Trust Is Sacred

photo credit: Aidan Jones via photopin cc
photo credit: Aidan Jones via photopin cc

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.[1] 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.

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc
photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

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.[2] 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.

photo credit: Art ~ 4ThGlryOfGod via photopin cc
photo credit: Art ~ 4ThGlryOfGod via photopin cc

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.


[1] For the complete story, please read Joshua 9:1-10:15

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The Mystery of Violence Revealed

Wet Dog
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World peace! It is a vision long held by many. Each New Year, it seems, we try to cast off the violence of the previous year like a dog trying to shake off water. Unfortunately, dogs are much more effective in their drying off efforts than we are in our quest to eliminate conflict between humans. Why is peace so elusive? Either we don’t understand the root issues of conflict, or we don’t care enough to change our behavior.

Did you know that Cain’s murder of his brother Abel was not the first act of violence recorded in the Bible? Somewhere in the recesses of time–or perhaps before time began–the greatest of angels, the one we call Lucifer, attempted a violent coup against the Creator of the Universe.

How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14

Three particular aspects of this attempted coup are extremely relevant for our purposes:

Pride
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1. Lucifer repeatedly uses “I” to define his self-centered quest. Mysteriously, while God willingly receives worship, He is not self-centered. Always motivated by love and compassion for others, the life of Christ serves as evidence of God’s other-centered heart.

2. Lucifer also adds the word “will” to each of his five uses of “I”. Thus, one of his primary goals is for power and control.

3. Lucifer’s ultimate goal is to be like the Most High (the King of Glory), to lift himself up above all others.

When Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, they inherited the same  three tendencies which collectively form what we call pride. (I sometimes call it “C-pride” or “collective pride”.) It should stand as no surprise, then, that Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, murdered his younger brother due to nothing more than jealousy. The rest, unfortunately, is history. Since that fateful day in the Garden, human activity has always been beset with violent sexual assaults, murders, and wars of all kinds.

I have written about much of this in the past, but it bears repeating in light of recent mass shootings in the U.S. When someone mercilessly kills 20 first-grade children, as happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, something is desperately wrong. But something has been desperately wrong almost from the beginning of time as we know it. Even societies that have all appearances of peace are not that far from being immersed in conflict. Like a virus waiting for an immune system to be compromised, the violent tendencies of human nature need only time and opportunity to fully run their course.

Really, only two options are possible for the violence to cease:

Fidel Castro
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1. We remove various layers of freedom until an authoritarian government removes all potential weapons of resistance and forces its citizens to get along. Of course, the very real danger is that the authoritarian regime will itself be violent, subjecting its people to all sorts of cruelty and injustice.

2. We provide people with freedom but change their hearts so that they are motivated by love rather than selfish hatred. Herein lies the foundation for a truly prosperous society, but eliminating the selfish, self-exalting tendencies of the human heart is no simple matter. Real change requires much more than wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, in our self-absorbed world, freedom eventually leads to moral decay, giving way to violence in the end. At the other end of the spectrum, those revolutionaries who rise up to break the grip of an oppressive regime will almost always become the oppressors themselves.

In prophesying the birth of Jesus, Isaiah called Him the “Prince of Peace”. As a revolutionary, Jesus rebelled against the oppressive, self-absorbed establishment, but He broke their power in a thoroughly mysterious manner. By suffering unjustly Himself, Jesus Christ provided the antidote for each of the root causes of violence. We call that antidote the Gospel.

Happy New Year!
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I, too, really would like to see world peace. In my upcoming posts I will highlight how the Gospel truly is the only lasting cure for deadly virus of violence, but until then, I want to wish you all a happy New Year! My hope is that it won’t be a year that goes to the dogs!