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I want to ask you first of all, as we enter into this passage of scripture, the question: 'Are you a man, or are you a woman, of your word?'

Now, we're turning this evening to the book of Joshua - the book of Joshua and chapter 9. Joshua and chapter 9 and verse 8: "And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? And from whence come ye? And they said unto him, From a very far country thy servants are come because of the name of the Lord thy God: for we have heard the fame of him, and all that he did in Egypt, And all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, which was at Ashtaroth. Wherefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spake to us, saying, Take victuals with you for the journey, and go to meet them, and say unto them, We are your servants: therefore now make ye a league with us. This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came forth to go unto you; but now, behold, it is dry, and it is mouldy: And these bottles of wine, which we filled, were new; and, behold, they be rent: and these our garments and our shoes are become old by reason of the very long journey. And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them. And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them. And the children of Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and Kirjathjearim. And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes. But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them. This we will do to them; we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we sware unto them. And the princes said unto them, Let them live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation; as the princes had promised them. And Joshua called for them, and he spake unto them, saying, Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us? Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God". Hopefully a little bit later in our service that passage of scripture will make a bit more sense as we think about it.

Now, we're turning in our Bibles to 2 Samuel - the book of 2 Samuel and chapter 21, and beginning to read at verse 1. Let me say that the previous reading, complicated though it was, gives us a bit of a background to this story that we're going to concentrate on this evening. I'll fill in the gaps when we come to the message later on. But just concentrate, for the moment, on this story in 2 Samuel chapter 21.

Are you a person who can be trusted, a person whose word is sure?

In verse 1 it says: "Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites. And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.) Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? And wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the Lord? And the Gibeonites said unto him, We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, nor of his house; neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel. And he said, What ye shall say, that will I do for you. And they answered the king, The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel, Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord did choose. And the king said, I will give them. But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the Lord's oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul. But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite: And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the Lord: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest. And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night. And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done. And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa: And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged. And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was entreated for the land".

Let me say, if you're as warm as I am, make yourself comfortable as far as possible. I'm starting to sweat already and I haven't even started, so beware! Second Samuel 21 and verse 1 - and I want to speak to you this evening of a harvest reaping of a different kind. I want to ask you first of all, as we enter into this passage of scripture, the question: 'Are you a man, or are you a woman, of your word?'.

I think we all know what that means. Are you someone who can be trusted? - that when you say you're going to do something, or when you commit yourself to someone, are you a person who can be trusted, a person whose word is sure? The passages that we read together this evening were Joshua chapter 9 verses 9 to 23, 2 Samuel 21:1 to 14. The two passages of scripture are related simply like this, and I'll to summarise them to you. God, you remember, right throughout the first five books of the Old Testament - the first five books of the Bible - promised the children of Israel a home. It was called the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. If the children of Israel were obedient to that promise - that conditional promise of God - if they fulfilled the requirements, God would lead them to that land and bring them to that home. You remember that for years and years and years they went round in circles, simply because they hadn't the faith to believe God's promise and to walk, to run, into the Promised Land that God had for them.

God's word cannot be broken. When a covenant is made by God, He cannot break it

As we come to the end of the book of Deuteronomy we find that the children of Israel, as it were, are standing at that river ready to cross over, almost, into the Promised Land of Canaan. You remember the spies, the 12 spies - '10 were bad, 2 were good'. The two good ones were Joshua and Caleb, and therefore we have the book of Joshua after the book of Deuteronomy depicting how the children of Israel went into the land, the Promised Land, but they had to battle within the land. They had to conquer the land, and we read about the conquest that the children of Israel had with the nations that were found within that land. Now, God told them that they were not to compromise, that it was their land. He had promised them it, and they were to clear out of that land any other people with any other god. None were to be left.

There was a nation who dwelt in the land who were called Gibeonites. The children of Israel, when they came into the land, didn't realise this. The Gibeonites were very crafty, because one day they had an idea, that in order to stay in the land, in order to keep their property and their land and their goods and their cattle and so forth, they said that they would dress up as if they were nomads travelling from another country - they would pretend that they were foreigners. Not only would they pretend they were foreigners but they would pretend that they were coming to the Israelites to seek after their God; almost like a conversion experience - that they had realised the 'fame', as they said, of the God of Israel and they had come to worship, they had come to find Him. We read about it in Joshua 9, where they show Joshua and they say: 'Look, this is bread that we lifted before we left home and, look at it! It's rotting, it's moulding now. These are the water bottles that we filled before we went on our journey and, look, they're all ragged. These are our clothes that we put on - brand new clothes - before we left our home far away; but we have journeyed to find your God'.

