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THE PASSAGE OF THE JORDAN, AND ITS MEMORIAL
Joshua 4:2. Take you twelve men] These had been already chosen for the work. The twelfth verse in chap. 3. is not to be regarded as misplaced, but as a brief record of the notice then given to prepare the men to whom reference is again made here. Joshua 4:4 plainly recognises this previous selection.
Joshua 4:3. Where the priests’ feet stood firm] The stones were to be taken as nearly as possible from this spot, that the monument might be more vivid in its appeal to memory and reflection.
Joshua 4:4. Out of every tribe a man] The unity of the twelve tribes was to be preserved in one memorial. The very river which should afterwards separate the eastern tribes from the western, should furnish from its bed the materials for a memorial which should bind Israel together in the recollection of a mercy common to all its families.
Joshua 4:5. Pass over before the Ark] Probably these twelve selected men had remained behind the Ark, on or towards the eastern bank, during the crossing of the multitude. When the people had all passed over, Joshua commanded these twelve men to take each a stone, and precede the Ark out of the river. As the Ark had been first in entering the river, so it should be last in leaving, that the power from the beginning to the end of the miracle might be manifestly of God. Upon his shoulder] This indicates that each stone was to be as large as one man could conveniently carry.
Joshua 4:9. In the midst of Jordan] Dr. Kennicott’s proposal to read “FROM the midst,” instead of “IN the midst,” seems to have no support in the best MSS. Joshua appears to have erected this separate memorial in the ordinary channel of the river; and Calvin suggests that it could probably be seen when the “swellings of Jordan” subsided. If it be asked, “Would not the first rush of the waters, which had gathered during the passage of the Israelites, sweep the memorial away?” it may be answered that the Divine power, which had for so long kept the waters back, would also be able to guide them past these twelve stones.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 4:1-9
REMEMBRANCE OF GOD THROUGH HIS WORKS
An American gentleman, speaking very recently to a meeting of Christian people assembled in London on the occasion of opening some new buildings as a college for ministerial students, said, “I have been, during the last day or two, looking at some of the national monuments in your great metropolis, and almost every one seemed to me like an eloquent page in your conspicuous national history.” All current history may be said, in one respect, to be merely a monumental record; it perpetuates only the things which are most prominent. History, in the ordinary meaning of the word, is made up of great events and conspicuous lives. The principal events in the lives of principal men are written down; to these are added the chief events which belong to a nation or people, taken collectively, and the result is called “history.” Perhaps it is the best thing of the kind for which men can either find time or make room. And yet a mere record of great battles, chief men, and conspicuous parliamentary measures, is in many respects very unsatisfactory. The view which it gives is rather distorted than correct; and just as a drawing of a mansion which only set forth to view the tallest chimneys, the largest windows, and the most prominent features would be a poor picture, so history is poor and misleading if we forget to bring to it a good knowledge of human nature and human life, and to fill in, by the help of imagination, some of the numerous blanks which are necessarily there. We have only a partial history of the Lord’s mercies: they are “new every morning,” and where we cannot even count correctly, it is hardly likely that we shall truthfully record. God only asks His people to remember what they can. Comparatively, it is only here and there a monument which He bids His children erect. In the “sweet reasonableness” of His pity for our weakness, He did but bid His servant write, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
The subject set forth in these verses teaches—
I. Man’s forgetfulness of God and God’s works. This direction to build a monument, to perpetuate the memory of the miracle, is a recognition of our liability to suffer even the mightiest of the Lord’s works to pass out of mind.
1. The occasion of our forgetfulness is often found in the pressure of earthly duties. But for the specific command of God, it seems quite possible that the day on which the Jordan was crossed might have been thought too crowded with necessary duties to leave any time to prepare for the erection of a memorial. Think of having to get two millions or more of people over a river divided in this manner. Many of them would be timid and shrinking, many of them were children, who would have to be carried over a rough or muddy path, and up steep banks; and though, saving Caleb and Joshua, no man in the host would be over sixty years of age, yet in so vast a company there must have been many sick and feeble, who would have needed assistance in crossing. Added to all this, there was the enormous task of transporting to the other side the tents and effects of the people, and all their cattle. If, as many are but too ready to believe, there are ever days when religious duties may be neglected because of the pressure of secular claims, this day must have been one of them. It is with both instruction and reproof that this passage should be read by most of us; this day of pressing secular duties is also a day of urgent religious service. How commonly do we meet with people who seem to have no time for perpetuating their memory of God’s mercies; they have no time for prayer, no time for public worship, no time for religion. To be in harmony with itself, a life like that ought to have no time for death. “Time and Eternity,” said Pulsford, “both touch me, for I am both. Time assaults me for the dust which I have, and insists that I give back to the dust every atom which I have derived therefrom. Eternity appeals to me for the spirit which I have. Owing to these two claimants, the partnership will soon have to be dissolved between my soul and body, that Earth may take its own, and Eternity its own.” No man, be he ever so busy, can postpone for a single day the claims of eternity. Would it not be wise to make room for the claims of religion “while it is called to-day”? This pressure of business makes the pressure of religious need still more urgent, not less. The very fact that life is “so fast,” tends to blot out from the mind our memory of God and His merciful works. It is said that Luther, the hard-worked reformer, complained that the duties of life pressed him so heavily that he could not perform them without having three or four hours in each day set apart for prayer. Havelock, the busy soldier, is said to have risen every morning two hours before commencing his military duties, that he might spend them in communion with his God.
2. The real cause of our forgetfulness of God is ever IN THE HEART. The natural powers of our memory are strong enough to retain good recollection of things which we love. Cardinal Mezzofanti, who was the son of a carpenter at Bologna, and who died less than thirty years since, is said to have acquired his first knowledge of languages by listening to scraps of Latin and Greek, heard through the open casement of a schoolroom window, near which he often worked. To many of the boys within, the tasks were no doubt irksome enough; but the stolen waters were sweet to the poor lad who could not pay for such learning. He went on acquiring knowledge from the very love of it, till at the age of seventy he could converse in upwards of fifty languages, besides possessing some acquaintance with at least twenty more. If men only loved God as they love some earthly objects and pursuits, they would need few stone memorials to keep Him or His works in mind. Bad memory is usually owing to bad interest and poor attention. The heart needs setting right, and then the mind would not often be wrong.
3. The forgetfulness of God’s merciful works is a sure indication that we have forgotten God. A man may repeat the Apostles’ Creed week by week, or join with devout exterior in the worship of the Free Churches; but if he forgets God’s mercies, no weekly public service, let him engage in it as heartily as he may, is sufficient to contradict the six days of testimony that he has forgotten God.
II. God’s gracious interest in man’s remembrance of His works.
1. The Scriptures are full of Divine complaints and solicitations on this matter of human forgetfulness. God speaks as if man’s ingratitude wounded and pained Him. How pathetic are some of the words in which the Lord reminds men of their neglect. If an ungrateful heart were not invariably so hard, men might be moved to tears to read thoughtfully, as from the lips of Him who made heaven and earth, such words as those spoken through Hosea—“Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples;” or, “She went after her lovers, and forgat me, saith the Lord.” How humanly they read, and how real the pain of them seems; how they seem to tell of a heart balanced and poised between the dignity that feels so worthy of better regard that it may justly punish, and the love which is so deep and tender that it cannot forsake. A keen observer of human nature said—
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child.”
We read some of these complaints from the Divine lips; and so real is the parental relation in which God stands to His people, that they come to us in all the tenderness and pain and pathos which pervade a natural cry from the wounded heart of an earthly father. Let us seek to possess an observant eye to the goodness of the Lord, and to cultivate a spirit of praise for His manifold mercies.
“Some murmur when their sky is clear,
And wholly brought to view,
If one small speck of dark appear
In their great heaven of blue;
And some with thankful love are filled,
If but one streak of light,
One ray of God’s good mercy gild
The darkness of their night.
“In palaces are hearts that ask,
In discontent and pride,
Why life is such a dreary task,
And all good things denied;
And hearts in poorest huts admire
How Love has, in their aid,
With care that never seems to tire,
Such rich provision made.”—Trench.
2. Although our remembrance can be but a small thing to God, He well knows that it is everything to us. However base our ingratitude may appear in His sight, our praise could be but a few strains the less in the mighty song of the universe. It is because of God’s love to us, and of His knowledge that our forgetfulness of His works must leave us to destruction, that He so graciously manifests this interest in our thankfulness.
3. He knows that His works are our only sufficient interpretation of Himself. Even Jesus Christ, who has been seen in the flesh, needs His mighty and merciful works to make Him known to men. He “went about doing good,” speaking gracious words, doing benevolent miracles, and thus we learn of Him who must otherwise be an abstraction. We want the cradle, and the life, and the cross, to expound the Saviour. So he who never reads God’s works, and above all His unspeakable gift of Jesus, can never have anything more for his religion than a superstition, and nothing more as an object of worship than a theological abstraction called Deity.
