Joshua 9





1 “And it came to pass, when all the kings” -  According to the explanation given

above (ch.6:5, 15) of the particle k with the infinitive, this must mean immediately.

We must therefore suppose that the distance at which they lived from the scene of

the events had prevented them from comprehending their astounding character so

clearly as those who lived in the immediate neighborhood (see ch.2:11; 5:1; 6:1) -

 which were on this side Jordan, in the hills,” -  The land is classified under

three heads: the hills (or mountain district), the plain, and the sea coast over against

Lebanon. The hills are not the Lebanon and Anti- Lebanon range, the operations

against which are detailed in ch.11, but the mountains of Ephraim and Judah. The

word translated “valleys” here is neither עֲרָבָה nor כִּכַּר (see above note on

ch.3:16), but שפֵלָה or low country, i.e., the great plain from Joppa, or Carmel,

to Gaza. The חופ or sea coast probably refers to the coast between Type and

Joppa. and in the valleys, and in all the coasts of the great sea over against

Lebanon, the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite,

and the Jebusite, heard thereof;”  The Girgashites are the only tribe omitted here

from the list in ch.3:10.


2 “That they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and

with Israel, with one accord.”  One mouth, according to the Hebrew,

referring not merely to their opinions, but to the expression of them. “O

that Israel would learn this of Canaanites, to sacrifice private interests to

the public welfare, and to lay aside all animosities among themselves, that

they may cordially unite against the common enemies of God’s kingdom”

(Matthew Henry).


3 “And when the inhabitants of Gibeon” - That is, of a confederation of

cities (see v. 17), of which Gibeon was the head. Gibeon was a city of

some importance (ch.10:2). Though it was for size and importance

as one of the royal cities,” we hear nothing of a king there. The Phoenician cities

seem to have had as great a variety of constitution as those of ancient Greece. Its

inhabitants were Hivites (v. 7, and ch.11:19). Its name (compare Gibeah and גִבְעָה

a hill) signifies hill city,  has been identified it with el-Jib, a village on an eminence

in the midst of a fertile plain, where the remains of large buildings may still be seen.

“Only the Hivites are wiser than their fellows, and will rather yield and live. Their

intelligence was not diverse from the rest; all had equally heard of the miraculous

conduct and success of Israel; but their resolution was diverse. As Rahab saved

her family in the midst of Jericho, so these four cities preserved themselves in the

midst of Canaan; and both of them by believing what God would do. (Bishop Hall)

 heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,”


4 “They did work wilily,” – Rather, and they worked — they also —

with craft. The reference, no doubt, is to the confederacy of the other

kings. The Gibeonites also acted upon what they had heard, but they

preferred an accommodation to war. And they felt that they could only effect

their purpose by craft -“and went and made as if they had been

ambassadors, and took old sacks” - Rather, worn out, and so throughout

the passage. The usual mode of conveyance still in the East is in sackcloth

bags on the backs of horses, mules, camels, and asses.  Such bags are apt to

meet with rough usage in a long journey -“upon their asses, and wine bottles,” -

Rather, wine skins, the wine then being kept in skins, not in vessels of glass.

This explains how they could be burst open (מְבֻקָּעִים) and tied up. These

skins were hung up frequently in the smoke (Psalm 119:83), which gave them

a shriveled appearance. The first bottles were made of such skins, as Herodotus

tells us. The Egyptian monuments confirm his statements, displaying as they do

skins of animals so used, with the legs or the neck forming what we still term

the “neck” of the bottle (cf. Homer, Iliad, 4:247). Similar bottles are depicted

on the walls of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and the like may be seen still in

Italian villages.  They were pitched over at the seams to prevent leakage

(compare Job 32:19; Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-38 -“old, and

rent, and bound up;” The usual mode of mending in the East, except when

a patch is inserted, is to tie or sew up the hole.


5 “And old shoes” -  Literally, things tied on; i.e., sandals, attached with

straps to the sole of the foot. and clouted” - i.e., patched. The intensive Pual

suggests that they were very much patched. The participle Kal is translated

spotted” in Genesis 30:32, 33, 35 -“upon their feet, and old garments upon

them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy.” Moldy.

נִקֻּדִים literally, marked with points, i.e., mildewed, Provision צֵידָם..

“The cracknels” (the same word in Hebrew as here) in I Kings 14:3 were

probably biscuits marked with points by a sharp pointed instrument, in the

same way as the Jewish passover cakes are at the present day.


