Lesson 5: Chapters 8-9
The Central Campaign Continues in the Victory at Ai
The Covenant Treaty Renewal Ceremony and the Treaty with the Gibeonites

Merciful and All-powerful Lord,
At the celebration of every Eucharistic banquet we renew our covenant vows with our participation in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our celebration looks back in time to the night Jesus offered Himself "Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity "to His disciples at the Last Supper. But our sacred meal also looks forward in time to our reunion with Jesus at His Second Advent and the promise of our participation in the sacred meal of the Lamb's bridal supper in the heavenly Sanctuary. We thank You, Lord, for calling us into covenant with You through Your beloved Son, and we ask You to send Your Spirit to guide us in our study of Israel's covenant renewal ceremony and communion meal on the slope of Mt. Ebal in Canaan. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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You will read in the Holy Scriptures about the battles of the just ones, about the slaughter and carnage of murders, and that of murderers, and that the saints spared none of their deeply rooted enemies. If they do spare them, they are even charged with sin ... You should understand the wars of the just by the method I set forth above, that these wars are waged by them against sin. But how will the just ones endure if they reserve even a little bit of sin ... Do you see that the fight proposed for you is against sin and that you must complete the battle even to the shedding of blood? Is it not evident that the divine Scripture indicates these things, even as it habitually says, "Sanctify war," and, "You will fight the battle of the Lord."
Origen, Homilies on Joshua, 8.7

The defeat at Ai in chapter 7 and the events that transpired with Achan reminds Israel and the reader that the conquest of Canaan is a holy war that must be waged by holy warriors. The Fathers of the Church saw the Israelites war against the sinful inhabitants of Jericho and Ai as symbolic of the Christian's war against sin in the world and sin within the community of the faithful. The story of the defeat at Ai is a reminder to us that we cannot successfully battle against sin in the world unless we are purified of sin through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The burning of the Canaanite cities was symbolic of the purifying fire of God that cleanses sin and atones for the consequence of sin. Purgatory serves the same purpose for the Christian who has been judged worth of salvation but who still has the stain of venial sins that have not been confessed and forgiven and for mortal sins that have been forgiven but for which full atonement has not yet been made (CCC 1030-32, 1472). The fire of Purgatory cleanses the believer and prepares him/her for union with the Most Holy Trinity. As St. Paul teaches, the "straw" of our bad works are burned away leaving only the "gold" of our good deeds to advance with us into the heavenly kingdom. But St. Paul warns that some of us will advance through the gates of heaven with very few good deeds to show for the quality of the works of our life on earth: ... but each person's handiwork will be shown for what it is. The Day which dawns in fire will make it clear and the fire itself will test the quality of each person's work. The one whose work stands up to it will be given his wages; one whose work is burnt down will suffer the loss of it, though he himself will be saved; he will be saved as someone might expect to be saved from a fire (1 Cor 3:13-17).

Chapter 8: The Capture of Ai

Ai (the Ruin) is mentioned 22 times in chapter 8 (27 time total in chapters 7-8).

Joshua 8:1-9 ~ Joshua's battle plan
1 Yahweh then said to Joshua, Be fearless and undaunted. Take all your fighting men with you. Up! March against Ai [march up to Ai]. Look, I have put the king of Ai, his people, his town and his territory at your mercy. 2 You must treat Ai and its king as you treated Jericho and its king. The only booty you will take are the spoils and the cattle. Take up a concealed position by the town, to the rear of it.' 3 Joshua set out to march against Ai with all the fighting men. Joshua chose thirty thousand of the bravest and sent them out under cover of dark, 4 having given them these orders, Pay attention! You must take up a concealed position by the town, at the rear, not very far from the town, and be sure you all keep alert! 5 I, and the whole people with me, shall advance on the town, and when the people of Ai come out to engage us as they did the first time, we shall run away from them. 6 They will then give chase, and we shall draw them away from the town, since they will think, "they are running away from us as they did the first time." 7 You will then burst out of your concealed position and seize the town; Yahweh your God will put it at your mercy. 8 When you have captured the town, set fire to it, in obedience to Yahweh's command. Well then, these are my orders.' [..] = from the literal Hebrew translation (IBHE, vol. I, pages 575-76).

God commands Joshua to set an ambush for the king of Ai and his soldiers. St. Augustine wrote that deception in war is permissible if the war was a just war to right an injustice or remedy crimes against the innocent (Augustine, Questions on Joshua, 10-11). They will march about twelve miles "up" to Ai because the town in located in the central hill country at a higher elevation that Jericho and Gilgal. Joshua is told to take "all your fighting men." "All" in Scripture does not necessarily mean the entire amount "it often means the complete amount or is used as a general term.

Once again Wouldstra suggests it is not "thirty thousand" but thirty contingencies or units of Israelites soldiers that Joshua will use to set up a hidden camp near Ai and that Joshua will use five contingencies for the initial attack. He points out that if they are to hide and remain concealed near the town it would be very hard to conceal thirty thousand but not so difficult to conceal thirty units of say 15-20 men each to the north of the town while the smaller ambush attack force of five units camped to the west of the town. However, the site identified by archaeologists as Ai does have a narrow valley to the north and to the west between Ai and Bethel that could conceal a large number of men.

Question: What is different in Yahweh's orders concerning the capture of Ai compared to the capture of Jericho?
Answer: Unlike Jericho, the Israelites are permitted to take spoils and cattle.

Scripture does not tell us why the Israelites are allowed to keep the spoils of war taken from Ai. Perhaps it is Yahweh's reward for their faithfulness in discovering the sin of Achan and for rendering the very difficult and harsh punishment for a respected family of the community. The Church is often called upon to make such harsh or unpopular judgments. Ten percent of those condemned to death in the notorious Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland were Catholic clergy and religious who condemned Catholics in their congregations and communities for supporting the evil Nazi regime or actively worked against it. A few fearless bishops in the United States have refused communion in their diocese to popular Catholic politicians who actively support abortion legislation in Congress. And fearless priests have risked the displeasure of their congregations by preaching against divorce, abortion, and couples openly living together in sin. These fearless men and women understood that taking a stand against sin includes the responsibility of disciplining professing Christians who support it, no matter what the cost to them personally in offending a powerful person or persons, or damaging their popularity within their parishes.

