Joshua 9:4
They did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks on their asses, and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up;
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(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.”

9:3-13 Other people heard these tidings, and were driven thereby to make war upon Israel; but the Gibeonites were led to make peace with them. Thus the discovery of the glory and the grace of God in the gospel, is to some a savour of life unto life, but to others a savour of death unto death, 2Co 2:16. The same sun softens wax and hardens clay. The falsehood of the Gibeonites cannot be justified. We must not do evil that good may themselves to the God of Israel, we have reason to think Joshua would have been directed by the oracle of God to spare their lives. But when they had once said, We are come from a far country, they were led to say it made of skins, and their clothes: one lie brings on another, and that a third, and so on. The way of that sin is especially down-hill. Yet their faith and prudence are to be commended. In submitting to Israel they submitted to the God of Israel, which implied forsaking their idolatries. And how can we do better than cast ourselves upon the mercy of a God of all goodness? The way to avoid judgment is to meet it by repentance. Let us do like these Gibeonites, seek peace with God in the rags of abasement, and godly sorrow; so our sin shall not be our ruin. Let us be servants to Jesus, our blessed Joshua, and we shall live.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.

4. They did work wilily—They acted with dexterous policy, seeking the means of self-preservation, not by force, which they were convinced would be unavailing, but by artful diplomacy.

took old sacks upon their asses—Travellers in the East transport their luggage on beasts of burden; the poorer sort stow all their necessaries, food, clothes, utensils together, in a woollen or hair-cloth sack, laid across the shoulders of the beast they ride upon.

wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up—Goat-skins, which are better adapted for carrying liquor of any kind fresh and good, than either earthenware, which is porous, or metallic vessels, which are soon heated by the sun. These skin bottles are liable to be rent when old and much used; and there are various ways of mending them—by inserting a new piece of leather, or by gathering together the edges of the rent and sewing them in the form of a purse, or by putting a round flat splinter of wood into the hole.

Ambassadors, sent from a far country, as they say, Joshua 9:6. And they did work wilily,.... Acted craftily, dealt in much cunning and subtlety; our version leaves out a very emphatic word, "also"; they also, as well as other nations, acted a cunning part, but in a different way; they did not enter into consultations and alliances with others, how to defend themselves, but made use of a stratagem to make peace, and enter into a league with Israel; or also as the Israelites had done, either as Simeon and Levi had dealt craftily with the Shechemites, who were Hivites, Genesis 34:2; so now the Gibeonites, who also were Hivites, Joshua 9:7; wrought in a wily and crafty manner with them, so Jarchi; or as the Israelites had lately done in the affair of Ai:

and went and made as if they had been ambassadors: from some states in a foreign country, sent on an embassy to the people of Israel, to compliment them on their successes, and to enter into alliance with them, which they thought would be pleasing and acceptable to them; the Targum is,"they prepared food,''which they took with them for their journey; and so the Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions:

and took old sacks upon their asses: in which they put, their provisions:

and wine bottles, old, and rent, and bound up: not made of glass, as ours usually are, but of the skins of beasts, as the bottles in the eastern countries commonly were; which in time grew old, and were rent and burst, and they were obliged to mend them, and bind them up, that they might hold together, and retain the liquor put into them, see Matthew 9:17.

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 {c} bound up;

(c) Because they were all worn.

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).Verse 4. - They did work wilily. Rather, and they worked - they also - with craft. The reference, no doubt, is to the confederacy of the other kings. The Gibeonites also acted upon what they had heard, but they preferred an accommodation to war. So Calvin and Rosenmuller; also Drusius. And they felt that they could only effect their purpose by craft. Other explanations are given, such as that a reference is made to Joshua's stratagem at Ai. Keil rejects both, and proposes an explanation of his own, which is unintelligible. Origen's interpretation here is interesting as a specimen of the theology of the third century. He regards the Gibeonites as the type of men who, though they are enrolled in the Church as believers and have faith in God, and acquiesce in all the Divine precepts, and are ready enough to take part in all the external duties of religion, are yet involved in vices and foulnesses, like the Gibeonites in their old garments and clouted shoes. They display no signs of improvement or alteration, yet Jesus our Lord concedes to them salvation, even though that salvation does not escape a certain stigma of disgrace. That there may be some persons in a condition somewhat resembling this described by Origen may be admitted, but it is difficult to see how any one in a state of salvation can display no signs of improvement whatever. There are many who do not improve as they might, whom we should yet hesitate to pronounce altogether reprobate from God. But surely the entire absence of all improvement is a manifest sign of reprobation. This passage is one of many among the voluminous works of Origen in which that holy and learned man has not sufficiently weighed what he was saying (see below, ver. 23). Made as if they had been ambassadors. "Sent an embassy" (Luther). If we take this reading, we must suppose, with Grotius and others, the word to be the Hithpahel of צִיר to go, to revolve. But the form is rare, and the word is elsewhere unknown, at least in Hebrew, though an Arabic form of it is found. It is therefore better to read יֹצְטַיָּדוּ "they prepared themselves provisions." This is the reading of the LXX., the Vulgate, the Chaldee, the Syriac, and of most modern editors. It is rendered still more probable by the occurrence of the same word in ver. 12. Old sacks. Rather, worn out, and so throughout the passage. The usual mode of conveyance still in the East is in sackcloth bags on the backs of horses, mules, camels, and asses. Such bags are apt to meet with rough usage in a long journey. Wine bottles. Rather, wine skins, the wine then being kept in skins, not in vessels of glass. This explains how they could be burst open (מְבֻקָּעִים) and tied up. These skins were hung up frequently in the smoke (Psalm 119:83), which gave them a shrivelled appearance. The first bottles were made of such skins, as Herodotus tells us. The Egyptian monuments confirm his statements, displaying as they do skins of animals so used, with the legs or the neck forming what we still term the "neck" of the bottle (cf. Homer, Iliad, 4:247, ἀσκῷ ἐν αἰγείῳ). Similar bottles are depicted on the walls of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and the like may be seen still in Italian villages. They were pitched over at the seams to prevent leakage (cf. Job 32:19; Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37, 38. See also Kitto's 'Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature '). Bound up. The usual mode of mending in the East, except when a patch is inserted, is to tie or sew up the hole. "As Moses commanded:" namely, Deuteronomy 27:5. "As it is written in the book of the law of Moses:" viz., in Exodus 20:22 (25). On the presentation of burnt-offerings and slain-offerings, see at Deuteronomy 27:6-7. - In Joshua 8:32 nothing is mentioned but the writing of the law upon the stones; all the rest is presupposed from Deuteronomy 27:2., to which the expression "the stones" refers. "Copy of the law:" as in Deuteronomy 17:18; see the explanation at Deuteronomy 27:3. In connection with the third part of the ceremony the promulgation of the law with the blessing and cursing, the account of the Mosaic instructions given in Deuteronomy 27:11. is completed in Joshua 8:33 by the statement that "all Israel, and their elders (i.e., with their elders), and shoterim, and judges," stood on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests, the stranger as well as the native, i.e., without any exception, one half (i.e., six tribes) towards Mount Ebal, and the other half towards Mount Gerizim. For further remarks, see at Deuteronomy 27:11. "As Moses commanded to bless the people before:" i.e., as he had previously commanded. The fact that the thought itself does not suit the context is quite sufficient to show that the explanation given by many commentators, viz., that they were to commence with the blessings, is incorrect. But if, on the other hand, we connect the word "before" with the principal verb of the sentence, "commanded," the meaning will be that Moses did not give the command to proclaim the blessings and cursings to the people for the first time in connection with these instructions (Deuteronomy 27), but had done so before, at the very outset, namely, as early as Deuteronomy 11:29.
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