6 “And they went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal,”-  Many commentators,

among whom we may number Vandevelde and the recent Palestine Exploration

Expedition, suppose that the Gilgal mentioned here is another Gilgal, and certainly

The supposition derives great force from the fact that there is a place the

modern name of which is Jiljilia, situated near the oaks of Moreh, whose

situation would be far more central, and would fall in better with the rest of

the history (see notes on ch.8:30), than the original Gilgal. That such a second

Gilgal is known to Jewish history would appear from Deuteronomy 11:30,

where its situation is clearly pointed out as that of the modern Jiljilia, near the

oaks of Moreh, and near the Arabah (champaign, Authorized Version),

which runs in that direction. Jiljulieh, in the plain of Sharon, is supposed by

Vandevelde and the Palestine explorers (see ‘Quarterly Statement,’ Jan., 1879)

 to be a third Gilgal, and Jerome, in his ‘Onomasticon,’ has identified it (see

note on ch.12:23). The Gilgal in I Samuel 13:4-12 seems to require a central

position like that of Jiljilia, rather than a place near the fords of Jordan. The earlier

Gilgal lay out of the road from Jericho to Bethel (see also II Kings 2:1-6). The

only argument against such a second Gilgal is the improbability of a removal of

the camp without any mention of such removal by the historian, and the

improbability of there having been a second Gilgal as the place of encampment

of the Israelites. It is possible, however, that the second great place of

encampment received the memorable name of the first, from the keen sense

that the Israeli encampment was the abode of a people from which the

reproach of Egypt (ch. 5:9) was forever rolled away.  Another explanation

is suggested by a comparison of ch.15:7 with ch.18:17 (see note on the

former passage). The second Gilgal, if it really existed, was well suited for its

purpose. “It was in the center of the country, situated upon a steep hill, with

a good table land at the top, and commanded a most extensive prospect of the

large plain in the west, and also towards the north and east  — precisely the

place which an able general would be likely to select. Though in a high position,

 it was lower than Gibeon, and was an hour west of Sinjil on the Jerusalem-Shechem

road (Vandevelde).  Its situation enabled Joshua to strike a decisive blow without

delay (ch.10:7, 9). It is clear that this suggestion entirely obviates the difficulty of the

concluding verses of ch. 8. And as the name implies a circular form as well as motion,

and early camps were usually circular, it may have been the ordinary name for an

encampment among the Hebrews - “and said unto him, and to the men of Israel,

We be come from a far country: now therefore make ye a league with us.”


7 “And the men of Israel said” - The Keri here has the singular number instead

of the Chethibh plural, in consequence of Israel speaking of itself collectively in the

word yBir]qiB] and of the singular vyai. But this last with a plural verb, as a noun

of multitude, occurs in the historical books in places too numerous to mention. See,

 for instance, I Samuel 14:22, just as μ[" in many passages, e.g. II Samuel 18:7,

is the nominative to a plural verb.  unto the Hivites,” –  (see note on v. 3) –

peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you?”

This was strictly forbidden in Exodus 23:32; 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:2, in reference

to neighboring nations, on account of the polluting influence their example

had exercised (Numbers 25:1-3), and was sure to exercise, as the subsequent

history of the Israelites from Judges 2 onwards, proves.


8 “And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants.” -  This does not mean

altogether, as v. 9 shows, that the Gibeonites intended by this embassy to reduce

themselves to servitude. Their object was rather to form an alliance on terms of

something like equality. (As modern secularists tried to establish – CY – 2012)

The phrase was one common in the East as a token of respect (e.g., Genesis 32:4,

18; 50:18; II  Kings 10:5; 16:7). But no doubt the Gibeonites (see v. 11) expected to

have a tribute laid on them. And they would willingly accept such an impost, for their

object was to secure the peace which a mercantile inland city especially requires (see

also note on ch. 3:10) -“And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from

whence come ye?”  Joshua uses the imperfect, not the perfect, tense here.

Commentators are divided about its meaning. Some suppose that the perfect,

 from whence have ye come?” is mere direct and abrupt than “from whence

may you have come?” or, “from whence were you coming?” and certainly an

indirect question is in most languages considered more respectful than a direct one

(see Genesis 42:7). But perhaps we may regard it simply as implying that

their mission was still in progress.


