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<060901>Joshua 9:1-27 ENEMY REACTIONS “And it came to pass, when all the kings which were on this side Jordan, in the hills, 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 Jebasite. heard thereof; that they gathered themselves together to fight with Joshua and with Israel with one accord” ( Joshua 9:1,2).
At first glance there appears little pertinency or propriety in mentioning this detail immediately after what was described in the closing verses of Joshua 8: But careful readers will observe that this passage begins with the word “and,” and those who have followed us through the previous articles of this series should know by now what use to make of it. It calls for thoughtful attention to what immediately precedes, so that the force of the connection may be the better perceived by us. And that not merely so as to fix in our minds the order of events, but more especially that we may ascertain the spiritual lessons which are pointed thereby. The book of Joshua contains very much more than a mere historical record of Israel’s conquest and occupation of the land of Canaan, namely a shadowing forth of that spiritual warfare unto which Christians are called.
Believers in Christ are not only “witnesses” unto Him ( Acts 1:8) — showing forth His praises, reflecting the moral perfections of His character, disciples, “they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth” ( Revelation 14:4) — but they are also soldiers of Jesus Christ ( Timothy 2:3), and as such it is especially to the book of Joshua that they should turn for instruction, inspiration, warning, and encouragement. What then are the lessons we should draw from that which is recorded in Joshua 9:1, 2? Two, according as we recognize the twofold link between those verses and their context — with that which immediately precedes and with what is rather more remote. In other words, this coming together of the kings of Canaan, and their agreeing, to join forces in making a mass attack upon Israel, is to be regarded first as it is related to that which has just been before us in the closing verses of Joshua 8:namely the magnification of the Decalogue on mount Ebal and the covenant which was made by the new generation of Israel with Jehovah; and then with the whole of Joshua 6-8 where the overthrow of Jericho and Ai is narrated. The force of the opening “and” is borne out by the “heard thereof” at the close of verse 1. It is the enemy’s reaction to those events which is here in view.
Brief though their record be, those two verses present to our notice that which is of deep importance, and something which should be particularly heeded by ministers who desire to be faithful to their calling. The Holy Spirit’s mention of this federating of Canaan’s kings to fight against Joshua and Israel, immediately after describing what had taken place on the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim, is obviously designed to supply us with a typical illustration and solemn exemplification of man’s hostility to the Law of God. No sooner did it reach the ears of these kings that Joshua had built an altar on Ebal and had inscribed on its stones the Divine Decalogue — which was henceforth to be the Law of the Land — than they made common cause against God’s people and determined to use force, as the “heard thereof” (verse 1) plainly intimates. To acknowledge the rights and authority of the Most High, and submit themselves unto His revealed will, is something which the unregenerate both resent and oppose. They desire to be lords of themselves and are resolved to go their own way. The language expressed by the actions of all of them, and by the mouths of many, is that of the self-willed and arrogant Pharaoh: “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” ( Exodus 5:2). They are determined to please themselves.
Here is the very essence of human depravity. Sin is a revolt against God, a refusing to be in subjection to Him. Sin is not only a determining to follow our own inclinations, but it is a fighting against our Maker and Governor.
Nevertheless, it is a fact which cannot be gainsaid. Proof thereof is furnished in the clause immediately following: “for it [the mind of the natural man] is not subject to the Law of God; neither indeed can be” ( Romans 8:7).
Nothing more plainly evinces the inveterate hostility of the unregenerate unto God than their insubordination and opposition against the Divine Law. Few indeed will openly admit that they hate God, and fewer still are aware of that awful fact, for sin is very deceitful ( Hebrews 3:13), and blinds the judgment ( Ephesians 4:18). Nowhere is that more clearly demonstrated than throughout the entire realm of idolatry. If men were pleased with the true God, they would not have manufactured so many false ones. They desire a God and a system of religion which are suited to their depraved inclinations. Millions who bow not before an image of wood or stone nevertheless believe in a God which their own sentiments and imaginations have devised, and against him (or it) they have no enmity!
But let the true and living God be apprehended as His character is set forth in the Scriptures, and that enmity will soon be more evident. Let Him be known as the Divine Potentate who shapes one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor, entirely as He pleases; as the ineffably Holy One who cannot look on evil, and hates all workers of iniquity; and as the righteous Judge of all, who will by no means clear the guilty; and the fallen creature’s hatred of such a One will appear in its true colors. Let Him give to such creatures His Law, and require unqualified obedience thereto, and they at once rebel. If God would forgo His sovereign rights, their opposition would be subdued; if He would lay aside His scepter men would cease fighting against Him. But because He declines to do so, the will of the creature is opposed to the will of the Creator, and he refuses subjection to His throne. Conclusive proof that the sinner’s nature is diametrically the opposite of God’s is seen in his deadly opposition to the Divine government. The moral law is both a revelation of its Author’s character and an expression of His will, and man’s repudiation of it exhibits the contrariety of sin to holiness.
What has just been pointed out was unmistakably and most solemnly demonstrated when the Lawgiver became incarnate and dwelt here upon earth, for the ill will of religious and irreligious alike was active against Him. Not only was He despised and rejected by men, but as He plainly declared “they hated Me without a cause” ( John 15:25). Nor did they make any attempt to cloak their malice. While He healed the sick and provided the multitude with loaves and fishes, their hostility was held in abeyance; but when He pressed upon them the claims of His lordship, defined the terms of discipleship, and made known the character and requirements of His kingdom, their resentment soon flared up. Not only did He come unto His own and “His own received Him not,” but “His citizens hated Him and sent a message after Him saying, “We will not have this One to reign over us” ( Luke 19:14). Let it not be forgotten that it was as “the King of the Jews” Christ was crucified! “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Jehovah and against His Christ, saying, Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us” ( Psalm 2:2,3; and cf. Acts 4:25-27) — chafing at the Divine Law, refusing subjection to the Divine authority.
Thus, in the gathering of the kings of Canaan “to fight with Joshua and with Israel” immediately after the promulgation of the Divine Law upon the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim, we have both a solemn adumbration of what took place in the hours immediately preceding our Lord’s crucifixion, and an illustration of man’s opposition to the Law. Up to this point the Canaanites had been on the defensive, but in Joshua 9:1,2, we see them preparing to take the offensive, and make a united attack on God’s people.
The kings there mentioned were of varied nationalities and interests, and occupied widely scattered territories, but here we behold them sinking their differences and federating together “with one accord”! Just as the priests and scribes, the Pharisees and Sadducees united in opposing the incarnate Lawgiver. And just as it is today, for both “dispensational” Arminians and “antinomian” Calvinists make common cause in repudiating the Decalogue as the Christian’s rule of life. So will every true servant of Christ discover.
Let him give to the Law that place in his ministry which it has in the Scriptures, let him be faithful in discharging his Divine commission (and remember “all the counsel of God” includes very much more than what are termed “the doctrines of grace”!), and press upon unbelievers and believers the claims of Christ’s Kingship, and the strictness and spirituality of the Decalogue, and he too will be despised and reviled.
In our last we pointed out that the word “And” at the beginning of Joshua 9 has a double force: intimating that what now follows is to be linked with, first, what is recorded in the closing verses of Joshua 8, namely the magnification of the Divine Decalogue on mount Ebal and the renewing of the Mosaic covenant by this new generation of Israel; and second, with the whole of Joshua 6-8 which narrate their conquests, under God, of Jericho and Ai. In other words, the contents of Joshua 9 make known to us the enemy’s reactions to those incidents. As the events were twofold, so were his reactions. First, we are informed that as soon as the kings of Canaan “heard thereof” they “with one accord” agreed to unite themselves together “to fight with Joshua and with Israel” Up to this point they had acted on the defensive, but now they saw that their own interests were threatened, they determined to make a mass attack upon Israel. “The varied expressions here used [in Joshua 9:1] include the inhabitants of the land to the utmost western and northern borders” (T. Scott).
It was not an immediate attack that was planned, but a consulting together how best to put a stop to Israel’s progress and secure their own territories.
Verily, “there is nothing new under the sun.” A “League of Nations” or federating together of different peoples to “pool” their resources is no modern invention, but as old as human history. Here was a banding together of rival kings to make common cause in opposing the people of God. They entered into an agreement “at top level” to support and assist each other, and ultimately to assail Israel — which they did, as Joshua 11:1-5 shows. For the time being they were willing to sink their individual differences and combine together. Nor was this the first time that such a thing had happened. As far back as Abraham we are told that “It came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations; that these made war with Bera king of Sodom and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar. All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea” ( Genesis 14:1-3). which may well be designated “the Western bloc of nations” against the “Eastern power and its satellites.” At a later date we find still another “consulting together with one consent” of a number of nations, and a federating of themselves against Israel (see Psalm 83:4-8).
That which is recorded in Joshua 9:1,2, should be of real practical value unto those who are engaged in fighting the good fight of faith. There is real wisdom in that old adage. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” It is often a very real help to have reliable information of what effects a certain action produces upon the foe. Here we are shown the nature of such immediately upon Israel’s solemn renewal of their covenant with Jehovah. The lesson in plain: it is when God’s people are most conscious of their obligations, when most determined by grace to discharge the same, when most zealous in fully consecrating themselves unto the Lord, that the ire of Satan breaks out the fiercest. As we have pointed out, up to this point these Canaanitish kings had remained quiescent, but now they planned aggression. Naturally speaking, it seems strange that they were not actually hostile from the beginning, opposing Israel’s crossing of the Jordan, for they had received notice of their approach ( Joshua 2:9,10).
