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IT would seem on reading this narrative that it can have no possible relation to our time and our circumstances. But God would never write a Bible which was to obliterate itself as the ages come and go. If he could have written such a Bible, surely some instruction might have been given as to the excision of the parts whose meaning has been exhausted. But the book remains in its entirety. It must therefore contain meanings which were not merely local. All that can be required of us is to search the Scripture even in its oldest forms of history and parable; to penetrate it, to take it reverently to pieces, and examine it with devoutest scrutiny. We have undertaken to show that such an examination may be conducted with great profitableness. Again and again we have seen that the Bible is within the Bible, that all letters, forms, representations are symbolic, or are so many doors through which we may pass into the inmost places, the awful sanctuaries, in which may be found eternal truth, celestial purity, supernal music. Flowers grow along the road traversed by the Bible story. The old wells are worth opening; water comes from deep rocks, and is refreshing to men and fertilising to the whole Church. Let us not be beguiled by the easy thought that the Bible is a self-exhausted book, that time obliterates its revelation, that the days impoverish it of heavenly energy. Be it ours rather to believe that it is the book which is daily inspired, daily written, and continually applicable to every variety of human circumstance and need.
The proof of this is upon the very face of the exciting narrative now before us. Do we not see here, first and foremost, the pitiable shifts to which all spiritual fear is driven? The fear of Israel came upon the Gibeonites, and the result was an invention, a false arrangement, an attempt to escape the inevitable. This is the story of today. Volumes might be written upon this one thought namely, that spiritual fear is always and of necessity driven to the most pitiable shifts. Spiritual fear says, What can I do? I will undertake long pilgrimages; I will discharge severe and exhausting penances; I will set apart certain days for self-distress; I will pay great fines willingly; I will draw a mask over my face and obliterate my identity; I will create a system of lucky days and fortunate numbers, and enter into complex speculations and arrangements; I will build churches, and seem to worship; I will commingle with the people of God as if I were one of them when my heart is a thousand leagues away from the very poorest soul in all the sacred number. This is the very philosophy of superstition. Great and solemn histories find their fount and origin in this one circumstance how to baffle God, how to pray without praying, how to succeed by trick and lie and mean pretence. Who will say that the Bible is exhausted as to its inner meanings and its profound revelations? The trick of the Gibeonites is the game of today. Spiritual fear knows not the spirit of truth, and cannot of course know the spirit of joy. So long as we are in fear, we are not in God, we are not in love: "perfect love casteth out fear;" we are not in truth, for truth blinks not in the presence of the midday light, it goes forth to a thousand lions, leaps over a wall, and runs through a troop as if through a film of air. Are we not always cursed by this spirit of fear? It leads us to misconstructions of God. He ceases to be God when he is looked at through the medium and under the base inspiration of servile fear. The man in whom the spirit of fear is, cannot read the Bible. It is a mere idol to him. He looks at it, pronounces its words, accepts its partial perusal as a task; but he never enters into the inner meaning, the divine thought, the eternal affection and redemptiveness of the book. What is the consequence? The consequence is that he can be frightened away from the book by any man who has a larger mind than his own, and who has a more inventive faculty in the region of destructive criticism and embarrassing remark. Hold the Bible with the timid hand of fear, and any thief may take it from our yielding grasp; hold it in our love and read it in the sunshine of joy derived from conscious sonship with God, and no man can pluck it out of our hand: it then becomes the Bible to us, not a collection of letters, forms, but a breathing spirit, the Holy Ghost, proving its inspiration by inspiring others. We may make the house of God an idol temple. We may make the Bible itself a mere idol. We may dispossess the heart of love by almost welcoming the spirit of fear. Being under bondage to fear, we are always inventing religions, inventing methods of escape, trying to impose upon the world and the Church, and even upon God. We have therefore to pray that the spirit of fear may be cast out of us as an evil spirit darkening the soul, weaving impenetrable clouds around the horizon of the divine revelation, and making the stars bright globes of heaven dim and murky, divesting them of all poetry and all religious suggestion. The spirit of fear must be driven out of the Church, or the young will not come near us. The spirit of the Church is a spirit of joy, truth, love, poetry, music, these are the fruits of the Spirit!
