2 Samuel 21:1 - Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”
The young couple sat in my living room in our tiny apartment in South Korea, holding hands, smiling, and generally acting like a couple about to be married. We were only on the first or second session of pre-marital counseling. IN our first, we had addressed a true understanding of what it means to be believers. Now, we were at the point to discuss marriage. So, I posed a question to them that often takes engaged couples off guard, asking, “What would it take for you to end your marriage?”
The responses of the two fascinated me. The young man immediately piped up, declaring, “Nothing. I believe that there’s nothing that could happen, no circumstances, that would make me say that our marriage is over.”
Then came the response of his blushing fiancé. The young lady looked me in the eye and said, “Well, I guess I would end the marriage if I felt like he didn’t love me.”
As you might imagine, the couple had a bit of talking to do after that exchange. They realized that they did not mean the same thing when they were thinking of the whole “’til death do us part” thing. One of them had an “I’m in it for better or worse” mentality, while the other had more of an “I’ll stay with you so long as it feels good to me” mentality. And , before they could be married, this couple had to get to a place where they both understood that the vows they were about to make were extremely significant. And, thankfully, they both realized that, if they were going to promise to remain united until death parted them, they had to actually believe that it would take death to part them.
In Second Samuel 21, we read a very strange event. It is the account of David’s dealings with the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites were a group of the promised land’s original inhabitants (part of the Hivites) who saw Israel coming. They realized that Israel was wiping out all the people who lived in the land, and so they came up with a clever ruse. The Gibeonites put on old and worn-out clothing, carried old and worn-out provisions, and tricked Joshua and the Israelites into believing that they came from a far away land. They then asked Joshua and the people to make a covenant with them, vowing not to destroy the Gibeonites. In return, the Gibeonites would become servants of the nation of Israel. Then, a couple days later, the Israelites came upon the village of the Gibeonites, right smack dab in the middle of the promised land. Israel had been tricked, but Joshua would not kill the Gibeonites because of the vow that he and Israel had made (cf. Joshua 9).
Now, in 2 Samuel 21, David is reigning as king. For three years, there is a famine in the land that is caused by drought. When David asks God why this is happening, God lets David know that the famine has been caused by the zealous but sinful actions of King Saul. You see, in his passion for Israel, King Saul, David’s predecessor, tried to get rid of the Gibeonites. Saul put several of the Gibeonites to death, and thus broke the covenant that Joshua and the leaders of Israel made with them several hundred years earlier.
Now, I’m not trying to say that this is the primary intent of God in including this event for us to see; but I do believe that we can learn something about vows and covenants from how God responded to what Saul did to the Gibeonites. God takes our vows very seriously. Just look at the circumstances. Saul had not personally made the vow with the Gibeonites. Before the vow was made, God had commanded Israel to drive out all the land’s original inhabitants, and that would have included the Gibeonites; thus the covenant was made against God’s law. The Gibeonites tricked Israel, and so they were not entering the covenant in good faith. And the leaders of Israel did not inquire of God when making the rash vow, thus displaying that the whole thing was a mistake to begin with. However, with all that said, when David was on the throne, God made sure that Israel understood that they had sinned when Saul broke their vow to the Gibeonites.
Let’s go back to marriage for a moment. How seriously do you think God takes your vows? What do you think it would take for you to have an excuse to break them? Do you think you can break your vows if you find out that making them was a mistake in the first place? Do you think you have an excuse to break your vows if you find that you did not have all the necessary information about your spouse before the wedding? Do you think you have an excuse to go back on your vows if you feel as though God is “leading you in a different direction”?
Just as I asked that young couple on my couch a few years ago when I lived in Korea, so now I ask you to think with me. When we marry, we make the most sacred of vows, entering into a binding covenant. Do we dare believe that we can take it back at our whim? Do we dare think that we can change the rules if we believe that our circumstances have changed? Do we dare say that not feeling happy or loved is somehow an excuse for a believer in Christ to turn away from the covenant he or she entered into with the phrase “As long as we both shall live”?
Right now, I want to ask those of you who are married to stop and remember just how seriously God takes your wedding vows. This is no game; it is very serious business. You vowed what you vowed before God and witnesses. Maybe it was a poor decision. Maybe you even made a sinful decision with a rebellious attitude. Maybe you were a little deceived by your spouse (do any of us have a genuine picture of what married life will be like before the marriage?). All of those things applied in the case of Israel and the Gibeonites, and God made it plain that, though the vows were rashly made with deception involved, still the vows were binding and breaking them was sin.
If you are single, I want to encourage you to think as well. Think of the significance of the promises you make. Think of the significance of looking toward marriage. Think about the ways that you might help your married friends to strengthen their marriages, helping them to keep their vows. And begin to prepare yourself for the commitment of a lifetime when God brings it your way.
And, lest we look at this as a purely legal form of obedience for the sake of obedience, let us not forget that obedience to God’s commands is always coupled with rewards. With the Israelites, there were years during which they kept their covenant promises to the Gibeonites, and this portion of the Hivites lived among Israel, exposed to the worship and glory of God (Could it be that some of them became believers because of Israel’s keeping of their rashly and sinfully made vow?). God makes it plain in text after text that those who obey his commands will receive his blessing. Do not be deceived, though it may seem hard, honoring God by keeping the vows you have made will ultimately lead to goodness and blessing for you in this life and the life to come. While this obedience may not mean that your life is as easy as you would want it to be, it most certainly means that you can better delight yourself in God and allow him to give your heart the joy it desires (cf. Psalm 37:4).
Finally, let me make a disclaimer. I understand that there are some people who will read this entry that were in the most extreme of circumstances or who know someone who is or has been in such circumstances. For such people, I have deep sympathy and concern. I believe that God has provided in the blood of Jesus Christ enough grace to cover any sin. I do not believe that God intends any Christian man or woman to submit to abuse or adultery. But that does not mean that we somehow diminish the significance of the wedding vows. The reason that I write this today is that I see very few who are willing to remind the world of the gravity of marriage, but I read many who would offer easy ways out. My goal is for our understanding and thought to be biblical, not hurtful, judgmental, or worldly. So, please, receive this with charity as a call to see the significance and seriousness of vows, and do not attempt to make it something beyond that. The call is good, and we all must work as believers to rightly live to God’s glory.