The Danger of Living by Sight

Everywhere we go we find people making claims.

  • Political candidates tell us their program is the best for the country
  • We are told that various pills will help us lose weight, regain sexual virility, or improve our memory
  • Infomercials offer us a certain program that is guaranteed to increase our income significantly
  • Friends tell us they have discovered a product that will revolutionize our life
  • Scholars claim to have unearthed “new truth” or new facts about the Bible or Jesus
  • Newscasters claim to be giving us objective facts

All around us people are trying to sell us something.  They may be selling a product, an idea, or facts about themselves.  Every day we must make decisions about what information we will believe and what information we will dismiss.

In our text this morning we read one account of what happens when we believe the wrong facts.  The Israelites had been given a clear instruction: wipe out the people of the land and offer terms of peace only to people in surrounding lands.  God’s instructions were clear: they were to exercise God’s just judgment on the people which would protect Israel from the corrosive influence of the nations around them.

The news about Israel’s army was spreading quickly.  The various cities and towns had heard about their exploits in Egypt 40 years earlier and recently had heard about the stunning defeats at Jericho and Ai.  The surrounding nations were concerned.

Joshua nine begins by telling us that the surrounding towns believed that their best chance was to unite and fight Israel together.  All the towns formed an alliance except one: Gibeon.  Apparently, Gibeon did not believe the alliance could stand against the Israelites, so they took a different approach,

3 when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. 6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.” [Joshua 9:3-6]

I don’t think the people of Gibeon had to resort to lying to save themselves.  I believe if they humbled themselves before God, He would have been merciful to them.  But that is not what the Gibeonites chose to do. They were taking a big chance in going to Israel.  They could be killed if they were discovered and by this move they were making themselves an enemy to the allied nations. This was a bold and desperate move of deception. This is where the story becomes very instructive.

OUR SENSES ARE SOMETIMES WRONG

The first thing we learn from the account of the deception of the Gibeonites is that our senses are sometimes, maybe even much of the time, wrong.  The Israelites knew that they were to be careful.  They even told the Gibeonites that they could not make a treaty with them because “they could live nearby.  How then can we make a treaty with you?”  They knew what God had commanded.  They understood His directions.

The Gibeonites responded to the reluctance of the leaders with flattery (we have heard about the greatness of your God) and then presented them evidence that they were from a distant land,

our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are your servants; make a treaty with us.” ’ 12 This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 13 And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.” [Joshua 9:11-13]

The Bible tells us that the Israelites sampled the provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.  In other words, they trusted their senses and felt they did not need to check with the Lord.  They thought it was obvious that the people were from a faraway land.

We have all heard (and probably said), “Seeing is believing”.  By and large we trust what our eyes see and our hands can touch.  But think about it, we know that sometimes our sight deceives us.  Did you ever see a magician saw someone in half? Have you ever seen that same magician “disappear” from one location only to “reappear” surprisingly in another?  The magician is able to succeed because he gets us to believe we are seeing something that really isn’t happening.

Do you ever look at optical illusions?  We conclude that one line is bigger than another only to measure the lines and find they are exactly the same size.  Have you ever looked before you pulled out into traffic only to discover that you “didn’t see” a car that was coming? Have you ever played a game where you had to reach into a box or bag and had to try to guess what was in there?  Our senses sometimes deceive us.

This is true with many of the things in life,

  • The lie we believe won’t hurt anyone
  • The innocent flirtation we believe would never lead to anything
  • The few dollars you take from the drawer that you believe will never be missed
  • The nagging cough you think is “nothing to worry about”
  • The belief that you are perfectly fine to drive after a couple of drinks
  • Your sense that the person with the smooth sales pitch would never try to take advantage of you
  • Your belief the scholar must have good evidence for saying the Bible is no longer relevant for today because afterall, he is a scholar.

