By the time you get to chapter nine of Joshua, you are pretty convinced that Israel will indeed crush all of her enemies and claim all of the land that God promised her. Besides Achan’s gaff and the subsequent embarrassment at Ai, Israel had become an unstoppable force, not because of her military strength or her endless wealth, but because of her mighty God. He would indeed establish Israel in the land, and the neighboring peoples would tremble before him.
You could imagine, then, the Gibeonites’ fear when they noticed that the Israelites were heading in their direction. They weren’t stupid; they knew that if nothing changed, they too would be added to the long list of conquered peoples. They had to think fast of a way to save themselves. They decided that they would pretend that they were from a far village. If they could convince Israel that they were not a neighboring town, they could strike a deal with Israel that would prevent them from destruction. So they went to work. They found the moldiest bread and the most worn sacks wineskins and clothes to give the impression that they were from a distant land. Surely this would save their lives!
The Israelite leaders took the bait easily. They bought the sob-story: “Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly.” They made a covenant and swore a vow that they would not destroy the Gibeonites. The Gibeonite plan worked!
A few days later, however, the truth came out. The Israelites were ready to attack their land, but they could not, because the leaders had vowed not to kill them. Because of their deception, Joshua and the leaders could not kill them; but as a punishment, they were made woodcutters and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar.
This story, though slightly obscure, is very important for us today. We are not in the business of wiping out peoples and lands (see my article in the “Papers” section on Joshua and Genocide), nor are we in the business of claiming promised land. The business has changed, but so much is still the same.
We have been given a mission from the Lord to make his name known among all peoples. We do this through the ministry of the Gospel in the life of the Church. But we may not accomplish that goal because we actually buy the lie of moldy bread. Let me explain.
Like the Gibeonites, there are groups who attempt to gain some type of alliance with the Church, not because they actually embrace the message and vision of the Church, but because they envision the Church as being a vital partner in their own purposes. The Church could listen to all that these groups say and decide that the interests are mutual. But the Church could make the same mistake that Israel made: “The men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD” (v.15). And because the Church does not seek wise counsel from the Lord who sees all, she does not see that these groups may actually be detrimental to her accomplishing all of God’s purposes for her.
There are two examples that come to mind: celebrity and politics. We have a problem when we think that if we could just get the popular name, the Gospel would spread to the ends of the earth. So we hear someone famous say that they came to Christ (i.e. “I got my life straight”), and we whisk them off to star in the latest Christian movie, or to record the latest Christian CD, or to the latest Christian conference. We don’t think about discipleship or even any types of signs that they have been truly converted. So when they show that they really aren’t regenerate, the Church suffers. We aren’t discerning.
In politics, the Church has frequently made the mistake of campaigning for a candidate or a party as if the Messiah is seriously running for office. Because politicians know how gullible we can be, they throw around terms like “moral”, “hope”, “faith”, “spirit” and “values”. They know that they can get our vote if they sound religious enough. Unfortunately, when they get into office, their true politician colors show. The sad news is that when their policies go against Scripture, the Church then speaks hard against them, but no one takes the Church that seriously because they should have been more discerning at the beginning.
We must seek much wisdom and discernment with our alliances and partnerships. We do not want anything to keep us from accomplishing God’s Gospel purposes. Let us pray that God will give us wisdom especially in this election year. We want to support the person who will best lead our nation and support the cause of the Gospel. But we must use caution– we don’t want to hinder the work of the Gospel because of a worn-out sack of moldy bread.