Can the world get along without making oaths? How powerful an oath is; how destructive is a lie. As we saw earlier, Rahab had sold her body in exchange for her soul. Not the best deal to make to put food in ones stomach. When she heard the awe-inspiring news about what God had done for Israel, she relented and found her way back to God. Now the Gibeonites respond to similar news and are spared. This saga involves deception and oath keeping. These two things remind me to do the truth at all costs. To keep promises and not lie are very much a part of God. Think about that – truth and faithfulness - are very much a part of God. Remember that as your read this section from Schaeffer.
What follows are fragmentary pieces of Francis Schaeffer’s commentary Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History picked out for my own edification and direction. I am interested most in finding the conditions God gave for taking and possessing His land. Also, what can we learn from this story of conquest? To go to the start of these lessons click here.
After the reading of the blessings and the curses, the conquest of the land continued. The Israelites were now on top of the mountains; the wedge had been driven in. From this time on the wedge was expanded, first to the south, then to the north.
The Israelites’ opponents banded together to oppose this campaign:
“And it came to pass, when all the kings who 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, that they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord [literally, with one mouth]” (Josh. 9:1, 2).
The leaders mounted a united campaign against the people that now stood in such an advantageous position on the mountains. Part of the warfare itself is described in Joshua 10. It can be easily summarized: in a short span of time all the strongholds of the south fell.
The Defeat of the Southern Confederation
The first battle began this way. Jerusalem was the key city in a confederation of five southern city-states. The king of Jerusalem called together the other four kings to attack Gibeon, a city related to the confederation:
“Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, sent unto Hoham, king of Hebron, and unto Piram, king of Jarmuth, and unto Japhia, king of Lachish, and unto Debir, king of Eglon, saying, Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon; for it hath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel” (Josh. 10:3, 4).
As the confederation moved against Gibeon, the Gibeonites gave a call for help to the Israelites. (Why Joshua had made peace with Gibeon we will see in a moment.) They sent to Gilgal, the Israelites’ permanent base in the valley, to which the women, children and animals had probably returned while the soldiers fought in the highlands, and said, “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 against us” (Josh. 10:6). So Joshua departed quickly from Gilgal, and the war was on.
“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” (Josh. 10:8). The Israelites had the Word of the Lord with them. They were not functioning on their own without listening to God, as they had in the case of Ai. God said, “This is of Me; so go forward without fear and with courage.”
They fought a great pitched battle against the confederacy of the five nations, broke the strength of this united army, and put the Amorites to flight. Joshua 10:10 speaks of their fleeing by a way that “goeth up to Beth-horon,” while Joshua 10:11 talks about the Amorites’ going “down to Beth-horon.” At first sight this might seem to be contradiction, but we know from archaeological studies that there were two Beth-horons, an upper and a lower.
The battle was not won only by the Israelites’ valiant fighting. God had said He would be with the people, and, as we pointed out earlier, there should be no stereotypes about how God will act. The fall of Jericho was different from the fall of Ai. The fall of the five kings was again different. God intervened directly through two acts of nature. First, hailstones fell upon the enemy. This added to their confusion in the midst of battle. Second, Joshua spoke to the Lord “in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still [literally, be silent] upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the peoples had avenged themselves upon their enemies” (Josh. 10:12, 13). Joshua spoke and God heard him.
“Is not this written in the book of Jasher?” the text then asks. The “book of Jasher” is not part of the inspired Bible, though this portion of it was put into the Bible. The rest of the book is lost. It was apparently not named for a man. As best we can tell, it was a book of poetry that recounted the great acts of God and informed the Jewish people about their heroes. The book of Jasher was mentioned again about 400 years later, at the time of David [2 Sam 1:18]. So though not inspired, it continued to be popular.
When the Israelites came out of Egypt, another poem, the song of Moses,” was recited. “I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously,” it began (Ex. 15:1). In Exodus 4:21–29, as in Joshua 10:13, the message is given in prose as well as in poetry. There is no conflict in this. Both texts are talking about a historic event, whether in poetry or prose.
What the text from Joshua is actually saying is that there was a long day. We cannot use the phrase “the sun stood still” to prove that the Jews were ignorant cosmologically. Whether they were or not, the use of this term does not demonstrate that the text is inaccurate, for the simple reason that we today use the same kind of expression. I have never heard a twentieth-century person say when the sun came up in the morning, “The earth has turned far enough to allow me to see the sun.” If you said, “The sun is rising” and someone suddenly responded, “How ignorant you are! The earth has turned far enough for you to see the sun,” everyone would laugh. The comment would be ridiculous because it is outside the forms in which we normally speak.