III. The condescension in which God graciously meets men in this infirmity of their forgetfulness.
1. He allows them to help their memory through things which are visible. A man ought to be able to remember his mother without a monument; much more should he remember Him who said, “Can a woman forget?” etc. Yet God deigns to say, “Put up the stones, and try and keep Me and My mercy in mind by the help of these.”
2. He points out such helps to memory as are most suitable. (a) The stones were to be taken from the very spot where the priests had stood. God condescends not only to allow His people a monument; they may have one so vivid, that, as far as possible, it shall recall the whole scene. (b) The twelve stones were to be taken out of the river, and carried to Gilgal, by one man from each tribe. The tribes would soon be divided by the river. It only wants something to separate men, and forthwith they grow clannish. A highway, a hedge, an idea, a dozen sticks, any small line, is often enough to divert human feeling into channels, and make the quarrelsome take sides. By this selection of a man from each tribe, God virtually says, “I will not only have your remembrance vivid, but I will have the praise of all Israel to be as the song of one man. Take, from the very river that will soon separate you, the materials for a memorial of thankfulness in which all your hearts may be knit together, and knit together in Me.”
3. These material helps, given to His early people, were given by God to teach a principle and to cultivate a habit. It was not merely now and then, when some mighty work was wrought on their behalf, that they were to pile up a few stones and occasionally go and inspect them, that this command was given. By this God would teach all men to definitely mark heavenly mercies, and cultivate the habit of thanksgiving for all His manifest help. The lesson was written also for our, admonition. Some people contemn the habit of having special services which mark the lapse of time. “Watch-night services,” special appeals on the occasion of a new year, and even the worship of the Lord’s day, have provoked remarks like the following:—“These things are all very well; but men ought to be religious and devout all the year round, and all the week through.” It is enough to answer, “The man who finds no special appeal made to his heart by peculiar seasons like these, is seldom very devout at any period.” It is natural, and the Divine teaching supports our human feeling, when we give emphasis to our praise where God has set special marks to His mercy. The conspicuous events of social life should find us setting up memorials in our hearts. Anniversaries of deaths, marriages, births, of business prosperity or failure, may well call for their corresponding stress of thought and worship in our religious life. Anniversaries of spiritual experiences should, above all, be times of memorial. He who has no special prayers and special songs will probably have few ordinary ones which are useful to himself or acceptable to God. He who spread the table of His supper for our help, and said, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” will love to see us finding in this memorial of the greatest work of God for man the devout recognition of the principle that all peculiar mercies demand our special praise.
TEACHING THE CHILDREN.—Joshua 4:6-7
In the formation of the liberated Hebrews into a nation, most significant prominence is given, from the very beginning, to the religious education of their children. The godly nation was to be made by teaching godliness to its sons and daughters The fathers proved rebellious, and were left to die in the wilderness; the hope of Israel was in its children, and it was left for them to enter into the inheritance, and to commence the national life in its more consolidated form. Divine care was shewn concerning the children from the first. Even before the people left Egypt, the very rite which commemorated the exodus was pointed and emphasised in the direction of the children. The ordinance of the Passover was to be perpetual, that when the children should ask their parents, “What mean ye by this service?” they might be taught to fear, and love, and praise, and trust the God of their fathers’ deliverance. The sojourn in the desert is marked by repeated injunctions concerning the pious training of the young. The words of the Lord were to be taught to the children diligently, to be written even on the doorposts of the houses, and on the gates (Deuteronomy 11:18-21); and in a great septennial gathering in the year of release, at the feast of tabernacles, the words of the law were to be read and expounded, that any who had been neglected in servitude, that the “children who had not known anything,” and all the people, might learn to fear the Lord. In the miracle which makes a way through Jordan for entering into the long-deferred possession, equal stress is laid on teaching the children: as in the exodus, so here, the teaching of the young is the first thing for which provision is made. God’s hope of the nation is seen taking shape and form through hope in the families, and His hope in the families through religious training in childhood. Perhaps these early histories, in this aspect, ought to give more alarm to people who have grown up into manhood and womanhood “without God in the world,” than any other part of the Scriptures. Men and women sin away half or three parts of a lifetime, and contemplate repenting before they get too old, and before they die. Taking these urgent injunctions, which are written as in capital letters on the very face of the miracles which lead out of bondage and into Canaan, and reading them in the light of the overthrow of the fathers in the wilderness, it seems as though even God were half hopeless of genuine piety in those who grow well into maturity without the knowledge and fear and love of Himself.
Dealing rather with modern necessities than with ancient details, we may consider the subject of parental training in two principal aspects:—
I. Some mistakes which we are apt to make.
1. Perhaps we are too ready to assume, that the children of Christian parents will become Christians. Saved ourselves, it becomes easy, in the bustle of daily life, almost to take it for granted that our children will be saved also. True, we Christian parents teach our children; we are not Antinomians, and we believe that if they are to be saved we must train them. True, we pray for our children; it is right and it is pleasant to remember before the Lord these who are so dear to us. But is this real, or do we suffer it to become perfunctory? Do we realize that our children may be lost? We believe that some children grow up to be bad men and godless women, and that many of these die out of Christ, and perish. Our Christian convictions and our whole Christian work are grounded upon this. Then it ought not to be thought sensational to ask, Have we realized that our dear children may thus perish? Have we carried our awful convictions about the children of other people to the case of our own dear boy or beloved girl? To what holy patience and perseverance and effort and prayer would such a realization lead. What is meant by those dark pictures in the Bible about the children of godly parents? What are we to gather from the histories which tell us of the wickedness of the children of Eli, of Samuel, of David, of Hezekiah? What are we to learn from these? Many have looked on them as a ground for serious discouragement, and yet that cannot be the reason why they are written down for our reading. Matthew Henry says of the two thieves at the crucifixion, “One was saved, that no man might despair; the other was lost, that none might presume.” Should we not also read, The children of some godly parents are saved, that no Christian father or mother may despair; the children of some of the best O. T. saints seem lost, that no one may take it for granted that his children will be saved. Piety does not run in the blood, nor is grace always hereditary.
2. Many make the mistake of supposing that a child must grow up into maturity before its conversion will probably take place. The possibility of early conversion is generally admitted; as a matter of fact, many parents do not expect it in their own children while they are children. Some seem to take it for granted that there will most likely be a previous course of open connection with the world, that presently conversion will come with a kind of manifest jerk, and that then it will probably be genuine. A most unhealthy spirit seems in recent years to have grown up among some of the most earnest evangelical workers, in respect to the prominence given to cases of conversion after a long course of sin. It would be unfair, as some have rather recklessly asserted, to say that children have been received into the Church “with suspicion;” it is only too true that people have got to behave as if it were comparatively a small thing to be saved young, and something for endless parade when a bad man of forty or fifty years of age is brought to the Saviour. It is an occasion for joy, and great joy, when such as the latter are led to Christ; it cannot but be a matter for sorrow, when they are almost taught to feel as if there were some special merit in not having become Christians before, and when they are supposed to be authorities as to what is the proper measure of Christian zeal and holiness in proportion to the wickedness of their own previous lives. Instead of such men being helped to know that it is a thing for humiliation and a cause for modesty that they have served sin so long and so deeply, they are led to think that preaching to other people, and teaching even Christians whose lives have been a holy training, is the natural outcome and prerogative of their previous and long-continued wickedness. The way in which “converted prizefighters,” or “converted colliers,” or “converted chimney-sweeps” have been handed round, as if they were a kind of specially burnished jewel worthy of the profound attention of the Christian public, has, during late years, been a fit cause for considerable shame. To say nothing of the comparative neglect which Christian children and youths must have sometimes been made to feel, or of the premium tacitly put on a previous life of wickedness, the serious harm done to these people themselves ought to have led Christian men to keep them more decently in the background. The temptations given to vanity and self-esteem, in some cases, might well have been fatal even to a trained Christian life; how could it be expected that such feeble uprightness could endure so severe a strain in the direction of the old and chronic crookedness? What wonder if “the sow that was washed has turned again to her wallowing in the mire,” when men in authority have made the heat of temptation unbearable even to acclimatised feeling and habit, and then have driven some newly cleansed one straight in the direction of the mud?
3. There is a temptation to make the teaching of children interesting rather than substantial. Too interesting it never can be made, so long as love of the pleasant and the cheerful does not impair the quality of the truth imparted. Has it been wise to give up the old methods of catechisms, and learning verses and hymns? Are not many trusting more to impressions, scratched lightly in with the point of an anecdote or picture, rather than to that deeper graving in of truth on the mind which used to be customary? The story of the cross and of the Saviour’s love should be cut deeply into the memory, as well as be made pleasant to the heart for the time in which it is being heard. Impressions are very fleeting, and most of us soon forget them, but well-learned words come up even in after years, and repeat the impressions again.