It says that the princes of Israel took their victuals, took their gifts that they had brought and they had failed to consult the mouth of the Lord. Because of that, because they did not seek God's guidance, because they went on their own knowledge and they leant on their own understanding, they were duped. They made a covenant with the Gibeonites that they could remain in the land, and not very shortly after that, they found out who the Gibeonites were. They found out that they actually dwelt in the land, that they weren't foreigners at all. But it was too late, because they had made a covenant with them. Now, let me say this before we go on any further, and it's this: God's word cannot be broken. When a covenant is made by God, He cannot break it.

The story that we read in 2 Samuel continues on from this. It's more than 400 years into the future from the event that we read in Joshua 9, but what has happened is this: David is king, but you remember that Saul was king before him. Saul, out of what this passage says, out of religious zeal for some reason - maybe he thought he could please God, maybe he thought it could build him up on the status ladder with the people, maybe he thought it could win political status - but for whatever reason Saul decided, by the edge of the sword, to drive the Gibeonites out of the land and, in fact, to slay them. Now David - King David - in 2 Samuel 21, is beginning to pick up the pieces. He is suffering, his nation is suffering with famine, because of Saul's disobedience, because Saul broke the word of God. Saul broke God's covenant, Saul did not honour his word.

Can I ask you tonight: are you here and you have disobeyed God's word? You know you have

I'm told by farmers, and I wouldn't know this, but if corn misses one year normally the next year makes up for it. But in verse 1 of this chapter we find that for three solid years the nation, that Promised Land that was to flow with milk and honey, was devoid of any fruit, it was devoid of any grain. There was a severe famine, which was a severe judgement from God. God said the reason why - verse 1 - is for Saul's 'bloody house': Saul's sin, Saul's wiping out of the Gibeonites. You might say: 'Well, hold on a minute. Did the Gibeonites not try to deceive the children of Israel? Did they not try to deceive Joshua and the princes of the nation?'. Of course they did, but what matters is not the sinfulness of those sinners, but the faithfulness of God's word. God had said that they were not to be touched. Yes, they would have to be slaves. Yes, they may not gain as much as they could have if they were honest. But God said: 'Do not lay a finger upon them' - but Saul disobeyed. Saul, thinking he could please God, thinking he could be popular in the eyes of the people, he killed them. He wiped them out. For Saul, like Deuteronomy 28:47 to 48 the heaven that was over his head was a heaven of brass, and the earth that was under his feet was iron. The Lord had made the rain - the rain like powder and dust from heaven, it came down upon them, and there was a famine upon the whole land. Why? Because Saul disobeyed God's word.

Can I ask you tonight: are you here and you have disobeyed God's word? You know you have. You know the ten commandments. You learnt them, didn't you? You know what sin is and what sin is not. You know what is right and you know what is wrong. No matter how many times you justify it within your own conscience or heart or mind, you know when you're sinning, you know when you're doing wrong. Perhaps like Saul, you have reached the stage in your life where there is a famine.

Is there a famine in your life? I don't know what type of famine it might be. It might be a famine of food. It might be a famine of money. It might be a famine of health. It might be a famine within your relationship. It might be any type of famine: spiritual, physical. I don't know what it is but perhaps, I believe, there could be someone here tonight that has a famine. It could have lasted for three years. It could last for more. But are you suffering? Unbeliever tonight, are you suffering? Now, I'm not saying that suffering relates directly to sin, but what I am saying is this: have you ever asked the question: 'Does it?'. Have you ever asked the question: 'Could it possibly be related to something in my life? Could it be related to a sin? Could it be related to the fact that I continually, week after week, year after year, reject the call of God, trample on the blood of Christ, call it an unclean thing and reject the Saviour as He stands out with His bleeding hands, inviting me? Could it be that I have a famine in my life because Christ is not there?'.

I want to ask you, first of all: is your word against God's word? Is your word against God's? In verses 1 and 2 you see this: that God still recognised the covenant. Even though the covenant had been made in strange circumstances, He still recognised it. Even though the Gibeonites duped Joshua and Israel and the princes of it, He recognised it - because as far as God is concerned your word is your bond. God's word is important. Covenant keeping is not a small matter to God. Don't think that I am always a man of my word, because I will freely confess to you tonight that I am not. I fail. I fail God. I make promises to Him, I make promises to others that I can't even hope to keep. But can I ask you tonight: can you freely admit to that? Can you freely admit that you are a man or a woman of your word? Have you ever broken your word, whether it be in business, buying houses? It could be even tonight in your very marriage vows to God and to your husband or wife, you have broken them! Could it be perjury in court? Lying to your mother or father to cover your sinful ways? Double dealing in politics or finance or any type of business? Could you be here tonight and you're like Saul - your word is against God's word?

Can you freely admit that you are a man or a woman of your word? Have you ever broken your word?

Do you know what this passage tells us? It tells us very clearly that God's wrath abides on those who break their word. Lying does not feature highly in the top ten sins of the modern world today, but with God, He abhors it. He abhors untruth. He abhors half-truth. He abhors economy with the truth - whatever you fit into. He abhors it, because in His eyes it is sin. But God's word, God's word can be trusted, God's word stands forever sure. Whatever God says in His word, God does. The good news of the gospel tonight is simply this: that although His word and this passage of scripture says that His wrath, His anger, His righteous judgement rests upon all untruth and all breaking of the word, God also says: 'Listen! When I see the blood I will pass over you'. When I see the blood I will pass over you! In the same way as He says there's a covenant of mine that could be broken, He also provides a remedy to fix it, to redeem it, to mend it. Both of God's words: His word of judgement, His word of justification - both of those words can be trusted. I want to encourage everyone here tonight - believer and unbeliever - to take God at His word.

Someone said that we are slaves to our spoken word, we are bound to our written word. You can say something and someone can repeat it but they don't have to believe it. But if you sign something, if you write your name at the very bottom of it - let me say this - someone could have written it on your behalf, or in your ignorance and you don't know anything about it and they have signed your name at the bottom. But let me say this:  God's word - the word of God says - His covenant, His promise, is written on the very palms of His hand. Wherever He goes He takes it with Him. My friends tonight, is your word against God's word?

But secondly, and quickly: is your zeal against God's zeal? Is your zeal against God? Look at verse 2, it says that: '...the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah)'. Zeal: religious or political enthusiasm. He had great zeal. But I want you to see tonight that it was Saul's act out of zeal for religious purity, perhaps for political status or to be seen as the best king of Israel, but whatever it was it was zeal - but it was sin!

Did you know that tonight: that religious fervency can be sin? That being religious, going to church, reading your Bible, good works, going to confession, whatever it is - some of them may not be wrong within themselves, but if you are doing them without Christ in your life, if you're doing them without being saved, without being washed and cleansed in the blood of Christ, without trusting in His death alone, the word of God says that your zeal is not God's zeal. You may be doing it for the right reasons. You may have the right motives. Don't tell me tonight that people are not sincere when they do religious things. They are, to the depths of their heart! But have you ever thought of the question that your zeal may not be God's zeal?

My friends tonight, that zeal is not God's zeal. That zeal has nothing to do with God, but that is zeal that is sin

I spoke recently to a Christian who had went to the south of our land and had watched men and women, and boys and girls, and people in their 80s and over, climbing in their bare feet and bare knees, up a mountain that normally most of us could not climb ordinarily - with their feet bleeding, their knees bleeding, praying to a god that cannot answer them over and over again. Why? Because they have religious zeal. Because they believe they are pleasing God, and God will hear them, and God will send them to heaven.

When I was in Italy on our honeymoon we visited a nunnery on a little island in the middle of the lakes. There were 40 nuns in that establishment, in that institution - 40 of them - and they were not allowed to say one word, 24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year, 365 days. Not a word! There was one day of the year - one day of the year - when they were allowed to come out of that building and people would flock to see what they were like, to touch them, to talk to them - one day of the year. Why? Because they believe that it will get them nearer to God. My friends tonight, that zeal is not God's zeal. That zeal has nothing to do with God, but that is zeal that is sin.

