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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 9

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-2

Israel is the probable antecedent of "it" in Joshua 9:1 rather than the renewal of the covenant at Shechem. Israel’s success led several Canaanite kings to ally against God’s people. While this alliance was taking shape the Gibeonites initiated a different tactic. Until now in Joshua, Israel had chosen its military targets, but now others defined their military objectives.

"The following chapters introduce the transition from a victorious people of God whose occupation of the land could have been the relatively simple matter of defeating those already discouraged to an unending history of battle, bloodshed, and idolatry that would haunt Israel throughout its history. As in the opening chapters of Genesis, so also in the opening chapters of Israel’s dwelling in the Promised Land, a single transgression has cosmic ramifications." [Note: Hess, p. 176.]

Verses 1-27

5. The treaty with the Gibeonites ch. 9

The residents of the town of Gibeon decided that if they could not defeat the Israelites they would join them. This has been a strategy that enemies of believers have employed for centuries (cf. Numbers 25:1-2).

Verses 3-5

Gibeon stood seven miles south of Bethel. It was "one of the largest towns in the central part of Canaan," [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 95.] larger than Ai (Joshua 10:2), and possibly the Hivite capital. [Note: Bush, p. 99.] It later became a Levitical town (Joshua 18:25; Joshua 21:17). The Israelites eventually pitched the tabernacle there, and it remained at that site until Solomon built his temple (1 Kings 3:4-5; 1 Chronicles 16:39; 1 Chronicles 21:29). Hivites inhabited Gibeon at the time of the conquest (Joshua 9:7).

When the leaders of Gibeon learned of the crafty methods the Israelites had used at Jericho and Ai, they determined to use deception too.

Verses 6-15

God had not forbidden the Israelites from making peace treaties with non-Canaanite peoples (Deuteronomy 20:11), but He had expressly commanded them not to make treaties with the native Canaanite tribes (Exodus 23:32; Exodus 34:12; Numbers 33:55; Deuteronomy 7:2).

The Gibeonites deceived the Israelites with their diffident spirit (Joshua 9:8), as well as with their food and clothing (Joshua 9:12-13). They pretended to fear Yahweh, too, the highest motive for allying with Israel (Joshua 9:9-10), but their objective was to save their own lives.

On the surface, granting the Gibeonites’ request seemed within the Mosaic Law. Consequently the Israelites took some of their food, possibly to inspect it at least (Joshua 9:14). If they ate it with them, this eating may have been part of a covenantal agreement. This custom was common in the ancient Near East (Joshua 9:15; cf. Genesis 31:54). [Note: Livingston, p. 157.] The Israelites sealed the treaty with a solemn promise to preserve the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:15). The writer clearly identified the reason the Gibeonites were successful in deceiving Israel. The Israelites "did not ask for the counsel of the Lord" (Joshua 9:14; Numbers 27:21; cf. James 4:2). Though they had learned that obedience was necessary for victory at Jericho and Ai, they had not yet learned that they needed divine guidance at every step (cf. John 15:5).

"Ironically, of all people, Joshua failed to inquire of the Lord. Joshua had gone up the mountain of revelation with Moses (Exodus 24:13-14); and in his preparation for leadership, he had been trained in the use of the Urim and Thummim for determining the will of God (Numbers 27:18-21). How easy it is even in the service of the Lord to take God’s guidance and blessing for granted!" [Note: Madvig, p. 297.]

". . . no proposed course of conduct can be so clear to a Christian as to excuse him from the duty of seeking direction from above." [Note: Bush, p. 105. Italics eliminated.]

Verses 16-27

The leaders of Gibeon controlled four towns (Joshua 9:17). These towns acted together in many of their dealings, including making the treaty with Israel. The possession of these cities by the Israelites gave God’s people a more secure foothold in central Canaan.

"Here the wilderness motif had been turned upside down, for in the wilderness the leaders were justified, while the congregation was guilty. Here the congregation is justified, while the leaders are at fault." [Note: Butler, p. 104.]

The Israelites considered their oath to the Gibeonites as binding, especially since it was a promise given in the name of Yahweh (Joshua 9:19).

"The ’oath’ was made in the name of the Lord. Consequently fidelity was owed, not to the Gibeonites, but to the Lord. The form of the oath called on the Lord to punish the Israelites if they failed to keep their agreement (cf. Joshua 9:18-20). This explains why Israel felt bound to the treaty even though it had been made under false pretenses (cf. Genesis 27:35; Psalms 15:4)." [Note: Madvig, p. 299.]

Ancient Near Easterners regarded all treaties as sacred agreements. [Note: Davis and Whitcomb, p. 63.] If Israel had violated this oath she would have brought great reproach on herself and her God. Israel’s leaders were wise not to break their promise. [Note: See F. Charles Fensham, "The Treaty Between Israel and the Gibeonites," Biblical Archaeologist 27:3 (1964):98-100.] Later in Israel’s history King Saul put some of the Gibeonites to death in his misguided zeal, and God sent a famine on Israel as punishment (2 Samuel 21:1-2).

The reason God forbade His people from allowing the Canaanites to live and become incorporated into Israel was that they might lead the Israelites into idolatry. The leaders of Israel therefore punished the Gibeonites for their deception in a way designed to minimize the possibility of their doing this. They made them servants in the tabernacle. This plan undoubtedly reinstated the leaders in the good favor of the Israelites. Nevertheless this was not a wise move because the Lord wanted only authorized Israelites to assist in tabernacle worship. By bringing these foreigners into tabernacle service, the leaders of Israel violated the holiness of God (cf. Numbers 3:10; Ezekiel 44:7).

"Servants should be taken in the most pejorative sense here. As woodcutters and water carriers the Gibeonites will perform only menial services (see Deuteronomy 29:11)." [Note: Woudstra, p. 164.]

"They are foreigners permitted to live, but their very presence is a living lesson for both Israel and for foreigners. Foreigners learn that they cannot trick their way into the people of Yahweh, even with pious confessions of faith. Israel learns the supreme danger which threatens its life and leadership when decisions are made without consulting Yahweh and when the Mosaic law [sic] is not followed." [Note: Butler, pp. 104-5.]

This action partially fulfilled Noah’s prophecy concerning the Canaanites in Genesis 9:25. The Gibeonites received tasks in the service of the tabernacle where, hopefully, they would have had exposure to the best spiritual influences. The Gibeonites never led the Israelites into idolatry, as far as the text records, but their presence in the tabernacle displeased the Lord (Ezekiel 44:7).

Some commentators regarded the Gibeonites as sincere converts to Yahweh rather than as enemies of Israel, as the following quotation illustrates.

"So there really are exact parallels between Rahab the individual and the Gibeonites the corporate unit. Rahab (plus her family) was the only individual saved out of Jericho. The Gibeonites were the only people saved out of the land. Rahab believed, left Jericho and came among the people of God. The Gibeonites were the only people in the land who turned to God, and they flowed on through all the years of Jewish history." [Note: Schaeffer, p. 151. See pp. 148-151 for his defense of this view. See also Hess, p. 179.]

Were the Gibeonites genuine converts to Yahweh who were sympathetic with the Israelites’ cause or enemies who believed the best way to survive was to yield rather than resist? Most commentators have concluded that they were enemies and that their craftiness (Joshua 9:4) extended to their profession of the fear of Yahweh. There are no direct statements in Scripture that indicate that the Gibeonites were converts as Rahab was. Their motivation is simply not clear enough for us to make a dogmatic judgment, though I think the majority of interpreters is correct. [Note: For some parallels between this chapter and others in Deuteronomy and Kings, see Peter J. Kearney, "The Role of the Gibeonites in the Deuteronomic History," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 35:1 (1973):1-19.]

Unbelievers usually oppose believers as we seek to carry out God’s purpose for us in the world. They sometimes resort to deception to become part of the fellowship of God’s people for their own selfish advantages. Some of these advantages are a good reputation, business contacts, or finding a spouse.

"’This account,’ as O. v. Gerlach says, ’is a warning to the Church of God of all ages against the cunning and dissimulation of the world, which often seeks for a peaceable recognition on the part of the kingdom of God, and even for a reception into it, whenever it may be its advantage to do so.’" [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 95.]

If God’s people make covenants with unbelievers, we may end up disobeying God, as Israel did (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). We need to seek the will of God before we make these commitments. We should look for it in prayer (James 1:5; James 4:2-3; James 4:15) and in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17; cf. Numbers 27:21). We should also consult other godly people who understand God’s ways and can help us avoid overlooking important scriptural revelations that are pertinent (Proverbs 11:14). If we do make an unwise commitment, we should make the best of the situation, if breaking the covenant would be contrary to God’s will (e.g., marriage to an unbeliever, et al.).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joshua 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/joshua-9.html. 2012.
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