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PREPARATION FOR THE LORD’S WAR
Joshua 5:1. Amorites] Deriv. from Amar = “high,” “lofty.” The people were “dwellers in the mountains” (cf. Numbers 13:29, and chap. Joshua 11:3). Kurtz and Fürst think that the word has an allusion to the large stature of the race: “lofty, high-towering, gigantic” men. Sometimes, and apparently in this verse, the term Amorites is applied to the inhabitants of the land generally. In chap. Joshua 10:5, the king of Jerusalem, who ruled over Jebusites, is mentioned as one of five kings of the Amorites. Spirit] Lit. “breath.” The stopping or taking away of the breath is indicative of the extreme astonishment and fear by which they were overwhelmed.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 5:1
THE FEAR OF THE UNGODLY
In the facts of which this verse assures us, and in the history to which it refers us:—
I. We have conviction coming through the manifest working of God.
1. The occasion of man’s idolatry and sin is ever found in low and poor thoughts of God. Let God be distant and remote from a man’s consciousness, let Him be thought of infrequently and feebly, and the result will soon be seen in a following after “other gods.” Joshua’s predecessor, through whom God was so manifestly present before the Israelites, had not left the people six weeks ere they said unto Aaron, “Up, make us gods which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, we wot not what is become of him.” The history of these Canaanites must have contained a similar experience. Sons of Noah though they were, and intense as must have been the religious remembrances of their fathers, Ham and Canaan, the power and goodness and justice and the very being of God had become a mere tradition. On the basis of the Usherian chronology, barely nine hundred years had elapsed since the awful deluge. In the antediluvian age this was only about the period of a lifetime, and if in the subsequent generation the sons of Ham lived as long as the sons of Shem—a term of some four hundred and thirty years—Canaan himself would possibly have been living, to teach the fear of the Lord among his descendants, for nearly half the period between the days of the flood and the crossing of the Jordan. Nor had the Canaanites been left without at least one solemn intervening remonstrance. Just about midway between the time of the flood and the entrance of the Israelites into their land, and possibly not fifty years after the death of Canaan, another and an awful judgment had told these people of an all-seeing and omnipotent God, who was determined to punish sin. It was on the families of the Canaanites that God poured out the terrible fire of Sodom and Gomorrah (comp. Genesis 10:19 with Genesis 19:0) God ought not to have been so absent from the thoughts of these men; but they had long suffered His very name to become merely a story of the past, and on neither name nor story did they trouble themselves much to think. Hence they went after idols, the idols being, as idols always are, the embodiment of the wicked and corrupt desires which ever follow forgetfulness of God, With no consciousness of God’s presence, they had long been led to unrestrained idolatry and unchecked wickedness. He who, in these days, loses the sense of God’s presence and power and goodness and purity, loses all that can keep him from idolatry and its consequent degradations. The very name EMMANUEL—God with us—tells where our danger most lies, and wherein the blessedness of following Christ so much consists.
2. The manifest interposition of God, in great works for His people, brings conviction to the most hardened and abandoned of men. So long as men only hear of God, they can disbelieve Him, and more or less undisturbedly pursue their own way; but when God works in a manner for which no human hand or name is a sufficient explanation, immediately the unbelieving are arrested. The great cause of all that is different between the disciples of Christ and the unbelieving in the present day is given in the Saviour’s own words—“Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more, but ye see Me.” The one effort of such modern scientists as are virtually atheists seems to be to account for such works as are too great for man by some other name than that of GOD. If “protoplasm” could only account for life; if “development” would but be sufficiently agreeable to stand as an equivalent for its various forms; if the movements of life would only allow themselves to be called “automatic;” and if human consciousness, which will keep looking upward, and lisping that great word GOD, could only be taught to pronounce the obscure and ugly compound “anthropomorphism,” then, surely, the world, and even its more wicked sons and daughters, might have peace. True, some of us might still want a long word to explain fulfilled prophecies, and shew us how Nature taught some of her more reverent children to “shew us things to come,” and to shew them in marvellous fulness of detail seven or eight centuries—not to say more—before they came to pass. The more anthropomorphic of us might require a good many Greek vocables, and tax rather tiresomely the patience and scholarship of the learned sons of science to put them pleasantly together, ere we could keep that great word GOD from speaking within and echoing through our consciousness, when we read together, as making one chapter, the well-authenticated works and CLAIMS and CHARACTER of Jesus Christ. There might be a few other things which, in the event of insufficient explanation, we should require to read of in awkward and unnatural phrases ere we could persuade ourselves that they were the outcome merely of Nature. Meanwhile, like the Amorites and Israelites before the divided Jordan, we behold many wonderful works around us in life and behind us in history, for which we can only find one equivalent cause, and that cause GOD.
