Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them. So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim. But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, but all the leaders answered, “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.” They continued, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers in the service of the whole assembly.” So the leaders’ promise to them was kept. – Joshua 9:16-21
Adolph Harstad writes:
What has led to this crisis of faith? Joshua 9:14 points to Israel’s failure to inquire of the LORD as the root of the problem. The high priest is God’s ordained mediator between Himself and His people. God’s will is revealed through him. …
That failure lies in the past and cannot be undone. Now that Israel has made the covenant of peace and life with the Gibeonites with a sworn oath, [the leaders determine that] they must honor it. The fact that they had been deceived into making that oath by the Gibeonite’s ruse is no justification for violating it. The situation may have been similar to that after Adam and Eve violated God’s word to them. Adam blamed his wife and God for giving her to him; “The woman whom You gave with me – she gave to me from the tree and I ate.” Eve blamed the crafty serpent: “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” But the complicity of other people or even the devil does not allow a person to escape blame for his or her own sin against God’s word.
No doubt, when “the whole congregation murmured against the leaders,” there was plenty of finger-pointing, blaming, excuses, rationalizations, and counter accusations. Both the congregation and the leaders could have pointed to ways in which the others could have helped avoid the crisis. Yet just as God held both Adam and Eve accountable and the entire human race was plunged into sin, so now all Israel must deal with the consequences of the failure by the leaders. This is another example of the biblical doctrine of a corporate dimension of divine retribution.
Regarding the course of action taken by Israel, this passage is descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive. That is, this text does not bind all believers of all times to follow this one course of action whenever a party has acted in a deceitful way and a solemn oath or pledge has been made by another party. There may be times when a church or a Christian is tricked into making a promise, and after the deception is exposed, the promise (depending on what it was) may be voided. This passage does, however, reveal how Israel chose to resolve the problem, and God Himself honored this choice by Israel.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 50
Q. 50. What is required in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.