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THE GUILE OF THE GIBEONITES, AND THE LEAGUE WHICH THEY SECURED
Joshua 9:1. On this side Jordan]—Lit., beyond Jordan; meaning the western side. The historian contemplates the invasion as having been made from the country east of Jordan. Hills … valleys … coasts] By “the hills” is meant the whole of the hill-country which became afterwards the territory of Judah and Ephraim; “the valleys” indicate the plain, or lowland, from Gaza to the Cape of Carmel; “the coasts of the great sea over against Lebanon” include the country on the coasts of the Mediterranean from the bay of Acre to Tyre. The Hittite, etc.] “The Girgashite is left out of this list. The Jewish tradition, sustained by Procopius, is that they fled the country on Joshua’s approach, and settled in north-western Africa. Joshua 24:11, shews that if they did thus flee, they fought against Israel, with the other tribes of Canaan, before their flight” (Crosby).
Joshua 9:2. With one accord] Lit., “with one mouth,” i.e., unanimously.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 9:1-2
THE CONFEDERACY OF THE KINGS
When about four hundred years after this league was made and broken up, David wrote what we know as the second Psalm, it seems as if the history of this confederacy must have been more or less fully present to his mind. A devout lover of the word of God, he would be familiar with the incidents of the combination; and, as the scene of the battle recorded in chapter 10. was only a few miles from Jerusalem, he would be well acquainted with the very ground on which this southern half of the confederacy was defeated and destroyed. Who can say that the poet who was probably led to write the song of the thunder-storm (Psalms 29:0) to the movements of its own grand music, was not similarly influenced, on the human side, as he penned the prophetical lyric of the triumphs of the greater JOSHUA? We can almost think of David as just returned from Ajalon, and the remarkable pass of Beth-horon; as having read over, with a thrill of patriotism and piety, these yet exciting chapters of Joshua; as having his soul still moved by those exultant words from the book Jasher; and then as sitting down to write of those more glorious victories of the Son of God. Any way, the opening of this Psalm of wonderful prophecy reads almost like a song, prompted in part by this memorable history:—“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 Jehovah and against His anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: Jehovah shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and trouble them in His sore displeasure.”
This combination of the kings of Canaan may be considered in the following aspects:—
I. The influences by which it was provoked. “When all the kings heard thereof, they gathered themselves together, to fight,” etc. The tidings which led them to plan this league may not have been the tidings of any one event in particular. They had recently “heard” of a good many things, more than a little calculated to attract attention, and to incite to some common action. Let us think of some of these things which presently brought about this combination.
1. There was the anxiety that came from the Israelites’ victories. These runaway slaves from Egypt, who had been wandering up and down the southern deserts for forty years, like so many demented people, had actually overthrown the Amorites, all the Amorites on the eastern side of Jordan. Sihon and his people had fallen. Og and his people had fallen also. The men who formerly had dispossessed the “giants,” and taken their country, were now, in their turn, overthrown and slain by these slaves. Suddenly the news is spread over the whole land that these people have crossed the river. Not even “the swellings of Jordan” had sufficed to stop them. Then came the tidings that Jericho had fallen, and soon that Ai, too, had been entirely destroyed. No wonder that the country was stirred by reports like these, from Gaza even unto Tyre, (a.) So long as they walk with God, any people may be victorious. Walking in the way of holiness, even recently liberated bondsmen soon become triumphant soldiers of Christ. “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength, because of Thine enemies.” (b.) The victories of the past make way for yet more glorious triumphs in the future. They nerve and stimulate the conqueror; they dishearten and paralyse his foes.
2. There was the dismay that arose from the supernatural element. The staying of the waters of the Jordan, and the falling of the walls of Jericho, could not be other than the work of the God of heaven. These things must have reminded the Canaanites strongly of the traditions of the working of that same Almighty hand in the flood, from which their father Ham had escaped, and in the terrible destruction of Sodom. From the language of Rahab (chap. Joshua 2:10-11), and of the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:9), it is evident that there was still some knowledge of God, and faith in God, among these backsliding descendants of Noah. When the people saw and heard such evidences of the working of God as accompanied the entrance of the Israelites into their land, they might well feel overcome with dismay.
3. There was the hope which sprang from Israel’s defeat. These enemies of Canaan had been beaten at Ai; why might not the defeat which had been inflicted on them there be repeated elsewhere on a larger scale? What had been might be again. When they heard of this thing, perhaps then they took fresh courage, and resolved on this combination. Every defeat of a Christian is an encouragement to the world.
4. There was the provocation which arose from the religions service at Ebal. The Israelites were daring to behave as though already they were masters of the land. They had held a general convocation at which their laws had been proclaimed, at which their obedience had been avowed, at which an altar had been erected, and at which their God had been thanked and worshipped. And “when the kings heard thereof, they gathered themselves together.”
II. The spirit in which it was promoted.
1. The confederacy was formed in a spirit of rebellion against God. Not that the kings of Canaan wished to appear as acting against Jehovah. They would much have preferred to leave God entirely out of the question. But this could not be. In spite of themselves, they were constrained to believe that the Lord fought for Israel. It is worth while to notice that out of five instances in the book of Joshua, in which Canaanites are represented as speaking, three contain an expression of this conviction, and the remaining two are each merely the record of a command, and are so brief as not to exceed the limits of a single verse (cf. chapters Joshua 2:9-12; Joshua 9:9; Joshua 9:24; Joshua 2:3; Joshua 10:24). In every instance in the book in which a Canaanite speaks at any length, he confesses his belief in the God of heaven. Other grounds are furnished by the history for concluding that many of the inhabitants of the land felt that they were fighting, not merely against Israel, but against God. There is a point where opposition to men becomes rebellion against God. Where God is evidently with men, shewing that He shields and helps them as His people, to fight against them is to fight against Him.
2. This confederacy was formed in a feeling of hearty unanimity. They gathered together to fight “with one accord;” or, as stated in the margin, “with one mouth.” The voice of all, excepting the Gibeonites, was unanimously for the league. Thus while the Church is sometimes divided in its defence of the truth, the enemies of the Church are united and firm in their opposition. They willingly sacrifice private differences and feuds in their resistance of truth and righteousness. When Christ is to be tried, even Herod and Pilate are straightway made friends.
III. The instrumentality by which it was anticipated and weakened. The unanimity of the inhabitants of the land was hearty as far as it went, but it was not complete.
1. The combination of the Canaanites was broken by a serious defection among themselves. The Gibeonites went over to the other side of Israel. Although not required or permitted to take any active part in the war, the Gibeonites, by their secession, placed four important cities in the hands of the enemies of their country. (a.) Christ overcomes the world by the world. In His army, those who fight for Him were once contending against Him. The world is ever going over to the Church. The foremost Christian leaders of to-day, and of every age, were once opposed to the Saviour, (b.) Christ attacks individual men from within themselves. The human conscience invariably goes over to the side of truth; then the affections, the intellect, and the man often follow.
