Click here to join the effort!
JOSHUA COMMANDED TO DIVIDE THE LAND: THE CITIES AND BOUNDARIES OF THE TWO AND A HALF TRIBES
Joshua 13:1. Old and stricken in years] Heb. = “old and come into days,” or “years.” A common form of expression for advanced age (Genesis 18:11; Genesis 24:1). Repeated of Joshua (chap. Joshua 23:1-2). There are no sufficient data for ascertaining Joshua’s exact age at this time. Josephus (Ant. v. 1. 29) says that Joshua lived twenty-five years after the death of Moses. This would make Joshua eighty-five years of age at the time of Moses’ death, and about ninety-two at the date marked by this verse, according well with his death, about eighteen years later, at the age of one hundred and ten years (chap. Joshua 24:29). If these figures are correct, Joshua was six or seven years older than Caleb (chap. Joshua 14:5).
Joshua 13:2. The borders of the Philistines] Lit. = “the circles,” “the circumference.” The Philistines were not Canaanites, but were descended from Mizraim, through Casluhim (Genesis 10:6; Genesis 10:13-14; 1 Chronicles 1:8; 1 Chronicles 1:11-12). They must therefore be regarded as belonging to the second rather than the fourth branch of the great Hamitic race. In Genesis 21:32; Genesis 21:34; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 26:8, the Philistines are named as already inhabiting the neighbourhood of Gerar, in the extreme south-west of Palestine. In Deuteronomy 2:23, we find them as “the Caphtorim which came forth out of Caphtor,” destroying “the Avim,” and making an encroachment northwards to Azzah (afterwards Gaza), and establishing themselves in what was subsequently known as “the land of the Philistines,” or “the plain of the Philistines.” They are more than once mentioned as Caphtorim by the prophets (Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 9:7). They are sometimes called “Cherethites” (1 Samuel 30:14; Ezekiel 25:15-16; Zephaniah 2:4-6), who are repeatedly named with “the Pelethites” (2 Samuel 8:18; 1 Kings 1:38; 1 Kings 1:44). In view of this interchange of such names as point to the origin of the Philistines, perhaps it is safest to accept the hint given elsewhere by the prophets (Jeremiah 25:20; Jeremiah 25:24; Ezekiel 30:5), and regard them, in common with some other races included in the phrase, as a “mingled people.” This, too, is in part sustained by the probable meaning of the word “Philistines” “Philistæa = prop, ‘the land of wanderers,’ ‘strangers;’ LXX.—’Ἀλλόφυλοι, γῆ Ἀλλοφύλων.” [Gesen.] The language of the Philistines is held to have been Shemitic rather than Hamitic. Perhaps this merely points to a very early contact of these nomadic Casluhim and Caphtorim with some of the Shemitic families; e.g., Abimelech and his people with Abraham and Isaac, as above. Geshuri] Not the same as “the border of the Geshurites,” in chap. Joshua 12:5, but a district south of Philistia, on the way towards Arabia.
Joshua 13:3. Sihor] Or Shichor=“the Black River.” Thought by some to mean here the Pelusiac branch of the Nile. This has been controverted by Raumer and others. Keil says: “The Sihor, which is before (on the east of) Egypt, can be no other than the Nachal Mizraim (brook of Egypt), which is described as being the southern boundary of Canaan towards Egypt, not only in chap. Joshua 15:4; Joshua 15:47, and Numbers 34:5, but also in Isaiah 27:12, 1 Kings 8:65, and 2 Chronicles 7:8. It is the brook which flows into the Red Sea near to Rhinocorura (el Arish). In 1 Chronicles 13:5, this is actually called Shihor of Egypt.” The last passage shews that, in the time of David, the land had been taken as far south as this extreme boundary. To the borders of Ekron northward] Indicating the entire extent of the Philistine territory: although the Philistines were not a part of “the devoted people,” yet their land was “counted to the Canaanites,” i.e., it formed a part of Canaan proper. Ekron, now Akir; in 1Ma. 10:89 it is called Accaron. The city was celebrated for the worship of Baal-zebub, the fly-god (cf. 2 Kings 1:2). Gaza … Ashdoth … Gath] Cf. on chap. Joshua 11:22. Gath was the city of the Gittites. The Eshkalonites] Eshkalon, or Askelon, stood upon the sea coast, south of Ashdod It was taken by Judah (Judges 1:18), but is not named with the other Philistine cities, in chap. Joshua 15:45-47, as in the allotment of this tribe. The Avites] The former occupants of the land (Deuteronomy 2:23), some of whom may have been spared, and suffered to retain a part of the land.
Joshua 13:4. From the south] The Masoretic division of this verse is confusing, and is generally held to be incorrect. Groser’s remark seems to furnish the correct meaning: “The words ‘from the south’ have caused some difficulty, which disappears by reading them (as in the LXX. version) as a proper name,—‘from Teman,’ the former southern limits of the Avites’ territory. ‘All the land of the Canaanites’ seems to sum up what has gone before, and should be followed by a full stop. From ‘Mearah’ on the north-west, between Tyre and Sidon, to one of the Apheks on the east, bordering the old Amorite territory of Bashan.” [Joshua and his Successors]
Joshua 13:5. The Giblites] Probably the inhabitants of Gebal. The LXX. have “Biblians;,” the Vulg. “Giblians.” Gebal was apparently on the coast of Phœnicia, near to Sidon (cf. Ezekiel 27:9; Psalms 83:7; see also Marg. 1 Kings 5:18). Lebanon toward the sunrising] = The eastern range, i.e., Anti-Lebanon. The entering into Hamath] The valley of the Orontes, between the two ranges of Lebanon, and leading into Upper Syria, towards its chief city Hamath.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 13:1-7
GOD’S OUTLOOK UPON MAN’S LIFE, AND WORK, AND HOPES
The Lord, who had called His people to this war (chap. 1.), is here seen bidding them to rest from war. For nearly seven years they had been toiling and striving on the battle-fields of Canaan. Without this special commandment to rest, Joshua would probably have felt it to be his duty to go on with the conflict till every city was won, and there remained no more of the land to be possessed. The Divine command, while it may have wrought some anxiety of mind, must have been very welcome to Joshua personally. The aged warrior needed rest, and must have longed with deep desire to see the hosts of his people settled, each in their portion. This is given as a principal reason for the command to cease from war and proceed to the division of the land.
