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Saturday, December 2nd, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

- Joshua

by John Calvin


As to the Author of this Book, it is better to suspend our judgment than to make random assertions. Those who think that it was Joshua, because his name stands on the title page, rest on weak and insufficient grounds. The name of Samuel is inscribed on a part of the Sacred History containing a narrative of events which happened after his death; and there cannot be a doubt that the book which immediately follows the present is called Judges, not because it was written by them, but because it recounts their exploits. Joshua died before the taking of Hebron and Debir, and yet an account of it is given in the 15th chapter of the present Book. The probability is, that a summary of events was framed by the high priest Eleazar, and furnished the materials out of which the Book of Joshua was composed. It was a proper part of the high priest’s duty not only to give oral instruction to the people of his own time, but to furnish posterity with a record of the goodness of God in preserving the Church, and thus provide for the advancement of true religion. And before the Levites became degenerate, their order included a class of scribes or notaries who embodied in a perpetual register everything in the history of the Church which was worthy of being recorded. Let us not hesitate. therefore, to pass over a matter which we are unable to determine, or the knowledge of which is not very necessary, while we are in no doubt as to the essential point — that the doctrine herein contained was dictated by the Holy Spirit for our use, and confers benefits of no ordinary kind on those who attentively peruse it. (1)

Although the people had already gained signal victories, and become the occupants of a commodious and tolerably fertile tract of country, the Divine promise as to the land of Canaan still remained suspended. Nay, the leading article in the Covenant was unaccomplished, as if God, after cooping up his people in a corner, had left his work in a shapeless and mutilated form. This Book, then, shows how, when the intolerable impiety of the people had interrupted the course of deliverance, God, while inflicting punishment, so tempered the severity of justice as ultimately to perform what he had promised concerning the inheritance of Canaan.

This suggests the very useful reflection, that while men are cut off by death, and fail in the middle of their career, the faithfulness of God never fails. On the death of Moses a sad change seemed impending; the people were left like a body with its head lopped off. While thus in danger of dispersion, not only did the truth of God prove itself to be immortal, but it was shown in the person of Joshua as in a bright mirror, that when God takes away those whom he has adorned with special gifts, he has others in readiness to supply their place, and that though he is pleased for a time to give excellent gifts to some, his mighty power is not tied down to them, but he is able, as often as seems to him good, to find fit successors, nay, to raise up from the very stones persons qualified to perform illustrious deeds.

First, we see how, when the wandering of forty years in the wilderness had almost effaced the remembrance of the passage of the Red Sea, the course of deliverance was proved to have been uninterrupted by the repetition of the same miracle in the passage of the Jordan. The renewal of circumcision was equivalent to a re-establishment of the Covenant which had been buried in oblivion by the carelessness of the people, or abandoned by them from despair. Next, we see how they were conducted by the hand of God into possession of the promised land. The taking of the first city was an earnest of the perpetual aid which they might hope for from heaven, since the walls of Jericho fell of their own accord, shaken merely by the sound of trumpets. The nations, however, were not completely routed by a single battle, nor in one short campaign, but were gradually worn out and destroyed by many laborious contests.

Here, it is to be observed, that arduous difficulties were thrown in the way of the people when the kings entered into a league, and came forth to meet them with united forces, because it became necessary not only to war with single nations, but with an immense body which threatened to overwhelm them by one great onset. Ultimately, however, all these violent attempts had no other effect than to make the power of God more manifest, and give brighter displays of mercy and faithfulness in the defense of his chosen people. In fact, their uninterrupted course of success, and their many unparalleled victories, showed the hand of God as it were visibly stretched forth from heaven.

More especially, a signal proof that they were warring under divine auspices was given when the sun was checked in his course at the mere prayer of Joshua, as if the elements had been armed for his assistance, and were waiting ready to obey him. Again, while the delays which occurred in the progress of the war were useful trials of the constancy of the people, we must not lose sight of another admirable use of which Moses, to prevent them from fainting in their minds, had at an earlier period forewarned them, viz., that God was unwilling to destroy the nations at once, lest the country, from being converted into a kind of desert, might be overrun by wild beasts.

But the provision which God had thus most graciously made for their security, they wickedly perverted to their own destruction: for having obtained what they deemed a large enough space for commodious habitation, they turned backwards to indulge in sloth and cowardice. This one crime brought others along with it. For after they had been enrolled under the banners of the Lord, they treacherously and disobediently refused to fulfil their period of service, in the very same way as deserters, regardless of the military oath, basely quit their standards. (2) The dominion of the land, which had been divinely offered, they, with flagrant ingratitude, rejected, by taking possession of only a part.