3. History shews us that when standing immediately before the greater and more manifest works of God, men hare ever felt that from them there was no appeal. At the Red Sea the long enslaved Israelites sang, “The Lord is my strength and song.” Their history but too sadly proves their readiness to forget Jehovah; they could not but own Him there, and on many similar occasions afterwards. The assembled people on Carmel waited all day in the spirit of judgment; we feel their indecision and unformed conclusions in their very silence. The whole attitude of the host was one of expectancy and waiting. The very act of pronouncing their verdict tells us that they were at least not biessed before it was given. It was only after the laboured failure of the Baalites, the scorn and confidence of Elijah, and after seeing the fire of heaven lick up the water and attack the sacrifice, that they cried with one accord, “Jehovah, He is the God.” However much he might have doubted before or after, amid the solemn darkness, the rending earthquake, and the awful words of Calvary, the centurion could only feel and say, “Truly this was the Son of God.” The arrogant Sanhedrin, who thought they had disposed for ever of the Master, and could do as they would in contemning the work of the disciples, “when they saw the lame man healed, could say nothing against it.” It is easy enough to try and dismiss numberless cases like these by saying that such conclusions of men are not spoken in calmness, but under the influence of excitement and awe. That is the very difficulty. How is it that ever, when the heart stands in awe before unusual power, it remembers God, and is troubled? We can understand the relapse into the normal unbelief when the sounds of the call to faith have died away in the distance. How is it that whenever the supernatural is present, men invariably stand convinced of the unseen God? It is no answer to this question to talk of superstition; when all the talk about superstition is ended, it still remains to be asked, “Why should superstition ever lead men into the presence of God, and never choose to leave them elated or abashed before the majesty of Nature? There can be only one answer: The soul is responding to the voice of its Maker, and that Maker is God.
II. We see conviction invariably working fear. Insensibly and instantaneously, as these Canaanites behold the river divided, and remember the overthrow of Sihon and Og, and the miracle at the Red Sea, they are filled with fear of the Lord God of Israel. It is ever thus with those who have forgotten Jehovah, and turned to devices of their own.
1. The fear which comes from ignorance. Not “seeing Him who is invisible,” men cannot endure the works which declare His presence.
2. Fear as intensified by sin. Sinful Adam heard the voice of God, and, for the first time, so far as we know, he was afraid. When guilty Herod heard of the fame of Jesus, he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead.” Conscience, as Trench has pointed out, is, in its very structure, a solemn word. “It is from ‘con’ and scire.’ But what does that ‘con’ intend? Conscience is not merely that which I know, but that which I know with some one else.… That other knower whom the word implies is God.” So, when we transgress, we have only to be brought by some of His works into the consciousness of the Lord’s presence, and sin intensifies fear at once. We feel that the guilt which we know, He knows also. And from this law none escape:
“What art thou, thou tremendous Power,
Who dost inhabit us without our leave;
And art within ourselves another self,
A master-self, that loves to domineer,
And treat the monarch frankly as the slave?”—Young.
3. Fear as a Divine provision and ordinance. God had determined and appointed this very melting of heart which the Amorites now suffered. Forty years previously God had said to Moses, about this very trepidation, “I will send my fear before thee.” The fear of the wicked is no less God’s ordinance now than it was of old.
III. The fear thus wrought by God is seen becoming helpful to speedy salvation, or accessory to sudden destruction. Rahab feared, and believed, and sought deliverance, and was saved; the Canaanites feared, and resisted, and were destroyed. Montaigne said, “Fear sometimes adds wings to the heels, and sometimes nails them to the ground, and fetters them from moving.” Happy is he in whom the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Where this is not so, fear is often immediately preliminary to overthrow. It is the awful gloom of coming destruction which is seen overshadowing those whom it hardly waits longer to involve, and the very fear of the coming calamity hastens the end which it so solemnly predicts.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 5:1.—RELIGIOUS CONVICTION.
