The Faith of the Cursed — 9:1-27

The starting point for this expositional series can be found here.
The previous entry can be read here.

A debate has raged for a long time about whether or not video games and movies cause violence. Just over a month ago, an article came out on CNN addressing this very topic. At the start of the article they quote President Trump, who is recorded as saying,

I’m hearing more and more people saying the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts. And then you go the further step, and that’s the movies. You see these movies — they’re so violent, and yet a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn’t involved. Killing, though, is involved.

I’ll go a step farther and say two things. First, blaming anything other than our own inherent sinfulness for violence or unlawful sexuality (God’s Law) is us acting no better than our first parents when they refused to accept responsibility for the first sin in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 3). Second, the problem boils down to the fact that people often cannot tell the difference between things that should be imitated and things that are simply being retold (whether in a book, a movie, or a video game story).

The same can be said of interpreting biblical narratives. We have to discern the difference between a story that is told for the purpose of recounting events and a command that is to be followed. One blogger helpfully explains:

  • Bible narratives are not commands. Just because the Bible character did something, does not mean we should also do it. Narratives record what happened, not what should happen every time.

  • Each individual part or episode of a narrative does not necessarily have a moral or lesson. It is important to look for the meaning of the entire narrative and not just each individual part.

This concept comes out clearly in Joshua 9.

Today’s Text

Our historian writes, “When all the kings heard ⌊about Jericho and Ai⌋, those who were west of the Jordan in the hill country, in the Judean foothills, and all along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea toward Lebanon—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites— they formed a unified alliance to fight against Joshua and Israel. When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they acted deceptively. They gathered provisions and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys and old wineskins, cracked and mended. ⌊They wore⌋ old, patched sandals on their feet and threadbare clothing on their bodies. Their entire provision of bread was dry and crumbly. They went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a distant land. Please make a treaty with us.’ The men of Israel replied to the Hivites, ‘Perhaps you live among us. How can we make a treaty with you?’ They said to Joshua, ‘We are your servants.’ Then Joshua asked them, ‘Who are you and where do you come from?’ They replied to him, ‘Your servants have come from a far away land because of the reputation of the LORD your God. For we have heard of His fame, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two Amorite kings beyond the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan, who was in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our land told us, “Take provisions with you for the journey; go and meet them and say, ‘We are your servants. Please make a treaty with us.’” This bread of ours was warm when we took it from our houses as food on the day we left to come to you. But take a look, it is now dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, but look, they are cracked. And these clothes and sandals of ours are worn out from the extremely long journey.’ Then the men ⌊of Israel⌋ took some of their provisions, but did not seek the LORD’s counsel. So Joshua established peace with them and made a treaty to let them live, and the leaders of the community swore an oath to them. Three days after making the treaty with them, they heard that the Gibeonites were their neighbors, living among them. So the Israelites set out and reached the Gibeonite cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the community had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. Then the whole community grumbled against the leaders. All the leaders answered them, ‘We have sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we cannot touch them. This is how we will treat them: we will let them live, so that no wrath will fall on us because of the oath we swore to them.’ They also said, ‘Let them live.’ So the Gibeonites became woodcutters and water carriers for the whole community, as the leaders had promised them. Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said to them, ‘Why did you deceive us by telling us you live far away from us, when in fact you live among us? Therefore you are cursed and will always be slaves—woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.’ The Gibeonites answered him, ‘It was clearly communicated to your servants that the LORD your God had commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land before you. We greatly feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. Now we are in your hands. Do to us whatever you think is right.’ This is what Joshua did to them: he delivered them from the hands of the Israelites, and they did not kill them. On that day he made them woodcutters and water carriers—as they are today—for the community and for the LORD’s altar at the place He would choose.”

Where we’ve been…

Before discussing what this specific text means, and how we must live as a result of its teaching, we must review where we have been recently.

In chapter 6, Israel defeated Jericho in a supernatural way; no one fought back, and only Rahab the prostitute and her family were saved as a result of their faith. In chapter 7, Israel was defeated by Ai because they had unconfessed sin in their midst. After they took care of the unconfessed sin, Israel had an overwhelming victory against Ai. After recounting their victory against Ai, our historian takes several verses to recount Israel’s recommitment to God. And it is on the heels of that recommitment that we find ourselves today.