Moreover, though they had been ordered to purge the sacred territory of all pollutions, in order that no profanation of the pure and legitimate worship might remain, they allowed the impious superstitions which God abhorred to be practiced as before; and though they also knew that the order had been partly given as a security for their own safety, lest, through intermixture with the nations, they might be ensnared by their impostures and insidious arts, yet, as if they had determined to court danger, they left them to furnish the fuel of a dire conflagration.

Their obstinate incredulity betrays itself in their disregard of the penalty denounced against such transgression. But they at length learned by experience that God had not threatened in vain, that those nations whom they had wickedly (3) spared, would prove to them thorns and stings. For they were harassed by constant incursions, pillaged by rapine, and at length almost oppressed by tyrannical violence. In short, it was not owing to any merit of theirs that the truth of God did not utterly fail. (4)

On this point, indeed, a question may be raised: for if the promise given to Abraham was founded on the mere good pleasure of God, (5) then, be the character of the people what it might, it is absurd to say that it could be defeated by their fault. How are we to reconcile the two things, — that the people did not obtain the full and complete inheritance promised to them, and that yet God was true? I answer, that so far was the faithfulness of God (6) from being overthrown, or shaken, or in any way impaired, that we here perceive more clearly how wonderful are His workings, who, in unsearchable wisdom, knows how to bring light out of darkness.

It had been said to Abraham, (Genesis 15:18) To thy seed will I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates. Joshua affirms that the event drew near, and was actually at hand. But the Israelites, overcome by sloth, do not reach those boundaries; nay, in settling down of their own accord within narrow limits, they in a manner oppose barriers to the divine liberality. In this way the covenant of God seemed to suffer a kind of eclipse.

And there is no doubt that pious minds were often filled with anxiety when they saw His work cut short. But the punishment inflicted on the people for their wickedness was so tempered, that what might otherwise have been a grievous and perilous trial of faith, was converted into a powerful support. The apparent failure reminded the children of God that they were to look forward to a more excellent state, where the divine favor would be more clearly displayed, nay, would be freed from every obstruction, and shine forth in full splendor. Hence their thoughts were raised to Christ, and it was made known to them that the complete felicity of the Church depended on its Head. In arriving at this conclusion, they were assisted by new prophecies. For the rehearsal which Joshua here makes of the ancient covenant is applied in the Psalms ( 72:0 and 89:0) to the Messiah’s reign, unto which time, the Lord had, for the purpose of rendering it more glorious, deferred the full fruition of the promised land. The same thing was exemplified in David, who bore a typical resemblance to Christ, and in whom it was shown that the divine promises were only established and confirmed in the hand of a Mediator.

No longer, therefore, does it seem strange that the result promised, after being retarded by the wickedness of the people, was not, fully accomplished till the state of the Church was rightly arranged, seeing that in the person of David the image of the Mediator, on whom the perfect the moderate foretaste which believers received of the divine favor, must have sufficed to sustain (7) them, preparatory to the more complete realization.

Nor, indeed, was the partition made by Joshua and the heads of the tribes, to whom that duty was intrusted, elusory or fallacious; but the inheritance, in possession of which God had placed them by His own hand, was truly and distinctly divided by His orders. In this respect, too, the sacred observance of the covenant made with Abraham was conspicuous. Jacob, when about to die, had destined certain settlements to some of his children. Had each tribe received its portion simply by the determination and suffrages of men, it might have been thought that they had merely followed the directions of the Patriarch. But when the lot, than which nothing is deemed more fortuitous, confirmed the prophecy, the stability of the donation (8) was as clearly ratified as if God had visibly appeared. Accordingly, after the sluggishness of the people put an end to the war, Joshua sent back the tribes of Reuben and Gad, with the half tribe of Manasseh, as if their period of service had expired.

Next follows a remarkable narrative, clearly showing how zealous the Israelites who dwelt in the land of Canaan were to maintain the pure worship of God. For when these two tribes and half tribe had erected a monument of fraternal alliance, the others, thinking that it was an altar intended for sacrifice, and consequently an abomination, immediately determine to declare war, and prepare sooner to destroy their kindred (9) than allow religion to be torn asunder by a bastard worship. At the same time they are commended for their moderation, in being so easily appeased on obtaining satisfaction, after a sacred zeal had suddenly roused them to arms.

In the end of the book it is shown how anxious Joshua was to advance the glory of God, (10) and how diligently he endeavored to obviate the fickleness and treachery of the people. With this view, not only the most impressive exhortations, but protestations, were employed, and more especially the covenant was renewed in regular form with the solemnity of an oath. (11)

(1) This practical conclusion, which is indeed the only one of real importance, is founded partly on the general consent of the Church, evinced by the place which the Book of Joshua has always held in the Sacred Canon, and partly on the strong sanction given to it by the direct or indirect references and quotations of the other inspired writers both of the Old and the New Testament, e.g., 1 Kings 16:34; 44:1; 68:12; 78:54; 114:4; Habakkuk 3:11; Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8; Hebrews 11:30; Hebrews 13:5; and James 2:25. The authorship, however, is so uncertain that there is scarcely a writer of eminence from the period of the history itself down to the time of Ezra, for whom the honor has not been claimed. Among others may be mentioned Phinchas, Samuel, and Isaiah. The obvious inference is, that the question of authorship is one of those destined only to be agitated but never satisfactorily determined. The opinion above stated by Calvin is perhaps as plausible as any other, though he scarcely appreciates the claims which may be urged in favor of Joshua himself. It is, of course, impossible to attribute to him either the narrative of his own death, or the references to one or two events which happened subsequent to it. Such anachronisms, if they may be so called, only prove what has never been denied, that some insertions or interpolations have been made in the original work. But as the account of the death of Moses in the last book of the Pentateuch is not allowed to cast any doubt on the claim of Moses to have been the true author, it is not easy to see why similar insertions should be supposed to have any stronger effect in regard to the claim of Joshua. In addition to the evidence furnished by those passages in which the writer speaks as an eye-witness, and an actor in the events recorded, those who attribute the Book of Joshua find a strong argument in the position which Joshua occupied. He was not only the divinely appointed successor, but the ardent admirer and diligent imitator of Moses. It is reasonable to suppose, that while imitating him in the general principles of his government, he forgot to imitate him in the use of his pen, or that he was not as careful as Moses had been to draw up a written narrative of the wonderful events which the Lord performed by his hand? The important fact that Joshua did writeis distinctly stated in Joshua 24:26; and though the writing there referred to seems to have been confined to the narrative of a special event, analogy goes far to justify the inference, that what he did on this occasion was in accordance with his usual practice, and that the record which we now possess of his eventful life, is, in substance at least, the production of his pen. — Ed.

(2) The French here is, — “Car tout ainsi comme des gendarmes fuyars, qui laissent vilainement leur enseigne, oublians le serment par lequel ils se sont obligez, ils furent traitres et perjures a Dieu, sous lequel ils estoyent enrollez pour servir tout le temps par hiy ordonne;” “For just like fugitive soldiers, who villanously desert their standards, forgetting the oath by which they have bound themselves, they became perjured traitors to God under whom they were enlisted to serve for the whole period ordained by him.” — Ed.

(3) “Wickedly.” Latin, “Male.” French, “Contre leur devoir;” “Contrary to their duty.” — Ed.

(4) “Did not utterly fail.” Latin, “Irrita caderet.” French, “Ne tombast tout a plat sans avoir son effet;” “Did not fall quite flat without producing its effect.” — Ed.

(5) “Was founded on the mere good pleasure of God.” French, “A este purement et simplement fondee au bon plaisir de Dieu, et non ailleurs;” “Was founded purely and simply on the good pleasure of God, and not on anything else.” — Ed.

(6) “Faithfulness of God.” Latin, “Dei fides.” French, “La certitude de la promesse de Dieu;” “The certainty of the promise of God.” — Ed.

(7) “Sustain.” French, “Consoler et soustenir;” “Comfort and sustain.” — Ed.

(8) “Stability of the donation.” Latin, “Donationis stabilitas.” French, “La verite de la prophetie;” “The truth of the prophecy.” — Ed.

(9) “Sooner to destroy their kindred.” Latin, “Suos consanguineos potius delere.” French, “De plutost exterminer leur cousins, c’est a dire ces lignees-la qui estoyent de leur sang;” “Sooner to exterminate their cousins, (kindred,) that is to say, lineage which was of their own blood.” — Ed.

(10) Latin, “Quantopere solicitus fuerit Josue de propaganda Dei gloria.” French, “Combien Josue a ete songneux de procurer qu’apres sa mort Dieu fust glorifie;” “How careful Joshua was to provide that God should be glorified after his death.” — Ed.

(11) In addition to the above excellent summary, it may be proper to mention that the Book of Joshua extends over a period, estimated by Josephus at twenty-five, and by other Jewish chronologists at twenty-seven, though others attempt to reduce it to only seventeen years, and that its contents are naturally divided into three great sections, — the firstextending from Joshua 1:0-7 inclusive, and giving a continuous narrative of Joshua’s conquests; the secondfrom Joshua 13:0-23 inclusive, consisting chiefly of a description more or less detailed of the division of the country among the different tribes; and the thirdoccupying the remainder of the book, Joshua 24:0, principally with an account of the great convention of the tribes held at Shechem, on Joshua’s summons, and of the interesting and important proceedings which then took place. — Ed.

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