Joshua 9: Lessons From the Gibeonites and the Jews on the Dangers of Walking By Sight

Seek God’s guidance through prayer with every major decision in your life1

Introduction. Joshua chapter 9 tells the story of how the people of Gibeon used various forms of deceit to trick the Jews into forming a treaty with them. The Jews made the sin of presumption that they could discern right from wrong based only upon what they could see and hear. To walk by faith, the Jews should have consulted God in prayer to test what they observed. From this account, God reveals several important lessons on the dangers of walking by sight and not faith.

First, walking by sight may lead to mistakes that will embolden your enemies. The initial defeat of the Jews at Ai caused many of the Jews’ enemies to become emboldened into forming a military alliance against them. Their defeat was caused by their failure of one man, Achan, to walk by faith. He walked by sight and stole what God had prohibited within the ruins of Jericho. As a result of his actions, what might have been a quick campaign to defeat the Canaanites instead became a long drawn out set of battles. Second, from the deceit of the Gibeonites using old bread, old wine skins, and haggard clothes, God reveals that Satan will use false appearances to deceive you as well when you fail to walk by faith. Third, through the Gibeonites’ appeals to God’s power, He also reveals that Satan will use false flattery to deceive you when you are walking by sight. Fourth, from Joshua’s failure to consult God before making a peace treaty with the Gibeonites, He reveals that you must always consult Him. If you fail to consult Him through His Word and the Holy Spirit, you may also be deceived by what you see and hear. Fifth, from the grumbling of the Jews about the elders’ failure to catch the deceit, He reveals that walking by sight will also cause divisions within the body of Christ. Sixth, the Gibeonites were punished with hard manual labor for their deceit. They were also spiritually blind. Yet, their punishment later led to their transformation. From this, God reveals that to regain spiritual sight you must also humble yourself and be a servant to others. Finally, from Joshua’s curse upon the Gibeonites, He also reveals that you may be cursed with sorrow when you live by sight and not by faith. Yet, even when you make a mistake and walk by sight, God can always restore you. The Gibeonites later lived by faith, and God protected them from further attacks.

1 Walking By Your Own Understanding May Strengthen Your Enemies. Josh. 9:1-2.

  • The enemies of Israel conspired together following their defeat at Ai. Following the Jews’ initial defeat at Ai, the Canaanites no longer believed that the Jews were invincible. Thus, the remaining nations within Canaan formed a military alliance against the Jews: “1 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, 2 that they gathered themselves together with one accord to fight with Joshua and with Israel.” (Josh. 9:1-2). Until the Jews’ initial defeat at Ai, the Canaanites were filled with fear. They knew about God’s past miracles (Josh. 2:9; 9:1). Until the Jews’ initial defeat, the Canaanites believed that their best defense was to stay locked up in their cities, just like the people of Jericho. But that all changed when Achan’s sin caused the Jews to lose their first battle for Ai. The Canaanites, however, ultimately failed because God had promised to destroy them: “For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them.” (Ex. 23:23; Josh. 3:10). Later, God did just as He promised (Josh. 23:9). The lesson for believers is that walking by sight may cause you to make mistakes that will embolden your enemies. This includes both your physical adversaries and the adversaries in the spiritual world who seek to pull you off your walk.

  • The nations will always conspire against God’s people. Just like the nations in Canaan, God warned that nations would always conspire against His people in Israel: “They make shrewd plans against Your people, and conspire together against Your treasured ones. . . . They have said, ‘Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, ‘that the name of Israel be remembered no more.’” (Ps. 83:3-4). But He has also warned that He will curse those nations that stand against Israel and bless those who support it (Gen. 12:13). As Jesus’ ministry grew, the Jewish and Roman leaders both conspired against Him as well. The nations will again conspire against Him during the end times. Yet, those who stand with Him will be blessed. Jesus, however, warns that you too will also face persecution and turmoil when you stand with Him: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (Jo. 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Cor. 6:4). When you take refuge in Him, He will be your hedge of protection (Prov. 30:5; 2 Sam 22:31). Also, when you are obedient and walk by faith, your enemies will either respect or fear you as well: “But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:7-8; Ex. 23:22; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17; Gen. 22:17). “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7). When others conspire against you, are you taking refuge in Jesus?

2. Many Who Walk By Sight Will Be Deceived Through False Appearances. Josh. 9:3-6.

  • The Gibeonites’ deceit through false appearance. While the other nations of Canaan conspired to defeat the Jews in battle, the people of Gibeon decided that it would be better for them to trick the Jews: “3 When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4 they also acted craftily 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. 6 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.’” (Josh. 9:3-6). The Jews had just come from a spiritual high. At Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, they had just reaffirmed their covenant with God (Josh. 8:33-35; Dt. 11:29; 27:11-14). After their defeat of the armies of Jericho and Ai, they likely listened to all the blessings available under the Law and believed that they had inherited them all. By focusing on themselves, they let their guard down. Because the Jews were walking by what they could see and not by faith, they were tricked by the Gibeonites’ false appearances.

The Gibeonites used false appearances to deceive the Jews2

The Gibeonites made themselves look like haggard refugees3

  • Don’t rely solely upon your senses. Although the Gibeonites would one day serve God as the Jews’ servants, they were not yet walking with Him. Jesus later commented upon their form of deceit to reveal that a believer does not keep the old wineskins of the flesh when he or she is filled with the Holy Spirit: “Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matt. 9:17). Appearances can be deceiving. A person may seem attractive on the outside. Yet, inwardly, they might be filled with dark and selfish desires. Jesus spoke in parables because most are spiritually blind and need to think hard about His Word: “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matt. 13:13). “Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.” (Dt. 29:4; Is. 42:19-20; Jer. 5:21). “Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezek. 12:2). He also warns that, in the end times, even the elect will be deceived when they see demonic powers displayed before them (Matt. 24:24). He further warns that the willfully disobedient will be given a spirit of “stupor” when they embrace the darkness (Ro. 11:8). Because we are easily deceived, Jesus warns believers to test all things (1 Thess. 5:21). You should never rely solely upon your own understanding: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” (Prov. 3:5-7). The Bereans were later commended because they searched the Scriptures to test everything that they heard from Paul (Acts 17:11). Are you testing what seems right against the Word and the Spirit?

3. Many Who Walk By Sight Will Be Deceived Through Flattery. Josh. 9:7-10.

  • The Gibeonites’ deceit through flattery. In addition to trying to deceive the Jews through false appearances, the Gibeonites tried to deceive the Jews through flattery and false piety: “ 7 The men of Israel said to the Hivites, ‘Perhaps you are living within our land; how then shall we make a covenant with you?’ 8 But they said to Joshua, ‘We are your servants.’ Then Joshua said to them, ‘Who are you and where do you come from?’ 9 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.” (Josh. 9:7-10). God had previously commanded the Jews not to make any covenants or treaties with the people of Canaan (Ex. 23:32; Dt. 7:2). They could only make treaties with foreign nations (Dt. 20:10-15). The Gibeonites obviously had spies within Israel to know their laws well enough to come up with a plan that would trick the Jews. By contrast, the Jews failed to study the people of Canaan. Had they done so, they would have known that the Gibeonites lived only 19 miles from the Jews’ staging area of Gilgal (Marten Woudrsta, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, the Book of Joshua (William Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 1981), p. 161). Because the Jews were walking by what they could see and not by faith, they were also tricked by flattery and false piety. To avoid similar mistakes, Paul declares: “for we walk by faith, not by sight-” (2 Cor. 5:7). Faith comes does not from hearing flattering words about yourself, but instead the Word of Christ: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Ro. 10:17). How much time are you spending in the Word to develop your spiritual sight?

  • Know yourself and your enemy. The Gibeonites studied the Jews and knew what to say to deceive them. Your spiritual enemy is also constantly probing you for your weaknesses. Unless you know your own limitations in your faith and the enemy’s forms of deceit, he may also deceive you and cause you to stumble in your walk. Do you know the areas well enough where your flesh is weak to avoid the devil’s temptations?

  • The differences between the confessions of faith of Rahab and the Gibeonites. Many commentators have argued that Rahab and the Gibeonites are similar. Both were gentiles who made confessions of faith in God’s power. Both were sinners who were spared the death sentence that God had ordered for the other people of Canaan. Both also gave up their prior associations to live amongst God’s people. The Gibeonites also became the target for attack because of their association with Israel (Josh. 10:4). Both also used deceit. But there were important differences between the two. Rahab deceived the troops of Jericho to protect Joshua’s spies. She risked her own life with no guarantee that it would make a difference. If she were caught, she would have faced the death penalty. By contrast, the Gibeonites used deceit to fool God’s people in order to protect themselves. Although they recognized God’s supremacy, they were still spiritually blind. They further appealed to the Jews’ blindness by stroking their egos: “Furthermore, such a confession would tempt the Israelites to flatter themselves as invincible and thereby to set aside caution in the negotiations that followed.” (Richard Hess, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Inter-varsity Press 1996) p. 180). Thus, because the two confessions of faith were different, each was treated differently. Rahab was deemed a virtuous woman and became part of Israel. She even became part of the line that gave birth to the Messiah (Matt. 1:5). By contrast, the Gibeonites were cursed for their actions. The Gibeonites might be considered the equivalent of a carnal Christian. By their faith, they were saved. Yet, because of their deceit, they missed out on all of God’s blessings. Is there any deceit in your life? Are you living a carnal life?

4. Unless You Regularly Consult God, You May Be Deceived by the Flesh. Josh. 9:11-15.

  • Joshua’s peace treaty with the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites’ deceitful appearances were enough to trick Joshua and the elders. Because Joshua failed to consult the Lord, he was tricked into signing a peace treaty with the Gibeonites: “11 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.’ 12 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. 13 These wineskins which we filled were new, and behold, they are torn; and these our clothes and our sandals are worn out because of the very long journey.’ 14 So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the Lord. 15 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.” (Josh. 9:11-15). When God told Moses to appoint Joshua as his successor, He commanded Joshua to regularly consult with him through a stone called Urim, which the High Priest maintained: “Moreover, he [Joshua] shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD. At his command they shall go out and at his command they shall come in, both he and the sons of Israel with him, even all the congregation.” (Nu. 27:21). The other stone that was kept above the heart of the High Priest was called “Thummim.” (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8). Working together in prayer, God would confirm His will to both Joshua and Eleazar, the High Priest.

The Gibeonites deceived Joshua with their appearances4

Joshua forms a treaty with the Gibeonites without consulting God5

  • Consult the Holy Spirit through the Word and prayer in all major decisions. Believers are also warned against the sin of presumption (Jam. 4:13-17). “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12). Today, Jesus has left you with His Word to guide your feet: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23). “I know, O LORD, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23). He has also left you the Holy Spirit to apply His Word: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;” (Jo. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Ro. 8:26). He will also guide you in prayer when you seek wisdom: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Ja. 1:5.) Are you seeking His guidance through the Word and prayer?

5. Many Who Walk By Sight Will Cause Divisions in the Body of Christ. Josh. 9:16-18.

  • The grumbling against the Jewish leaders for being deceived. Once the Jews discovered that their leaders had been deceived, they grumbled against them for their sins: “16 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. 17 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. 18 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.” (Josh. 9:16-18). The Jews grumbled because the Gibeonites’ land was part of their inheritance in the Promised Land. Because of the leaders’ sin of presumption, some tribes would be forced to make do with less. This account shows that there are consequences to walking by sight and not by faith. Among other things, leaders who walk by sight can cause divisions in the Church.

  • Failing to walk by faith can also lead a church astray. When a church fails to walk by faith, it can be carried away by false doctrines and see its body divided: “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.” (Heb. 13:9). “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” (Eph. 4:14). Walking by sight includes embracing “the doctrines of men” over the Word (Is. 29:13; Matt. 15:9). When the Church adopts world views to become seeker friendly and so as not to offend, it walks by sight and is likely to be misled. This in turn will cause grumblings and divisions in the body.

6. To Learn to Walk by Faith, You Must Also Humble Yourself. Josh. 9:19-21.

  • The Gibeonites’ lessons from a lowly servitude. The leaders knew that they could not break their vow before God to spare the Gibeonites. But they made sure that that the Gibeonites paid for their deceit by forcing them to live a life of hard labor for the Jews: “19 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, so that wrath will not be upon us for the oath which we swore to them.’ 21 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.” (Josh. 9:19-21). Being a wood cutter and a water carrier was the most menial service available. Under the Law, these were tasks frequently given to aliens living within the Promised Land. “ . . . and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, . . .” (Dt. 29:11). As servants, they worked within God’s outer courtyard of the Tabernacle before the Jews built the Temple in Jerusalem. They did the tasks that no one wanted to do. But they were still blessed to work within His court as servants: “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Ps. 84:10). Thus, they did not complain about their punishment. One commentator asks: “Do we have the same heart? Can we rejoice in any kind of service, if we see we are in the presence of the LORD as we do it?” (David Guzik on Joshua 9).6

  • Follow Jesus’ example by living as a lowly servant to others. Like the Gibeonites, Jesus lived as a lowly wood cutter. He was the son of a carpenter (Mk. 6:3). Although He was God, He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:7). As an example to all believers, He came to serve and not to be served: “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45). He did not even have a home or a bed to sleep in (Matt. 8:20). “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9). In addition to hearing and obeying His Word, He showed that another part of walking by faith is to walk in humility as a servant to others. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mi. 6:8). Have you followed Jesus' example to live as a humble servant for others in need?

7. Many Who Walk By Sight and Not Faith Will be Cursed. Josh. 9:22-27.

  • The life of destitution imposed upon the Gibeonites. In addition to a life of hard labor, Joshua cursed them for their deceit: “22 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? 23 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.’ 24 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. 25 Now behold, we are in your hands; do as it seems good and right in your sight to do to us.’ 26 Thus he did to them, and delivered them from the hands of the sons of Israel, and they did not kill them. 27 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.” (Josh. 9:22-27). The Jews no doubt believed that the Gibeonites got off easy with their curse. It is easy to imagine the outrage that the Jews must have felt over Gibeonites’ use of God’s name to commit a fraud against them. But the Jews had done the exact same thing almost 400 years earlier. After the rape of Dinah, Simeon and Levi misused God’s holy name to trick the people of Shechem into being circumcised in order to atone for their sins and join together with God’s people. While the men recovered from their wounds, Simeon, Levi and possibly others killed the entire village (Gen 34:15-27). Thus, the Jews were no more deserving of God’s mercy and grace.

Joshua punished the Gibeonites for their deceit7

  • Your salvation does not save you from the consequences of deceit. Without the blood of Christ, deceit is grounds alone to bar a person from heaven: “He who practices deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who speaks falsehood shall not maintain his position before me.” (Rev. 21:8; Ps. 101:7; Prov. 19:9). A person who practices deceit also does “not serve our Lord Christ . . .” (Ro. 16:18). “Deceit” is further one of the things that Jesus warns will defile a person (Mk. 7:20-23). Although deceit will not cause you to lose your eternal salvation, there are still consequences when you practice deceit. Solomon warns: “Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.” (Prov. 20:17). Jeremiah also warns that “the heart is deceitful above all things, . . .” (Jer. 17:9). Thus, you cannot walk with God based solely upon your heart’s desire. David invited God to reveal the hidden deceit is his heart (Ps. 139:23). Are you inviting God to search your heart to reveal any hidden sins or deceit?

  • God blessed the Gibeonites after they used their second chance to serve Him. Many generations later, Saul sought to break the Jews’ covenant to protect the Gibeonites. Yet, because the Gibeonites became faithful servants for God, He later cursed Israel with a draught when Saul broke the vow of his forefathers: “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the LORD. And the LORD said, ‘It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.’ So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the sons of Israel made a covenant with them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah).” (2 Sam. 21:1-2). Although the Gibeonites made an oath under false pretenses (which is normally grounds to rescind a contract), the oath was still binding in God’s eyes because the Gibeonites also renounced their idolatry: “Had the oath been in itself unlawful, it would not have been binding; for no obligation can render it our duty to commit a sin. But it was not unlawful to spare the Canaanites who submitted, and left idolatry, desiring only that their lives might be spared.” (Matthew Henry on Joshua 9). The Gibeonites grew to become reliable servants of the Lord. Gibeon became a priestly city, and the Ark was kept there for a period of time (1 Chr. 16:39-40; 21:29). God also spoke to Solomon at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4). One of David’s trusted men was also a Gibeonite (1 Chr. 12:4). Moreover, the Gibeonites later helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership (Neh. 3:7; 7:25). They later became known as the “Nethinims” and even replaced the Levites in the temple services (Ezra 2:43; 8:20). Their new name symbolized that they were a new creation. When the Jews later turned to idolatry, they remained faithful. Like the Gibeonites, you also have been given a second chance from your life of sin (2 Cor. 5:17). Have you used your second chance to walk by faith and to glorify God?