Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Solemn, Binding Agreement

Contracts can't happen unless there is a meeting of the minds.

I've heard this statement repeated time and again on my daily in-flight treadmill exercise entertainment-The People's Court. Between this show, typing up briefs for husband during law school, and listening to him discuss issues with other friends still in the legal profession, I know just about enough to be dangerous when it comes to the law.

As I read through 2 Samuel this week, though, I learned the loopholes man's law allows for escaping a binding agreement aren't always allowed for God's people, especially when it comes to contracts, agreements, oaths--covenants.

2 Samuel 21 tells of a "famine in the days of David for three years, year after year" (v. 1a). The nation of Israel was obviously being punished; yet, the reason was unknown. So, "David sought the presence of the LORD. And the LORD said, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death'" (v. 1b).

For this story of the Gibeonites, David likely had to go back into the archives--back to before Israel's first king, Saul, to before a long line of judges back when Joshua was put in charge shortly after Moses' death.

At that time, the Gibeonites occupied part of the land God had given to Israel and was included in the divine command to drive out all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. Knowing this, it would have seemed Saul's putting them to death several generations later by (finally) following God's initial command would be a good thing, not something worthy of God's judgment.

Yet, while following God's command might seem proper, it wasn't...because of a man-made covenant, one that would definitely be struck down in today's courts.

Scripture says when the Gibeonites heard how Joshua had flattened the mighty walls of Jericho and conquered the city of Ai, they "acted craftily and set out as envoys, and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys, and wineskins worn-out and torn and mended, and worn-out and patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and had become crumbled" (Joshua 9:3-5).

Pretending to be envoys who had traveled from a "far-away country," they came and asked Joshua to "make a covenant with us” (v. 6). The Israelites were initially suspicious, asking if these envoys were actually living within their land. At this point, the Gibeonites flat out lied, saying, "'Your servants have come from a very far country because of the fame of the LORD your God" (v. 9).

Foolishly, Israel's leaders "did not ask for the counsel of the LORD. Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them" (v. 14-15). A few verses later when it became clear the Gibeonites did live on Israel's land, the people were angered enough to kill them, but the leaders spoke, saying, "We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we cannot touch them. This we will do to them, even let them live, so that wrath will not be upon us for the oath which we swore to them. (v. 19-20).

They knew--a covenant must be kept. Even a covenant made upon false pretenses. Even one where there was no meeting of the minds. A covenant was binding, with God as its Sovereign Administrator.

At some point in his reign, Saul apparently decided to exterminate the Gibeonites despite the covenant--a bloodthirsty event not recorded in Scripture, yet alluded to in God's answer to David that the famine was caused by Saul's breaking of this covenant.

Such a judgment of God's people demonstrates that long after the covenant makers were dead, the nation of Israel was still bound to this covenant. What's more, long after the covenant breaker was dead, God as a holy, just covenant administrator still brought about judgment until atonement was made to the remaining Gibeonites--blood for blood.

David seemed to understand this cause-and-effect relationship between making and breaking a covenant. Perhaps this is because unlike in today's society when contracts and covenants are made and broken each day, David understood the solemnity of covenant.

His attitude towards covenant is revealed a few chapters earlier when he sought "a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba" to ask "Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?" (2 Sam. 9:2,1).

Ziba did know one man named Mephibosheth, "a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet" (v. 3). When Mephibosheth came before David, he rightly feared for his life, "fell on his face and prostrated himself...And he said, 'Here is your servant!'" (v. 6).

David, though, told him to not fear, that he would "surely show kindness to you [Mephibosheth] for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; an you shall eat at my table regularly" (v. 7).

Why this great demonstration of grace and kindness? One king automatically inherited all lands, servants, wives, concubines, etc. of the former king. Everything rightfully belonged to David.

But David, man after God's own heart--David remembered the covenant he had once made with Jonathan and Jonathan's descendants, a covenant no one but David and God knew of. No man was alive to remind or require David to keep this covenant, but David, himself, knew and remembered when "Jonathan said to David, 'Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever’'" (1 Sam.20:42).

And in this remembrance, knowing that the LORD would hold him to the oath, David acted.

A few months ago in this space, we looked at King Zedekiah breaking an oath he never intended to keep in the first place...but God still judged him for the breaking of it.

Today, we see two more covenants made by God's people. In one instance, the making of the covenant defied God's initial command, and generations had passed; yet, God still deemed the covenant was to be kept between nations, despite the passing of time and the fact that it defied His command. In the other instance, there was no one alive to enforce the covenant; yet, God knew and required its keeping.

"There's no paperwork. No one knows but me."

"But God's Word says ___ even though I've already entered in a covenant to _____"

"It's been twenty years, so...."

All these limiting factors we normally attach on modern-day covenants...present-day American society may recognize them as valid reasons to escape a contract, but as Christians, we must seriously, prayerfully ask ourselves if God recognizes them.

We serve a covenant-making, covenant-keeping, covenant-reminding God, one who is Sovereign Administrator over covenants made in His name.


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