Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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;IX.
PREPARATIONS OF THE CANAANITES FOR WAR.
(1, 2) These verses record the general preparation of the natives of Canaan for the last struggle with Joshua.
And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,THE GIBEONITES MAKE PEACE WITH JOSHUA (Joshua 9:3-27).
(3) The inhabitants of Gibeon.—Hivites, as appears by Joshua 9:7. Gibeon was one member of a tetrapolis, or community of four cities, as is seen in Joshua 9:17. Their deception of Joshua and the Israelites on this occasion is a curious compensation for what was done by Simeon and Levi to the Hivites long before, when Jacob first came to Shechem from Padan-Aram (see Genesis 34). On that occasion, the inhabitants of a single city of the Hivites were put to the sword by Israel, by means of a stratagem; on this occasion, a stratagem saved four Hivite cities from destruction by Israel’s sword.
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.—Literally, and they also dealt with subtilty. The stratagem does not seem a very profound one, or one that would have been difficult to detect. But we may remember a fact of Israel’s experience which puts it in a somewhat different light. The Israelites themselves had come from a far country, but their raiment had not “waxed old upon them,” nor did “their feet swell,” these forty years. Of bread they had no need, when there was manna, and God gave them water for their thirst. Of worn garments and stale provisions they had no experience, and therefore, when the Gibeonites presented themselves in this extraordinary garb and guise, it is not unnatural that they were not detected by the eyes of Israel.
They . . . made as if they had been ambassadors.—The verb thus translated does not occur elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. By the alteration of a letter, the Targum, LXX., and some other versions make it mean, “they gat them provision.”
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) Clouted—i.e., patched.
And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you?(7) Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you?—Literally, Peradventure thou art a dweller in the midst of me; and how shall I make a covenant with thee? The Israelites assume the ownership of Canaan as already theirs.
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, 10) All that he did in Egypt, and . . . to the two kings of the Amorites.—The Gibeonites carefully abstain from referring to more recent exploits, as the passage of Jordan, the taking of Jericho and Ai; they mention only those which might have had time to reach them in the “far country” from which they asserted that they came.
And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.(14) And the men took of their victuals.—And they accepted the men from (the appearance of) their provisions. This, which is the view taken in our marginal reading, seems to be the more probable interpretation, and follows the Targum. “The men” can hardly refer to any one but the ambassadors of the Gibeonites.
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.(16) Their neighbours, and they that dwelt among them.—Literally, and that they (the Gibeonites) were dwellers in the midst of him (Israel). (So Joshua 9:7.)
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) Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and Kirjath-jearim.—The first three of these were assigned to Benjamin (Joshua 18:25-26), the last to Judah (15:60), in the division of the land. The fact that the larger portion of the territory of the Gibeonites was in the tribe of Benjamin explains how Saul was tempted to confiscate their possessions for the purpose of supplying his followers with fields and vineyards (1Samuel 22:7). He appears to have carried out his purpose in the case of Beeroth (2Samuel 4:2-3), but not as regards all the Gibeonite towns. Gibeon became a city of the priests (Joshua 21:17), and also a principal place of worship and the seat of the tabernacle (as Kirjath-jearim was of the ark) in later times. (See 1Samuel 6:21; 1Samuel 7:1, &c.; 1 Chron. 20:29; and 2Chronicles 1:3-6.) The fact that the Gibeonites were dedicated to the service of the sanctuary may partly account for this. In Gibeon, Solomon asked and received the wisdom which Joshua and Israel at this time did not ask.
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.(19) We have sworn unto them . . . therefore we may not touch them.—Although the covenant was obtained from the Israelites by false pretences, yet, being made in the name of Jehovah, it could not be broken; it was His covenant. “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not,” is commended in Psalm 15:4. We should notice that the law of Jehovah had raised the tone of morality in this particular. There are many Christians who would not hesitate to repudiate an agreement concluded under false pretences.
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) Bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.—The precedent established in regard to the Gibeonites appears to have been followed by Solomon in his dealings with all the remnant of the doomed nations of Canaan who were not destroyed. (See 1Kings 9:20-21; 2Chronicles 8:7-8.) It is thought that they are to be recognised in the Nethinim of Ezra and Nehemiah, who come after the Levites, singers, and porters in the enumeration of the restored captives (Ezra 2:43). Compare also the mention of Solomon’s servants (Ezra 2:58), whose children are coupled with the Nethinim. The existence of this large body of Canaanites should be remembered in considering the edict of the law of Moses, that the seven nations were to be destroyed. The sentence was clearly not executed on the mass of the non-resisting population.