God Designed Transitions
We have looked at several aspects of God designed transitions. Sometimes we don’t understand the reason and the purpose for the change God brings into our lives because we honestly like the things the way they are. We become comfortable and we know what to expect. Honestly, it is so much easier for things to stay the same, isn’t it?
But God brings all of us through times of transition in our lives. Every one of us have already faced times of transition. It could be when we began having children, or when we became empty nesters. It could be job transfers, lay-offs, or eliminations. It may be loss of loved ones, catastrophes like a hurricane, or as simple as moving into a new home. God designed transitions test the perseverance of our faith and our determination to love and serve Him no matter what happens. God designed transitions shape us and mold us as we respond rightly in the midst of these transitions.
We have talked about how God uses these times of transition to bring renewed power to our lives. Often, we come to a certain point in life where we kind of plateau and spiritual growth has slowed, and God’s power seems less evident. But through a God designed transition, He can bring renewed power to our lives. We talked about how God uses these times of transition to put the church on display through transparent unity. The unity in the body of this church clearly puts God on display in our community
We also talk about how God uses transition in our lives to develop courageous strength. Moving into a new territory like Joshua, we need to remember that we will always have the same presence of God that we have always enjoyed. He will not leave us. God told Joshua, that the same promises and His same presence will be with him, just as it was with Moses. Just because the leadership changes, doesn’t mean God’s power and presence changes.
Today I want to look at something that many times we overlook when it comes to times of transition. We get so focused on the decisions we are making, the difficulties we are going through, and we don’t take time to talk to the One who is bringing us through the transition.
We have a vivid illustration of this in the life of Joshua as they entered the Promised Land. You see, Israel had already begun to take the land that God promised to them. They marched the walls of Jericho and watched as God caused the walls to crumble and He allowed them to take the city. Israel has also experienced defeat at Ai because of sin in their camp. Then through repentance they were given victory there also.
Shortly after the victory at Ai, Joshua goes up into the northern hill country to a place called Mount Ebal where he makes a sacrifice to the Lord and to read the book of the Law to the people of Israel. So, there was certainly a focus upon God and a dedication to Him during this time. That is why what happens next is somewhat bewildering. We would think that if Joshua and the people of Israel were doing the things they ought to and their trust was in God, that they would be in prayer about every situation they encounter. But somehow, they began to just trust what they thought was right and didn’t take time to ask the Lord about everything.
What we find happens next, as recorded in Joshua 9, shows us the power and wisdom of seeking God’s divine guidance in every situation. Word began to spread throughout the land about Israel and the mighty power of God in their midst and there was fear in the land. We are told in the first two verses of Joshua 9 that kings of some of the cities were banding together in resistance to Israel. But the rest of chapter nine describes an interesting situation with the inhabitants of Gibeon. Let’s read verses 3-13 where I think we see clearly the:
Need for God’s Guidance (vv. 3-13)
3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4 they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5 with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly.
6 And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, "We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us." 7 But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, "Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?"
8 They said to Joshua, "We are your servants." And Joshua said to them, "Who are you? And where do you come from?"
9 They said to him, "From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth.
11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, 'Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, "We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us."'
12 Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey."
It is obvious from our vantage point that there is some serious deception going on. The people of Gibeon feel that the only hope they have against Israel is to get them to make a covenant with them. But how will they do that? Israel was to take over all peoples in the Promised Land and so Gideon knew it was only a matter of time before Israel got to them. So, they devise a plan to make Joshua think they have come from a far country, not right there in the Promised Land.
They get worn out pack sacks for their donkeys, wineskins that are worn out and have been mended, they put on their worn-out sandals and some old worn out clothes. They gathered some dry and crumbly provisions of bread and travel over to the camp of Israel in Gilgal only about 30 miles away from Gibeon.
When they get to the camp of Israel, they tell Joshua they have heard about all the things that God has done for them in Egypt and to some of the kings in on the other side of the Jordan. They tell Joshua that the elders of their people want to make a peace covenant with Israel because of all they see that God is doing with them.
What is interesting about this is that somehow the Gibeonites knew about the instruction God gave to Moses and Israel about who they should offer peace to. In Deuteronomy 20:10-18, Israel was told to offer peace to those outside the Promised Land, but not to those who inhabit the Promised Land. The Gibeonites lived in the boundaries of the land God promised to Israel and so that is why they wanted it to look like they lived outside the boundaries of the Promised Land. Somehow, they knew that Israel could agree to peace with them if they thought the Gibeonites lived outside the Land of Promise.
