Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, August 21, 2022

Message: One Man’s Curse is Another Man’s Glory | Scripture: Joshua 9:22-27 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

Worship Songs: I Love To Tell The Story; I Will Glory In My Redeemer; He Will Hold Me Fast; I'd Rather Have Jesus; Doxology

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I heard a story of a pastor who had served his church for many faithful years, but over time things in his life began to unravel.  He became increasingly busier, his parents got older, there were pressures from every side for him to do more, and on top of that, he was very timid about asking for help from others.  Additionally, that thing that took the most time in any pastor’s life—that of preparing sermons—remained.  Some sermons would take up to 35 hours to complete after everything was factored in, which left a lot less time for other ministerial or familial duties.

Eventually, he began to look for help from resources that he shouldn’t have been looking for.  And soon, he found a resource that provided him with not only the skeleton outlines for sermons, but these outlines included detailed illustrations, substantive exegesis, and even transition sentences to go from one point of the sermon to the next.  Really, these outlines provided the pastor with a fill-in-the-blank sort of template that reduced his need to prepare sermons from 35 hours to about 1 or 2 hours per week. 

The catch to all of this is the fact that the pastor didn’t do all of this out of laziness or a desire to free up his time to do more things that he wanted to do—he did it so that he could serve his aging parents, be with his kids, find time for his wife, develop the general ministry of the church—he had practical and well-motivated intentions.  And yet, on the day that he was confronted with his sin—when someone in his congregation approached him and asked if he was using these outlines and plagiarizing his sermons—no matter how good his intentions were for doing it, he knew that he was found out, and that this sin was still sin.  So, this pastor, knowing that his fate was no longer in his hands confessed his sin both to his family and his congregation, and he apologized to them for what he had done.  However, he ended his confession in front of his congregation not only with the acknowledgment that he had done them wrong, but he proceeded to say that he would accept whatever penalty the church might give him. 

Now, in hearing about this story, my gut reaction was that this pastor had wasted his entire ministry.  He had not only stolen the words of others and made them seem like his own, but he did this with the Word of God before his people and in his house, and it turns out, that he had been doing this for years.  So, his sin was not only grievous, but it had stained the very relationship and covenant that he had as an undershepherd of Christ to lead and feed his flock.  And there was no real remedy for that. 

Yet, what I want to do is to put it to you, my church.  What would you do in this situation?  How would you react to this news?  What would constitute proper justice?  Even more than this, would you be able to find it in your heart to show him mercy, and if you could, what would that look like?  This is the ethical stickiness that we find in our text this morning—this balancing act between justice and mercy, between curse and blessing—what is one to do in situations like this?  What will bring honour to God?  Let’s find that out now as we read our passage together from Joshua 9:22-27.  TWoL:

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?  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.”  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.  And now, behold, we are in your hand.  Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.”  So, he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them.  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.

Our proposition this morning from our passage is that as Christians, we ought to be imitators of and participants in God’s mercy, but the question I want to answer is how do we do that?  How do we become good imitators and good participants of God’s mercy, especially in ethically sticky situations?  I believe that our text answers this question incredibly well for us.  Let’s look, then, at our first point, a good imitator and participant in God’s merciful kingdom is someone who has accounted for the curse of sin.

1) Account for the Curse of Sin

To recap where we are in Joshua, Israel has finally got some steam in their conquest for the Promised Land, but in between battles, they’re approached by these Gibeonites who appear to have travelled from afar, telling Joshua and Israel that they’ve heard of all the great things they’ve done with their God, buttering them up with their words, and how they want to be covenanted to them.  But, in reality, Gibeon comes from down the road, and they’ve dressed up in such a way to deceive God’s people who take Gibeon’s words of flattery as something that is true about themselves—rather than something that’s true about God.  Israel, then, believes them without seeking the wisdom of God and proceed to make a covenant with them only to find out the truth three days later! 

So, what we saw in verses 16-21 was how Israel dealt with the issue internally—between the people and the leaders.  Obviously, this is going to make the people of Israel upset because Joshua and the leaders made a huge mistake, and they think that the covenant is broken because Gibeon lied to obtain it.  But the leaders tell them that this is not the case because this oath was made in the name of the Lord—they are to represent the Lord and uphold his standards in their promise or suffer the consequences of his wrath—similar to what they saw in the first battle of Ai and the judgment of Achan.  So, the promise is to stand. 

Now, here, in our text, what we’re reading isn’t a repeat or reaffirmation by Joshua to Gibeon of the things that the leaders say in verses 16-21.  Instead, the reason why the author includes these verses is to set Joshua apart as the one who is to judge those within Israel and to determine the extent of their punishment.  See, what the leaders do is re-establish Israel as those who return to God by following the commands and laws of God.  They do this by applying Deuteronomy 29 to the situation of these foreigners, calling them to be cutters of wood and drawers of water for Israel.  God established this as something foreigners should do not as a penalty but as their place within Israel.  Joshua, on the other hand, is here to establish the penalty for what they’ve done.  He’s to discover what crime’s actually been committed, what the penalty for the crime is, how long they are to serve it,  where they serve it, how they serve it, etc.

