The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 47: League With the Gibeonites
From Shechem the Israelites returned to their encampment
at Gilgal. Here they were soon after visited by a strange
deputation, who desired to enter into treaty with them. The
ambassadors represented that they had come from a distant country,
and this seemed to be confirmed by their appearance. Their
clothing was old and worn, their sandals were patched, their
provisions moldy, and the skins that served them for wine bottles
were rent and bound up, as if hastily repaired on the journey.
In their far-off home—professedly beyond the limits of Palestine—
their fellow countrymen, they said, had heard of the
wonders which God had wrought for His people, and had sent
them to make a league with Israel. The Hebrews had been
specially warned against entering into any league with the
idolaters of Canaan, and a doubt as to the truth of the strangers'
words arose in the minds of the leaders. "Peradventure ye dwell
among us," they said. To this the ambassadors only replied,
"We are thy servants." But when Joshua directly demanded of
them, "Who are ye? and from whence come ye?" they reiterated
their former statement, and added, in proof of their sincerity,
"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 moldy: 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
These representations prevailed. The Hebrews "asked not
counsel at the mouth of the Lord. 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." Thus the treaty
was entered into. Three days afterward the truth was discovered.
"They heard that they were their neighbors, and that they dwelt [p. 506] among them." Knowing that it was impossible to resist the
Hebrews, the Gibeonites had resorted to stratagem to preserve their
Great was the indignation of the Israelites as they learned
the deception that had been practiced upon them. And this was
heightened when, after three days' journey, they reached the
cities of the Gibeonites, near the center of the land. "All the
congregation murmured against the princes;" but the latter refused
to break the treaty, though secured by fraud, because they had
"sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel." "And the children
of Israel smote them not." The Gibeonites had pledged
themselves to renounce idolatry, and accept the worship of
Jehovah; and the preservation of their lives was not a violation
of God's command to destroy the idolatrous Canaanites. Hence
the Hebrews had not by their oath pledged themselves to commit
sin. And though the oath had been secured by deception, it was
not to be disregarded. The obligation to which one's word is
pledged—if it do not bind him to perform a wrong act—should
be held sacred. No consideration of gain, of revenge, or of
self-interest can in any way affect the inviolability of an oath or
pledge. "Lying lips are abomination to the Lord." Proverbs
12:22. He that "shall ascend into the hill of the Lord," and
"stand in His holy place," is "he that sweareth to his own hurt,
and changeth not." Psalms 24:3; 15:4.
The Gibeonites were permitted to live, but were attached as
bondmen to the sanctuary, to perform all menial services. "Joshua
made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for
the congregation, and for the altar of the Lord." These
conditions they gratefully accepted, conscious that they had been at
fault, and glad to purchase life on any terms. "Behold, we are
in thine hand," they said to Joshua; "as it seemeth good and
right unto thee to do unto us, do." For centuries their descendants
were connected with the service of the sanctuary.
The territory of the Gibeonites comprised four cities. The
people were not under the rule of a king, but were governed
by elders, or senators. Gibeon, the most important of their towns,
"was a great city, as one of the royal cities," "and all the men
thereof were mighty." It is a striking evidence of the terror with
which the Israelites had inspired the inhabitants of Canaan, that
the people of such a city should have resorted to so humiliating
an expedient to save their lives. [p. 507]
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But it would have fared better with the Gibeonites had they
dealt honestly with Israel. While their submission to Jehovah
secured the preservation of their lives, their deception brought
them only disgrace and servitude. God had made provision that
all who would renounce heathenism, and connect themselves with
Israel, should share the blessings of the covenant. They were included
under the term, "the stranger that sojourneth among you,"
and with few exceptions this class were to enjoy equal favors and
privileges with Israel. The Lord's direction was—
"If a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not
vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto
you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself."
Leviticus 19:33, 34. Concerning the Passover and the offering of
sacrifices it was commanded, "One ordinance shall be both for
you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth
with you: . . . as ye are, so shall the stranger be before
the Lord." Numbers 15:15.
Such was the footing on which the Gibeonites might have
been received, but for the deception to which they had resorted.
It was no light humiliation to those citizens of a "royal city,"
"all the men whereof were mighty," to be made hewers of wood
and drawers of water throughout their generations. But they had
adopted the garb of poverty for the purpose of deception, and
it was fastened upon them as a badge of perpetual servitude.
Thus through all their generations their servile condition would
testify to God's hatred of falsehood.
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"The Division of Canaan"