Bible Commentaries
Joshua 9

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-27

The Gibeonite Deception (9:1-27)

The opening verses of chapter 9 (vss. 1-2) and the account of the Covenant at Shechem (8:30-35) interrupt the connection be-tween 8:29 and 9:3. These two pieces appear to be editorial insertions into an older narrative or tradition.

The story of the ruse of the Gibeonites, in securing from Joshua and the invading Israelites a covenant ensuring immunity from attack, is a first-class example of ancient cunning. The Bible contains various illustrations of people who maneuvered within the framework of antique laws and customs to secure for them-selves special advantages (Jacob and the birthright, Genesis 27; Tamar and Judah, Genesis 38; and the like).

It is clear from verses 11 and 17 that the deputation that arrived at Gilgal with the seeming marks of long travel upon the members was made up of official representatives of a league of four cities of the central hill country. All of these towns were within a radius of about five miles of Gibeon. They obviously acted without consultation with other Canaanite cities, as the sequel in 10:1-5 shows, and determined on a desperate gamble to save themselves from what they regarded as certain destruction at the hands of the invaders. Since Joshua had vowed the obliteration of all the peoples of the land, the possibilities open to the Gibeonites were complete victory over the Israelites (which these four cities regarded as impossible), a stratagem leading to self-preservation as a minority group with guaranteed rights in a conquered country, or complete annihilation.

The sanctity of covenant agreements sworn in the name of the Deity (vss. 18-19) and sealed in a common meal (vs. 14; see Genesis 31:54; Exodus 18:12) is clearly attested from the sequel. Discovery of the ruse—how we are not told—led to a hurried investigation of the places from which the deputation had come (vs. 17) and too much violent controversy and accusation against the Israelite leaders, who had trusted their own judgment instead of inquiring from the Lord (vs. 14), possibly by the Urim and Thummim. But in spite of the pressure to overthrow the terms of the treaty in view of the trickery involved (vss. 18, 26), the sanctity of the agreement was upheld and the inhabitants of the four towns were spared.

Their punishment is said to have been reduction to slavery; they became "hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD" (vs. 27; compare vss. 21, 23). The story is told, in part at least, to explain how it came about that Gibeonites served as menials in the Temple service of later times. King Solomon probably used the Gibeonites as attendants at the sanctuary of Gibeon, at which he is said to have offered great numbers of burnt offerings in the period before the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 3:4). It may be that he brought the Gibeonite slaves to the new Temple, since they were experienced cult functionaries.

Recent extensive archaeological excavations at the site of Gibeon show that the founding of the city occurred at about 3,000 B.C. Eight springs of water made possible the city’s growth and extensive history until its abandonment in the first century B.C. That the Gibeonites were experienced "drawers of water" is evident from the city’s great pool with its interior circular staircase which led down from the heart of the walled city to the source of water eighty feet below. This pool was constructed probably in the twelfth or eleventh century B.C. A more efficient tenth-century stepped water tunnel 148 feet long, cut through the solid rock on which the city stood to the cistern room at the exterior base of the mound, was found nearby. Both cuts through the rock below the city were made to assure access to water in times of siege. The excavators found that the principal industry of Gibeon was the making of wine, which was placed in specially constructed jugs with stoppers and stored in scores of vats chiseled out of the cool rock. Wine-jar handles, inscribed with the name "Gibeon" in archaic Hebrew characters, were found. These fixed beyond question the identity of the city. It is calculated that in the seventh century B.C. the storage capacity of the vats exceeded 25,000 gallons. Unfortunately, the excavators found no stratified remains of the Canaanite city of Joshua’s time, though they did open two tombs containing extensive deposits from this period. Perhaps future excavations will tell more about this important city.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Joshua 9". "Layman's Bible Commentary".