When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they also acted craftily and set out as envoys, and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys and wineskins worn-out, torn and mended, and worn-out and patched sandals on their feet and worn-out clothes on themselves; and all the bread of their porvision was cry and moldy. They went to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us.” The men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you are living within our land; how then shall we make a covenant with you?” But they said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” Then Joshua said to them, “Who are you and where do you come from?” They said to him, “Your servants have come from a very far country because of the fame of the LORD your God; for we have heard the report of Him and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon and to Og, king of Bashan who was at Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, ‘We are your servants; now then, make a covenant with us….So the men of Israel took some of their provisions and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD. Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with the to let them live; and the leaders of the congregations swore an oath to them. Joshua 9: 3-11, 14
These enemies of Israel came posing as friends to trick the Israelites into a false covenant. The intent of their deception was to infiltrate the camp in order to overcome Joshua and the children of Israel and to destroy them.
Being hoodwinked by others is a miserable experience. Perhaps you’ve been tricked or deceived by someone who appeared to have your best interest at heart. Why do people do that?
People trick us for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they want your possessions or money. Perhaps they’re after your job or they want you to do something for their benefit. Perhaps they deceive out of a real or imagined fear of you. Whatever the motivation, someone who behaves this way has a dishonest motive.
Joshua and the elders of Israel fell into this trap because they acted impulsively without taking time to pray: “They did not ask counsel of the Lord” (9:14). A wise person does not act impulsively regarding decisions that link people together – whether marriage, friendship or business dealings. The wise consider the situation and ask the LORD for guidance.
Secondly, Joshua and the elders didn’t want to face another war. Here we are speaking of a literal war between Israel and the Gibeonites. However, there are other ‘wars’ we face such as disagreements or arguments that put family members at odds with each other. Before the stinging word crosses our lips, it is wise and prudent to turn first to the LORD for help and wisdom in the situation, rather than react impulsively, only to make things worse. Who of us has not regretted an impulsive word that lingered in the memory of another for years, causing tension or distance?
Thirdly, Joshua and the elders were afraid of the big coalition of six nations. They forgot momentarily how the LORD had saved them over and over again when they walked in obedience to Him. They looked at the circumstances instead looking to the LORD of the circumstances.
Fourthly, their faith failed them. They didn’t believe or follow God’s promise to fight with them to conquer all the land.
Finally, they believed a half-truth. The Gibeonites said:
“We have heard of your fame . . . what God did in Egypt” (v. 9-10). TRUE.
“We are your servants” (v. 11). TRUE
“God commanded you to destroy all the inhabitants” (v. 24). TRUE.
But the Gibeonites, who lived only 18 miles away, told five lies:
“We are from a far country” (v. 6). FALSE
“We came because of . . . your God” (v. 9). FALSE
“Our bread was hot . . . now moldy” (v. 12). FALSE
“Our wine new . . . now old and rent” (v. 13). FALSE
“Our garments were new . . . now old and worn” (v. 13). FALSE
Sadly, Joshua accepted their stale bread as a basis for peace. “The men of Israel took some of their provisions” (9:14). He believed the ambassadors. “Joshua made peace with them” (9:15) because he forgot that Israel was specifically told by God NOT to make covenants with those nations.
The result was catastrophic – it always is. Three days later, Joshua and the elders learned the truth about these ‘ambassadors.’ They were liars and tricksters to whom Joshua had given his word on behalf of the nation. Therefore Israel was bound to keep their part of the bargain. The whole congregation grumbled against the leaders but Joshua and the elders refused to harm the Gibeonites because of the covenant they had made with them. Instead the Gibeonites became servants to Israel, the very thing they had falsely professed to be.
Joshua and the children of Israel learned a hard lesson in this situation. Though they had been deceived and manipulated into a covenant, that did not give them license to break it. To their credit, Joshua and the elders acted with integrity by keeping their part of the covenant and refusing to harm the Gibeonites. To choose to do right when the other party has done wrong is never easy, but it is the RIGHT thing to do.
To avoid finding ourselves in such situations, let us remember what Joshua forgot. Guard against impulsive decisions, seek the LORD’s direction before making decisions that form alliances and keep your word, even when it costs you to do so.