Read Joshua 9
The Gibeonite Deception
1 Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things—the kings in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the entire coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far as Lebanon (the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites)— 2 they came together to wage war against Joshua and Israel.
3 However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. 6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”
7 The Israelites said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?”
8 “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua.
But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?”
9 They answered: “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. 11 And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are your servants; make a treaty with us.”’ 12 This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 13 And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.”
14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.
16 Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them.17 So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim. 18 But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the Lord, the God of Israel.
The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, 19 but all the leaders answered, “We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now.20 This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.” 21 They continued, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers in the service of the whole assembly.” So the leaders’ promise to them was kept.
22 Then Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, “Why did you deceive us by saying, ‘We live a long way from you,’ while actually you live near us? 23 You are now under a curse: You will never be released from service as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.”
24 They answered Joshua, “Your servants were clearly told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. 25 We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.”
26 So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. 27 That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.
This is a wild story that begins with deception and ends with a discovery that the Gibeonites weren’t who they presented themselves to be. All the kings and all the kingdoms heard what happened at Jericho and Ai, so their fear was justified. The Gibeonites, however, had a more clever approach dealing with Joshua: pretend to be a friend. You have to give them points for creativity! While this story at first reads like an amusing anecdote in the middle of a history book, there are two things that we can learn from Joshua and the Gibeonites.
First, we see the Israelites get in trouble because they didn’t seek the counsel of the Lord. When the Gibeonites showed up with their costumes and backstory, Joshua instantly made a treaty with them before taking it to God. How often do we find ourselves trusting our gut or making impulsive decisions without praying about them? We don’t consult God because we think we’ve got it all under control. We think we deserve autonomy when it comes to our decision making. The problem here is that we try to compartmentalize our lives into two categories: the spiritual and the non-spiritual. But, if we believe what we say we believe, isn’t everything spiritual? Of course Joshua should have consulted with God prior to accepting the Gibeonites. But he didn’t and the Israelites had to live with the consequences of that decision.
The second lesson for us in this passage is that God can (and does) use anyone for His purposes. Even after their deception, the Gibeonites were put to use serving in the temple. Joshua couldn’t kill them, but he could put them to work doing menial tasks. There was work to be done in the temple and the Gibeonites had seen God’s relationship with Israel up close. They saw what it meant to be God’s people and they wanted in on that, so they were willing to do whatever had to be done. God can and does use people to accomplish His plans here on earth. It shouldn’t surprise us when He uses unlikely people — He does it all the time! It’s a helpful reminder for us that any of us, no matter how unlikely it may seem today, can be used by God tomorrow.
- Why did the Gibeonites take the approach that they did? Why did they choose to deceive the Israelites in their costumes?
- Do you find yourself relying on your own decision-making ability instead of bringing everything before God? Why?
- When have you seen God use unlikely people in your own life? What did you learn from that experience?
Did You Know?
There are a number of parallels between the story of Rahab (Joshua 2) and the Gibeonites. Both were outsiders, both came to God as sinners, and both were willing to risk their former lives to be counted as God’s people.