I pointed out last time (same as previous link) that i firmly believe Israel’s recommitment actually happened later in the historical chronology. However, i also wrote, “Our historian purposefully placed it out of chronological order.” The reason for this purposefulness is clarified when we get to 9:14 which reads, “Then the men ⌊of Israel⌋ took some of their provisions, but did not seek the LORD’s counsel” (emphasis added). The reason the narrator placed it before chapter 9 was because God—in His omniscient sovereignty—wanted us to see just how easy it is to go from recommitting our lives to Him to failing to obey Him in the way He desires.

However, if we leave it there, we are only grasping a small corner of this great text.[1] Let’s look at 9:1-2. Here, our historian writes, “When all the kings heard ⌊about Jericho and Ai⌋, those who were west of the Jordan in the hill country, in the Judean foothills, and all along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea toward Lebanon—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites— they formed a unified alliance to fight against Joshua and Israel.”

First of all, this is very intriguing considering what we had earlier read in 5:1. “When all the Amorite kings across the Jordan to the west and all the Canaanite kings near the sea heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, they lost heart and their courage failed because of the Israelites.”

What changed? The answer comes in 7:9. “When the Canaanites and all who live in the land hear about this, they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. Then what will You do about Your great name?”

As a result of Achan’s sin—and Israel’s subsequent defeat—the surrounding nations pridefully decided that perhaps Israel was not impregnable. As such they decide to join forces and attack Israel.

Psalm 2 describes this chapter of Scripture perfectly. Verses 1-3 begin by saying,

Why do the nations rebel
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand,
and the rulers conspire together
against the LORD and His Anointed One:
“Let us tear off their chains
and free ourselves from their restraints.”

The kings of the land have taken their stand against Israel at this point in their history. And while the point of Joshua 9-12 is that fighting against God really is a vain pursuit, culminating in the words of Psalm 2:9, “You will break them with a rod of iron; You will shatter them like pottery,” the specific point of Joshua 9:1-27 is gloriously positive. Our historian wants us to know that God is gracious to those who approach Him in humble faith, even if said faith is not conveyed as clearly as someone else’s.[2]

The Fame of Our God (9:3-13)

First, we see the fame of our God. We read in verses 3-13, “When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they acted deceptively. They gathered provisions and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys and old wineskins, cracked and mended. ⌊They wore⌋ old, patched sandals on their feet and threadbare clothing on their bodies. Their entire provision of bread was dry and crumbly. They went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a distant land. Please make a treaty with us.’ The men of Israel replied to the Hivites, ‘Perhaps you live among us. How can we make a treaty with you?’ They said to Joshua, ‘We are your servants.’ Then Joshua asked them, ‘Who are you and where do you come from?’ They replied to him, ‘Your servants have come from a far away land because of the reputation of the LORD your God. For we have heard of His fame, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two Amorite kings beyond the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan, who was in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our land told us, “Take provisions with you for the journey; go and meet them and say, ‘We are your servants. Please make a treaty with us.’” This bread of ours was warm when we took it from our houses as food on the day we left to come to you. But take a look, it is now dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, but look, they are cracked. And these clothes and sandals of ours are worn out from the extremely long journey.’”

While most of the kings were drawn to plot war against Israel, Gibeon was different. They are clearly described by the advice the psalmist gives in Psalm 2:10-12,

So now, kings, be wise;
receive instruction, you judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with reverential awe
and rejoice with trembling.
Pay homage to the Son or He will be angry
and you will perish in your rebellion,
for His anger may ignite at any moment.
All those who take refuge in Him are happy.

In fact, we are given this story in chapter 9 because of chapter 10. In 10:1-2, we read, “Now Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had captured Ai and completely destroyed it, treating Ai and its king as he had Jericho and its king, and that the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were ⌊living⌋ among them.  So Adoni-zedek and his people were greatly alarmed because Gibeon was a large city like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were warriors.”

This passage helps to show—after the fact—that Gibeon could have been a threat to Israel if they so desired to be. It was a large city and all its men were warriors. Our historian told us that 12,000 people occupied Ai (cf. 8:25), and 10:2 says that Gibeon was larger than Ai. When we add to this that Gibeon was composed of more cities than just Gibeon (see 9:17) it quickly becomes clear that something supernatural is going on even in the fact that the people of Gibeon approach Israel for peace.

In verse 4 it states that Gibeon acted “deceptively.” The Hebrew word here also appears in Proverbs 1:4, and it is translated there as “shrewdness.” There it is considered a positive trait, and it is one of the goals of wisdom: a result of fearing God.

