When a promise is hard to keep

John Ditty - Sunday School Lesson

(Joshua 10:6-14) Then the men of Gibeon sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: “Don’t abandon your servants. Come quickly and save us! Help us, for all the Amorite kings living in the hill country have joined forces against us.” (Joshua 10:6)

The plea of the Gibeonites was a desperate one. Joshua and his army were taking some needed R&R before starting the southern campaign in the conquest of the Promised Land. Their victories over Jericho, Ai, and Bethel secured the Israelites control over the central portion of the land, thus dividing the region of Canaan in half. In the midst of their rest the call came, “Come quickly and save us! Help us.”

The commander wasted no time. “After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise.” (v.9) Joshua went in confidence for the Lord promised to be with him and the army. They would be victorious. (v.8) and victorious they were despite the force Joshua faced. “Then the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.” (v.5) It was five armies against one; and the five were well-trained and equipped.

Two actions worked to Joshua’s advantage. The first was his battle strategy. They marched all night and caught their enemy early in the morning. Generally armies gathered and after settling into their camps a battle ensued. The Israelites on the other hand pulled an all-night march and hit the five kings before breakfast. No lining up, no taunting, just an unannounced head-on attack that shocked and routed the enemy.

The second act was more impressive than the first. As the five armies were running for home God unleashed a vicious hailstorm, hurling “huge hailstones down on them” (v.11). As a matter of fact, the hailstones were more effective than swords and spears of the Israelites; the hail killed more than the sword (v.11). Also, God gave the Israelites extra daylight so they could complete the battle. The sun stopped moving at noon and did not start again for almost twelve hours, the length of a full day of sunlight (v.13).

When all was said and done the writer of the story noted, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!” (v.14)

Now that’s a good story. But there is one point that makes it even better. This day took place because the Gibeonites called for help. Why is that such an interesting point? The answer is in the name “Gibeonites.” They entered the story in the previous chapter. These were the people who lied and deceived Joshua and the Israelites into signing a peace treaty or alliance with them. These were the ones who tricked them into disobeying the Lord – at this point it would be good to interject that no one forced Joshua or the people to disobey; they chose to. Anyway, for many this was a hard promise to keep. As well, it is doubtful that anyone would have faulted Joshua if he had refused to help or at least hesitated a bit. Can’t you hear someone saying, “Why those Gibeonites lied and tricked and, well, lied. They’re getting what’s coming to ‘em. They made this bed by betraying their former allies.”

There was once a group of believers who, like the Israelites, were deceived by the words of another. Even more, they were fooled as much by what was not said as what was. But they made a promise to the one who had not altogether upfront and the promise was a financially costly one. When they learned the other’s true intent some felt it would be justifiable to withdraw the promise. Who in the community would think it odd to do such thing seeing how they had been tricked?

What to do in cases like the ancient and not so ancient story? The answer is found in chapters nine and ten of Joshua. First, when it was discovered they had been bamboozled by the Gibeonites some wanted to call off the deal. To this proposal Joshua and the other leaders simply replied, “We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. 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.” (9:21-22) In Joshua 10 they kept their promise when they marched all night and attacked.

This is the same approach the not so ancient group took…without the all-night march of course. They made a promise and they honored God by keeping it. Would anyone outside the group have cared if they hadn’t? That will never be known because they kept their promise.

Sometimes a promise is hard to keep. Perhaps it was made in haste or without putting much thought into it. Sometimes a promise is hard to keep because of an action by the one to whom it was made. So what is one to do when a promise is hard to keep? Well, a person could go to the one to whom the promise was made and ask them to allow it to be rescinded. Maybe if the reason is a sound one they will graciously release the promise-maker from their oath. Or, the promise can simply be kept.

For the Christian, Joshua’s approach is the best one. A promise made by a believer is a promise made to both another person and to the Lord. God expects His children to be people of their word. If they are not it reflects back on Him. Which begs one more question: Do I really want God to look bad because I cannot keep a promise?

John Ditty

Sunday School Lesson

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