This Canaanite city was “one of the royal cities, greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty” (Joshua 10:2).
Its inhabitants were Hivites (11:19). It lay within the territory of Benjamin, and became a priest-city (18:25; 21:17).
Here the tabernacle was set up after the destruction of Nob, and here it remained many years till the temple was built by Solomon. It is represented by the modern el-Jib, to the southwest of Ai, and about 5½ miles north-northwest of Jerusalem.
A deputation of the Gibeonites, with their allies from three other cities (Joshua 9;17), visited the camp at Gilgal, and by false representations induced Joshua to enter into a league with them, although the Israelites had been specially warned against any league with the inhabitants of Canaan (Exodus 23:32; 34:12; Numbers 33:55; Deuteronomy 7:2). The deception practiced on Joshua was detected three days later; but the oath rashly sworn “by Jehovah God of Israel” was kept, and the lives of the Gibeonites were spared. They were, however, made “bondmen” to the sanctuary (Joshua 9:23).
The most remarkable incident connected with this city was the victory Joshua gained over the kings of Canaan (Joshua 10:16-27). The battle here fought has been regarded as “one of the most important in the history of the world.” The kings of southern Canaan entered into a confederacy against Gibeon (because it had entered into a league with Joshua) under the leadership of Adoni-zedec, king of Jerusalem, and marched upon Gibeon with the view of taking possession of it.
The Gibeonites entreated Joshua to come to their aid with the utmost speed. His army came suddenly upon that of the Amorite kings, as it lay encamped before the city. It was completely routed, and only broken remnants of their great host found refuge in the fenced cities.
The 5 confederate kings who led the army were taken prisoners, and put to death at Makkedah. This eventful battle of Beth-horon sealed the fate of all the cities of Southern Israel. Among the Amarna tablets is a letter from Adoni-zedec to the king of Egypt, written probably at Makkedah after the defeat, showing that the kings contemplated flight into Egypt.
This place is again brought into notice as the scene of a battle between the army of Ish-bosheth under Abner and that of David led by Joab.
At the suggestion of Abner, to spare the effusion of blood, 12 men on either side were chosen to decide the battle. The issue was unexpected; for each of the men slew his fellow, and thus they all perished. The two armies then engaged in battle, in which Abner and his host were routed and put to flight (2 Samuel 2:12-17).
This battle led to a virtual truce between Judah and Israel—Judah, under David, increasing in power; and Israel, under Ish-bosheth, continually losing ground.
Soon after the death of Absalom and David’s restoration to his throne, his kingdom was visited by a grievous famine, which was found to be a punishment for Saul’s violation (2 Samuel 21:2, 5) of the covenant with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:3-27).
The Gibeonites demanded blood for the wrong that had been done to them, and, accordingly, David gave up to them the 2 sons of Rizpah and the 5 sons of Michal, and these the Gibeonites took and hanged or crucified “in the hill before the Lord” (2 Samuel 21:9); and there the bodies hung for 6 months (21:10), and all the while Rizpah watched over the blackening corpses and “suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.”
David afterwards removed the bones of Saul and Jonathan at Jabesh-gilead (21:12-13).
Here, “at the great stone,” Amasa was put to death by Joab (2 Samuel 20:5-10). To the altar of burnt-offering which was at Gibeon, Joab (1 Kings 2:28-34), who had taken the side of Adonijah, fled for sanctuary in the beginning of Solomon’s reign, and was there also slain by the hand of Benaiah.
Soon after he came to the throne, Solomon paid a visit of state to Gibeon, there to offer sacrifices (1 Kings 3:4; 2 Chronicles 1:3). On this occasion, the Lord appeared to him in a memorable dream, recorded in 1 Kings 3:5-15; 2 Chronicles 1:7-12.
When the temple was built “all the men of Israel assembled themselves” to King Solomon, and brought up from Gibeon the tabernacle and “all the holy vessels that were in the tabernacle” to Jerusalem, where they remained till they were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:13).