Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them. So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim. 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, but all the leaders answered, "We have given them our oath by the LORD, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now." (Joshua 9:16-19)
We live in a world of fingers crossed behind our backs. In politics, it increasingly seems like you're rewarded for your ability to double-speak. But the problem isn't just untrustworthy politicians. We all have a tendency to waffle on our promises. Sometimes plans change and we need to back out of commitments, to be fair. But we need to press through the inconvenience of tight schedules and conflicting priorities to reveal faithfulness to the people around us. Remaining faithful over time is known as steadfastness. That's how God wants us to be. If we prove faithful to others and keep our promises, we can have a transforming impact on the world. The Lord is holy—separate and different from the world and its short-lived and selfish priorities. He is a promise keeper. We reveal that characteristic within ourselves when we do the same, as his children. It's part of the fruit the Spirit manifests within us.
In Joshua 9, the armies of Israel have defeated Jericho and the residents of the Promised Land are fearful. The Gibeonites concoct a plan to deceive the Israelites—they pretend to be wanderers from a far-off land, to the point of wearing worn clothing and carrying moldy provisions. Joshua agrees to their request for a treaty, only to find out a few days later that they're residents of the land who live nearby. They solicited his protection based on a deception.
The Gibeonites bring shame on themselves for their duplicity, but their rationale is understandable. They are scared—so scared of God they're dressing in costumes to avoid meeting the Israelites in battle. They lied to Joshua, and normally, if someone lies to you, you aren't bound to keep your word. Even in our culture, if someone misrepresents themselves on a contract for business matters, you can extricate yourself from the obligation. But Joshua and the Israelites don't recognize the right to get themselves out of this. Why not?
Despite the circumstances, their word was bound by an oath in the name of the Lord. People who keep their vows honor God. God honors those who stick to their promises.
It doesn't make a lot of sense in our current culture, with its emphasis on choice and "freedom." Freedom means the ability to change our minds, nowadays. It means keeping our options open to make sure our needs are met. Choice is a fundamental right, in today's world. We don't like the idea of being bound to our commitments. We can return things to Amazon if we don't like them. Why not everything else? We're not only consumers of products, we view all of life in the same light. We don't like the idea of viewing our decisions as commitments that affect others and reflect on the Lord.
Which is why, if we follow Joshua's lead, we can have a ministry of promise keeping. Because people are counting on us. People are watching us. Our faithfulness reflects on God's. People come to experience his power and faithfulness through us. In a world of flakiness, divorce, and self-centeredness, people are desperate for something secure, but they won't believe it's real unless they see it, like the people of Palestine saw it. How will they experience God's power and faithfulness if we don't reflect it ourselves? They won't.
The lesson of Joshua 9 is to see our lives as a vow, and the words of our lips as a reflection of the one we serve. We need to treat the promises we make to others as promises to God. It's true of our marriage vows, and we can let it be true of our lives as a whole.
We need to be careful in making promises, of course. Jesus and James both warn us not to swear on things and not follow through (Matt 5:33-37; James 5:12). We can dishonor the Lord and bring condemnation on ourselves. You can't entirely avoid making commitments in life, but when we do, we must remember we're accountable for what we pledge to others (Num 30:2).
When we do keep our promises, we have the chance to have a ministry of faithfulness. If God is our father, and we reveal his faithfulness through our words and deeds, we are doing evangelism. We point people to him.
I learned a lot about faithfulness through my dad. He was a person who always did what he said he would do. When he made a lunch appointment with me, he was always there. He made sure he was early so if there was any problem (traffic, getting parking, etc.), I would never wonder where he was. He was dependable. I know about my Heavenly Father because of my earthly father. Others will know about our Heavenly Father when we do the same.
The photo is a view from the top of Mount Nebo, the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land in the Jordanian desert valley.