Reception of Deception
(Joshua9:1-15)

The Israelites, hardened by 40 years in the deserts of Sinai and present day Southwest Saudi Arabia, had conquered the Gilead area east of the Jordan River, killing all the people of Kings Sihon and Og. They had miraculously crossed over the flooded Jordan River on dry ground, and walked around the fortified city of Jericho for seven days until the massive walls suddenly collapsed, allowing them to rush in and capture the city. In all these events, the people of Canaan saw that the hand of God was with the Israelites. One of them, the woman Rahab, told two Israelite spies, “I know that the LORD has given the land to you, and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you” (Joshua 2:9).

The victorious Israelites marched on and destroyed the city of Ai, burning it to the ground. Thus the stage was set for the Gibeonites to act out their part in “The Gideonite Deception”. To understand what happened next, we have to ask: Where exactly was Gibeon? 

Gibeon was a city less than ten kilometres northwest of Ai, which the Israelites razed to the ground. And Ai was almost due west of Jericho, which was also completely destroyed by the invading Israelites. What does all this mean? It means that the Israelites were moving westward from Jericho, bringing utter destruction to cities and towns in their path; if they continued to advance in the same direction, Gibeon was probably going to be the next place to be destroyed. So now we can see how desperate the Gibeonites were.

“When all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things (the destruction caused by the Israelites) …. they gathered together to make war against Joshua and Israel” (Jos 9:1&2). Well, not quite. The Gibeonites chose another, non-violent, way of dealing with the Israelite threat.  And no, they did not tuck their tails between their legs and flee westward, into the sunset.

Instead, the Gibeonites sent a delegation to meet the Israelites. But what a delegation! They loaded their donkeys “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” (Jos 9:4&5). Then they went to Joshua at his camp at Gilgal, near Jericho. It was a ride of just over 30 kilometres, which would normally take about two days to cover at a leisurely pace. But the Gibeonites were on an urgent mission, to reach the Israelites before they got within striking distance of Gibeon.

But whoa, wait a minute, didn’t the Israelites destroy Jericho, and move further west to destroy Ai? And now they were east of Jericho, at Gilgal? Isn’t it a mystery why they did this, instead of camping near Ai, preparing to attack the next town or city? 

Now Jesus was continually asking people to think, or asking questions to make them think, for example at Matthew 17:25 and the 62 questions he asked in the book of Mark. If we put on our thinking caps, we will see that if the Israelites had camped at Ai, they would have been out in the open and in danger of being attacked by the armies under the kings of Canaan. By withdrawing to Gilgal, they put vital distance between themselves and those armies. Gilgal was in hill country where enemies could not attack them stealthily and suddenly. Also, the chariots of the resident armies were of little use in the hills. Thus, did it make good military sense to have a secure base camp at Gilgal?

Anyway, the Gibeonites came to the Israelite camp and said, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us” (Jos 9:6). The Israelites were naturally suspicious and asked, “But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?” What great reply did they give? “We are your servants,” they told Joshua. Weren’t they evading the question, again?

That must have made Joshua suspicious too, for he asked a double-barrelled question: “Who are you and where do you come from?” (Jos 9:8). Ask a double-barrelled question and you get a double-barrelled reply. The Gibeonites combined their first two statements and said, “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God.” A propagandist once said that if you tell a lie often enough, people will believe it. The Gibeonites repeated their lie. Not only did they repeat it, but did you notice that they also intensified it?  Yes, in Jos 9:6 they said that they had come from a distant country, and now they said “a very distant country”.

Did you keep an eye on their mention of God? Magicians move one hand to distract the audience from what their other hand is doing. And so it is with liars. The Gibeonites threw in a distraction. By praising God, the Gibeonites skillfully shifted attention to Him. And they smoothly continued, “For we have heard reports of Him; all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan – Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan.” With their attention now fixed on the LORD, neither Joshua nor the Israelites noticed that Joshua’s question about who they were and where they came from had still not been answered!

“And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are your servants, make a treaty with us.”’” This cleverly explained why they kept saying that they were the servants of the Israelites and asking for a treaty.

Then they delivered the masterstroke. “This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is.” they declared. “And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are.  And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.”  And they offered up these “proofs” for inspection.

Since the bread was indeed dry and moldy, the wineskins cracked, and their clothes and sandals were truly worn out, the Israelites concluded that the rest of what they had said must also be true.  Liars know that the art of lying does not consist of telling lies all the time, but in saying things that are true and slipping in a lie among them. 

So Joshua made a treaty of peace with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. Ahhh, I wonder, how do you make a treaty without knowing the name of the other country? If the Gibeonites had named their country later, why did the Israelites not recognise it as a nearby country?  Was it a failure of their intelligence collection system?

