When We Don't Pray
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, March 6, 2005
Copyright © 2005, P. G. Mathew
"The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord."
- Joshua 9:14
The ninth chapter of Joshua gives us a clear picture of what happens when God's people do not pray. When we neglect prayer, we can be easily deceived and make wrong decisions. And when leaders do not pray, they also fail the people under them. This chapter speaks about the utter failure of Israel's leaders-Joshua, the princes of tribes, the priests and the elders-to seek guidance from God when they were approached by the Gibeonites.
When we do not pray and consult the word of God carefully, we are deceived by Satan's devices. Then we make wrong, rash decisions, whose serious and destructive consequences affect not only our lives, but also the lives of our descendants. Everyone who is responsible for making decisions-fathers, mothers, teachers, elders, or others-must pay careful attention to this chapter, because it is written for our warning and edification. If we heed it, we won't be deceived, but will learn how to make correct decisions that result in blessing, not only to ourselves, but also to all those under our leadership.
The Lord had already given Joshua a certain charge before he and the people entered Canaan. Joshua was to lead Israel into Canaan and give them rest by defeating all their enemies; he was to be strong and courageous; he was to obey the entire word of God, not turning to the right or to the left; and he was to meditate upon the Scriptures and be careful to do everything written in them. As Joshua did these things, he would be successful in all that he did (Joshua 1:1-9).
Joshua had the ark, the priests, the book of the law, and God with him; his job was to simply hear and do the will of God. Yet Joshua failed to do so at least two times. We want to examine these failures of Joshua and then look at the success of the greater Joshua, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The First Failure of Joshua
The first failure of Joshua occurred before his encounter with the Gibeonites, when he failed to seek the will of God in his campaign against the city of Ai. The name "Ai" literally means "the heap" or "the ruin"; it was a small, insignificant city. Joshua sent spies to bring back a report about Ai (Joshua 7:2-3), but we are not told that Joshua inquired of the Lord or that he consulted the captain of the Lord's host. Joshua listened to the spies' report and apparently made his decision based solely on it.
What did the spies say? "Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there" (Joshua 7:3). How eager we are to hear from people rather than from God! As Christians, we say that Jesus Christ is Lord and that we are his servants; therefore, we should say, like Samuel, "Speak, Lord, your servants will hear and do." But in reality we often act as though we were self-determining lords. We follow our own desires, though we would say we are doing the will of God. Joshua 8:1 tells us that God's will in this matter was the exact opposite of the recommendation of the spies: "Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.'" The spies had said, "It is a small place; send only two or three thousand men against it. Let the others rest." That sounded very nice, but there was one problem: It was not the will of God.
The Lord wants all of his people to engage in battle against the flesh, the world, and the devil every day of our lives. Yet often our prayer, or "inquiry," to the Lord, is simply an expression of our own carnal desires and we are seeking God's approval of it. This was what Abraham, the father of all believers, did in Genesis 17. The Lord told Abraham that he was going to give him a son in his old age through his wife-the old, shriveled, barren Sarah: "I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her" (v. 16). But in verse 18 we see Abraham "inquiring": "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!" In other words, Abraham was saying, "Make my plan your plan."
How many times have we tried through our "prayer" to have God alter his eternal plan and accept ours! When someone asks us, "Have you prayed about this?" we quickly say, "Oh, yes." What we mean is, "Yes, I told God what he should do"! But God does all things according to the counsel of his own sovereign will; thus, as Christians, we are called to know and do the will of God, not our will. We are to pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done," and, "Not my will, but thine be done." We are to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Christ daily.
The Second Failure of Joshua
Joshua's second failure is specifically mentioned by the Holy Spirit in Joshua 9. Just a few miles southwest of Ai lay the city of Gibeon (modern El-Gib). The Gibeonites were Hivites whose iniquity, like that of the rest of the Canaanites, was full to overflowing. The Israelites were not to show compassion toward them, but were to exterminate all of them, as they had the people of Jericho and Ai. It was the will of God, as we read in Joshua 3:10.
Deuteronomy 7:1-6 reveals the divine rationale for such extermination:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations-the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you-and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
As the leader of God's people, Joshua was supposed to read the word of God daily and obey all of it, not turning aside to the right or left, or adjusting it in any way. The Scripture specifically prohibited making any covenant with the people of Canaan, including the Hivites (Exodus 23:32; 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:2).
The Gibeonites lived nearby; yet, they were able to deceive Joshua and all the leaders of Israel into thinking that they had come from a far country and so were entitled to the favor of peace. Deuteronomy 20:10-15 gives instructions regarding cities far from Canaan: "When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you" (vv. 10-11). In other words, their lives would be spared. This, of course, was what the Gibeonites wanted. So they pretended to be from a far country and succeeded in fooling the mighty Joshua, the twelve princes, and all the elders and priests of Israel.
Why were these fine leaders deceived? Because they were walking by sight, not by faith in the word of God. They failed to pay attention to the truth that was recorded later in Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." They failed to understand that reality does not consist solely in material things. If that were the case, we would only need sensory perception to make decisions.
But all realities are not material, capable of being perceived and tested by smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight. There is a spiritual reality that includes God and his angels, as well as the devil and his demons. There is the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Paul speaks of this spiritual reality many times: "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18); "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5); "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12); "We are not unaware of [Satan's] schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Joshua and the leaders were ignorant of the schemes of their enemies, the Gibeonites. Because the Gibeonites lived nearby, they were destined to be destroyed by God because of their wickedness. So they came up with a ruse, sending a delegation to fool Joshua and the leaders-and they succeeded. They brought worn-out sacks and old, cracked, and mended wineskins, hoping that Joshua would arrive at the conclusion that they were coming from far away. They deliberately wore patched sandals and old, threadbare clothes. Their bread was dry, moldy and crumbling. Not only that, they declared, "We have come from a very far country. Please make a treaty with us." Yes, Joshua and other leaders questioned them, but not very thoroughly. Notice, the Gibeonites never volunteered their nationality or the name of their country. Instead, they carefully ingratiated themselves to the Israelites, feeding their pride by saying, "We are your servants. . . We are your servants. . . We are your servants. . . Your God is great and we have heard of his fame."
Finally, the Gibeonites asked the leaders to verify the truth of their story by tasting their bread: "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" (v. 12). It was the last test to prove that they had come from a distant land. The leaders submitted to the Gibeonites; they tasted the bread, were convinced, and proceeded to make an inviolable treaty with them in the name of the Lord.
See how careful Joshua and the leaders were! They interrogated these people, they listened to their fabricated story, they observed their worn-out clothes and sandals, and they tasted and probably smelled their bread. They did all these things. But they did not do the one thing they should have done: They did not inquire of the Lord. How true this is of us also! How often, when we are face with serious decisions, will we do everything but speak to the One who knows everything.
"The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord" (9:14). This was the key failure, the fatal flaw of their leaders-they acted on their own understanding and failed to inquire of the Lord, whose mission this was. And look at the response of mighty Joshua in verse 22: "Then Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, 'Why did you deceive us. . . ?'" Oh, what a sad question for a leader to ask! He should have said, "Why was I deceived?" The answer is that Joshua was deceived because he did not pay attention to the Scriptures and did not inquire of the Lord.
The Danger of Being Deceived
There will always be Gibeonites in the world. As Christians, we are in constant danger of being deceived by the world, the flesh, and the devil. We cannot always judge situations properly; we must have God's help.
For example, recall how the prophet Samuel almost anointed the wrong son of Jesse as king of Israel. When he saw Eliab the firstborn, Samuel thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord" (1 Samuel 16:6). He was convinced that Eliab was the one God had chosen and was about to anoint him. "But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him'" (v. 7). Samuel said, "He is the man!" But God said, "He is not the man. I have rejected him." Then comes the principle: "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." How many times have we made decisions based simply on outward appearance! We think, "That person is so good-looking and smart-what more could we want?" It is a terrible thing to be fooled when we make decisions, for not only do we have to live with the consequences, but so do all the people under us and future generations.
Second Samuel 7 tells us how David wanted to build a temple for God. The prophet Nathan told him, "Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you" (v. 3). But that night the Lord spoke to Nathan: "David is not to build the temple." You see, even a prophet can make wrong decisions. Nathan had told David, "Go ahead and build." But God said, "No." It is not a little difference; it is total difference.
