Joshua 9:18: The Keeping of the Oath; the Grumbling of the People

Verse 18:[1] And the children of Israel smote them not, (Eccles. 5:2; Ps. 15:4) because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes.

[Because the princes had sworn] Eleazar μετὰ γερουσίας, with the Eldership, as Josephus says here, with Joshua as the originator, of course, verse 15, who may alone have had the right of obligating the people in such things (Grotius). It is uncertain whether Joshua was present for that deliberation, or indeed he himself approved their decisions at Gilgal, although there was a relation of the entire matter to him, and he even summoned the Gibeonites there: nevertheless, it is likely that the soldiers were not so insolently going to murmur against their Commander-in-Chief while he is present (Masius). The Hebrews would have been able here to mock to some extent; but, if I might make use of the words of Livy, History of Rome 3, that heedlessness of God, which prevails in the present age, had not yet arrived; nor did every one, by his own interpretation, accommodate the oath and laws to himself, but rather adapted his conduct to them (Grotius). Question 1: If they had not sworn, would it have been lawful to fall upon men voluntarily seeking peace and surrendering themselves? Response: This is answered in the negative, that is, if they had given up their name to God [as it was said]. But if that peace had been illicit, for example, so that they, as foreigners, with their superstitions preserved, might be able to live at hom, they would have been obliged to take back that peace, as offered contrary to the Law of God (Masius). Question 2: Whether this oath was valid, and obligated the Israelites? Response: Some deny this (thus Masius and Serarius and Tostatus and Augustine in Bonfrerius, Menochius). Their arguments are: 1. Because the oath was concerning a matter unlawful and prohibited. Response: But this was proven false in the comments on verse 15. 2. Because this condition appears to have been introduced into the covenant, if ye are foreigners. Response: Even if mention of this matter is made in verse 6, nevertheless this condition ought not to be supposed as thereby inserted into the contract, neither is any such thing indicated in the words in which the contract is reported (Bonfrerius). 3. Because there was a substantial error concerning a party (certain interpreters in Lapide). They were no more obligated to the Gibeonites, who feigned themselves to be foreigners, than if one erroneously promises that he is going to calculate for him that sold him nothing the value of the item sold (Masius). Response: They know that they were contracting with these, whom they had present, and the condition of one’s fatherland does not recoil upon the person; for example, if marriage is entered into with a woman that is present, which I think to be French, although she is actually Spanish, the marriage stands (Bonfrerius). 4. Because deceit invalidated it. Response: This deceit was not concerning the substance of the matter, but concerning the accidents. For, since they bestowed upon them their estates, and desire to embrace the true religion, they fulfill the substance of the covenant permitted by God, indeed, commanded by God. Therefore, there was no error of person here, but of a circumstance of the person, inasmuch as they were thinking that they lived at a distance, not near (Lapide). Nevertheless, these authors add that this oath, although it did not bind, was kept, either, 1. because God approved of its keeping. Thus Augustine, Masius, and Magalianus. But they do not show when or how this was done (Bonfrerius). Or, 2. so that they might demonstrate how important is the performance of the obligation of an oath, since they judge that that in which there is merely the appearance of an oath is not to be violated (Masius and Serarius in Bonfrerius). Those of old, as they swore sparingly, so they thought that they were obliged to keep their oaths in every respect. That in some respects both the Israelites and the Gibeonites judge that this oath is vicious is hence evident, that the former punish the deceit, the latter beg relief with respect to the deserved punishment. To me it appears that some such thing befell the Princes as what happened to Isaac when he was deceived by Jacob:[2] For, although the request for blessing was made both in the name and person of Esau, yet neither the fraud of the one making the request nor the error of the one blessing prevented that less auspicious supplication from being esteemed both by God and Isaac as ratified and from being valid. Evidently the soul of Isaac was led by some hidden sense of Divine approbation. Likewise also in this place God so guided the spirits of the Princes that, although perhaps unintentionally, they followed God’s plan.[3] But Divine Approbation is sufficiently evident from 2 Samuel 21:1, concerning which there has been discussion previously (Masius). Or, 3. because out of an erring conscience they thought themselves to be bound by this oath (Tostatus out of Bonfrerius). But who would believe that there was no one, not even Joshua or Eleazar, who might be able to judge concerning the obligation of the oath? or that, if they were in doubt, they would not consult God? or, how were they able to judge that there was an obligation to keep the oath, if it was against the Divine Law (Bonfrerius)? Or, 4. because, if they had broken this first covenant and oath, this would have resulted in a great scandal of the people, and in irreverence and blasphemy of God; and so to avoid these this was to be kept (Lyra). They kept the oath because they judged it to be thus expedient (certain interpreters in Bonfrerius). But the Princes assign a different reason, namely, only the obligation of the oath (Bonfrerius). Notice the we have sworn, verse 19, in the past tense;[4] therefore, they speak of the oath, not as renewed after the deceit was acknowledged, but as originally made (Lapide). Response 2: Others affirm that this oath was valid (thus Lyra, Lapide, Bonfrerius, Suarez[5] and Gratian[6] in Bonfrerius). Because the substance was lawful, as was proven in the comments on verse 15. Neither does the deceit or error hinder, as was proven (Bonfrerius).