I. The outlook of God on a human life. “Thou art old and stricken in years.… now therefore divide this land.”
1. God has regard to the failure of our lives. We do not grow feeble unobserved. The gathering infirmities of the aged are watched, not merely by loving hearts on earth, they are seen also from heaven. God marks our failing strength. “He knoweth our frame.” “Few people know how to be old,” said La Rochefoucauld; and Madame de Stael, “It is difficult to grow old gracefully.” Vast numbers prove the sayings only too true. Joshua had been a noble exception. Ever since he went with Caleb and the other ten spies to search out the land, he had been putting on with each increasing year something more of the fear of God; and now, as an old man of well nigh a hundred years, he was full of wise kindness and gentleness towards his fellows, and of love to Him who had given him strength in so many marches, and victory in so many battles. And Jehovah had respect unto His servant, (a) God sees the failure of men who are conscious that they are failing. (b) God marks the failure of men who are careless of their infirmities, or who seek to hide them. Young has told us that old age should
“Walk thoughtful on the silent, solemn shore
Of that vast Ocean it must sail so soon;”
but whether men heed their nearness to eternity or hide it, God daily watches their failing powers. Many years later He looked down upon the children of some of these very people whom Joshua led into the land, and said of Ephraim, “Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not; yea, grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.”
2. God thinks with sympathy on the hopes and disappointments of our lives. Joshua could not but have hoped to see the people settled in their lots. When Moses had to go up Mount Nebo and die, without leading the people into Canaan, it was regarded as a punishment. It was in mitigation of that punishment that he was permitted to see the land. So, doubtless, Joshua would have been disappointed had he been called away ere the people had received their inheritance. God had sympathy with the hopes of His servant. No less does our heavenly Father sympathise with our hopes, when they have regard to His glory and to His people’s joy.
3. God remembers the promises by which our hopes have been inspired and animated. Joshua had repeatedly received the promise that he should cause the people to inherit. It had been given through Moses (Deuteronomy 1:38; Deuteronomy 3:28; Deuteronomy 31:7; Deuteronomy 31:23). It had been given by God to Joshua directly (chap. Joshua 1:2-15). When God Himself has inspired our hopes and kept them alive, He will not suffer them to fail because of our weakness.
II. God’s contemplation of our life’s work. “There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.” Very much of what Joshua had been wont to consider as his assigned labour would have to be left undone. Consider the following features in the Lord’s thought of us as engaged in His work:
1. He is self-contained and patient in view of our slowness. There is no word of reproach to Joshua. God takes time for His own work. The length of the geological periods. The quiet and steady succession of the seasons. The silent and gradual growth of animal and vegetable life. God can allow His servants time for their work. He who hastens not Himself, is not dependent on the haste of men. No purpose of His will fail because human hands are but weak. God is willing to allow His servants all time that is necessary. He measures our work, not by what we have done, but by how we have done.
2. He is very compassionate towards us in our weakness and weariness. Looking back on our past, He sees where we have left our strength. Beneath His considerate eye, every act which we have done from a right heart becomes the visible embodiment of so much of our departed power. In the Jerichoes and Beth-horons and Meroms which lie in the rear of His children’s march, He is pleased to behold monuments reared to His own name, each one being built out of so much of their freely offered might. Their work, at places, may be rough and poor, and may stand for little of good to men or of glory to Himself; there may be Ais in it, as well as Jerichoes; it is enough for Him that His people have been trying to serve Him, and that the process has exhausted them. When He comes to the place where He has to say, “Thou art old and stricken in years,” that is also the place where He loves to think of their long-cherished hopes, and to add, “Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance.” God sees where our strength has been poured out. He pities us in our weakness, and if we have been spending our might in His service, His compassion will not come to us empty-handed. He still loves to connect His pity with our rest, and with some inheritance. Jesus also says to His weary disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile;” and the desert, like the sea immediately after, witnesses to new wonders both of His love and power (cf. Mark 6:31-51).
3. His compassion does not leave us to idleness, but merely leads Him to change our work, Joshua might cease from war, but he must proceed to divide the land. So with the disciples just referred to: the rest of the desert was but a change of work, and the rest of the sea came only in the peace which followed the storm. The “rest of faith” should not be inactivity. The rest of heaven will not be inactivity. Here or hereafter, the Lord does not make a heaven for us out of idleness within us.
III. The stateliness of God’s words and purposes. Bring together yet again the words of the opening and closing verses of the paragraph: “There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.… Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance.” The land which was not taken was apportioned with the same calmness as the land already conquered. (Compare chap. Joshua 13:2-4 a, with Joshua 15:45-47; also Joshua 13:4-6Joshua 13:4-6Joshua 13:4-6, with Joshua 19:24-48.) Had Israel been faithful, all would have been equally inherited.
Here, then, as we survey this calm assignment of the land of unconquered nations, we feel constrained to adoringly acknowledge that we are in a Presence far above our own. Like admiring David, when Divine mercy had spoken of his house “for a great while to come,” we can only say, This is not “the manner of man, O Lord God” (cf. also Isaiah 55:8-9). These are ways and thoughts which, in their combination of calmness and majesty, are “stamped with their own divinity.”
1. This lofty manner gives us a glimpse of the sublime repose of God in His own consciousness of infinitude. (a) Touching His enemies, He rests in His felt might. No word is spoken to assert the sufficiency of the might. Nothing so much as looks in that direction. There are no disturbing thoughts whatever. The power is so great, that the question of sufficiency does not even occur. (b) Touching His people, God rests in His love (cf. Zephaniah 3:17). For the present, God said to assure Joshua, “Them will I drive out.” These are words, however, the Israelites well knew must depend on their faithfulness, and must be remembered together with some other words to which they had often listened, and which were yet to be repeated (cf. Exodus 23:20-24; Numbers 33:52-56; chap, Joshua 23:11-13).
2. This lofty manner also belongs to the ministry of Jesus Christ. (a) It is manifest in all His miracles. He says, “Fill the water-pots with water;” “Give ye them to eat;” “Take ye away the stone.” The beginning of every miracle gives a pledge of the end, and the pledge is given in a manner peculiar to Christ Himself. Moses at the sea, or before the rock at Horeb, makes you feel his excitement. Elijah, standing on Carmel, or stretched on the body of the dead child at Sarepta, trembles in the consciousness of a mere humanity which is about to become the vehicle of a power so utterly beyond his own. Paul with dead Eutychus, and Peter with dead Dorcas, are ever so unlike Christ with the dead son of the widow, the dead daughter of the ruler, or dead Lazarus of Bethany. There is always this “manner of men” even when men in an unquestioning faith know they are to be aided to work the works of God; their manner is not the manner of Jesus Christ, (b) This feature is still more marvellously manifest in many of the Saviour’s promises and invitations. Examples: “If I be lifted up,” etc.; “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;” “I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me,” etc.; “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” etc. (c) There is the same assuredness of outlook in the Saviour’s words of doom over the wicked. His prophetic denunciations over particular cities sometimes embrace a considerable amount of detail; and however full the detail, nothing is left contingent or ambiguous. His utterances have in them nothing of the ancient oracles; they provide but one meaning, and never so much as glance at the possibility of that meaning remaining unfulfilled. This is so in His dealing with Chorazin and Beth-saida, and the same calm realism pervades the words which announce the fall of Capernaum. He seems to speak from within His own unerring consciousness, looking with quiet sadness at the clear map of the inevitable future lying unfolded there, rather than in indignation against the offending cities themselves. Thus above Jerusalem, which would not be gathered to Him, He beholds the hovering eagles of Rome, around it He sees the trench of Titus, while within it He marks the would-be fugitives who are hastening from point to point, only to learn in an increasing terror that they ought to have escaped to the mountains yesterday. All this, and more, is seen in a calmness disturbed only by His tears, and proclaimed as unavoidable just because the people will have the sin which not even He can separate from the doom. In the same august knowledge and power He still waits upon His throne. He must reign. There may be much more land which, as yet, His people have not possessed. He treats it already as His own. Meanwhile, in a great and calm anticipation which has not even a thought that it can be otherwise, He sitteth in the heavens, “from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool.
1. Touching our inheritance, how peaceful should be the rest of our faith!
2. How realistic and bright should be our hope!
3. How inevitable, to themselves, should seem the destruction of all the enemies of Christ!
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 13:1. OLD AGE IN ITS RELATION TO WORK.
“The words, ‘old and stricken in years,’ do not contain a tautology, but accurately express the period of life according to a division which was long familiar to the Jews, and may not have been unknown to them even at this early period. According to this division, old age consisted of three stages, the first extending from the sixtieth to the seventieth year, constituting the commencement of old age properly so called; the second extending from the seventieth to the eightieth year, and constituting what was called hoary, or hoary-headed age; and the third extending from the eightieth year to the end of life, and constituting what was called advanced age, and caused the person who had reached it to be described as one stricken in years. At this closing stage Joshua had now arrived.” [Ed. of Calvin, in loc.]
In this verse several important practical considerations are suggested. Read in connection with the history, we have brought under our notice—
I. A good man helped very much by God, but subject no less than others to the laws of nature. Joshua grew old. It was proper to say of him also that he was “stricken in years.” God’s love does not exempt any man from God’s laws. The holiest of men, in common with the wickedest, have ever been subject to “the wear and tear of life.” A poet said admiringly of the ocean,
‘Time writes no wrinkle on thine azure brow;”
but however much Time may spare the face of the ocean, it spares no man. Abraham was “the friend of God;” but of him also it is written, he “was old and well stricken in age.” David is spoken of as the man after God’s own heart; he had to write of himself, nevertheless, “I have been young, and now am old.” John was wont to speak of himself as “that disciple whom Jesus loved;” he, too, drifted presently into that consciousness of many years, which made it seem to him quite appropriate to address men around him as “little children.” Paul knew much, and wrote much, of the love and fellowship of Christ; it did not keep him from coming to that sense of years out of which he wrote of himself to Philemon, “being such an one as Paul the aged.” God’s love to us will give us no immunity from God’s laws. Why should it? His laws are not to be set over against Himself, as though He were on one side, and they were on another. His laws are the outcome of His love, and not something working contrary to His love. Not a few have learned that this law of physical decay is also a law of love. Many besides Job have looked gratefully at even the issues of decay, and have said in their turn also, “I would not live alway.” Yet in the stately march of time there seems something of unfeelingness. We measure the flight of time by our clocks, and how ruthlessly each individual clock seems to tick! A clock seems the embodiment of a living thing with absolutely no heart. Are we in joy? no pulse of the clock beats any faster. Are we in sorrow? the length of the tick is exactly the same. The thing has no sympathy—no bowels, as these ancient Hebrews would have said. Are we ill? nothing seems so unaffected by it as the clock. Are we strong in health, buoyant in spirits, cheered by some great victory, or made very glad by some of God’s good mercies? the clock seems absolutely indifferent. Are many lives depending for their rescue on two or three more minutes ere a tide flows or a train is due? the clock will not vary a single second for them all; it will not oven go faster; it has no delight in the deaths, and no concern in the lives; it is so aggravatingly itself. An heir is born to a throne; a city is moved with joy, and a whole kingdom is excited with gladness; even the iron cannon that greet the new life seem to put on an unusual loudness; but the clock puts on simply nothing, and puts off nothing. It is the same when people die. However great they may have been, however good, it makes no difference; through the long hours of the night in which loving watchers wait around the bed of the sufferer; amidst the interruption of the dying man’s groans, and over the silence of his exhaustion; while friends anxiously stoop to see if the breathing has ceased, and when it has ceased; as if in contempt of the first bursts of passionate grief in the bereaved, and of indifference to the mute despair by which the passion may be followed: always, and everywhere, that eternal tick of the clock remains the same. With movement enough and rhythm enough to seem sentient, a clock is as impassible as a mass of cast iron which has been lying for ages in the same place; it is as indifferent as the Pyramids themselves.
After all, these clocks are only our obedient servants. They are the faithful registrars of time. It is Time which is so ruthless—so sternly indifferent. And yet this sternness of Time is God’s kindness through Time. Like the good surgeon, who cannot afford to weep with his patient while he uses his knife, but who uses it unflinchingly as the only possible way of using it beneficially, so Time deals with his subjects. Thus it comes to pass that the man loved much of his God fails even as others. It is only our mistake when we cry, as we are all apt to cry, and that with little more variation than the two sisters of Bethany, “Lord, if THOU hadst been here, my brother had not died.” God was with Joshua in the triumphs of Jordan, of Jericho, of Ai, of Beth-horon, and of Hazor; for all that, Joshua’s end was coming fast. God would have His people inherit a better Canaan than any down here, and the way into that also lies through a wilderness and across a river—the wilderness of decay and the Jordan of death.
II. An old man taught by God to regard his age as a motive for diligence. There was yet another great work for Joshua to do; he was to divide the entire land of Canaan among the people, and God virtually reminded His servant that if this were to be done at all it must be done at once. Many Christians seem to think it quite enough to have been active in early life, and quite becoming to do almost nothing when a ripened experience and a maturer wisdom might enable them to render to the Church a more valuable service than ever. It is recorded of John Wesley, that preaching one evening at Lowestoft, when he was exceedingly old and infirm, he was attended, and almost supported, in the pulpit by a young minister on each side. “The chapel was crowded to suffocation. In the course of the sermon he repeated, though with an application of his own, the lines from Anacreon:
‘Oft am I by woman told,
Poor Anacreon! thou grow’st old;
See, thine hairs are falling all;
Poor Anacreon! how they fall!
Whether I grow old or no,
By these signs I do not know;
By this I need not be told
’Tis time TO LIVE, if I grow old.’ ”
Perhaps no better example of diligence in old age has ever been given to men than that set by Wesley. Other aged men might think it “time to die,” or, at least, “time to be idle,” when burdened with the weight of many years; he found in his passing strength a renewed call to Christian earnestness. The aged, also, have their duties. They should hear in their infirmities the reiteration of their Lord’s word: “The night cometh when no man can work.” God teaches aged Joshua that he can yet serve his fellows by dividing the land.