9 “And they said unto him,” - “I commend their wisdom in seeking

peace; I do not commend their falsehood in the manner of seeking it. Who

can look for any better in pagans?” (Bishop Hall.) It is worthy of the craft of

the Gibeonites that they evade the first question, and as it is of vital

importance to the success of their mission, they throw their whole force

upon the second. The course of conduct enjoined on Joshua had reached

the ears of the Canaanitish peoples, as we learn from v. 24. They also

take good care to say nothing of the more recent successes of the

Israelites. With consummate astuteness they confine themselves to the

successes “beyond Jordan.” No wonder such mastery of the arts of deceit

should have imposed on the Israelites. But inasmuch as the historian lacked

the stimulus of that “necessity” which is proverbially “the mother of

invention,” we must recognize here a sign of the genuineness of the

narrative - “From a very far country thy servants are come because of

the name of the LORD thy God: for we have heard the fame of Him,

and all that He did in Egypt,”


10 “And all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were

beyond Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of

Bashan,” (see Numbers 21:21, 35) – “which was at Ashtaroth.” 

(see ch.12:4; 13:31; also Deuteronomy 1:4). In Numbers 21:33,  Edrei only is

mentioned. This is not the Ashtaroth-Karnaim of Genesis 14:5, which is so

called from the worship of the horned Astarte, or crescent (see below), to

distinguish it from this Ashtaroth. The two cities were close together. Eusebius

and Jerome state that they were only nine miles apart. The site of this city has

been identified with Tel Ashtereh, in a wide plain on the east of Jordan. It

appears as Astaratu in the Karnak list of cities captured by Thothines III.

The name has been identified with the Assyrian Ishtar, the Persian, Greek,

and Latin aster and our star. So Gesenius, ‘Thesaurus,’ s.v. Whence

Lucian seems to have been wrong in his idea that the worship of Astarte,

like that of Artemis at Ephesus, was that of the moon. But Rawlinson, in

his ‘Ancient Monarchies,’ decides against this identification. The last

mention of this city in Jewish history is in the bold and successful

expedition of Judas Maccabaeus into Gilead, in which he penetrated as far

as this city (called Kar-naim), and brought the Jews residing there and in

the neighborhood to Jerusalem (1 Maccabees 6.). Kuenen, in his ‘History of

the Religion of Israel,’ makes a distinction between the worship of

Ashtaroth and of Asherah. The former he regards as the worship of the

moon, and a pure worship; the latter of Venus, and an impure one. But

though Asherah and Ashtaroth, or Ashtoreth, are undoubtedly distinct, yet

both worships may have been impure, as the worship of Artemis of the

Ephesians (the Diana Multimamma, or the image of fecundity)

unquestionably was.  It is probable, that the first intention in the mythology

was only to represent love as heaven born, but in time a more sensual view

prevailed, and the worship of Ishtar became one of the darkest features in

Babylonian mythology.  The Babylonian Mylitta, or Venus, was worshipped

under a crescent form, as Babylonian sculptures prove. A Syrian altar with the

crescent on it is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. It has a female

figure on one side, with the crescent, and a male figure — of Baal, no doubt —

on the other.  Another is mentioned in a late able article in the Times, as having

been found in Carehemish, the Hittite capital. The Chaldaean astronomers had,

no doubt, discovered the use of telescopes (though in the translucent sky

of Chaldaea perhaps the crescent Venus might be seen without them), for

we find Saturn represented on their monuments with a ring (see Proctor,

‘Saturn and his System,’ p. 197). Consequently the worship of the crescent

Venus involves no anachronism. Asherah, often wrongly translated “grove”

in our version (see Judges 6:25), is probably the goddess Fortune, derived

from אֶֶשר - happiness. Ashtaroth is spelt not with Aleph, but with Ain.


11 “Wherefore our elders” -  Gibeon and its allied cities did not possess a regal

government (see note on v. 3) -  “and all the inhabitants of our country spake

to us, saying, Take victuals with you for the journey, and go to meet them,

and say unto them, We are your servants: therefore now make ye a league

with us.  12 This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses

on the day we came forth to go unto you; but now, behold, it is dry,

and it is moldy:  13  And these bottles of wine, which we filled, were new;

and, behold, they be rent: and these our garments and our shoes are

become old by reason of the very long journey.”  (Contrast Deuteronomy



14 “And the men took of their victuals,” - Most commentators

prefer this rendering to that of the margin, “and they received the men

because of their victuals.” The natural explanation — though several others

are given, it  would seem to be that the Israelites RELIED ON EVIDENCE

OF THEIR SENSES, instead of upon the counsel of God.  They could see

 the condition of the garments, sacks, and wine skins of the Gibeonites. They tasted

of their victuals to convince themselves of the truth of those statements of which the

