undertake long pilgrimages; I will discharge severe and exhausting penances; I will build churches, and seem to worship; I will commingle with the people of God as if I were one of them when my heart is a thousand leagues away from the very poorest soul in all the sacred number.” The trick of the Gibeonites is the game of to-day. Spiritual fear knows not the spirit of truth, and cannot, of course, know the spirit of joy. Are we not always cursed by this spirit of fear? It leads us to misconstructions of God. He ceases to be God when He is looked at through the medium and under the base inspiration of servile fear. The man in whom the spirit of fear is cannot read the Bible. It is a mere idol to him. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Saints may be outwitted by the world
Saints are outwitted by the world in the things of the world, and no marvel; neither does it impeach their wisdom, any more than it does a scholar’s to be excelled by a cobbler in his mean trade. Nature, where it intends higher excellencies, is more careless in those things which are inferior; ms we see in man, who, being made to excel the beasts in a rational soul, is himself excelled by some beast or other in all his senses. Thus the Christian may well be surpassed in matters of worldly commerce, because he has a nobler object in his eye that makes him converse with the things of the world in a kind of non-attendance; he is not much careful in these matters; if he can die well at last, and be justified for a wise man at the day of resurrection, all is well. (H. G. Salter.)
Self-abasement is proper; but self-distortion is wrong, false, wicked, hateful to Omniscience. It is the voice of Jacob, though the hands be the hands of Esau: the Pharisee in another face. Was the artifice any the less real on the part of Jeroboam’s wife when she appeared in the presence of Ahijah the prophet, though a queen in disguise? Was not the conduct of the Gibeonites crafty and reprehensible? The attempt to make ourselves worse is as bad as trying to make ourselves better. It is hypocrisy either way, and God hates it in every form, in every disguise, for every purpose. Do no violence to self-hood. Be natural, simple, straightforward. Go to the Father in penitence and trustfulness, and then may you say, “For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.” (Thomas Parsons.)
Beguiled by the crafty enemy
How often is the believer who, with Joshua, would have withstood some fierce assault, because driven by it to dependence upon the almighty arm, the all-sufficient grace, of his Divine Captain and Defender, with Joshua beguiled by the tempter’s wiles and “the deceitfulness of sin”! The Gibeonites presented themselves to Joshua and to Israel as not falling within the number of those nations whom they had been enjoined to destroy utterly, with whom they must make no truce nor covenant, whom their eyes must not pity nor spare. Does your experience prove that sin is always presented to you as sin--in its native hideousness, its essential heinousness, its inseparable danger? Does the tempter always show the hook with the bait? Are you never tempted to make a league with--to tolerate--to conform to--that which ought to be proscribed and opposed without reserve? Never in danger of calling evil good and good evil; of putting darkness for light and light for darkness; of putting bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter? In a word, are there no Gibeonites among your soul’s enemies? (J. C. Miller, D. D.)
Old shoes and clouted upon their feet.
