Zealand is a unique nation, as it is one of few which was founded on
a covenant, between the migrant and indigenous people. This
article was first published in September 1983. Since
then the Government has started making restitution.
However, the process is not yet complete, so the message of the
article is still relevant
Every year in February, New Zealand looks back to the
signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. In recent years, the coming
together of the two nations has been marred by confrontation. The
tense situation, which has developed, urgently needs a Christian
A similar situation arose in Old Testament times over a treaty
between the Israelites and the Gibeonites. Joshua was leading the
people of Israel into the promised land of Canaan. The Gibeonites
tricked the elders of Israel into making a peace treaty. They
pretended to have come from a distant land, when they actually lived
close by. Although the Israelites had been deceived, they honoured
Two hundred years later, when David was king, there were three
years of severe drought. The Lord told David that this happened,
because his predecessor Saul had violated the treaty, made by
Joshua, by trying to annihilate the Gibeonites. David made
restitution by allowing seven of Saulís descendants to be put to
death. God then heard Davidís prayers and the drought came to an
Covenants between Nations
From the account of Godís dealings with these two nations
(Joshua 9, 2 Samuel 21), we can discover a number of principles that
apply to a treaty between two nations.
- A treaty is like an oath to God (Joshua 9:1). It is binding on
both parties. Even if it is unwise or has been made under
deception, it must be honoured. To break a treaty is to disobey
- Breaking the terms of a treaty will bring dire consequences
for the nation concerned (2 Sam 21:1,2). It puts the nation
under a curse. In the case of Israel the consequence was a
severe drought. God is just and his justice is built into the
workings of the world. The wicked eventually reap the
consequences of their actions (Psalm 94:3, 23).
- Sometimes the consequences of a broken treaty will not be
worked out immediately, but are experienced by a later
generation (Exodus 20:6). The consequences of Saulís actions
were experienced in the time of David, when Saul was already
- Restitution is the biblical solution (2 Sam 21:6,14). Where
there is injustice, God always requires some repayment. When
David made restitution to the Gibeonites, the drought came to an
end. The curse that Saulís action had brought on the nation
was broken. If David had not taken action the drought would have
continued. Restitution is inescapable. If it is not made
voluntarily, it will be made through the workings of history.
- The principle of biblical justice is "like for
like", so the restoration should be similar to, or typical
of, the injustice that was done.
- Restitution must be proportional. Total restitution is usually
impossible. It should be made in proportion to the injustice and
the length of time that has passed since the injustice was done.
- Restitution must be reasonable. God requires those who receive
restitution to be merciful. The Gibeonites only demanded the
death of seven people. While this may seem harsh to us; it was
only a small repayment for the annihilation of a nation.
- The size of the restitution will depend on the amount of time
that has elapsed. This is especially important, if several
generations have passed. It is not possible to exactly restore a
situation, several hundred years after an injustice has
occurred. The reason is that the effects of injustice dissipate
over time. The situation of those who suffered will have changed
depending on other events that have occurred. Some will have
benefited from the mistakes of others. On the other side, by the
time four or five generations have passed, the person who did an
injustice will have dozens of descendants. The benefits will
have been diluted, as they are spread among many people. Many of
those who benefited from the injustice will have already
suffered through other circumstances. It is not possible to turn
back the clock and make things exactly as they were at the time.
Restitution several generations after the event will be more
symbolic than total.
- During a time of restitution the dominant party should act
generously. David allowed the Gibeonites to decide what
restitution should be made. David agreed to give everything they
asked for, except he spared Mephibosheth. David demonstrated a
- The injured party must be patient. They must not take matters
into their own hands (2 Sam 21:4). The fact that a treaty is
broken does not justify violence. The injured party must wait on
God, who has promised to come to the rescue of those who are
mistreated. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19-21,
Proverbs 20:22). Although the Gibeonites knew they had been
treated unjustly, they did not use violence. They patiently
waited until God exposed the sin and brought about justice. They
were then able to ask for restitution. If they had sought
revenge, they would have lost their right to the protection of
- Only those who are covered by a higher covenant, escape the
consequences of a broken treaty (2 Samuel 21:7). Mephibosheth
was not put to death, although he was a grandson of Saul. His
father Jonathan had made a covenant or treaty with David (1 Sam
18:3). As this covenant took precedence, his life was saved.
The Treaty of Waitangi
These principles apply to the treaty of Waitangi. The treaty
involved an element of deception. As William Colenso pointed out at
the time of the signing, many of the Maori chiefs did not fully
understand the terms of the treaty. There were also significant
differences between the Maori and English versions of the treaty.
This deception was probably not deliberate, but Governor Hobson did
not take sufficient care to ensure that the Maori understood the
treaty. Some of the responsibility rests with the missionaries who
translated and explained it. However, the biblical principle
remains: deception does not nullify a treaty. Although the signing
of the Treaty was handled unwisely, it must still be honoured.
New Zealand governments have not kept their side of the treaty.
It guaranteed the chiefs and tribes of New Zealand, full exclusive
and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests and
fisheries and other properties, so long as it was their wish and
desire to retain the same in their possession. This promise has not
- The New Zealand Company purchased land in the Wellington area
illegally and then virtually forced the Maori owners off their
land. Commissioner Spain recognised that the companyís title
was invalid, but because settlers had already arrived the land
was not returned to its owners. This means that our capital city
is built on land that was bought in contravention of the treaty.
- The so-called Maori wars started because settlers could not
live with the terms of the treaty. Under its terms, Maori were not
obliged to sell their land. Even if they were not using it, they
could not be forced to sell. However, land hungry settlers
wanted Maori land that appeared to be going to waste. In each
case Maori were provoked by the settlers. When they retaliated,
the British declared war on them. Any Maori who fought, was
declared to be rebels, and their land was confiscated. Through
these wars, some of the best land in Taranaki, Waikato, and the
Bay of Plenty was confiscated by the Government. In most cases
the only crime of the Maori concerned, was an unwillingness to
sell their land a right given to them by the Treaty.