II. Some encouragements which we are tempted to forget.
1. The work has God’s command. No Israelite had any need to fear that he would be doing wrong in an earnest endeavour to lead his children to God. The memorial was for the teaching of all the people and all their children. We need none of us feel that we are presuming, in any efforts which we may make to lead our children to the Saviour. No man is made to feel that God would not welcome his children also. On this point we cannot apply the commands of Scripture to the wrong family. We cannot get the wrong child in any family. Whatever truth there may be in election, we never have to read, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and if he happen to be one of the elect, he shall not depart from it.” With such encouragement, every one may and should bring up his children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” A lady, it is said, once told Archbishop Sharpe that she would not communicate religious instruction to her children until they had grown to years of discretion; she received an answer from the prelate no less true than blunt, as he replied, “Madam, if you do not teach them, the devil will.”
2. The work to which every parent is thus commanded is full of promise. It has the promise of nature. Most training, when wisely and perseveringly pursued, does succeed. The obedient vine and tree, which yield to the gardener; the dog, who learns from his shepherd; the horse and the ox, that learn to obey their trainers; all these preach encouragement. If the Christian training of children be more difficult, it has, to meet that, the higher stimulus of the promise of God. God co-operates with the pious parent. This memorial was a Divine suggestion, and carried in itself the promise to every pious Jew that he should be a “worker together with God.” The promises are unto us and to ours also, if we are Christian parents; and if we have not that necessary qualification, our first duty is to seek Christ for ourselves. Do we go to this work, feeling as we do it that God works with us?
3. The work has an eternal and glorious reward To the faithful parent it would not be right to say that it may have such a reward; surely it must have. We can hardly think of a holy and persevering labour of faith for our own children as fruitless at last. It cannot be that a life of faith and prayer and wise labour shall ever fail here. But Christian parents may have to wait long; it may be that they will not even live to see their children brought to Christ. If we can be patient anywhere, surely we may be for our children’s salvation. It is said that when Kepler, the immortal astronomer of Wurtemburg, who discovered the laws of the motions of the planets, lay dying, he was asked by a friend whether he did not suffer cruelly to be obliged to depart without seeing his discoveries appreciated. He answered, “My friend, God has waited five thousand years till one of His creatures discovered the admirable laws which He has given to the stars; why should I, then, not wait till justice is done to me?” We might all well labour on in the beautiful spirit of that reply. How long, in many cases, does God patiently wait for the salvation of the parents themselves; remembering that, they may well wait before Him for their children. But to earnest prayer, wise training, and holy faith, the reward cannot but come eventually. Let us lead our children to Christ. Though it may not be before, yet when we are dead and gone, when the coffin and the grave contain all that is left of us to earth, when the clods of the valley cover our heads, and years of fled time have in many minds obliterated our memory, still shall our children remember that they once had Christian and then have glorified parents. Thoughts of a holy life and earnest prayers will follow them, even in the way of sin; and when the sacred beacon of our past rises, like another star of the East, to guide them to Him who was born in Bethlehem, that memory of Christian father and godly mother will be for ever a shrined and holy thing in our children’s hearts. It will go with them in their own Christian life, recollected as their noblest birthright, and cherished as a princely heritage. With our own Cowper, they may think of us and sing—
“My boast is not that I deduce my birth
From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth;
But higher far my proud pretensions rise,
The son of parents passed into the skies.”
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 4:1-2. “The command of chap. Joshua 3:12 is reported in that place, because it was given by Joshua at that time. The election of twelve men by the people would have been impossible whilst they were crossing, though, after they were chosen, Joshua could easily explain to them, whilst the rest were passing over, what they were to do. The twelve men were elected by the people, that they might act as their representatives, and be witnesses of the miracles which were about to be wrought at their passage through the river.”—Keil.
BEARING WITNESS TO THE WORKS OF THE LORD
I. God’s witnesses are carefully prepared beforehand. Memorials of God’s wonderful works and great mercies had for some time been contemplated. A command in relation to them had been given by Moses (cf. Deuteronomy 27:2). This commandment was partially obeyed on this very day of the passage, and fully at Mount Ebal (chap. Joshua 8:30-32). The men who were to prepare for this particular memorial at Gilgal had been already selected. They were to be stationed close to the spot where the waters were divided; and while the multitude “hasted and passed over,” they could stand during the whole time and watch this marvellous work, reporting it afterwards each man to his own tribe. God graciously prepares the testimony of those things which He would have most surely believed among us. For centuries before He came, the prophets bare witness unto Christ. Jesus Himself told His disciples of things to come, that when these came to pass they might believe. Peter speaks to those in the house of Cornelius of “witnesses chosen before of God, who did eat and drink with Christ after He rose from the dead.” Elsewhere the same apostle says, “We were eye-witnesses of His majesty.” In the testimony of the Lord’s marvellous works and mercies, nothing is left to accident.
II. God’s witnesses are so prepared as to merit the confidence of men. In this case they were chosen by the people from among themselves. They were not priests or Levites, who might afterwards be suspected, from motives of interest, of having coloured the report to keep up the good name of the Ark.
1. The witnesses to the truth of the Scriptures demand our confidence. Many of them were men who sacrificed much for the truth’s sake. Who can venture to cast suspicion on such men as Moses, who “forsook Egypt;” or Jeremiah, whose life was one long persecution; or Elijah, who seemed alone in his fidelity, and whose grief in the desert is told with such evident truthfulness? What a life of testimony, ever bearing witness of itself while testifying of the Saviour, is the life of Paul! Think of his self-sacrifice, of his persecutions, of his boldness, his manifest integrity, his exemplary life, and of the unmeditated coincidences of his letters as shewn in Paley’s Horæ Paulinæ.
2. The witnesses to the truth since the days of the apostles have been also eminently worthy of the faith of men. (a) Many Christians have been men of holy and self-denying lives; men who have done great services or given much in sacrifice for their fellows; men whose death has been a confirmation of their own previous testimony. (b) There is the witness given by poetry, painting, music, and literature contributed by many who have made no profession of attachment to the gospel. The noblest inspirations of men have been drawn from the Bible, and have thus borne testimony at least to its elevated character and holy power. (c) There is the witness of the enemies of the gospel. Literature abounds with concessions and expressions of admiration in which avowed unbelievers have borne their witness to Christ and His word. Few will suspect these of any interested motives. (d) There is the witness of Christian societies and Christian work. When men look at the fruits which the tree of truth has ever borne, and is still bearing, they read testimony which surely is worthy of some confidence: missionary societies and schools; hospitals and poor laws, both of which sprang from the Church.
III. God’s witnesses are so placed that they can speak with authority. These men were near to the Ark, and to the scene of the miracle. They could tell what they saw with the claim that belonged to men who had possessed good opportunities for information. The apostles repeatedly insisted on their qualifications in similar respects. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes.… declare we unto you,” said John. Think of the power in which these men were qualified to speak, when they stood up to bear witness, “beginning at Jerusalem” amongst the very men who could best sift their evidence, and whose malice and desire to vindicate themselves would lead them to deny anything which could be denied. Let us learn that no word of God is to be received lightly. Dr. Bushnell says, “A suit upon a note at hand had long been pending in one of the courts of our commonwealth, payment of which was resisted on the ground that it was and must be a forgery, no such note having ever been given. But the difficulty in the trial was to make out any conclusive evidence of what the defending party knew to be the truth. His counsel was, in fact, despairing utterly of success; but it happened that just as he was about closing his plea, having the note in his hand, and bringing it up so that the light struck through, his eye caught the glimpse of a mark in the paper. He stopped, held it up deliberately to the light, and behold, the name, in water-mark, of a company that had begun the manufacture of paper after the date of the instrument! Here was evidence without going far to seek it; evidence enough to turn the plaintiff forthwith into a felon, and consign him, as it did, to a felon’s punishment.” The truth of God’s word has also the witness in itself; although its water-mark is one, not which disproves, but which strikingly confirms, its own utterances. This “man of our counsel” has the aspect of truth in every feature, and may well be felt to speak with indisputable authority.
IV. Those who bear witness for God now should also seek to make their testimony unimpeachable. There is still room for holy and disinterested and self-sacrificing lives. These will impress most men more than argument, and more than eloquence. To all Christians the word is spoken still, “Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord.”
Joshua 4:1, first clause. THE COMPLETENESS AND DELIBERATENESS OF GOD’S WORKS.
I. The effectual working of Divine power. “All the people were clean passed over Jordan.” Not one of the mighty host whose inheritance lay on the other side of the river was left behind.
1. Divine power was sufficient to cover all human weakness. Some of the people would be infirm, some infants, some sick and diseased; all passed over nevertheless. So in our passage to the inheritance above, God’s power not only meets the case of the spiritually strong, it equally covers the need of those who are spiritually feeble. The gospel of our JOSHUA, also, is a gospel for the poor and the maimed and the halt and the blind. When Moses stood before Pharaoh previous to the exodus, Pharaoh spoke as if he had made a great concession when he said, “Let your little ones also go with you.” Moses answered him, “Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind.” Brave words were those, for one man to dauntlessly speak in the face of a despot, and they were as beautiful in their significance as they were bold in their spirit. Nothing of the Lord’s was to be left in the land of the idolater. The power of God should be found sufficient to bring out every one of the cattle also.
