Discerning God's Will
Topic: Default Scripture: Joshua 9:1–9:27
Today we come to Joshua 9 where the Gibeonites deceive the Israelites. After a little hiccup at Ai, the Israelites are now back on track to taking the promised land. The hiccup has not gone unnoticed, though. It seems that the Canaanites have become emboldened a bit by the Israelite loss at Ai and they have teamed up as one united front against them.
One of these many groups of Canaanites decided to go a different route. The Gibeonites decided to try and trick the Israelites into making a binding covenant of peace with them claiming that they are not Canaanites, but in fact come from very far off. The Gibeonite deception works. Why does it work? The author couldn’t be more clear about this. It works because they did not ask counsel from the Lord. Had they sought God, things would have turned out very differently.
So, you have the Israelites who don’t even pause to seek God’s will, but the pendulum can go too far to the other end as well. Seeking God’s will can sometimes be a very overwhelming thing. I was in college ministry for about 10 years and regularly, I would be asked how does a young man seek God’s will to find the one woman out of over 3 billion options to marry.
Or, when they graduate and have other big decisions to make about where to go and work. Whether to go into ministry or not. How do you find out God’s plan for your life when there are so many options? It’s easy to either just lean on human understanding on one hand or be totally overwhelmed on the other when it comes to seeking God’s will. So, what does it look like to seek God’s will in an appropriate way?
This morning, I want to do a post-mortem on this story and see first, why we need to seek the Lord, second, how it is that we seek the Lord, and, third, the importance of trusting God after a decision has been made.
- Why we need to seek the Lord
Why is it that we need to seek the Lord at all? Because there is always more going on than what we can see. There are external, internal, and invisible forces at play. The external forces are the sheer number of combinations and possibilities at play. Our eyesight and intellectual abilities are not enough to deduce the best possible decision in
Let’s look at how this verse alone would have changed the Israelite’s situation. As I already said, the Gibeonites chose not to fight, but to trick. The Gibeonites were a part of the Canaanites that the Israelites were supposed to completely wipe out. And just in case you are new and the idea of God wiping a people off the map doesn’t sit well with you, I wrote a short article and put it on our OGC blog, so you can read more on that there.
The Gibeonites lived not too far from Jerusalem, but they wanted it to look like they were from very far away to get the Israelites to make a covenant to not attack these people. So, they do everything they could to play the part. They wear shoes that look like they have been walking for days, they wear old worn out wine skins, they bring old stale food. I noticed this week that they make sure to not mention the victories at Jericho or Ai either. Did you notice that? They act like they are so far away that that news hasn’t even made it to them yet.
And the Israelites come off looking kind of foolish here. They even ask in verse 7, “What if you’re tricking us and you really live close by?” I have to give the Israelites some grace here though. There is hardly any way to verify this information without walking weeks or a month to see their distant land. It makes me think about the infomercial that claims these $3 knives are the last you’ll ever buy or a weight loss product that requires no work and no lifestyle changes. You want it to be true, but there is no way to know for sure unless you buy it. This is where the internal force comes to play.
I have to imagine that it seemed especially compelling because the Israelites had to be tired of killing people. They aren’t savages. This would have been a compelling offer. And we do the same thing. Sometimes we want something to be true bad enough that we work to convince ourselves that it is even when it’s not.
I’ll go back to the college ministry analogy. Freshman year, you see young, committed Christian women who were only going to hold out for a spiritual giant of a young man to date. Senior year if it hasn’t happened, they begin to look for a ‘good man.’ Just has to be a good man and I’ll marry him. Late 20’s if the dude just knows where a church is, that will be enough. Or, maybe he isn’t a Christian at all, but he’s ok that she is. Do you see what is happening? There is such a strong desire for something, that we convince ourselves that the outcome will be ok. God’s will and our will naturally goes in opposite directions.
So, I try not to give the Israelites too hard of a time here. I think the idea of peace and not having to kill more people would have been pretty compelling. So, we need to seek the Lord because of the external and internal forces at play, but then we have to take into account the invisible forces as well. That’s not clearly laid out in our passage, but I think we can assume it is at play based on Ephesians 6 says, “ For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. - Ephesians 6:12
Rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces of evil. All those are in the plural. We are in a war and we can’t even see the forces that oppose us. And for what it’s worth, I think there are really weird things happening in this church right now that I attribute to enemy forces that don’t like what’s going on here. We are already limited in the world of flesh and blood and now we see that there are forces opposing us that we can’t even see. So, we need to seek the Lord who does see all. How do we do that? I’m glad you asked. Second point.
- How we seek the Lord
Seeking the will of God is an incredibly misunderstood thing in our society. There is a real resurgence in our culture of things like Tarot cards, astrology, and crystals to seek God’s will. And a huge portion of the people using them would call themselves Christians. I heard a pastor not long ago talk about how he sought the Lord’s will by laying out a fleece the way Gideon did, not realizing that isn’t something that is condoned in Scripture. Gideon did that because of his lack of faith in what God had already made clear to him.
But what about casting lots? That’s clearly what the apostles did. We don’t know exactly what they did, but that was a very special thing at an extraordinarily unique time and nowhere in Scripture is it commended to us to use.