I. The essence of true religious conviction is conviction of the presence of God. For want of that, these men had turned idolaters. Had they always felt the God of Israel as near as they felt Him now, the worship of their idols would have been an impossibility. When we get and continue to know and feel that God is round about us, all else in religious life will follow.
1. Assured of God’s presence, we shall immediately feel the reality and guilt of sin. Job said, “Now mine eye seeth Thee, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Isaiah in his vision saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and cried, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Peter, beholding the Deity of Christ through His mighty working, started back abashed, saying, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” So it has ever been: to see God present is to feel that sin is very real and very offensive.
2. Assured of God’s presence, we have no peace till we feel that sin is put away by forgiveness. With deep and true insight Milton tells us how the prince of darkness was troubled in the presence of holiness—
“Abashed the devil stood,
And felt how awful goodness is.”
So must unforgiven men ever feel troubled by the presence of God. When Peter first saw the Deity of the Saviour, he had no peace in that holy and to him awful presence; after he had been a long time with Jesus, and had learned of Him, and when he was in the rapture or a diviner mood, he cried as he beheld the glory of the transfigured Son of God, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles.” It is only when we have learned the love and forgiveness of the Saviour, and come ourselves somewhat into the mind of Christ, that we are able to endure His presence. Then that presence is no longer our keenest pain, but becomes our deepest peace.
3. A growing sense of God’s presence is the essential accompaniment of a religious life. When Nathanael came to Christ, he came sceptically, nor did he care to conceal his doubts. With that frank guilelessness on which he seems to have prided himself, and which, as far as it was good, even Christ admired, he bluntly told out his unbelief in the question, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” How did the Saviour convict this man of the Divine presence? Christ told him his secrets; He looked into his heart, and exposed this conceit of an open and transparent nature, on which this guileless Jew prided himself, as being so unlike many of his nation. “Behold,” says the Saviour, “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” Nor was this all; Christ told the honest Jew how he had been praying under that secluded fig-tree, as pious Jews were wont to withdraw for prayer—praying but a short time before, and praying, it may be, about this very matter of the coming Messiah, to which the thoughts of his more godly countrymen were at this time so earnestly directed. It was enough: Nathanael felt that God was there. Very much under the influence which, in a similar case, had made the Samaritan woman exclaim, “He told me all things that ever I did,” Nathanael cried out, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” Did the Saviour intimate that this conviction was sufficient, and that the matter of this man’s new-found faith might rest there? Quite the contrary. Belief was to go on. Christ Himself might withdraw; but to this, as to every truly religious soul, conviction of the Divine presence was to become a growing thing. When Christ as manifest in the flesh was far away, when no one was near, this belief should go on till he could say with his great countryman, “Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.… Thou hast beset me behind and before.” Conviction of a present God was to be a growing thing; so Christ says, “Your faith now is only the beginning of the faith of the future; you shall see greater things than these. Through my mediatorial work you shall see heaven and earth united. Hereafter ye—you and such as believe with you—shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
Thus conviction first feels God near through some extraordinary manifestation; and, given that God’s mercy spares, and His grace still plies the convicted one, the religious life goes on to all its future developments in the consciousness that God is round about it. The first feeling arising from a sense of that Presence is fear, the after feelings are love and joy, while the culmination is peace, even in the grim presence of death: “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” These Canaanites only knew that sense of God’s presence which precedes judgment and destruction: every living man, in the one way or the other, must awake to a sense of that presence sooner or later.
II. The medium of this conviction of God’s presence is God’s working. The Canaanites heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan, and forthwith they believed in a “God nigh at hand.” (Cf. instances in previous outline.) Jacob beheld the wonders of God in his dream, and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” The centurion at the cross, and the jailor of Philippi, looked each on supernatural things, and each at once told out his faith. The chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus to death, because “by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.” The present attempts which are being made in the name of Science to banish God’s working from the faith of men, touch the question of religion in a point most vital and important. Where “the arm of the Lord is not revealed,” God’s servants still have to ask, “Who hath believed our report?” Give the name of “eternal laws” or “evolution” to account for the works of God; get men to believe that which the terms imply, and then there is no need for God at all. How much we lose, if the arm of the Lord is not revealed to us! Think of Belshazzar and his lords, when they held high carnival in Babylon. It may be that some among the thousand courtiers at the feast only saw the writing on the wall, and not the hand that wrote. But “the king saw the part of the hand that wrote: then the king’s countenance was changed.” To him the words would have an awful meaning. It makes all the difference, in our reading of life around us, whether the arm of the Lord which does the writing is hidden or revealed.