2. For the purposes of the war, the position of these cities of the Gibeonites was among the most important in all the land. With them in his possession, Joshua was able to break up the confederacy of the kings, almost ere it was formed. As Professor Wilkins has remarked, “he was able to drive his army like a wedge into the very heart of the hostile country, and strike his blows right and left at the isolated divisions of the enemy.” The geographical position of nations has not been lost sight of by Providence in the conflicts of the cross. When England went over to Christ, Christianity obtained a stronghold in the very centre of the world’s future commerce and enterprise
3. The time of the Gibeonite secession was no less important than the fact itself. Just as the kings of Canaan had all combined to resist the Israelites, this defection of the Gibeonites severed the new union into halves. The southern confederacy hastened to wreak its vengeance on the traitorous cities; Joshua hastened to succour them, and ere the northern kings could join in the conflict, the southern half of the kingdom had fallen for ever. Thus, as events proved, no time could have been more favourable for the league of the Gibeonites with Israel. Thus, too, has it been in the history of the Church. When the faith of men in the Romish hierarchy was shaken by the corruptions of priests like Tetzel, Luther went over to Christ. The history of Christianity in England offers similar parallels. The events even now occurring in connection with central Africa, suggest similar thoughts. The results of recent missionary and geographical expeditions, and of events in Egypt and the South-east of Europe, seem as if working together and concentrating for the spiritual redemption of a long-neglected and degraded people.
IV. The ease with which it was utterly destroyed. As the after history shews, the very efforts which the Canaanites made to defend themselves only served to haste: their overthrow. Apparently the combined forces of the kings effected no more harm than was done at Jericho, and not so much as was wrought at Ai. The battle at Gibeon was a rout, and that which was subsequently fought at the waters of Merom was little better.
1. The number and power of the enemies of the Cross need offer no discouragement to the soldiers of Christ.
2. He fights safely and victoriously, who fights with God.
3. Every conflict between truth and error does but hasten the time when Christ “shall have dominion from sea to sea.” “He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet.”
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 9:1-2.—THE WITNESS OF LAST HOURS.
To the Israelites, or to the Canaanites, the end of life was rapidly approaching. Things had gone too far for any retreat, or for any room to hope for much mercy. Henceforth, manifestly, as it had really been from the first, the war was unto death. One nation or the other was about to be swept from off the earth. These possibilities of the end bear witness in every man. The secret places of the heart are turned towards the light. A dying man finds concealment difficult. The crisis without makes a revelation within. The hidden things, for once, come outside. Consciousness informs demeanour, and demeanour informs every beholder.
In the light of these final struggles between the representatives of truth and of idolatry, mark:—
I. The harried excitement of the sinfal.
II. The strong confidence of be lievers.
III. The majestio calmness of God.
THE FOLLY OF THE WICKED
I. The foolish delays of the un godly. Why was not this confederacy formed earlier? The overthrow of Sihon and Og might have been a sufficient warning that Israel was not an enemy to be despised as insignificant. Why did not the combined forces of the kings of Canaan meet the Israelites at the Jordan, and dispute with them the passage of the river? The ungodly are ever behind in preparing for the dangers of their future.
II. The mistaken action of the ungodly. After the displays of God’s power at the Jordan, and at Jericho, this league was manifestly going from bad to worse. The folly of the former delay, looking at it on the human side, was now equalled by the folly of the present movement. It is not seldom God’s way to take the wicked in their own net, and to bind them fast by their own mistakes.
“The Canaanites might have seen themselves in Jericho and Ai, and have well perceived it was not an arm of flesh that they must resist; yet they gather their forces, and say, ‘Tush, we shall speed better.’ It is madness in a man not to be warned, but to run upon the point of those judgments wherewith he sees others miscarry, and not to believe till he cannot recover. Our assent is purchased too late, when we have overstayed prevention, and trust to that experience which we cannot redeem.”—Bp. Hall.]
“As once the Canaanites against Israel, so still and ever the foes of God gather themselves together to fight against Him and His Church.”—[Lange.]
Joshua 9:3. The inhabitants of Gibeon] “Gibeon was a city situated, as its name indicates, upon a hill. It was about forty stadia from Jerusalem, according to Josephus, Ant. vii. 11. 7 (50 according to his Bell. Jud. ii. 19. 1), on the road towards Beth-horon and Lydda. In size it surpassed Ai, being one of the royal cities, though then without a king. Its constitution was republican, under the government of elders; the republic embracing, in addition to Gibeon, the towns of Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath-jearim” (Keil).
Joshua 9:4. Went and made as if they had been ambassadors] “They went and travelled as ambassadors,” or “they started on their journey as ambassadors” (Keil). “They did not pretend to be ambassadors, for they were ambassadors; the pretence consisted in their saying that they came from a distant land” (Capellus). Wine bottles] Heb., wine skins.
Joshua 9:5. Clouted] From Saxon olut (Swed. klut), “a fragment of cloth,” “a patch,” also “a cuff, or blow, with the hand.” In both of these senses, the word is still often used in some of the provinces. Chaucer, Ascham, Spenser, Shakspeare, and other old writers, repeatedly use it with the sense given to it in the text. Mouldy] “Spotted,” or “crumbled,” i.e., falling to pieces because dry from being old.
Joshua 9:6. The camp at Gilgal] Reasons have already been given for the conclusion that this was not the Gilgal in the plains of Jericho, but “Gilgal beside the plains of Moreh” (cf. Deuteronomy 11:30; Genesis 12:6), between Bethel and Shechem. It is apparently the same place which is mentioned in 2 Kings 2:1-2, as having Bethel below it. It is highly improbable that Joshua would have taken the entire body of the people back from Mount Ebal to the Gilgal of the first encampment, and thus have abandoned for a time the altar and the pillars containing the law, which it had been deemed of such importance to turn aside from the war and erect.
Joshua 9:8. We are thy servants] This was not a declaration of fealty, but is rather to be read as an expression of courtesy (Genesis 32:4; Genesis 1:18), very adroitly introduced to turn aside the pointed question, which, however, Joshua abruptly presses back upon them.
Joshua 9:10. All that He did to the two kings of the Amorites, etc.] They craftily omit all reference to the miracle at the crossing of the Jordan, and to the victories at Jericho and Ai, “because it would have been impossible for the rumour of those events to reach them, if they came, as they said, from so distant a land” (Masius).
