Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE STRATAGEM. It was cleverly devised and skilfully carried out. It was both an acted and a spoken lie. Their profession of reverent submission to the God of Israel ("Because of the name of the Lord thy God," ver. 9) was a hollow pretence. Their whole behaviour forbids our attributing to them the honesty of purpose that Rahab manifested. Base, slavish fear was their real motive (ver. 24). Observe
(1) how one sin leads on to another, perhaps a greater. The path of transgression is a downward way. Every fraud needs a falsehood to cover it. When men have once placed themselves in a false position they know not in what meanness and shame it may involve them.
(2) If half the ingenuity men show in the pursuit of their own carnal ends were spent in the service of truth and righteousness, how much bettor and happier the world would be. The followers of Christ may learn many a lesson in this respect from the facts of secular life around them, and even from their adversaries. "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light" (Luke 16:8).
II. ITS SUCCESS. They gained their end so far as this - that their lives were spared, secured to them by a treaty and a solemn oath (ver. 15). They gained it through the too easy credulity of Joshua and the princes, who supposed that things were as they seemed to be, and through the unaccountable omission of Joshua to "ask counsel of the Lord" (ver. 14).
(1) Trickery often seems to prosper in this world. It trades upon the generous trustfulness of men. But its success is short lived. It carries with it its own condemnation. Better always be the deceived than the deceiver.
(2) We must expect to fall into practical error when we fail to seek Divine direction. The wisest and best need something higher than their own judgment to guide them in the serious businesses of life. "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy steps" (Proverbs 3:6).
III. ITS PENALTY. They saved their lives at the cost of liberty and honour (ver. 21). The servile condition to which they were reduced fulfilled the curse pronounced by Noah on the children of Ham (Genesis 9:25). Joshua and the princes did right in regarding their oath as sacred and binding, even though it had been won by deceit. The people would have had them violate it. "All the congregation murmured against the princes." Popular impulses may as a rule be trusted; but are sometimes very blind and false. Vox populi not always Vox Dei. Happy the people whose rulers are able wisely to curb their impetuosity and present before them an example of inflexible rectitude. If the oath of Joshua and the princes had pledged them to a thing essentially wrong, they might have used the fact that they were beguiled into it by fraud as an argument for disregarding it; but not so seeing that, while it bound them to nothing absolutely unlawful, they were involved in it by their own neglect. That God approved of its observance is seen in the fact that, when the Canaanite kings sought to inflict vengeance on Gideon for the clandestine treaty, He gave Joshua a signal victory over them (Joshua 10:8-12); and also in the fact that the curse of blood-guiltiness came upon the land in after days because Saul broke this covenant with the Gibeonitos and slew some of them (2 Samuel 21:1, 2). These men, however, must pay the penalty of their deceit. The decision of Joshua respecting them is of the nature of a just and prudent compromise. It avoids the dishonour that would be done to the name of God by the violation of the oath; but saves Israel from the disgrace of a dangerous alliance with the Canaanites by reducing them to a state of absolute subjection. Learn
(1) the sanctity of an oath. A righteous man is one who "sweareth to his own hurt, andchangeth not" (Psalm 15:4). He who "reverences his conscience as his king" will never treat lightly any verbal pledges he may have given, or endeavour sophistically to rid himself of their responsibility. His "word will be as good as his bond." However false others may be, let him at least be true.
(2) The need of a spirit of wisdom to determine aright the practical problems of life. The path of duty is often the resultant of different moral forces. The most difficult points of casuistry are those at which impulses equally good (fear of God, self respect, humanity, etc.) seem to be at variance. Let every right motive have due weight. "Of two evils choose the least."
(3) How men sometimes disqualify themselves for any high and noble position in the Church of God by their former infatuation in the service of sin. These Gibeonites are delivered from destruction, but their perpetual servitude is a perpetual disgrace. So do saved men often bear with them, as long as life lasts (in moral disability, or social distrust, etc.), the marks of what they once have been. They may well be thankful when their past transgressions, for Christ's sake, are forgiven, and they are permitted to take any place in His kingdom, even "as slaves beneath the throne" - "hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation." - W.