“Old shoes and clouted,” patched clothing
There are two sorts of hypocrites--those who profess to be better than they are: they form a large class; and those who profess to be worse than they are. There is great scope for hypocrisy even in wearing clothes. There are a great many people who wear very expensive garments at the cost of other people; because they have never paid for them, and never hope to do so. They represent one class of hypocrites. But occasionally you meet with a man who looks dreadfully shabby. His coat has a goodly number of patches, and every garment he wears gives proof of having been well worn. He dies, and leaves many thousands of pounds, sewn in some bag or other, and concealed in the chimney or under the mattress. Now, he is a hypocrite of the other type; he professes to be much poorer than he is. The Gibeonites were hypocrites of this order on this occasion. They acted as they did of a set purpose, not in order to show that they were poor, and thus to gain sympathy, but for quite another purpose. They sought to impress upon Joshua that they had come from a far country: that they had walked a weary journey, and that they had worn out their sandals, their clothes, and wine bags on the journey. They sought to make Joshua believe that they were led to him by kind, unselfish motives: that they had been prompted by such high regard for Joshua and the people whom he led as to earnestly wish to be on good terms with them. One cannot help trying to picture to one’s self what happened at Gibeon just before they started. A goodly company of men went forth as ambassadors, and all wanted the oldest clothes they could get. I wonder whether there were secondhand dealers at Gibeon? The articles must have gone up suddenly in price if there were; and what an opportunity for clearing old and bad stock out--all the old sandals, and the old clothes I However that may have been, they got what they required, and at length appeared before Joshua, and represented to him that they had come a long journey, during which they had worn out their clothes, and that they had not had the opportunity of reclothing themselves; but that meanwhile they had been very careful of their garments in patching them diligently and well. It would not have done for them to have come in rags, and therefore they were careful to show to Joshua that, worn out as their garments were, yet they had made the best use of them, and had in each case put in a stitch in time to save nine. I wish that, while abstaining from all the deceit of these men, we could learn one lesson from them. Would that poor people always acted as economically as these people pretended to have acted on this occasion. If there are any of you who are placed in circumstances where it is necessary to have many patches on your garments, and other boys who are placed in better circumstances than you feel inclined to laugh and sneer at you, never be ashamed of your patches; always consider that every patch on your coat tells everybody what an industrious mother you have at home. On the other hand, a hole that is allowed to remain long and to expand day by clay is a reflection on all concerned. Now look at this from another standpoint. You see these people wanted to impress Joshua with the fact that on-this one journey they had worn out all the clothing they had provided for themselves. Have you ever thought what a great deal we all wear out in life? Have you ever thought how many garments, how many shoes, and how many hats every boy of twelve has worn out since the day he was born? I suppose the oldest man here would stand perfectly aghast ii all the garments he had worn and cast aside were only made to pass before him. Now that is something worth our consideration. It at least teaches us this--that there must be a marvellous Providence which takes care of us in a very extraordinary way. Then, think again of the food consumed. If we only thought of this we should begin to ask, “Where have all these garments come from? and how has all this food been provided? Thus, we should thank God more for His providence, and be less ready to cast away garments when they were half worn, and to think ourselves too good to wear a garment that is comparatively threadbare, though we may be too poor to buy a new one. Now just one word more--it is this. We not only wear out clothes and consume food, but also these bodies of ours, on the journey of life. We have only one body for the journey of life: in other words, we have only one suit for the soul. It is a marvellous suit, it expands as the soul expands. But it is not like the spirit itself; it is not immortal: it is subject to a great deal of wear and tear. Now God mends this for us day by day. But by and by, even with all His care, it begins to wear out. There are some here who are getting on in life. Their soul’s garment is not what it was. They cannot run as fast as they could when they were boys: they cannot do as much work as they did when they were young men in the prime of life. What is the matter? Oh, the old garment is beginning to wear, and the good God has to patch it up a little. The doctor says sometimes, “Well, I can patch him up a little bit.” But what a grand thing it will be when we shall never wear out! When this garment is put aside, God will provide for us another that will never grow old, and we shall engage in a service of which we shall never tire. (D. Davies.)
Causes of raggedness
Many a clouted shoe, many a ragged garment has been paraded before the eyes of men during the three thousand years that have passed since the jaded asses of Gibeon entered the camp at Gilgal. Let me name some shams to be avoided.
1. Beware first of the shams of social life. Let us rather put up with the blame of being blunt and uncivil than feel that we are constantly begirt and bedizened with shams as deceitful as were the clouted shoes and the ragged raiment of these men of Gibeon.
2. Let me urge you also to beware of the shams of trade and commerce. And I do not limit these to what may be found in the shop and the market-place. I extend the warning to every professional pursuit. There are shams in them all. It has grown into a proverb, that “there are tricks in all trades”; and the proverb is more pointed because it is so true. Be poor men all your lives rather than richer ones, if riches can only be won by practices as disreputable as were the clouted shoes and the ragged raiment of the deputies of Gibeon.