Joshua 9:14. They took of their victuals] Marg., “They received the men by reason of their victuals.” There seems no reason to suppose that the Israelites ate of the bread in token of their disposition to enter into covenant. They judged by the evidence of the dried bread, instead of asking counsel of the Lord by the Urim and Thummim (Numbers 27:21).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 9:8-15
AN ANCIENT ESTIMATE OF THE VALUE OF LIFE
We see in these Gibeonites and their history:—
I. An overwhelming conviction of being on the side of error, and thus, in these hours of danger, on the side of weakness. The Gibeonites did not lack courage. This very mission to Joshua was boldly conceived, boldly executed, and boldly defended. There is a singular freedom from trepidation in the telling of what, perhaps, was necessarily a clumsy story. This is manifest in their reply to the closely pressed question of the Israelites, recorded in the eighth and ninth verses. Nothing but a bold presence could have passed so poor a coinage. Even through the fear in which these men go to treat for their lives, boldness is evident. Moreover, the Gibeonites had a reputation for valour among their own countrymen: “Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities; it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty” (chap. Joshua 10:2). But these Gibeonites had become convinced that might and bravery would not avail them. They had heard “what Joshua had done unto Jericho and Ai,” and putting the story of these recent triumphs and the tidings of several other marvellous events together, they were convinced that the Israelites were fighting on the side of God and of truth. Men judge their gods from a very utilitarian point of view. Just then the gods of the Gibeonites were manifestly very useless; and these cool-headed people, seeing that the help of Jehovah was something immensely different from the help of Baal or Ashtoreth, determined on a change of place, as a natural outcome of their change of faith. Let who will judge the manner of their change, for that was full of error and meanness; as to the fact, they did what myriads of people have done in all ages; they proved their former religious notions to be useless in the day of trial, and they went over to the side of power. They believed in God because of the prowess of God’s people (Joshua 9:9-10; Joshua 9:24). It was a poor, low, selfish faith, no doubt; make a discount for their surroundings, and their previous habits of religious thought and feeling, and they began with God as a great many people begin now—in the day of their trouble they sought the Lord. This view seems to have been common to the four cities of the Gibeonite republic: in this low measure of faith, a nation was born in a day.
1. To some men the mighty works of God bring conviction, while in others they provoke a yet more deliberate rebellion. The same story of Divine triumphs had gone through the whole land; as it was in Rome when Paul preached Christ, so it was in Canaan when God proclaimed Himself by many and marvellous works; “Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.” It is ever thus, and probably ever will be. The colliery explosion, the railway accident, the ravages of disease, bring some men to meditate and to believe; others, the same providences harden. “Take heed how ye hear.”
2. In times of great danger the conviction of error is also the conviction of weakness. Only truth is always strong, and everywhere strong. When Peter asked, “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” he preached not only to human hearts, but out of a human heart. It does us good to hear such an exultant question from Peter. Peter did not set a problem; he proclaimed an experience. Peter had set himself to seek safety behind the sword: that failed. Peter had followed afar off: that did not answer. Peter had tried to shield himself by lying, and by ungratefully shirking the responsibility of a trying connection: that led, within the same hour, to bitter tears. Peter had tried the other way. He followed embodied Goodness to Galilee, and, lo! it spake of love even to the denier, and said, “Feed my sheep.” Peter had followed that which was good at Pentecost, and three thousand were added to the Lord. Peter followed that which was good, and it led him to prison; an angel delivered him. Thus had it been all his life; error had made him weak always, truth and righteousness had been strength everywhere. It is refreshing to hear such a challenge, when it comes to us from such lips. All might has its time of failure, saving the might which goes with truth. The “wooden walls of old England” are as reeds and rushes before the armaments of to-day. A granite fortress is of no good to the man who is dying. A man’s intellectual power cannot make him strong to overcome his own fatal accident or fever. A noble imagination can do little in a prison, saving to mark with a keener sensitiveness the narrowness of the limits which confine the man. The “almighty dollar,” as our American friends say when they wish to indicate the power of riches, is no match for an outraged and offended conscience. In some emergency or other, all things are weak, saving truth; when life is in danger, nothing but truth can make a man feel secure from harm. Happy is he who long before that trial comes has learned to cry, “Thy truth shall be my shield and buckler.”
II. An irrepressible desire to preserve life, before which everything else has to give way. These men placed their safety above everything else.
1. Every man thinks life precious. “Life,” said a recent writer, “is lovely every way. Even if we look upon it as an isolated thing existing apart from the rest of nature, and using the inorganic world merely as a dead pedestal on which to sustain itself, it is still beautiful.” The tallest and sublimest mountain would be simply a gigantic upheaval of desolation, but for the life which clothes its sides. The barren face of the cliff gathers not a little of its beauty from the background of life on which it is set. The long reach of the sea shore could be no holiday resort, but for beautifying life which is behind it. If life around us is esteemed so precious, perhaps it is not wonderful that we value even more highly the life that is within us.
2. Some men will do anything, or almost anything, to preserve their lives. Satan said, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath, will he give for his life.” As pertaining to Job, the estimate was wrong. Here was a man who could say, as many others have done, “Though He may slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” As pertaining to Satan’s own children, the estimate was right. It seems to have been nearly correct as applying to these Gibeonites. (a.) Think of their shameful disguise. Probably they were the wisest and ablest men of this royal city, and yet they could demean themselves to dress up like this in order to be suffered to live, (b.) Think of their low cunning. The attire of their minds was more “clouted” than their sandals, and their manhood more “mouldy” and “spotted” than their bread, (c.) Think of their lies. The story which they told had no beginning in truth, and no end of falsehoods. It was a garb of falsities, woven throughout, with hardly a seam of truth to hold it honestly together. (d.) Think of their wretched use of the name of God, and of their new-found faith in God. On the one side, they pleaded their belief in Him; on the other, there was no depth of meanness and hypocrisy to which they did not prove themselves willing to descend. Thus these men, in endeavouring to save their lives, sacrificed everything for which true men would have deemed it worth while to live at all.
3. Life may be purchased too dearly. Dishonour of this deliberate nature was far too much to pay for its preservation. He who has lived long enough to forget that life has any dignity, has lived too long. Milton said rightly:
“Nor love thy life, nor hate; but while thou liv’st
Live well; how long, how short, permit to Heaven.”
Every man who professes to believe in God, should be ready to say, with one of the later inhabitants of Canaan, “Because Thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee.”
III. The unmistakable earnestness of some men triumphing over other men. These Gibeonites succeeded in their purpose by their real and genuine earnestness. We cannot commend their conduct in its details. Their manner of endeavouring to obtain this league was wrong. The earnestness, in itself, was good. The lord of the unjust steward commended him for doing a wise thing; he did not commend the manner in which the provision was made. The steward was commended for his wisdom in providing for the future, but not for his dishonest method. It is thus that these Gibeonites are to be commended: their aim to preserve life was right, their manner was wrong. Addressing the people of Wotton, Rowland Hill exclaimed, “Because I am in earnest, men call me an enthusiast. When I first came into this part of the country, I was walking on yonder hill, and saw a gravel-pit fall in, and bury three human beings alive. I lifted up my voice for help so loud, that I was heard in the town below, at a distance of near a mile. Help came and rescued two of the sufferers. No one called me an enthusiast then; and when I see eternal destruction ready to fall on my fellow men, and about to entomb them irrecoverably in eternal woe, and call aloud on them to escape, shall I be called an enthusiast now?” No man should be disconcerted by the charge of enthusiasm.