sight was insufficient to take cognizance - “and asked not counsel at the

mouth of the LORD.”  Even in the most obvious matter it is well not to trust too

implicitly to our own judgment. Nothing could seem more clear or satisfactory than

the account given of themselves by the Gibeonites — nothing more easy for THE

UNASSISTED INTELLECT  to decide. And yet Joshua and the congregation

Were deceived. It is perhaps too much to say that Joshua disobeyed a plain

command in acting thus. The passage in which Joshua is instructed to “stand up

 before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him at the judgment

 of Urim before the Lord” (Numbers 27:18-23), does not require him to do

so in all cases. But it was clearly an act of gross carelessness (Calvin).   And the

inference may safely be drawn that in no case whatever is it wise to trust to

ourselves. However obvious our course may be, we shall do well to take

counsel with God by prayer.



The Oracle Neglected (v. 14)


Between Joshua and Eleazer, the ruler and the high priest, a noble heritage

was divided. The one has the obedience of Israel, the other the secrets of

God. They have at their command respectively human power and Divine

wisdom. According to Numbers 27:21, Joshua was taught to expect to

find a heavenly oracle in the Urim and the Thummim of the priest; and

constantly the promised oracle was given. In this case, however, it was not

sought. Joshua and the rest were flattered with the story of their fame, and

too readily assumed the insignificance of the occasion. Otherwise, had they

asked they would have received counsel, and have been set on the track of

discovering the fraud. It probably did not materially matter to Israel then.

The chief loss to that generation was the booty they would in that ease

have divided, and the private advantage of so many slaves divided amongst

the families, instead of having a servile tribe allotted to the ministry of the

tabernacle. Still the historian notes the neglected oracle as if Joshua had

learned here a lesson of carrying even things that seemed little to his God.

The occasion gives lessons worth learning.



WHO FEAR GOD. God has never been at a loss to guide the willing steps

of men; but to the heart that has sought He has always given guidance.

(“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself:  it is

not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”  (Jeremiah 10:23)

“In the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14;

24:6).   In various ways God has led men. Abraham through a whispering

of His great name; Jacob and Joseph through dreams; Moses through

voice and vision and miracle alike; Joshua through some gleaming of the

 high priest’s breastplate; Gideon through the angel; Samuel through a

raised state of every faculty; the prophets by the breathings of great

thoughts and feelings; Jonah’s sailors by the lot; the wise men from the

East by a star; the Ethiopian by a page of prophecy (Acts 8). He seems to

accommodate all and give them their guidance where they expect to find it.

God still “fulfils Himself” in many ways, The African rain maker rebuked

Livingstone, by declaring his methods of getting rain were really prayers

which the good God was in the habit of granting. The Moravians, who

expect Divine guidance through the casting of the lot, doubtless find it there,

though no one else would get it. Sometimes through the providential barring

of dangerous paths; sometimes through a restraint like that which Paul

described in the words “the spirit suffered us not” (Acts 16:7); sometimes

through inward impulse of a cogent kind, a being “bound in the spirit to go”

(Ibid. ch. 20:22) in a certain direction; sometimes by the mere commendation

of certain courses to our taste, our judgment, or our conscience. God still gives

guidance to all who ask it.


“No symbol visible

    We of Thy presence find,

But all who would obey Thy will

    Shall know their Father’s mind.”


Pray for light, and in some way it will reach you. There is a living oracle for all

who wish to walk according to the will of God.



GREAT TO GOD’S CARE. A child tells all to the parent that it trusts; the

least discomfiture — the greatest distress. And when we have the child-like

heart we commit all to God, feeling that the least is not too little for His

great love. The ability is developed of rising on every occasion in thought

to Him, till the mood becomes so confiding, so expectant, that it forms a

prayer without ceasing.” And this habit of committing all becomes

fortified by the wisdom which observes how often the issues of things are

to be in the inverse ratio of their seeming importance: vast consequences

flowing from what seem most trivial events, and events that seem of a

stupendous character leaving no trace of influence on after history. So,

little things as well as great are lifted by the devout heart to the

Divine ear.  Joshua here thought recourse to the oracle needless because

the matter seemed unimportant. But it had more importance than he knew.

Strangely enough, this compact with Gibeon fixes the resting place

of the ark for centuries, right down to the time of David. For

Kirjath-jearim was one of the cities of Gibeon, and it was probably the

residence there of the Gibeonites that determined the resting there of the ark.

This, in its turn, threw the center of the national life to the southward, helped

The supremacy of Judah, the choice of Jerusalem as capital, the subordination

of Ephraim and Samaria. If Joshua had seen all that hung on his decision,

he would not because of the seeming insignificance of the matter have

neglected the oracle. TAKE GOD INTO THY CONSEL IN ALL

MATTERS great and small.  Commit the little acts to His decision,

surrender the little things which self-will would decide. “Faithful in least,

faithful in much” (Luke 16:10-11):and, even so, devout in least, devout

in much. Christ raised the dead, and then said, “Give her something to eat”

(Ibid. 8:55);  the omnipotent miracle, the homely kindness, being equally

characteristic of Him. WALK WITH GOD ALWAYS!   In least things

consult His oracle.



THEM. This is the second mistake of the same kind which Joshua has

made since crossing Jordan. Not consulting the oracle, he sends too few

men against At. Not consulting the oracle, he makes this covenant with

Gibeon. But our text recording the mistake shows how it was discovered,

and the repetition of it avoided. There is no mistake which is absolute

mischief, it will always give us at least a lesson. Blessed are they who can

turn all their faults into schoolmasters. For though such schoolmasters use

the lash, they give good teaching, being skilled to teach humility,

watchfulness, dependence on God. Turn your faults to good account, and

every act of folly into a spring of wisdom. Lastly, observe, that not only did

Joshua turn the fault to account, but —



all, the alliance with Gibeon gave them entrance into a position of

importance, became the occasion of the great victory of Beth-heron, and

has no traceable results of mischief. Thus it ever is. God makes the best of

us and of our work. When the heart is right our every failing is turned to

good account. Be not too nervous about the results of our actions. For

when the purpose is honest and devout —


“Our indiscretions oft-times serve us well.

    There’s a Divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough-hew them as we will.”


15 “And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them,

to let them live: and the princes of the congregation” -  Literally, the exalted

ones, נְשִׂיאֵי of the congregation,  that is, the heads of the various tribes (see Numbers

1:44; and note on ch. 7:14) - “swear unto them.  16 “And it came to pass at

the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard

that they were their neighbors, and that they dwelt among them.”


17 “And the children of Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on

the third day.” – After the trick was discovered we need not suppose that the

hree days were consumed on the march. Not only did Joshua, when celerity

was necessary, perform the journey in a single night, but the whole distance was

not more than eighteen or twenty miles, if we accept the hypothesis of a second

Gilgal -  Now their cities were Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and

Kirjathjearim.”  Beeroth still exists, we are told, as el-Bireh. Jerome identified it

with a place only seven miles from Jerusalem, which is an obvious error. It

contains nearly 700 inhabitants, and is only about twenty minutes’ walk

from el-Jib, or Gibeon. Kirjath-jearim (the name means the city of forests)

is well known in the history of Israel (e.g., Judges 18:12). But it is,

chiefly remarkable for the twenty years sojourn of the ark there (I Samuel 7:2).

It was also known by the name of Baalah, Kirjath-Baal (ch.15:9, 60; II Samuel 6:2).

The Hivites seem to have been removed thence (probably to Gibeon), for there is no

trace of any non- Jewish element in the population in the account of the reception of

the ark among them (see I Samuel 6.). It is called Baale of Judah in II Samuel

6:2 (compare ch.18:15). The Jewish population seems to be due to one

of the posterity of Caleb (see I Chronicles 2:50-53). Modern explorers have

identified Kirjath-jearim with Kuriet-el-Enab, “the city of the grape,” about four

miles from el-Jib, or Gibeon. This is the opinion of Robinson and Vandevelde.

Supposing it to be near Beth-shemesh, on the authority of Josephus, Lieut. Conder

Places it at ‘Arma, west of Bethlehem, and identifies the waters of Nepbtoah with

a fountain nearly due south of the valley of giants or Rephaim (see ch.15:9). But

this is too far from Gibeon. He identifies Kuriet-el- Enab with Kirjath in ch.18:28,

and regards this as one of the cities of Benjamin within the border. But this Kirjath

may be Kirjath-jearim, and may as reasonably, standing on the border, be accounted

to belong to both tribes, as Zorah, Eshtaol (mentioned in the boundaries of Judah

and Dan), Beth-arahah, possibly Gibeah or Gibeath (belonging to Judah and

Benjamin), and even Jerusalem itself (see Ibid. ch. 15:53). The identification of

Kirjath-jearim with Kuriet-el-Enab, of the waters of Nephtoah with Ain Lifta,

giving a line running northwestward from the valley of Rephaim, seems more

probable as the border of Judah and Benjamin, and the word “compassed,”

or rather deflected, adds probability to this interpretation (see Ibid. vs. 9-10,

and notes).


