Message: Playing Savior | Scripture: Joshua 9:1-15 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery; Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor; In Christ Alone; Give Me Jesus.
What I’ve come to notice over the past couple of years is that humanity has an overwhelming saviour complex, and in particular, they want saviors to do incredible things while simultaneously looking, acting, and feeling exactly the same ways that we do. Don’t believe me? Just listen to some of the top grossing movies of all time: Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Avengers, Frozen II, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Panther, Thor Ragnarok, etc. And what these movies are often doing is feeding us with the lie that salvation comes from within—from us. Right? There’s a reason why all of these “superheroes” look like superpowered us’s.
I remember friends of mine in Kentucky, on July 4th, they’d get all pumped up to watch these movies about ex-military, U.S. secret-service type men going into other nations and saving a bunch of people. And I recall my friend, as he was preparing to watch one, saying, “Sometimes I just watch these movies to remind myself how great it is to be American.” And I had to remind him that it’s fiction, but I also acknowledged the underlying reality: it feels really good when we’re told that we or someone like us is able to play the saviour—when we’re fed the premise that the world should fall at our feet because they want what we have, and we can give them something better than what they know.
In our text this morning, we read about a people who want to play saviour and are fed the premise that they can. Israel has won a few battles. They see that their way is better. They want to be acknowledged by others and have them grovel at their feet. And when the grovelers come, Israel eats it up. Finally, they get to decide who they let in, and who gets to benefit from their divine favour as if it’s something they’ve earned the right to do. But really, all that happens when we buy into the lies of the world is that we’re shown to be utterly foolish, soberingly witless, and exceedingly vulnerable to be taken advantage of.
And this helps us set the context for our proposition this morning, which says, don’t be deceived by the cunning of the world, rather seek wisdom from above—seek the wisdom of God. Our danger, especially as Christians who think we know it all, is looking wise in our own eyes, while the world thinks of us as silly, easily manipulated people. In fact, the Bible tells us that no matter what we do, we will always look foolish to the world, but there’s a stark difference between those who look silly because they are pursuing the wisdom of God and those who look silly because they believe the lie that they are God.
I hope it goes without saying that we’re supposed to be the former and not the latter. The world tries to trick us into thinking that we can be saviours, but by buying into that we play directly into the world’s hands when it inevitably proves to us that we cannot and have not saved anyone, least of all, ourselves. Christian, if we’re going to pursue anything, let’s pursue something other than what the world tells us to. Let’s seek out wisdom from above, which not only uncovers the cunning of the world, but saves and vindicates us from our own witlessness and foolishness. Let’s seek after the God who is supremely wiser than we are, and who alone counts us as his own. As I’ve done before with long passages, I’ll be reading the applicable verses as we come to them in our outline. So, let’s look, now, at our 1st point:
1) Be Watchful of Worldly Obnoxiousness
Read Joshua 9:1-2 with me. TWoL: As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.
The function of our first two verses is to do two things. The first is to point us forward to the three events that take place in chapters 9, 10, and 11. Each of these chapters begin with the Hebrew phrase, “And it was, when ‘so-and-so’ heard . . .” (Canaan, Jerusalem, Hazor). And the point is to tie together the last three sections of the conquest of Canaan, after which, in chapter 12, we get a summary of everything that’s transpired upon the land in order for Israel to occupy it, and then from chapters 13-22, the land is distributed according to tribe and clan, leading, finally, to chapters 23 and 24 where the covenant between God and Israel is reinstituted.
The second function of our first two verses is to link us back to Joshua 2:8 and 5:1, where we’re told both by Rahab and the author of Joshua that all of Canaan, including its kings, had lost heart over the looming prospect of Israel coming into their land. And by linking us back to these verses, we’re given a direct comparison and contrast to the attitudes of the people and kings of Canaan now, and how their spirits have changed since Israel’s crossing over the Jordan. See, in chapter 5, the kings of Canaan are deathly afraid, but here in chapter 11, it seems, all of a sudden, they have resolve, they go on the offensive, which stands in stark contrast with the military strategies of Jericho and Ai who held strong defensive postures.
What’s changed? What’s changed is that Ai has beaten Israel once, so the kings have heard that Israel can bleed. Not only do they know Israel can bleed, but they know about Ai—a tiny city that should have been beaten the first time by 3,000 Israelites. If Ai could do what they did, then who’s to say, if all the kings band together, that they can’t achieve even more?