Joshua 8:9-13 ~ The Israelites prepare for the battle
9 Joshua sent them off, and they made their way to the place of ambush and took up position between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai. Joshua spent the night with the people [men], 10 then, getting up early next morning, reviewed the people [men] and with the elders of Israel, marched on Ai at their head. 11 All the warriors marching with him advanced on the front of the town and pitched camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the town. 12 Joshua took about five thousand men and concealed these between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the town. 13 The people pitched the main camp to the north of the town and set up its ambush to the west of the town. Joshua went that night into the middle of the plain. [..] = from the literal Hebrew translation (IBHE, vol. I, pages 576).

There are two groups of Israelite warriors. Unlike the first attack on Ai, Joshua will lead the warriors in the second attack. They marched from Gilgal to Ai at night. According to Egyptian records, their armies, much larger and more cumbersome than the lightly armed Israelites, could travel about a dozen miles in a day from dawn to evening camp (Boling and Wright, Joshua, page 238) and Ai was about 12 miles from Gilgal. Verse 9 is the night previously mentioned in verse 3; it is the first of two nights. There is no contradiction between verses 9 and 13; these refer to successive nights "the first night Joshua is with the main force and the second night he is in the valley with the ambush force. The main advance camped north of the town in a valley. Joshua then took five thousand or five contingencies of men and hid them to the west of Ai, the rear of the town (8:14) between Ai and Bethel. As before the battle for Jericho (5:13), Joshua walked out alone on to the plain to view of the targeted city.

If the archaeologists have correctly identified the location of Ai, the original occupation of the site began c. 3100 BC. By the Early Bronze Age, Ai had grown into a sizable city with a defensive wall. Newcomers from north Syria and Anatolia migrated to Ai and established the city as a major urban center covering some 27 acres with temples, a royal palace and prosperous private houses. In c. 2850 BC a threat must have been perceived because the city increased its defenses and the width of its walls. The threat became a reality when the city was destroyed c. 2700 BC, after which a new, impressive fortified city, which exhibited evidence of strong Egyptian influence, was built. The Early Bronze Age city was destroyed c. 2350 BC and remained in ruins until c. 1220 BC (DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World, pages 128-141). If the site is correctly identified, Joshua would have seen a large mound of rubble covering many acres upon which a small settlement was established. It is logical that the Israelites would call the town "ha-Ai", "the Ruin" in our projected date of c. 1315 BC.

According to Genesis 12:8, Ai was located east of Bethel. Bethel means "house/place of god" and was given the name by Jacob son of Isaac.

Question: What significant events happened at Bethel during the time of the Patriarchs? Gen 12:6-8; 28:10-22; 35:1-15.
Answer: When Abraham first entered Canaan, he went as far as the holy place at Shechem where God appeared to him and promised his descendants the possession of the land. Next Abraham moved on to the mountainous district east of Bethel, when he pitched his tent, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east where he built and altar to Yahweh and invoked His name in worship. Abraham's grandson, Jacob, experienced a theophany at Bethel and the Abrahamic covenant was promised to continue through his line. After the disaster at Shechem when Jacob's sons broke the covenant treaty with the Shechemites, he returned to Bethel where God appeared to him again and repeated that he was to be called "Israel."

Joshua 8:14-23 ~ The capture of Ai
14 The king of Ai had seen this; the people [men] of the town got up early and hurried out, so that he and all his people could engage Israel in battle on the slope facing the Arabah; but he did not know that an ambush had been laid for him to the rear of the town. 15 Joshua and all Israel pretended to be beaten by them and took to their heels along the road to the desert. 16 All the people [men] of the town joined in the pursuit and, in pursuing Joshua, were drawn away from the town. 17 Not a man was left in Ai nor in Bethel, who had not gone in pursuit of Israel; and in pursuing Israel they left the town undefended. 18 Yahweh then said to Joshua, Point the saber [kidon] in your hand at Ai; for I am about to put the town at your mercy.' Joshua pointed the saber [kidon] in his hand towards the town. 19 No sooner had he stretched out his hand than the men in ambush burst from their position, ran forward, entered the town, captured it and quickly set it on fire. [..] = from the literal Hebrew translation (IBHE, vol. I, pages 577-78).

Joshua 8:14 The king of Ai had seen this; the people [men] of the town got up early and hurried out, so that he and all his people could engage Israel in battle on the slope facing the Arabah ...

"Arabah" means "desert plain" or "steppe." The region called the Arabah in this passage is the desert region of the rift valley north of the Dead Sea, sometimes called the "Sea of the Arabah" (2 Kng 14:25), and the valley along which the Jordan River runs. It was an important north-south route in biblical times. When the forces of Ai and Bethel set out in pursuit of the Israelites very early in the morning they chase them east toward the Jordan River valley, the ambush unit rose up from their hidden position in the small valley to the west and rushed toward the undefended town.

Joshua 8:18 Yahweh then said to Joshua, Point the saber [sword] in your hand at Ai; for I am about to put the town at your mercy ...

The object Joshua held out is identified in Hebrew by the rare word kidon (kee-dohn'). It is a weapon that is distinct from a sword (hereb) or a spear (hanit). It was undoubtedly some sort of fighting instrument, perhaps even the curved sickle-like Egyptian weapon called a kafish. The word in Hebrew comes from the root meaning "to strike," "destruction." The straight sword wasn't introduced until the end of the second millennium (Boling and Wright, Joshua, page 240). Joshua's weapon may have been the signal for the ambush troops, but it is uncertain if they could have seen it. It is more likely that it is a sign like Moses holding up his arms in the Exodus battle with the Amalekites (Ex 17:8-15). See other biblical references to this weapon (Job 39:23; 41:21; 1 Sam 17:6, 45; Jer 6:33; 50:42).

