1 As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, 2 they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.
3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4 they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5 with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. 6 And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” 7 But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” 8 They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” 9 They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ 12 Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. – Joshua 9:1-15 ESV
Joshua and the people of Israel had successfully conquered two Canaanite cities. They had defeated and destroyed Jericho and Ai, and their reputation had already begun to spread. News of these two victories made its way to the surrounding nations, creating a sense of fear in the hearts of their people. And the Israelites had celebrated these two victories by traveling to Mount Ebal, where they erected an altar to God and recommitted themselves to the covenant God had given to Moses on that very same spot. As part of the ceremony at Mount Ebal, Joshua inscribed the law of Moses on the stones of the altar and had read the words it contained to the people of Israel. There are some who believe that Joshua had written and read the Book of Deuteronomy in its entirety. Others believe Joshua limited his writing and recitation to chapters 27 and 28. But his reading of the law would have likely included the blessings and the curses found in Deuteronomy. The law was conditional. It required obedience and failure to obey came with serious consequences. But obedience would be accompanied by blessing.
1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV
God had promised to go with them and to cause their enemies to flee before them.
“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.” – Deuteronomy 28:7 ESV
But God had made it clear that, if they disobeyed His law, things would not go well for them.
“The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28:25 ESV
And one of the key requirements He placed on them was a ban from making treaties or alliances with the people who lived in the land of Canaan.
30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” – Exodus 23:30-33 ESV
God not only required their full obedience to His law, but that they remain set apart and segregated from the nations who dwelt in the land of Canaan. He knew that any interactions they had with the various people groups that occupied the land would end up in the compromising of their convictions. They would be turned away from serving God alone. God knew that the greatest threat to His people was not the military might of the inhabitants of Canaan, but the presence of their false gods. The Israelites didn’t need to worry about succumbing to the superior strength of their foes, but of falling for their false gods. Because if that happened, they would find God to be their enemy. And He had made it very clear what would happen if they disobeyed His law or failed to remain faithful to Him as their God.
47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 ESV
And yet, in spite of all these warnings, Joshua and the people of Israel quickly found themselves in a situation where their commitment to God’s law was put to the test. Because of their growing reputation as a powerful force to be reckoned with, the people of Gibeon decided to do something to protect themselves against this growing threat. They devised a plan to deceive Israel into making an alliance with them. They were smart enough to recognize that Israel was on a search-and-destroy mission, having completely annihilated both Jericho and Ai. They weren’t simply defeating their enemies, they were eliminating them. And the people of Gibeon knew that they would be next unless they did something. That Israel would make an alliance with one of the nearby nations who occupied the land was highly unlikely, so the Gibeonites devised an elaborate ruse that allowed them to appear as if they had traveled from a distant land in search of an alliance with the Israelites.
They knew that if they could trick the Israelites into making an alliance or peace treaty with them, that it would bind them permanently – even after the truth of their deception become known. The treaty, once signed, would become an unbreakable agreement between the two nations, effectively preventing Israel from obeying God’s command to destroy all the nations of the land of Canaan. And the most revealing and regretable lines in this passage are verses 14 and 15.
14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. – Joshua 9:14-15 ESV
The Israelites took the bait. They bought the lie. All because they didn’t take the matter to God. They made a cardinal mistake. They listened to the lies of the enemy and didn’t seek the wisdom of God. Joshua made peace with the Gibeonites, signing a binding covenant that would eventually place the people of Israel in the awkward position of having to put their allegiance to the people of Gibeon ahead of their allegiance to God.
Joshua got taken. He got bamboozled by the enemy and fooled into making an alliance that had been expressly forbidden by God. His failure to seek God’s counsel resulted in him breaking God’s law. He listened to the lies of the enemy and heard what he wanted to hear. The alliance seemed like a good idea at the time, but would one day come back to haunt him. And it all could have been prevented had Joshua sought the counsel of God. It’s interesting to note that the people of Gibeon met Joshua at the Israelite camp at Gilgal. So, the people of God had left Mount Ebal and returned to their original location. They had left the altar and the law behind, both literally and figuratively. They had met with God at Mount Ebal, but now they were back at Gilgal and Joshua’s actions indicate that he neglected to make seeking God a permanent and pervasive part of his daily experience. Worshiping God at the altar is worthless if you’re going to abandon His influence over your life when you leave the altar.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.