3. And let us beware, above all, of the shams of religion. The most loathsome of all hypocrisy is that which assumes the garb of religion. The man who dares to assume this that he may further his own selfish ends joins himself to Ananias and Sapphira, and is not afraid to sin against the Holy Ghost. Oh! in whatever else we are hypocrites, let it not be in assuming the language and demeanour of followers of Christ while our hearts are far from Him and rebelling against Him! for this is worse an hundredfold than the clouted shoes and the ragged raiment of the Gibeonites. And of these representative shams that I have named, and of all others, it is to be remembered that one day will declare them. But though I have drawn these lessons from the words of the text, as spoken of those who wore the clouted shoes and the ragged raiment, to effect a dishonest treaty, and to give colour to a lying tale, yet the words occurred to my mind as descriptive of those by whom the clouted shoes and ragged raiment are not assumed from choice, but worn from the grim necessity that they have no other. And it is concerning this class of our communities, and our duty towards them, that I wish now to speak. It is a humbling fact that amid the civilisation and wealth of our land, of which we are so proud, there are hundreds and thousands of poor, neglected waifs--men, women, and children--who are homeless and unsheltered. Of the children, at any rate, we must say that by some cruel misfortune they are degraded to a sphere immeasurably below their birthright as children of immortality. They are more sinned against than sinning. If they are called by the opprobrious name of “human vermin,” whose fault is it that they are such? If they have been declared to be “attired in the unalterable livery of scoundreldom,” whose fault is it that this new and terrible representative class has been suffered to grow up in our midst in monster proportions? If they have been called by a more truthful title, the “Arabs of the streets,” “their hand against every man,” must it not be confessed that it is because every man’s hand has so long been against them? It is our bounden duty to inquire something into the producing causes of this great mass of human sorrow, and misery, and want, and sin; let us try to do so. Of course there is a certain amount of this utter poverty for which the idleness and laziness of the people themselves must be blamed. It is true now as when Solomon said it, that “drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.” But what can we say for those homeless children who are striving to earn an honest penny by gathering holly, by holding horses, and so on? Their homelessness and raggedness has come down to them; they are born with it; their only heritage one of woe! I trace it to two causes: first, improvidence; and second, extravagance, especially in the two articles of dress and drink. But since rags and tatters are already the heritage of many thousands of children, from the improvidence and drunkenness of their parents, we must do something more than aim at removing the producing causes; we must help those hapless ones who are already in rags. I know that we shrink from doing so. This is one of the penalties of abject misery. But this feeling of aversion, though common, is unchristian! Our Lord never shrank from contact with the poorest, and filthiest, and most ragged and loathsome leper. And so it becomes us, who profess to follow in His steps, to seek to gather in even the most ragged outcast on our streets and lanes. (J. E. Clarke, M. A.)
The men . . . asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.--
Seek direction from God
Let the fault and neglect of the leaders of Israel instruct you. They were deceived because they asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord. The Urim and Thummim and the High Priest were in the camp, and from them an infallible answer might have been obtained. Go ye then, in the hour of temptation, to God by prayer. Implore His counsel and direction; and the Holy Spirit, in answer to your fervent petition, shall give you a right judgment in all things. Cry each of you to God, “What I know not, that teach Thou me.” “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart,” &c. Study the Bible; be instant in prayer: so shall the eyes of your understanding be opened to discern the causes of danger; and so shall you be enabled to live with that holy caution which, through Divine grace, will make a way for you to escape. “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.”(R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
There is an old but wholesome proverb which speaks of “making more haste than good speed.” We find the same truth, otherwise expressed, in Scripture; expressed as a part of the will of God, from whose right of control over man flow all those duties of caution, deliberation, and foresight which are inculcated nowhere so forcibly as in the Bible. We have in this passage a very remarkable illustration of our homely English proverb; and at the same time a very remarkable illustration of forgetfulness of the Divine saying, “Acknowledge God in all thy ways, and He shall direct thy paths.” “The men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel of the Lord.”