[All the common people murmured] Eager either for spoil or for vengeance, they grumble out of a desire to invade that nation (Masius). It says, all the commons; for, although among them there are many men of better character, yet by the protests of others, like bellows, they are easily inflamed unto temerity (Masius on verse 19).

All the congregation murmured against the princes: Partly, from that proneness which is in people to censure the actions of their rulers; partly, because they might think the princes by their rashness had brought them into a snare, that they could neither kill them for fear of the oath, nor spare them for fear of God’s command to the contrary; and partly, for their desire of the possession and spoil of these cities, of which they thought themselves hereby deprived.

[1] Hebrew: וְלֹ֤א הִכּוּם֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּֽי־נִשְׁבְּע֤וּ לָהֶם֙ נְשִׂיאֵ֣י הָֽעֵדָ֔ה בַּֽיהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיִּלֹּ֥נוּ כָל־הָעֵדָ֖ה עַל־הַנְּשִׂיאִֽים׃

[2] See Genesis 27.

[3] See Proverbs 21:1.

[4] Joshua 9:19:  “But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn (נִשְׁבַּעְנוּ, in the perfect tense) unto them by the Lord God of Israel:  now therefore we may not touch them.”

[5] Francisco Suárez (1548-1617) was a Spanish Jesuit, esteemed by some as the greatest scholastic philosopher-theologian since Thomas Aquinas.  Suárez’s interests included international law, metaphysics, and theology.  In the field of international law, he was a forerunner of Grotius, who speaks of him with the highest respect.

[6] Johannes Gratian was a theologian and canon lawyer from Bologna.  He composed his Concordia discordantium canonum, commonly called Decretum Gratiani (circa 1150), to aid in the study of canon law.

Joshua 9:17: Israel’s March to Gibeon

Verse 17:[1] And the children of Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on the third day. Now their cities were (Josh. 18:25, 26, 28; Ezra 2:25) Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and Kirjath-jearim.

[On the third day] From which it was discovered that they were Canaanites (Masius). Otherwise it was distant from Gilgal only by the journey of a day and a night, as he shows in the following chapter (Masius on verse 16).

Their cities: Cities which were subject to Gibeon, which was the royal city, Joshua 10:2.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּסְע֣וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וַיָּבֹ֛אוּ אֶל־עָרֵיהֶ֖ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֑י וְעָרֵיהֶם֙ גִּבְע֣וֹן וְהַכְּפִירָ֔ה וּבְאֵר֖וֹת וְקִרְיַ֥ת יְעָרִֽים׃

Joshua 9:16: The Gibeonite Deception Discovered

Verse 16:[1] And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them.

[After three days (thus the Septuagint, similarly the Syriac, Arabic), מִקְצֵה֙ וגו״] At the end (or, after the end [Masius]) of three days (Montanus), that is, on the third day, as it is evident from verse 17. For μετὰ/after[2] sometimes is taken for within; it does not always signify that the last portion of a period of time that it indicates is past. See Deuteronomy 14:28;[3] 31:10[4] (Glassius’ “Grammar” 544). On the third day afterwards (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator).

At the end of three days, that is, at the last of them, or upon the third day, as it is said verse 17; so this phrase is elsewhere used, as Deuteronomy 14:28; 31:10. Or it may be properly understood, that after three days they heard this; and on the day after they heard this, they came to their cities, as is said, verse 17.

[They heard] From what messenger it matters not. It is likely that the Israelites spied out the neighboring regions with regular excursions, both for foraging and seeking provisions, and for becoming acquainted with the region (Masius).

[In the vicinity] It appears that Gibeon was about two hundred and ten stadia from Gilgal, or twenty-six miles (Masius).

[1] Hebrew: וַיְהִ֗י מִקְצֵה֙ שְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֔ים אַחֲרֵ֕י אֲשֶׁר־כָּרְת֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם בְּרִ֑ית וַֽיִּשְׁמְע֗וּ כִּי־קְרֹבִ֥ים הֵם֙ אֵלָ֔יו וּבְקִרְבּ֖וֹ הֵ֥ם יֹשְׁבִֽים׃

[2] Thus the Septuagint.

[3] Deuteronomy 14:28:  “At the end of three years (מִקְצֵ֣ה׀ שָׁלֹ֣שׁ שָׁנִ֗ים; μετὰ τρία ἔτη, in the Septuagint) thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates…”

[4] Deuteronomy 31:10, 11:  “And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years (מִקֵּ֣ץ׀ שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֗ים; μετὰ ἑπτὰ ἔτη, in the Septuagint), in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, when all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.”

Joshua 9:15: Was the Covenant with the Gibeonites Lawful?

Verse 15:[1] And Joshua (Josh. 11:19; 2 Sam. 21:2) made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them.

[And he made peace with them (thus Montanus, Jonathan, Syriac, Junius and Tremellius)] He furnished security for them (Arabic). To make peace pertains to the laying aside of an hostile will and resentment; but to strike a covenant has regard to the very agreements, laws, and conditions of peace, as was written by Nahmanides (Masius).

[That they would not be killed (thus Vatablus), לְחַיּוֹתָם[2]] To make them live (Montanus, Jonathan); concerning preserving them in life (Junius and Tremellius). The active signification is often to be understood of permission or concession only (Glassius’ “Grammar” 322). Question: Whether this covenant was able to entered into rightly? Response 1: Some deny (Calvin and Tostatus in Serarius): Whose reasons follow. 1. God prohibited to the Hebrews a covenant with the Canaanites, and He commanded that they all be killed, Exodus 23:32; 34:15; Deuteronomy 7:2 (certain interpreters in Masius). Others, nevertheless, think otherwise. 1. I know that it was said that there was to be no sparing of any of them; but this was done because there were going to be exceedingly few that would repent of their sins (Masius on verses 18 and 27). 2. At the same time, this law, as happens in the case of almost all laws, is to be interpreted with a certain equity, so that it might be consistent with the eternal mercy of God (Masius on verse 18). 3. This covenant was lawful, but with conditions different than with those of another country (Bonfrerius, Lapide, Masius). These were two: 1. if they would concede their lands to the Israelites, for they were given to them by God (Lapide, Bonfrerius); 2. if they would become proselytes (Lapide, Bonfrerius, Masius, Serarius). Now, the reason of the law is the spirit of the law. But the intention of God in that bloody law was to prevent them from drawing the Hebrews unto their idols and sins, if they should dwell together. For God gives this reason, Exodus 23:32; Deuteronomy 7:4. But, with this danger of contagion ceasing, there was no place for that sanction (Masius on verse 27, Lapide, Bonfrerius). Moreover, the Gibeonites either now embraced the true religion, as Lyra, the English, Calvin, and Nahmanides maintain, because they say that they have come in the name of the Lord, verse 9, which was addressed previously; or were prepared to undertake it (Serarius, Bonfrerius). Indeed, there is no clear mention of their religion in the words of Scripture, because they had already embraced it, as some maintain; according as he appears to be sufficiently settled concerning religion, when he names the house of God in which they would serve perpetually, and so they ought to have been complete strangers to the worship of demons (Masius on verse 23). 2. On behalf of the negative position it is able to be urged that all the people murmured against the Princes on account of this oath, verse 18. Responses: 1. The multitude is always presumptuous, and judges rashly, and is all too ready to disparage Magistracy (Masius on verse 19). 2. Perhaps the covenant was made with them, either with their ancestral religion preserved, or as with tribute-bearing allies; neither of which was permitted to them (Masius on verse 15). 3. Those, as ignorant men, did not know a more just interpretation of that harsh law (Masius on verse 18). 3. Why were they feigning themselves to be foreigners, if it was lawful for them as natives to be kept safe? Response: It is not strange that with respect to the Gibeonites, barbarous men, that more just interpretation of the law did not come into mind (Masius on verse 27). [In the end, concerning this opinion Masius thus pronounces that by a great many it is not so much defended as held (Masius on verse 27).] Response 2: To others this covenant appears lawful (thus Masius, Serarius, Lapide, Bonfrerius, Grotius, Junius, Lyra). Thus all the Rabbis and Augustine (Serarius). Their reasons follow. 1. They urge Deuteronomy 20:10, in which they are commanded before the siege of a city to offer peace to their enemies, and, if they accept it, to enter into covenant with them. Which law all the Hebrews think to pertain to the Canaanites equally with foreigners (Masius on verses 15 and 27). But the distinction, which is stated in what follows, between the natives and foreigners they only understand of those that refuse the offered peace: Namely, that among the Canaanites all, among foreigners the males alone, were to be killed (Masius on verse 15). Indeed, equity itself dictates this for all nations, that no war was just apart from due warning. And the Jews relate that Joshua by public letters, as soon as he had reached Canaan, advised all cities everywhere to surrender. They think that thereafter no nation, besides the Moabites and the Ammonites (concerning whom singular commands are on record[3]), is to be invited to peace (Masius on verse 27). It was commanded, Deuteronomy 20:10 and following, that, after they approached to conquer places intended for them by God, they not allow any to live: But these asked for life before they approached them (Junius, similarly Malvenda). 2. They urge Joshua 11:19, in which they are said to have been destroyed, because no others besides the Gibeonites made peace with the Israelites (Masius on verse 27, Lapide, Bonfrerius). 3. That this covenant was approved by God the example of Saul shows, in whom He avenged with severity the violation of this covenant, 2 Samuel 21:1 (Masius on verse 18, Lapide, Bonfrerius), where the reason for the punishment is related, (not that God had afterwards approved, but) that the Israelites had sworn to them (Bonfrerius). 4. Who would believe that King Solomon, so flourishing in piety, power, and resources, was unwilling to kill the remaining Canaanites (whom he reduced to servitude), if he had not understood that God commanded this (Masius)? 5. Joshua refrained from them after he knew them to be Canaanites, which he would not have done if his promise had been contrary to the law of God (Lapide). For Sacred Scripture bears witness that Joshua failed in nothing of all that Moses had commanded[4] (certain interpreters). 6. The Canaanites, according to the prophesy of Noah, Genesis 9:25, were going to serve the posterity of Noah: therefore, it was not agreeable that all should be cut off (Masius on verse 27).

[They swore] That is, that they were going to keep the covenant entered into with them (Vatablus).

To let them live, that is, that they would not destroy them. Some question whether this league was lawful and obliging, because it is contrary to a positive and precedent law of God, by which they were enjoined to make no peace with them, but utterly to destroy them, Exodus 23:32; 34:12; etc. But this law seems to admit of some exception and favourable interpretation, and that taken from the reason and soul of that law; which was this, that the Israelites might not be tainted with their idolatry and other abominations by cohabitation with them; and therefore when that reason ceased, that is, if they were willing to relinquish their possessions and idolatry, and other wickedness, and to embrace the true religion, they might be spared. And though this law was delivered in general terms, because God foresaw that the Israelites would be most prone to err on that hand, by sparing those whom they should destroy; yet that it was to be understood with an exception of penitents and true converts might easily be gathered, both from the example of Rahab, and from the tenor of Divine threatenings, which, though absolutely delivered, allow of this exception; as appears from Jeremiah 18:7, 8; Jonah 3; 4, and from the great kindness and favour which God hath manifested unto all true penitents, in delivering them from evils threatened to them, and inflicted upon others; which kindness of God we also are obliged to imitate by virtue of that natural and moral law of God implanted in us, and revealed to us, to which such positive commands as this of killing the Canaanites must give place. And that this league was lawful and obliging, may seem probable, 1. Because Joshua and all the princes upon the review concluded it so to be, and spared them accordingly, Joshua 9:19, 20, 22, 23. 2. Because God punished the violation of it long after, 2 Samuel 21:1. 3. Because God is said to have hardened the hearts of all other cities not to seek peace with Israel, that so he might utterly destroy them, Joshua 11:19, 20, which seems to imply that their utter destruction did not necessarily come upon them by virtue of any absolute and peremptory command of God to destroy them, but by their own obstinate hardness, whereby they neglected and refused to make peace with the Israelites. Objection. This league was grounded upon a deceit and error of the persons, which also they had entered a caution against, Joshua 9:7. Answer. Their supposition that they were Canaanites was indeed a part of the foregoing discourse, verse 7, and the Israelites rested satisfied with their answer, and believed they were not, and so entered into the league; but that league was absolute, not suspended upon that or any other condition; and the error was not about the persons, but about the country and people to which they belonged, which was not material to this contract, no more than it is to a contract of marriage, that the one person believed the other to be of another country or family than indeed they were.

[1] Hebrew: וַיַּ֙עַשׂ לָהֶ֤ם יְהוֹשֻׁ֙עַ֙ שָׁל֔וֹם וַיִּכְרֹ֥ת לָהֶ֛ם בְּרִ֖ית לְחַיּוֹתָ֑ם וַיִּשָּׁבְע֣וּ לָהֶ֔ם נְשִׂיאֵ֖י הָעֵדָֽה׃

[2] חָיָה, to live, is in the Piel conjugation, which sometimes conveys a causative sense.

[3] See Deuteronomy 2:9, 19.

[4] See Joshua 11:15.

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