1. If we are seeking to save our own lives, we shall do nothing without earnestness. The Bible has no word of blame for the enthusiast. It reserves its reproaches for the indifferent. “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.”
2. If we are seeking to save others’ lives, earnestness is equally necessary. Simeon, of Cambridge, is said to have kept the portrait of Henry Martyn in his study. Move where he would through the apartments, it seemed to keep its eyes upon him, and ever to say to him, “Be earnest, be earnest I don’t trifle, don’t trifle!” It is said that Simeon would gently bow to the speaking picture, and with a smile reply, “Yes, I will be earnest; I will, I will be in earnest; I will not trifle, for souls are perishing, and Jesus is to be glorified.” If we would not go home alone, we too must be in earnest. The life of the soul is seldom saved, perhaps never, without deep spiritual earnestness.
IV. A very low measure of faith tacitly accepted by God. Bp. Hall says: “If the secret counsel of the Almighty had not designed these men to be spared, Joshua could not have been deceived by their entreaty.” No doubt that is true. But for the fact that God had resolved to spare them, we may rest assured that something would have betrayed them. Their secret would have come to the light ere the league had been concluded. But for this conclusion we are not left to conjecture. About four hundred years afterwards Saul slew some of the Gibeonites. What came of that breach of this covenant? God sent a famine on Israel for three years; and when David enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered, “It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.” It is not till seven of Saul’s sons have been hanged, and the covenant made here at Gilgal has been thus honoured by Israel, that we read, “And after that God was intreated for the land.” Thus did God set His own seal to the league which the Israelites made with these Gibeonites. Perhaps there is nothing in the whole word of God more encouraging to the anxious than this incident. The case of the Ninevites is encouraging. The threat of destruction had gone out against them; yet they said, “Who can tell if the Lord will turn from His fierce anger?” In that hope they were saved. Here, the threatening was in specially emphatic terms. The Israelites were solemnly charged to make no covenant with the Canaanites. The slaughter had already begun. Then God saw these poor men believing in His power, believing in the protection He was able to afford. In that faith God saw these men come begging for their lives. He saw the meanness and deception and lying with which these men clothed themselves within and without. But God also saw their faith, and because of that faith, poor and low as it was, His meroy forbore to expose them. He suffered the eyes of Joshua and the princes to be blinded: nay, the story is so clumsy and stupid, that we are almost inclined to feel of these Israelites, that “their eyes were holden that they should not know” this deception as such. This is more encouraging than the case of the penitent thief, for against him there was the divinely appointed vow. God knew the training of these Gibeonites, and He had pity; God heard their lying, and abhorred the deception; God saw their faith, and if He made not haste to deliver, He made no movement to expose them to destruction. Through this incident God says in the Old Testament what Christ says to Jairus in the New: “Only believe.” The poor selfish faith of these idolaters is suffered to become life to those who, already, were as good as dead.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 9:3-6.—DECEPTION AND ITS ADJUNCTS.
I. Deception is by putting on appearances which are unreal and false. The garb, and utterances, and conduct of these Gibeonites, furnish a lively and somewhat prolonged illustration of this obvious assertion. The imposition described in this chapter vividly depicts several of the more prominent features which are so often common to cases of deliberate deception.
1. Assistance is often sought from dress. The man who wishes to appear what he is not clothes himself in false garments. Dress has been distinctive almost ever since it has been worn. Different nations dress each in its own way. Offices, dignities, professions, the classes of society in which men move, are all indicated by distinctive dress. The phrase “plain clothes” indicates an entire genus of clothing which is official, or professional, to classify the various species of which would probably require an amount of patient perseverance hardly so much as suspected even by the most conscientious and laborious botanist; and then the “plain clothes,” themselves, would have to be arranged into endless divisions which may be roughly indicated by the two great “families” of the sexes, and thence by such words as fabric, texture, colour, shape, quality, etc. Language is said to have needed a Babel to confuse it, and to cause it to diverge into the numerous tongues and dialects of the earth; dress has reached a similar diversity by the force of its own inherent power. The practice of dressing in false garments, to aid deception, is certainly not of modern origin, however common it may be now. Rebekah took the raiment of Esau in which to clothe Jacob, and then put upon the hands of the younger brother “the skins of the kids of the goats.” When the wife of Jeroboam wished to deceive Ahijah, she disguised herself, and “feigned to be another.” Zechariah was bidden to say concerning the prophets: “Neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive.” This easy device of the Gibeonites is one which has probably been practised almost from the beginning. He who seeks to transgress will readily find aids to transgression.
2. To render deception complete, other outward belongings have to be brought into harmony with the dress. The bread and the wineskins were chosen to match the character selected. The expression of the face would have to be one of languor and weariness, and weariness in the tones would be necessary to harmonise with weariness in appearance. To all this, and more, there was added direct and continuous lying. When a man deliberately begins to sin, he should understand that be is only beginning; the new character which has been chosen must be made complete and unique. The more perfect the unity, the less is the danger of exposure. Thus, very literally, he who offends in one point is likely to be guilty in all.
3. Deception sometimes requires, not only that outward things shall be unreal, but that inward graces shall also be assumed. These Gibeonites had to deal with men before whom it was convenient to assume both humility and religious fear. We cannot charge them with hypocrisy in their manifestation of godly fear; judging by the way in which they were afterwards protected by God, they should, perhaps, be credited with religious sincerity. Of one thing we may be confident: when men go as far in deceiving others as did these Gibeonites, it will need little more than the necessity to tempt them to feign religious feelings also.
4. Whatever may be the form of its manifestation, the seat of deception is ever in the heart. It is there that truth suffers distortion most severely. The outward guise of a deceiver, however fair it may be, is always ugly morally, because it is false; but the deformity of the heart is ever greater than the deformity of the act. Hearts are deceitful when the deceit never takes shape in actions, and that which we see always represents but a small part of that which is. How divine must be the patience which not only bears with what we see, but with the grosser impurities of the corrupt heart, only a few of which impurities are ever witnessed by men. Young might well regard the hiding of corruption at its source as the outcome of Divine compassion. He tells us truly:
“Heaven’s Sovereign saves all beings but Himself
That hideous sight, a naked human heart.”
Let us not forget that our inmost life is exposed to the gaze of the Lord. As among their fellows, men may say to each other, Let us
“Sleek o’er our rugged looks,
And make our faces vizards to our hearts,
Disguising what they are;”
but no outward assumption of innocence will hide us for a moment from Him who searches us, and knows our hearts; who tries us, and knows our thoughts.
