The story is worthy of a movie! Fresh from the defeats of Jericho and Ai, Joshua and the Israelites were striking terror in the hearts of all the Canaanites. Most Canaanite kingdoms decided to consolidate their forces, hoping that victory would come in numbers. The Gibeonites, however, settled on a different strategy. Dressed in old, worn out clothes and carrying stale provisions, a group of Gibeonites rode less than twenty miles to the Israelite camp, but told Joshua and his leaders that they had come from a far-off land.
They had heard of God’s greatness, they said, and wanted to make a treaty (sacred covenant) with the Israelites. Somewhat (but not nearly enough) suspicious, Joshua and his men formed a sacred pact with the Gibeonite deceivers. Three days later, the Israelites found out the truth, but it was too late, they had already given their word.
Given the situation, those from a modern Western culture will probably have a difficult time understanding why such a covenant should be honored. Generally, we don’t value or grasp the true significance of trust.
The scenario gets even more interesting. A group five Amorite kings hear about this treaty and get seriously angry at the Gibeonites for aligning with Israel. Gathering their armies for war, they begin a vicious assault on the city of Gibeon. Terrified, the Gibonites send an urgent appeal for help to the Israelite camp. And what do they? Even though they had been deceived by the Gibeonites, the Israelites march all night, and—at the risk of their own lives—fight valiantly for the sake of their new allies.
Recognizing that Joshua and his men had honored a sacred trust, God fights for the Israelites to the point of causing the sun to stand still in the sky until their enemies had been thoroughly defeated. The thought of it all stretches the limits of one’s rational mind!
The story doesn’t end there, however. About 400 years later, King David is confused as to why God’s chosen people would be in the midst of a 3-year famine. His inquiry nets an unexpected response. God is angry with the nation of Israel because the previous king, Saul, had violated Joshua’s covenant by slaughtering some of the Gibeonite people. Justice is finally served with the execution of 7 of Saul’s descendants and the famine abates.
A covenant is considered sacred in the eyes of God because trust is sacred. A breakdown in trust spells the death knell for any society—and it is a primary reason the U.S. is in moral and economic decline. We don’t trust our government leaders. We don’t trust our corporate leaders. We don’t trust our religious leaders. We don’t trust our spouses. What’s left but to trust ourselves?—and to buy lots of guns and ammunition! When trust erodes, a multitude of people suffer the consequences.
Entering a sacred covenant—especially with God—can result in many wonderful blessings. But to break a sacred covenant is to bring terrible curses upon one’s own head—and upon one’s descendants. By trusting the voice of the serpent over the voice of God, Adam & Eve violated a sacred trust and brought terrible curses upon themselves and upon their descendants (Hosea 6:7; Genesis 3:16-19).
Combined with our high treason against the kingdom of heaven, our violation of a sacred covenant means terrible consequences. As God said, the entire human race is now under a death sentence. Due to our cultural differences, we may struggle to grasp certain aspects of the sacredness of trust, but it is up to us to seek out an understanding of God’s ways. In the end, the real surprise of the Old Testament is not that God would judge nations, but that He would spare even one person—let alone an entire nation—from his or her deserved judgment.