In view of the somewhat lofty tone of some modern scientists it may be allowable to ask, How much right have these who speak most dogmatically to speak on this question at all? It may be remarked:
1. Every man is born with the faculty, or capacity, of spiritual perception. We each come into the world with powers which, if cultivated, will presently enable us to see God. Men are born with capacities for seeing mathematics, poetry, and music; yet the work of a senior wrangler, of Tennyson, or Beethoven, would be utterly incomprehensible to an ordinary farm labourer.
2. Of all human powers of perception, the God-seeing sense is the most refined. Other faculties must be trained by a suitable experience, but this most of all. Let a man live forty or fifty years as if there were no such things as arithmetic, poetry, or music, and, practically, there will be no such things. May it not be so in the matter of these spiritual perceptions? Untaught men cannot look over and read a music score of a dozen staves like Costa and Barnby, or Stainer and Best. Can a man who ignores God year after year be in a position to see God?
3. If not, how utterly incompetent unspiritual men are to pronounce on spiritual things! Some men act as if mental and spiritual insight are identical; why should they be identical, any more than physical and mental perception? Each kind of eve is only good for its own sphere. Some men seem to think that scientific culture and spiritual culture are one and the same thing. They have mistaken spectrum analysis for spiritual vision. It is like using the microscope to find out if there is any music in the Old Hundredth or the Twelfth Mass. It is much the same as climbing to the top of the Matterhorn, where there is a wide outlook, in order to see through a mathematical problem. It is as though a man should take a telescope to try and perceive if his friend loved him, or seize on an opera glass to discover the exquisite pathos of the twenty-third Psalm. The philosophers appear to have forgotten what they of all men should remember,—the eye and the world must fit; the power of perception, and the sphere in which it is exercised, must be appropriate. Meanwhile we may feel thankful that men who have given a lifetime to find out God do not pronounce against His existence. We might be alarmed if Abraham and Moses and Isaiah, if John and Peter and Paul, if Luther and Baxter and Wesley, if Newton and Simpson and Farraday joined to say, “We have thought on this question reverently and devoutly for many years, we have tried to live in that spiritual purity which is said to be, and which, from the nature of the case, must be necessary in order to see God, and we come to the conclusion that while there may be a God, or may not be, we have no data by which to form any conclusion.” Without judging others, it is a matter for devout gladness that in all the pages of history we have no names of men who, having followed after God throughout life in that reverence which alone becomes such a pursuit, and which alone could hope to succeed in finding Him, have turned round at the close of life, and pronounced their faith mistaken. It is at least significant that history as well as Scripture always shews the path of such as one that “shineth more and more.” This world has tempted many to deny the faith; we cannot recollect that the grave has so tempted one.
“A candle wakes some men, as well as a noise; the eye of the Lord works upon a good soul, as well as His hand; and a godly man is as much affected with the consideration, ‘Thou God seest me,’ as with ‘The Lord strikes me.’ ” [Dr. Donne.]
“Fear is entirely based on a consideration of some possible personal evil consequence coming down upon me from that clear sky above me. Love is based upon the forgetfulness of self altogether. The very essence of love is that it looks away from itself and to another.”
“Fill the heart with love, and there is an end to the dominion of fear. The love of God entering into a man’s heart, destroys all tormenting fear of Him. All the attributes of God come to be on our side. He that loves has the whole Godhead for Him.” [Mac Laren.]
