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And it came to pass, when all the kings. According to the explanation given above (Joshua 6:5, Joshua 6:15) of the particle כwith the infinitive, this must mean immediately. We must therefore suppose that the distance at which they lived from the scene of the events had prevented them from comprehending their astounding character so clearly as those who lived in the immediate neighbourhood (see Joshua 2:11; Joshua 5:1; Joshua 6:1). The kings (see Introduction). In the hills. "The land is classified under three heads: the hills (or mountain district), the plain, and the sea coast over against Lebanon" (Keil). The hills are not the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon range, the operations against which are detailed in Joshua 11:1-23; but the mountains of Ephraim and Judah. The word translated "valleys" here is neither עֲרָבָה nor כִּכַּר (see above note on Joshua 3:16), but שְפֵלָה or low country, i.e; the great plain from Joppa, or Carmel, to Gaza. The חוֹףor sea coast probably refers to the coast between Type and Joppa. The Hittite. The Girgashites are the only tribe omitted here from the list in Joshua 3:10.
With one accord. One mouth, according to the Hebrew, referring not merely to their opinions, but to the expression of them. "O that Israel would learn this of Canaanites, to sacrifice private interests to the public welfare, and to lay aside all animosities among themselves, that they may cordially unite against the common enemies of God's kingdom" (Matthew Henry).
The inhabitants of Gibeon. That is, of a confederation of cities (see Joshua 9:17), of which Gibeon was the head. Gibeon was a city of some importance (Joshua 10:2). Though it was for size and importance "as one of the royal cities," we hear nothing of a king there. Hengstenberg, in his history, describes it as "eine freie Stadt," with daughter cities dependent on it. In fact, the Phoenician cities (see Introduction) seem to have had as great a variety of constitution as those of ancient Greece. Its inhabitants were Hivites (Joshua 9:7, and Joshua 11:19). Its name (compare Gibeah and גִבְעָה a hill) signifies hill city, like the termination dunum in Latin, as Lugdunum, or Lyons; dune in Anglo-Saxon, as Ethandune. Compare also Dunkirk. Robinson, in his 'Biblical Researches,' 2:135-9, identifies it with el-Jib, a village on an eminence in the midst of a fertile plain, where the remains of large buildings may still be seen. (So Vandevelde and Condor) "Onely the Hivites are wiser than their fellowes, and will rather yeeld and live. Their intelligence was not diverse from the rest; all had equally heard of the miraculous conduct and successe of Israel; but their resolution was diverse. As Rahab saved her family in the midst of Jericho, so these foure cities preserved themselves in the midst of Canaan; and both of them by beleeving what God would do. The efficacie of God's marvellous works is not in the acts themselves, but in our apprehension" (Bp. Hall).
They did work wilily. Rather, and they worked—they also—with craft. The reference, no doubt, is to the confederacy of the other kings. The Gibeonites also acted upon what they had heard, but they preferred an accommodation to war. So Calvin and Rosenmuller; also Drusius. And they felt that they could only effect their purpose by craft. Other explanations are given, such as that a reference is made to Joshua's stratagem at Ai. Keil rejects both, and proposes an explanation of his own, which is unintelligible. Origen's interpretation here is interesting as a specimen of the theology of the third century. He regards the Gibeonites as the type of men who, though they are enrolled in the Church as believers and have faith in God, and acquiesce in all the Divine precepts, and are ready enough to take part in all the external duties of religion, are yet involved in vices and foulnesses, like the Gibeonites in their old garments and clouted shoes. They display no signs of improvement or alteration, yet Jesus our Lord concedes to them salvation, even though that salvation does not escape a certain stigma of disgrace. That there may be some persons in a condition somewhat resembling this described by Origen may be admitted, but it is difficult to see how any one in a state of salvation can display no signs of improvement whatever. There are many who do not improve as they might, whom we should yet hesitate to pronounce altogether reprobate from God. But surely the entire absence of all improvement is a manifest sign of reprobation. This passage is one of many among the voluminous works of Origen in which that holy and learned man has not sufficiently weighed what he was saying (see below, verse 23). Made as if they had been ambassadors. "Sent an embassy" (Luther). If we take this reading, we must suppose, with Grotius and others, the word to be the Hithpahel of צִיר to go, to revolve. But the form is rare, and the word is elsewhere unknown, at least in Hebrew, though an Arabic form of it is found. It is therefore better to read יֹצְטַיָּדוּ "they prepared themselves provisions." This is the reading of the LXX; the Vulgate, the Chaldee, the Syriac, and of most modern editors. It is rendered still more probable by the occurrence of the same word in verse 12. Old sacks. Rather, worn out, and so throughout the passage. The usual mode of conveyance still in the East is in sackcloth bags on the backs of horses, mules, camels, and asses. Such bags are apt to meet with rough usage in a long journey. Wine bottles. Rather, wine skins, the wine then being kept in skins, not in vessels of glass. This explains how they could be burst open (מְבֻקָּעִים) and tied up. These skins were hung up frequently in the smoke (Psalms 119:83), which gave them a shrivelled appearance. The first bottles were made of such skins, as Herodotus tells us. The Egyptian monuments confirm his statements, displaying as they do skins of animals so used, with the legs or the neck forming what we still term the "neck" of the bottle (cf. Homer, Iliad, 4:247, ἀσκῷ ἐν αἰγείῳ). Similar bottles are depicted on the walls of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and the like may be seen still in Italian villages. They were pitched over at the seams to prevent leakage. Bound up. The usual mode of mending in the East, except when a patch is inserted, is to tie or sew up the hole.
Shoes. Literally, things tied on; i.e; sandals, attached with straps to the sole of the foot. Clouted, i.e; patched. The intensive Pual suggests that they were very much patched. The participle Kal is translated "spotted" in Genesis 30:32, Genesis 30:33, Genesis 30:35. Mouldy. נִקֻּדִים literally, marked with points, i.e; mildewed, Provision צֵידָם. "Proprie vendtionem" (Vatablus). "Panis enim mucidus punctis respersus est albis viridibus et nigris" (Rabbi David, in libro Radicum). So the LXX; Theodotion, and Luther. This gives a better sense and more according to the derivation than the interpretation crumbs of bread, given by Gesenius and Keil, after Aquila, Symmachus, and the Vulgate, which has "in fustra comminuti." The cracknels (the same word in Hebrew as here) in 1 Kings 14:3 were probably biscuits marked with points by a sharp pointed instrument, in the same way as the Jewish passover cakes are at the present day.
