The kings... on this side Jordan... gathered themselves together.I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS LEAGUE.
1. It was very wide, embracing every tribe in Canaan, those of the hills as well as those of the plain, and those of the sea coast as well as those inland. Even so has it been in all ages. Men of all ranks and occupations can be found to sneer at, condemn, and crush if they could, the pure gospel
2. It was very singular. Strange elements were brought together on this occasion. A common danger, a common enemy, a common hate, makes them forget old feuds, bury the war-hatchet, and unite on common ground for a common object. Who ever hated each other more cordially than Pharisee and Sadducee? yet they united in crying, "Crucify Him," and in compassing His death. Pilate and Herod cemented their broken friendship with His blood.
3. It was spontaneous. No pressure was employed to gather the clans together; none was needed. On every side there sprang up a desire to take united action. It is a sad and a terrible fact that the deepest thing in the natural heart is enmity against God. Every sinner is potentially a Deicide.
4. It was crafty. The wisest heads in Canaan were here drawn together, and engaged in strengthening this league. Their most skilful diplomatists, their most wily warriors, would give their advice, and seek to help the league in every way. The rich would give of their substance, the poor would give their strength, the wise would use their wits in discussing and arranging plans; and thus by their united energy all might yet be well. Thus again and again has all man's wisdom been brought to bear against the purposes of God.
5. And who could deny that such a league was powerful? It was powerful because of all the accumulated experience and wisdom that could be brought to bear upon the work; because of the minute knowledge of the country which the common people as well as the leaders possessed; and because of the immense resources they could fall back upon.
6. And it is also very plain that this league was heartily, yea, even enthusiastically, entered into. Like the great sea billows they rage against this bark, and with implacable wrath would smite and overwhelm it. Alas, frail bark! Alas, poor Israel! what canst thou do against such a league, so wild, so strange, so spontaneous, so crafty, so powerful, so zealous?
II. THE OCCASION OF THIS LEAGUE. No doubt many things contributed to bring it about, but one thing is specially singled out and mentioned by the Holy Ghost in this connection. When they heard of that strange march and the solemn ceremony in the vale of Shechem, then they gathered themselves together to fight with Joshua and with Israel with one accord. This shows that these Canaanites understood something of the significance of this action. They interpreted it rightly as an act of dispossession, so far as they were concerned. How often does the pious devotion of God's people provoke and exasperate the unrighteous above everything else! The sinner hates above all things the holiness of the saint, because it is his most emphatic condemnation. Perfect surrender to God's will always brings the enmity of the world to a head. Would you learn the true spirit of the world? March to Ebal and Gerizim, and pitch your tent in that sacred and fruitful vale Of utter consecration. But if such a life as this stirs up of necessity the evil which reigns in the heart of man, it is also to be remembered that such a life alone is powerful to do good to man or bring glory to God. Who can measure the strength of such consecrated souls? John Wesley knew something of this when he said, "Give me ten men who hate sin only and love God only, and I will shake the gates of hell." Its enmity will be roused, even as that of the Canaanites by the consecration of Israel; but it will be roused, only like theirs, to be utterly broken.
III. THE PURPOSE OF THIS LEAGUE. They banded themselves together "to fight against Joshua and against Israel." Though great wonders have been wrought before their very eyes, they will oppose this people. Therefore their action cannot for a moment be classed with the resistance which, e.g., the Britons offered to the invading Romans under Caesar. The position of these Canaanites was altogether different. In fighting against Israel they deliberately set themselves against Israel's God, Jehovah. They knowingly pit the strength of their idols against that of the Lord of hosts. At Him they aim their shafts through His people. Earth loves not its rightful Monarch. It rebels against His edicts, it cleaves to the great usurper's sway. What daring rebellion have we here! men plotting under God's very eyes. Conspirators usually meet in secret, in the darkness of night, screened from the eye and sheltered from the hand of the power outraged; but here these sinners gather together openly, to take counsel against Him who is marching through their land in awful majesty. Oh, hardened soul, remember the only alternatives. Bend or break; turn or burn. What utter futility have we here? Could we conceive anything more useless, more inefficient, more foolish, more powerless, than this league? The only consequence to these leaguers will be their own ruin. For this they plot, and not in vain. It comes upon them as a whirlwind, certain, irresistible, terrible, complete, irretrievable.
