Our system for June is actually two systems. The lymphatic and the immune systems work together to protect the body from the effects of harmful substances. The lymphatic system is a series of vessels that carry a fluid called lymph throughout the body (like blood vessels carry blood.) The lymph takes nutrients to the cells of the body while also removing waste from the cells (like carbon dioxide). But the lymph also contains white blood cells which are critical to fight infections within the body.
I will talk more specifically about the lymphatic system next week, but for today, I want to focus on the immune system. The immune system is tasked with keeping out harmful substances. “Harmful” is determined by the body, however, and not by our intent. For instance, we can agree that certain viruses are harmful (like the flu virus), but receiving a new organ is thought to be helpful (such as a kidney or even a heart). But the body may choose to reject the organ because it is a foreign substance that it deems harmful.
Unfortunately, sometimes the body finds its own system to be harmful. Autoimmune disease is defined as the body fighting against itself. Essentially, the immune system automatically begins to attack itself because of a perceived issue. That is, the immune system falsely attacks otherwise healthy cells. Certain diseases like celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus are just three types of an autoimmune disease. When the body begins to falsely attack healthy cells, it oftentimes spreads throughout the rest of the body. Why? The body forgets what healthy tissue is because it has been falsely attacking healthy tissue. Thus, what might begin as a minor problem can lead to major health issues over time.
How does this relate to the church body? Well, church’s often focus on internal criticism – attacking brothers and sisters. Most people do not know, or otherwise do not remember, the difference between critique and criticism. Criticism is almost always opinion-based and is negative. Critique is an evaluation and is meant to be helpful. Critique is mostly based in fact with some detail provided. Thus, when people offer constructive criticism, hopefully, what they are doing is offering a critique.
But when the church is full of criticism, it is distracted from mission. And when it loses focus or clarity of mission, further problems can arise. The real issue is deception. The church is deceived about what is important, and thus becomes more and more defeated over time, whether that is years or decades.
We saw last week how a leader can intentionally deceive a church and why we must remain diligent to prevent such an effort. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 10, Paul used war terms to describe how to combat (a war term in itself) the problem. This week, we will review Joshua 9 and see how a bit of deception was part of the downfall of Israel.
The Israelites have entered the Promised Land and have destroyed Jericho. During that victory, one man, Achan, took part of the loot for himself which was against what God had commanded. The result was a loss of lives in a subsequent battle, and eventually Achan was killed for his transgression. Then Israel was able to defeat Ai, and Joshua led Israel to renew the covenant that Moses led them through earlier (see Deuteronomy 27). Because of the success that the Israelites were having in battle, the neighboring countries and peoples began to be frightened. Most of these countries decided to align their forces to fight against Israel. But one group, the Gibeonites, had a different thought, and that leads to the story of the deception we see today in Joshua, chapter 9.
The Enemy Is Devious (Joshua 9.3-6)
The Bible uses the word cunning, but the intent is the same. The Gibeonites heard about the victories at Jericho and Ai and calculated their own defeat. Thus, they devised a scheme with the intent to gain protection. READ Josh 9.4-6.
Verse 4 gives us all we need to know. They “acted with cunning.” They were preparing for a journey, so like anyone they packed provisions. We have to remember that a journey in their day was quite different. The Israelites were at Gilgal (9.6), but the Bible references this name a few times in seemingly different places. Thus, I was unable to discern exactly how far Gibeon was from Gilgal. But, Joshua 10.9 says that Joshua marched the army all night from Gilgal to Gibeon so it could not have been that far. The Gibeonites would not have needed many provisions. But to fool the Israelites, the Gibeonites needed to appear to have needed many provisions – and that the provisions were well used. Therefore, their plan included using worn out donkey sacks, sandals, and clothes, and the crumbled food. They had to make it appear that they had travelled quite a distance otherwise they would fall within the territory Israel was supposed to destroy.
