The Book of Joshua Series
Conquering the Land
“His Mercy is More”
As we have journeyed through the book of Joshua, we have seen Joshua’s conquest into the central part of the Promised Land included overwhelming victories over the cities of Jericho and Ai. These cities were utterly destroyed, burnt to the ground, leaving only smoldering ashes and charred timbers in their remembrance. These tremendous victories cause the inhabitants of the Land to form an alliance to fight against Israel. Chapter nine begins, “As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.” (9.1-2)
However, there was one group of the clan of Canaan that did not joined the alliance against Joshua and devised a different plan. Chapter nine continues, “But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.’” (9.3-6 – ESV)
The Deception of the Gibeonites
Even though there were provisions in the Law to make treaties with cities outside of the Land (Dt.20.11), the Lord had commanded all the cities within the Promised Land to be “devoted to destruction.” (Ex.23.32; 34.12; Num.33.55; Dt.7.2) The Gibeonites were well aware of what was about to happen to their cities and people, so they devised plan to deceive Joshua and the leaders to make a covenant of peace with them.
The Gibeonites were part of the Hivite tribe of Canaan and controlled the four largest towns in central Canaan. (9.17) The city of Gibeon stood seven miles south of Bethel. It was one of the largest towns in the central Canaan described as a great royal city and all of its men were mighty. (10.2) But instead of using their strength and go to war, the leaders of Gibeon devised a daring plan of deception to lure Israel into a covenant of peace. They would admit later that because they knew that the Lord God of Israel had commanded all the inhabitants of the land to be destroyed, they feared for their lives. (9.24) So, the Gibeonites sent an envoy to Israel’s camp at Gilgal. They put on worn clothing, packed dry crumbled bread, and cracked wineskins to make it look like they had been traveling for many weeks from a distant land. When the envoy arrived in Gilgal the Israelites were suspicious and said, “Perhaps you are living within our land; how then can we make a covenant with you?” (9.7) Joshua asked them directly, “Who are you, and where do you come from?” (9.8)
These charlatans responded to these inquiries by maintaining their disguise and saying, “This our bread was warm when we took it for our provisions out of our houses on the day that we left to come to you; but now behold, it is dry and has become crumbled. These wineskins which we filled were new, and behold, they are torn; and these our clothes and our sandals are worn out because of the very long journey.” So, the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord. (9.12-14) Though the people of Israel had learned that obedience to the Lord was necessary for victory at Jericho and Ai, they had not yet learned that they needed divine guidance at every step of the conquest. Joshua and the leaders of Israel trusted in their own wisdom instead of seeking the Lord for guidance. This is a prime example of “leading on your own understanding,” which God’s Word tells us not to do. (Pr.5.6) Brothers and sisters, the Word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path and without God’s Word guiding our lives and decisions we are traveling aimlessly down a dark road and will often in up in the ditch. (Ps.119.105)
So, being totally deceived and without asking the Lord for advice, Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them. (9.15) You might be saying to yourself, “What’s the big deal? The Gibeonites were not completely honest but at least no body got hurt.” Well, the big deal is that the Gibeonites were part of the ones who the Lord had “devoted to destruction” and making a covenant of peace with them was in direct conflict with God’s Word. But you might say, “But the Gibeonites tricked them! It’s not Israel’s fault.” But it is Israel’s fault because they did not ask for the counsel of the Lord.
A Truthful Response
Everything was fine for three days but then the leaders of Israel discovered who these imposers really were. They immediately confronted the Gibeonites for their deception, but they could not harm them because of the covenant of peace they had sworn to them. (9.16-20) The covenant the leaders of Israel made with the Gibeonites was binding because it was given in the name of the Lord. (9.19) Consequently, loyalty was owed, not to the Gibeonites, but to the Lord. The Israelite leaders disrespected the Lord by not seeking His counsel but dishonoring the name of the Lord by breaking the covenant would result in even a worst outcome. But this didn’t stop the people of Israel from being outraged by the lapse in judgment of their leaders and murmur against them. (9.18)
When Joshua asked the Gibeonites why they had lied, they told the truth saying, “Your servants were clearly told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So, we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.” (9.24-25 – NIV) Give them credit. They knew that the Israelites would eventually find out, so they made no excuses. Matthew Henry summarized their answer this way, “They considered God’s sovereignty is incontestable, His justice inflexible, His power irresistible, and therefore they resolved to try what His mercy was, and found it was not in vain to cast themselves upon it.” The Gibeonites feared God’s judgment against them but they discovered that God’s mercy was greater than they ever imagined.
The Story of the Gibeonites
Let’s pause for a moment and ask, “What is the story of the Gibeonites all about?” Well, one could say it is about the dangers of deception and they would be correct. Another might say that it is about the foolishness of not calling on the Lord and they too would be correct. And another might say it is about the importance of keeping your word and they would be correct as well. But I want you to see that the story of the Gibeonites is about something more. The story of the Gibeonites is more than the idea of “if you can’t beat ‘em – join ‘em.”
The story of the Gibeonites is a story of a people who were known as being mighty in battle but came to understand that they were destined for God’s judgment. The story of the Gibeonites is about a mighty people humbling themselves before God, so that He may exalt them at the proper time. (IPt.5.6) Yes, the worn-out sacks on their donkeys, the worn-out wineskins, the worn-out sandals, the worn-out clothes, and the dry crumbly bread were all a disguise. But I want you to understand that this mighty people were acting out what they thought was the only thing that would save them from God’s wrath. So, they humbled themselves before the mighty hand of God. What I am suggesting is that outwardly the Gibeonites disguised themselves, but their costumes were actually a representation of their heart. Yes, on the outside the people throughout the Land considered them mighty but on the inside the Gibeonites knew they were worn-out. The Gibeonites humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God hoping that God would exalt them in the proper time.
I want you to see that the Gibeonites separated themselves from all the other kingdoms of Canaan, even from their own tribe by coming to the Israelites and making peace. This was a daring move of faith in the Lord. The Lord says, “Come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. (2Cor.6.17-18) And this is exactually what happened. The Gibeonites came out from among the unclean kingdoms of Canaan and as a result the Lord welcomed them as a father to his sons and daughters. We will see next week in chapter ten that separating themselves from the kingdoms of Canaan and making peace with Israel caused their own kinsmen, the Canaanites, to rise up against them fulfilling the words of Scripture, a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. (Mt.10.34-36) But the threat of persecution and attack was not going to hinder the Gibeonite’s faith in God.
I want you to understand that the Gibeonites making peace with Israel was making peace with God Himself. The nation of Israel was the representation of God on earth. God used Israel to fulfill His purposes and to bring the fulfillment of His redemptive plan through Christ. Therefore, the Gibeonite’s desire to make a covenant of peace with Israel was actually a demonstration of their desire to make a covenant of peace with God. But to make a covenant of peace with God they had to come to God’s representative on earth. It is the same with us. Jesus Christ is the representation of God on earth. If we want to make covenant of peace with God we must come to God’s representative, Jesus Christ.
Please notice that instead of behaving like all the other kings of Canaan and joining an alliance to take a stand against the Lord and His Anointed the Gibeonites believed that God’s Word was true and flung themselves upon the mercy of God. (9.1-5) The outcome of their daring decision, the outcome of their faith, was that they found mercy from God instead of destruction. This is what happens to everyone that humbles themselves before a merciful God. Brothers and sisters instead of standing in defiance against God we all should be like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable who cried out to the Lord, “Have mercy on me a sinner.” (Lk.18.14)
The Gibeonites discovered that God shows surprising kindness to liars who confess the truth. The Gibeonites confessed, “So, we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.” (9.25 – NIV) So, what we see in the story of the Gibeonites is that in an unorthodox way the Gibeonites acknowledge God’s righteous judgment against them and their need for His sovereign mercy.
The Gospel of the Gibeonites
Chapter nine ends, So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day. (9.26-27 – NIV) Joshua saves their lives and makes the Gibeonites the woodcutters for the sacrifices on the altar of God and water carriers to bring refreshment to the priest as they served at the Lord’s altar.
The Gibeonites who started out as a people worshipping idols ended up serving every day at the very heart of the things that pointed to forgiveness through Christ. Every day the Gibeonites cut the wood for the animal sacrifices that pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (Jn.1.29) Every day the Gibeonites had a front row seat to watch the priests at work in the divine object lesson of temple sacrifices pointing to God’s ultimate fulfillment through the sacrifice of Christ. (Heb.9.11-12) Every day the Gibeonites were reminded that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. (Heb.9.22)
And what we will see when we get to chapter twenty-one of Joshua is that the city of Gibeon was named as one the Levitical cities guaranteeing that the Gibeonites would continue to have direct involvement in the sacrificial ceremonies that pointed to Jesus Christ. The American theologian, Francis Schaeffer, put it this way, “When the land was divided, Gibeon was one of the cities given to the line of Aaron. It became a special place where God was known. Approximately four hundred years later, David put the tabernacle in Gibeon. That meant the altar and the priests were in Gibeon as well. What does this mean? The Gibeonites had come in among the people of God, and hundreds of years later they are still there.”
The story of the Gibeonites is the story of the Gospel! The Apostle Paul describes what we all were before we were saved writing, “remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace. (Eph.2.12-14a) Brothers and sisters there was a time when you and I were separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel just like the Gibeonites. We were strangers to the covenants of promises just like the Gibeonites. We were without hope and without God in the world just like the Gibeonites. But God by His grace and mercy has brought us who were formerly far off near by the blood of Christ just like the Gibeonites. We have found peace with God through Jesus Christ just like the Gibeonites. What I am saying is, “We are the Gibeonites!” We are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are fellow citizen with God’s people. God by His mercy has welcomed us into His family and we are members of God’s household. (Eph.2.19, 21)
To understand Joshua chapter nine takes a lot of work in putting the pieces of the Bible together, but the main point is simple. God has mercy on a people who don’t deserve mercy. His mercy is more! From this episode of Scripture in Joshua chapter nine, we stand amazed at how great God’s mercy is to those who fear Him.
What can we learn from the Gibeonites to help us in our spiritual conquest in Christ?
First, don’t trust in your own strength or might. Humble yourself before the mighty hand of God. Confess to the Lord that you are worn-out. Secondly, separate yourself from the kingdoms of this world. Come out from among them and be separate. Don’t be afraid of possible persecution or attacks. The Lord will protect you. Third, make peace with God through His representative on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ. Say to the Lord, “Have mercy on me a sinner.” Acknowledge God’s righteous judgment against you and your need for His sovereign mercy.
I promise you that if you will do these things the Lord will make you a member of His household and give you an opportunity to serve His people the benefits of His grace for a lifetime.
Call to Prayer
mercy triumphs over judgment. (Js.2.13b)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away,
reserved in heaven for you, (IPt.1.3-4)