At the camp of Gilgal a strange company of ambassadors arrived. Professedly and apparently the travelers came from afar. For the sacks upon their asses were old, their wine bottles old and rent and bound up, their shoes clouted upon their feet. The garments upon them were old, and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. According to their account, the land of their abode lay far beyond the borders of Palestine, where their fellow countrymen had heard the fame of Jehovah, the God of Israel and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were beyond Jordan. Attracted by the name of Jehovah, they came to make a league with Israel. Joshua allowed himself to be deceived and made a league with them, which was ratified by an oath. But the deception was soon discovered. After three days the Israelites heard that the strange visitors were Hittites and thus belonged to a people who dwelt nearby and whose cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjathjearim. Yet, because of the oath which the princes of the people had sworn them, their lives were spared. But, as a punishment for their falsehood, they were made wood choppers and water carriers for the congregation and the altar of Jehovah. As the case of the Gibeonites has already been fully dealt with in a previous article, we pass on, without further comment, to the great victory at Gibeon over the five Canaanite kings.
The capture and destruction of Jericho and Ai, and the surrender of the Gibeonites made terrifying news to the kings of Southern Canaan. For it is stated concerning Gibeon that it was a great city, “like one of the cities of the kingdom,” that is, perhaps, like one of the cities in which a king dwelt. They who have explored this region tell us that these Hittite towns, of which Gibeon was the chief, commanded the summit of the great passes to the coast and to the south. If so, the possession of these cities threw the whole south of Canaan upon to the incursions of the Israelites. Mindful of this, the chieftains of this region were furious with the Gibeonites, especially so Adonizedec the king of Jerusalem whose city lay within easy reach of Gibeon. It was he, therefore, who exhorted the other kings—Hoham, king of Hebron, (about seven hours south of Jerusalem); Piram, king of Jarmuth, (about three hours to the southwest of Jerusalem); Japhia, king of Lachish, and Debir, king of Eglon, to the southwest of Hebron,—to come to him and help him smite Gibeon. Under the leadership of Adonizedek these kings went up they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon to make war against it. The purpose was to root out treason in their own camp, and further to recapture the city and thereby neutralize the grave danger to which the surrender of these Hittites had exposed them. The Gibeonites, outnumbered perhaps, sent to Joshua and implored immediate help. How they feared the wrath of their countrymen is evident from the urgency of their appeal: “Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us: for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered against us.” That same night Joshua marched to their relief from Gilgal, “he, and all the people of war with him, that is, all the mighty men of valour.” With their spirits strengthened and sustained by the word of encouragement that the Lord gave Joshua: “Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee,” the host went up all night and suddenly stood before them in the morning. They fled before Israel, the Lord’s host. The latter smote them in a great defeat at Gibeon and chased them northwestward on the way to the ascent of Bethhoron and in a southwesterly direction even unto Azekah and Makkedah. This was the Lord’s work. The sacred narrator, as is his custom, makes a point of this: “And the Lord discomfited them before Israel. . . .” By what means is not stated. Inwe are told that, at Samuel’s prayer, the Lord thundered upon the Philistines, and discomfited them. The Lord may have thundered upon the Canaanites at Gibeon, and thus fought for His people out of the cloud. Assuredly, He did this very thing. As they fled from Israel, He cast down great stones (hail) from heaven upon them unto Azekah. More were killed by the hailstones than the children of Israel slew with the sword. The Lord first may have terrified them by thundering upon them from the oncoming storm cloud. During their flight the storm broke upon them in full fury; hailstones fell on them of such a size that more died from these than were slain by the sword.
But the work was but half done and the day was far spent. The enemy might still escape before being completely crushed. Then there formed in Joshua’s soul the passionate desire that the day might be prolonged “until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.” The desire crystallized into a prayer of faith,—which is quoted in the sacred text from the “Book of Jasher,”—or “Book of the Pious.”
“Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day. . . . and he said in the sight of Israel, sun, stand still upon Gibeon; and moon, in the valley of Ajalon.”
(to be continued)