People are, for the most part, forgiving. We are willing to at least listen to someone else’s point of view. Many people will bend over backward to understand the other person’s position. That everyone has a right to their own opinion is a belief practiced by many in the United States. Two groups may disagree vigorously, but will defend the other’s right to their opinion with equal vitality.
Consideration of another’s God-given, first amendment right to hold their own opinion is a good thing. Denial of the truth when hearing or reading falsehood is something else entirely. Should we consider an opinion to be valid even if it is obviously false and meant to deceive? Of course not! We should honor another person’s right to their opinion without blindly accepting it as truth.
Discerning truth from lies (good and evil) is a primary reason for Biblical understanding. Solomon became king of Israel after his father, David, died. He recognized that he was young and lacked understanding. Therefore, he prayed to God asking to be given understanding. And the reason, so he would be able to discern between good and evil.
So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. (1 Kings 3:9)
The writer of Hebrews repeated the connection between understanding and discerning good and evil.
But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
We all recognize that we should be capable of distinguishing between a lie and the truth. Yet, practical experience shows that people are often willing to go along with someone else’s view without suitable evaluation. It’s just easier. We don’t have to do our homework, and we can continue on with our lives. A further complication is our desire to believe all people are good. Therefore, we are often unwilling to believe someone would knowingly and purposely attempt to deceive us. Or is that merely an excuse? Respecting the right of others to hold their own opinion is one thing. Taking others at their word, and going along without examining the veracity of their opinions is irresponsible.
Not caring, indifference, lack of interest and laziness are synonyms for apathy. The Bible often describes being apathetic as being asleep.
30 I passed by the field of the sluggard [a lazy person]
And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense [this person lacks understanding],
31 And behold, it [this person’s field] was completely overgrown with thistles;
Its surface was covered with nettles [worthless things, lies],
And its stone wall [the truth of the Lord] was broken down [no longer available for protection].
32 When I saw, I reflected upon it [the passerby was not lazy, instead he evaluated the situation];
I looked, and received instruction [he had understanding].
33 “A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest,”
34 Then your poverty will come as a robber [spiritual apathy leads to spiritual poverty]
And your want like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:31-34)
When a great mass of people falls asleep, the result can be disastrous. I’m reminded of the flip-flop of the Jews in Jerusalem … one day they are joyously receiving their Messiah and King, and a few days later they’re screaming for His crucifixion. This dramatic shift in sentiment was the work of a few overly zealous, religious hypocrites who pushed false views of Jesus. And what about the religious leaders Jesus confronted? Did they seek to understand the things Jesus was doing in their presence? Only one Pharisee, Nicodemus, sought to understand. The rest chose to do away with the very One who had been sent to save their souls. And the people accepted the views of a few in influential positions as truth.
It was easy for the people to accept their propositions because those who set out to deceive are very skilled at making their lies sound right … even advantageous.
The first lie is the hardest one to swallow, so it is usually small and well concealed in a fair amount of truth. Each succeeding lie is a little larger, and more out in the open. And so it goes until the lies overtake the truth. All the while we remain asleep, our minds are being overtaken with lies. Without corrective measures, lies will push the truth out completely. When this happens, the truth is no longer recognized. In fact, truth becomes absurd.
God presents His truth to us in the Bible. It is often straightforward and without fanfare. In fact, the greatest truths of the Bible are often presented in such a matter-of-fact manner they are easily taken for granted. If we hear God’s truth and become lazy in adhering to His desire, it is easy to forget the great importance of each command of God. The story of Israel and the Gibeonites is a good example.
We begin with God’s command, which in this case is quite clear.
1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you,
2 and when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)
God’s promise is that He will deliver seven nations that are greater and stronger than the Israelites into their hand and they would defeat them in battle. God’s command is three-fold:
- The Israelites are to utterly destroy them.
- The Israelites are to make no covenant with them.
- The Israelites are to show them no favor.
The ninth chapter of Joshua tells the story of the deceptive Gibeonites.
1 Now it came about when all the kings who were beyond the Jordan, in the hill country and in the lowland and on all the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, heard of it,
2 that they gathered themselves together with one accord to fight with Joshua and with Israel.
3 When the inhabitants of Gibeon [members of the Hivite nation] heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai,
4 they also acted craftily and set out as envoys, and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys, and wineskins worn-out and torn and mended,
5 and worn-out and patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and had become crumbled.
[The Gibeonites covered their true identity and presented themselves to the leaders of Israel as being something they were not … they were wolves in sheep’s clothing … false prophets.]
6 They went to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country; now therefore, [this, of course, was a lie] make a covenant with us.”
[Remember that the second part of God’s command was that the Israelites are to make no covenant with the enemy.]
7 The men of Israel said to the Hivites [the Gibeonites], “Perhaps you are living within our land; how then shall we make a covenant with you?”
[Joshua is well aware that no covenant is to be made with the nations living in the land they were given.]
8 But they said to Joshua, [the Gibeonites continue in their deception] “We are your servants.” Then Joshua said to them, “Who are you and where do you come from?”
[Joshua considered the possibility that the Gibeonites may have been lying as is evidenced by his questions in verses 7 and 8. If the Gibeonites were trying to deceive him, did he think they would tell him the truth? Joshua should have been asking the Lord.]
9 They said to him, “Your servants have come from a very far country because of the fame of the Lord your God; for we have heard the 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 king of Heshbon and to Og king of Bashan who was at Ashtaroth.
11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey, and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants; now then, make a covenant with us.”’