How easily we can be deceived by appearance and conclude, "This is the Lord's will" when, in fact, the will of God is the exact opposite! What we need is wisdom from above, so that we will not be fooled by the deceptions of the Gibeonites of the world and of the church. James 1:5 tells us, "If any one of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."
Psalm 106:13 says, "But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel." Those who forget God say, "We don't need God anymore! We have come a long way! In the olden times, we needed a little help here and there, but we are not wobbly anymore; we can stand on our own feet now! We can make our own decisions without inquiring of the Lord." This was the failure of Joshua and the leaders. They preferred to walk by sight, by smell, by appearance, and by taste, rather than inquiring of the Lord.
Joshua and the leaders failed to consult the Scripture and obey it fully. Joshua had the Pentateuch, which gave specific directions about how he should receive guidance for matters not revealed in the Scripture. Numbers 27:21 said, "He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord." Did Joshua do that? No. Probably he did not look into the Scripture, and, thus, he failed to consult the priest who was there with the ark of the presence of the Lord. (PGM) The priest had the Urim and the Thummin, devices by which to find out the will of God. But Joshua failed to make use of this divine provision for guidance. He probably thought, "Why bother? I know which way to go. It is so obvious. Why do I have to go to God and to the Bible, when the choice is so clear?"
Yet this was God's way of giving guidance at that time. We are told that, centuries later, David used this provision to inquire of the Lord at a time when he was in deep trouble. The enemies had come and taken away his wives and children as well as the families of his men. "David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, 'Bring me the ephod.' Abiathar brought it to him, and David inquired of the Lord, 'Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?' 'Pursue them,' he answered. 'You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue'" (1 Samuel 30:7-8).
Deuteronomy 8:3 tells us we are to live by "every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." We are not to rely on our own understanding, even when we think the direction is clear. It may not be that certain. We had better go to God, for he may have something to tell us which will be the exact opposite of what we are thinking.
Joshua and the elders were duped because they did not seek the objective will of God. Additionally, the priests should have come to Joshua and the elders, counseling them to seek the will of God in this matter, but they did not. God certainly would have told them whether the Gibeonites were neighbors or from a distant land. What failure! What tragedy! How terrible it is to make decisions based on carnal understanding.
The Success of the Greater Joshua
But there is a greater Joshua-our Lord Jesus Christ. He was tempted by Satan, yet he triumphed by saying, "It is written. . . ." He always did the will of God. He rebuked Peter when he counseled him not to die on the cross. He prayed, "Not my will, but thine be done." He went to the cross to die in our place. He was not deceived, and therefore we are saved.
Everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ shall be saved. Have you trusted in him? If so, then you can rejoice, for you have a strong and sure guide to lead you every step of the way. If you have not trusted in him, I urge you to do so today. Then you too shall rejoice forever, and he shall guide you and keep you from deception.
First John 4:1 says, "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." Ours is a spiritual as well as a material world; there are good spirits as well as bad, and we must discern between them. In Galatians 1:8 Paul says, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"
The church of Ephesus refused to believe the claims of false prophets in their midst. They proved them to be frauds, and Jesus Christ commended them for their critical understanding of the gospel (Revelation 2:2). Paul speaks of such false prophets in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15: "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve." Notice, Paul is speaking about leaders in the church. There are modern Gibeonites in the church, seeking to deceive the gullible.
Colossians 2:8 says, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." And Ephesians 5:6 says, "Let no one deceive you . . . ." The Lord Jesus himself warns us in Matthew 24:4, "Watch out that no one deceives you."
How do we watch out? By being good students of the Scriptures, by walking in the truth, and by praying. We must watch and pray, lest we come into temptation. So Jesus said, "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many." He continues in verse 11, "And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people," and in verse 24, "For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect-if that were possible." Not only do Gibeonites present moldy bread, but they also perform signs, wonders and miracles. Those who are naí¯ve and gullible will be deceived, if they are not careful. That is why we must watch and pray. We are to pray always in everything; we are to pray according to the word; and we are not to do anything without the Lord's direction.
First Corinthians 10:31 gives us a principle to live by: "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." Eating and drinking refer to all activities of life. How, then, can we do our own thing and pretend we did it for the glory of God? God receives glory only when we do what he is directing us to do.
Colossians 3:17 also says: "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." We are to eat, drink, speak, and act, all for God's glory, by his authority, and in accordance with his revelation, so that we can give thanks to God.
Every aspect of our life should be lived for the glory of God; no part is exempt! This is what the confession "Jesus is Lord" means. If the mighty Joshua could be deceived and yield to temptation, so can we. We must not do anything without first earnestly inquiring of the Lord and receiving guidance from him.
Alan Redpath counsels:
Never, never, NEVER trust your own judgment in anything. When common sense says that a course is right, lift your heart to God, for the path of faith and the path of blessing may be in a direction completely opposite to that which you call common sense. When voices tell you that action is urgent, that something must be done immediately, refer everything to the tribunal of heaven. Then, if you are still in doubt, dare to stand still. If you are called on to act and you have not time to pray, don't act. If you are called on to move in a certain direction and cannot wait until you have peace with God about it, don't move. Be strong enough and brave enough to dare to stand and wait on God, for none of them who wait on him shall ever be ashamed. That is the only way to outmatch the devil (Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua [Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1955], pp. 142-143), as cited by James Montgomery Boice in Joshua: We Will Serve the Lord (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1989), pp. 99-100.
Wrong decisions have disastrous consequences, both for this life and for the generations to come. The Bible says, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7). Our wrong decisions affect not only us, but all under our leadership-our spouse, our children, our congregation-and it goes on for generations. Look at the wrong decision made by Adam and Eve, and its disastrous consequences. Look at the wrong decision of David; the sword did not depart from his house. Remember the foolish decision of Lot, who chose for himself grass and brought tragedy upon himself and all his descendants. Joshua's wrong decision brought about murmuring and disunity for the first time in that generation of Israel, and introduced a foreign people into the community to be a constant source of temptation and snare.
How to Make Wise Decisions
How, then, can we make wise decisions?
Be an earnest student of the Scriptures and steep yourself in God's truth.
Pray earnestly to hear God's will. In everything, pray-big things and small things. Do not pray, "Let Ishmael live." God is not there to stamp his approval on our subjective desires. Be willing to hear even the exact opposite of what you want to do.
Oppose all schemes of the Gibeonites, and do so by the Spirit of God. Reject antinomianism and Gnosticism (subjectivism).
Do not listen to questionable music, even if it is labeled "Christian."
Reject "feel-good" preaching that entertains and soothes, but will never save.
Reject the false signs and wonders ministries of modern Gibeonites that are designed to deceive the gullible.
Reject health, wealth, and political power theology. It will never get you to heaven.
Reject the idea that worship can replace the preaching of the word of God. This idea is rampant all over this country.
Do not fellowship with the mixed multitude, meaning those who have no desire to walk in the way of obedience. What fellowship has Christ with Belial?
Do not uncritically trust media and advertisements, including Christian ones. They are there to beguile you.
Do not make decisions, especially in the following matters, without earnest inquiry of the Lord:
b. Marriage. This is a serious issue. Suppose you are interested in two people-one is good-looking; the other just average. But the difference is, one loves God and the other has nothing to do with God. If you trust in appearance, you will make a wrong decision, which can have disastrous consequences.
c. Career. Pray earnestly about what job to receive and what offers to turn down.
d. Church membership. What church should you be a member of? Do not be deceived by Gibeonites. You should choose a church that is committed to preaching the Scriptures, that administers the sacraments properly, and that exercises discipline. And when people come to church seeking membership, leaders should examine them carefully to see whether they are serious about walking with Christ. Finally, if you get a feeling that you want to leave your church, pray and seek the Lord, because that decision will be destructive if you do it for your own reasons.
e. Expenditures of time and money. You and I have no freedom to spend our time and money the way we want to. It is the Lord's time and money; we must be directed by God so we can spend it for God's glory and in his name.
f. Where to live. Ask God where he wants you to live. The American spirit is to live for a while in one place, then pack up and move to another, and then to yet another for more money. It has nothing to do with where God wants us to be.
Brothers and sisters, we must strive to make correct decisions. The only way to do this is to seek the wisdom from above, so pray! Pray earnestly and continually that you will not be deceived. This is especially important for leaders, because when you fail, you fail many other people. Follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who always did the will of his Father, not his own will. Do all things for the glory of God and in the name of God. Amen.
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Copyright © 2005, P. G. Mathew
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