II. Deception has not only various guises, but many purposes. It lays all external things on earth under tribute for its garments: its purposes are not limited to earth, but enter heaven also. Imitating these “fathers of all modern diplomacy,” men practise deception for political objects. Sometimes they seek to deceive in order to preserve life, or to serve ambition, or even to secure so comparatively small a possession as monetary gain. But deception is also attempted even before God. Prayer goeth out of “feigned lips.” Love is not always “without dissimulation,” even when it approaches Christ; it may but draw near, like Judas, to inflict the kiss of betrayal. Even at the door of heaven, deceivers dare to stand and say: “When saw we Thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee? “
III. Deception is not merely sin in the present; it is usually a pledge to sin also in the future. No one who deceives others for a guilty purpose wishes to be discovered. The very character of such imposition supposes that it shall be repeated as often as may be necessary to prevent exposure. Thus this sin deliberately proposes as much future sin as may be necessary to hide the wickedness of the past. It is not merely an advance into the territory of transgression; it is a “burning of the bridges,” to prevent any retreat into purity and integrity. The deceiver not only forfeits his truthfulness for the time being, but mortgages it for the time to come.
IV. The guilt of deception is not to be judged by the measure of its success, but rather by its purpose and method. The object of deception may be not only innocent, but praiseworthy, in which case, providing that the manner of misleading be harmless, only the purist who judges God’s law by its letter would hold it to be sinful. No one thinks of calling Joseph wicked, “because he spake roughly” unto his brethren, and took other measures to deceive them, till the time was come to make himself known. The command to place the cup in the sack of Benjamin might, to some, seem hardly justifiable; but the rough bearing and stern treatment under which Joseph chose to conceal his kinship, till he could win his brethren back to true brotherhood, can scarcely be reckoned blameworthy. Even our Lord, on one occasion, prudently concealed His intention of being present at the Feast of Tabernacles. The language in John 7:8, may or may not be ambiguous, in either view it was truthful; but coupling the reservation made in the language with the going up “in secret” which followed, there can be little doubt, to a fair-minded reader, that our Lord designed, for a time, to conceal His purpose. And why not? The way of truth binds no one to reveal all his intentions to every questioner. It is doubtless inexpedient that even innocent concealment should be practised often, because its frequent repetition would beget suspicion, and create an unhealthy influence; but for deception to be actually sinful, the deceiver must employ wrong methods, or contemplate some guilty purpose. In either of these cases the deceit attempted is a sin, irrespective of success or failure.
V. Deception is often but for a short time, and, in any case, must end with eternity. This piece of craft on the part of these Hivites was fully exposed but a few days later. If not earlier, all deception will be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ. What is more, the heart’s sense of its own guilt, in every sinful act of the kind, will have to be acknowledged. Then, even as was felt at the time of transgression, the person who sent down word that he was “not at home,” will confess that he lied; and every equivocation, not needing to await the verdict of the Judge, will be pronounced innocent or guilty by each man’s own conscience. A pure life needs little restraint from law, and will not concern itself much with mere questions of casuistry; an impure heart will always be on the safer side when it interprets the letter of Divine truth so as to limit its liberty in the direction of worldliness. He who abstains from “all appearance of evil,” will be in little danger of having to condemn himself in eternity for the thing which he allowed himself in time.
Joshua 9:7-9.—THE MISERY AND MEANNESS WHICH WAIT ON IMPOSITION.
I. Impostors are in constant danger Of detection. The Inquisition in Spain is said to have contained many refined instruments of torture. Imposition is continually provoking enquiry; and, to the guilty, the inquisition of Truth must be as severe an ordeal as the Inquisition of the Romish Church.
II. Impostors are repeatedly tempted to fresh iniquity. “Peradventure ye dwell among us.” … “Who are ye?” etc. Thus the way of sin is ever down hill.
III. Impostors are continually subject to fresh humiliations. “We are thy servants.” “Because of the name of the Lord thy God” are we come. Beneath the lowest depth of degradation to which he has descended, the liar is ever finding “a lower still.”
IV. Impostors render even their sincerest words liable to suspicion. This concern about God was probably real; the string of falsities by which the expression of it was surrounded, make it appear the most monstrous imposition of all.
Joshua 9:8.—THE ABUSE OF THE COURTESIES OF LIFE.
The words, “We are thy servants,” seem used here to turn aside the question in the previous verse. Consider:
I. Courtesy as the expression of truth.
II. Courtesy as used to hide the truth.
III. Courtesy as a means to secure an end.
“The Trick of the Gibeonites:—
“I. Shrewdly thought out. II. Cunningly carried out. III. Detected and punished.
“There is no thread so finely spun, but comes at last before the sun.
“Lying and deceit bring no blessing. Humble words alone do not accomplish it; they must also be true.”—[Lange.]
“This history warns the congregation of God at all times of the craft and disguises of the world, which often, when it would be an advantage to it, seeks recognition and admission into the kingdom of God.”—[Gsrlach.]
“Nothing is found fitter to deceive God’s people than a counterfeit copy of age. Here are old sacks, old bottles, old shoes, old garments, old bread. It is no new policy, that Satan would beguile us with a vain colour of antiquity, clothing falsehood in rags.… If we be caught with this Gibeonite stratagem, it is a sign we have not consulted God.
“There is no wisdom in staying till a judgment come home to us: the only way to avoid it is to meet it half-way.”—[Bp. Hall.]
Joshua 9:9-11. THE FAME OF GOD.
The Gospels make repeated mention of “the fame of Jesus,” which “went abroad into all the land,” in the days of the Saviour’s ministry. Only in two instances does this word appear to be applied to God in the Old Testament. On one occasion the expression comes from the leader of God’s people. Moses makes the fame of God, in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, a plea for Divine mercy to them in the wilderness (Numbers 14:15-16). On the other occasion, it is these idolatrous Hivites who say, We have heard the fame of Him, and all that He did in Egypt. Consider:—
I. The fame of God in its cause.
1. The works of the Lord had been many and marvellous.
2. Divine power had been steadily and consistently directed against idolatry and sin. God’s hand had been lifted against sin, (a) when committed by the Egyptians, (b) when seen in His own people, (c) when indulged in by the Canaanites.
3. The mercy of the Lord had continuously spared and forgiven the penitent. It mattered not whether the suppliants were His own people, or those who were guilty as Rahab; sincere penitence was sure to be followed by Divine mercy.
4. The Lord had safely shielded from their enemies all who had walked in His fear. No malice or might of men had ever been able to harm His people, so long as they were obedient. Thus, even in these ancient days, was the fame of the Lord spread abroad through all that region.
II. The fame of God in its influence.
1. It filled with fear all who were not manifestly under Divine protection. Rahab or Achan, the Gibeonites or the Canaanites, it mattered not; to be without God’s covenanted mercy, was to have a heart that “melted and became as water.”
2. The mere fame of God, while sufficient to work fear, did not, in itself, move men to holiness. These Gibeonites come with prayer, but also with lying. The fountain, troubled by fear, and not yet purified by love, sent forth, at the same place, both sweet water and bitter.
