Text: Joshua 9
Proposition: The mercy option sees the desperate nature of our situation and hopes for life in the face of death.
Introduction: There’s an account before us today of deceit and desperation yet what impels it along is this hope for mercy. It’s a ‘mercy at all costs’ kind of approach that really sees mercy as their last possible hope. In the previous chapter 800,000 people of Israel had declared out loud the words of blessing and curses at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. As we begin chapter 9 what has become evident to all the nations in Canaan is that there is a great upheaval coming, an irresistible power, not just militarily but also spiritually that was soon going to overtake them and it’s intentions were not to assimilate them but to destroy them.
In the accounts in Joshua we are confronted with the difficult picture of the death of entire people groups in cities like Jericho and Ai. The destruction was absolute, no prisoners. What rocks us is that this was done at the command of God and we wrestle with what this implies about God. In Deut. 7, some 40 years earlier, God tells Israel that it will defeat 7 nations stronger than they and they are to utterly destroy them. The reason given is so that there would be no opportunity for intermarriage, “For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods; so the anger of the LORD will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.” In other words God knew the distracted heart of man and for Israel’s own survival both physically and spiritually, this is what must be done.
From the time of the Flood of Noah, about 2400 B.C., to the time the time of the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, about 1400 B.C., man had gone from an absolute knowledge of the God Who is and Who had unmistakably rescued them (Noah, Shem, Ham, Japheth and their wives) to a full blown case of ignorance and rebellion against God, especially in the nations of Canaan. These people had come to a place of believing that their only need of God was a good luck charm, something that could be manipulated to get them what they wanted. The truth of Who God is had been exchanged for idols made of wood and stone, for rituals that were soaked in sexuality and depravity. So the conquest of Canaan was God’s means of introducing truth back into the world, a world that was without excuse. Romans 1:20, 21 put it like this, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Into this background of divine justice against sin comes the mercy option. Turn to Joshua 9 with me.
I. The Reaction To Judgment is To Either Fight It or To Appeal For Mercy.
From the coastal regions to the north and south the reaction to Israel was to fight against it. Though the Canaanites had often had disputes amongst themselves a coalition was seen as the only effective strategy. So in the first verse we see this coalition being put together. Strangely enough, the Gibeonites were the only ones who took a different approach. It was a crazy strategy that hoped to use a deception in order to get close enough to strike a peace treaty. The radical nature of what they were going to do was to put all their hope in the integrity of Israel. They knew that within a few days they would be found out, their lie exposed but their hope was that Israel’s word was connected to the name of Israel’s God. They hoped that if Israel made peace with them the name of the Lord would be what sealed that promise of peace. Strange to say but Gibeon was putting their hope in faith even though they didn’t have faith themselves. It was really an all or nothing strategy, if it worked they would be saved, if it didn’t they had no hope of survival at all.
A hope in faith even though they didn’t have faith themselves, I think that’s how God still draws people to Himself today, don’t you? They see the hope that faith creates in peoples lives, they see the transformation that God does through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. They see a way past death that everyone else either denies or fights against. There is a coalition of godlessness in our world today and it has even created its own synthesized spirituality and the words of Romans 1:20, 21 ring out against it. The reaction to the absolute judgment of God and especially to the name of Jesus Christ as the only means of forgiveness are a rock of offense, a stumbling stone, even more in this day.
There are those who choose to outright resist God and then there are those who come towards faith while yet having no faith themselves. It seems these two responses are like what Jesus talked about when He said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The rest of this chapter is devoted to those ‘narrow gate’ Gibeonites.
II. The Mercy Option sees Ruin, Seeks Peace and Secures Hope.
When you read this account two things catch your attention: the detailed deception of the Gibeonites and the distracted diligence of the Israelites. The Israelites should have checked these people out more, should have consulted God as to what to do. But in the end they are a lot like us, we make the judgment call based on the moment, on what we can see. On the other hand the deception of the Gibeonites was a work of art: moldy food, worn clothing, weathered wineskins, worn out sandals, just enough words to make things believable. What makes their deception bizarre is that they know it won’t last more than a day or two, after all their city is just 30 kilometers away and right in the path of conquest. So typically you’d think that any deal struck with deceptive devices would be void once it’s exposed. Yet they place all their hope in the integrity of Israel that the treaty will be honored. More to the point they place faith, a life and death faith, in the God that Israel worshipped. You have to wonder, if any nation came to Israel and appealed for mercy and sought peace and was willing to turn from idolatry to Jehovah God, would they have been spared? I think so, I think God would have directed Israel to spare them because the whole issue was not just the acquisition of land, it was the removal of idolatrous influence. What saved Gibeon was they agreed with the fact that they were dead men, they knew the mercy option was all that was left.
Do you think it’s any different today, we are all dead men in our trespasses and sins. There is no way past the absolute judgment of God against sin, there is only a way through it in the person of Jesus Christ. When Joshua discovers the truth of who they are he calls them before him and asks, “Why have you deceived us…”. Though the answer we expect might seem obvious the answer the Gibeonites give is much more profound. Look at what they say in verse 24, “Because your servants were clearly told that the LORD your God commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you…”. It was the Lord your God they had been clearly told about, it was the Lord their God who was giving this land and who was removing all the other nations. Strangely enough you might say that these Gibeonites had a fear of the Lord that was for them the beginning of knowledge. Gibeons faith begins with a fear of the Lord. God does love us very much, He sent His Son to die for us but the fear of the Lord is still the beginning of wisdom, a wisdom that says God will judge all the world, God will count sin as a barrier and God knows all mankind has a sin problem. There are only two options, resist God and experience His judgment against your sin for all eternity or … the mercy option. Agree with Him about your sin, seek peace with God through Jesus Christ. Know the forgiveness of your sin and the secured relationship that we have in Christ’s death on the cross for our sin. That’s the mercy option. Have a look at the epilogue…
The Gibeonites are spared and Joshua makes them slaves which they willingly agree to, which makes them bond slaves. They are bond slaves who see the truth that they have been saved because of mercy and they bind themselves to this truth. The main role they are given is be wood cutters and water haulers for the house of the Lord, meaning the Temple. They would be next to the priests as they performed the daily sacrifices, they would see blood, shed for the covering over of sin, they would hear about forgiveness and they would know the holiness of the Lord God Almighty. The mercy option took a people who were enemies of God and by agreeing with God, by moving towards faith, by being instructed in faith they came close and served God and were saved.