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JOSHUA’S LEAGUE WITH GIBEON
Joshua 9:15. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live.
IT is not uncommon for persons to harden themselves against God, and, like Ahaz, “in their distress to trespass yet more against the Lord [Note: 2 Chronicles 28:22.].” The inhabitants of Canaan had been filled with terror and dismay even before the Israelites had passed over Jordan: yet they prepared to contend with the invading army, and to repel force by force. But when they saw that a passage was opened for Israel through Jordan, and that the walls of Jericho were thrown down by the sound of rams’ horns, and that Ai also was vanquished, it might have been hoped that they would submit themselves to the God of Israel, and endeavour by penitence to avert the impending danger. This however was not the case: on the contrary, the different kings of the country formed a confederacy, to oppose with their united power those whom they despaired of withstanding by their separate exertions. One people indeed ventured to stem the tide: the Gibeonites determined to shun the storm which they could not avert: accordingly they sent some of their chief men to make a league with Joshua.
This league is the subject of our present consideration: and we shall notice it, with a view to,
Two things in particular require our attention;
The deceit they practised—
[The device which they executed was extremely subtle and ingenious. They knew that God had given to the Israelites a command to extirpate the seven nations of Canaan: and they saw by the manner in which Jericho and Ai had fallen, that there was no hope of resisting them with success. They therefore sent some of their chief men, with instruction to feign themselves ambassadors from a distant nation, and in a very submissive manner to entreat that they might not be extirpated also. Whatever terms Joshua chose to impose, they were ready to accede to, provided they might but return to their country assured on the oath of Israel that they should be permitted to live. That their story might have the appearance of truth, “they took old sacks, old and rent leathern wine-bottles, old shoes, clouted upon their feet, and old garments, and, for their provision, bread that was dry and mouldy,” pretending that every thing was new when they set out from home, but that, by reason of the length of their journey, it had been reduced to the state in which it then was. They professed a great regard for the God of Israel whom they feared, having heard of all the wonders he had wrought for his people in Egypt, and of the victorious manner in which he had enabled them to prevail over the kings on the other side of Jordan. But respecting the miraculous passage through the river Jordan, or the fall of Jericho and Ai, they said not a word; because they would have it supposed that their country was so far distant as not to admit of such recent events being known there.
But this falsehood was altogether unjustifiable. It is true, the very existence of their nation apparently depended on it; and to deceive an enemy may in some cases be allowable: but here was falsehood, direct, palpable, systematic falsehood: and, as is usually the case, having begun with one falsehood, (That they were come from a far country,) they were forced to utter a multitude of others to support it. Nothing could justify this: and, if they had been truly pious, they would have preferred death before it. Their better way would certainly have been, to declare the whole truth, and to implore Joshua’s intercession with God to spare their lives, and to instruct them in the knowledge of his ways. This, we can have no doubt, would have succeeded, though no provision was made for such an event in the general orders which God had given to Israel. The exception of sparing those who opened their gates related to distant nations only, and not to those within the borders of the promised land [Note: Deuteronomy 12:10-11; Deuteronomy 12:15-16.]. Yet God, as a God of mercy, would have spared them: or, if he had not, it would have been better for them to die, than to preserve their lives by falsehood: for the sentence of God against liars, without any respect to the occasion of their lies, is, that “they shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death [Note: Revelation 21:8.].”]
The league that Joshua made with them—
[Joshua, though some suspicion was intimated in the first instance [Note: ver. 7.], was too easily imposed upon: (for those who are themselves guileless, are least suspicious of guile in others:) he formed his judgment from the circumstances that were before him, and made up his mind without consulting God [Note: ver. 14.]. This in him was faulty: both he and the elders were guilty of criminal neglect. To what purpose had God given them the Urim and Thummim, but that they might ascertain his will in all doubtful matters ? and Eleazar, the high-priest, was at hand; so that no delay would have been occasioned. To the same source may be traced innumerable errors of our own. We “lean to our own understandings,” instead of seeking direction from God. To what purpose is it said, “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths [Note: Proverbs 3:5-6.],” if we do not avail ourselves of this privilege? Let us bear in mind, that there is nothing so great or so small, but it is our duty and our privilege to ask counsel of God respecting it.
But though we blame Joshua for so hastily concluding a covenant with the Gibeonites, we highly applaud him for adhering to his engagement. There might indeed have been much to say for rescinding the covenant: ‘He had been imposed upon: they were not the people whom they had represented themselves to be; nor were their cities out of the precincts of the promised land.’ Still however, “he had sworn to them by the Lord God of Israel;” and therefore he considered the whole nation as pledged to fulfil the covenant; nor would he suffer the congregation to execute upon them the vengeance which they meditated. This was doubtless the proper line of conduct for him to pursue. If he had rescinded his covenant, the whole people of Canaan would have represented him as a violator of his engagements: it was therefore better to fulfil his hasty and unadvised agreement, than by departing from it to give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme. From hence we may learn our duty on all such occasions. Joshua had erred through haste, and a neglect of properly consulting God; and therefore it was right to abide the consequences. Had his oath indeed been like Herod’s, duty would have required him to violate it; because an engagement to commit murder could not be binding upon any man: but as there was no such obstacle to the performance of his vows in the present instance, he acted the part of an upright man, who “sweareth to his neighbour, and changeth not [Note: Psalms 15:4.].” Nevertheless it was not necessary that he should go beyond his agreement. All that he had promised, was, to spare their lives [Note: The text, with ver. 20.]: that therefore he adhered to: but as they had deceived him, and as it was necessary to pacify the congregation who were offended at the covenant, he reduced them all to a state of servitude, and made them hewers of wood and drawers of water to the whole congregation in the house of the Lord. This satisfied all parties; and turned even the error which he had committed, into a public benefit.]
