Gibeonites were residents of Gibeon, one of the Hivite cities which effected a league with Joshua (Joshua 9:3-17), and perhaps three surrounding cities.
Upon the victorious advance of the Israelites the inhabitants hoped to avoid the anticipated danger facing them by stratagem, and to enter a friendly alliance with Israel. A delegation waited upon Joshua at Gilgal, representing themselves as ambassadors from a foreign country, desiring to make a league with him.
They made their proposal appear probable by taking “old sacks upon their asses, and wine bottles, old, rent, and bound up; and old shoes and clouted (i. e. mended) upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy.”
They declared that all of these were tokens of age and wear had come to them upon their journey. These representatives were received as friends and an allegiance was made with them. However, when what they had done through stratagem was discovered by the Israelites, they were condemned to perpetual bondmen, hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the house of God and the altar of Jehovah (Joshua 9:23, 27). Saul appears to have broken this covenant in a rage of enthusiasm or patriotism he killed some and devised a massacre for the rest (2 Samuel 21:1, 2, 5).
This was expiated many years by giving up seven men of Saul’s descendants to the Gibeonites who hung, or crucified, them “before Jehovah “–as a sacrifice–in Gibeah, Saul’s home town. From that time there is no further mention of the Gibeonites, but some writers include them among the Nethinim, who were appointed in the service of the temple (1 Chronicles 9:2). A.G.H.
Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago, Moody Press, 1966, pp. 403-404