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Dealing with Deception

Joshua 9:3-6 However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, "We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us."

The Israeli army, under General Joshua, made a terrible mistake. They were deceived by the enemy. Israel was taken in by a small contingent of representatives from the tiny city-state of Gibeon, and tricked into signing a peace treaty. Agreeing to terms of peace with a Canaanite city was contrary to what God had emphatically declared to His people (Deuteronomy 7:2). The fact that the much more powerful, battle-hardened Israelis were deceived by a small inferior force, and the fact that the mistake could easily have been avoided, were not the worst aspects of the tragedy. The truly sad side of Israel's blunder was that the results were permanent. Because of falling for a simple trick of the enemy, Israel was stuck with the liability of the Gibeonites for the rest of her days as a nation.

Why did God include this account of the Gibeonite deception in Holy Scripture? Is it just an accurate account of a segment of Israel's military history? No, there is more here for us! Romans 15:4 states that "everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." What, then, is in this account of the deception by the Gibeonites that would motivate us to persevere as growing Christians and encourage us in the Christian life?

The deceptive tactics of the Gibeonites illustrate some of the tactics the satanic forces use against us. All enemy strategy in the conquest of Canaan portrays the kind of strategy used by Satan against the Christian. Thus the book of Joshua is a Christian handbook for spiritual warfare! Israel's military conquest of Canaan is all part of the spiritual picture of "conquering the Land" that God has given to us in the Old Testament. As Israel was to conquer and occupy the literal land of Canaan, so the believer today is to conquer and occupy the land of spiritual blessings and spiritual battles. The good land of Canaan was given to Israel, and they were guaranteed that if they fully followed the Lord they would enjoy all the material blessings of the Land, and win all the battles with the enemies in the Land (Joshua 1:7-8).

Today's committed believers also are guaranteed success. If we fully follow the Lord, we will enjoy all the spiritual blessings heaven has to offer, and be victorious in every spiritual battle we encounter. This is no "health and wealth" guarantee, but something much better. God may choose to bless certain Christians with material wealth and prosperity, and He may choose to bless others with perfect health, but these blessings are not guaranteed to Christians today as they were under the Mosaic covenant. We can be thankful for material prosperity, and we can praise God if we have not had to endure physical battles with sickness and suffering, but we should not expect or demand these blessings as part of our "salvation package." However, spiritual blessings and spiritual victories are guaranteed, and can be expected without exception if we follow the Lord. In spite of what the "prosperity gospel" proponents argue, in reality the greatest life this side of heaven is found in the enjoyment of all our spiritual blessings, and being undefeated in spiritual battles--regardless of our bank accounts and medical records! (See Ephesians 1:3-14 for a list of our spiritual blessings, and Ephesians 6:10-19 for a list of spiritual armor for spiritual warfare.)

Satan will do everything he can to keep us from appropriating our spiritual blessings and to keep us defeated in spiritual warfare. One of his primary tactics is deception. Ephesians 6:11 says that we should "put on the whole armor of God so that we may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." 2 Corinthians 2:11 warns us to live godly lives "in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." 2 Corinthians 11:14 informs us that Satan "disguises himself as an angel of light." What a crafty way to deceive! Who would ever dream that the devil himself could be behind something that seems good and even helpful? Satan is not some red-colored creature with horns and a pitchfork, stoking the fires of hell! This concept comes from cartoons and not from the Bible. This kind of thinking is actually encouraged by Satan--it forms part of his mask of deception! In reality God, not Satan, is in charge of hell. The Bible teaches that hell was prepared by God for Satan and the fallen angels (Matthew 25:41). However, until the final judgment, Satan "prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). He is not a cartoon character or something to laugh about. Make no mistake as to his intentions. He is actively seeking unwary believers, and his deceptive tactics are designed to take us by surprise and defeat us.

The truth about Satan and his deceptive schemes is vividly pictured in the story before us. Notice how clever the deception was! Somehow the Gibeonites knew that the God of Israel had told His people they could make peace agreements with peoples outside the land of Canaan, but not with any Canaanites inside the land. God was not against peace or making peace treaties (see Deuteronomy 20:10), but He did not want His people polluted with the abominable idolatry and immorality of the Canaanites. Israel was to make a clean sweep of the Land, and leave no possibility for syncretic links with paganism, and no possible footholds for enemy uprisings in the future. How the people of Gibeon knew about God's exact word to Israel we don't know, but the lesson is clear. Satan knows exactly what God's Word declares and his deceptive tactics will always be cleverly designed "around the Word." We can expect that Satan will use God's Word in such a way as to justify and even approve materialism, divorce, racism, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia and a host of other sins--sins which a proper reading of the Bible never condone. No matter how cleverly the package is designed "around the Word," and no matter how many "Christians" are backing the package, you can be sure that the fangs of Satan are behind this distorted and deceptive use of Scripture (Ephesians 5:5-6). Remember that even in the temptations of Christ, Satan very subtly used Scripture in his attempt to deceive the Son of Man (Matthew 4:6).

