NKJV - 19 Then all the rulers said to all the congregation, "We have sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel; now therefore, we may not touch them.
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I would say that they were still bound (as the Israelites also believed), since they had sworn an oath to God not to harm the Gibeonites (even though they swore the oath without consulting God, and on the basis of false pretenses by the Gibeonites), and they feared God's punishment for breaking the oath, even after knowing that the Gibeonites had tricked them (Joshua 9). The fact that Israel was still bound in God's eyes by the oath that they had taken is indicated by God later punishing Israel with a three-year famine during the time of King David for the fact that David's predecessor (King Saul) had broken this oath by attacking the Gibeonites. God ended the famine only after Israel turned over seven sons or grandsons of Saul to the Gibeonites for them to execute as punishment for what Saul had done (2 Samuel 21).
This is governed by the law of vows and oaths. Like all of God's law this law is scattered through various statutes in various locations including the prophets and NT, making it a bit difficult to study, but the primary, and most thorough statement of this law is found in Numbers 30. Nu 30:2 says, "When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said." This is the basis for Jesus command, "Let your yes be yes and your no be no," Mt 5:37. This is why he says anything else comes from the evil one. The problem with Joshua's treaty with the Gibeonites was not that they lied, it was that Joshua did not first consult with God. We tend to think that the Holy Spirit did not manifest in any way at all back in the OT but it is full of ways that the spirit manifested and even some procedure for consulting with it. Just as Jesus told us that the spirit of truth will lead us into all truth (Jn 16:13) there were ways given for these people to find the truth in any situation, they simply forgot that as the rulers of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth they had an obligation to consult with God first before making any decision and determine whether it is his will and whether the those consulting with his leadership, be it for a peace treaty or for any other reason are consulting honestly or for selfish purposes. (See Ezekiel 14:1-11.) 1 Sa 16:7 does not tell us that man cannot see the heart as many in the church teach; it tells us we don't look at it. Ez 14 tells us that any who are in the position of prophet or even teacher are expected to be able to perceive the heart condition of those consulting with the. If they do not, they are still supposed to consult with God and the spirit of truth will reveal this to them in various ways. Joshua acted without adequate discernment, being fooled by their deceptions, but worse, acted without first consulting God. God allowed peace treaties with nations far away (symbolically religions with little in common with the worship of the Most High God) but all Canaanite nations were to be "destroyed", specifically devoted fully to God (Heb: Cherem). The translation "devoted to destruction" which is so common in modern translations really does not do any justice to the actual meaning of this word, and through this story God shows his actual intent when someone is "devoted" to his service. Because Israel refused to enter Pentecost on the first Day of Pentecost when God came down to the top of the mountain in fire and spoke to them in his own voice they did not possess the spiritual weaponry that God speaks to us about throughout scripture and Paul summarizes in Eph 6:13-17. For this reason when they were called to fulfill Tabernacles at Kedesh Barnea only two people other than Moses had the faith to move forward. Later they entered the land at the time of Passover, having only a Passover level of faith and lacking the spiritual weaponry, thus physical death, rather than repentance was the only death they could offer the Canaanites. Because the Law of Vows meant that Israel HAD to honor their agreement with the people of Gibeon Joshua now had no choice but to consult with God and find how to handle the situation. From that day forward these people who were declared fully devoted to God became slaves in the tabernacle, carrying the wood and water necessary for the sacrifices. This was to be their job forever, doing the menial work of the Levites. By the citizenship laws after 3, 10 or 12 generations they would be considered full citizens and part of the Levite tribe. Someone else mentioned Saul's sin. Saul lost sight of the citizenship laws, as Judah did later in the post-exilic years, making it difficult for anyone else to become Jews and never giving them full citizenship status. So seeking to rid the land of heretics he attacked citizens just as he did with David.
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