This lecture page is designed to go after the student has followed the workbook and done the homework for Lesson 7. A powerpoint to accompany the audio lecture is available, as well as a handout.
Last year over 700,000 immigrants became U.S. citizens. To do so, they had to apply and qualify in a number of areas, including passing a civics test. Finally, they had to swear an oath to be loyal to the United States:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;
By taking this oath, the person promises to take on a new relationship, to be faithful to that relationship above others, and to be loyal to that relationship by fighting for it when necessary. On the flip side, the person who becomes a citizen can now freely partake of all the benefits of that new relationship.
This week we looked into the story of Joshua and the Gibeonites, which hinges on the taking of an oath, similar to the oath of citizenship. Today we are going to look at such oaths, which are called covenants. As we do, we will see that they also involve a new relationship that brings both responsibilities and benefits.
Before we turn to our story in Joshua 9, we need to understand this kind of oath, called a covenant.
What is a covenant? Covenants are agreements involving solemn vows.
Before we see how covenants affect our story, we need to look at the nature of covenants. Because of covenant, we have certain responsibilities and privileges.
We find covenants throughout the Bible. If you were here a couple of weeks ago, Shelley talked about the fact that covenants are more than business agreements or contracts because they involve relationships, not simply business deals. The first thing we see about covenants is that they actually bring the parties into a new relationship.
We just saw that the oath of citizenship means that the person is now a citizen instead of an alien. Similarly, when God brought Israel into covenant with Him, He gave them a special relationship as His own chosen people.
Look at Ex. 19:3-6, which took place just before God gave the Law, or the Old Covenant, to Israel.
Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.”
God brought Israel into this new relationship as part of His covenant with them. They were now His covenant people. Beginning in Ex. 19 God explained the covenant to the people in the Ten Commandments and other laws. In Ex. 24, the people and God ratified that covenant.
Moses came and told the people all the Lord’s words and all the decisions. All the people answered together, “We are willing to do all the words that the Lord has said,” and Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Early in the morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain and arranged twelve standing stones – according to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls for peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and half of the blood he splashed on the altar. He took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they said, “We are willing to do and obey all that the Lord has spoken.” So Moses took the blood and splashed it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
It is at this point that Israel became God’s special people because they entered covenant with Him. We see here some of the practices of covenant-making that were used in those days: memorial stones, sacrifices and offerings, reading the covenant agreement, and sprinkling blood.
Over and over throughout the scriptures, God reminded Israel of their special relationship, which came about because of the covenant with Him. It was the basis of their relationship and the reason that God worked with them so uniquely.
As people of God’s new covenant, we too enter into a new relationship with Him. That relationship is described in many ways in the Bible; we are called God’s people, His children, His heirs, and His own possession.
Covenants bring new relationships. What else do we need to understand about covenants before we get into our story? Covenants are built upon the reliability of the character of the parties. They make oaths and swear to one another. Then, they base their actions in faith that the other party will follow through with his promises. The oath of citizenship means little if the new citizen is lying and planning on being a traitor instead. A covenant is only good if the parties fulfill their promises.
Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly.” And so by persevering, Abraham inherited the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute. In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie.
God didn’t really need to swear when He made promises to Abraham because God’s character is so perfect that He keeps His word without an oath. The author of Hebrews tells us that He swore only so that the people would realize that there were 2 unchangeables involved in His promise—His oath and His own character, which makes it impossible for Him to lie. We see here that an oath should be so certain that it ends all disputes. We should be able to rely upon the word of the one who swears.
However, that brings up the third point about covenants. Because they are based upon the reliability of our words, we are bound though it sometimes hurts.
You saw this in your lesson, but it is extremely important as we talk about covenants. Ps. 15:1, 4b says, “Lord, who may be a guest in your home?
Who may live on your holy hill?” [Then God explains the character of that person and we’ll look at what He said at the end of v. 4] “He makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.” Or I like the way that the NIV says it: “Who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” The Message puts it this way: “Keep your word even when it costs you.”
That means that we are bound to our words even when we realize it will be costly to fulfill our promises. This is true of the oaths that citizens take. They will fight, even sacrificing their lives if need be.
So we see that covenants bring new relationships, are built on the character of the parties, and bind us though it hurts. Finally, they may bring consequences from God when they are broken.
Look at Gen. 15:9-10, where God made His covenant with Abram, who was later re-named Abraham:
“The Lord said to him, “Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two and placed each half opposite the other, but he did not cut the birds in half.”
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts. That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River –the land of . . . ” [And I won’t read all the names.]
