Joshua: Chapter 9 - Gibeons Guile

Bible Study @ Hurst Gospel Hall

Author: John Whitmarsh
Added: 2009-07-24

The first two verses set the scene for the events that were to take place according to the record of chapter 10. The confederacy of six tribes aimed to lay aside their differences and to have one common goal and that was the destruction of the children of Israel. There is a principle that can be gathered from the first two verses and that is that evil forces can often conspire together against God's people whether as individuals or collectively.

The emphasis then moves away from this group of six nations onto the matter of the Gibeonites.

They deceived Joshua and the men of Israel. This chapter is all about guile. The evil one is the great deceiver. Ephesians 6 speaks about standing against the wiles of the devil. He is crafty. He delights in trickery and deceit.

The first simple lesson from this chapter is to be aware of the wiles of the devil.

The Gibeonites needed to make a league with the children of Israel and they needed to do this quickly. Consequently they forced the pace as far as the decision concerning their future was concerned. A decision was made quickly without consulting the Lord (verse 14) and then regret was expressed afterwards.

The second elementary lesson from this chapter is that it is dangerous not to ask counsel of the Lord.

The third lesson to learn is that if someone is or some people are rushing us into a decision there is probably a reason for this rush. Any rash decision that is made could lead us into danger or difficulty.

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;

The great sea (see Numbers 34.6) is the Mediterranean Sea as it is over against Lebanon. This means that this side Jordan refers to the west of the river. It was pointed out that 'this side' really should be translated 'region beyond'.

Six tribes are mentioned. Notice that Deuteronomy 7.1 says, 'When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou.' Joshua 3.10 has mentioned all seven though in a different order. The one that is left out in Joshua 9 is the tribe called the Girgashites.

9:2 That they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord.

All these tribes were united in one purpose and that was to destroy Israel. Two cities may have fallen to the Israelites but they had put up little resistance. They had been defensive and watched or waited for the children of Israel to attack. Put all the tribes together and attack them and what would happen then? No doubt that was the thinking. How sad it is to see that there are so many instances in the scriptures when those who were at variance with each other joined forces in their common aim in attacking the things of God. The Pharisees and the Sadducees, though they had no dealings with each other, were united in their condemnation of the Christ of God. The same was true of the Herodians. Herod and Pilate were made friends together for before they were at enmity between themselves. All were against the Lord's Christ. We were reminded of the scripture in Psalm 2, 'Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.' Perhaps it is also wise to read Psalm 83, though it refers to another set of enemies, at this stage.

Unity does not always equate with the truth and that which is right. The fact that there was one accord here did not mean that what they were doing was right. When the thing that is right is done there should be unity if more than one person is involved. 'Can two walk together, except they be agreed?' Amos 3.3. Sadly sometimes there may be a common desire to do right but there is no agreement. It goes without saying that this should not happen but it does not follow that where there is agreement that good is being done. It is possible to do good and not everyone agreeing to the good and it is equally possible to be in agreement but only to do that which is bad. Whilst agreement is usually a good thing we must never take agreement as being truth or righteousness.

9:3 And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,

The subject changes after the first two verses. No longer is there a confederacy united against Israel. The inhabitants of Gibeon were not prepared to think tribally and nationally. They were only prepared to think of themselves as a city that was heading for destruction unless they did something about it. They were only prepared to think locally. They were only interested in self preservation.

Where is this Gibeon? It is confusing because there is a Gibeah and a Geba and Gibeon (see Joshua 18.24-28) and a Gibethon and they are all close together. Gibeon was a Levitical city of Benjamin, modern 'el-Jib', which lies 5-6 miles or 8 km in a northerly direction from Jerusalem. The name means 'hill city'. It appears from verse 7 of this chapter that the inhabitants of the city belonged to Hivite tribe. The city was allotted to Benjamin and set apart for the Levites (Joshua 18.25 and 21.17). It was not far from Gilgal.

9:4 They did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up;

9:5 And old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy.

The Gibeonites were crafty. The devil is crafty. We thought of the scripture that speaks of the wiles of the devil. He not only is a serpent, a roaring lion but the same one is, on occasions, transformed into an angel of light. There is deception here. The devil is the great deceiver.

They acted as though they were envoys, ambassadors, messengers. The implication by the old sacks on their asses and wine (skin) bottles that were old, torn and patched up, the mouldy bread (an alternative translation of 'crumbled' was given for 'mouldy' and this alternative should not be ignored as mouldy may be too harsh a description), old shoes that were patched up, and old garments was that they had travelled from afar. The next verse tells us how far they had come for they had gone from Gibeon which is 5 or 6 miles north of Jerusalem to Gilgal which is a couple of miles from Jericho. The distance from Gibeon to Gilgal is not quite 20 miles as the crow flies.

9:6 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.

20 miles away is hardly afar off. Joshua was at Gilgal. In chapter 8 the children of Israel had been at mount Ebal which was further up country. Gilgal, as we know now, is close to Jericho. The men of Gibeon met him there.