To the camp at Gilgal. Many commentators, among whom we may number Vandevelde and the recent Palestine Exploration Expedition, suppose that the Gilgal mentioned here is another Gilgal, and certainly the supposition derives great force from the fact that there is a place the modern name of which is Jiljilia, situated near the oaks of Moreh, whose situation would be far more central, and would fall in better with the rest of the history (see notes on Joshua 8:30), than the original Gilgal. That such a second Gilgal is known to Jewish history would appear from Deuteronomy 11:30, where its situation is clearly pointed out as that of the modern Jiljilia, near the oaks of Moreh, and near the Arabah (champaign, Authorised Version), which runs in that direction. Jiljulieh, in the plain of Sharon, is supposed by Vandevelde and the Palestine explorers to be a third Gilgal, and Jerome, in his 'Onomasticon,' has identified it (see note on Joshua 12:23). The Gilgal in 1 Samuel 13:4-12 seems to require a central position like that of Jiljilia, rather than a place near the fords of Jordan. As Ewald reminds us, the earlier Gilgal lay out of the road from Jericho to Bethel (see also 2 Kings 2:1-6). The only argument against such a second Gilgal is the improbability of a removal of the camp without any mention of such removal by the historian, and the improbability of there having been a second Gilgal as the place of encampment of the Israelites. It is possible, however, that the second great place of encampment received the memorable name of the first, from the keen sense that the Israelitish encampment was the abode of a people from which the "reproach of Egypt" was forever rolled away. Another explanation is suggested by a comparison of Joshua 15:7 with Joshua 18:17 (see note on the former passage). The second Gilgal, if it really existed, was well suited for its purpose. "It was in the centre of the country, situated upon a steep hill, with a good table land at the top, and commanded a most extensive prospect of the large plain in the west, and also towards the north and east" (Keil)—precisely the place which an able general would be likely to select. Though "in a high position'' (Vandevelde), it was "lower than Gibeon," and was "an hour west of Sinjil on the Jerusalem Shechem road." Its situation enabled Joshua to strike a decisive blow without delay (Joshua 10:7, Joshua 10:9). It is clear that this suggestion entirely obviates the difficulty of the concluding verses of Joshua 8:1-35. And as the name implies a circular form as well as motion, and early camps were usually circular, it may have been the ordinary name for an encampment among the Hebrews.
And the men of Israel said. The Keri here has the singular number instead of the Chethibh plural, in consequence of Israel speaking of itself collectively in the word בְּקִרְבִּי and of the singular אִישׁ. But this last with a plural verb, as a noun of multitude, occurs in the historical books in places too numerous to mention. See, for instance, 1 Samuel 14:22, just as עַם in many passages, e.g; 2 Samuel 18:7, is the nominative to a plural verb. The Hivites (see note on 2 Samuel 18:3). Peradventure ye dwell among us, and how can we make a league with you? This was strictly forbidden in Exodus 23:32; Exodus 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:2, in reference to neighbouring nations, on account of the polluting influence their example had exercised (Numbers 25:1-3), and was sure to exercise, as the subsequent history of the Israelites from Judges 2:1-23 onwards, proves.
We are thy servants. This does not mean altogether, as Joshua 9:9 shows, that the Gibeonites intended by this embassy to reduce themselves to servitude. Their object, as Grotius remarks, was rather to form an alliance on terms of something like equality. The phrase was one common in the East as a token of respect (e.g; Genesis 32:4, Genesis 32:18; Genesis 50:18; 2 Kings 10:5; 2 Kings 16:7). But no doubt the Gibeonites (see Joshua 9:11) expected to have a tribute laid on them. And they would willingly accept such an impost, for, as Ewald remarks ( 'History of Israel,' Joshua 4:3), their object was "to secure the peace which a mercantile inland city especially requires" (see also note on Joshua 3:10). From whence come ye? Joshua uses the imperfect, not the perfect, tense here. Commentators are divided about its meaning. Some suppose that the perfect, "from whence have ye come?" is mere direct and abrupt than "from whence may you have come?" or, "from whence were you coming?" and certainly an indirect question is in most languages considered more respectful than a direct one (see Genesis 42:7). But perhaps with Ewald we may regard it simply as implying that their mission was still in progress.
And they said unto him. "I commend their wisdom in seeking peace; I do not commend their falsehood in the manner of seeking it. Who can looke for any better in pagans?" (Bp. Hall) It is worthy of the craft of the Gibeonites that they evade the first question, and as it is of vital importance to the success of their mission, they throw their whole force upon the second. The course of conduct enjoined on Joshua had reached the ears of the Canaanitish peoples, as we learn from verse 24. They also take good care to say nothing of the more recent successes of the Israelites. With consummate astuteness they confine themselves to the successes "beyond Jordan." No wonder such mastery of the arts of deceit should have imposed on the Israelites. But inasmuch as the historian lacked the stimulus of that "necessity" which is proverbially "the mother of invention," we must recognise here a sign of the genuineness of the narrative.
Sihon, king of Heshbon, and Og, the king of Bashan (see Numbers 21:21, Numbers 21:35). Ashtaroth (see Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:31; also Deuteronomy 1:4). In Numbers 21:1-35. Edrei only is mentioned. This is not the Ashtaroth-Karnaim of Genesis 14:5, which is so called from the worship of the horned Astarte, or crescent (see below), to distinguish it from this Ashtaroth. The two cities were close together. Eusebius and Jerome state that they were only nine miles apart. The site of this city has been identified with Tel Ashtereh, in a wide plain on the east of Jordan. It appears as Astaratu in the Karnak list of cities captured by Thothines III. The name has been identified with the Assyrian Ishtar, the Persian, Greek, and Latin aster and our star. So Gesenius, 'Thesaurus,' s.v. Whence Lucian seems to have been wrong in his idea that the worship of Astarte, like that of Artemis at Ephesus, was that of the moon. But Rawlinson, in his 'Ancient Monarchies,' decides against this identification. The last mention of this city in Jewish history is in the bold and successful expedition of Judas Maccabaeus into Gilead, in which he penetrated as far as this city (called Kar-naim), and brought the Jews residing there and in the neighbourhood to Jerusalem (1 Macc. 6). Kuenen, in his 'History of the Religion of Israel,' makes a distinction between the worship of Ashtaroth and of Asherah. The former he regards as the worship of the moon, and a pure worship; the latter of Venus, and an impure one. But though Asherah and Ashtaroth, or Ashtoreth, are undoubtedly distinct, yet both worships may have been impure, as the worship of Artemis of the Ephesians (the Diana Multimamma, or the image of fecundity) unquestionably was. "It is probable," says Mr. G. Smith, "that the first intention in the mythology was only to represent love as heaven born, but in time a more sensual view prevailed, and the worship of Ishtar became one of the darkest features in Babylonian mythology." The Babylonian Mylitta, or Venus, was worshipped under a crescent form, as Babylonian sculptures prove. A Syrian altar with the crescent on it is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. It has a female figure on one side, with the crescent, and a male figure—of Baal, no doubt—on the other. Another is mentioned in a late able article in the Times, as having been found in Carehemish, the Hittite capital. The Chaldaean astronomers had, no doubt, discovered the use of telescopes (though in the translucent sky of Chaldaea perhaps the crescent Venus might be seen without them), for we find Saturn represented on their monuments with a ring. Consequently the worship of the crescent Venus involves no anachronism. Asherah, often wrongly translated "grove" in our version (see Judges 6:25), is probably the goddess Fortune, derived from אֶשֶר, happiness. Ashtaroth is spelt not with Aleph, but with Ain.
Our elders. Gibeon and its allied cities did not possess a regal government (see note on Joshua 9:3).
