I was 18, working on an Associates Degree in Electronics Engineering Technology at our local community college in Cicero, IL. Then—in the beginning of my second year of a two-year program—I sensed a clear call to ministry. What should I do? I knew: I completed my degree. Enrolling in the AAS program was not actually a mistake, but it was not where God was continuing to take me. Yet I had made a commitment and had seen too many examples of people who vacillated in one direction and then another. I did not want to be in that number. Besides, my family and friends already thought I had lost my mind when I told them I had become a born-again Christian and changed the way I lived. I did not want to give them more ammunition to bolster the idea that I had gone off the deep end.
There are occasions in life when we feel we have committed ourselves, but the original commitment was a mistake. If our commitment was to something overtly sinful, we know that God wants us to repent and abandon it. There are times when we must cut our losses. For example, investing good money after bad in an attempt to avoid loss can be a foolish action. I discourage “loss-avoidance” thinking; it is a natural but often foolish way to think.
In many instances, we can be released from commitments ethically by paying a penalty. For example, if I have funds secured in a CD and I need the money before the CD matures, I can withdraw those funds and pay a penalty, losing some interest. Often, however, we are right to honor commitments that we would prefer not to honor. A couple of chapters in Joshua (9-10) model this very idea.
Several of Canaan’s local (city) kings heard about the Israelite conquest of Jericho and Ai. These kings decided to unite together in an effort to halt the advance of the Israelites. The residents of one city, however, realized fighting Israel was impossible and amounted to fighting God: that city was Gibeon.
Rather than be slaughtered or migrate from their homes and become refugees, they decided to craftily sign a peace treaty with the Hebrews, deserting their fellow Canaanites in the process. Since the Hebrews were not allowed to sign treaties with the nearby Canaanites, the Gibeonites put on a ruse.
The Gibeonite plan was to trick the Israelites into signing a treaty by pretending they were travelers from a far-off city outside the land of Canaan. They dressed in old clothing and worn sandals; they carried moldy pieces of bread to make it appear they had journeyed a long distance. Whether the Hebrews would honor a treaty granted under such deception was uncertain, but worth a try.
The Israelites fell for the trick. Rather than consulting God first, they signed the treaty with the Gibeonites. Three days later they discovered that Gibeon was only 19 miles from their camp site!
The mistakes Israel made sound familiar. Sometimes we make life-altering plans and ask God to bless them after we have set them in motion—rather than consulting God first. We swear allegiance to Jesus as Lord, but He is often the Lord we do not consult. We act and make decisions as though we were lords over our own lives.
Would the Hebrews honor such a treaty with the Gibeonites? They had sworn by God’s Name to fulfill the treaty, so they would have to do so. In our nation, we have a court system that could annul agreements made under pretense, but in ancient Israel swearing by God’s Name sealed the agreement.
Although the Hebrews could not revoke the treaty, they did make the Gibeonites perform slave-like labors. They had been serving the Canaanite king Adoni-zedek as slaves already, so they maintained their status quo, which was their goal.
In Chapter 10 of Joshua, the Israelites are put to the test: would they come to the aid of the Gibeonites when the Gibeonites were under attack? There was not much of a price tag when it came to making the Gibeonites do the hard labor and allowing them to live. But would they risk Hebrew lives to protect them—a much higher price?
Adoni-Zedek (“the Lord is Righteous”) was a pagan Canaanite king who was the main leader of the anti-Hebrew coalition. Perhaps he was a descendent of Melchizedek who met Abraham 500 years earlier? If he was, he was not the godly man that Melchizedek was. 500 years is a long time.
The Gibeonites petitioned Joshua for help. So would the Hebrews risk their lives for a treaty they were deceived into making? The answer was “yes.” God himself encouraged them to honor a treaty that he did not intend they make (7-8). They were to honor the obligations of their mistake.
They marched the 19 miles (mostly uphill) and engaged in battle. God worked two miracles during this battle, sending deadly hailstones (that were more effective than the army of Israel) and extending the daylight cycle. The Hebrews proved to be victorious.
When you honor your commitments, God honors you.
There are times to break commitments; if they would force us to sin, put our children at risk, etc., we may have to default. But not from selfish motives, like inconvenience, boredom, or better opportunities.
The Bible advises us to take great care in the commitments we make, especially the formal ones (Eccles 5:5). As a matter of fact, I urge folks to make very few commitments. It is much better to express conditional intentions than to make promises. If you make few commitments but keep the ones you make, you will gain the respect of those around you—and the blessings of God.
So let’s get specific.
Many times married couples second guess whether they have chosen the best match; some make the best of things and often find themselves more happily married than they once were, others not. I do believe there are instances when divorce is necessary, but it is never justified on the grounds of “I could find someone better.”
You have given your word that you will attend a family gathering, but now you really don’t feel like it. Do you lie and call in sick? What do you do?
Perhaps you fathered a child out of wedlock? You realize now that a sexual relationship outside of marriage was wrong, but the question remains: should you have part in that child’s life? Yes! The child was not the mistake and is an amazing person in the image of God. It was your sinful sexual relationship with the mother that was wrong.
The same could be said for women who find themselves pregnant. Either raise the child or give the child up for adoption (which is often a good option), but don’t put the little one to death by abortion. The child is not the sin, but an individual in God’s image. When we turn from our sins and confess our sins, God forgives us, and we must move on as best we can; but our responsibilities remain.
You borrowed money from a friend. Before you buy a large flat-screen TV or run out for fast food because you don’t want to make the effort to cook, repay your friend. Then get your flat screen. (I love you too much to advise you to go back to fast food, however!)
The Gibeon mistake did not hurt the Hebrews much, although it could have; the Gibeonites are never mentioned as leading them into idolatry or turning against them; they were eventually incorporated into the nation as they intermarried. Sometimes our mistakes do not come back to haunt us, as in this example. In other instances, they do. And we all make them!
Whereas being reckless and not consulting God for major decisions breeds mistakes, extreme caution—in many situations—is itself a mistake! Sometimes we miss opportunities because we are overly fearful of mistakes.
A better approach is to make choices carefully, beginning with consulting God (looking for relevant verses, asking Him for wisdom and a clear mind, consulting the godly). Then, if we find out we have erred, we need to do our best to honor our mistakes.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.