But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. And the whole congregation grumbled against the leaders.
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.
The kings... on this side Jordan... gathered themselves together.I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS LEAGUE.
1. It was very wide, embracing every tribe in Canaan, those of the hills as well as those of the plain, and those of the sea coast as well as those inland. Even so has it been in all ages. Men of all ranks and occupations can be found to sneer at, condemn, and crush if they could, the pure gospel
2. It was very singular. Strange elements were brought together on this occasion. A common danger, a common enemy, a common hate, makes them forget old feuds, bury the war-hatchet, and unite on common ground for a common object. Who ever hated each other more cordially than Pharisee and Sadducee? yet they united in crying, "Crucify Him," and in compassing His death. Pilate and Herod cemented their broken friendship with His blood.
3. It was spontaneous. No pressure was employed to gather the clans together; none was needed. On every side there sprang up a desire to take united action. It is a sad and a terrible fact that the deepest thing in the natural heart is enmity against God. Every sinner is potentially a Deicide.
4. It was crafty. The wisest heads in Canaan were here drawn together, and engaged in strengthening this league. Their most skilful diplomatists, their most wily warriors, would give their advice, and seek to help the league in every way. The rich would give of their substance, the poor would give their strength, the wise would use their wits in discussing and arranging plans; and thus by their united energy all might yet be well. Thus again and again has all man's wisdom been brought to bear against the purposes of God.
5. And who could deny that such a league was powerful? It was powerful because of all the accumulated experience and wisdom that could be brought to bear upon the work; because of the minute knowledge of the country which the common people as well as the leaders possessed; and because of the immense resources they could fall back upon.
6. And it is also very plain that this league was heartily, yea, even enthusiastically, entered into. Like the great sea billows they rage against this bark, and with implacable wrath would smite and overwhelm it. Alas, frail bark! Alas, poor Israel! what canst thou do against such a league, so wild, so strange, so spontaneous, so crafty, so powerful, so zealous?
II. THE OCCASION OF THIS LEAGUE. No doubt many things contributed to bring it about, but one thing is specially singled out and mentioned by the Holy Ghost in this connection. When they heard of that strange march and the solemn ceremony in the vale of Shechem, then they gathered themselves together to fight with Joshua and with Israel with one accord. This shows that these Canaanites understood something of the significance of this action. They interpreted it rightly as an act of dispossession, so far as they were concerned. How often does the pious devotion of God's people provoke and exasperate the unrighteous above everything else! The sinner hates above all things the holiness of the saint, because it is his most emphatic condemnation. Perfect surrender to God's will always brings the enmity of the world to a head. Would you learn the true spirit of the world? March to Ebal and Gerizim, and pitch your tent in that sacred and fruitful vale Of utter consecration. But if such a life as this stirs up of necessity the evil which reigns in the heart of man, it is also to be remembered that such a life alone is powerful to do good to man or bring glory to God. Who can measure the strength of such consecrated souls? John Wesley knew something of this when he said, "Give me ten men who hate sin only and love God only, and I will shake the gates of hell." Its enmity will be roused, even as that of the Canaanites by the consecration of Israel; but it will be roused, only like theirs, to be utterly broken.
III. THE PURPOSE OF THIS LEAGUE. They banded themselves together "to fight against Joshua and against Israel." Though great wonders have been wrought before their very eyes, they will oppose this people. Therefore their action cannot for a moment be classed with the resistance which, e.g., the Britons offered to the invading Romans under Caesar. The position of these Canaanites was altogether different. In fighting against Israel they deliberately set themselves against Israel's God, Jehovah. They knowingly pit the strength of their idols against that of the Lord of hosts. At Him they aim their shafts through His people. Earth loves not its rightful Monarch. It rebels against His edicts, it cleaves to the great usurper's sway. What daring rebellion have we here! men plotting under God's very eyes. Conspirators usually meet in secret, in the darkness of night, screened from the eye and sheltered from the hand of the power outraged; but here these sinners gather together openly, to take counsel against Him who is marching through their land in awful majesty. Oh, hardened soul, remember the only alternatives. Bend or break; turn or burn. What utter futility have we here? Could we conceive anything more useless, more inefficient, more foolish, more powerless, than this league? The only consequence to these leaguers will be their own ruin. For this they plot, and not in vain. It comes upon them as a whirlwind, certain, irresistible, terrible, complete, irretrievable.
IV. THE LESSONS OF THIS LEAGUE. Surely, to begin with, we are very plainly taught that the people of God in carrying out the purposes of God may count upon opposition. It always has been so; and it will be so to the very end, for we read that even the glorious millennium is ushered in with a terrible struggle. We are apt to get downhearted when we see the hosts of evil mustering on every side. We exclaim, "What can the poor Church of God do?" If she can do nothing more, she can look up. She can see a sight which can calm all her fears, and make her laugh to scorn her loudest foes. Look up, then! look up! See Him who sitteth on the circle of the heavens, and before whom the nations are as grasshoppers. God is keeping silence. God is having them in derision. The attacks which to us may seem formidable are to Him despicable. Let us therefore have good hope. The systems of corruption and error and oppression, however well compacted and widely organised, must in the long run be destroyed, and he who expects and prays and works for their downfall will not be disappointed. Let us look back when we are despondent and faint-hearted, and remember how often God has restrained the wrath of the enemy; how often, when iniquity was coming in as a flood, He has raised up a standard against it. Yea, look around, and see what God has wrought. Think of the diffusion of Christianity, and of its mighty influence, whether direct or indirect. But we may learn another lesson from this league. We may learn as the host of God to unite our forces more and more in prosecuting the work set before us.
(A. B. Mackay.)
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