III. The fame of God in its issues.
1. Some heard of it, and they were hardened, and presently perished.
2. Some heard of it, and sought and found life.
3. Those who were saved found deliverance, not only for themselves, but for their defenceless children.
4. It is to be hoped that many whose lives were thus spared were afterwards saved spiritually.
IV. The fame of God in its relation to God’s people.
1. They should do nothing by which the Divine fame is marred.
2. They should continually make that fame known.
Joshua 9:14-15.—ASKING COUNSEL OF THE LORD.
Through omitting to consult God by Urim and Thummim, Joshua and the princes of the congregation too hastily covenanted to spare the lives of these Gibeonites. What the Divine answer would have been, we are not told, and conjectures are useless. Possibly the Gibeonites would still have been spared; for although God had forbidden His people to make any covenant with the inhabitants of the land, He had not forfeited His own prerogative of mercy. These Hivites might still have been saved, as Rahab and her family had been saved. But although Joshua’s oath may not have altered the issue, Joshua and the princes did wrong to swear that oath. God designed that Jacob should be preferred before Esau, but although the elder was to serve the younger, the conduct of Rebekah and Jacob was nevertheless blameable. God does not need our transgression of His commandments, in order to maintain either the truth of His promise, or the mercy of His character.
These verses teach us three principal truths:—
I. He who walks in his own light must not wonder if the light prove to be darkness. Pliny said, “No man is wise at all times.” Hare writes, “The intellect of the wise is like glass: it admits the light of heaven, and reflects it.” Nature itself teaches us, on every hand, that we need light from the Author of Light.
1. The apparent plainness of the way should not prevent us in enquiring of God. The Israelites took it for granted that the case made out by these Gibeonites was clear. Scripture does not often give examples of men who acted in error through omitting to pray; it prefers, instead of this, to shew us how many have triumphed through prayer. Perhaps in the stronger light of the life to come we shall see that not only has our true wisdom been in answer to prayer, but our serious errors have all occurred for the want of prayer.
2. The past success of our career should lead us continually to Him from whom all success comes. The repeated triumphs of the Israelites had unconsciously given them a sense of importance. Had they been filled with the spirit of dependence, they would not have needed to be reminded of the desirability of appealing to God; as it was, probably it did not so much as occur to them that this was necessary.
II. He who asks counsel of God may look for direction from God. The reproof which the history gives, teaches us that if Joshua had sought the Lord, he would certainly have been answered.
1. The encouragements given to the Israelites to ask Divine counsel were many and plain, (a) The method of seeking Divine guidance was fully and clearly pointed out (cf. Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:18-21). The blessing of the Urim and Thummim had been specially pronounced by Moses on the tribe of Levi as its choicest heritage. The Septuagint renders these two words by expressions signifying “manifestation” and “truth.” However obscure the subject of the Urim and Thummim may be to us, we must not forget that it was comparatively clear to the Israelites, (b) The history of prayer, as it pertained to Israel, was no less encouraging. In the captivity of Egypt, on the borders of the Red Sea, and during the forty years’ wandering in the wilderness, the people had many times proved in their own experience the blessedness of waiting on the Lord.
2. The encouragements given to men now to ask counsel of God are far more numerous than they were of old. We have the light cast upon prayer by the example of Christ, by the promises of the New Testament, and by the experience of godly men in all ages. We have the light cast upon the character of God by the life of Christ. To us every generation of men, and every page of Scripture, join in saying, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
III. He who is guided by God may expect to be preserved from the errors which are natural and common to men. Had Joshua but enquired of the Lord, he would not have been betrayed into this mistake. The rebuke given in the narrative, because of the error which was committed, is given on the assumption that had Joshua consulted God, the error would not have been possible. Our darkness is a consequence of our opinion that we see; our true light results from that sense of ignorance which drives us to ask guidance from our Father in heaven.
Joshua 9:17. On the third day] That is the same as “at the end of three days” in Joshua 9:16. “The armed men would move from Gilgal to Gibeon (about twelve miles) in the same day on which the news was heard” (Crosby). Keil, with more apparent accuracy, reckons Gibeon as eighteen or twenty miles from Gilgal, and supposes the phrase, “the third day,” to mean on the third day after the discovery of the stratagem. He adds: the third day “is not to be interpreted as meaning that their journey occupied three days,” a statement which Fay conveniently overlooks while criticising Keil’s opinion.
Joshua 9:23. Ye are cursed] “Heb. =‘arar,’ and not ‘charam,’ whence cherem” (Crosby). Thus, although the Gibeonites were not devoted in the fullest manner, they were devoted in the sense of being set apart exclusively for the menial service of the tabernacle. They were the slaves of the tabernacle, and afterwards of the temple. Like the metal of the devoted cities, which, for another reason could not be destroyed, and which was dedicated to the service of the tabernacle, so these Gibeonites were still held to be forfeited to God. No one might employ them for his own private service. In these Hivites was begun the literal fulfilment of Noah’s curse upon Canaan (Genesis 9:25).
Joshua 9:27. In the place which He should choose] Shewing that this book was written before the building of the temple; or, if the words refer to an assigned place for the tabernacle, as seems most probable, Fay’s view, that they indicate the appointment of the Gibeonites “at once to the lowest service of the sanctuary,” must be held to be correct.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 9:16-27
THE TREATY AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
Soon after Joshua and the princes had sworn to preserve the lives of the Gibeonites, they discovered the imposition of which they had been made the victims. The treaty was concluded without asking counsel of the Lord, and it took only three days ere it began to bring shame and work confusion. This paragraph shews us:—
I. The sacredness which should ever attach to promises. Joshua 9:18. The oath which had been solemnly sworn before the Lord might or might not have been binding. The league was obtained by entirely fraudulent representations. It might be urged that when the conditions under which it was granted were proved to be feigned and false throughout, the league itself would have no more foundation in fact than the conditions had. Whether the conditions were expressly named in the terms of the covenant or not, this could make no difference whatever to the moral obligation of the Israelites in respect to keeping the covenant. By implication, if not expressly, the treaty was made with the Gibeonites on the ground that their story was true; and none knew this better than the Gibeonites themselves. If we proceed on the assumption that Joshua was not morally obliged to keep this treaty, the history makes the sacredness of promises in general still more emphatic. He kept his word when he was not bound to keep it, because the word of one man to another is a holy thing. Whether the treaty be considered binding or not, God solemnly approved the course eventually taken.
1. A promise, once really made, should be held to be as sacred as an oath. When Christ said, “Swear not at all,” He did not mean to prevent men from giving the utmost possible assurance of fidelity to their fellows. The “yea, yea,” and the “nay, nay,” were to be felt to be as obligatory as the most solemn oath.
2. Promises should be kept, even when they have to be kept at considerable sacrifice. When David asked, “Lord, who shall abide in Thy Tabernacle?” he also answered, “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.” He who breaks his promise in order to spare his own capital robs the estate of human trustfulness, and thus pays a personal debt with public property. Such a man steals from the faith and rest and peace of mankind generally, that he may protect himself and the comparatively small circle associated with him.
