The Gibeonite Deception: Things Are Not Always What They Seem

All the Kings West of the Jordan River heard about how Joshua had defeated the Kings of Ai and Jericho so combined their armies to fight as one against Joshua and the Israelites (see Conquering the West)

But the people of Gibeon had a different strategy, they resorted to deception to save themselves. They sent ambassadors to Joshua, loading their donkeys with weathered saddlebags and old patched wineskins. They put on worn-out, patched sandals and ragged clothes. And the bread they took with them was dry and mouldy. When they arrived at the camp of Israel at Gilgal, they told Joshua and the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant land to ask you to make a peace treaty with us”

The Gibeonite Deception is an elaborate one and can be found in the Book of Joshua chapter 9.

‘Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden’ – Phaedrus

These are the ways the people of Gibeon deceived Joshua and the people of Israel…

1. Loaded Donkeys

Donkeys are beasts of burden that help us travel; getting from one place to another. The Gibeonite Deception here was that they had travelled from a very distant country, however, it turned out they lived right there among them. Gibeonite deception causes us and others to believe we are further along the journey than we actually are in reality. We need to have an honest evaluation of ourselves measuring ourselves by the faith we actually have, not the faith we think we have, this often comes through the feedback of others on a committed team. Faith is measured by what we do and not simply by what we say. Faith without the requisite action is dead.

It’s important not to take people at their word- what I mean by that is- you have people who say they are something great and make all sorts of promises and self-assured statements, but on the ground in practice it’s very different. It’s really in the evidence of what people do that you see where they are really at. As Jesus says, ‘you will know them by their fruits’

2. Weathered Saddlebags 

Represents lack and poverty; lack of provision or old provisions that are no longer fit for purpose. The Gibeonite Deception here is that they pretend they had plenty of resources and provision to bring to help resource the work. They promise much but deliver little. I’ve had many come to me saying they will bring this or that, and offered to give this or that and have then not fulfilled their promise. They end up taking more than they give. Jesus is saying; to conquer the land, first you have to know what it means to ‘Take no purse’ (Luke 10:4), an act of faith that those who are sent by Jesus need to take in obedience to him on the first journeys. Then you need to know what it means to ‘Now take a purse’ (see more on this here: Resourcing Pioneer Movements)

3. Old Patched-up Wineskins 

Notice that these were old wineskins that they tried to patch-up. New Wine needs to be put in new wineskins. A patched up job will just not cut it! The people of Israel were entering their Promise Land, a land flowing with milk and honey and new wine. They didn’t need old solutions but new ones. See here for more on The Issue of Wineskins

4. Ragged Clothes

Clothing often speaks spiritually of our standing with God and with others. The New Testament speaks of putting off the old clothing and putting on the new. The Gibeonite Deception is that the clothes they were wearing were brand new, but really, the clothing was ragged from the beginning. Their righteousness was like filthy rags. The Gibeonites (old patch) were joining themselves to Israel (new patch) so they wouldn’t be destroyed. But Jesus speaks of the futility of trying to patch the old with the new- the tear is evident to all. (see Matt 9:16)

5. Worn-Out Patched Sandals

Sandals often represents messengers whose feet are ready to go share the gospel. When 70 disciples were sent out in 2’s they were told; ‘Don’t take any more with you, or a traveler’s bag, nor an extra pair of sandals. And don’t stop to greet anyone on the road’ (Luke 10:4)

The message The 70 took was the Gospel of the Kingdom that brought life and healing to the Households of Peace that received them. However, the message the Gibeonites brought was not good news at all, it was worn-out; representing an ineffective gospel and an ineffective walk. These messengers were worn-out/burnt-out and fearful for their lives. This is the spiritual condition of those who are hearers but not doers of the word and under this condition, As James says, ‘we deceive ourselves’ (James 1:22-25)

6. Mouldy, Dry Bread. 

During The Days in the Desert– the Israelites had learnt the principle of fresh bread– manna that came down from heaven was not to be stored but used the same day. Jesus reveals that he is the bread that comes down from heaven and his food was to do the will of the Father and to finish his work. We are to feed on Jesus daily, listening to him and doing the Father’s bidding on earth as it is in heaven

However, when Jesus’ disciples ran out of bread, they grumbled and complained amongst themselves. In response Jesus said to them; ‘watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees.’ For more on the bread of wickedness and The Yeast of the Pharisees see here.

7. Far off Ambassadors. 

‘We are Ambassadors from afar!’ They said they were from a Distant Land and had come to make a Peace Treaty but were actually from a town the Israelites were soon to conquer.

They said they ‘took these supplies for their long journey’. They said, ‘we are your servants.’ However, what they said was a lie. They had not come in peace or as ambassadors, but because of fear. They only want a peace treaty for their own self-preservation. Their motives are not right. They only said what their people and elders told them to say. There was not true conviction coming from themselves but from others and due to fear. These were false ambassadors…

In stark contrast, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 shows us what it means to be true Ambassadors for Christ;

‘Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love urges us on and controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them

So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for heist when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we can be made right with God through Christ’



When Joshua found out that he’d been deceived by the Gibeonites he said to them,

‘Why did you lie to us? Why did you say that you live in a distant land when you live right here among us? May you be cursed! From now on you will always be servants who cut wood and carry water for the house of my God’

So because of the oath and treaty Israel had made with the Gibeonites, Joshua did not allow the people of Israel to kill them as they had done with all their enemies in other battles. But that day he made the Gibeonites the woodcutters and water carriers for the community of Israel and for the altar of the LORD…

The Gibeonite Deception: One thing is clear, things are not what they appear


Richard Melseaux

The teachings and explanations given in the book of Joshua chapter 9 .About the Gibeonites ambassador prove how satan lies .Thanks very much.


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