(Gibʹe·on) [Hill Place], Gibeonites (Gibʹe·on·ites).
The city of Gibeon is today linked with el-Jib, about 9.5 km (6 mi) NNW of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Numerous earthenware jar handles bearing the name Gibeon in ancient Hebrew characters have been found there. Located on a hill that rises some 60 m (200 ft) above the surrounding plain, the ancient site covers about 6.5 ha (16 acres).
The site has in recent years been the scene of archaeological diggings. Excavators cleared a 51-m (167 ft) tunnel cut through solid rock. This tunnel was anciently lighted by means of lamps placed in niches at regular intervals along its walls. With its 93 rock-cut steps, the tunnel led from just within Gibeon to a man-made cave-reservoir fed by a spring about 25 m (82 ft) below the city wall. This ensured the Gibeonites a safe water supply even in time of siege. Excavators also uncovered a round, rock-cut pit, or pool, having a diameter of 11.3 m (37 ft). A circular stairway, with steps measuring about 1.5 m (5 ft) wide, leads downward in a clockwise direction around the edge of the pit. From the bottom of the pit, at a depth of 10.8 m (35.4 ft), the steps continue for 13.6 m (44.6 ft) through a tunneled stairwell leading to a water chamber. Whether this pit, or pool, is to be identified with the Biblical “pool of Gibeon” is uncertain.—2Sa 2:13.
Dealings With Joshua. In Joshua’s time Gibeon was inhabited by Hivites, one of the seven Canaanite nations in line for destruction. (De 7:1, 2; Jos 9:3-7) The Gibeonites were also called Amorites, as this designation appears at times to have been applied generally to all the Canaanites. (2Sa 21:2; compare Ge 10:15-18; 15:16.) Unlike the other Canaanites, the Gibeonites realized that despite their military strength and the greatness of their city, resistance would fail because Jehovah was fighting for Israel. Therefore, after the destruction of Jericho and Ai, the men of Gibeon, apparently also representing the three other Hivite cities of Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim (Jos 9:17), sent a delegation to Joshua at Gilgal to sue for peace. The Gibeonite ambassadors—dressed in worn-out garments and sandals and having burst, skin wine-bottles, worn-out sacks, and dry, crumbly bread—represented themselves as being from a distant land, hence not in the way of Israel’s conquests. They acknowledged Jehovah’s hand in what had earlier befallen Egypt and the Amorite kings Sihon and Og. But wisely they did not mention what had happened to Jericho and Ai, as such news could not have reached their “very distant land” before the supposed departure. Israel’s representatives examined and accepted the evidence and covenanted with them to let them live.—Jos 9:3-15.
Shortly thereafter, the ruse was uncovered. But the covenant remained in force; breaking it would have called Israel’s trustworthiness into question and brought Jehovah’s name into contempt among the other nations. When Joshua confronted the Gibeonites about their craftiness, they again acknowledged Jehovah’s dealing with Israel and then placed themselves at his mercy, saying: “Now here we are, in your hand. Just as it is good and right in your eyes to do to us, do.” They were then constituted gatherers of wood and drawers of water for the assembly and for Jehovah’s altar.—Jos 9:16-27.
Although Joshua and the other chieftains had been tricked into making a covenant with the Gibeonites, this was evidently in harmony with Jehovah’s will. (Jos 11:19) Proof of this is seen in the fact that when five Amorite kings sought to destroy the Gibeonites, Jehovah blessed Israel’s rescue operation; he even hurled down great hailstones upon the foe and miraculously extended the daylight for battle. (Jos 10:1-14) Also, both in seeking a covenant of peace with Israel and in appealing to Joshua for help when threatened, the Gibeonites manifested faith in Jehovah’s ability to fulfill his word and to effect deliverance, something for which Rahab of Jericho was commended and that resulted in the preservation of her life and that of her household. Moreover, the Gibeonites had a wholesome fear of Israel’s God.—Compare Jos 2:9-14; 9:9-11, 24; 10:6; Heb 11:31.
Under Israel’s Control. Gibeon afterward came to be one of the cities in the territory of Benjamin assigned to the Aaronic priests. (Jos 18:21, 25; 21:17-19) The Benjamite Jeiel apparently ‘fathered,’ or founded, a house there. (1Ch 8:29; 9:35) One of David’s mighty men, Ishmaiah, was a Gibeonite (1Ch 12:1, 4), and the false prophet Hananiah, a contemporary of Jeremiah, was from Gibeon.—Jer 28:1.
In the 11th century B.C.E., Gibeon and its vicinity witnessed a conflict between the army of Ish-bosheth under the command of Abner and that of David under the leadership of Joab. Initially, doubtless to settle the issue as to who should be king over all Israel, a combat with 12 men from each side was staged. But this decided nothing, for each warrior transfixed his opponent with the sword so that all 24 perished. Thereafter, fierce fighting erupted, with Abner losing 18 times as many men as Joab. All together there were 380 casualties, including Joab’s brother Asahel, killed by Abner. (2Sa 2:12-31) In revenge over Asahel, Joab later murdered Abner. (2Sa 3:27, 30) Sometime after this, near the great stone in Gibeon, Joab also killed his own cousin, Amasa, a nephew of David, whom David had appointed army chieftain.—2Sa 20:8-10.
Throughout the centuries, the original Gibeonites continued to exist as a people, although King Saul schemed to destroy them. The Gibeonites, however, patiently waited on Jehovah to reveal the injustice. This he did by means of a three-year famine in David’s reign. Upon inquiring of Jehovah and learning that bloodguilt was involved, David interviewed the Gibeonites to ascertain what should be done to make atonement. The Gibeonites rightly answered that it was not “a matter of silver or gold,” because, according to the Law, no ransom could be accepted for a murderer. (Nu 35:30, 31) They also recognized that they could not put a man to death without legal authorization. Therefore, not until David’s further questioning did they request that seven “sons” of Saul be handed over to them. The fact that bloodguilt was upon both Saul and his household suggests that, although Saul probably took the lead in the murderous action, the “sons” of Saul may directly or indirectly have shared in it. (2Sa 21:1-9) In that event this would not be a case of sons dying for the sins of their fathers (De 24:16) but would involve the administration of retributive justice in harmony with the law “soul will be for soul.”—De 19:21.
During David’s lifetime, the tabernacle was moved to Gibeon. (1Ch 16:39; 21:29, 30) It was there that Solomon offered sacrifices early in his reign. Also at Gibeon Jehovah appeared to him in a dream, inviting him to request anything that he might desire.—1Ki 3:4, 5; 9:1, 2; 2Ch 1:3, 6, 13.
Years later, the prophet Isaiah (28:21, 22), in foretelling Jehovah’s strange deed and unusual work of rising up against his own people, parallels this with what happened in the Low Plain of Gibeon. Likely the allusion is to David’s God-given victory over the Philistines (1Ch 14:16), if not also to the much earlier defeat of the Amorite league in the time of Joshua. (Jos 10:5, 6, 10-14) The prophecy had a fulfillment in 607 B.C.E., when Jehovah allowed the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and its temple.
At Mizpah, not long after the foretold destruction, Ishmael murdered Gedaliah, the governor appointed by Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. The assassin and his men also took the remaining people of Mizpah captive. But Johanan, with his men, overtook Ishmael by the abundant waters in Gibeon and recovered the captives.—Jer 41:2, 3, 10-16.
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Modern-day Gibeon. The ancient Gibeonites realized that Jehovah was fighting for Israel, so they sued for peace