2. Divine power was sufficient to cover all difficulties and obstacles. God not only parted the waters, but held them parted till all the people were clean passed over. Not less “the effectual working of His power” proves sufficient for all obstacles in the path of His children now.
II. The absolute sufficiency of Divine mercy. All passed clean over. The fathers had died in the wilderness, for mercy must punish sin, lest all suffer destruction. Justice is more passive than active in the matter of punishment for transgression; it is the attribute which proclaims that punishment is right and due. It is Mercy that applies punishment. It is Jesus Christ with tears in His eyes who says over Jerusalem, “The days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee.” So, for the sake of the living, Mercy had sorrowfully smitten and buried the fathers in the wilderness. But the children were completely forgiven. They, too, had sinned deeply and long. The plains of Moab were close by; the people had grievously erred there, but Divine mercy is equal to the occasion, and it is from those very plains of Moab that the people pass over. Every one enters in; not only Phinehas and Joshua and Caleb, but the forgiven sinners also. How complete and beautiful is the pardon of the Lord! No man may tamper with sin, for even Mercy stands weeping by the graves of the dead which her own hands have slain; all the more glorious is it to see that where Mercy once forgives she has no memory whatever of the past. While the people clean pass over, she utters not a single upbraiding to any one of them all.
“Kind hearts are here, yet would the tenderest one
Have limits to its mercy; God has none;
But man’s forgiveness may be true and sweet,
When yet he stoops to give it: more complete
Is love that lays forgiveness at thy feet,
And pleads with thee to raise it. Only heaven
Means crowned, not vanquished, when it says, Forgiven.”
A. A. Proctor.
III. The majestic deliberateness of Divine methods. Four hundred and seventy years before God made a covenant with Abram, saying, “Unto thy seed have I given this land.” At the same time the four centuries which were previously to elapse were predicted as years to be spent in Egypt, many of which were to be years of bondage and affliction. At the end of four hundred and thirty years, not a day had been lost in the Divine count of time (cf. Exodus 12:40-41; Galatians 3:17). Then the Israelites sin in the desert, and calmly and patiently God takes forty more years to blot out the evil of this transgression. Slowly and painfully, and often solemnly, these days of the wilderness go by, God working miracles, shewing mercy, and bearing His people all the way. Here at the end of the time—four days before the end, for His mercy loves to discount the bill of our suffering—God divides the river, and leads the people into the land. How calm, how deliberate, how patient, how stately, is the slow, sure march of God in this working for His people’s good!
1. The natural processes in the cure of human sinfulness and weakness are slower than men usually estimate, and God does not hurry them. It took four thousand years for fallen man to become ready for the cross; then, “in due time, Christ died for the ungodly.” It took over thirty years for the Saviour, in His way from Bethlehem to Calvary, to leave the influences and words and works necessary for the salvation of men; at the end of this period He prays, saying, “Father, the hour is come.” So the time from the cross to Pentecost, from Pentecost to the last words of the solitary man of Patmos, ere he sits down to write the gospel which closes Divine revelation, seems long. God’s way has no hasty miles.
2. The slowness of God’s method is never for lack of pity and mercy. Scripture calls the Divine waiting “long-suffering,” a word which means not simply long patience, but also long pain. So we read of this waiting in the desert, “Forty years long was I grieved,” etc. The bearing of God, while He waits, shews that His deliberateness and slowness are never for lack of mercy. Think of the manna falling in the wilderness on the days of Israel’s great sins! Manna on the morning of Koran’s rebellion; manna and the brazen serpent in one day; manna from heaven and a calf for a god on earth; think of it, and see how God’s slow methods and great mercies go on together!
The magnitude of the miracle.—“This seems to us a more signal miracle than the passage of the Red Sea; and it appears as if expressly framed, not only to effect its own objects, but to relieve the other from all naturalistic interpretations. In connection with the Red Sea passage, we hear travellers and scholars talk learnedly about east winds and tides and shallows, so that, whether intentionally or not, the fact, as a demonstration of Divine power, is explained away or attenuated. But nothing of this is possible in the case of the passage of the Jordan. The fact must be taken as it stands. It was a miracle, or it was nothing. There has not been, and there cannot be, any explanation of it on natural grounds. And if, therefore, men are obliged to admit this, it becomes scarcely worth their while to tamper with the Red Sea miracle—unless they would deny the authority of the narrative altogether.” [Kitto.]
Joshua 4:3-5. “OBJECTIVE TEACHING.”
I. We see God developing the spirit of enquiry. The Lord loves to set His children problems. This is not to perplex them, but to teach them. Men everywhere may hear Him saying, “SEEK, and ye shall find.” His way is to stand up before men strange objects, and so to set them asking questions.
1. God takes this way in Nature. We are to “lift up our eyes on high,” and reverently to enquire, “What meanest Thou by these stars? Who hath created these things?” In the depths below, where “He putteth forth His hand upon the rock,” marking it here with the footprints of extinct animals, there with the rain-drift, and piling it elsewhere in strange formations of strata, we are to behold that which shall prompt our devout question, “What meanest Thou by these stones?” There is no thunder in which we may not hear “the voice of the Lord;” no lightning of which we may not enquire concerning the laws of electricity, and thus find out in a deeper sense how “His brightness is as the light.” Nature is full of wonders; strange forms stand up in all her fields to provoke the spirit of investigation within us.
2. It is the same in providence. The wicked prosper, and the righteous fail; and this has set men asking questions ever since the days when David wrote the thirty-seventh Psalm, and he or some one else the seventy-third, not to speak of earlier bewilderment. Why do babies die? Why do our boys and girls just get our whole being entwined around their own, and then suddenly pass from us? Broken-hearted fathers and mothers, for centuries, have been walking into grave-yards, looking at little graves and “broken columns,” and have cried out in anguish, “What meanest Thou by THESE stones?”
“Only a baby’s grave,
A foot or two at the most
Of star-daisied sod.
Yet methinks that God
Knows what that little grave cost.”
So intense have been the questions; so soft and trustful, as the case has had to be referred back to Him, have been at least some of the answers. Sudden sickness or calamity blasts the hopes of a life which henceforth drags on in pain; appalling accidents slay their thousands, and fierce diseases their ten thousands, and men and women who are left bow their heads low, hardly lifting them for a time, saving in the energy that asks with such terrible earnestness, “Why is this? Wherefore am I dealt with thus?”
3. It is so hardly less in the Scriptures. The hardened heart of Pharaoh here, slaughtered Canaanites there; the origin of evil, the mysteries of the fall; federal responsibilities and privileges; sovereignty over, and accountability in, the will; vicarious burdens, pain, and death; atonement, its effect; punishment, its duration; immortality, its basis and conditions: what numberless stones there are, standing up, too, in such strange forms! What can these all mean? They mean enquiry, investigation, reverent curiosity. “SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES;” that is what they have said to thousands; thousands have obeyed, wondered still more, adored, trusted, loved, and been content presently to put for their whole case, “Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Anything is better than stagnant contentment with our own ignorance, which corrupts so fast into deadly pride, unless there are problems from which we have now and then humbly to turn away, saying, “Thy judgments are a great deep!” This is what so many of the stones mean.
II. We see God cultivating and directing the powers of memory.
1. The powers of memory in many instances have been not a little remarkable. It is said that Themistocles could call by their names each one of the twenty thousand citizens of Athens. Cyrus is reported to have been able to name every soldier in his army. Ben Jonson tells us that he could repeat all that he had ever written, and whole books that he had read. Still more remarkable instances are on well-authenticated record. Memory was as much given to be trained as any other faculty.
2. Memory, however, may be abused, and so God directs it to the highest objects. Men are to remember His marvellous works and His gracious goodness.
3. In teaching us to remember His works, God uses the natural rather than the ornate. Stones from the river’s bed, where the feet of the priests stood firm, would tell the story better than the most artistic and elaborate monument. So, as M. Henry suggests, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world” to keep His name and works before men to this day.
III. We see God, through well-directed remembrances, provoking praise to Himself, and care for the piety of men in the future. The Israelites for years to come, their children, and all who saw the stones, were to learn to fear and worship God. Memory was to provoke praise, and lead to interest in the piety of others.
Joshua 4:6-7. “TAUGHT OF THE LORD.”
I. God’s method of teaching children He stimulates enquiry. He would have the fathers set their children asking questions. This is the Divine plan in the service of the passover. The same idea pervades such passages as Deuteronomy 6:8-9. This method has the advantage of beginning with the heart. When a desire to know is created, when curiosity is excited and interest is stirred, teaching is comparatively easy. True tact begins by laying siege to the heart; let that be taken, and forthwith the mind readily yields. Our human methods of teaching, although much improved during the last generation, are too often awkward and unnatural. Impress a child very formally and solemnly that you propose to give him some religious instruction, and you repel him by the very manner of your approach. The light and cheerful heart of a child shuts itself up before a solemn face, a didactic bearing, and under the opening sentences of a set lecture, as a sensitive plant closes before the coming of a cold wind or the beginnings of night. Satan teaches his pupils by beginning with the heart; he fascinates men through the medium of the senses, sets the heart aglow with wicked longings, and the biggest dullard can soon master the hardest ways of sin alter that. Heaven and hell alike shew us that the way to learning is through loving. He whose interest is deeply excited is already far advanced towards the attainment of the lesson which the careless pupil thinks it very tiresome to have to begin.