Joshua 5:2. Sharp knives] Marg. “knives of flints” (cf. Exodus 4:25). The reason for using stone knives may have been more on account of legal than of physical considerations. The use of iron was certainly forbidden in some covenant rites (cf. Exodus 20:25; Deuteronomy 27:5; chap. Joshua 8:31). [“Among the additions of the LXX. at the end of this book is the curious statement after chap. Joshua 24:30 : ‘There they placed with him, in the tomb where they buried him the knives of stone (τὰς μαχάιρας τας πετρίνας) with which he circumcised the sons of Israel in Gilgal.’ ”—Dr. Bliss.] The second time] Perhaps the phrase, as is intimated in the verses which follow, has regard to the circumcising, at two different periods, or times, of the entire host of men now assembled in Canaan. Mentally, the host is divided into two parts, which are circumcised some at one time, some at another; the time of the earlier circumcision was in Egypt, and “the second time” of circumcision was this at Gilgal. The reference made by Masius to two general circumcisions, one at the time of the introduction of the rite by Abraham, and the other here, an idea often noticed since, appears too remote, and is rather opposed than otherwise to the fourth and fifth verses. A similar use of this phrase occurs in Isaiah 11:11.
Joshua 5:4. This is the cause] The cause of this general circumcision is stated at length, the explanation reaching to the close of Joshua 5:7. The reason why the rite had been omitted during the sojourn in the wilderness is given in Joshua 5:6. The people had broken the covenant, and “the Lord sware that He would not shew them the land.” The oath of the wilderness cancelled for the time the oath to Abraham, and Jehovah would not allow the people to set the oath that was suspended over against the oath which was in force.
Joshua 5:9. The reproach of Egypt] Not necessarily any one phase of the reproach arising out of their past relation to Egypt, but the reproach in all its forms. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal] Marg. = “rolling.” “It denotes liberty: they looked on themselves as freed from the miseries which they had undergone” (Josephus, Ant. v. 1. 11). “All objections (of the rationalists) indicate an utter inattention to the fact that most of the O. T. etymologies contain allusions to words and their meaning, rather than such full explanations of them as befit a lexicon” (Keil).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 5:1-9
THE RENEWAL OF THE COVENANT
Probably there is nothing throughout the entire book of Joshua which appeals to us more solemnly and more graciously than this most significant resumption of covenant rites at this particular period. The account of the giving of this covenant is contained in Genesis 15:0. At that time Abraham had no children, and the covenant was sealed on the side of God only, the vision of the burning lamp being its sign. Some fourteen or fifteen years later, when Ishmael was thirteen years old, the covenant was renewed, or rather completed, the seal on the human side being circumcision. The covenant was, that Abraham should have a numerous seed to inherit the land, of Canaan, or, as it was sometimes called, the Promised Land. Here, then, at the very time of entering into the land, the rite is renewed. The land can only be taken possession of under the covenant. Not an enemy shall fall, not a town capitulate, not an acre shall be really their own, till that covenant is recognised by all Israel.
I. The relation between God’s covenant and His people’s transgression. The rite of circumcision had been faithfully observed in Egypt; the rite had not been observed in the wilderness (Joshua 5:4-5). This neglect during the wilderness life was, almost certainly, not because of any difficulties of journeying, for the people sometimes encamped for an entire year in one place. The reason for the cessation of circumcision lay in the fact that the people had ignored the covenant itself. They had said with almost one voice, “Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” They deliberately rejected the covenant then and there. At the same time God rejected them. For the time the covenant was suspended. The sixth verse, therefore, connects the cessation of circumcision with the Lord’s counter-oath. God would not have the people guilty of a solemn farce. Every act of circumcision in the wilderness would ignore this later oath of Jehovah. As confirmatory of this, it should be remembered that the passover was probably not observed in the wilderness any more than circumcision. Israel had been told to keep the passover “as an ordinance for ever.” At the end of the first year, before the rebellion, they did keep it at Sinai (cf. Numbers 9:1-5). Apparently they did not observe it afterwards till the occasion mentioned in this chapter. Here, then, is a most significant break. There is no feast of the Exodus, for the Exodus had been ignored; there is no rite of the covenant, for the covenant had been foresworn. What bearing has all this on us?
1. See what God thinks of services that are unreal. God would have no feast of the Exodus from the people who said, “Let us return unto Egypt;” God would have no covenant rite from the people who thought indifferently of the covenant. Both feast and rite would be hollow and false, and a mockery. How this old sermon of the desert comes preaching itself on to us, across all the centuries which roll between us and these ancient servants of Jehovah. Think of it in connection with all the worship in which we fail to worship Him. Think of it in connection with many of the hymns which we join in singing, the prayers which we offer, and the heartless service which some are tempted to render. Think of the Lord’s Supper—the feast of the new covenant—if there be no real covenant between us and God. God would have no service from us rather than a service which is unreal. He seeks the heart. Sham adoration is no pleasure to Him (cf. Isaiah 1:11-15).
2. See how solemn and sacred is God’s view of His own promises. All the time the covenant was in force the covenant rite was to be observed. The bondage of Egypt made no difference. Unlike men, God does not think His promises something to take notice of in proportion as they look promising. Difficulties and bonds and slavery made no difference whatever in the sight of God. In Egypt’s darkest days they were still to circumcise their children. But they were not to celebrate that rite a day after the rebellion. God would not have two sets of promises in force at the same time, one of which contradicted the other. Oh, how sacred to Him is His holy word! It is all yea, and all amen. It is said that Sir William Napier one day met a poor child crying bitterly because she had broken a bowl which she had been carrying along the road towards her home. Having no money with him, he promised to meet her at the same place and hour on the next day, and to give her money to buy another. On reaching his home, he found an invitation to dine out with a gentleman whom he particularly wished to see. As it would interfere with his pre-engagement with the child, he declined it, saying, “I could not disappoint her, she trusted me so implicitly.” God loves our implicit trust, too; but, excepting where He has made it thus conditional, the fulfilment of His word does not depend on our confidence. Each promise stands fast in His own eternal truthfulness.
3. This history suggests the question, Does God, when we sin, regard His covenant with us in Christ as broken? The history indicates the answer as clearly as it prompts the inquiry. It was not for every sin that God looked on the covenant as violated; it was only for this deliberate rejection of the covenant. The people often sinned, but it was only when they proposed to return to Egypt, and voted the covenant of no account, that God took them at their thought and word. So he who looks on Christ as “without form or comeliness,” and thus carelessly neglects and ignores the Saviour for the pleasures of sin, puts himself in a similar position, and where God has no covenant with him personally. No transgression is so fatal as unbelief.
4. Salvation is not in the covenant, but in the grace and love of God. It is very blessed to be able to feel that even when God regarded the covenant as solemnly broken by the people, His mercy was sufficient for all the way of the wilderness. Think of it, a broken covenant, and manna every morning; a broken covenant, and water from the rock; a broken covenant, and the man who wanted to curse, crying successively, “How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed?” “Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob;” “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!” Think of it, no covenant, and the ark built prospectively, in view of its renewal; no covenant, and the pillar in which the Lord abode going with them all the way; no covenant, and the trespass of Baal-peor forgiven; no covenant, and mercies that should make way for the song, “What ailed thee, O Jordan, that thou wast driven back?” God loves us enough to bless and help and save us, if there were not a single promise in the Bible. He does not propose to go on with our salvation because He has become entangled in His words; the promises are but given to still our fears and encourage us by hope and assurance. As for our salvation, that is ever in the grace and love of God.
II. The relation between a renewed covenant and fresh acts of faith and submission. The covenant was to be renewed by a rite which would, for some days, disable the greater part of the army in the very presence of their enemies (cf. Genesis 34:25). Too much stress, however, must not be laid on this. There would still be about a quarter of a million men between forty and sixty years of age, who were circumcised in Egypt, left to guard the camp. Still, man for man, these Israelites were probably not to be compared to their disciplined and warlike enemies, and the state of the camp would seriously encumber their operations in the event of an attack. Perhaps faith was still more tried in the trial of their patience. This time must have seemed the best of all times to press forward. The two spies had reported that their enemies’ hearts had failed them, and since then Jordan had divided to disconcert them even more. At the very moment when victory would seem easy, God detains them for one or two weeks.
1. Getting into union with God does not mean getting into a state of freedom from trial. He whom God brings near to Himself may even have to hear his Lord say, “I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
2. Neither does union with God mean liberty to follow our own ideas and wishes. The Divine teaching in this hour of covenant mercy went on to say, “Wait on the Lord; sink your thoughts and desires in His.”
3. Union with God means that God is to be first in everything. There is always time to worship and serve and honour Him.
III. The relation between a restored covenant and fitness for conflict. Israel was to stay and seek fresh union with God before attempting to fight a single battle. The position is strikingly similar to that of the apostles, to whom Christ said, “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” So were these ancient servants to tarry in the camp at Gilgal.
