To save their people from destruction by the advancing army of the Israelites, three Gibeonite men gather in the foreground to plead with Joshua. They lie to him, displaying their old food, ripped wine sacks, and tattered clothing, in a ploy to convince him that they are wandering tribes that should be allowed to stay in the Promised Land of Israel. When Joshua learns that he has been tricked–in fact the Gibeonites lived there permanently–he condemned them to perpetual servitude.
Joachim Beuckelaer used a dark, grisaille palette of brown and gray oils to emphasize the Gibeonites' treachery. Black strokes outline the figures and loosely define the men's faces, flags, and clothing. Beuckelaer also organized the picture by dividing it in half: a diagonal line begins from the leaning tree in the top left corner and continues down, with the Gibeonites ranged on one side and the Israelites on the other. The Gibeonites cluster in the foreground, while the sketchily drawn army of Israelites gathers in the background, mostly faceless figures in a crowd of waving spears.