Joshua 9 – Israel and the Gibeonites

Our text centers around two recurring themes.
  • (1) God’s work in history on Israel’s behalf
  • (2) Covenant

We need to survey our text to see just how prominent each of these is.
  • And then figure out what the author of Joshua is trying to tell us.


God’s work in history on Israel’s behalf is found in the following:
  • The Canaanite kings “heard of this” (vs. 1) – presumably Israel’s victory over Ai.
  • The Gibeonites heard “what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai” (vs. 2)
  • The Gibeonites pretended to come from a far off country “because of the name of the Lord your God” (vs. 9)
  • They “heard…all that he did in Egypt” (vs. 9)
  • They heard “all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites” (vs. 10)
  • And they even knew the content of Scripture – “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land” (vs. 24)

Our text tells us that in reaction to God’s actions, two responses are demonstrated.
  • Response 1 – Fight – The Canaanite kings “gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel” (vs. 2)
    • Joshua 10 and following unpacks this response.
    • No doubt it was emboldened by Israel’s defeat at Ai.
    • And it was one of the consequences of Achan’s sin – Joshua 7:9.
  • Response 2 – Fright – The Gibeonites hatch a deceptive scheme to trick the Israelites into a covenant in order to save themselves from God’s action in history through Israel.
    • The subject of our text, Joshua 9.

BTW – It is important to note that these two responses do have something in common in our context.
  • Fear of Yahweh (though maybe not the “hearts melted” kind of fear).
  • This is in contrast with the Israelites, whose response to God in our text revealed a lack of proper fear and right response to Yahweh.
  • More on this later. 

So rebellion or relationship – those are the two responses to God’s work in history.
  • Nothing much has changed in 3000 years.
  • Except, of course, the current trend in this post-enlightenment age, where materialism dominates, is to deny the historicity of God’s work altogether.

BTW – Are those who rebel against the God of the Bible actually exempting themselves from relationship with Him?
  • No…they are under God’s wrath.

Speaking of the work of God in history, the following have been denied on Bible Secrets Revealed and Unbelievable Radio (a podcast) just this week by “enlightened” materialist scholars and lay folk:
  • Virgin birth
  • Historicity of Abraham and Isaac
  • Resurrection
  • Destruction of S&G
  • Jesus’ claim of divinity

Richard Dawkins on Unbelievable Radio (13 minutes in):
  • On the OT, “I’d be surprised if very much of it was factual…the Pentateuch is clearly the Jewish foundational myth…the creation myths and the myths for the origin of the Jewish people…some inherited from earlier peoples like the Sumerians. There is really no reason at all to be talking about the Jewish myths anymore than any of the other myths around the world…”

And then there is the devious form of rebellion clothed in the garments of relationship – the prosperity Gospel.
  • This has been exported to Africa and is wreaking spiritual havoc on millions.


The centrality of Covenant is found in the following:
  • The Gibeonites pretend to be from a far away country and say, “now make a covenant with us” (vs. 6).
  • Israel entertains the idea but is cautious – “how can we make a covenant with you” (vs. 7).
  • The Gibeonites urge the Israelites on – “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us” (vs. 11).
  • And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them” (vs. 15).
  • Then “after they had made a covenant with them” they discovered the truth (vs. 16).
  • Then they couldn’t attack them “because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord” (vs. 18).
  • Many of the Israelites wanted to exact revenge, but they were not permitted to because the leadership had “sworn to them by the Lord” (vs. 19) and “because of the oath that we swore” (vs. 20).
  • So Joshua “delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them” (vs. 26).

There are a couple of things we need to flesh out with this covenant business.
  • (a) Use of deception
  • (b) Honoring a covenant forged in deception

(a) Covenant by Deception
We just saw that the Gibeonite covenant with Israel was born through deception.
  • Specifically the Gibeonites:
  • acted with cunning” – vs. 4
  • And “made ready” supplies and provisions that looked “worn-out” – sacks, wineskins, sandals, clothes and “dry and crumbly” food.
  • All of this was done to look as if they came “from a distant country” (vs. 6).

Why was it important to look as if they came from far away?
  • “Israel was allowed to spare and make treaties with cities that were far from them, but they were explicitly directed not to make peace with the cities of the peoples whom the Israelites were dispossessing” – David Howard.
  • Exodus 34:11–12 (ESV) — 11 “Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst.
  • Deuteronomy 20:10–11 & 16 (ESV) — 10 “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. 11 And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,
  • Did the Gibeonites know this?
    • Most think probably not.

(b) Honoring a Covenant
Why did the Israelites have to abide by this Covenant?
  • It is clear that except for the leadership, they didn’t want to.
  • Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders” (vs. 18).

We hope to figure this out by looking at some specifics of this covenant.
  • Specifically its ANE context and covenant type.

We need to understand that covenants and pacts between potential enemies was nothing new.
  • “Treaties had a significant impact on the political shape of the ANE from the 3d to the 1st millennium B.C.” – AYBD.
  • Politics of this era were steeped in covenant/treaties.

There were many kinds of political covenants/treaties in the ANE.
  • This one, many argue, is known as a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty.
  • The suzerain is the sovereign or state that has political control.
  • The vassal is the inferior person or state in the relationship.
  • “The relationship of the vassal to his suzerain was not ‘brotherhood’ but ‘servitude’. The vassal was forbidden to seek alliances with other great powers but was to ‘acknowledge’ only the suzerain as his overlord (cf. Hos 13:4), [and] to be at enmity with his enemies” – AYBD.
  • On the flipside, the suzerain was to protect the vassal and provide military aid.
    • Joshua 10:6-7

Joshua 9 makes clear that the Gibeonites saw themselves as the vassal and Yahweh/Israel as the suzerain.
  • And the reason for this was not just Israel’s military victories, but also the work of Yahweh on Israel’s behalf.

There was another element of these covenant treaties that is important to consider.
  • Such a treaty, “at its core was an oath [meaning “by the life of the gods”], taken before the state deities of one or both parties. It was at the same time an imprecation [a spoken curse], calling down divine wrath on the oath breaker.” -AYBD

In the case of our text, the oath was sworn to Yahweh.
  • Joshua 9:15 (ESV) — 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
  • In ANE language and the context of the Israelites Yahweh worship, it would be to Him that this oath was sworn.
  • “The deities before whom the oath was taken were thought to act as guarantors of the treaty, punishing the one who transgressed it” – AYBD.

Swearing an oath to Yahweh had some significant baggage.
  • An oath “sworn by the Lord God of Israel…could not be broken” – Woudstra.
  • “Oath taking and swearing are solemn affairs in the Old Testament. To take an oath…was to give one’s sacred and unbreakable word that he would follow through on what was promised. Because of the sacred, unbreakable nature of an oath, this treaty that the Israelites made with the Gibeonites, even though it was obtained under false pretenses, could not be revoked” – David Howard.
  • Another example of this is the Jacob/Esau story.

One example of a Scriptural foundation for this:
  • Zechariah 5:1–4 (ESV) — 1 Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll! 2 And he said to me, “What do you see?” I answered, “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.” 3 Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land. For everyone who steals shall be cleaned out according to what is on one side, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out according to what is on the other side. 4 I will send it out, declares the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. And it shall remain in his house and consume it, both timber and stones.”
  • See also Ezekiel 17:16-21 and Malachi 3:5.

And the best example for our purposes of the sacredness of covenant keeping involves Saul, David and the Gibeonites.
  • 2 Samuel 21:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.2 So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. 3 And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?

Joshua was all too familiar with God’s concern for honoring a covenant – think Achan.
  • This commitment to covenant is something difficult for us to understand.
  • One reason is that our individualist culture conflicts with the honor/shame culture of the ANE on this kind of issue.


We said earlier that Joshua 9 shows that the Israelites were deficient in the area of fear of God and wisdom.
  • We get this from a key verse of Joshua 9.
  • Joshua 9:14 (ESV) — 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.
    • In fact it seems the Gibeonites acted in wisdom and the Israelites did not.

Scripture is clear about the relationship of fear and wisdom.
  • Psalm 111:10 (ESV) — 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
  • Proverbs 1:7 (ESV) — 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
  • Proverbs 9:10 (ESV) — 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Like they failed to seek God’s will coming off the high of Jericho, they failed to do so coming of the high of the defeat of Bethel and Ai.
  • Obviously not a wise thing to do.
  • Dale Davis asks “Do we need the guidance of God only when we are in doubt? Do we not need to be careful when we begin to think, ‘There is no need to consult the Lord on this matter—it’s quite clear’?” – Dale Davis.

What is it about peak experiences that lead us to run ahead of God?
  • We seem to lose a healthy dose of fear and reverence of God.
  • Not a good place to be.
  • The Psalmist says “lean not on your own understanding”.
    • BTW – “Lean not” NOT “use not”.
  • “Joshua 9 warns God’s people against such cocky independence” – Dale Davis.
  • They expressed doubt in the Gibeonites story.
    • Joshua 9:7 – “perhaps you live among us”.
  • But in the end, they relied only on themselves.


Rahab deceived the leadership of Jericho to save the Jewish spies, herself and her household.
  • The Gibeonites deceived the Israelites to save themselves.
  • In each instance, the end result for the deceiver was life and inclusion in the redemptive history of Israel.

David Howard puts it like this:
  • “A postscript to the story of the Gibeonites can be seen after the exile, in two lists in the Book of Nehemiah. In both cases, men from Gibeon are listed among the Jews who were repairing the walls or who returned from Babylonian exile (Neh. 3:7; 7:25). They appear to have been fully assimilated among the Jews, as much believers in Israel’s God as was Rahab and other foreign ‘converts’ and as much the recipients of God’s grace.”

What are we to take away from these events of deception?

They appear to say more about God’s grace than about the deceivers.
  • Israel was chosen by God, they never earned their place in redemptive history.
  • They were special because of God’s good pleasure.
  • “For the Christian, the inclusion of the Gibeonites in God’s covenant community (like Rahab) challenges any attitude of self-righteousness” – Richard Hess.
  • And as we saw last week, God’s grace is running rampant throughout the O.T.

And consider this –
  • Israel was commanded to wipe out the Canaanites.
  • And thus far we have seen the following:
  • Rahab the Canaanite found inclusion in Israel.
  • Rahab’s Canaanite household found inclusion in Israel.
  • And the Canaanite tribe, the Gibeonites, found inclusion in Israel.

And at the same time we saw Israel itself come under a “cherem” of God because of Achan’s sin.
  • These facts should indeed dispense with “any attitude of self-righteousness”.
  • Not to mention they don’t seem to comport with a “myth” made up to give the Jews some street cred.
  • In fact, between the Jews actions and God’s grace, they look kind of stupid in many of these so-called “myths”.