Sunday, March 13, 2011

JOSHUA: Chapter 9

Chapter 9
Summary:The kings west of the Jordan River heard of Joshua's conquests (the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites) and banded themselves together, forming an alliance to battle together against Joshua and the Israelites.

However, when the Gibeonites heard about the massacres at Jericho and Ai, they devised a plan to disguise themselves as ambassadors from a far away land, carrying old worn sacks upon their donkeys, weathered and repaired wine bottles, worn-out shoes upon their feet, tattered clothes, and they made sure that the food they carried with them was dry and moldy. They approached Joshua at his campsite in Gilgal, telling him that they were from a far away country, and asked Joshua to make a treaty with them.

The Israelites asked the Hivites how could they be sure that they didn't live close by and therefore why should they make a treaty with them. They answered to Joshua that they were his servants. Joshua asked them who they were and where they came from, to which they replied that they had come from a far away country to be servants to the Israelites, stating that they had heard of God's fame, and all that he did in Egypt, in addition to what he did to King Sihon and to King Og. They said, "Our leaders and the people of our country told us to stock up with provisions for our long journey to meet you, and tell you that we are your servants and would like to make peace with you. This bread we took with us was fresh from our houses on the day we began our journey, but it has now become dry and moldy; these bottles of wine which we filled were new, and now are beginning to crack; and our clothes and shoes have become worn after our long journey."

The Israelites inspected their provisions, but didn't consult God about them, so Joshua made peace with them, allowing them to live, and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to uphold their treaty.

Three days later, however, the Israelites discovered that the people they had just sworn an oath to instead lived amongst them. The Israelites on a journey, discovered on the third day the cities of Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjathjearim. However, the Israelites didn't massacre them since the leaders of the congregation had sworn to uphold peace with them by in the name of the God of Israel.

The Israelites voiced their displeasure towards their leaders, but the leaders replied, "We have sworn to them by the Lord God of Israel, therefore we may not touch them. We will let them live due to the oath we swore, however, let them fetch our lumber and draw water for the congregation."

Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said to them, "Why did you deceive us, telling us that you were from a far away land when instead you dwell among us? Therefore we shall curse you, and none of you shall be free from being our slaves, cutting our wood and drawing our water for the house of my God."

The Gibeonites answered Joshua, saying, "Your servants were told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you this land and to destroy its inhabitants from before you. We feared for our lives because of you, and we are now in your hands. Do whatever you see as good and right for you to do to us."

And so Joshua prevented the Israelites from slaughtering them, and instead made them permanent slaves, cutting wood and drawing water for the congregation, and for God's altar in the place where he would choose.
Thoughts:When you hear biblical apologists try and justify horrific genocides such as those we've covered in previous chapters (Jericho and Ai, in addition to the slaughter of the Midianites, in which Moses ordered the non-combatant women and children to be slaughtered - except for the virgin girls, which the soldiers could "keep for themselves") an oft repeated rationalization is that genocide is somehow a better fate than slavery. After discussing Numbers: Chapter 31 which details the slaughter of the Midianites, we heard this exact apologetic used to defend the chapter by (that I also gave a detailed rebuttal to):
"Complaining about Jehovah’s order to destroy innocent children is a vain gesture when one realizes that the children were spared an even worse fate of being reared as slaves under the domination of sin."
The flaw in this apologetic is that it makes assumptions on behalf of the people faced with either a violent death or a life of enslavement. While the apologist might attempt to explain away that it boils down to a matter of "historical context", explaining away that people in the days of Moses's and Joshua's lifetimes would rather opt for the dignity of death than the indignity of slavery, the Gibeonites from this chapter dispel the likelihood of that notion.

The Gibeonites in this chapter clearly demonstrate that they value their self preservation more than they do their freedom. It's arrogant to claim that slavery is a worse fate than death when you're not the one facing such options, and that in light of the "historical context" excuse, there are those who have clearly demonstrated that they're willing to face any punishment, including slavery, to preserve their lives:
9:23 "Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God."
9:24-25 "And they answered Joshua, and said...And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do."
It's interesting to point out the parallels between the stories of Rahab the harlot to the Gibeonites and how drastically they're intended to be perceived.
  • God expressly forbids the Israelites from making any covenant with nor are they show any mercy towards the inhabitants of the "promised land" - a commandment that the Israelites violate in both cases toward Rahab and toward the Gibeonites.
  • Both Rahab and the Gibeonites have heard of and believe the tales of God's covenant with Moses
  • Both Rahab and the Gibeonites were motivated by self preservation. Rahab begged for the lives of her family to be spared, while the Gibeonites resigned themselves to their entire tribe becoming enslaved.
  • Both Rahab and the Gibeonites used deception in order to procure their self preservation.
  • The sparing of both Rahab and the Gibeonites against God's commandments served to benefit the Israelites. The sparing of Rahab and her family was a "reward" for betraying her own people and covering the tracks of the two spies Joshua sent to her city, and the sparing of the Gibeonites provided the Israelites with slave labor.
Although the Gibeonites trick the Israelites into sparing their lives by swearing to uphold a treaty under false pretenses, the chapter briefly mentions but fails to address why, Joshua didn't consult God to see through the ruse. It also doesn't address any culpability on behalf of Joshua, or the Israelites as a whole, for their failure to do so.

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