In other words, verses 16-21 are wholly different than our verses today in 22-27 because the previous section was to establish whether Gibeon had a place in Israel, whereas here, in 22-27, there’s a presumption of place.  And now that it’s been established that Gibeon will remain as they are, they have to pay for the consequences of their trickery as those who belong.  Think of it this way, if an orphan steals bread from a store, that orphan will have to pay for the consequences of his theft as an orphan under the applicable laws and penalties of the state.  But if that orphan were adopted, brought in as a child under the owners of that bakery, and the child went and took bread without permission, well then that child would not be disciplined under the state, but his father and mother would have to deal with him and his wrongdoing in their home so that the foundation of their home might be set aright. 

The covenant’s been made—the name of Yahweh has been invoked—there’s no going back for Israel, but there is also no free pass for Gibeon because sin in God’s house must be set aright.  And what comes logically from having sinned in the house of God?  Those who disobey God’s law shall be cursed.  And what is the consequence of the curse in this case?  These Gibeonites shall never cease serving via wood cutting and water drawing for the house of God. 

And notice the pronoun here in verse 23: “my God.”  Essentially what Joshua is doing here is creating a second-class of citizen within the people of God.  There is Israel proper—those who are not cursed and belong by right or by birth—they didn’t get in using tricks.  Then there is this second-class—those who are cursed because they got their break via treacherous, dishonourable means.  They get the benefits of being in the house, but the relationship is something that will be both foreign and broken to them.  They do not belong by right or by birth, they belong by circumstance.  And Joshua tells them, essentially, that this second-class circumstance shall last as long as the house of God stands. 

Now, there’s no exact consensus on what this phrase means, “house of God.”  We don’t know if it means the tent of meeting, which served as a temporary temple-like structure.  We don’t know if it means the tabernacle, which is established later, or if it means, prophetically, the temple, which is established even later under King Solomon.  Whatever it is referring to, we know that that thing is particular to the Israelites.  It is this thing that separates Israel from the rest of the world in terms of possessing a direct relationship with God.  Nations may come, they may observe, but the house of God belongs solely to the people of God—to those who can say, “my God”—to those who belong by right and not by deception. 

Joshua wants the people of Gibeon to know this.  He is acting mercifully—they shall be able to dwell among Israelites—they will get to keep their lives, but make no mistake, justice is being served here.  These liars are to account for the curse of their sin until the end of the world in Joshua’s mind.  There is a penalty for their deception, and the penalty is that, while they get to live among Israel and experience some of their blessings, they shall always be marked by their servitude to this Israel-right-of-passage—by their servitude to the house of God—as those who are lesser than.

And I just want to draw a quick application here with regard to our own sinfulness, and the severity with which we consider it.  This is the power of God on full display through the leader of Israel—that he might relegate, forever, those who had no other options.  It was for Gibeon, as we’re about to see, be killed or figure out a way to live.  But for us, we have other options—as those who believe in the power of the gospel and in the salvation offered to us in Jesus Christ, we can always choose the way of integrity AND life. 

Joshua’s act of justice here ought to humble us because it emphasizes the depth of God’s incomparable mercy in Christ, especially when we account for the weighty curse of sin that we have not had to bear—that even in moments of unrighteousness, God still calls us his beloved.  Let this mercy transform you.  Let it characterize your affection for him, and in so doing, become imitators of and participants with him in displaying his mercy to the world. 

2) Boast of Your Certainty in the Lord’s Sovereignty

There’s a lot in Joshua’s judgment of Gibeon that would infuriate many of the powers in the world—let alone, it’d likely work to infuriate many of us.  But the astonishing nature of Gibeon’s response is the way in which they make Joshua’s words seem like no punishment at all.  They have just been relegated from being one of the stronger forces in Canaan—something we learn later in chapter 10—to becoming what is equivalent to a farmhand. 

In all likelihood, since they were cutting wood and drawing water for the house of God—they were likely cutting wood for the burning of sacrifices and drawing water to nourish the animals lined up to be sacrificed.  In other words, they were made caretakers of all the things that the people of Israel thought was beneath them—not just drawing water for animals but cleaning up the remnants and whatever other messes that they made.

Yet, it does not phase them.  Verse 25 tells us that they actually see Joshua’s judgment as a blessing: “whatever you think we should do; we will do it.”  Their attitude is not one of grumbling like you would expect from people who are cursed, but one of deep gratitude as those who seem to have been blessed.  So, we have to ask why?  Why are these Gibeonites so grateful for being dispossessed of all their status and freedom in exchange for a lifetime of difficult and, possibly, demeaning servitude? 

