“And it came to pass when all the kings who were on this side of the Jordan, in the hills and in the lowlands and in 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” (Josh. 9:1,2).
Significant news spreads quickly, even without the aid of modern technology. The people in the vicinity of Jericho and Ai knew what had happened to these cities. They quickly united together against their new mutual enemy–Israel! In that era, each city was basically self-governed (like a country unto itself). There were kings in most cities, and they would cooperate with other kings and make alliances when necessary for protection. Such was the case here. They hope to find success working together as a team against Israel where their neighbors had failed individually.
“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'” (9:3-6).
Not everyone believed the wisest strategy was to join together and try to snuff out the Israelites with sheer numbers. There was a group of people from Gibeon (the chief city of the Hivites) who deduced that deception was the best approach in this case. They would play the part masterfully, pretending to be foreigners from a faraway country. They knew the Israelites were to destroy all the people of the land, so they pretended to be from far outside the land hoping the Israelites would see no need to slay them. Their disguises and story worked, thanks to carelessness on the part of the Israelite leaders.
“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” (9:14,15).
What a shame! Israel makes a huge mistake here, and it was completely preventable. They failed to seek advice from their ultimate leader–God! They blindly accept the Gibeonites’ story and enter into a covenant with them. Three days later, however, the Israelites learn the truth. They’d been duped! The people want to attack, and are justifiably upset with their leaders about this matter. But, the rulers had sworn protection to the Gibeonites and they would not break their word.
“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 chose, even to this day” (9:22-27).
Fear motivated the Gibeonites to attempt to deceive the Israelites, and it worked. They were content to be slaves, which was much better than the alternative (i.e., death). Friends, there are several significant lessons that can be gleaned from this chapter:
Even faithful men can be deceived if they become careless. Don’t be swayed by appearances; judge with righteous judgment (cf. John 7:24).
Always seek counsel from God before making important decisions (cf. Prov. 3:5,6).
Do not make hasty vows (cf. Eccl. 5:2).
If you do make a foolish vow, keep it, even if it causes you great harm (cf. Psa. 15:4). Two wrongs do not make a right!