Notice also how the Gibeonites made everything appear as if they were telling the truth. The worn-out shoes and clothes, the mended wine-skins and the moldy bread would have convinced most of us that they really were from a far country. The fact that they did not mention Israel's recent victories over Jericho and Ai certainly added to the ruse. The Gibeonites mentioned only the exodus from Egypt and the extensive transJordan battles with the Amorites. (In this connection, see Deuteronomy 3:1-11 and note especially verse 5.). All of the surrounding nations would have been aware of these major historical events. When no mention was made of the recent battles with Jericho and Ai, the leaders of Israel were further convinced that this delegation of deceivers was telling the truth about their distant point of embarkation, and they committed the nation to a treaty with a nearby enemy. They never checked out the story and they never consulted with the Lord, their Commander-in-Chief (9:14). "No problem," they reasoned. "How can it be wrong when it seems so right?"

The most effective way for growing Christians to avoid the clever designs of Satan is to really know the Bible. The more we come to know the details of Scripture in context, the better equipped and enabled we are to see through the schemes of the devil. As we pray for discernment, the Holy Spirit can bring our knowledge of Scripture to bear on the situation if the knowledge has been stored there previously. How important it is to "soak up the Word" every day.

Satan can make his tray of deceptive delicacies look very interesting, exciting, harmless and even beneficial! Take, for example, some areas of the present-day Signs and Wonders movement. At first glance it certainly looks good and biblical. Churches are growing and people are "spirit-filled." But have we checked out the movement thoroughly? Have we made sure that there are no enemy connections? Closer scrutiny reveals that there are some "freaky fringes" in this movement. We need to exercise caution because we know from Scripture that the "angel of light" is not opposed to using even signs and wonders in his deceptive strategy. While it's important to not make the mistake of putting God into a box (we could end up saying that He is no longer a miracle-working God) we must be very careful to discern between what is truly of God and what is counterfeit. Don't jump too quickly on every signs and wonders bandwagon that comes along and risk the possibility of being taken for a ride to unbiblical ends. Initial appearances can be as deceptive today as the Gibeonite deception was in Joshua's day.

The people of Israel had to live with the consequences of their mistake. They had to keep the peace treaty with the Gibeonites. They had made a covenant before the Lord and they had to honor that agreement (9:18-19). God's view of the importance of this covenant is seen years later in the tragic repercussions that followed King Saul's murder of some of the Gibeonites. (See 2 Samuel 21:1-14.) The lesson for us is quite plain. There are certain agreements and commitments that we wrongly make but that we must keep. Marriage is an obvious example. The Bible clearly declares that believers and unbelievers should not be "unequally yoked together" (2 Corinthians 6:14). If we make a wrong choice and marry an unbeliever, we can't go back and correct the situation by getting a divorce. We are to keep our vows! They were made before God! (See 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.) Bad choices in financial areas may also involve us in agreements that we can't walk away from. For example, if we can't return or sell some foolish purchase we made on a spur-of-the-moment emotional whim, we can't just walk away from the contract we made to pay for that purchase. Before God we must continue to make the payments we agreed to--maybe for years! Don't sign "peace treaties" today that you'll be sorry for tomorrow.

As Israel ended up having to fight for the Gibeonites because of their foolish commitment (10:6-7), so we may actually end up helping the enemy when we are deceived into making wrong decisions! Marriage to an unbeliever, for example, may result in a lifetime of diminished effectiveness for Christ. The cause of Christ could have been served so much better by a Christian marriage and a Christ-centered home. And how much time and effort and resource that could have been devoted to the kingdom of God is lost to the enemy when we get ourselves entangled in hard-to-get-out-of worldly commitments--such as financial, social and otherwise.

As always, the grace of God is seen in the picture, extended both to Israel and to the Gibeonites! Even though Israel had to live with the consequences of their terrible mistake, God "picked up the pieces" and continued to work out His overall plan for the nation of Israel. Not only did God forgive His people, but when Joshua and the Israeli army had to defend the Gibeonites, the Lord "saved the day" for Israel with one of the greatest miracles in all of the Bible. We read in Joshua 10:13-14 that "the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!" Furthermore, we read that the Gibeonites were made "hewers of wood and drawers of water" (9:21, 23, 27). This meant that they helped the Levites in all the work connected with the tabernacle. In this way the pagan Gibeonites were immediately exposed to the worship of the true God. God's incredible grace to the Gibeonites is thus seen, not only in the fact that they were spared annihilation in Israel's conquest of the Land, but that they were brought into direct contact with the focus of God's relationship with His people. God's grace to the Gibeonites is further seen as we trace the history of Israel. Ishmaiah, one of King David's honored mighty men was a Gibeonite (1 Chronicles 12:4). When Israel returned from the Babylonian captivity and rebuilt the wall under Nehemiah's leadership, the Gibeonites nobly assisted in this great project for God (Nehemiah 3:7).

The grace of God continues in our lives as well--even when we make mistakes! When we allow ourselves to be deceived by the enemy and we make wrong choices, the consequences may be far-reaching and even tragic. God's grief and sorrow at our foolish lack of discernment is deeper than we can ever imagine. But in His great grace and love, God can take even our tragic mistakes and work them together into His overall, long-range plans for our good. His ultimate goal, of course, is to make us more and more like Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29)! The sad consequences and discipline that come when we are deceived are not pleasant, but we can be sure that the grace of God will always be there in every situation. The best scenario for us, however, is the one that most pleases God, and that scenario calls us to be alert and to avoid being deceived.
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