IV. THE LESSONS OF THIS LEAGUE. Surely, to begin with, we are very plainly taught that the people of God in carrying out the purposes of God may count upon opposition. It always has been so; and it will be so to the very end, for we read that even the glorious millennium is ushered in with a terrible struggle. We are apt to get downhearted when we see the hosts of evil mustering on every side. We exclaim, "What can the poor Church of God do?" If she can do nothing more, she can look up. She can see a sight which can calm all her fears, and make her laugh to scorn her loudest foes. Look up, then! look up! See Him who sitteth on the circle of the heavens, and before whom the nations are as grasshoppers. God is keeping silence. God is having them in derision. The attacks which to us may seem formidable are to Him despicable. Let us therefore have good hope. The systems of corruption and error and oppression, however well compacted and widely organised, must in the long run be destroyed, and he who expects and prays and works for their downfall will not be disappointed. Let us look back when we are despondent and faint-hearted, and remember how often God has restrained the wrath of the enemy; how often, when iniquity was coming in as a flood, He has raised up a standard against it. Yea, look around, and see what God has wrought. Think of the diffusion of Christianity, and of its mighty influence, whether direct or indirect. But we may learn another lesson from this league. We may learn as the host of God to unite our forces more and more in prosecuting the work set before us.
(A. B. Mackay.)
The inhabitants of Gibeon... did work wilily.I. HOW THIS DEVICE ORIGINATED.
1. Their wisdom suggested it. The selfsame facts suggest different courses of action to the Canaanites and to the Gibeonites. These events led the great majority to unite their forces against Joshua; they led this Gibeonitish minority to see if they could not come to terms with this irresistible foe. There was no sense whatever in the counsels of the kings. They ought to have assembled in a lunatic asylum, for their wisest counsels were but the ravings of a maniac. There is a spark of wisdom in the craft of the republican Gibeonites. They do come to a wise decision when they resolve to bear anything rather than provoke God against them by vain resistance. Let us, like them, humble ourselves before God's irresistible might. It is our only wisdom. There is no use waiting till judgment is at the door; no use staying till our souls are besieged by sickness and death: "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation."
2. The fears of these Gibeonites also stimulated them, were a spur to their wisdom. Was the conduct of the Gibeonites ignoble? Our hearts always side with the man who against overwhelming odds fights with grim consistency a losing battle, who resolves to "Perish if it must be so; at bay, destroying many a foe." But here again we must not lose sight of the religious element which was uppermost in the mind of all. It can never be right for the subject to rise against lawful authority. It can never be ignoble to throw down our weapons of rebellion and fall at the feet of the All-wise, the All-gracious, and the Almighty.
3. Also, there was faith at the bottom of this movement. It may readily be allowed that it was very small; microscopical, infinitesimal, if you choose. It may also be granted that it was also overlaid with error, guile, and selfishness. Yet notwithstanding all these things faith was there. These Gibeonites did believe that the purpose of God would come to pass. They did believe that God desired to give Israel the land, and that He was able to do so. With what mixed motives do we give up our rebellion and fall at the feet of Jesus! Can they bear full scrutiny? Are we pleased with them? I trow not. When we look back and analyse our thoughts and feelings, can we not discover a large leaven of mixed motives? Accordingly, there is here much encouragement to all. You ask, "Is my faith of the right kind?" See. If faith of this miserable description finds grace, who need despair? Perhaps our motives will not bear close examination; perhaps it is true that it is a selfish thing to fear hell; that it is nothing more than a hangman's whip. But if that whip lashes us to the feet of Jesus, and works for us salvation, we shall bless God for it for ever.
II. HOW THIS PLAN WAS PROSECUTED. Anything is fair in war, so men say; and anything is fair in diplomacy, so men have believed in past ages. It need not surprise us, then, that these Gibeonites followed the universal rule. They show their craft both by what they did and by what they hid. They were no novices in the art of deceit. They also prosecuted their commission very courageously. The coolness and audacity of these men are marvellous. They must have had strong nerves, a great command over themselves, and a deep knowledge of human nature. These men were neither fools nor cowards after all.