They speak first of all to the men of Israel. Their first statement was a lie. Their second statement was not a request but more like a command. They were insistent. There was urgency in the statement. They were desperate and they knew that they did not have much time. Soon it would be known that they had not come from afar and their secret would be out. They had to be in a league, a covenant (the word is used 284 times in scripture and is translated 'covenant' on 264 of those occasions) by the time they were discovered as frauds. They were hurrying the children of Israel into making a decision. We must be careful not to be hurried into making a decision. How we notice that in our every day life (marry in haste - repent at leisure, door to door salesmen, etc.). The wicked one would hurry us into decisions from which there is no escape. 'Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked things to pass.' Psalm 37.5 'Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land:' Psalm 37.34.

The Gibeonites were instructed to say the things that they said as verse 11 makes clear.

9:7 And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you?

Alarm bells should have rung. God had said that no league was to be made with the inhabitants of the land. Mercy was to be shown to cities wanting peace but no covenant was to be made (Deuteronomy 7.1-2 and Judges 2.1-2). The Gibeonites were Hivites. It was the men of Israel who spoke first of all to the Hivites and they asked a question which was not answered. Were the men of Israel's suspicions aroused? The question was not (as we might expect) why shall we make a covenant with you but how shall we make a covenant with you? The men that were before them had nothing with which to bargain. They had come from afar according to their claims but there is no mention of gifts being presented as a good will gesture or anything like that. There were no items with which they could trade.

9:8 And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from whence come ye?

They turned their attention to Joshua. They were prepared to own allegiance to Joshua. Joshua needed to know who they were and so it was Joshua who asked these questions. There were principles at stake here. God had given instruction about what to do when a city asked for peace in Deuteronomy 20 as we have noticed earlier in our studies (see notes on 6.17). But this was unusual in that it was not the people of God going against a city but representatives of that city coming to the people (and deliberately deceiving them in the process) and asking for peace.

9:9 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,

9:10 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.

9:11 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.

9:12 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:

9:13 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.

Their story was consistent with the story given to the men. They claimed that they had come from a far country (leaving Joshua to think that the fame of the nation's exploits as they came up out of Egypt and into the Promised Land had travelled far). Note that it says 'the Lord thy God'. They addressed their remarks directly to Joshua. The two kings Sihon and Og were mentioned. Sihon lived 15 or so miles from the north east tip of the Dead Sea and Og 20 miles or so to the east of the Sea of Galilee. There is a more famous Ashtaroth in the land of the Philistines. Both were on the eastern side of the river Jordan. The mention of these kings suggested to us that they wanted to give the impression that they had come from further up country than these men.

In verse 11 it says 'victuals (pronounced 'vittels') with you for the journey'. In verse 14 the AV says that the men took of the victuals but surely the provision (so called) for the journey was crumbled when it was loaded onto the asses. It would not have been something that they would have been pleased to eat. Surely verse 14 cannot mean that the men of Israel partook of the victuals in the sense of eating the food.

We have already noted that their desire to make a league, a covenant with the people of Israel was more like a command than a plea (verse 6) - 'make ye a league with us'. This is a repeat of the urgency for they did not want to be discovered. Their ruse and subterfuge would soon be known. It only took three days for their secret to be known. The conditions and terms of peace did not matter; it was the peace that mattered.

How the wicked one wants to deceive us and then to rush us into decisions that need time.

9:14 And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.

The margin says that they received the men because of their victuals rather then taking of their victuals. They were duped into thinking that their story was genuine. The props had helped the Gibeonites to being accepted. They had been rushed into a hasty and foolish decision.

When we are rushed into a thing there is little time to consult the Lord. We are to wait upon the Lord. His advice is the best. The wicked one not only wants to deceive us but to stop us asking the Lord to find out if we have been deceived. The key phrase in the whole chapter is 'asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord'.

We do well to notice that verse 14 says that it was the men who did not ask counsel of the Lord. Joshua is not singled out in this verse but that does not mean that he is exonerated for he is in the next.

9:15 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.

Joshua is the one who bears the responsibility for making peace with the men from Gibeon. The word for peace is shalom. Of the 236 times that this word is used in scripture it is translated 175 times as peace. A covenant was made with these men as well as the peace. The terms of the covenant were that the men should live. Joshua made the peace and the covenant and the princes of the congregation gave their assent. Furthermore they promised things to the Gibeonites (not specified here) and sealed the promise with an oath. How careful we must be in taking and giving oaths.

9:16 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.

The treaty having been made it came as a surprise to the children of Israel (see verse 22) to discover that these people had not been honest. The implication is that that they heard from others that the Gibeonites were neighbours. Perhaps it was that they heard on the journey that was made according to the record of verse 17.

They lived some twenty miles away and travelling was not as it is today but they are still described as neighbours dwelling among them!!

9:17 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.

We know from chapter 10 that Joshua was at Gilgal when called upon by the Gibeonites to help against the five cities and their kings. We read here of a journey that was made by the children of Israel that took three days to accomplish. Perhaps the verse means that all the children of Israel went to these cities. There were a lot of people in the group called the children of Israel if all were counted. Furthermore there is no record of the relocation of a large number of people back to Gilgal in either chapter 9 or chapter 10. A large group of people would explain the length of time taken to travel such a short distance (even by the standards of the time). But when did they come back to Gilgal?

We know the location of Gibeon. Chephirah means 'lioness' and was located five miles west of Gibeon.

Beeroth means 'wells'. Nothing could be found out about its location.

Kirjathjearim means 'city of forests'. It was a city on the northern boundary of Judah and on the western and southern boundaries of Benjamin. It is believed to be about 5 miles SW of Gibeon.

All three places became part of Benjamin's territory though the latter city was Judah's first of all. They are all assumed to be within five miles of each other. This journey was no more than 25 miles from Gilgal.

9:18 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.

Whether it was the whole of the people or just some is immaterial. When whoever it was who reached the cities the inhabitants were not slain. The princes were summarily blamed for the lack of destruction but a covenant had been made and it had to be honoured. How the princes must have wished that they had not been hasty. The wise man speaks of the need for lack of haste on a few occasions (Proverbs 14.29, 19.2, 20.21, 21.5, 25.8, 28.20 and 22, 29.20 and Ecclesiastes 7.9 and 8.3) including this statement, 'Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before god: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few.' Ecclesiastes 5.2. Surely there is a lesson in all this for us in our day? Perhaps we do well also to read Psalm 15.

In chapter 10 verse 21 we read, 'none moved his tongue against any of the children of Israel'. Here it was altogether different. All the congregation murmured against the princes. They bore the responsibility for the mistake that had been made and now they heard the backlash from the congregation. It is always easy to find fault with decisions that have been made by someone. When there is no responsibility for the decision attached to the person who makes the complaint such complaints are easily formulated and expressed. Hasty they were and wrong to boot but there is no need to be unsupportive in any way at such times. Recognise the failing, yes, but do not blame the decision makers. What had been done was done and could not be undone. Blame was futile and invariably is futile.

9:19 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.

9:20 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.

9:21 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.

The princes had made a covenant that they should not have made but having made it they could not renege. Perhaps an oath should not have been uttered but an oath was involved. Break the oath and wrath could well have descended upon them. The name of the Lord was not to be taken in vain and they had sworn by the Lord God of Israel. The children of Israel were not to swear by God's name falsely (Exodus 20.7 and Leviticus 19.12). Once an error has been made there is no merit in compounding the error by making more.

The Gibeonites were to be treated as slaves. Spared, yes, but with no prospects among God's people. Their status was not going to be high. The implication is that when the covenant was arranged that the agreement was that these people were to be those who chopped wood and those who drew and no doubt carried water (see Deuteronomy 29.11).

9:22 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?

9:23 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.

Joshua spoke with the Gibeonites. The pathos in his voice is palpable as the words are read. The reader feels sorry for Joshua. He did not want this to happen. He has been tricked. He has been beguiled. He asked them for a reason for their behaviour, a reason for the fraudulent behaviour. This trick was unexpected. It had come as a surprise to Joshua and to his men.

The language that Joshua used is interesting - 'Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us'. It was Joshua and his men, rather than the Gibeonites, who were the newcomers to the land and not vice versa. The intent was clear from this statement. Joshua had every intention of possessing the land and was treating the land as though it belonged to the people of God already.

The Gibeonites were cursed. That is not to say that they were to be hounded as Saul was to do later (see the early part of II Samuel 21). They were to be treated with the respect afforded those who were slaves among them. The extent of their curse was that they were to remain slaves. They were never to be freed.

9:24 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.

9:25 And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.

There were those among the nations who knew the mind of God on the matter of destruction of those within the land. A great city with a mighty and brave people were sore afraid of their lives and of the children of Israel. There was no point trying to stand up against the God of the Israelites for they would be destroyed. Deuteronomy 7.1-2 is unequivocal. Their only hope of remaining alive was to do what they did.

9:26 And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not.

9:27 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.

They were spared but not to do as they chose. Joshua was to do to them as it seemed good and right (just). They were prepared to accept the situation. To live was the most important thing as far as they were concerned. How they lived was immaterial in the first instance. And so they lived. They became hewers of wood and drawers of water and this situation remained for a long time. It is interesting to note that they were servants of the congregation with an emphasis of serving for the altar.


Further reading is necessary to find out what happened to the Gibeonites. II Samuel 21 is useful in this respect. Notice that the Gibeonites are referred to as the remnant of the Amorites.

Further reading is necessary to find out what victories are seen in the life of a man who enquired of the Lord - I Samuel 23.10-12; 30.8 II Samuel 2.1 and 5.19.

The only other conclusion is that the lessons mentioned in the introduction are clear from the text and that all that remains is for God's people of this age not to be nave and get hoodwinked by that which is deceitful.