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LOOKING at these chapters is like looking at infinite rocks. Most stony are these verses. The eye is affrighted by these Hebrew and other polysyllables. The land is being allotted and distributed. Why then dwell upon a picture whose chief feature seems to be its inhospitableness? Because the picture is full of suggestion, and full of abiding and useful truth. One tribe is ordered to the right hand, another to the left; one north, another south; one into the valley, another to the mountains; one to places where fountains spring, another is commanded to go to the wood country and cut down trees and clear a space for itself make a civilisation. This is but an analogy of higher distributions. Is there not a great law of distribution in all human life? We have but to open our eyes and look upon it. We cannot alter it. We may here and there modify it a little, or pass laws concerning it, or make it a subject of scientific inquiry: but there is the law, and there is no lasting escape from its operation. Nor need there be in order to prove the goodness of God and the riches of his mercy. The whole globe is allotted. Every continent has its own people, every island its own socialism. Wherever man can be placed he is set down there by a law which he cannot control a marvellous, but gracious predestination. We feel it to be so. Who does not know a foreigner the moment he sees him? We say within ourselves, if not in articulate speech, This man is a long way from home. Who said so? By what right do we determine his relation to the globe? We cannot tell, but we do it. Instantaneously we see that the man has come from over seas thousands of miles away; his colour, his dress, his aspect something about him says, I do not belong to this part of the land, I am a foreigner here: have regard for me upon that ground; I speak your language imperfectly: do not impose upon me because of my ignorance, but guide me, protect me, and show me hospitality whilst I linger within your borders. Who made the difference? What is the meaning of the difference? Why are some men put in tropical climates, and others are set among the eternal ice? And why this spirit of contentment more or less evident in every land? Because, whilst we would regard the man as a foreigner, we must remember that, were we visiting his country, he would regard us, even us great and glorious and all but infallible Englishmen as foreign! It is sad to think of! It is sometimes intolerable. But even an Englishman may happen to know the mystery of the misfortune of being a foreigner in some parts of the world an idea almost impossible to drive into the English mind, for an Englishman, whilst hating all boasting on the part of other people, spends his time in boasting about himself. But there is the law the unwritten law the imperious and unchangeable law. The bounds of our habitation are fixed. We are tethered to certain localities; we have a fatherland, whether it be here or there; we have an appointed place, where our dead are buried, where our battles are fought, where our progress is developed: hence the spirit of patriotism that marvellous spirit that burns within us when the country is the question. We feel, therefore, in perusing silently these wondrous chapters in Joshua that distribution is perfectly familiar to us: we see it in every part of the globe; we see it in men, in animals, in plants. There is no monotony in the divine allotment; it burns with colour; and in so far as it accepts the law, it throbs with music, with lofty, grateful song.
So it is with talent and faculty. The kingdom of heaven is as a man who took his journey into a far country, and distributed to his servants various talents to one five, to another two, to another one, to every man according to his several ability. There is the fact. Why enter into pedantic discussions about the parable, and the allotment, and the outworking of the little drama? Here in our own circle and within our own consciousness we have the parable itself in every detail and syllable. We may covet one another's allotment, but we cannot cross the hedge, or steal the talent that we envy. Who would not play upon the musician's harp? Who would not wear a poet's mantle? Who would not dream great dreams, the very beauty of which creates a language of its own, purifying all common terms and making refined gold of them, and jewels precious as rubies? Who would not be a great merchantman, knowing things, as it were, without study? Where other men toil towards conclusions, the greater mind moves to them with natural ease and dignity, seizes them and applies them to wealth-producing purposes. Who would not be the heroic soul that never goes out but when the wind blows from the north, and then in great gusts and thunder-blasts? the man who would not sail over a smooth sea, but wait till the wind seizes the infinite deep and torments it into agony? Who would not be so brave as to wait till the war is at the thickest, and then plunge into the very midst of it, and ask only for the privilege of fighting the strongest man? But we cannot interfere with the operation of the law. Some men cannot sing: there is no poetry in their being; they never dream; they never see heaven opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God; they never rise to that high ecstasy which treats miracles as trifles, as occurrences that transpired millions of miles beneath them. Others are without courage, except the courage of subtle impertinence, which suggests that everything must be attempered to their timidity, and nothing must be done that can affright their souls. Did they but know they were mean and small and worthless, they might be forgiven, but they do not, and therefore they keep society at prayer, for nothing but the profoundest prayer can enable us to tolerate their presence. Why is not every man as able as his brother? Why is one man eloquent, and another speechless? Why is one man gifted with the power of acquisitiveness in intellectual directions, and another unable to learn his first lesson? If we imagine that all these things can be rectified, in the sense of making all men equal, we shall toil at abortive reforms, and have nothing at the end but empty hands and disappointed hearts. The question is, What can be done? What is the divine will? Or, if we shrink from theological or biblical terms, still we need not surrender our reason: we might stand back and make a philosophy of that of which we decline to make a theology: the conclusion is the same; the fact abides.
The same law applies to distribution in heaven. All the beings, white-robed, unstained, beautiful with purity, do not stand upon an equal plane in the celestial country. There are angels and archangels; cherubim and seraphim; beings all fire, beings all vision, typical of wisdom all but immeasurable; quick-flying angels speeding with messages from the throne, and brooding spirits hovering over our life, appointed to watch little children: in heaven their angels do always behold the face of Christ's Father. In heaven there is variety of mental stature, spiritual service, a great distribution of faculty and force and ministry. And this is essential, from our point of view, to a complete and beautiful heaven. We must give up the idea of monotony. If we still think of heaven as a place of harps and harping and songs, we are quite right, the meaning being that all true life blossoms up into song: we could not complete any pillar of logic or of fact without putting upon the top of it the lilywork of music and gladness and victory. We have painted heavens the colour of which wears off, monotonous heavens that become burdensome, small heavens picked out for ourselves and our friends. We must burn these heavens, and let them pass away with a small noise, for such heavens could never make a great one. The true heaven is one of glorified earth, glorified facts as we know them; heaven of variety and position, locality, service. We know now what it is. We do not need to die to be in heaven, or to know it and speak about it familiarly: the kingdom of heaven is within, in the deepest, truest, most living sense. There are father-spirits, and mother-angels, and little people children playing. The child that does not play ought to be looked after, and the case should be inquired into with awful solemnity. Children must play everywhere at church and in heaven. A glorious paradise that, by reason of its variety, personality, faculty, and colour, and engagement! In it there is room for you, for me, for greatest, smallest, richest, poorest: "in my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you."
Remember that every man begins with gifts. This is the very law of these chapters of allotment. The people have something to begin with. No man made his first dowry; it was in him, or handed to him; he did nothing towards the first germ, the plasm of his fortune and his destiny. This is often forgotten in estimating human position and human progress. Every man has a faculty given to him a first thing a nest-egg a wonderful beginning! God gives us the light, the air, the land, the sea. We did not kindle the sun; we do not loose the winds from their tabernacles; and no man ever made one inch of land, or added one pebble to the earth's surface. In this particular we are very limited and very small. Think! the man who built the greatest cathedral that ever domed itself out towards the skies never added an atom to the sum-total of the earth. He worked with stones that were laid up for him, banked for him in the treasure-house of the earth. So when the Lord goes into a far country he leaves with every man something which the man did not make five talents, two talents, one talent, whatever it may be; that germ or starting-point or protoplasm was given. So we begin with grace, privilege. We are trustees to start with. With all this ability and wonderful inventiveness we have never invented a new pebble, in the sense of adding to the earth's stones something that was not in the earth and hidden there by its Maker. If we leave that central or primal thought, we get into detail that vexes us, then we begin to manipulate and rearrange and redistribute; but it all comes at last to this fact, that every man has something to start with, a wealth that cannot be communicated, a property his alone; and that must be inquired into at the final audit.
Some possessions come as rewards:
"And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjath-sepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife" ( Jos 15:16 ).
Compromises are sometimes inevitable. This is made clear by the sixty-third verse of the fifteenth chapter:
"As for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out: but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day." ( Jos 15:63 )
Almighty God, in whom can we put our trust but in the Living One? Death is written upon all other securities. Thou remainest evermore the same, and in thy righteousness is no change. We hasten therefore unto thee as men hasten to the rock in which they can be protected against the tempest and the storm. Thou art indeed a refuge from the tempest. Thou dost hide thy people in thy pavilion from the strife of tongues; thou dost call them into the chamber in the rock until the storm be overpast. Enable us to take refuge in the Son of God, to find our home and our heaven in his protection; and thus shall our life be spent wisely, and our strength shall go out from us to return again abundantly enriched and honoured. We would live in thy fear, we would work in thy love, we would be comforted with thy consolations and none other. Heal our diseases; direct our steps; keep us in the time of strife, and give us solidity of confidence in the day of distress. We bless thee for all thy care, so patient, so tender, so minute, covering all things, and attending to each as if it were a solitary concern. This is thy greatness, thou Infinite One, that nothing is too little for thy notice. We put ourselves into thy hands. We would have no will of our own; we would listen for thy voice morning, noon, and night, and answer it with the readiness of love We own our sins. We will not count them, for no number can set them forth; nor will we speak of them, for we cannot state them as they are in thy sight; but we will look towards the Cross of Christ; we will fix our attention upon the Son of God as he expires in agony. When sin torments us most, we will remember what Jesus, Son of man, Son of God, did in Gethsemane and on the Cross, and therein shall we find perpetual comfort. Enable thy servants to work better than they have ever done. Enable all to whom the ministry of suffering is entrusted to suffer patiently, unmurmuringly, and hopefully; yea, may they so suffer as to awaken the wonder of those who look on, because of gentleness, meekness, and patience. When we read thy Book, first read it to us, utter the music in our souls; then shall we see thy meaning, and answer it instantly and lovingly. Remain with us; yea, tarry with us, lingeringly, as if thou couldst not leave us: and in that lingering we shall see a pledge of eternal fellowship. Amen.
The Distribution of the Land
WE have taken our first survey of the distribution of the land, and noticed several particulars of some consequence to ourselves; other particulars are now to be noticed. The inquiry will be, How far the distribution and the particulars associated with it are true to human nature as we know it. In answering this inquiry we shall soon see whether the Bible is an old book, in the sense of being obsolete and pointless, so far as the conditions and requirements of this day are concerned. The case is a very simple one. The land is to be divided among a given number of people. How they took the distribution or accepted the circumstances is an important inquiry.
We soon come upon a line that might have been written yesterday. It was not enough to have a great general distribution, but there must be some particular and singular allotment, to one person at least. She had a petition to offer; she offered it, and the supplication was answered. She asked through another a request from her father. Her father had received his portion, even Hebron and the region round about, and his daughter Achsah would have a little gift all her own. She would say, "Give me a blessing." That is vague. Not only would she have a benediction, but a portion quite a little one, but still a portion, belonging, as it were, to herself a jewel for her own neck, a ring for her own finger. Who does not like to have something particularly his own? It is well to have some general stake in the country, but to have a little private piece of land one little bubbling, singing, fountain; a corner quite one's own is not that the very joy of proprietorship? No doubt there is a general sense of wealth, so general indeed as to be of little particular service under the occasional pressure of necessity: but when the child has six inches of garden-land all its own at the back-door, there is, after all, a landlordly feeling in the young heart that finds frequent expression. Caleb's daughter would have" a field:" "she lighted off her ass; and Caleb said unto her, What wouldest thou?" She answered, "Give me a blessing." That she could have in a moment, but said she, Give me more, "give me also springs of water in addition to the south land." "And he gave her the upper springs, and the nether springs" ( Jos 15:18-19 ). To whom did she pray? To her father. Have we not a Father to whom we can pray for springs of water? Yes, we have such a Father, and from him we can have the upper springs and the nether springs. The river of God is full of water. It cannot be drained off. It sets a-going all the fountains of creation, and is more at the end than at the beginning the very fulness of God; a contradiction in words, but a grand reality in experience. The sun lights every lamp, and not a beam the less is his infinite glory. We therefore may have a special portion, a little all our own; yea, a double portion of the Spirit may be ours. Do not let us be content with the general blessing of the Church. That, indeed, is an infinite comfort. But that general blessing is a pledge of particular donations on the part of the Father of lights. Here we can pray without covetousness; here we can be ambitious without selfishness; here we can have great desires, and be enlarged in our generosity by their very operation in the heart. Let each say to the Father, Give me a field; give me a faculty; give me some dear, sweet consciousness of thy nearness and lovingness something that nobody else can have just as I have it; whisper one word to me that no one in all the universe but myself can hear, and that whisper shall be to me an inspiration, a comfort, a security, a pledge; not that others may not enjoy the same in their own way, but I want something mine own. To that prayer who can measure the reply, if spoken in faith and love and noble unselfishness?
Now another voice is heard. Joshua was not going the right way about the work, in the estimation of some people:
"And the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua, saying, Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto?" ( Jos 17:14 ).
"And Joshua answered them, If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee" ( Jos 17:15 ).
Joshua, continuing the high satiric strain, said:
"Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only: but the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down: and the outgoings of it shall be thine: for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong" ( Jos 17:17-18 ).
We come now to another set of circumstances. It appears that when all was done up to this point, a good deal still remained to be accomplished. We read of this in chapter Joshua 18:2-7 :
"And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance" ( Jos 18:2 ).
And has Joshua nothing in all this the great man himself, so quiet, so gentle? Caleb asked for his portion right boldly, but he asked as a heroic man should ask for difficulties. At eighty-five he wanted to prove that he was as young as he was at forty. Joshua might have taken that opportunity of saying, Caleb, I was with you in that matter of the espial of the land; if you want your portion now, I may as well have mine at the same time. Nothing of the kind. Joshua waited until the very last. So we read:
"When they had made an end of dividing the land for inheritance by their coasts, the children of Israel gave an inheritance to Joshua the son of Nun among them: according to the word of the Lord they gave him the city which he asked, even Timnath-serah in mount Ephraim: and he built the city, and dwelt therein" ( Jos 19:49-50 ).
A very tender word is found in regard to some of the tribes. "Gad, and Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh, have received their inheritance beyond Jordan." Sweet words! " beyond Jordan." By a very legitimate accommodation these words may be applied to many a Christian. Some Christians have but little portion this side of the river; their lot is a small one; their riches could all be hidden in one hand; yet how bright they are! as radiant as a summer dawn, as songful as a wood in spring-time, when all the birds are swelling their feathery throats with song. Why? Because the refrain of their hymn is "beyond Jordan." The crown is on the other side of the river; the city lies beyond the stream; the great inheritance is at the other end of the valley of the shadow of death: they are "begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." So their citizenship being in heaven, they have learned in whatsoever state they are, therewith to be content. Blessed are they who are rich in faith; yea, blessed with sevenfold blessing they who can say that their souls are already in heaven, and the consciousness of the heavenly possession creates contempt for the vanities of time.
Looking at the whole matter practically, let us not forget that the land was given to be cultivated. This is not a mere matter of enjoyment. When Palestine was seized, it had to be brought under agricultural treatment, and men were to enjoy the fruit of their labour even in the Land of Promise. There was fighting to be done, there were trees to be cut down; the centre of the country was a great forest, and the foresters must go into it and bring down the timber and root out the old roots, and make flowers and fruits grow in the old forests of Palestine. Life is given to us to cultivate. We are not called upon to do merely the work if so it may be termed of appreciation and enjoyment; we are called to battle, to cultivation, to toil, to service, to disappointment, and to some fruition of our hope and love.
Nor must we forget that variety did not excite discontent. The lots were not all equal. Judah had twenty-nine cities and the villages thereof; Benjamin, fourteen cities with the villages; Joshua had Timnath-serah, in Mount Ephraim. So it is possible for us now to have variety of lot, and yet a sweet content of heart. The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called together his servants, and gave to one five talents, to another two, to another one representing talent and opportunity and capacity. The Lord must distribute as he pleases. The great lesson for us to learn is, that it is possible for us to have little, and yet not to want more; to be called to a great opportunity, and yet not to boast over those whose limitation is so obvious. This sweet content, this hallowed peace, can only be enjoyed in proportion as we abide in Christ, like living branches in a living vine. This miracle is not a trick of the human hand; it is the miracle of the Holy Ghost.
Eccentric Boundaries of the Tribes (Joshua 15-19). Thomson, in "The Land and the Book," writes: "The reason why the boundaries of the different tribes were so eccentric originally, and are now so difficult to follow, was that the 'lots' were not meted out according to geographical lines; but lands of certain cities lying more or less contiguous were assigned to each tribe. These cities were the capitals of small principalities or districts, just as Tibnin, and Hunin, and Bint-Jebail are now. The territory of one might extend far to the east of the city, that of the next to the west. It is now absolutely impossible to draw lines around the separate 'lots' with any degree of certainty. Their general positions with relation to each other, however, can be ascertained with sufficient exactness for all important purposes in the study of Biblical geography."
O thou who art the refuge of men, let us flee unto thee, assured that the door of thy mercy will not be closed against us. We have sung for a lifetime of Jesus as the refuge of the soul. We have found him to be a covert from the storm. We would abide in him, let come what may, strong in his strength, confident in the immutableness of his love. This is our daily thought and this our nightly rest: a very song in our mouth; a perpetual joy, like a singing angel hovering over the life, We turn and think of Christ, and behold our thought makes us glad. We muse about the Son of God in holy wonder, and as we muse the fire burns, and by its glow we know he is near who is the light of heaven. We would dwell upon the thought of his life; we would count his words as men count jewels; we would number them, and set them in order, and preserve them with all the eagerness of unutterable love, accounting each one necessary to the perfectness of the whole. Whilst we thus treasure thy Word, and find in it our true wealth, thou wilt not forsake us; thou wilt make us stronger, younger, happier, as we proceed in this faithful and delightful service. Reveal thy word to us day by day a new light, a new beauty, a new possibility; may it be unto our eyes as the dawn of heaven, and unto our ears as the music of the skies. According to our necessity may thy word present itself to us now a staff to lean upon, now a sword with which to fight, now a light that shall be as a lamp unto our feet, and now an unspeakable comfort, making even sorrow itself welcome, because sorrow brings the Saviour nearer. Thy word abideth for ever; thy word is patient like thyself, waiting for its opportunity, standing at the door of the attention and knocking and waiting until we be ready to hear what it has to say. It has waited for us many a year. When we hear it, we know it to be thy word, because there is an answering spirit in our own hearts which says, This is none other than God's word a very speech from the heart of the universe. We thank thee for all thy mercies. Though thou hast set us in a time of depression, yet do we see that the stars are all in their places. It is indeed night-time with many, by reason of difficulty, poverty, distress, and hardship; yet not one star has gone out, and the heavens look brighter sometimes than they ever did. Thou hast not forsaken thy people, nor left in desolation those that trust in thee. This is their confidence and their song; yea, it has become their boast and their sure refuge in time of difficulty. Even now thy mercies are more than we can number: even when winter has set in and all the flowers have hidden themselves, thy mercies are full and thy compassion is near and thy kindness is lovingkindness. Even in the midnight of the year we can sing praises unto our God and shake down the prison of our distress. Help us in all things to see thy hand, and to say, All is well. Enable us to prove our faith by the nobleness and clearness of our testimony. May we be enabled to say, Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him, and though the night be dark and dreary, it is but short at most, and the morning is already dawning on the higher hills. We commend one another to thy loving care; they are well kept whom thou dost keep; in their hearts shall be no unrest, but one continual radiant Sabbath-day; no lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast go up thereon, it shall not be found there; all holy thoughts shall dwell there, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away, like birds of the night, afraid of the sunshine, terrified by the day. We are found again at the Cross. We wait at the altar of the atonement wrought by him who is thy Son, our Saviour. His blood is our prayer, bis sacrifice our plea. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 16". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/