“The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy.” (Joshua 9:5)

It’s not necessarily a compliment to be called clever, cunning, canny and shrewd, although in the society in which I live, the United States, fooling people is considered not a vice, but a virtue.

After all, if you want to get ahead — really ahead — you have to step on a few faces. We accept this, even among Christians, and some go so far as to embrace it, along the lines of being as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

Child of Eden inspirational original oil painting of little girl in garden with green hat and radishes by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Amazon.com, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art.
It all started in a garden, and it won’t end until the end. Innocence and deception have always been at variance. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, Amazon, and iCanvas.

The problem is, we tend to overlook that “innocent as doves” part, convincing ourselves that Jesus was encouraging us to adopt the snake-like practices of our cultural corporate norm, something that does not align with basic tenets of His teachings like, do not steal, or do not give false testimony (Matthew 19:18). Rather, we are to be wise, not crafty; innocent, not gullible.

Brilliant Deception

The verse at the head of this essay describes the brilliant, absolutely masterful deception of the Gibeonite people, who lived in the midst of the territory that the Hebrews, after their 40 years of wandering through the desert in Sinai, swept through and conquered.

Alarmed at the way things were going, the Gibeonites dressed as if they had come from afar, as opposed to living very, very close, and used a script worthy of any advertising campaign or political speech today to convince the Israelites that they, the Gibeonites, were eager to make a truce with these newly powerful people because they, the Gibeonites, were so impressed by the Jews’ wonderful God.

“For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan — Sihon, king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.” (Joshua 9:9)

I’ll bet they heard — and without FOX news at that.

Moldy Bread

To add credence to their story, the Gibeonites added,

“This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 

“And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.” (Joshua 9:12-13)

At this point, Joshua and the leaders of the Israelite did one smart thing and one foolish one, with the latter eclipsing any benefits of the former:

They sampled the Gibeonites’ provisions and found that their descriptions of the bread and the wineskins and the clothing were accurate and true.

What was not accurate and true, however, were the Gibeonites’ explanation of why their provisions were so worn, something that would have been brought out to Joshua if he had stepped aside, gone to God — who has been generously communicating with him throughout the book — and inquired of Him.

Instead, “Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.” (v. 15)

Three days later, the Israelites discovered that the Gibeonites were very close neighbors, with whom they were stuck, because they had made a treaty with them.

(As an aside, the Gibeonites didn’t  benefit generously from their deception: the irritated Hebrews made them permanent slaves to the Israelite community; and the neighboring kings banded together to attack the Gibeonites for going behind everyone’s back to save their own skins. Rarely does one see deception paid back in kind so quickly and so well.)

A Cultural Norm

Now from the point of a person who lives in my culture — which believes that if you’re dumb enough to believe what you’re told, then you deserve everything you get — Joshua and the leaders made a mistake because they weren’t smart, savvy, and quick, “virtues” of mankind which are elevated to almost godlike proportions in our 21st century globalized, industrial, corporate, and military state.

Their mistake, however, was not that they weren’t as clever as the people around them, but that they didn’t consult their leader and God, who catches the wise in their craftiness and knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile (1 Corinthians 3:19-20).

Man can’t outsmart God.

But he can, and does, outsmart other men, and when those other men make a point of listening, regularly, to the words and stories of clever speakers — in political speeches, on the news, at the movies (“based upon a TRUE story!”), in the classroom, at the university, on the back of the cereal box — and believing everything they are told without question, and without holding it up to the standards of truth God has put forth in His book and in the world of nature that He created, then the deceptive people get ahead.

And many followers of God — who are told to be wise, not foolish; but innocent, not conforming to the practices of those around them — are deluded into accepting that if you don’t join the bad guys at their own game, then you’ll lose.

But you don’t win by joining the bad guys. You win by following the one and only Good Guy, and asking Him, as Joshua and the leaders should have, about things.

Wise, not stupid.

Innocent, not sly.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.


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