Read Joshua 9, Jeremiah 35, and Psalms 81-83.
This devotional is about Joshua 9.
What would you do if your country was being attacked by a ruthless band of vagabonds who, despite their limited means, were winning their battles with seemingly supernatural help? That’s the question that the Gibeonites were asking themselves during Joshua’s conquest of Canaan; their answer is recorded here in Joshua 9.
I think my answer would have been unconditional surrender: “Take us over; we’re all yours. Please be merciful to us.”
The Gibeonites, however, didn’t try this. It seems impossible, but perhaps they had heard about the instructions God gave in Deuteronomy 7:1-2: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” That last sentence, “Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy” doesn’t seem to leave any room for surrender. Again, is it possible that the Gibeonites had heard about these instructions? It seems unlikely, but given how much they (vv. 9-10) Rahab (Josh 2:9-11) knew about God and his work on behalf of Israel, maybe word about God’s instructions had spread, too, along with these reports.
Regardless of what they knew about Israel, the Gibeonites responded to the threat of Israel through deception. They concocted a story about being from a “distant country” (v. 6, 9) and backed it up with costumes and props that would support their story (vv. 4-5, 11-13).
Their plan worked and Israel entered into a treaty with the Gibeonite without even knowing where they were from (v. 15, 19). Verse 14 notes that, “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.” In other words, they trusted the information from their 5 senses enough that they did not look to the Lord for insight and wisdom.
Note the contrast between Joshua 7 and today’s passage in Joshua 9. In Joshua 7, Israel was defeated by Ai, and Joshua started praying (7:6-9) but God told him to stop praying and start rooting sin out of the camp (vv. 10-12). I take this to mean that Joshua should have known there was a sin problem since God had promised to defeat Israel’s enemies and had done so—miraculously so—in Jericho. Joshua and the elders of Israel were asking God, in Joshua 7, why when they should have been asking him, “Who sinned?”
Now here in Joshua 9 they were tempted to depart from God’s clear instructions and yet they did not think to ask God. Instead, they decided to follow what seemed reasonable.
You and I face this kind of temptation, too. We know what God has said but we think the option in front of us is some kind of exception to God’s clear word. When we do this, we are putting ourselves at risk. At the very least we risk making an unwise decision; often we are making a sinful decision, one that will cause us great pain later.
In this case, the Gibeonites saved their skin through this deception (vv. 16-18). That was not the most damaging outcome that could have happened to Israel but it did cause the leadership to lose some credibility (v. 18d).
My question about this passage is: Did Israel really need to honor this treaty? The Gibeonites were completely dishonest. Their argument for the treaty was a total lie and they sold their lie with deception. Doesn’t their dishonesty invalidate the agreement?
I think it probably would have been permissible morally to break their treaty. However, Israel’s leaders were at fault here, too. They could have investigated the claims of the Gibeonites more thoroughly and they could and should have sought guidance from the Lord.
Given that Israel agreed to this—foolishly—it may have been permissible morally to attack the Gibeonites, but it was probably not the godly response. Joshua’s statement in verse 20: “This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them” was, at last, a godly way to look at the situation. Psalm 15:4b says that a godly person “keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind.” This is why Jesus cautioned us not to take oaths at all (Matt 5:33-37).
Are there any promises you’ve made that you should live up to, even though you made them foolishly and they will be more costly than you expected to fulfill? Let his passage inform your life; be careful about what you commit to do but, if you do commit to do something, make sure you do it. This is an approach that honors our Lord.