Joshua 8:26-29 ~ Ai is placed under herem "the curse of destruction
26 Joshua did not draw back the hand with which he had pointed the saber until he had subjected all the inhabitants of Ai to the curse of destruction [herem]. 27 For booty, Israel took only the cattle and the spoils of this town, in accordance with the order that Yahweh had given to Joshua. 28 Joshua then burned Ai, making it a ruin for evermore, a desolate place even today. 29 He hanged the king of Ai from a tree till evening; but at sunset Joshua ordered his body to be taken down from the tree. It was then thrown down at the entrance to the town gate and on top of it was raised a great mound of stones, which is still there today.
[..] = from the literal Hebrew translation (IBHE,
vol. I, pages 578).

The king of Ai is captured and killed. No mention is made in this part of the narrative of the Bethel's king, but Joshua 12:16 records that Joshua and the Israelites also killed the king of Bethel.

Question: What is the significance of handing a condemned man on a tree? Why must the body be removed before sundown? See Dt 21:22-23.
Answer: It is the sign that he is cursed by God. Such a condemned man was not to remain on the tree after sundown. Sundown signals the next day, but the point was that the body not be allowed to decompose and fall upon the earth, thereby polluting the land.

Question: How does that verse apply to Jesus and the reason the Jews took Jesus to the Romans and demanded His crucifixion? See Jn 19:13, 31; Gal 3:13-14.
Answer: They wanted Jesus to be executed like a common criminal. They also wanted the Jews who followed Him to view Him as a man who was cursed by God and therefore not the Messiah. However, they failed to understand that Jesus was taking all the curses of the Sinai Covenant upon Himself and was fulfilling the Messiah's mission to bring His people to salvation: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake since Scripture says: Anyone hanged is accursed,' so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles in Christ Jesus, and so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Gal 3:13-14).

In accordance with the Law, Jesus was removed from His Cross before sundown (Mt 27:57-60; Mk 15:42-47). The Jewish "evening" is our afternoon.

Verse 29 has the fourth use of the Hebrew expression "still there today,"/"until this day. " It is an expression that is found ten times in Joshua 4:9; 5:9; 7:26; 8:29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 14:14; 15:63 and 16:10.

Question: What does this expression affirm?
Answer: It affirms that these events took place within the lifetime of the inspired writer.

The Covenant Treaty Renewal Ceremony

And when Yahweh your God has brought you into the country which you are about to enter and make your own, you must set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse of Mount Ebal. These mountains, as everyone knows, are on the other side [beyond] of the Jordan on the westward road, in the territory of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah, opposite [to] Gilagl, near the oaks of Moreh.*
Deuteronomy 11:29-30

Moses and the elders of Israel gave the people this command: Keep all the commandments which I am laying down for you today. After you have crossed the Jordan into the country which Yahweh your God is giving you, you must set up tall stones, coat them with lime and on them write all the words of this Law [torah]. When you have crossed and entered the country which Yahweh your God is giving you, a country flowing with milk and honey, as Yahweh, God of your ancestors, has promised. When you have crossed the Jordan, you must erect these stones on Mount Ebal ...'
Deuteronomy 27:1-4

* The oaks of Moreh were at Shechem where God first spoke to Abraham in Canaan (Gen 12:6). The Israelite camp of Gilgal is near Jericho and the Jordan River, about 30 miles to the southeast. However, the Gilgal mentioned in Deuteronomy 11:30 is not the Israelite camp; it is a town located south of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim and is mentioned in 2 Kings 1:2 and 4:38. The covenant treaty renewal ceremony was to take place in central Canaan near Shechem where the Oak of Moreh used to stand in the time of Abraham.(1)

The obligation of remaining faithful to the oath sworn of a covenant treaty will be the sub-theme of the narrative that runs from Joshua 8:30-10:15. It is a sub-theme that began with the covenant the Isrealites spies made with Rahab in chapter 2. The next part of the narrative answers the question why the central campaign was the first objective of the army of Israel "they had a rendezvous to keep between the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim in central Canaan.

Joshua 8:30-35 ~ The treaty renewal ceremony on Mt. Ebal
30 Joshua then built an altar to Yahweh, God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, 31 as Moses servant of Yahweh, had ordered the Israelites, as is written in the[book] of the law [guidance = tachbulah] of Moses: an altar of undressed stones, on which no iron has been used. On this they presented burnt offerings to Yahweh and communion sacrifices as well. 32 There, Joshua wrote on the stones a copy [mishneh] of the Law [torah] of Moses, which Moses had written in the presence of the Israelites. 33 All Israel, with their elders, their officials and their judges, stood on either side of the Ark, facing the Levitical priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, foreigners with the native-born, half of them on the upper slopes [in front] of Mount Gerizim, and half of them on the upper slopes [in front] of Mount Ebal, as Moses, servant of Yahweh, had originally ordered for the blessing of the people of Israel. 34 After this, Joshua read all the words of the Law "the blessing and the cursing, exactly as it stands written in the Book of the Law [torah]. 35 Of every word laid down by Moses, not one was left unread by Joshua in the presence of the whole assembly [kahal/qahal] of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners living with them.
[..]= literal Hebrew translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 579).

The distance from Ai to Mt. Ebal is about twenty miles. In the valley between Ebal and Gerizim, Joshua convened the Assembly of Israel. In gathering this assembly (kahal/qahal in Hebrew meaning the "called out ones"), Joshua is fulfilling the instructions laid down by Moses for the covenant treaty renewal ceremony after the Israelites had entered the Promised Land and claimed possession of the territory (Dt 27:1-26). Reading that passage you will notice that more information is given concerning the ceremony than is given in Joshua 8:30-35.

Question: What additional information about the ceremony is included in Moses' instructions?

  1. In addition to the altar of undressed stones, they were commanded to set up tall memorial stones coated with lime (plaster) upon which they were to write the Law [torah].
  2. The tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin were to stand on the Mt. Ebal side of the valley pass between the two mountains while Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali will stand on the opposite side, with the Ark in the middle.
  3. The two groups must exchange the covenant blessings and curse-judgments.
  4. The priests were then to summarize twelve curse-judgments for the assembly, to which all the people were to answer "Amen" after each curse-judgment.
  5. The renewal with be sealed with whole burnt offerings and a communion meal.

"All the people" includes the Gentile resident aliens and Rahab's kinsmen. The covenant blessings and curse-judgments recited by the two groups are probably from the list in Deuteronomy chapter 28. The list of curses recited by the Levites to which the people answered "amen" is probably the list in Deuteronomy 27:13-16. The vocal "amen" signifies their acceptance of the curse-judgment upon the people, collectively and individually, if they violate the Law.

Question: Compare the covenant treaty renewal ceremony at Mt. Ebal with the covenant treaty ratification ceremony at Mt. Sinai. What are the similarities? See Ex 19:16, 23; 24:1-11; Dt 27:1-26 and Josh 8:30-35.

  1. Both ceremonies are associated with mountains where the Assembly of Israel was convened (Ex 19:16, 23; 24:3-4; Dt 27:4; Josh 8:30).
  2. Both ceremonies had temporary altars of undressed stones (Ex 20:25; 24:4; Dt 27:5-7; Josh 8:31) where burnt offerings and communion sacrifices were offered (Ex 24:5; Dt 27:6-7; Josh 8:31).
  3. There was the command to erect memorial stones at both ceremonies (Ex 24:4; Dt 27:4, 8; Josh 8:32).
  4. At both ceremonies the people swore an oath of obedience to Yahweh (Ex 24:3, 7; Dt 27:15-26).
  5. Both ceremonies were concluded with a communion meal in the presence of God (Ex 24:9-11; Dt 27:7).

Question: What was one obvious difference?
Answer: The Ark of the Covenant and the covenant documents were not present at the covenant treaty ratification ceremony at Mt. Sinai. The Ark had not been built yet and the stone tablets had not been given to Moses at the time of the ceremony. God was present on the mountain at Sinai (Ex 24:9-10), but He was present with the Ark at the renewal ceremony at Mt. Ebal (Josh 8:33).

Joshua 8:30 Joshua then built an altar to Yahweh, God of Israel ...

The ceremony is a renewal of the vassal-suzerainty covenant treaty ratified at Mt. Sinai. The altar Joshua built for the ceremony on the Mt. Ebal side of the valley is not a permanent altar. The Sanctuary altar can be the only permanent altar (Ex 27:1-8; 38:1-7; Lev 17:5-7; Dt 12:5-7, 11-12). This is a temporary altar only for the covenant treaty renewal ceremony like the altar Moses built at Mt. Sinai for the covenant treaty ratification ceremony (Ex 20:25; 24:4) before the Sanctuary altar was built. Unlike the Sanctuary altar that is made of bronze (Ex 27:1-8), this altar is made of undressed stones (Ex 20:24-25) like the primitive altars of the Patriarchs. The only other time such an altar is mentioned is in Moses' instructions for this future ceremony (Dt 27:5-6). The prohibition against using iron tools on the temporary altar may be to resist the temptation of making it an object of beauty that might tempt the Israelites to keep it as a permanent altar. While it has been suggested that the prohibition against iron was to keep the Israelites from carving pagan forms on the altar or using a man-made implement, wouldn't this temptation have been even greater in the forged bronze altar for the Sanctuary which was a man-made structure with a grate that covered a mound of earth?(2)

Question: What will be offered on the altar?
Answer: Communal whole burnt offerings and communion/peace sacrifices.

The whole burnt offerings will be completely consumed on the altar fire as the assembly's tribute gift to Yahweh the Great King. In the communion offerings, the fat will be burned on the altar and the rest of the animal will be cooked and eaten in a sacred communal meal that Yahweh, the Great King, shares with His vassals as a sign that the covenant treaty continues and God is at peace with entire community.

Joshua 8:32 There, Joshua wrote on the stones a copy [mishneh] of the Law [torah] of Moses, which Moses had written in the presence of the Israelites.

The Hebrew word misnheh means "a repetition, duplicate or copy" (Strong's, # 4932). It is the translation of this word into Greek that gives us the title "deuteronomy" (copy of the Law/second Law for the fifth book of the Pentateuch. The word "torah" is found three times in the Hebrew text of verses 32 and 34 (twice). The torah or "teaching/instruction" referred to in this passage is probably Moses' final teachings to the Israelites on the plains of Moab, called the Deuteronomic Code.

Joshua 8:33 All Israel, with their elders, their officials and their judges, stood on either side of the ark, facing the Levitical priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh, foreigners with the native-born, half of them on the upper slopes [in front] of Mount Gerizim, and half of them on the upper slopes [in front] of Mount Ebal ...

The Ark of the Covenant, carried by the priests was in the valley between the two mountains.

Question: What is the composition of the two groups that will stand in the pass in front of the mountains on either side of the Ark?
Answer: There were Israelite men, women, and children, and there were also foreigners.

These "foreigners" were the descendants of those Gentiles who accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex 12:38; Num 11:4). Some Gentiles intermarried with the Israelites and joined the covenant (men like Caleb and women like Rahab), but there were also those who will remain resident aliens in the land.

Question: How did the Law apply to resident aliens? Ex 12:43-49; Lev chapters 17-19.
Answer: Foreigners were forbidden to take part in the rituals and the sacred liturgy of worship of the Israelites unless the males submitted to circumcision and joined the covenant people, but they were subject to the same civil and moral laws as the Israelites and were in turn protected under the same laws.

Resident aliens were expected to live in obedience to Israel's laws (i.e., Lev 17:10-12) and the Israelites were expected to extend the same laws of justice and protection to the resident aliens living among them: If you have resident aliens in your country, you will not molest them. You will treat resident aliens as though they were native-born and love them as yourself "for you yourselves were once aliens in Egypt. I am Yahweh your God (Lev 19:33-34). While resident aliens could not participate in the sacred religious ceremonies at the Sanctuary and the Sanctuary's religious sacred assemblies, they were permitted to bring gifts to the entrance of the Sanctuary and to give the priests their sacrifices for Yahweh (Lev 17:8-9).

Question: Why isn't the treaty renewal ceremony's sacrifice offered on the Sanctuary altar and the communion sacred meal eaten within the camp of God? See a similar ceremony in Gen 31:51-54 between Jacob and his Aramean Gentile uncle who worshipped another god (note verse 53 in which Jacob's God and Laban's god are both invoked as witnesses of the treaty "in Joshua's ceremony only Yahweh renews the treaty with the assembly).
Answer: In that case, the Gentiles could not take part in the ceremony. This is a civil assembly of the whole community; it is not a religious ceremony offering worship to Yahweh.

It is a treaty affirming ceremony in which the Israelites and the Gentiles who live with them are committing themselves as vassals of Yahweh the Great King in a ceremony sealed by a sacrifice and a communal meal. The people are promising to give their complete allegiance to Yahweh as the previous generation did at Mt. Sinai and to live according to the Laws of Yahweh, their God and their King.

Moses was raised as a prince in Pharaoh's household and would have been given an education that trained him either for military service, or as a future royal governor of an Egyptian province, or for the diplomatic service. If he was trained for the diplomatic corps, he was very familiar with the format of a covenant treaty. There were two kinds of treaties that diplomats in the ancient Near East negotiated on behalf of their nations:

  1. Parity Covenant Treaties (between equals)
  2. Suzerainty Covenant Treaties (between the great king and his vassals)
  3. Royal Grant Covenant (no obligations on the part of the grantee)
  4. Covenant Treaty (obligations on both parties)

Moses wrote down the Covenant Treaty between God, the Great King, and Israel, God's vassal people, at Sinai in the same form as the Suzerainty Covenant Treaties of nations in the Late Bronze Age. Ancient Near Eastern treaties were usually laid out in a six point plan:

Part I: The Preamble (identification of the great king).

Part II: The Historical Prologue (antecedent history of the two parties).

Part III: The Ethical Stipulations (terms of the treaty the vassal must swear to uphold).

Part IV: Sanctions (blessings for loyal obedience and curses-judgments for violations).

Part V: The List of Witnesses (pagan gods who would imposed judgment on the parties if the broke their oaths to uphold the covenant treaty).

Part VI: Succession Arrangements and Disposition of the Covenant Document.

Moses' treaty between Israel and Yahweh in Exodus is, of course, missing the part that called upon the nations' pagan gods as witnesses to the treaty. Therefore the covenant treaty with Yahweh is laid out in five parts:

1. Preamble: Identifying the Lordship of God the Great King & stressing His greatness, dominance & eminence (Ex 19:3-6).
2. Historical Prologue: Recounting the Great King's previous relationship to his vassal, with special emphasis on the benefits of that relationship (Ex 20:1-2).
3. Ethical Stipulations: Enumerating the vassal's obligations to God, the Great King; it is the vassal's guide to maintaining the relationship (Ex 20:3-23:19).
4. Sanctions: A list of the blessings for obedience and the curse-judgments that will fall on the vassal if he breaks the covenant by failing his obligations (Ex 23:20-33).*
5. Succession Arrangements and Disposition of the Document: Arrangements and provisions for the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations & where the covenant document is to be secured (Ex 25:8, 21-22).

*Lev 26:3-13 repeats the blessings and 26:14-46 has a long list of curse-judgments for covenant failure as does Dt 28:3-14 (blessings) and 15-46 (curse-judgments); also see Dt 11:10-32 and 27:15-26.

Moses' review of the covenant treaty of Sinai in the Book of Deuteronomy also follows the same five steps of the Suzerainty Covenant Treaty:

1. Preamble Deuteronomy 1:1-5
2. Historical Prologue Deuteronomy 1:6 " 4:49
3. Ethical Stipulations Deuteronomy 5:1 " 26:19
4. Sanctions Deuteronomy 27:1 " 30:20
5. Succession Arrangements and Disposition of the Covenant Treaty Deuteronomy 31:1 " 34:12

See the document on covenant treaties in the Documents section of the website

Joshua 8:34 After this, Joshua read all the words of the Law "the blessing and the cursing, exactly as it stands written in the Book of the Law [torah].

These laws are additional instructions concerning how the Israelites were to live in the Promised Land and are found in Deuteronomy chapters 12-28; chapter 28 includes a long list of the covenant blessings and curses. All Old Testament blessings and curses-judgments are temporal.

There are three collections of commands and prohibitions found in the Pentateuch: the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20:19-23:33), the Holiness Code (Lev chapters 17-26) and the Deuteronomic Code (Dt chapters 12-28). All the codes express the same major themes but each code expands the application of the Law and together form the fullness of what will be considered the 613 commands and prohibitions of the whole Law "the basis of which is the Ten Commandments.

A Comparison of the three Law Codes

Theme Book of the Covenant Holiness Code Deuteronomic Code
Prologue: right worship Ex 20:19-23:9 Lev 17:1-16 Dt 12:1-19
Duties toward the Land Ex 23:10-11 Lev 19:9-37; 25:23-34 Dt 15:1-11; 24:19-22; 26:1-15
Liturgical Calendar Ex 23:12-19 Lev 23:1-44; 25:1-22 Dt 16:1-7
Epilogue: covenant blessings and curses Ex 23:20-33 Lev 26:3-46 Dt 28:1-69/29:1
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

For more information on the codes see the Exodus Study, lesson 11 and the Leviticus Study, lessons 8 and 9.

When Joshua 8:32 records that Joshua wrote upon the stones, it does not mean the altar stones but the "tall stones coated with lime (plaster)" from the instructions in Deuteronomy 27:2-3.

Question: What is the purpose of the tall, plaster covered stones, and what does Joshua write on them?
Answer: The stones are to be a memorial of the treaty renewal ceremony. What is written on them is unclear. It must be more than the Decalogue ("ten words" of the Ten Commandments) because one large stone would suffice if that is all that is to be written. It is likely that what was written on the front and back of the tall stones was the Law of the Deuteronomic Code from Moses' last homilies, or the twelve curse-judgments found in the instructions for the covenant treaty renewal ceremony in Deuteronomy chapter 27, to which all the people swore an obedient "Amen" (Dt 27:14-26).

Note that all the blessings and curse-judgments are temporal: fertility, rain in the growing season, absence of war as opposed to infertility, drought and famine, and oppression by foreign armies.

Question: Where do you find New Covenant blessings and curse-judgments in the New Testament? What is the difference between the blessings and cures-judgments in the Old and New Covenants? See Mt 5:1-12 and Mt 23:1-36 (especially the summation in verse 33) and 25:31-42.
Answer: The blessings are found in the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5:1-12 and the curse-judgments are found in Matthew 23:1-36, followed by a description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 and the dispensing of the final blessings and curse-judgments. The blessings are spiritual blessings that promise eternal salvation and the curse-judgments are also eternal in which the actions of the person condemns him/her to eternal damnation (eternal separation from the Presence of God).

Joshua 8:35 Of every word laid down by Moses, not one was left unread by Joshua in the presence of the whole assembly [kahal/qahal] of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners living with them.

The covenant treaty renewal ceremony took place west of the ancient city of Shechem. In the renewal ceremony, special emphasis will be placed on the repeating the Sanctions of the covenant treaty "the blessings and curse-judgments (probably those listed Dt 27:14-26).

This treaty renewal ceremony is then a civil national Assembly. The kahal/qahal in Hebrew is the "Assembly/Congregation of Yahweh," serving as the national governing body similar to a national legislature. It was responsible for a broad range of judicial, political, and national policy matters (for example see Dt 5:19; 9:10; 10:4; 18:16; 23:2, 3, 4, 9; 31:30; 33:4 [khlt/qhlt]; Judg 20:2; 2 Sam 5:1-3; 20:14; 1 Kng 12:1, 3, 20 and verb forms in Dt 4:10; 31:12, 28). The national governing Assembly was the deliberative, decision-making assembly of the people, composed of all the adult male Israelites and resident aliens meeting in plenary session and sometimes refers to their tribal representatives acting as an executive committee. The Assembly of Israel convened to declare war on an enemy state, to elect a king, to adjudicate legal cases, to distribute land, and in covenant renewal ceremonies (where even women and children attended) allegiance was sworn anew in obedience to the Law of Yahweh as Israel's King.

Question: Why were resident aliens included in the national assemblies? See Lev chapters 17-19 and 1 Sam 11:6-11 where Uriah the Hittite served in King David's army.
Answer: Resident aliens were included because they were subject to the same laws under which the Israelites lived and were expected to support the nation in times of conflict.

A national assembly is not the same as the special religious assemblies of worship during the pilgrim feasts (first and last day of Unleavened Bread and the eighth day of Tabernacles; Lev 23:7-8, 36; Num 28:18, 25; 29:36) to which non-covenant members were not admitted. In the books of the Chronicles, kahal is used for the pre and post-exile worshiping community.

The location of Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim is significant. These mountains are near the ancient city of Shechem. Shechem is located just east of Mt. Ebal and was overlooked by Mt. Ebal on the north and Mt. Gerizim on the south. Mt. Ebal is the higher of the two mountains and the only part of Canaan that cannot be viewed from Mt. Ebal is the Negeb to the far south. Shechem is located at a strategic position in the central hill country about 30 to 35 miles north of Jerusalem at the east end of the pass between the two mountains. It was where several trade routes converged with Shechem controlling the major north-south highway through the central hill country that led as far north as Megiddo, to Jerusalem and Hebron in the south and the east-west highway that moved westward from Shechem to Samaria on the coastal plain trade route called the "Way of the Sea." Whoever controlled the pass around Mt. Ebal could control all the hill country from a point just north of Jerusalem nearly to the Plain of Esdraelon in the north "a vast sweeping plain through which the Way of the Sea passed, connecting Canaan to both Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Question: Which of the Patriarchs settled at Shechem? See Shechem mentioned in Gen 12:6-7; 33:18-20; 34:1-31; 35:4. Why is it significant that the covenant treaty renewal ceremony take place in this location? What is the theological and historical significance of Shechem?

  1. Shechem is where Abraham first stopped and settled when he entered Canaan and where God first appeared to him.
  2. The royal grant covenant treaty promise of the gift of the land to Abraham's descendants was made at Shechem (Gen 12:6-7a).
  3. Abraham built the first altar to Yahweh at Shechem and offered sacrifice (Gen 12:7b)
  4. Abraham's grandson Jacob also settled at Shechem after returning to Canaan from Haran (in modern day Syria) with his family. He purchased land and built an altar to offer worship to Yahweh (Gen 33:18-20).
  5. It was at the same site that two of Jacob's son dishonored a covenant treaty with the people of Shechem (Gen 34:1-31.

In his commentary on the Book of Joshua, Origen saw the Israelites divided into two groups on either side of the pass between the mountains as symbolic the two kinds of people who compose the covenant community: those who conform their lives to His statutes and laws out of love and gratitude to God and those who only profess love but who either serve Him out of fear of retribution or because of their fear of losing their status in the community. Mt. Gerizim will become the site of the Samaritan temple built in opposition to the Jerusalem Temple in the 6th century BC (read about the origins of the Samaritans in 2 Kng 17:24-41; also see 2 Mac 6:2 and Jn 4:20). Our story is taking place centuries earlier in the Late Bronze Age (in c. 1315 BC according to our reckoning in lesson 3).

An intriguing question is why is there no account of the conquest of Shechem? It was an important, walled city that controlled the region of the central hill country. The earliest occupation of Shechem is dated to the Chalcolithic period (c. 4000-3500 BC). During the Middle Bronze Age, especially during the rule of the Hyksos in Egypt, Shechem was a large and influential city. The city suffered catastrophic damage in three (maybe four) successive attacks in the Middle Bronze II (c. 1525) during the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt and the rise of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty " perhaps by the Egyptians when they pursued the Hyksos out of Egypt and into Canaan, reestablishing Egyptian dominance over the territory. The city was completely rebuilt in the Late Bronze Age c. 1450 BC and a large temple was discovered in the debris from that level that is probably the El-Berith mentioned in Judges 9:46-49. Archaeologists hold the view that a group of people ruled by the Labayu dynasty dominated the region of the central hill country with Shechem as the capital during the Late Bronze II Age (c. 1400-1300 BC). This is also called the "Amarna Age," named for the Amarna diplomatic correspondence between Canaan and Egypt during this period (Archaeological Study Bible, page 340).(3)

The Israelites may have spared the city because of the Patriarchal traditions attached to the site and the failure of the sons of Jacob to honor the covenant treaty Jacob made with the king of Shechem (Gen 34:6-31). Shechem not named among the 31 kingdoms that were destroyed by the Israelites in chapter 12. Earlier in the Late Bronze Age Shechem had diplomatic ties with Egypt in which they recognized the Egyptians as the dominant power. Among the documents from the famous archive discovered in Amarna, Egypt was a series of harsh exchanges between the Egyptian government and the city of Shechem in which Prince Labayu and his sons are accused of having given the lands of Shechem to the foreign "Habiru," a name that sounds very like "Hebrew" and may refer to the Israelites (Boling and Wright, page 253). Perhaps the Israelites still felt bound by the treaty their forefather made with Shechem almost a half a millennium earlier. As we shall see in the next two chapters, once a covenant treaty was sworn, it was considered binding no matter what the circumstances. Joshua will also deliver his farewell address to the Assembly of Israel at Shechem (Josh 24).

Chapter 9: The Israel's Covenant Treaty with the Gibeonites

Joshua 9:1-6 ~ The Canaanite coalition against Israel and the deception of the Gibeonites
1 Hearing these things, all the [western] kings on this side [who were beyond] of the Jordan, in the highlands and in the lowlands, all along the coast of the Great Sea towards the Lebanon, Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, with one consent 2 formed a fighting alliance against Joshua and Israel. 3 When the inhabitants of Gibeon learned how Joshua had treated Jericho and Ai, for their part, 4 they had recourse to a ruse. They provided themselves with supplies, and loaded their donkeys with old sacks and with old wineskins which had burst and had been sewed up again. 5 They put on patched old sandals and worn-out clothes. The only bread they took with them to eat was dried up and crumbling.

Israel's victories at Jericho and Ai have united the Amorite and Canaanite kingdoms against Israel. The term "beyond the Jordan" in verse 1 is found 17 times in the Book of Joshua (Josh 1:14; 2:10; 5:1; 9:1, 10; 7:7; 12:7; 13:8; 14:3; 18:7; 22:4, 7; 24:8, 11), usually in designating the east side of the river but also the west side (i.e., Josh 5:1; 9:1; 12:7; 22:7) and often with the additional qualification "in the west" or "in the east" (i.e., 15:1; 12:7; 13:8; 18:7) or "where the sun rises" (i.e., 1:15; 12:1). Notice the theme of covenant that began in the last chapter is continued through chapter 9 with the formation of a new covenant and chapter 10 (next week's lesson) with honoring of the obligations of a covenant.

Joshua 9:3-4 When the inhabitants of Gibeon learned how Joshua had treated Jericho and Ai, for their part, 4 they had recourse to a ruse...

The Gibeonites were a group of Amorites and Hivites that lived in a region northwest of Jerusalem and belonged to a confederacy of four small towns (Josh 9:7, 17; 2 Sam 21:2). After hearing about Israel's victory over the city of Jericho and the small town of Ai, they decided not to throw in with the alliance of the Amorite and Canaanite kingdoms but instead sent their envoys to attempt to form a treaty relationship with the Israelites.(4)

Joshua 9:6-18 ~ The Gibeonites make a covenant treaty with Israel
6 They came to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal, and to him and the men of Israel they said, We come from a distant country, so make a treaty [berit] with us.' 7 The Israelites answered these Hivites, For all we know, you may live right among us. How then could we make a treaty with you?' 8 They said to Joshua, We are your servants.' But who are you?' Joshua asked them, and where do you come from?' 9 They said, Your servants have come from a country very far away, because of the fame of Yahweh your God; for we have heard of him and of all that he did in Egypt, 10 and of all that he did to the two Amorite kings who used to live on the other side of the Jordan [beyond the Jordan]: Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who used to live at Ashtaroth. 11 Because of which, our elders and all the people of our country said to us, Take provisions with you for the journey; go and meet them and say to them: We are your servants; so make a treaty with us." 12 Here is our bread; it was warm when we took it from home to provide for our journey the day we set out to come to you, and now, you can see, it is dried up and crumbling. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them; you can see, they have burst; and these clothes and sandals of ours are worn out from travelling such a long way.' 14 The leaders sampled some of the food they offered, but they did not ask Yahweh's orders. 15 Joshua made peace with them, and struck a treaty with them guaranteeing their lives, and the leaders of the community ratified it by oath. 16 Now it so happened that three days after the treaty had been made, it became known that they were a neighboring people, living in Israel's region. 17 The Israelites set out from camp, arriving in their towns three days later. Their towns were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath-Jearim. 18 The Israelites did not attack them, since the leaders of the community had sworn to them by Yahweh, God of Israel, but the whole community muttered against the leaders.
[..] = from the literal Hebrew translation (IBHE, vol. I, pages 580-81).

Joshua 9:6 They came to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal, and to him and the men of Israel they said, We come from a distant country, so make a treaty with us.'

The Hebrew text uses the word berit, which can be translated as "treaty" or "covenant." It is the same Hebrew word used for the Jewish ceremony of circumcision.

Question: Why was it clever of the Gibeonites to say that they had come from a distant place outside of Canaan? Why did the Israelites make a covenant treaty with them? See Dt 7:1-6 and 20:11, 15-18.
Answer: The Israelites were forbidden to make covenant treaties with the population that lived within the boundaries of Canaan. However, they were permitted to make treaties with towns lying outside the borders of Canaan. For a community outside the borders of Canaan, it was wise politically for Israel to establish a vassal-suzerain treaty, making the foreigners vassals of Israel.

Joshua 9:14-15 The leaders sampled some of the food they offered, but they did not ask Yahweh's orders. Joshua made peace with them, and struck a treaty with them guaranteeing their lives, and the leaders of the community ratified it by oath.

In sharing food with the Gibeonites, the leaders of Israel performed an act of entering into a vassal-suzerain treaty with the Gibeonites; the covenant treaty was ratified by oath swearing and a shared meal (see Gen 31:46-47, 53-54). A covenant cannot be formed without an oath confirming the relationship. An oath is a conditional self-curse, as we used to swear to tell the truth in courtrooms with the words "so help me God," asking God to help us keep our oath to tell the truth and at the same time to act as our Divine judge as our self-curse if we failed to be truthful.

