The Word Made Fresh
1When the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who resided in the hills and lowlands from Lebanon and along the Mediterranean coast, heard what had happened, 2they joined together to fight Joshua and Israel.
3But the people of Gibeon who had heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai 4took a different, very cunning, approach. They prepared supplies and gathered worn-out sacks for their donkeys to carry, and worn-out patched wineskins, 5and worn-out patched sandals and ragged clothes. They carried food that was dried and moldy, 6and went to Joshua at Gilgal. They said to him and the Israelites, “We come from a distant land to make a treaty with you.”
7The Israelites said to them (they were really Hivites), “How do we know you don’t live somewhere nearby? If that is the case, we can’t make a treaty with you.”
8They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.”
Joshua said, “Who are you people? Where do you come from?”
9They said, “We have come a long way, from a distant country. We have heard of the LORD your God, and all that your God did in Egypt, 10and what happened to the two Amorite kings beyond the Jordan – Sihon of Heshbon and Og of Bashan, over in Ashtaroth. 11So, our elders and our people told us to take provisions and come and meet you and tell you that we are your servants and wish to make a treaty with you. 12Look at our bread; it was warm from the oven on the day we started the journey, but now, look, it is dry and moldy. 13These wineskins were new when we filled them, and see, they are cracked and split open. Our clothes and our sandals are completely worn out from the long journey.”
14Then the Israelites examined their provisions and did not ask the LORD for direction. 15Joshua agreed to a pact with them, guaranteeing to spare their lives, and all the Israelite leaders swore an oath to keep the pact.
16Three days later they somehow learned that they had made a treaty with people who lived nearby. 17They pursued them and reached their cities on the third day – the cities of Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-Jearim. 18But the Israelites did not attack them because of the treaty they had made with them in the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. Then all the Israelites began to grumble about the situation. 19The leaders said to them, “We swore to these people by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we cannot harm them. 20So, this is what we will do: We will let them live, otherwise God may be angry with us because we did make a promise.” 21And they told the people, “Let them live.” So, the Gibeonites became wood cutters and water carriers for all the Israelites, for that is what the leaders decided to do.
22Then Joshua summoned them. He said, “Why did you trick us and say you live a long way from us? In fact, all the while you lived nearby. 23So, you are cursed. Some of you will always be wood cutters and water carriers for our people.”
24They answered, “We were told that it was certain that the LORD your God had ordered Moses to tell you the whole land is yours, and that you should destroy all the people who live here. We were afraid for our lives. That’s why we did this. 25So, now we are at your mercy, and you will do whatever seems good and right to do to us.”
26So, Joshua spared them, and the Israelites did not kill them. 27But at the same time, Joshua made them serve as wood cutters and water bearers for the Israelites and for the LORD’s altar wherever the LORD chose to put it.
1-2: Word of Joshua’s successes against Jericho and Ai spreads throughout the land, and the various little city-states in Canaan form an alliance against him.
3-15: Gibeon, a little town seven or eight miles southwest of Ai, does not enter into the alliance. Some sort of organization seems to include several other towns (verse 17) as well. They apparently have no king and no military and decide to try to fool Joshua into making a compact with them. They go to him, pretending to have traveled a long way, and offer a treaty. After some examination, Joshua agrees, and a treaty is made. Then the ruse is discovered, and the Gibeonites become servants to the Israelites.
16-21: There are two versions of the story. In the first version the ruse is discovered by “the leaders” of the Israelites, who honor the treaty and grant the Gibeonites a pardon, but then make them “wood cutters and water carriers for the congregation” (verse 21).
22-27: But in these verses it is Joshua who discovers their ruse and saves them from the Israelites, so that they do not kill them (verse 26). Then, Joshua makes them wood cutters and water carriers for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord.
We will find out later, of course, but it could be that this event spells the beginning of conflict among the Israelites, and their questioning of Joshua’s leadership by the other leaders among the tribes. God always has to work with imperfect, self-serving, half-understanding people, then as now!
We will also discover in the book of Judges that the Israelites did not kill all their enemies and in fact did not defeat them all. Joshua’s historians exaggerate the victories – an example of the kind of historical hyperbole that Israel’s historians applied liberally.