I find it strange that some people are upset by the long day. It is not difficult to visualize it. In Switzerland during the summer I can count on light till 9:00 at night. In the middle of winter, however, I must be out of the forest by 6:00, or I am in trouble. In Norway on the longest day of the year, the sun does not go down at all! In the North, for days the sun never sets. So we know that the lengths of daylight vary.
How did God do it? We do not know. We might visualize it either of two ways: the earth could have slowed or the earth could have tilted, making the conditions in Israel like those in the North where the sun does not set. There could be other ways that we might not be able to visualize. However it was accomplished, the Bible says that God worked into space-time history to fight for the Israelites.
After the main resistance was broken, the Israelite forces swept on. Throughout the day, one after another of the small city-states fell: Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron and Debir. The whole south fell in one united campaign. The armies were broken, the cities overthrown, and the five major kings killed.
So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded. And Joshua smote them from Kadesh-barnea even unto Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even unto Gibeon. And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel. And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, unto the camp to Gilgal. (Josh. 10:40–43).
The wedge was now spread in one direction. The whole southern portion of the land had fallen. This does not mean that all these cities were permanently occupied, but the confederacy was broken and the south was in the hand of the Israelites.
The Deception of the Gibeonites
Having seen the southern campaign successfully completed, let us turn our attention back to Joshua 9. As the Amorite confederacy had prepared for its fight against the Israelites, the inhabitants of Gibeon had taken a drastic step:
And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai, 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; and old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. And they went to Joshua unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him, and to the men of Israel, We have come from a far country; now, therefore, make ye a league with us. And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us; and how shall we make a league with you? And they said unto Joshua, We are thy servants. And Joshua said unto them, Who are ye? and from where come ye? And they said unto him, From a very far country thy servants have 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, 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, who was at Ashtaroth. Wherefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke 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. 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 are rent; and these our garments and our shoes have become old by reason of the very long journey. And the men took of their victuals, and 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 swore unto them.
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 neighbors, and that they dwelt among them. 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 Kiriath-jearim. 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. 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. This we will do to them: we will even let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we swore unto them. 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.
And Joshua called for them, and he spoke unto them, saying, Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us? 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. And they answered Joshua, and said, Because it was certainly told thy servants, how that the LORD thy God commanded his servant, Moses, to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land before you; therefore, we were sore afraid of our lives because of you, and have done this thing. And now, behold, we are in thine hand; as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do. And so did he unto them, and delivered them out of the hand of the children of Israel, that they slew them not. 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. 9:3–27)
The Gibeonites performed an act of deception. The “wine bottles,” of course, were skins, and the Gibeonites said, “They are torn. The bread which we took from the oven is now old and dried.” They knew very well what had happened to Jericho and Ai, but they never mentioned it. They only mentioned what they would have heard about had they left home a long time ago—that is, they only mentioned what had happened on the east side of the Jordan. And Joshua made a league with them.
The text specifically says that the Israelites did not ask God’s counsel. “They received the men by reason of their food” is actually a better translation of the Hebrew; in other words, the Israelites looked at the Gibeonites’ food. We can hear the Israelites buzzing among themselves, “Of course, they’re telling the truth. Look how old the food is. Look at the bread.” We can picture somebody going up and feeling the hard loaves. They did not bother talking to God about the situation, and so they were fooled.
Three days later they found out that they had been taken in, that instead of coming from a far country the Gibeonites lived nearby. So the congregation murmured against the princes: “Why did you do this? You made the oath, and you shouldn’t have.” Joshua and the other leaders responded that though it was made in deception, the oath nevertheless held, because it had been made in the name of the Lord. Then Joshua turned to the Gibeonites and said, “There shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” “You have asked to be servants; now you will be servants,” Joshua told them. They were indeed made servants, but in a special capacity—in the house of God.
The end of this narrative explains the reason for the Gibeonites’ action: “It was certainly told thy servants, how that the LORD thy God commanded his servant, Moses, to give you all the land” (Josh. 9:24). The Gibeonites had understood that God had made a promise to Moses. We can see the force of this when we connect it with the fact that they came “because of the name of the LORD thy God; for we have heard the fame of him” (Josh. 9:9). They had heard about God and what He had done.
Let us quickly put all this together. The Gibeonites sought the Israelites’ protection. The Israelites made a league with them without consulting God. Nevertheless, once the oath was made in God’s name, it had to be kept. The five-member confederacy said, “Now we’re in real trouble. Jericho has fallen; Ai has fallen; and Gibeon, one of the great royal cities, has gone over to the other side.” So the confederacy tried to destroy the Gibeonites in order to warn everyone else not to desert to the enemy. The people of Gibeon cried to the Israelites, “You’ve made a promise to us. This is the moment to fulfill it. Come quickly, or we will be destroyed!” They must have held their breath as they waited to see if the Israelites would honor the oath which had been given because of their own duplicity. But the Israelites did honor the oath (Josh. 10:2–7).