As a sophomore, I was given the option to play as a starter on my school’s junior varsity basketball team or to take my chances, likely of riding the bench, for our senior varsity team.  In all likelihood, I would have been treated like a water or towel boy, but the catch was that compared to senior varsity, our junior team was horrendous.  In fact, the varsity squad—the senior guys—looked unstoppable—they seemed poised to go all the way.  So, the thought of being able to be around them, hear the way they played, practice and shoot around with them, win with them was more than sufficient enticement.  To me, it was a no-brainer to be third string on the best team than to be first string on a team simply waiting to get crushed. 

Why does Gibeon do what they do?  Because, as verse 24 tells us, they realize that it is better to be with God than against God—they realize that it is better to be a farmhand and scoop animal dung for the sovereign God of the universe than be destroyed by him.  And what’s more is that this is not just a realization for them like a sound logical hypothesis—the word that the we’re given here in the ESV, and which is emphasized to a greater degree in the Hebrew, is that Gibeon is absolutely certain in the truth of the information that they’ve received.  They know without a doubt that they are doomed if they remain in their land but outside of Israel. 

And their reception of this certain information fills them with fear—fear for their lives—fear for their families’ lives, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to find salvation.  Who does this sound like?  Does it not sound like a repeat of similar circumstances where Israel is caught in their own foolishness, and God raises up a Gentile to show Israel what it truly looks like to fear him and to seek his mercy—even in ethically questionable ways?  Do we not see this in the Gentile, prostitute, woman Rahab?

Like Rahab, the Gibeonites are native Canaanites.  Like Rahab, they had an unshakable confidence that God was giving the land and its inhabitants to Israel.  Like Rahab, Gibeon responded with fear before God’s people.  Like Rahab, Gibeon acted with shrewdness in order that they and all of their families might find refuge among the people of Israel.  Like Rahab, they are saved from sure destruction as a result of Israel’s own foolishness.  Like Rahab, they are willing to do whatever it takes to draw near to God.  These similarities penned together by the author of Joshua are not accidental.  They are displaying for us—those of us who stand on this side of history—how the sovereign hand of God was directing the course of history in order to humble Israel by bringing the nations to himself. 

But Gibeon, from their perspective, doesn’t know this, nor does Israel.  So, how is God orchestrating history?  How does he show that his own people do not seem to get what the nations seem to understand?  He uses the most unexpected sources—he’s trying to shock and awe his people out of their forgetfulness and slumber.  He’s trying to warn them before it’s too late.  He uses prostitutes.  He uses divine messengers.  And here, he uses these once strong, powerful Gibeonites to come trembling before Israel.  Why?  Because they’re absolutely and certainly convinced that Israel’s God is the true God, and he is capable of reducing whatever he wants to nothing.  He’s using them as an indictment upon Israel of what it looks like to pursue his mercy at all costs, just like Rahab did—just like Israel is supposed to. 

Gibeon shows us what election is supposed to look like.  Those who are truly elect are those who receive absolute and certain information about God only to realize that knowing about God is not enough to escape him.  It’s the unshakeable fear that unless God is actually on your side—unless he gives you his mercy over your foolishness—unless he gives you himself, there is absolutely and certainly nothing in the world that can save you from himself.  If God is not merciful to us, then NOTHING else matters!  So, the world be damned because I’m going to do anything and everything that I can to gain an audience with him and plead, “Lord, have mercy!”

In other words, in this very moment, Gibeon is flipping the script.  Israel is supposed to be the example to the nations.  Joshua is supposed to be the judge.  But by their words, Gibeon becomes the example; they become the judge.  They display the kind of faith and knowledge that Joshua and Israel ought to have.  They show that, while ethically questionable, their actions are more in line with the will of God than his own people’s actions.  They might have used cunning and deception, but their motive—their hearts—sought that which was good and pure—something that Joshua and Israel could not say for themselves when they refused to seek the counsel of the Lord and gratify their own desires. 

And what’s particularly illuminating is that even though Gibeon could have stood there in judgment over Joshua and Israel—even though they could have responded by saying, “well, look, we shouldn’t be punished because you’re the ones who have God—you’re the ones who should have sought him out and done his will—you’re the ones who could’ve prevented this mess, but you didn’t.  So, now, you’ve got to lie in the bed you’ve made”—even though they could have responded this way, they don’t!  Instead, how does verse 25 tell us they respond?  They say, “do with us whatever you please!”  What integrity, what faithfulness, and what mercy! 