But let me ask you thirdly, not just 'Is your word against God's?', and 'Is your zeal against God's?', but is your reaping against God's? You see, I want you to notice that this passage of scripture that we read in 2 Samuel 21; it was many, many years, over 400 years after Joshua had been duped by the Gibeonites. Now, not only was it 400 years when Saul actually wiped them out, but it's more years until David is there. So you're talking about 400 plus years after the covenant was made, after the covenant was broken by Saul in his sin, and now it's David - but look at this tonight! That time lapse did not cover over the sin. Can you imagine tonight that God could hold a sin against you that, if it were possible, you committed 400 years ago? Some of us have forgotten the sins of our youth. We have forgotten the sins in our past. Some of us like myself, and all of us, have committed so many that we can't remember them. Yet the word of God teaches here that God says that, no matter how long ago it was, no matter whether you can remember it or not, time did not cover the guilt of sin, and time does not annul the covenants of God.

The word of God says this: 'Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap'. You might think this gospel is old-fashioned and many people today try to tart it up and modernise it, and make it appealing to the world around - but it doesn't matter whether it's fashionable or not. It doesn't matter whether it's appealing because the years that pass will not change the gospel, the word of the eternal God. It does not annul His agreements and it cannot cover over what sin is. It doesn't matter that 50 years ago homosexuality was an offence and you could be jailed for it. That doesn't matter as far as God's word is concerned, because in His eyes it's the same. It doesn't matter what society thinks of anything. All that matters is what God thinks. But can I ask you tonight: what have you sewn? What have you sewn in your life? Are you suffering now? Are you reaping for something that you have sewn in your past? Now, I want you to notice here tonight that for Saul's sin - Saul was dead and buried for years; he could not suffer for it - but I want you to see that because of Saul's sin, seven of his sons had to be hung upon a tree.

Who can tell me that a broken home does not affect the child? Have you ever thought about how your sin affects your children?

You might say tonight, like many people in Ulster: 'Well, it's my life; I can do as I please. I'm not harming anybody. If I want to sin, I can sin. It only harms myself'. Let me tell you that if you've believed that, you've believed the deadliest damnable lie ever. Who can tell me that a drunken father spluttering, mumbling, falling through a door on Saturday evening does not affect the child? Tell me that! Who can tell me that a broken home does not affect the child? Can you not see all around us tonight how children, and even children's children are affected by the sins of their parents and their grandparents - now even their great grandparents? Have you ever thought about how your sin affects your children?

America is being overrun now, not just by AIDS; but there's a new disease now called FAS (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome). What it simply is, is this: that because a parent, a pregnant mother, consumes so much alcohol, the child is mentally affected - so much so that there is no medicine, no operation, no therapy or psychology that can help that child. You can't cover over sin! You might be here tonight and you're reaping it psychologically, you're reaping it financially, you're reaping it through your thoughts, through your filth, through your reputation. You may have good success tonight. What that simply means is this: you can still be reaping it through good success, because through your need of nothing - whether it be money, fame, business, or whatever it may be - through that need of nothing you have become complacent, insensitive to your need of Christ. There's a spiritual law that simply says this: 'He which seweth sparingly shall reap sparingly; and he which seweth bountifully shall reap bountifully'.

It's like the man who went into the field and his father, who was the farmer, told him to go into the field and sew barley. So he took a bag of oats and he sewed them and he reaped oats. He didn't reap barley because he had sewed oats! There are people in the world tonight, even in this church - young people, and they think that on the day of resurrection they will reap righteousness, yet they're sewing sin now. My friends, is your word against God's? Is your zeal against God's? Is your reaping against God's?

But finally and quickly this evening - fourthly - is your atonement against God's? Is it? What does atonement mean? It simply means this: covering over. It was over 400 years since this sin had been committed, yet this sin could not go away. It could not be wiped out through time. Time couldn't atone for it. Let me say this tonight to all the elderly people or to anyone who is at the latter end of their lives: time cannot atone. But if you look at verse 4 you see this: David thought it may have been possible to buy off the Gibeonites - but 'the Gibeonites said unto him, We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, nor of his house; neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel'. They said this: money - silver, gold, possessions, no matter what it is, materials - they cannot buy it. There had to be justice.