We could go on and on.  The point is this: we cannot trust our senses!  Alan Redpath wrote,

Never, Never, NEVER trust your own judgment.  When common sense says that a course is right, lift your heart to God, for the path of faith and the path of blessing may be in a direction completely opposite to that which you call common sense.  When voices tell you that action is urgent, that something must be done immediately, refer everything to the tribunal of heaven.  Then, if you are still in doubt, dare to stand still.  If you are called on to act and you have no time to pray, don’t act. If you are called on to move in a certain direction and cannot wait until you have peace with God about it, don’t move.  Be strong enough and brave enough to dare to stand and wait on God, for none of them that wait on him shall ever be ashamed.  That is the only way to outmatch the devil.[1]

The only thing that is completely trustworthy, is the Word of God.  We must seek God’s counsel through a study of God’s Word and through honest and attentive prayer. However, let’s face it, when we face various decisions, most of us have no idea where to look for guidance in the Bible and we don’t feel that we have the time.

The only answer to this real problem is to become regular students of the Word of God.  We need to know what God says BEFORE we are faced with these deceptive voices.  We must study the Bible daily, worship in a Bible teaching church, take advantage of educational opportunities and pray for God to teach us.

INTEGRITY MEANS LIVING WITH CONSEQUENCES OF OUR DECISIONS

The Israelites made a bad decision.  They entered into a treaty or a contract with the Gibeonites.  Israel took an oath that they would let the people live.

Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them. 17 So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim. 18 But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. [Joshua 9:16-18]

We’re not sure how the Israelites found out that they had been duped.  Dr. Boice observes: “it took them three days to discover their mistake, but they had to live with it for a lifetime.”  This is why we must be on guard.  One lapse of judgment and we may face consequences for a lifetime. 

Note what Israel does next.  First, notice what they don’t do.  They could have become angry at the deception, claimed that the contract was entered into under false pretense, and then wiped out the Gibeonites.  Frankly, we would have understood such a decision.  However, if they had done this they would have faced God’s judgment.  In 2 Samuel 21 Israel endured a three year famine because Saul put to death some of the Gibeonites in his zeal to honor the Lord.

Instead Joshua and the leaders of Israel they did not compound their mistake by making another one.  That’s a pretty good principle: When you make a terrible mistake, don’t compound it by doing something else that is wrong.  Israel had made a promise to God and integrity demanded that they live with the consequences of their decision.  Psalm 15 tells us that the righteous man is the one who “keeps his oath even though it hurts”. 

Imagine how much better our world would be if people had this kind of character and integrity.  Today we need everything in writing (and even then some people try to get out of the contract).  People will promise you one thing before your face and then go off and do something entirely different.  They lie on legal documents, they lie in court, they lie to their insurance company, and they even lie about commitments in church!  The most sobering part is that they don’t even seem to be troubled by this lack of character.

The real test of integrity is seen in how we respond to decisions we wish we could change.

  • A marriage that hasn’t turned out like you imagined
  • A business deal that is going to result in losing money
  • A sports play that didn’t turn out the way you thought it would
  • A promise to serve in some capacity that will conflict with something that is more “attractive” to you.
  • Agreeing to go out on a date with someone and then getting a “better offer”
  • Agreeing to a sale of an item or product and being offered more money by someone else before the sale takes place.
  • Co-signing on a loan the other person defaults on

How we respond in these situations shows the kind of people we really are.  Too many people live by the rule of the Gibeonites: “do whatever you have to do to survive.”  God calls us to a different standard.  As followers of Jesus Christ our task is not to do what is expedient, but to do what is right.  They are not the same thing! 

Jesus said we are to “let our yes be yes and our no be no”.  In other words, we are to be people of our word.  If we agree to do something, we should do it!  If we agree to provide something we should provide it.  If we agree to be some place we should be there.  As followers of Jesus it doesn’t matter what other people are doing.  It doesn’t matter what we can “get away with”.  In God’s eyes, every promise we make, every contract we enter into, has God as one of the witnesses.  When we don’t do as we say . . . we have lied to God.  He is the God of truth and expects us to be people of the truth rather than people of the lie.

GOD CAN BRING GOOD EVEN FROM BAD DECISIONS

In the book of Romans Paul makes the bold statement: “God works all things for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  Paul doesn’t say that all things ARE good, just that God is able use even difficult and horrible things to bring about the growth of His people. The leaders of Israel were wrong to make a covenant with the Gibeonites.  God took the bad decision and brought good from it.

The Gibeonites were made the servants to the Jews.  Francis Schaffer writes,

The Gibeonites, remained close to the altar of God. Though they were only hewers of wood and drawers of water, their activity was on behalf of worship of the living God, and it led gradually to a place of religious privilege. When the land was divided, Gibeon was one of the cities given to the line of Aaron. It became a special place where God was known. Approximately 400 years later, David put the tabernacle in that city. This meant that the altar and the priest were in Gibeon as well. At least one of David’s mighty men, those who were closest to him in battle, was a Gibeonite. At that important and solemn moment when Solomon, David’s son, ascended the throne, Solomon made burnt offerings at Gibeon. It was there he had his vision, when God spoke to him about his coming rule. Much later still, about 500 years before Christ, in the time of Zerubbabel, the genealogies of those Jews who returned from captivity under the Babylonians included a list of the Gibeonites. This is especially striking because the names of some who claimed to be Jews were not found in the registry, and they were not allowed to be a part of the Jewish nation. In the days of Nehemiah, the Gibeonites were mentioned as being among the people who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. The Gibeonites had come in among the people of God, and hundreds of years later they were still there.[2]

If we will live with integrity, if we remain faithful even after something bad has happened, God will take our bad situation and use it somehow for our good.

  • He might transform a bad relationship into a great relationship
  • He might wake us up to areas of our life need to be changed
  • He might draw a family together
  • He might move you in a new direction of ministry or service
  • He might use the bad situation to impact your children as they see that you keep your word even if it hurts.
  • He may use your integrity to increase your business in the long run.
  • He may use the bad situation as a doorway to share your faith with another who can’t understand why you do what you do.

CONCLUSIONS

As we look back at this situation with the Gibeonites let’s draw three applications.  First, maybe you sit here today and ask a good question: “What if all of this God Stuff is really just another sales job that is trying to control my life?”

That’s a good and appropriate question.  I answer you simply by saying, “Check it out”.  Examine the evidence for yourself.  Check to see if Jesus really was who He said He was.  Like an audience member who is allowed to play with the magicians tools, find out the truth. I recommend you get the book “The Case for Christ” and read how Lee Strobel used his investigative reporting skills from the Chicago Tribune to investigate the claims of Christ.  Read the Bible for yourself.  Check to see if it is historically accurate (it is).  Hear the testimony for yourself.  I think you will be persuaded of the truthfulness of the gospel message.  Once you’ve done that, you have to decide whether you are going to trust Jesus or not.  You will have to decide whether or not you will take God at His Word.

The second application has to do with your life right now.  Are you currently facing an integrity crisis?  Are you facing an issue that is testing you to see if you will fulfill your promise?  I would suspect that every one of us have been pricked in our conscience about some such issue of integrity today.  I challenge you to take the high ground.  I encourage you to do the right thing even if it is painful.  I encourage you to stop making excuses and dare to trust God.  Honor your commitments before the Lord.  Watch to see how God honors your faithfulness (caution: it may not be immediately).

Finally, I leave you with a word of encouragement. Let me quote the late Francis Schaeffer again.  He wrote,

If God will not tolerate the breaking of an oath made in His name, how much more will He never break His own oath and covenant made to us on the basis of the shed blood and infinite value of Jesus Christ. How secure are we who have cast ourselves upon Christ as our Savior![3]

Our God is a God of Truth and integrity.  Though the promises of men may be uncertain, the promise of God is sure.  He promises that whoever comes to Him in repentance and faith will be forgiven – no matter what they have done.  He promises that those who come to Him will never be cast away.  He promises that He will begin a good work in you and that He will carry that on to completion.  He promises that He will lead you and guide you. He promises that He will help you pick up the pieces of your life and build something beautiful. 

If you have truly put your faith in Christ you don’t have to live in fear.  God will do what He has promised to do.  These are not the promises of a slick salesman or someone trying to deceive.  They are promises from God . . . and you can bet your life on them.