Manipulation, Mayhem and Murder


Bible References: Joshua chapter 9, Chapter 10::1-10 2 Samuel 21:1-6

Heart of the Story: The Gibeonites used deception to obtain a treaty of peace with Joshua and the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. Despite the Gibeonites’ deceptive behavior, the Israelites couldn’t rescind the treaty because they swore their oath before God.

Background: When Joshua and the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God commanded that they kill its inhabitants. After the Israelites conquered the strong cities of Jericho and Ai, the kings of Canaan joined to battle the Israelites. The men of Gibeon, located in the hill country of central Canaan, were an exception. Instead of preparing for war against the Israelites, the Gibeonites determined to sign a peace treaty with them.

Story Line: The Gibeonites came to the Israelite camp at Gilgal in worn clothes and shoes and with moldy, dry provisions and cracked wineskins. They claimed to have traveled a long distance to obtain a peace treaty with the Israelites whom they feared. Without consulting God, Joshua and the tribal leaders signed a treaty with the Gibeonites and swore to it before God.

Three days later, the Israelites learned that the Gibeonites were their neighbors! The Israelites went to the Gibeonites cities of Gibeon/Gibeah. They told the Gibeonites that they would honor the treaty; however, from that time onward the Gibeonites would be wood cutters and water carriers for the Israelite community and for the Tabernacle altar. Worship at the Tabernacle and later at the Temple required much wood and water for the sacrifices. Perhaps the Gibeonites performed these menial tasks on a rotating basis. Interestingly, at the time Solomon became king, the Tabernacle and the Altar of Burnt Offering were located at Gibeon (Gibeah)(2 Chronicles 1:3, 5).

Gibeonites 2

Because the Gibeonites signed a peace treaty with the Israelites, five Amorite kings moved their armies to attack Gibeah. The Gibeonites sent word to Joshua asking the Israelites to save them. Joshua and his men completed a 20-mile all night march from Gilgal to Gibeah. They took the Amorite army by surprise; when they attack, the Amorites fled in confusion.

For the next approximately 400 years, the Bible provided no information on the Gibeonites. Apparently, they fulfilled their duties as outlined in the treaty with Joshua. At some point while Saul was king he violated the Israelite-Gibeonite treaty by killing many Gibeonites. Those not killed were driven from their homes and no longer considered a part of Israel.  The reasons for King Saul’s actions are not completely clear. Perhaps he felt a sense of nationalism and determined to rid his country of aliens living in their midst. Alternatively, Saul’s home was Gibeah (1 Samuel 11:4, 1 Chronicles 9:35-39). Perhaps Saul did not want a large non-Israelite clan living in his home town.

During David’s reign there was a three-year famine. When David asked God the reason for it, God told him it was because of Saul’s bloody attack on the Gibeonites. David met with some remaining Gibeonites and asked what he should do appease their anger and remove the curse from Israel. The Gibeonites were not interested in material compensation; however, they did want the lives of seven of Saul’s descendants. We are not sure why the Gibeonites identified seven rather than another number except seven is the Biblical symbol of completeness. Perhaps identifying seven lives indicated a complete revenge and/or a complete removal of the curse from Israel.

David acceded to the Gibeonite request and handed over five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab and two sons of Saul’s concubine. The Gibeonites killed all seven men on the first day of the barley harvest and left their bodies exposed.

Pondering Relationships: God’s plan was for the Israelites to kill all of the Canaanites living in the land to include the Gibeonites. Had Joshua sought God’s will when the Gibeonites came to the Israelite camp, God would have shown him the Gibeonite’s subterfuge. We are not told the reason for Joshua neglect of God’s counsel. Was  Joshua deliberately puffed-up over his success with Jericho and Ai? Did he believe he understood what God wanted and could get on with the process of conquering Canaan? Did Joshua not think to seek God’s will in such a simple matter? Whatever Joshua’s motivation, he was taken in by the Gibeonites and committed the Israelites to a course of action outside God’s guidelines.

Seemingly, our simplest actions entangle us and even our children in events we never planned. If only we “wouldn’t have” gone to that party, voiced that opinion, or moved to that town are frequent laments to ourselves and others. Rather than grieving over what we shouldn’t have done, we can aver to seek God at future decision points. Joshua seems to have learned from this lesson with the Gibeonites. Where some other Bible characters made the same mistakes repeatedly, Joshua was meticulous in obeying God going forward.

Approximately 400 years later, God caused a famine in Israel because the Israelites broke a promise to the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites were aliens in Israel; yet God did not forget the oath that the Israelites made with them before him. Time does not dull God’s memory or his sense of justice.

Reflection: Does God really expect me to keep all promises made to Him and to others? Am I accountable to God for my promises?

Read further information about the Gibeonites and other alien clans that lived in Israel in Lesser Known Bible Characters (

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 12/13. All Rights Reserved.