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Issue #120 - 01/13
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Eli Dahan

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The Giboenites- a story of survival

When you say the word “survivor” in 2013, one might think that you were talking about the famous reality T.V. show of the last decade. Today we are going to discuss survivors, but of a different sort; instead we will examine the reaction of four cities of the Hivite nation – הַחִוִּי- to the occupation of the Promised Land by the Israelites with the help of their God, who promised the land in Genesis 15:18-21 to Abram and his descendants.

Had I been around in that age and heard about God’s promise, I surmise that I might have done two different things: either I would have fought against this enemy, as we can see in Joshua 9:1-2, or I would have tried my best to simply survive this frightening people. One my instructors at the Hebrew University taught me that the Gibeonites- הגבעוניםmight have known the law in Deuteronomy, which says that you are from one the seven nations of the land of Canaan, there's no chance for survival, as written: 

"רַק מֵעָרֵי הָעַמִּים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לֹא תְחַיֶּה כָּל-נְשָׁמָהכִּי-הַחֲרֵם תַּחֲרִימֵם הַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי הַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָלְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יְלַמְּדוּ אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכֹל תּוֹעֲבֹתָם, אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם; וַחֲטָאתֶם לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם."

"Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)






The Gibeonites

I am not sure if they knew the Biblical law or not. In my eyes, they were simply wise enough to figure out that in order to survive you may have to put aside your ideals, lest they get you killed. Instead, you must be realistic in order to survive, no matter what the consequences.  Another possible answer is that the Gibeonites had planned to fight the Israelites all along, so by putting aside their customs, they attempted to deceive the Israelites. Let's see what they did in order to change their reality:

"וַיַּעֲשׂוּ גַם-הֵמָּה בְּעָרְמָה, וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיִּצְטַיָּרוּ; וַיִּקְחוּ שַׂקִּים בָּלִים, לַחֲמוֹרֵיהֶם, וְנֹאדוֹת יַיִן בָּלִים וּמְבֻקָּעִים וּמְצֹרָרִיםוּנְעָלוֹת בָּלוֹת וּמְטֻלָּאוֹת בְּרַגְלֵיהֶם וּשְׂלָמוֹת בָּלוֹת עֲלֵיהֶם; וְכֹל לֶחֶם צֵידָם יָבֵשׁ הָיָה נִקֻּדִים."

"They also acted craftily and set out as envoys, and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys, and wineskins worn-out and torn and mended, and worn-out and patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and had become crumbled"(Joshua 9:4-5)






The sun stood still

It is noteworthy that their deception went further than just disguising their clothes, bread and wine. They called themselves the servants- עבדים- who heard about the mighty God and just wanted a covenant of peace, as their elders (and not their Kings!) offered them. They used the terminology of the Israelites; they spoke firstly with the people and then with Joshua - these are the qualities of good survivors. It’s not surprising then that in the next chapter, the Israelites defended the Gibeonites when the sun was in Gibeon and the moon was in the Ayalon valley. Gibeon was also the place where Solomon had a revelation from God in a dream. As a result of this dream, he received the wisdom that was later, famously, asked of him.(See 1 Kings 3: 5-14- was Gibeon the place of Wisdom?)

The Gibeonites are also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in another passage that showed how King Saul broke his promise to this nation, as written:

"...וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-שָׁאוּל וְאֶל-בֵּית הַדָּמִים עַל-אֲשֶׁר-הֵמִית, אֶת-הַגִּבְעֹנִיםוַיִּקְרָא הַמֶּלֶךְ לַגִּבְעֹנִים, וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶםוְהַגִּבְעֹנִים לֹא מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה כִּי אִם-מִיֶּתֶר הָאֱמֹרִי וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נִשְׁבְּעוּ לָהֶם, וַיְבַקֵּשׁ שָׁאוּל לְהַכֹּתָם בְּקַנֹּאתוֹ לִבְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל וִיהוּדָה."

"…And the LORD said, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the sons of Israel made a covenant with them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah"(2 Samuel 21:1-2)


This passage teaches us not only about the tragic character of Saul, but also about the position of those who were considered to be just hewers of wood and drawers of water. One of our February Webinars will discuss this chapter in further depth, so stay tuned! For me, the Gibeonites were the first survivors of the Biblical age - do you agree? 

If you missed the webinar about them- just press here- and enjoy the story about them.

Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation





The Gibeonites















They swore






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