October 13, 2017

Trump, Iran, the Gibeonites and the Worst Deal Ever

As President Donald Trump reportedly prepares to decertify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, I wonder if one of his evangelical advisers could show him a passage in the Bible about responding to the worst deal ever. Trump previously called the deal between Iran, the U.S. and five other nations "the worst deal I've ever seen negotiated." He’s also blasted it as "an embarrassment to the United States," promising to undo yet another accomplishment of his predecessor.

But what if Trump learned from the worst deal ever in the Bible?


In the ninth chapter of the biblical book of Joshua, we read of a deception by the people from the town of Gibeon (in modern-day Palestine). Hearing stories of the Israelites defeating other cities in the region, the Gibeonites dressed up like nomads from a distant country and asked for a peace treaty with the Israelites. The narrator notes the Israelites assumed the Gibeonites came from elsewhere, made of the mistake of not asking God about it and ratified the peace treaty.

Three days later, the Israelites learned the truth about the worst deal ever. The deal would allow an enemy people to remain in the land, perhaps to even fortify their city and build weapons. Some Israelites grumbled about the deal, urging their political leaders to break it and lead a war against the Gibeonites. Yet, despite the Israelites' mission to conquer the whole land and despite the deception of the Gibeonites, the Israelites honored the peace treaty - and the narrator of the text suggests this faithfulness to their word pleased God. The Israelites even defended the Gibeonites during an attack in the next chapter. Why? To honor an agreement.

"We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now," the political leaders of Israel declared when urged to rip up the deal. "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."

Trump's complaints about the Iran nuclear deal pale to those leveled by Israelites opposed to certifying the Gibeonite deal. That deal truly was an embarrassment to Israel and likely the worst deal ever negotiated. Yet, Joshua and the other leaders understood the importance of honoring one's word - even to deceptive people.


If Trump decertifies the Iran nuclear deal despite no evidence that Iran actually broke its side of the agreement, he will tarnish the honor of the U.S. and undermine the power of its promises. By doing so, he would make the U.S. - not Iran - the deceptive nation. Trump claims he wants to tear up the current nuclear deal so he can negotiate a better one. But why would Iran come to the table after the U.S. shows it cannot be trusted as a fair and honest party? And why would leaders of North Korea, Syria or any other international hotspot come to the negotiating table with the U.S. when they know Trump does not honor agreements?

I applaud the Iran nuclear deal, especially since nuclear and national security experts from both parties praised it as an "unprecedented" effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and therefore adding to peace and stability in the region. In fact, other than people who falsely led us into war in Iraq or who were running for the Republican presidential nomination, few public officials opposed the deal. But even those who opposed the deal in 2015 must recognize they lost that debate and vote. The question now is not should the U.S. have ratified the agreement, but should the U.S. honor its word? Such a moral question brings us back to the test the Israelites faced.

Trump seems determined to tarnish the U.S.'s international influence and undermine a good deal to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If only one of his evangelical advisers - like Jerry Falwell, Ronnie Floyd, Robert Jeffress or Paula White - would spend a few minutes reading Joshua 9 to Trump. Perhaps then we could take a step away from war and a more nuclear and dangerous world. If Joshua could honor the worst deal ever, then surely Trump can honor the Iran nuclear deal.

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