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Let's Make The Best Of A Bad Decision

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | February 6, 2000

Selected highlights from this sermon

Seeing the Gibeonites dressed up like travelers from afar, Joshua fell for their ruse, and without consulting God, he made a pact with them.

We often do the same thing. We don’t always go to God and seek His advice, and it’s usually because we don’t want to risk hearing “no.” But the good news is this: even if we make the wrong decision, God continues to help us. We will still have to face the consequences of our bad decisions, but God will do something with our messes. 

Making the best of a bad decision. 
One day I bought a sports coat. Because I’m a last-born I find it difficult to make decisions like that. I didn’t know if I liked it. I took it home and was sure I didn’t. I don’t think I wore it anywhere. In fact, a couple of months later when we boxed up some clothes to give them to charity, I just put it in and thought, “Good riddance.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do that with all of our bad decisions, to simply take care of them and say, “Good riddance, let’s move on”?   
Now, if you buy a house, and that’s a bad decision if you don’t have enough money to pay for it, or if it was overpriced or whatever. Now we begin to talk about decisions that are little bit more serious. And if you begin to talk about something like marriage, which represents an oath before God, now we’re talking really serious. 
Mary Whelchel received this letter from a listener just a couple of weeks ago.  
“I’d like to thank you for reading this letter and answering my question from a biblical standpoint. I was separated from my husband for seven years, and then he filed for a divorce. During those seven years we had tried marriage counseling, and when we were close to having a major break go our way my husband stopped coming, and said that if I really loved him we didn’t need counseling. Well, our divorce is final,” and she gives the date, and she says, “He has remarried, and now realizes that was a mistake, so he has started calling me, asking if he divorced his new wife would I take him back. Before he was married I told him that I would take him back because I wanted our family to be together and to leave a godly legacy for our children, so my question is, ‘Do I tell him yes or no?’ I want to do the biblical thing. I don’t know what to tell him.” 
Well, by the time this message is over, we’ll have some knowledge as to what to tell him. But for now, we’ll just leave it and say, “Now that’s serious.” 
Joshua, of all things, made a bad decision. Now sometimes we make bad decisions because we’re pressured into them. I think, for example, of young women who have gotten abortions because the boyfriend wanted it or the parents wanted it. And so, you see, it’s possible to be pressured into a bad decision. Sometimes also bad decisions are made because of rebellion. We know it’s wrong but we want to do it anyway. The other possibility is we are (What shall I say?) impulsive. We make decisions too quickly. We don’t submit them to God and say, “Lord, what would Thou have me to do?” 
Take your Bibles and turn to that bad decision that Joshua made. It’s found in the ninth chapter of the book of Joshua. And the background is this. God had told the Israelites, “Do not make a treaty with any people in the land.” That’s back in the book of Exodus, chapter 23. God said, “Don’t make a treaty with anyone in the land.” Well, wouldn’t you know it, the Gibeonites, who were in the land, played a trick on Joshua and pretended they were not from the land and so they made a treaty with him.  
Now chapter 9 opens—”[Now] when all the kings of the west of the Jordan heard about these things (that is the defeat of Jericho and the defeat of Ai. You can imagine how word spread and the other kings were absolutely terrified.)...they came together to make war against Joshua and Israel. (Verse 3) However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food [supply] was dry and moldy. Then 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; make a treaty with us.’” 
Well, they asked questions and so forth, and then the men said, that is the Gibeonites (verse 9), “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. [For] we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites...” and so it goes on in verse 11. “We are your servants. Make a treaty with us.” 
Well, that’s the way the trap was laid. First of all, they lied about their origin. They said, “We are from a far country,” and they weren’t. I’ve been to Gibeon in Israel many years ago and Gibeon is actually just seven or eight miles north of Jerusalem. I mean they’re right there in the middle of the land. So they lied about their origin. They also lied about their intentions. They said, “We want to worship the same God you do, and we’ve heard of the fame of the Lord, and so, what we’d like to do is to get in on that blessing, and we’ll be your servants.” 
I don’t want to push the analogy too far but isn’t that a little bit like the devil? The devil says to us—he lies about his origin. He doesn’t tell us where these ideas that are in our minds are coming from because he does not want us to fear him. 
One day Ananias and Saphira were having a little discussion over a couple of bagels, and they said, “Let’s lie about the amount that we sold this land for and let’s pretend we gave it all to the church so that we look better.” Now, if somebody would’ve said, “Well, when you were at your breakfast, enjoying that bagel, Satan actually came and put that idea in your mind,” they’d have been terrified. Could you imagine Satan revealing who he really was, showing up in the kitchen and saying, “I am the devil and I have a proposal for you?” The devil never does that. He remains hidden and gives us the impression that the ideas he put in our minds are actually ours. The origin is always to be hidden. 
And then, of course, he lies about his intentions. “I want to do good for you, and if you follow me it will be to your benefit,” the devil says, in effect. And so people go along and they begin to listen to these other voices. Well, that’s exactly what these folks did. That is what the Israelites did. The trap is laid, the deception is laid out before them, and wouldn’t you know it, the trap is sprung. Joshua and his leaders fall for it. You’ll notice it says in verse 14, “The men of Israel sampled their provisions...” They checked out the bread, they looked at their sandals, their old wineskins, but (Here’s the key phrase now. Everyone awake at this juncture?) “...they did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.” There you have it. 
Now, why did Joshua make this treaty with people, disobeying the Scriptures, though he did not know at the time that he was disobeying the Scriptures? But why did he do it? First of all, he based his decision on superficial evidence. Yes, he felt that moldy bread. He saw the old sandals and the cracked wineskins, and thought he had enough information to make a decision on his own. My friend today I want you to know that none of us ever have enough information to make a decision entirely on our own. We just don’t have enough information. 
I think, for example, of you students, talking about a serious matter such as marriage. You may think you know who God wants you to marry. How do you know what lies in your future? How do you know what twists and turns may be in your life? I urge you. You had better inquire of the Lord because you don’t know the future. 
A moment ago I was talking about buying a house, and we’ve never bought a house that we’ve regretted but it’s possible for others to do that. I heard of a couple who just absolutely loved this house. This was just their dream home. It was within their price range. It was located in the right place, and just before they signed the papers someone else beat them to it. You know how that happens. And they were so disappointed. “Lord, how can you let this happen to us?” and so forth. Well, about six months afterwards they discovered the basement of that house they wanted so badly had one of the walls totally collapse and just cave in. Boy, were they glad they didn’t buy that house. We don’t know the future. We don’t have enough information at hand to be able to say, “This is a wise decision.” It looks that way. We had better do what Joshua didn’t—inquire of the Lord. 
Why is it that so many Christians make decisions without asking God? I’ve been around long enough. Once you get to my age you know human nature enough. I think reason number one is we’re a little scared He’s going to say no. In our hearts we say to ourselves, “You know, if I honestly submit this to God, you know if I really do give it, what if God doesn’t give me what I want. I’d better casually say, ‘Well, Lord, you know what I’m doing, and so forth,’ and then just go ahead and do it, You know that old line, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission,” so what you do is you just go ahead and do it and do your own thing. Bad, bad idea. We are too self-confident. We do not know the future, and we do not know what wise decisions are. They should be submitted to the Lord. 
So Joshua has painted himself into a corner now. He’s made the agreement. The assembly ratified it by an oath. And so what is he going to do? Three days later he discovers he had been tricked, so does he say to himself, “Well, you know, it doesn’t really apply today because you know these folks came under false pretenses”? No. Notice what happens. “Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, (verse 16) the Israelites heard that they were neighbors...” and the whole ruse falls apart. “The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders,” and I am picking it up now at verse 19: “But all the leaders answered, ‘We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. This is what we will do to them: We will let them live (Notice this.), so that wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.”  
Wow. Joshua is saying, “You know, this is serious business. We made an agreement we regret making, and it’s going to cost us something. These folks are going to be a thorn in our side, but at the same time we’re not just going to pull out just because it’s inconvenient.” 
Psalm 15, verse 4, blessed is he “who swears to his own hurt and does not change.” Yeah, you regret it. This was a mistake, but a promise is a promise and an oath is an oath, an agreement is an agreement, and so I’m going to hang in as a result of that. 
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, is there ever a time when it is legitimate to break an oath?” Yes, if you make an agreement, say with the devil, that should be broken. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because the devil has no right whatever to make any agreement with anyone because he owns nothing. He comes under those kinds of false pretenses. It would be like someone taking my children and selling them into slavery. I’d say, “Wait a moment. What do you mean you’re taking my children and selling them into slavery? You don’t own them. There’s no basis upon which you have a right to do that,” so all agreements with the devil should be broken. 
Now we get into the thorny question of divorce. Yes, in the Old Testament God said men are to love their wives and be married, but because of the hardness of heart there were some exceptions. And that, of course, is something that is debated today, and it certainly is not my intention to get off onto that difficult subject. But I go back to the letter I read just a moment ago. Here’s a man who for seven years was separated from his wife, received counseling which he did not accept, married somebody else, knows it’s a mistake, wants to divorce the second wife so he can go back and marry the first, and then probably will say, “You know, I’m doing it for the benefit of my kids so the kids have a godly legacy.” Hello? Excuse me? Anybody at home here? 
The simple fact is, my friend, on what basis would he divorce his second wife? He didn’t keep his first oath. God help him keep his second oath. As a matter of fact, in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 24, it says very clearly that even if there is a woman who comes in between in a marriage, the man is not to go back to his previous wife. That is to say—let me be clear about this: If a man divorces his wife and marries another, he is not to go back to that original wife, even if that second wife should die, God says. No, what you need to do is to stay where you are at and display the grace and the mercy of God in the midst of foolish oaths and decisions. 
This is what the Bible says. Oh by the way, there is one other case where an oath can be broken, and that is in the Old Testament where it says a father can break the oath of his daughter if she makes a foolish vow. And I think that still has application today. If you have minor children who are in the home and under your authority, and they make a foolish vow, you as a parent can take authority over that and break a foolish vow. But I want you to notice it says in Ecclesiastes 5:4–5, “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools...Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” God takes oaths seriously. 
Now, what happened as a result of this? Well, a couple of things. First of all, you’ll notice that the Gibeonites now do have an assignment. [Joshua 9] Verse 21: “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community.” You’ll notice that Joshua says, “You are under a curse.” I’m in verse 23. “You are now under a curse: You will never cease to serve as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.” And they go on to say, “We are in your hands.” And then I’d like to just conclude here at verse 26. “[So] Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the community and for the altar of the Lord at the place where the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.” 
Centuries go by. Nehemiah comes back from the captivity and he’s rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and in the book of Nehemiah it speaks about Gibeonites who are there helping. What an interesting story. What does it tell us about bad decisions? Three lessons that can be burned upon your mind, your heart, and even written in the flyleaf of your Bible if you have enough room to do so. 
Number one, God does not abandon us when we’ve made a bad decision. God doesn’t abandon us. God didn’t say to Joshua, “Well, you know, you’ve made this bad decision and so in no way am I going to be with you or guide you or help you. No, as a matter of fact, it is a curse that the Gibeonites were under, but isn’t it beautiful that along with the curse there is blessing that you’re going to have these people actually help serve in the temple, eventually in the temple, and here in the wilderness in the tabernacle? And here they are going to be servants, and helping worship happen. That’s a marvelous thing. There you can see the grace of God, can’t you, because God does not abandon His people when they make bad decisions.  
Let’s take a better example maybe even of the principle, or one equally as well. I’m thinking of Kadesh Barnea. The children of Israel come and they see the land, and they spy it out, and the spies come back, and all the spies, except two, say, “We can’t go in.” And two of them, Caleb and Joshua say, “Yes, we can.” And all the people say, “We’re scared. We’re not going in.”  
Now, you know what God could’ve done? The Bible says God was angry and it says in effect that God’s anger was kindled against His people. God was really, really upset about their decision. God could have said, “Well, you know, if you want to make your bed, you lie in it. I’m finished with you guys. Just go your own way After all that, look at that, you disbelieve me.” That’s not what God does. What does He do? He guides them in the desert. He gives the manna every single morning. He gives them water in the desert. He causes the desert to have springs of water. And then because they didn’t have enough animals from which they’d be able to get enough clothes for those thirty-eight years in the desert, what does He say? He says, “Your clothes did not wear out. You could wear the same coat day in and day out, and it would not get worn. And your sandals did not wear out.” God says, “I take care of you in the desert.” 
This is where some people go wrong. They make a bad decision. God blesses them in spite of it, and they say, “Well, you know, maybe this wasn’t unscriptural after all.” Not necessarily. It’s just the mercy of God. It’s just that God does not abandon His people. God says, “I will walk with you through this bad decision. Joshua, I’ll be there with you, and these folks are going to be a thorn in your side, but they’re also going to be a blessing and they’re going to be a help. They’re going to be both.” And that’s what happens when we make wrong decisions. That’s number one. God does not abandon us. 
Number two, God takes the consequences, and this is a little longer to say. God takes the consequences of our decisions (that is, bad decisions) and uses them and weaves them (That’s even a better word.) into His plans and purposes. He takes the consequences of bad decisions, and weaves them into plans and purposes. 
Look at this. Your Bible is open to the tenth chapter now, because we’ve read to the end of nine. And this is the great chapter where the sun stood still. Did you know why this happened? It’s because Joshua had made a treaty with the Gibeonites and had to defend them. You see, what happened is other people in the land got together and they said, “You know, the Gibeonites have made a treaty with Israel, and so what we’re going to do is we’re going to gather a coalition of kings and armies and we’re going to fight against Gibeon and try to rub them out.” But Joshua was bound by a treaty, so what does he do? He fights in behalf of the Gibeonites. And that’s why today we have that remarkable story of whatever happened when the sun stood still. And there is some debate of exactly what happened that day, but there is no doubt it was a great miracle. And Joshua stood there and said, “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” And so we have here this remarkable answer to prayer and this remarkable victory. And that’s all part and parcel, you see, of God’s purposes. He weaves it into His plans. 
I suppose the person who is best known in all of history as an adulterer was David. David commits adultery. Bathsheba should never have been his wife. He even murders a man to cover his sin. Solomon is born of Bathsheba. We could argue, you know, strictly speaking, Solomon should not have been born, etc. etc. because David should have never had Bathsheba. But Solomon is born, and what does God say to Solomon? God says, “Solomon, I love you.” In fact, it says, “The Lord loved him.” And later on He says, you know, “I’m loving you because of your servant, David’s sake, your father, David, my servant.” God and David had this thing going between each other. There’s no question about it. But notice God blesses it. 
You know Jephthah? Does that name ring a bell to you? You say, “Boy, it’s been a long time since I’ve read my [Old] Testament, but I do remember Jephthah is a judge who was used by God in the book of Judges. You know what it says of him? It says, “Jephthah was the son of a prostitute.” 
You see, what God does is He takes all of the human failure and all of the bad decisions and He weaves them, you see, into His own piece of cloth. In fact, if we had more time, and some day I’d like to do a series of messages on bad decisions, I would show you that right from the beginning God has always been doing that. He’s been taking messes that we hand to Him and doing something with them. 
Let me give you a third encouragement. God stands ready to help you, not just in decisions you have made that have been bad, but decisions other people have made for you, because today I speak to some people who are the victim of other people’s bad decisions. You’ll notice, for example, that the Israelites here grumbled at their leaders. But the leaders said, “Hey, look, we made the oath, and so what we have to do is to stick with it.” You see, there are times when we make decisions that impact others negatively. I think, for example, of the time of Joshua and Caleb. They wanted to enter the land. And you remember the rest of the people said no, and so God condemns them to thirty-eight years of wandering. And Joshua and Caleb had to become a part of that motley group, that complaining group for thirty-eight years. They could say, “You know, this isn’t our fault. We wanted to go in.” God says, “Yes, but you know what? You are suffering some of the fate of these people because you’re a part of them.” That’s the way life is. 
Here’s the good news to you today, my friend. God is just as ready to help you in bad decisions others have made for you that impact you as He is in bad decisions that you have made for yourself. I guess what I’m trying to say is there is, indeed, more grace in God’s heart than there is sin and failure and hopelessness in your past. God helps us. 
Let me simply say there is one right decision can make. There’s always one right decision and for this I need to go to the New Testament. If you’re listening here today and you have never trusted Christ as your Savior, and you’ve come with emptiness, and you’ve come with a mess, well, I want you to know you’ve certainly come to the right place. And if you come to Jesus, you’ve come to the right person. 
So what you do is you come even as you are. Now there’s a right decision that you can make. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” So, for those of you who don’t know Christ as Savior, there’s a right decision. The fact that you are alive, and that’s one of the requirements we have for you to attend Moody Church here. [laughter] We maybe don’t have many, but being alive is one of them, or you’re listening to this by way of cassette or radio. That also requires the same essence. The fact that you’re alive means, no matter how boxed in you are—in fact, this broadcast may be going to people who are prisoners, or whatever, literally hemmed in because of bad decisions—I want you to know there is still one decision that you can make, and that is to receive Christ as Savior and to say, “I believe in Him.” 
For those of you who know Christ, do you know what God wants to do? He wants to use that bad decision to teach you lessons that perhaps you could never possibly learn in any other way, the lesson of dependence, the lesson of brokenness, the lesson of humility, the lesson of patience, the lesson of saying, “Oh God, here I am. Do with me as seems good in Thy sight.” God is waiting to hear that from me and from you and from everyone. 
As children bring their broken toys, 
With tears, for us to mend,  
I brought my broken dreams to God  
Because He was my friend. 
But then instead of leaving him 
In peace to work alone, 
I hung around and tried to help 
With ways that are my own. 
At last, I snatched them back and cried, 
“How can you be so slow?” 
“My child,” He said, “What could I do? 
You never did let go.” 
Along with the curse, there is blessing. Along with failure there is grace, and I extend to you today the arms and the promises of Jesus. Let go. “Do as seems good in Thy sight.” And He’ll walk with you through that experience. 
Let’s pray. 
And, our Father, today we do want to thank you that you don’t abandon us. You don’t abandon us. You don’t simply say, “All right, that’s enough.” Even failed marriages, bad marriages, marriages that should have never happened. Once we acknowledge our sin, and confess and yield and submit, Father, even there Thy grace is sufficient. And so we pray, Father, make us a people who are constantly recognizing that you help, and we thank you, Father, for this story that reminds us that those who have failed can still be blessed. 
Now before I close this prayer, you need to talk to God, don’t you? Why you don’t you take out a moment to talk to Him? Those of you who have brought failure even to this meeting through the thoughts and the memories of your mind, would you give that to God? Those of you who have never received Christ as Savior, even in your seat you can say, “Yes, I believe on Jesus. I trust Him. I’m in a corner. I’m in a tight place.” But thank God He is there with you, able to help you. You just talk to God. 
Father, hear the prayers of your children. Hear their cry. Reveal yourself to us in mercy we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen. 
Editor’s Note: In this transcript, the verbatim intelligent transcription process simplifies and enhances spoken content by eliminating redundant words, unnecessary sounds, fixing grammar errors, and clarifying meaning while preserving the author’s original intent. All Scripture quotes are according to the biblical text, not as they were originally spoken. 

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