Nor had these kings made any attempt to go to the relief of Jericho when that city was seriously threatened by those under Joshua’s command. But notice what these kings did not do. They did not surrender themselves unto Israel. They did not consider themselves outnumbered, and cast themselves on Joshua’s mercy. Even alter they learned of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan and the falling of Jericho’s walls, they did not capitulate. Nor do the enemies of the Christian. No matter how marked or extensive the victory God grants us, we must not conclude that the worst of the fight is now over. Satan in his activities is the nearest approach to “perpetual motion” found in any creature. He never accepts defeat or quits the field.
One had thought he must recognize the utter futility of assailing Immanuel but he did not. And though completely worsted and routed in his attempt, it was only “for a season” ( Luke 4:13) he left Him. Why then should any of His followers expect to be exempted! The same is true of “the flesh,” with all its evil lusts. Indwelling sin never surrenders to the new nature, nor ceases its attacks upon it. Nay, the farther a Christian advances into an experiential entrance into and enjoyment of his spiritual heritage, the fiercer the conflict becomes, and the more determined and concentrated the efforts of his enemies to thwart him.
It is striking to see how the Holy Spirit has particularized the diversity of the kings described in Joshua 9:1: some were from the mountains, some from the valleys, and yet others from the sea coasts; yet though so widely scattered they federated together against Israel. That illustrates the fact that the spiritual enemies of God’s people are of many kinds and types, that every form of worldliness — its most refined and elevated as well as its coarsest and lowest — is a menace to them. Equally so are their own evil lusts varied and numerous: self-will, pride, unbelief, slothfulness, cowardice, impatience, discontent, and a host of others, have to be resisted and mortified. How the unanimity of those heathen tribes should shame Christians because of their divisions! And how their banding together against Israel ought to arouse the believer to the realization that all his graces must work actively together — faith strengthening hope, love animating both — in waging the fight to which he is called. If it appears strange that these kings had been quiet so long, to carnal reason it seems the more so that they should now plan an offensive after God had so signally shown Himself strong on the behalf of His people. But behind the scenes the Lord was saying, “Assemble yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces” ( Isaiah 8:9).
Thus will it yet be with the enemies of His Church.
But we must now turn to and consider the second reaction of the Caananites unto the recent conquests of Israel. This is quite different from the former one, and is described in Joshua 9:3-7. Here we are informed, “And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai, they did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine-bottles old and rent, and bound up; and old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. And they went up to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal, 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.”
In Joshua 10:2, we are told that “Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities... greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty”; nevertheless, they were afraid of Israel. Herein we behold the sovereignty of God: His “terror” ( Genesis 35:5) fell not upon the kings mentioned in the preceding verses, yet it did upon the Gibeonites! Yet God was not acting arbitrarily or capriciously: He had His own wise reasons for making the Gibeonites an exception. “And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and Ai” (verse 3).
This is all of a piece with what is recorded in Joshua 2:9,10, where Rahab had said to the spies, “I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us... For we have heard how the Lord dried up, the water of the Red Sea for you when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.” Here is a further example of the same thing, which serves to demonstrate the consistency and truthfulness of this history. Spiritually considered, it illustrates this principle: that the unbelieving world do not remain in ignorance of the mighty works of God, which renders their unbelief the more inexcusable and adds to their guilt. The miracles of Christ were not wrought in a corner, but openly and publicly, so that even His enemies were obliged to acknowledge the reality of them ( John 11:47), and Herod, too. was informed of the same ( Luke 23:8). The same is true today, both of the providential interpositions of the Most High in the affairs of nations, and the supernatural operations of the Holy Spirit in His elect. Whenever there is a definite and striking display of the Holy Spirit’s power, some of the unregenerate are impressed and attracted thereby, and seek to join themselves unto the objects of the same. We behold an instance of that in connection with Abraham. He experienced an effectual call from God, which produced a supernatural effect, for it was against nature that he should leave his home, abandon the land of his fathers, and go forth “not knowing whither he went.” It was a peculiarly distinctive work of God of which he was made the subject, for the Lord Himself tells us, “I called him alone” ( Isaiah 51:2). Nevertheless, we find that both his father and his nephew were so impressed by the change wrought in Abraham and his determination to make a complete break from his old manner of life, that they accompanied him as he left Chaldea ( Genesis 11:31) — though the former died before Canaan was reached, and the latter was far from happy therein. Likewise when the children of Israel left Egypt, in order to go unto their inheritance, “a mixed multitude went up also with them” ( Exodus 12:38), and had an evil influence upon the people of God ( Numbers 11:4). It was the same again when those in captivity availed themselves of the edict of Cyrus that they might return to Palestine, for after they did so, and the Law of Moses was restored, we read that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude” ( Nehemiah 13:3)!
In this dual reaction of the Canaanites unto the mighty works which Jehovah had wrought in their land — their determining to use force against Israel, and under the pretense of friendship to seek union with them — we have exemplified the two principal characters assumed by the arch-enemy of God and His people and the methods employed under them. The Devil is depicted in the Scriptures both as the roaring lion and the subtle serpent.
As the lion, he uses force and seeks to terrorize; as the serpent, he employs cunning and endeavors to poison and corrupt. In the former character he acts more openly, and assaults from without; in the latter, he works more secretly, aiming to defile from within. Against our first parents he appeared as the lying and beguiling serpent but in employing Cain to murder righteous Abel, we behold the power and cruelty of the lion ( 1 John 3:12). Thus it was in connection with what we have here. In stirring up the kings of Canaan to fight with Joshua, Satan was relying upon the use of arms; but in moving the Gibeonites to cloak their character and pose to be what they were not, so that Israel might be deceived into making a league with them, we behold his craftiness, purposing to introduce his leaven into the meal.
We often point out in these pages that God does not work according to a stereotyped plan, but that infinite variety marks His operations. The same is true, in a lesser degree, of the Devil — who is ever a marked imitator. He too acts not uniformly. If one plan or method fails he always has another in reserve, as the whole history of Christendom has repeatedly demonstrated.
He altered his tactics with Christ: first seeking to slay Him while a babe, then almost posing as an angel of light when tempting Him, and then as the dragon of darkness ( Luke 22:53) he bruised His heel. So too with the followers of the Lord Jesus: first openly and directly persecuting, then flattering and fawning upon, and then corrupting by unholy alliances. The opposition and cruelty of Nero and other Roman emperors failing, the patronage of Constantine and the making of Christianity the state religion succeeded in accomplishing Satan’s design; just as centuries later the spirituality and power of the great Reformation under Luther was curtailed when the German princes gave support to it because of the political liberty which it promised them. No wonder the apostle declares that — with the Word of Truth in our hands — “we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices” ( 2 Corinthians 2:11), and with the records of the last nineteen centuries before us there is still less excuse for our being unacquainted with his strategy.
That which is narrated in Joshua 9:3-6, of the dishonest Gibeonites gives us a typical picture of graceless professors seeking to “join’ the people of God. They knew there was no likelihood of their desire being realized if they presented themselves before Israel in their true character, so they resorted to guile in order to deceive them. “They did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors” (verse 4). It must not be overlooked that while Satan is very subtle the flesh also is exceedingly artful, fully capable of playing many parts in order to gain its own ends.
Behold how it moved Jacob to cover himself with a hairy skin and masquerade as Esau, king Saul to disguise himself when he went to the witch of Endor ( 1 Samuel 28:8), the wife of Jeroboam feigning herself to be another when she visited the prophet Ahijah, whose eyes were set by reason of age ( 1 Kings 14:1-6), and the wolves in sheeps’ clothing of Christ’s day. In his second epistle Paul warned the Corinthians against “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 11:13), and Jude complained that ungodly men had “crept in unawares” into the assemblies of the saints ( Jude 1:4). The churches are full of such today.
Those Gibeonites posed as “ambassadors,” men not only of peaceful design but of importance, fitted to enter into an official engagement with Israel and make a covenant with them. Such is the character assumed by thousands of hypocrites who apply for church membership. They pretend to be fully qualified to be taken into fellowship among the Lord’s people, claiming that the peace of God is in their hearts. These Gibeonites pretended to have journeyed from a far country and attired themselves accordingly. They “took old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles old and rent, and bound up; and old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy.” Very thorough were they in this work of imposture, well made up for the part they were playing — even in conforming to Israel’s peculiar ways by using “asses” rather than horses. In like manner, empty professors will often go to considerable trouble in their efforts to impose upon the people of God, affecting an outward change in their conduct and laying claim to inward graces which they possess not. They pose as being “poor in spirit,” convicted of sin, and hungry for the bread of life, and prate about their unworthiness.