II. The subjects which God selects for the teaching of children.
1. God does not urge upon men the teaching of things which are secular. This is not because secular things are unimportant. All through the Scriptures, and not least in the Pentateuch, the importance of knowing civil and social duties is fully recognised. But men do not so much need urging to teach their children the things of this life.
2. Divine wisdom, therefore, lays stress on spiritual teaching. It is this which is of supreme importance, it is this which parents would most readily neglect; therefore, whenever the subject of teaching children is mentioned, God says, “Teach them of Me, teach them of My works, teach them My words.”
III. The ends which, through such teaching, God would secure.
1. He would lay deep the foundations of the national welfare. These should rest in nothing less than the Lord Himself. So far is the Bible removed from any sympathy with the modern cry against “political dissenters” and “political Christians,” that it shews us God Himself most carefully connecting the political welfare of His people with their religious training. Worldly and wicked men may think it highly desirable to have all government in their own hands; it is so much more comfortable than to be subject to the constraints of piety. Besides, it is easier for such men to feel religious when they control the Church, than when “society” is held in check by men of evident godliness. Some good but weak-minded Christian people think that it conduces to piety for all who love God to let politics alone, and thus leave all government, and elections to all places of authority, in the hands of the enemies of the cross of Christ. This is not the manner of God with His model nation. Divine wisdom was wont to teach that personal holiness was a necessary qualification for civil authority; the holiest men were placed highest in power, and their sins were treated as so much personal unfitness for the control of others. The children of every household were to be trained in the fear of the Lord; all the nation was to be pious. Had this direction been faithfully followed, and all Israel loved God, no one thinks that it would have been necessary to have spared a few wicked Canaanites for the government of the people, in order to keep the piety of the nation uncontaminated by politics. God would have all the people pious, for thus only could their highest national welfare be secured.
2. This teaching was to aim not less at the personal welfare of each citizen. (a) God would have them correct the mass by attending to the units. (b) God would have each person to feel himself a subject of Divine care and love.
3. Most of all, this religious teaching was meant to secure spiritual life and eternal salvation. Civilization would be nothing, social and national greatness nothing, without this. All the ways of God with men are meant to lead upward to Himself. He who afterwards said through Hosea, “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms,” never yet taught men a single step which was not meant to lead to the throne of God and eternal life, and which was not a part of the way there.
“Parents should relate to their children, and hold before them, not their own vile deeds, but God’s merciful deeds (Exodus 10:1-2; Deuteronomy 6:20).
“That is the right application of God’s marvellous and beneficent acts, when we learn from them truly to know, fear, and love Him (John 2:11).” [Starke.]
These stones were erected into a memorial to keep the generations in remembrance that the waters were cut off “before the Ark of the covenant of the Lord.” How readily we forget, in our afflictions, that the covenant is our only security. Like Canute and his courtiers, we too endeavour, by methods of our own, to keep back the tides which flow towards us. Happy is he who at such a time is enough in the secret of the Lord to hear Him whisper, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.”
Those who have been delivered from suffering and danger, through the covenant mercy of the Lord, should not fail to erect memorials of praise, which may serve to teach and remind others of the only means by which the waters of affliction can be effectually cut off.
Joshua 4:8. VICARIOUS SERVICE AND HONOUR
I. Our labour for God’s people is representative labour. We work not only for others, but in place and instead of others. One man was chosen from each tribe to bear these stones from Jordan to Gilgal, and the work is spoken of as that of “the children of Israel.”
1. There is not room for all Christians to be doing the same thing, nor are there men to spare. If the Church were to attempt it, the industries of life would be crowded at some points, while at others they would be utterly forsaken. And the desolation of the forsaken places would soon be fatal to the overwrought industry of the crowded places, even if the crowds themselves were not fatal to the success of the few works in which everybody felt it his duty to engage. Christian men cannot all preach; there is not room, nor time, nor can more than a few be spared for the work. For the same reasons, all cannot be Sunday-school teachers or missionaries. So some are chosen out of our families and congregations to serve for all. But those who go down into the deep waters for service are there for their brethren, who elsewhere are engaged in “holding the ropes” which keep the direct workers from sinking. These twelve men from the tribes needed others, it may be, to help their wives, and little children, and aged relatives, or their sick, or some weak ones in the host for whom they should have cared, across the river. Thus the division of labour, urged so forcibly by Adam Smith, must ever be recognised, if we are to realize as we ought the proper “wealth” of Churches. Each worker in a prominent position should say, “I am here at this post for all my brethren; I represent them, and I must carry as for them, as well as for myself, as big a stone as I can, so that my tribe, my church, my school, my town my family, may be well represented in this memorial of work for the Lord, which we are trying to build to the honour of His name, and for the help of the generations now and to come.” Each worker in a lowly position may feel, on the other hand, “I am here that my brother may be yonder; and all the time I am freeing his hands to bear the actual burden of memorial, I am working in his work, which but for me and others like me he could not labour in at all.
2. All are not fitted to do the same thing. Life’s discipline tries us and selects us, choosing one man for this part of the common service, and another for that. The tender and gentle-spirited man may not be fit for carrying large stones, but he may care for the children and encourage the weak excellently. The brawny muscular man may do well for the stones, but be poor and out of place in stimulating those who lack faith, or in sympathising with such as need patience and gentleness. Both workers are wanted, and one may be as valuable as the other.
II. The results of work for God are representative results. If Christian men thus labour vicariously and for one common object, it follows that the fruits of labour belong to them all.
1. No Christian worker whose labours seem much blessed should claim preeminence in usefulness over his equally laborious and earnest brother. No doubt some are more useful than others, but they are often poor judges, and especially so if they think their superior usefulness very self-evident. After all, we can seldom tell who is most successful in the process of bringing souls to the Saviour. Some conversions are claimed by many different workers, each one, instrumentally, regarding the work as his own. There are other cases in which the new-born believer acknowledges some one Christian worker as the means of leading him to the Saviour, whereas, perhaps, there have been fifty or a hundred other workers, each of whom has done as much, and it may be some of them far more than the last. If a chain in the time of storm were to hold a ship from going on the rocks, would it be meet for the link next to the vessel, supposing it sentient and vocal, to exult over its brother links, and cry, “I saved the ship, and its two hundred passengers owe their lives to me; not a link had hold of the vessel but myself”? Why, every link all down the chain would have done as much as the links nearest to the ship. The same principle is often not less true in the salvation of men.
2. No conscientious worker should depreciate his service, and discourage himself, because he seems to be less successful than others. If he be working zealously and faithfully, perhaps he merely stands farther from the results. Spring does not get depressed, and say, “I was utterly unsuccessful with that wheat, and in my hands it never became much more than grass, whereas summer had no sooner come in than it burst out into ear, then into blossom, and in a few short weeks it was converted into golden grain ripe for the harvest.” Spring had as much to do with that conversion as summer, though it had died out of the calendar, and become a buried season, long ere a single ear was ripe. And winter did as much in that conversion as either spring or summer. But for its cold wind and hardening atmosphere, keeping back as they did the blade, and allowing time for the downward growth beneath the soil, the whole crop might have been “root-fallen” and “lodged” and blighted, and never have come to corn at all. Winter and spring were much farther away than summer, and did a lowlier and less cheering part of the work; but surely at the time of garnering the Lord of the year shall say to these also, “Well done, good and faithful spring; well done, good and faithful winter: enter each into the joy of harvest.” Not less do humbler workers contribute to the salvation of souls, and not less will they have the commendation of the Lord of this more glorious harvest.
III. The honour in God’s work should thus also be representative honour. It should not merely be so by and by before the throne; as far as possible, it should be thus down here. They also who took care of the families of the men from the twelve tribes had part in the memorial of Gilgal. When Ciseri painted that wonderful picture of “The Entombment,” which has been for some time hanging in the gallery of the Crystal Palace, the honour was not all won by the artist’s hand. In point of execution, that may have been nearest to the work; but the eye saw, the mind thought, the imagination conceived, the emotional nature felt, the nerves and the whole body suffered the strain, as the hand became the vehicle to carry to the canvas those marvellous mysteries of light and shade, and that embodiment of a broken heart which looks out upon the beholder through the grief-smitten face of the Madonna. Did we regard our spiritual work as all our other labour and the processes of nature teach us to regard it, the balance of honour would be struck more evenly. Those who are known as very successful would still be glad in a just and righteous joy, though a few might be found humbler and speaking less often of their work; while, on the other hand, many a godly mother who thought she had failed with her children, many a teacher who prayed and strove and saddened under a similar sorrow, many a humble preacher and lowly servant of Jesus would be encouraged, as they were helped to feel that their words had not fallen to the ground, and that their arduous and well-meant labour was “not in vain in the Lord.”
Joshua 4:9. THE MEMORIAL IN JORDAN
I. The value of corroborative testimony. In the years to come, when the generation who had seen the miracle had died out, the memorial in the river would help to impress beholders with the absolute truth of the tradition. Jordan would go to confirm Gilgal, and the stones at Gilgal would serve to substantiate the record of those in Jordan. So in the history of our Lord’s ministry, Matthew, and Mark, and Luke, and John, each serve to confirm the other. A single epistle of Paul might be questioned, but the coincident testimony of them all has placed them each above the reach of the most malignant criticism.
II. The beauty of offerings which come from the promptings of the heart. This memorial in Jordan does not appear to have been commanded. It may have been that Joshua was told to erect this also, but there is no record of the command. This memorial seems to have been the outcome of the heart’s gladness. Such “praise is comely” to God. Christ’s reception of the irregular and, to some, unseemly offering of the woman’s box of ointment.
III. The permanence of interest which belongs to our holier service for God. “They are there unto this day.” Bush says, “These are either the words of Joshua, who wrote his history near the close of his life, and about twenty years after the event occurred, or they were added at a subsequent period by Samuel or Ezra, or some other inspired man or men by whom the sacred canon was revised.”
1. Our holier times of thankfulness to God and communion with Him can never be forgotten by ourselves. If Joshua wrote this verse twenty years after the miracle, it shews how deep was the spiritual joy in which he had thanked God for dividing the waters. Every godly man should have times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord which he can never forget.
2. Our holier times of thankfulness to God and communion with Him will lead us so to use and record them that they will long prove of interest to others. If Samuel added these words, it must have been three hundred years later; if they were added by Ezra, it must have been after the lapse of nine centuries. Probably they were written by Joshua, for the phrase, “unto this day,” occurs no less than twelve times in this book. Be this as it may, it is the work of our deeper spiritual experiences which furnishes memorials of interest to others. When, being dead, a Christian man yet speaketh to those who follow him, it is ever from the intenser experiences of his spiritual life. It is such experiences that preserve the names of the men themselves: Luther, Knox, Brainerd, McCheyne. It is only in the outcome of his richest life that any Christian survives himself.
Joshua 4:12. Before the children of Israel] The usual order of marching was thus broken, that their promise, given in Numbers 32:17, might be faithfully observed.
Joshua 4:13. About forty thousand] This left about seventy thousand men fit to bear arms, besides women and children, who did not pass over. The total number of the two and a half tribes who remained behind probably amounted to between three and four hundred thousand.
Joshua 4:19. Gilgal] According to Josephus (Antiq. v. 1. 4), Gilgal was fifty furlongs from Jordan, and ten from Jericho.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 4:10-19
THE REWARDS OF SERVICE AND THE PENALTIES OF SIN
I. He who begins with God will need God to the end. Joshua 4:10-11. It was not “until everything was finished,” and “all the people were clean passed over,” that the Ark left the river. Having begun to cross under the help of God, His presence was needed till the last man was in Canaan. It is ever thus with God’s people now. There is no single step which they can afford to take without Him. The moment He left them, the pent-up floods would sweep them away. He who is thus needed by His people graciously abides with them. They who follow Christ may presently say, “Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.”
II. He who is faithful before God will be rewarded with God’s approval. Joshua 4:12-13. Our promises to each other are not hidden from the Lord. When they are kept, He makes record of our faithfulness. Not less does He behold us if they are broken.
III. He who honours God will be honoured by God. Joshua had honoured God by his obedience to the Divine commands, and not less by the spirit which he had manifested throughout. Joshua, in turn, was magnified
(1) in his exalted communion with God,
(2) in his abiding influence over the people, and
(3) in his inheritance of the dignity and power, as well as the place, of Moses, his great predecessor.
IV. He who waits in obedience to God will not be forgotten of God. Joshua 4:15-17. The priests must have stood in this position of seeming danger, bearing the Ark for several hours. When we where wait God bids us or places us:—
1. We wait in perfect safety.
2. We never wait in vain. Such waiting is useful (a) to ourselves, (b) and useful to others.
3. We shall not have to wait a moment after our work is done. None need think, in his trial, that God has forgotten him.
V. He who trusts God will assuredly find cause to bless God. Joshua 4:18. The people had been walking by faith; the priests had waited in faith. Reason, and intelligence, and thought on the laws of nature, could make nothing of these upstanding waters. It was only as they remembered God that the priests dared to stand in the river, or that the people dared to cross. Each ventured because of the presence of God, symbolised as it was in the Ark. They feared as they crossed, and they “hasted and passed over.” How their fears must have been rebuked and their faith confirmed by the closing scene of the miracle! No sooner did the Ark leave Jordan, than the waters burst forth, and rushed on their way. The people must have felt more than ever, “This thing was all of God.”
1. Using our faith, we shall soon have reason to bless God for the increase of faith. The end of His ways confirms our ventures into confidence.
2. Using our faith, we shall presently come, almost before we are aware of it, into the full fruition of all our hope. They who ventured and went on in haste, and trusted as best they could, presently found themselves in the promised land. It had been long looked for, long desired; then, through some fear, and some confusion, and the best trust they could command, they suddenly find themselves in Canaan. What a picture it is of many a life and many an ending of life! Still we have to say, “So He bringeth them unto their desired haven.”
VI. He who rebels against God will find that God’s penalties are as severe as His threatenings. Joshua 4:19. The forty years were fully accomplished, saving just this margin of five days with which God seems to lay emphasis on the merciful side of His faithfulness. The carcases that were doomed had every one fallen in the wilderness. The spared lives of Joshua and Caleb seem to lay even a severer stress on the faithfulness of Divine threats and the terrible realness of Divine wrath. It is by such incidents as these that we can best contemplate such solemn questions as that of eternal punishment. Those who have almost come to believe that no one will be utterly destroyed, would do well to remember that God has ever been as severe as His word. The history of His judgments is quite as awful as the prophecies which foretold them. Was not the banishment from Eden as awful as the threat? Was the destruction of Sodom less terrible than the terms in which it was revealed to Abraham? Were not the successive struggles which preceded the captivity at Babylon, and was not the captivity itself, fully as dreadful as the warning words of the prophet? True, the Saviour stood and wept over Jerusalem, and said fearful words about wrath coming through the Romans: surely no one can read the heart-rending story of Josephus, and not feel that, stern as was the prophecy, the history is even more awful. God’s threats have never been mere threats. The fulfilment has ever been as terrible as the prediction. None of the Divine threats recorded in the Bible in any measure approximate to the awful words which set forth the final destruction of the wicked. Read these numerous passages how we will, the world has never heard anything like them before. With such a series of threatenings, and with such a history of previous fulfilments of lesser threatenings to expound them, it seems almost idle to speculate as some are speculating on theories of punishment. Of what account are any differences which we can measure and estimate, where all is so incomprehensibly dreadful? As to the merciful character of God, the mercy which would fail so to punish would also have forborne thus to threaten. Some modern views of Divine mercy proceed on the assumption that it is necessary to the perfectness of the Divine character. It seems to be forgotten that where mercy becomes essential it ceases to be mercy, and at that point is a right. Let us look somewhat more steadfastly at the threatenings which have been fulfilled, and remember that “God in history” will better serve for guidance than man in theory.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 4:10-11.—THE WAY OF DIFFICULTY
I. Remembrance of God is the only encouragement through which some parts of life’s way become bearable and passable. What the symbol of God’s presence was to Israel, such is our perception of Him by faith to us. We may have to endure “as seeing Him who is invisible,” but there are not a few places in which this is the only way to endure with hopefulness. Stoicism may be matured till a man, in any trial, can keep just calm enough not to cry out; at such times it is only in the thought of God that we can walk on in the calmness of hope. Happy is he who is not driven to say, “I remembered God, and was troubled.”
II. God’s regard to the greater trials of our life does not call off His attention from details. He not only parted the waters, but He waited in the river, both in power and presence, “until everything was finished.”
III. The general commandments of the Bible are meant to regulate and control the specific acts of our life. “According to all that Moses,” etc. But Moses had never given any commands touching the actual passage of the Jordan. Yet Moses had commanded an implicit reliance on Divine guidance and a careful obedience to Divine requirements. Such general words covered all the particulars of the case. There are many things in the family, in business, in the Church, and in the world, which no specific precept may touch; there is absolutely no place which we can occupy in our daily life which in principle and in spirit is not covered by the Scriptures.
IV. While Divine patience never wearies in giving us necessary help, when God goes before, we should promptly follow. “The people hasted and passed over.” Whatever motive actuated their haste, haste was the right thing for the time. God does not work that we may idly look on. His manifest energy is a call for our marked diligence. Cf. 2 Samuel 5:24.
V. God, who makes way in the van of our difficulties, is no less necessary to secure our rear. Joshua 4:11. Cf. Deuteronomy 25:17-18. Not only that He may see His people, but that He may save them, He besets them “behind and before.” They may say one to another, “The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rereward.”
