Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Far-City Exception: A Story of Deception and Redemption

The Low-hanging Fruit:

A large portion of the Old Testament addresses Israel's struggle with tribes remaining in the Promised Land after Joshua's invasion campaign. Most nominally educated laymen are quick to point to the Gibeonite deception described in Joshua 9 as the root cause of Israel's prolonged struggle. However, this may just be low hanging fruit, making Gibeon the whipping boy of hearsay scholarship. A typical Sunday school series will hit the high points of the book: Crossing the Jordan, Jericho, Achan's Greed, Conquest of AI, the Gibeonite Deception, Joshua Conquers Canaan, "choose you this day whom you will serve," and then on to Judges. However, there are some key events between the battles, which are often glossed over. Let's take a closer look at the Gibeonite deception. . .

The Loophole:

The story of Joshua 9 is familiar: After God decimated the Jericho stronghold and Israel ultimately trounced AI, the kings of Canaan came together in an alliance against Joshua and the Israelites (Joshua 9:2). Hearing of these victories (Joshua 9:3) the city of Gibeon took a different course of action. They chose to engage Israel civilly (though deceptively). Why?

While throughout the book of Joshua, each of the cities are identified with kings, Joshua 9:11 indicates that the decision-makers in Gibeon were "our elders and all the inhabitants of our country." Apparently, they were under some form of democracy. The result was a well-hatched plan which promoted the survival of its people rather than the ego of a king. They sent a delegation to Israel but brought baggage, worn out/patched bottles, old shoes and tattered clothes, and moldy bread.
4 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; 5 And old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy. 6 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. Josh 9:4-6 (KJV)
Israel cross-examined the travelers in an attempt to verify the very important point regarding their origin. Take note that they reply "we are thy servants" in direct contrast to the question of their locality (more on that later):
7 And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you? 8 And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from whence come ye? Joshua 9:7-8 (KJV)
However in addition to showing off their fabricated evidences the Gibeonites cunningly omit mention of Israel's recent, nearby victories at Jericho and Ai.This was no oversight, as Joshua 9:2 says it was their very motivation.

9 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, 10 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. 11 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. 12 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: 13 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. Joshua 9:9-13 (KJV)
After listening to their story and seeing the evidence, Joshua made an alliance with them. Out of context Joshua 9 comes across as though Israel was trying to make a ruling on what to do about this unique situation, not fitting into the very clear commands to utterly destroy the nations of Canaan:
1 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; 2 And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: Deuteronomy 7:1-2 (KJV)
However, there was indeed clear direction in the law regarding how to deal with foreign nations:
10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. 11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. 12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: 13 And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: 14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee. 15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. 16 But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: 17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee: Deuteronomy 20:10-17 (KJV)
Notice that according to Joshua 9:7 the Gibeonites (residency) were Hivites (ancestry) and singled out among the other six tribes of Canaan for annihilation (Deuteronomy 7:1 and 20:17). Notice also that the exception to preserve inhabitants of foreign cities required that those inhabitants become servants. Somehow, it seems, the Gibeonites knew about this loophole and used it in their presentation to lead Israel to this specific exception . . . the Far-City Exception. So how is it that Gibeon came to the knowledge of this loophole? A traitor perhaps? The answer may surprise you!

The Leak

But first, a some background and geography: Israel conquered the land east of the Jordan River under Moses' leadership (Deuteronomy 2:24-3:11). The Amorites and kings Sihon and Og were all defeated in this campaign. Prior to Moses handing leadership over to Joshua, Moses gave a recap of the law and some additional instructions for Joshua to follow. In Deuteronomy 27, Moses gives a command to Israel that once they enter into the Promised Land, they are to set up an alter and write all of the words of the law on them.
4 Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister. 5 And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. . . 8 And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly. Deuteronomy 27:4-5, 8 (KJV)
After crossing the Jordan, Israel made camp at Gilgal near the River (Joshua 4:19-20). Next Israel  took the nearby stronghold of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-27). After dealing with Achan (Joshua 7:1-26), Israel advanced into the highlands and took Ai and Bethel (Joshua 8:1-29). Then Israel went to Ebal as Moses instructed. Ebal is one of two mountains which create the valley where Shechem was located. The other mountain is Gerizim. Biblically this is an important location because this is where God promised the land to Abraham and his decedents.
6 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem [Shechem], unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. 7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. 8 And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai [Ai] on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD. Genesis 12:6-8 (KJV)
Strategically this is also an important location. According to Wikipedia, "Shechem was a commercial center due to its position in the middle of vital trade routes through the region."6 Ancient Shechem was in the location of modern day Nablus. Of the city of Nablus: 
Nablus lies in a strategic position at a junction between two ancient commercial roads; one linking the Sharon coastal plain to the Jordan valley, the other linking Nablus to the Galilee in the north, and the biblical Judea to the south through the mountains.[33] The city stands at an elevation of around 550 meters (1,800 ft) above sea level,[34] in a narrow valley running roughly east-west between two mountains: Mount Ebal, the northern mountain, is the taller peak at 940 meters (3,080 ft), while Mount Gerizim, the southern mountain, is 881 meters (2,890 ft) high.8
Here, at a location strategic for both trade and conquest, Israel rehearses God's covenant with Abraham, demonstrating that fulfillment of His promise is at hand. Not only that, but Israel leaves a monument to the promise with a comprehensive description of the plan.
 31 As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel. . .35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them. Joshua 8:31, 32, 35 (KJV)
After fulfilling this commitment, Israel returns to Gilgal near the Jordan (Joshua 9:6).

Did the Canaanite tribes find these rocks with the law written on them? While Scripture does not come right out and say that Gibeon had seen the Law, if you take out the chapter division and heading (which are not Biblical canon anyway), it read as if they might have.
  35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.1 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; 2 That they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord.Joshua 8:35, 9:1-2 (KJV)
Shechem being an important center for trade, it's not hard to imagine that there were Canaanite witnesses to this event. Perhaps merchants traveling the road hearing the ruckus, eager to round the next bend to see what was happening. Maybe the same fear that gripped Rahab (Joshua 2:9-11) incited the nearby nations to send scouts to gather intelligence.

Tradition seems to show that accessibility was intentional. The Navigator's Joshua Bible study quotes commentary author Marten H. Woudstra stating that
Jewish legend 'claims that the law was written in seventy languages so that all the peoples of the earth might read . . . While the story is apocryphal, the sentiment it expresses of the worldwide claims of God's Torah is not2' 1

The online Jewish Encyclopedia elaborates on this point supporting the notion of intent to communicate the Law outside of Israel: 
 The word of God was pronounced on Mount Sinai in seventy languages (Shab. 88a; Ex. R. v.; comp. Acts ii. 5). The Torah was written in seventy languages in order that the nations should not be able to plead ignorance as their excuse for rejecting it (Tosef., Soṭah, viii.).3
Azzan Yadin broadens the application of the seventy languages to Israel's activities at Gerizim and Ebal by quoting Rabbi [sic] Ishmael as well as showing how the text of Deuteronomy 27:8 may support this notion: 
"Rabbi Ishmael interprets the phrase 'most distinctly' as indicating that divrei ha-torah were written in seventy languages. This view is also attested in m. Sotah 7.5: '[after the blessings and curses at Gerizim and Ebal] they wrote thereupon all the law in seventy languages, as it is written, 'most distinctly' [ba'er heitev] (Deut 27:8.'74"4

If the "leaking" of the law was both intentional, and effective, the plight of the Gibeonites, regardless of how twisted, becomes a story of surrender and a reliance on God's mercy for their survival. It also becomes an indictment against the Canaanite kings, who chose battle, doubting either the strength of God behind Israel or the opportunity for mercy. As Paul said on Mars Hill:

30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
Acts 17:30 (KJV)
But what was the result? Surely God would not intentionally leak vital information against Israel to sabotage His own covenant. Were the Gibeonites the perpetual thorn in Israel's side?

The Fate:
Deuteronomy 20:10 states that the foreign nations "shall serve thee." And that's just what the Gibeonites did. 
21 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.
Josh 9:21 (KJV)
Joshua 9:23 elaborates and reveals that they would serve in the "house of my God."
23 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.
Josh 9:23 (KJV)
And by the time the book of Joshua was written, they were still serving in that capacity.
27 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.
Josh 9:27 (KJV)
That God would select them specifically for His service is reminiscent of those treasures of the Promised Land which Israel was not to destroy, but devote to the Lord's treasury.
19 But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD.
Joshua 6:19 (KJV)
Generally, Gibeonites are held in a fairly positive light. Once the conquest of Canaan came to a close, Gibeon was was given a portion from the allotment of Benjamin.
17 And out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with her suburbs, Geba with her suburbs, Joshua 21:17 (KJV)

One of David's mighty men, Ishmaiah, was a Gibeonite
1 Now these are they that came to David to Ziklag, while he yet kept himself close because of Saul the son of Kish: and they were among the mighty men, helpers of the war.
4 And Ismaiah the Gibeonite, a mighty man among the thirty, and over the thirty; and Jeremiah, and Jahaziel, and Johanan, and Josabad the Gederathite,1 Chron 12:1, 4 (KJV)
During the time when Solomon became king, the Lord's tabernacle was kept at Gibeon.
3 So Solomon, and all the congregation with him, went to the high place that was at Gibeon; for there was the tabernacle of the congregation of God, which Moses the servant of the LORD had made in the wilderness. 2 Chron 1:3 (KJV)
It seems that the Gibeonites did not just keep their heads down in the midst of Israel, but became active participants in building and re-building the nation. In building the wall,

7 And next unto them repaired Melatiah the Gibeonite, and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon, and of Mizpah, unto the throne of the governor on this side the river. Nehemiah 3:7 (KJV)
Then, when the Jews returned from Bablyon, 95 sons of Gibeon are listed in Nehemiah 7:25. They were found in the book of the genealogy used to prove Jewish descent (Nehemiah 7:5). In his commentary on Joshua, Warren Wiersbe says of the Gibeonites,
There's no evidence in Scripture that the descendents of the Gibeonites created any problems for the Jews. It's likely that their service in the tabernacle, and later in the temple, influenced them to abandon their idols and worship the God of Israel. The facte that over 500 Nethinim [i.e. "given ones", Gibeonites] returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity (Ezra 2:43-58; 8:20) suggests that they were devoted to the Lord and His house.9

The Alliance:

It becomes clear that God had a plan for Gibeon. But He also used them in Israel's conquest of Canaan. Gibeon now had a commitment, humbled as servants, wood cutters and water carriers, but Israel had a commitment as well. Israel made an oath that they had to fulfill. Though the nation of Israel grumbled against its leaders, they feared God's wrath if they broke their oath.
15 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. 16 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. 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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 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.
Josh 9:15-20 (KJV)
The fear of breaking their oath was not unfounded. Many years later, there was a famine in Israel three years before David consulted the Lord to discover the reason. It was because the Saul had broken the oath.

1 Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites. 2 And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.) 2 Samuel 21:1-2 (KJV)
 The Gibeonite alliance made a marked shift in the balance of power in Canaan and instigated the alliance of kings to strike preemptively.
1 Now it came to pass, when Adonizedek king of Jerusalem had heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it; as he had done to Jericho and her king, so he had done to Ai and her king; and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them; 2 That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty. Joshua 10:1,2 (KJV)
 The Gibeonites had to call on the terms of their alliance with Israel perhaps sooner than expected. 
5 Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon, and made war against it. 6 And the men of Gibeon sent unto Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us: for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered together against us. Joshua 10:5,6 (KJV)

Joshua did not hesitate to honored the alliance with an all-night march from Gilgal to Gibeon. Israel then engage in a running battle against the kings throughout southern Canaan which culminated in the miraculous "long day" described in Joshua 10:12-21

7 So Joshua ascended from Gilgal, he, and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valour. 8 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee. Joshua 10:7, 8 (KJV)
Clearly, God honored Israel's oath to the Gibeonites, protected Gibeon, and advanced the conquest.

The Parallel:

After studying the Gibeonites and reversing my cliche view of their instigating role in the conquest of Canaan, I can't help but draw a parallel to my own salvation. Here I am, an enemy of God 
10 For if, when we were enemies. . . Romans 5:10 (KJV)
 and God comes into my territory with a clear message
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (KJV)
and gives me a loophole
16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.Galatians 2:16 (KJV)
and bids me to play the foreigner
11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 1 Peter 2:11 (KJV)
becoming a servant
35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.
Mark 9:35 (KJV)
now attacked for my new allegiance
22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. Matt 10:22 (KJV)
designated as God's own posession
 9But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 1 Peter 2:9 (NASB)

then my name will be found in the book proving my adopted heritage.
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. Rev 3:5 (KJV)

The Conclusion:

It is clear that a quick reference to the Gibeonite deception as the source of Israel's struggles with its neighbors is misplaced blame. God preserved and had a plan for Gibeon, a city-state which humbled itself to servant-hood and took full advantage of a loophole in the Law and the mercy and grace that resulted . . . just as is available for each of us.


1. Lee-Thorp, Karen; Editor; Joshua Bible Study, NavPress, 1988, p. 91
2. Woudstra, Marten H., The Book of JOshua (New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Eerdmans, 1981); Page 147 via Lee-Thorp
3. "NATIONS AND LANGUAGES, THE SEVENTY:." Jewish Encyclopedia (The Unedited Full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia). N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
4.Yadin, Azzan. "Chapter 3 Freedom from Restraint." Scripture as Logos: Rabbi Ishmael and the Origins of Midrash. Philadelphia, PA: U of Pennsylvania, Jun 15, 2013. 77-78. Print
5. Map:
6. "Shechem." Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. <Wiki Shechem>.
7. -
8. "Nablus." Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2015. <Nablus>.
9. Wiersbe, Warren W.; The Bible Exposition Commentary, Old Testament, History, Joshua - Esther; David C. Cook, 4050 Lee Vance View, Colorado Springs, CO, USA; 2003; p. 63