And the men took of their victuals. Most commentators prefer this rendering to that of the margin, "and they received the men because of their victuals." The natural explanation—though several others are given, for which see Keil in loc.—would seem to be that the Israelites relied on the evidence of their senses, instead of upon the counsel of God. They could see the condition of the garments, sacks, and wine skins of the Gibeonites. They tasted of their victuals to convince themselves of the truth of those statements of which the sight was insufficient to take cognisance. And asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord. Even in the most obvious matter it is well not to trust too implicitly to our own judgment. Nothing could seem more clear or satisfactory than the account given of themselves by the Gibeonites—nothing more easy for the unassisted intellect to decide. And yet Joshua and the congregation were deceived. It is perhaps too much to say, with some commentators—Maurer, for instance—that Joshua disobeyed a plain command in acting thus. The passage in which Joshua is instructed to "stand up before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him at the judgment of Urim before the Lord" (Numbers 27:18-23), does not require him to do so in all cases. But it was clearly "an act of gross carelessness" (Calvin). And the inference may safely be drawn that in no case whatever is it wise to trust to ourselves. However obvious our course may be, we shall do well to take counsel with God by prayer.
The princes of the congregation. Literally, the exalted ones, נְשִׂיאֵי of the congregation, "Die obersten der gemeine" (Luther); that is, the heads of the various tribes (see Numbers 1:44; and note on Joshua 7:14).
On the third day. After the trick was discovered. Keil remarks that we need not suppose that the three days were consumed on the march. Not only did Joshua, when celerity was necessary, perform the journey in a single night, but the whole distance was not more than eighteen or twenty miles, if we accept the hypothesis of a second Gilgal. Now their cities were. Beeroth still exists, we are told, as el-Bireh (Robinson 2:132. So also Vaudcvelde and Conder). Jerome identified it with a place only seven miles from Jerusalem, which is an obvious error. It contains nearly 700 inhabitants, and is only about twenty minutes' walk from el-Jib, or Gibeon. Kirjath-jearim (the name means the city of forests) is well known in the history of Israel (e.g; Judges 18:12). But it is, chiefly remarkable for the twenty years sojourn of the ark there (1 Samuel 7:2). It was also known by the name of Baalah, Kirjath-Baal (Joshua 15:9, Joshua 15:60; 2 Samuel 6:2). The Hivites seem to have been removed thence (probably to Gibeon), for there is no trace of any non-Jewish element in the population in the account of the reception of the ark among them (see 1 Samuel 6:1-21). It is called Baale of Judah in 2 Samuel 6:2 (cf. Joshua 18:15). The Jewish population seems to be due to one of the posterity of Caleb (see 1 Chronicles 2:50-53). Modern explorers, with the exception of Lieut. Conder, have identified Kirjath-jearim with Kuriet-el-Enab, "the city of the grape," about four miles from el-Jib, or Gibeon. This is the opinion of Robinson and Vandevelde. Supposing it to be near Beth-shemesh, on the authority of Josephus, Lieut. Conder places it at 'Arma, west of Bethlehem, and identifies the waters of Nepbtoah with a fountain nearly due south of the valley of giants or Rephaim (see Joshua 15:9). But this is too far from Gibeon. He identifies Kuriet-el-Enab with Kirjath in Joshua 18:28, and regards this as one of the cities of Benjamin within the border. But this Kirjath may be Kirjath-jearim, and may as reasonably, standing on the border, be accounted to belong to both tribes, as Zorah, Eshtaol (mentioned in the boundaries of Judah and Dan), Beth-arahah, possibly Gibeah or Gibeath (belonging to Judah and Benjamin), and even Jerusalem itself (see Joshua 15:53). The identification of Kirjath-jearim with Kuriet-el-Enab, of the waters of Nephtoah with Ain Lifta, giving a line running northwestward from the valley of Rephaim, seems more probable as the border of Judah and Benjamin, and the word "compassed," or rather deflected, adds probability to this interpretation (see Joshua 15:9, Joshua 15:10, and notes).
And the children of Israel smote them not. There is great difference of opinion among the commentators as to whether this oath were binding off the Israelites or not. This difference is to be found among Roman Catholics as well as Protestants, and Cornelius a Lapide gives the ingenious and subtle arguments used on both sides by the Jesuit commentators. Many contend that as it was obtained by fraud, and especially by a representation that the Gibeonites did not belong to the tribes which Joshua was specially commanded to destroy (see Deuteronomy 20:10-18, with which compare the passages cited in note on Deuteronomy 20:7), it was null and void, ab initio. But the Israelites had sworn by the sacred name of Jehovah to spare the Gibeonites. It would have been to degrade that sacred name, and possibly (verse 20) to bring trouble on themselves, to break that oath under any pretence whatever. If they had been deceived the fault was their own. The Jehovah by whom they swore had provided them with a ready mode of detecting such deceit, had they chosen to use it. Calvin, though he thinks the princes of the congregation were unnecessarily scrupulous, remarks on the superiority of Israelitish to Roman morals. It would have been easy enough for the congregation to argue, as the Romans did after the disaster at the Candine Forks, that the agreement was of no effect, because it was not made with the whole people. Cicero, however, had no sympathy with such morality. He writes ('De Officiis,' 1.13), "Atque etiam si quid singuli temporibus adducti, hosti promiserunt, est in eo ipso tides conservanda." And not a few instances of similar perfidy since the promulgation of Christianity may lead us to the conclusion that the example of Israel trader Joshua is not yet superfluous. As instances of such perfidy, we may adduce the battle of Varna, in 1444, in which Ladislaus, king of Hungary, was induced by the exhortations of Cardinal Julian to break the truce he bad entered into with Amurath, sultan of the Turks. It is said in this case that Amurath, in his distress, invoked Jesus Christ to punish the perfidy of His disciples. Be that as it may, a signal defeat fitly rewarded their disregard of truth. Later instances may be drawn from the conflict between Spain and the Netherlands in the latter part of the sixteenth century, in which the Spaniards frequently and wantonly, in the supposed interests of religion, violated the articles of capitulation formally entered into with the insurgents. These breakers of their plighted word also found that "wrath was upon them;" that God would not prosper the arms of those who, professedly for His sake, were false to their solemn obligations. Both the princes, in the narrative before us, in withstanding the wrath of the congregation, and the congregation in yielding to their representations, present a spectacle of moral principle which few nations have surpassed. Cornelius a Lapide, after giving the opinions of others, as we have seen, and remarking on the opinion here followed as "probabilior," sums up in the following noble and manly words: "Disce hic quam sancte fides, praesertim jurata, sit servanda hosti, etiam impio et infideli. Fide enim sublata, evertitur omnis hominum contractus et societas, quae fidei quasi basi innititur, ut homines jam non homines, sed leones, tygrides, et ferae esse videantur." Would that his Church had always acted upon these insatiable principles of justice and morality! In after years a terrible famine visited the Israelites as a chastisement for the infringement of this agreement (see 2 Samuel 21:1-9). Murmured. Literally, were stubborn.
Lest wrath be upon us. The original is not quite so strong: "and wrath will not be upon us (καὶ οὐκ ἔσται καθ ἡμῶν ὀργή, LXX).
