Joshua 9 – The Gibeonite Deception
A. Two different strategies of attack against Israel.
1. (1-2) The southern kings gather together against Israel.
And it came to pass when all the kings who were on this side of the Jordan, in the hills and in the lowland and in all the coasts of the Great Sea toward Lebanon; the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; heard about it, that they gathered together to fight with Joshua and Israel with one accord.
a. When all the kings who were on this side of the Jordan…heard about it: When the Canaanite kings heard how the LORD delivered Jericho to Israel, they had reason to be afraid. When they heard how the LORD gave them victory over Ai, they had reason to be afraid.
b. They gathered together to fight with Joshua and Israel with one accord: This is a classic, frontal attack – they will try to defeat Israel on the field of battle, in head-to-head competition.
2. (3-6) The Gibeonites approach Joshua and Israel in another way.
But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. And they took old sacks on their donkeys, old wineskins torn and mended, old and patched sandals on their feet, and old garments on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us.”
a. They worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors: The Gibeonites will try to deceive Israel into making a peace treaty with them, though Israel was forbidden to make peace with any of the tribes of Canaan (Exodus 23:23-24).
b. They worked craftily: Notice the methods of deception used by the Gibeonites. They were clever (craftily), they misrepresented themselves (pretended), and they even gave false “evidence” as part of their deception (old sacks…old wineskins…old and patched sandals…dry and moldy bread).
c. From a far country: Beyond their deceptive appearance, the Gibeonites simply lied. They said, “We have come from a far country” when of course they had not. All their other devices simply lead to strengthen the deception offered.
B. How Joshua and the leaders of Israel were deceived.
1. (7-13) The Gibeonites explain their story to Joshua and the leaders of Israel.
Then the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you dwell among us; so how can we make a covenant with you?” But they said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you, and where do you come from?” So they said to him: “From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God; for we have heard of His fame, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan; to Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who was at Ashtaroth. Therefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, ‘Take provisions with you for the journey, and go to meet them, and say to them, “We are your servants; now therefore, make a covenant with us.”’ This bread of ours we took hot for our provision from our houses on the day we departed to come to you. But now look, it is dry and moldy. And these wineskins which we filled were new, and see, they are torn; and these our garments and our sandals have become old because of the very long journey.”
a. From a very far country your servants have come: Plainly, the Gibeonites lied to Israel. But despite their lies, they have a proper admiration and honor for the God of Israel. Because of the name of the LORD your God; for we have heard of His fame shows that it is because God fights for Israel, they know it would be useless to oppose the nation.
2. (14-15) Joshua and the leaders of Israel accept the deception of the Gibeonites.
Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the LORD. So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them.
a. They did not ask counsel of the LORD: The Gibeonite deception was clever, and therefore powerful. But the real problem was that Joshua and the leaders of Israel never sought the LORD.
b. Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions: This shows that they trusted their senses instead of the LORD. “Look at this bread. Feel and taste how stale it is. Surely, they must have come a long way.” They walked by sight, not by faith.
i. How much trouble do we find ourselves in for this very reason: they did not ask counsel of the LORD?
c. So Joshua made peace with them: Because they believed that the Gibeonites were from a distant land, they made the treaty with them. God allowed Israel to make treaties with distant nations, but not with the Canaanites.
C. The deception of the Gibeonites uncovered and dealt with.
1. (16-20) Joshua and the leaders of Israel discover they have been deceived, yet they abide by their sworn oath to the Gibeonites.
And it happened at the end of three days, after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbors who dwelt near them. Then the children of Israel journeyed and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath Jearim. But the children of Israel did not attack them, because the rulers of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation complained against the rulers. Then all the rulers said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel; now therefore, we may not touch them. This we will do to them: We will let them live, lest wrath be upon us because of the oath which we swore to them.”
a. All the congregation complained against the rulers: Even though they complained against them, the rulers still knew they had to do what was right and honorable before God: keep their oath, even if it was a bad oath.
i. The rulers of Israel were wise in not allowing one sin (wiping out the Gibeonites) to follow another sin (making the oath without seeking the LORD), especially in light of public pressure to do otherwise.
b. Then all the rulers said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel; now therefore, we may not touch them”: It is a mark of godliness to hold to an oath, even when it is difficult. But he honors those who fear the LORD; he who swears to his own hurt and does not change (Psalm 15:4).
i. It is refreshing to see that going back on their word was not even really a possibility for the rulers of Israel. This was a simple matter, not even up for debate: we may not touch them.
c. Because of the oath which we swore to them: Later, King Saul broke this vow to the Gibeonites and his sin brought famine upon Israel in the days of David (2 Samuel 21:1-9).
i. Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.” (2 Samuel 21:1)
2. (21-27) A glorious punishment for the Gibeonites: Joshua makes them slaves to the LORD.
And the rulers said to them, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for all the congregation, as the rulers had promised them.” Then Joshua called for them, and he spoke to them, saying, “Why have you deceived us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell near us? Now therefore, you are cursed, and none of you shall be freed from being slaves; woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.” So they answered Joshua and said, “Because your servants were clearly told that the LORD your God commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you; therefore we were very much afraid for our lives because of you, and have done this thing. And now, here we are, in your hands; do with us as it seems good and right to do to us.” So he did to them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, so that they did not kill them. And that day Joshua made them woodcutters and water carriers for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, in the place which He would choose, even to this day.
a. Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for all the congregation: Joshua could not kill the Gibeonites, but he could control them by making them perpetual workmen for the tabernacle service. They would serve in menial ways such as cutting wood for the sacrificial fires of the tabernacle and carrying water used in its service.
b. So they answered Joshua and said: Significantly, there seems to be no complaint from the Gibeonites. They simply say, “here we are, in your hands; do with us as it seems good and right to do to us.” Essentially, they were happy with the prospect of being incorporated into Israel, and being made servants of the LORD, even if it was in menial service.
i. In this, the Gibeonites express the same heart David did in Psalm 84:10: For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
ii. It is essential to see that they did this out of a love for the God of Israel, not out of weakness. Indeed, it was said of Gibeon that all its men were mighty (Joshua 10:2).
c. Because your servants were clearly told that the LORD your God commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land…we were very much afraid for our lives because of you, and have done this thing: The Gibeonites were not thrilled so much at being woodcutters and water carriers, but in knowing they could be those things for the LORD – and in knowing where they would be if they were not serving the LORD.
i. Do we have the same heart? Can we rejoice in any kind of service, if we see we are in the presence of the LORD as we do it?
ii. The Gibeonites found salvation in the God of Israel much as Rahab did in Joshua 2.
· Both Rahab and the Gibeonites came to the God of Israel as sinners, Rahab as a harlot, and the Gibeonites as liars.
· Both Rahab and the Gibeonites were willing to risk the forsaking of their former associations and be counted among God’s people. The risk the Gibeonites took was explained in Joshua 10:4, where they were a target of attack for their dealings with Israel.
· Both Rahab and the Gibeonites, after they found salvation through the God of Israel, had a rich history.
iii. The Gibeonites after Joshua 9.
· The Gibeonites became servants at the tabernacle, just as Joshua had commanded.
· Gibeon becomes a priestly city; the ark of the covenant stayed at Gibeon often in the days of David and Solomon (1 Chronicles 16:39-40 and 21:29).
· At least one of David’s mighty men was a Gibeonite (1 Chronicles 12:4).
· God appeared and spoke to Solomon at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4-5).
· Gibeonites were among those who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:7 and 7:25).
· Prophets such as Hananiah the son of Azur came from Gibeon (Jeremiah 28:1).
iv. These are examples of the great things God can do with people who are sinners but come to Him in humility and love.