Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them. So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim. But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, but all the leaders answered, “We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.” They continued, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers in the service of the whole assembly.” So the leaders’ promise to them was kept. Then Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, “Why did you deceive us by saying, ‘We live a long way from you,’ while actually you live near us? You are now under a curse: You will never be released from service as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.” – Joshua 9:16-23
This verse comes after some rather bloodthirsty retribution against the people of Ai, the people who the Israelites lost against because their hearts were like water. Joshua has straightened out the leaders responsible in a rather firm way — they were stoned to death. I am glad that God deals with us, and we can deal with each other, differently now.
The Gibeonites are attempting to deceive Joshua and the Israelites by saying they were from a far away place when in fact they were from nearby and merely wanted to avoid the fate of the people of Ai. Joshua agrees to let them live because of the oath the Israelites had taken not to harm them, but he consigns them to the role of woodcutters and water carriers.
Apparently woodcutters and water carriers were not highly desirable occupations. Perhaps they were the equivalent of modern day garbage collectors, janitors, or septic system cleaners — jobs most people would not choose today. In rural Haiti it is often the women and children who fetch water, the water carriers. It is hard work, but it also provides the women and children with a sense of community and a place to connect with each other.
I will never forget one day when I was working in Haiti. I was there with a student and we were researching the water quality of local springs. We had an amazing young Haitian man with us who was interpreting and serving as our guide. We met a young woman near the bottom of a steep hill and we asked her, through our interpreter, where a spring was nearby up the hill. She was going that way with her 5-gallon bucket full of water and she said we could follow her. I thought I was in pretty good shape. We proceeded to hike up a very steep trail, struggling to keep our footing as the young woman glided up the slope with the 5-gallon bucket on her head —no lid—not spilling a drop.
The young Haitian woman was a “water carrier” from whom I could learn a lot. She was not embarrassed to carry water. She was sure-footed and confident. Does God prefer warriors or water carriers? It seems in this passage that God wants warriors, but when Jesus came he was seeking “water carriers” to carry His living water to a thirsty world. I aspire to be as sure-footed and confident in that task as the woman was in Haiti.
Prayer: God help us to carry water for you with confidence, even when we feel like we need to be warriors.