But even before that there had been another two failures. The first was this. The Israelites were so engrossed with testing the bread, wineskins etc. that they did not ask themselves pertinent questions like: How long would it take for the wineskins to become cracked, and the clothes and sandals to be worn out to such an extent?  Would the bread have lasted so many months?  Why did the Gibeonites not bake new bread along the way? Did travelers go very long distances without baking more bread?  If their country was so very far away, why were they so fearful of Israel? In the first place, was there any country within Canaan that was so far from Gilgal?  

But, more importantly, they “did not inquire of God” (Jos 9:14). They were so convinced by the lies that they did not see any need to inquire of God. I too am often guilty of this.  Are you? 

Will you join me in inquiring of God what we should do whenever we need to make a non-routine decision, instead of swallowing the lies of the world and making wrong decisions like Joshua and the Israelites did?

Introducing ...

We continue with our review of journals currently received by BGST Library. This week we highlight

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION (BI):
A JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY APPROACHES

Under its aims and scope this journal claims that it is an ‘innovative and highly acclaimed’ journal providing a forum for the exercise and development of a whole range of newer techniques of interpretation, including semiotic, post-structuralist, reader-response and other types of literary readings, as well as liberation-theological readings, ecological readings, feminist readings, and psychological readings, and so forth. Articles published either give a practical demonstration of how a particular approach may be instructively applied to a biblical text or texts, or make a productive contribution to the discussion of method.

Alongside eclectic issues on various subjects, the journal publishes collections of articles on particular thematic issues such as, ‘Reading Gender and Gender Reading’, ‘The New Historicism’ (1997); ‘Negotiating Theology’ (1998); ‘The Bible and the Arts’ (1999); ‘Virtual History and the Bible’ (2000); ‘The Bible in Film, The Bible and Film’ (2006). However, most of the contributors do not subscribe to the authority of the Bible or the uniqueness of Christ. In this sense it is quite pluralistic. For instance, the 1994 volume (no. 2) highlighting on Asian Hermeneutics recommends the use of a Buddhist text to interpret the NT text violating every norm of biblical hermeneutics. How do we benefit from this journal? Well, there are many useful articles so we cannot throw away the baby with bathwater, so to speak.

ASIA JOURNAL OF THEOLOGY (AJT)

This journal is published by three educational bodies specializing in theological education in Asia. Their aim is to encourage Asian biblical scholarship and theological thinking, to relate the Gospel to cultural, historical, and religious situation in Asia, to study problems related to the teaching of theology and aims of theological education in Asia, and to maintain contact with theology and ministry beyond the region of Asia.

Their aim is quite broad, so also the content of the articles covering the pages of the journal. For instance, the volume 20 (2000, no. 2) contains articles ranging from ecclesio-political involvement in Philippines to Christian music, burnout in pastoral ministry (Korean), church-union initiatives in Malaysia, divorce and re-marriage, a comparison of Confucius with Paul among others. Thus it gives a cross-section of developments in theological thinking throughout Asia. This is one place where you can find Asian theologians grappling with theological issues, although most of them focusing on ecumenism or pluralism, issues that hardly seem to make a dent in the mainstream (Western) theological thinking. Nonetheless, it is a reflection of our growth in theological education and a constant reminder about our need to catch up with the mainstream theological education.     (AP)

News Bits 

  1. Change in MCS and M.Div Syllabuses
    Until now, all students enrolled in the Master in Christian Studies (MCS) and the Master of Divinity (M.Div) have had to submit a thesis or a research project as part of their course requirements. Faculty Board feels that, while many BGST students may benefit from completing such a thesis or project, particularly those who are contemplating further studies, this should no longer be a requirement for all students.
    With effect from June 1st 2007 it will be possible for all suitably qualified students to take the MCS and M.Div in a 'non-thesis' version, in which the thesis or research project is replaced with electives. Students who enrolled for the MCS and M.Div under the old system may now choose to switch to this option. The 'old-style' MCS and M.Div will, of course, still continue to be offered. For further details, please contact Dr. Satterthwaite.

  2. Dr Ng Peh Cheng will be speaking at the Sunday School Teachers' Camp organized by the Children's Ministry of Bukit Batok Presbyterian Church (Indonesian Congregation) on June 1. 

  3. Prof. James Houston’s book “Joyful Exiles” is on sale at our library.

  4. BGST library and offices will be closed on May 31 (public holiday).

A Blessed Birthday to…

Dr Lawrence Chan  28/5
Ms Irene Tay  28/5
Mr Winston Lim 28/5
Ms Jenny Foo  28/5
Ms Celeste Yee  29/5
Mrs Joyce Moh  29/5
Mr Yoong Yuen Soo  29/5
Mr Kan Siew Ning  29/5
Mr Richard Chia  31/5
Ms Soh Ling Ling  1/6
Mr Alvin Chee  1/6
A/P Benny Tabalujan  2/6
Ms Judy Ong  2/6
Mr Leo Mun Wai  2/6

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