Meditation Is Necessary: What Can We Learn from Joshua?

In the first post of this series, we asked the question, “Is Meditation Necessary?” Through subsequent posts, we have showed several benefits of taking a moment to pause and reflect. But are there any examples of people who suffered adverse consequences because they refused to stop and think? In other words, is meditation necessary, or just a good idea?

History is replete with examples of the painful consequences of neglecting this important discipline, but one of the more amazing accounts takes place in the early days of national Israel’s existence. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read Moses’ farewell charge to the children of Israel as they stand—for the second time—at Kadesh-Barnea on the border of the Promised Land. Having spent forty years in the wilderness because of their refusal to believe God’s promise the first time they arrived at this spot, the people are a little more inclined to obey and believe this time around. However, because of a sin committed in anger, Moses will not be allowed to lead the nation into the Promised Land. Instead, he reminds them of the commandments and statutes of the Lord their God, and transfers the leadership of the host to his protégé, Joshua, the son of Nun.

Joshua was a very unique individual. He had been Moses’ right-hand man for nearly fifty years; he was one of the original twelve spies sent into Canaan; and he was one of only two people over the age of twenty to survive the forty years of wilderness wandering. In spite of this, Joshua was discouraged and probably a bit frightened by being given the responsibility of leading such a large group of people. (Conservative estimates have placed the number of the children of Israel more than a million.)

Knowing that Joshua was struggling, the Lord God of Israel speaks to Joshua, reminding him to be strong, and of a good courage. The words of God to this man comprise the first nine verses of the book that bears his name, and some of the most encouraging promises to believers are to be found here.

“…as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (v. 5)

“This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but that shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (v. 8, emphasis mine)

“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (v.9)

The promise in verse 5 must have been especially powerful to Joshua. He had seen firsthand how God had been with Moses, enabling him to lead the discontented, often fractious Israelites through the wilderness for forty years. Throughout this time, God was showing Joshua what He could do with one man who was surrendered to Him.

But now, on the eve of entering the Promised Land, Joshua’s human nature asserted itself, and he seemed to have forgotten how the Lord had blessed the ministry of Moses. He probably felt alone and exposed. The Scripture records that by this point Moses, Aaron, and Miriam had all passed away, together with all of the Israelites that had been over the age of twenty when they first came to Kadesh-Barnea. So Joshua was one of two people of his generation to survive the wilderness.

It is easy, in the midst of discouraging circumstances, to forget the blessings and direction that God has given in the past. It can happen to anyone—indeed, it has often happened to this author. However, God in His mercy knew that Joshua was suffering from temporary amnesia, and came alongside him and offered some encouraging words that reminded him that while Moses was dead, the God Moses had served was not.

Flip ahead several chapters, and Joshua and the people of Israel have seen the Lord work miraculous victories at Jericho and Ai. At Ai, even after suffering a defeat because of unconfessed sin in the camp, Israel had won the victory by dealing with the sin and the sinner. One would think that Joshua would have learned to consult the Lord before going ahead with a plan of action, but verse 9 records a striking relapse on his part.

In chapter 9 we read about the Gibeonites, a sub-group of the Canaanites, who decided to use trickery rather than force to defeat the Israelites. The Gibeonites knew from the events at Jericho and Ai that Joshua and the Israelites would destroy them without mercy, according to the commands of God. So they undertook to deceivers, and the Scriptural account reads like a modern cloak-and-dagger novel. We pick up the Scripture’s wording in verse 3 of chapter 9:

“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 (donkeys), and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up; And old shoes and clouted (caked with dried mud) upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy.” (verses 3-5, parentheses mine)

Wow! These guys were so bent on deceit that they spared no expense, as it were, to ensure that their façade was unblemished. Although it was only a three-day journey from where they were to the Israelite camp, they outfitted themselves with the oldest, roughest equipage available. For all their intensive preparation, the Gibeonites’ plan had one weakness: God was on Joshua’s side, and nothing gets by Him.

Joshua was suspicious at first. Picking up in verse 6:

“And they (the Gibeonites) went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him, We be come from a far country: now therefore make ye a league (treaty/alliance) with us. And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites (Gibeonites), 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…go to meet them, and say unto them, We are your servants: therefore now make ye a league with us.” (verses 7-11)

To reinforce their shabby accoutrements, they brought the most convincing of wheedling tales about their incredibly long journey, and how these provisions and clothing had been newly purchased especially for this journey. While it was true, perhaps, that these items had been acquired solely for this deception, it was not true that they had been new at the time of purchase. Thus, we see illustrated—yet again—that old aphorism that the most tent lie contains some truth. In accordance with our cloak-and-dagger simile, their cover story was impeccable.

The amazing part of this story is that Joshua disregarded the superior intelligence that was available to him. Verse 14 is the amazing part of this story, because it states that “…the men [of Israel]…asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.”

Astounding! Joshua had the opportunity to ask the One who knows everything about the wisdom of this agreement, but instead he went ahead and made an alliance with these men.

Imagine his surprise when he discovered, three days later, that the Gibeonites were his neighbors! They had tricked him into believing that they lived months away, when in fact they lived right across the street, as it were. No one likes being taken in, so it is not difficult to place oneself in Joshua’s shoes, nor to imagine his chagrin.

As infuriated as he was by the deceit of the Gibeonites, Joshua honored the pact he had made with them, and refused to kill them. However, he (upon the advice of the princes of Israel) bound them as servants (in the Scripture the terms are “hewers of wood,” and “drawers of water.”) For their deceit, these men earned a lifetime of servitude not only for themselves, but for their entire tribe. The Scripture records succinctly, “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.” (Joshua 9:27, emphasis mine)

This account is rich in application. A surface examination yields two important truths:

  1. It is better to act with caution and take counsel first, than to act rashly and repent later. Joshua learned this when he took the men’s word at face value and acted upon his feelings. This is always dangerous.
  2. The Gibeonites’ actions demonstrate that succinct declaration by Satan—many years earlier—that is recorded in Job 2:4. “…Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” These men were so afraid of death that they were willing to go to any lengths—even selling their entire tribe into bondage—to avoid dying at the hands of the Israelites.

As I have said, this account is brimming with lessons for us. Do you see others? What else can we learn from this event?

 

Something to think about,

David

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