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When You Run Up on the Hardened Ice of Reality

In his book, Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel, Trevin Wax relates the story of George De Long’s 1879 expedition on the USS Jeannette to claim the North Pole for the United States. De Long's plans were based on maps developed by mapmakers at the time. Like most mapmakers at that time, Dr. August Heinrich Petermann believed there was an open polar ice-free sea, teeming with marine life "whose waters could be smoothly sailed, much as one might sail across the Caribbean or the Mediterranean."

Unfortunately, every previous expedition that had sailed north in search of the sea had run into a problem—ice. Now you might think that running into ice every time would lead scientists to abandon the theory of an Open Polar Sea. Not so. Instead, Petermann merely modified the original theory by adding the idea of a "thermometric gateway." As Hampton Sides recounts the story in his book In the Kingdom of Ice, "If an explorer could just bust through this icy circle, preferably in a ship with a reinforced hull, he would eventually find open water and enjoy smooth sailing to the North Pole. The trick, then, was to find a gap in the ice… a natural portal of some kind."

George De Long and his crew of 28 men wanted to find that portal. It didn't take long for De Long to realize that all the mapmakers, scientists, and geographers had been wrong. There was no such portal. De Long and his crew came to grips with the fact that they had been duped. The team had to "replace their wrongheaded ideas with a reckoning of the way the Arctic truly is." They were running up against the hardened ice of reality.

Something similar happens in the ninth chapter of the book of Joshua.  A band of people known as Gibeonites knew they were in danger of being wiped off the map by Israel.  They knew they could stand up to Israel militarily, so they came up with a plan to deceive Israel. They wanted to appear to be travelers from a distant land; otherwise they knew Israel would utterly destroy them.  So they dressed themselves in worn out clothes and worn out sandals.  They outfitted themselves with worn out sacks for their supplies and worn out wineskins for their wine.  All of their provisions were dry and crumbly.  It certainly seemed that they were from a distant country and had been traveling for a long time.

The ruse worked.  Joshua and the other leaders of Israel fell for the Gibeonites’ scheme.  They acted on evidence that seemed credible, but for some reason it never occurred to them to consult with the Lord about the matter. According to Numbers 27:21, Joshua should have gone to Eleazar the high priest, who would in turn consult the LORD and be able to determine His will.  But Joshua didn’t go to the priest.  Instead, Joshua and the elders physically examined the provisions the men of Gibeon presented, and saw the provisions to be old and worn. Based upon this observation, they accepted the Gibeonites’ story as fact. And so the Gibeonites persuaded Israel to make a covenant, or treaty with them.  So the Gibeonites were there to stay. Israel could not do anything about it because the elders of Israel had sworn an oath before the God of Israel.

This event raises a question for us.  Since the Gibeonites deceived the Israelis, would their deception not void the covenant? No, it would not.  While it seems to us who live in a 21st century western culture that Israel is stuck with a raw deal, and should be permitted to get out of that pact they had made with the Gibeonites, we should actually be relieved to learn that God expected them to honor the covenant.  That’s because God has entered into a covenant with us.  In this covenant, He agrees to forgive us of the sins we committed before entering into this covenant with Him.  But after entering the covenant, we keep on sinning.  It might seem that the Lord would want to void the covenant.  But God does not look for a way get out of His promise to us even if we prove ourselves to be less than honorable. He gives His word to forgive us, not just for sins committed in the past, but for every sin.