Joshua 4:10, last clause. Several reasons have been given by different writers for this haste, each writer usually contending for his own. Probably the majority of the people were moved by fear, but some feelings may have led some of the host to hasten, and other considerations others. I. The haste of fear. This also leads to Canaan. II. The haste of diligence. With so many to cross, and so much to be done, each had need to remember, “the night cometh.” III. The haste of reverent obedience. God does not work mightily and command urgently that men may move slothfully. IV. The haste of compassion. While the people tarried, the priests must wait. No man ever idles without expense and inconvenience to some one else. V. The haste of unconscious influence. The quick movement of a few would communicate itself to all. Our pace times that of our companion, and his that of others. How glorious are life’s privileges; how solemn its responsibilities!
Joshua 4:12-13.—I. They who promise freely should perform faithfully (Numbers 32:17-20). No promise can be broken without injury to him who has pledged his word, however it may be concerning those to whom the promise is made. It is said that the Earl of Chatham promised his son that he should be present at the pulling down of a garden wall. Through forgetfulness, the wall was destroyed in the son’s absence. Feeling, however, the importance of his word, the father had it rebuilt, in order that, according to his promise, his son might witness its demolition. II. They who have already come into the joy of inheritance should be foremost in seeking the same blessing for others. III. They who are best fitted to go to the front should not shrink from it on account of danger. These were chosen men. They had no families with them to hinder their movements. IV. They who take the place of danger in the cause of their brethren must win honour, whether victory is theirs or not.
I. The Lord’s idea of the qualifications necessary in a leader of His people.
1. Natural capacity.
2. Absolute obedience.
3. Lofty courage.
4. Deep humility.
5. Absence of self-seeking.
6. Generous concern for others.
II. The Lord’s idea of the influence necessary to a leader of His people.
1. The gratitude of the people through remembrances of past help.
2. The fear of the people for one with whom the Lord evidently dwells.
3. The confidence of the people in one through whom the Lord manifestly works.
The best way to the highest honour is through obedience to our exalted Lord.
God does but magnify men that they may better help their fellows, and thus glorify Him in return.
He only will be magnified by God, who longs to bring men into the promised possession.
“Whom God will make great, him He first makes small through wearisome cross, and care, and toil, and danger.” [Cramer.]
Whom God greatly magnifies, men should regard with reverence and fear. Cf. 2 Kings 2:23-25.
Joshua 4:15-17. WAITING ON THE LORD
The priests stood still till they were commanded to leave the river. The waters were heaped above them, the people had all passed over, but even then they waited for the word of the Lord.
I. The character and spirit of our waiting.
1. Waiting on the Lord does not mean the suspension of our own efforts. The priests were still to bear the Ark. Not for a single moment were they to put it down. Our toil may have to go on to very weariness.
2. Waiting on the Lord does mean that no trust is to be placed in our own efforts, but that all our faith is to be in the love and energy of God. Our efforts have often about as much power to work out the results we seek as the holding of this wooden chest in the middle of the river had to keep back the waters.
II. The necessity for our waiting.
1. There is often a necessity in the nature of the case itself. The time taken for so large a host to cross the river could not be other than long. God was willing to work miraculously to make a way for the people, but not to help them over. Our difficulties always present not only a place for Divine help, but a sphere for human effort, and our part generally takes up much time.
2. There is a necessity in the direction of our own discipline. We cannot learn trust and patience as theories, any more than a soldier can learn drill and battle from books. He must go through his task; we must do the same with ours. Carlyle has said, “Experience is an excellent schoolmaster, but he does charge such dreadful wages.” Beecher has somewhere written, “God sends experience to paint men’s portraits. Does some longing youth look at the settled face of a Washington, whose lineaments have been transmitted to us by the artist’s skill, and strive to wear as noble a mien? That look—the winds of the Alleghanies, the trials of the Jersey winter, the sufferings at Cambridge, the conflicts with Congress, wrought it out; and he who would gain it must pass through as stern a school.” Much more must the children of God, who would be “transformed into the image of His Son,” get one by one those Divine lineaments graven into their spirits by doing and bearing the will of God.
“He cannot be a perfect man,
Not being try’d and tutor’d in the world.”
3. The will of God to His children should ever be necessity enough. If we can see no other reason for having to wait, this may well be sufficient. Christ placed the dreadful agony of Gethsemane just on this ground—“Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
III. Encouragements in our waiting.
1. Many of our difficulties are mainly in the heart, and the very act of trusting in God brings the relief we seek. There are times, as was the case here in Jordan, when difficulties are outward and actual; even then, to wait on God is best. There are other times when our trials come from our own fears and weakness; then “They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength” in the very process of trusting Him.
2. At the point where our earthly comforts fail us, heavenly delights begin most to abound. God would not prepare all His mercies for our flesh. This time of weary waiting and physical discomfort to the priests was a time in which with reverent communion and holy joy their spirits might be strengthened in God. Such hours with God make spiritual stamina for a lifetime.
3. Exceeding great and precious promises assure us that “Blessed are all they that wait for Him.” Our waiting is ever in the light of His word, let there be what other darkness there may.
4. “Did ever any trust in God and was confounded?” Our waiting is illuminated with promises before us, and with history behind. “He that believeth shall not make haste.”
“If often the faithful God before our eyes graciously helps others out of need and peril, while we, in cur own thought, are left far behind, still our hour also shall yet come. Let us only await the right time.” [Cramer.]
Joshua 4:18. “So long as Christ, the true mercy-seat, is under us, and His ministers in this unquiet life preach the gospel, we need not fear; the great floods of sin and of the wrath of God must retire, because for them that are in Christ Jesus there is now no condemnation.”
“The enemies of the Church can proceed no farther than has been appointed to them.”
“If Christ and His word depart from us, then must we be eternally overwhelmed and perish.” [Cramer.]
1. In the beginning of a believer’s triumph he sees readily that the power and the work are alone of God.
2. Familiarity with the wonderful works of God sometimes finds His people regarding them as natural, and taking them as matter-of-course occurrences.
3. Therefore the end of God’s ways, even more manifestly than the beginning, declares the power to have been all from on high.
Joshua 4:20. Pitch in Gilgal] “Heb., erect, rear up” (Bush). “It is very likely that a base of mason-work was erected, of some considerable height, and that the twelve stones were placed on the top of it” (A. Clarke).
Joshua 4:24. All the people of the earth] The Israelites and the various peoples of the land. Even the idolatrous Canaanites, and any of the heathen who might in after years see these stones, were to learn from them that Israel’s God was a God of might. To the close of the twenty-third verse, the parents are represented as speaking to their children; in the twenty-fourth verse Joshua gives the reason for this instruction, and points out the object for which the memorial was to be erected.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 4:20-24
I. Its inspiring topics.
1. The glory of God in His works. Not merely in His works in Nature; in such also as are contrary to Nature.
2. The love and mercy of God in His works FOR HIS PEOPLE. The Lord “doth put a difference” between these and others. God loves all men. Under the Gospel, He invites all men into His family. It is simply cruel and sinful to teach that the Lord works for and defends everybody alike. If the Bible be true at all, God’s merciful works are as distinctively given to the Church now as of old. He has always caused His rain to descend, and made His sun to shine, on the fields of the just and the unjust; for by His goodness and in His all-reaching love He would lead the unjust to repentance; nevertheless, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Every page of the Bible reveals this. These old typical nations were specially meant to set forth the truth that distinctive mercies here, and salvation hereafter, were the heritage of only such as feared the Lord.
3. The efficiency of God’s works to make a way for His people through any and all obstacles. The sea and the flooded river are two of the strongest symbols of force which the world presents. In His hands, neither can hinder for an hour the free movement of His people.
4. The comfort which the Lord can give, and loves to give, to those who walk in His paths. No matter where the paths lie, He loves to shew His people that through sea or through river He can make the way as “dry land.” Such are some of the themes which this one work and its memorials were to set to music.
II. Its unlimited aims. Religious teaching is to aim at the benefit:
1. Of our own children. Home should be our first care. Some earnest people in the present day seem to think that religious life and zeal must be very poor unless they spend four or five evenings in the week at religious meetings. Some can hardly avoid this, and to these it may be a duty which they dare not neglect; may those who can avoid it never have to say, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard have I not kept.”
2. Of neglected children. The Jews were all supposed to teach their own children. Religious instruction among them was to be parental. The heads of each family were supposed to fear God, and, fearing Him themselves, were to teach their households to fear Him also. Still, some parents would be careless, and, from various causes, some children would be neglected. These were to be carefully instructed by others. At the feast of tabernacles in the year of release, special attention was to be given to any who were ignorant of God (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). So carefully did the Lord provide against the leaven of ignorance that might in time leaven the whole lump of the nation.
3. Of neglected men and women. Opportunity was to be taken to let “all the people” of the land know of God (Joshua 4:24).