III. A diligent man, who had been diligent all his life, having to feel that he must leave much of his work to others. Joshua had been led to regard the work of driving out the Canaanites as peculiarly his own. Now it had become evident that he must leave the work incomplete. No doubt God intended this. He had wise purposes yet to fulfil through the people who were unsubdued. To Joshua, however, it must have seemed, at times, as though his own special work had to be left in an unfinished state. Thus, too, was Moses called away. He had been called by God to lead the Israelites into Canaan; he was summoned away while they were yet in the wilderness. There are thousands who seem called to some great life-work, and who, when only well into the midst of it, have to retire from it, saying like Job, “My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart.”
1. Men should set themselves no work in life in which they would not be overtaken by infirmity and death. Failure of strength comes irrespective of the task in which men spend their strength. The most miserable outlook which this life can unfold to any man is at that point of infirm helplessness in the present from which not a few have to look backwards on many years which have been worse than useless, and forwards to an eternity which is utterly hopeless.
2. Life, and history, and Scripture, alike join in saying to every man, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” The young are apt to think that whatever else they may want, they have plenty of time; the aged get to feel that there is nothing which they need so much.
“Youth is not rich in time, it may be poor:
Part with it as with money, sparing; pay
No moment, but in purchase of its worth:
And what its worth, ask death-beds, they can tell.”
He who would not feel bankrupt in the possession of time when standing on the margin of eternity, should learn to change each available moment, as it passes, into the imperishable wealth of something done for his fellows, and thus for his God. That is the only wealth of ours which can be ferried to the other side, and that alone will have any kind of currency with the Lord of Life who awaits us there; for while our entrance into His presence will be all of His work, and not at all of our own, yet has he been pleased to announce His readiness to read our faith in Himself through true service rendered to His people, and to greet each believing worker with the welcome, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
IV. A man with his life nearly done and his labour unfinished able to rest in the love of God both for himself and his work. Whatever frailty might have overtaken Joshua physically, and whatever of incompleteness might be manifest in the great task of his life, everything was rendered beautiful by his relation to God. After speaking of the appearance of some of our English ruins which he had been visiting, and of the delight which they had given him even in their decay, Nathaniel Hawthorne exclaims: “Oh that we could have ivy in America! What is there to beautify us when our time of ruin comes?” That which is outward may bear marks of decay; yet it may be even more beautiful in its ruins than it has ever been in its strength. “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” Beautiful as is Joshua’s life in its strength, it is nowhere more beautiful than in the integrity and faith attending this closing work of his life (e.g. chapters Joshua 22:1-6; Joshua 23:0; Joshua 24:0). He who walks always in the obedience of faith and the joy of love will be ever moving into a life more peaceful to himself, and more beautiful to those by whom he is surrounded.
Joshua 13:2-6.—THE LORD’S INTEREST IN THE UNFINISHED LABOURS OF HIS SERVANTS.
The verses suggest for consideration the following thoughts:—
I. The items of our unfulfilled labour as being all observed and counted by God. Philistia, Phœnicia, and the region of Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon were not yet subdued. God saw all that had been conquered, and all that was unconquered. The very boundaries describing the uncompleted labour are carefully defined. It is well that our prayers should also have regard to the “things which we have left undone.”
II. Our unfulfilled labour as being met by the promised help of God. “Them will I drive out,” etc. (Joshua 13:6). God is not unconcerned about that which His servants have done. He also, as well as they, regards with interest the work which they have been unable to finish. He meets His servants’ desires touching their unfinished work both with sympathy and with promises.
III. The promises of God as being only fulfilled to His servants when they walk with God. Some parts of this territory never were subdued by the Israelites. Occasionally they lost some land which had been conquered. This was in strict accordance with God’s word, which had repeatedly declared that all the people should not be driven out if the Israelites transgressed.
IV. The promises of God, where they are unfulfilled through His servants’ sins, becoming the very ground on which His servants sufferings are most severe. Some of these very people whose defeat was covenanted to Israel by this promise, became the source of Israel’s greatest pain and shame in the future (cf. Numbers 33:55; Judges 2:1-5; Judges 10:6-9; Judges 13:1; 1 Samuel 4:0; 1 Samuel 4:0). When Balaam went to curse the Israelites, he could only bless them. With God for them, the false-hearted prophet could only cry, “How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed?” With God for us, there can be no curse against us; with God against us, our very blessings may become the sorest curse of all (Malachi 2:2). An unfulfilled promise should be a cause of fear. Something must be wrong when the word of the faithful God is found returning void.
“God orders the whole inheritance to be divided into tribes, and the whole line of the Mediterranean coast which was possessed by the enemy to be put into the lot. A division of this kind might indeed seem absurd and ludicrous, nay, a complete mockery, seeing they were dealing among themselves with the property of others just as if it had been their own. But the Lord so appointed for the best of reasons.
“First. They might have cast away the hope of the promise, and been contented with their present state. Nay, although after the lot was cast they had security in full for all that God had promised, they by their own cowardice, as far as in them lay, destroyed the credit of His words. Nor was it owing to any merit of theirs that His veracity did not lie curtailed and mutilated. The allocation by lot must therefore have been to them an earnest of certain possession so as to keep them always in readiness for it.
“Secondly. Those who happened to have their portion assigned in an enemy’s country, inasmuch as they were living in the meanwhile as strangers on precarious hospitality beyond their own inheritance, must have acted like a kind of taskmasters spurring on the others. And it surely implied excessive stupor to neglect and abandon what had been divinely assigned to them.
“Thirdly. It was also necessary that the seat of each tribe should be allocated while Joshua was alive, because after his death the Israelites would have been less inclined to obedience; for none of his successors possessed authority sufficient for the execution of so difficult a task.” [Calvin.]
Joshua 13:9. Medeba unto Dibon] The southern part of a table-land reaching from Rabbath Ammon to the river Arnon. Both places were given to the Reubenites (Joshua 13:16-17), but were afterwards retaken by Moab (Isaiah 15:2). Dibon, now Diban, was rebuilt by the Gadites after it was taken by Moses (Numbers 32:34), and thus for a short time seems to have borne the name of Dibon-Gad (Numbers 33:45-46). The famous “Moabite Stone,” containing an inscription of great antiquity, was found here a few years since.
Joshua 13:17. Bamoth-baal] Cf. Margin, and Numbers 21:20; Numbers 22:41; Isaiah 15:2. Baal-Meon] “One of the towns which were built by the Reubenites (Numbers 32:38), and to which they ‘gave other names.’ It occurs in 1 Chronicles 5:8, and on each occasion with Nebo. In the time of Ezekiel it was Moabite, one of the cities which were the ‘glory of the country’ (Ezekiel 25:9). In the days of Eusebius and Jerome it was still called Balmano nine miles distant from Heshbon, and reputed to be the native place of Elisha.” [Smith’s Bib. Dict.]
