Joshua and the elders had just received men who claimed to be ambassadors from a far away land. They came to seek peace. If so, reasoned the elders, then there would be no particular harm in promising not to attack a nation that wasn’t included among the enemy nations of Canaan. Although these men looked like swarthy Canaanites, Joshua knew that some similar tribes had gone to other lands, especially North Africa, to live.
The elders of Israel were told of these things, and it was decided that it would be well to do what the strangers asked, and promise no harm on their nation. This was carried out in a solemn ceremony with Joshua, the strangers, priests and elders present. However, though there was an element of doubt present in this matter, God wasn’t consulted (vs. 11-15).
New clothes and provisions were supplied the strange ambassadors. After they were given food and overnight lodging with the Israelites, they thankfully and smilingly set off to the north to their mysterious nation.
“Send several armed scouts to follow them without being seen,” Joshua ordered. “I am curious to know just where they came from.”
“It wasn’t necessary to be gone any longer,” they reported. “The men we followed went north for a few miles, then turned west and went directly to the Hivite city of Gibeon about twenty miles to the west. If that is their hone, then Israel has promised to spare a city or nation well within the Promised Land” (v. 16)!
Having been informed that the strange men claiming to have come from a distant nation had gone to a city only about twenty miles from Gilgal, Joshua was quite perturbed. These men had exacted a promise from Joshua that Israel would not attack their country. Now it was quite evident that their “country” was an area well within the bounds of Canaan, and God had instructed Israel to story all nations, cities and people within those bounds. Obviously these men had tricked Israel into a sacred promise to spare their people, which was against God’s will.
The many thousands of Israel’s soldiers quickly assembled at Joshua’s command. Led by scouts who had followed the men responsible for tricking Israel into a peace pact, Joshua and his soldiers spent three days in arriving at their destination. It was the walled city of Gibeon, the capital of a district of dark-skinned people called Hivites. Four Hivite cites, including Gibeon, had joined in this strategy in seeking peace with Israel (Joshua 9:16-17).
The Israelite soldiers moved boldly within the shadows of the walls of Gibeon, but there was no sign of soldiers on the walls to protect the city.
“Send men to the gate with this message,” Joshua told his officers. “Have our men tell them that those men who came to see us in Gilgal must be sent out to speak with us right away.”
A group of soldiers went to the nearest gate and loudly repeated Joshua’s request. There was a response only a few minutes later. The gate swung open, and out walked the men who had come to Gilgal posing as strangers from a distant nation. A few Hivites of high rank accompanied them. Behind them was a crowd of Hivites silently watching to see what would happen. The “ambassadors” sheepishly walked up to Joshua and his officers.
“Why did you go to all the trouble to trying to fool us into believing that your native land was quite distant instead of within our land only a few miles from our camp?” Joshua asked them (V. 22).
“We have heard about how you have wiped out your enemies,” a Gibeonite officer explained. “We didn’t want to be counted among them. The city of Gibeon here, and three other Hivite cities to the south – Chephirah, Beeroth and Kirjathjearim – formed a secret alliance to seek a promise from Israel’s leaders that you would not attack us. We heard that you are a fair and honest people, and would keep any vow you might make.
“We became aware that your God commanded you to destroy all the people of this region, and we were so alarmed that we tried to carry out the only plan we thought might save us. But we aren’t begging for freedom now. You have us in your power to deal with as you wish” (vs. 24-25).
Joshua was in no hurry to make a decision. Yet he knew if he wiped out their cities, he would be breaking the pledge that the leaders of Israel had made before God as a witness. There was no other choice. Israel had made a binding agreement and would have to pay the price of letting these Hivites remain in their land.
Joshua dismissed the Gibeonites, set up camp Gibeon and held a conference with the princes of Israel. When the main body of Israel heard the decision of the elders and Joshua many of them were disappointed. Some were even angered, and sent spokesmen to the elders to voice their feelings (Joshua 9:18).
“It is not right to allow these pagan Hivites any mercy!” shouted one of the spokesmen. ‘God has commanded us to destroy them!”
“God will punish us if we fail to attack four Hivite cities at once!” “Why are our leaders defying the Creator in this matter?”
There was much murmuring among the assembled thousands after these remarks, which were not necessarily made because the speakers desired obedience. So much wealth had already been taken from their enemies that a part of Israel had become greedy, and those were the ones whose ire was roused because of being deprived of the booty of the Hivite cities.
Ignoring the loud protests, the elders told the people that Israel should stick to the agreement not to attack the Hivites, but that Israel should make the inhabitants of the four cities bond-servants of Israel to serve in the physical needs of the Levites. This would keep them in close contact with God so that they would never return to idolatry. Today, the descendants of those ancient dark-skinned Hivites are called Falashas – meaning migrants because they journeyed out of Palestine to Ethiopia to escape captivity when Israel was driven out of Palestine centuries later (vs. 19-21).
When the troops who had accompanied him heard what Joshua was about to do, even some of them muttered in disappointment at being deprived of the excitingly profitable opportunity of plundering the Hivite cities.
Joshua called the rulers and chief officers of the Hivites before and made this proclamation:
“Though you have sought peace and have recognized our God as great, you tricked us. Therefore you are cursed. No longer will your mighty men of war bear arms. Instead, they shall become wood choppers and water bearers for us. When our people take over this area, your people shall join us and work as bond servants. Your tasks will be especially for those in service for our God wherever. He shall have us build His altar. You have no choice but to accept these conditions” (vs. 22-27).
“These are bitter terms for our warriors and the people of all four cities,” the leader of Gibeon spoke out. “However, we feel it is better than being destroyed because of our sins. We know your greater forces and your great God is too powerful for us to face, and we must humbly bow to your will” (v. 25).
The Hivites should have considered themselves quite fortunate to remain alive under the circumstances, but it is generally human nature to hope for more than is received, and there was a tone of bitterness in the voice of the Gibeonite leader.
Having ended these matters with the Hivites for the time being, Joshua and his many soldiers headed back toward Gilgal. They little guessed that they would very soon be racing back toward Gibeon.
For many centuries there had been a city in the land of Canaan known as Salem. During the days of Abraham a King was there whose name was Melchizedek, Who visited Abraham and blessed him after he rescued Lot and other captives from a group of marauding kings (Gen. 14:17-20). Melchizedek – Who was later to become Jesus Christ in human form – ruled from Salem as long as the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – dwelt in Palestine. Later He ceased to rule from there while the children of Israel were in Egypt: In the day of David Melchizedek again chose Jerusalem (another name for Salem) as the city from which to rule His people.
The name Melchizedek means King of Righteousness (Heb. 7:1-3). At the time the Israelites entered Canaan, the ruler of Salem – then called Jerusalem – was a Canaanite Adoni-zedek, a sinful king who pretended to be “Lord of Righteousness” – a king who put himself in place of the true King of Righteousness – Jesus Christ or Melchizedek.
Jerusalem had been such a powerful and wealthy city for so long that it was famous throughout the civilized world. In fact, it was considered a sacred city, even though heathen Canaanites, such as Adoni-zedek, had long since taken it over.
News of the fall of Jericho and Ai brought fear to the ruler of Jerusalem, especially when he learned of the pact between Israel and the four Hivite cities just a few miles from Jerusalem, because Gibeon was one of the stronger cities of the area – even stronger than Ai (Joshua 10:1-2). Adoni-zedek realized that other cities of Canaan must immediately band together to stand against the Israelites, or be defeated.
The proud king of Jerusalem sent messengers to the rulers of four neighboring Amorite cities. These were Hebron (where the Israelites scouts went on their return trip through Canaan about forty years before), Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon, and were located in an area only a few miles southwest of Jerusalem. Adoni-zedek suggested they all join forces and invade the Hivite cities to punish them for making peace with the Israelites (vs. 3-4).
When the kings of these cities received Adoni-zedek plea for their armies to join his in an attack on Gibeon, they agreed at once to send all their soldiers northward. Their forces were united on the way to Jerusalem, where Adoni-zedek’s troops were added. Together these thousands of well-trained warriors marched onward to a spot just south of Gibeon, when they camped and readied their equipment for an attack on Gibeon, because the Hivites were now their enemies along with Israel.
When the Gibeonites saw these combined armies streaming up from the south, they sent swift messengers to race to Gilgal to ask for help from Israel. While the messengers sped toward the Israelite camp, the armies from the south set up powerful catapults and ramming devices with which to assault Gibeon, and prepared long ladders and ropes for scaling the walls. Night was not far away, however, and the Gibeonites felt certain that no attack would be made until dawn.
The messengers from Gibeon arrived at Gilgal before nightfall, and were given an immediate audience with Joshua.
“Thousands upon thousands of Canaanite troops of the Amorite tribe were approaching Gibeon when we left!” they excitedly told Joshua. “Perhaps by now they have already attacked our city. As your servants, we beg you to send up at least a part of your great army to save us” (Joshua 10:5-6).
Joshua wasn’t inclined to give the messengers a quick answer. He wondered if the presence of so many fighting men could mean that Israel might run into deep trouble as punishment for not consulting God in the matter of making an agreement with the Gibeonites.
Not wishing another unpleasant situation, Joshua this time went into the tabernacle and prayed to God to give him a clear picture of what should be done.
“Don’t be concerned about that army preparing to attack Gibeon,” came God’s answer. “Not one man of those many thousands will come out alive after I punish them” (v. 8)!
Thus encouraged, Joshua was convinced that he should go at once to the aid of the Gibeonites. He gave orders to his officers to assemble the army of Israel for immediate action. By nightfall the troops were assembled and ready to march.
Gibeon was about twenty miles west of Gilgal, and though they had a rough, uphill road between the two places, the Israelite army picked its way to the hill country through the night, and arrived within sight of Gibeon at dawn (vs. 7, 9).
Coming over a rise at the head of Israel’s troops, Joshua and his officers saw that the Canaanite troops from the south were just starting to move closer to Gibeon for their assault on the walls. Catapults were being pushed forward, scores of men were carrying metal-nosed logs with which to batter the gates, and thousands of archers, swordsmen and spear-bearers were marching within striking range of the walls.
“Draw up our troops to attack the invaders of Gibeon at once! “Joshua told his officers. “Keep the troops out of sight behind this rise, move north of Gibeon so that we can’t be seen, and then divide up and swing around the east and west walls to surprise them!”
Minutes later hordes of Israelite soldiers raced around the walls of Gibeon to rush in among the troops moving against the Hivite city. The archers were so surprised by this sudden onslaught by the Israelites that they halted in their tracks, then turned and fled in the opposite direction. The Israelites pressed in against them. So great was the slaughter that bodies were strewn for miles along paths that led northwestward, southward and southwestward from Gibeon.
All this didn’t happen in just a short while. Many of the enemy soldiers tried to hide in ravines and among the rocks, and time was required in searching them out. The Israelites had orders to let no enemy fighter escape, regardless of how far they had to be pursued.
In fact, the main part of the enemy troops to escape the first attack had to be pursued as much as thirty miles to the southwest (Joshua 10:10-11). Part of the way was through a long, deep ravine. Then there was a steep ridge to go over, and next a rocky, rugged road so precipitous in places that steps had already been cut in the rocks.
By the time the enemy had been pursued even part of that distance, however, the day was half spent. Joshua became concerned about being successful in destroying all the enemy troops before dark, after which any who were left would surely succeed in escaping. Already exceptionally heavy clouds were moving over the sky, which meant that darkness would come on even sooner than usual.
“Cause the sun and moon to stand still so that the day here will be made long enough for us to overcome our enemies,” Joshua prayed to God (v. 12).
The battle continued. It was no small matter to flush our enemy troops from their hiding places as the area of fighting moved steadily southward. Meanwhile, the sky became darker, and it appeared that an unusually strong storm was likely to break in the region just south of Gibeon. Between thick, scudding clouds the pale sun showed through at times. There was nothing unusual about that, but two or three hours after Joshua’s unusual request of God the Israelites began to be aware that the sun was still in a noon-time position!
As the afternoon wore on while Israel kept up the bloody pursuit, it was noted with increasing awe that the sun still had not moved. In fact, it stayed in the middle of the sky for so long that daylight was extended by about twelve hours (v. 13)!
Did God actually stop the Earth from rotating for twelve hours? We are not told. With God all things are possible. If this planet suddenly ceased turning, God must have performed a whole series of tremendous miracles to keep everything in place on the surface of the Earth (which is turning at a speed of one thousand miles an hour at the equator) from being destroyed. There was never another day like this one. Many religious leaders have argued that time was lost at the battle near Gibeon, and that as a result the Sabbath was moved from Saturday to Sunday. Not so, that day did not become another day – it was merely an extra long day of 36 hours.
The lengthened day was a reason for wonderment and fear among both Israelites and Canaanites. Even Joshua was awed by what happened. God honored an outstanding prayer in an outstanding way because He was fighting Israel’s battles (v. 14).
Even so, Joshua was concerned about conquering all the enemy troops, many thousands of whom were well ahead of the Israelites. It appeared that they would escape while Israel was being delayed in sending out small groups in every direction to overtake enemy soldiers who had fled to the sides on retreat paths to the south.
Then came another miracle from God. The sky grew increasingly darker. Lightning flashed above the Canaanite retreaters. Ear-splitting thunder reverberated between the mountains and through the deep ravines. From the black clouds came a strange, hissing sound. The fleeing Canaanites looked up in inquisitive terror, and it was then that the power of God descended from the sky on them with deadly force!
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.