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William Shepard

The People of Gibeon

There were a people called the Gibeonites living near the city of Jerusalem, who were a very cunning people. They saw the destruction that had come upon the inhabitants of Jericho and of Ai, and they feared the like miseries for themselves. So they sent ambassadors to Joshua to make a league of friendship with him. Now these ambassadors thought it would be dangerous to confess that they were Canaanites, because they knew that Joshua had been commanded to destroy the nations of Canaan. So they decided to deceive him by a stratagem. They put on old and torn garments, and came to Joshua, and, standing in the midst of the people, they said that they had come a long distance to see him, so that their clothes, which were new when they started out, were now greatly worn by the length of time they had been on their journey. And they said they were sent by the people of Gibeon, who dwelt outside of the land of Canaan, to make a league of friendship with the Israelites, for the Gibeonites had rejoiced to hear that by the favor of God the Israelites were to possess the land of Canaan, and desired to be admitted into the number of their citizens. Then Joshua and the people of Israel, believing what these men told them, that they were not of the nations of the Canaanites, swore that they would be friends with them, and the men departed well pleased. But when Joshua led his army to the country at the bottom of the mountains in this part of Canaan, he learned that the Gibeonites dwelled near there, and that they were of the stock of the Canaanites. So he sent for their governors, and reproached them with the cheat they had put upon him. They answered that they were afraid for their lives, and saw no other way to save themselves. And, as the children of Israel had sworn to let these people live, they determined to make them public servants and use them in cutting the wood and drawing the water needed at the tabernacle.

But the king of the city of Jerusalem was angry that the Gibeonites had gone over to Joshua. So he called upon the kings of the neighboring nations to join together and make war upon them. Then the Gibeonites sent in great distress to Joshua to come and help them. And Joshua made haste with his whole army to assist them, and, marching day and night, he fell upon the enemy as they were going up to the siege, and defeated them, and pursued them down the descent of the hills. And God lengthened the day, that the night might not come on too soon and hinder the Israelites in pursuing their enemies. And Joshua captured the king of Jerusalem and the four other kings who assisted him, as they were hiding in a cave, and he put them all to death.

And now there went a great fame abroad of the courage of the Israelites, and those that heard how they had defeated all their enemies were affrighted. So a number of the Canaanite kings gathered together all their people into one great army. The number of this army was three hundred thousand armed footmen and ten thousand horsemen and twenty thousand chariots, so that because of the multitude of their enemies Joshua and the Israelites were greatly affrighted and lost all their hope of success. But God reproved them for their cowardice and bade them put their trust in Him, for He would help them. So Joshua regained his courage, and he went out against the enemy, and after five days' march he came upon them and gave battle. There was a terrible fight, in which great numbers of the Canaanites were slain. When they fled Joshua pursued them and cut them down. Their kings also were all slain. And the Israelites passed over all their country without opposition, no one daring to meet them in battle, and they besieged their cities and took them and slew all the inhabitants. But there were still a number of cities left belonging to other Canaanite kings, and these were situated in places where they were difficult to be besieged, and were surrounded with strong walls.

Joshua had now grown old, and he felt he could no longer lead the armies of the Israelites as he used to do. So he brought all the people to the city of Shiloh, and there he placed the tabernacle, for that seemed a fit place for it, because of the beauty of its situation. Then he went on to the city of Shechem, where Moses had told him he was to build an altar for all the tribes of Israel, that they might sacrifice there. And he built the altar in the way Moses had instructed him, and when they had sacrificed, and pronounced the blessings and the curses that Moses had taught, and had left them engraved on the side of the altar, they returned to Shiloh.

Then Joshua spoke to all the people, and he asked them to choose men from their tribes who were skilful at examining and measuring land. Each tribe accordingly chose a man, and the men so chosen were sent out over the land of Canaan, to measure it and to estimate the fertility of the different parts, and they wrote the description of all the land in a book which they carried with them, and after they had been gone seven months they returned to Joshua in the city of Shiloh. Joshua made an equal division of the land according to the description they made of it, and cast lots among the nine tribes and the half tribe of Manasseh who had not yet had any land portioned out to them, so that the Lord might show what part of the land each tribe should have. And after the Lord had shown them this, Joshua told the men of Israel to go and take possession of their shares, and each tribe was to drive out any heathen nation that was found on their land. But as the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh had already been peacefully settled in the land of the Amorites beyond the Jordan, Joshua called to him the fifty thousand men from those tribes who had followed him during all his wars, and told them he would no longer need their services, and that they might go home to their wives and children. But first he enjoined upon them to respect the laws which Moses had given them, and to love and serve the Lord their God, and to remember their kinship to the other tribes of Israel.

Then the men of these tribes bade farewell to their brethren of the other tribes, and shed many tears. When they had passed over the river Jordan, they built an altar on the banks, as a monument to future generations, and a sign of their relation to those that lived in the lands on the other side. But when those on the other side heard of the building of this altar, and knew not with what intention it was built, they thought it was done because these tribes wished to leave off the worship of the true God and to introduce strange gods. And they cried out in anger, and armed themselves to go out in war against them and punish them for their disobedience to the laws of their country. But Joshua, and Eleazar the high-priest, and the senate restrained them, and persuaded them first to send messengers to their brethren to question them concerning their intentions in raising strange altars, and if they found their intentions were evil they might then go to war with them. Accordingly, Phineas, the son of the high-priest, and ten more men who were held in high esteem among the Israelites, were sent across the river to question the other tribes and to learn why they had built another altar.

"For," said the ambassadors, "we do not like to believe that you intend to forget God, and leave the ark and the altar that is common to all of us, in order to introduce strange gods and the wicked practices of the Canaanites. But if it be true that you intend to do this, we will esteem you as no better than the Canaanites, and will collect our armies and come over the Jordan and destroy you in like manner as we have destroyed them."

Then the chief men of the other tribes rose and explained that they had not abandoned their God, that they still intended to come to the altar of the tabernacle to offer their sacrifices with the rest of the Israelites, and that the new altar had not been built for worship, but to serve as a memorial to their children forever, and to remind them of their relationship to the other tribes who dwelt across the Jordan.

This answer pleased Phineas and the other ambassadors, who accordingly returned to Joshua and reported before an assembly of the people what answer they had received. Joshua also was pleased to find that he was under no necessity for leading a part of the Israelites against the rest and making them shed one another's blood. So he offered up sacrifices of thanksgiving to God, and dismissed the assembly.

In the twentieth year after this, when he was very old, he sent for those of the greatest dignity in the several cities, and for the rulers, and for as many of the common people as could be present; and when they were come, he put them in mind of all the benefits God had bestowed on them; how from a low estate He had raised them to so great a degree of glory and plenty. And he exhorted them to take notice of the intentions of God, which had been so gracious towards them; and told them that the Deity would only continue their friend in case they persevered in their piety; and that it was proper for him, now he was about to depart out of this life, to leave such an admonition to them, and he desired that they would keep in memory this his advice to them.

Joshua, after he had thus discoursed to them, died, in the hundred and tenth year of his age. About the same time died Eleazar the high-priest, leaving the high-priesthood to his son Phineas.