Not only does this incident point a solemn and urgent warning for the churches of Christ to be much on their prayerful guard against taking hypocrites into their membership, but it also intimates how the individual Christian needs to be aware of his danger in being imposed upon by his inward enemies, for his lusts not only assume a great variety of forms, but often pretend to be his friends. He knows, both from Scripture and his own experience, that “the flesh lusteth against the spirit,” but often he fails to realize that even his corruptions are capable of posing as virtues, and would fain persuade him that they are kindly disposed and have good designs toward him. It is not merely that his evil lusts become less active for a season, and even appear to be asleep, but that they seem to have undergone a change for the better, and now assume the garb of piety. For example, it is easy for a Christian — if he fails to weigh everything in the balances of the Sanctuary and rigidly test his motives by Holy Writ — to persuade himself that his natural self-will is now a holy zeal for God, or that his impatience is really spiritual earnestness, or that his slothfulness is a holy caution.
The “flesh” or sinful nature takes upon itself many plausible guises, and those carnal enemies which are actually very near to us — yea, a part of our very selves — often pretend to have come from “a far country” ( Luke 19:12), that is, from heaven itself, just as the Gibeonites presented themselves before Israel as having come from a great distance. In other words, what we sometimes regard as heavenly graces are nothing but our native corruptions dressed up to deceive us. Particularly is this the case with mock humility and lowliness. The Gibeonites appeared not in the attractive apparel of purple and fine linen, but in rags and tatters! Likewise will our very pride take on a deceptively modest appearance and pose. One may, from the teaching of God’s Word, be intellectually convinced of the total depravity of man, yea, be thoroughly persuaded of his own sinfulness and unworthiness, without his heart being in the least affected and bowed in contrition before God. He may even imagine that he has made considerable progress in the work of mortification, and become complacent in the belief that he is increasingly “denying ungodly and worldly lusts,” and perceive not that such complacence is a sure sign that pride is at work.
Oh, how powerful and terrible is the “deceitfulness of sin” ( Hebrews 3:13). If Joshua himself was imposed upon by these hypocritical Canaanites, how carefully and cautiously do we need to carry ourselves, and seek to profit from this incident. Make no mistake here, my reader: the real Christian has many “Gibeonites” within his own breast to contend with! In addition to what has been pointed out above, let us add that one may be not only absorbed with his good works, but even well pleased with the knowledge and sense which he has of his own corruptions. Truly. “the heart is deceitful above all things.” Who can know it? Yet if we be sincere and diligent in examining ourselves, in comparing the workings of our hearts with the searching and holy teachings of God’s Word, daily viewing ourselves in its mirror, we shall perceive more of its “wiliness.” True humility is never engaged with itself, still less is it pleased therewith; but rather mourns over its paucity and the constant opposition produced by the workings of pride. True humility delivers from self-importance and selfexaltation, and keeps us from posing as “ambassadors” — wanting to have the pre-eminence.
THE GIBEONITES In our last we dwelt upon the twofold reaction of the Canaanites to the notable victories which the Lord gave Israel at Jericho and Ai, namely the determination of the kings to employ massed force ( Joshua 9:1,2), and the deception which the Gibeonites practiced upon them ( Joshua 9:3-6), which illustrates the dual character in which Satan opposes the people of God and the methods he employs therein — as the roaring lion seeking to devour, as the subtle serpent using guile. Both Scriptural and ecclesiastical history demonstrate that the latter is far more dangerous and successful than the former. When open persecution fails either to exterminate or intimidate the faithful, Satan resorts to his secret wiles, which only too often corrupt their testimony. Nor is the reason for this hard to discover.
Not only is the former method much more easily detected, but fierce opposition casts believers upon the Lord for enabling strength and fortitude, and thus proves a blessing in disguise to them, whereas they are very apt to be less on their guard against Satan’s sly artifices, and if pride persuades them that they are too well established in the Truth to be misled by error or taken in by hypocrites, they more easily fall victims of his snares.
What has just been pointed out receives forceful exemplification in the incident we are pondering. By God’s enablement Joshua and his men made short work of the combined efforts of the kings and their vast armies ( Joshua 11:1-12), but, as 2 Samuel 21:1, shows, the descendants of these Gibeonites were long a thorn in Israel’s side. But the fault was entirely their own: due (as we shall see) to their unwatchfulness and selfsufficiency.
It was a solemn example of that which our Lord had in mind when He said, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field, but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat” ( Matthew 13:24,25).
In His interpretation, Christ stated that “the good seed are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of the wicked one” (verse 38).
That is precisely what happened here. Let it be carefully noted that the enemy did not introduce among the wheat darnel or thistles, but “tares,” which are a spurious imitation of the wheat, and so closely alike in appearance that the one cannot be distinguished from the other until the time of harvest. So these Gibeonites came not in their true characters, but posed as those who had come from a far country.
As stated in our last, a threefold view may be taken of these Gibeonites.
First, as the world extending its patronage to corporate Christianity, seeking to destroy its distinctive testimony and heavenly character by an amalgamation with the state. In the light of that severe indictment, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” ( James 4:4), we see that the proposal for such an unholy alliance and glaring infidelity unto God must be promptly refused Second, as hypocrites applying for membership in the local church. In view of the Divine prohibition, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” ( 2 Corinthians 6:14,15), how it behooves each Christian assembly to examine prayerfully and carefully the qualifications of each one seeking fellowship therewith! Third as our evil lusts pretending to be what they are not, to have undergone a change for the better, so that they would fain persuade the unguarded that they are to be numbered among his graces. That which we are now to consider shows how inexcusable is our being imposed upon. “And they went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him, and to the men of Israel, We be come from a far country: now therefore make yea league with us” ( Joshua 9:6).
Incidentally, this reference to Gilgal makes it clear that Israel had made the long journey unto Ebal ( Joshua 8:30) for the express purpose of obeying the Lord’s injunction in Deuteronomy 27:4,5, etc., that they remained there but a short time, and then returned to their original camp.
But there is far more in it than that: the fact that Israel succumbed to this temptation at this particular place rendered their failure the more inexcusable. That will be evident from the sequel. “Gilgal” is mentioned for the first time in our book at Joshua 5:9, and there we learn that it was the place where “the reproach of Egypt” was rolled away, when the male members of that new generation were circumcised. In other words, it was there that they received the outward mark and sign that they were separated from all other nations in covenant relation with Jehovah ( Genesis 17:9,10), set apart to His service. It was also the place where they “kept the Passover” ( Joshua 5:10), for it is only those who submit to God’s ordinances and walk according to His precepts who can really enjoy communion with Him.
What has just been pointed out shows the need for looking up the marginal references of each passage, and seeking to ascertain the meaning of the proper nouns in Scripture — if we are too dilatory or in too much of a hurry to do so, we are sure to be the losers. It also supplies the key to the more specific typical signification of this incident. Circumcision connoted dedication unto God and was the Old Testament’s figure of mortifying the lusts of the flesh ( Jeremiah 4:4; Deuteronomy 10:16) — the two things which Satan hates in the Lord’s people above everything else and which he opposes at every turn, for they are what distinguish them from the world, and promote God’s glory. That which the Devil is most anxious to destroy is the testimony of the saints as a peculiar people, devoted unto God, walking with Him in separation from the ungodly ( Romans 12:1,2). They are to conduct themselves as “strangers and pilgrims” ( 1 Peter 2:11) in this scene. Through Balaam Jehovah had declared “the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” ( Numbers 23:9, and cf. Deuteronomy 33:28). Through these Gibeonites — for it is ever his way to use human instruments (his “ministers — 2 Corinthians 11:14,15) — the enemy was making an attack upon Israel’s consecration, inducing them to ignore God’s injunction of separation by a union with the heathen.
Thus, in the light of the special theme of Joshua, the outstanding lesson for us here is that a vital aspect of the believer’s spiritual warfare consists of the imperative need for maintaining his consecration to God and persevering with the work of mortification, ever being on the alert against the wiles of the Devil to hinder him therein. But more: he must be on his most diligent guard against the workings of pride while engaged in this very work. That also is clearly implied in this incident. After their arduous journey to Ebal and full obedience to God there, they had returned to Gilgal, yet it was here they suffered themselves to be deceived by the craft of Satan! Alas, how deceitful are our hearts! How prone we are to be elated with the very things Divine grace works in and through us. If we are gratified with o or consecration, pleased with our self-denial, puffed up with our obedience, or proud of our prayerfulness and increasing dependence upon God, we are headed for disaster. “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” ( Proverbs 16:18), and pride was certainly at work in Israel at this time. Oh, how much we need to heed these injunctions. “Be not high minded, but fear” ( Romans 11:20) and “rejoice with trembling” ( Psalm 2:11)!
It is true that God had said unto Israel, “When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee” ( Deuteronomy 20:10,11) — a passage which must be kept in mind when reading Deuteronomy 20:16,17, and one which shows that even here, in holy wrath, God “remembered mercy.” But that was an entirely different matter from what is now before us. There was nothing whatever in the case of these Gibeonites which justified Joshua in ignoring the plain injunction, “Take heed to thyself lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee” ( Exodus 34:13).
There is nothing that the Lord abominates more than unholy mixtures. “Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds... thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together... thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woolen and linen together” ( Deuteronomy 22:9-11) plainly states the principle, and Revelation 3:15,16, demonstrates His abhorrence of our repudiation of the same, for “Laodiceanism” is a union between the world and the professing Church. “And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us, and how shall we make a league with you?” (verse 7).