The fact is, you and I can see this story unfolding. The author writes that the Gibeonites acted with cunning. The Gibeonites knew what they were doing; the people of Israel did not. It is clear to us what is about to happen; it was not clear to Joshua and the Israelites. So it is difficult to blame them because they did not know what we know. If our story were written a year from now, or a decade from now, details will be known that we simply cannot know – yet. And thus, we must be on our guard against deception. Again, as we saw last week, a war is raging. And the enemy will devise plans to trick us into thinking he is our ally. But he is not. We must remain on guard so as not to fall prey to his schemes.
The Enemy Is Deceptive (Joshua 9.7-13)
Not only did the Gibeonites devise a plan, they carried it out well. In fact, they admit part of their scheme, but only so much as will benefit them. The Israelites knew their God-given goal was to eradicate the other nations in the land of Canaan. Therefore, the Israelites were rightly skeptical, and even asked about their origins (v. 8). Notice the response the Gibeonites gave. (Read Joshua 9.9-12). The Gibeonites acknowledge that they are seeking protection. But they pull some heart strings – they invoked God and the miracles that happened in Egypt.
Let’s pause here for a moment. Did you catch what I just said? Look at verse 9 and 10 again. They realize all that has happened is God’s doing? They are seeking a covenant with man to avoid the punishment of God. That is true…but what God did was known. Make no mistake, the work of God is evident in creation (Romans 1), and the works of God will spread. More importantly, the Word of God will also spread by messengers whether people want it to or not. People may not like God, they may not want God, but they will acknowledge God. The question for us is: When they come seeking answers, will we be ready to respond?
The Gibeonites then show their provisions with the intent of making their words acceptable because of the physical condition of those provisions. Make no mistake, the sacks and food must have been in horrible condition because the Israelites did not balk after seeing the items. And that leads to the next point in the progression of this story.
God’s People Are Duped (Joshua 9.14-21)
We cannot overlook the last part of the next sentence – the Israelites “did not ask counsel from the Lord” (v. 14). Instead Joshua, the leader, made peace – a covenant – with these strangers.
Covenants are far more than a simple promise. Covenants are meant to be binding – like the covenant God has made with His people. In fact, we must not overlook that this covenant is made with the Gibeonites immediately following the renewing of the covenant between Israel and the Lord. This understanding is critical because it shows that we can be fully engaged and doing what is right one moment, and then act in a way that is contrary to everything we hold dear the next moment. A verse I mentioned last week, 1 Corinthians 10.12, ring true here: “Therefore if anyone thinks that he stands, let him take heed, lest he fall.” We are all prone to falling, and particularly when we have been duped.
Now, another part of this story that is important is that even though they were duped, the Israelites honored the covenant. When the people learned they had been deceived, they did not attack the cities despite being in the territory that they were supposed to destroy. Some may say that they should have broken the covenant to follow the laws of God. But God also commanded, “Do not lie.” And two wrongs do not make a right. If they had lied, then no other treaty would have been considered worthy. Furthermore, God’s name would have been shamed. The God that the Gibeonites feared because of what was done in Egypt, Jericho, and Ai, would have been disgraced. So, the people honored the covenant. But the whole problem could have been avoided if they had asked “counsel from the Lord” in the first place. (cf. v 14)
Are we seeking counsel from the Lord? Are we honoring our covenants? Even when it seems to not be in our favor? Our society today says “personal happiness” is all that matters. If you are happy, nothing else matters. Such thoughts are extraordinarily selfish and have led to the many ills in society today. And the only way to avoid this extreme selfishness is to take up the cross – daily. Like Paul said to the church in Galatia, he had already been crucified with Christ, meaning he was a part of Jesus’ body now. Likewise, when we embrace Jesus, we give up our rights to take on the responsibilities of being part of His body. Otherwise, if we don’t, we fall prey to the last part of this story.
