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The Spirit and Purpose of Divine Providence
RAHAB was a woman without social repute. She became, however, a considerable figure in history. She was the wife of Salmon, the son of Naason, by whom she became the mother of Boaz, the grandfather of Jesse, the father of David, in proof of this see Matthew 1:6 ; Ruth 4:20-21 : and 1 Chronicles 2:11 , 1 Chronicles 2:54 , 1 Chronicles 2:55 . Thus there was Gentile blood in the lineage of the Son of man. These points, apparently incidental and even trivial, are not to be passed by without eager and devout attention. Jesus Christ was not what is commonly known as a Jew only: he was in very deed what he called himself the Son of man. All the ages seemed to conspire and breathe in him. The city of Jericho was the key of Palestine. It lay about seven miles west of the Jordan and commanded the entrance of the main passes into the land of promise. The city was very old and strongly walled. On the west side it was shut in by craggy and inhospitable mountains; yet even in Jericho there were springs of water, and not far off, toward the river, lay a great grove of palm trees. How to take that city was the military problem of the time. I propose to regard the narrative given in this chapter as illustrating the spirit and purpose of divine Providence. By studying it with this view we may see the continuity of history, which, indeed, is the continuity of human nature, which also in one aspect is the continuity of God, Ancient Jericho is gone, not a vestige of it remains; why, then, should we turn our telescope in the direction of extinct planets? Why seek a river which no longer flows? Why drop our bucket into a well dried up? These inquiries show how superficial our thinking may be. There is an eternal spirit in history; we should always be in quest of that spirit: it carries with it the whole meaning of God.
From military wisdom we may learn the moral wisdom of always striking first at the right point. Everything turns upon the first stroke in many a controversy and in many an arduous battle. Why are there so many fruitless efforts in life? Simply because the beginning was wrong. Why do men come home at eventide, saying, the day has been wasted? Because their very first step in the morning was in the wrong direction, or the very first word they spoke was the word they ought not to have uttered. Why do ye spend your strength for nought? Why beat with your poor feeble hands at points which never can be taken, which are not the right points at all to begin at? With all thy getting, get understanding of how to begin life, where to strike first, what to do and when to do it, and exactly how much of it to do within given time. If you strike the wrong place you will waste your strength, and the walls of the city will remain unshaken. A blow delivered at the right place and at the right time will have tenfold effect over blows that are struck in the dark and at random: however energetic they may be, and however well-delivered, they fall upon the wrong place, and the result is nothing. That is what is meant by wasted lives. Men have been industrious, painstaking, even anxious in thoughtfulness, and the night has been encroached upon so that the time of rest might be turned into a time of labour; yet all has come to nothing: no city has been taken, no position has been established, no progress has been made. Why? Simply because they did not begin at the right point. In every place in which we may be situated there is one opportunity, and unless that be seized all other occasions will be but empty promises, fruitless and mocking chances. God hath set us thus in very critical positions. We are called upon to keenest vigilance: we are to watch night and day. When the chance may come none can tell with certainty. Watch always: it may come now: "What I say unto you I say unto all," said Christ, "Watch." It is in vain to tell how we toiled and laboured, and begrudged our sleep, and tried again and again, if we are working at the wrong point, walking in the wrong direction, or failing to seize the divinely-created opportunity. If any man lack wisdom herein, let him ask of God. Great courage may be required in extricating yourself from wrong positions. Great nobleness of mind may be required on the part of a man to say I have begun at the wrong point: I ought not to have begun here at all; I renounce this effort and begin anew. Blessed be God, every day is a new opportunity to the man whose eyes are in his head, and whose heart has as its determining purpose a desire to obey the will of God.
