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The Gibeonites Save Themselves by Trickery


Now when all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon—the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites—heard of this, 2they gathered together with one accord to fight Joshua and Israel.

3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4they on their part acted with cunning: they went and prepared provisions, and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes; and all their provisions were dry and moldy. 6They went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the Israelites, “We have come from a far country; so now make a treaty with us.” 7But the Israelites said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a treaty with you?” 8They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” 9They said to him, “Your servants have come from a very far country, because of the name of the L ord your God; for we have heard a report of him, of all that he did in Egypt, 10and of all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, King Sihon of Heshbon, and King Og of Bashan who lived in Ashtaroth. 11So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey; go to meet them, and say to them, “We are your servants; come now, make a treaty with us.” ’ 12Here is our bread; it was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey, on the day we set out to come to you, but now, see, it is dry and moldy; 13these wineskins were new when we filled them, and see, they are burst; and these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14So the leaders partook of their provisions, and did not ask direction from the L ord. 15And Joshua made peace with them, guaranteeing their lives by a treaty; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them.

16 But when three days had passed after they had made a treaty with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and were living among them. 17So the Israelites set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. 18But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the L ord, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the L ord, the God of Israel, and now we must not touch them. 20This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that wrath may not come upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.” 21The leaders said to them, “Let them live.” So they became hewers of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, as the leaders had decided concerning them.

22 Joshua summoned them, and said to them, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ while in fact you are living among us? 23Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall always be slaves, hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” 24They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the L ord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land before you; so we were in great fear for our lives because of you, and did this thing. 25And now we are in your hand: do as it seems good and right in your sight to do to us.” 26This is what he did for them: he saved them from the Israelites; and they did not kill them. 27But on that day Joshua made them hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the L ord, to continue to this day, in the place that he should choose.

14. And the men took of their victuals, etc. Some commentators here have recourse to the insipid fictions that they ate the bread, to ascertain from the taste whether it were stale from age, or that they confirmed the covenant by a feast. The words rather, in my opinion, are an indirect censure of their excessive credulity in having, on slight grounds acquiesced in a fabulous narrative, and in having attended merely to the bread, without considering that the fiction was devoid of color. And, certainly, had not their senses been blunted, many things would have instantly occurred to refute the Gibeonites. 8484     Nothing could be more gross than the imposition thus practiced. The capital of the Gibeonites was not above fourteen miles west from Jericho, and scarcely half that distance south-west from Ai, where the Israelites had recently gained so signal a victory, and it is therefore not improbable that the Israelites, while pursuing the fugitives, had actually been within the territory which their leaders now ignorantly believe to be so very distant, as to be altogether beyond the limits of the promised land. The compliments paid to their prowess so flattered their pride, and the alliance of a powerful though distant nation held out the hope of so many advantages in the further prosecution of their conquests, that they fell at once into the snare, as if they had almost been willing to be deceived. — Ed. But as it sometimes happens, that the most piercing eyes are dazzled by an empty spectacle, they are more severely condemned for not having ascertained the pleasure of God. The remedy was at hand, had they attempted nothing without consulting the oracle. It was a matter deserving of careful inquiry, and it was therefore a sign of gross carelessness, when a priest was ready to seek an answer from God, by means of Urim and Thummim, to decide rashly in an obscure case, as if they had no means of obtaining advice. Their rashness was the less excusable, from being combined with such supine neglect of the grace of God.

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