“THE FACES OF EVIL”

JOSHUA 9

SEPTEMBER 6, 2009

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            Some consider Ty Cobb to be one of the best baseball players in the history of baseball.  He had the best lifetime batting average of anyone who ever played the game.  His career batting average was .367, and when he was seventy years old an HBO television reporter asked him, “Mr. Cobb, what do you think your batting average would be today?  If you played today, would you be able to approach your lifetime batting average of .367?”

            Cobb replied, “I would probably hit .290.”

            The reported asked, “Is that because of night baseball, and the heavy travel schedule, and all the pitching specialists that we have today?”

            Cobb said, “No.  It’s because I’m seventy years old.”

            Well, the book of Joshua is old, and we’ve seem some significant improvements in the biblical scene since Joshua was written, not the least of which were the coming of Christ and the advent of the New Testament, but that does not mean that the Book of Joshua, like Ty Cobb, can not compete today.  It can and over the past eight Sundays we have discovered the book still has a lot of life in it.  It still has a lot to teach us about God, and faith, and life and today is another case in point.

            This morning’s story is a change of pace.  The past three chapters have been extremely intense conquest narratives, a lot of blood and guts, but today we come to a quaint little story about a group of people called the Gibeonites, that is they lived in the city of Gibeon.  They were also called Hivites referring to their ancestry.  For example, I’m half-German, but also live Omaha, so you could refer to me as a “German” or as an “Omahan”.  And the Hivites from the city of Gibeon would rather serve than fight.  The Gibeonites heard what had transpired at Jericho and Ai, and fearful of annihilation, they came up with a clever plan.  Pretending to be from a foreign country, they took worn-out sacks, torn and mended wineskins, dry and moldy food, old looking clothes and made their way to Joshua, and said to him, “We have come from a far country; now therefore make a covenant with us.”

            Well, Joshua did not know that they really lived just over the hill, so he made a covenant with them, and people took covenants very seriously back then.  It’s not like today, where professional athletes demand their contracts be renegotiated every time the market changes.  If you signed a covenant back then, even under false pretenses, you lived up to the terms of the covenant.  And when the Israelites discovered that Joshua and their leaders had been duped, they became incensed with them.  By the way, this is another embarrassing moment in Joshua’s life.  We looked at on last week, today we look at another.

            Now, as we explore this event today, I want to begin by quoting Jesus.  In the 16th chapter of Luke, Jesus makes an observation about the world in which we live.  He said, “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are children of the light.”  Let me repeat this observation.  “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are children of the light.”

            That was certainly the case with the Gibeonites.  They were more shrewd, in this case, than the Israelites, and unfortunately, that’s often the case with God’s people.  We can be so dimwitted, so naive, so gullible at times.  Maybe it’s because we want to believe the best about people, I don’t know, but boy can we ever be taken for a ride.  Why else would people contribute millions of dollars to the emotional appeal of television evangelists?  I’m not saying they are all bad, but many live opulent lifestyles.  Before I gave to any television evangelist, I would insist on reading his income tax returns for the past five years, because some television evangelists take people for a ride just as the Gibeonites took Joshua for a ride.

            Jesus was right.  “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than children of the light.”  Don’t believe it?  How about the number of times Christians have set a date for the second coming of Christ?  People listen to teachers who quote Bible verses and who interpret biblical teachers, and they say Jesus will return at such and such a date at exactly 5:00 AM, and that makes sense to them because Jesus was an early riser.  Over and over again, some Christians believe this stuff.

            “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are children of the light.”  Don’t believe me?  Well, what about all those people of faith who will vote for any candidate, any cause, listen to any drivel, buy any product as long as it’s prefaced with the word “Christian.”  People say, “Because I’m a Christian, vote for me.”  Because I’m a Christian, do business with me.”  Now don’t get me wrong, most Christian people are sincere, but I have problems with anyone using Christ to get votes or sell a product.

            So, Jesus says his people can be naive and gullible.  But he also said something else.  He said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.  Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”  In other words he said, “I don’t want you to be gullible.  I want you to be street-smart.”

            They don’t make them anymore, but the Ford Motor Company once manufactured an automobile that went by the name “Mercury Cougar.”  Maybe you owned one or knew someone who did.  Anyway, the Mercury Cougar commercial featured a Mercury sign, one of those tall signs that you see at a car dealership, and a cougar would be sitting on the top of the sign.  Someone asked the advertisers, “How did you get a cougar on top of that sign?” 

            They answered, “Very carefully.”

            Well, this is a rough paraphrase, but Jesus said, “When you are living in a land where evil is present, when you are living in occupied territory, live very carefully.  Be the sharpest, the most street-smart people on the block.”

            The Israelites could have benefitted from Jesus’ words.  They let their guard down here.  They were taken in by a ruse, and this morning, I want us to be street smart.  I want to remind all of us how evil operates.  In so doing, I want us to note four faces of evil that present themselves in this ninth chapter of Joshua.

            First, note how evil, when confronted by godliness, unites.  When godliness grows, so does evilness.  Verses one and two.

 

            Now when all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon - the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites - heard of this, they gathered together with one accord to fight Joshua and Israel.