From all evidences they see before them, Joshua feels confident about the decision he is about to make. Their provisions were old, their sandals and clothes were dirty and worn, and so it seemed evident that they had traveled a long way. So the:
Decision Seems Obvious (vv. 14-15)
14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
Joshua makes the decision to create a covenant of peace with them and let them live. Even Joshua’s leaders of the congregation of Israel swore a covenant of peace with them. Everything seemed fine, the evidence was before them, and so based on what they knew, they thought this was the right decision to make.
However, when these Gibeonite representatives first showed up, they were suspicious weren’t they? In verse seven they even mentioned the obvious, "Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?" Thus, Joshua and the people of Israel knew the will of the Lord concerning people who lived in the Land of Promise and for those who lived outside it.
So, what happened? Joshua and the leaders of Israel were trusting their own perceptions of these people and what they were being told by them. They did not know they were being duped into a covenant relationship with a people they were supposed to remove from the land. They trusted their own impressions neglecting to seek insight from the Lord on the matter. Did you notice verse 14?
but did not ask counsel from the LORD
Often, we find ourselves in similar situations. We believe in God, we trust what He tells us in His Word, we strive to serve and obey Him in every way we can, but when faced with choices that we feel are obvious, we fail to consult with the Father on the matter. It seems right, but what might God reveal to us about the situation if we take time to pray about it?
There are some commentators that feel if the Gibeonites came acknowledging God as Lord, which they did, but was forthright about who they were, their lives may have been spared. But we do not know that for sure. What we do know is that without consulting the Lord on the matter, Joshua and the people of Israel made a covenant of peace with them. Now what?
Life Becomes Difficult (vv. 16-27)
16 At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and that they lived among them. 17 And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim.
18 But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19 But all the leaders said to all the congregation, "We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. 20 This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them."
21 And the leaders said to them, "Let them live." So they became cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, just as the leaders had said of them. 22 Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, "Why did you deceive us, saying, 'We are very far from you,' when you dwell among us? 23 Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God."
24 They answered Joshua, "Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you-- so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it."
26 So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. 27 But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, to this day, in the place that he should choose.
Just three days after making a covenant with the Gibeonites, Israel got word that they had been deceived and that these people they made a covenant of peace with lived among them as neighbors. In other words, they lived inside the land promised to them by the Lord. So, Israel goes to the cities where they heard these men came from to verify what they were told was true. But even if it is true, what are they going to do about it now? It would be a grave error to break a covenant made with the Gibeonites.
Even though they had been deceived, Israel honored their covenant with them. So, this speaks highly of how Israel saw their covenant. Their word was their bond even though they had been deceived. In fact, verse 19 and 20 tell us that Israel knew God’s wrath would be upon them if they broke a covenant that was made in the name of the Lord. So, Joshua commits the Gibeonites to serving the congregation of Israel as wood cutters and water carriers rather than taking their lives.
This is a pretty significant thing in Israel, especially in the tabernacle sacrifices. Thus, verse 27 tells us that this was their place of service. Supplying wood and water for the extensive sacrificial system in Israel would indeed be hard work, but to be closely associated with the house of God should be viewed as a blessing for them.
But notice in verse 18, there was dissention among the people toward the leadership. Also, we find that Gibeon became a part of Benjamin’s land area (Josh. 18:25). Later, Joshua consigned Gibeon as one of the Levite towns (21:17). Thus, the Gibeon people became a constant reminder of their neglect in getting counsel from the Lord.
We can look at what happened in this situation and say, “Israel really blew it.” But in all honesty, there are many things that I don’t always take to the Lord in prayer.
Illustration of those who come in need.
Sometimes we rely on our own feelings rather than taking time to talk to God about it. We have so many promises in Scripture concerning this.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Israel’s doubt should have led them to ask God about the Gibeon people. I like how James says, “If any of you lack wisdom.” I am pretty sure that includes everyone.
Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
When God designs a transitional time in our lives, He wants us to seek His counsel, seek His wisdom, ask for His Divine guidance in our lives.
I have many prayers that will be upon my heart over the months to come for my church family here. Just because I am leaving, you are still my family in the Lord, and I will be praying for you through this transitional phase. I hope that you pray for us also as we step into a completely different way of life.
I hope that a Deacon or committee meeting never begins without bathing it in prayer. I pray that there is never a decision, or a vote, called for without seeking the counsel of the Lord first. I hope that you never tire of intercessory prayer for others who need help in time of need. I hope the prayer time during worship and midweek prayer becomes an unquenchable desire on everyone’s heart. Never stop seeking the counsel of the Lord, even on matters that seem obvious. Involve God in everything you do. Invite Him to be a part everything that takes place. Why?
Steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
Seek Divine Guidance