3. If possible, promises should be kept even when they have been fraudulently obtained. Herein lies the chief emphasis of this story. Seeing that the treaty had been made, it was best that it should be kept. When once the Gibeonites had been punished for their lie, it was absolutely imperative that the treaty should be respected. Hence the chastisement which God inflicted, four centuries later, for Saul’s breach of his promise (2 Samuel 21:1-14). God would have us keep our word at all times, unless the thing promised be in itself sinful.
4. If we hope that God will keep His promises to us, we must keep ours to each other. The Divine promises are only sure to us in Christ, and to break our promises to our fellows is, in this matter, to ignore Christ. The Saviour uses the same argument on the question of forgiveness: “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
II. The opposition which is continually found in the way of truth. “All the congregation murmured against the princes.” It is not necessary to suspect the congregation of selfish motives, touching the question of spoil, because of this opposition. Probably the people feared the wrath of the Lord, because a league had been made which He had forbidden. The Israelites had recently suffered shame and anxiety and loss because of Achan’s sin, and it is reasonable to suppose that they were mainly actuated to this murmuring against their leaders by their fear of the anger of Jehovah.
1. He who contends for truth and uprightness must not expect to escape opposition.
2. Opposition to those who are faithful to truth is offered from various motives.
3. Such opposition should be firmly met (Joshua 9:19). He who contends for integrity may well stand firmly. He who strives for fidelity need not fear to be faithful.
III. The penalties which ultimately attend fraud. The Gibeonites and their children were made slaves of the tabernacle for ever. Possibly if they had come openly, and pleaded for mercy, they would have been spared, as Rahab and her family had been. Israel had no right to conclude a covenant of peace with an entire city or people; for their general guidance they were forbidden to do so; it was not safe to trust them with powers to make peace with even single cities, lest repentance had been simulated by the Canaanites, and this deception had spread to city after city, and tribe after tribe, till Israel had entered into covenant with many of the inhabitants of the land who remained in heart as idolatrous as ever (cf., Deuteronomy 20:16-18). But had the leaders of Israel asked counsel of the Lord, He might have given them the right to make peace in this or any other particular instance. This is implied in chap. Joshua 11:19. Judging by what we know of the character of God, He would certainly have commanded the Gibeonites to be spared, had they been penitent. There can be no doubt whatever about this. When God could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself: “As I live, saith the LORD GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way, and live.” The whole spirit of the Scriptures assures us that had all the Canaanites sincerely repented of idolatry, and sought Divine mercy, God would have pardoned them as readily as He afterwards spared Nineveh. This being so:
1. The bondage of the Gibeonites must be regarded as a punishment. Lying thought it could do better than candour and penitence; it set out to find life, and life was granted, but it was a life of perpetual slavery; confession would have found not only life, but liberty also. The bondage was the outcome of sin, and was meant also to be remedial.
2. This bondage of the Gibeonites was expedient, because of the Israelites. The social status of the Gibeonites was lowered, till the poorest Israelite would think little of the men, and less of their gods. Men do not learn of their slaves. The gods of Canaan, moreover, would be ignored daily by the very service which the spared Gibeonites rendered in the worship of the God of Israel. Thus God shews us that when we cannot remove a temptation, we are to disarm it. He shews us not less, how He makes all things work together for good to them that love Him. The habits of a lifetime could hardly be changed throughout an entire community by the penitence of a week. God suffers the prowess of His people to work prayer in the idolaters; He also suffers the prayer to go hand in hand with the deception. Then the slavery follows naturally as a punishment for sin—the sin of lying, and the half-repented sin of idolatry; and thus is the danger of a great temptation taken from the Israelites, and a purifying discipline, to continue through many generations, reserved for the idolaters themselves. Surely one of the most gladdening studies of heaven will be that in which the redeemed of the Lord search out the wonderful interworkings of the providence and grace by which, personally, each has been brought to his city of habitation, the New Jerusalem.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 9:16-17.—FROM GUILT TO JUDGMENT.
I. Guilt in its relation to exposure. Sooner or later it must be revealed. The Gibeonites well knew, in their case, that it could not long remain hidden. Their feeling is very much the normal condition of guilty hearts generally. Guilt is like the moth of the summer evening; it will make for the light. The guilty heart feels that the tendency of things is ever in the direction of exposure, but hopes for concealment notwithstanding.
II. Guilt in its connection with fear. The state of mind in which the Gibeonites found themselves after the success of their ruse must have been most unenviable. The blow would come: when would it come? how would it come? Fear ever waits on sin. The guilty no sooner become guilty than they are delivered over to the keeping of fear. Even when God had brought the sin of Cain to the light, and sent him from the Divine presence, Cain was overwhelmed with a vision in which discovery was perpetually repeating itself, and death continually waiting on discovery: he cried, “It shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me.” The murderer’s vision of life was made up of two things: a state of chronic exposure, and a time of incessant judgment. Joseph’s brethren succeeded for a long while in concealing their wickedness, but not even the years which intervened between their sin and their trial could keep down the consciousness that their old act of iniquity was approaching the light. More than twenty years after their sin, they saw in the rough usage of the Egyptian lord the coming judgment of their crime: “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” A guilty heart continually goes in fear of coming exposure. It often feels about its wickedness, as one says of guilt, in a fragment by Landor:—
“It wakes me many mornings, many nights,
And fields of poppies could not quiet it,”
Owen has told us that “One lie must be thatched with another, or it will soon rain through;” and the thatching is miserable work indeed when the thatcher is driven to feel that, labour ingeniously and perseveringly as he may, the rain will come through after all.
III. Guilt finding its worst fears realised. The Gibeonites could not hope to conceal their fraud for long; they could not but be anxious as to whether their trick would be resented. Their anxiety was not without cause. In less than a week the armed hosts of the Israelites, indignant at the treatment they had received, were seen marching hastily into the territory of the Gibeonites to demand an explanation, and, it might be, to take vengeance on the deceivers. The fear of the wicked is not vain. It has its counterpart in reality. It is the shadow cast on the heart by an actual cloud. It often precedes solemn judgment. About food and raiment, Christ says to His disciples, “Take no thought for the morrow. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” No such word is ever spoken to the unrepentant man concerning the judgment that follows sin.
Joshua 9:18-20.—THE OPPOSITION OF THE PEOPLE TO THEIR LEADERS.
I. The murmuring of the congregation. Probably the people were concerned lest God should be angry. Possibly some murmured in view of lost spoil.
II. The faithfulness of the princes. They were faithful to their promise:
1. Because of the solemnity of an oath (cf. Ezekiel 17:13-19).
2. Because of the sacred name by which the oath had been sworn (Joshua 9:19).
3. Although they had previously erred in not asking counsel of God.
“The obligation of an oath should be so far held sacred by us, as to prevent our departing on pretence of an error, even from engagements into which we may have been led by mistake; the sacred name of God being of more importance than all the wealth in the world. Therefore, although a man may have taken an oath without sufficient consideration, no loss or injury can release him from his engagement.… My decision therefore would be, that whenever it is only our advantage that is in question, we are bound to perform whatever we have promised on oath.”—[Calvin.]
