Lord, you are so merciful it baffles me at times. Even in the midst of dishonesty, trickery, and cowardice, You are faithful and merciful. Your compassion is boundless. Your mercy is unrelenting. Your love is a rock of salvation that cannot be moved. You are good. You are light. And in You there is no darkness.
As I read Joshua, it would be easy to look at all the conquering and destruction and think that the God of the Universe was a terrible creature, full of hate and fury. But instead what I have been constantly reminded of is the faithfulness of God, and His incredible mercy. We see it first with Rahab of Jericho. She was a filthy, Godless, prostitute, and the spies Joshua sent to gather intelligence found protection in her house. She gave them shelter. She lied for them. And she trusted that God would show mercy to her for contributing to his people. Okay, maybe it’s easy to see the profound mercy of God through Rahab. She becomes part of the direct lineage of Jesus because she trusted God would protect her if she acted on behalf of His people, and trusted that He would spare her. Cool, right? I get it.
But what really blows my mind is God’s mercy for the spies. Rahab was a prostitute! What on earth were the spies doing with her? I doubt they were there for conversation! And God sees them, deep in the midst of unrepentant sin, distracted from the task at hand, enjoying the pleasure of the very city God had destined for destruction because of sin, and He is still faithful to deliver Jericho into the hands of Joshua and the Israelite army. Do you see that? And we find ourselves doubting God’s mercy?!
Later on with Joshua, the Gibeonite deception causes Joshua to make a terrible mistake.
They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?”9 They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’12 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. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.5 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
When the Gibeonites masqueraded as sojourners seeking after the God of Israel, Joshua accepts them with open arms. He fell for their deception immediately because it seemed like the right thing to do. But Joshua failed to ask what God wanted. He depended on his own judgement to discern the intent of the Gibeonites and he was wrong. He trusted himself over God, totally out of self-confidence and good intentions. And that self-confidence and good intention turned Joshua from the Lord to himself. Sounds a little like accidental idolatry of self to me! How many times have I done that? How many times today have I done that!? When you think about it, it’s kind of terrible.
But God is so merciful! The Gibeonites came to Joshua in fear and enslaved themselves to the Isrealites. How sad. And when Joshua discovers the deception he admonishes them and tells them they are cursed now to be slaves. In other words, if they had been honest and turned from their own wickedness and trusted in God to spare them, they would have been spared and they would have been free. But their fear enslaved them. Even though they’d enslaved themselves, God spared them from destruction.
22 Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? 23 Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” 24 They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” 26 So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. 27 But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the place that he should choose.
The Gibeonites, even in their fear and cowardice and eventual enslavement, receive mercy from God. They had to deal with the consequences of their actions by being enslaved, but they were spared. Sounds a lot like the Israelites in Egypt! What a profound mystery is the love and mercy of God and His desire to commune with us!
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish…32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:25-27, 32
God’s love for us is so profound, so merciful, so bonding, that He uses marriage as a metaphor for what He wants with his people, His bride. Intimacy and forgiveness. That is a mystery, indeed!
Both Joshua and the Gibeonites find mercy from the Lord. Even though Joshua had sinned mightily. And the Gibeonites melted in cowardice and fear when faced with the potential slaughter from God’s armies. God used it to bring potential salvation to the Gibeonites (because having been spared and enslaving themselves to the Israelites, they would be among them and see evidence of His grace by proximity.) So in cowardice from the Gibeonites, and in self-confident, careless disobedience from Joshua, God showed His mercy to both sides.
God took the mistakes that had been made, the inevitable failings of humanity and used it for good. In Joshua Chapter 10, the story of the mighty Gibeonites in submission to the Israelites became a warning and a trumpet call to the rest of the people in the land. Destruction comes to the enemies of God, but mercy comes to all who will turn to God and accept His leadership. Like Rahab, one can come to God with faith that He will rescue, or one can come to God in fear. Fear may have saved the Gibeonites from death, but it came at the cost of their own freedom. Fear brought them only temporary life and at the cost of their own freedom. Only turning to God in faith will lead to life forever in His family.
If only they had turned to God in faith instead of fear! What a valuable lesson. Faith will bring deliverance and acceptance into the body of Christ. Fear will only bring enslavement by your own hand. And can your own hand save you? Surely not. Just ask the Gibeonites.