Deuteronomy 20:10-18), there were three courses which Israel might pursue towards the cities they besieged:
1. In the event of a city refusing to capitulate, they were, after taking it, to destroy all the males who survived, but take the women and the little ones and the spoil, and divide the same. This first course, however, was only to be pursued to such cities as were outside the boundaries of the promised land.
2. In the event of cities within these boundaries refusing to capitulate, then, on taking them, they were to slay all the inhabitants of either sex, lest they should "teach them to do after their abominations."
3. But, thirdly, in the event of any city, within or without these boundaries, submitting to them without resistance, then they were to make the people "tributaries to them;" but no life was to be taken. From Joshua 11:19, 20, it is obvious that every city had the opportunity of capitulating, and would have saved its inhabitants from extermination by doing so; but that the thought of capitulation did not enter the hearts of any community, but that of Gibeon only. These remarks seem necessary to enable us to understand aright the exact position of affairs. They suggest:
1. That the submission of Gibeon was a right thing wrongly done.
2. That the wrong part of their action - the lie - was needless, as they would have been saved without it; and fruitless, as they would have had probably a better lot had there been no attempt to mislead.
3. That, accordingly, we have not here the example of a profitable lie (a thing that has never been seen since the fall), but only the example of wisdom in yielding to the inevitable, and seeking peace with the earthly representatives of God. Thus understood we may gather from their action two or three lessens worth our consideration.
I. AVOID DOING GOOD THINGS IN A BAD WAY. This is a common fault. Often all the grace of kindly acts is lost by an ungracious way of doing them. We give - perhaps avowing reluctance to do so. We confess mistakes - but exhibit a churlish regret, not for the mistake, but for the necessity of acknowledging it. We take good advice - but sullenly. We act on a good impulse - but slowly. We yield our hearts to God - but only with much misgiving, and after long delay. We do the right and just part, but only after earnestly trying to avoid doing it. So these Gibeonites rightly submit, but make the submission, which is right, in a wrong way, using falsehood and pretence, taking away from Israel the grace of generosity and the friendly spirit that would have moderated their lordship over them. Do not so blame them as to forget that every fault is a mirror, looking into which each may see some likeness of his own imperfection. You and I are like the Gibeonites in this, that always some bit of evil creeps into and mixes with the good. Such mixtures, in God's mercy, may not be fatal to our welfare, but they will always mitigate it. In this case a less abject and menial form of servitude would have been the result of their submission if they had possessed the courage of their wisdom. Do your good things in a good way.
II. PROMPT ACCEPTANCE OF THE INEVITABLE IS ONE OF THE HIGHEST PARTS OF WISDOM. The other cities of Canaan were not more brave, they were only more foolish than Gibeon. They lacked the imagination of faith which could realise the fate awaiting them. They dreamed of safety without taking measures to secure it. They believed in that "chapter of accidents which is the Bible of the fool." Like some Oriental governments which we have seen, they stared destruction in the face, and did nothing to ensure success in averting it. Wisdom averts the preventible, but sets itself to work at once to accept the inevitable. And Gibeon deserves credit for its clear perception of its danger, and its sagacity in trying to make the best of what could not be avoided. Perhaps, being more republican than any of the other nationalities, we have here an instance of the superior wisdom of the popular instinct to that of the rulers'. Without dwelling, however, on the source of their wisdom, we may with advantage follow its example. One of the chiefest parts of the art of life is frankly, promptly accepting the inevitable. Whatever the pressure that you cannot avoid, proceed at once to make the best of it. If it be poverty, do not with desperate ventures attempt to win back wealth, but with contentment and industry set yourself to make the best of it. If disease affects you from which you cannot free yourself, come to terms with it. Send your ambassadors and make a covenant with it. And accepting the situation in which you find yourself, address yourself to gather the "sweet uses of adversity," and you will find weakness a great teacher and not without its compensations. If you have done wrong, and to humble yourself is a necessity of honour, do so like Gibeon, at once. If submission to your redeeming God has become a necessity of your case, do not, like the other cities of Israel, dream and defy, and then fall before the destroyer; but with timely overtures seek Him while He is near. Thus in all relations of life accept frankly the inevitable. Agree with thine adversary quickly, and with the force you cannot resist make such terms as will allow you to enjoy a less dignity, but yet some degree of happiness.
