Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. These things. The solemn covenant by which the Israelites took possession of Chanaan, (Haydock) and the destruction of the two cities of Jericho and Hai. (Calmet) — The kings on that side of the Jordan, and in all the neighbourhood, perceiving that, if the Israelites were suffered to attack them singly, in this manner, they would all presently lose their dominions and their lives. They resolved, therefore, to form a general league, offensive and defensive. (Haydock) — Beyond. Hebrew, “on the side of.” — Mountains, on the south of Judea. — Sea. All the nations of Phœnicia, and the country of the Philistines, (Calmet) who had seized a part of the country, which belonged to the Israelites. Josue divided their territory among the people, though he did not live to make the conquest of it. (Haydock) — Libanus. Hebrew, “and in all the coasts of the great sea, over-against Libanus,” as if the Phœnicians were alone meant. (Calmet)
Ver. 4. Provisions. By the alteration of a single letter, Hebrew means, “they feigned themselves to be ambassadors.” But the Chaldean, Syriac, and Septuagint agree with the Vulgate. (Calmet) — The Gabaonites were Hevites, though they are called by the more general name of Amorrhites, 2 Kings xxi. 2. St. Jerome says that their city stood in the tribe of Benjamin; according to Josephus, 40 or 50 stadia north of Jerusalem. (Menochius) — They alone had the prudence to submit, (Calmet) being terrified and converted by the miracles of God. (Haydock) — Again. In the East, goat skins with the hair inwards, are used to carry wine.
Ver. 5. Patches. Hebrew, “spotted,” or of different colours, like shoes worn out and spoiled with dirt. — Pieces. Hebrew, is translated, “dry, burnt, eaten, mouldy,” &c. But it means fine thin bread, or wafers, (3 Kings xiv. 3,) full of holes. The Israelites partook of this bread, which they would hardly have done if it had been mouldy. (Calmet)
Ver. 7. You. The Gabaonites addressed themselves to the first whom they met in the camp; and these made this remark to them before they were brought into the presence of Josue. The Israelites could make no league with the Chanaanites, as with equals, but only on condition that the latter should embrace the true religion, and acknowledge the dominion of the former. (Grotius) (Exodus xxiii. 32., and Deuteronomy vii. 2.)
Ver. 8. Servants. They did not mean to submit to servitude, but to make a league; otherwise they would not have needed to have recourse to such artifices. (Calmet) — But finding that no other terms could be procured, they were willing, at any rate, to save their lives. (Haydock)
Ver. 9. God. So the queen Saba came to Solomon, 3 Kings x. The people of Gabaon being convinced that the God of Israel was the only true God, came to join themselves to his people, and to worship him. (Serarius)
Ver. 10. Astaroth. They take care not to mention what had happened so recently at Jericho, lest they might be detected. (Calmet)
Ver. 13. And almost. This is added by way of farther explanation of the Hebrew, “are become old.” (Haydock)
Ver. 14. Victuals, to examine whether they were as old as they pretended; or they eat of them in sign of friendship. (Menochius) — Thus we find a feast generally accompanied the making of a league, Genesis xxvi. 30., and xxxi. 54. To betray a guest was deemed a heinous injury, Psalm liv. 15. (Euripides) — Lord. By the high priest, clothed with the Urim and Thummim. (Calmet) — This remark shews that the Israelites had been guilty of some negligence. (Haydock) — Hence they were so easily deceived, being perhaps overjoyed that their friendship should be courted by so distant a nation. (Menochius) — The high priest was ordered to consult the Lord for Josue, at the door of the tabernacle, Exodus xxix. 42., and Numbers xxvii. 21. (Worthington)
Ver 15. Them. Were they bound to keep this promise? Some maintain the negative, as it was obtained by fraud, and therefore the Gabaonites leave themselves to the mercy of Josue, (ver. 25,) who condemns them to perpetual servitude in the house of the Lord. He could not, however, have taken away their lives after what had passed. The error was not essential, but the people might have obtained the same conditions, if they had frankly told the truth. If we make a contract with a person who pretends to be of a nation to which he does not belong, the contract will hold good. The deceit of the Gabaonites was punished as it deserved. But God required that the conditions which were granted to them, should be diligently observed; and the family of Saul was severely punished, because he had slain some of them, 3 Kings xxi. If the rest of the Chanaanites had changed their religion, and submitted to the Israelites, they might have been preserved, as Rahab, and so many others were, with whom the pious kings scrupled not to form alliances, chap. xi. 19., and Deuteronomy xx. 10, &c. (Masius; Bonfrere; Calmet) — They were, however, obliged to yield possession of the land to the Israelites, and to renounce idolatry. The Gabaonites were willing to accede to these conditions, and therefore Josue might justly make a peace with them. (Menochius)
Ver. 16. Now. The five kings coming to attack the Gabaonites, these were forced to confess the truth, and to implore the assistance of the Israelites; (Calmet) or perhaps Rahab had given information who they really were. (Menochius) — Josue flew to their assistance in the night, and arrived the day following, chap. x. 9.
Ver. 18. Israel. This is one reason why their lives were spared. But we have seen that they could not, with justice, have treated them as enemies, on their submitting to the conditions required, even if they had not engaged themselves by oath. The Gabaonites knew with what respect oaths were then kept by the Hebrews, even when they might have some specious pretext for dispensing themselves from their obligation. “People had not yet begun to neglect God, as they do in the present age; nor did they allow themselves the liberty of interpreting an oath, and accommodating the laws to their own humour, but they rather regulated their morals by their prescription.” Nondum hæc quæ nunc tenet sæculum, negligentia Dei venerat, &c. (Livy iii.)
Ver. 21. Multitude. The common people, only considering their own private advantage, murmured at the conduct of their leaders, as they supposed that they were thus deprived of the plunder (Calmet) of many cities, and engaged in a dangerous war, with the five confederate kings. But this war was in no degree detrimental to them, as they knew they had to subdue the whole country; and as for the Gabaonites, they eased the people of Israel of a great burden, by doing the drudgery of the tabernacle, which otherwise must have fallen upon them. (Haydock) — These people were dispersed through the country, particularly in the cities of the priests and Levites, whose servants they were forced to be. Gabaon was allotted to the priests. In latter ages, many of these poor people being slain by Saul, &c., David was obliged to select some others, called Nathineans, or “people given,” to supply their place, (Calmet) unless these were all the remnants of the Gabaonites. (Menochius) — Josephus (Jewish Wars ii. 17,) speaks of the feast of Xylophoria, or “wood carrying,” for the uses of the temple; and we read, (2 Esdras x. 34,) that lots were cast among the priests and the Levites, and the people, for the offering of wood, &c., which seems to insinuate that the ancient institution was then altered. Many authors speak of a fountain which furnished the temple with water, after the captivity, so that the service of the Gabaonites was not much wanted. We find no mention of them after that time.
Ver. 23. Curse. Hebrew, “you are cursed, and there shall be none of you freed from being bondmen;” (Haydock) you are a part of those nations which are under an anathema, and you deserve to be severely punished. (Calmet) — But we shall fulfil our engagements with you, only in punishment for your craftiness: (Haydock) you must submit to change your religion, (Calmet) which will be your greatest blessing, (Haydock) and to perform the meanest offices, which may be considered as a sort of curse. It is thought that some recompense was allowed the Gabaonites for their labour. (Serarius, q. 17.) — This sentence was probably pronounced at Galgal, (Calmet) though we might as well conclude that Josue would wait till he came to Gabaon, before he arraigned the people, as no doubt they would make the best of their way out of the camp, as soon as they had obtained their request. (Haydock) — Water. Slaves of the meanest condition were employed in these offices, Deuteronomy xxix. 11. (Athen. x. 22.)
Ver. 24. Thereof. It seems they know not that any conditions would be admitted; and many interpreters have supposed, that none could be offered by the Israelites. See Deuteronomy xx. 15.
Ver. 25. Thee. They acknowledge not only that Josue is too strong for them, but also that he has a right to punish them for their deceit. They accept, therefore, of whatever terms he is pleased to allow them. (Calmet)
Ver. 27. Chosen in the tabernacle and temple. (Menochius) — In these Gabaonites, of the race of Chanaan, the prediction of Noe, that he should serve Sem, was fulfilled, Genesis ix. (Worthington)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Josue is deceived by the Gabaonites; who, being detected, are condemned to be perpetual servants.
1 Now *when these things were heard of, all the kings beyond the Jordan, that dwelt in the mountains, and in the plains, in the places near the sea, and on the coasts of the great sea, they also that dwelt by Libanus, the Hethite, and the Amorrhite, the Chanaanite, the Pherezite, and the Hevite, and the Jebusite,
2 Gathered themselves together, to fight against Josue and Israel, with one mind, and one resolution.
3 But they that dwelt in Gabaon, hearing all that Josue had done to Jericho and Hai:
4 Cunningly devising, took for themselves provisions, laying old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles rent and sewed up again,
5 And very old shoes, which for a shew of age were clouted with patches, and old garments upon them: the loaves also, which they carried for provision by the way, were hard, and broken into pieces:
6 And they went to Josue, who then abode in the camp at Galgal, and said to him, and to all Israel with him: We are come from a far country, desiring to make peace with you. And the children of Israel answered them, and said:
7 Perhaps you dwell in the land which falls to our lot; if so, we can make no league with you.
8 But they said to Josue: We are thy servants. Josue said to them: Who are you? and whence came you?
9 They answered: From a very far country thy servants are come, in the name of the Lord thy God. For we have heard the fame of his power, all the things that he did in Egypt.
10 *And to the two kings of the Amorrhites, that were beyond the Jordan, Sehon, king of Hesebon, and Og, king of Basan, that was in Astaroth:
11 And our ancients, and all the inhabitants of our country, said to us: Take with you victuals for a long way, and go meet them, and say: We are your servants, make ye a league with us.
12 Behold, these loaves we took hot, when we set out from our houses to come to you, now they are become dry, and broken in pieces by being exceeding old.
13 These bottles of wine when we filled them were new, now they are rent and burst. These garments we have on, and the shoes we have on our feet, by reason of the very long journey are worn out, and almost consumed.
14 They took therefore of their victuals, and consulted not the mouth of the Lord.
15 *And Josue made peace with them, and entering into a league, promised that they should not be slain: the princes also of the multitude swore to them.
16 Now three days after the league was made, they heard that they dwelt nigh, and they should be among them.
17 And the children of Israel removed the camp, and came into their cities on the third day, the names of which are Gabaon, and Caphira, and Beroth, and Cariathiarim.
18 And they slew them not, because the princes of the multitude had sworn in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. Then all the common people murmured against the princes.
19 And they answered them: We have sworn to them in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, and therefore we may not touch them.
20 But this we will do to them: Let their lives be saved, lest the wrath of the Lord be stirred up against us, if we should be forsworn:
21 But so let them live, as to serve the whole multitude in hewing wood, and bringing in water. As they were speaking these things,
22 Josue called the Gabaonites and said to them: Why would you impose upon us, saying: We dwell very far off from you, whereas you are in the midst of us?
23 Therefore you shall be under a curse, and your race shall always be hewers of wood, and carriers of water, into the house of my God.
24 They answered: It was told us, thy servants, that the Lord thy God had promised his servant Moses, to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants thereof. Therefore we feared exceedingly, and provided for our lives. compelled by the dread we had of you, and we took this counsel.
25 And now we are in thy hand: deal with us as it seemeth good and right unto thee.
26 So Josue did as he had said, and delivered them from the hand of the children of Israel, that they should not be slain.
27 And he gave orders in that day, that they should be in the service of all the people, and of the altar of the Lord, hewing wood, and carrying water, until this present time, in the place which the Lord hath chosen.
1: Year of the World 2553, Year before Christ 1451.
10: Numbers xxi. 13.
15: 2 Kings xxi. 2.