The Israelites were advancing and claiming promised territory under the command of their new leader, Joshua. They had conquered Jericho and defeated the people of Ai; now, kings of other cities were in their crosshairs. Many of these kings formed an alliance to fight against Israel, but one group of people had a very different idea.
Joshua was encamped at Gilgal when a group of “ambassadors” arrived, claiming to be from a country “far away,” with an offer of servitude should their people be spared. Their story seemed believable, for their clothes and sandals were threadbare and their provisions looked weeks old. But their story was a sham – the people were Gibeonites who lived only a few days’ journey away (9:17). But rather hastily, “Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them” (9:15 ESV).
Take it to the Lord in Prayer
God’s command was clear: “Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst” (Exo 34:12 ESV). Interestingly, when the Gibeonites were later confronted about their deceptive actions, they admitted that they were aware of God’s command to Israel to destroy them (see 9:24), thus the reason for claiming to be from a land “far away” (i.e., outside the territory promised to Israel).
Perhaps there was uncertainty and lack of peace about what decision should be made regarding these “ambassadors.” But the text says Israel’s leaders “asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord” (9:14 KJV). If only they had brought the matter to the Lord, surely they would have received the necessary guidance.
Often, we face uncertainty and lack peace regarding decisions we must make. No clear “word from the Lord” has been given. What should we do in these situations? Wait. If the leaders of Israel had waited only three more days, they would have discovered the truth (9:16). Waiting is one of the hardest things to do, but the hardest things to do are often the best things. We should be confident that, having the Word of God, the indwelling Spirit of God and sound advice from the people of God, He will give us the answers in His time, if we will only wait.
When We Fail Again
This was not the first failure of the Israelites since coming into Canaan. They had made a similar mistake at Ai (ch.7) and needed to learn how important it is to wait upon God, seeking His direction. They failed again. We fail again … and again. And when we fail again, the devil lies again; it is one of the things “the father of lies” does best. First, he may get us to believe the lie that we can depend on our own wisdom. And then we fail. But his lies continue. He might whisper, “Now that you’ve made this mistake, you’re finished;” or, “You failed again; that makes you a failure;” or, “How could God ever use a failure like you?” And there is no end to the many lies he may tell. Believer, please remember that people aren’t failures – events are. We all make mistakes, we all sin, and we all lose battles, but it doesn’t mean we have lost. It doesn’t mean the war is over. Look at the cross and remember that the devil has already lost. We fail again, the devil will lie again, but God can still work again. He can even do something with our mistakes. God can do far more with our obedience, but when we fail, it does not mean that God is done with us.
What God Made of Their Mistake
True to their word, the leaders of Israel did spare the Gibeonites as they entered their territory just days later (9:17-18a), much to the displeasure of the “congregation of Israel” (9:18b). But look at what God did with the Gibeonites. First, they were used in the worship of the Lord. They became wood-cutters and water-carriers for the altar and the house of God (9:23,27). Years later, David stored the Tabernacle at Gibeon (1Ch 16:39; 21:29), indicating their continued faithfulness in the work committed to them. The Gibeonites were eventually called the Nethinim (“given ones,” i.e., given to help the priests) and worked as servants in the temple (1Ch 9:2). Evidently, they had come to know and worship the God of Israel.
Second, they were used to display the power of the Lord. In the next chapter, Joshua was committed to defending the Gibeonites because of the treaty with them. What happened in Joshua 10? It was the day the sun stood still, displaying the mighty power of the Lord.
Third, they were used to show the grace of the Lord. God’s grace was evident among the Gibeonites as the years passed, and their place with the people of God is recorded repeatedly. We even find them repairing a section of the wall in Jerusalem (Neh 3:7), having joined themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord’s people. God can make something of our failures. Again, I don’t want any to misunderstand me: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid” (Rom 6:1). But I’m so thankful that our mistakes don’t tie God’s hands so that He cannot work again in some way for His glory and for our good.
Fourth, they were used as an example of faithfulness to the Lord. The Israelites could learn from the faithfulness of the Gibeonites. Even though their story begins with a lie, so did the story of another figure in the early chapters of Joshua: Rahab. These two, the Gibeonites and Rahab, had much in common, and Israel could learn from them both. They believed that God was with Israel (2:9-11; 9:24), while Israel often doubted the Lord’s presence. They also proved their loyalty to God’s people, when God’s people weren’t that loyal to Him. They were willing to separate from their own people, yet Israel often intermingled with forbidden people. Finally, neither Rahab nor the Gibeonites could be cast out because of promises made to them (2:17-20; 9:15), yet Israel often forsook the promises of God.
Our failures and brokenness are not things to be celebrated, but we can certainly learn from them and God may still use them. We are to confess our sins and failures and make the necessary adjustments so that we don’t fail the next time. But take heart in this: God is greater than any of our failures and God can work even through our biggest mistakes.