III. GOD CROWNS WITH HIS REWARD ALL GOOD, HOWEVER MIXED WITH EVIL. In the action of the Gibeonites there is the good of a rudimentary faith, there is the evil of deceit. It is to be observed that, while the evil is punished, the good is not ignored. God does not require the retractation of the oath; and when, centuries later, Israel breaks the oath, He shows His disapproval of their course. God sanctions their being spared, and thus approves the good that is mixed with evil. Happily for us, God is still the same. Perfect motive He never finds, and unmixed good He never looks on. But, in His infinite compassion, whatever of good there is in our action receives a rich reward. His love holds as keen a scrutiny as His justice, and wherever in the action of men the slightest good appears, then He rewards it.
IV. WHATEVER OPPOSES GOD'S CAUSE WILL EITHER BE MADE SUBSERVIENT TO IT, OR BE DESTROYED. The fate of Ai or Gibeon, destruction or service, are the only alternatives of Canaan. It is a great pity when the foe declines to become a friend, and when those outside lack the aspiration to be reconciled thoroughly. For unreconciled they must serve, or disappear. Philosophies that oppose the gospel will turn round and speed on the triumph of truth, or they will melt away like a cloud before the warmth of dawn. Policies that seem adverse to the prosperity of the Church will prove productive of advantage to it, or be swept into oblivion. No weapon formed against the Church of God ever prospers. Be not on the wrong side. However strong you may appear, if you do not side heartily with the cause of God, you will be made its reluctant servants, or its extinguished foes. - G.
I. THE STRATAGEM OF THE GIBEONITES shows us ?
1. The different courses adopted by different men in respect of the same dangers. The overthrow of Jericho and the destruction of Ai struck terror into the hearts of the neighbouring inhabitants of Palestine. Would not their turn come next? How should they deal with the difficulty that threatened them? The only safety seemed to lie in united opposition. So reasoned many of the kings, and they organised their forces for battle. But the Gibeonites determined to act otherwise. To contract a treaty with the foe would be a greater safeguard than to encounter him in war. This they accordingly endeavoured to secure in the subtle manner which this chapter records. This variety of sentiment is being constantly exhibited in the plans men pursue regarding the "terrors of the Lord" or the assaults of conscience. Conviction of sin and of the retribution to which it exposes the sinner does not always incline him to sue for mercy. Some brave the attack, and with incredible folly fight against God. Though others have been overcome, they hope to be successful. The fall of other cities does not deter them from vain enterprises. Some, like the Gibeonites, are teachable, and if we cannot commend the deception they practised, we can at least exhort that the impossibility of staying the spread of God's kingdom be practically recognised. "Be ye reconciled unto God."
2. The pains taken to preserve life. Self-preservation is accounted one of the strongest instincts of our nature. These Gibeonites spared no trouble in order to gain their end. And yet how often are the things relative to eternal life utterly neglected!
3. The desire often entertained by the world to enter into an alliance with the Church. Simon Magus could desire the gift of the Holy Ghost for his own selfish purposes. It suits the plans of many to be considered religious; they assume the garb of piety to carry on their nefarious work unmolested. The Church of Christ is bound to exercise discipline, but prevention is better than excommunication. Guard against the intrusion of ungodly men. Seek the direction of God, who will keep His Church pure. The Gibeonites said nothing about adopting in heart the religion of the Israelites, about renouncing idolatry and serving the true God; they only wanted the advantages which would accrue from making a league with the Israelites. If we would share the advantages we must become God's people in heart and life.
4. The success of craft. Mental is sometimes more powerful than physical force in overcoming a difficulty. The Midianites were able to seduce the Israelites into sin though they could not injure them in open battle. There is undoubtedly a legitimate use of craft; according to the Apostle's declarations, "I have caught you with guile," "becoming all things to all men." There must be, however, nothing inherently wrong in our procedure, no tampering with truth, as in the case of the Gibeonites. For we proceed to remark -
5. Deceit is certain of ultimate detection. Hypocrisy must ere long have its veil removed. Show will not always be taken for reality. God knows the actual state of the heart and often makes it manifest to others. Soon did Israel discover the trick which had been practised on them. Our subject contains a warning to mere professors of godliness. Privileges secured by appearance of conformity are only temporary.
II. THE MISTAKE OF THE ISRAELITES teaches us -
1. That the senses easily lead us astray. The mouldy bread, the damaged bottles, the clouted shoes seemed plain proof of the truth of the strangers' words. Many persons think all their doubts would vanish if they once saw an angel or heard the voice of the Almighty; but the irrefragable testimony might be a delusion just as much as the convincing sights beheld by the Israelites. The things touched and viewed are what they are; the error is in the conclusions drawn from them. The bread was mouldy, but it did not warrant the belief that it had become so by a long journey. We must be careful in our reasonings. Earthquakes and pestilences do not necessarily prove God's anger, nor do they furnish testimony against the perfections of His character as a God of love. Prosperity is not conclusive evidence of God's favour or man's desert, nor adversity of man's ill-desert and his Maker's displeasure. In various directions the caution may be employed.
2. The weakness of human wisdom. All appeared so natural that the Israelites forbore to consult the Lord. Was not their path clearly indicated? They soon repented of their haste and simplicity. And has no similar error befallen us, the way seeming so evident that we have rushed into it without due deliberation and prayer? God expects us to use the sagacity He has bestowed upon us, but not to rely upon it wholly. It must form only one element in the judgment reached. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." We are so biassed, so influenced by inclination, have such perverse feelings, that we are not fit to be guides to ourselves. Experience attests this fact, Scripture often asserts it, reason corroborates it, and history proves it. The pride of the Israelites was probably flattered by the notion of their fame having extended to such a distant nation.
3. The importance of seeking the counsel of the Almighty. There is the reflex influence of prayer, purifying the desires, calming the passions, revealing the mischievous nature of much that seemed desirable, and leading to a clearer perception of principles. It cleanses "the thoughts of the heart." There is the answer granted to prayer. The mind is divinely directed, the Spirit of God fastens the eyes on particular passages of Scripture, and upon certain indications of Providence in external circumstances. To God, nothing that concerns His children is of trivial import; we may submit to Him matters great or small. "Commit thy way unto the Lord." - A.
Numbers 27:21, Joshua was taught to expect to find a heavenly oracle in the Urim and the Thummim of the priest; and constantly the promised oracle was given. In this case, however, it was not sought. Joshua and the rest were flattered with the story of their fame, and too readily assumed the insignificance of the occasion. Otherwise, had they asked they would have received counsel, and have been set on the track of discovering the fraud. It probably did not materially matter to Israel then. The chief loss to that generation was the booty they would in that ease have divided, and the private advantage of so many slaves divided amongst the families, instead of having a servile tribe allotted to the ministry of the tabernacle. Still the historian notes the neglected oracle as if Joshua had learned here a lesson of carrying even things that seemed little to his God. The occasion gives two or three lessons worth learning.
I. THERE IS AN ORACLE WHICH WILL WISELY GUIDE ALL WHO FEAR GOD. God has never been at a loss to guide the willing steps of men; but to the heart that has sought He has always given guidance. In various ways He has led men. Abraham through a whispering of His great name; Jacob and Joseph through dreams; Moses through voice and vision and miracle alike; Joshua through some gleaming of the high priest's breastplate; Gideon through the angel; Samuel through a raised state of every faculty; the prophets by the breathings of great thoughts and feelings; Jonah's sailors by the lot; the wise men from the East by a star; the Ethiopian by a page of prophecy. He seems to accommodate all and give them their guidance where they expect to find it. God still "fulfils Himself" m many ways, The African rain maker rebuked Livingstone, by declaring his methods of getting rain were really prayers which the good God was in the habit of granting. The Moravians, who expect Divine guidance through the casting of the lot, doubtless find it there, though no one else would get it. Sometimes through the providential barring of dangerous paths; sometimes through a restraint like that which Paul described in the words "the spirit suffered us not;" sometimes through inward impulse of a cogent kind, a being "bound in the spirit to go" in a certain direction; sometimes by the mere commendation of certain courses to our taste, our judgment, or our conscience. God still gives guidance to all who ask it.
"No symbol visible II. TRUE WISDOM COMMITS SMALL THINGS AS WELL AS GREAT TO GOD'S CARE. A child tells all to the parent that it trusts; the least discomfiture - the greatest distress. And when we have the child-like heart we commit all to God, feeling that the least is not too little for His great love. The ability is developed of rising on every occasion in thought to Him, till the mood becomes so confiding, so expectant, that it forms a "prayer without ceasing." And this habit of committing all becomes fortified by the wisdom which observes how often the issues of things are to be in the inverse ratio of their seeming importance: vast consequences flowing from what seem most trivial events, and events that seem of a stupendous character leaving no trace of influence on after history. So, little things as well as great are lifted by the devout heart to the Divine ear. Joshua here thought recourse to the oracle needless because the matter seemed unimportant. But it had more importance than he knew. Strangely enough, this compact with Gibeon fixes the resting place of the ark for centuries, right down to the time of David. For Kirjath-jearim was one of the cities of Gibeon, and it was probably the residence there of the Gibeonites that determined the resting there of the ark. This, in its turn, threw the centre of the national life to the southward, helped the supremacy of Judah, the choice of Jerusalem as capital, the subordination of Ephraim and Samaria. If Joshua had seen all that hung on his decision, he would not because of the seeming insignificance of the matter have neglected the oracle. Take God into thy counsel in all matters, less and larger. Commit the little acts to His decision, surrender the little things which self will would decide. "Faithful in least, faithful in much;" and, even so, devout in least, devout in much. Christ raised the dead, and then said, "Give her something to eat;" the omnipotent miracle, the homely kindness, being equally characteristic of Him. Walk with God always. In least things consult His oracle. III. ALL MAKE MISTAKES, BUT GOD'S SAINTS PROFIT BY THEM. This is the second mistake of the same kind which Joshua has made since crossing Jordan. Not consulting the oracle, he sends too few men against At. Not consulting the oracle, he makes this covenant with Gibeon. But our text recording the mistake shows how it was discovered, and the repetition of it avoided. There is no mistake which is absolute mischief, it will always give us at least a lesson. Blessed are they who can turn all their faults into schoolmasters. For though such schoolmasters use the lash, they give good teaching, being skilled to teach humility, watchfulness, dependence on God. Turn your faults to good account, and every act of folly into a spring of wisdom. Lastly, observe, that not only did Joshua turn the fault to account, but - IV. GOD MAKES THE BEST OF A GOOD MAN'S MISTAKES. After all, the alliance with Gibeon gave them entrance into a position of importance, became the occasion of the great victory of Beth-heron, and has no traceable results of mischief. Thus it ever is. God makes the best of us and of our work. When the heart is right our every failing is turned to good account. Be not too nervous about the results of our actions. For when the purpose is honest and devout - "Our indiscretions ofttimes serve us well.
II. TRUE WISDOM COMMITS SMALL THINGS AS WELL AS GREAT TO GOD'S CARE. A child tells all to the parent that it trusts; the least discomfiture - the greatest distress. And when we have the child-like heart we commit all to God, feeling that the least is not too little for His great love. The ability is developed of rising on every occasion in thought to Him, till the mood becomes so confiding, so expectant, that it forms a "prayer without ceasing." And this habit of committing all becomes fortified by the wisdom which observes how often the issues of things are to be in the inverse ratio of their seeming importance: vast consequences flowing from what seem most trivial events, and events that seem of a stupendous character leaving no trace of influence on after history. So, little things as well as great are lifted by the devout heart to the Divine ear. Joshua here thought recourse to the oracle needless because the matter seemed unimportant. But it had more importance than he knew. Strangely enough, this compact with Gibeon fixes the resting place of the ark for centuries, right down to the time of David. For Kirjath-jearim was one of the cities of Gibeon, and it was probably the residence there of the Gibeonites that determined the resting there of the ark. This, in its turn, threw the centre of the national life to the southward, helped the supremacy of Judah, the choice of Jerusalem as capital, the subordination of Ephraim and Samaria. If Joshua had seen all that hung on his decision, he would not because of the seeming insignificance of the matter have neglected the oracle. Take God into thy counsel in all matters, less and larger. Commit the little acts to His decision, surrender the little things which self will would decide. "Faithful in least, faithful in much;" and, even so, devout in least, devout in much. Christ raised the dead, and then said, "Give her something to eat;" the omnipotent miracle, the homely kindness, being equally characteristic of Him. Walk with God always. In least things consult His oracle.
III. ALL MAKE MISTAKES, BUT GOD'S SAINTS PROFIT BY THEM. This is the second mistake of the same kind which Joshua has made since crossing Jordan. Not consulting the oracle, he sends too few men against At. Not consulting the oracle, he makes this covenant with Gibeon. But our text recording the mistake shows how it was discovered, and the repetition of it avoided. There is no mistake which is absolute mischief, it will always give us at least a lesson. Blessed are they who can turn all their faults into schoolmasters. For though such schoolmasters use the lash, they give good teaching, being skilled to teach humility, watchfulness, dependence on God. Turn your faults to good account, and every act of folly into a spring of wisdom. Lastly, observe, that not only did Joshua turn the fault to account, but -
IV. GOD MAKES THE BEST OF A GOOD MAN'S MISTAKES. After all, the alliance with Gibeon gave them entrance into a position of importance, became the occasion of the great victory of Beth-heron, and has no traceable results of mischief. Thus it ever is. God makes the best of us and of our work. When the heart is right our every failing is turned to good account. Be not too nervous about the results of our actions. For when the purpose is honest and devout -
"Our indiscretions ofttimes serve us well.
I. NOTHING IS MORE HATEFUL TO THE HOLY GOD THAN A LIE. He is in His very essence light (1 John 1:5). Falsehood and cunning pervert all the relationships of life. Lying breaks the social bond, since a man's word is the only medium of moral exchange between men; and when mutual confidence is lost, the foundations of the social edifice are undermined. Therefore St. Paul says, "Lie not one to another... for ye are members one of another." In the direct education which God gave to His people Israel, He has given unmistakable demonstration of His horror of all deceit. Hence the punishment of the Gibeonites.
II. THE PUNISHMENT which these unhappy men brought upon themselves rested not only upon them as individuals, but upon their whole nation. God thus showed that evil is not transformed into good by being made to subserve a public cause. There are not two codes of morality - one for private and another for national life. Polities ought to be as scrupulously governed by the law of God as the life of the individual. Although since the abolition of the theocracy, the sphere of religion and of the civil power ought to be kept altogether distinct, it is no less incumbent on the State to adhere to the plain principles of morality. In spite of all that may seem to argue the contrary, every violation of these principles brings its own punishment. History is in its essence one long judgment of God.
III. By not allowing the Israelites to break their oath to the Gibeonites, even though they had been deceived by them, GOD TEACHES US THAT WRONG DONE BY OUR NEIGHBOUR DOES NOT AT ALL VINDICATE US IN BEING GUILTY OF A LIKE WRONG. One sin never justifies another. We are to "overcome evil with good," and it is this which distinguishes the people of God from all other people. It is by not being conformed to this world we triumph over it. If the people of God were to act in the same way as the Canaanites, there would be no reason for giving them the ascendancy. When the Church becomes worldly it falls under the condemnation of the world. Let us be, then, everywhere and always men the rule of whose life is the law of God. The only retaliation we must ever allow ourselves is rendering good for evil. "Be not overcome of evil," says St. Paul, "but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). - E. DE P.
I. THE ANGER AND WISH OF THE PEOPLE arose from -
1. Their mortification at being outwitted. Pride had been honoured by the arrival of such an apparently distant deputation. The evidences were incontestable. All the stronger would be the consequent revulsion when the trickery was discovered. Each man thinks himself as wise as his neighbor, and cannot endure to be triumphed over in any transaction. If we did not rate ourselves so highly, we should not be troubled with such pangs of shame.
2. The natural hatred of deception. One of the proofs of the existence of a moral sense, and therefore of the moral constitution and government of the world, is found in the condemnation universally pronounced upon underhanded dealing. Commerce and intercourse must cease where no bond of good faith is observed. The Gibeonites perjured themselves by words and deeds. The fiercest reproofs of our Lord were administered to the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. He called them "whited sepulchres;" they "made clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within were full of extortion and excess."
3. A mingled remembrance of God's commandment and their own desire for plunder. The craft of the Gibeonites could not fail to make them regarded as enemies of God; and if this wholesome sentiment was sometimes feeble in operation, it was certainly strengthened on this occasion by the sight of the rich booty which the Israelites would have enjoyed but for the league entered into under such false pretences. Moral indignation is vastly swelled by a sense of personal injury. Interest quickens resentment and action. Not so with the Almighty. Raised far above all our petty interests, His wrath against sin is pure, a bright flame that has no base admixture to sully its awful grandeur.
II. THE DETERMINATION OF THE PRINCES.
1. Regarded the sacredness of their word. Like Jephthah, they had given their word, and could not go back. They were prepared to face the opposition of the populace. In this they showed themselves worthy of their position as heads of the people. On all leaders a great responsibility rests; it is sometimes necessary to check as well as to urge forward their followers. They must be ready to resist the clamours of the multitude. To think weightily of a spoken word, a promise, is an all-important matter. Words are in the truest sense deeds. "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Language is not meant to conceal but to express our thoughts, and a spoken should be as binding as a written speech. Here should Christians be well to the front. In business their every utterance should be capable of being trusted, and they should risk much rather than excuse themselves from the performance of their contracts.
2. Respected the inviolableness of an oath. When Jesus Christ prohibited all swearing, He did but, in the paradoxical method of statement He adopted, interdict all useless, vain, needless interlarding of conversation and business and legal declarations with the introduction of holy names and things. He Himself used the most solemn formulas in His public teaching and before the high priest; the apostles invoked the witness of God to the truth of their statements; and the Lord God is said to have "sworn with an oath." An oath is therefore permissible, but ought not to be lightly taken; it implies solemnity and deliberation. Only, therefore, under exceptional circumstances can it be considered right to break an oath. Doubtless a promise made upon the strength of the promisee's false statements is not always obligatory, but the case cannot be generally determined. Few will doubt that in the instance before us the princes acted wisely. They attributed special importance to the fact that they "had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel," and they looked to the evil effects that would be produced if the name of Israel's God should be dishonoured. It was their own fault, their heedless hurry, that they had committed themselves to the rash oath. Note, too, that the narrative, by not condemning the resolve of the princes, seem to sanction it. And in after years the Israelites incurred the grievous displeasure of the Almighty, because Saul had, in his mad zeal, sought to slay the Gibeonites in contravention of this agreement (2 Samuel 21:1-11). In the result these Hivites gained their life, but were reduced to servitude. The curse pronounced upon Canaan (Genesis 9:25) was fulfilled; these men were "cursed" (per. 23), and became a "servant of servants" unto the Israelites. This incident reminds us of - THE SAFETY OF RELIANCE UPON THE WORD OF GOD. "He is not a man that he should lie." He cannot contradict Himself. If He does seem to "repent," it is because His promise was conditional; and if we seek His favour and do His will, His "repenting" will be only for our good, it will mean the removal of some threatened punishment. On the other hand, if we observe not the terms of the covenant, we cannot complain if God withdraws His promised blessings. God has confirmed His word to His people with an oath. "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent." This indicates that what is said is irrevocable. Note the argument in Hebrews 6:17-19, and the rock grasping anchor which makes stable the Christian's hope among all the waves and winds of life's stormiest sea. He is acquainted with all the circumstances of the case; He cannot be deceived. To Him the dateless past and the endless future are an ever present now. He bids us receive in Christ life forevermore. Who would not build on this unshakable foundation, the "word and oath" of the living God? - A.