It seemed so obvious. Everything pointed to it being the only sensible decision. Their feet were calloused – they must have walked hundreds of miles. Their clothes sun scorched and tatty – they cannot have seen a launderette for months. Their bread was as stale and hard as bark – they were clearly miles from home. No threat to Joshua’s great Israel as they claimed Canaan for themselves. After all they said, “Your servants have come from a very far country…This bread of ours was warm when we packed…now see how dry and mouldy it is…and our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.’” (Joshua 9:9-13) All the evidence was there.
So Joshua gladly made a treaty with this distant land – who knows when such a ‘special relationship’ might prove beneficial in the stormy waters of international politics?
But the clever Gibeonites had hoodwinked them. “Three days after they had made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard they were neighbours, living near them.” (Joshua 9:16) Now bound by their treaty it compromised their mission.
But it wasn’t the Gibeonite’s clever cunning or practised playacting that caused such an error.
“The Israelite’s sampled their provisions but did not enquire of the Lord.’ (Joshua 9:14)
Notice there is no criticism that the Israelites had used the human skills at their disposal. It is right and sensible to use the knowledge we have as we discern God’s ways and so ‘the Israelite’s sampled their provisions…’ The error is that ‘they did not enquire of the Lord.’ Their failure is to neglect seeking God. Their failure is having seen convincing outward appearances they do not seek God who sees the heart. (1Samuel 16:7)
Discerning who to marry or whether to remain single; discerning a career path or whether to have children; discerning mission and ministry as church.
Are we doing what the Israelite’s did – they did sample the provisions
They knew desert trekking and what it did to clothes and food and wine. So they applied that human knowledge to the question in front of them. So must we. God has delegated responsibility to us to use our God-given life skills and experience to determine his will. Being practical is godly.
Are we doing what the Israelites did not do – they did not enquire of the Lord
This was the Israelite’s error. They did not enquire of the Lord. They did not pray. They did not search the Scriptures. They did not seek godly council. They took what they saw at face value. Outward appearance was enough.
Sampling Provisions and Enquiring of the Lord
If we only rely on our own knowledge and skills and forsake enquiring of God we are destined to see ‘only the outward appearance’ and not see like God ‘who sees the heart’ (1Samuel 16:7). Equally if we fail to apply our human knowledge and skills to a situation and become hyper-spiritual, detached from reality we become irresponsible with the responsibility God has given us – we become the ‘idle and disruptive’. (1Thessolonians 5:14) So let us heed God’s call as we discern his mind – for our futures and our church’s futures – to be those who both ‘sample their provisions’ and those who ‘enquire of the Lord’. Those who rightly read outward appearance and who rightly see the heart.
[I wrote originally as a guest article in Redeemed Christian Church of God anniversary magazine, Autumn 2013.]