In other words, what we see here is a foreshadowing of everything that’s about to come in Joshua 9:3-15. It’s setting the stage to show us what happens to the people of God when they act not as the people of God but as the people of the world. These kings live by sight and not by faith—they live by the world’s wisdom and not by the wisdom that comes from above. And in the coming chapters, we’ll see what happens when rash, obnoxious decisions are made based solely upon human wisdom and human perception. What they see and what they hear drives them to think that Israel can be defeated, but what they’re actually doing by banding together is simply making it easier for Israel to take what God intends to give them, and there’s a clear warning for us here not to be like this!
This is exactly the reality that we see in the word, is it not? The world thinks that if they simply use enough human intuition and ingenuity, there’s nothing that it cannot do. This is, in fact, what we hear and learn in all of these superhero and supernatural movies these days—it’s a therapeutic message telling us over-and-over again that if you just put your mind to it, you can achieve it. It’s a lie fabricated to encourage us to pursue our fleshly desires, to ignore any notion of something greater than ourselves, and create a sense of entitlement that screams, “we are the masters of our own lives.”
But what do we actually see when humans rely on their sin-infested and curse-ridden intuition and ingenuity? What happens when we seek to master our own fates? All we see is greater suffering, greater sorrow, and greater despair. Why? Because God is not a part of the world’s equation. And when God is absent from our considerations, as he is from the Canaanite kings’ coalition, all that awaits us, sooner or later, is destruction. And that ought to petrify us, especially if our relationship with God is strained, or worse yet, if our relationship with God doesn’t really exist.
He does not give help to those whom he does not know—those who obnoxiously resist and reject his way, his desires, and his commands. He leaves them to the fate that they conjure for themselves, and we are to observe their obnoxiousness as they fall into despair not only to avoid their mistakes, but so that we might point them back to God. And let’s be very clear it’s to point them back to God and not anyone or anything else. It’s not to bring an emphasis to ourselves. He, alone, preserves and blesses us in his wisdom. He, alone, is mighty to save. Do not be deceived by the cunning of the world, rather seek the wisdom that’s from above—seek out the wisdom of God.
2) Be Different from Worldly Self-Interest
Read Joshua 9:3-13 with me. TWoL: But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4 they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5 with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. 6 And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” 7 But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” 8 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.”
Verse 3 starts off the main section of our chapter by telling us that it’s a concession to what verses 1-2 tell us. Despite the kings gathering together, plotting an attempt to overthrow the hopes and plans of God and his people, there’s this specific group of Canaanites from Gibeon, just a little south of where Bethel and Ai would have been, and they understand something about the situation that their neighbours do not.
See, while the kings are thinking that the best strategy for their survival is to band together and fight Israel head-on, aggressor against aggressor, Gibeon sees what’s happening within Israel. A nation that thinks they need to be afraid doesn’t just march miraculously onto land where they previously owned nothing. There’s something different about these people, and Gibeon can see from what happened with Jericho and Ai that this nation doesn’t only have momentum in their conquest, but there is something else. Where the kings of Canaan are rallying together out of fear for what Israel will do to them, Israel seems content to do this by themselves, under the direction and protection of their God, wait things out at Gilgal, and move whenever it seems right for them to move. It doesn’t seem like they’re in a hurry, nor does it seem like they’re the least bit panicked.
Knowing these things—knowing the frantic situation of the Canaanite kings and the overwhelming sense of calm within Israel—Gibeon acts, as the author of Joshua tells us, with cunning. This word “cunning” is particularly effective because it’s a weighty word. Synonyms for this word include ingenuity, prudence, skillfulness, and deceitfulness, and I think all of these words are applicable to Gibeon here because what they do isn’t try and beat Israel tactically—something’s giving off the vibe that they can’t do that. Instead, with cunning, they’re going to pander to Israel’s ego. Their strategy is to use Israel’s calmness and confidence against them—to play them, in a sense, as the fool.
And I want us to really understand the weight of this ingenious plan because who do they dress themselves like as they approach Israel? Who do they resemble as they approach the people of God? They look exactly like the people of God do, or at least what they looked like coming out of the wilderness. The description we’re given of them is that they’re wearing worn-out sacks, putting on shoes and clothes with holes in them—it’s a look that Israel knows all too well and that they’re drawn to in deep empathy.
To add fuel to the fire, look how they describe their food—this is our bread, it was warm when we left, but now it’s terrible to eat. These wineskins were new, full of wine, but they can hardly even keep water in them now. If I were an Israelite, you know what I’d be thinking? I’d be thinking these people need some manna, and we can give it to them. These are fellow travellers that are kindred spirits to us. We understand how they feel, and we can give them what they need.