            When godliness advances, evil comes together.  I’m reminded of the scene in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is being shuttled back and forth between Herod an Pilate and Luke’s saying, and I quote, “That day Herod and Pilate became friends - before that they had been enemies.”  The nature of evil is to unite, to become strong in the face of godliness.

            In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania a sign over a motel reads, “You can sleep tonight on the battlefield.”  That’s what a some of us are doing.  We sleeping on the battlefield.  We are nothing much more than pew potatoes, but if and when we wake up, when we get going for Christ, then we need to be prepared because when godliness advances, evil unites.

            Face number two: when godliness advances, evil deceives.  Joshua 9:9.

 

            They said to him, “Your servants have come from a very far country, because of the name of the Lord your God ...

 

            They really did not come from a far country.  They came from five or six miles away.

            Evil lies.  Evil seldom comes in the form of evil.  Old Redlegs never comes to us and says, “Hi, I’m the devil.  I’m going to eat you alive.”  No, evil is usually cloaked in something else.  I think of the line from Hamlet: “The spirit that I have seen may be the devil; and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape.” 

            That’s true.  Evil often disguises itself as something good.  For example, “How could this be wrong when it feels so right?”  Well, easy, because evil has taken on a pleasing shape.  I think that’s why so may Christians do not believe in the devil.  You see, if I were the devil I would deny my existence in the world.  If I were the devil, I would downplay my role in the church, and go about my business unhindered, unheeded, and unchecked.  And that’s what the devil does, and that’s what the devil wants us to do.  Deny his existence.  Evil deceives.

            Third, as godliness advances, evil distracts.  Joshua 9:14.

 

            So the leaders partook of their provisions, and did not ask direction from the Lord.

 

            The urgency of the moment overcame them and they forgot to pray.  Miller Light often has the best commercials.  One of my favorites was a woman and her date at a bar, and over the woman’s shoulder is a television tuned to a hockey game.  The couple is talking, but she notices her date looking over her shoulder, at the TV, instead of looking at her.  She asks, “Hey, are you listening to me?” and she knows he wasn’t, the game was distracting him.

            Evil distracts.  God longs to communicate with us, but we are so easily distracted.   We keep looking over God’s shoulder to something more interesting on the TV screen behind him.  You see, evil seldom hits us with a big deal.  It just distract us like it did the Israelites.

            Fourth, as godliness advances, evil divides.  Joshua 9:18.

 

            But the Israelites 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.

 

            Adrian Rogers in his book The Art of Supernatural Living said that Old Redlegs would rather start a fuss in the Body of Christ than sell a barrel of whiskey any day. 

            The church is supposed to be a place where people see love in action, but often we see just the opposite.  How many times have we seen the following played out in a church?  It’s growing.  It’s expanding, and then a fuss begins in the church, and the dream begins to fall apart.  Accusations abound, some true and some false.  People stop talking to one another.  Staff members resign or are fired.  People leave the church.  What happened?  Simple.  Evil divides.

            A long, long time ago a very clever rabbit enjoyed playing practical jokes on others.  One particular day while near the sea, the rabbit heard an elephant on the other side of some palm trees.  Seeing an old rope on the ground, the rabbit went into action.  He pulled one end of the rope into the trees.  When he found the elephant the rabbit began to insult him.  He said, “My, what ugly, clumsy, awkward feet you have.”

            Irritated, the elephant replied, “Why, I have a good mind to grab you and hurl you into the ocean.”

            “And,” said the rabbit, “I have a good mind to tie this rope around your trunk and drag you into the sea!”

            Thinking this would be a good time to teach the rude rabbit some manners, the elephant took the end of the rope and said, “I’d like to see you try.”

            The smiling rabbit said, “Alright!.  Hold your end of the rope until I get to the other end.  When I yell, ‘Pull,’ you pull on your end.”

            The rabbit hopped to the seashore where a whale was splashing about.  He called out to the whale, “I bet I can pull you out of the sea and onto dry land.”

            The whale roared with laughter and said, “Indeed, you cannot.”

            The rabbit threw the end of the rope to the whale and said, “Hold onto this end of the rope, and we shall see!”

            The rabbit then hopped into the trees, out of the sight of both the whale and elephant, and yelled, “Pull.”

            As they began to struggle, each was surprised by the rabbit’s strength.  Neither was gaining ground, and then they heard laughter coming out of the trees.  The angry elephant let go of the rope and chased the laughing rabbit away.

            Old Redlegs likes to do something similar with us.  When brothers and sisters in Christ begin criticizing and fighting one another, they utilize all their energy and strength to accomplish nothing, and Old Redlegs laughs.

            But one last thing.  It’s not in our story for today, but it’s important to know.  Yes, evil divides, and distracts, and deceives and unites in the face of godliness, but the defeat of evil is also unconditional.

            I saw a bumper sticker the other day.  It read, “Nature always bats last.”  Well, that’s not quite true.  That’s biblically accurate.  Nature doesn’t bat last, God who created the heavens and the earth, bats last.  God always has the last word, and street smart Christians know that.  So let’s respect evil, but not fear it, for there will come a day when it will be no more.  But until that day, we need to stay on our toes.