This sin could not be atoned for by money or morality, but the ancient law of Genesis 9 verse 6 says: 'Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed'. Now, it doesn't matter whether you light a candle, it doesn't matter whether you're a Mormon, and through going from door to door and selling magazines you think you'll get nearer heaven, it doesn't matter whether you're an apostate minister - I don't care whether he's Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox. I don't care if he tells you that if you're good to your neighbour, if you do good, if you give to the church, if you're good living, let me tell you tonight - nothing can for sin atone! Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

I don't care if he tells you that if you're good to your neighbour, if you do good, if you give to the church, if you're good living, let me tell you tonight - nothing can for sin atone! Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Verse 6 says that seven sons had to die. Seven of Saul's sons had to be delivered into the hands of the Gibeonites. It says that those Gibeonites took them gladly. It says that they marched them up a hill and they hanged their bodies upon a tree, each of them. Those dead bodies were hung outside Saul-Gibeah, Saul's city. Those dead bodies hung as the shame exposed and dead outside Saul's backdoor. Do you know what the word of God says in Deuteronomy 21 verse 23? This: 'He that is hanged is accursed of God'.

My friends, in closing tonight, there had to be atonement made for their sin, and there has to be atonement made for your sin. You cannot get to heaven with your sin. You can't get to heaven with your good works because they're tainted with sin. You'll not get to heaven through your church because half of them are man-made. But the only way you can get to God and get to Christ and get to heaven is through Christ, who was made a curse, through Christ who was hanged upon a tree, who suffered your sin, who was judged with your hell, who took your punishment, who was made accursed that we might be delivered from the curse. Do you know that tonight? That Christ took your place, and some of you - God forgive you - you know it tonight and it means nothing that Christ took your place. He died in agony and blood, but not just with that - God, like a lightning conductor, used Him to pour the sin of the world upon Him - your sin and mine!

Isn't it interesting that there were seven sons? Within the word of God the number seven is the word for completeness. Why? Because this sacrifice of those seven sons: it satisfied the Gibeonites. Let me say tonight, glory to God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ satisfied His Father. He said - and let me say this: He didn't whisper it - Jesus Christ, the Son of God, couldn't die on that cross through your sin, or through the nails, or through the beating, or through the shedding of blood, but it said 'He gave His own life as a ransom for sin'. After all the sins of the world were laid upon Him it says He cried - He cried a shout of victory: 'It is finished!'. Your atonement tonight is complete but Christ, like for Saul, is hanging at your back door and you need to deal with Him.

Let me say this: Mephibosheth was a son that was saved. He was spared simply because of this, and I'm closing now, he was spared because there was a covenant made with him, by David to Jonathan, that his life would be saved. Will you be Mephibosheth tonight? Will you make your peace with God? Will you have that covenant sealed, and be able to say like every Christian in this place tonight:

'Mine by covenant, mine forever,
Mine by oath and mine by blood.
Mine the bond of time shall never sever,
Mine, as an unchanging God'?

Make sure tonight, for God's sake and for Christ's sake, that you can say: 'Mine, mine'

Make sure tonight, for God's sake and for Christ's sake, that you can say: 'Mine, mine'. Now, I know tonight that God has been speaking to someone here and I would implore them and pray of them, in Christ's stead, that they be reconciled to God; and that they come in faith believing, whether it be backsliding or unregenerate, that they trust God tonight. May every believer here tonight be praying that they do so as we close in prayer.

Our Father, we thank Thee for Thy word. We thank Thee for the gospel of Jesus Christ that can redeem the deepest dyed sinner in the whole world. We pray tonight that His blood would show the power that it has, and never has lost, that souls would be brought to Him tonight. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, asking that Thou wilt take us now to our homes in safety, and bless us and help us in the week that lies ahead, and bring us back to this place to worship Thee again afresh on the Lord's Day. For Christ's sake. Amen.

Transcribed by:
Preach The Word.
June 2001

This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church in Portadown, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Covenants" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.

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