“So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
There are three things worth noting in this story. First, the Gibeonites were both smart and wise, if dishonest. They saw the writing on the wall and decided that living as servants was better than being totally destroyed. If they could trick the Israelites into thinking they were not locals slated for destruction, but rather foreigners who came to serve because of how great Israel’s God was, perhaps they would be allowed to live, rather than being wiped off the face of the earth as had happened to Jericho and Ai.
If there’s any lesson here to be learned for us, it’s not that being dishonest is a way out of hard situations. Gibeon is clearly not praised for their trickery. But, there does seem to be a kind of respect held out for them. Instead, the very first couple of verses of the chapter note that several other nations decided the right response to Israel was to band together to fight them in hopes that their combined strength would be sufficient to defeat them. Gibeon, however, saw that fighting wasn’t the best option. While there are times to fight in our lives, sometimes pursuing a resolution using our wits rather than our fists is the better way forward.
Second, as for Israel’s part, they were duped. They bought the act and stayed for the encore. Now, Gibeon’s ruse was crafty to be sure, but Israel didn’t check anything out at all. They just took their word for it and went forward.
In particular, they did not consult the Lord before going forward. When we try and go forward without the Lord, we’re going to get tripped up like this.
Sometimes, as followers of Jesus, we try to be more moral than our God. Let me explain what I mean. There are times when God calls us down a path that we don’t understand, but which seems like it’s going to lead to perpetuating some injustice on our part. Rather than following Him in faith that because He is just, He is never going to lead us into injustice if we stay close to Him, we decide to take another path that seems to be heading in roughly the same direction, but which doesn’t smell like injustice to us. In doing this, we are attempting to be more moral and just than we consider our God to be.
While this might feel good (and might gain us points from our culture), it will not end well because we are heading down a path other than God’s. No matter how good the path may look, if it is not God’s, it will lead to destruction for us.
For Israel, making a covenant with this travel-weary people no doubt seemed more merciful than wiping them out. Why get into a battle they didn’t need to start? This has got to be what God would want. We don’t even need to bother Him about this one. And a mess ensued.
Let’s put a modern spin on this one. Our culture today is undergoing a moral revolution. Our culture is embracing wholesale a number of ideas that are antithetical to the Christian worldview. And yet, there is a great deal of pressure on us to embrace them too. We are treated to many stories of the harm done to people when we don’t embrace them. Some of them are true, at least in the short term. Because of all of this, embracing them is going to feel good and will receive great props from the culture. But, doing so will lead us down a path other than God’s. This will (and has) only result in a mess.
The third thing is this: When we make a promise, we need to keep it. Israel blew it with Gibeon and they knew it. Much to their credit, though, they honored their agreement. They knew that God would be more upset with them for reneging on their oath than He was with their making it in the first place. And they were right.
There are times when we make dumb promises. Sometimes we do this on the basis of bad or incomplete information. Sometimes we’ve gotten ourselves trapped in sin of some kind. Sometimes we just made a bad decision. When we’re in this situation, short of sin, we need to keep our word. We serve a God of truth and we need to be people of the truth if we’re going to serve Him faithfully.
In the end, be wise, following God even when it doesn’t make immediate sense, and keep your word. These will save you from a whole world of troubles.