My guess is that in this room, we would be tempted to the other end of the spectrum and say, well, God’s sovereign and everything is going to work out the way it’s supposed to so, why even try? But when we do this, we don’t realize that God has two wills. To use John Piper’s terminology, He has a will of decree and a will of command and we have to understand the difference.
First, the will of decree. This is God’s sovereign will that will always come to pass no matter what. We can see this will all over the Bible. Look at Acts 4. Look at how the
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This will of decree ensures that all things will work out for God’s glory in the end. This is why we can trust God when we lose our jobs or lose our health or when we make a covenant with someone we weren’t supposed to. God is still in control. We’re going to come back to that, but this is the will of decree and it will always come to pass.
And this will isn’t something that we need to be too concerned with. Yes, we know certain things in Scripture that will come to pass, but when we seek God’s will of decree, we are essentially wanting to know future events. This is what fortune tellers do, not Christians.
But His will of command is something different. This is what God commands of us, but doesn’t always come to pass. We are commanded to be sexually pure, to not lie, not steal, and lift others up. Do we do those things all the time? No. And it is something we should seek because when God’s will of command doesn’t come to pass God is offended and people suffer. The Israelites suffered when Achan sinned and in this passage they suffered when the leadership didn’t seek God’s will of command and entered into a covenant with the Gibeonites.
So, when we say we are seeking God’s will, we are seeking His will of command for us. This is what Paul meant when he wrote this to the Roman church: Do not be conformed to this world,3 but be transformed by dthe renewal of your mind, that by testing you may ediscern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 12:2
God’s will of command is something we can seek and know. Now, admittedly, some aspects of His will of command are easier to know than others. It’s easier to know God’s will of command on bank robbery than it is for, say, whether or not you go into vocational ministry. So, how do we seek God’s will in this way? I want to suggest three things.
First, immerse yourself in God’s Word. Now, Joshua had the benefit of hearing from God personally and audibly. My guess is that that’s not the case for most of us. And the reason it’s not is because God is talking to us in a more comprehensive way through His Word. We don’t require audible speech from God because we have His Word.
It’s really interesting to me to see the way God’s supernatural signs and wonders decrease as access to the Bible increases. In the second century as most churches began to have access to all the books of the Bible, the signs and wonders decreased. We have letters between the churches talking about this. We hear all the stories today of God converting people through dreams and angels, but as the Bible goes into these cultures, that kind of thing doesn’t happen as much. What does that tell us? That the Word of God is actually more complete and gives us a greater ability to discern His will than dreams, angels, and signs do. And Scripture certainly attests to this. We are to test miracles by Scripture.
So, if that is the case, shouldn’t we want to take advantage of God’s Word? We can quickly and clearly discern many things in Scripture that God wills for our life. God will use His Word to guide us through some of the most complex decisions that we have to make. In my life, in the more complex decisions, rarely does God use His Word like a single spotlight saying, move here or take this job. But as I begin to log the things I am learning they begin to work like dozens of little lights all illuminating the same path. If you want to discern God’s will, immerse yourself in God’s Word.
Secondly, immerse yourself in God’s people. The Christian life was not made to be lived alone. Your spiritual life was not meant to be a private thing. Certainly these Israelites are in deep community with each other. Their triumphs are together and their losses are together. Joshua screws up this Gibeonite thing and he hears about it from the people.
No one here knows everything. We are all wired differently, we are all gifted differently, we all struggle differently, and we are all learning differently. But, we follow the same God and when we bring all these differences together, we are more able to discern the will of God. This is why we have church membership. This is why online church is a bad idea. This is why we have community groups.
We have been working very hard this summer to come up with a plan to give this church more access to community groups. Just to accommodate the people already coming to OGC, we need to double the number of community groups in this church. That isn’t even planning for more growth. So, we are talking to potential leaders, Mike is writing a comprehensive playbook for community groups at OGC, we are working on leader training, and we hope to have all this in front of you this fall. Community groups are a great way to have relationships with other Christians, process with other Christians, and pray with other Christians and that will greatly affect your ability to discern the will of
So, I have two specific requests. First, if you are not in a community group, would you pray about joining one when we come forward with our plan? Second, if you are interested in hosting a community group, not leading, but simply opening up your home and hosting a group, would you let us know?
So, we immerse ourselves in God’s Word, we immerse ourselves in God’s people, and, third, we immerse ourselves in God’s Spirit. The Spirit of God is what actually changes our hearts. He is who opens our minds to see things differently. But, we have to pursue Him. Paul says we are to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and that we must be filled with the Spirit. There is something here that we are to do. Certainly, this includes being in God’s Word, praying, being involved in a local church, but I would say that being filled with the Spirit primarily means confessing your sin and running to Christ.
It’s really about who is in control of your life. Are you retaining control or are you giving control over to the Holy Spirit? Paul contrasts being filled with the Spirit with being drunk. In the same way alcohol can make us think and do things we do not usually do in a bad way, the Holy Spirit causes us to think and do things we wouldn’t normally do in a good way. As we consciously give over control of our desires to the Holy Spirit, we are changed at the subconscious level.