Said unto them, i.e; to the Israelites. But let them be. Rather, and they were, with Rosenmuller and Keil. See Keil in loc. for the force of the Vau conversive. The LXX. and Vulgate render as our version. Hewers of wood and drawers of water. Some amount of casuistry has been displayed upon this passage. But the fairness of the proceeding seems clear enough. The Gibeonites had escaped death by a fraud. For that fraud they deserved punishment. Their lives were spared by virtue of a solemn oath. But equality of rights had never been promised them. They might think themselves well off if they escaped destruction, even though they might be condemned permanently to occupy a servile condition. They appear to have assisted at the tabernacle worship, since they were condemned to serve, not individual Israelites, but the congregation. Such was the office of the נְתִינִים (Nethinhim i.e; the given or devoted) in the later history of Judah (see 1 Chronicles 9:2; Ezra 2:43-54, Ezra 2:58, Ezra 2:70; and Ezra 8:20. See also Drusius and Masius in loc). The latter discusses the question whether the Nethinim were really the Gibeonites, or whether David, as stated in Ezra 8:20, instituted a new order of persons to take their place. If the latter were the case, then we have a proof that the Book of Joshua was written anterior to the time of David. It seems quite possible that Saul (2 Samuel 21:6) had all but exterminated the Gibeonites, and that David was compelled to institute a new order in their stead. If this suggestion be correct, and it is far from improbable, we have here an undesigned coincidence strongly supporting the credit of the narrative, in the place of Knobel's insinuation, contained in the words, that "the Elohist in Saul's time gives no hint of this, although he took the greatest interest in the persons engaged in God's service." As the princes had promised them. These words as they stand are unintelligible. No such promise had been given. The literal rendering is "as the princes" (see note on verse 15) "said to them," by the mouth of Joshua, as recorded in verse 23. The Syriac Version supplies some words here to make up for a supposed deficiency in the text. But this is not necessary. The repetition in verses 23 and 27 is quite in the manner of the historian. Nor are the words "as the princes said to them" explicable on the supposition that the words after, "let them live," are the words of the princes (see note above).
There shall none of you be freed from being bondmen. Literally, as margin, there shall not be cut off from you a servant, as in 2 Samuel 3:29, and 1 Kings 2:4. The sense is, "you shall not cease to be servants.'' The term "bondmen" is somewhat too strong. The עֶבֶד was usually a bondman among the Hebrews, but not always (see 1 Samuel 29:3; 1 Kings 11:26, etc). But the Gibeonites were to be employed forever in servile work. Hewing of wood and drawing of water was a task frequently imposed on the strangers (probably captives) dwelling among the Israelites, as we learn from Deuteronomy 29:11. We are not directly told that, as Keil and others have stated, the "lowest of the people" had to perform this office. It is, however, implied that the stranger who performed it occupied the lowest social station in the community. "Si qui tales sunt in nobis, quorum tides tantummodo habet ut ad Ecclesiam veniant, et inclinent caput suum sacerdotibus, officia exhibeant, servos Dei honorent, ad ornatum quoque altaris vel Ecclesiae aliquid conferant, non tamen adhibeant studium ut etiam mores suos excolant, actus emendent, vitia deponant, castitatem colant, iracundiam mitigent, avaritiam reprirnant, rapacitatem refrenant, maleloquia et stultiloquia, vel scurrilitatem et obtrectationum venena ex ore suo non adimant, sciant sibi, qui tales sunt, qui emendare se nolunt, sed in his usque in senectutem ultimam perseverant, partem sortemque at Jesu Domino cum Gabaonitis esse tribuendam".
The Lord thy God Commanded (see Exodus 23:32; Deuteronomy 7:1, Deuteronomy 7:2). The prophecies of Moses during their sojourn in "the plains of Jordan by Jericho" (see Numbers 22:1-41. sqq). We were sore afraid. Prophesied in Exodus 15:14.
That they slew them not. See Joshua 9:18, which attributes the preservation of the Gibeonites to the action of the heads of tribes. Perhaps this should be rendered, and they slew them not.
And for the altar (see note on Joshua 9:21). In the place which he should choose. This phrase, and especially the use of the imperfect tense, implies that Solomon's temple was not yet built. The ark of God, and the tabernacle which contained it, had several resting places before its final deposition in the temple (see note on Joshua 24:1). And the grammatical construction just referred to also implies that there was more than one place. It is also clear, from the language of 2 Samuel 21:1-6, that this narrative was already in existence when that chapter was penned. It is equally clear that the author of this passage knew nothing of that (see Introduction).
God's people off their guard.
This chapter contains the record of a venial sin; an act, that is, which was rather one of thoughtlessness than of deliberate intention to offend. It is one thing to forget for a moment God's superintending providence, and to act without consulting Him. It is quite another to act systematically as if there were no God. Thus we read of no very serious results flowing from this inadvertence. God is "not extreme to mark what is done amiss," and distinguishes between human infirmity and human depravity.
I. "THE CHILDREN OF THIS WORLD ARE WISER IN THEIR GENERATION THAN THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT." The Canaanitish kings see the necessity of union. They act with one accord. It is strange that God's people should find it more difficult to unite than others. It is, however, but an illustration of the old adage, "Corruptio opthni pessima." It is zeal for the truth, which, when carried to an extreme, becomes bigotry, and leads to dissension. Thus the Jews at the siege of Jerusalem were divided among themselves when Titus and his legions were at the gates. So now Christians are quarrelling among themselves when infidelity is abroad, and threatening the very foundations of the Christian faith. We are wrangling about non-essentials as though they were essentials, and men thus come to think that there can be no truth at all among those who seem unable to agree on a single point. We strive for pre-eminence, social, political, numerical, and while we strive, the enemy of souls comes and carries off too many of the prizes for which we are contending. We are united upon the fundamentals of the Christian faith, yet we fail to see it ourselves, so eagerly do we contend for the objects of our unchastened desires. The heathen rebuke us, for they could act unitedly in a moment of danger for a common cause. The very devils shame us, for they combine to thwart, were it possible, the counsels of the Most High. It is only Christians who can carry on their intestine conflicts when the foe is thundering at the doors. Could we but learn
(1) what are the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and
(2) that whatever lies outside these is legitimate matter for argument and amicable controversy, but not for strife and disunion, we should no longer have to deplore souls lest to Christ for this cause, and it alone.
II. WE OUGHT TO REFER ALL OUR ACTIONS TO GOD. Joshua and the princes in this narrative made a distinction which many of us make, and which is not warranted by the Word of God; the distinction, that is, between matters of importance, which we should never think of deciding without prayer, and comparatively unimportant matters, in which the exercise of our own judgment is sufficient. But the truth is, that no matter is unimportant. Everything, strictly speaking, should be the subject of prayer; not necessarily of formal and prolonged prayer, but of a momentary ejaculation to God for help. This may be thought impossible, but it is in truth the secret of Christian perfection. "Pray without ceasing," says the Apostle, and he only has the true key to Christian progress who has acquired the habit of continual approach to God in prayer. Prayer should be the golden thread which binds together our whole life, consecrating every act and thought of it silently and secretly to God's service. This habit is only gained by perseverance, and it must itself be sought with prayer; but only he who has attained it can be truly said to "walk with God."
III. A PROMISE IS SACRED, AND MUST BE KEPT AT ALL RISKS. There may, of course, be exceptional cases in which a promise may not be kept. If we have promised to do what is wrong, it were clearly worse to keep our promise than to break it. But then it must be clear that it would be morally wrong to keep our promise. Israelite casuistry here decides that a positive command of God—one, that is, which is not grounded upon a moral necessity—is outweighed by the obligation to keep an oath. God had commanded them to make no covenant with the people of the land, and they had unwittingly bound themselves by an oath to break that command. It was a race point for the moralist. There was no moral necessity to put men to death. The command to exterminate the Canaanites was imposed upon them as the ministers of God's vengeance. But the duty of keeping an oath was of universal obligation. To absolve one's self from it would be to set one's self free from the elementary principles of morality. Thus the duty of keeping one's word is important enough to outweigh even a command of God, where that command is not of primary necessity. It would be wrong, for instance, to commit a murder, or a theft, because we had promised to do so. But if we had wrongly promised to neglect some one of the external duties of religion, it would seem that we were bound to keep our promise, unless it were clear that God's cause would suffer thereby. It is, however, difficult to find any precept of God's law under the Christian dispensation which we may venture to neglect; because the ceremonial law is abrogated, and there is no precept of Divine obligation left which does not involve the weightier matters of the law. Two considerations may be drawn from this history.