Our text doesn’t say this, and I’m reading into it a little bit here, but the reason why I think Gibeon doesn’t push back on the curse that Joshua lays upon them, even though they could, is because, while Joshua intended it to be a curse, it becomes, to them, the greatest means of their blessing.  Let’s think about this.  Not only does Gibeon get to keep its life, but Joshua “relegates” them to being near the people of God, to observing his most holy practices, to being partakers and participants in his dispensation of grace.  They go from strangers outside the camp of Israel, doomed to destruction, to being those who now get to dwell in the house of the Lord.  Joshua may have intended to treat them as second-class citizens, but he’s given them the jackpot of what they never thought they’d get the chance to see.  They don’t only get to see it now; they get to be a part of it.  So, their response in verse 25 is a response of absolute and certain relief!

This is how the sovereignty of God’s elective work amongst sinners is supposed to work.  He gives us absolute and certain knowledge of himself so that we might run to him and find, in him, absolute and certain relief.  Sovereignty is what saves!  Sovereignty is all we have—all Gibeon has—to boast about. 

Through Gibeon, God is reminding Joshua and Israel that they are insufficient saviours.  And some day in the future, through the nations, God will remind Israel, once again, that they are insufficient saviours—that someone unexpected must come from outside of them to save them, to bring them out of their foolishness, and to restore them to their God.  It is God’s absolute and certain sovereignty that saves, and we are called to boast in this.  Because it is the means of how we display his mercy in a world caught up in its foolishness.  It’s the means of how God intends to use our own foolishness to shame those who think they are wise.  Boast of your certainty in the Lord’s sovereignty, and in so doing, be imitators of and participants in God’s mercy. 

3) Submit Yourself to His Plan of Salvation

Verses 26-27 end with a concession.  The main point of these two verses is not that Joshua delivers Gibeon from death, it’s that even though he delivers them, he relegates them to a life of perpetual servitude.  And like I’ve already said, from Gibeon’s perspective, this is an absolute and certain blessing.  Yet from ours, it is incomplete because while Gibeon is given permission to dwell and partake in the house of the Lord—that house and their participation seem out of place.  They are strangers in their own land.  They are outside observers standing behind a veil to the congregation—a people who have an intimate relationship with the one who they call, “my Lord and my God.” 

But as we walk through some of the events of Gibeon’s future, perhaps that unsettled feeling of them will begin to dissipate.  For example, in the weeks to follow, Gibeon will come under attack from neighbouring Canaanite cities and find themselves unable to mount a proper defence.  Does God allow them to perish?  No, as a result of their treaty, God commissions Joshua and Israel to step into their midst and save them from sure destruction. 

Then, years later, Saul will attempt to wipe them out in his eagerness to purify Israel and Judah of non-Israelites, forgetting completely the oath sworn to Gibeon by Joshua.  Does God allow them then to perish?  No, he commissions David to restore them and to give them justice for the bloodguilt on Saul’s household by killing 7 of Saul’s 8 children. 

Then, even more years later, when Israel is in exile, does God leave Gibeon to die in obscurity?  No, he commissions Cyrus, the Persian emperor, to deliver Israel back home—some of whom include Gibeonites.  It’s these Gibeonites who will then become integral to helping Nehemiah rebuild the temple. 

In other words, while Joshua may have intended to create a veil for these second-class citizens within Israel as a reminder and punishment for their deception, the words “my God” will become every bit as much a part of Gibeon’s language as the rest of Israel.  What Joshua does not know is how seriously God will take this covenant between Israel and Gibeon.  What Joshua does not know is that the house of God as Joshua thought of it in his time was only a temporary measure for how his people would worship their Creator.  What Joshua does not know is that 400 years after these Gibeonites return to Israel from their exile in Babylon to help rebuild the temple, a greater Joshua would come not only to honour this oath but to fulfill it in its entirety and to break the curse attached to it by tearing the veil of the temple in half.  And this greater Joshua, whose name is Jesus, would do this by giving himself as a perfect sacrifice, dying upon a cross, and rising three days later so that all who have been brought into the house of the Lord might with equal merit be able to look upon him, forgiven out of mercy for their foolish sinfulness, and say, “my Lord and my God.” 

Joshua—Israel as a whole—may have been an insufficient saviour, but our Jesus is not, and his plan of salvation to bring to himself all who fear him and seek his mercy cannot be frustrated by the foolishness of man.  In like manner, we ought not tarry in our own privilege to be the means by which the world is exposed to the matchless wisdom of our God.  It must not only be our highest priority, but it must make up the very fabric of our identity.  A heart that loves to receive the mercy of God is a heart that loves to give the mercy of God, and we do this by accounting for the curse of our sin, by boasting of our certainty in the Lord’s sovereignty to save all those who belong to his house, and by submitting ourselves to that plan of salvation as we await our final rest as full, unhindered citizens of heaven.  The veil has been torn.  The curse is no more.  And glory belongs to the redeemed—those who are, now, sons and daughters of the living God—heirs to his eternal throne.  Be imitators of and participants in God’s mercy.

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