Yahweh is not only a faithful God, he is a shockingly faithful God. He is zealous in keeping the covenants he makes despite the character of those with whom he makes his covenants.
This was the only conclusion to which I could come in studying Joshua 9 concerning the deceitful manner by which the Gibeonites spared themselves from the sword of Yahweh and his people. It is to me one of the most dumbfounding narratives with regard to God and his promises, for though a covenant is certainly made, it is made wholly on pretense by the Gibeonites.
For those unfamiliar with the narrative, the Gibeonites, having just received report that Joshua and Israel destroyed Jericho and Ai with fewer casualties than a modern air strike, were utterly terrified of the God of Israel. And they, instead of doing what their neighbors were plotting to do (namely to join forces and attack Israel), they decide that their only chance for survival is to convince the Israelites that they are foreigners from a distant country so that Israel would be willing to make a covenant with them.
And so the Gibeonites dress themselves in worn clothing, take with them some old bread and bursting wineskins, and head out to meet Israel. When they do, they use their worn clothing, old bread, and bursting wineskins as evidence that they had come from a distant land telling Israel that when they departed their homes that their clothes were new, their bread was hot out of the oven, and their wineskins were filled with new wine. And in typical Israelite fashion, the Israelites, fresh off a great victory, do not consult the Lord before they act and make covenant with the Gibeonites.
Three days pass, and the Israelites learn that the Gibeonites are not sojourners from a distant country but are in fact residents of Canaan. And instead of killing them off (as one would assume to be reasonable considering the basis on which the covenant was made), Israel spares them and allow them to remain in Canaan. And while Joshua does indeed pronounce a curse on them that some of them will never be anything more than servants to people of Israel, it is not difficult to conclude that the curse pronounced upon Gibeon is a far better than the curse exacted upon the rest of the Canaanites, namely annihilation.
And though in the text of Joshua it does not explicitly say that God was joined in covenant with Gibeon because of this but that the nation Israel was, we see in 2 Samuel 21, hundreds of years after Gibeon deceived Israel into making covenant with them, that God is faithful to the covenant given to the Gibeonites. For in it that chapter, we find that God had subjected the nation to perpetual famine because Saul had attacked the Gibeonites, and he says to David upon his plea for relief from the famine, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death” (2Sam. 21:1). And because of this, David handed over seven of Saul’s sons to Gibeon to be hanged, and thus was the covenant unfaithfulness of Israel under Saul avenged by God.
What can we conclude from this other than Yahweh is a zealously faithful God and that he will not allow anyone, even his chosen nation, to trample his faithfulness? Yes, the covenant with Gibeon was forged in lies and deceit, yet despite this, God was faithful to them even when his people were not. I praise God that we serve such a God that, for his name’s sake, will not let his faithfulness be negated or mocked. Great and worthy is he! Amen.