The heathen tribes of Canaan were divided into many little "nations," with key cities as their centers. They usually fought each other, but when God's people arrived the little nations united to oppose Israel. However, a group of Hivites, a little-known ethnic group of Palestine, decided to try diplomacy rather than war. Their capital city was Gibeon, located five miles northwest of Jerusalem on the road to Joppa. They pretended to be friends of the Israelites. They lied to them, saying their wineskins had become old and worn on their long journey, their bread moldy, and their sandals worn. The Israelites believed them and made a treaty with them. The Israelites "took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord.".

The Gibeonites were found to be neighbors and enemies, among those who should have been destroyed. The result was Israel's disobedience to the Lord, and enemies numbered among them. Though the Gibeonites were given menial tasks, being made woodcutters and water carriers, the fact remained that they were enemies of the Israelites.

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