Israelites, hardened by 40 years in the deserts of Sinai and present day
Southwest Saudi Arabia, had conquered the Gilead area east of the Jordan
River, killing all the people of Kings Sihon and Og. They had miraculously
crossed over the flooded Jordan River on dry ground, and walked around the
fortified city of Jericho for seven days until the massive walls suddenly
collapsed, allowing them to rush in and capture the city. In all these
events, the people of Canaan saw that the hand of God was with the
Israelites. One of them, the woman Rahab, told two Israelite spies, “I
know that the LORD has given the land to you, and that a great fear of you
has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear
because of you” (Joshua 2:9).
victorious Israelites marched on and destroyed the city of Ai, burning it
to the ground. Thus the stage was set for the Gibeonites to act out their
part in “The Gideonite Deception”. To understand what happened next,
we have to ask: Where exactly was Gibeon?
was a city less than ten kilometres northwest of Ai, which the Israelites
razed to the ground. And Ai was almost due west of Jericho, which was also
completely destroyed by the invading Israelites. What does all this mean?
It means that the Israelites were moving westward from Jericho, bringing
utter destruction to cities and towns in their path; if they continued to
advance in the same direction, Gibeon was probably going to be the next
place to be destroyed. So now we can see how desperate the Gibeonites
all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things (the destruction
caused by the Israelites) …. they gathered together to make war against
Joshua and Israel” (Jos 9:1&2). Well, not quite. The Gibeonites
chose another, non-violent, way of dealing with the Israelite threat.
And no, they did not tuck their tails between their legs and flee
westward, into the sunset.
the Gibeonites sent a delegation to meet the Israelites. But what a
delegation! They loaded their donkeys “with worn-out sacks and old
wineskins, cracked and mended. The men put worn and patched sandals on
their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was
dry and moldy” (Jos 9:4&5). Then they went to Joshua at his camp at
Gilgal, near Jericho. It was a ride of just over 30 kilometres, which
would normally take about two days to cover at a leisurely pace. But the
Gibeonites were on an urgent mission, to reach the Israelites before they
got within striking distance of Gibeon.
whoa, wait a minute, didn’t the Israelites destroy Jericho, and move
further west to destroy Ai? And now they were east of
Jericho, at Gilgal? Isn’t it a mystery why they did this, instead of
camping near Ai, preparing to attack the next town or city?
Jesus was continually asking people to think, or asking questions to make
them think, for example at Matthew 17:25 and the 62 questions he asked in
the book of Mark. If we put on our thinking caps, we will see that if the
Israelites had camped at Ai, they would have been out in the open and in
danger of being attacked by the armies under the kings of Canaan. By
withdrawing to Gilgal, they put vital distance between themselves and
those armies. Gilgal was in hill country where enemies could not attack
them stealthily and suddenly. Also, the chariots of the resident armies
were of little use in the hills. Thus, did it make good military sense to
have a secure base camp at Gilgal?
the Gibeonites came to the Israelite camp and said, “We have come from a
distant country; make a treaty with us” (Jos 9:6). The Israelites were
naturally suspicious and asked, “But perhaps you live near us. How then
can we make a treaty with you?” What great reply did they give? “We
are your servants,” they told Joshua. Weren’t they evading the
must have made Joshua suspicious too, for he asked a double-barrelled
question: “Who are you and where do you come from?” (Jos 9:8). Ask a
double-barrelled question and you get a double-barrelled reply. The
Gibeonites combined their first two statements and said, “Your servants
have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your
God.” A propagandist once said that if you tell a lie often enough,
people will believe it. The Gibeonites repeated their lie. Not only did
they repeat it, but did you notice that they also intensified it?
Yes, in Jos 9:6 they said that they had come from a distant
country, and now they said “a very distant country”.
you keep an eye on their mention of God? Magicians move one hand to
distract the audience from what their other hand is doing. And so it is
with liars. The Gibeonites threw in a distraction. By praising God, the
Gibeonites skillfully shifted attention to Him. And they smoothly
continued, “For we have heard reports of Him; all that He
did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the
Amorites east of the Jordan – Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of
Bashan.” With their attention now fixed on the LORD, neither Joshua nor
the Israelites noticed that Joshua’s question about who they were and
where they came from had still not been answered!
our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take
provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are
your servants, make a treaty with us.”’” This cleverly explained why
they kept saying that they were the servants of the Israelites and asking
for a treaty.
they delivered the masterstroke. “This bread of ours was warm when we
packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry
and moldy it is.” they declared. “And these wineskins that we filled
were new, but see how cracked they are.
And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long
journey.” And they offered
up these “proofs” for inspection.
the bread was indeed dry and moldy, the wineskins cracked, and their
clothes and sandals were truly worn out, the Israelites concluded that the
rest of what they had said must also be true.
Liars know that the art of lying does not consist of telling lies
all the time, but in saying things that are true and slipping in a lie
Joshua made a treaty of peace with them, to let them live, and the leaders
of the assembly ratified it by oath. Ahhh, I wonder, how do you make a
treaty without knowing the name of the other country? If the Gibeonites
had named their country later, why did the Israelites not recognise it as
a nearby country? Was it a
failure of their intelligence collection system?