I. This was unjustifiable.
1. They had the teaching of direct precepts that forbid it. They were told that the land which was given them to possess was filled with a wicked people, whose cup was full, and that their “strange work” was their extermination. Thus instructed, they were to make no covenant with any of the inhabitants of the land, but to smite “utterly both man and beast.” This precept, or rather reiterated command, they forgot; acting under impulse they forgot what was written, and governed by feeling they overlooked the law.
2. They had the teachings of their own experience that should have suggested caution. Let us not so conduct our selves: let us remember the past only to be wiser for the future; let obedience to law be the rule of our life, lest some stern and inexorable calamity should come and crush us into inevitable submission.
3. All this was perfectly unjustifiable. What ever consequences might have resulted, they could only blame themselves. Precept and precedent were against them, yet blindly and wilfully they defied both.
II. The results of this forgetfulness.
1. To the Israelites. The moment the mistake was found out the multitude, who had said nothing before, began of course to murmur. So frequently, when men connive at each other’s iniquities and mistakes, as soon as one of their number is reduced to trouble his partners in folly will be the first to upbraid him. God may forgive us our sins and our follies; but He will not by miracle interpose to save us from the natural consequences of our violation of the laws by which He manifests the everlasting unchangeableness of His moral government.
2. To the Gibeonites. Lying and cheating always defeat themselves in the long run. (W. G. Barrett.)
The children of Israel made two mistakes here.
I. They received these men by reason of their victuals. They judged in a hasty and superficial way. By hasty judgments we are led into wrong in several directions.
1. Hasty judgments lead us to wrong others.
2. Hasty judgments lead us to wrong God. You take a superficial view of your troubles, and you think God is a tyrant and is cruel.
3. How many reject the truth by such hasty judgment. Some trifle suffices--a silly criticism they heard years ago--to lead them to give up Christianity and lose their souls. This, then, is the first lesson of the text: To form no judgment concerning any man or any thing on insufficient or defective data.
II. They “asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.” They acted upon their own wit and discernment. If you have any wit, you are to use it. You may think you know all about the harbour of success, every shallow, every sunken rock, yet it would be better to take a pilot on board. I prefer to employ a praying doctor, a praying lawyer. (H. M. Scudder, D. D.)
A judgment over self- reliance
What an ominous sound there is in those words! They portend disaster, and it befell. Up to this moment the initiative had always been taken by the Lord. Now for the first time it is taken by Joshua and the people. In all the previous chapters the words run thus: “And the Lord said unto Joshua”; but there is no such phrase in this. Israel through her chosen leaders acted for herself, and easily fell into the trap. If only they had inquired of the Lord the dimming light in the sacred, stone would have betrayed the fatal secret and arrested the formation of the league. Let us lay the moral to our heart. Earth’s sombre tints and cross-lights are very perplexing; and it is often extremely hard to detect the truth. The foolish virgins are so much like the wise; the tares so resemble the wheat; the hireling imitates so precisely the Shepherd’s voice; the devil’s mimicry of an angel of light is so exact; bye-path meadow is parted from the King’s highway by so narrow a boundary. We urgently need, as the apostle prayed for his Philippian converts, that we may have, not only all knowledge, but all discernment, so that we may prove the things that differ (Philippians 1:10, R.V. margin). In one place this power to discriminate is said to result from use (Hebrews 5:14); whilst in the passage already quoted it is attributed to an abounding love. But following the suggestion of the narrative before us, we may say that it will follow naturally on the careful cultivation of the blessed habit of asking counsel at the mouth of the Lord. Never trust your own judgment. When voices within or without would hasten you to decide on the strength of your own conclusions, then be careful to refer the whole matter from the lower court of your own judgment to the supreme tribunal of God’s. If there is any doubt or hesitation left after such reference, be sure that as yet the time has not come for you to under stand all God’s will. Under such circumstances wait. Throw the responsibility of the pause and all it may involve on God, and dare still to wait. As a traveller over the hills, when the mist has come down, elects to stand or lie where it overtakes him, rather than wander on, perhaps to the brink of a precipice, so wait. If you trust God absolutely it is for Him to give you clear directions as to what you should do. And when the time for action arrives He will have given you such unmistakable indications of His will that, though a fool, you will not be able to mistake them or err therein. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Joshua made peace with them.--The grand inquiry here is whether this league was lawful or not? Answer the first: Some have these sentiments, that it was unlawful upon those grounds, because
(1) God forbade Israel to make any league with the Canaanites, and bade to destroy them all (Exodus 23:32; Exodus 34:15; Deuteronomy 7:2) without making any exceptions, &c.
(2) Secondly, the people murmured at this league (verse 18), which they ought not to have done, had it been lawful.
(3) Joshua denounces those Gibeonites accursed for deceiving him (verse 23), which he would not have done had nothing been done but what was just and equal.
(4) He charged them with circumventing him by dissimulation (verse 21). Answer the second: but others affirm it was a lawful league, as Augustine and all the rabbis, &c., upon those grounds. First, it was lawful for Israel to offer peace to other nations before they besieged any of their cities (Deuteronomy 20:10), which shows this league was lawful as to the substantial part of it. Secondly, this sanguinary law of killing all the Canaanites was not absolute and universal, but admitted of an exception of penitents and true converts, as appeareth from Jeremiah 18:7-24.18.8, and John 3:4. Thirdly, that this law was thus limited (being only a positive law, and so might be qualified with a natural and moral equity) appears in Israel’s sparing Rahab and her relations. Fourthly, the reason of that sanguinary law was lest those Canaanites that were not killed might entice the Israelites to their idolatry. Now that reason ceased at their turning from idolatry and becoming proselytes to Israel, &c. Fifthly, that the Gibeonites were converts appears, for their hearts were not hardened as the other Canaanites were (Joshua 11:19-6.11.20). They came to Joshua here in the name of the Lord (verse 9), and they had this blessing, to have a near approach unto God in their service of the sanctuary (verse 27), where David could have been content to be a poor door-keeper (Psalms 84:10). Sixthly, Had this league been unlawful it had been better broken than kept; if it had been a sin to make it, the sin would have been double to keep it; but Joshua and all the princes upon the review of it did conscientiously keep it (verses 19, 20, 22, 23). Seventhly, God severely punished the violaters of this league, long, even 400 years, after, as 2 Samuel 21:3. Saul’s rash zeal cost the seven of his sons’ lives, and so almost rooted out his whole posterity. Eighthly, The utter destruction of all the other cursed Canaanites came not so much or so necessarily upon them by virtue of any absolute or peremptory precept for destroying them as it did from their own obstinacy and obduration of their hearts, whereby they did not only neglect but also scorned to make peace (Joshua 11:19-6.11.20). (C. Ness.)
Hewers of wood and drawers of water.--
Mistakes divinely overruled
This is a beautiful and comforting example of the way in which God overrules our mistakes, and brings blessing out of our sins, as the chemist obtains his loveliest dyes from the refuse of gas retorts. Inadvertently, and without due consideration, some of my readers may have entered into alliance with a Gibeonite, whether in marriage, in business, or in some other sphere. Are they therefore to abandon their high privilege, and forsake their lofty ministry to the world? Must they cease to be God’s portion, and the priests of men? Not necessarily. Let them turn to God in repentance and confession, and He will teach them how these very hindrances may become great means of help, so that they shall hew the wood for the burnt-offering, draw the water for the libations, and promote the prosperity and well-being of the soul. Out of the eater shall come forth meat, and out of the strong sweetness. (F. B Meyer, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent