Joshua 9:21: The Censure of the Gibeonites, Part 1

Verse 21:[1] And the princes said unto them, Let them live; but let them be (Deut. 29:11) hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation; as the princes had (Josh. 9:15) promised them.

[But let them live in such a way that they might hew wood and draw water for the use of the entire multitude. While they were speaking these things,וַיֹּאמְר֧וּ אֲלֵיהֶ֛ם הַנְּשִׂיאִ֖ים יִֽחְי֑וּ וַ֠יִּֽהְיוּ חֹטְבֵ֙י עֵצִ֤ים וְשֹֽׁאֲבֵי־מַ֙יִם֙ לְכָל־הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר דִּבְּר֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם הַנְּשִׂיאִֽים׃] This verse is able to be interpreted in a variety of ways, because the very structure of the words has not been sufficiently explained (Masius). Some supply many things. The Hebrews say here that it is מִקְרָא קוֹצֶר, an abbreviated reading (Munster). And the chief men said to them (unto the sons of Israel [Syriac]), Let them live. [Here they supply, and let them be wood- and water-bearers for the whole assembly (thus Kimchi in Masius, Syriac, Arabic).] And they were made gatherers of wood and drawers of water for the whole assembly, just as the chief men had said (Syriac, Arabic, Kimchi in Masius). This does not satisfy; it is inconsistent with the chronological order to say here, they were, or, were made, wood-bearers, etc. For that shall be done only when the Commander-in-Chief pronounced sentence, as we shall hear[2] (Masius). Others thus: And the princes said to them, Let them live, and let them be, or they shall be, etc., just as the princes (or, the preeminent [Montanus]) spoke to them (Jonathan, similarly Tigurinus). And the princes said to them, Let them live, and let them hew, etc. And they did just as the princes spoke to them (Munster). Therefore, when those princes had said to them, They shall be allowed to live (that is, by this law, so that they might be pruners, etc., βραχυλογία, curtailed speech, or synecdoche of member [Piscator]), they were (I prefer, were made [Piscator]) pruners (hewers, or cutters [Piscator]) of wood, and drawers of water, just as the princes said to them (Junius and Tremellius). They (namely, the assembly of Israelites [Malvenda]) said in addition to those princes, Let them live, and let them hew…just as the princes spoke to us (Pagnine). In addition the princes said to them (that is, to the sons of Israel), Let them live, and let them be…just as the princes (that is, we) said to them (that is, the Gibeonites) (Dutch). But if you take them of the Gibeonites, it is necessary that you say that the Princes treated with the Gibeonites separately concerning that hard servitude, before Joshua said those things which are in verse 22, etc., which is uncertain, although not absurd (Masius). Who would believe that the Princes in treating with them had gotten ahead of the censure of Joshua? We do not anywhere that the Princes spoke previously with the Gibeonites (Bonfrerius). And the princes said unto them, Let them live (but let them be hewers of wood…unto all the congregation), as the princes had promised them (English). Let them live, but let them be gatherers of wood, etc. Accordingly the citizenry [he understands the multitude of soldiers] conceded to the nobles (Castalio). They were saying, I say, the princes were saying to them, Let them live, and let them be hewers…just as the princes had spoken among themselves (Masius). The ו/Vav/and in וַיִּהְיוּ[3] does not covert in this place the future/imperfect into the perfect. The לָהֶם, to them, I take αὐτοπαθῶς or reflexively, for among themselves, or with themselves, just as it is taken in Ecclesiastes 3:18.[4] Those words, כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר דִּבְּר֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם הַנְּשִׂיאִֽים׃, just as the princes had spoken among themselves, unless you refer them to that consulatation in which the Princes had deliberated among themselves as to how they might be able to keep their oath, shall appear to be altogether superfluous. Now, the Latin relates this little clause to the following verse [While they were speaking these things, verse 22, Joshua called the Gibeonites], and it supposes that כַּאֲשֶׁר/as signifies here, not similitude, but time, and that the pronoun points to the soldiers of the Israelites; with that sense agreeable indeed, but not sufficiently agreeing with the pointing which is now in the books of the Hebrews.[5] There are also those that would interpret in such a way that it might give the signification of the assent and approbation of the soldiers, who had previously murmured. [Thus Castalio understands it.] But certainly that speech would be too truncated and curtailed, and this is to divine rather than to interpret (Masius). As the princes spoke to them. Repetitions of this sort wonderfully serve for augmentation of the sense: that is to say, Indeed, the Princes certainly decided, affirmed again and again to the assembly, that the Gibeonites were going to be camp-servants and -followers (Malvenda).

[They said—some translate it, and the princes added, that is to say, they said to them these things also: דִּבְּר֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם[6]] And they said to them, or, concerning them (Vatablus). This last clause I thus translate, while, or when (כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר often signifies this), they spoke concerning them. Thus ל is taken in Genesis 20:13, אִמְרִי־לִי, say of me, and elsewhere (Bonfrerius).

[For the use of the entire multitude, לְכָל־הָעֵדָה] For all the assembly (Arabic, Junius and Tremellius): [all interpreters in a similar manner:] that is, public servants, in the name of the assembly of the people of God, attending upon public services in the house of God, verse 23 and Ezra 8:20. Wherefore they are also called Nethinims, that is, those surrendered,[7] in Ezra and Nehemiah[8] (Junius). In the stead and place of the entire assembly of Israelites, who otherwise were expected to provide wood and water for the house of God (Malvenda). Others maintain that those were obliged to be water-bearers and wood-gatherers for whatever Israelite of the common people that had accosted them concerning this duty; thus Nahmanides (Masius, thus Tostatus and Menochius); and that all the way to the division of the land (Tostatus in Menochius); or even when the possession had been divided: although not completely without recompense, but hired for a little pay (Nahmanides in Masius). Indeed, at first they were bound to bear wood and water for the entire people and all the camps, even after the division of the land; whence they were also called δημόσιοι, public or camp servants, by Josephus. Afterwards only for the Tabernacle and Temple; thence they were called Nethinims, that is, those given, namely, to the Levites, so that they might be to them as subdeacons. Thus Ribera,[9] Sigonius,[10] Masius, and Tostatus (Tirinus). This was a just punishment, both on account of the fraud, and because they were Canaanites (Lapide). Moreover, that the place of wood-gatherers and water-bearers was meanest and lowest is evident from Deuteronomy 29:11 (Masius on verse 22).

Hewers of wood and drawers of water: that is, Let them be public servants, and employed in the meanest offices and drudgeries, (such as this was, this one kind being put for all the rest, as it is Deuteronomy 29:11) for the use and benefit of the congregation; to do this partly for the sacrifices and services of the house of God, as it is expressed, Joshua 9:23, which otherwise the Israelites themselves must have done, partly for the service of the camp or body of the people, and sometimes upon occasion even to particular Israelites; whence they are made bond-men, which is mentioned as a thing distinct from their service in the house of God, verse 23. And so they are in effect stripped of all their possessions, whereby the main ground of the people’s quarrel was taken away. As the princes had promised them; or, because or seeing that (as the Hebrew word sometimes signifies) the princes (that is, we ourselves; they speak of themselves in the third person, which is very frequent in the Hebrew language) had promised it to them, to wit, that they should live, and confirmed their promise by an oath. So the princes speaking here to the people allege the promise or oath of the princes when they met among themselves, and apart from the people. And this change of persons may possibly arise from hence, because some of the princes who were present in the assembly of the princes might now be absent upon some occasion. And this clause relates not to the next words, which are fitly enclosed within a parenthesis, but to the foregoing clause, let them live, because the princes have promised them their lives.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּאמְר֧וּ אֲלֵיהֶ֛ם הַנְּשִׂיאִ֖ים יִֽחְי֑וּ וַ֠יִּֽהְיוּ חֹטְבֵ֙י עֵצִ֤ים וְשֹֽׁאֲבֵי־מַ֙יִם֙ לְכָל־הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר דִּבְּר֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם הַנְּשִׂיאִֽים׃

[2] Verse 23.

[3] Joshua 9:21:  “And the princes said unto them, Let them live; but let them beיִֽחְי֑וּ) וַ֠יִּֽהְיוּ) hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation; as the princes had promised them (לָהֶם).”

[4] Ecclesiastes 3:18:  “I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts (שְׁהֶם־בְּהֵמָ֥ה הֵ֖מָּה לָהֶֽם׃).”

[5] The Silluq (ֽ׃) is the strongest disjunctive accent, separating verses.  The Vulgate reads past the Silluq.

[6] Joshua 9:21:  “And the princes said unto them, Let them live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation; as the princes had promised them (כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר דִּבְּר֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם הַנְּשִׂיאִֽים׃).”

[7] נְתִינִים/Nethinims apparently is related to the verbal root נָתַן, to give.

[8] For example, Ezra 2:43, 58, 70; 7:7; 8:17; Nehemiah 3:26, 31; 7:46, 60; 10:28.

[9] Francis Ribera (1537-1591) was a Spanish Jesuit scholar, most remembered for his commentary on Revelation in which he advances the Futurist scheme of interpretation.  He also wrote De Templo et de iis ad Templum Pertinent.  Ribera’s Commentarius in Epistolam ad Hebræos was interrupted by death; it was finished by other hands.

[10] Carlo Sigonio (c. 1524-1584) was an Italian humanist, specializing in Greek and Roman antiquities.  He also wrote De Republica Ebræorum.

2 thoughts on “Joshua 9:21: The Censure of the Gibeonites, Part 1

  1. Matthew Henry: “Though they spared their lives, yet they seized their liberties, and sentenced them to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the congregation, Joshua 9:21. By this proposal the discontented congregation was pacified; for, (1.) Those who were angry that the Gibeonites lived might be content when they saw them condemned to that which, in the general apprehension, is worse than death, perpetual servitude. (2.) Those who were angry that they were not spoiled might be content when their serving the congregation would be more to the public advantage than their best effects could be; and, in short, the Israelites would be not losers either in honour or profit by this peace with the Gibeonites; convince them of this, and they will be satisfied.”

  2. Cornelis Harinck, “Called to Confess”: “Article 28 of the Belgic Confession concludes by saying, ‘…and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.’ Thus, if the Lord has given us gifts, we are to use them for the well-being of His church. Not every one has received the same gifts from God. There is also a need for ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ (Joshua 9:21). It is therefore rather sad that when something needs to be done in the church, it is nearly always done by the same people.”

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