The application of this narrative to modern states and needs is made evident by the very fact that the best of men are powerless without the divine Spirit. This is proved by the fourteenth verse:
"And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord." ( Jos 9:14 )
We know what came of it. We are beguiled and befooled by appearances. Some circumstances appear to be so very simple as not to require consideration. That is the moment of danger! Men say to themselves, Here is a case in which there is no complexity; the proof of the innocence of these men is patent; there cannot be two opinions about that; they are travel-stained, they are way-worn; the bread they carry is mouldy, the bottles in which they brought their wine are old and rent and useless; the evidence is perfectly complete; there can be no reason whatever for making this a religious problem or an occasion of prayer; let us honour our own common-sense, pay tribute to our own reason, and act according to circumstances about which there can be no dispute. Thus the Church has always been ruined in some degree by its clever men! Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye cannot manage the Church of the living God, even in the lowest ranges of its affairs. Do not attempt to lock the church door except as a religious act. When you light up the sanctuary for worship, do it as if it were a solemn act of prayer and sacrifice. In everything, the smallest and apparently clearest, consult God. This is the religious life, the joy life, the free life, to do nothing without the spirit of prayer. There need not be any affectation of mere posture and form of prayer: there is a spirit of fellowship, a continual realisation of the divine presence, a feeling after God; and then the uplifting of a hand is prayer, as is the falling of a tear. When our reason seems to be equal to the occasion, the temptation of the Evil One is heavy upon us. We practically dismiss God. We do not mean to do so. If the charge were made in words, we should repel it. But we are not always right simply because of our willingness to repel charges that are made against us. Men do not always know when they are the subjects of envy, jealousy, evil passion; in the very paroxysms of jealousy of another man's repute or good position, men have denied that there is any burning of envy in their hearts. How is this? Because envy has a way of coming in disguise; it says, "I have come a long way; I am no enemy of yours, I am no enemy of any man's; I am really not envy or jealousy at all; I will do you good: I will prompt your righteousness to high indignation, but in all the flame of its wrath there shall be nothing that is not akin to the very fire of God's own feeling." Let us beware how we receive disguised spirits into the heart. "Brethren, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God;" and most try those spirits that look so perfectly simple and bring with them credentials written in large letters and signed by very conspicuous names. Truth requires no such introduction. Truth is fearless. Sometimes literally it may be discrepant and inconsistent with itself, so much so that a clever reader could mass all the discrepancies and make a case against the witness; but truth can afford to stumble, stammer, correct itself in the matter of mere memory; truth can apologise with dignity; truth can retract with candour. The great difficulty is that people will not make their reason a religious power; in other words, identify its action with religious prostration and inquiry of God. They say the case is so perfectly simple. Such simplicity is not to be found anywhere. God is in the smallest flower he ever made. Every atom that requires even a microscope to discover its existence has a distinct relation to the eternal throne; and reason in its proudest moments loses nothing, but gains everything by the prayer that ennobles its understanding and whets its penetration. Joshua and his men were beguiled by appearances, by a most evident and obvious case. They took not counsel at the mouth of the Lord, and what came of it is revealed in the narrative. How pitiful is the issue! How short is the life of the schemer!
"And it came to pass at the end of three days" ( Jos 9:16 ).
That is the life of a lie. It cannot go any longer practically; it may do so arithmetically, but "three days" is the measure of its duration. The third sunset the appointed time sees the mask fall off and the liar stand stand only to fall. When will men learn this? When will we lay this lesson to heart? Everything looks so successful, and the whole business is just approaching completion, or has actually passed the point of mechanical maturity, and the Gibeonites are about to settle down as men who have successfully perfected a trick; and, lo, at the end of "three days" their whole purpose is exposed and their cleverness is exhausted and at an end! Possibly some may be pursuing precisely the same policy. The circumstances are wholly different; but do not delude yourselves with the notion that circumstances make the reality of the case. What are we about now in commerce, in family life, in all the relations, personal and social, which we sustain? What about the trick, the mean device, the covered lie, the well-painted mask, the falsehood well got up? He would be' no prophet of the Lord who did not ask the question so burningly as almost to force an answer from the perpetrator of the imposition. But men will not learn from history: every man must commit suicide. We see a thousand men before us in the very line we are taking, all dead, and yet we think we can pass the heap of ruin and successfully reach the final point of the line! It cannot be done. God is against it; and when God is against a man his reason is like a candle blown out, and his cleverness but adds to the aggravation of his guilt. Nothing will stand but truth, honour; truth will stand when all things fail. It lives in the open air all the days of the year; it can go out at midnight as safely as at midday; it speaks to a king, to a child, to a peasant, with all the simplicity of innocence and the beauteousness of a high and noble and valiant courage. But the man who is imposing upon others skulks, listens, wonders, is astonished at little sentences which people drop as if they were dropping them on purpose, is excited by an inquiry, is affrighted by an unexpected letter. He is a liar, and the liar has a bad time of it. O that men were wise, that they understood these things!
But the Gibeonites were spared. Yes, they were spared, but were made bondmen servants for ever:
"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" ( Jos 9:27 ).
The liar comes to humiliation. He cannot come to honour; If he came to honour, he dare not touch it. Everything turns to ashes in the bad man's hand. His children are not his: they disown him; without being able to explain it, they hate him; they represent to him the wrath of an indignant God; they would not touch him: his kiss blasts their young lips; he is a liar, and should be kept a universe off virtue and beauty. Do not suppose a lie can be made permanently successful. Better eat the bread of poverty than the bread of falsehood. Better have the very lowest social position, hardly a foothold in the world at all, yet maintain it like an honest man, than have all the surface of the globe, and know that the air is full of anger, and that the judgment is gathering and will presently explode and destroy the victim. No counsel can prosper against God. The escape from one form of punishment is not an escape from all. A covenant had been made, and according to Eastern custom, when men had eaten salt with one another, the salt was to be as a perpetual protection between them. We have already seen how men spread salt upon a sword and took the salt, each of them: henceforth that sword was sheathed. So it was in this instance. The covenant had been made, and therefore was to be literally respected. So far as that covenant was concerned, it stood; but God has always one other thing he can do that we never imagined or suspected. We cannot escape God. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Our God is a consuming fire. He never consumed that which was good: he has no fire that would burn it. Men have tried to burn the good, and have failed. Men have guillotined noble reformers and patriots, but the reform and the patriotism came up sevenfold greater than before. Great tyrants have issued orders that rebels should be slain and crushed, and crushed and slain they have been, but in so far as the rebels represented righteousness, justice, fair play, the guillotine failed, not the men who were decapitated by it. So there is honour reserved for the good man and the true, however much he may suffer; and there is judgment reserved for the bad man, however much he may succeed. Set it down as part of your very life's programme: God is with truth, God is with right, God is against falsehood, God is against wrong; and at the end of "three days" that is, at the end of some measurable period the liar shall stand convicted, the bad man who carried his head so high shall find that head falling upon his breast, and the man whose cause was bad and who succeeded for a considerable period will be brought short up, God will look at him, and in that look there will be hell enough!
What is the cure for all this? What is the great answer of Heaven to all this falsehood and suffering upon earth? The answer of Heaven is the answer of the Cross. Always we come back to the Cross of Christ the blood shed for the sins of the world. We have all been liars in the sight of God, though not to one another mayhap. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." It comes to one of two things: to detection or confession. Detection means perdition. Confession means pardon!
Gibeon is a town celebrated in the Old Testament, but not mentioned in the New. It was "a great city," as one of the royal cities; and to its jurisdiction originally belonged Beeroth, Chephirah, and Kirjath-jearim (Joshua 9:17 ; Jos 10:2 ). It is first mentioned in connection with the deception practised by the inhabitants upon Joshua, by which, although Canaanites (Hivites), they induced the Jewish leader not only to make a league with them, and to spare their lives and cities, but also, in their defence, to make war upon the five kings by whom they were besieged. It was in the great battle which followed, that "the sun stood still upon Gibeon" (Joshua 10:12 , Jos 10:11-14 ). The place afterwards fell to the lot of Benjamin, and became a Levitical city (Josh, Joshua 18:25 ; Jos 21:17 ), where the tabernacle was set up for many years under David and Solomon (1 Chronicles 16:39 ; 1 Chronicles 21:29 ; 2Ch 1:3 ), the ark being at the same time at Jerusalem ( 2Ch 1:4 ). It was here, as being the place of the altar, that the young Solomon offered a thousand burnt-offerings, and was rewarded by the vision which left him the wisest of men (1 Kings 3:4-15 ; 2Ch 1:3-13 ). This was the place where Abner's challenge to Joab brought defeat upon himself, and death upon his brother, Asahel ( 2Sa 2:12-32 ), and where Amasa was afterwards slain by Joab ( 2Sa 20:8-12 ). None of these passages mark the site of Gibeon; but there are indications of it in Josephus ( De Bell. Jud. ii. 19, 1), who places it fifty stadia north-west from Jerusalem; and in Jerome ( Ep. 86 ad Eustoch. ): which leave little doubt that Gibeon is to be identified with the place which still bears the name of El-Jîb; for Jib, in Arabic, is merely a contraction of the Hebrew Gibeon. The name Gaboon is indeed mentioned by writers of the time of the Crusades as existing at this spot, and among the Arabs it then already bore the name of El-Jib, under which it is mentioned by Bohaedin ( Vita Saladin, p. 243). Afterwards it was overlooked by most travellers till the last century, when the attention of Pococke was again directed to it.
Almighty God, we are exceedingly afraid of thy power: we dare not come nigh it; we may not provoke it. Our God is a consuming fire. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. So we speak of thee, and so we feel that verily this is true. Yet, God is love; God is our Father in heaven; like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. This also is true; this is the joy of our life, and its brightest hope; this is the glorious gospel of the blessed God. This view have we of thee in Christ Jesus thy Son; he revealed the Father unto us, and by him we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we are able to say, Abba, Father, with a new meaning and a new music in our voice, for the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us. Thou hast great resources of wrath, yet thy mercy endureth for ever. In wrath thou dost remember mercy. Power belongeth unto thee, and to thee also, O Lord, belongeth mercy. It is unto thy mercy that we come: God be merciful unto us, sinners! Let thy mercy prevail, that our iniquities strike us not with the great hailstones from heaven, killing the creatures whom thou hast redeemed. Spare the lightning, and the hailstones, and the great rains, and the devastating tempests. Be pitiful unto us. We are as bruised reeds and smoking flax; as a vapour that cometh for a little time and then passeth away. The Lord be pitiful unto us; look upon us through the tears of his love and not through the anger of his righteousness. Comfort us according to our mourning: fill up the great vacancy in the heart; establish that which is wanting in our faith, so that it may be long, constant, strong, quite majestic and noble because of its amplitude and its power. Lord, increase our faith! Then we shall rejoice in tribulation also, finding in tribulation the beginning of patience and the pledge of final refinement and sanctification. The Lord send none unblessed away. If it please thee to send upon us first a great fear, let thy love afterwards reveal itself unto us, and may we see the brightness the brighter because of the darkness which made us afraid. Carry on our little life a little longer. Desert us not when the day gets towards eventide and far-spent. Thou hast not brought us thus far along to cast us away into the pit or leave us in desert places. We will think of all thy goodness in the past, and out of it we will bring a holy confidence, through the Lord Jesus Christ, our blessed and only Saviour, that thou wilt surely complete what thou hast begun. This is our strength in Christ; this is our hope as we stand near the Cross. We know our sin is great, but where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound. We will say this to our hearts; the Lord repeat the music to our listening expectancy and hope, and we shall yet be filled with a great gladness, and the eventide shall be brighter than the morning. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 9". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany