And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai,…
I. HOW THIS DEVICE ORIGINATED.
1. Their wisdom suggested it. The selfsame facts suggest different courses of action to the Canaanites and to the Gibeonites. These events led the great majority to unite their forces against Joshua; they led this Gibeonitish minority to see if they could not come to terms with this irresistible foe. There was no sense whatever in the counsels of the kings. They ought to have assembled in a lunatic asylum, for their wisest counsels were but the ravings of a maniac. There is a spark of wisdom in the craft of the republican Gibeonites. They do come to a wise decision when they resolve to bear anything rather than provoke God against them by vain resistance. Let us, like them, humble ourselves before God's irresistible might. It is our only wisdom. There is no use waiting till judgment is at the door; no use staying till our souls are besieged by sickness and death: "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation."
2. The fears of these Gibeonites also stimulated them, were a spur to their wisdom. Was the conduct of the Gibeonites ignoble? Our hearts always side with the man who against overwhelming odds fights with grim consistency a losing battle, who resolves to "Perish if it must be so; at bay, destroying many a foe." But here again we must not lose sight of the religious element which was uppermost in the mind of all. It can never be right for the subject to rise against lawful authority. It can never be ignoble to throw down our weapons of rebellion and fall at the feet of the All-wise, the All-gracious, and the Almighty.
3. Also, there was faith at the bottom of this movement. It may readily be allowed that it was very small; microscopical, infinitesimal, if you choose. It may also be granted that it was also overlaid with error, guile, and selfishness. Yet notwithstanding all these things faith was there. These Gibeonites did believe that the purpose of God would come to pass. They did believe that God desired to give Israel the land, and that He was able to do so. With what mixed motives do we give up our rebellion and fall at the feet of Jesus! Can they bear full scrutiny? Are we pleased with them? I trow not. When we look back and analyse our thoughts and feelings, can we not discover a large leaven of mixed motives? Accordingly, there is here much encouragement to all. You ask, "Is my faith of the right kind?" See. If faith of this miserable description finds grace, who need despair? Perhaps our motives will not bear close examination; perhaps it is true that it is a selfish thing to fear hell; that it is nothing more than a hangman's whip. But if that whip lashes us to the feet of Jesus, and works for us salvation, we shall bless God for it for ever.
II. HOW THIS PLAN WAS PROSECUTED. Anything is fair in war, so men say; and anything is fair in diplomacy, so men have believed in past ages. It need not surprise us, then, that these Gibeonites followed the universal rule. They show their craft both by what they did and by what they hid. They were no novices in the art of deceit. They also prosecuted their commission very courageously. The coolness and audacity of these men are marvellous. They must have had strong nerves, a great command over themselves, and a deep knowledge of human nature. These men were neither fools nor cowards after all.
III. HOW THEIR STRATAGEM SUCCEEDED. It succeeded to perfection. Their audacity, cunning, and knowledge of human nature were all conspicuous in this transaction, and served them well. The weakness of the Israelites helped to bring about the same result. It is one thing to be rudely suspicious, it is another thing to be over-credulous. But practically how often are men at a loss how to decide when placed in similar circumstances! Therefore we should not blame Israel too severely, but rather remember that the best cure either for over-credulity or over-caution is communion with God and distrust in self. The men of Israel are also very self-conscious. Pride had something to do with their decision to take these strangers under their protection. They felt honoured and flattered by the supposed circumstances which made them a centre of universal attraction. Would you be an instrument in the hands of another, a pipe producing just such notes as the player pleases, think much of yourself; give yourself out to be some great one; open your ears and give up your heart to the sweet blandishments of flattering lips. Contrariwise remember that the humblest soul is the most independent. The Israelites were also very self-confident, and this exposed them to the wiles of these schemers. No step that we take in life is too trivial to be made a matter of prayer. Only as we do so, consulting with God about everything, are we guided by His eye. Here the Israelites put right questions — "Who are you?" "Whence come you?" But sufficient care was not taken to sift the answer and see if it was true. "All is not gold that glitters." Much ancient armour is manufactured all the year round at Birmingham. Not a few ancient statues are made to order in Italy in these days, and sold to innocent connoisseurs. Even so is it in things spiritual. The wolves are very clever at fitting themselves with sheep's clothing; the make-up is often particularly ingenious. Let the Israel of God take heed "to the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this Word it is because there is no light in them." And we should apply this also to the affairs of every-day life. How often do we involve ourselves in difficulties, hedge up our way with troubles, lead ourselves into danger, because we "ask not counsel at the mouth of the Lord." We give a listening ear to plausible representations; we hurry headlong into inviting schemes; we enter heedlessly into doubtful connections without weighing the consequences or looking for Divine direction. But sooner or later we discover that no business, or engagement, or union can prosper without the counsel and approbation of the Lord; and often with shame and sorrow we have to seek His face to undo the evils which our Own rashness and unfaithfulness have brought upon us. But in considering this matter our view would be very superficial did we not look higher than man and his motives. The purpose of Jehovah had also to do with the result. Why did He allow Joshua to be thus deceived? To teach him and Israel a valuable lesson? No doubt; but it was also for the purpose of manifesting to all that He was not unwilling to show mercy to the very chief of sinners. If with all their guile and crooked policy He spared these Gibeonites, much more would He have spared them if they had honestly cast themselves on His mercy. Yea, He spared them because they came; He reproved them because they came thus. In this manner God separated the precious from the vile; He commended their faith in coming, and condemned their mode of approach. Accordingly, while it was well for them that they came at all, nothing was gained, but much was lost, by their crooked policy. Thus is it always, and therefore what encouragement is there here to the open and ingenuous.
IV. THE RESULT OF THIS STRATAGEM. They received a place in Israel. This was no small matter; far more than they had expected. This was no small favour where all would have perished. This place in Israel was obtained with difficulty. When it was discovered who these strangers were, the people were roused against the princes who had conducted the treaty with them, and murmured loudly at the result: How true to human nature is this murmuring. It is always easy to criticise these who are in authority, and find fault with the conclusions to which they come. Every toper in a village inn, were you to credit him, could conduct the affairs of the British Empire with greater success than the wisest prime minister that ever lived. The most ignorant and irresponsible individual in a congregation is confident he would never have fallen into the mistakes of his betters. These Israelites perhaps thought that they were very zealous for God in thus murmuring, but I am afraid that self-interest had a little to do with it. Was it not somewhat of a disappointment that they would not be able to finger the spoil of these Gibeonitish cities? How often does selfishness sharpen zeal! The proper time for murmuring or objecting would have been when the treaty was so hastily concluded. But these critics forgot that then also their heads were turned, and that in all likelihood they would have murmured if the princes had proposed any other course than the one they are now condemning. But though equally deceived with their leaders, they were not like them bound by a solemn oath, and therefore they felt free to murmur. Yet it was a good sign that they went no further. Though they grumbled they submitted, and the Gibeonites were allowed to live. They owed their safety to the ability of Joshua and the princes of Israel. In this emergency the leaders displayed great firmness. They felt that it would be better far to fulfil their agreement at any cost rather than by any shift or quibble to retire from it. Surely in this steadfast adherence of Joshua to this covenant the seeker may find great encouragement. There have been murmurers in the house of God who have called in question the grace of that Saviour who forgives sinners. Remember the taunt of the Pharisees, "This Man receiveth sinners and eateth with them." The race of the self-righteous is not yet extinct; but Jesus is not less firm than Joshua, and justifies the ways of God to men in that glorious constellation of grace which the fifteenth chapter of Luke contains. Again, these Gibeonites received a definite place among the people of God. They became an integral part of the nation, with duties as clearly defined as those of the tribe of Levi. Henceforth they were an essential part of the people; Israel's God was theirs; Israel's friends were their friends, Israel's foes their foes; and they were sharers in all Israel's fortunes. The place which these Gibeonites received in Israel was, however, very humble. The lowest kind of drudgery was expected of them. But if their place and occupation are very lowly, their Master is very high and honourable, and He so arranged that they should not be private slaves, scattered through the nation, but that they should be attached to the tabernacle as servants to the priests and Levites. Now the humblest office under a great and good man may be better than the highest place a mean and bad master could offer. It would be better to black the boots of some men than to roll in the carriage of others. And if the place of these Gibeonites was humble, it was at the same time useful. This would be a great consolation to them, and would reconcile them to their lot. The place of these Gibeonites was also a hallowed one; their service was sacred. God brought them near Himself, attached them to His tabernacle, sheltered them under His wing. The altar of Jehovah was the centre of their service. They were nearer God than many in Israel. To be near God is the highest privilege and the chief joy of the renewed heart. And we come near to God just as we make the Cross of Christ the centre of all our service. The doorstep of God's house is a happier resting-place than the downy couch in the gilded pavilion of royal sinners. Still further, these Gibeonites had a hopeful place in Israel, and that was a great advantage. In the service of such a Master they might well expect to rise, and they did. Ismaiah, one of David's mighty men, was a Gibeonite. Melatiah, a builder of the wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, was another. These are instances recorded to show how they prospered and rose in Jehovah's service. In England it is thought a great matter to be recognised in any way as connected with the royal house. The official appointment to such a position may frequently be seen framed and glazed and placed conspicuously in the window. The fact is noted in the gold letters on the sign, on every bill, and notice, and advertisement that is sent from the establishment. They strive to let no one forget or be oblivious of the fact. They find that it is profitable to do so. Much more laboriously should we in all things make it plain whose we are and whom we serve.
(A. B. Mackay.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,