[This is the Gibeonites second request that the Israelites make a covenant with them. Also, if they were from a far country, they were in no danger, so why the need for a covenant?]
12 This our bread was warm when we took it for our provisions out of our houses on the day that we left to come to you; but now behold, it is dry and has become crumbled.
13 These wineskins which we filled were new, and behold, they are torn; and these our clothes and our sandals are worn out because of the very long journey.”
14 So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord.
15 Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them. (Joshua 9:1-15)
Joshua and the leaders of Israel were taken in by the lies of the Gibeonites, and a binding covenant was formed between them. The oversight could have been prevented had the Israelites sought the counsel of the Lord (verse 14). One sin leads to another unless it is dealt with through confession and forgiveness. This error of omission could have been righted in the same way as was the sin of Achan.
But the sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel. (Joshua 7:1)
This is what happened. The nation of Israel had just come away from a resounding victory at Jericho. Their spirits and confidence were high. Their next stop is the city of Ai. Joshua sent out a reconnaissance team and learned that the city is small so only a small number of fighters would be necessary for the battle. However, the conflict did not turn out well for the Israelites.
4 So about three thousand men from the people went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai.
5 The men of Ai struck down about thirty-six of their men, and pursued them from the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them down on the descent, so the hearts of the people melted and became as water. (Joshua 7:4-5)
Joshua’s immediate response to this situation was to seek the Lord. After all, the Lord had promised that He would deliver all of the enemy nations into their hand.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.
[[Joshua sought the counsel of the Lord.]
7 Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan!
8 O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies?
9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?” (Joshua 7:6-9)
Joshua and the leaders of Israel sought the Lord for an answer, and God came back with a quick response.
10 So the Lord said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?
11 “Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things.
12 Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst.” (Joshua 7:10-12)
One sin, by one man in the entire nation was
enough to cause God to remove His protection.
The sin did not only affect Achan, it involved the entire nation. What do you think God’s reaction is when sin in the body of Christ is not dealt with according to God’s instructions? In this example, God’s protection would no longer be with the Israelites until the cause of the sin was destroyed (verse 12). Has God changed? Or does He react the same today as He did then? He has not changed. God takes His commandments, and our obedience (or lack of) very seriously. This incident also speaks volumes regarding the need for discernment. When things are not going according to God’s promises, we know that His protection has been lifted. And this would only happen if we have somehow transgressed His commandments.
God’s solution for this situation was for the sin to be exposed and removed. The next day Achan was brought before God and he and all the banned items were burned with fire and God’s wall of protection was restored.
However, when the Gibeonites come wanting to make a covenant with Israel, Joshua does not consult God. Joshua’s radar is up, he is suspicious of these strangers, but he makes the mistake of believing he can figure out the truth on his own. And he makes a decision that will affect the israelites in the future. In this situation with the Gibeonites, Joshua did not seek the Lord when the Gibeonites falsely present themselves to the leaders of Israel. Instead, he believes their lies and makes a covenant with them. The story continues:
16 It came about at the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were neighbors and that they were living within their land.
17 Then the sons of Israel set out and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon and Chephirah and Beeroth and Kiriath-jearim.
18 The sons of Israel did not strike them because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord the God of Israel. And the whole congregation grumbled against the leaders. [Dissension was building in the nation of Israel.]
19 But all the leaders said to the whole congregation, “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we cannot touch them.
[Joshua and the leaders are going to stick with their decision even after they discover the deceit of the Gibeonites. They are not going to seek the Lord. Is it ever too late to confess our sin and seek God’s forgiveness? Absolutely not! And this is what Joshua should have done.]
20 This we will do to them, even let them live, so that wrath will not be upon us for the oath which we swore to them.”
21 The leaders said to them, “Let them live.” So they became hewers of wood and drawers of water for the whole congregation, just as the leaders had spoken to them.
22 Then Joshua called for them and spoke to them, saying, “Why have you deceived us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you are living within our land?
[Joshua asks the deceivers rather than God for an explanation unlike the way he sought God after the defeat at Ai.]
23 “Now therefore, you are cursed, and you shall never cease being slaves, both hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.”
[Joshua assumes that there is no other solution.]
24 So they answered Joshua and said, “Because it was certainly told your servants 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 before you; therefore we feared greatly for our lives because of you, and have done this thing.
25 Now behold, we are in your hands; do as it seems good and right in your sight to do to us.”
26 Thus he did to them, and delivered them from the hands of the sons of Israel, and they did not kill them.
[Joshua shows favor to the Gibeonites by allowing them to live.]
27 But Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the place which He would choose. (Joshua 9:16-27)
Joshua turns the Gibeonites into slaves rather than destroying them as God commanded.
This is a powerful lesson. Joshua failed to discern the truth from the lies of the Gibeonites. He errors by not asking for God the only source of true understanding and discernment. The reason he was taken in is that he did not seek the counsel of the Lord.
Joshua failed to meet all three parts of God’s command. First, he did not destroy the Gibeonites, part of the Hivite nation. Second, he made a covenant with them. And third, he showed them favor by letting them live. All because he failed to consult the Lord. The consequence of this one sin which was allowed to stand continued and grew as the Israelite nation faced ever-increasing difficulties as they attempted to settle the land given to them by God.
Let’s not look on Joshua with a lot of dissatisfaction, for we are equally prone to forget the true Source of our discernment. We must have as our goal to do better. Let us strive to seek the Lord for all matters. For it is only by His word that we will accurately discern between evil and good. When we understand the Bible’s truth, we will know the difference between evil and good. We will know the truth (have understanding), and we will be made free.