Matthew Poole's Commentary
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;The kings of Canaan hear of Joshua’s exploits; consult together, and conclude to fight against Israel, Joshua 9:1,2. The Gibeonites, feigning themselves to be of a far country, obtain a league, Joshua 9:3-15. The craft is discovered; the promise which was confirmed with an oath remains firm, Joshua 9:16-20. But for a punishment they are condemned to perpetual slavery, Joshua 9:21-27.
No text from Poole on this verse.
That they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord.They gathered themselves together; not actually, as the following history shows; but they entered into a league or confederation to do this.
And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,Or, but when the inhabitants; for he shows that these took another and a wiser course.
Gibeon; a great and royal city of the Hivites, Joshua 10:2 11:19.
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;Ambassadors, sent from a far country, as they say, Joshua 9:6.
And old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Gilgal; the place of their head-quarters. To the men of Israel, to wit, those who used to meet in council with Joshua, to whom it belonged to make leagues, as it here follows, even the princes of the congregation; not the common people, as appears both from Joshua 9:15,18,19,21, and from common usage of all ambassadors, who generally deliver their message to and treat with princes, not people. And the Hebrew word iseh, here used, sometimes notes men of eminency and dignity.
Now therefore, because we are not of this people, whom, as we are informed, you are obliged utterly to destroy; that which appeared sufficiently, by the Israelites’ practice in destroying the Amorites beyond Jordan, and the people of Jericho and At, without any allowance for sex or age; and by common rumour, and the report of the Israelites and other persons who dwelt among them, or had converse with them, as Rahab and all her kindred; and by the nature of the thing, because they were to possess that whole land, and were not to mix themselves with the people of it.
And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you?The Hivites, i.e. the Gibeonites, who were Hivites, Joshua 11:19.
Among us, i.e. in this land, and so are of that people with whom we are forbidden to make any league or covenant, Exodus 23:32,33 Deu 7:2 20:15,16.
And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from whence come ye?We are thy servants; we desire a league with you upon your own terms; we are ready to accept of any conditions.
Who are ye? and from whence come ye? for this free and general concession of theirs gave Joshua just cause to suspect that they were of the cursed Canaanites.
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,Because of the name of the Lord; being moved thereunto by the report of his great and glorious nature and works; so they gave them hopes that they would embrace their religion.
All that he did in Egypt: they cunningly mention those things only which were done some time since, and say nothing of the dividing of Jordan, nor of the destruction of Jericho and Ai, as if they lived so far off that the fame of those things had not yet reached them.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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:No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD.The men, i.e. the princes, as before, Joshua 9:6.
Took of their victuals; not from their want or any desire they could have to such unpleasant and unwholesome food; nor in a ceremony usual in making leagues, for that was not now done, but in the next verse; but that they might examine the truth of what they said.
Asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord, as they ought to have done upon all such weighty and doubtful occasions. So they are accused of rashness, and neglect of their duty. For though it is probable, if God had been consulted, he would have consented to the sparing of the Gibeonites; yet it should have been done with more caution, and an obligation left upon them to embrace the true religion, which here was omitted.
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.To let them live, i.e. that they would not destroy them. Some question whether this league was lawful and obliging, because it is contrary to a positive and precedent law of God, by which they were enjoined to make no peace with them, but utterly to destroy them, Exodus 23:32 Exo 34 &c. But this law seems to admit of some exception and favourable interpretation, and that taken from the reason and soul of that law; which was this, that the Israelites might not be tainted with their idolatry and other abominations by cohabitation with them; and therefore when that reason ceased, i.e. if they were willing to relinquish their possessions and idolatry, and other wickedness, and to embrace the true religion, they might be spared. And though this law was delivered in general terms, because God foresaw that the Israelites would be most prone to err on that hand, by sparing those whom they should destroy; yet that it was to be understood with an exception of penitents and true converts might easily be gathered, both from the example of Rahab, and from the tenor of Divine threatenings, which, though absolutely delivered, allow of this exception; as appears from Jeremiah 18:7,8 Jon 3 Jon 4, and from the great kindness and favour which God hath manifested unto all true penitents, in delivering them from evils threatened to them, and inflicted upon others; which kindness of God we also are obliged to imitate by virtue of that natural and moral law of God implanted in us, and revealed to us, to which such positive commands as this of killing the Canaanites must give place. And that this league was lawful and obliging, may seem probable,
1. Because Joshua and all the princes upon the review concluded it so to be, and spared them accordingly, Joshua 9:19,20,22,23.
2. Because God punished the violation of it long after, 2 Samuel 21:1.
3. Because God is said to have hardened the hearts of all other cities not to seek peace with Israel, that so he might utterly destroy them, Joshua 11:19,20, which seems to imply that their utter destruction did not necessarily come upon them by virtue of any absolute and peremptory command of God to destroy them, but by their own obstinate hardness, whereby they neglected and refused to make peace with the Israelites.
Object. This league was grounded upon a deceit and error of the persons, which also they had entered a caution against, Joshua 9:7.
Answ. Their supposition that they were Canaanites was indeed a part of the foregoing discourse, Joshua 9:7, and the Israelites rested satisfied with their answer, and believed they were not, and so entered into the league; but that league was absolute, not suspended upon that or any other condition; and the error was not about the persons, but about the country and people to which they belonged, which was not material to this contract, no more than it is to a contract of marriage, that the one person believed the other to be of another country or family than indeed they were.
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.At the end of three days, i.e. at the last of them, or upon the third day, as it is said Joshua 9:17; so this phrase is elsewhere used, as Deu 14:28 31:10. Or it may be properly understood, that after three days they heard this; and on the day after they heard this, they came to their cities, as is said, Joshua 9:17.
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.Cities which were subject to Gibeon, which was the royal city, Joshua 10:2.
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.Partly, from that proneness which is in people to censure the actions of their rulers; partly, because they might think the princes by their rashness had brought them into a snare, that they could neither kill them for fear of the oath, nor spare them for fear of God’s command to the contrary; and partly, for their desire of the possession and spoil of these cities, of which they thought themselves hereby deprived.
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.They plead not the lawfulness or the prudence of the action, but only the obligation of an oath; of which, though it was procured by fraud, they perceived the people sufficiently sensible.
We may not touch them, i.e. not hurt them, as that word is oft used, as Genesis 26:11 Psalm 105:15 Psalm 144:5; or not smite them, as is said, Joshua 9:18.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.i.e. Let them be public servants, and employed in the meanest offices and drudgeries, (such as this was, this one kind being put for all the rest, as it is Deu 29:11) for the use and benefit of the congregation; to do this partly for the sacrifices and services of the house of God, as it is expressed, Joshua 9:23, which otherwise the Israelites themselves must have done, partly for the service of the camp or body of the people, and sometimes upon occasion even to particular Israelites; whence they are made bondmen, which is mentioned as a filing distinct from their service in the house of God, Joshua 9:23. And so they are in effect stripped of all their possessions, whereby the main ground of the people’s quarrel was taken away.
As the princes had promised them; or, because or seeing that (as the Hebrew word sometimes signifies) the princes (i.e. we ourselves; they speak of themselves in the third person, which is very frequent in the Hebrew language) had promised it to them, to wit, that they should live, and confirmed their promise by an oath. So the princes speaking here to the people allege the promise or oath of the princes when they met among themselves, and apart from the people. And this change of persons may possibly arise from hence, because some of the princes who were present in the assembly of the princes might now be absent upon some occasion. And this clause relates not to the next words, which are fitly enclosed within a parenthesis, but to the foregoing clause,
let them live, because the princes have promised them their lives.
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?No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Ye are cursed; you shall not escape the curse of God, which by Divine sentence belongs to all the Canaanites, who are a people devoted by God to ruin, but only change the quality of it; you shall feel that curse of bondage and servitude, which is proper to your race by virtue of that ancient decree, Genesis 9:25; you shall live indeed, but in a poor, vile, and miserable condition.
There shall none of you be freed from being bond-men; the slavery which is upon you shall be entailed to your posterity.
Hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God: this only service they mention here, because it was their principal and most durable servitude, being first in the tabernacle, and then in the temple, whence they were called Nethinims, 1 Chronicles 9:2 Ezra 2:43; whereas their servitude to the whole congregation would in a great measure cease when the Israelites were dispersed to their several habitations.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do.We are in thine hand, i.e. in thy power to use as thou wilt. We refer ourselves to thee and thy own piety and probity, and faithfulness to thy word and oath; if thou wilt destroy thy humble suppliants, we submit.
And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not.So as was said Joshua 9:23, and so as here follows.
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.By which it appears that they were not only to do this service in God’s house, but upon all other occasions, as the congregation needed or required their help.