Question: What were the two failures of the leaders of Israel?
Answer: The Israelites' leaders not only violated the command not to make treaties with the residents of Canaan, but they failed to consult God in the matter.

It wasn't until three days later that the Israelites discovered the truth about the Gibeonites (two days as we count). Perhaps the revealing of the truth in three days points to the revelation of the true identity of Jesus Christ as the Divine Messiah on the third day or that in the New Covenant salvation is extended to all through Jesus' Resurrection, no matter their ethnicity. Origen points out that the Gibeonites sought salvation through deception and therefore it was fitting that their share in the Promised Land was to serve those who they deceived (Homilies on Joshua, 10.2).

Joshua 9:10 The Israelites did not attack them, since the leaders of the community had sworn to them by Yahweh, God of Israel, but the whole community muttered against the leaders.

The community of Israel was not pleased that their leaders had allowed themselves to be deceived.

Joshua 9:19-27 ~ Israel's discovery of the deception the Gibeonites' place in the community
19 The leaders, however, all said to the whole community, Since we have sworn an oath to them by Yahweh, God of Israel, we cannot touch them now. 20 This is what we shall do with them: let them live, rather than bring retribution down on ourselves on account of the oath which we have sworn to them.' 21 And the leaders went on, Let them live, but let them be wood-cutters and water-carriers for the whole community.' Thus spoke the leaders. 22 Joshua sent for the Gibeonites and asked them, Why did you deceive us by saying, We live very far away," when in fact you live right among us? 23 From now on, you are accursed and will forever be serfs, as wood-cutters and water-carriers in the house of my God.' 24 Their answer to Joshua was, We did it because your servants had been rightly told that Yahweh your God had ordered his servant Moses to give you the whole of this country and destroy all its inhabitants before you; also because, as you advanced on us, we feared very greatly for our lives. That was why we did this. 25 Now, as you see, we are at your mercy; do to us whatever you think good and right.' 26 What he did with them was this: he saved them from the hand of the Israelites, who did not kill them. 27 But that very day Joshua made them wood-cutters and water-carriers for the community and for the altar of Yahweh, at the place which he would eventually choose; and so they are today.

Question: When the leaders of Israel realized that they had been duped, why didn't they just repudiate the treaty?
Answer: They had sworn an oath to the Gibeonites, and despite the deception they felt that must remain true to their oath of friendship sworn in the name of Yahweh or the covenant curse for violating the covenant would fall on Israel.

Question: What reason did the Gibeonites give for their deception; how is this also the reason why didn't they join the alliance of the Amorite and Canaanite kings? See Josh 8:24.
Answer: They believed that Yahweh was going to give all the land to the Israelites, and they feared for their lives. Apparently they believed that the power of Yahweh, God-king of Israel, was greater that the strength of the alliance of earthly kings.

Question: What penalty did Joshua impose on the Gibeonites for their deception and what was their reaction? See Josh 8:21, 23.
Answer: They became responsible for providing the water for the Sanctuary (and perhaps the camp of Israel) and for providing the wood for the Sanctuary's altar fires. They willingly (and perhaps gratefully) submitted to Joshua's penalty.

Joshua's treaty with Gideon was violated about two centuries later by King Saul who attempted to exterminate the Gibeonites. The covenant violation and blood-guilt resulted in a three year famine in Israel. The crime against Gibeon was expiated by King David (2 Sam 21:1-14).

Question for group discussion: Is there a lesson for us in the story of the Gibeonites? While it is true that they deceived the Israelites, they did not deceive God, and what choice did thy have? They were determined to achieve their salvation. Are you determined to do whatever it takes to secure your eternal salvation? How would you have responded to Jesus' answer if you had asked Him, like the rich young man, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" See Mt 19:16-66; Mk 10:17-22 or Lk 18:18-23.


1. There were several towns named Gilgal in Scripture besides Joshua's camp across from Jericho. In addition to the Gilgal near Jericho and the town south of Shechem, there was also a region named Gilgal between Dor and Tirsa, probably in the Galilee (Josh 12:23-24 reads in Hebrew: the king of Dor on the coast of Dor, one; the king of the nations of Gilgal, one; the king of Tirzah, one. All the kings were thirty-one.

2. Evidence that only one altar offering worship to Yahweh was allowed is found in Joshua chapter 22. When the Transjordan tribes built an altar at Gilgal near their crossing point on the banks of the Jordan River (Josh 22:9-10), the other tribes interpreted their actions as a violation of the command to offer sacrifice to God only at God's Sanctuary. The tribes on the west side of the river saw the building of the altar as a rebellion against Yahweh, and were ready to go to war against the Transjordan tribes for the violation Josh (22:12-18).

3. When Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and attempted to convert the Egyptians to a monotheistic religion, he abandoned the old capital of Thebes in favor of a newly built capital he called Akhetaten ("the horizon of Aten") in the Amarna region about 250 miles (403km) north of Thebes. After Akhenaten's death seventeen years later, the Egyptian priests returned to the religion of the old gods, abandoning Akhenaten's capital, placing young Tutankhamen on the throne and returning the capital to Thebes. In 1887 the royal archives of Akhenaten's forgotten capital were discovered. 382 clay tablets, mostly of diplomatic correspondence, were discovered and are referred to as the "Amarna Letters." All the tablets were written in Akkadian (ancient Babylonian), the diplomatic language of the day, and the documents span a period during the mid to late 14th century BC, the period this study proposes for the Exodus and Conquest of Canaan (Biblical Archaeology Review, issue 3, pages 54-57, 1970).

4. Archaeologists believe they have positively identified the territory of the Gibeonites. An excavation of a site only 19 miles from the camp at Gilgal and 8 miles northwest of Jerusalem yielded some 30 wine jar handles stamped with the letters gb'n (Gibeon). The site is located on an important east-west road from Jericho to the coastal plain through the Beth-horon pass, also known as the Valley of Aijalon (Boling and Wright, Joshua. page 262).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism References: