Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Joshua

Confusion about the Gibeonites

Four years ago I published a post entitled Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism. The first two paragraphs read as follows:

Moralistic, therapeutic deism, a term first used by Christian Smith, seems a fitting description of much of what passes for Christianity in North America. The followers of this religion believe in a God who wants them to be good, wants them to feel good about themselves, doesn’t need to be consulted except in case of emergencies, and who will accept all good people into heaven.

One unfortunate result is that such people read the Old Testament as a series of morality tales, leading to conclusions that play up the foolishness and waywardness of Old Testament characters. Such a reading altogether misses the redemption story that is an essential ingredient of these histories. The New Testament points to these histories as God’s way of revealing little by little his plan of redemption.

Today I want to write about how the story of the Gibeonites, beginning in the ninth chapter of Joshua, is commonly misinterpreted. Bible story books and Sunday School lessons tend to make a big thing of how the Gibeonites tricked the elders of Israel. In doing so, they altogether miss how this account fits into the redemption story.

If God had been displeased with the Israelites for accepting the Gibeonites, would he not have told Joshua to just stand back and let the armies of the south destroy Gibeon? Instead he told Joshua to go up to battle and that he would deliver the attacking armies into Joshua’s hand. Then God performed one of the great miracles of the Old Testament, making the sun stand still for another whole day. At the same time, God poured out hail on the attacking armies.

Up to this point, the children of Israel were occupying a small enclave in the plains of Jericho. The mountainous country was before them; the population in those mountains far outnumbered the Israelites and they were men of war. Yet the pact with the Gibeonites provided the opening to utterly destroy those armies during the battle of the long day and subsequent battles in the days following. Now the Israelites were masters of all the southern half of the Promised Land.

This stirred the nations in the north to gather together to battle, but once again the Lord assured Joshua that He would deliver them to him. Joshua and the Israelites won another great victory and were now in possession of all the land. They had not destroyed all the people of the land, but there were no longer any mighty armies to stand against them.

As we read the whole story, the inescapable conclusion is that God blessed the Israelites for accepting the Gibeonites. Yes, they came with a deceitful story, yet they did it because they recognized the greatness of God. They submitted willingly to the conditions laid upon them by the elders of Israel, knowing that the alternative was death. Joshua 11:19 says: “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle.”

The Gibeonites became hewers of wood and drawers of water for the service of the tabernacle. There was an element of mercy in this, they were not made slaves to individual Israelites, which could well have led to oppression and mistreatment. It is likely that the Gibeonites are the same people as those later called Nethinims.

The Gibeonites were Hivites, descendants of Canaaan. Others of the Hivites remained and later troubled the Israelites. There is no hint in the Bible that the Gibeonites were in any way associated with them. They had made their choice to take their place among the people of God.

Nevertheless, there came a time when King Saul thought he would be doing God a service by wiping out the Gibeonites. Because of this God sent a three year famine in Israel in the time of King David. The famine ceased when seven of Sauls grandsons were hung. This may look like revenge, but perhaps a better explanation is that this was a means to make it publicly known to all Israel that the slaying of the Gibeonites was entirely Saul’s idea and contrary to the will of God.

Are we perhaps thinking like Saul if we condemn the Gibeonites for their deception? The real story here, as I see it, is a group of Gentiles forsaking their gods to seek refuge with Israel and their God. Perhaps their methods were questionable, but all the accounts that mention them demonstrate the purity and sincerity of their desire to fully submit to the Almighty God.

Am I a soldier of the cross?

 

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof” (Judges 3:1-2).

After crossing the Jordan river into the Promised Land, Joshua led the Israelites in a few quick battles that left them in control of the whole land. The land was then divided among the tribes and it was up to each tribe to deal with any lingering opposition from the former occupants of the land. The above verses show that God knew that the Israelites would need to face opposition in order to remain vigilant.

Like the Israelites, we are prone to complacency. When things go well for a time, with no evident threats to our faith or our Christian way of life, we begin to believe that it is God’s plan for us to live at our ease.

This has been the case for Christians in North America over the past several generations. We have blessed the Lord for our freedom and prosperity, never dreaming that the Enemy was at work right under our noses. Today we are aware that there has been a major shift in public attitudes towards morality, the family and Christian faith. We didn’t see this coming, don’t understand what has happened, but surely it must be the fault of the politicians. If we could just get right-thinking people elected all would return to be as it should be.

Politicians did not create the situation we find ourselves in today – and they cannot fix it. They are being swept along just like the rest of us. The roots are much deeper and go much further back.

The humanist intellectuals who inspired the founding of our public school systems saw the schools as a means of removing children from the influence of their parents and forming their minds in the way that suited the purpose of the humanists. Their intention was to create a utopian society, a society where families and faith ceased to exist.

The first step was to convince parents that they were incompetent to train their own children. “Children need to be with other children their own age in order to learn how to get along with others.” The idea is ridiculous and should have been laughed to scorn, but it has been repeated so often, for so long a time, that most parents today accept it without question.

Evolution was introduced, in the name of science. The real reason was to convince children that there was no basis for any belief in right or wrong and no consequences to fear in choosing to live a life that did not accord with the teaching of their parents.

The old way of teaching reading by phonics was abandoned in favour of sight reading. Parents were told that they should not try to teach their children to read at home, leave it to the experts. The old way actually worked, nowadays we accept the 40% of the population has learning difficulties that leave them functionally illiterate. Much supposed research has taken place, many new methods tried, always with the same dismal results.

The same thing has happened in the teaching of mathematics. Parents are bewildered, so are the children. It seems that this was most likely the intention. The humanists are quite content to leave most of the population without the tools to figure out what is really going on.

So now we have children being trained that gender roles are not fixed, whatever they want to do is the right thing for them to do, and that it will be their responsibility to fix all the things that past generations have done to mess up our world.

Humanism has become the prevailing state religion and the schools are the shrines where it is worshipped. Our enemies are spiritual and must be fought with spiritual weapons. Have we forgotten what Isaac Watts knew almost 300 years ago?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To draw me on to God?

Sure I must fight, if I would reign;
Increase my courage Lord,
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

Hitherto hath the LORD helped us

What is it that prompts us to want to make resolutions about all the things we want to do better in the coming year? Isn’t it the consciousness of all the ways that we have failed to live up to what we wanted to be and do in the past year? Why do we think we have it in our power to do better in the new year?

But has the Lord ever failed us? Why not look back at the year that is ending and remember the many ways in which He has helped us, and then go forward into the new year with the confidence that He will once more lead us to many victories, large and small?

As the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness for forty years, it seemed the men who came out of Egypt could not remember from one day to the next how the Lord had helped them. They continually complained to Moses, “Why have you brought us into this wilderness so that our children will die here?” But it was the fathers who had come out of Egypt who died in the wilderness because every time a new difficulty presented itself they could not believe that God could help them.

It was the children who grew up in the wilderness who entered the Promised Land, those born in Egypt and those born in the wilderness. They saw God working continually to help and sustain them and trusted He would continue to do so. They crossed the Jordan and in just four battles they had control of all the land.

Two of those who had been adult men when they left Egypt survived to enter the Promised Land, Joshua and Caleb. Caleb was the older, he had been forty when they left Egypt and was eighty when they came into the land. As Joshua was dividing the land, Caleb came to him and said, “Remember that mountain where we saw the giants? Give me that mountain, if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the LORD said.” And so he did, it doesn’t even sound like it was much of a battle.

May we enter the new year with the faith of Caleb, remembering that “Hitherto hath the LORD helped us,” and trusting that He will continue to help us.

Restless Christians

Throughout the Bible there is a promise of rest for the people of God, typified by the seventh day when God rested from His labours. The Bible tells us that after Joshua led the people of God into the promised land they had rest from all their enemies round about (Joshua 23:1).  However, the book of Hebrews tells us that this was only another type of the promised rest, not the real thing: ” For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day” (Hebrews 4:8).

(Just a note here for anyone who might be confused by that passage in Hebrews: Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was the Bible in common use during the time covered by the New Testament.)

The peace promised by God is peace of the heart which comes of knowing that one’s sins have been forgiven and there is no need to labour to earn salvation by works. When this peace is firmly established in the heart, it pervades all of one’s being – mind, body and soul.

The works that a Christian does are the result of being obedient to the voice of the shepherd. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:  and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (1 John 10: 27-28).

This rest is not a one day a week affair, rest from physical labour is necessary but God offers something far better: rest from the turmoil caused by guilt for the things we have done, and rest from the turmoil of wondering if we can ever measure up to what God expects of us.

Why then are there so many restless Christians?

One reason is unconfessed sin. Someone may recite the sinner’s prayer without ever really understanding the need to come clean before God and other people. Salvation is not a band aid applied over the festering wounds caused by sin, it is a deep cleansing of those wounds that allows them to heal. We must confess sin, forsake it and do our best to undo the wrongs we have done to others. If we hold anything back, we will not know rest.

Little children may be led to recite the sinner’s prayer long before they have reached the point where they can comprehend their accountability to God. Any time that such a prayer is made to please others – parents, friends, camp counsellors or pastors, the result will not be true rest.

Pride often leads us to want to prove that we are a cut above other Christians in some aspect of the faith, or to apply ourselves diligently to some work that will make us stand out from the crowd of our fellow believers. Such an attitude is not conducive to rest.

Another aspect of pride is to believe that the way I understand things is surely the way that God sees them and that anyone who differs from me is not fully enlightened. This is the source of many conflicts among believers.

Another cause of unrest is the unwillingness to forgive others. My toes are going to get stepped on from time to time. It’s not deliberate, but it will happen. I may be totally unaware of how many times I have stepped on other people’s toes and they have just forgiven me, but I remember clearly every single instance when someone has stepped on my toes and I cannot forgive.  Yet forgiving others is the only way to find rest for myself.

Sadly, there are church fellowships that are not restful places to be. Even if we find ourselves in such a situation and feel we need to look for another place to worship, it is well to ask ourselves what it is we are searching for. If we are  seeking to find a body of believers that truly knows the rest that God gives, He will lead us quietly to such a place. If we just don’t get along with the pastor, or his wife, or some of the other people in the church, we are not apt to find a restful place. Many have wandered in this way until they gave up on the idea of church altogether.

Straight and narrow?

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Our Lord uses a parallel construction here, using a pair of synonyms to describe each way.  Wide and broad give us a picture of a gate that is spacious enough to let anything pass through and an equally spacious highway that leads on from there.  On the other hand, narrow and strait speak of a gate and a way that are too restricted for us to carry any baggage that is not needed on the way.

Somehow, in our common parlance, we have exchanged strait for straight and now speak of the straight and narrow way.  This is not what Jesus said.  The broad way is made for easy travelling with no steep hills and curves that are almost imperceptible  but turn us little by little towards a destination that is different than the one we thought we were heading for when we started out on our journey.

Travelling the narrow way will sometimes bring us to a mountain that seems impossible to climb.  Sometimes it will lead us straight into danger, at other times it requires us to make a sharp turn to avoid temptation.  It is not an easy road to travel, sometimes the destination is hidden from view, but those who persevere along this pathway will arrive at their intended destination.

Having said that, what shall we then do with the following passage of Scripture?  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth (Luke 3:5, quoting Isaiah 40:4).

I am inclined to think that this does not refer to making the circumstances of the way any easier, but of the grace of God that gives us victory when the way seems impossible.  Ten of the men sent to spy out Canaan came back with frightening tales of the giants who lived there, “and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight”.  Joshua and Caleb saw things differently: “neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.”

Forty years later the giants were still there, dwelling on the mountain.  Caleb, now 80 years old, came to Joshua and requested: Now therefore give me this mountain, whereof the LORD spake in that day; for thou heardest in that day how the Anakims were there, and that the cities were great and fenced: if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the LORD said.

And he did.  For those who trust God as Caleb did, the mountains are never insurmountable.

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