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The Gibeonite Deception


“Then the men of Israel took some of their [the Gibeonites’] provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the Lord.” (Joshua 9:14)

After forty years of wilderness wanderings, the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land to conquer and possess it. Cities fell, kings fled, nations trembled—not because of Israel’s power or military prowess, but because of Israel’s God. As Joshua explained, “The Lord your God is He who has fought for you.” (Joshua 23:3)

Yet, amid the swell of victories, a single event occurred which impacted the Israelites for the next four centuries. This event was the so-called Gibeonite Deception.

Gibeon was a prominent city located six miles northwest of Jerusalem. Of Amorite and Hivite descent, the Gibeonites fell under the condemnation of Deuteronomy 7: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out 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 mightier than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You
shall make
no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.” (verses 1-2)

Yet, the Israelites did make a covenant with the Gibeonites; not knowingly, but carelessly. Posing as ambassadors from a distant land, the Gibeonites sought a peace treaty with Israel. To lend credibility to their ploy, the Gibeonites wore tattered clothes and old sandals, and carried patched wineskins and moldy bread—evidence, they claimed, of a long journey. And while the Israelites were at first wary, they were fooled by the story and agreed to a peace treaty.

Three days later, when the Israelites discovered the Gibeonite Deception, nothing could be done to right this wrong. The Israelites had made a covenant in the name of the Lord their God, and therefore could not annul the covenant without dishonoring God.

As a result of this covenant, the Israelites were forced to protect the Gibeonites from five Amorite armies (Joshua 10); and centuries later, under King David, to kill seven sons of King Saul as retribution for Saul’s bloody persecution of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21).

Sadly, the Israelites could have avoided these tragic consequences had they only sought God’s counsel. Yet we read in Joshua 9:14, “Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions [to seal the peace treaty]; but they did not ask counsel of the Lord.”

Why did Joshua and the Israelite leaders fail to seek God’s counsel in this matter? Did they forget? Did they think the matter too trivial? Whatever the reasons—good intentions or bad choices—the outcome was the same: troublesome, unforeseen consequences.

Have there not been times when we, too, have experienced troublesome, unforeseen consequences because we failed to ask God for His counsel? “God, is this the right lifestyle, friendship, relationship, investment, career? God, is this the right church to join; the right basis for fellowship; the right time and place to launch a ministry?” On our own, we cannot always see through deception. In fact, because of our sinful nature, we have an enormous capacity to deceive ourselves.

How do we seek God’s advice? Through prayer, of course; but also by turning to the clear instruction of the Bible. For good reason Paul told the Ephesians to find “out what is acceptable to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10).

When making decisions or undertaking endeavors, may we heed the words of the hymnist:

“With the Lord begin thy task. 

  Jesus will direct it. 

 For His aid and counsel ask. 

  Jesus will perfect it.” (LH 540:1)

Mark Weis is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Cape Coral, Florida.