When you leave this building, you probably won’t really debate in your head what door you will use. You probably won’t think hard about which hand you will use to buckle up. The more we give control of our lives to the Holy Spirit, the more we are shaped at a subconscious level to long for the glory of God and know the will of God. And you will see some really cool things happen.
Back in 2007 Angela and I were moving from Pisa, Italy to Starkville, MS and I was cleaning out my car to sell it and collected five umbrellas. It rains constantly in Pisa. So, I’m walking around the block from my car to my apartment and it’s raining so I’m holding one umbrella over my head and another four in my arm. I passed this older lady who was leaving her apartment and as I did, I had this deep sense that I was supposed to give her an umbrella. It wasn’t me being nice, I just had this deep deep sense. So, I turned and asked her if she wanted an umbrella. She responded, “No, thank you. I don’t have any money.” And I realized it did look like I was selling umbrellas so I said, “No, I’m offering you one for free.” She paused and began to tear up. So, I asked her if everything was alright and she said, “Yes. I just prayed that God would send me an angel with an umbrella.” And guess who was really open to hearing my views on God?
When we immerse ourselves in God’s Word, God’s people, and God’s Spirit, we will be better equipped to discern God’s will of command for our lives.
But discerning God’s will and making a decision is only part of the process. Then we have to trust God as we walk with Him. This is my last point. The importance of trusting God after a decision has been made.
III. Trusting God after a decision has been made
Now, I’m going to divide this category into two parts. Trusting God in good decisions and trusting God in bad decisions. First, good decisions. The Israelites appropriately discerned God’s will at Jericho, but then had to trust Him as they circled the walls of that city looking like idiots. They knew they had done the best they could to know how to discern God’s will for them and they trusted Him as they walked that road.
When I was deciding whether or not I would ask Angela to marry me, I prayed, I journaled, I sought wise counsel. After I decided Angela was the one for me, I told God I wasn’t going to do anything for a few weeks trusting that He could change my direction if I was missing something. He didn’t and we got married. So, now I don’t question whether I picked the right woman out of over three billion, I know that God picked her for me. I know that she is God’s gift to me and I accept that gift because I know who sent it. And I hope she does too:)
I have to imagine that some of you have made big decisions and you did the best you could and now you’re wondering if you made the right decision. Trust that God has you where He wants you and if He wants to change that He will. Now, I can imagine someone saying, “But, Jim. I didn’t seek God in my decision. In fact, I know I made the wrong decision. What do I do?”
If that’s you, this is the second kind of decision, the bad decision. And, it’s exactly what we see in our text. The Israelites have made this covenant, clearly a bad decision, and they have to decide what to do about it. So, what do they do? They keep the oath they have sworn. They keep their word and trust God with their future. The old King James translation says in Proverbs 15:4 that we are to swear to our hurt. Do you see what’s happening? They are accepting the consequences for their bad decision and trusting that God can make it good. They are discerning God’s will of command.
Maybe you married someone you probably shouldn’t have married. Maybe you took a job for the wrong reasons. Maybe you didn’t manage your finances the way you should have. Yes, there will be consequences, but God can still make things good if we pursue Him and His will for our lives.
Now, I always have to be really clear about physically abusive relationships. I am not saying anyone, especially women, should stay in a marriage where they are being abused. God has provided a way out when the relationship is that far gone.
The Israelites messed up and the Gibeonites flat out lied, but look what happens to them. The Gibeonites became servants of the Israelites, so that’s kind of good for the Israelites. And we can all agree that being a servant is better than being dead, so that’s really good for the Gibeonites. But, it gets so much better than that.
Do you see the faith of the Gibeonites even after they have so royally screwed up? Joshua goes and asks them why they have acted this way and they respond: “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had icommanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so jwe feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. - Joshua 9:24
Ok, this isn’t the ideal way to profess your faith in God, but that sure is what it looks to be. Some people liken the Gibeonite faith the faith of demons who believe, but it’s not a saving faith. They believe and shudder. But look at all the parallels between the Gibeonites and Rahab.
Like the Gibeonites, Rahab was a native of Canaan. Like the Gibeonites, she had confidence God was giving the land to Israel. Like the Gibeonites, she responded with fear before God’s people, Israel. Like the Gibeonites, Rahab acted with cunning in order that she and her family mind find refuge among the people of Israel. (credit Desiring God).
The parallels are so striking that it is almost like the author is working to make them clear. God said Israel is going to bless all the nations and we see it happening! Yes, they are wood cutters now, which sounds terrible when literally everything they are doing requires wood, but they are wood cutters at the altar of the Lord. They are made family and given access to the presence of God.
Everyone in this story has made a bad decision, but they trust God and He makes a bad decision good. That doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences along the way, but it does mean that in the midst of that pain, you are in the middle of God’s will.
We are all liars and deceivers and deserving of God’s wrath. This is a story about seeking God’s will, but at the core of it, we see the Christian message. We deserve God’s wrath, but we get the altar. Jesus deserved the altar, but got God’s wrath on the cross. He traded places with us and we are brought into God’s family and given access to His will.
That is the God we serve and it is why we need to seek Him and why we can seek Him.