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Go to Bible: Joshua 9
“beyond the Jordan.” In this case, west of the Jordan River.
“the Shephelah.” The “lowlands” are just west of the hill country of Judah and Israel (which is east of the coastal plain of the Mediterranean Sea). The word means “lowlands” or we might say, “foothills,” and the name “Shephelah” (lowlands) is given from the perspective of the higher “hill country” to the east.
“shore of the Great Sea.” This referred to the coastal plain, the shore of the Mediterranean Sea (the Mediterranean Sea was sometimes called “the Great Sea” in the Old Testament).
“the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.” All of these tribes are actually “Canaanites.” Genesis tells us that “Canaan became the father of Sidon (his firstborn)[thus the Phoenicians], Heth [thus the Hittites], the Jebusite, the Amorite, the Girgashite, the Hivite, the Arkite, the Sinite, the Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite” (Gen. 10:15-18). The only name in the list in Joshua that cannot be traced to Canaan the son of Ham is the Perizzites.
“Perizzite.” The Bible mentions the Perizzites in the land of Israel as early as the time of Abraham (Gen. 13:7), and as late as after the Babylonian Captivity, although the reference to Perizzites in Ezra may have been a historic reference since it is in a list of the native people in the Promised Land before Joshua’s conquest (Ezra 9:1-2; cp. Exod. 34:11; Deut. 7:1). According to the book of Joshua, the Perizzites were in the hill country of Judah and Ephraim (Joshua 11:3, 17:15), and they were still in the land at the time of Solomon, who put them to forced labor (1 Kings 9:10-21). Nothing is known of their origin. It has been suggested that the name “Perizzites” means something like “country people,” “rural people,” so they may be offshoots from other people groups who started out by living in rural areas, or they could be an amalgam of different people groups and who started to associate and build a clan soon after the flood, certainly as early as Abraham. It is also possible that they have no stated human origin because they were, at least in part, part of the Nephilim, the fallen race created by demons (see commentary on Gen. 6:4). That may be the reason that the hill country of Ephraim was known as “the land of the Perizzites and of the Rephaim” (Josh. 17:15).(top)
“they gathered themselves together to fight with Joshua.” These tribes were not always friendly among themselves, and there is evidence of occasional wars between them. This is a good example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
“under one command.” The Hebrew is literally, “one mouth.” The enemy was composed of different armies, but they fought as one (cp. 2 Chron. 18:12).(top)
“But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard.” The contradictory responses of the peoples of the land are highlighted in Joshua 9. Some hear and take offense and attack, while others hear and figure out how to join Israel.(top)
“cunning.” The Hebrew word can have a negative or positive meaning: crafty or prudent. Here there is an element of both. They did act deceptively, but it was to save their lives.
“wineskins.” A “bottle” or container made from animal skin. The Hebrew reads, “torn and tied up.” It is likely that the skins had torn on an extremity and then that tear was tied up.
[For more on skin-bottles, which were usually made from the skins of goats, see commentary on 1 Samuel 10:3.](top)
|Jos 9:5||- (top)|
“camp at Gilgal.” Joshua maintained his camp at Gilgal, and returned there. Thus the Gibeonites went down into the Jordan Valley to meet with Joshua (a downhill journey of about 3,400 feet or so).
“a far country.” They had come less than 20 miles from Gibeon to Gilgal. Deuteronomy 20:10-11 gives Israel direction about how to treat people who were “near” versus people who lived far away. Israel could offer peace to a far city. Also, the people of Gibeon offered to be servants, which is also in Deuteronomy. Also, the Gibeonites specifically asked for a covenant, which Israel was not to cut with any of the people of the Promised Land (Deut. 7:1-2). This opens the question, did the Gibeonites somehow know something about what the Torah of Moses said, or did they just assume that since God was making a way for Israel to come into the land that if they said they did not live in the land they would be treated differently.(top)
“living here among us.” That is, living in the land promised to Israel, even though it has not been conquered yet. The “us” in the Hebrew is literally “me,” singular, and thus the phrase is more literally, “Perhaps you are living within me.” In this case, Israel is a collective group and considered as one. Also, the Hebrew has the word “near” in the phrase “among us,” it is more literally, “near us,” but it has a much deeper meaning than just “near” in proximity.
“we cut.” The verb is singular, “I cut.” Israel is one nation and acting as one.(top)
“They said to Joshua, ‘We are your servants.’” The Hebrew word for “servant” can also mean “slave,” so it is hard to tell exactly how humble the Gibeonites were being here except that they wanted to make a covenant to serve Israel.(top)
“have come from a very far country.” Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from,” and the Gibeonites did not answer Joshua’s question. They lied—they had come less than 20 miles—but even their lie was an “unclear answer.” Joshua and the elders unwisely did not press the point. The fairly large amount of trading that went on in the ancient Middle East meant that lots of “distant” countries would have been familiar to Joshua and the leaders of Israel; there were trading caravans mentioned in Genesis and Job (Gen. 37:25; Job 6:18-19). We can learn a good lesson from this record. A direct and clear question should get a direct and clear answer. If the answer is not direct or clear, the wise believer should be cautious because something dishonest or disadvantageous is likely going on. Politicians are usually masters at not giving clear simple answers to direct questions, and there is usually something dishonest and/or disadvantageous going on.
“we have heard of his fame, all that he did.” People are affected when they hear what God does. This emphasizes the importance of believers talking about the good things that God does in their life. Romans says, “And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone to declare it?” If believers will tell the good things that God does it will draw people to God. It is also noteworthy that the Gibeonites gave credit to Yahweh for all that “he did.” Even the Gentiles can recognize the work of God if they will open their hearts and minds to the possibility.(top)
“beyond the Jordan.” Here meaning on the east side of the Jordan.
“and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan.” If these people were from a far country, as they said, then they would not have heard of Israel’s conquest of Jericho and Ai, and so they did not mention those conquests or it would have given them away.(top)
“Now then, cut a covenant with us.” These Gibeonites seemed to know that if Israel would cut a covenant with them, then they would keep it, which turned out to be correct.(top)
|Jos 9:12||- (top)|
|Jos 9:13||- (top)|
“took of their provisions.” This may or may not have been part of a communal meal, where the Israelites and Gibeonites shared food together. The text does not communicate any suspicion here, although the Israelites could have had some. It seems, however, especially given the context, that Israel was simply accepting the provisions and story of the Gibeonites.
“did not ask counsel from the mouth of Yahweh.” Literally, “did not ask the mouth of Yahweh.” The literal “ask the mouth” is a metonymy, with “mouth” being put for asking for what comes from the mouth, that is, advice.
[See figure of speech “metonymy.”](top)
“and cut a covenant with them to let them live.” The covenant that Israel made with the Gibeonites shows that sometimes one thing in the Law is greater than other points. The Law said to kill the people of the land, but Joshua made a covenant with them, and that direct covenant was more binding than commandments such as Deuteronomy 7 in the Law. This kind of thing is how case law is established. “To let them live;” Joshua did not cut a covenant with that purpose, since he thought they came from far away he was not commanded to kill them, but it was the result of the covenant that Joshua made.
“swore an oath.” The verb means to swear an oath.(top)
“three days.” There is a sort of theme of three days in Joshua (cp. Josh. 1:11; 2:16, 22; 3:2; 9:16).
“their neighbors and that they lived among them.” The words “neighbors” and “among” are both from the root word “near.” A translation that might pick that up somewhat might be “they were from nearby and lived near him [Israel].” The double use of the “near” words adds to the shock of Israel when they realized they had been lied to and deceived, and the Gibeonites were not from a far country as they had said, but not even from 20 miles away, in the heartland of Israel.(top)
“Beeroth.” The word means “cisterns,” and it is the only one of the towns that has not been positively identified today.
“on the third day.” Again we see here the theme of three days (see commentary on Josh. 9:16). Israel could reach Gibeon in one day, because the army of Israel went from Gilgal to Gibeon in one night (cp. Josh. 10:9). However, this trip in Joshua 9:17 was much less rushed. Furthermore, Israel was going into the heart of enemy country and did not want to be ambushed, so they took time to prepare to leave and took time in the journey, and likely kept sending scouts ahead of the people to report on the situation.
“Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim.” All of these cities except Beeroth have been positively identified (and Beeroth is likely known). They are not quite 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem in the tribal area of Benjamin, and lie in a line that runs basically from Gibeon southwest to Kiriath-jearim.(top)
“strike them.” The word “strike” is an idiom for “kill.”(top)
“We ourselves have sworn to them by Yahweh.” The leaders did not want to take the name of Yahweh in vain and make a false oath (cp. Exod. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; Deut. 6:13; 10:20).
“touch.” Idiomatic for “harm.” The Israelites were supposed to kill the Canaanites (cp. Josh. 9:26), but they cannot harm the Gibeonites. “Touch” is used for harm (including rape) in Ruth 2:9. The leaders took the oath they had made very seriously, so seriously that it superseded the command of Yahweh in the Torah about what to do with the people who lived in the land. This is a good example of one law in the Torah being greater than another, and there are no clear directions from God as to what to do when that occurs (generally because the situation occurs, as it did here, with human error). The leaders must have considered that scriptures such as Leviticus 19:12, and Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20 superseded God’s command to destroy the Canaanites. It would be interesting to know if Rahab’s family being among them had any influence on that decision—but there is no way to know that.(top)
“so that wrath will not be on us.” The leaders knew that disobeying God could bring His wrath on Israel, as it did when Achan and his family sinned (Josh. 7).(top)
“woodcutters and drawers of water.” This would be the punishment that people who lived far from Israel but surrendered to them would be subject to (cp. Deut. 20:10-11). The REV follows the reading of Robert Alter. The last phrase, “as the rulers had said concerning them,” points to the discussion that the rulers would have had among themselves when they found out that the Gibeonites lived in the Promised Land. The rulers were in a vice between keeping their covenant with the Gibeonites and obeying Torah concerning the peoples in the land. By making the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers the elders were at least keeping the part of the Torah about non-Israelites that they could in this situation.(top)
“far...near.” This is an example of how the concepts of being “far away” or “near” to someone were important in the biblical culture. With no long-range communication, getting to be “near” someone was a privilege and honor. This shows up with God but is often veiled in translation. For example, when it comes to God, people were to mainly “come near” to Him with an offering or sacrifice. For example, Leviticus 1:2 could be translated, “If any man of you comes near with an offering,” because the word usually translated “brings” means to approach or come near. Because of the work of Christ, people who were “far” from God are brought “near” (Eph. 2:13).
[For more on coming near to God, see commentary on Leviticus 1:2.](top)
“never cease to be.” The Hebrew “cease” is the same word as “cut” in “cut a covenant.” The people of Gibeon cut a covenant with Israel and now some of them will never be “cut off” from being a slave and serving in the Tabernacle or Temple. However, some would consider it a blessing to be a non-Jew and get to serve like that in the presence of God.
“to the house of my God.” The Gibeonites became slaves to Yahweh and also served Israel (Josh. 9:27). They were alive because of the commands of Yahweh.(top)
“told, yes, told.” The Hebrew text doubles the word “told” for emphasis in the figure of speech polyptoton. The fact that the Gibeonites knew what they did about Israel shows how well information could travel, usually by merchants and traders, but also by herdsmen, hunters, etc. This causes more questions as to why Joshua and the elders did not know where the Gibeonites came from and that they lived only some miles away.
[For more on polyptoton and the way the REV translates it, see commentary on Genesis 2:16.]
“how Yahweh your God commanded.” The Gibeonites had a knowledge of Israel’s history. They also appeared to acknowledge Yahweh as a god that has very real power and so were afraid for their lives that it was Yahweh who commanded “His servant Moses” to give the land to Israel and kill the inhabitants. It seems that the Gibeonites had a lot of knowledge and humility when it concerned Yahweh and Israel.(top)
“in your hand.” The phrase “in your hand” is an idiom for “in your power” or “under your authority.”(top)
|Jos 9:26||- (top)|
“to this day.” This is a theme that is important to the author. He often explains a present situation by events in the past. In this case, by the time the book of Joshua was written, the Gibeonites were servants who cut wood and drew water for the Tabernacle and Joshua 9 explains how that come to be. It can be important to know history. The phrase “to this day” occurs 15 times in Joshua.
“the place.” God had not chosen Jerusalem yet. Thus the text still speaks of “the place” that Yahweh would choose.
“Yahweh would choose.” The Hebrew reads, “he,” not Yahweh (“he would choose”), but in this English sentence it would seem that the “he” referred to Joshua, which it does not.(top)