And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai,…
According to the explicit law of Moses (in Deuteronomy 20:10-18), there were three courses which Israel might pursue towards the cities they besieged:
1. In the event of a city refusing to capitulate, they were, after taking it, to destroy all the males who survived, but take the women and the little ones and the spoil, and divide the same. This first course, however, was only to be pursued to such cities as were outside the boundaries of the promised land.
2. In the event of cities within these boundaries refusing to capitulate, then, on taking them, they were to slay all the inhabitants of either sex, lest they should "teach them to do after their abominations."
3. But, thirdly, in the event of any city, within or without these boundaries, submitting to them without resistance, then they were to make the people "tributaries to them;" but no life was to be taken. From Joshua 11:19, 20, it is obvious that every city had the opportunity of capitulating, and would have saved its inhabitants from extermination by doing so; but that the thought of capitulation did not enter the hearts of any community, but that of Gibeon only. These remarks seem necessary to enable us to understand aright the exact position of affairs. They suggest:
1. That the submission of Gibeon was a right thing wrongly done.
2. That the wrong part of their action - the lie - was needless, as they would have been saved without it; and fruitless, as they would have had probably a better lot had there been no attempt to mislead.
3. That, accordingly, we have not here the example of a profitable lie (a thing that has never been seen since the fall), but only the example of wisdom in yielding to the inevitable, and seeking peace with the earthly representatives of God. Thus understood we may gather from their action two or three lessens worth our consideration.
I. AVOID DOING GOOD THINGS IN A BAD WAY. This is a common fault. Often all the grace of kindly acts is lost by an ungracious way of doing them. We give - perhaps avowing reluctance to do so. We confess mistakes - but exhibit a churlish regret, not for the mistake, but for the necessity of acknowledging it. We take good advice - but sullenly. We act on a good impulse - but slowly. We yield our hearts to God - but only with much misgiving, and after long delay. We do the right and just part, but only after earnestly trying to avoid doing it. So these Gibeonites rightly submit, but make the submission, which is right, in a wrong way, using falsehood and pretence, taking away from Israel the grace of generosity and the friendly spirit that would have moderated their lordship over them. Do not so blame them as to forget that every fault is a mirror, looking into which each may see some likeness of his own imperfection. You and I are like the Gibeonites in this, that always some bit of evil creeps into and mixes with the good. Such mixtures, in God's mercy, may not be fatal to our welfare, but they will always mitigate it. In this case a less abject and menial form of servitude would have been the result of their submission if they had possessed the courage of their wisdom. Do your good things in a good way.
II. PROMPT ACCEPTANCE OF THE INEVITABLE IS ONE OF THE HIGHEST PARTS OF WISDOM. The other cities of Canaan were not more brave, they were only more foolish than Gibeon. They lacked the imagination of faith which could realise the fate awaiting them. They dreamed of safety without taking measures to secure it. They believed in that "chapter of accidents which is the Bible of the fool." Like some Oriental governments which we have seen, they stared destruction in the face, and did nothing to ensure success in averting it. Wisdom averts the preventible, but sets itself to work at once to accept the inevitable. And Gibeon deserves credit for its clear perception of its danger, and its sagacity in trying to make the best of what could not be avoided. Perhaps, being more republican than any of the other nationalities, we have here an instance of the superior wisdom of the popular instinct to that of the rulers'. Without dwelling, however, on the source of their wisdom, we may with advantage follow its example. One of the chiefest parts of the art of life is frankly, promptly accepting the inevitable. Whatever the pressure that you cannot avoid, proceed at once to make the best of it. If it be poverty, do not with desperate ventures attempt to win back wealth, but with contentment and industry set yourself to make the best of it. If disease affects you from which you cannot free yourself, come to terms with it. Send your ambassadors and make a covenant with it. And accepting the situation in which you find yourself, address yourself to gather the "sweet uses of adversity," and you will find weakness a great teacher and not without its compensations. If you have done wrong, and to humble yourself is a necessity of honour, do so like Gibeon, at once. If submission to your redeeming God has become a necessity of your case, do not, like the other cities of Israel, dream and defy, and then fall before the destroyer; but with timely overtures seek Him while He is near. Thus in all relations of life accept frankly the inevitable. Agree with thine adversary quickly, and with the force you cannot resist make such terms as will allow you to enjoy a less dignity, but yet some degree of happiness.
III. GOD CROWNS WITH HIS REWARD ALL GOOD, HOWEVER MIXED WITH EVIL. In the action of the Gibeonites there is the good of a rudimentary faith, there is the evil of deceit. It is to be observed that, while the evil is punished, the good is not ignored. God does not require the retractation of the oath; and when, centuries later, Israel breaks the oath, He shows His disapproval of their course. God sanctions their being spared, and thus approves the good that is mixed with evil. Happily for us, God is still the same. Perfect motive He never finds, and unmixed good He never looks on. But, in His infinite compassion, whatever of good there is in our action receives a rich reward. His love holds as keen a scrutiny as His justice, and wherever in the action of men the slightest good appears, then He rewards it.
IV. WHATEVER OPPOSES GOD'S CAUSE WILL EITHER BE MADE SUBSERVIENT TO IT, OR BE DESTROYED. The fate of Ai or Gibeon, destruction or service, are the only alternatives of Canaan. It is a great pity when the foe declines to become a friend, and when those outside lack the aspiration to be reconciled thoroughly. For unreconciled they must serve, or disappear. Philosophies that oppose the gospel will turn round and speed on the triumph of truth, or they will melt away like a cloud before the warmth of dawn. Policies that seem adverse to the prosperity of the Church will prove productive of advantage to it, or be swept into oblivion. No weapon formed against the Church of God ever prospers. Be not on the wrong side. However strong you may appear, if you do not side heartily with the cause of God, you will be made its reluctant servants, or its extinguished foes. - G.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,