Toxic Friendships: A Lesson From When The Gibeonites Tricked The Israelites

Who are the Gibeonites and how does their deception have an impact on you today? The story of the encounter of the Israelites and Gibeonites is a powerful look at how quickly we can fall into a parasitic relationship and how God’s grace covers us even when we are undeserving. Joshua 9 shows us what the consequences of running ahead instead of seeking God’s will can be.


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The Israelites And The Gibeonites: Toxic Relationships


We begin this study of Joshua by looking at parasitic relationships. We turn to Joshua 9 we find the Israelite’s in an encounter with the Gibeonites, travelers supposedly from a distant land begging for friendship. We push on and we discover the truth is these travelers are really an enemy from a neighboring city, but they’ve put together this grand ruse of packing dry moldy bread and putting on worn-out clothes so it looks like they’ve been traveling a long way when in reality they are the neighbors looking to enter into a parasitic relationship with the nation of Israel. Wanting the protection and the blessing but not really be a friend.


Scripture tells us that the Israelite’s sampled their supplies but didn’t seek the Lord’s will, and instead of seeing these travelers for what they are, they are taken in. They had all the right answers, they knew the right phrases to earn their trust and so the Israelite’s swear a treaty with them despite the fact the Lord told them to drive all the people in the land of Canaan out.


As we look back on chapter 8 the Israelite’s have just won a major victory, the chapter ended with Joshua holding his javelin out, and the victory is the Lord’s, He gives them the city and they follow all of His directions. Joshua’s erecting an altar to the Lord and reads the laws of Moses to all the people. Yet as we make our way through this chapter I’m struck by verse 14 The Israelite’s sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. What happened between the chapters? At one point Joshua was so in tune, so tight with God. Although this time he didn’t even stop and seek God in this decision also. It makes me wonder what changed.


Isn’t it interesting, that at our high point, when everything has been going great, in the wake of a victory that our focus can shift? It’s while we are riding out the high of the victory that we can stumble.


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Then the Israelites discover who these travelers really are… How often the people in our life, the people we thought we knew reveal their true colors and leave us reeling in confusion and disappointment.

What Is A Parasitic Relationship?


A  parasitic relationship is one in which an organism, ( a parasite), lives off of another organism, the host, harming it and possibly causing death. It’s an unhealthy relationship that sucks the life out of the host.


Who Were The Gibeonites?


The Gibeonites were a group of people, descended from the Amorites (2 Samuel 21:2) they make several appearances through the Old Testament of the Bible. Learn more about who the Gibeonites were here.


How Did The Gibeonites Trick The Israelites?


 However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.” Joshua 9:3-6 NIV


Much like Rahab, it was obvious to the Gibeonites that God was with the people of Israel. But unlike the heart change, we see in the story of Rahab, in this story we see deception and scheming. We don’t see idolaters come into the family of God, we find this group of people trying to manipulate themselves into safety and the blessings of God. They know the truth and yet their hearts don’t come to God, they want to stay as they are. 


The Israelites said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?” “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua. But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?” They answered: “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are your servants; make a treaty with us.”’ This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.” The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Joshua 9:7-14 


The Israelite’s slip into some old habits, they rush ahead in their own wisdom instead of seeking out God first they blunder ahead. They trust in their own wisdom, and this leaves them in a parasitic relationship with the Gibeonites.


Why Did Joshua Help The Gibeonites?


The answer to that question is found in verse 15 of Joshua 9:


Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. Joshua 9:15


Joshua had sworn an oath (made a covenant) to the people of Gibeon, something that was binding despite the manipulation they used to get this treaty with Israel. 


Why Did Joshua Keep His Promise To The Gibeonites?


A covenant was very serious, this wasn’t just a promise that could be gone back on or broken. The authority of the covenant of redemption/covenant of grace rests upon God keeping his word (Hebrews 6:13). God keeps his word in covenant, so should his people. This is why Israel was concerned about breaking the covenant they had made with the Gibeonites: “We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now.


Though the Gibeonites were undeserving of the grace and mercy granted them in the covenant, the Israelites kept the covenant. This is a perfect example of God’s covenant with us, and how though we are undeserving He maintains the covenant and gives us mercy and grace.  


What We Can Learn From The Gibeonites



The Gibeonites had heard about Joshua’s victories, Like Rahab they’d heard that the Lord had promised them this land. They had seen city after city fall, instead of going to war with their neighbors against Joshua they want to join him, but secretly unlike Rahab.


They don’t want to serve God. The Gibeonites didn’t want to be a part of what God was doing because they loved God. They just wanted what they could get out of the relationship. Deciding that they wanted in on the action, and just wanting to be part of that crowd and the protection it promised. We find that they wanted to live off of the coattails of what God was doing without the commitment to God. By this time Everyone around them has heard of the Israelite’s and their God. Maybe the Gibeonites just wanted a little of that fame. Instead of coming honestly to the mercy of God, they set out to trick and manipulate the Israelite’s and their God.


We Should Always Seek God Before Making A Decision 


Instead of going to God as they had in the past about this alliance with the Gibeonites, the Israelite’s simply blundered in blindly making decisions on their own. God saw through the deception. He would have warned them if they’d only asked.



How many of us have has some friendships like this? You thought they were real, but it turned out it was all an act. You thought they wanted to be your friend. That they wanted to be a part of what God was doing but it turned out they wanted what they could get out of the relationship and so they became like a parasite feeding off of you, sapping the time and energy, and resources out of you. Jealous of your attention, and demanding of you until you were so busy trying to satisfy their ravishing appetite that your ministry, your calling, your relationship with God begins to suffer for it and it became a burden you just couldn’t get out from under.





I can’t help but think of Rahab’s heartfelt plea in chapter 2 verses 12-13 “swear to me by the Lord that you will spare the lives of my family and those who belong to me because I have shown kindness to you,” such a different approach. Relationships built on lies and manipulations will never be successful, they will only lead to exhaustion and disappointment.


We Must Be Careful Who We Allow Into Our Inner Circle


To begin with we have to be careful who we let into our inner circle. The ones who we allow in the position to hold our arms up in the middle of times of trouble. Those who we let into our war room to see our plans and our dreams and speak into our lives.


We have to be careful who we let into our inner circle. The ones who we allow in the position to hold our arms up in the middle of times of trouble. Those who we let into our war room to see our plans and our dreams and speak into our lives. Click to Tweet


We must guard what God is doing. In order that people can’t come in and drown the fire because they feel threatened by what He is doing. We have to guard our friendships so that the people who just want the comfort of God. They want His protection. Wanting to be known for hanging out where God is moving but they don’t want to actually be involved with Him.  We mustn’t allow them to sap away our strength and become a dead weight that we are dragging around.


We find in Joshua and the Gibeonites the perfect example of a toxic relationship. As the Gibeonite’s are faced with the battle they immediately call for Joshua to come and save them. Indeed Gibeon is an important city in the area and all of its men were good fighters but they still make him bring his army and fight their battle. In fact, they sound like whining children manipulating to get their way. We find them in verse 6 begging for Joshua’s time, energy and resources.


We need friends who will tell us the truth in love.  Certainly, ones that are different from the rest of the crowd. Friends that will hold our arms up when even they won’t get anything out of it. The ones who will see what God is doing and encourage our hearts. People who will be an ally when the battle does come and will fight it with us. The faithful ones that will storm heaven’s gates with prayer on our behalf.  Those kinds of friends are the same in the dark as they are when the spotlight is on. We need to seek the Lord in every friendship, every relationship. We need relationships that are a tandem pull toward the Lord, not us dragging them with us.


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1 thought on “Toxic Friendships: A Lesson From When The Gibeonites Tricked The Israelites”

  1. Amen! It can be difficult to discern at times, but I think if we pray over our friendships, the truth always gets revealed. I also think it’s important to BE the kind of friend you desire to have. So many people want something they themselves are unwilling to be. I pray we change that.

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