We cannot deny the marvellous coincidences which occur in life, nor the wonderful opportunities which such coincidences create. As the men went, they "came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there." Perhaps the only house they could have got into without exciting suspicion. The woman was in the way: the opportunity was created. We cannot understand how these things should be. We see how history has many a time been in great peril, yes, the whole substance of what is known as human history has sometimes been within one thread of breaking up altogether. Sometimes that marvellous quantity of life event, purpose, which we call history, has gone so close to the fire as nearly to be consumed. From great depths God has rescued history; in infinite perils God has appeared to save the race alive. Into these matters none may enter with words; they are to be dealt upon by the spiritual imagination, and they admit of being sanctified by the spiritual reason and faith of man. Who can follow the way of the Almighty, or find out to perfection the counsel of Heaven? Along this same line what victories Christ himself has won; the noblest things he ever said and did were in connection with the lineage of Rahab! The story of the woman taken in adultery will stand above all our stories whilst the sun shall last. The answer made to Simon the Pharisee, when in his cruel heart he destroyed the Messiah-ship of Christ, will convert the world from its despair, when the maxims of moralists and the dreams of reason have been forgotten. "Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee " then came the proposition about the two creditors, and then the story of forgiveness, and then the benediction upon the heart-broken, weeping woman. How the pulses of Rahab made his blood tingle! We cannot tell who it is in us that speaks now, or then, at this or that particular moment. No one man is one man only. Every man represents the whole line along which he has come. Who knows the inspiration of the tender speeches of Christ in relation to the very class which we have now particularly in view? Who has sounded all the mystery and subtlety of heredity? Now some honest, sturdy old ancestor speaks in us the firm, stern word an answer like a bolt of iron, by which the approach of the enemy is driven away; now some poor, timid, halting soul that took part in our lineage speaks in us: our words are pithless, our tones are without soul, our life has in it no spark of fire; now arises some demon within us, opening a throat that can swallow rivers and not be cooled; who can tell who it is that thus assumes the momentary domination of our life? We must not be superficial in our view of these things. One man is many men. Jesus was the Son of MAN, representing all humanity, knowing all its temptations and burdens and stresses: feeling in himself every fire that ever burned within the human breast, and every sigh of peace that ever lulled the tumult of life into momentary tranquillity. "We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are." What, therefore, is the grand conclusion? "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
Nor can we deny the beginnings of new life in unexpected places. In conversation the woman appeared to have received very considerable spiritual enlightenment. But there is a woman within the woman a man within the man. We are not made up altogether of mere circumstances a moment old, coming today, going tomorrow, a shifting, fleeting environment; we are spiritual beings with a spiritual instinct and a spiritual history and outlook. Rahab was not a "harlot" only: she was really a student of history, and had pondered many serious things in her heart, and had put events together and construed their meaning, and the meaning which revealed itself to her was this: A new age is coming; the night is far spent; I do not know what it is, but the air is moved by a new trouble; I hear in it footfalls as of advancing men; presently some great event will supervene; what it is I know not, I will hasten to my house and lie down to sleep. News had come to the city: people were hearing of an advancing host who never struck but to slay, whose progress nothing could stop; expectation had been excited: events might occur at any moment which would give new direction and momentum to human history and social energy. So it is spiritually; so it is today, and every day. There are always men who hear the signs of the coming age, who observe tokens and omens, and who, putting things together, say The summer draweth nigh, the harvest cannot be long in whitening; we hear footfalls, and they are firm yet soft, and we interpret the method of their coming peacefully and hopefully: he is coming whose right it is to reign: new thought is coming, new speech, new prayer, new life: even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Human history is not all past and all future: there is a middle quantity a period of transition, wonder, expectation, uncertainty: we know not what the meaning of signs may be. Persons who are caught in the enthusiasm of that transitional period may be called heretics, unorthodox, unsound, peculiar, or eccentric. They cannot help it: the spirit of the enlarging and descending heavens is upon them; tomorrow they will be like ancient history. So quickly does time come and go that the men who are heretics today are called effete and behind the times tomorrow. Here, however, in this particular instance we see the working of this side of Providence. Even in Jericho the name of Israel has been heard; even within the walled city fear of Israel has been created.
The part which Rahab played in the transaction is not easy of explanation. She was plainly guilty of treachery and falsehood. Two or three things should be clearly remembered about this circumstance. Nowhere is the treachery or falsehood of Rahab commended in all the holy books. It has been sometimes thought that the falsehood of Rahab had been made matter of divine eulogium. Nothing of the kind! We cannot too persistently urge this truth upon the minds of inquirers. Nowhere, from end to end of the history, is treachery commended or is lying approved. Still, what marvellous faith the woman had! Her faith is spoken of with almost veneration. There are moments in life when we do not seem to belong to present things or things past: we talk as in a dream; some greater self rises within us, and we speak in the spirit and power of prophecy. We have seen already that the woman was at least two women. She was indeed a sinner, but she was endowed with great spiritual enlightenment, and like another historical woman she "pondered" human events and divine providences in her heart. Why not from her some great speech? Does not God proceed constantly by this plan? It is the unexpected voice that charms us; it is from quarters unlooked for that messages arise that cheer the heart; it is in Bethlehem that Christ is born; it is from Nazareth that some "good thing" cometh. Life is not a straight line: it is a perplexity and a complexity which does not admit of being disentangled. We cannot tell all we say, all we are; nor can we give account of ourselves at the bar of man. Great is the mystery of humanity!
