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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 9

Verse 1

THE CANAANITES CONFEDERATED, Joshua 9:1-2; Joshua 9:1-2.

1. All the kings Palestine was divided into many petty sovereignties, the heads of which were dignified by this title.

This side Jordan Literally, beyond Jordan, but meaning here, as the context shows, the west side of Jordan. See note on Joshua 1:14.

In the hills Or, in the mountain. The reference is to the entire mountain range which forms the backbone of Palestine.

In the valleys Or, in the Shephelah. This word designates the maritime plain of Philistia, and might well be translated the low countries.

Great sea The Mediterranean.

Coasts… over against Lebanon The Phenician plain. Canaanites from even these remoter parts joined this confederacy. On the Canaanitish tribes here mentioned, see note on Joshua 3:10.

Heard thereof Not of the demonstration at Ebal and Gerizim, but of the rapid conquests of Joshua. The word thereof, supplied by our translators, is better omitted.

Verse 2

2. Gathered themselves together It is not singular that rival and jealous States did not combine till the dread of a victorious foe, already in the heart of their territory, compelled them to unite for their common safety. Had wise statesmanship dwelt in their councils, their confederated hosts would have confronted Joshua on the banks of the Jordan. [

To fight with Joshua How Joshua suddenly surprised and conquered the southern nations of this confederacy is told in chap. x, and how he subdued the northern tribes, and others who escaped from the south, will be found in chap. 11. Meantime the writer turns aside to narrate the league of the Gibeonites, which served as the immediate occasion of Joshua’s war with the five Amoritish kings.]

Verse 3


3. Gibeon This was called “a great city.” Joshua 10:2. It was the capital of the Hivites, and was situated five miles north by west from Jerusalem, at the head of the pass of Beth-horon. It was the key of central Palestine. Three adjacent cities were leagued with it, (Joshua 9:17,) and seem to have formed with it a kind of republic; at least it was not under a king, but was equal in rank to “one of the royal cities.” Joshua 10:2. “It stands on one of those rounded hills which characterize especially the western formation of Judea.” Stanley. It is by all travellers identified with the modern village El-Jib a corruption of Gibeon. “It is a very fair and delicious place,” says Mandeville, “and it is called Mount Joy, because it gives joy to pilgrims’ hearts; for from that place men first see Jerusalem.” Here, where it overlooked the wide domain of Israel, the sacred tabernacle was set up for many years under David and Solomon. 1 Kings 3:3-4.

El-Jib is a moderately sized village of irregularly placed houses, chiefly composed of old mossy ruins.

Verse 4

4. [

They did work wilily Literally, Then did also they by stratagem. The also seems to refer here most naturally to what Joshua had done to Ai. As he used cunning and strategy in the capture of that city, so did also they practice strategy in making a league with Israel. Others, we think less correctly, take also ( גם ) as an adversative here, expressing the contrast between the action of the Gibeonites and the other Canaanites.]

As if… ambassadors Suing for peace. The more distant cities think only of war; the nearest, on whom the next blow must fall, seek for peace; perhaps their popular form of government also influenced them toward a pacific policy. [The Hebrew word translated, made as if they had been ambassadors, (Hithpael of ציר ,) occurs nowhere else; but Keil and others defend this meaning, given in the English version. Others, however, with Gesenius, argue that “since no other trace of this form or signification exists in Hebrew or Aramaean, it is better to read, with six MSS., יֶצשׂירו they provided themselves with food for the journey, as in Joshua 9:12; which is also expressed by the ancient versions.”]

Old sacks The traveller’s equipage in Syria, anciently and at the present day, comprises food and drink, kitchen utensils, tents, bedding, etc., all stowed away in sacks and transported on the backs of asses. Old sacks would give the impression of a long journey.

Wine bottles These were goat-skins, nearly whole, cured in a peculiar manner. When worn through, a temporary expedient for mending them was to gather up the skin about the hole and tie it like the mouth of a bag. By this means the mending becomes very manifest.

Verse 5

5. Old shoes and clouted Or, as the Hebrew, shoes fallen into pieces, and botched or cobbled. In long journeys the traveller walks up the hills that he may spare the heavily laden beast. These shoes in tatters and patches indicate many a walk, and hence a long journey. [The somewhat antiquated English word clouted, from the Anglo-Saxon clut, a little cloth or patch, accurately expresses the sense of the Hebrew שׂלא , to patch, to mend. It may be used of patching with cloth, leather, or other material.]

Old garments upon them That is, upon themselves, and not upon their feet.

Dry and mouldy The Vulgate says, instead of mouldy, broken up into crumbs, and this seems to be the true rendering. The Septuagint adds offensive to the smell. Ancient inns or caravanserais provided the sojourner with lodging only; hence he must carry his food. See note on Joshua 2:1.

Verse 6


The camp at Gilgal In the absence of any hint that this was altogether a different place from the Gilgal near Jericho, where Joshua first pitched his camp, it seems rather arbitrary and unnecessary, with Keil and Van de Velde, to maintain that this Gilgal must be identified with the modern Jiljilia, in the mountains of Ephraim. If, after the capture of Ai, or after the memorial service at Mount Ebal, Joshua had pitched his camp in a new spot, and especially at another place bearing the name Gilgal, it is inexplicably strange that no mention is anywhere made of a fact so noticeable and important. Further, the expressions in Joshua 10:7; Joshua 10:9 Joshua ascended and went up from Gilgal most naturally indicate the ascent from the Jordan valley to the interior of Palestine, (see note on Joshua 8:10,) and show that the writer still had in mind the Gilgal near Jericho; for to understand the expressions in a military sense is hardly admissible. Keil’s only weighty argument is, that it would have been folly in Joshua, after having penetrated into the heart of the country, to go back again to the eastern border, and leave the Canaanites at liberty to move at pleasure through the conquered territory. But this whole argument rests on the assumption that Joshua would, of course, endeavour to keep the conquered Canaanites in subjection by the presence of his camp and army in the centre of the land, or else by establishing garrisons in the conquered districts a thing which we have no evidence was ever done during the wars of the conquest. Keil’s argument is therefore altogether insufficient, and rests solely on a critic’s assumption of what Joshua ought to have done. ]

From a far country They had heard that all the Canaanites had been doomed to extermination. See Joshua 9:24. To avoid such a fate they represented that they dwelt beyond the limits of Canaan. By this means they hoped to negotiate a treaty of peace, and even an alliance with the invincible invader. That such a treaty with nations beyond the limits of Canaan was lawful, see Deuteronomy 20:10-11.

Verse 7

7. Said unto the Hivites The inhabitants of Gibeon were Hivites. See Joshua 11:19.

Peradventure ye dwell among us The suspicions of the Hebrews are awakened, as they well might have been, Their Canaanitish speech must have betrayed them.

How shall we make a league with you? This question strongly implies the impossibility of such an act, because it had been expressly forbidden, (Exodus 23:32; Exodus 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:2,) on the ground of the ensnaring and corrupting influence of pagan allies.

Verse 8

8. We are thy servants This expression hardly implies that these Gibeonites anticipated their destiny of serfdom, as some suppose; it is rather a common oriental mode of speech by which inferiors becomingly address a superior. Compare Genesis 43:28; Genesis 44:7.

Who are ye? Joshua seeks to draw from them their nationality and their country, but he is baffled by their vague reply.

Verse 9

9. Because of the name of the Lord thy God The word LORD, in capitals, here as elsewhere in the Old Testament, is the Hebrew Jehovah, the proper name of the God of Israel, as Baal was the god of the Canaanites. These Canaanite-Gibeonites, assuming that Baal and Jehovah are two rival national deities, are proposing to make submission, and even, if needs be, to transfer their allegiance to the latter, who has shown himself by his victories to be the mightier god of the two.

And all that he did in Egypt They are too cunning to say that they have heard of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan, of Jericho’s downfall, and the capture of Ai. This would intimate that they were so near as to become cognizant of these recent events. So they speak of events forty years ago in Egypt, and many months ago beyond the Jordan. Thereby fulfilling God’s words to Pharaoh, that he had raised him up to make his name declared throughout all the earth. Exodus 9:16. And wonderfully have these words been fulfilled.

Verse 10

10. Amorites… Sihon… Heshbon… Og… Bashan See note on Joshua 2:10.

Which was at Ashtaroth The word which (according to old English) refers to Og, and should be rendered who. This royal city of Og was in Bashan, and named from Ashtoreth, the Greek Astarte, the Oriental Venus, who was worshipped there. Ashtaroth is the plural form of Ashtoreth, and the place perhaps took this form of the name from the many Astarte-images used in her worship there. It lies six miles north-west of Edrei, and, according to Robinson, is the modern Tell-Astereh. After its capture it was assigned to the Levites.

Verse 11

11. Our elders The popular character of their government, with a senate of elders at its head, appears quite distinctly in this verse.

Verse 12

12. This our bread To confirm their statements they exhibit their dry, crumbled bread, wine skins and apparel sadly the worse for wear, knowing well the influence which such ocular proofs have over the human mind.

Verse 14

14. The men The chiefs in Joshua’s camp with whom the Gibeonites conferred.

Took of their victuals But it is not said that the men of Israel ate of these victuals. Yet, as it is a custom among the Arabs to eat the victuals of a guest, as a sign of peace and friendship, this may have been the purpose of their taking the provision of these Gibeonites. This passage has puzzled all the interpreters. The marginal reading in our English Bible is ingenious, but it is not sustained by the Hebrew, “they received the men by reason of their victuals.” Nor did they make a treaty with them by eating their food, for this was not customary. More plausible is the theory that they took their bread into their hands to examine it. But we would suggest that the real meaning may be, they presumed the truth of the story from their victuals. The original word for took is sometimes used for mental acts.

And asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord A momentous question was settled with no reference to the Divine will, and that, too, on a point in regard to which Jehovah’s commands were very explicit alliance with aliens. Compare note and references on Joshua 9:7. Jehovah, who had made special arrangements for communicating with his people through the urim and thummim, was slighted and ignored. These Israelitish princes have had many imitators in the senates and cabinets of Christian lands. How rarely is God consulted by statesmen, even in affairs in which the destiny of a nation is involved!

Verse 15

15. Peace He solemnly pledged the faith of his people to abstain from war against their commonwealth.

A league This is a step beyond peace; an alliance, binding the two parties to mutual assistance in defensive, if not offensive, war.

Princes of the congregation Called, in Joshua 9:6-7, men of Israel, that is, representative men, consisting of heads of families and elders of the people.

Sware The Hebrew princes appealed to God in their oaths in such phrase as, “The God of Abraham judge;” “As Jehovah liveth:” “God do so to me and more also;” “God knoweth,” and similar formulas.

Verse 16

16. At the end of three days The Gibeonites themselves probably notified Joshua, after three days, that they were dwelling in their vicinity.

This precaution was necessary as a safeguard against a sudden attack by Joshua. They held the pass of Beth-horon, the key of Central and Western Palestine, which a sagacious foe would seek to wrest from their hands.

Verse 17

17. Gibeon See Joshua 9:3, note. There were three other cities on federal relations with Gibeon.

Chephira, literally, the village, is in the mountains on the western confines of Benjamin, east of Nicopolis, and about two miles east of Yalo, the ancient Aijalon. Dr. Robinson discovered it under the scarcely altered name of Kefir.

Beeroth, a Hebrew word for wells, was known to Eusebius, and his description of its position agrees perfectly with that of the modern el-Bireh, ten miles north of Jerusalem, on the great road to Shechem. It is a favourite resting-place for caravans at the end of the first day’s journey from Jerusalem, and contains a population of about seven hundred.

Kirjath-jearim City of forests, called also, in Joshua 18:14, City of Baal, the great Canaanite deity. It was celebrated as the abode of the ark for twenty years, (1 Samuel 7:2,) and is still a resort of pilgrims from all Judea. Dr. Robinson identifies it with the modern Kuriet-el-Enab, city of grapes, on the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem, and about ten miles northwest of the latter city. In Joshua 18:28, it is called merely Kirjath.

Verse 18

18. The congregation murmured This entire land had been promised to them for an inheritance. A part of that long-promised inheritance, to which they had for many years looked forward with hope, was now suddenly snatched from them as they were just entering on its possession. The manner in which this had been done aggravated their disappointment, and increased their indignation against the princes who had permitted themselves to be so duped, and the Hebrew people to be cheated out of its divine legacy. Another reason for their murmuring was the imprudence of the chiefs of Israel in entering into a treaty like this without consulting Jehovah.

Verse 19

19. Now therefore we may not touch them So strong was their respect for their oath that they would hold as valid a contract made on fraudulent representations. According to natural justice and the laws of our modern civilization, they would have been justified in treating their oath as null and void. Most expositors are of this opinion; and Calvin goes so far as to charge the princes with a new violation of the will of God, because they now “obstinately maintain, upon the pretext of their oath, the promise which they had foolishly made.”

Verse 20

20. Lest wrath be upon us By neglecting to consult God they had brought themselves into a state of moral perplexity. They were in a strait between their oath and the plain command of God, strengthened by the murmurs of the people.

Verse 21

21. Hewers of wood and drawers of water We will keep our oath to the letter: they shall live, but live as slaves. Upon the “great high place” of Gibeon the tabernacle was set up at a later period, (1 Chronicles 16:39,) and there it remained till it was removed to Jerusalem by Solomon. From beneath this eminence water and wood for the service of the tabernacle were constantly carried up, requiring the labour of a large number of people. Stanley says: “They hewed the wood of the adjacent valley and drew the water from the springs and tanks which in its immediate neighbourhood abound, and carried them up to the Sacred Tent, and there attended the altar of the Lord.” Respecting the drudgery of this menial service, Dr. Thomson, while passing through this very region of the Gibeonites, says: “I was forcibly reminded of one item in the sentence of condemnation pronounced upon them for their cunning deception that they should be hewers of wood by long files of women and children carrying on their heads heavy bundles of wood. It is the severest drudgery, and my compassion has often been enlisted in behalf of the poor women and children who daily bring loads of wood to Jerusalem from these very mountains of the Gibeonites. To carry water, also, is very laborious. The fountains are far off, in deep wadies with steep banks; and a thousand times have I seen the feeble and the young staggering up long and weary ways, with large jars of water on their heads. It is the work of slaves.”

As the princes had promised them They had promised life not servitude. This promise was kept by successive generations, till Saul rashly killed some and planned the general massacre of the rest. Seven of Saul’s descendants atoned for this breach of the covenant with their lives. 2 Samuel 21:1-9. At the time of Saul’s massacre they were so identified with Israel that the historian was obliged to insert a note explaining their origin.

Verse 23

23. Ye are cursed Bondage, even to the best of masters and to the most honourable kind of labour, is a curse. If slavery were ever a blessing to a pagan nation, by bringing it into a knowledge of the true religion, this would have been such a case; but Joshua pronounces even such bondage, though far above chattel slavery, a curse.

Verse 24

24. It was certainly told thy servants This information could have been brought by spies sent from Canaan to ascertain the intentions of so formidable a mass of people marching through the wilderness toward Palestine. The language of both nations was nearly the same.

We were sore afraid They had grounds for their great fear, in view of the fate of their brethren, the Amorites east of the Jordan.

Verse 26

26. And delivered them The people were clamorous for their blood. Joshua shows his great courage and fidelity to his convictions by resisting the pressure of the outraged and excited populace, who in mobocratic madness would have swept away a weaker ruler.

Verse 27

27. [ Joshua made them Rather, as the margin, gave them; that is, appointed them to the service named. Jewish tradition and most commentators agree that these Gibeonites, thus given to perform the menial service of the sanctuary, were the original caste or order who in later times were known as the Nethinim, that is, the given ones. See 1 Chronicles 9:2; Ezra 2:43; Ezra 8:20, notes.]

For the congregation, and for the altar They were never to be required to render personal service, nor to be employed for private purposes.

In the place which he should choose Here is strong incidental evidence that the sanctuary had not, at the time this history was written, been permanently established at Jerusalem.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joshua 9". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.