No doubt it was the responsible heads of the congregation who took the lead in making answer to these disguised Canaanites, who had come with the express purpose of telling lies, to tempt the people of God and lead them into sin. Three things are evident from their words.
First , they were well instructed in the Law, for they realized it would be wrong to accede to this suggestion.
Third , they did not immediately and impulsively grant their request, but voiced the language of distrust. It is those very things which made the sequel graver. It pays to be wary, yea, suspicious of impostors, if we are not to be deceived by glib tongues. “Put not your trust in princes” ( <19E603> Psalm 146:3), and in a day like ours, “Take ye heed every one of his neighbor, and trust ye not in any brother” ( Jeremiah 9:4).
We are sure to suffer if we disregard such warnings.
The careful reader will have observed that these “inhabitants of Gibeon” (verse 3) are designated “Hivites” in verse 7, and, assured that there is nothing superfluous in Holy Writ, he will endeavor to ascertain why this detail has been placed on record. It cannot be without reason and significance that the Spirit has here told us that these deceivers belong to the Hivites, and therefore it is our duty to discover His design therein. That may require a little trouble on our part (for the meaning of much in the Word is withheld from those who fail to search it diligently), but if it serves to cast light on this incident, it is worth it. The only way to discover the Spirit’s design is to use the concordance and look up other passages, particularly in the earlier books, where “the Hivites” are mentioned. Nor have we far to seek. In Genesis 34: we learn how the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father (who was a “Hivite” — verse 2) “deceitfully” verse 13), and by a treacherous ruse succeeded in slaying them and spoiling their city (verses 14-29). Here then was the biter bit: the descendants of those who had so wickedly deceived the Hivites were now in turn deceived by them!
In the preceding article we called attention to the fact that while the terror of the Lord had not fallen upon the kings of Joshua 9:1, yet it had upon the Gibeonites, and that while we may behold therein an illustration of His sovereignty, who makes one to differ from another as He pleases, yet He acts not capriciously therein. Let us now amplify that statement. There was nothing arbitrary in the Lord’s dealing with these Hivites, rather was He treating with them according to the principles of His government. Though at times His mills grind slowly, yet none the less surely. Centuries previously the sons of Jacob had wickedly tricked the Gibeonites, and now God suffered their descendants to reap the consequences of such deception. Thus what is here before us is a clear case of what is termed “poetic justice.” But though God was righteous in permitting Israel to be imposed upon, that in no wise interfered with their accountability or excused their slackness. Joshua and the princes of the congregation acted quite freely, and, as verse 14 clearly intimates, were to blame because they sought not directions from the Lord. God’s Word, and not His secret will, is the rule of our responsibility. “And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants” (verse 8). This was the language of deference, signifying inferiority and expressing their willingness to perform any tasks assigned them. That was the bait to entrap Israel: We can be useful and do the rough work for you. But Joshua was not satisfied with their indefinite statement. He was on his guard, but not sufficiently so. “And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and front whence come ye?” It was at this very point that he failed. Instead of conferring with them he should have gone apart and sought counsel from the Lord (verse 14). He was evidently in doubt, and “whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” ( Romans 14:23). Even the wisdom of this world warns us, “When in doubt, do nothing.” But the Word of God proffers the believer far better advice than that: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth liberally to all” ( James 1:5).
It is always the height of folly for us to parley with the enemy. Moreover, in thus interrogating them Joshua was but tempting these Gibeonites to tell further lies! Remember that, my reader, and go very slow in asking souls, “Are you saved?” or “How did you like the magazine I loaned you?” lest you be guilty of giving occasion to your friend (in order to “save his face”) to utter a falsehood. “And they said unto him, 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, 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, which was at Ashtaroth” (verses 9, 10).
The Gibeonites had already lied unto the princes of Israel (verse 6 and cf. 15), and now that the further questioning of Joshua had given them an opportunity to declare their true characters, they only used it for an occasion to add to their guilt. Originally they had stated, “We be come from a far country” (verse 6), now they said, “From a very far country,” illustrating the solemn fact that one lie generally leads to another and still worse one. How earnestly we need to pray, Remove from me the way of lying” ( <19B929> Psalm 119:29)! It is very humiliating but salutary to note that the Lord deemed it requisite to enjoin His own children, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor” ( Ephesians 4:25).
Exaggerating is lying, so also is the making of promises which we have no real intention of keeping. Do you really mean it when you say to certain ones, “I am so glad to meet you”? We may act a lie as well as utter one.
A careful examination of the tale told to Joshua by these Gibeonites reveals how everything in it was designed to appeal unto Israel’s pride.
First , they claimed to have come from a very far country, which was to flatter Joshua that he was now being courted by those from so great a distance. That very feature was part of the temptation which fanned the egotism of Hezekiah and led to his undoing, for he was “glad” when the king of Babylon made friendly overtures unto him, and showed his messengers all his treasures, for when God’s servant took him to task, he said: “They are come from a far country unto me” ( Isaiah 39:3).
Beware, my reader, of all those who fawn upon you, and remember that “the Lord shall cut off all flattering lips” ( Psalm 12:3).
Second , their repeated “thy servants” emphasized their readiness to take an inferior and subordinate place, and be subservient to Israel.
Third , they intimated that so great was the fame of Joshua’s God that, even so remotely situate, they had “heard” of His wondrous works. This too was said for the purpose of ingratiating themselves with Joshua, as though they too desired to come under Jehovah’s protection.
One Hebrew scholar tells us that their words “From a very far country are thy servants come because of the name of the Lord thy God” may be translated “unto the name of the Lord thy God”: that is, willing to be proselytes to Judaism, desirous of embracing Israel’s religion — the added “for we have heard the fame of Him” seems to confirm that rendering, and thus a strong appeal was thereby made to Israel’s piety. They appeared to be deeply impressed by the wonders which God had wrought, and therefore sought friendship with Israel. For this purpose they had undertaken a very fatiguing journey, which evidenced their willingness to be tributary unto them. Their story had been carefully thought out and was “all of a piece,” for while they made reference to their knowledge of what Jehovah had done in Egypt and to the kings of the Amorites, they were careful to make no mention, of the supernatural crossing of the Jordan, nor of Israel’s recent victories at Jericho and Ai — for tidings of them would not yet have reached “a very far country”! Thus we are shown how far hypocrites will go in order to gain the friendship of God’s people.
JOSHUA’S FAILURE In our last article (upon the early verses of Joshua 9) we saw how that Israel’s supernatural crossing of the Jordan and the victories which the Lord gave them at Jericho and Ai had struck terror into the hearts of the Gibeonites. Consequently, those Canaanites who resided in that part of the land which Israel must very soon reach determined, by means of a piece of trickery, to outwit the hosts of God, and thereby preserve their own lives.
They decided to pose as those who dwelt in “a far country” — that is, beyond the bounds of Canaan itself — and who wished to enter into a league of peace with the Hebrews. Accordingly, they attired themselves in tattered garments and came to Israel’s camp at Gilgal. They told a plausible tale, saying that the fame of Jehovah had reached their ears — thereby intimating their desire to come under His protection and become proselytes to His religion. They apologized for their sorry appearance, explaining that it was due to the long and fatiguing journey they had come. It was a subtle appeal to Israel’s pride that tidings of the wonder-working power of their God had gone so far abroad that even these remote strangers were acquainted with the same, and therefore sought union with His favored people. In reality it was a tempting of Israel to act at direct variance with an injunction from Jehovah which expressly forbade their doing any such thing.
These Gibeonites belonged to the tribe of the Hivites ( Joshua 9:7). and the renowned Hebraist, John Gill, tells us that “The name Hivites signifies serpents”! They certainly acted here in complete accord therewith, conducting themselves “wilily” ( Joshua 9:4), telling downright lies, and succeeding in thoroughly deceiving Joshua and his princes. Yet Israel ought not to have been imposed upon by them. Even from a natural standpoint their conduct was excuseless. Only recently they had themselves resorted to a subtle strategy in the taking of Ai, and therefore it now behooved them to be doubly on the alert lest they be paid back in their own coin. ‘I he men of Israel were indeed suspicious, for they said, “Peradventure ye dwell among us, and how shall we make a league with you?” ( Joshua 9:7).
Evidently they remembered those words, “When the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee, thou shalt smite them and utterly destroy them: thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them” ( Deuteronomy 7:2).
Nor was Joshua himself satisfied with the first account they gave of themselves, as his “Who are ye? and from whence come ye?” (verse 8) evidenced. Yet the suspicions of both the one and the other were soon lulled to sleep. “And they said, From a very far country thy servants are come, because of the name of the Lord thy God” ( Joshua 9:9).
It is to be noted that though Joshua had specifically asked them, “Who are ye? and from whence come ye?” in their reply they neither declared their nationality nor named the place of their birth. Thus, typically considered, their credentials were unsatisfactory at the vital point, for it is the spiritual birth of those applying for fellowship that the churches need to inquire most closely into. “We have heard... all that He did in Egypt... and to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond Jordan” (verse 10), intimating that a deep impression had been made upon them thereby. “Wherefore our elders 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, and therefore now make ye a league with us” (verse 11).