But what really puts it over the top isn’t their clothing, and it isn’t their food, it’s what they say. The words that these Gibeonites use are absolutely perfect. Notice with me that when asked for details about themselves, they don’t go in depth. They don’t give Joshua or Israel any chance to dig deeper—keep the conversation emotional—keep it in a place where these people think we belong with them. So, when they introduce themselves, what do they say? They say, “We’re from a distant country”—non-descript and no possibility of Joshua or any other Israelite saying, “oh, we’ve been there, have you met so-and-so, or have you seen this mountain range or that waterbed?”
And before another word is said, they utter the magic words, “make a covenant with us.” This is a buzzphrase for Israel—the exact phrase is “cut with us a covenant.” Saying it this way refers to a specific covenant structure between a servant and his intended master. In this type of relationship, the servant obligates himself to complete obedience under the master, while trusting that the master, in his benevolence, will provide the vassal with protection, nourishment, and shelter. But to Israel, these words are more than an initiating offer to make a servant-master treaty—these words are the words used by God himself with the patriarchs and with Moses when he covenanted with Israel at Sinai. The genius isn’t just that they look like them. It isn’t just that they ate like them. It’s that they use the same language as them—it’s like they know the same God as them.
Now, Israel isn’t completely dense, and they’re smart enough to ask follow-up questions, “What if this is too good to be true? Do you live among us? Are you actually from Canaan, because if you are, we can’t make a covenant with you.” See, these questions aren’t necessarily because Israel suspects these people are from Canaan but because they’ve been instructed back in Exodus 23, 34, and Deuteronomy 7 that they are not to make any covenant with the inhabitants of Canaan. They know the rules, but Gibeon increases their genius by avoiding the game and playing the man. They play to Israel’s affections. They play their egos. Instead of digging a deeper lie than they have to, they don’t go and make up more information about themselves.
Instead, they do two additional things. The first is that they utter the next buzzphrase. They say, “we’re your servants. We’ve come to obligate ourselves to you—we’re here to obey you. We’re here to submit ourselves to you.” Then, since the men of Israel are getting nowhere, Joshua steps in, hanging onto his last semblance of rationality, he asks one more time, “where are you from?” And this is the second additional genius thing that Gibeon does. They say, “we’re from far away, but that’s not important, let us rehash with you all the facts that we know about you and all the struggles and adversity that you’ve been through to get here. Then let us tell you about how that story of you made us want to come to you, to give you our stuff, and to swear to you our fealty.” And at the height of their speech, they say the magical words once again, “We are your servants. COME, COVENANT WITH US!”
In other words, Gibeon is saying to Israel, “we see how great you are—you are great—you are to be feared—you are the right owners of this land—you are the true children of the God of the universe—none can compare with you, and we just want to be a part of it—any part of it!” And to Israel’s ears, this is sweet music because it’s what they’ve always wanted to hear. And for a moment, they’re lured into the thought that perhaps this is the start of their birthright. Perhaps, this is what God was talking about when he said that they would be an example and light to the nations. Maybe the nations were meant to come to them, serve them, and acknowledge their greatness.
My grandpa was the first magician I’d ever met, and he was a good one. On days where he’d pick us up from school to babysit us for a couple of hours, he’d bring us to the mall and sit us in the middle of the food court. And I remember as soon as he sat us down, we’d look at him, and say, “please, do the thumb thing!” Now, any good magician knows that you don’t only need a good trick to be successful, you also need to be great at diversion and distraction. So, when we’d ask him to do the thumb thing, he’d put on this face of terror, and he’d ask, “why do you want me to do that?! It hurts so much!” And he’d repeat this sort of pleading and pretending multiple times until we couldn’t take it anymore. Then, at the height of our begging, he’d give us more than we bargained for. There in the middle of the mall, he’d show us his thumb, wrap his two fingers around it, and pull it right off its base, but while he did that, he’d yell in pain and terror—there in the middle of the mall—to our absolute amazement.
Now, the really incredible part of the trick wasn’t the levitating thumb nor the screaming. It was the fact that my grandpa was able to get us to ask him to do this over and over again while using up an hour, if not more, of our time without changing tactics and thereby successfully endear his grandchildren to himself forever while also fulfilling his babysitting duties without having to spend a single dollar. Greatest magician that I’ve ever known.
The Gibeonites must have been the greatest magicians that Joshua and Israel had ever known because, despite being in a foreign land, and despite having great reason to be suspicious, the Gibeonites were able to distract and divert any attention that was on themselves, while simultaneously getting Israel to pay attention only to itself and the things that it wanted. And in their trickery, Israel thinks it gets what it wants, but in reality, Gibeon wins this battle. They find their way into Israel, and it costs them absolutely nothing.
