Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And 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;Ch. Joshua 9:1-2. The First League of the Canaanite Kings
1. And it came to pass] Thus “that spring morning” did Israel “consecrate Palestine unto the Lord, and take sea and lake, mountain and valley—the most hallowed spots in their history—as witnesses of their covenant.” It was probably on this occasion that the Egyptian coffin, containing the embalmed body of Joseph (Genesis 50:25-26), was laid by the two tribes of the house of Joseph in the parcel of ground near Shechem, which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor (Genesis 33:19). These important preliminaries having been carried out, the further prosecution of the campaign was possible.
the kings] Hitherto single cities had been the objects of Joshua’s contention. Now leagues and confederacies were formed against him.
in the hills] i.e. the hill country of southern and central Canaan. In Numbers 13:17, it is called “the mountain.” Comp. also Deuteronomy 1:7. The whole region of the western portion of Canaan is here described under three divisions: (a) the central hills, (b) the valleys = the shephelah (Deuteronomy 1:7), (c) the seaboard. For the nations here enumerated see above, Joshua 3:10.
That they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord.
And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,3–27. The Embassy of the Gibeonites
3. of Gibeon] This city was the head of the four towns occupied by the Hivites, the other three being Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath-jearim (Joshua 9:17). It appears to have been a sort of independent republic, since we hear of elders there (Joshua 9:11), but not of a king, and is said to have been a great city like a royal city (Joshua 10:2), i.e. of the same size and importance as those which the kings of the country made their capitals. The name itself signifies “pertaining to a hill,” i.e. built on a hill, and describes the site, which is, by the direct route, about 5 miles north of Jerusalem, on two of the rounded hills peculiar to this neighbourhood. Placed at the head of the pass of Bethhoron, and commanding the main route from Jerusalem and the lower Jordan valley to Joppa and the sea-coast, and inhabited by a numerous and brave population, it was one of the most important cities of southern Canaan. It is still known as El-Jib.
They 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;4. they did work wilily] Rather, they also did work wilily. They had heard what Joshua had done in the case of Jericho and Ai, and the stratagems he had employed, and now they also resolved to do something and to meet craft with craft. “Thei thouзten felli,” Wyclif.
made as if they had been] Or, as the Ancient Versions with the change of a single consonant, reading here as in Joshua 9:12, render, provided themselves with victuals.
old sacks upon their asses] These were probably the same as “the large bags, usually of hair, in which the Orientals pack up, for convenient transport on the backs of animals, all the baggage and commodities required for the journey. Beds, boxes, provisions, pots, packages of goods, all are carried in such bags, slung over the back of the animal, one hanging at each side. Being a good deal knocked about and exposed to the weather, these saddle-bags, as one might call them but for their size, suffer in a long journey; and hence the Gibeonites took old bags, to convey the impression that a long journey had been made. Kitto’s Bible Illustrations, 11. p. 286.
wine bottles] i.e. skin bottles, of which classical antiquity has afforded many representations. In the East the wine was preserved not in casks but in earthen jars and leathern bottles, made of the skins of goats, oxen, and buffaloes, turned inside out, washed, and rubbed over with warm mineral tar or naphtha. The wine is drawn out at one of the feet, by opening or closing the cord with which it is tied. This explains how the bottles could be “old,” “rent,” and “bound up,” and also the caution of our Lord against pouring new wine into old bottles, lest they should be burst by the wine (Mark 2:22).
And old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy.5. old shoes] “and ful olde shoon,” Wyclif, i.e. sandals, made of (1) hide, or (2) palm-leaves and papyrus stalks. Comp. Mark 6:9.
clouted] i.e. patched, “sowid with patchis,” Wyclif; from clout, A. S. cleot, clút, “a patch,” properly a swelling from a blow, connected with Du. klotsen, to strike, as “botch” with Du. botsen. Comp. Jeremiah 38:11-12, “So Ebed-melech took … thence old cast clouts, and old rotten rags … and said unto Jeremiah, Put now these old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under the cords.” Shakespeare, II. Henry VI., iv:2,
“Spare none, but such as go in clouted shoon;”
and Latimer, Serm. p. 110, “Paul, yea and Peter too, had more skill in mending an old net, and in clouting an old tent, than to teach lawyers what diligence they should use in the expedition of matters.” Sandals were seldom mended, being of so little value, that they could easily be renewed when the worse for wear. “We have seen a man make himself a new pair out of a piece of skin in a few minutes. The mere fact, that articles so easily renewed, were patched in this instance, was well calculated to suggest the idea of a long journey, in which the convenience of purchasing new ones, or materials for making them, had not been found, for which reason they had been obliged to make their old ones serve by patching. It was a singular thing to see sandals clouted at all, and only a journey would explain the fact.” Kitto’s Bible Illustrations, 11. p. 288.
old garments] It behoved ambassadors to appear in clean and decent, if not in splendid, raiment. This was so essential, that the appearance of these Gibeonites with old and travel-stained clothes could only be explained, upon any common principle, by the assigned reason, that they had come direct from a long journey.
dry and mouldy] “Harde and brokun into gobetis,” Wyclif. The Hebrew word translated “mouldy” is the same which is rendered by “cracknels” in 1 Kings 14:3. This word (nikuddim) denotes a kind of crisp cake. The ordinary bread, baked in thin cakes, is not made to keep more than a day or two, a fresh supply being baked daily. If kept longer it dries up, and becomes at last excessively hard. It was this kind of bread that the Gibeonites produced, and they indicated its hardness—hard as biscuits—in evidence of the length of the journey they had taken. Kitto’s Bible Illustrations, 11. p. 289.
And 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.6. unto the camp at Gilgal] Where was this Gilgal? (i) According to some it was the Gilgal, of which we have already heard (Joshua 5:10), in the Jordan valley, whither Joshua had returned after his successful expedition against Ai, in order thence to undertake fresh enterprises, and where the women, children, and property were left under a sufficient guard, while he was absent with the host (ii) Others think it is impossible to suppose that Joshua marched back from Shechem to the banks of Jordan (Joshua 9:6, Joshua 10:6-7; Joshua 10:9), and, again, that he did so a second time, after the battles in the north to make the final apportionment of the land among the people, and that the spot is that alluded to in Deuteronomy 11:30, as being situated “beside the oaks of Moreh,” i.e. near the site of Abraham’s first altar (Genesis 12:6-7). If this is so, it would correspond with the modern Jilgiliah, a few miles from Bethel.
a far country] Far beyond the boundaries of Palestine.
And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you?7. the Hivites] Comp. Joshua 11:19; 2 Samuel 21:2.
And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from whence come ye?8. Who are ye?] To this is to be noticed that they made no direct reply. They adroitly evaded the question by dwelling on the fact that they were Joshua’s “servants” (comp. Genesis 32:4; Genesis 50:18).
And 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,9. we have heard the fame of him] Comp. Joshua 2:10; Joshua 6:27.
And 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.10. to Og, king of Bashan] They prudently omit all mention of the late capture of Jericho and Ai, lest the revelation of what had recently occurred should betray them.
Wherefore 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.
This 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:
And 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.
And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.14. the men took of their victuals] “thei token thanne of the meetis of hem,” Wyclif. “The men” here denote the elders of Israel, the heads of the tribes. Comp. Joshua 9:18-21. Some think it means they took and tasted of their provisions by way of test to see if their story was true, so Keil and Rosenmüller. Others interpret the words as denoting that the princes of the people took of the provisions, and by thus eating, according to the usages of Oriental nations, pledged themselves to friendship and amity. Compare the eating together as a sign of friendship of Jacob and Laban, Genesis 31:46; and the expression “covenant of salt,” Leviticus 2:13; 2 Chronicles 13:5.
and asked not counsel] This was a transgression of an explicit command that the priest should seek a revelation of the Divine will for Joshua by means of the Sacred Oracle, the Urim and Thummim; “at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him” (Numbers 27:21). See also Exodus 28:30. Against any league with the inhabitants of Canaan they had been specially warned (Exodus 23:32; Exodus 34:12; Numbers 33:55; Deuteronomy 7:2).
And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them.
And 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.
And 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.17. on the third day] A three days’ journey it might well be “according to the slow pace of eastern armies and caravans.” Stanley’s S. & P. p. 209.
Chephirah] “a village,” afterwards allotted to Benjamin (Joshua 18:26). It was an inhabited city in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:25; Nehemiah 7:29). On the western declivity of the mountain range, 11 miles from Jerusalem, and 4 from Kirjath-jearim, is a ruined village called Kefîr, which doubtless marks the site of the old city of Chephirah. After remaining unknown, or at least unnoticed, for more than 2000 years, its site was discovered by Dr Robinson in 1852. See Robinson, Bible Res. III. 146.
Beeroth] Mentioned afterwards along with other Benjamite cities among the places whose inhabitants returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:25; Nehemiah 7:29). It is commonly identified with the large village of El-Birch between Jerusalem and Bethel.
Kirjath-jearim i.e. “the city of woods,” or “groves,” written Kirjath-arim in Ezra 2:25, and Kiriathiarius in 1Es 5:19. It derived its name from its olive, fig, and other plantations, as its modern representative, Kuriet-el-Enab, “the city of grapes,” does from its vineyards. It was afterwards allotted to Judah, and here the Ark remained from the time of its return from the Philistines to the reign of David (1 Samuel 7:2; 2 Samuel 6:2; 1 Chronicles 13:5-6; Psalm 132:6), where David is said to have found the Ark in “the fields of the wood.” Before the Israelitish conquest it was known as Baalah and Kirjath-baal (Joshua 15:9; Joshua 15:60), names which point to its early sanctity as one of the special seats of the worship of Baal.
And 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.18. had sworn unto them] The remembrance of the league was kept up through the whole course of the subsequent history. A terrible trial befell the nation because Saul had massacred certain of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1-2; 1 Samuel 22:18-19), and David remained faithful to the vow which Joshua had made.
But 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.
This 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.
And 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.21. hewers of wood and drawers of water] “trees thei kutten and watris thei beren,” Wyclif. They were devoted to the sanctuary, called at a later period Nethinims = Deo dati, donati, and were bound to discharge menial duties which usually devolved upon the lowest classes. Comp. Deuteronomy 29:10-11, “Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water” Compare also 1 Chronicles 9:2; Ezra 2:43; Ezra 2:70; Nehemiah 7:46; Nehemiah 7:60.
And 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?
Now 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.23. ye are cursed] Comp. Genesis 9:25.
And 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.24. the Lord thy God commanded] See Deuteronomy 7:1-2.
we were sore afraid] Fear had been their sole motive in seeking an alliance with Israel. Theirs was not the faith, which had prompted Rahab to save the spies.
And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.25. we are in thine hand] Compare the words of Abraham to Sarah, “Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee” (Genesis 16:6).
And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not.26. delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel] who would have certainly been glad to destroy them.
And 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.27. made them that day] It is deserving of notice that the Gibeonites never appear to have betrayed their trust, or enticed Israel into idolatry.