“And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them. And the children of Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and Kirjathjearim.” (Joshua 9:16-17)
Israel had made a treaty with the Gibeonites because they were convinced they were from a very distant place. Just three days after they made the treaty they learned that in fact, the city of Gibeon was only about two or three miles away, and many of the local farmers and shepherds were Gibeonites. They had barely started to move their camp when they came to the city. Gibeon was one of four affiliated Hivite cities.
“And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes. But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them.
This we will do to them; we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we sware unto them. And the princes said unto them, Let them live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation; as the princes had promised them.” (Joshua 9:18-21)
God had forbidden Israel to make a treaty with any of the local peoples. The Gibeonites had deliberately lied and deceived Israel in order to obtain the treaty, but Israel had not included any contingency clauses in the treaty. The people were upset about having been lied to, but the leaders recognized they had made the treaty and they could not back out now. Even though they had disobeyed God in making the treaty, and had done so on the basis of false representations, God would hold them responsible for keeping their word.
The Gibbeonites did not go scot free however. While they would be allowed to live, they would always responsible for providing fire wood and delivering water to the Jews. The leaders decision was clearly vindicated over six hundred years later, when God required that Saul’s descendants be executed because Saul had violated this treaty, in II Samuel 21.
While God had commanded them not to make any treaties, he had also commanded them not to break their word. The treaty had already been made. To break it would compound the sin. A similar situation arises in many marriages today.
A young couple has sex and decides to marry, although one is not a Christian and II Corinthians 6:14 clearly commands “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers:” On the other hand, Exodus 22:16 commands, “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.” To not marry will not resolve the initial sin, but will add a second sin to the mix, compounding the problem. We need to look beyond the surface issue to know how to please God. Other factors may be involved. We need to so carefully study the scriptures so we can “rightly divide” them.
“And Joshua called for them, and he spake unto them, saying, Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us? Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.
And they answered Joshua, and said, Because it was certainly told thy servants, how that the LORD thy God commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you, therefore we were sore afraid of our lives because of you, and have done this thing. And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.” (Joshua 9:22-25)
Joshua demanded to know why the Gibeonites had lied to them and informed tham that the consequence of their lies was that they were to be slaves forever. Their answer was that they believed God’s promise to Israel and acted on that belief. They didn’t know how to do what they needed to do but their faith impelled them to take action, and God honored their faith, sparing their lives. Even being a slave was better than being dead.
“And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not. And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the LORD, even unto this day, in the place which he should choose.” (Joshua 9:26-27)
How often do we judge others because they don’t do things in the “proper” manner, never recognizing what was in their heart. Fortunately God looks on the heart and knows what the intent is. I suspect it will be shocking to see how many who have followed our programs who are not saved, and many who we discounted as Christians at all who turn out to be.