'Studies in the Old Testament'

God leads Israel into Canaan - 9

February 2010

(Continued from page 515)

The result of the treaty with the Gibeonites

We learnt earlier that Joshua was given a military manual which told him that he was to completely annihilate the people who occupied the land which he was to subdue. In addition he could proclaim peace to those cities which were afar off and outside the general area in the land of occupation. Joshua (Chapter 9) demonstrates that, following their initial self-confidence when they first attacked Ai in the energy of the flesh without consulting God, their self-reliance had now become more ingrained as a result of the follow-up victory and they were forgetting the place they should have given God in the victories. The two military victories at Jericho and Ai they had enjoyed had only been obtained by God's power and provision and the fulfilment of his earlier promises of military victory.  We are now introduced in this chapter to the inhabitants of Gibeon who we can see, by examining a map, were not located very far away from the camp of the Israelites. By no means could they be considered a city "afar off."  Therefore they were inhabitants of a city destined for total annihilation because they were in the area of immediate occupation.  When we read about the craftiness of the Gibeonites it leads us to believe that somehow they were aware of Joshua's military manual, for the evidence of Joshua 9v3ff tells us that when they heard what Israel did at Jericho and Ai, they acted "craftily." This is the same word (Heb. arum) used in Genesis 3v1, and sometimes translated "subtle," to describe the activity of the serpent.7

Having heard about Jericho and Ai the Gibeonites obviously feared for their lives and anticipated that, as soon as Joshua came across the mountains with his military force, they would be annihilated. As a result, they set about to deceive Joshua and his army into making a treaty with them. They believed that the only way they could do so was to make Joshua think they lived in one of the cities afar off and, with this plan of deception, they put on worn out clothes and sandals and for provision took old bread that had become dry and crumbly.  They put worn out sacks on their donkeys, took cracked and worn out wineskins, and threw dirt on themselves, to give the appearance of having travelled for weeks or even months.  As they came panting and dirty into the camp of Joshua they said (vs. 61): "We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us."  Joshua was slightly suspicious and did question them (vss. 8-101):

8  But they said to Joshua, "We are your servants." Then Joshua said to them, "Who are you, and where do you come from?"  9  And they said to him, "Your servants have come from a very far country because of the fame of the LORD your God; for we have heard the report of Him and all that He did in Egypt,  10  and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon and to Og king of Bashan who was at Ashtaroth.

After hearing this statement there is surely grounds for being more than a little suspicious, for  they have named the great miracles revealing God's power that were bound to impress other nations.  Perhaps this is the key to the success of the Gibeonite plan, for the Israelites had already shown that they were prone to forget that all of their success was down to God being with them, and they may have been flattered by these words although the Gibeonites made it clear who they credit with the victories (v9-10).  Joshua and the leaders of Israel, although suspicious, were shown the apparent evidence which pointed to a long journey - such as the wineskins, the old bread, and worn out clothes and sandals (Joshua 9v12-13) - and they even remembered that they were not to make covenants with the people living within the land:

7 "And the men of Israel said to the Hivites, "Perhaps you are living within our land; how then shall we make a covenant with you?"  8  But they said to Joshua, "We are your servants." Then Joshua said to them, "Who are you, and where do you come from?"
Although Joshua and his leaders had asked some of the right questions of these men they took counsel and decided, on the basis of what they saw with their eyes and heard from the lips of men, to believe the story of the crafty Gibeonites. Thus they made peace with them and made a covenant with them (Joshua 9v15). But, verse 14 shows that, once again, they had forgotten the most important Member of all Covenants, for they
"did not ask for the counsel of the Lord" (v141).

This is the first indication of direct disobedience on the part of Joshua from the direct command given in Numbers 27:211:

"Moreover, he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD. At his command they shall go out and at his command they shall come in, both he and the sons of Israel with him, even all the congregation."

Thus Joshua broke this clear instruction and made peace with the Gibeonites before setting out to continue the central campaign to conquer the middle section of Canaan where they discovered Gibeon was included among the cities of the central plain. Realizing what they had done in making a treaty with people they were supposed to destroy, verse 181 reads:

And the sons of Israel did not strike them because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD the God of Israel. And the whole congregation grumbled against the leaders.

Perhaps for once the grumbling of the congregation against the leaders of Israel was justified, but Joshua and the leaders explained that, if they touched the Gibeonites, God's wrath would come down upon them because they had made a covenant in the name of the Lord. But, Joshua told them what the result of their deception would be (v231): 

"Now therefore, you are cursed, and you shall never cease being slaves, both hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God." 

The Gibeonites readily agreed, evidently finding slavery preferable to death for, in  verse 24, they reveal that they had heard from some source that, as inhabitants of the land that the Lord God had promised to Moses and the Israelites, they were to be destroyed!  Interestingly, in this verse 24 and previously in verse 9, they make it clear that they are aware of the awesome nature of the God of Israel and seem to be more in fear of Him than of the men who will carry out the invasion of Canaan.  The Old Testament teaches us that commitments such as this which are made in one time period but which result from not seeking the counsel and will of God, always result in some later penalty that must be payed by that individual or nation at a later time period.  This is the principle of sowing and reaping, for when sin is sown something must be reaped later.  We learn from Hosea that it is "to sow wind and reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8v71) and the reaping is always in greater magnitude than the sowing.  We see the same principle at work in the New Testament and when we sow sin in our lives we must reap the results of that sin in some way and it may be that even our children or our children's children may have to reap what we have sown.  The treaty that was made with the Gibeonites was made outside of the will of God and without the counsel of God in the energy of the flesh through an overly confident attitude.  As a result God honoured this covenant which was made outside of His will but, by reading  2 Samuel 21v1-61 we discover that, over 400 years later, innocent people paid the price for this earlier covenant made outside of God's will and direction:

1  Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the LORD. And the LORD said, "It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death."  2  So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the sons of Israel made a covenant with them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah).  3  Thus David said to the Gibeonites, "What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the LORD?"  4  Then the Gibeonites said to him, "We have no concern of silver or gold with Saul or his house, nor is it for us to put any man to death in Israel." And he said, "I will do for you whatever you say."  5  So they said to the king, "The man who consumed us, and who planned to exterminate us from remaining within any border of Israel,  6  let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD." And the king said, "I will give them."

Having just read the account of this "illegal" covenant in the book of Joshua we now read how Saul attempted the genocide of the Gibeonites almost 400 years later and this account of David turning over seven men (who were innocent of any part in this or any other major sin as far as we know) to the Gibeonites!  We can imagine their response when they were told that they were to be hanged that day because of Saul's actions and because of the covenant made outside of the will of God almost 400 years earlier.  They must have been horrified and asked how they could have been involved in that mistake.  Even Christians today refuse to admit that sin has this far-reaching effect and that we can all be influenced in a similar way, and that we, too, may reap something disastrous because of deeds sowed many centuries ago.  Even in our own time we see  the present-day effects of sins committed hundreds of years back in history in wars and famines  round the world.

If only someone could have prevented Joshua from agreeing this covenant with the Gibeonites then this knock-on affect 400 years later would not have occurred.  We also need to learn from this and consider the end result of those things we become involved in.  Because Joshua and the elders acted impetuously and did not seek the counsel of God, innocent people suffered centuries later and in the very next chapter Joshua finds himself in the embarrassing position of having to come to the defence of the Gibeonites whom he should have destroyed! 

Threatened by the advance of Israel and the power of her God, the kings of the Amorite city-states, who controlled the southern portion of Canaan, had desperately formed a coalition in order to survive the onslaught of Israel (Joshua 9:1-2).  "With one accord," as translated in the New American Standard Bible, literally means "with one mouth," according to the Hebrew, referring not only to their opinions but to their common expression of those opinions. It is interesting that the phrase "with one accord" occurs so frequently in the early chapters of Acts with reference to the church.  I cannot help but wonder what the result would be if believers in this century attacked the devil and his forces with the same unity of purpose that the devil and his forces attack believers.  When these other Amorites (other Canaanite cities) learned that the Gibeonites had become cowards and made a treaty with the occupation forces of Israel, they banded their emissaries together to destroy them. As a result (Joshua 10:61), the Gibeonites sent emissaries to Joshua begging him not to abandon his "new servants" but:

"Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites that live in the hill country have assembled against us."

The incident with Gibeon is a useful case study for anyone in leadership. It challenges one to ask: On what basis am I making decisions? Am I seeking God's wisdom and timing? Do I follow through on the agreements I make, even if it costs me?  Joshua and Israel had no option but to fulfil their duty to the covenant they had made with their God - but how they would come to regret it!



  1. New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation, 1977
  2. The Interpreters Bible, "The Book of Numbers, Introduction and Exegesis", Marsh J. and Bright J., II, 137-311 and 541-676
  3. Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), p136.
  4. Blaikie, William G., The Book of Joshua, The Expositor's Bible, New York: Hodder & Stoughton, n.d. reprint. Minneapolis: Klock and Klock Christian Publishers, 1978.
  5. Norman L. Geisler, A Popular Survey of the Old Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1977, p. 100.
  6. James I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney and William White, Jr., editors, Nelson's illustrated manners and customs of the Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  7. R. Laird Harris, Editor, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. Bruce K. Waltke, Associate Editors, Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, Moody Press, Chicago, Vol. 1, 1980, p. 324.
  8. Donald K. Campbell, Joshua, Leader Under Fire, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1981, p. 39-47.

'God leads Israel into Canaan!'

The Biblical use of round numbers

Canaan in the time of Joshua

Siege warfare

God shows that it was His war!

Miracle at the Jordan River

The great symbolic victory at Jericho

The Sin of Achan and its' impact on Israel

Spiritual lessons from Achan!

The result of the treaty with the Gibeonites

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