An appalling doctrine, however, has been founded upon such circumstances as are represented in the history of Rahab. Of that doctrine we ought to beware. It has been said again and again that there are circumstances under which people may tell lies and yet preserve a good conscience, nay, but may even be regarded as doing the will of Heaven. I reply: God never said so, Christ never said so, Christ's apostles never said so; we cannot find our authority in the Bible, and any authority outside of it is not worthy an instant's consideration. It is worth while, however, to dwell upon the matter one moment, because there is a tendency in the human mind to create casuistical difficulty. The mind will ask, What ought to be done under such and such circumstances? The mind enfeebles itself by creating such foolish and almost impossible and romantic riddles. We ought not to try our ingenuity too far in inventing possibilities under which it may be right to tell lies. Casuistry may be the beginning of falsehood. A man may so engage his mind in the proposition and solution of riddles as to do fatal injury to his conscience. What we have to consider is the reality of life, the circumstances under which we ourselves are placed. There is romance enough in real life without inventing romances of a merely speculative kind. Now the teaching of the Bible is this: that there are no possible circumstances in life in which it is right to do wrong, in which it is right to tell lies, in which it is right to be double-minded and double-tongued. On the other hand, whilst laying down this doctrine with all clearness and definiteness and absolutely without reserve, we cannot overlook the fact that some men are placed in real circumstances of great peril and difficulty. When a man is told that if he will not act so and so, either religiously or politically, his daily bread will be taken from him; and when he is asked to give a definite answer upon the matter, and when he knows that his answer would dispossess him of house and business and bread, and when he knows that he is not the only sufferer, but that wife and children and infirm and aged dependents are all involved in the issue, that man's position is not an easy one; nor is it to be treated flippantly: we are rather to gather around him sympathetically, prayerfully, and acknowledge that he is now about to make the decision of a lifetime. Say to him The crisis is upon you: you are at the stake, the head is down upon the block, the axe is gleaming in the air, God help you! The man may say, Had I but myself to consider, I would drive off with defiance and scorn all who assail my integrity, but the innocent will suffer: the little children will be brought under the pinch of hunger, and the old folks who live upon my bounty will have no bed to lay their weariness upon; my God! what shall I do? Personally I have no patience with the flippant people who fling easy answers to such men people who have never had to suffer under that tremendous wheel themselves. What, then, is the message from the sanctuary upon such a crisis? It is still: Fear God, and have no other fear; if ye suffer for well-doing, great is your reward in heaven; whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto men more than unto God, judge ye; "herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men;" you threaten me: I cannot reply to you in your own terms; you have the upper hand of me: now, and you intend to use your position tyrannously, but they that be for me are more than all that can be against me; I will not lie: I will, in God's name and fear and strength, tell the truth! So the sanctuary sends no mitigated message, sets up no question of casuistry; nor does it deliver that message alone: it says Taking all history into account, and judging the future by the past, they that do so shall have a crown of glory, which the Lord, the righteous judge, himself will give. Meanwhile, the case is a difficult one that is to say, it is a hard and trying one, but the other side is not the side I dare adopt. Given that I have personally to choose to be on the one side or the other on the side of the tyrant or on the side of the oppressed it is better to be on the side of the suffering than on the side of those who inflict the pain. The tyrant seems to have it all his own way today: he quaffs his wine, sits down to his banquet, and laughs the loud laugh of folly, and all things seem to be under the manipulation of his skilful fingers; but the candle of the hypocrite is blown out, the day of the wicked is short: "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found," his roots were torn up and burned with unquenchable fire. We shall never be truly influential, and never have real peace of heart, until we put ourselves under the inspiration of the Spirit of Truth. We must not trifle with words; we must not stain them with forbidden colours; nor must we impart into them suggestive tones. Who, then, can live?
Some commentators, following Josephus, and the Chaldæan interpreters have endeavoured to make Rahab only a keeper of a house of entertainment for travellers; translating thus: "The house of a woman an innkeeper." But in the face of the parallel passages ( e.g : Leviticus 21:7 ; Jer 5:7 ), this rendering cannot be maintained: and it is a gloss in striking contrast with the simple straightforwardness of the writer of this book of Joshua, and inconsistent with the Apostolic phraseology (Hebrews 11:31 ; Jam 2:25 ). Rahab had hitherto been, probably, but a common type of heathen morality, but she was faithful to the dawning convictions of a nobler creed, and hence is commended by Christ's Apostles for that which was meritorious in her conduct.
Almighty God, thou art always doing wonders. This is the day of thy miracles more abundantly than any other day in all the history of man. Thou hast not ceased to work thy wonders before us: we know them, and cannot mistake them, for they bear thy signature, and are radiant with thy presence. Thou doest mighty wonders in every land every day, according as the people are able to bear thy revelation. Thy wonders are spiritual: thou dost regenerate the heart that was dead; thou dost give light to them that sit in darkness, and as for those who were afar off, they have been brought nigh by the work of thy Son. We rejoice, therefore, that we live in daily expectation that tomorrow shall be greater than this day, and in the assurance that thou art able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. This is our joy, our inspiration, our daily comfort and rest. The Lord's arm is not shortened that it cannot save; thy hand is still mighty, and it is outstretched in sign of blessing. Lord Jesus, come quickly! Pardon our impatience. We know it takes away from the faith of our prayer, but thou knowest the yearning of our heart, the desire of our spirit, that the east may dawn with a new light, that the whole sky may be filled with glory, and that the western lands may dwell in the blessing of thy glorious truth. Comfort us whilst we gather around thy word: give it meanings suitable to our immediate necessities; show us what Jordan we must cross, what cities we must take, and how we must wait for the Lord, and wait patiently for him, and confidently hope for his salvation. Thus do thou give us rest, give us assurance of thy presence, care, power, and beneficence of purpose; and as we have seen all this realised in thy Son our Saviour, may we have in him the assurance that all lands shall be God's, all time shall be sanctified, and earth itself shall be, as it were, part of heaven. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath." Jos 2:11
Everything depends upon a right conception of the personality and character of God. The Hebrew conception was marked by great exaltation and comprehensiveness. Again and again we have observed that a little conception of God means a little religion, and a little religion means a little morality. We must in all our thinking strive after the largest conceptions, not simply for their own value as thoughts, but for their moral influence upon the whole circuit of thinking and action. Joshua's description of God is absolutely inclusive: (I) he is "the Lord your God;" as if he were associated with the Israelites only, and with every Israelite in the whole community: thus he is made a personal, or social, or tribal God; but such a God can never be more than a mere idol; to save God from the rank of idols we must have a true conception of his greatness as well as of his moral qualities: (2) Then "he is God in heaven above;" there the thought receives wonderful and sublime enlargement: what "heaven above" is must be left to the imagination, and imagination itself reels in any attempt to comprehend the vastness and glory of the expression: though the mind is thus bewildered, it is yet exalted and ennobled by the very endeavour to comprehend the incomprehensible: (3) Then he is God "in earth beneath;" thus all the dimensions are included; a beautiful method of education is this, for it enables the mind to begin at certain clear and ascertain-able points and to move onward and upward to greater distances and to sublimer effects. The Christian conception of God has never enlarged the thought of the Hebrew theology. Christianity has introduced tenderness into it by describing God by more familiar and endearing names, yet not at the expense of the sublimity, but rather in illustration of it, showing that true sublimity is not far from true condescension. The Hebrew conception of God should have been followed by a grand conception of personal character. To have a great God in the intellect, and no God in the life, is the most criminal atheism. When a man with this conception of God does that which is unworthy of the conception, he not only drags himself downwards, but he drags also the conception of God along with him. It is possible to have an intellectual conception without a moral realisation. This is the most painful irony that can occur in life. When we speak of a great conception of God, it is not intended that the mind alone or the pure reason should be interested in that conception, but that it should fill the whole being, enlightening the mind, subduing the heart, chastening the disposition, and regulating the will. With such a conception immorality is simply impossible; because it is impossible that such light should be quenched by the darkness round about it. The vital point to be ever remembered in these studies is that a great intellectual theology does not necessitate a grand moral purification. Theology must be made more than an intellectual science; it must supply the motive and the reward of sanctified impulse and action.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 2". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30