Now, there’s something to be commended about Gibeon in this, but that’s more of a discussion for next week. This week, what I want to emphasize is how this is the tactic of the world—to make you self-obsessed and self-interested to the point where you don’t even notice that you’re serving interests other than your own. This worldly tactic—this worldly cunning strips you of the ability to think and consider reasonably, and before you know it, this magic has weaseled itself into your midst in such a way where you become unable to rid yourself of the thought that you want more of it—that you deserve it. And for Israel, they not only think they deserve it, they think they’re doing Gibeon a favour—they think they’re acting as its saviour. This is what happens when you let the world distract you from God. They get you to think that you are God.
And the author of Joshua, in telling us this story with such details, is commanding us to check where our affections are placed. Is our reward found in what the world offers us—do we find our satisfaction in the opinions of created things, or do we find them in God and his pleasure in us? Because the world is out to trick us, but God does not distract or divert.
Instead, what he offers us is himself, and with him the terms are simple: trust in him and you will be saved. Repent of your sin, and you will receive righteousness. No tricks, no gimmicks, and all joy. We’re to be different from worldly self-interest because we know that there is no final satisfaction in ourselves, or in our own praise—there’s only satisfaction in the one who is already satisfied in himself, requires nothing, and, in his wisdom, offers us everything. We are to be different from the world by seeking wisdom from above because we cannot out conjure the magic and charm of the world, which panders to our sinfulness and our self-interest. Don’t permit the lies of the world to distract you away from your confidence in the Lord. Don’t let it fool you into being the fool. Seek after the wisdom of God as your reward because he satisfies you in ways the world cannot.
3) Be Cautious of Worldly Glory
Look at these last two verses, 14-15, with me. TWoL: So, the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. 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.
What happens to Israel when the Gibeonites come offering something Israel’s always wanted? Do they resist? Not a chance. More importantly, is their first inclination to go to the Lord? Absolutely not. Why because the glory offered by the world is enticing, it makes us feel good about ourselves, and at our core, what we desire is to be delighted, to find happiness, to be loved. And these are good things.
But the author of Joshua is quick to bring the main point of these verses to our attention and condemn the source from which Joshua and Israel seek out their contentment. By saying that Israel “did not ask counsel from the Lord,” the author tells us that, when left to ourselves—when we distance ourselves from a God who desires to be with us, and provide us with his direct and imminent presence—we make all the wrong choices. We tend to the foolish and not to the wise.
This is, in fact, something we’ve seen before: “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘you will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of [the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
When we do not seek our wisdom and satisfaction in our God, we take desires that are good—God-given desires, and we pollute and pervert them by seeking to satisfy them in things other than God—with ourselves. We make peace and play saviour with things that do not bring us peace and that we cannot save. We covenant ourselves to objects that are unable to fulfill their end of the bargain, and we are forced to become imperfect arbiters of justice when things go wrong.
But the good news is this, that although we have already been deceived time-and-again by the cunning of the world, and although we have forsaken time-and-again our obligation to seek wisdom from above, that wisdom has come to us and has been offered to us without deception, distraction, or diversion. It comes to us as the perfect arbiter of justice, but instead of laying upon us the just penalty that was our due, he says, “I’ll take it upon myself.”
And in his words, there is no cunning for he truly came from a distant place. He truly did put on garments of our flesh. He traveled a far distance, and in his traveling his garments became tattered through the affliction that we imposed upon him. His sandals became worn out by bearing our cross upon his shoulders up Calvary hill. His body was broken so that we might remember him when we eat bread. His blood was poured out upon that cross as wine burst forth from old wine skins. And why does he do this for us? It’s not so that he might indulge in our worldliness, but so that we might reflect his set-apartness—his holiness.
And in his dying upon a tree for our curse and our slavery to the lies of the world, he says to us without motive and without false testimony, “I am your servant. Come now, make a covenant with me.” And with his last breath, he pays the price for that covenant. And in his resurrection, he ensures that that covenant shall remain forever—that no matter what we’ve done, no matter what we’ve pursued for our own glory, no matter how much we’ve given in, willingly, to the lies of the world—we are now the eternal people of God, and there is nothing that anybody can do about it. None can sever this bond. None can frustrate its purpose because Christ assures it in his own person as the revelation of wisdom that is from above—wisdom that overcomes the obnoxiousness of sinners, wisdom that is more interesting than our self-interest, and wisdom that far outshines and exceeds any of the false glory that comes from the world—and through the cross, he gives himself to us finally and eternally. This is the glory of heaven. This is a glory worth pursuing. Don’t be deceived by the cunning of the world, rather seek wisdom from above—seek the Wisdom that has come from above to save you from the world.