Monday, November 12, 2007

Stand thou still upon Gibeon (Joshua 9)

The story of the Gibeonites has always held a bit of a confusion for me, and clearly not in the same way it holds confusion for the SAB. Back in the day when I read this book for the first time, and didn't have the understanding that I have now of the book, this story always seemed strange. It still does, but in a different way.

Before I had gained my current viewpoint on the nature of Holy war, I thought it was strange that of all the people that lived in Canaan, the one group that would come to be spared would be one that found a way out through subterfuge. While I now am of the opinion that Holy war is not so complete and final as it seems on a cursory reading, it still shocks me that apparently we can add lying to the list of ways to escape the wrath of God, so long as you lie to the right people and really manage to convince them apparently.

The only thing the SAB has to say about this chapter is to claim injustice because the Gibeonites were made to become slaves. This is going to be one of those rare chapters where I completely disagree with every point the SAB makes and/or fails to make. That single accusation is something that I believe will lose its teeth when one fully unpacks the passage, and several other points that the SAB fails to make seem a tad hypocritical to me. We'll see.

Heck, let's skip right to the issue of slavery, why not? While I have addressed the concept of slavery at length before, this does seem to be a special case that doesn't fit the mold of what I discussed there. Here we do not see slavery existing as a kind of unemployment program as I argued in the case of slavery among Jews. This is slavery of citizens of another nation which, as I touched on in the final paragraph of that other post, falls under a different set of rules in a manner that is less than 100% clear. Nonetheless, I think that something is being missed here. The Hivites keep saying, as in verse 8, "We are thy servants." (Note that "servant" is King James-ese for "slave"; the actual word "slave" only appears once in the King James Old Testament, and that one time it appears, it's not the translation of any particular Hebrew word, but a word inserted for clarification.) Sometimes language like that can be used in a figurative sense, but I don't think it is the case here. These people do actually become slaves of the Israelites, and when Joshua tells them of their status, they don't protest, but say in verse 25:
"And now, behold, we are in thine hand: as it seemeth good and right unto thee to do unto us, do."
This of course saved their lives. The alternative to becoming slaves was to have their nation and their cities wiped off the face of the earth. Would you rather be a slave or be dead? That's not entirely a rhetorical question; I'm sure there are people who would answer either way.

Still, it remains a mystery to me as to why the oath the leaders of Israel swore to the Hivites were binding, seeing as they were made under false pretenses. The men of Gibeon made a rather elaborate deception (almost too elaborate, sometimes I wonder how close to verbatim Biblical dialog is recorded, as I read about these guys going, "Look, our bread is moldy! Moldy, I tell you! We live really really far from here, we swear!!!") in order to get Israel to make them a promise that they had no right to make.

Joshua records that they didn't ask God whether or not to believe the men, which is really the lesson of this story for believers. They didn't ask whether it was alright, and then when it turned out they had been deceived, it ended in trouble for everyone. The SAB doesn't call out the Hivites for this lie as it did the lie of Rahab, and this lie led to strife between Israel and God, the leaders and the people, and between the Gibeonites and their neighbors, as we will see in the next chapter. In the midst of this trouble, Joshua is essentially forced by his oath here to escalate the war as the Amorites go into offense mode.


Goose said...

It's hard to discern which parts of the Old Testament are myth and which parts are historical record. There also seems to be a lot of symbolism and borrowed traditions from surrounding cultures. Not sure why God gave us such a cryptic and convoluted manual for living our life's. Perhaps this is why there are so many denominations, cults, religions, etc. Small wonder so many of us are dysfunctional. Enjoyed your blog - keep up your good work. Goose.

Crusader said...

I believe mythology took from us and not the other way round, especially Babylonian mythology. For example, the Epic of Gilgamesh is a perversion of primitive truth, and I take the account as confirmation of the literal flood spoken of in the Bible. Remember, this same flood is spoken of in Chinese history, which proves it was a flood of Biblical proportions. I believe it was a regional flood, not a global one, but that's another topic for another time. I think I've digressed here, but the point I'm trying to make is many myths found in Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese and even Mayan history are a corruption of primitive truth passed down from one generation to the other becoming exaggerated and full of man's tradition. It's like a an eye witness account of a true event that took place. Each witness has their own twist, but in God's word we find clarity and the truth.