And this was completely right with God. Once the oath was made, God expected the people to keep it. And Joshua did. Many years later, however, the oath was broken. In the days of David there was a three-year famine, and David asked the Lord why. The Lord answered: “It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites” (2 Sam. 21:1). When Saul killed the Gibeonites, thereby transgressing the oath made by Joshua about 400 years before, God responded, “This is serious. Saul broke an oath made in My name, and I hold him accountable.”
In the time of Ezekiel, God’s people swore in the name of the Lord that they would serve the king of Babylon. Later, because it seemed expedient, they broke their oath. Through the prophet Ezekiel God spoke into the situation:
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely in the place where the king dwelleth who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant he broke, even with him in the midst of Babylon he shall die.… Seeing he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, when, lo, he had given his hand, and hath done all these things, he shall not escape. Therefore, thus saith the Lord GOD; As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head. And I will spread my net upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon, and will plead with him there for his trespass that he hath trespassed against me. (Ezek. 17:16, 18–20)
The king despised an oath made in God’s name. In so doing, he did not transgress against the king of Babylon (though that is what the king of Babylon said), but he transgressed against God. God said, “I don’t take lightly a king of the Jews making an oath in My name and then breaking it.” What was done in the book of Joshua fits into the whole structure of Scripture: an oath made in the name of the God of holiness is to be kept with holy hands.
Psalm 15 states this as a universal principle: “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?… He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not” (Psa. 15:1, 4). One who swears in the name of God, even if he swears to his own hurt, must keep the oath in order to represent God’s character. God is a holy God, and to break an oath made in His name is to transgress, to blaspheme, to caricature the God in whose name the oath is made. Because the Jews were the people of God, they were to have a morality that was not only individual but national. The nation itself was required to keep oaths made in God’s name. In light of this principle, we can understand Jesus’ warning: “Don’t swear lightly, because when you swear in the name of God God expects you to be faithful” (Matt. 5:33–37).
Rahab and the Gibeonites
Rahab was a harlot. The Gibeonites were liars. As far as we can tell, they dealt in duplicity without any motion of conscience at all. Bringing their heathen heritage with them, they lied with ease. Why did the Gibeonites come to Joshua? Because they had heard about the Lord and what He had done. And this fact alerts us to the truly important parallels between Rahab and the Gibeonites.
Rahab said this to the spies: “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you” (Josh. 2:10, 11). The inhabitants of Gibeon, too, were fearful when they heard “what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai … 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, who was at Ashtaroth” (Josh. 9:3, 10).
In the midst of pagan Jericho, Rahab believed on the living God: “And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land” (Josh. 2:9). Strikingly, she affirmed, “For the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (Josh. 2:11). When she heard what had happened in Egypt and on the other side of Jordan, she said, “This is the living, universal God!” She made a decision on what to her was an adequate testimony. This high and holy expression was something one would never have heard in the heathen world, for there the gods were limited. It does not strike our ears as a surprise because this is the way we think about God, but she was making a declaration of faith which was startling: “I know He isn’t a limited god. He’s a different kind of a god. He is the LORD your God” She used the Tetragrammaton—God’s high and holy name.
Though the Gibeonites’ testimony was not as clear as Rahab’s. it is apparent that they did believe what they had heard. They said they came “because of the name of the LORD thy God.” In Semitic usage a name is a verbalization which represents one’s entire character. What the Gibeonites were really saying was, “We came because of who the LORD your God is.” Similarly, they spoke of “how that the LORD thy God commanded his servant, Moses” (Josh. 9:24). So in the cases of both Rahab and the Gibeonites, what they had heard was sufficient to convince them.
Rahab left the kingdom of the enemies of God for the kingdom of the Jews. In making her decision, she pitted herself against her king and her culture. The Gibeonites did likewise. They broke with the confederacy and came over to the people of God. Further, Rahab’s act meant that if her old king had found out what she had done, he would undoubtedly have killed her. The Gibeonites were actually caught in their defection. The confederacy knew well what they had done. The confederacy, therefore, did in fact come against the Gibeonites to exterminate them.
Rahab the harlot became a part of the people of God: “And Joshua saved Rahab, the harlot, alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day” (Josh. 6:25). The whole group of Gibeonites stood in a like circumstance: “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” (Josh. 9:27).
Both Rahab and the Gibeonites proved their loyalty. Rahab helped the spies escape and hung out the scarlet cord. The Gibeonites were faithful to their oath. The Gibeonites were Hivites, a people who remained the enemies of the Israelites, fighting them throughout the period of the judges. And though the Hivites fought against the Israelites, we find no note that the Gibeonites were unfaithful. So the Gibeonites not only left the confederacy, they broke their normal line. They joined neither their former allies nor their blood relations in the wars that followed. They remained, by an act of choice, in the midst of the people of Israel.
Rahab not only remained a part of the people of God; she married a son of a prince of Judah and became an ancestor of Christ. The Gibeonites, too, had a special place. They remained close to the altar of God. Though they were only hewers of wood and drawers of water, their activity was on behalf of worship of the living God, and it led gradually to a place of religious privilege. When the land was divided, Gibeon was one of the cities given to the line of Aaron. It became a special place where God was known. Approximately 400 years later, David put the tabernacle in that city. This meant that the altar and the priest were in Gibeon as well. At least one of David’s mighty men, those who were closest to him in battle, was a Gibeonite. At that important and solemn moment when Solomon, David’s son, ascended the throne, Solomon made burnt offerings at Gibeon. It was there he had his vision, when God spoke to him about his coming rule. Much later still, about 500 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.
Both Rahab and the Gibeonites stood under the spiritual portion of the covenant of grace. We know from the book of Hebrews that Rahab had salvation. Whether these people who came to Joshua as a group all had individual salvation, we have no way of knowing. But the way God honored these people’s faith suggests a tremendous implication: if God, on the basis of the spiritual portion of the covenant of grace, so dealt with Rahab and the Gibeonites when they believed, what would have happened if others had believed? We can also think about the judgment of Nineveh being lifted when its people repented through the preaching of Jonah.
So there really are exact parallels between Rahab (the individual) and the Gibeonites (the corporate unit). Rahab (plus her family) was the only individual saved out of Jericho. The Gibeonites were the only people saved out of the land. Rahab believed, left Jericho, and came among the people of God. The Gibeonites were the only people in the land who turned to God, and they flowed on through all the years of Jewish history.
Rahab, the Gibeonites, and Us
Every Christian, no matter who he is, was once, like Rahab (a prostitute) and the Gibeonites (liars), under the wrath and judgment of, God. We were all rebels. Not one of us was born good. Not one of us who was raised a Christian automatically became a Christian.
Those who are not Christians remain where Rahab and the Gibeonites stood prior to their identification with the people of God. But Rahab and the Gibeonites believed, and they were accepted. If it is true that God accepted them, how much more true can it be for us who have an open invitation from God. Jesus said, “Whosoever will may come” (see, for instance, John 3:15, 16). Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus invited, “and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Let us remember that God insisted that the Israelites keep their oath, even though it was made because of the Gibeonites’ deception. If God will not tolerate the breaking of an oath made in His name, how much more will He never break His own oath and covenant made to us on the basis of the shed blood and infinite value of Jesus Christ. How secure are we who have cast ourselves upon Christ as our Savior!
For God has made an oath:
For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swore by himself, saying, Surely, blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil, where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 6:13–20)
Here is described the establishment of the Abrahamic covenant, both its natural and spiritual sides. When men make an oath, they swear by God. When God made His promise to Abraham, He swore by Himself. There is no one else by whom God can swear because there is no one greater. He “confirmed it by an oath,” the Authorized Version translates, but the Greek is much stronger: “He interposed Himself by an oath.” His oath was Himself. It rested upon His existence and character. Therefore, to the heirs of the promise he brought two things to bear: the unchangeableness of the act of His will (His counsel), and the fact that He interposed Himself by an oath in His own name. And God will not lie. Why? Because God is a holy God. Men may draw back from the idea of judgment, but if God is going to be worth anything He must be holy. Therefore, the very justice of God should reassure us. He never break His oath and word. Never!
Notice the word we: “… we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” The book of Hebrews is not just talking about the Jews. It is talking about believers of all ages, going back to the time of Abel and flowing on to all who will come under the promises of God. I love this picture—“we who have fled”—for it carries us back to the Gibeonites and Rahab. Rahab fled from her place in the kingdom of Jericho to the name of God. The Gibeonites fled from their race, the Hivites, and they fled from the confederacy. And we who have come to Christ have done the same thing; we have fled from Satan and the world to lay hold of the hope that is set before us.
Like a boat with an anchor wedged in a rock, we have an anchor who already stands in the presence of God within the veil. Who is this anchor? Jesus Himself. He is the forerunner. We will follow Him because we have believed in Him. He is within the veil, so we will be within the veil.
If the Gibeonites could rely on an oath the Israelites made in the adverse circumstance of the Gibeonites’ deception, when the Israelites did not even ask God’s counsel, how much more confident can we be in God’s oath to us. May we rely upon it. May we cast ourselves upon Christ and be those of a completely quiet heart.
Image Credit: woodstreamchurch.org
Click on the “Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History” tag below to see all the posts in this series. To go to the start of this series click here.