- After the wars, legislation was passed that made it hard for
Maori to hold their land. Keith Sinclair says that "the law
became a legal jungle within which the Maori lost themselves,
and were preyed on by land speculators or their agents and
shyster lawyers". Under these laws millions of acres passed
out of Maori ownership.
- Christian leaders remained silent about these injustices. This
silence hardened many Maori to the gospel. Here too, some
responsibility belongs to the Church.
Like Saulís attempt to wipe out the Gibeonites, the ill
treatment of the Maori people is a blot on our nationís history.
Most responsibility rests with the legislators and the land agents,
but they were under tremendous pressure from the settlers to get
more land. Settlers rationalised this by saying that the land was
idle. There were also Maori, who sold land that belonged to someone
else, just to get revenge or make money.
Our nation will eventually reap the consequences of this
injustice. In the long term justice will be worked out. Deuteronomy
27:17 tells us that anyone who changes ancient boundaries by force
or by deception is under a curse. Now this is exactly what our
nation has done. Because many of the early setters trusted in God,
they did not experience the consequences of the Governmentís
actions. God was merciful and spared them, but justice cannot be
postponed forever. As our nation turns away from God, we can expect
his justice to be worked out.
The increasing violence, which is disturbing our society, is the
consequence of the injustice of the past. As would be expected,
violence is becoming most common among younger Maori. It will get
worse. In the future we could see Maori terrorist groups at work. If
this happens we would be experiencing the consequences of breaking a
treaty. All injustice must be paid for. The only solution is
restitution. As soon as David realised what had happened to the
Gibeonites, he met with them and negotiated a reasonable
restitution. This brought peace to the land.
Our government should go to Maori tribal leaders and negotiate a
reasonable restitution. First of all they should acknowledge the
binding power of the Treaty of Waitangi for New Zealand. Secondly
they should publicly acknowledge that the Treaty has been broken.
Thirdly, they should follow repentance with restitution. This may
involve grants of money or land. Restitution should be made to each
tribe that has suffered injustice.
The following points should be noted.
- Restitution should be reasonable and proportional. The Maori
who negotiate are required by God to be merciful. They should
also take into account all that has been done for their people
over the years. They should remember that the clock cannot be
turned back to make things exactly as they were. It is not
possible to exactly restore a situation several hundred years
after an injustice has occurred. Much of the land that was
confiscated is no longer owned by the families who first
benefited from the injustice. The wealth of some of these
families has often disappeared through bad management or
disaster. They have already received their justice. Often it has
been diluted by it being spread among large numbers of
descendants. On the other hand, some of the Maori, who were
robbed, have become rich through their success in business.
Another complication is that, due to inter-racial marriage, many
New Zealanders are descended from both sides of the injustice.
- The Maori people must guard against taking matters in to their
own hands. The fact that injustice has taken place in the past,
does not justify violence in the present. If they turn to
violence they will bring judgement on their own heads. The same
applies to those who resort to illegal forms of protest.
- The Maori people should also be careful not to blame all their
problems on past injustice. This is a trap that can prevent them
from getting on and solving their problems. People who only see
themselves as victims of justice tend to become paralysed, and
are often unable to make or take the opportunities that come
their way. Those who constantly dwell on the past are usually
powerless to face the future. Only through faith in Christ can
they achieve lasting solutions to their problems and achieve
their full potential.
New Covenant Reconciliation
There is another solution to this problem. Mephibosheth escaped
the consequences of Saulís actions, because his father Jonathan
had made a covenant with David. He was protected by a covenant that
took precedence over the covenant with the Gibeonites. If the people
of New Zealand turned back to Jesus, and acknowledged him as their
Lord, they could come under the covenant that he made with his
people. It takes precedence over the Covenant of Waitangi. Those who
are covered by it can claim the benefits of his perfect sacrifice.
Sin and injustice always require atonement (restitution to God). The
blood of Jesus shed on the cross counts as atonement for those
belonging to him. Those who reject his atonement must expect
judgement for their sins. The same applies to a nation. The sins of
leaders cannot be overlooked; they must be atoned for. If our nation
would submit to Jesus his blood would count as atonement for our
sins. His blood would count as restitution for the breaking of the
Treaty of Waitangi.
If this were to happen, the Maori people would still benefit. As
the nation submitted to Christ, there would be a tremendous outflow
of sharing with those in need. Some people would be led to express
their repentance by making restitution (Luke 19:1-10). Some of this
sharing would flow to the Maori people. Obedience to God would
restore his blessing to the whole nation. This would also benefit
the Maori people. The Government would begin to rule according to
the Word of God. This would mean justice for everyone. Maori and
Pakeha would live in peace, bound together by the love of Christ.
This is a challenge to our nation. If we fail to acknowledge the
injustice of the past, we can only expect more violence in the
future. The police will be able to control the situation for a
while, but it will eventually get out of, control, as hearts are
Where there is injustice, restitution is inescapable. Those who
reject the atonement of Jesus must make restitution themselves.
Those who refuse to make restitution voluntarily will be forced to
make restitution through the judgements of history.
If we harden our hearts, and refuse to acknowledge the sins of
the past, we can only expect judgement. Our nation will be torn
apart by violence. If we are honest about our failures, and make
fair restitution to the Maori people, we can live in harmony with
them. Or better still, if we would turn back to Jesus Christ, we
could live together in his peace. The blessing of God would be
restored to our nation. Waitangi Day would then be a joyous
celebration of our peace and unity; no longer spoiled by shame and
hurts from the past.