Let’s turn to Joshua 9. And as we do for every lesson, we’ll again consider how we got to this point in the book of Joshua.
We started our series with an overview of the book of Deuteronomy. The message of that book, as I stated it, was “Success through obedience”. Moses was preaching that message to Joshua and all Israel. “Israel, you’re finally entering the land that God promised you. If you obey what God’s commanded, you will succeed. God promises it. But the opposite is true as well. If you disobey, you will be defeated in the land.”
Next we got to the first 2 chapters of Joshua where we saw Joshua being encouraged to take leadership and lead God’s people into the land of Canaan. And what could be more encouraging than – chapters 3 and 4 – the major river in Israel drying up right before their very eyes so that they could pass through on dry ground! I’ll tell you what! Following God’s commands to march around a city blowing trumpets and have the wall of that city fall down right in front of you.
And the Israelites were really on a roll, weren’t they! They were unstoppable, that is, when they were obeying the Lord. “Success through obedience”. But what happened at the end of the battle of Jericho? Achan took some of the spoil that God told them not to take. But as we saw, Israel was oblivious to this fact. And God wasn’t with them because of their disobedience. He was absolutely silent as Joshua devised the plans for attacking Ai. He let the 3,000 men go up and attack Ai. He let them be defeated before their enemies. He watched as Joshua fell before the Ark of the Covenant all day long, despairing that God had abandoned them. But God is so gracious. He pointed out the problem and the remedy that would allow God to give Israel success once more through obedience.
So Israel takes care of their sin problem and then last week we saw the destruction of Ai. There was an ambush. There was battle. Fire. Swords. Very exciting. And most exciting – God was with his people again, leading them in victory over their enemies.
And now this week. Israel is getting quite a reputation in the land of Canaan. I mean, they already had a reputation before they entered. Remember Rahab’s testimony to the spies? She heard about their victories in Egypt and across the Jordan. And news of those victories inspired fear in her. And not only her – but all of Jericho and really all of the men of the 7 wicked nations that inhabited Canaan. They all feared Israel. And this fear led people to manifest that emotion in a number of ways. Rahab, on the one hand, repented because of her fear. The rest of her city Jericho just closed itself completely up out of fear of the Israelites. Ai? Well, their fear led them to attack Israel head-on!
In today’s lesson we see two more groups who fear Israel with their two different responses. Let’s see the first group in 9:1-2.
[KJV Joshua 9:1 ¶ And it came to pass, when all the kings which were on this side Jordan, in the hills, and in the valleys, and in all the coasts of the great sea over against Lebanon, the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, heard thereof; 2 That they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord.]
Who is this group? It’s a pretty all-encompassing group. 6 of the 7 wicked nations mentioned in Deuteronomy are here. The Girgashites are the ones who are left out. That’s not uncommon. Sometimes the Girgashites don’t appear with the other 6 nations in the book of Joshua. Sometimes they do. Were they left out on purpose here? Perhaps. Maybe they weren’t involved with the other 6 in this case. But from what I can tell, their exclusion here isn’t significant to the story.
What is important is that these 6 nations heard. Heard what? Heard about the battle of Ai. Heard how Israel had destroyed the city of Ai. Heard of Israel’s going to Mount Gerizim and Ebal to recite the law and kind of rekindle in themselves a knowledge of God’s covenant with them. They probably heard about Jericho and the Jordan River as well. Had they heard about Achan and the initial defeat at Ai? Maybe. Maybe that’s what emboldened them to fight Israel rather than to flee. But they heard about Israel and what they had done.
And what’s their reaction? I said it already and we read it already. They gather together to fight against Joshua and Israel. Whatever differences these folks had with each other, they laid all that aside to confront a common enemy – God’s people.
Well, that’s one way to react to the fear induced in their hearts by the Israelites. But there’s another reaction by a small sub-set of these people. Let’s read verses 3 through 5.
[3 ¶ And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai, 4 They did work wilily [craftily], and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses [donkeys], and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up; 5 And old shoes and clouted [patched] upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy.]
So here’s another way to deal with fear – deception. The men of Gibeon are identified later on as Hivites. They are a sub-set of the 7 nations that God commanded Israel to utterly destroy.
And how does their deception work itself out? What did we see? They pretended to be ambassadors. I can’t imagine what’s wrong with that. Then they brought all sorts of old stuff. They put old sacks on their donkeys. Their wine bottles were old and torn and patched. They had old shoes that were patched. All their clothing looked old. Even their bread was dry and moldy!
Now, why in the world would it benefit the Gibeonites to come to Israel pretending to be ambassadors with all sorts of old things on their persons? Do they think the Israelites are going to accept their offering of moldy old bread and not destroy them? Of course, we all know what’s going to happen, but I want to help us read this story as if we’d never heard it before – as if you’re telling it to your 5 year old. So, what are these Gibeonites up to? Let’s read verse 6.
[6 And they went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him, and to the men of Israel, We be come from a far country: now therefore make ye a league with us.]
Ah, I see. They’re trying to make Israel think that they don’t live in their land. But why? Why not just be honest with Israel and tell them that indeed they do dwell in the land, but that they want peace with Israel? Why not be like Rahab? Just come clean and ask for mercy.
Well, God had told Israel that they could make peace with other nations outside of Canaan. But the nations in Canaan would not be allowed to make peace with Israel for fear that their idolatrous practices would infect Israel and influence them toward idolatry. By the way, the Gibeonites must have known that. Right? Otherwise, I imagine they would simply present themselves to Israel as they truly were – inhabitants of the land who wanted peace. But they knew Israel could not offer terms of peace to the 7 nations. So they deceived and pretended to be from afar.
And the Gibeonites met Israel where? Gilgal. Some think this is a different Gilgal than the camp the Israelites had near the Dead Sea. I don’t think that’s necessary. The Israelites after worshipping the Lord on Mount Ebal and Gerizim could very well have come back down to their base in Gilgal. And when they got there the Gibeonites approached them.
I wonder which direction the Gibeonites would have taken to reach Gilgal. Would that have signaled that these men were indeed from the land? Maybe. We don’t know. But we do know that somehow these men came to Gilgal to seek peace, deceptively.
And the men of Israel haven’t forgotten God’s command to not offer peace to the inhabitants of the land. Let’s see how they respond to the Gibeonites’ offer to make peace with Israel. Verse 7.
[7 And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you?]
So the men of Israel are no dummies. They ask the Gibeonites – here they are referred to as Hivites – the men ask them how they would know if they were from the land of Canaan. If that was the case they certainly could not have made peace.
What’s the answer to that question – “how do we know if you’re from the land?” Who would have known? Who was on Israel’s side that knows and knew everything? Yeah, the Lord. Do they consult him? We’ll see.
So it seems like the Gibeonites were rebuffed in a way by the men of Israel. So they turn to the leader, Joshua. Verse 8.
[8 And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from whence come ye?]
Can you imagine this scene? The Gibeonites in their old worn clothing, standing there. The Israelite leaders on the other side. Maybe one puts his hand on his chin in contemplation and says, “suppose you live in our land…” The Gibeonites maybe thought they were caught in their deception. Exasperated, they look around and see Joshua the leader. They blurt out, “we’re your servants!”
So Joshua instead of wondering if they live in the land, Joshua asks for more information about this strange looking group. Who are they and where indeed do they come from? Let’s see the Gibeonites’ response in verses 9 through 13.
[9 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, 10 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. 11 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. 12 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: 13 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.]
Joshua asked where they were from. Did they answer that? Sort of. They say they came from a far country. They don’t specify where. What else did Joshua ask? Who they were. Did they answer that? No. So, they barely answered one question and completely avoided the other. And yet they had a lot to say. What did most of their conversation consist of? They really focus on answering a question that Joshua didn’t ask, which is “why are you here?” They tell Joshua that they heard about what God did for Israel in Egypt. The plagues, the Red Sea, all of it. Remember, that was over 40 years ago by this point. Then more recently they heard about what Israel did to Sihon and Og… Actually, the Gibeonites don’t mention what Israel did to Sihon and Og. Their amazement came from what God himself did to those two kings. That’s what the Gibeonites said. The Gibeonites came because they heard about Israel’s God. And they’re terribly fearful of what he might do to them if they don’t make an alliance – a treaty – with Israel.
Did Joshua need any more proof of the veracity of the Gibeonites’ assertions? They point to their tattered old clothes and wine skins and everything else. Look at their moldy bread! Come on, how else do you explain this? “We’re from a long way away! Can’t you see?” Israel could see. They saw the evidence presented. And that’s really all they could see. Because there’s only one being who can see beyond appearances. And that’s the Lord, the God of the Israelites. So, surely Joshua and Israel learned their lesson from Achan and will promptly seek the Lord’s counsel. Let’s see. Verses 14 and 15.
[14 And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD. 15 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.]
So the leaders of Israel make a huge mistake. A mistake that could have been avoided by seeking the counsel of the Lord. We’re led to believe that the Lord would have been happy to give his unfailing all-knowing counsel. But he allowed Israel to make its own decisions, just like he did at Ai with the Achan situation.
And I don’t know how I could pass this by without making some application to ourselves. Are you ever presented with confusing issues? Maybe you have a decision to make where the choice seems clear. And yet you feel some apprehension about it. This would be the time to seek the counsel of the Lord. Is he going to answer you audibly? No. That’s not his habit these days. But do we have any doubt that he’s able to providentially lead you to the right decision in the matter? I hope there’s no doubt about that. The Lord is able to direct you with his providence. But he does want us to seek his counsel in puzzling times – and really always.
So, the leaders of Israel didn’t do that. And they take of the Gibeonites’ victuals. What does that mean? There are two options. First, some have wondered if this was part of a covenant ceremony. The two parties of the covenant would exchange their goods with each other. But I don’t know about that. Really, would receiving moldy bread and tattered clothing really influence Israel any more to enter a covenant with these men? It seems like Israel would have no interest in their old stuff. The other option is that the leaders of Israel further used their own natural senses to inspect the Gibeonites’ claims to being from a distant country. Like maybe they sniffed the bread and verified that it indeed was moldy. Maybe they examined the cracks in the wine skins to verify that their own natural eyes weren’t playing tricks on them.
And once their own natural senses were satisfied and they came to the natural conclusion – apart from God’s counsel – that these folks – whomever they were anyway! – were from a far country – wherever that is anyway! – Joshua and the leaders made a covenant with them to let them live. This was lawful, assuming that these men were from a land outside of Canaan. To the best of their own knowledge, this was the case. But we see in verse 16 that the leaders’ own human knowledge apart from God’s counsel proved faulty. Let’s read.
[16 ¶ 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.]
How did the leaders of Israel hear that the Gibeonites were neighbors living in their own country? We’re not told. But it took only three days to discover this. Maybe Israel sent people after them to track where they went as they departed from Israel. At any rate, these Gibeonites lived in the area. And Israel wasn’t happy. They all get together and come against Gibeon. Let’s read about that in verses 17 and 18.
[17 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. 18 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.]
The Israelites were ready to destroy the Gibeonites. They were going by the Law. The Law said that the 7 wicked nations in the land needed to be utterly destroyed. No mercy for them. So here’s a very interesting conflict. Does anyone have any doubt here that God’s Law revealed God’s will? In other words, the Law stated what God wanted to have happen, right? He wanted people to not lie or steal or commit adultery. God wanted his people to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan. This was what he wanted. And yet we also have in the Law this command. Leviticus 19:12 – “You shall not swear falsely by my name, so as to profane the name of your God.” So, the Israelites swear to not destroy one of the 7 wicked nations. But destroying the nations was God’s will. Yes, but there was a greater commandment involved here. Once Israel swore by God to do something, they needed to carry through with it. Even when it involved going against God’s stated will in another situation. That almost sounds wrong, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what we see here. And doesn’t this communicate to us something about God’s name and how he values his name above all else? Profaning God’s name was to be avoided at all costs. Breaking the Israelite leaders’ oath to the Gibeonites would have profaned God’s name. And that would have been unimaginable.
But the people still don’t like this. I specifically remember reading this story the first time and identifying with the people. I mean, come on, the rule was to kill the nations. Just do it! After all, the Gibeonites lied to get into this covenant. They ought not to live! Away with them. Isn’t there something in our American legal code that would nullify the making of a contract when it was made under false pretenses? And the people, understandably perhaps, they grumble against their leaders. But the leaders are going to give their ruling in verses 19 through 21 in greater detail.
[19 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. 20 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. 21 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.]
Isn’t that interesting? The leaders sense that wrath will be upon all Israel if they break their covenant with Gibeon. Do you think the rulers are mistaken? I’ll mention this then. King Saul a few hundred years later decided in his zeal to kill some Gibeonites. Do you happen to remember what God did as a result? King David and the people were experiencing a drought at the time. And when David asked the Lord why this was, he answered that the drought was a result of King Saul’s previously killing some Gibeonites. This oath was in force even hundreds of years after it was made. God took it seriously. And in fact, the leaders were right. Wrath would be upon Israel if they broke their covenant sworn in God’s own name.
So, the Gibeonites would live and not die. However, they were made slaves for Israel perpetually because of their deceit.
So, that’s the leaders’ word to the congregation. Now let’s see what Joshua says to the Gibeonites directly. Verses 22 through 25.
[22 ¶ 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? 23 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. 24 And they answered Joshua, and said, Because it was certainly told thy servants, how that the LORD thy 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 sore afraid of our lives because of you, and have done this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.]
I need to warn you — when I told my wife what I’m about to say now, she giggled at me. I told her that I think we’re supposed to have somewhat of a soft spot in our hearts for the Gibeonites. Really, they lied and that’s of course wrong. They entered into a covenant deceitfully. But listen to their reasoning that they give to Joshua. They recognize Moses as God’s servant. They believed that the command to destroy all the nations would certainly happen. That means they also believed that God was powerful and true and living. They were afraid. They give themselves up into the Israelites’ hands to do to them whatever they think is right. In fact, as far as I could tell, in the rest of the Scripture we never really see Gibeon acting out of line. They don’t rise up against Israel. They apparently don’t tempt Israel into idolatry – at least as far as we’re told. In fact, even in the book of Nehemiah we see Gibeonites returning to Israel with the Jews and even rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. These guys really became part of Israel.
And what was their curse that Joshua pronounced upon them as a result of their deceit? To be servants in the house of God. Isn’t that interesting? I’ve said this in a previous lesson, but I’ll restate it. It seems that the major reason God wanted to destroy the 7 nations in Canaan was because they were idolaters. And as such these people would cause Israel to commit idolatry as well. But is there any indication that Gibeon had a heart change like Rahab did? I mean, remember, they’re speaking of Moses as God’s true servant. They’re pointing to commands and promises that God made as if they truly believed they would surely come to pass. They believed God, in that sense. They believed that he was. Did they also believe that he was a rewarder of those who seek him? It’s possible. And even if they hadn’t truly repented and trusted the God if Israel, where did Joshua put them? In the service of God’s house – where they would learn of God and his ways. Where they would be reminded of their own sins by the continual sacrifices offered there. Where they would see firsthand that a man’s sin could be atoned for only with blood. They would see all of that and more. They would be in a position to hear the Law of God. Really, what Joshua describes as a curse really seems to me to be a blessing in disguise. Well, we can all agree that this is a better fate than being destroyed by Israel, right? Alright, let’s finish the chapter with verses 26 and 27.
[26 And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not. 27 And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the LORD, even unto this day, in the place which he should choose.]
The narrator mentions “the place which [God] would choose.” That seems to get us ready for God finally establishing a place where his people would worship him. This doesn’t happen for a while, though, as you know.
So what do we learn from this chapter? What do we learn from the Gibeonites? We learn that we do always need to seek God in our decisions, especially major ones. We learn that God is all-knowing and wants to lead his people right if they’re open to his leading. We learn that God values his name above certain other commands that he’s given. And we learn that we need to keep our promises. As Christians in particular, our word should be our bond. By going back on promises we as Christians are in danger of profaning God’s name.
We’ll get to this next week, but in the next chapter this alliance that Israel made with Gibeon is tested. Some of Gibeon’s neighbors are angry at Gibeon for making this alliance with Israel. And so they actually start attacking Gibeon. The Gibeonites send a call for help to Joshua in Gilgal. Wow, is this a chance to get out of this poorly conceived covenant? All Joshua and Israel would need to do is to be a little late in arriving to the battle. Or they could pretend they didn’t receive the message of distress from Gibeon. They could be out of that oath forever. Is that what they do? We’ll find out next week.