28 February 2011

A Survey of the Old Testament Law----- Making oaths in God's name (Joshua 9)

Last time we looked at the question, “How do we end our prayers?” Most of us end our prayers with the little phrase, “In the name of Jesus. Amen.” Now, I ask you this: how does the Lord’s Prayer begin? “Our Father, which art in Heaven”—what? “Hallowed be Thy Name.” We have seen the danger of taking the name of the LORD our God in vain. We saw that not only does the third of the ten commandments forbid a person from falsely taking an oath in the name of YHVH, but it also prohibits the flippant use of the name of God—as well as the name of Jesus Christ. Today, however, we will see how to use God’s name properly, and that if we do make an oath in the name of God, and it turns out that the person we are making that promise to has not been quite honest with us—their dishonesty is irrelevant, we are still bound by that oath to Almighty God. What we’re going to see today is that even godly people can be fooled.

How many times have we had people come up in here, clapping and smiling in church, and then they walk out the door and they're swimming in all kinds of sin, not feeling bad about it. And then next Sunday they're back in here, smiling and “praising God.” It happens. We call that person our “brother” or “sister” in Christ, when they have no intention of obeying Christ’s commands. Well, we shouldn’t feel too bad, because one of the most godly men who ever walked the face of the earth was deceived in much the same way.

Joshua 9:1-6-- 1 And it came to pass when all the kings who were on this side of the Jordan, in the hills and in the lowland and in all the coasts of the Great Sea toward Lebanon—the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite—heard about it, 2 that they gathered together to fight with Joshua and Israel with one accord. 3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. And they took old sacks on their donkeys, old wineskins torn and mended, 5 old and patched sandals on their feet, and old garments on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. 6 And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us.”

The Gibeonites were not stupid by any stretch of the imagination. While The Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite…gathered together to fight with Joshua and Israel, thinking that by their sheer numbers and force they could defeat the armies of the Living God, when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. They knew who was fighting on the side of Joshua. They knew that if an army that was as relatively puny as that of Israel could defeat a strong city like Jericho, just by marching outside the walls and shouting and blowing trumpets—that they had Someone even greater fighting for them.

But, Joshua, being a man of God, decided to test them first, Joshua 9:7--Then the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you dwell among us; so how can we make a covenant with you?” Before we go any further, let me just point out that Gibeon was the chief city of the Hivites. These broke away from the main body of Hivites; they were Hivites who lived in the city of Gibeon. So in Joshua’s response, we see a man who knew the commands of God and held those commands in the highest regard. Listen to Exodus 23:27-33"27 I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you…31 And I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the sea, Philistia, and from the desert to the River. For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you." So what Joshua is saying here is, “Hey, you might be some of the people that God has forbidden us from making covenants with. So why should we make a covenant with you?”

So far, Joshua is showing discernment. But again, these people are crafty, and they have a response all thought out. Joshua 9:8-13--8 But they said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you, and where do you come from?” 9 So they said to him: “From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God; for we have heard of His fame, 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 king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who was at Ashtaroth. 11 Therefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, ‘Take provisions with you for the journey, and go to meet them, and say to them, “We are your servants; now therefore, make a covenant with us.”’ 12 This bread of ours we took hot for our provision from our houses on the day we departed to come to you. But now look, it is dry and moldy. 13 And these wineskins which we filled were new, and see, they are torn; and these our garments and our sandals have become old because of the very long journey.” How many times do people come up here, hat in hand, looking for all the world like they don’t have two nickels to rub together. They’ll be begging for the Center to pay their light bill, pay their phone bill, and pay this bill and that bill. But when they walk out the door, they get into their car that has the 26” spinning rims and the $2000 stereo system—and drive a couple blocks down the road and spend $100 on crack cocaine. But they don’t have money to pay their bills. They are portraying themselves as being weak and destitute in order to take advantage of the people of God.

That’s kinda what we have here. And the first thing that Joshua should have done was to ask counsel of the LORD. BUT, sadly, Joshua 9:14-1514 Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the LORD. 15 So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them. These Gibeonites wanted to enter into a covenant with the Israelites—a covenant in the name of YHVH. And if we are going to make a covenant in the name of YHVH, should we ask Him if it’s a good idea? If some other church were to approach us about entering into a partnership for whatever reason—should we ask the Lord if it’s a good idea, and maybe check some things out about the other church? But, Joshua and the princes of Israel were fooled by outward appearances, and rather than inquire of the LORD, they entered into an oath in the name of YHVH to spare these people. We can't really say that they were guilty of breaking the commandment against entering into covenant with certain peoples, because they were under the impression that these people were not of the forbidden groups—the Jebusite, the Canaanite, the Hittite. So the worst thing they could be accused of was being a bit too hasty. Which is why the apostle Paul, in the New Testament, says in 1st Timothy 5:22Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure. What he’s saying here is, before you lay hands on someone and ordain them into the ministry, he should be thoroughly examined, to see if he is in right standing with God. Then—and only then—should he be ordained.

And this episode in the life of Joshua is a perfect example of this. He did not consult God, he depended on outward appearances and smooth talk and a good bit of acting, and swore by the name of YHVH that the people of Israel would not harm these folks. If we enter into a covenant in the name of YHVH, are we bound to keep it? Psalm 15:1-41 LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? 2 He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart…4 He who swears to his own hurt and does not change. Which is why we are now encouraged, in the NT, to NOT take oaths. Matthew 5:33-3733 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” James 5:12But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No," lest you fall into judgment. So the people of Israel have entered into a covenant, in the name of YHVH, to not do any hurt to these people, thinking that these were poor, wretched nomads simply passing through.

And now we get to the point where our actions must match our words. And we see what it means to keep an oath made to God even if it means we look foolish for doing so. Joshua 9:16-21--16 And it happened at the end of three days, after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbors who dwelt near them. 17 Then the children of Israel journeyed and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath Jearim. 18 But the children of Israel did not attack them, because the rulers of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation complained against the rulers. 19 Then all the rulers said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel; now therefore, we may not touch them. 20 This we will do to them: We will let them live, lest wrath be upon us because of the oath which we swore to them.” 21 And the rulers said to them, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for all the congregation, as the rulers had promised them.” The rulers decided to keep their oath, even though it was entered into under false premises, in order to uphold the name of God, rather than go back on their word, and bring reproach upon the name of YHVH their God. When we mess up and make a mistake, and we get ourselves into some kind of pickle because we leaped before we looked, and we have to decide between suffering a loss on one hand, or bringing shame to God on the other—it’s really a no-brainer. The honor and reverence of the name of God is to be defended at all costs.

In the early church, there was a fellow named Polycarp, who was actually a student of the apostle John. He was discovered by the Roman government, and brought before the court and ordered to renounce the name of Christ and burn incense to the Caesar. If he didn’t, then he would be burned. His response: “Eighty and six years, have I served him and He never did me harm. How, then, can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” These rulers of Israel were not being threatened with being burned, only with being made to look like fools. So now that the horse was out of the barn, they decided to think about what to do next, and decided that upholding the honor of the name of this great God who brought them out of Egypt was more important than their image. Our friends Keil and Delitzsch said this:
“They were bound to observe the oath which they had once sworn, if only to prevent the sincerity of the God by whom they had sworn from being rendered doubtful in the eyes of the Gibeonites; but they were not justified in taking the oath. They had done this without asking the mouth of YHVH, and thus had sinned against the Lord their God. But they could not repair this fault by breaking the oath which they had thus imprudently taken, i.e., by committing a fresh sin; for the violation of an oath is always sin, even when the oath has been taken [impulsively], and it is afterwards discovered that what was sworn to was not in accordance with the will of God, and that an observance of the oath will certainly be hurtful.”
Now, if we are a Christian—meaning, in a way, that we have taken the name of Christ upon ourselves—when we make a promise to someone, we are making that promise in the name of the Lord. When we pray, we are praying in the name of Jesus—whether we tack that little phrase on at the end or not. Because what it really means to be praying “in the name of Jesus, Amen” is that we are asking that the will of the Father be done. Matthew 6:10“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” John 4:34“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.” And we are praying in accordance with love and righteousness. Again, the difference between loving your Aunt Hildegard and hoping for her cancer to be cured versus demanding that God gives you the brand new Land Rover that you just know that you deserve.

And to finish this up, let’s take a look at the embodiment of one who came in the name of the LORD God. Turn to Matthew 21. This is what is called Christ’s “Triumphal Entry” the day when He rode into Jerusalem. And the people are clapping and shouting and throwing down palm branches as the King rides through on a donkey. A few days later they would all be calling for His death. Such is the fickleness of man. Matthew 21:9Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!" The people shout 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' This is a direct quote from Psalm 118:26. If one is claiming that they come “in the name of the LORD”, they are claiming that God Himself sent them. That they speak on behalf of, and with all the authority of, Almighty God. The Old Testament prophets could claim to be speaking “in the name of YHVH” because they were speaking what they heard from God directly, and with His authority. The New Testament apostles could speak with all the authority of Christ—who is God—because they had been given that authority by Christ. Which was why men like Paul and Peter could cast out unclean spirits with the mere mention of Christ’s name, but the Jewish exorcists and the seven sons of Sceva could not. Paul and Peter had the authority to use Jesus’ name—the others did not. When Jesus spoke, He was speaking with the full authority of God—for one, because he IS God—but also because He had been given that authority by the Father.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:28-2928 And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. And, in some of the last recorded words of our Lord before He ascended to the Father after His resurrection, He tells His disciples in Matthew 28:18“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” So, coming back around and completing the circle, when we pray “in the name of Jesus” we are praying in the name of the One who came in the name of YHVH—the LORD. Which is why James 5:14-15 says, 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Now, the sickness here is not a physical ailment. Actually, James is referring to an old Jewish teaching (James was, after all, writing to Jewish Christians who were pretty familiar with Jewish writings). What he is probably calling to mind is a writing of Rabbi Simeon, who said this:
Q: What should a man do who goes to visit the sick?
A: He who studies to restore the health of the body, should first lay the foundation in the health of the soul. The wise men have said, ‘No healing is equal to that which comes from the word of God and prayer.’
What is the root cause of sickness? Sin. We will be sick in this life. We will eventually die. BUT if we know Christ as our Savior, when we die we will go to be with the Father, and one day we will receive new bodies that will never ever get sick or break down ever again for all eternity—THAT is true healing. Salvation comes through the name of Jesus. And when one takes upon themselves the name of Jesus, in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), then, James goes on to say in that same passage, James 5:16The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Next week we will summarize for just a minute before we begin talking about the Sabbath.

Jesus is Lord.