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:  For learning what wisdom and discipline are; for understanding insightful sayings . . .  for teaching shrewdness to the inexperienced, knowledge and discretion to a young man— . . . The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:1-2, 4, 7).

If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and if shrewdness is a result of learning wisdom, then shrewdness is a result of fearing the Lord. It need not be translated “deception” in today’s passage.

In verse 6, the men of Gibeon, who pretended that they were from a far off country explain their goal: “We have come from a distant land. Please make a treaty with us.” This goal is founded in their understanding described in verses 9-11: “Your servants have come from a far away land because of the reputation of the LORD your God. For we have heard of His fame, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two Amorite kings beyond the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan, who was in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our land told us, “Take provisions with you for the journey; go and meet them and say, ‘We are your servants. Please make a treaty with us’” (emphasis added).

They had heard about the power of God, and instead of acting like their neighbors and plotting war, they humbly submit themselves into the hands of Israel and request a treaty of peace.

Already it is clear that something huge is going on here. We serve a great God, and the question from this section is simply this: do our lives draw people toward God and His people? Gibeon heard about the greatness of God and decided to do whatever it took to get Him on their side. We exist to make God look great, whether that leads to violence against us (9:1-2) or people seeking God because of us (9:3-13). There should be no middle ground response from people as they see us and our God.

The Graciousness of Our God (9:14-15)

Israel believes the Gibeonites (14a)

Second we see the graciousness of our God. We see this first through the fact that Israel believes the Gibeonites. In verse 14a, we read, “Then the men ⌊of Israel⌋ took some of their provisions.”

Israel takes the Gibeonites’ word for it. They look at the bread that they brought, the wineskins they brought, and the clothes they were wearing; and Israel believed their message. It was clear to Israel from these items that Gibeon truly was from a distant land.

According to Deuteronomy 20:10-18, it was permissible to make peace with those from distant lands.

“When you approach a city to fight against it, you must make an offer of peace.  If it accepts your offer of peace and opens ⌊its gates⌋ to you, all the people found in it will become forced laborers for you and serve you.  However, if it does not make peace with you but wages war against you, lay siege to it.  When the LORD your God hands it over to you, you must strike down all its males with the sword.  But you may take the women, children, animals, and whatever else is in the city—all its spoil—as plunder. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.  This is how you are to treat all the cities that are far away from you and are not among the cities of these nations.  However, you must not let any living thing survive among the cities of these people the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.  You must completely destroy them—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite—as the LORD your God has commanded you,  so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God.”

However, our historian has already told us in 9:7 that the Gibeonites are in the list of nations that are not to be left alive: “The men of Israel replied to the Hivites.”

The fact that Israel believes them is proof of God’s graciousness. They humbly sought out the God of Israel and God is sovereignly working behind the scenes.

Israel does not seek God (14b)

We see God’s graciousness second through the ironic fact that Israel does not seek God’s will. In verse 14b we read, “but did not seek the LORD’s counsel.”

Here we see just how sovereign God is. The narrator explains that Israel failed to seek the Lord’s counsel. This statement is placed here on purpose, but i personally believe that it is not for the usually understood reason.

  • “The climactic verse condemns Israel for not following the normal pattern of seeking the divine will before making such an agreement. . . . For the biblical narrator it was Israel’s sin.”[3]

  • “Even more curiously, in his rash treaty with the Gibeonites, Joshua was not reprimanded for having directly contravened God’s clear command to ‘wipe out all [Canaanite] inhabitants’ (Josh. 9:24), nor did Israel suffer battlefield defeats because of his disobedience. Achan perished for his sin and disobedience, but Joshua did not. It could be that God kept changing his mind about his genocidal will. More likely, Joshua’s perception of what God was telling him to do kept changing according to the exigencies of the moment.”[4]

I beg to differ. Numbers 23:19 says that God does not change His mind. And according to Ezekiel 33:11, God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live.” When Gibeon approaches Israel, God is sovereignly working out His redemptive plan. It might not be seen as clearly as Rahab—another Canaanite who was allowed to live even though Israel isn’t recorded as seeking God’s will in her case either—but the comparisons are definitely present.

If Israel had sought God, i believe that His response would have been, “Make the covenant with them.” (I will explain my reason in the next to last section below.)

We must remember that God is gracious, and we must extend grace to those who come to Him in faith. How are you doing in this area?

Covenant made with the Gibeonites (15)

Finally, we see God’s graciousness through the fact that Israel makes a covenant with Gibeon. In verse 15 we read, “So Joshua established peace with them and made a treaty to let them live, and the leaders of the community swore an oath to them.”

The covenant is made. God is gracious. Gibeon is allowed to live. Before we move on, take a moment to thank God for His amazing grace. Before coming to Christ, your heart was just as wicked as one of the Gibeonite’s hearts, yet you found grace. God is in the business of showing grace, and it is up to Him who receives it; not us.

Praise God!

On that note, though, it must be said that throughout this study—especially chapters 6-8, i have been connecting our personal holiness to the conquest of the promised land. Even though Israel made peace with inhabitants of Canaan, it is NEVER God’s will that we make peace with the sin in our lives. We must seek God, ask Him to reveal our sin to us, and ask Him for the grace to root it out and mortify it—Romans 8:13 style. If we make peace with our sin, we are not walking in obedience to God, and we can have no true assurance of having entered our rest as described in Hebrews 4:8-11. Do you make peace with sin? Or do you actively wage war upon it?

The Faithfulness of Our God (9:16-27)

People complain that God wasn’t obeyed (16-21a)

Thirdly, we see the faithfulness of our God. This is demonstrated first through the fact that the people complain against their leaders when Gibeon is found out as a people of the land. In verses 16-21a we read, “Three days after making the treaty with them, they heard that the Gibeonites were their neighbors, living among them. So the Israelites set out and reached the Gibeonite cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the community had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. Then the whole community grumbled against the leaders. All the leaders answered them, ‘We have sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we cannot touch them. This is how we will treat them: we will let them live, so that no wrath will fall on us because of the oath we swore to them.’ They also said, ‘Let them live.’”

After three days the Israelites find out that Gibeon lived in Canaan. The text is clear that they refused to wage war on Gibeon, and the reason for this is given as being “because the leaders of the community had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel.” The theology behind this is legal, and it is found in Leviticus 19:11-12. “You must not steal. You must not act deceptively or lie to one another.  You must not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God; I am Yahweh.”

Since God doesn’t lie or change His mind (Numbers 23:19), to reverse a covenant made in God’s name (even though the text does not specifically say that this is how it was made) is to make it seem as though God changed His mind. Because of this fact the people of Israel complain against their leaders. As a result, the leaders explain their reasoning (while Joshua converses with the Gibeonites [see next section]) by saying that if Israel breaks its oath with Gibeon then “wrath will fall on us.”

Do we take our word that seriously? When we preach the Gospel to the lost, do we have a spot in the back of our mind that says, “Oh, I hope they don’t believe”? I ask that question because God’s covenant extends to everyone who believes, and if we secretly hope a certain person doesn’t believe, then what do we do if they do believe? Do we treat him/her like a fellow believer, or do we complain to God that He would have mercy on someone we don’t like? As the story of Gibeon shows (and as will be further proved in the next section) God’s grace is much bigger than ours. Let’s pray that He would help us to be gracious and loving the way He is gracious and loving.

The salvation of Gibeon (21b-27)

God’s faithfulness is demonstrated secondly through the fact that Gibeon is protected from the wrath of Israel. In verses 21b-27 we read, “So the Gibeonites became woodcutters and water carriers for the whole community, as the leaders had promised them. Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said to them, ‘Why did you deceive us by telling us you live far away from us, when in fact you live among us? Therefore you are cursed and will always be slaves—woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.’ The Gibeonites answered him, ‘It was clearly communicated to your servants that the LORD your God had commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land before you. We greatly feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. Now we are in your hands. Do to us whatever you think is right.’ This is what Joshua did to them: he delivered them from the hands of the Israelites, and they did not kill them. On that day he made them woodcutters and water carriers—as they are today—for the community and for the LORD’s altar at the place He would choose.”

Joshua here has a conversation with the Gibeonites. He asks them why they deceived Israel; in so doing he says that they are cursed, which points back to Genesis 9:25, where Noah said, “Canaan will be cursed. He will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers.” However, as Boice points out,

The Gibeonites were made servants to the Jews, but the place of their service was specifically said to be (at least in part) at the altar of the Lord. In other words, although servants, they had the privilege of being brought close to spiritual things on a regular basis. In later years, when the Jews went off after false gods, the Gibeonites would still be standing at the altar where the true God had ordained that sacrifices should be made for sins.[5]

So even in the cursing of them, they were blessed.

The Gibeonites’ response to Joshua’s curse is telling as well. “Now we are in your hands. Do to us whatever you think is right.” They would have accepted slaughter. They were fully trusting in Joshua at this point. Their faith was in God, and as such, God—through Joshua—spared them from death.

And lest we think that potentially the Gibeonites should not have been spared, they continue to pop up in a positive light throughout the Old Testament. In 2 Samuel 21, we learn that a famine had been going on in Israel for three years. It is here that King David decides to ask God about it. We read in 2 Samuel 21:1b-2, “The LORD answered, ‘It is because of the blood shed by Saul and his family when he killed the Gibeonites.’  The Gibeonites were not Israelites but rather a remnant of the Amorites. The Israelites had taken an oath concerning them, but Saul had tried to kill them in his zeal for the Israelites and Judah.” The story goes on to show how David removes bloodguiltiness from Israel, but the point is that God kept His covenant with Gibeon and treated them as part of His people. God is faithful.

I will allow Francis Schaeffer to describe another example:

About five hundred years before Christ, in the time of Zerubbabel, the genealogies of those Jews who returned from captivity under the Babylonians included a list of the Gibeonites. This is especially striking because the names of some who claimed to be Jews were not found in the registry, and they were not allowed to be a part of the Jewish nation. In the days of Nehemiah, the Gibeonites were mentioned as being among the people who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. The Gibeonites had come in among the people of God, and hundreds of years later they were still there.[6]

For these reasons, i fully believe that God wanted Israel to mke a covenant with Gibeon. He desired that they become a part of His people. If Israel had sought His will, like 9:14 says that they failed to do, i believe that God would have said, “Make a covenant with them.”

We serve a faithful God. He is faithful to Himself and His character, and as such He is faithful to His people. His people are not defined by race, ethnicity, geographical location, or economic status. Rather, His people are defined by something much more basic, yet infinitely more precious. Allow me to explain…

Every Tribe, Nation, People, and Language

In verse 26, we read the following: “This is what Joshua did to them: he delivered them from the hands of the Israelites, and they did not kill them.” This is extremely interesting. Another viable translation of this verse simply needs to respell the name Joshua: Yeshua. And then, if we go one step farther, we read, “This is what Jesus did to them: he delivered them from the hands of the Israelites, and they did not kill them.”

Much more important than what Joshua did for the Gibeonites is what Jesus did for all His people: a group of individuals from every tribe, nation, people, and language (Revelation 5:9-10). He fell into the hands of Israel, and He was killed. When He was killed, He took the curse of Noah against Canaan and the curse of the Law against all lawbreakers upon Himself, and as Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.”

It is the blood of Christ that defines the people of God!

You see, Gibeon was cursed because they belonged to Canaan. However, for those Gibeonites who truly believed in Israel’s God, their faith in the Messiah to come freed them from that curse.

My question to you today: Have you believed in Jesus? He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins. He rose from the grave to prove that He has defeated death. He calls you to believe. Trust in Him. Humbly come to Him. Please don’t be the foolish kings in Psalm 2. Only destruction awaits if that is what you do.

Believe today!

In conclusion, whether or not movies or video games cause violence is an unimportant question. The question is: Do you obey the Bible? Do you love God? Have you believed in Christ? If you have not believed in Christ, then you cannot love God, and if you do not love God, then you cannot obey the Bible. The first step in obeying the Bible is to believe in Jesus. Please do so today! And then, seek to study His Word properly, not making Gibeonites out to be evil when they were really demonstrating faith.

Soli Deo Gloria
Sola Scriptura
Solus Christus
Sola Fide

The next post can be found here (add link when written).

[1] For another writer who believes that 9:14 is not the operating verse of the passage, check out this link.
[2] As pointed out in James Montgomery Boice, Joshua (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989), 76.
[3] Trent C. Butler, Joshua, WBC (Dallax, TX: Word, Incorporated, 1983), 103.
[4] C. S. Cowles, “The Case for Radical Discontinuity” in Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 40.
[5] James Montgomery Boice, 76.
[6] Francis Schaeffer, as quoted in James Montgomery Boice, 77.

2 thoughts on “The Faith of the Cursed — 9:1-27”

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