Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: promised land

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.

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Inherit the earth

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

I guess by now it is evident that I have been meditating on the Beatitudes. The Sermon on the Mount is the cornerstone of Mennonite doctrine. Things like the right understanding of prophecy and the sacraments are important to us, too, but not nearly to the same extent as in many other church traditions.

God promised a land to Abraham and to his seed. Finally, during the reign of Solomon, the children of Israel possessed the full extent of the promised land, in peace. And that was it, that land has not had peace at any time since then.

What happened to God’s promise? The epistle to the Hebrews has this to say of Abraham: “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And a little later: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. . . But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

The promised land will have its full accomplishment in heaven, where there will be no more wars, or rumours of wars. Yet there is even now a place of safety and stability for the children of God. Perhaps not always a place of physical security, but a place of peace and contentment, and of spiritual security, for those who truly are seeking that better country.

The meek will find that spiritual land and make it their home. Those who battle for their right to be left in peace, those who feel it their duty to defeat all who are hostile to their belief, make themselves incapable of recognizing that place of peace when they see it. It is the heritage of those who are strangers and pilgrims amidst the turmoil of this world.

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.

Thine be the glory

Numbers 14:11-12 — And the LORD said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.

These people had seen the plagues by which God punished and tormented the Egyptians, had been miraculously led through the Red Sea, eaten the manna which appeared each morning, seen the glory of God on Mount Sinai and been led by the visible presence of God in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. And still they could not believe that God was able to lead them into the promised land. No wonder He was ready to disinherit them.

The promise to make of Moses an greater and mightier nation than the Israelites must have seemed almost irresistable. Yet Moses’ immediate reaction was to refuse it and to intercede for Israel.

Numbers 14:13-16 — Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)  and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD art among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying, because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.

Notice that Moses’ concern for the glory of the LORD completely overshadowed and obliterated any temptation he might have had to accept the glory that God proposed to him.

Can we do any less today? If we want to be known as men and women of God, our sole concern must be His glory. In chapter 20, God tells Moses to speak to the rock and it would give water for the people. But Moses became impatient with the people: “and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also” (verses 10-11). God still provided the water, but for this one act, where Moses spoke as though he was the one providing the water, God would not let him enter the promised land.

We are treading on dangerous ground when we begin to feel that we deserve some of the glory for the good that we do. God alone must receive all the glory.

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