Joshua 13:18. Jahaza] Probably on the east of Dibon, bordering on the desert (cf. Numbers 21:23, etc.). Here Sihon was defeated and slain. The city was given to the Levites, as were the two other cities named in this verse (chap. Joshua 21:36-37), both of which seem to have been not far distant (Deuteronomy 2:26; 1 Chronicles 6:78-79; Jeremiah 48:21).
Joshua 13:19. Kirjathaim] The Emim were defeated hers by Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14:5). With Sibmah, and Zareth-Shahar, it seems to have stood in the rise of the valley from Heshbon towards Mt. Nebo. Sibmah was famous for its vines (Isaiah 16:8-9; Jeremiah 48:32).
Joshua 13:20. Beth-Peor] Near to or upon Mt. Peor (Numbers 23:28; Deuteronomy 3:29). Ashdoth-Pisgah, etc.] Cf. on chap, Joshua 12:3.
Joshua 13:21. Dukes of Sihon]=“Vassals of Sihon;” so Keil and others. While “princes,” or petty “kings” (cf. Numbers 31:8) of the Midianites, they were probably tributaries to Sihon in whose country they were dwelling.
Joshua 13:22. Balaam also, etc.] There is no good reason for considering this and the preceding verse to be “irrelevant” and “borrowed from the history in Numbers,” as suggested by Dr. A. Clarke. Balaam’s counsel had been the cause of the battle in which he and the five princes who dwelt in this territory were slain. When dealing with the geography of this country, it was not irrelevant but natural for the historian to tell us of these people who were in the unusual position of pastoral settlers among its regular inhabitants, and to allude thus briefly to the cause of their destruction.
Joshua 13:23. Jordan and the border thereof] The natural boundary which the Jordan formed. The Jordan is similarly mentioned in Joshua 13:27.
Joshua 13:25. Jazer] “It was taken from the Amorites, and fortified by the Gadites (Numbers 21:32; Numbers 32:35). It was assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21:39; 1 Chronicles 6:81) and afterwards taken by the Moabites. After the exile it belonged to the Ammonites (Isaiah 16:8; Jeremiah 48:32; 1Ma. 5:8). Its situation, according to Eusebius, was ten Roman miles westward from Philadelphia (Rabbath-Amman), and fifteen miles from Heshbon.” [Keil.] Aroer that is before Rabbah] Thus distinguished from Aroer of Reuben, on the banks of the Arnon. Rabbah] Called sometimes, in distinction from other cities of the same name, “Rabbath of the Ammonites.” It was the chief city of Ammon, and though not originally assigned to Israel, it was subsequently besieged by Joab, and taken by David (2 Samuel 11:1; 2 Samuel 12:26-31). About B.C. 250, Ptolemy Philadelphus gave it the name Philadelphia.
Joshua 13:26. Unto Ramath-mizpeh and Betonim] These two cities seem to represent the extent of the territory of the Gadites towards the north, from the direction of Heshbon, which stood in the lot of Reuben. This is the only place where the former of the two cities is mentioned under this name, though it is thought by some to be the same with Ramoth-Gilead. Mahanaim] = “Two hosts” (cf. Genesis 32:2; Genesis 32:7; Genesis 32:10). It seems to have been strictly a frontier town, as it is named as being also on the border of Manasseh (Joshua 13:30). It belonged to the lot of Gad, but was given to the Levites (chap. Joshua 21:38). Here Abner proclaimed Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 2:8-9), and to the same place David fled from Absalom (2 Samuel 17:24), it being then a walled town large enough to contain the king and the thousands who followed him (2 Samuel 18:1; 2 Samuel 18:4). Debir] There is some uncertainty concerning the name, and the site is unknown.
Joshua 13:27. In the valley, Beth-aram, and Beth-nimrah] The valley of the Jordan, in which these and the two following towns were situated. The order of the names is from the south of the valley upwards, Beth-aram being near Peor and Zaphon (Tsaphon=“the north”) the most northerly town of the four, and probably of the tribe, standing near to the sea of Chinnereth.
Joshua 13:30. All the towns of Jair] Heb. =“Chavvoth-Jair;” the same as the Havoth-Jair of Numbers 32:41. Chavvoth, pl. of chavvah—“life,” is the same with chayyah, which (according to Gesenius)—“A family, a tribe, especially of Nomades, hence a village of Nomades, a village [prop., place where one lives, dwells, so Germ, leben in proper names Eisleben. Aschersleben] (Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 13:30; Judges 10:4; 1 Kings 4:13).” Hence, the Havoth-Jair were “the dwelling-places of Jair.” The passage in Judges speaks of them as thirty cities, but the number is usually given as sixty (cf. also 1 Chronicles 2:22-23).
Joshua 13:31. The children of Machir] Machir was the eldest son of Manasseh. His descendants appear to have been by far the larger portion of the tribe (cf. Numbers 26:29; chap. 17,). It seems impossible to decide how the families of Machir, Jair, and Nobah, the sons of Manasseh, were distributed in the two lots, one on each side of Jordan, which fell to this tribe.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 13:8-33
Joshua 13:8-12. THE INHERITANCE ON THE EAST OF JORDAN.
The communication of God to Joshua closes at the end of the seventh verse. The Divine utterances are followed by the author’s personal reference to the inheritance of the Reubenites, of the Gadites, and of the remaining half tribe of Manasseh, on the other side of Jordan. Joshua 13:9-12 give a general definition of this eastern territory, which is more minutely specified in the latter half of the chapter.
The repetition in the eighth verse, contained in the words, “As Moses the servant of the Lord gave them,” must not be regarded as meaningless. It appears designed to emphasise the fact that Moses had acted as the servant of Jehovah in that particular assignment of the eastern possessions already made. The inheritance of the nine and a half tribes was decided by lot; that of the two and a half tribes seems to have been ordered according to the judgment of Moses (chap. Joshua 14:2-3). The Israelites undoubtedly believed in God’s guidance of the lot, the unerring direction of which had been so solemnly attested in the discovery of Achan. From these early instances in which God gave witness that He guided the lot, it most likely became a common faith that “the whole disposing thereof was of the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 18:18). Lest it might afterwards be thought that God had not decided the respective positions of the two and a half tribes also, it is here emphatically asserted that Moses had acted as Jehovah’s servant. God provides not only for His people’s possessions, but likewise for their peace.
Joshua 13:13. This verse indicates that the book of Joshua was not written till after the time when it might have been expected that the Geshurites and Maachathites would have been expelled. But the phrase “unto this day” may only point to a few years later than the time of the general conquest. The king of Maachah was able to lead a thousand men against Joab in the time of David (2 Samuel 10:6); but after the defeat of Hadarezer, Maachah, with the neighbouring small states, probably became tributary to David (2 Samuel 8:5-6; 2 Samuel 10:19). As after this no more is heard of either Geshur or Maachah, and individual Maachathites are occasionally mentioned among the warriors of Israel, it seems natural to suppose that these petty kingdoms were attached to Israel by David.
Joshua 13:14. THE LEVITES.
The Levites, unlike the rest of the tribes, were to have no detached portion of the land as a separate inheritance. Instead of this, they were to have their inheritance in the religious offerings of all Israel, and in the eight and forty cities, scattered throughout Canaan, in which they were permitted to reside.
We see in these Levites,
I. Men called to special service for God, and specially exempted from the cares and responsibilities of secular life.
II. Men called to spiritual service for their fellows, and to be liberally cared for by their fellows.
The New Testament makes no effort to maintain the old Levitical machinery as a means of providing for those who minister in spiritual things; it certainly does maintain the principle of such provision. The machinery was necessarily temporary; the idea which the machinery worked was essentially as lasting as the necessity it was intended to meet. Some think that gifts for religious work should not be taken from irreligious men. No man has a right to judge who is religious enough to give and who is not. Every man’s gift to religion is to some extent an acknowledgment of religion, and in that measure is religious. Apart from the inability and sin of Christians who do not hesitate to sit in judgment on their fellows, no wicked man’s wickedness, however wicked he may be, exempts him from the duty of making personal sacrifices to support the worship and service of God in the land of which he is a citizen. A man’s wickedness exonerates him from no religious duty whatever. Every day in which a man lives in unbelief he is under obligation to believe; when he blasphemes, he is still bound to worship; when he lies, the obligation to be truthful is as fully upon him as ever; when he withholds his temporal things from service which God designs to be an eternal good to those around him, and whom he himself has helped to deprave, he is as much bound to give for religious work as the godliest man living. No rebel becomes free to rebel by rebelling, or ceases to be amenable to taxation for the crown by saying that he believes in a republic. No wicked Israelite was free to withhold his part in supporting the worship of God, because his personal love of transgression, or of his property, made any gift to the Levites distasteful. Probably God sets little value on the gifts for His service which are offered by a wicked man; yet when a wicked man tries to do what is right in anything, no other man is justified in hindering him; certainly no Christian man should dare to offer an unseemly rebuff to a fellow-man who is seeking even in one thing to discharge his conscience towards God. The Saviour, who saw in the Pharisees only “bruised reeds” and “smoking flax,” would neither break them in the one sense, nor quench them in the other. True, the Pharisees had not much religion left, but even Christ did not forbid them the little they had on the ground that they had only that little.
Joshua 13:22. THE WAGES OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.
The Apostle Peter tells us that Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” The hope of gain had induced Balaam to leave his home in Pethor of Mesopotamia (Deuteronomy 23:4), and come to the aid of the king of Moab. It is probable that the reward given to the false prophet was large; and, thus far, his expectations may have been satisfied. The real reward of his iniquity was yet to come. “The wages of sin is death,” and Baalam gives an example of the way in which these words may have a physical as well as a moral fulfilment. The connection between Balaam’s sin and his death is repeatedly and strongly marked in Scripture. The war against the Midianites was avowedly a war of retribution, and the death of Balaam is mentioned as that of the principal offender (Numbers 31:3; Numbers 31:8; Numbers 31:16). It seems named here for the same reason; the man had wrought great evil against Israel, and his death was the outcome of his wicked counsel. The successive stages of Balaam’s guilt and its consequences may be thus noticed. We see—
I. A weak man tempted to sin, and tempted where he was weakest.—
1. Temptation ever comes to men on the side on which they are least able to resist. A soldier may invest a fortress on all sides; he directs the strength of his assault where there are fewest means of defence. The man who loved the wages of unrighteousness was tempted with that which he loved. Men who are willing to run “greedily after the error of Balaam for reward,” are tempted in like manner with Balaam. Judas carried the bag and was a thief, and forthwith came the opportunity to sell Christ. Each man is tempted in the direction of his peculiar weakness. David was a man warm-hearted and enthusiastic, and the attack which overthrew him was on the least fortified side of his nature. Peter was at once ardent, impulsive, and possessed of a certain pride of manliness. Nothing would be so likely to betray him into falling as a sudden attack in the direction of shame. The point of weakness was the point of assault. Of the particular temptation before which Balaam fell, Addison well remarked: “A man who is furnished with arguments from the mint will convince his antagonist much sooner than one who draws them from reason and philosophy. Gold is a wonderful clearer of the understanding; it dissipates every doubt and seruple in an instant, accommodates itself to the meanest capacities, silences the loud and clamorous, and brings over the most obstinate and inflexible. Philip of Macedon was a man of most invincible reason this way. He refuted by it all the wisdom of Athens, confounded their statesmen, struck their orators dumb, and at length argued them out of their liberties.”
2. Most kinds of temptation come to every man, and temptation is strong or weak, according to the state of the heart that is tempted. A recent writer narrates an incident which aptly illustrates this. “Years ago, in Cheshire, some new plants, quite unknown before in the neighbourhood, sprang up beside the canals by which the salt was carried, and in pools around the salt works. The people did not know what to make of this phenomenon. At last, some one who had lived by the seaside recognised the plants as identical in kind with those which haunt the ledges of the rocks just above the flow of the tide, but within wash of the spray. Then the thing was clear. The germs of the plants had been from year to year borne by the wind, or carried by birds, to that place, but the conditions under which they could grow had not arisen. By-and-by the same conditions which prevailed on the sea-coast were fulfilled, and the germs which formerly had died took root and grew. Remove those conditions, and though the germs are brought there at intervals, they will not develop into life.” Thus the seeds of temptation are scattered far and wide. Most temptations, sooner or later, fall into the heart of every man. It depends on the state of the heart into which they fall whether they spring up and grow into destroying sins, or whether they die in the very beginnings of life. Earth has only known one Heart in which no seed of this kind ever even so much as germinated at all. Of Christ only has it been written, “Who did no sin.” Balaam received his temptation, and forthwith, in such fruitful soil, the seed grew apace.
3. No man is any stronger than the place where he is weakest. We are apt to measure the strength of our life by those traits of our character which are most promising. One man is benevolent, and he thinks of his whole manhood as in keeping with the compassion in which, possibly, he prides himself. Another man is strong in honesty, and by him the strength of his integrity is apt to be regarded as though it were the measure of the strength of all his manhood. The earnest evangelist, whom men call “a revivalist,” has not seldom been found taking it for granted that his Christian character is as strong all round as it is in that particular point in which he has been found to be peculiarly successful. Men look at the strong place of their life, and then go into temptation, forgetting the weak side of their temperament and disposition. It is as though a ship of war should be armour-plated over only some half a dozen square yards, and her captain should guide her into a conflict, thinking only of the small space through which the enemy’s shot could not penetrate, and forgetting that a ball in any other part of the vessel might sink him and his crew almost immediately. It is as if a miner should gauge the strength of his chain by a few stout links, and load the cradle by which he himself was about to descend, almost up to their breaking strain, heedless of the average power of the chain, and not concerning himself in the least about such links as were specially weak. An engine-driver who would avoid an explosion must have regard to the weakest part of his boiler. The girder of the bridge which spans the river is only as strong as where it is weakest. According to the axiom of the engineers, “the weakest is the strongest.” So should every man estimate his own character. He only is strong who watches, and prays, and fortifies himself where he is weak.
II. A tempted man restrained by God, and restrained earnestly and continuously.—The history in Numbers shews us how graciously God had interposed to prevent Balaam from this miserable end.
1. God restrained Balaam by the power of conscience. When the elders of Moab and Midian first tempted the prophet, he seems instinctively to have felt that it would be wrong for him to go on this mission (Numbers 22:8). He who overrides his conscience must be prepared to meet and confront it again under less favourable circumstances. Conscience thus outraged, like the ghost of Cæsar before the gaze of the bewildered Brutus, may seem to withdraw for a time; but there is always some Philippi where the sinner will have to look upon it again.
2. God restrained Balaam by actual words. “Thou shalt not go with them” (Numbers 22:12). All along the ways of iniquity men are opposed by the words of the Lord. It is easy to pass these words; it is hard to repass them, back to the way of holiness.
3. God restrained Balaam by unusual and marvellous interposition. The dumb ass was made to speak, and the armed angel stood between this man and the consummation of his iniquity. Providence has still its extraordinary calls. Accidents, sicknesses, bereavements. Even these may be passed. The very angels must make way for the man who is determined to sin. It could not be otherwise. Sin may be prevented by warnings only when a man will accept the warning; goodness is not at the command of swords, even when they are celestial. The. persecutors of the old days might have learned a useful lesson from this retiring angel. Every wilful man may learn, no less, for himself, that God’s warnings stop short of coercion. The sword which Divine love puts across the path of the man who will go on to sin, is but the shadow of the “coming event” which heaven’s mercy thus casts before him, that he may turn again by the way which he came.
4. God restrained Balaam by a continuous influence, which to a certain point was all-powerful to hold this bad man back. Three times did Balak build for Balaam seven altars, on each of which was offered a bullock and a ram, but Balaam could only say, “How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed?” Most men have felt this restraining influence of the Almighty. God does not seek to compel men to be good; but where He will, He does hold men back from wickedness. He can say, even to the most violent desires and passions of the vilest, “Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther.”
III. A man restrained by God evading restraint, and sinning while appearing to obey.—Balaam only submitted to the restraint outwardly; he did not curse Israel, because he could not; but the curse was in his heart all the while. Mark a few points touching the man’s spiritual failure.
1. Balaam’s religion was negative rather than positive. He did not say, What can I do for God? How can I serve men? He preferred to put the case thus: Where must I obey God? What commandments must I keep? See where this spirit of mere commandment-keeping ends. A man may go on like Balaam saying, If I should have given to me my house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord, and yet come to an end as terrible and sad as this.
2. Balaam’s piety consisted of only so much obedience as might serve to keep him from harm. He sought to go as near to sin as possible without getting smitten. Religion is not a moderate love of the world; it is not moderate luxury, moderate avarice, moderate ambition, moderate selfishness; it is not in asking, How much of the world may I have, and yet get to heaven? “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The overflowing Nile renders Egypt fertile; the overflowing of the world in a human heart causes spiritual barrenness and death.
3. Balaam’s religion was made up of feelings of duty rather than of thoughts of love. He “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” His heart was yearning to curse because of gain. Duty may be a good and sufficient word for ordinary conflicts. Nelson hung it out at the masthead of his ship for a battle signal, and dying said, “Thank God, I have done my duty.” But the stern warrior was moved to conflict by something more than the sense of duty. He loved his duty, and loved the nation which he served; otherwise even his conflicts had not so often ended in victory. The Christian has a sterner fight—a fight with foes unseen and innumerable. Let others do as they will, he can only triumph by love.
4. Balaam’s religion lay merely in fearing God rather than in desiring God’s glory. Only fear kept him from pronouncing the curse outright. We are told that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” but he will be very foolish who lets his wisdom end there. Fear may do well enough for the beginning of the way, but only the love of God can keep a man to the end. David ardently desired to glorify God, and was restored from sin’s lowest depths; Solomon was enamoured of his own glory, and his end is sad and obscure. Peter loved his Lord with passionate fervour, and we see him go from his denial to the Sea of Tiberias, and thence into the joy of Pentecost and the mellow godliness of his epistles; Judas loved the bag, and he went and hanged himself.
IV. A man sinning while simulating obedience, and the sin working steadily towards death and ending in death.—From the time when Balaam started on this mission of cursing, he was unconsciously drawing near to his end. Each step was so much near to the time when he should lie a ghastly corpse on the battle-field of Midian. Added to this constant approach to the place where he should be slain, there was a concurrent movement towards spiritual death. Every hour of inward yearning to do what God had bidden him not to do was an hour of spiritual decay. Thus Balaam went on till he was able to give his fiendish counsel to the Midianites, and probably to rejoice in the terrible success which attended it. The dead body upon the battle-field was only a symbol and a consequence of the dead spirituality which it had once covered. The man was dead every way.
1. Learn that sin in the heart will presently come out in the life. There comes a time when wickedness cherished in the heart will burst its way through the thin crust of a mere outward obedience, and, like some terrible Vesuvius, will pour out the hidden material of many years in a destroying lava—molten at last into that by the fierce fires of a long-encouraged passion.
2. Learn also that God will not always warn. There comes a time when He bids His dumb creatures speak to wilful sinners no more, when He stands no more angels in their path to destruction, and when His own forbidding voice ceases to be heard. Again it might be written, in this case with another meaning, “There was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour.” This silence of heaven is very awful. It is the pause in the spiritual world which immediately precedes the storm of judgment. Let those who hear nothing more from heaven be alarmed. “Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee.” Behold, in the similar silence of nature, they flee every one to his haunt! So let him who has ceased to hear the voices of God flee to the riven Rock of Ages. Let him hear in the very silence of heaven the final invitation of Jehovah, “Enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.”
Joshua 13:23-32.—THE INHERITANCE OF REUBEN, GAD, AND THE HALF-TRIBE OF MANASSEH.
The boundaries of these tribes whose possessions were “on the other side of Jordan” are as carefully defined as those of the tribes who inherited the land originally promised.
1. God’s people are His people everywhere. The people were not for the land, but the land was for the people.
2. God’s care of His people is irrespective of place. One side of Jordan or the other, it matters not, so long as they walk in the knowledge and love of Him.
3. God’s care of His people provides for their peace with each other. Lest disputes should arise, the territory of each tribe is, from the first, carefully marked. Lest the Levites should afterwards claim some of the land for a possession, they are repeatedly told, as in Joshua 13:14; Joshua 13:33, that their inheritance was to be in the Lord God of Israel. Peace also is meant to be a part of the earthly inheritance of the children of God.
Joshua 13:14; Joshua 13:33.—THE INHERITANCE OF THE TRIBE OF LEVI.
This exclusion of the Levites from any possession in the land, and the assurance that they had in some way beyond their brethren an inheritance in the Lord God of Israel, we find repeatedly mentioned in the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. The emphasis which is laid on the arrangement shews unmistakably that it was deemed by God Himself to be one of unusual importance. Two distinct features are made prominent in this regulation on behalf of the Levites. God shews us—
I. Men with special religious work having as great an exemption as possible from secular anxieties. The Levites were only to have certain “cities to dwell in, with their suburbs for their cattle and for their substance” (chap.Joshua 14:4; Joshua 14:4). They were not to be cumbered with the cares of business, nor burdened with the anxieties of great earthly possessions. Living to serve their fellows, they were to be maintained by their fellows. “They were to have no territorial possessions. In place of them they were to receive from the others the tithes of the produce of the land, from which they, in their turn, offered a tithe to the priests, as a recognition of their higher consecration (Numbers 18:21-26; Nehemiah 10:37).” [Smith’s Bib. Dict.] Is this system of tithes obligatory now? The chief answer to this question must be derived from Scripture itself. There is nothing whatever in the New Testament to perpetuate the practice. It is recognised as binding down to the very time of the last of the prophets (Malachi 3:10), and then all mention of it, as a duty, suddenly ceases. Not a word urging it is said either by Christ or His apostles. The continuance of the system of tithing by some churches might form, from an ecclesiastical point of view, a singular and interesting study on the recent doctrine of “the survival of the fittest.” The Saviour’s abolition of the Levitical ceremonial is distinctly recognised, but with a theological discernment which says much for their ingenuity, many ecclesiastics who make no question about the abolition of the Levitical service, have no doubt at all of the continued obligation of the Levitical dues. They have no thought of the whole service of the Church being confined to a single family, nor of “the priesthood” being limited to a particular branch of that family; the old law of hereditary succession is abrogated, the ancient service itself has expired, only the payments have survived. Among several grave reasons against the continuance of a system which God evidently designed to be limited to the Old Testament dispensation, only one other need be mentioned here. The Jewish theocracy contemplated the unquestioning submission of every Israelite to the law of Moses. No room was left for dissent or difference, as the fate of Korah and his companions so terribly attested. The very idea of a theocracy was essentially an idea of uniformity. The personal and almost immediate rule of God, to whose actual presence with the people mighty works were continually bearing witness, necessarily supposed a universal and uniform obedience. The Gospel comes to men with all the old responsibilities touching obedience, but with a vastly enlarged measure of liberty. Christianity is emphatically a choice, not a compulsion. Christ stands by even His twelve apostles, and, while others are actually departing, says to them too, “Will ye also go away?” They could if they would. The sharply defined commands of the law of Moses stand out in strange contrast to the tender pleadings and tears of Jesus, and the very pathos of the Saviour’s entreaties supposes the misused liberty of those who so long rejected them. Under the Old Testament, and to the extent of those limits covered by the theocracy, the Church was the world; under the Gospel, the Church is in the world. In a word, under the Old Testament system, which regarded every Israelite as bound under severe penalties to serve God, the tithing of all Israel was logical and natural; under the Gospel, which appeals to men for voluntary discipleship, the compulsory and indiscriminate tithing of men, irrespective of the fact that many of them may reject the Gospel, carries an untruth upon its very face. It is, virtually, making Christ to say, “I give you liberty to accept the Gospel, or not; I give you no liberty whatever in the matter of paying for its support;” a position which would degrade the Saviour by the suggestion that His mercenary concern about human gifts was so much in excess of His spiritual concern for the souls for which He died.
While, however, the method of supporting those who minister in religious service essentially differs under the two dispensations, the principle laid down here is not lost sight of in the New Testament. “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.” Those who devote their lives to the spiritual welfare of their fellows are, no less than the Levites of old, to be set as free as possible from the anxieties of procuring the necessaries of life.
II. Men with special religious necessities and peculiar spiritual privileges.
1. The Lord God is the inheritance of all who serve God. Every true Israelite had a portion in the Lord. (a) Men may participate in this inheritance irrespective of family. Judah, Simeon, Ephraim, Levi, or either of the other tribes—it mattered not which—all might seek and find a possession in God. This most glorious of all estates came through no particular parentage, as such. (b) Men may participate in this inheritance, notwithstanding past history. The degradation of Egypt. The sins of the wilderness. Grace hides the past, blotting out even the worst transgressions. (c) Men cannot participate in this inheritance without regard to the present. Only a godly heart and a godly life can inherit God. When Israel forsook the Lord, the fact that they were known as God’s people did not secure them an inheritance in Him. This estate cannot be “conveyed” to a heart without love, or to a life devoid of holiness.
2. This Divine inheritance is ever adapted to the variety and stress of human want. The Levites were called to serve their brethren in a most responsible work, and God promised Himself to them for a peculiar possession. With God for an inheritance, and a heart right towards Him, great spiritual wants do but make way for a large measure of Divine mercy and help.
3. Thus he who has God for his inheritance may well feel satisfied, though all else seems to fail him. It was out of the cave, when hunted by Saul, that David cried unto the Lord: “Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.” (Cf. also Psalms 16:5-6; Psalms 73:26.) Still more remarkable is the similar expression of faith by Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:24. In his case we see an aged man with nothing else left, after forty years of apparently fruitless labour, and as many of pious experience with no strength or opportunity to begin his work over again, still rejoicing in God. Sitting in the streets of desolate Jerusalem, when all her inhabitants had been carried away captive, the aged prophet, with a sorrow beautiful in its humanness and a faith magnificent in its trust, cries out in one and the same song of grief: “Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people;” “The Lord is my portion saith my soul, therefore will I hope in Him.” Thus, like stars on the dark face of the night, does God shew us the jewels of His people’s faith shining forth from the setting of broken earthly hopes and utter destitution. So good Rutherford speaks to us from one of his letters: “I know not what you have if you want Christ; I know not what you want if you have Christ.” The Levites were at once the poorest and the richest tribe of Israel. They had no earthly estate in the land; they had a peculiar portion in God, who provided for their temporal wants, and who stood ready to give Himself to them specially in those necessities created by their religious service for their brethren.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany