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A Recorded Life
Joshua 12:0 , Joshua 13:0
THESE two chapters contain a good deal of hard reading. They are studded with unfamiliar and difficult words and names, so that reading them is like reading the writing upon gravestones in a foreign land. Still, there is much for our instruction here. For example, we are called to behold how good a thing it is to keep a detailed record of life. These chapters are in a certain sense diaries or journals. The men of the ancient time wrote down what they did that is to say, they kept their story freshly before their memories: they lost nothing; they wrote their accounts up to date; and at any given moment they could peruse the record and derive from it the advantage of stimulus which such an exercise could not fail to supply. The twelfth chapter deals with the slaughter of many kings. Their names are given, or the names of their cities. Men were not slain, and forgotten. This was not a heedless fight, wherein the soldiers on the victorious side struck in the dark and knew not what men they slew or what progress they made. The whole matter is detailed, put down simply, clearly, and definitely. Moses seems to figure but poorly in the record of slaughter. He killed but two kings; and Joshua killed thirty-one kings. But who are the kings that Joshua killed, compared with the kings slain by Moses? The two which Moses slew have famous names; they were great and mighty men. The thirty-one slain by Joshua did not add up to the two slain by Moses. Thus work is estimated by quality. We do not reckon by number in the sanctuary, but by quality and by relation, by just standards, and the weighing is done in scales of gold. The poor woman who gave all she had gave more than all the rich: for they gave out of the margin, out of the abundant and all but unreckonable profit, the surplus of their earnings or savings; but she plucked out her whole heart and cast it into God's treasury, the only donation she could give; said the Treasurer, It is more than they all. This shall be the law of judgment: according to what we have, according to the quality of our work. The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. He who has killed many kings, and he who has killed but two, shall be judged, not according to the number, but according to the difficulty, the dignity, the quality involved in the tremendous exercise. Do we keep a record of life? How few men write their own story: in truth, there seems in many cases to be nothing to write. But this is quite a mistake. It is better to write the little nothing there is, than to omit the inscription altogether. A man may be shamed by the very nothingness of his entries to go out and do something worth putting down on paper and leaving as a record. We do not know what we do until we detail it. No man knows how much money he spends unless he puts down every coin. That is the difference between the wise man and the fool. The fool knows nothing as to what he is doing: he goes out in the dark, works in the dark, returns in the dark, and he cannot tell what he has made of the trust which was put into his hands. The wise man is his own judge, his own scribe and secretary; and many a page he peruses which his hands wrote long ago with tears and penitence, with the difficulty of self-conviction. No man knows how much he gives in charity unless he puts it down. But who dare put that down? Who can say how little paper would be required for the record in many cases? Yet, on the other hand, who can say how much paper would be required by other men? But there is a deadly sophism which relates, not only to the giving of money, but to the giving of service, which expresses itself in this form: I am always giving. If you think so, you are never giving. Have you put down what you have done, and added it up? Now add up the other page on which the luxuries are written, the adornments of the house, the decorations of the person, the indulgences of appetite, the tribute paid to social ambition. Add up the figures: recite them if you dare! Yet it is well to write down the story the story of discipline and battle and sorrow: the story of spiritual kings that have been slain, of enemies that have been conquered by love, and of positions that have been seized by prayer.
Then, again, we see how time beats the strongest This is set forth very pensively:
"Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the Lord said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed" ( Jos 13:1 ).
We have seen Moses go up to die with the fire of his eye unquenched. Joshua is said to be "old," but not in the sense of years; he was "stricken in years," that is to say, the years had told heavily upon him. There was not much of him to begin with. He was fertile, keen, quick, flashing; but he had not much stubborn stuff in him to stand the wear and the tear of a captain's life. He was only about a hundred and ten when he died, a sum counted as nothing in the ancient days. But the word here used literally means, time has told upon thee; this wear and tear has made havoc in thy strength, Joshua; how old thou art! not in days, but in anxiety, in care; thou art whitened, blanched, withered; and yet there is much work to be done, much land to be possessed. So God takes note of our failing strength. He says, concerning this man and that, Grey hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not. About some supposedly strong men, he says, They are wearing out; they are old at forty; at fifty they will be patriarchal, so far as the exhaustion of strength is concerned; they will die young in years, but old in service. God's work does take much out of a man, if the man is faithful. A man may pray himself into a withered old age in one night: in one little day a man may add years to his labour. We can work offhandedly: the work need not take much out of us; but if we think about it, ponder it, execute it with both hands, if it is the one thought of the soul, who can tell how soon the strongest man may be run out, and the youngest become a white-haired patriarch? But blessed is it to be worked out in this service. A quaint minister of the last century said, "It is better to rub out than to rust out." How many are content to "rust out"! They know nothing about friction, sacrifice, self-slaughter, martyrdom. The work tells upon men in different ways. Moses was as young when he died as when he began. As for his spirit, his enthusiasm, he could have taken a thousand kings; but it was time he was in heaven: God knew his life, God counted his pulses, God estimated his strength; and God sends for a man when he wants him. Joshua came briskly forward, though at first we felt there was something wanting in the man somewhere. He needed so much encouragement. The opening of his story is full of "fear not;" "be not dismayed;" "only be of a good courage;" hope in God; keep your spirits up; cheer yourself: now go forward. We wondered as to the meaning of this. We could not tell at first all it signified. Now it comes out. He is old already, stricken in years before he has begun to live; and the land unconquered lies before him like a challenge, yet darkens upon him like a despair. No man completes the work. This is saddening, even to the point of agony. A man is permitted to build the wall of his tower half-way up, and then when he has got into the way of it, and could build blithely, because of added skill and experience, he is told to come down and to die! Providence is thus a continual rebuke to human ambition. We cannot put on the topstone. How much we would like to do so! to see the last child thoroughly educated and comfortably settled in life; to see the last effort crowned with success! Then we should retire into the sylvan shade, and listen to the singing birds all day, and spend a quiet eventide, and glide into heaven, rather than die into its splendours! But the column is broken in the middle. A man is old whilst yet his friends are rallying him on the fewness of his years. And the uncompleted work testifies that God is the Builder and man but the labourer of a day. Seldom can a man complete his own work. There is always "much land to be possessed." The author has planned ten more volumes. Men, looking on, say, How active he is, and busy and prolific! He says, I have done nothing yet, I have not even begun; presently I will set to work and go through it like a man. It is not to be! The man who has lived well has a thousand schemes in his head when he dies. He says, I was just planning the noblest work of my life; I had just settled in my mind to begin what would have proved to be one of the most useful projections of the age; and now my right hand is withered, and the one strong arm falls by my side in impotence. "In the midst of life we are in death;" "boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth;" "work while it is called today, for the night cometh, when no man can work;" "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;" for the time of ceasing is at hand. Does God look at the worker only? No; he looks at the work as well: "there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed." So he will have the land divided; he will have it allotted before the battle goes any further. What, is not this an allotment on paper? The battle has not yet begun in these other regions. We have seen the conquest of Jericho, and the burning of Ai, but as to these other portions of the land, the foot of Israel has not even been set upon them. God says, That does not concern you; take pen in hand, and write after my dictation. Then he maps out the land, fixes the boundaries, appoints the possessor, determines the tribal relations, and creates a new geography. But suppose that the fortunes of war should alter all these appointments? What is God's answer to that? His answer is, There are no fortunes of war, there are no accidents; life is not a speculation, human history is not a game of chance; all things are ordered and appointed, and move by a massive and inevitable law, the meaning of which in the long run is righteousness, beneficence, right. And the scribe wrote how the land was to lie. This is the Christian's comfort!" The very hairs of your head are all numbered." If we are doing anything on our own account, in a kind of practically atheistic manner, God will allow us to build a little more, but he will come down to see the tower we have been building; he will put his finger upon it, and in the morning it will be found a ruin! Only they build wisely who build under God's direction and by his daily inspiration.
Then, comes the alarming, yet comforting thought, that God keeps a record, if we do not. Read chapter Joshua 13:2-6 , and see how detailed is the knowledge and purpose of God: "This is the land that yet remaineth: all the borders of the Philistines, and all Geshuri, from Sihor, which is before Egypt, even unto the borders of Ekron northward, which is counted to the Canaanite: five lords of the Philistines; the Gazathites, and the Ashdothites, the Eshkalonites, the Gittites, and the Ekronites; also the Avites: from the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that is beside the Sidonians, unto Aphek, to the borders of the Amorites: and the land of the Giblites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrising, from Baalgad under mount Hermon unto the entering into Hamath. All the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon unto Misrephoth-maim, and all the Sidonians, them will I drive out from before the children of Israel: only divide thou it by lot unto the Israelites for an inheritance, as I have commanded thee." Yet we try to exclude God from his own world. We think we make the fields to grow; whereas we have no power to make anything grow, except we obey the unwritten and eternal law of nature. We can do wonders in little patches of land; but who can strike a light that will illuminate a landscape? Who can kindle a fire that will warm the earth? We are such toy-makers; we do all our work on such a minute scale, that we deceive ourselves by supposing that we are doing something: whereas, in reality, we are only keeping the law. We can break the moral law, but we must keep the natural law. Breaking the moral law, we call ourselves free men; keeping the natural law, we do not know what we are. But that is our position. We work by the sun; we take our time from the meridian. We are the slaves of nature: we are the rebels of the sanctuary. Blessed is the man who meditates in the law of God day and night the great law, the whole law, natural, moral, spiritual: it is really one law, because the Law-giver is one. Why not be as obedient in morals as we are in labour, in agriculture, in travel? Who counts it degradation to wait for the tide? Who calls himself a slave because he waits for the seedtime, and cannot hasten it one hour? The whole scheme of things is set in law, "the Lord reigneth." All we have to do is to study the law, understand it, obey it; then our peace will flow like a river, and our righteousness as the waves of the sea. God knows what has been done. He says, in effect, I have watched you, and I have marked down every step you have taken: you are at this moment at this point; now from this point the course is thus and so; and all the land is to be possessed. God will have the land, even if we die. Noble is the thought that he has entered into covenant with his Son. We may smile at the old theological terms as we please, but noble is the thought that there is a covenant pledging that Jesus Christ shall have the heathen for an inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession. Sometimes it seems as if this could not be. We say it never can be accomplished; the so-called Christian civilisation is going backward. Only going backward as we have seen the waves go backward, that they might come in with a fuller force and throb against the appointed boundary. We believe that all the land shall be possessed, because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
Then there is another consideration, and that relates to the recurrence of bad names in the comings and goings of human history. We are startled on reading the twenty-second verse of the thirteenth chapter:
"Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword among them that were slain by them." ( Jos 13:22 )
Almighty God, we pray for one another that, according to the necessity of each heart, thou mayest command a great blessing from heaven. Thou knowest what our life is how full of pain and trouble and unrest, how much disabled, how weary oftentimes, yea, how dejected and even despairing. But thine eyes are upon us for good; the heavens are opened unto our prayer; the Cross of Christ is still the centre of our hope. We come to that Cross day by day, longing to understand more and more of its love, of its deep meaning in relation to our sin. We would be affected by that love; we would see what thou feelest and thinkest concerning men, and would exclaim, Herein is love! God is love; God is very pitiful and kind: his mercy endureth for ever. He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. May we be subdued by that love, chastened and elevated by its infinite spirit; and as thou dost love us, so may we love one another. We know that we have passed from death into life because we love the brethren. May this love grow within us, and find continual expression in our speech and conduct, so that others looking on may begin to wonder and inquire, saying, Behold how these Christians love one another in deed and in truth! We have come up to worship God. We would be bowed down before thee in penitence and humiliation, because of sin. God be merciful unto us, sinners! The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. There is a fountain opened in the house of David for sin and for uncleanness. We have no answer; we are without excuse or defence; all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. Have mercy upon us for the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who freely bore our griefs and carried our iniquities. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 12". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12