And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.
A story that bears on its face the evidences of authenticity. A wiliness displayed quite in keeping with our notions of Oriental duplicity. Has lessons appropriate to modern days. Whilst some incidents of this book enjoin courage, this induces discretion, and thus are we preserved from a one-sided development of our spiritual life. No study more instructive than that of history, and no history more suggestively written than that of the Israelites.
I. THE STRATAGEM OF THE GIBEONITES shows us ?
1. The different courses adopted by different men in respect of the same dangers. The overthrow of Jericho and the destruction of Ai struck terror into the hearts of the neighbouring inhabitants of Palestine. Would not their turn come next? How should they deal with the difficulty that threatened them? The only safety seemed to lie in united opposition. So reasoned many of the kings, and they organised their forces for battle. But the Gibeonites determined to act otherwise. To contract a treaty with the foe would be a greater safeguard than to encounter him in war. This they accordingly endeavoured to secure in the subtle manner which this chapter records. This variety of sentiment is being constantly exhibited in the plans men pursue regarding the "terrors of the Lord" or the assaults of conscience. Conviction of sin and of the retribution to which it exposes the sinner does not always incline him to sue for mercy. Some brave the attack, and with incredible folly fight against God. Though others have been overcome, they hope to be successful. The fall of other cities does not deter them from vain enterprises. Some, like the Gibeonites, are teachable, and if we cannot commend the deception they practised, we can at least exhort that the impossibility of staying the spread of God's kingdom be practically recognised. "Be ye reconciled unto God."
2. The pains taken to preserve life. Self-preservation is accounted one of the strongest instincts of our nature. These Gibeonites spared no trouble in order to gain their end. And yet how often are the things relative to eternal life utterly neglected!
3. The desire often entertained by the world to enter into an alliance with the Church. Simon Magus could desire the gift of the Holy Ghost for his own selfish purposes. It suits the plans of many to be considered religious; they assume the garb of piety to carry on their nefarious work unmolested. The Church of Christ is bound to exercise discipline, but prevention is better than excommunication. Guard against the intrusion of ungodly men. Seek the direction of God, who will keep His Church pure. The Gibeonites said nothing about adopting in heart the religion of the Israelites, about renouncing idolatry and serving the true God; they only wanted the advantages which would accrue from making a league with the Israelites. If we would share the advantages we must become God's people in heart and life.
4. The success of craft. Mental is sometimes more powerful than physical force in overcoming a difficulty. The Midianites were able to seduce the Israelites into sin though they could not injure them in open battle. There is undoubtedly a legitimate use of craft; according to the Apostle's declarations, "I have caught you with guile," "becoming all things to all men." There must be, however, nothing inherently wrong in our procedure, no tampering with truth, as in the case of the Gibeonites. For we proceed to remark -
5. Deceit is certain of ultimate detection. Hypocrisy must ere long have its veil removed. Show will not always be taken for reality. God knows the actual state of the heart and often makes it manifest to others. Soon did Israel discover the trick which had been practised on them. Our subject contains a warning to mere professors of godliness. Privileges secured by appearance of conformity are only temporary.
II. THE MISTAKE OF THE ISRAELITES teaches us -
1. That the senses easily lead us astray. The mouldy bread, the damaged bottles, the clouted shoes seemed plain proof of the truth of the strangers' words. Many persons think all their doubts would vanish if they once saw an angel or heard the voice of the Almighty; but the irrefragable testimony might be a delusion just as much as the convincing sights beheld by the Israelites. The things touched and viewed are what they are; the error is in the conclusions drawn from them. The bread was mouldy, but it did not warrant the belief that it had become so by a long journey. We must be careful in our reasonings. Earthquakes and pestilences do not necessarily prove God's anger, nor do they furnish testimony against the perfections of His character as a God of love. Prosperity is not conclusive evidence of God's favour or man's desert, nor adversity of man's ill-desert and his Maker's displeasure. In various directions the caution may be employed.
2. The weakness of human wisdom. All appeared so natural that the Israelites forbore to consult the Lord. Was not their path clearly indicated? They soon repented of their haste and simplicity. And has no similar error befallen us, the way seeming so evident that we have rushed into it without due deliberation and prayer? God expects us to use the sagacity He has bestowed upon us, but not to rely upon it wholly. It must form only one element in the judgment reached. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." We are so biassed, so influenced by inclination, have such perverse feelings, that we are not fit to be guides to ourselves. Experience attests this fact, Scripture often asserts it, reason corroborates it, and history proves it. The pride of the Israelites was probably flattered by the notion of their fame having extended to such a distant nation.
3. The importance of seeking the counsel of the Almighty. There is the reflex influence of prayer, purifying the desires, calming the passions, revealing the mischievous nature of much that seemed desirable, and leading to a clearer perception of principles. It cleanses "the thoughts of the heart." There is the answer granted to prayer. The mind is divinely directed, the Spirit of God fastens the eyes on particular passages of Scripture, and upon certain indications of Providence in external circumstances. To God, nothing that concerns His children is of trivial import; we may submit to Him matters great or small. "Commit thy way unto the Lord." - A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.