We don’t get it! That’s the truth about western culture. We simply do not understand the absolute nature of a covenant according to God’s design. We see a covenant in the same light as a contract, and of course, we all know that contracts are made to be broken. They are good only so long as they serve our purposes.
Regardless of the cost to Him, God has been sure to abide by the terms of any and every covenant He established with humankind. Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, David—God was absolutely faithful to His covenant promises with each of these individuals. The only covenant He changed was the Mosiac Covenant, which was fulfilled in Christ so that the much better New Covenant might take precedence. An insightful reading of Scripture will show that our merciful God actually went above and beyond the terms of just about every covenant He established with humans—covenants which God initiated because of His extreme love for us.
Several stories in Scripture help us to grasp a better understanding of how covenant relationships work and of God’s perspective regarding the whole matter.
Many of us are familiar with the guile of the Gibeonites in Joshua 9. This Canaanite nation saw that God was with the Israelites and how they crushed every nation that dared to oppose them. Gibeonite representatives pretended to come from a far off land to make a covenant (treaty) with the Israelites. Joshua and his leaders failed to consult the Lord on the matter and exchanged oaths with the Gibeonites, only to be outraged when they found out the truth—these guys lived less than twenty miles up the road. They had made a covenant, however, and so rather than kill the Gibeonites, they made them servants.
A short time later (Joshua 10), five Amorite kings attacked Gibeon because of their newfound relationship with Israel. What did the Gibeonites do? They sent to Joshua for help. What did Joshua do? He mustered his army and marched all night in order to rescue the Gibeonites.
Through that battle that God gave us a glimpse of His perspective on Joshua’s faithfulness to a covenant. God “threw large stones from heaven” on the Amorites. Then, toward the end of the day, when Joshua needed more daylight to finish the victory, he prayed, “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon in the valley of Aijalon.” Verse 13 says it all, “So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.”
God honored the Israelite leaders who honored their covenant with the Gibeonites—even though they were at fault for making the covenant in the first place. But there’s more to the story!
In the days of King David a three-year famine came over the land of Israel. Try to imagine three agonizing years with little or no rain! Frustrated and wondering what was going on, David looked to the Lord for an answer. God’s reply? “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” 2 Samuel 21:1 (NASB)
Scripture is silent about the reason, but King Saul attacked and killed Gibeonite people, violating a covenant that had endured for over 400 years! The treaty meant nothing to Saul but it certainly mattered to God. Even after 400 years God looked upon Israel’s covenant with Gibeon as though it had been made only a few days prior.
Covenant relationships may not mean much to our western culture, but they still matter to God. If we continue to take lightly what God values so highly, our version of Christianity will forever be dysfunctional!