HE news of all that Joshua and the men of Israel had done at Jericho and at Ai, how they had destroyed those cities and slain their people, went through all the land. Everywhere the tribes of Canaan prepared to fight these strangers who had so suddenly and so boldly entered their country.
Near the middle of the mountain region, between Jerusalem and Shechem, were four cities of a race called either the Hivites, or the Gibeonites, from their chief city, Gibeon. These people felt that they could not resist the Israelites; so they undertook to make peace with them. Their cities were less than a day's journey from the camp at Gilgal, and quite near to Ai; but they came to Joshua at the camp, looking as if they had made a long journey.
They were wearing old and ragged garments, and shoes worn out; and they brought dry and mouldy bread, and old bags of food, and wine-skins torn and mended. They met Joshua and the elders of Israel in the camp, and said to them:
"We live in a country far away; but we have heard of the great things that you have done; the journey you have made, and the cities you have taken on the other side of the river Jordan; and now we have come to offer you our friendship and to make peace with you." And Joshua said to them, "Who are you? And from what land do you come?"
The Gibeonites come to Joshua.
"We have come," they said, "from a country far away. See this bread. We took it hot from the oven, and now it is mouldy. These wine-skins were new when we filled them, and you see they are old. Look at our garments and our shoes, all worn out and patched."
Joshua and the elders did not ask the Lord what to do, but made an agreement with these men to have peace with them, not to destroy their cities, and to spare the lives of their people. And a very few days after making peace with them they found that the four cities where they lived were very near.
At first the Israelite rulers were very angry, and were inclined to break their agreement, but afterward they said:
"We will keep our promise to these people, though they have deceived us. We will let them live, but they shall be made our servants, and shall do the hard work for the camp and for the Tabernacle."
Even this was better than to be killed, and to have their cities destroyed; and the Gibeonite people were glad to save their lives. So from that time the people of the four Gibeonite cities carried burdens, and drew water, and cut wood, and served the camp of Israel.
The largest city near to the camp at Gilgal was Jerusalem, among the mountains, where its king, Melchizedek, in the days of Abraham, five hundred years before, had been a priest of the Lord, and had blessed Abraham, as we read in Story 6. But now, in the days of Joshua, the people of that city worshipped idols and were very wicked.
When the king of Jerusalem heard that the Gibeonites, who lived near him, had made peace with Israel, he sent to the kings of Hebron and Lachish and several other cities, and said to them:
"Come, let us unite our armies into one great army and fight the Gibeonites and destroy them; for they have made peace with our enemies, the people of Israel."
As soon as the people of Gibeon heard this they sent to Joshua, saying:
"Come quickly and help us; for we are your servants; and the king of Jerusalem is coming with a great army to kill us all, and destroy our cities. The whole country is in arms against us; come at once, before it is too late!"
Joshua was a very prompt man, swift in all his acts. At once he called out his army, and marched all night up the mountains. He came suddenly upon the five kings and their army at a place called Beth-horon. There a great battle was fought, Joshua leading his men against the Canaanites. He did not give his enemies time to form in line, but fell upon them so suddenly that they were driven into confusion, and fled before the men of Israel.
And the Lord helped his people by a storm which drove great hailstones down on the Canaanites; so that more were killed by the hailstones than by the sword. It is written in an old song that on that day Joshua said before all his men:
"Sun, stand thou still over Gibeon.
And thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon,
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed,
Until the people had taken vengeance upon their enemies."
If ever in all the history of the world there was a battle when the sun might well stand still, and the day be made longer, to make the victory complete, it was that day more than any other. For on that day the land was won by the people of the Lord. If Israel had been defeated and destroyed, instead of Canaan, then the Bible would never have been written, the worship of the true God would have been blotted out, and the whole world would have worshipped idols. The battle that day was for the salvation of the world as well as of Israel. So this was the greatest battle in its results that the world has ever seen. There have been many battles where more men fought, and more soldiers were slain, than at the battle of Beth-horon. But no battle in all the world had such an effect in the years and the ages after, as this battle.
After the victory Joshua followed his enemies as they fled, and killed many of them, until their armies were broken up and destroyed. The five kings who had led against Joshua were found hidden in a cave, were brought out and were slain, so that they might no more trouble the Israelites. By this one victory all the part of the land of Canaan on the south was won, though there were a few small fights afterward.
Then Joshua turned to the north, and led his army by a swift march against the kings who had united there to fight the Israelites. As suddenly as before he had fallen on the five kings at Beth-horon, he fell upon these kings and their army, near the little lake in the far north of Canaan, called "the waters of Merom." There another great victory was won; and after this it was easy to conquer the land. Everywhere the tribes of Canaan were made to submit to the Israelites, until all the mountain country was under Joshua's rule.
In the conquest of Canaan, there were six great marches and six battles; three in the lands on the east of the Jordan, while Moses was still living, the victories over the Amorites, the Midianites, and the people of Bashan, on the northeast, and there on the west of the Jordan, the victories at Jericho, at Beth-horon, and Lake Merom, under Joshua.
But even after these marchings and victories, it was a long time before all the land was taken by the Israelites.