Thus they pretended that their senate had been formally convened and had unanimously appointed their ambassadors to enter into this covenant with Israel — i.e. they were vouched for by reliable authorities, so that Joshua need have no fear of being imposed upon by charlatans.
If the tale told by these Gibeonites was really true, and they had come from “a very far country,” then the extreme measures which Jehovah had commanded His people to take with the inhabitants of the land ( Deuteronomy 7:1,2) would not have to be executed against them.
This is clear from Deuteronomy 20:15,16, where a very definite distinction was drawn between the two cases: “Thus shalt thou do [offer “peace” unto it (verses 10, 11)] unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. But of the cities of those, people which the Lord thy God hath given thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. But thou shalt utterly destroy them: the Hivites, and the Amorites,” etc. Yet these Gibeonites were not the inhabitants of another country, but belonged to the tribe of the Hivites ( Joshua 9:7), and as Genesis 10:15,17, makes known, “the Hivite” was an immediate descendant of the accursed Canaan ( Genesis 9:25). “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 mouldy. And these bottles of wine, which we filled, were new; and, behold, they be tent; and these our garments and our shoes are become old by reason of the very long journey” (verses 12, 13).
Their repeated “behold” or “see” was an appeal to Israel’s senses. The present condition of the food and clothing of these Gibeonites was appealed to in corroboration of the account which they had given of themselves. But there was no more reason why Israel should be deceived through their eyes than their ears. Had they walked by faith instead of sight, it would have been impossible. For faith always has to with God and is regulated by His Word. Faith is the expression of a spirit of dependence upon Him, and that, in turn, issues from the realization of our own insufficiency. It was doubly inexcusable that Israel were imposed upon here, for they were in “the camp at Gilgal” ( Joshua 9:6), where the tabernacle of the priesthood resided, and therefore the place where the mind of the Lord could be obtained if they sought Him in the way of His appointment. That way had been plainly made known unto Joshua, for through Moses God gave orders to him, “He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him” ( Numbers 27:21).
It was the failure of Israel, and especially of Joshua on this occasion: to avail themselves of God’s gracious provision that rendered their conduct so blameable.
In like manner, there is no excuse for a Christian’s being deceived by appearances, or left in ignorance concerning God’s will as to his path of duty. The Lord has made ample provision for his instruction. It is our holy privilege to go unto the antitypical Eleazar and ask counsel of Him, and the great High Priest of the spiritual Israel will, through the Urim and Thummim (which signify “lights and perfections “) of His Word, lead us in a plain path. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding; in all thy ways acknowledge Him” are His requirements, and if we meet them — by His grace, which He is ever ready to give unto those who humbly seek it ( James 4:6) — then His sure promise is, “and He shall direct thy paths ( Proverbs 3:5,6). As another has aptly expressed it, “This is the polar-star of a child of God — faith in his Father’s providences, promises, and grace. Let the eye look upward, and all will be light ( Matthew 6:22; cf. Psalm 32:8; 34:5). To “trust in the Lord with all our heart” is to make Him our entire and exclusive confidence· To “lean not unto our own understanding” is to renounce our own wit and wisdom and refuse to rely upon the proud dictates of reason.
To “acknowledge God in all our ways” is to own His proprietorship and supremacy, to ask counsel of Him, to seek His glory, and to be conformed unto His will. Comply with those conditions and Divine guidance is guaranteed — His Spirit will bring to our mind the verse which is exactly suited to our case, and cause us to be regulated by the same. But alas, instead of trusting in the Lord with all our hearts we are prone to put our confidence in anyone or anything else. How lamentably we fail in looking alone unto God in each fresh trial and emergency, and counting upon His supplying our every need. It is just because we are so slow in casting all our care upon Him and so reluctant to draw strength from Him day by day, and hour by hour, that we stand in need of this very exhortation. Equally so with the one which immediately follows. The understanding has indeed been given us by God, and it is our duty not only to exercise the same, but diligently to cultivate it. Nor will anything else so sharpen and refine it as will the study of and meditation upon the Scriptures. Nevertheless, it must not be depended upon, for the mind has been degraded by the fall and darkened by indwelling sin, and therefore is, at best, an unsafe guide. Even in a regenerated man, a prophet of God, it proved a mistaken counselor ( 2 Samuel 7:2-5).
As a fallen creature, it is still the tendency of a believer to lean unto his own understanding — to his foolish notions and false fancies; to make a god of reason. Just in proportion as we yield to that tendency are we remiss in acknowledging God in all our ways. If we be regulated by natural prudence much trouble shall we make for ourselves, for God will justly suffer us to reap the consequences of our folly. It was at these very points Israel failed in the incident we are now considering. “And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord” ( Joshua 9:14).
Here was the crux of the whole matter. Israel failed sadly: failed to give the Lord His proper place; failed to avail themselves of His gracious provision to make known His will via the high priest. And the cause of their failure is here plainly revealed, for the two halves of this verse are inseparably connected. By “the men took of their victuals” we are not to understand that they sampled the same by eating thereof, for obviously there was no need to do that with moldy bread. No, it signifies that they took it into their hands for a closer inspection in order to confirm what the Gibeonites had told them. In other words, they walked by sight and relied upon the testimony of their senses. They acted naturally and not spiritually. Instead of seeking guidance from the Lord through His servant, as they were in duty bound to do by His Word, they confided in their own wisdom, relied upon their own judgment, and thus a looking unto God was precluded.
They “asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord”: had they done so there had been no need for them to test the food of these Gibeonites! Had they clone so they had not been deceived by them! The whole blame rested upon themselves.
This was Israel’s second failure after their entrance into Canaan, and in neither of them was Joshua guiltless. The previous one occurred in connection with their first assault on Ai. Those who had reconnoitered the place had said unto Joshua, “Let not all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; make not all the people to labor thither, for they are but few” ( Joshua 7:3).
Flushed by their victory at Jericho, possessed by a spirit of self-confidence, they too much lost sight of the fact that the capture of Jericho was due not to the brilliance of their strategy or the valor of their arms, but to the miracle-working power of Jehovah. They now deemed themselves to be invincible and were assured that the taking of the remainder of Canaan would be a simple task. They therefore felt that a single battalion of their soldiers would be sufficient to capture that town — even though there were “twelve thousand men” in it ( Joshua 8:25). And their leader, instead of seeking counsel from the Lord, foolishly adopted their suggestion. As may well be anticipated, God blew upon their carnal policy and suffered their proud hearts to be humiliated. They were put to shame before their enemies, fled in panic, and the whole congregation of Israel was thoroughly dismayed ( Joshua 7:4-6).
We would naturally think that if there were another failure on the part of Joshua and Israel it would be quite dissimilar from the former one, arising from a different cause. Surely, after having had their eyes opened to see the reason for their first defeat, they would now be doubly on their guard against a repetition of the same. Alas, human nature is slow to learn and profit from its failures. Even the father of the faithful repeated his initial fault, for though he did wrong in going down into Egypt to sojourn there, and committed a yet worse offense in denying his relationship to Sarah, and though he was there put to shame by Pharaoh for his deception ( Genesis 12:10-20), yet he was guilty of the selfsame thing when he went and sojourned in Gerah ( Genesis 20:1,2)! The same was true of poor Peter: as it was a sprat of cowardice which led to his denial of Christ, so he yielded to the same weakness at Antioch, separating from the Gentile believers when certain ones came from Jerusalem, “fearing them which were of the circumcision” ( Galatians 2:12). In each case it was “the fear of man” that ensnared him ( Proverbs 20:25), and as that verse clearly intimates, such ensnaring is the consequence of our not “trusting in the Lord.” Thus it was too in the incident we are now pondering: Joshua relapsed into his former fault.
In the very next test presented to Israel and their leader, they failed in the same way its they did in connection with Ai. Instead of consulting the Lord, they used their “common sense.” As the result, Israel and Joshua too were deceived by the plausible story told by the Gibeonites, and misled by their appearance and the condition of their victuals. And this too has been recorded for our instruction: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” ( Romans 15:4).
Yet it is not the mere reading of them that is required: if we are really to profit therefrom, we must examine each incident closely, pondering each detail carefully, and taking it home unto ourselves. The failures of eminent saints have not been chronicled either to encourage slackness on our part or to discourage us, but rather to illustrate and demonstrate that though the spirit be willing yet the flesh is weak, and especially to give point to that exhortation, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” ( 1 Corinthians 10:12).
If after some painful disillusionment we say, “I believe I have learned my lesson this time,” it is a sure sign we have not done so if we now proudly assure ourselves, “I shall not be deceived again in that way.”
That which supplies such solemn warning to us in the cases alluded to above is that in each instance the failure was not committed by a young and inexperienced disciple, but was the lapse of a mature saint; for Abraham, Peter and Joshua had long walked with God. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear — heed! But, more particularly, that which is now engaging our attention is to be viewed in the light of the book in which it is found, and the special theme which is developed therein. As we have so often stated, the book of Joshua sets forth in both a typical and practical manner the spiritual warfare of the saints, and their present entrance into and enjoyment of their spiritual heritage. And in it the Holy Spirit has described not only Israel’s victories but their defeats also, and a prayerful study of the same makes known to us both the secrets of success and the causes of failure in fighting the good light of faith. It is only as we keep these facts steadily, in mind as we pass from chapter to chapter and from one episode to another, and faithfully make a personal application of the same unto our own hearts and lives, that we shall really be advantaged by the same. Let us then observe carefully the nature of Joshua’s failure on this occasion.
It was more of a negative than a positive one. In nowise was it an act of deliberate disobedience or defiant pitting of his own will against the Lord’s.
Where those elements exist, the offense is very much graver, and the resulting chastisement from God will be much sorer. What Joshua did here was not by studied premeditation, but was more of a case of being “overtaken in a fault” ( Galatians 6:1). That in nowise excused him, yet we must not regard him as being guilty of something worse than what he actually did. Both in Joshua 7:3,4 and here ( Joshua 9:14,15) he acted too impulsively and precipitately. Instead of waiting upon the Lord and seeking direction from Hint, in each instance he acted “on the spur of the moment,” and on the ground of mere nature, walking by sight instead of by faith. What point this gives to the Divine injunction, “He that believeth shall not make haste” ( Isaiah 28:16)! If we act in too big a hurry to pray over anything and work in the energy of the flesh, we displease the Lord, hinder His cause, and bring trouble upon ourselves. The principal lesson taught us in this incident is that, in order to light the good fight of faith successfully, we must maintain the place of dependence upon God and be constantly seeking wisdom from above. “And asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord” (verse 14), and therefore acted in independence of Him — possibly because he regarded this as too trivial a matter to take unto God. But there also we must not lean unto our own understanding: “In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God” ( Philippians 4:4) — big as well as little, the least matters as well as the greatest. What a holy privilege! But “prayer and supplication” is very much more than perfunctorily offering up a petition unto heaven: it is a definite waiting upon God, a diligent seeking from Him. It involved time and trouble for Joshua to ask counsel of the Lord: for it required him to go unto the high priest and inquire His mind through him. As we read in Judges 20:27,28, The children of Israel inquired of the Lord [for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days] saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the Lord said, Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into thine hand” — and cf. 1 Samuel 23:9,12. Observe how frequently “the man after God’s own heart” inquired of Him: 1 Samuel 22:10; 23:2, 4; 30:8; <100201> Samuel 2:1, 5, 19. Beautiful too is the picture set forth in Ezra 8:21. “And Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the princes of the congregation sware unto them” (verse 15). This is not recorded to Joshua’s honor, but it manifests the inflexible fidelity of the Divine historian. Scripture is impartial in relating the blemishes of its most famous characters. Joshua ought to have said to these Gibeonites what a loyal servant of God said to the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin: “Ye have nothing to do with us” ( Ezra 4:3). In order to maintain a testimony unto the holiness of God, His people are required to walk in separation from the world; but here we behold Joshua entering into an alliance with those who were under the Divine curse. That is the grand aim of Satan: to destroy the witness of the saints as those who are called to walk apart from the ungodly. Alas, that they so often permit him to succeed! What communion has light with darkness? What concord is there between a people in covenant relation with the Holy One and those who are idolaters? None whatever. Therefore let the former be much on their guard at this point, conduct themselves accordingly, strenuously resist every temptation from Satan to compromise. Finally, let us remember that the Christian is never to “make peace” with his inward enemies, but must ceaselessly fight against them.
It was said by James Durham, the Puritan, “It is hard to know, in spiritual exercises, whether it be more difficult to attain some gracious frame or to maintain it when it is attained, whether more seriousness is required for making peace with God, or for keeping it when made.” That observation is confirmed both in the teaching of God’s Word and the experience of His children: as it is easier in natural things to squander than acquire, so spiritually to retain is as hard a task as to obtain. In Psalm 85:8, we read, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for He will speak peace unto His people, but let them not turn again to folly.” Alas that we should need such an injunction as that. When a child has burned his fingers he is afraid of the fire, and when a believer has dishonored the Lord. and brought trouble upon himself by foolish conduct, he ought to be doubly on his guard against a repetition thereof. Yet only too often, instead of decreasing self-confidence and walking softly before the Lord, he relaxes his efforts to mortify pride, becomes careless in the use of God’s appointed means for maintaining fellowship with Himself in the paths of righteousness, and therefore falls again into the same sin.
The very fact that believers are here dehorted “let them not turn again to folly” intimates their proneness to do so. Yet that is so far from making any allowance for the same, it expressly forbids it. Moreover, what immediately precedes renders a repetition of the fault the more excuseless. When the Lord has so graciously “spoken peace to His people,” that is, has pardoned their transgressions and allayed their consciences, a spirit of gratitude should cause them to be more careful in avoiding everything which would displease and grieve Him. As Matthew Henry rightly pointed out, “The remission of sins past is not a permission for sins to come, but a great bridle and restraint to it.” Peace is spoken by God unto those who turn from sin, and therefore we have a clearly implied warning here that if we return thereto peace will depart from us. Just so far as we really valve God’s peace will we diligently endeavor to avoid whatever destroys it. Sin is a breach of the Law ( 1 John 3:4), God-ward it is an “offense” ( Romans 5:17) or affront, self-ward it is folly or acting contrary to our interests, “forsaking our own mercies” ( Jonah 2:8).
All sin is foolish, but backsliding is doubly so, and it is because of our corrupt tendency unto it that such a caution as the above requires to be taken to heart by all of us. The more so because of sin’s insidiousness — ever ready to trip us up if we are the least bit off our guard. As pointed out at the close of our last, sin is by no means always premeditated. Joshua’s failure in the making of a covenant with the Gibeonites was no deliberate act of disobedience, but was more a case of being “overtaken in a fault” ( Galatians 6:1) — through hurried action, instead of seeking counsel from the Lord. To be “overtaken in a fault” is a very different thing from resolving and contriving the same: the one is inadvertent, the other planned. It is ever to be borne in mind that the Christian has no inherent strength of his own: he stands by faith ( Romans 11:20), and faith is directly opposed to self-confidence. Therefore it is that, unless he maintains a constant prayerful vigilance and self-discipline, he is ever in danger of a sudden surprisal from the force of temptation, or being overborne by the heat of his passions.
The repetition of such failure has been recorded by the Holy Spirit to bring home to us our weakness and fickleness. If one so highly favored of God as he who had so signally honored Him by. the general tenor of his character and conduct was capable of these momentary lapses, then how much do both writer and reader need to heed that exhortation “Be not high minded, but fear.” The sad fact is that a believer may not only fall into sin, but — unless he preserves a spirit of entire dependence upon the Lord — he may, through the infirmity of the flesh, fall into the same sin. Samson (who was a believer — Hebrews 11:32) did so, first by marrying a Philistine woman ( Judges 14), which was expressly forbidden by the Divine Law, and later by consorting with a Philistine harlot ( Judges 16.), for which he paid dearly. Jehoshaphat committed a great sin in joining affinity with the wicked Ahab ( 2 Chronicles 18:1-3) and was reproved for the same ( Joshua 19:2); yet in Joshua 20:35, we find him relapsing into the same sin. When we are guilty of similar folly, it should lead us to deeper repentance, though not to despair. “And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them. 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” ( Joshua 9:15,16).
As Gill pointed out, “The league seems to have been made the same day they came. The Gibeonites were no doubt in haste to have it confirmed, lest they should be discovered; and Joshua and the princes of Israel took no pains and gave themselves no great trouble to inquire about them, but made peace with them at once.”
And now the deception of the one and the folly of the hasty action of the other were discovered. With rare exceptions, lies are quickly exposed.
Only truth wears and lasts. Impostures are speedily found out, as Jacob’s by his father Isaac, Jeroboam’s wife’s by the prophet ( 1 Kings 14:1-6), that of Ananias and Sapphira ( Acts 5). Then how utterly vain must be every attempt to impose upon Him unto whom “all things are naked and opened”! It is impossible to deceive Omniscience by masquerading before Hint in the garb of a hypocritical profession, nor will His people be deceived thereby if they carefully weigh them in the balances of the Scriptures.
The terrible times in which we are living call for a further word on this practical subject. “The lip of truth shall be established for ever; but a lying tongue is but for a moment” ( Proverbs 12:19).
Then how important it is to eye eternity in all our words — doubly so in the case of preachers! The profession of the Truth may indeed occasion present inconvenience and trouble from men, but it shall receive an eternal reward from God. On the other hand, the preacher who, for momentary gain and popularity, represses the Truth and is a purveyor of lies shall reap a harvest of everlasting shame and woe. But that verse applies to all of us.
As Matthew Henry tersely expressed it, “Those that make a lie their refuge, will find it a refuge of lies.” Falsehoods and deceits are not only evil in themselves, but a foolish expedient, for they expose the perpetrator to speedy detection, which renders him suspect and distrusted in everything.
Even though his fellows should fail to disprove him unless he sincerely repents, “He that speaketh lies shall perish.” ( Proverbs 19:9). Nothing makes us more like the Devil than this, for he was a liar from the beginning ( John 8:44). How earnestly we should pray, “Remove from me the way of lying” ( <19B929> Psalm 119:29)! “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” (verse 16).
That may well be viewed from another angle. Not only is it a fact that, as a general rule, deceptions are quickly discovered, but it is equally true that, where the heart beats true to Him, God will not long suffer His people to be imposed upon. They are children of the day and not of the night, and therefore there is no reason why they should stumble over any obstacles in their path. As their Master declares, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” ( John 8:12).
But to follow Christ means very much more than “believing” in Him: it signifies to commit ourselves unreservedly to His government, to walk in His precepts, to emulate the example which he has left us. And in the main, and with few deviations, that is exactly what Joshua and Israel had done since their entrance into Canaan. They had been obedient to Jehovah, complying with His revealed will in all things. And though they had temporarily failed to seek counsel from Him, and in consequence had been beguiled by the Gibeonites, yet because the main course of their lives was pleasing to God, He soon allowed them to learn their mistake. How gently the Lord deals with us! “And the children of Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon,” etc. (verse 17).
This is explanatory of the foregoing verse and, by implication, shows us how unnecessary was Israel’s precipitate action — had they withheld their judgment and decision but a very short time, they would have learned that these Gibeonites had by no means come from a very far country. By the children of Israel” here, we are not to understand the entire congregation — for the camp still remained at Gilgal ( Joshua 10:17) — but rather their fighting-men with the responsible heads of the tribes. Most probably they had advanced this distance in order to investigate the report they had received. It should be pointed out that this was not the “third day” from setting out on their journey — for it was but a night’s march from Gilgal to their cities ( Joshua 10:9) — but from the time when they first “heard” that the Gibeonites were their neighbors. Definite confirmation of this was now before them, for here were “their cities.” The Holy Spirit’s emphasis here by the repetition of “the third day” intimates that this is a detail which the reader should duly ponder. A further word thereon.
It should be carefully noted that in John 8:12, Christ did not simply say that the one who followed Him should have light, but “the light of life,” and this is exactly what is typically portrayed here in verses 16 and 17, for at the end of three days” brings us (symbolically speaking) on to resurrection ground. Joshua and his fellows had acted by sight instead of faith, and here the Spirit supplies demonstration of that fact. They had conducted themselves on the ground of mere nature, being regulated by their senses, and not as quickened souls whose privilege it was to enjoy unbroken communion with God and be guided by Him. They had, for the moment, relapsed into carnality, but now “on the third day” they were back on resurrection ground and given to see things in a true light. So the Christian has, by God’s grace and power, been brought from death unto life, and is henceforth called upon to “walk in newness of life” ( Romans 6:4) and to “put on the new man” ( Ephesians 4:24), which means to act as one who is a new creature in Christ, to be governed by heavenly principles. If he fails to do so, then he will lack discernment and wisdom for his path, and be left to his erring natural judgment. Only so long as his eye be “single” to God’s glory will he be full of light. “And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel” (verse 18).
Here is further evidence that the rulers in Israel were back again on resurrection ground — in communion with the Lord, conducting themselves as regenerated men. The fear of God was upon them, and they acted accordingly! Had they now been walking according to the flesh, they had argued that “circumstances alter cases,” that because the Gibeonites had lied to them they were now automatically released from keeping their part of the compact. The carnal mind would reason that a covenant was surely not binding when one of the parties entering into it had acted under false pretences. But no such corrupt principles regulated these princes.
Their word was their bond. “Though we have been imposed upon, we must not think ourselves at liberty to retaliate: solemn engagements made, even to our own hurt, must be conscientiously adhered to” (Thomas Scott).
Two wrongs never make one right, and for a child of God to descend unto the sinful level of worldlings is doubly heinous. The deception practiced by these Canaanites did not excuse Israel’s hasty action: they had been foolish in so rashly committing the nation, and now they must suffer the consequences of the same. “And the congregation murmured at the princes” (verse 18). The fault was entirely their own that Israel’s leaders had been ensnared by such a piece of trickery, and though by grace they had respect unto the Lord’s honor and refused to perjure themselves, yet they were made to feel the evil results of failing to “ask counsel at the mouth of the Lord” (verse 14). There is no previous mention of “murmuring” on the part of any of the Israelites; but now their unity was disturbed! This was no casual incident, but a Divine providence, designed to speak loudly unto those who had ears to hear. It was a Divine chastisement, an outward mark of the Lord’s displeasure — yet how mild a one! The immediate reason for this “murmuring” is fairly obvious: the soldiers were chagrined at being withheld from seizing and plundering these cities; nevertheless, had not Joshua and the princes offended against the Lord in acting on their own judgment instead of waiting upon Him for-directions, His restraining hand had prevented such an exercise of the carnal cupidity of the rank and the of the people, and no spirit of discontent and division would have been shown. Though God judicially pardons our failures, in His governmental ways He often makes us to eat the fruits of our folly. “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” (verse 19).
It is blessed to behold the harmony and unanimity of the princes, that none of them were weakened by the opposition which was encountered. It was not only their own word which was involved, but their word under Divine oath, and to violate that would both perjure themselves and grossly discredit their God in the estimation of the heathen. It can hardly be doubted that the congregation itself must have known of their oath, but charity requires us to believe that they had temporarily forgotten it. By way of illustration we may see in this murmuring of the congregation against these princes that, when either religious or political leaders are actuated and regulated by holy and lofty principles, it must not be expected that those under them will appreciate and seek to further their motives, but rather will criticize and oppose. Blessed it is to see how these princes stood their ground, fearing God and not the people. And the Lord honored them therein, for no further murmurings against them are mentioned — the Lord subduing the people’s lusts!
AN HONORED OATH “This we will do to them; we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we sware unto them” ( Joshua 9:20).
In the preceding verses we saw how Israel had been deceived by some of the Canaanites, who, pretending to be from a very far country, posed as ambassadors authorized to treat with Joshua and enter into a treaty of peace for their people. Those impostors had not only prepared a very plausible tale, but were carefully made up in keeping with the part they played, appearing in tattered garments and with moldy bread as evidences of the long journey they had taken. Instead of seeking counsel at the mouth of the Lord. Joshua and the responsible heads of the nation walked by sight and relied upon their senses (verse 14). Instead of deferring their decision and taking the trouble to carefully investigate the claims of the Gibeonites, Israel hurriedly entered into a covenant with them to spare their lives.
Instead of making them a conditional promise, the princes solemnly ratified the agreement by oath (verse 15). All of this should be regarded by us as a pointed warning to avoid precipitate action, and as showing the wisdom of heeding that injunction, “He that believeth shall not make haste” ( Isaiah 28:16).
Within three days the folly of Israel was made manifest, for upon penetrating a little deeper into Canaan they came to the cities of the Gibeonites (verses 16, 17). It is to be duly noted that Israel’s discovery of the trick that had been played upon them was not made by any spiritual discernment of theirs — which had assuredly been the case had a “single eye” been maintained to God’s glory ( Matthew 6:22) — but by external means. Moreover, though the Lord did not allow them to be deceived for any length of time, He made evident, even if in a comparatively mild and gentle way, His displeasure against the princes through His providential dealings with them. The “murmuring” against them by the congregation, though “very natural under the circumstances,” should be regarded as a Divine chastisement — God’s suffering the people to voice their discontent, instead of working in them a spirit of acquiescence. Thus, for the moment, the harmony of Israel was disturbed and their unity seriously threatened. But it is good to see that, with one accord, the princes feared God rather than men, and, so far from desiring amity at any price, recognized that “the wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable” ( James 3:17).
Instead of yielding to the desire of the rank and the of the People, who obviously wanted to avenge themselves upon the Gibeonites, and plunder their cities, all the princes stood their ground, and said, “We have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them” (verse 19).
Matthew Henry pertinently remarked that they “did not apply themselves to Eleazar for a dispensation, much less did they pretend that no faith is to be kept with heretics — with Canaanites; no, they were strangers to the modern artifices of the Roman Church to elude the most sacred bonds and even to sanctify perjuries.” No, they were determined to honor the engagement into which they had entered. Happy the nation whose leaders and governors abide by their obligations. The testing of these princes was a very real one, but though their fidelity should occasion a mutiny of the people, they refused to go against their consciences. There can be little room for doubt that it was their unanimity which God used to pacify the murmuring congregation, teaching us that the best way to suppress discontent by the governed is for there to be a solid and firm front presented by the governors. Yet it was no mere policy of expediency which regulated these princes, but rather the fear of God and their determination not to dishonor Him. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain” ( Exodus 20:7).
An oath, then, is a solemn appeal to the dread name of Jehovah, which, by awakening the spirit of the swearer to a consciousness of the awe-inspiring presence and cognizance of the Most High, gives all its sanctity and power to it. Properly speaking there are four things in an oath.
First , a formal asseveration of the truth — which should always be spoken even though no oath be taken.
Second , an acknowledgment of the presence of the thrice Holy One, who is solemnly called upon as a Witness in confirmation of the statement that we make.
Fourth , an imprecation, in which the swearer calls upon God to be the Revenger of all lies, binding himself to Divine punishment if he swear falsely. Since an oath be the invoking of God, it is an act of worship, an ascribing glory and owning Him as Judge.
It is therefore evident that the violation of an oath is a sin of the first magnitude, for it is a breach of the third commandment, a taking of God’s name in vain, which He will not hold guiltless. As Leviticus 19:12, informs us, to commit perjury in the name of God is an act of profanity.
From such awful considerations it follows that an oath is to be feared ( Ecclesiastes 9:2), and that once made it is binding ( Numbers 30:3) — a solemn example of which is seen in the case of Jephthah ( Judges 11:25). Consequently, it is not to be entered into lightly, nor should one be taken at all except in matters of real importance, and then only in the gravest spirit and manner. There are times, as Deuteronomy 6:13, shows, when it becomes our duty to appeal unto God by solemn oaths, for deciding matters which cannot be adequately settled without one ( Hebrews 6:16). It is to be observed that, when occasion required and men were warranted in the taking of an oath, such obtained centuries before the giving of the Law at Sinai. Thus Abraham swore to Abimelech ( Genesis 21:23,24), and required an oath to be taken by his servant when seeking a wife for Isaac ( Genesis 24:8,9). Jacob swore to Laban, and Joseph to his father. Since these instances had no respect unto the legal institutes of Moses, they lead us to conclude that there would be nothing in the Gospel to forbid such a practice in this Christian era — again and again Paul confirmed his testimony by calling on God as Witness ( Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20). “This we will do to them: we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we sware unto them” (verse 20).
One of the distinguishing marks given of those who shall abide in the Lord’s tabernacle (enjoy intimate communion with Him) and dwell in His holy hill (spend eternity in heaven) is, “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not” ( Psalm 15:1,4): that is, who will not go back on his oath no matter what temporal loss might be involved. On the other hand. “perjured persons” are classed with murderers of fathers and mothers, whoremongers, slave dealers, etc. ( 1 Timothy 1:9,10). Very far were these princes from now treating their engagement with the Gibeonites as “a mere scrap of paper” — the Kaiser, Hitler and Mussolini brought down Divine wrath upon themselves and their people by just such perfidy. It is exceedingly solemn to observe that this was one of the crimes which characterized Israel during the closing days of their Old Testament history — see Zechariah 5:4; Malachi in. 5; 2 Chronicles 36:11-13 — “until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy” ( 2 Chronicles 36:16).
Only so long as Britain honors her treaty obligations — no matter what sacrifices be involved — is there any hope of “remedy” for its people. “And the princes said unto them, Let them live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation; as the princes had promised them” (verse 21).
These princes were twelve in number, one at the head of each of Israel’s tribes ( Numbers 1:15,16,44). That God was pleased with their sparing the lives of the Gibeonites is clearly evidenced from the sequel, for the very next chapter records how He gave them the most glorious victory in all their wars. Furthermore, we find that, centuries later, He severely avenged the wrong which Saul did unto the descendants of this tribe, manifesting His sore displeasure against that king’s injuring of them in violation of this very league ( 2 Samuel 21:1) — mark how David, the “man after God’s own heart,” honored his oath to Jonathan in this connection, exempting Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, from the just avengement (verse 7).
Though the lives of these Gibeonites were spared, their liberty was taken from them, and they were made bondmen — not only tributaries, but under the yoke of servitude. To be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” would not only be wearisome employment, but regarded as a very low and menial one (cf. Deuteronomy 29:11).
From what has been before us in the above incident, as well as from its sequel, we may perceive how that we are never the ultimate losers by fearing the Lord and honoring His name. Folly was committed by Joshua and the princes in so hastily concluding a league with the Gibeonites, and it was too late to rectify it: nevertheless, God overruled the same to His own glory and the benefit of His people, providing both Himself and them with useful servants. God can, and in His own wondrous way often does, turn our mistakes into advantages. That way will not be as good and glorious as His first best for us, yet it will not be without blessing. The same incident also teaches us the needlessness of taking things into our own hands and seeking to anticipate the Divine appointment. The congregation suffered no injury by restraining their desire to seize and plunder the cities of the Gibeonites mentioned in Joshua 9:17, for if the reader will consult Joshua 18:25-28, he will find that in the end, when the land came to be divided, the first three cities there mentioned were obtained by them, and the fourth in Joshua 15:2. It is never to our detriment to wait the Lord’s time! “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?” (verse 22).
Let us duly observe and admire: the blessed restraint which Israel’s leader here placed upon himself. Though these Gibeonites were now entirely at his disposal, he used not his power tyrannically. Nor did he give way to an outburst of temper because of their chicanery, and harshly denounce them as base liars. Instead, he mildly reproved them for their fraud and gave them opportunity to explain their conduct. As Matthew Henry rightly pointed out, “A just cause needs not anger to defend it, and a bad one is never made the better by it.” The Lord forbids us rejoice (malignantly) when our enemy falls ( Proverbs 24:17), and severely chastised the Edomites because they had “spoken proudly in the day of Judah’s distress” ( Obadiah 1:12). This was the sin of Shimei, scorning his humiliated sovereign ( 2 Samuel 16:5-9), for which he paid with his life ( 1 Kings 2:9,10) How very differently was the Lord Jesus dealt with when He was arraigned before His judges! In Joshua’s mild treatment of the Gibeonites we may behold blessedly shadowed forth “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 10:1). “Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God” (verse 23).
Those words do not signify that Joshua now pronounced a curse upon them, but rather that it would henceforth be made to appear that they belonged to an accursed posterity. In a previous article we pointed out that the reason why these Gibeonites are designated “‘Hivites” in Joshua 9:9, was to intimate that they were the descendants of Canaan ( Genesis 10:5-7), and here we have set before us an illustration of the sentence pronounced upon him because of his father’s sin. By the spirit of prophecy Noah had declared, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren” ( Genesis 9:25).
The curse, then, consisted of servitude, and here we behold one part of its fulfillment in these Gibeonites being made the manual servants of Israel.
How mysteriously yet wondrously does God order His providences unto the fulfillment of His Word, guiding the princes to select or determine this particular form of punishment upon these men! In Joshua’s confirmation of the sentence of the twelve princes we have a striking adumbration of Christ making good His promise to the twelve apostles, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound [ratified] in heaven” ( Matthew 18:18). “And they answered Joshua, and said, Because it was certainly told thy servants, how that the Lord thy God commanded Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you, therefore we were sore afraid of our lives because of you, and have done this thing” (verse 24).
Let us first notice that in this part of their reply they bore witness to God’s having made good one of His promises to Israel and fulfilled a prophecy made through Moses, to the effect that such reports would reach their ears of the irresistible power of Israel’s God, and the fame of His wondrous works on their behalf, that the inhabitants of Canaan would be filled with dismay and their hearts sink within them. “I will send My fear before thee and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come” ( Exodus 23:27). “This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon all nations” ( Deuteronomy 2:25), Jehovah had declared, thereby fulfilling the prediction of Exodus 15:14: “The people shall hear and be afraid, sorrow shall take hold of the inhabitants of Palestina.’” Such terror would fill them that their spirits would sink completely and they would be panic-stricken at the prospect before them. Such was the case here. “There shall no man be able to stand before you: for the Lord your God shall lay the fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon, as He hath said unto you” ( Deuteronomy 11:25).
God would strike such terror into the Canaanites, and make them so conscious of their impotency, that He would render the same subservient to the success of His people. Rahab had, previously, avowed the accomplishment of this, acknowledging that tidings of Jehovah’s miracleworking power had reached them, that “your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you” ( Joshua 2:9).
In like manner will God yet make good every prophecy He has made and every promise that He has given. It is therefore to be duly noted that these Gibeonites freely testified that the nation of Israel was now acting according to the commandment of the Lord their God, and not from a spirit of personal blood-thirstiness and greed. They made no attempt to justify the lies which they had told, but frankly owned that they were in dread of losing their lives, and that the principle of self-preservation had moved them to resort to such a device. “And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do” (verse 25).
That was tantamount to saying, We are fully in thy power and entirely at thy disposal, and readily submit ourselves to thy discretion. Their foregoing statement evinces that they had not only “heard” but also believed that God’s promises to His people and threatenings to His enemies would certainly be fulfilled. They realized God’s word was inviolable and His power invincible, and therefore nothing remained but for them to cast themselves upon His clemency. In their “as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do” unto Joshua, one can see they hoped for the best: treat with us according to the laws of justice and kindness, and especially act consistently with the league made and the oath taken. It is in precisely such a spirit and attitude that sinners are to come before God in Christ — convicted of their sins, convinced of the verity of God’s threatenings, casting themselves upon His good pleasure, hoping in His mercy, submitting unreservedly to His will, ready to take His yoke upon them. “And so He did unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not. And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the Lord” (verses 26, 27).
How blessedly the and-typical Joshua was there foreshadowed! Though the guilt of these men was established, and though they belonged to an accursed race, yet he spared their lives, and that on the ground of a covenant made by oath! Thus he did what was both good and right”: yea, he went beyond what they “asked or thought,” showing them favor and conferring honor upon them, by appointing them to minister unto the “altar of the Lord”; and thus they would be taught the worship of the true God and delivered from idolatry. It is striking to note that the only ones who acknowledged what they “heard” about the Lord ( Joshua 2:10; 9:24) were delivered from His judgments. The descendants of these Gibeonites — termed “Nethinim” or “devoted persons” — had a place of honor in the service of the temple centuries later ( 1 Chronicles 9:2; Ezra 8:20; Nehemiah 7:60).