This covenant ceremony seems quite strange to us in our culture. We have very few remnants of these ceremonies left, but similar rites were still practiced recently in isolated places around the world. The verb for making covenant in Hebrew is the word bariyth, which means “to cut”, and is based upon this ceremony. When the parties ratified their covenant, they killed some animals and cut them in halves; then, they walked between the pieces of the animals, asking God to do the same to them, that is to kill them, if they broke the covenant. The two basins of blood that were sprinkled on the Israelites when they ratified the Law represented the halves of the animals. Because a covenant was a solemn, binding agreement, God was a party to the covenant. He was the one to watch over the promises and make sure that the people were faithful to their promises and their new relationship.
We have lost the sense of the seriousness of oaths and promises today. We don’t realize that when we swear to God, we bring Him as a party into our covenant agreement. We essentially ask Him to watch us to be sure we are true. When we say “so help me God”, we call Him as a witness to the truth.
I thought about President Clinton lying under oath. I think this simply reflects a culture that has no sense of the seriousness of swearing before God. Our court system takes it seriously, but God takes it even more seriously. We have to be careful what we swear.
There is a great example of bringing God in as witness in Gen. 31:44-54 where Jacob and Laban made a covenant. I wish we had time to read the whole passage, but I hope you will do so later.
Laban said, “This pile of stones is a witness of our agreement today.” That is why it was called Galeed. It was also called Mizpah because he said, “May the Lord watch between us when we are out of sight of one another. If you mistreat my daughters or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one else is with us, realize that God is witness to your actions.”
“Here is this pile of stones and this pillar I have set up between me and you,” Laban said to Jacob. “This pile of stones and the pillar are reminders that I will not pass beyond this pile to come to harm you and that you will not pass beyond this pile and this pillar to come to harm me. May the God of Abraham and the god of Nahor, the gods of their father, judge between us.”
There are so many elements of covenant mentioned here, but the primary one that we want to note now is that God was the witness between them. If one of them broke the covenant by coming to harm the other, God was to bring consequences.
In covenant there are responsibilities and benefits, and we are called by God to them. Our story will more clearly show us what they are.
So let’s finally look in Joshua 9. We won’t read it all since you studied it and discussed it together. You know what happened. The Gibeonites decided that they would deceive the leaders of Israel into making a covenant with them. They had heard that God had required His people to destroy all the people of the land; only those outside of the land could make peace and be saved. So they determined to pretend to live far away so that Israel would make a covenant with them—and the word in v. 15 is that word bariyth, which means to cut covenant. And the plan worked. Israel never consulted God about the situation and went right ahead and made this covenant, which brought them into a new relationship with these people.
Three days after they made the treaty with them, the Israelites found out they were from the local area and lived nearby. So the Israelites set out and on the third day arrived at their cities – Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath Jearim. The Israelites did not attack them because the leaders of the community had sworn an oath to them in the name of the Lord God of Israel. The whole community criticized the leaders, but all the leaders told the whole community, “We swore an oath to them in the name of the Lord God of Israel. So now we can’t hurt them! We must let them live so we can escape the curse attached to the oath we swore to them.” The leaders then added, “Let them live.” So they became woodcutters and water carriers for the whole community, as the leaders had decided.
The next thing we read is that an alliance of kings attacked Gibeon when they heard that they were now allied with Israel, but the Gibeonites called out to Joshua and he and his army came to their aid.
So because of covenant, we see Joshua and the people of Israel act in certain ways; in fact, they parallel the ways God acted toward Israel; and they should parallel the ways we act toward God, our covenant partner, and toward our husbands who are in a covenant relationship with us.
Because of covenant, God calls us to be faithful, as He does all covenant parties. We are to keep the promises we have made to our covenant partners, even to our own hurt. We have seen that over and over in Joshua that God is always faithful to His promises. What He promises, He delivers. Because his character is faithful, He can be trusted with His words. He kept His promises to Israel and will keep His promises to the church, His covenant people.
2 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself.”
God will be ever faithful to us when we enter covenant with Him by believing in His Son. However, we will all be unfaithful to Him at some time in some way, but He will not use that as an excuse to be unfaithful to us.
Similarly, we have just seen in our story that the Israelites did not kill the Gibeonites although the Gibeonites had deceived them. They had sworn an oath to them, and they had to keep the oath.
I think this story is an important example, particularly for married women. So many women give themselves an out in their marriages because they feel they were deceived in some way or that they made a mistake when they married that person. Some may have chosen to marry someone out of God’s will, maybe a non-Christian; or maybe they failed to really pray about it.
But we wives have sworn though it hurts, just as Israel did with the Gibeonites who deceived them. Once we marry that man, he is God’s will for us; whatever that costs, we are to keep our promises. Jesus even told us in Mt. 5:33-37 that our word is just as much a promise as an oath. He said, “Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.”
Faithfulness is part of the character of God. If we are to be like Him, we must be faithful to our words and to our relationships. Covenant is very serious and requires faithfulness. What did you promise your husband? In most marriage ceremonies, you promise to love and cherish, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all other men so long as you both shall live. Not much wiggle room, is there? Although couples often write their own vows today, these elements are usually there somewhere. And God sees a marriage covenant as a permanent union of man and woman.
I do want to add one word here, though, so there is no misunderstanding. When I say it hurts, that doesn’t mean that you don’t seek help in serious situations. If you are being physically abused, you need to remove yourself physically from the situation, but you need to work to keep the covenant. Don’t allow your husband to sin against you, but continue to be true to your covenant to him.
Well, not only are covenant parties to be faithful, they are to be loyal. Our covenants have placed us in new relationships, and they take priority over all others. Our relationship in covenant with God means that He is our God and we are to have no other. Your relationship with your husband means that he is your husband; you are to have no other love. That is why James 4:4 calls Christians adulterers when we put anything else before God.
Loyalty means that we fight with and for our covenant partners. We have seen God fight for Israel all the way through Joshua and also here when they protected the Gibeonites. Joshua 10:14 says that the Lord fought for Israel. In that same battle, Israel fought for Gibeon out of loyalty.
In the same way we are to fight for God. Ephesians 6:10-20 tells us to fight God’s enemy with the armor of God. We are to take sides and to fight when our covenant partner needs us.
How does that apply to your marriage? Your husband is your covenant partner, and you are on his side and are even one with him. That means that you stand for him, even against your family and your friends. You are to be loyal to him. Just as our citizenship means that we side with our country against all others—even our country of birth. As a wife, you side with your husband over all others, even our parents. He is your husband, and it is to him that you owe your loyalty. Sometimes that means that you say no to your parents because it is best for your husband or because of his wishes.
You are responsible to be faithful and loyal in covenant. But you also have privileges. You can boldly ask your covenant partner for help.
In our story we saw the Gibeonites boldly cry out for the Israelites to come to their defense. It was their privilege. Joshua 10:6 says, “The men of Gibeon sent this message to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, ‘do not abandon your subjects! Rescue us! Help us! For all the Amorite kings living in the hill country are attacking us.’ ”
In the same say, Joshua cried out to God on the day of that battle. Look at Josh. 10:14: “There has not been a day like it before or since. The Lord obeyed a man, for the Lord fought for Israel!” In the Hebrew obeyed means that the Lord “listened to the voice of a man.” It was because they were in covenant. God had promised to fight for His covenant people, and Joshua boldly asked Him to do it.
We see the same boldness in Josh. 14:6-12, which you read this week. In this passage Caleb cried out for the land that God had promised him after he was faithful to God when spying out the land, more than 40 years before. Look at Josh. 14:12: “Now, assign me this hill country which the Lord promised me at that time! No doubt you heard at that time that the Anakites live there in large, fortified cities. But, assuming the Lord is with me, I will conquer them, as the Lord promised.”
Because God is a promise-keeping God, and because Caleb was in covenant relationship with Him as one of God’s chosen people, he could boldly ask God for what was his by promise.
So, too, we have the privilege of boldly asking for help from our covenant partner. God calls us as His covenant people to do the same in Heb. 4:16:
“Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.” Although the context is about Jesus as our High Priest, the truth is still there. We can boldly go before God because we are part of that New Covenant where Jesus is the High Priest.
What has God promised you? You’ll find those promises in His word. Call on Him to fulfill them. Ask Him according to His faithfulness to His covenant. Just be sure you base those promises on New Covenant promises and not on those given to Israel. Read them in context to understand them. But once you do, cry out to your covenant partner to fulfill His promises—His peace, His provision, or His wisdom! I think God is pleased when we cry out to Him and call on His faithfulness to answer!
I have some family members who are not walking with God as closely as they should be. So as I pray for them, I cry out to my covenant-keeping God and their covenant-keeping God to fulfill the promises He has given. I pray Phil. 2:12-13 asking God to give them the desire within to work out their salvation. I cry out Phil. 1:6 for God to complete the good work that He has begun in them, a work that I have seen. But I don’t give Him deadlines and I don’t give Him “how to’s”. I simply ask Him to do this work because of His relationship with them, His loyalty to them, and His faithfulness to His promises. I ask it based on His character, not because they or I deserve it. I am confident that someday I will see God’s answer to my cries!
You are in covenant with God. What a wonderful privilege! You are now in a new relationship with Him which requires you to be faithful and loyal, whatever the cost, just as the new citizens of the United States must now be loyal and faithful, even sacrificing their lives if needed! How exciting to be able to cry out to God to defend you when you are in trouble! What great responsibility to show forth the same faithfulness and loyalty to those with whom you are in covenant so that the world can see the greatness of our God!