It has been well said that “Satan plays with loaded dice.” He knows all the weaknesses of human nature and is an expert in the black art of deception. So in the New Testament believers are exhorted to “put on the whole armour of God, that [they] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph.6:11).
We have a very striking illustration of the devil’s deceptive practices in this ninth chapter of Joshua. As the word went out to the other Canaanite peoples that Jericho and Ai had fallen before the victorious Israelites, the dwellers in a certain Hivite city, named Gibeon, decided that if they would avert the destruction of themselves and their city, they must act at once and that in a manner calculated to mislead Joshua and his forces regarding their identity and the location of their homeland.
So we are told in verses 3 to 6:
And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai, They did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up; And old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy. And they went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal and said unto him, and to the men of Israel, We become from a far country: now therefore make ye a league with us.
This was on the part of these Hivites a very clever ruse and it accomplished its purpose, for when the strange-looking “ambassadors” arrived at the camp of Israel in Gilgal, Joshua and his officers were deceived by their appearance and the story that they concocted. The ragged garments, the worn-out sandals, the rotting wine-skins, and the mouldy bread all seemed to authenticate the plea that these Gibeonites made.
And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you? And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from whence come ye? And they said unto him, From a very far country thy servants are come because of the name of the Lord thy God: for we have heard the fame of Him, and all that He did in Egypt, And all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, which was at Ashtaroth. Wherefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spake to us, saying, Take victuals with you for the journey, and go to meet them, and say unto them, We are your servants: therefore now make ye a league with us. This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came forth to go unto you; but now, behold, it is dry, and it is mouldy: And these bottles of wine, which we filled, were new; and, behold, they be rent: and these our garments and our shoes are become old by reason of the very long journey.
There was something so apparently genuine about this recital, with its hypocritical pretense of having come to fear Jehovah, the God of Israel, that those who listened to it were quite carried away by it. We are told, “the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel of the Lord” (verse 14). This was a fatal mistake. It is always wrong to act on our own judgment instead of seeking to know the mind of God as revealed in His Word.
Had Joshua and the rest remembered the instruction given them to destroy utterly the corrupt nations of Canaan, they would have been careful to make further inquiry before accepting the story of the men of Gibeon at face value. But, as we so often are inclined to do, they trusted their own judgment and so were misled completely. Verse 15 tells us:
And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them.
How the wily Gibeonites must have laughed in their sleeves as they noted the success of their scheme! Joshua had failed to discern their hypocrisy. When he and the princes of the congregation had made a league with these deceivers, the latter departed in high glee, to inform their fellow citizens that they were now allies of Israel and so the danger of their extirpation had passed!
May we not see in this how Satan works today? Knowing he cannot by any means affect the eternal destiny of the people of God, he uses all kinds of schemes to mislead them here on earth and to turn them aside from full obedience to the will of God. He never comes to a Christian presenting himself in his true character. He appears as an angel of light with suggestions which appeal to the natural mind, just as he came to Eve of old, who was deceived by his wiles and thus the old creation went down with a crash.
Whatever plan he suggests will be seen in its true light if tested by what God has revealed in His Word: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). Yet those who should know better are often led astray by specious suggestions and flattering words and so enter into associations and are led to pursue plans which work havoc to their own spirituality and make them useless to others who need their help.
Perhaps there is nothing whereby Satan has lured more young Christians into paths of disobedience and lifetime wretchedness than by the snare of mixed marriages. God has plainly forbidden the unequal yoke (2 Cor. 6:14); yet when Satan manages to get the affections engaged and the hearts of two are drawn together—the one a Christian and the other an unbeliever—it is easy to allow one’s personal desires to overrule God’s plain testimony. In the hope that after all He will be better than His Word, the child of God enters into a union entailing lifelong misery. The same is true as to many other relationships : business partnerships with the ungodly, joining lodges and other societies that link saved and unsaved together, and, most insidious of all, the union of children of God and children of the devil in church fellowship!
Israel soon discovered the mistake they had made, but it was then too late to extricate themselves from the mess into which they had fallen (verses 16-18):
And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them. And the children o£ Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and Kirjath-jearim. And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes.
In an effort to alleviate the condition to some extent, it was determined that the spared Gibeonites should become servants to the Israelites, as we read in verses 19-21:
But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them. This will we do unto them; we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we sware unto them. And the princes said unto them, Let them live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation; as the princes had promised them.
This was the best they could do under the circumstances which they had brought upon themselves, and many a believer since has sought in a similar way to bend the results of his folly to his own service, only to find that it has entailed conditions which have been perplexing and bewildering through all the years ahead.
Joshua was the spokesman for the princes. He said to the Gibeonites:
Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us? Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.
Glad to have saved their lives at any cost, the Hivites accepted the situation as gracefully as they could.
And they answered Joshua, and said, Because it was certainly told thy servants, how that the Lord thy God commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you, therefore we were sore afraid of our lives because of you, and have done this thing. And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.
In this way, the matter was closed for the time, as we read in verses 26 and 27:
And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not. And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the Lord, even unto this day, in the place which he should choose.
How much better it would have been, both for Israel and for Gibeon, if these Canaanites had come to Joshua in all honesty and made peace with Israel by accepting the amnesty which was offered freely to all who acknowledged the claims of Jehovah, the one true and living God, even as we are told in Deuteronomy 20:10-12: “When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it.”
According to this Word of the Lord, had the men of Gibeon and the adjoining cities come to Joshua and frankly acknowledged the power and authority of Jehovah, seeking to make peace with Israel by complete surrender, their cities would have been spared, their lives saved, and an honorable league would have been entered into. But they chose instead to take the path of deception which led to bondage and servitude.
Today God has commissioned His servants to go to all men everywhere, “preaching peace by Jesus Christ.” All who receive the message in faith, who bow in repentance at the feet of the risen Saviour are justified by faith and have peace with God. For Christ has made peace by the blood of His Cross. Those thus saved are united to the Church of the living God and become in turn His messengers to carry the gospel to others.
There is no occasion for deception or hypocrisy, which can only result in greater disaster, for “the hypocrite’s hope shall perish.” But when there is frank confession of sin, God stands ready in faithfulness and justice to forgive all sin and to cleanse from all unrighteousness. None can be too vile for Christ. None need fear to come to Him for salvation, for He has said, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” Blessed are they who take Him at His Word and trust His grace!