God’s People Disregard God (Joshua 9.22; 2 Chronicles 36.21)
When we choose to follow anyone other than God, including ourselves, we will soon find ourselves on a slippery slope. Again, the leaders did not ask counsel of God, and a covenant with a group who was supposed to be destroyed was made. The people (or congregation, vv. 15, 18) honored the covenant as well, but the result was that a covenant made with man led them to break their covenant with God.
Why did God want all of the people in land of Canaan destroyed? Because He did not want His people led astray. What happened? Well, the people were led astray. In the book of Judges, we repeatedly see a people who turn from God for a number of years, until God sends a judge to deliver them, and then the cycle is repeated. And the book of Judges ends with the statement that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). Samuel comes to restore order as a prophet, but the people want a king (as God foretold in Deuteronomy). And the kings make alliances with foreign leaders which lead to corruption of the people. Occasionally, a king would turn the people back to God for a time (e.g. Josiah), but most did what was “evil in the sight of the Lord.”
Over a period of several hundred years the people worshipped false idols, set up altars for the sake of convenience, and generally turned their back from God. Of course, it started small, just a little deception by a group who was supposed to be an enemy. But if we examine one more verse, we can see why Israel would be challenged by this new alliance.
Notice what is said about Gibeon in Joshua 10.2. The city was great. It was greater than Ai. All of its men were warriors. This city is the one that sought a treaty with Israel because of what God was doing to the other cities. Yet, we can easily see that this city was one of great influence – it was like a royal city – but knew it could not be victorious over a people who were committed to following God.
So, they joined the people of God, which compromised the people of God. That is, instead of trying to be victorious in battle, they became victorious as friends. Now, this might not have been the stated goal of the Gibeonites, but it was undoubtedly the effect. And God knew this would happen, which is why He commanded that all of the cities be destroyed. The only way to protect His people from themselves was to ensure they were focused on Him and not on others. Because when our mind is not focused on the enemy, or is focused on the wrong enemy, we will certainly lose not only the battle, but the war (similar to Hitler’s mistake in France which, in part, led to the the Allied Forces success on D-Day, which was mentioned last week).
The progression of this passage fits the progression of the immune system attacking the human body, although the enemy and the body are one. The body deceives itself by thinking that something has entered into it that should not be there. In the case of the human body, the affected tissue was not devious, but the body thought it was. The affected tissue was not deceptive on its own, but when the body tried to fight against the immune system, the immune system thought it was being deceived. And thus, the immune system was duped. At that point the immune system disregarded what was truly good and continued to attack the rest of what was a healthy body because it could no longer distinguish healthy tissue from unhealthy tissue.
But again, the human body is not the ultimate object we must keep in view during this series. The human body is our metaphor for the Body of Christ. And just as the human body can be misled into attacking itself, so too can the Body of Christ. As members of the Body of Christ, we are not our own. Indeed, as Paul wrote, we were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6.20). If we have been bought, we belong to whoever purchased us, and that negates our rights to ourselves, which should bring us together in harmony with others who have been similarly bought. And thus…
…our JOURNEY letter for today is: U – UNITE.
As God’s people, we are to be united in purpose. We are to unite in function. That does not mean that we will agree on everything at all times, but it does mean that when our disagreements are expressed, we align beyond a common point, and then move forward. Of course, this can only be done if we are each asking counsel of the Lord. As we seek to know our marching orders from the head, which is Christ, then the rest of the body falls in line. Unfortunately, our churches today have too many who want to be like an immune system that has gone haywire against its own body rather than yielding to what Christ wants them to do.
PRINCIPLE: The body of Christ is to remain focused on Him and ask for His counsel to know what He would have us to do.
QUESTION: On what matters should we “ask counsel of the Lord?”
OPPORTUNITY: Start simply by seeking God’s counsel on one new matter every day.
LIVE: Related to last week’s LEARN step, putting on the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6.17) will help us keep our minds fixed on the Savior and allow us to “ask counsel from the Lord.”