4. Of the generations to come. It was said of Achilles, that he was vulnerable only in the heel. However fictitious that may be as to the ancient Greek, there is only one place in which the sin and ignorance of the future can be attacked; it is as some one has said, “The children of this generation are the only point at which the generation to come is vulnerable.” If it be asked, as some have asked, “Why all this care about the coming generations? What do we owe to future society?” it would be enough to reply as the late John Stuart Mill replied to the same question, put in our British parliament,—“What have we received from society?” Let us count but a little of that, and even from this human point of view our duty will be clear. But every Christian must also ask, “What have I received from God? What does God demand of me in return?” Our fathers have been the channel through which a thousand mercies have come to us, and the generations to come are calling upon us by our most sacred obligations to the generations that are past.
III. Its lofty and holy purposes.
1. To help men to know God.
2. To help men to fear God.
3. To help men to live as in the presence of God for ever. F. W. Faber beautifully said, “The more we know of God, the more our complacency increases; because, to fill our minds and engross us, the simple thought of God must be multiplied and repeated from a thousand objects. It is like the sun lighting up a mountain chain. He is not multiplied in himself, but as his golden magnificence lights up peak after peak, we become more and more surrounded by His effulgence. It is thus with God: each attribute to which we give a name, though His attributes in truth are His simple self, is to us a separate height crowned and glowing with His glory, and so reflecting Him upon our souls; while the multitude of nameless perfections, for which we have neither ideas, words, nor standards, are to us like the consciousness of the glorious sea of mountain tops which are beyond our ken, but which we know to be resting in that furnace of golden light, and adding to the burning splendour which is circumfused over earth and sea and sky.” So, too, as we learn to see God in His many works which are about us, especially in those works which make part of our personal experience and life, His name will be repeated to us as from a thousand points instead of one or two. Our grateful remembrances of His mercies will make them so many upstanding points, rising far above the low and poor levels of a natural life, and catching and retaining for our vision something of the brightness of His majesty and the glory of His love, which will thus be suffused over us from all our personal history, and hardly less from the history of the whole Church of Christ.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 4:20-22. SUNDAY SCHOOL INSTRUCTION
The principles involved in the work of our Sunday-schools are repeatedly enforced even in the O. T.
I. The duty of this work. To whom does the duty belong? Given that time and opportunity are at command, surely it belongs to all who love Christ. Our Lord, on receiving the assurance of Peter’s love, said, “Feed my lambs.” Many feel that they are not worthy to engage in labour like this. The thought of personal sin keeps many back, albeit they claim to be Christians, and could not bear to think themselves without love to the Saviour. Is not that scene at the sea of Tiberias specially meant to assure such? We are usually told that our Lord there rebuked Peter three times, because Peter had thrice denied Him. The reason of our Lord’s threefold utterance lay far deeper than that. Possibly rebuke was intended, but mercy and the forethought of Divine love were far more prominent. Would-not the day be likely to come in Peter’s future when he should say, “Can I who have denied Christ dare to teach Him to others?” Peter might come to feel that he who had thrice disowned his Lord was utterly unworthy to engaged in work like this. So three times, once for every denial, does the Saviour tenderly recommission him to the work of feeding both the sheep and the lambs. It seems as if our Lord had not only thus anticipated what might be the future feeling of His apostle, but the feeling of many of His disciples now. To love Him is to become responsible for doing all that we have opportunity to perform.
II. The necessity of adaptation in this work. God adapts Himself to the minds of children, now in the imposing rites of the Passover, and now in this cairn of stones at Gilgal. What is here indicated in the way of a general principle, a wise teacher will endeavour to carry out in detail; he will try and meet each child where he finds him; he will study even individual dispositions. One child will be loving and warm-hearted; excite his love, meet him where he is accessible, tell him something which has pathos. Another boy will be strong in integrity, and honesty, and truthfulness; tell him of Joseph and Daniel, and the three Hebrews. A third will be quiet and gentle; speak low to him. One will hate hard; give him fit subjects for his idiosyncrasy, tell him of Herod and Judas, and presently he will hear you on higher themes. Another will be the stupid boy of the class; on him, most of all, lavish kindness, attention, and gentleness. Our aim in Christian work is to win others to love the Saviour; and God, who comes to men where they are, and brings pictures into the nursery of the infant world, teaches us adaptation.
III. The nobility of this work. Addressing, a few years since, a convention of Sunday-school teachers, the Right Hon. John Bright said, “I may be in a more conspicuous, but I am certainly not in a more noble field than that in which you are engaged.” Peradventure the statesman was right, for there are few labours more exalted than this. We look at Rembrandt’s picture of Christ stilling the tempest, and as we see the storm-tossed waves dashing over the prow of the boat, and behold the agitated faces of the disciples, we love to think of the majesty of Him who with His mere word hushed both sea and men into calm and peace. But Over-beck’s subject of Christ with the little children is even more sublime. In the one case you see power controlling power; in the other you have the loftier spectacle of power blessing weakness. It is this which makes the ministry of the Saviour so glorious; all through it, His perfect power and spotless holiness are seen healing and helping sinful men in their weakness and necessity. Whatever of greatness was manifested in the work of Knibb and Clarkson, Sturge and Wilberforce, in nothing were they so great as in using their power to take off the fetters from the last of England’s slaves. Howard and Cobden won all their fame in helping the weak and the oppressed. It is this which makes the work of Sunday-schools so truly noble. In that work, Christian men and women give their time and strength, not only for children, but for neglected children. Many of these, in their weakness and guilelessness, would be taken captive by the wicked on every hand, and dragged low as perdition; this work hopefully proposes to make them “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.”
Joshua 4:23. New mercies should lead us to call to mind mercies that are past. If we compare those which our fathers had with those which God gives to us, great as theirs undoubtedly were, ours will often be found to be even greater.
The mercies which came to our fathers should also be counted among our own; they too made way for the heritage on which we daily enter.
God’s mercies to us should be so turned to account, that they may become an inheritance to our children.
Meditation on the ways of God in past mercies will serve to assure us that the mercies which we now have will be continued so long as we need them: sea or river, it matters not which, each is divided till the Lord’s people have “passed over.”
Joshua 4:24. MIGHTY WORKS AND THEIR MIGHTY PURPOSES
I. The mighty works of God are never meant to be self-contained. They invariably reach out to things beyond the actual work, and beyond those to whom it seems confined. No Divine miracle is ever complete in itself. Though it may sound paradoxical, the miracle ever appears to be the smallest part of the work which the work contemplates. For once, the less is made to contain the greater. Divine works are seed-forms which are sown from the hand of Omnipotence; they are meant to swell and germinate and grow, and to bring forth fruit through the years and centuries which follow. Who knows but that during the ages which have since fled, more souls have not been brought by this miracle into the heavenly Canaan, than even the number who, through it, entered the goodly land on earth? Our works, like those of our heavenly Father, should ever contemplate results beyond those which are immediate and present. He works well, and after the pattern of God, who works
(1) for others,
(2) for time to come, and
(3) for eternity.
II. The mighty works of God are meant to teach us the knowledge of God.
1. All work is declarative of the worker. Some persons profess to read a character in the handwriting of a letter; they might read more perfectly if, to the manner in which it were set down, they added a study of the letter itself. What a man does is a photograph of what a man is; it is the outward expression of his inward self. Perhaps we need our works to know ourselves; certainly others need them in order that they may know us. Our features and bearing reveal much of our disposition to others; but our works, most of all, seem to be the glass through which men look into our consciousness and life. If works are needed to declare to us men whom we have seen, much more must we study Divine works if we would know God, whom we have never seen.
2. Even aimless work proclaims the character of its author. So far as such work goes to make up the life, it shews a worker who is willing that power should be thrown away. Aimless work tells of no to-morrow in a man’s mind, of no consciousness of the woes and wants of men around, of no longings and yearnings to help them. Aimless work tells of nothing but the corresponding blank in the worker’s heart, out of which it was born. It is the outward and empty “amen” to the inward and empty life.
3. The design of work reveals the character of the worker. Is the work selfish or generous; for the hour only, or for time to come? What a magnificent study, taken in this light, is presented by the works of God!
4. The execution of a work no less proclaims the worker. It tells us of the measure of his power, and writes down the character of his patience; it tells us whether there is a love of effect and display, or whether the energy which performs is animated mainly by the generosity that desires to help. The best works of the best of men shew failure in purpose, failure in capability failure in patience; it is only before the results of Divine wisdom and energy and love that we can dare to say, “ALL Thy works praise Thee, O God!” If God’s works do not teach us of Himself, though they may bring us temporary relief, the chief purpose of them is lost.
III. The mighty works of God are for all men, and whether men will or not, they will be for all men for ever.
1. They are designed to teach His people.
2. They are wrought and perpetuated before the heathen and the stranger, so that whosoever will may see, and fear, and turn to the Lord.
3. They will be for ever a cause of self-reproach to the lost.
4. They will be eternally a theme of praise for the redeemed. As though in allusion to the rejoicing at the Red Sea, we are told of the host above who have gotten the victory—“They sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty: just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany