Search Bible Outlines and commentaries




Richard Hess: In the first eight chapters, Israel had chosen its military objectives and targets. At this point the situation changes. Others will define these objectives. . .

Earlier the Canaanites refused to attack Israel for fear of what would happen to them. They defended themselves only when attacked. Now they gather together, united for war against Israel. What has changed?

The answer lies in Israel’s defeat at their first assault on Ai. Joshua predicted this consequence (Josh. 7:9). Until this point, Israel had been undefeated in battle. At Ai, Canaan learned that Israel could be defeated. Thus any belief in Israelite invincibility (always understood as based upon God’s deliverance) evaporated with the sin of Achan. This is what the kings hear in 9:1. Although Bethel and Ai are ultimately defeated, the possibility now exists that Israel can lose battles. This is also the reason for the detailed list of peoples in the armies who gather against Israel. The stress is placed upon the numbers and the totality of the peoples represented. The armies will be large and the hostility of the land will be complete.

Thus the passage underlines the awful effects of sin (see Rom. 3:9–20; 5:11–14). Because of one person’s transgression, the occupation of the Promised Land is delayed indefinitely and many lives are lost in the process. Who can say what would have happened had Achan not sinned? Perhaps the battle at Ai could have been Israel’s last.

Van Parunak: Deut. 20:10-18, Israel’s Foreign Policy

  • Distant nations may enter into treaty with Israel and become servants to them.
  • Nearby nations must be completely destroyed, to avoid spiritual contamination. Cf. 7:1-5

Where did Israel go wrong? She certainly tried to obey the Scriptures. But the narrator in v.14 tells us she should have done something else in addition: she should have asked counsel of the Lord. She still does not understand the lesson of the Captain of the Lord’s Host, that God’s people must seek his face in every decision. In modern terms, they consulted Scripture (Deut. 20) but not the Spirit! The passage is an eloquent example of the inadequacy of Scripture without the direct personal direction of the Lord in our lives.


A.  (:1) Enemies Fear the Inevitable

Now it came about when all the kings who were beyond the Jordan,

in the hill country and in the lowland and on all the coast of the Great Sea

toward Lebanon, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite,

the Hivite and the Jebusite, heard of it

Van Parunak: Geographically: a useful passage to review three main regions of the country. The only one not mentioned is “the plain,” the Arabah, which is the Jordan valley, considered as being now firmly in Israel’s control.

  • the hills,” lit. “the mountain,” the backbone of the country.
  • the valleys,” lit. “the Shephelah.” A region of chalky hills extending south from the Valley of Ayalon to the bottom of the top sheet, and the geology continues to Beersheba. Forms a buffer zone between the other two regions mentioned. Not very fertile. Philistines pushing up into it; Israel pushing down.
  • all the coasts of the great sea,” the coastal plain.

David Howard: The geographical description laid out shows that the kings opposing Israel came from all parts of the land of Canaan: they were from (1) the hill country, that is, the central highlands, (2) the western foothills, that is, the foothills between the central highlands and the coastal plain, and (3) the entire coast of the Mediterranean Sea, as far as the “front” of Lebanon.  Just as the land that Israel was entering to possess is painted in terms as broad as possible in 1:4, so here, the adversaries Israel was to face are also portrayed as coming from as broad an area as possible.  The summary statement in 10:40–42 about Joshua’s all-encompassing conquests recalls the territories mentioned here (specifically, the references to the hill country and the western foothills).

B.  (:2) Enemies Rally Together to Make Last Ditch Stand

that they gathered themselves together with one accord

to fight with Joshua and with Israel.”

God’s enemies unite around the common goal of trying to thwart God’s purposes and His kingdom agenda.  They fight against God’s people but remain under God’s sovereign control.

Robert Massey: When the enemy realizes that he is defeated, he does one of two things, he surrenders, or he throws everything he has into the battle. The devil is throwing everything he has into the battle. He is gathering every demon and every principality and they are throwing everything they have into the battle for your soul. He is a powerful foe and without Christ you cannot stand against him.


A.  (:3-5) Concocting the Crafty Scheme – Example of Strategic Planning

  1. (:3)  Motivated by Desperation = Their Mission (save their lives)

When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard

what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai

  1. (:4a)  Relying on Deceit = Their Strategy

they also acted craftily

  1. (:4b-5)  Pretending to be Innocuous = Their Tactics

and set out as envoys, and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys, and

                        wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5 and worn-out and patched

                        sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes on themselves; and all the

                        bread of their provision was dry and had become crumbled.

Looking like they had traveled from a long distance away

B.  (:6-13) Convincing the Skeptical Israelite Invaders

  1. (:6)  Pleading their Case

And they went to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal,

and said to him and to the men of Israel,

‘We have come from a far country;

now therefore, make a covenant with us.’”

Gene Getz: Joshua had just reviewed the law of God for all the children of Israel. Everything seemed to be in order to move forward victoriously. And then it happened. Joshua was caught off guard, failed to seek God’s counsel, and fell prey to the Gibeonite deception. Satan at times camouflages his roar with gentle, sweet, and subtle words—a ploy that worked on Joshua. The Gibeonites knew God had instructed the children of Israel to be merciful to those people who lived beyond the borders of Canaan (Dt 20:10–12). This is why they feigned having come “from a far away land” (Jos 9:9). In this sense, they used God’s words to deceive Joshua. We must all realize that Satan is a subtle enemy, and lying is one of his common tactics. One of his most deceptive schemes is to use God’s Word to achieve his insidious goals. This is exactly the way he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Mt 4:1–11).

  1. (:7-11)  Politicking for their Story

a.  (:7)  Confronted with the Relevant Question

And the men of Israel said to the Hivites,

‘Perhaps you are living within our land;

how then shall we make a covenant with you?’”

Robert Hubbard: But Israelite suspicions remain: Why is this bedraggled group so evasive? Why the unexpected revelation about Yahweh’s fame? Why did that not come out when they first arrived? Why should Israel deal with a delegation (not actual authorities) whose only accreditation is their spoken word and shabby condition?

b.  (:8)  Interrogated as to their True Identity

But they said to Joshua, ‘We are your servants.’ 

Then Joshua said to them,

‘Who are you, and where do you come from?’”

c.  (:9-10)  Programmed to Base Appeal on Flattery … or Faith??

And they said to him, ‘Your servants have come from a very far country because of the fame of the LORD your God; for we have heard the report of Him and all that He did in Egypt, 10 and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon and to Og king of Bashan who was at Ashtaroth.’

Bob Utley: The confession of the Gibeonite representatives (which reflected the discussions of all of the leadership) is similar to Rahab’s confession (cf. 2:9–11). It involves

(1)  an affirmation of YHWH’s greatness and power

(2)  knowledge of Israel’s supernatural victories with YHWH’s presence and help

(3)  an element of fear and self preservation.

d.  (:11)  Charged with Securing This Peace Treaty

So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us,

saying, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey,

and go to meet them and say to them,

‘We are your servants; now then, make a covenant with us.’”

  1. (:12-13)  Proving their Identity

a.  (:12)  Stale Bread

This our bread was warm when we took it for our provisions

out of our houses on the day that we left to come to you;

but now behold, it is dry and has become crumbled.”

b.  (:13a)  Worn out Wineskins

And these wineskins which we filled were new,

and behold, they are torn

c.  (:13b)  Worn out Clothing

and these our clothes and our sandals are worn out

because of the very long journey.”

Dan Morrison: They appeared harmless; honorable; and honest; the leaders, and Joshua would not have fallen for this deception had this not been the case; they knew how to deceive; Satan used these techniques through them to stop the progress of the taking of the land

C.  (:14) Crucial Mistake on the Part of the Israelites

  1. Taking the Bait

So the men of Israel took some of their provisions,”

Must have been pretty hard up for provisions if this stuff looked appetizing

  1. Failing to Seek the Lord’s Counsel

and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord.”

Acting rashly and presumptuously rather than performing due diligence.

This is the key phrase to the chapter.

Darby: The Israelites had failed at Ai because they had confidence in their own strength. They failed here because they had confidence is their own wisdom.

Warren Wiersbe: The leaders of Israel took the “scientific approach” instead of the “spiritual approach.” They depended on their own senses, examined the “facts,” discussed the matter, and agreed in their conclusion. It was all very logical and convincing, but it was all wrong. They had made the same mistake at Ai (chap. 7) and hadn’t yet learned to wait on the Lord and seek His direction….Like Joshua and the nation of Israel, God’s people today are living in enemy territory and must constantly exercise caution. When you believe the enemy instead of seeking the mind of the Lord, you can expect to get into trouble.

D.  (:15) Closing the Deal – Affirming the Peace Treaty with a Binding Oath

And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them,

to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them.”


A.  (:16) Discovering the Painful Truth

And it came about at the end of three days after they had made a covenant with

them, that they heard that they were neighbors and that they were living within \their land.”

B.  (:17) Checking out the Situation

Then the sons of Israel set out and came to their cities on the third day. 

Now their cities were Gibeon and Chephirah and Beeroth and Kiriath-jearim.”

C.  (:18) Paying the Price for Foolish Decision-making

then the sons of Israel did not strike them because the leaders of the

congregation had sworn to them by the Lord the God of Israel. 

And the whole congregation grumbled against the leaders.”

David Howard: The Gibeonites were safe from harm at the hands of Israel because of the oath that had been taken (v. 15). Oath taking and swearing are solemn affairs in the Old Testament. To take an oath—the Hebrew words for “swear” and “oath” are from the same root = to give one’s sacred and unbreakable word that he would follow through on what was promised. God often swore by himself, his holiness, or his great name to take certain actions (e.g., Gen 22:16–18; Ps 89:35 [Hb. 36]; Jer 44:26). Swearing falsely was a grave sin (Ezek 17:16–21; Zech 5:3–4; Mal 3:5). Because of the sacred, unbreakable nature of an oath, this treaty that the Israelites made with the Gibeonites, even though it was obtained under false pretenses, could not be revoked. A similar situation is visible in Genesis 27, where Jacob tricked Isaac into blessing him, and the rightful recipient of the blessing, Esau, could not then receive it.

D.  (:19-21) Trying to Make Lemonade out of Lemons

But all the leaders said to the whole congregation, ‘We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we cannot touch them. 20 This we will do to them, even let them live, lest wrath be upon us for the oath which we swore to them.’ 21 And the leaders said to them, ‘Let them live.’ So they became hewers of wood and drawers of water for the whole congregation, just as the leaders had spoken to them.


A.  (:22-23) Holding the Deceivers Accountable

  1. (:22)  Indictment by way of Rhetorical Question – Seeking Their Motive

Then Joshua called for them and spoke to them, saying,

‘Why have you deceived us, saying, ‘We are very far from you.’

When you are living within our land?’”

  1. (:23)  Curse of Slavery

Now therefore, you are cursed, and you shall never cease being slaves,

both hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.”

Robert Hubbard: But Joshua’s curse adds an important detail to the leader’s earlier community-service theme (cf. v. 21). He decrees that the Gibeonites’ woodcutting and water-carrying will always serve “the house of my God” (v. 23). Now, in effect, the curse demotes the Gibeonites from treaty partners to menial slaves (Heb. ʿebed) serving the whole congregation. They will do the dirty work in support of the sanctuary on behalf of the congregation. In a sense, poetic justice prevails: A ruse wins the Gibeonites continued life but at a price—reduction to permanent slavery at menial tasks. Finally, Joshua’s handling of the matter—his response to their complaints with open dialogue—regains the community’s confidence in his leadership.

B.  (:24-25) Resignation to Their Fate

  1. (:24)  Motive of Desperation and Fear of God

So they answered Joshua and said, ‘Because it was certainly told your

servants that the Lord your God had commanded His servant Moses to

give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land before

you; therefore we feared greatly for our lives because of you, and have

done this thing.’”

  1. (:25)  Surrender to Their Prescribed Punishment

And now behold, we are in your hands;

do as it seems good and right in your sight to do to us.”

C.  (:26-27) Maintaining the Oath but Making Them Slaves

  1. (:26)  Sparing Their Lives

Thus he did to them, and delivered them from the hands of the sons of

Israel, and they did not kill them.”

  1. (:27)  Making Them Slaves

But Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water

for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the

place which He would choose.”