Up to this point, the Canaanites had merely been defending themselves against the Israelites; but now they resolved to go on the offensive. Their minds were blinded, and their hearts were hardened to their destruction. Although they themselves were often at enmity with each other, yet they were all united against Israel. O that God’s people would learn from the Canaanites, and be willing to lay aside all quarrels among themselves so that they may unite against the enemies of God’s Kingdom!
Chapters 10 and 11 detail the results of the Canaanites’ invasion; but meanwhile, we are informed that there was one exception to this unanimity. Four Hivite cities – lying at a short distance from each other; west of Ai, and north of Jerusalem – formed a sort of league, with Gibeon as their central metropolis. The other members of this league were the cities of Beeroth, Chephirah, and Kirjath-jearim. Being more prudent and more discerning – and certainly more ingenious – than the other groups of Canaanites, the inhabitants of Gibeon determined to make peace with the Hebrews. But they despaired of a favorable reception, and so they resorted to a deceptive stratagem. They formed an embassy and took measures to present themselves as if they had come from a very distant country. They loaded their donkeys with old provision-bags and mended water-skins, and they took dry and moldy bread with them. Thus disguised, these “ambassadors” boldly approached the Israelite camp and declared that they had come from beyond the boundaries of Canaan. They spoke of how they had heard of the conquest of the territories of Sihon and Og, and how they desired to be on friendly terms with this people who were evidently under Divine protection and guidance. They craftily omitted all references to Israel’s more recent successes, and thus they made it seem like they had indeed come from a country so far away that they had not yet heard the news of the victories over Jericho and Ai.
The other Canaanites heard reports of the triumphs of the Israelites, and were driven thereby to make war with them; but at the same time, the Gibeonites were led by these reports to make peace with them. Similarly, the discovery of the glory and grace of God in the Gospel is a savor of life for some, but a savor of death for others (2 Cor. 2:16). The same sun softens wax and hardens clay. The faith and prudence of the Gibeonites are to be commended; for in submitting to Israel, they were submitting to Israel’s God – which implied forsaking their idolatries. And how can anyone do any better than casting themselves upon the mercy of the God of all goodness? The way to avoid judgment is to meet it by repentance. In this, let us imitate these Gibeonites; let us seek peace with the Lord in the rags of abasement and Godly sorrow, so that our sin shall not be our ruin. Let us be servants to Jesus, our blessed Joshua, and we shall live. All that being said, however, the falsehood of the Gibeonites cannot be justified in any way. We must never do evil with the intention that good may come of it.
Joshua and the heads of the tribes were suspicious of these foreign ambassadors at first, and they hesitated. But after examining the provisions of the Gibeonites, they hastily concluded that they confirmed their story; and neglecting to ask advice of God through the high priest, they hastily made a solemn covenant of peace with these men! We often make mistakes when we do not stop and take time to consult the Lord by the Word and prayer. But the fraud was soon found out, for “a lying tongue is but for a moment!” (Prov. 12:19) At the end of three days, intelligence was received which exposed the Gibeonites’ deception. These “foreigners” were actually Israel’s own neighbors, whom the Lord had told them to destroy! And the Israelites were naturally alarmed and indignant with their leaders for this deed – probably fearing some display of Divine anger.
If the oath of the princes of Israel been unlawful in itself, it would not have been binding; for no obligation can render it our duty to commit a sin. But it was not unlawful to spare this group of Canaanites who had submitted to Israel and left their idolatry – desiring only that their lives might be spared. Since the oath was sacred, and the lives of the Gibeonites could not be taken; they were “devoted,” in a lower sense, to act as servants under the priests and Levites in the work of the Tabernacle.
Joshua called the Gibeonites to him so that he could question them concerning their deception. They did not justify their lie; they pleaded that they did it in order to save their lives from the power of God Himself, Whom they saw to be engaged against them. Joshua passed the sentence of perpetual bondage up-on these people; they were to be servants, but any work becomes honorable when it is done for the Lord. Let us, in a similar manner, submit to our Lord Jesus, saying, “We are in thy hand; do unto us as seemeth good and right unto thee – only save our souls!” Even if He appoints us to the lowest office in His service, it will entitle us to a dwelling in the house of the Lord all the days of our life! And in coming to the Savior, we do not proceed upon a “perhaps.” We are invited to draw near; and we are assured that no one who comes to Him will be cast out!
Lord, we come to You from a far country indeed; for who is so far from God as we are, before being brought near by Jesus’ blood? Make a league of peace with us, we pray! Amen.
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illustration from a book by Thornley Smith, 1875