Crossroads of Destiny
Posted by foryourfaith on March 5, 2012
The town of Gibeon, about six miles northwest of Jerusalem, appears repeatedly in the history and legends of Israel. Its story reflects both the violence and the piety of ancient days, and in modern times it has become the site of remarkable archaeological discoveries. First occupied about 2800 BC, biblical Gibeon’s site is located in an Arab village in whose name – El Jib – Gibeon’s first syllable survives. (The name Gibeon means “hill.”)
When the Israelites, under Joshua, first entered Canaan (about 1200 BC) the site of Gibeon already had a millennium and a half of human history. Its inhabitants were prosperous vintners and wine merchants. It was a far more important settlement than the town to its south – the town that was to become the capital, Jerusalem.
The Gibeonites had a special relationship with Israel from the time of the conquest. Through an elaborate ruse they convinced Joshua that they were “from a very far country” and thus were able to make a treaty with Israel and escape the destruction that befell the other cities in the area.
When local Amorite armies attacked Gibeon for breaking the united defense against the invading Israelites, Joshua came to their aid. It was during the decisive battle that the Lord threw great stones down from heaven and Joshua commanded the sun to stand still (Joshua 10:11-14).
Gibeon next appeared on the stage of Israelite history in the stormy aftermath of the death of King Saul. David had been anointed as king of Judah, in the south. Saul’s son Ishbosheth, meanwhile, had been installed as king of Israel, in the north. Gibeon, now a city belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, was near the border between the northern and the southern regions.
In a mysterious incident that began as some sort of duel or tournament – but soon erupted into a full-scale battle – the opposing sides confronted each other around the great rock-cut pool of Gibeon (2 Samuel 2:12-17). David’s commander, Joab, sat on one side; the dead Saul’s former commander, Abner, was on the other. Abner proposed the duel by saying, “Let the young men arise and play before us.” Then Joab said, “Let them arise.”
Twelve soldiers on each side stepped forward and paired off for their bloody “play.” In the duel, “each caught his opponent by the head, and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side; so they fell down together” (2 Samuel 2:16). The death of the 24 initiated a fierce battle in which David’s side clearly had the advantage but the other camp was not totally defeated. Thus at Gibeon began “a long war between the house of Sal and the house of David” (2 Samuel 3:1), in which David ultimately triumphed.
After David’s victory, the Gibeonites again took part in another remarkably bloody incident. When a famine ravaged the land, David was told that it was caused by a “bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death” – an event that is not previously recorded in the Bible (2 Samuel 21:1). The Gibeonites demanded the death of seven sons of Saul to expiate this guilt. But by this time, many of Saul’s sons had already died. David satisfied the Gibeonites by giving them two of Saul’s sons and five of his grandsons, “and they hanged them on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together” (2 Samuel 21:9).
Their bodies were left out to be devoured by birds and animals, but they were spared this indignity through the remarkable perseverance of Rizpah, the mother of two of Saul’s sons. Day and night, from April to late autumn, she guarded the hanging bodies. Finally David, hearing of Rizpah’s vigil, had the bones buried with Saul’s near Saul’s home in the land of Benjamin.
During the reign of Solomon, David’s successor, Gibeon was a great high place, where Solomon sacrificed a thousand burnt offerings to the Lord. Moreover, it was at Gibeon that Solomon had his famous dream, in which he asked the Lord for the wisdom to rule justly. Not only was he granted unsurpassed wisdom, but he was also given great riches and honor.
Biblical references to Gibeon are often in connection with a “pool,” or “great pool.” But it was not until 1956 that the “great pool” was located. In that year, an archaeological expedition led by J.B. Pritchard discovered the pool of Gibeon. It was a cylindrical water shaft – 37 feet wide and 82 feet deep – that had been cut into the rock. Seventy-nine rock-cut steps spiral down the inner wall of the shaft. This enormous excavation is estimated to have required the removal of approximately 3,000 tons of limestone, a work that in those days would probably have been done by hand. The giant well together with two extensive water tunnels, also hewn from the rock, formed a water system that – until relatively recently – continued to supply water to the modern town of El Jib.
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