Friday, February 01, 2008

Joshua 9

Joshua 9: The Gibeonite Deception

Synopsis

Now that the Israelites have started taking over the Promised Land, all of the kings who currently live there—the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—band together, to come and face the Israelites in battle. All of the peoples except for the Gibeonites, who have a better idea: “Why fight this people, who are obviously being helped by their god, when we can just trick them into letting us live?”

They know that the LORD is giving the Israelites all of the Promised Land, and that He has commanded them to wipe out all of the people living there. So they decide to pretend that they come from far away. They send a delegation to Joshua, but they put on old, worn-out clothes, and sandals that are falling apart, and fill their food bags with old, moldy bread, all in an attempt to convince the Israelites that they’ve come on a long journey. They then approach the Israelite leaders, and tell them that they want to make a treaty.

Now, the Israelites are suspicious:

The men of Israel said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?” (verse 7)

So the Gibeonites invite the Israelites to look at their clothes, and their food, and see for themselves what a long journey they’ve been on, to get here. And the Israelite leaders make a mistake:

The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. (verse 14)

So Joshua makes a treaty with the Gibeonites. And then, a few days later, the Israelites find out that the Gibeonites actually live nearby, within the Promised Land. So they march over to see them, but they don’t attack, because they’ve given their word. In fact, verse 18 tells us that the Israelite leaders have “sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel.” At this point, Joshua asks what I consider to be a silly question:

Then Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, “Why did you deceive us by saying, ‘We live a long way from you,’ while actually you live near us?” (verse 22)

To me, the answer to this question is obvious: “Why did we deceive you? Well, so you wouldn’t kill us, of course!”

The people get mad at the leaders, for this state of affairs. But the leaders’ hands are tied; they’ve given the Gibeonites their word that they won’t wipe them out, so they can’t. So they decide to compromise: They’ll let the Gibeonites live, but make them servants to the Israelites. The Gibeonites are fine with this request; they’d rather be servants than dead.

Thoughts

My first thought is that the NIV title for this section, The Gibeonite Deception, sounds like a title for a Robert Ludlum novel.

My second thought is that this is one of the rare situations where the people would have liked to have done the right thing, but the leaders are the ones who have messed up. So far, in the Israelites’ history, it’s normally been the other way around: Moses tries to get the people to obey God, and they don’t listen.

And my third thought is that God’s viewpoint is not directly given, in this passage. There is the verse I quoted above, which states that the Israelite leaders did not seek His guidance, but the text doesn’t state whether He’s disappointed in them or not. (I assume that he is, though.) However, what we do know is that God will hold the Israelites to their word. And how do we know this? Later on, Saul the king will attempt to annihilate the Gibeonites, and in the book of 2 Samuel, his family will be punished for it (2 Samuel 21). (I couldn’t find, on first glance, the passage where Saul actually commits this act.)

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