III. HOW THEIR STRATAGEM SUCCEEDED. It succeeded to perfection. Their audacity, cunning, and knowledge of human nature were all conspicuous in this transaction, and served them well. The weakness of the Israelites helped to bring about the same result. It is one thing to be rudely suspicious, it is another thing to be over-credulous. But practically how often are men at a loss how to decide when placed in similar circumstances! Therefore we should not blame Israel too severely, but rather remember that the best cure either for over-credulity or over-caution is communion with God and distrust in self. The men of Israel are also very self-conscious. Pride had something to do with their decision to take these strangers under their protection. They felt honoured and flattered by the supposed circumstances which made them a centre of universal attraction. Would you be an instrument in the hands of another, a pipe producing just such notes as the player pleases, think much of yourself; give yourself out to be some great one; open your ears and give up your heart to the sweet blandishments of flattering lips. Contrariwise remember that the humblest soul is the most independent. The Israelites were also very self-confident, and this exposed them to the wiles of these schemers. No step that we take in life is too trivial to be made a matter of prayer. Only as we do so, consulting with God about everything, are we guided by His eye. Here the Israelites put right questions — "Who are you?" "Whence come you?" But sufficient care was not taken to sift the answer and see if it was true. "All is not gold that glitters." Much ancient armour is manufactured all the year round at Birmingham. Not a few ancient statues are made to order in Italy in these days, and sold to innocent connoisseurs. Even so is it in things spiritual. The wolves are very clever at fitting themselves with sheep's clothing; the make-up is often particularly ingenious. Let the Israel of God take heed "to the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this Word it is because there is no light in them." And we should apply this also to the affairs of every-day life. How often do we involve ourselves in difficulties, hedge up our way with troubles, lead ourselves into danger, because we "ask not counsel at the mouth of the Lord." We give a listening ear to plausible representations; we hurry headlong into inviting schemes; we enter heedlessly into doubtful connections without weighing the consequences or looking for Divine direction. But sooner or later we discover that no business, or engagement, or union can prosper without the counsel and approbation of the Lord; and often with shame and sorrow we have to seek His face to undo the evils which our Own rashness and unfaithfulness have brought upon us. But in considering this matter our view would be very superficial did we not look higher than man and his motives. The purpose of Jehovah had also to do with the result. Why did He allow Joshua to be thus deceived? To teach him and Israel a valuable lesson? No doubt; but it was also for the purpose of manifesting to all that He was not unwilling to show mercy to the very chief of sinners. If with all their guile and crooked policy He spared these Gibeonites, much more would He have spared them if they had honestly cast themselves on His mercy. Yea, He spared them because they came; He reproved them because they came thus. In this manner God separated the precious from the vile; He commended their faith in coming, and condemned their mode of approach. Accordingly, while it was well for them that they came at all, nothing was gained, but much was lost, by their crooked policy. Thus is it always, and therefore what encouragement is there here to the open and ingenuous.
IV. THE RESULT OF THIS STRATAGEM. They received a place in Israel. This was no small matter; far more than they had expected. This was no small favour where all would have perished. This place in Israel was obtained with difficulty. When it was discovered who these strangers were, the people were roused against the princes who had conducted the treaty with them, and murmured loudly at the result: How true to human nature is this murmuring. It is always easy to criticise these who are in authority, and find fault with the conclusions to which they come. Every toper in a village inn, were you to credit him, could conduct the affairs of the British Empire with greater success than the wisest prime minister that ever lived. The most ignorant and irresponsible individual in a congregation is confident he would never have fallen into the mistakes of his betters. These Israelites perhaps thought that they were very zealous for God in thus murmuring, but I am afraid that self-interest had a little to do with it. Was it not somewhat of a disappointment that they would not be able to finger the spoil of these Gibeonitish cities? How often does selfishness sharpen zeal! The proper time for murmuring or objecting would have been when the treaty was so hastily concluded. But these critics forgot that then also their heads were turned, and that in all likelihood they would have murmured if the princes had proposed any other course than the one they are now condemning. But though equally deceived with their leaders, they were not like them bound by a solemn oath, and therefore they felt free to murmur. Yet it was a good sign that they went no further. Though they grumbled they submitted, and the Gibeonites were allowed to live. They owed their safety to the ability of Joshua and the princes of Israel. In this emergency the leaders displayed great firmness. They felt that it would be better far to fulfil their agreement at any cost rather than by any shift or quibble to retire from it. Surely in this steadfast adherence of Joshua to this covenant the seeker may find great encouragement. There have been murmurers in the house of God who have called in question the grace of that Saviour who forgives sinners. Remember the taunt of the Pharisees, "This Man receiveth sinners and eateth with them." The race of the self-righteous is not yet extinct; but Jesus is not less firm than Joshua, and justifies the ways of God to men in that glorious constellation of grace which the fifteenth chapter of Luke contains. Again, these Gibeonites received a definite place among the people of God. They became an integral part of the nation, with duties as clearly defined as those of the tribe of Levi. Henceforth they were an essential part of the people; Israel's God was theirs; Israel's friends were their friends, Israel's foes their foes; and they were sharers in all Israel's fortunes. The place which these Gibeonites received in Israel was, however, very humble. The lowest kind of drudgery was expected of them. But if their place and occupation are very lowly, their Master is very high and honourable, and He so arranged that they should not be private slaves, scattered through the nation, but that they should be attached to the tabernacle as servants to the priests and Levites. Now the humblest office under a great and good man may be better than the highest place a mean and bad master could offer. It would be better to black the boots of some men than to roll in the carriage of others. And if the place of these Gibeonites was humble, it was at the same time useful. This would be a great consolation to them, and would reconcile them to their lot. The place of these Gibeonites was also a hallowed one; their service was sacred. God brought them near Himself, attached them to His tabernacle, sheltered them under His wing. The altar of Jehovah was the centre of their service. They were nearer God than many in Israel. To be near God is the highest privilege and the chief joy of the renewed heart. And we come near to God just as we make the Cross of Christ the centre of all our service. The doorstep of God's house is a happier resting-place than the downy couch in the gilded pavilion of royal sinners. Still further, these Gibeonites had a hopeful place in Israel, and that was a great advantage. In the service of such a Master they might well expect to rise, and they did. Ismaiah, one of David's mighty men, was a Gibeonite. Melatiah, a builder of the wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, was another. These are instances recorded to show how they prospered and rose in Jehovah's service. In England it is thought a great matter to be recognised in any way as connected with the royal house. The official appointment to such a position may frequently be seen framed and glazed and placed conspicuously in the window. The fact is noted in the gold letters on the sign, on every bill, and notice, and advertisement that is sent from the establishment. They strive to let no one forget or be oblivious of the fact. They find that it is profitable to do so. Much more laboriously should we in all things make it plain whose we are and whom we serve.
(A. B. Mackay.)
(W. G. Blaikie, DD.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(H. G. Salter.)
(Thomas Parsons.) .
(J. C. Miller, D. D.)
Old shoes and clouted upon their feet
1. Beware first of the shams of social life. Let us rather put up with the blame of being blunt and uncivil than feel that we are constantly begirt and bedizened with shams as deceitful as were the clouted shoes and the ragged raiment of these men of Gibeon.
2. Let me urge you also to beware of the shams of trade and commerce. And I do not limit these to what may be found in the shop and the market-place. I extend the warning to every professional pursuit. There are shams in them all. It has grown into a proverb, that "there are tricks in all trades"; and the proverb is more pointed because it is so true. Be poor men all your lives rather than richer ones, if riches can only be won by practices as disreputable as were the clouted shoes and the ragged raiment of the deputies of Gibeon.
3. And let us beware, above all, of the shams of religion. The most loathsome of all hypocrisy is that which assumes the garb of religion. The man who dares to assume this that he may further his own selfish ends joins himself to Ananias and Sapphira, and is not afraid to sin against the Holy Ghost. Oh! in whatever else we are hypocrites, let it not be in assuming the language and demeanour of followers of Christ while our hearts are far from Him and rebelling against Him! for this is worse an hundredfold than the clouted shoes and the ragged raiment of the Gibeonites. And of these representative shams that I have named, and of all others, it is to be remembered that one day will declare them. But though I have drawn these lessons from the words of the text, as spoken of those who wore the clouted shoes and the ragged raiment, to effect a dishonest treaty, and to give colour to a lying tale, yet the words occurred to my mind as descriptive of those by whom the clouted shoes and ragged raiment are not assumed from choice, but worn from the grim necessity that they have no other. And it is concerning this class of our communities, and our duty towards them, that I wish now to speak. It is a humbling fact that amid the civilisation and wealth of our land, of which we are so proud, there are hundreds and thousands of poor, neglected waifs — men, women, and children — who are homeless and unsheltered. Of the children, at any rate, we must say that by some cruel misfortune they are degraded to a sphere immeasurably below their birthright as children of immortality. They are more sinned against than sinning. If they are called by the opprobrious name of "human vermin," whose fault is it that they are such? If they have been declared to be "attired in the unalterable livery of scoundreldom," whose fault is it that this new and terrible representative class has been suffered to grow up in our midst in monster proportions? If they have been called by a more truthful title, the "Arabs of the streets," "their hand against every man," must it not be confessed that it is because every man's hand has so long been against them? It is our bounden duty to inquire something into the producing causes of this great mass of human sorrow, and misery, and want, and sin; let us try to do so. Of course there is a certain amount of this utter poverty for which the idleness and laziness of the people themselves must be blamed. It is true now as when Solomon said it, that "drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags." But what can we say for those homeless children who are striving to earn an honest penny by gathering holly, by holding horses, and so on? Their homelessness and raggedness has come down to them; they are born with it; their only heritage one of woe! I trace it to two causes: first, improvidence; and second, extravagance, especially in the two articles of dress and drink. But since rags and tatters are already the heritage of many thousands of children, from the improvidence and drunkenness of their parents, we must do something more than aim at removing the producing causes; we must help those hapless ones who are already in rags. I know that we shrink from doing so. This is one of the penalties of abject misery. But this feeling of aversion, though common, is unchristian! Our Lord never shrank from contact with the poorest, and filthiest, and most ragged and loathsome leper. And so it becomes us, who profess to follow in His steps, to seek to gather in even the most ragged outcast on our streets and lanes.
(J. E. Clarke, M. A.)
The men... asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
I. THIS WAS UNJUSTIFIABLE.
1. They had the teaching of direct precepts that forbid it. They were told that the land which was given them to possess was filled with a wicked people, whose cup was full, and that their "strange work" was their extermination. Thus instructed, they were to make no covenant with any of the inhabitants of the land, but to smite "utterly both man and beast." This precept, or rather reiterated command, they forgot; acting under impulse they forgot what was written, and governed by feeling they overlooked the law.
2. They had the teachings of their own experience that should have suggested caution. Let us not so conduct our selves: let us remember the past only to be wiser for the future; let obedience to law be the rule of our life, lest some stern and inexorable calamity should come and crush us into inevitable submission.
3. All this was perfectly unjustifiable. What ever consequences might have resulted, they could only blame themselves. Precept and precedent were against them, yet blindly and wilfully they defied both.
II. THE RESULTS OF THIS FORGETFULNESS.
1. To the Israelites. The moment the mistake was found out the multitude, who had said nothing before, began of course to murmur. So frequently, when men connive at each other's iniquities and mistakes, as soon as one of their number is reduced to trouble his partners in folly will be the first to upbraid him. God may forgive us our sins and our follies; but He will not by miracle interpose to save us from the natural consequences of our violation of the laws by which He manifests the everlasting unchangeableness of His moral government.
2. To the Gibeonites. Lying and cheating always defeat themselves in the long run.
(W. G. Barrett.)
I. They received these men by reason of their victuals. THEY JUDGED IN A HASTY AND SUPERFICIAL WAY. By hasty judgments we are led into wrong in several directions.
1. Hasty judgments lead us to wrong others.
2. Hasty judgments lead us to wrong God. You take a superficial view of your troubles, and you think God is a tyrant and is cruel.
3. How many reject the truth by such hasty judgment. Some trifle suffices — a silly criticism they heard years ago — to lead them to give up Christianity and lose their souls. This, then, is the first lesson of the text: To form no judgment concerning any man or any thing on insufficient or defective data.
II. They "asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord." THEY ACTED UPON THEIR OWN WIT AND DISCERNMENT. If you have any wit, you are to use it. You may think you know all about the harbour of success, every shallow, every sunken rock, yet it would be better to take a pilot on board. I prefer to employ a praying doctor, a praying lawyer.
(H. M. Scudder, D. D.)
Philippians 1:10, R.V. margin). In one place this power to discriminate is said to result from use (Hebrews 5:14); whilst in the passage already quoted it is attributed to an abounding love. But following the suggestion of the narrative before us, we may say that it will follow naturally on the careful cultivation of the blessed habit of asking counsel at the mouth of the Lord. Never trust your own judgment. When voices within or without would hasten you to decide on the strength of your own conclusions, then be careful to refer the whole matter from the lower court of your own judgment to the supreme tribunal of God's. If there is any doubt or hesitation left after such reference, be sure that as yet the time has not come for you to under stand all God's will. Under such circumstances wait. Throw the responsibility of the pause and all it may involve on God, and dare still to wait. As a traveller over the hills, when the mist has come down, elects to stand or lie where it overtakes him, rather than wander on, perhaps to the brink of a precipice, so wait. If you trust God absolutely it is for Him to give you clear directions as to what you should do. And when the time for action arrives He will have given you such unmistakable indications of His will that, though a fool, you will not be able to mistake them or err therein.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Exodus 23. 32, 34:15; Deuteronomy 7:2) without making any exceptions, &c.(2) Secondly, the people murmured at this league (ver. 18), which they ought not to have done, had it been lawful.(3) Joshua denounces those Gibeonites accursed for deceiving him (ver. 23), which he would not have done had nothing been done but what was just and equal.(4) He charged them with circumventing him by dissimulation (ver. 21). Answer the second: but others affirm it was a lawful league, as and all the rabbis, &c., upon those grounds. First, it was lawful for Israel to offer peace to other nations before they besieged any of their cities (Deuteronomy 20:10), which shows this league was lawful as to the substantial part of it. Secondly, this sanguinary law of killing all the Canaanites was not absolute and universal, but admitted of an exception of penitents and true converts, as appeareth from Jeremiah 18:7, 8, and John 3:4. Thirdly, that this law was thus limited (being only a positive law, and so might be qualified with a natural and moral equity) appears in Israel's sparing Rahab and her relations. Fourthly, the reason of that sanguinary law was lest those Canaanites that were not killed might entice the Israelites to their idolatry. Now that reason ceased at their turning from idolatry and becoming proselytes to Israel, &c. Fifthly, that the Gibeonites were converts appears, for their hearts were not hardened as the other Canaanites were (Joshua 11:19, 20). They came to Joshua here in the name of the Lord (ver. 9), and they had this blessing, to have a near approach unto God in their service of the sanctuary (ver. 27), where David could have been content to be a poor door-keeper (Psalm 84:10). Sixthly, Had this league been unlawful it had been better broken than kept; if it had been a sin to make it, the sin would have been double to keep it; but Joshua and all the princes upon the review of it did conscientiously keep it (vers. 19, 20, 22, 23). Seventhly, God severely punished the violaters of this league, long, even 400 years, after, as 2 Samuel 21:3. Saul's rash zeal cost the seven of his sons' lives, and so almost rooted out his whole posterity. Eighthly, The utter destruction of all the other cursed Canaanites came not so much or so necessarily upon them by virtue of any absolute or peremptory precept for destroying them as it did from their own obstinacy and obduration of their hearts, whereby they did not only neglect but also scorned to make peace (Joshua 11:19, 20).
Hewers of wood and drawers of water.
(F. B Meyer, B. A.).