Joshua 9:22-25.—THE BEARING OF TRUE MEN AND FALSE.
I. The dignity that belongs to truthfulness. Truth is greater in its defeats than lying is in its triumphs.
1. It has a nobler demeanour.
2. It can discuss calmly even the details of the plan by which it has been overthrown.
3. To it, eventually, belongs the right of passing sentence.
II. The servility which, accompanies falsehood. Falsehood foreshadows its bondage in the spirit which it manifests.
1. It can argue only from motives of self-interest.
2. It pleads its very fears as excuses.
3. It accepts its sentence without remonstrance.
4. It endeavours to the last to take advantage of that sense of right in others which has been wanting in itself. “As it seemeth good and right to thee to do unto us, do.”
Joshua 9:26-27.—The Nethinim.
These hewers of wood and drawers of water were probably appointed not merely to the work indicated in these words, but to the general drudgery of the tabernacle, and subsequently of the temple. In Ezra 8:20 they are called “the Nethinim,” that is, the “given” or “dedicated” ones. Henceforth these Gibeonites, then, were not their own; they belonged unto God in a perpetual servitude. Their history, and the name by which they were afterwards known in Israel, suggest to us the following thoughts:—
I. Life forfeited by sin, but preserved by grace. The Gibeonites appear to have owed their lives to the princes; really, they owed them to God, who had so diligently taught His servants the sacredness of every promise.
1. The lives of these men had been forfeited by their own iniquity. They had become “devoted” by reason of the idolatry for which the rest of the Canaanites were actually slain. They might see their own deserts in the fate of their fellows.
2. Their lives were preserved by Divine grace. (a) By the grace of God in the leaders of the Israelites. (b) By the grace in which God afterwards shielded them from their enemies (2 Samuel 21:0).
II. Life preserved by grace, but preserved for work. The Gibeonites were not to be useless. They were not to be mere pensioners in the land. They were to be the servants of the temple of the Lord. God’s dedicated ones are not redeemed to idleness. They are called to arduous work, to constant work, to the humblest work. Christ washed His disciples’ feet, to shew us in what lowliness we ought to serve one another. The Psalmist sang, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” He who owes life to undeserved mercy may well serve in continual gratitude. Secker said, “God has three sorts of servants in the world: some are slaves, and serve Him from fear; others are hirelings, and serve Him for the sake of wages; and the last are sons, and serve Him under the influence of love.”
III. Life preserved for work, and this work entirely for God. The Nethinim might not be pressed into the service of the Israelites. They were not only the servants of God, but of God only. They were dedicated, or devoted, perpetually unto Him. Those whom grace saves
(1) are not their own;
(2) they belong not unto men;
(3) they are the servants of Christ. They sing in the gladness of one who felt it no mean thing to belong unto Jehovah: “O Lord, truly I am Thy servant.” One of our modern hymns, by far too little known, breathes, through six verses, the same spirit. The last four are these:—
“No longer would my soul be known
As self-sustained and free;
O not mine own, O not mine own!
Lord, I belong to Thee.
“In each aspiring burst of prayer,
Sweet leave my soul would ask
Thine every burden, Lord, to bear,
To do Thine every task.
“For ever, Lord, Thy servant choose,
Nought of Thy claim abate;
The glorious name I would not lose,
Nor change the sweet estate.
“In life, in death, on earth, in heaven,
No other name for me;
The same sweet style and title given
Through all eternity.”
Thus should every pardoned and saved man and woman, not simply submit to, but delight in, the rank and dignity and labour of a servant of Jesus Christ.
IV. Life entirely devoted to God, and thus in the highest manner given to men.
1. No man serves his fellows, who does not serve God. That which he does for them with one hand, he more than undoes with the other. He teaches men to live “without God in the world,” and nothing can compensate for that.
2. He serves his fellows most diligently, who also serves God. It is “the zeal of His house” that leads men to consume themselves as willing sacrifices for others. Some of the most earnest of the apostles loved to begin their Epistles by calling themselves “servants (δουλοι) of Jesus Christ.” As they felt how entirely they belonged to the Saviour, they saw in the utmost which they could do for men only “a reasonable service.”
3. He who is devoted to God is anxious to serve men in the highest possible manner. He strives to serve them, not merely in things connected with the body and with time, but in priceless things touching the soul and belonging to eternity.
NEBY-SAMWIL, OR GIBEON
“The chief fame of Gibeon in later times was not derived from the city itself, but from the ‘great high place’ hard by (1 Kings 3:4; 1 Kings 9:2; 2 Chronicles 1:3; 2 Chronicles 1:13); whither, after the destruction of its seat at Nob or Olivet, the tabernacle was brought, and where it remained till it was thence removed to Jerusalem by Solomon. It can hardly be doubted that to this great sanctuary the lofty height of Neby-Samwîl, towering immediately over the town of El-Jib, exactly corresponds. The tabernacle would be appropriately transferred to this eminence, when it could no longer remain at Nob on the opposite ridge of Olivet; and, if this peak were thus the ‘great high place’ of Solomon’s worship, a significance is given to what otherwise would be a blank and nameless feature in a region where all the less conspicuous hills are distinguished by some historical name. This would then be a ground for the sanctity with which the Mussulman and Christian traditions have invested it, as the Ramah and the Shiloh of Samuel, even though those traditions themselves are without foundation. In Epiphanius’ time it still bore the name of the Mountain of Gibeon; and from its conspicuous height the name of ‘Gibeon’ (‘belonging to a hill’) was naturally derived to the city itself, which lay always where its modern representative lies now, on the lower eminence. From thence the Gibeonites ‘hewed the wood’ of the adjacent valley, and ‘drew the water’ from the springs and tanks with which its immediate neighbourhood abounds, and carried them up to the Sacred Tent; and there attended the ‘altar of the Lord,’ which, from its proud elevation, overlooked the wide domain of Israel.”—[Stanley’s Sinai and Palestine.]
HEWERS OF WOOD AND DRAWERS OF WATER
“I was forcibly reminded of one item in the sentence of condemnation pronounced upon the Gibeonites—that they should be hewers of wood—by long files of women and children carrying on their heads heavy bundles of wood. It seemed to be hard work, especially to the young girls. It is the severest kind of drudgery; and my compassion has often been enlisted in behalf of the poor women and children, who daily bring loads of wood to Jerusalem from these very mountains of the Gibeonites. To carry water, also, is very laborious and fatiguing. The fountains are far off, in deep wadies with steep banks; and a thousand times have I seen the feeble and the young staggering up long and weary ways with large jars of water on their heads. It is the work of slaves, and of the very poor, whose condition is still worse. Among the pathetic lamentations of Jeremiah there is nothing more affecting than this: ‘They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.’ ”—[The Land and the Book.]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany