This is what we must do. We must let them live, for divine anger would come upon us if we broke our oath.
I’ve included this rather strange little story for a particular reason. The reality is we can get things wrong when we welcome other people into our lives.
The Gibeonites in this story were crafty deceivers. They had heard the stories of how Joshua and the people of Israel had wiped out heathen cities as they conquered the land promised to them. Their plan was simple – to ingratiate themselves with the Israelites by pretending they were not locals who needed to be destroyed, but had travelled a long way to be friends with them. After all, the Gibeonites had worn out their shoes on the journey, their bread had gone mouldy and their wine skins had cracked with age. And the Israelites fell for it! As a result, they made a treaty with them (v 15) which allowed the Gibeonites to continue to live on their own territory.
When the truth came to light Joshua faced a dilemma. Do they eliminate these people, as God had told them, thus breaking the treaty they had made, or do they keep their promises and permit the Gibeonites to occupy their old territory?
Mistakes have consequences, and the passage underlines the reason for the mistake in v 14 ‘ So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord ‘ This whole area of welcoming relationships still comes under the banner of discovering the purposes of God through prayer. Not all relationships are healthy and beneficial.
The Israelites stood by their treaty promises and went on to welcome the Gibeonites under strict conditions of servitude. It was not an ideal solution, but justice and mercy were evident in what they did; that at least was positive.