18 “And the children of Israel smote them not,” -  There is great

difference of opinion among the commentators as to whether this oath

were binding on the Israelites or not. This difference is to be found among

Roman Catholics as well as Protestants, and Cornelius a Lapide gives the

ingenious and subtle arguments used on both sides by the Jesuit

commentators. Many contend that as it was obtained by fraud, and

especially by a representation that the Gibeonites did not belong to the

tribes which Joshua was specially commanded to destroy (see Deuteronomy

20:10-18, with which compare the passages cited in note on v. 7), it was null

and void, ab initio. But the Israelites had sworn by the sacred name of Jehovah

to spare the Gibeonites. It would have been to degrade that sacred name, and

possibly (v. 20) to bring trouble on themselves, to break that oath under any

pretence whatever. If they had been deceived the fault was their own. The

Jehovah by whom they swore had provided them with a ready mode of

detecting such deceit, had they chosen to use it. Calvin, though he thinks

the princes of the congregation were unnecessarily scrupulous, remarks on the

superiority of Israelitish to Roman morals. It would have been easy enough for

the congregation to argue, as the Romans did after the disaster at the Candine

Forks, that the agreement was of no effect, because it was not made with the

Whole people. Cicero, however, had no sympathy with such morality. He writes

(‘De Officiis,’ 1:13), “Atque etiam si quid singuli temporibus adducti, hosti

promiserunt, est in eo ipso tides conservanda.” And not a few instances of

similar perfidy since the promulgation of Christianity may lead us to the

conclusion that the example of Israel under Joshua is not yet superfluous.

As instances of such perfidy, we may adduce the battle of Varna, in 1444,

in which Ladislaus, king of Hungary, was induced by the exhortations of

Cardinal Julian to break the truce he bad entered into with Amurath, sultan

of the Turks. It is said in this case that Amurath, in his distress, invoked

Jesus Christ to punish the perfidy of His disciples. Be that as it may, a

signal defeat fitly rewarded their disregard of truth. Later instances may be

drawn from the conflict between Spain and the Netherlands in the latter

part of the sixteenth century, in which the Spaniards frequently and

wantonly, in the supposed interests of religion, violated the articles of

capitulation formally entered into with the insurgents. These breakers of

their plighted word also found that “wrath was upon them;” that God

would not prosper the arms of those who, professedly for His sake,

 were false to their solemn obligations. Both the princes, in the narrative

before us, in withstanding the wrath of the congregation, and the congregation in

yielding to their representations, present a spectacle of moral principle

which few nations have surpassed. Would that the Church had always acted

upon these insatiable principles of justice and morality! In after years a terrible

famine visited the Israelites as a chastisement for the infringement of this

agreement (see II Samuel 21:1-9) -  “because the princes of the congregation

had sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation” -

murmured against the princes.”  Literally, were stubborn.


19 “But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn

unto them by the LORD God of Israel: now therefore we may not

touch them.  20 This we will do to them; we will even let them live,

lest wrath be upon us,” -  The original is not quite so strong: “and wrath

will not be upon us (καὶ οὐκ ἔσται καθ ἡμῶν ὀργή - kai ouk estai

kath haemon orgaelest wrath be uponus -  Septuagint) - “because of

the oath which we swear unto them.”



When Jesus Christ prohibited all swearing, He did but, in the paradoxical method

of statement He adopted, interdict all useless, vain, needless interlarding of

conversation and business and legal declarations with the introduction of holy names

and things. He Himself used the most solemn formulas in His public teaching

and before the high priest; the apostles invoked the witness of God to the

truth of their statements; and the Lord God is said to have “sworn with an

oath(Hebrews 6:16-17).  An oath is therefore permissible, but ought not to

be lightly taken; it implies solemnity and deliberation. Only, therefore, under

exceptional circumstances can it be considered right to break an oath. Doubtless a

promise made upon the strength of the promisee’s false statements is not

always obligatory, but the case cannot be generally determined. Few will

doubt that in the instance before us the princes acted wisely. They

attributed special importance to the fact that they “had sworn unto them by

the Lord God of Israel,” and they looked to the evil effects that would be

produced if the name of Israel’s God should be dishonored. It was their

own fault, their heedless hurry, that they had committed themselves to

the rash oath. Note, too, that the narrative, by not condemning the resolve of

the princes, seem to sanction it. And in after years the Israelites incurred

the grievous displeasure of the Almighty, because Saul had, in his mad

zeal, sought to slay the Gibeonites in contravention of this agreement

(II Samuel 21:1-11). In the result these Hivites gained their life, but

were reduced to servitude. The curse pronounced upon Canaan

(Genesis 9:25) was fulfilled; these men were “cursed” (v. 23), and

became a “servant of servants” unto the Israelites.


21 “And the princes said unto them,” - i.e., to the Israelites.  “Let them

live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water” - Some amount

of casuistry has been displayed upon this passage. But the fairness of the proceeding

seems clear enough. The Gibeonites had escaped death by a fraud. For that fraud

they deserved punishment. Their lives were spared by virtue of a solemn

oath. But equality of rights had never been promised them. They might

think themselves well off if they escaped destruction, even though they

might be condemned permanently to occupy a servile condition. They

appear to have assisted at the tabernacle worship, since they were

condemned to serve, not individual Israelites, but the congregation. Such

was the office of the נְתִינִים (Nethinhim i.e., the given or devoted) in the

later history of Judah (see I Chronicles 9:2; Ezra 2:43-54, 58, 70; and 8:20..

It is questionable whether the Nethinim were really the Gibeonites, or whether

David, as stated in Ezra 8:20, instituted a new order of persons to take

their place. If the latter were the case, then we have a proof that the Book

of Joshua was written anterior to the time of David. It seems quite possible

that Saul (II Samuel 21:6) had all but exterminated the Gibeonites, and

that David was compelled to institute a new order in their stead - “unto

all the congregation; as the princes had promised them.” These words

as they stand are unintelligible. No such promise had been given. The literal

rendering is “as the princes” (see note on v. 15) “said to them,” by the

mouth of Joshua, as recorded in v. 23.


22 “And Joshua called for them, and he spake unto them, saying,

Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you;

when ye dwell among us?  23  Now therefore ye are cursed, and there

shall none of you be freed from being bondmen,” -  Literally, as margin,

there shall not be cut off from you a servant, as in II Samuel 3:29, and
I Kings 2:4. The sense is, “you shall not cease to be servants.’’ The term

bondmenis somewhat too strong. The עֶבֶד was usually a bondman

among the Hebrews, but not always (see I Samuel 29:3; I Kings 11:26).

But the Gibeonites were to be employed forever in servile work. Hewing

of wood and drawing of water was a task frequently imposed on the strangers

(probably captives) dwelling among the Israelites, as we learn from Deuteronomy

29:11. We are not directly told that the “lowest of the people” had to perform

this office. It is, however, implied that the stranger who performed it occupied

the lowest social station in the community - “and hewers of wood and drawers

of water for the house of my God.”


24 “And they answered Joshua, and said, Because it was certainly told

thy servants, how that the LORD thy God commanded” -  (see Exodus

23:32; Deuteronomy 7:1-2). The prophecies of Moses during their sojourn in

the plains of Jordan by Jericho (see Numbers 22) - “his servant

Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of

the land from before you, therefore we were sore afraid” - Prophesied

in Exodus 15:14 -“of our lives because of you, and have done this thing.”

25  And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and

right unto thee to do unto us, do.”


26 “And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the

children of Israel, that they slew them not.” See v.18, which attributes the

preservation of the Gibeonites to the action of the heads of tribes. Perhaps

this should be rendered, and they slew them not.


27  And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of

water for the congregation, and for the altar of the LORD,” -  (see note

on v.21) - “even unto this day, in the place which he should choose.”

This phrase, and especially the use of the imperfect tense, implies that Solomon’s

temple was not yet built. The ark of God, and the tabernacle which contained it,

had several resting places before its final deposition in the temple (see note on

ch.24:1). And the grammatical construction just referred to also implies that there

was more than one place. It is also clear, from the language of II Samuel 21:1-6,

that this narrative was already in existence when that chapter was penned.

It is equally clear that the author of this passage knew nothing of that.



God’s People Off their Guard (vs. 1-27)


This chapter contains the record of a venial sin; an act, that is, which was

rather one of thoughtlessness than of deliberate intention to offend. It is

one thing to forget for a moment God’s superintending providence, and to

act without consulting Him. It is quite another to act systematically as if

there were no God. Thus we read of no very serious results flowing from

this inadvertence. God is “not extreme to mark what is done amiss,” and

distinguishes between human infirmity and human depravity.

(I recommend Isaiah 1 - Spurgeon Sermon – To The Thoughtless – CY – 2012)




The Canaanitish kings see the necessity of union. They act with one accord.

It is strange that God’s people should find it more difficult to unite

than others. It is, however, but an illustration of the old adage, “Corruptio

opthni pessima” (the corruption of the best is worst of all).  It is zeal for the

truth, which, when carried to an extreme, becomes bigotry, and leads to

dissension. Thus the Jews at the siege of Jerusalem were divided among

themselves when Titus and his legions were at the gates. So now Christians

are quarrelling among themselves when infidelity is abroad, and threatening

 the very foundations of the Christian faith. We are wrangling about non-essentials

as though they were essentials, and men thus come to think that there can be no

truth at all among those who seem unable to agree on a single point. We strive

for preeminence, social, political, numerical, and while we strive, the enemy of

souls comes and carries off too many of the prizes for which we are

contending. We are united upon the fundamentals of the Christian faith,

yet we fail to see it ourselves, so eagerly do we contend for the objects of

our unchastened desires. The heathen rebuke us, for they could act unitedly

in a moment of danger for a common cause. The very devils shame us, for

they combine to thwart, were it possible, the counsels of the Most High.

It is only Christians who can carry on their intestine conflicts when the foe is

thundering at the doors. Could we but learn


Ø      what are the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and

Ø      that whatever lies outside these is legitimate matter for argument and

amicable controversy, but not for strife and disunion, we should no

longer have to deplore souls lost to Christ for this cause, and it alone.



the princes in this narrative made a distinction which many of us make, and

which is not warranted by the Word of God; the distinction, that is,

between matters of importance, which we should never think of deciding

without prayer, and comparatively unimportant matters, in which the

exercise of our own judgment is sufficient. But the truth is, that no matter

is unimportant. Everything, strictly speaking, should be the subject of

prayer; not necessarily of formal and prolonged prayer, but of a momentary

ejaculation to God for help. This may be thought impossible, but it is in

truth the secret of Christian perfection. “Pray without ceasing,” says the

            Apostle (I Thessalonians 5:17), and he only has the true key to Christian

progress who has acquired the habit of continual approach to God in

prayer.   PRAYER should be the golden thread which binds together

 our whole life, consecrating every act and thought of it silently and secretly

to God’s service. This habit is only gained by perseverance, and it must itself

be sought with prayer; but only he who has attained it can be truly said to

walk with God.”



There may, of course, be exceptional cases in which a promise may not be

kept. If we have promised to do what is wrong, it were clearly worse to

keep our promise than to break it. But then it must be clear that it would

be morally wrong to keep our promise. Israelite casuistry here decides that

a positive command of God — one, that is, which is not grounded upon a

moral necessity — is outweighed by the obligation to keep an oath. God

had commanded them to make no covenant with the people of the land,

and they had unwittingly bound themselves by an oath to break that

command. It was a race point for the moralist. There was no moral

necessity to put men to death. The command to exterminate the Canaanites

was imposed upon them as the ministers of God’s vengeance. But the duty

of keeping an oath was of universal obligation. To absolve one’s self from

it would be to set one’s self free from the elementary principles of morality.

Thus the duty of keeping one’s word is important enough to outweigh

even a command of God, where that command is not of primary necessity.

It would be wrong, for instance, to commit a murder, or a theft, because

we had promised to do so. But if we had wrongly promised to neglect

some one of the external duties of religion, it would seem that we were

bound to keep our promise, unless it were clear that God’s cause would

suffer thereby. It is, however, difficult to find any precept of God’s law

under the Christian dispensation which we may venture to neglect; because

the ceremonial law is abrogated, and there is no precept of Divine

obligation left which does not involve the weightier matters of the law.

Two considerations may be drawn from this history.


Ø      Be very careful how you promise. (See Jephthah’s rash vow

(Judges 11).  Joshua and the Israelites promised lightly, and found

to their regret that they ought not to have promised at all. Many young

Christians entangle themselves as lightly in engagements which

they find should never have been made, and thus involve themselves

in troubles and difficulties from which Christian prudence would have kept

them free.


Ø      Keep your promise, when made, unless, as has been said, to keep it

would be a sin. The difficulties in which it involves you are sent by God

to make you more careful for the future. They will not overwhelm you

if you have faith in God. But it were better to suffer some anxiety and

annoyance than lose your hold on truth. Inconvenience is no sufficient

reason for breaking one’s word (While we are at it, neither is

inconvenience sufficient to commit murder as in the matter of

“ABORTION ON DEMAND – CY – 2012), though it may be for

not giving it. It is as true, as a rule, of promises made to man, as of

vows made to God; “better is it that thou shouldest not vow,

 than that thou shouldest vow, and not pay.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:5)



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