Who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath even when it hurts.
It’s painless to do the right thing when it doesn’t cost us anything. It’s easy to keep our word when there are no negative consequences. It’s different when doing the right thing makes us pay a price. If it is going to hurt, we are tempted to look for an easy way out.
That’s not what our God expects of us. That does not gain his favor. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy for us to do the right thing. An incident in the life of Joshua gives us an example.
Jericho had been breached and destroyed—except for Rahab and her family who had been promised safety. Nearby Ai had also been obliterated, by the command of the LORD. The same prospect was before all the people who inhabited the land of Canaan.
The LORD had told the Israelites, “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess” (Numbers 33:51-53).
There was more. “You must destroy all the peoples the LORD your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.”
The inhabitants of Canaan knew about this. The reports had come to them of the powerful works of the LORD and the battles Israel had won in the wilderness. The siege of Jericho showed what other cities in Canaan could expect. The Bible reports, “They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” (Joshua 6:21).
Leaders of many Canaanite tribes warned their people and prepared them for war. But one tribe took a different approach. The Gibeonites decided to trick Israel into thinking they were not from Canaan but from a faraway country. “Make a treaty with us,” they asked.
When Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?” they told the story of how in a distant country they had heard all the Lord had done in Egypt and the wilderness. So, they decided to pack up their possessions to meet with the Israelites and join them.
As evidence of this, they showed their moldy bread, dried-out and cracked wineskins, and worn-out clothes and sandals. They said, “These were new when we started out.”
Significantly, we are told, “The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.” Using their own judgment, they took the next step. “Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath” (Joshua 9:14,15).
Three days later, they learned the truth. They had been deceived. The Gibeonites were Canaanites who were to be driven out or killed, just like the rest.
The Gibeonites explained, “So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.”
Now what? Israel could have said, “You lied! Our oath is not binding.” In fact, that is what most of the Israelites wanted to happen. But their leaders answered, “We have given them our oath by the LORD, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now.”
The people of Israel were not just another tribe on the earth. They were the people of God. They bore his name. What they would do would be a reflection upon him. The decision was made. They would not go back on their word because the God of all never goes back on his word.
We are told the result. “So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them.” They were made servants of Israel as “woodcutters and water carriers for the community and for the altar of the LORD.” Therefore, “And that is what they are to this day” (Joshua 9:26,27).
That was the right thing to do! They had been reminded, as are we: “But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands” (Deuteronomy 7:8,9).
It hurt the LORD to keep his promise to rescue us. He had to watch his Son die.
Why should we hesitate to do what we know he expects of us? Why should the question of cost enter the decision? Why would we want to do anything that tarnishes his honor?
We bear his name before the world. Let us do so gladly and faithfully—even when it hurts.
Lord of glory, sometimes we are tempted to sidestep what should be done and excuse what is not right. We are inclined to go back on our word when we see it will cost us to keep it. Remind us of who we are, who you are, and what you have done. Then give us your Spirit. Amen.
Points to ponder:
- In what way does an unbelieving world pretend to be the friend of the Christian?
- Should we go back on our word if we find keeping it would lead to new sin?
- Why do we often forget that what we say and do is a reflection upon the Lord our God?
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Stillwater, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.