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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
The two verses serve as a general introduction to Joshua 9-11. The Canaanites had recovered to some extent from their panic Joshua 9:1, perhaps in consequence of the repulse of the Israelites before Ai. They resolved to make a league and to resist jointly the progress of the Israelites. The defection of Gibeon Joshua 9:3-27 determined the five kings of the Amorites, whose territories were nearest Gibeon, to take instant action against that city. Their forces were defeated by Joshua in the battle before Gibeon (Joshua 10:1 ff). The other confederates subsequently gathered their armies together, Joshua 11:1-5, and were defeated at the waters of Merom (Joshua 11:6 ff). The former of these two great battles gave Joshua possession of the southern half of Palestine west of Jordan; the latter of the northern half.
1And it came to pass, when all the kings which were on this side Jordan, in the hills, and in the valleys, and in all the coasts of the great sea over against Lebanon, the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, heard thereof;
In the hills - See the Numbers 13:17 note.
The valleys - Or "the vale" (the Shephelah, Deuteronomy 1:7), which imports the lowland country between the mountains and the sea coast.
2That they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord.
3And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,
Gibeon was the head of the four towns Joshua 9:17 occupied by the Hivites Joshua 11:19. The inhabitants were Amorites 2 Samuel 21:2; the name "Amorites" being used as a general name for the Canaanite population (Deuteronomy 1:44 note). The Hivites seem to have had a non-monarchical form of government (compare Joshua 9:3, Joshua 9:11), but their city was Joshua 10:2 in size and importance equal to those cities which the kings of the country made their capitals. Gibeon signifies "pertaining to a hill," i. e. built on a hill (compare Gibeah and Geba, towns in the same neighborhood), and describes the site, which is on two of the rounded hills unique to this district. It is still known as El-Jib, and lies about five miles north of Jerusalem by the most direct route. It stands at the head of the pass of Beth-horon, through which lies the main route from Jerusalem and the lower Jordan valley to Joppa and the sea coast. Thus from its position, no less than from the number and valor of its people Joshua 10:2, it was one of the most important cities of southern Canaan. Gibeon fell within the lot of Benjamin Joshua 18:25, and was one of the cities assigned to the priests Joshua 21:17. In later times it was famous as the scene of various events (2 Samuel 2:12-17; 2 Samuel 20:4-13; 1 Kings 2:28-29, compare with 1 Chronicles 16:39). It was for a long time the spot where the tabernacle of Moses, together with the brass altar of burnt offering 1 Chronicles 21:29 and other portions of the sacred furniture, were placed. It was the scene of the magnificent ceremonial with which Solomon inaugurated his reign 1 Kings 3, but no doubt lost much of its importance after the tabernacle and its accompaniments were removed to the temple of Solomon.
4They did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up;
They did work wilily - literally, "they also," or "they too, did work, etc." The "also" serves, apparently, to connect the stratagem of the Gibeonites with that employed by the Israelites before Ai. It hints that the Gibeonites resolved to meet craft with craft.
Rent and bound up - i. e. the wine skins were torn and roughly repaired by tying up the edges of the tear. The more thorough and careful way, hardly feasible in a hasty journey, would have been to insert a patch.
5And old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy.
6And they went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him, and to the men of Israel, We be come from a far country: now therefore make ye a league with us.
Camp at Gilgal - While Joshua was engaged in more distant enterprises, the women, children, and property of the Israelites were left with a sufficient guard at this place, where they had been established immediately after crossing the Jordan Joshua 5:9.
7And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you?
Compare the marginal references.
8And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from whence come ye?
9And they said unto him, From a very far country thy servants are come because of the name of the LORD thy God: for we have heard the fame of him, and all that he did in Egypt,
10And all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, which was at Ashtaroth.
11Wherefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spake to us, saying, Take victuals with you for the journey, and go to meet them, and say unto them, We are your servants: therefore now make ye a league with us.
12This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came forth to go unto you; but now, behold, it is dry, and it is mouldy:
13And these bottles of wine, which we filled, were new; and, behold, they be rent: and these our garments and our shoes are become old by reason of the very long journey.
14And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.
The elders of Israel Joshua 9:18, tasting what was offered them by the Gibeonites, pledged themselves according to the usage of Eastern nations to peace and friendship with them. They credited the story at once, instead of seeking the direction of God in the matter. The rendering of the margin is not to be preferred to that of the text.
At the mouth of the Lord - i. e. by the Urim and Thummim Exodus 28:30.
15And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them.
16And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them.
17And the children of Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and Kirjathjearim.
Chephirah (Kefir) is situated eight or nine miles west of Gibeon, and was an inhabited city in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah Ezr 2:25; Nehemiah 7:29.
Beeroth (Birch), about eight miles north of Jerusalem. Kirjath-jearim, i. e. "city of woods," is identified by Robinson with the modern Kuriet el Enab, nine miles from Jerusalem on the road to Jaffa (and by Conder with Soba). The town was numbered among those belonging to Judah, and was in the northern boundary of that tribe. Beyond this city the six hundred Danites encamped on their famous expedition to Laish Judges 18:12. Kirjath-jearim was also, and probably before the Israelite conquests exclusively, called Baalah and Kirjath-baal Joshua 15:9, Joshua 15:60, names which seem to point to its early sanctity as a special seat of Baal-worship. To this place also the ark was brought from Beth-shemesh after it was sent back by the Philistines, and here it remained for twenty years 1 Samuel 6:20-21; 1 Samuel 7:2. It was fetched thence by David and deposited in the house of Obed-edom 2 Samuel 6:2. Hence, the allusion, Psalm 132:6, where David is said to have found the ark "in the fields of the wood."
18And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes.
19But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them.
20This we will do to them; we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we sware unto them.
21And the princes said unto them, Let them live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation; as the princes had promised them.
Render "they shall be hewers of wood and drawers of water:" menial duties belonging to the lowest classes only (compare the marginal reference). The curse of Noah Genesis 9:25 on the children of Ham was thus fulfilled to the letter in the case of these Hivites.
22And Joshua called for them, and he spake unto them, saying, Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us?
Were the Israelites bound to respect an oath thus procured by fraud? Were they right in doing so? Dr. Sanderson ("Works," vol. iv. 4 pp. 269, 300, Oxford edition), determines these questions in the affirmative; and rightly, since the oath, though unlawfully taken, was not an oath taken to do an unlawful thing, i. e. a thing in itself unlawful. It was the carelessness of the Israelites themselves which betrayed them into this league. It was therefore their duty when they found themselves entrapped into this unlawful covenant, to devise means by which they might respect both their own oath and God's purposes as intimated in His injunctions Deuteronomy 7:2 against sparing the Canaanites. This was accomplished by granting their lives to the Gibeonites, but reducing them to a servile condition, which might be expected to disable them from influencing the Israelites to do wrong. It may be added, that had the Israelites broken their oath, taken solemnly in the Name of the Lord, they would have brought that Name into contempt among the pagan; and, while punishing perfidy in others, would have themselves, the Lord's people, incurred the reproach of perjury. The result showed that Joshua and the princes judged rightly in this matter. God gave to Israel a notable victory, crowned with special miracles, over the kings who were confederated against Gibeon, because of the treaty made with Israel Joshua 10:4, Joshua 10:8,Joshua 10:13; and God punished as a national act of blood-guiltiness the slaughter of the Gibeonites by Saul, which was a distinct violation of the covenant here before us (compare 2 Samuel 21:1). This sparing of the Gibeonites, as well as the previous sparing of Rahab and her household, must be borne in mind when the massacre of the Canaanites by Joshua and the Israelites is discussed.
23Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.
24And they answered Joshua, and said, Because it was certainly told thy servants, how that the LORD thy God commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you, therefore we were sore afraid of our lives because of you, and have done this thing.
It was mere fear which drove the Gibeonites to act as they did. They sought for union with God's people, not for its own sake, but to save their lives. Rahab's motives were higher (Joshua 2:9 ff). Hence, she was adopted into Israel; the Gibeonites remained forever bondsmen of Israel.
25And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.
26And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not.
27And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the LORD, even unto this day, in the place which he should choose.