1. Be very careful how you promise. Joshua and the Israelites promised lightly, and found to their regret that they ought not to have promised at all. Many young Christians entangle themselves as lightly in engagements which they find should never have been made, and thus involve themselves in troubles and difficulties from which Christian prudence would have kept them free.
2. Keep your promise, when made, unless, as has been said, to keep it would be a sin. The difficulties in which it involves you are sent by God to make you more careful for the future. They will not overwhelm you if you have faith in God. But it were better to suffer some anxiety and annoyance than lose your hold on truth. Inconvenience is no sufficient reason for breaking one's word, though it may be for not giving it. It is as true, as a rule, of promises made to man, as of vows made to God; "better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow, and not pay."
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
The Israelites outwitted.
A story that bears on its face the evidences of authenticity. A wiliness displayed quite in keeping with our notions of Oriental duplicity. Has lessons appropriate to modern days. Whilst some incidents of this book enjoin courage, this induces discretion, and thus are we preserved from a one-sided development of our spiritual life. No study more instructive than that of history, and no history more suggestively written than that of the Israelites.
I. THE STRATAGEM OF THE GIBEONITES shows us ―
1. The different courses adopted by different men in respect of the same dangers. The overthrow of Jericho and the destruction of Ai struck terror into the hearts of the neighbouring inhabitants of Palestine. Would not their turn come next? How should they deal with the difficulty that threatened them? The only safety seemed to lie in united opposition. So reasoned many of the kings, and they organised their forces for battle. But the Gibeonites determined to act otherwise. To contract a treaty with the foe would be a greater safeguard than to encounter him in war. This they accordingly endeavoured to secure in the subtle manner which this chapter records. This variety of sentiment is being constantly exhibited in the plans men pursue regarding the "terrors of the Lord" or the assaults of conscience. Conviction of sin and of the retribution to which it exposes the sinner does not always incline him to sue for mercy. Some brave the attack, and with incredible folly fight against God. Though others have been overcome, they hope to be successful. The fall of other cities does not deter them from vain enterprises. Some, like the Gibeonites, are teachable, and if we cannot commend the deception they practised, we can at least exhort that the impossibility of staying the spread of God's kingdom be practically recognised. "Be ye reconciled unto God."
2. The pains taken to preserve life. Self-preservation is accounted one of the strongest instincts of our nature. These Gibeonites spared no trouble in order to gain their end. And yet how often are the things relative to eternal life utterly neglected!
3. The desire often entertained by the world to enter into an alliance with the Church. Simon Magus could desire the gift of the Holy Ghost for his own selfish purposes. It suits the plans of many to be considered religious; they assume the garb of piety to carry on their nefarious work unmolested. The Church of Christ is bound to exercise discipline, but prevention is better than excommunication. Guard against the intrusion of ungodly men. Seek the direction of God, who will keep His Church pure. The Gibeonites said nothing about adopting in heart the religion of the Israelites, about renouncing idolatry and serving the true God; they only wanted the advantages which would accrue from making a league with the Israelites. If we would share the advantages we must become God's people in heart and life.
4. The success of craft. Mental is sometimes more powerful than physical force in overcoming a difficulty. The Midianites were able to seduce the Israelites into sin though they could not injure them in open battle. There is undoubtedly a legitimate use of craft; according to the Apostle's declarations, "I have caught you with guile," "becoming all things to all men." There must be, however, nothing inherently wrong in our procedure, no tampering with truth, as in the case of the Gibeonites. For we proceed to remark—
5. Deceit is certain of ultimate detection. Hypocrisy must ere long have its veil removed. Show will not always be taken for reality. God knows the actual state of the heart and often makes it manifest to others. Soon did Israel discover the trick which had been practised on them. Our subject contains a warning to mere professors of godliness. Privileges secured by appearance of conformity are only temporary.
II. THE MISTAKE OF THE ISRAELITES teaches us—
1. That the senses easily lead us astray. The mouldy bread, the damaged bottles, the clouted shoes seemed plain proof of the truth of the strangers' words. Many persons think all their doubts would vanish if they once saw an angel or heard the voice of the Almighty; but the irrefragable testimony might be a delusion just as much as the convincing sights beheld by the Israelites. The things touched and viewed are what they are; the error is in the conclusions drawn from them. The bread was mouldy, but it did not warrant the belief that it had become so by a long journey. We must be careful in our reasonings. Earthquakes and pestilences do not necessarily prove God's anger, nor do they furnish testimony against the perfections of His character as a God of love. Prosperity is not conclusive evidence of God's favour or man's desert, nor adversity of man's ill-desert and his Maker's displeasure. In various directions the caution may be employed.
2. The weakness of human wisdom. All appeared so natural that the Israelites forbore to consult the Lord. Was not their path clearly indicated? They soon repented of their haste and simplicity. And has no similar error befallen us, the way seeming so evident that we have rushed into it without due deliberation and prayer? God expects us to use the sagacity He has bestowed upon us, but not to rely upon it wholly. It must form only one element in the judgment reached. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." We are so biassed, so influenced by inclination, have such perverse feelings, that we are not fit to be guides to ourselves. Experience attests this fact, Scripture often asserts it, reason corroborates it, and history proves it. The pride of the Israelites was probably flattered by the notion of their fame having extended to such a distant nation.
3. The importance of seeking the counsel of the Almighty. There is the reflex influence of prayer, purifying the desires, calming the passions, revealing the mischievous nature of much that seemed desirable, and leading to a clearer perception of principles. It cleanses "the thoughts of the heart." There is the answer granted to prayer. The mind is divinely directed, the Spirit of God fastens the eyes on particular passages of Scripture, and upon certain indications of Providence in external circumstances. To God, nothing that concerns His children is of trivial import; we may submit to Him matters great or small. "Commit thy way unto the Lord."—A.
Joshua 9:18, Joshua 9:19
An oath observed.
Recapitulate the chief circumstances: The embassage from Gibeon. Described in Joshua 10:1-43. as "a great city," and "all the men thereof mighty." Not because they were inferior to the other inhabitants of the land did they seek to make a compromise with Israel. The surprise of the Israelites on discovering the nearness of Gibeon. "Those old shoes had easily held to carry them back to their home."
I. THE ANGER AND WISH OF THE PEOPLE arose from—
1. Their mortification at being outwitted. Pride had been honoured by the arrival of such an apparently distant deputation. The evidences were incontestable. All the stronger would be the consequent revulsion when the trickery was discovered. Each man thinks himself as wise as his neighbor, and cannot endure to be triumphed over in any transaction. If we did not rate ourselves so highly, we should not be troubled with such pangs of shame.
2. The natural hatred of deception. One of the proofs of the existence of a moral sense, and therefore of the moral constitution and government of the world, is found in the condemnation universally pronounced upon underhanded dealing. Commerce and intercourse must cease where no bond of good faith is observed. The Gibeonites perjured themselves by words and deeds. The fiercest reproofs of our Lord were administered to the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. He called them "whited sepulchres;" they "made clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within were full of extortion and excess."
3. A mingled remembrance of God's commandment and their own desire for plunder. The craft of the Gibeonites could not fail to make them regarded as enemies of God; and if this wholesome sentiment was sometimes feeble in operation, it was certainly strengthened on this occasion by the sight of the rich booty which the Israelites would have enjoyed but for the league entered into under such false pretences. Moral indignation is vastly swelled by a sense of personal injury. Interest quickens resentment and action. Not so with the Almighty. Raised far above all our petty interests, His wrath against sin is pure, a bright flame that has no base admixture to sully its awful grandeur.
II. THE DETERMINATION OF THE PRINCES.
1. Regarded the sacredness of their word. Like Jephthah, they had given their word, and could not go back. They were prepared to face the opposition of the populace. In this they showed themselves worthy of their position as heads of the people. On all leaders a great responsibility rests; it is sometimes necessary to check as well as to urge forward their followers. They must be ready to resist the clamours of the multitude. To think weightily of a spoken word, a promise, is an all-important matter. Words are in the truest sense deeds. "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Language is not meant to conceal but to express our thoughts, and a spoken should be as binding as a written speech. Here should Christians be well to the front. In business their every utterance should be capable of being trusted, and they should risk much rather than excuse themselves from the performance of their contracts.
2. Respected the inviolableness of an oath. When Jesus Christ prohibited all swearing, He did but, in the paradoxical method of statement He adopted, interdict all useless, vain, needless interlarding of conversation and business and legal declarations with the introduction of holy names and things. He Himself used the most solemn formulas in His public teaching and before the high priest; the apostles invoked the witness of God to the truth of their statements; and the Lord God is said to have "sworn with an oath." An oath is therefore permissible, but ought not to be lightly taken; it implies solemnity and deliberation. Only, therefore, under exceptional circumstances can it be considered right to break an oath. Doubtless a promise made upon the strength of the promisee's false statements is not always obligatory, but the case cannot be generally determined. Few will doubt that in the instance before us the princes acted wisely. They attributed special importance to the fact that they "had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel," and they looked to the evil effects that would be produced if the name of Israel's God should be dishonoured. It was their own fault, their heedless hurry, that they had committed themselves to the rash oath. Note, too, that the narrative, by not condemning the resolve of the princes, seem to sanction it. And in after years the Israelites incurred the grievous displeasure of the Almighty, because Saul had, in his mad zeal, sought to slay the Gibeonites in contravention of this agreement (2 Samuel 21:1-11). In the result these Hivites gained their life, but were reduced to servitude. The curse pronounced upon Canaan (Genesis 9:25) was fulfilled; these men were "cursed" (per. 23), and became a "servant of servants" unto the Israelites.
This incident reminds us of—
THE SAFETY OF RELIANCE UPON THE WORD OF GOD. "He is not a man that he should lie." He cannot contradict Himself. If He does seem to "repent," it is because His promise was conditional; and if we seek His favour and do His will, His "repenting" will be only for our good, it will mean the removal of some threatened punishment. On the other hand, if we observe not the terms of the covenant, we cannot complain if God withdraws His promised blessings. God has confirmed His word to His people with an oath. "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent." This indicates that what is said is irrevocable. Note the argument in Hebrews 6:17-19, and the rock grasping anchor which makes stable the Christian's hope among all the waves and winds of life's stormiest sea. He is acquainted with all the circumstances of the case; He cannot be deceived. To Him the dateless past and the endless future are an ever present now. He bids us receive in Christ life forevermore. Who would not build on this unshakable foundation, the "word and oath" of the living God?—A.
HOMILIES BY E. DE PRESSENSE
The manner in which Joshua dealt with the Gibeonites shows how inflexible is the respect God requires for truth. That respect is exemplified in two ways in tiffs narrative. First, in the fulfilment of the oath made to the Gibeonites, that their lives should be saved; and second, in the punishment with which they are visited for their falsehood. They deceived Joshua by their miserable subterfuge of mouldy bread and way-worn garments, and thus passed themselves off as the inhabitants of some distant region instead of a neighbouring city. Therefore, while their lives were spared, they were reduced to a state of slavery (verse 23).
I. NOTHING IS MORE HATEFUL TO THE HOLY GOD THAN A LIE. He is in His very essence light (1 John 1:5). Falsehood and cunning pervert all the relationships of life. Lying breaks the social bond, since a man's word is the only medium of moral exchange between men; and when mutual confidence is lost, the foundations of the social edifice are undermined. Therefore St. Paul says, "Lie not one to another … for ye are members one of another." In the direct education which God gave to His people Israel, He has given unmistakable demonstration of His horror of all deceit. Hence the punishment of the Gibeonites.
II. THE PUNISHMENT which these unhappy men brought upon themselves rested not only upon them as individuals, but upon their whole nation. God thus showed that evil is not transformed into good by being made to subserve a public cause. There are not two codes of morality—one for private and another for national life. Polities ought to be as scrupulously governed by the law of God as the life of the individual. Although since the abolition of the theocracy, the sphere of religion and of the civil power ought to be kept altogether distinct, it is no less incumbent on the State to adhere to the plain principles of morality. In spite of all that may seem to argue the contrary, every violation of these principles brings its own punishment. History is in its essence one long judgment of God.
III. By not allowing the Israelites to break their oath to the Gibeonites, even though they had been deceived by them, GOD TEACHES US THAT WRONG DONE BY OUR NEIGHBOUR DOES NOT AT ALL VINDICATE US IN BEING GUILTY OF A LIKE WRONG. One sin never justifies another. We are to "overcome evil with good," and it is this which distinguishes the people of God from all other people. It is by not being conformed to this world we triumph over it. If the people of God were to act in the same way as the Canaanites, there would be no reason for giving them the ascendancy. When the Church becomes worldly it falls under the condemnation of the world. Let us be, then, everywhere and always men the rule of whose life is the law of God. The only retaliation we must ever allow ourselves is rendering good for evil. "Be not overcome of evil," says St. Paul, "but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).—E. DE P.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
Joshua 9:3, Joshua 9:4
A stolen treaty.
The Canaanite kings are at last roused to united action against Joshua and the host of Israel. But their confederation is not complete. The inhabitants of Gibson, on the principle that "discretion is the better part of valour," endeavour, in something like selfish treachery to the common cause, to make peace with the invaders. A suggestive example of the spirit that animates the corrupt social life of the world. When men are bent on saving them. selves they care little for the ties that bind them to others. Self interest is a very insecure bond of social unity. It was natural, however, that these men should seek to save themselves, and their suit for a treaty of peace would have had no wrong in it but that it took the form of deceit.
I. THE STRATAGEM. It was cleverly devised and skilfully carried out. It was both an acted and a spoken lie. Their profession of reverent submission to the God of Israel ("Because of the name of the Lord thy God," verse 9) was a hollow pretence. Their whole behaviour forbids our attributing to them the honesty of purpose that Rahab manifested. Base, slavish fear was their real motive (verse 24). Observe
(1) how one sin leads on to another, perhaps a greater. The path of transgression is a downward way. Every fraud needs a falsehood to cover it. When men have once placed themselves in a false position they know not in what meanness and shame it may involve them.
(2) If half the ingenuity men show in the pursuit of their own carnal ends were spent in the service of truth and righteousness, how much bettor and happier the world would be. The followers of Christ may learn many a lesson in this respect from the facts of secular life around them, and even from their adversaries. "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light" (Luke 16:8).
II. ITS SUCCESS. They gained their end so far as this—that their lives were spared, secured to them by a treaty and a solemn oath (verse 15). They gained it through the too easy credulity of Joshua and the princes, who supposed that things were as they seemed to be, and through the unaccountable omission of Joshua to "ask counsel of the Lord" (verse 14).
(1) Trickery often seems to prosper in this world. It trades upon the generous trustfulness of men. But its success is short lived. It carries with it its own condemnation. Better always be the deceived than the deceiver.
(2) We must expect to fall into practical error when we fail to seek Divine direction. The wisest and best need something higher than their own judgment to guide them in the serious businesses of life. "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy steps" (Proverbs 3:6).
III. ITS PENALTY. They saved their lives at the cost of liberty and honour (verse 21). The servile condition to which they were reduced fulfilled the curse pronounced by Noah on the children of Ham (Genesis 9:25). Joshua and the princes did right in regarding their oath as sacred and binding, even though it had been won by deceit. The people would have had them violate it. "All the congregation murmured against the princes." Popular impulses may as a rule be trusted; but are sometimes very blind and false. Vox populi not always Vox Dei. Happy the people whose rulers are able wisely to curb their impetuosity and present before them an example of inflexible rectitude. If the oath of Joshua and the princes had pledged them to a thing essentially wrong, they might have used the fact that they were beguiled into it by fraud as an argument for disregarding it; but not so seeing that, while it bound them to nothing absolutely unlawful, they were involved in it by their own neglect. That God approved of its observance is seen in the fact that, when the Canaanite kings sought to inflict vengeance on Gideon for the clandestine treaty, He gave Joshua a signal victory over them (Joshua 10:8-12); and also in the fact that the curse of blood-guiltiness came upon the land in after days because Saul broke this covenant with the Gibeonitos and slew some of them (2 Samuel 21:1, 2 Samuel 21:2). These men, however, must pay the penalty of their deceit. The decision of Joshua respecting them is of the nature of a just and prudent compromise. It avoids the dishonour that would be done to the name of God by the violation of the oath; but saves Israel from the disgrace of a dangerous alliance with the Canaanites by reducing them to a state of absolute subjection. Learn
(1) the sanctity of an oath. A righteous man is one who "sweareth to his own hurt, andchangeth not" (Psalms 15:4). He who "reverences his conscience as his king" will never treat lightly any verbal pledges he may have given, or endeavour sophistically to rid himself of their responsibility. His "word will be as good as his bond." However false others may be, let him at least be true.
(2) The need of a spirit of wisdom to determine aright the practical problems of life. The path of duty is often the resultant of different moral forces. The most difficult points of casuistry are those at which impulses equally good (fear of God, self respect, humanity, etc) seem to be at variance. Let every right motive have due weight. "Of two evils choose the least."
(3) How men sometimes disqualify themselves for any high and noble position in the Church of God by their former infatuation in the service of sin. These Gibeonites are delivered from destruction, but their perpetual servitude is a perpetual disgrace. So do saved men often bear with them, as long as life lasts (in moral disability, or social distrust, etc), the marks of what they once have been. They may well be thankful when their past transgressions, for Christ's sake, are forgiven, and they are permitted to take any place in His kingdom, even "as slaves beneath the throne"—"hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation."—W.
HOMILIES BY R. GLOVER
The submission of the Gibeonites.
According to the explicit law of Moses (in Deuteronomy 20:10-18), there were three courses which Israel might pursue towards the cities they besieged:
1. In the event of a city refusing to capitulate, they were, after taking it, to destroy all the males who survived, but take the women and the little ones and the spoil, and divide the same. This first course, however, was only to be pursued to such cities as were outside the boundaries of the promised land.
2. In the event of cities within these boundaries refusing to capitulate, then, on taking them, they were to slay all the inhabitants of either sex, lest they should "teach them to do after their abominations."
3. But, thirdly, in the event of any city, within or without these boundaries, submitting to them without resistance, then they were to make the people "tributaries to them;" but no life was to be taken. From Joshua 11:19, Joshua 11:20, it is obvious that every city had the opportunity of capitulating, and would have saved its inhabitants from extermination by doing so; but that the thought of capitulation did not enter the hearts of any community, but that of Gibeon only. These remarks seem necessary to enable us to understand aright the exact position of affairs. They suggest:
1. That the submission of Gibeon was a right thing wrongly done.
2. That the wrong part of their action—the lie—was needless, as they would have been saved without it; and fruitless, as they would have had probably a better lot had there been no attempt to mislead.
3. That, accordingly, we have not here the example of a profitable lie (a thing that has never been seen since the fall), but only the example of wisdom in yielding to the inevitable, and seeking peace with the earthly representatives of God. Thus understood we may gather from their action two or three lessens worth our consideration.
I. AVOID DOING GOOD THINGS IN A BAD WAY. This is a common fault. Often all the grace of kindly acts is lost by an ungracious way of doing them. We give—perhaps avowing reluctance to do so. We confess mistakes—but exhibit a churlish regret, not for the mistake, but for the necessity of acknowledging it. We take good advice—but sullenly. We act on a good impulse—but slowly. We yield our hearts to God—but only with much misgiving, and after long delay. We do the right and just part, but only after earnestly trying to avoid doing it. So these Gibeonites rightly submit, but make the submission, which is right, in a wrong way, using falsehood and pretence, taking away from Israel the grace of generosity and the friendly spirit that would have moderated their lordship over them. Do not so blame them as to forget that every fault is a mirror, looking into which each may see some likeness of his own imperfection. You and I are like the Gibeonites in this, that always some bit of evil creeps into and mixes with the good. Such mixtures, in God's mercy, may not be fatal to our welfare, but they will always mitigate it. In this case a less abject and menial form of servitude would have been the result of their submission if they had possessed the courage of their wisdom. Do your good things in a good way.
II. PROMPT ACCEPTANCE OF THE INEVITABLE IS ONE OF THE HIGHEST PARTS OF WISDOM. The other cities of Canaan were not more brave, they were only more foolish than Gibeon. They lacked the imagination of faith which could realise the fate awaiting them. They dreamed of safety without taking measures to secure it. They believed in that "chapter of accidents which is the Bible of the fool." Like some Oriental governments which we have seen, they stared destruction in the face, and did nothing to ensure success in averting it. Wisdom averts the preventible, but sets itself to work at once to accept the inevitable. And Gibeon deserves credit for its clear perception of its danger, and its sagacity in trying to make the best of what could not be avoided. Perhaps, being more republican than any of the other nationalities, we have here an instance of the superior wisdom of the popular instinct to that of the rulers'. Without dwelling, however, on the source of their wisdom, we may with advantage follow its example. One of the chiefest parts of the art of life is frankly, promptly accepting the inevitable. Whatever the pressure that you cannot avoid, proceed at once to make the best of it. If it be poverty, do not with desperate ventures attempt to win back wealth, but with contentment and industry set yourself to make the best of it. If disease affects you from which you cannot free yourself, come to terms with it. Send your ambassadors and make a covenant with it. And accepting the situation in which you find yourself, address yourself to gather the "sweet uses of adversity," and you will find weakness a great teacher and not without its compensations. If you have done wrong, and to humble yourself is a necessity of honour, do so like Gibeon, at once. If submission to your redeeming God has become a necessity of your case, do not, like the other cities of Israel, dream and defy, and then fall before the destroyer; but with timely overtures seek Him while He is near. Thus in all relations of life accept frankly the inevitable. Agree with thine adversary quickly, and with the force you cannot resist make such terms as will allow you to enjoy a less dignity, but yet some degree of happiness.
III. GOD CROWNS WITH HIS REWARD ALL GOOD, HOWEVER MIXED WITH EVIL. In the action of the Gibeonites there is the good of a rudimentary faith, there is the evil of deceit. It is to be observed that, while the evil is punished, the good is not ignored. God does not require the retractation of the oath; and when, centuries later, Israel breaks the oath, He shows His disapproval of their course. God sanctions their being spared, and thus approves the good that is mixed with evil. Happily for us, God is still the same. Perfect motive He never finds, and unmixed good He never looks on. But, in His infinite compassion, whatever of good there is in our action receives a rich reward. His love holds as keen a scrutiny as His justice, and wherever in the action of men the slightest good appears, then He rewards it.
IV. WHATEVER OPPOSES GOD'S CAUSE WILL EITHER BE MADE SUBSERVIENT TO IT, OR BE DESTROYED. The fate of Ai or Gibeon, destruction or service, are the only alternatives of Canaan. It is a great pity when the foe declines to become a friend, and when those outside lack the aspiration to be reconciled thoroughly. For unreconciled they must serve, or disappear. Philosophies that oppose the gospel will turn round and speed on the triumph of truth, or they will melt away like a cloud before the warmth of dawn. Policies that seem adverse to the prosperity of the Church will prove productive of advantage to it, or be swept into oblivion. No weapon formed against the Church of God ever prospers. Be not on the wrong side. However strong you may appear, if you do not side heartily with the cause of God, you will be made its reluctant servants, or its extinguished foes.—G.
The oracle neglected.
Between Joshua and Eleazer, the ruler and the high priest, a noble heritage was divided. The one has the obedience of Israel, the other the secrets of God. They have at their command respectively human power and Divine wisdom. According to Numbers 27:21, Joshua was taught to expect to find a heavenly oracle in the Urim and the Thummim of the priest; and constantly the promised oracle was given. In this case, however, it was not sought. Joshua and the rest were flattered with the story of their fame, and too readily assumed the insignificance of the occasion. Otherwise, had they asked they would have received counsel, and have been set on the track of discovering the fraud. It probably did not materially matter to Israel then. The chief loss to that generation was the booty they would in that ease have divided, and the private advantage of so many slaves divided amongst the families, instead of having a servile tribe allotted to the ministry of the tabernacle. Still the historian notes the neglected oracle as if Joshua had learned here a lesson of carrying even things that seemed little to his God. The occasion gives two or three lessons worth learning.
I. THERE IS AN ORACLE WHICH WILL WISELY GUIDE ALL WHO FEAR GOD. God has never been at a loss to guide the willing steps of men; but to the heart that has sought He has always given guidance. In various ways He has led men. Abraham through a whispering of His great name; Jacob and Joseph through dreams; Moses through voice and vision and miracle alike; Joshua through some gleaming of the high priest's breastplate; Gideon through the angel; Samuel through a raised state of every faculty; the prophets by the breathings of great thoughts and feelings; Jonah's sailors by the lot; the wise men from the East by a star; the Ethiopian by a page of prophecy. He seems to accommodate all and give them their guidance where they expect to find it. God still "fulfils Himself" m many ways, The African rain maker rebuked Livingstone, by declaring his methods of getting rain were really prayers which the good God was in the habit of granting. The Moravians, who expect Divine guidance through the casting of the lot, doubtless find it there, though no one else would get it. Sometimes through the providential barring of dangerous paths; sometimes through a restraint like that which Paul described in the words "the spirit suffered us not;" sometimes through inward impulse of a cogent kind, a being "bound in the spirit to go" in a certain direction; sometimes by the mere commendation of certain courses to our taste, our judgment, or our conscience. God still gives guidance to all who ask it.
"No symbol visible
We of Thy presence find,
But all who would obey Thy will
Shall know their Father's mind."
Pray for light, and in some way it will reach you. There is a living oracle for all who wish to walk according to the will of God.
II. TRUE WISDOM COMMITS SMALL THINGS AS WELL AS GREAT TO GOD'S CARE. A child tells all to the parent that it trusts; the least discomfiture—the greatest distress. And when we have the child-like heart we commit all to God, feeling that the least is not too little for His great love. The ability is developed of rising on every occasion in thought to Him, till the mood becomes so confiding, so expectant, that it forms a "prayer without ceasing." And this habit of committing all becomes fortified by the wisdom which observes how often the issues of things are to be in the inverse ratio of their seeming importance: vast consequences flowing from what seem most trivial events, and events that seem of a stupendous character leaving no trace of influence on after history. So, little things as well as great are lifted by the devout heart to the Divine ear. Joshua here thought recourse to the oracle needless because the matter seemed unimportant. But it had more importance than he knew. Strangely enough, this compact with Gibeon fixes the resting place of the ark for centuries, right down to the time of David. For Kirjath-jearim was one of the cities of Gibeon, and it was probably the residence there of the Gibeonites that determined the resting there of the ark. This, in its turn, threw the centre of the national life to the southward, helped the supremacy of Judah, the choice of Jerusalem as capital, the subordination of Ephraim and Samaria. If Joshua had seen all that hung on his decision, he would not because of the seeming insignificance of the matter have neglected the oracle. Take God into thy counsel in all matters, less and larger. Commit the little acts to His decision, surrender the little things which self will would decide. "Faithful in least, faithful in much;" and, even so, devout in least, devout in much. Christ raised the dead, and then said, "Give her something to eat;" the omnipotent miracle, the homely kindness, being equally characteristic of Him. Walk with God always. In least things consult His oracle.
III. ALL MAKE MISTAKES, BUT GOD'S SAINTS PROFIT BY THEM. This is the second mistake of the same kind which Joshua has made since crossing Jordan. Not consulting the oracle, he sends too few men against At. Not consulting the oracle, he makes this covenant with Gibeon. But our text recording the mistake shows how it was discovered, and the repetition of it avoided. There is no mistake which is absolute mischief, it will always give us at least a lesson. Blessed are they who can turn all their faults into schoolmasters. For though such schoolmasters use the lash, they give good teaching, being skilled to teach humility, watchfulness, dependence on God. Turn your faults to good account, and every act of folly into a spring of wisdom. Lastly, observe, that not only did Joshua turn the fault to account, but—
IV. GOD MAKES THE BEST OF A GOOD MAN'S MISTAKES. After all, the alliance with Gibeon gave them entrance into a position of importance, became the occasion of the great victory of Beth-heron, and has no traceable results of mischief. Thus it ever is. God makes the best of us and of our work. When the heart is right our every failing is turned to good account. Be not too nervous about the results of our actions. For when the purpose is honest and devout—
"Our indiscretions ofttimes serve us well.
There's a Divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them as we will."
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Joshua 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany