“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.” (Joshua 9:27)

The book of Joshua is one of the key books in the Old Testament. It is a book of transition for the people of God. In this book, we read of how the Israelites leave the wilderness of wandering and take up permanent residence in the Promised Land. The book is a historical record of this entrance into Canaan. But for this dispensation of the people of God, it is a book of teaching. In this book, there are many valuable lessons to be learned. Canaan is not a type of Heaven, for in Canaan there are battles to be fought and blunders that are made. And in Heaven, there will be no more battles or blunders!

Chapters 6-11 of this book focus on Defeating the Enemy. And just as the Israelites faced enemies, so we who are children of God face enemies today. In chapter 6, we read of an Intransigent Foe (Jericho). This foe is overcome by obedience and faith. This parallels the enemy we call the world. In chapters 7-8, we read of an Internal Foe (Ai). The name Ai means “a heap of ruins,”[1] and that is the testimony of the flesh. This foe brings them to defeat because of an internal failure, the sin of Achan; and the remedy is recorded for us, “And all Israel stoned him with stones” (Joshua 7:25). Likewise, the remedy for the flesh is to “mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:5). Now in chapter 9, we see the third great enemy which faces believers seeking to live in victory, the Infernal Foe (Gibeonites), the devil himself. The Gibeonites picture the devil for the Bible tells us that “they did work wilily” (Joshua 9:4). Paul reminds us to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). In considering these great enemies the children of Israel faced and their response to the failure they committed, we can learn some great lessons to help us in the battles which you and I face in our endeavor to live in victory.

As we trace the events which unfold in the chapter, we find it began with An Unexpected Circumstance (v. 6). Joshua and the people were approached by a band of worn-looking people who asked for an alliance with the people of God. From all appearances, their story seemed real – clothes stained and tattered by travel from a distant land, bread taken hot from the oven now moldy, shoes once new now marked by hard use. All bore witness to the validity of their reported experiences.

However, for Joshua and the people, there was An Unused Commodity (v. 14). “And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.” John R. Rice said that all our failures are prayer failures.[2] They simply failed to pray. The Bible instructs us that “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

As a result, they made An Unwise Choice (v. 15). “And Joshua…made a league with them.” I wonder, in my own life, how many times unwise choices were the result of the unused commodity of prayer. Joseph Scriven spoke well when he said,

“O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer.”[3]

And all too soon, they received An Undesirable Communique (v. 16). “They heard that they were their neighbors, and that they dwelt among them.” Now, the truth is revealed. These Gibeonites are not travelers from a distant land, but rather they are inhabitants of the land of Canaan itself. We should be reminded that the devil’s delights are never as enjoyable as he presents them to be. The bitter worm of regret taints every morsel of fruit that he offers.

And now there is An Unintended Consequence (v. 19). “But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them.” They had been commanded to utterly destroy the inhabitants, but now they had sworn an oath of friendship with them – done under false apprehension but done nonetheless. The great problem with sin is that it can never be undone. Forgiven – yes; undone – no. You are always stuck with that Gibeonite in your life. It may be a broken marriage, an illegitimate child, a criminal record, an embarrassment or shame, or one of a thousand other things. Peter’s story always contains a denial, David’s record always has a Bathsheba, and Abraham’s always includes a Hagar.

So what do you do? You are stuck with the Gibeonite. The devil has you trapped. There’s no way free. It’s hopeless, or is it? Let’s note how Joshua handled it and see what we can learn. First, don’t cover it. In verse 19, the leaders simply confessed their failure. Secondly, don’t compound it. In verse 20, they acknowledge that if they violate their word and slay the Gibeonites, it will make matters worse. In verses 22-27, we find Joshua’s solution. There was An Unlikely Cultivation (v. 27). “And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water.” As hewers of wood, they would cause the fires on the altar to burn more brightly. As drawers of water, they would be used to purify the servants of God. Joshua took his failure and used it to increase and sustain his devotion to God. And he did it “that day!” Our failures will either fuel us or fetter us. They will either provoke us to a closer walk with God or paralyze us from serving God. May we learn to take the remnants of our failures and use them to drive us to the cross and make us pure. How are you using your Gibeonite?

[1] William Smith, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), p. 28.

[2] John R. Rice, Prayer – Asking and Receiving, (Murfreesboro: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1970), p. 314.

[3] Joseph Scriven, What A Friend We Have in Jesus in Favorite Hymns of Praise, (Chicago: Tabernacle Publishing Company, 1969) p. 517.

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Craig Burcham, GSBC Faculty

Bro. Burcham served as the Chairman of the Bible Department at Golden State Baptist College before answering the call to pastor the Mountain Vista Baptist Church in Sierra Vista, AZ. Pastor Burcham travels each week to teach the next generation at GSBC. Before coming to GSBC, he served as a missionary with his family in Japan for several years and then pastored in Missouri.