1. Exposition

How have the Gibeonites been viewed?

Joshua 9:1–27 (ESV)

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,

Some commentators suggest that the actions of the Gibeonites should be seen in a positive light. They point to the following as evidence:

  • Their desire to be spared from God’s coming judgment (Joshua 9:24). Joshua 11:20 implies that since Gibeon survived the destruction, the Lord must have chosen not to harden the hearts of the Gibeonites—a mysterious act of sovereign divine grace.1

  • Their willingness to become servants (secondary citizens) in the nation of Israel (Joshua 9:8). They would happily serve as slaves if it meant escaping judgment. This is surprising, given that the Gibeonites were renowned for their skills in battle (Joshua 10:2).

  • Their willingness to trust their future to Israel’s obedience to God’s law, having made the peace treaty with Israel. They trust Israel to do what is right (Joshua 9:25). Their appeal marks a call for mercy, an appeal to the character of the Lord as being good and right.

As further evidence, consider the curse that Joshua pronounced upon them as well as their role in the rest of the Old Testament:

  • That the Gibeonites were made servants in the Lord’s sanctuary should surely also be seen as a blessing (see Psalm 84:10). They would not have time to serve their idols; they would hear the Word of God read aloud.

  • Ishmaiah of Gibeon was one of the mighty men who came to help King David in war (1 Chronicles 12:4).

  • In the book of Nehemiah, men from Gibeon are listed among those repairing the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:7; Nehemiah 7:25) suggesting that they were fully assimilated among the Jews, as much believers in Israel as was Rahab and other foreign converts.2

Others suggest that the actions of the Gibeonites should be seen in a negative light. They point to the following as evidence:

  • In the context of Joshua 9, the actions of the Gibeonites are presented as being deceptive. They try to avoid God’s judgment not with a plea for mercy (as Rahab did in Joshua 2:8–14) but through trickery. Deception, lies, and trickery are the work of the devil who is the father of lies (John 8:44).

  • The focus of the chapter is not on the merits of what the Gibeonites did, but on the fact that Israel sinned by not seeking counsel from the Lord (Joshua 9:14). In God’s infinite wisdom and grace he can use that which is intended for evil to accomplish good (Genesis 50:20). This does not make God the author of sin (a preposterous idea), but it does show us that God can use the evil intentions of men to work and achieve his purposes (e.g., the death of his Son Jesus Christ through which he would work to save all his elect).