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16 Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them. 17 So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim. 18 But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the Lord, the God of Israel.
The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, 19 but all the leaders answered, “We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. 20 This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.” 21 They continued, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers in the service of the whole assembly.” So the leaders’ promise to them was kept.
Verses 16-21: The oath that Joshua made was binding, not only for him but for the rest of the Israelites that followed him. They knew that God’s wrath would fall on them if any of them went back on the oath sworn, so they came up with a compromise to allow them laborious tasks for the entire community. This is an example that could be provided as to why Jesus cautions us not to swear oaths (See Matthew 5:34-37) and why James reiterates the same caution (See James 5:12). Even an oath made with the right intentions can come back to haunt us later when we must break it. Some oaths are designed to be binding, in spite of what today’s world may tell us. For example, marriage. It is not just an oath sworn, but a covenant between two people and God to remain together for their lives. This should be viewed as unbreakable, for what God has brought together shall not be parted by human means nor for human reasons. A marriage should not be entered lightly, nor lightly broken, yet today’s culture has shifted to make it an easy escape. The divorce rate is high, far too high, even among Christians in our country. Additionally, we should be cautious about any oaths made that include more than ourselves for, as we see in this passage, the oath made by a few applied to many.
22 Then Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, “Why did you deceive us by saying, ‘We live a long way from you,’ while actually you live near us? 23 You are now under a curse: You will never be released from service as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.”
24 They answered Joshua, “Your servants were clearly told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. 25 We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.”
Verses 22-25: Joshua told the Gibeonites that they were under a curse for their deception, yet they respond with sense: had we not done this, you would have killed us. It seemed far better, to them, to live a life of servitude than to face death. They, unlike other kingdoms in the Promised Land, have come to realize that God’s chosen people will wipe everyone out before they are finished and satisfied. We have something in common with the Gibeonites: we are living under a curse. That curse is Sin, and it holds reign over our lives in this world, from the moment of our birth until the moment of our death. We are slaves to Sin, yet there is good news! We, too, can choose to surrender. If we believe in our hearts and proclaim with our mouths that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he lived a sinless life and was crucified to atone for our sins, we can break free from that enslavement. It will no longer reign over our lives; we may still be bound to it in this world, but freedom will await us in God’s Kingdom. What better news is there than this? Jesus died for you. He died for me. I cannot live a life free from Sin, which is why I need Jesus to intercede on my behalf. And so I freely choose to submit to Him.
26 So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. 27 That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.
Verses 26-27: In spite of their servitude to the Israelites, the Gibeonites held a place of importance because they provided the needs of the alter of the Lord. So while they might have been lower than the other Israelites, the fruit of their labors went toward God. It would appear there was no complaint from them, either, about the tasks they were assigned. They completed what they were asked and were content to live within the niche that had been carved out for them. Too many people today are quick to become discontent with their station in life. They want to be owners and executives and their own bosses, dreaming of operating a flourishing business while making their own hours and their own pay structure. But there is nothing wrong with laboring at a job that isn’t close to that dream. Whatever task you can obtain, labor for the Lord and He will be pleased by the fruit of your labor. Not everyone is called to operate their own business. Many will likely end up in careers outside of their dream job. Yet faithful service may be rewarded; remember the Parable of the Three Servants. They were each given a share of silver to tend to while the master was away. Do not let your work be like the servant who buried the silver. God may open paths to you that you would never expect, so long as you dedicate yourself to your work, regardless of what that job may be.