9 The Gibeonites

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And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them.–Joshua ix. 14, 15.

THE very remarkable transaction to which our text refers is one that brings under our notice a weak and timid, but not a vicious people. Duplicity is the defense of slavish minds. The Hivites were the old, possibly the oldest, inhabitants of Canaan which history can trace. They inhabited the center of the land, but were also settled here and there in various portions, some of them dwelt in Mount Hermon (Judges iii. 3, Joshua xi. 3). Gibeon, their chief city, was only about five miles from Jerusalem on the north. They appear at different times in the Sacred History, and on the whole give us an idea of a well-disposed, simple people. Every church however corrupt, and every nation however generally abandoned, has a remnant of persons who are good compared with the wicked multitudes among whom they live. In Canaan there were portions of the inhabitants less heinous and intolerable than others, and the chief of these were the Hivites, of whom were these inhabitants of Gibeon.

These people dreaded the approach of Israel. They had heard of the fame of the Lord, and what He had done in Egypt. They had heard also what had happened nearer home: how it had fared with the kings of the country, just beyond the Jordan, who had resisted the passage of the God-protected host, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan. They were not warriors, and if they had been, they felt themselves quite incapable of stemming the tide of invasion. They took counsel, and concluded the best thing to be done would be to represent themselves as a, nation living far away, of no importance to the Israelites, in relation to the country which was then being settled, but very desirous of being in friendship with those who were visibly protected by heaven.

There were wily ones amongst them, and they sent ambassadors, disguised as men who had come from afar.

They took old sacks upon their asses and leathern wine bottles, old, rent, and mended. They had old garments, old clouted shoes, and old bread, dry and moldy. The Israelitish leaders heard their story, inquired nothing further, and made the defensive covenant with them, which the Gibeonites sought; and when, three days after, they learned that the representations which the Gibeonites had given of their being from a far-off country were not true, they still concluded to abide by the covenant, possibly from learning that they were a harmless people, and because they had undertaken to do good service, as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation. These people continued under the protection of the Israelites up to the time of David, for more than five hundred years (2 Sam. xxiv. 7), though they seem to have been but little distinguished. Their lives were saved, and they were protected, and that was all.

We shall be prepared to admit, without doubt, that this very curious transaction has its significance, like all others recorded in the Divine Word. Indeed, if we have succeeded in obtaining a definite conception of the divine idea in the Israelitish dispensation in making the law, as expressed by the Apostle, a shadow of good things to come, then it must follow that every incident in the Divine History is expressive of some fact, some circumstance in our spiritual life, and in the progress of the Church.

What then is involved in this covenant with the Gibeonites? What by the covert and surreptitious way in which it was obtained? And, lastly, what is indicated by the permission of these people to live, but to live in comparatively lowly offices, as hewers of wood and drawers of water?

The Canaanites were the central portion of the ancient Church. In the perversion, the prostitution, and decay into which it slowly and gradually, but surely sunk, when its emblems became idolatry, and its virtues generally perished, the mental leprosy had still its center in them. Its inspirations were no longer from heaven; but instead, their impious lusts were inflamed by the weird suggestions of the nether world. Then sin in its thousand forms celebrated its hideous orgies, and is their turn, long before the Jewish time, they made the commandments of none effect by their traditions.

At the end of a religion, however, when men sit in darkness, and the shadow of death; when darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people, all are not alike: there are deceivers and deceived. Some delude, and some are duped. Some love darkness rather than light; some follow the little glimmer they have, and grope for the wall like the blind.

There are Pharisees, keen with the lust of power, rigid in ceremonial; lax in Gods laws, but tremendous in their own. There are looser hypocrites, greedy in lust, sanctimonious in pretense. There are multitudes of slavish souls who serve the priests office for a morsel of bread, but who know nothing and care nothing for the essential spirit of religion, or of heaven. But, besides these, there are good simple souls, not deep thinkers, having none of the spirit of reformers or martyrs, but yet quietly living in the best way they know. These are easily imposed upon, and especially with old things. They are slaves of antiquity, and a notion they would not admit for a moment, if it were introduced now for the first time, they are easily induced to stand by, as something sacred, if they are told it has been handed down for a thousand, or several thousand years.

What little good these people have they really get from hourly everyday lessons, and their own simple reflections. But the cunning tell them to believe, and they are easily persuaded to say that they are good from the far-fetched mysteries of ancient times. They are near neighbors, but they are induced to acquiesce in saying they come from a far country. They do almost by nature, as the Apostle said, the things of the law of God, or, at least, by those precepts of childhood which preserve the essentials of religion for children in almost every form of faith and superstition, and which surrounds them with an atmosphere in which there is much that induces love to God, and kindness to man and beast.

Their virtues are everyday virtues. They are not theologians, but they try to do their duty. They have morality and strive to do no harm. They have grown up in connection with old worn-out forms of faith, and they are easily persuaded to think that they are good because of these tattered remnants of a better time. They are fearful, and they do the bidding of others who work, as the sacred narrative says, wilily.

The truth is, no false views ever lead to virtue. They either lead directly away, or they weaken the motives to right, and induce failure by shortcomings. But, associated with every form of superstition and fallacious teaching, there are portions of practical truth; and, with the simple and unreflecting multitude, the two things are taken as one; and for the sake of the practical good whose worth they know, they cherish also the worn-out, mischievous, national or ecclesiastical delusions, of whose antiquity and sacredness they are solemnly assured.

These, the virtuous supporters of a decayed system, are often alluded to is the Divine Word under the name of the remnant, and under many other names and emblems.

Except the Lord had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.–Isa i. 9. The simple, well-disposed but misled, and the inwardly bad, which form the mass of a decayed religion, are represented by the sheep and the seats; the penitent and impenitent malefactor at the Lords crucifixion; by the Hivites who were spared, and worse tribes who were destroyed; and also by the two women of Solomon’s judgment (1 Kings iii. 16-28). In this latter case, as in the case of the Hivites, there was deception practised. The woman who had the dead child put it into the bosom of the mother of the living one; and only by the wise discretion of the king was the true mother of the living child discovered. The virtues which flow from a living faith in the heart, in spite of many a superstitious delusion which tends to choke the good seed, come out as a real live child, derived from inward, holy trust, and often is this new man palmed off upon the world as the child of Mother Superstition, who has herself overlain the only child she ever had, and destroyed it by mummery and falsehood. Whenever the simply good in her communion brings forth from a loving heart a loving life, she claims it, and insists it is hers, and she will persist it is hers, until the Divine Solomon in His righteous judgment discloses the solemn truth that only a living loving faith can inwardly embrace the truth, and make its light so shine in good works that men can see them and glorify that Heavenly Father, from whom all virtue comes. Superstition only really brings forth a dead or dying child. The Hivites, then, represent the simply good in a, fallen church, who are timid, fearful, and much misled, but who can be preserved by Divine Mercy, and will not be turned away.

But what are meant by the old clothes, the old sacks, and bottles, and the old shoes, and the old bread, which they brought with them, and which they were ordered by their wily ones to offer as testimony that they came from a far country?

All essences must have forms. All principles must have clothings. Words clothe ideas. Thoughts clothe affections. All we know of things really are their clothings. Thoughts cannot be perceived until they are uttered, and cannot be uttered until they are clothed. Our habits are the ordinary regular practices, which clothe our fixed principles.

Garments in Scripture represent tote sentiments or erroneous thoughts, which clothe the soul and all things belonging to it.

They are ever given new from heaven to those who sincerely turn in repentance to their God and Savior, and from their love of truth ask to be led of Him. Thus, we read, Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion: put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.–Isa. lii. 1. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.–Isa. lxi. 10.

The returning prodigal, the type of every true penitent, was received by his Father with the loving kiss of acceptance, and then the Father said to His servants, Bring forth the best robe and put it on him: and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. Luke xv. 22. Our Lord said to the Church of Sardis, Thou hast a few names in Sardis, who have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment. Rev. iii. 4, 5.

To get truths from the Word, and to adapt them in sincerity to our own states, needs, and circumstances, is to obtain new and beautiful garments. Pure views, thus obtained in love, are white garments. What, then, could more strikingly represent old worn-out superstitions than old worn-out garments? And such is their meaning in the sacred narrative before us. There were three kinds of old things used on the occasion of the Hivite ambassadors coming to make their covenant. Old sacks for their corn, and old leathern bottles patched for their wine: old shoes clouted for their feet, and old garments for their persons: and lastly, old moldy bread for their eating.

The sacks for corn, and the bottles for wine, are the emblems of such things as can be stored in the memory to be ready for future spiritual use. When these are real truths, fresh, and living, they are the bags of which our Lord speaks, which wax not old (Luke xii. 33), and these can he filled with heavenly corn: the new bottles which will contain the new wine without bursting are doctrines which can be stored with the cheering hopes that exhilarate the spiritual pilgrim, and which cheer both God and man. A true church affords a supply of goodness in instruction, plentiful as the corn in Egypt gathered under Josephs provident care. The wine of cheering truth also flows down in abundance, when the mountains of love to God rise up boldly in the soul.

It is then, as the Prophet said, The mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk.–Joel iii. 18. On the contrary, when it is to longer a living but a dead church to which we are attached, even when we are well disposed, we hare only traditions for truth, traditions worn out and incredible, old sacks having scarcely ally corn. Instead of an abundance of cheering hopes, the new wine of the kingdom, we have only mine-bottles dry and patched, of which we make the best we can, but which have very little sap or life. What are old Jewish traditional notions, of which the meaning is lost, but old bottles? What are doctrines that have long been handed down by great bodies of Christians, but which hinders us from loving and adoring the Lord as a God of Love, and which puzzle the soul with incomprehensible mysteries, such as the substitution of one person for another, the resurrection of dead bodies, the burning of the world, things which science has long proved to be in utter opposition to truth; what are these but old bottles, bound up, but still being again rent, and fast wearing out?

Then, as to the old clouted shoes, and old garments. Surely we cannot have observed the very imperfect rules of life in which men are left to walls, when they are told that DOING has no bearing on salvation; that if we believe aright, and attend to the means of grace, we shall not have to account for the deeds done in the body. What is church-going united with extortion, injustice, unlawful trading, overreaching in business or ill temper at home, but walking in old and clouted shoes? Our feet ought to be clothed, as the Apostle says with the preparation of the gospel of peace (Eph. vi. 15). Put shoes upon his feet, said the father to the penitent son. Let the outward life correspond to the inward change. Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say? Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.–Ps. l. 23. The doctrines, too, which only treat of old modes of belief, and overlook, or but little apply to the regeneration of the soul, are only like old garments, which are too old, too much torn, and too small to cover a man. Our Lord warns us against patching up these old theories. No man, He said, putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old [a very old] garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.–Matt. ix. 16. The Lord will give new and beautiful robes to those who seek them from Him, by regeneration, the robes of inward truths, which keep the new heart warm, and beautify the soul.

I counsel thee to buy of me white raiment wherewith thou mayest be clothed.Rev, iii. 18. We need not the old, confined, worn-out theories of bygone ages handed to us by others, they are too narrow, and not to he compared for a moment with the robes given direct from the Lord to the bride, His Church. when she is arrayed and adorned for her husband.

Then, lastly, these Hivite ambassadors brought moldy bread. What are ceremonies that have no life in them but moldy bread? The religion which has become mechanical, the services which are without heart or meaning, taken through the same dull round, are no real support to the soul. They are moldy and worn out. How sad it is to see these form the only food for thousands and the people taught to love to have it so. What is moldy bread to the bread of life–the bread of love from the living Savior?

The Lord Jesus, who is goodness itself, presents Himself to the soul and says, Whoso eateth me shall live by me. I am the living bread that came down from heaven the bread that I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world. This impartation of His own nature: to the soul is the only source of true spiritual support. Yet a mistaken conception of the exaggerated value of antiquity induces multitudes to watch services, to them meaningless, and fancy they are getting some nourishment; when, if it were not for their own inward prayers, and mental ejaculations, they would perish of spiritual famine. None of these old things are really what they profess to be, any more than the worn-out tokens of the Hivite ambassadors were genuine indications of the real character of that people. These tatters are without. There is, however, true life within. Notwithstanding these people were not genuine in what they professed, they were genuine in being harmless people, well disposed, and willing to render service such as they could–to be hewers of wood and drawers of water and therefore Joshua and the princes of the congregation said, Let them live. In this decision is represented the goodness and mercy of the Lord. He saves the well disposed of every creed. Old Church or New Church, Established Church or Dissent, it is not belief, correct or incorrect which saves, but love for what is good and true, for the sake of what is good and true. They who love much are fitted for the higher degrees of blessedness those who love little, for the lower. Those who are subordinate spirits in their choice of humble virtues will have lower degrees of blessedness; they will be hired servants in the kingdom of our heavenly Father; but the hired servants have bread enough and to spare. They will be hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Wood is the symbol of goodness of a low kind, but still goodness. There is not much life in wood, but it is externally serviceable for many of the purposes of life. To hew wood spiritually is to shape life from a steady sense of duty, not from high enlightenment, nor from deep feeling, but from duty. If some men will not strive to attain high principle, but they will steadily do good, the Lord says, Let them live. Such will not be seraphs glowing with love, nor cherubs guarding with grand truths, but they will be of those who are round about the throne. Let them live. They may not be desirous of enjoying great draughts of the water of life, but they may be very useful in drawing water for others. In various ways, then, they may assist in the acquisition of truth and its diffusion among men, under the direction of the princes of the congregation. Let them live.

It is said, the Israelites took of the men’s bread, and asked not counsel of the Lord when they made the agreement with them at first; but, subsequently, notwithstanding their more accurate knowledge, the covenant was confirmed.

The partaking of the men’s bread would imply no very nice discrimination on the part of the Israelites themselves. And in the position of spiritual progress represented it will probably imply a want of nice thought, and quick sensibility in joining in exercises of worship, with those who are in ancient error. To do this induces dullness of mind. We should in all things ask counsel of the Lord. In all things seek for light from heaven. And though we shall still say of those in less pure and perfect states, Let them live, it will not be from dullness to discriminate, but from a desire to elevate and to bless.

Let them not impose upon us their tattered garments as sacred things; but let us say with the poet:

Old opinions, rags and tatters;
Ye are worn; ah, quite threadbare!
We must cast you off for ever;
We are wiser than we were:
We have found a mental raiment
Purer, whiter, to put on.
Old opinions! rags and tatters!
Get you gone! get you gone!

Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)