Thus have we considered the subject with a view to moral instruction, particularly in reference to the evil of falsehood, and the importance of seeking direction from God, and the indispensable necessity of fulfilling our engagements. We shall now consider it with a view to,
It is thought by most commentators that the league made with Gibeon was typical of the admission of the Gentiles into the Christian Church: but without insisting upon that, we may justly deduce from it the following instructions:
That we ought without delay to seek the salvation of our souls—
[The Gibeonites did not wait till Joshua had invested their cities, but, whilst he was yet at a distance, sent to desire conditions of peace. They believed that God had given the whole land to Israel, and had ordered them to slay all the inhabitants, and that it was impossible to oppose them with success. They knew also that there was abundant evidence of God’s power to execute all that his wisdom had decreed [Note: ver. 24.]. Therefore they lost no time in seeking to arrest the hand of vengeance, and to obtain life on any terms. Did they then act thus for the life of their bodies, and shall not we for the life of our souls? Have not we as clear evidence of God’s determination to destroy all the ungodly, as they had of the gift of Canaan to Israel? and are not the judgments inflicted on the rebel angels, on the old world, on the cities of the plain, and on the Jews themselves at this hour, as clear proofs of God’s determination to fulfil his word? I say then, Learn of these heathens: learn to come to Jesus ere it be too late. Stay not till you are besieged by sickness and death; but now, whilst the enemy appears distant, seek a covenant of peace and life. You need not cover your design with falsehoods, but rather declare the whole truth: and come at first, as they did after their imposture was detected; “Behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do [Note: ver. 25.].”]
That no man shall seek for mercy in vain—
[The Gibeonites, though they obtained mercy by fraud, were spared from a respect for the honour of the God of Israel. Notwithstanding Joshua had been commanded to extirpate all, yet were they spared, when once he had inadvertently passed his word in their favour. And shall not we be spared if we apply to the true Joshua? The Lord Jesus to whom we apply “came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” So far therefore is mercy from being contrary to the ends of his mission, it is the very end for which he came, that he might “seek and save that which was lost.” Nay more, he came not only to spare us, but to bring us into covenant with himself, that we might be numbered amongst his own peculiar people. Hear his own word, addressed to every one of us in his name by the Prophet Isaiah; “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David [Note: Isaiah 55:3.].” If you are inclined to doubt whether “he will take the children’s bread, and cast it to such a dog as you;” learn from the Canaanitish woman, that your unworthiness shall be no bar to your admission to his favour: only, like her, believe in Jesus; and, like her, you shall assuredly and acceptance with him. Moreover, if Jesus once admit you into covenant with himself, not all the universe shall ever prevail upon him to violate his engagements with you. If at any time he appear to frown upon you, you may take his covenant, and plead it with him at the throne of grace; “Do not abhor us for thy name sake; do not disgrace the throne of thy glory; remember, break not thy covenant with us [Note: Jeremiah 14:22.].” What astonishing pleas are here! And shall they be used in vain? Had Joshua such respect for the honour of God, that he would not violate his inadvertent covenant, and shall not Jesus fulfil the covenant which he has ratified with his own blood? Surely none ever did, or ever shall, make application to him for mercy in vain.]
That, if we would obtain mercy, we must submit to the terms imposed upon us—
[The Gibeonites accounted it no great matter to cede their cities, and to spend their days in servitude, seeing that their lives were spared. And shall we think much of sacrificing any temporal interests, or of performing any self-denying duties, when we have reason to hope that God has spared the life of our souls ? What if we be called to give up father and mother, and houses and lands, for Christ’s sake: should we not “account them all as loss for Christ?” What if we be menaced with cruel torments and death for his sake; should we not say, “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may but fulfil his will, and finish my course with joy?” Had the Gibeonites demurred, they had lost the benefit conferred upon them: and so shall we, if we refuse to comply with the terms assigned us: for “whoso loveth his life, shall lose it.” If we look for mercy at the hands of Jesus, all that we have, and all that we are, must be the Lord’s. Our whole life must be a life of self-denying obedience. Hear this then, ye Gibeonites, who desire a covenant of life and peace: these are the terms, and only these, that can ever be allowed you. But know ye this, that though they may appear hard to flesh and blood, they are not really hard: on the contrary, the service of God is perfect freedom: and it is “better to be a doorkeeper in the house of your God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” If then ye have been awakened from your heathenish security, whatever terrors may have brought you to the feet of Jesus, bless God for them: and whatever hardships ye may endure in the service of your Lord, bless God for them also. If only ye submit to God, and take part with his people here, you shall have your portion with them to all eternity.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Joshua 9". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
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