5 Tips for Negotiating with Liars

I’m a Bible teacher, not a political commentator. However, it’s virtually impossible to write on a broad spectrum of Biblical topics without eventually having to comment on how they apply to the issues of our day.

British statesman Edmund Burke famously said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” King Solomon, likewise, noted that people in all generations have tended to make the same dumb mistakes: History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NLT).

The Israelites made a costly mistake in Joshua 9, and we would do well to heed the lessons today. When Joshua led a military campaign to take possession of the Promised Land, a number of Canaanite kings banded together to fight him. But instead of joining in this head-on confrontation, the people of Gibeon “resorted in deception to save themselves” (v. 4).

LESSON #1: Recognize that the enemies you face head-on are usually much easier to defeat than the ones who deceive you.

The Gibeonites knew they would be routed by the Israelites in a head-to-head battle. So they sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace treaty with Joshua, all the while pretending to come from a distant land. And like all successful trickery, the Gibeonites provided evidence for their case:

…donkeys with weathered saddlebags and old, patched wineskins. They put on worn-out, patched sandals and ragged clothes. And the bread they took with them was dry and moldy (vs. 4-5).

Unfortunately, the Israelites hadn’t yet learned the “Trust, but verify” maxim later cited by Ronald Reagan. Nor did they have the benefit of the Internet to research the veracity and track record of their opponents.

LESSON #2: Beware of people who say all the right words.

Not only did the ambassadors from Gibeon acknowledge the greatness of the Lord, Israel’s God, but they also claimed to approach the negotiations with servant’s hearts:

We have heard of the might of the Lord your God and of all he did in Egypt…We are your servants; please make a treaty with us (vs. 9-11).

Pretty impressive words, right? The ambassadors from Gibeon sounded like they would be the perfect people to negotiate with.

But sometimes those who say nice things to our face are saying exactly the opposite behind our back. For example, today America is negotiating with leaders who chant “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” when they’re back home, addressing their own people.

LESSON #3: Make sure to consult God first, regardless of how attractive a “deal” may appear.

This third lesson points to Joshua’s most significant error:

“The Israelites…did not consult the Lord. Then Joshua made a peace treaty with them and guaranteed their safety, and the leaders of the community ratified their agreement with a binding oath” (v. 14-15).

Have you ever made an important decision without consulting the Lord? We all have at one time or another. We sized up the “facts” and thought our decision was a no-brainer. Only later did we find out we were the one without a brain, because we failed to inquire of the Lord before making the fateful commitment.

Joshua was an honorable man. Not only did he make a peace treaty with these deceitful folks, but it was a treaty he fully intended to keep. It even was ratified with “a binding oath.” Yet all this was done without a moment’s prayer for God’s direction.

LESSON #4: Don’t be too quick to declare your negotiations successful.

The Israelites soon discovered that the facts weren’t as they seemed. Three days after making the treaty, they learned that these people actually lived nearby!” (v. 16)

Don’t miss an important point here: It took three days for the Israelites to discover they had been tricked. For two days they were celebrating the great deal they had made!

Oh how history repeats itself. Remember how British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gloated about his peace treaty with Hitler in 1938? Remember how Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger proclaimed “peace with honor” when pulling the United States out of Vietnam? And what about various administrations, both Republican and Democrat, that boasted of agreements with North Korea to stop its nuclear program?

LESSON #5: Avoid opting for short-term fixes that result in long-term problems.

Because of the oath the Israelites had made before God, they allowed the Gibeonites to live with them in the Promised Land. On one level, the deception had worked. The Israelites were people of their word, even in the face of brazen lies by the ambassadors of Gibeon.

Yet the treaty and its aftermath caused long-term dissension and distrust between the Israelites and their leaders: “The people of Israel grumbled against their leaders because of the treaty” (v. 18). Isn’t this interesting? The Israelite people recognized how foolish their leaders had been in making the misguided treaty. But by this time, it was too late to reverse course.

At the root of it all, the Gibeonite debacle was caused by the arrogance of Israel’s leaders. They thought they knew best. No need to consult the Lord. No need to check out the facts. No need to involve the rest of the Israelites in the decision.

I encourage you to read this chapter for yourself. You might even find a few additional lessons for our political leaders to heed in negotiating with today’s batch of liars.