1. If we would work for God successfully, we must seek the help of God. Israel was repeatedly taught this. When the siege of Jericho did begin, God shewed them that He must be “all in all.” The same truth was taught in a different way shortly afterwards at Ai. So all our conflict and service for Christ must fail, without God for our strength. He who would often win in the fight must often and personally reconsecrate himself to God.
2. The rule is equally absolute in our personal contest against sin. Israel learned to say in after days, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” God had so often helped them from the hills, as at Rephidim and Sinai and Carmel, that even their enemies had come to believe “The Lord is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys.” It was not wonderful, with such a history, that the Israelites came to feel that everything depended on the presence of God. Let us not seek to enter into conflict with sin, unmindful of His word, who says, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” The battle will be too hard for the best of us without Jesus.
IV. The relation between an intact covenant and the removal of our reproach. “The name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day,” meaning a rolling away, or, as Josephus prefers to render it, “liberty,” still giving the idea of being no longer in bondage to this reproach. What was this reproach of Egypt? It is by no means necessary to contend, as some have done, for one selected phase of the reproach. It may be taken as bearing in at least three directions.
1. There was the reproach of the long bondage itself. The Israelites had sojourned in Egypt for more than two hundred years, and during the greater part of that time they had been treated as slaves. God had now rolled away this reproach; they were free, and were henceforth to be a nation themselves.
2. There was the reproach which came of their lunging to return to Egypt. In this longing the covenant had been broken, and in the rite which renewed the covenant, telling, as it did, of Divine forgiveness, the reproach, in this aspect also, was rolled away.
8. Then there was the reproach of the Egyptians themselves (cf. Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13-16; Deuteronomy 9:28). All these reproaches were removed by the covenant. Bunyan tells us of the burden which rolled away as Christian looked upon the cross. The blood of the everlasting covenant can alone assure us of the rolling away of the reproach of sin.
V. The relation between God’s recognised covenant and His people’s triumphant inheritance. When the covenant was once restored, the inheritance was only a question of time. No enemies against whom the people should be divinely led would be able to withstand them. “If God be for us, who shall be against us?” We, too, in all our struggles and fightings, may come off “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 5:2-3.—DIVINE THOUGHTS ON HUMAN SERVICE.
I. While Divine wisdom takes account of human ideas of urgency, God’s ways are ever above the ways of men. Men would feel this an unsuitable time and place to perform a rite which would disable all in the army under forty years of age. Men would feel that this time of fear on the part of enemies was the very season in which to press forward. God usually works by what we term natural means. Ordinarily He moves to the accomplishment of His purposes in ways which seem best adapted to secure the desired issues. To overcome the Midianites with Gideon’s three hundred men, to inflict terror on the Philistines, and slay them in multitudes by a single man, as by Samson, or as by Jonathan and his armour-bearer, are exceptional and not usual instances of Divine working. Yet when God would lay special emphasis on particular teachings, He often departs from plans and ways which seem best to us. He who serves under God must not wonder if he sometimes comes to places where his own favourite ideas and cherished plans have to be set aside.
II. All successful work for God supposes submission and self-denial on the part of His people. The way to possess the land is His way, not ours. His way may disappoint us, and may be a way of suffering, but it has possessions at the end: our way may seem easy and more natural, yet it leads to nothing but shame and confusion of face. “The meek shall inherit the earth.” The words, “Father, not as I will, but as Thou wilt,” may lead to the cross; they also lead to the riven sepulchre and to the ascension, and make way for the song, “He shall reign for ever and ever.” He who thus sank His will in the will of Heaven said, ere He left us, “If any man serve ME, him will my Father honour.”
III. God, who leads His people to wars and fightings, loves first to animate and strengthen them for the conflict. The Israelites, through their own sin, had to endure the toil and sorrows of the wilderness, feeling that the covenant was set aside. They would breathe as in a new atmosphere now that they were again taken into union with God. They would go up to fight, having their arms nerved by promises of victory, made not only to them, but to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
IV. The first of all our religious duties is to become reconciled to God. Nothing is acceptable from us till we ourselves are accepted. The rite of the covenant, in which the people gave themselves again to God, made fit way for the feast of the passover. No amount of going to the house of God, no constancy in hymn-singing, Bible-reading, or religious work, can be acceptable to God from any man or woman who still rejects Christ.
“The path of duty is the path of safety; and it is impossible for any soul to be injured while walking in the way of obedience.” [Clarke.]
“The Israelites were now circumcised for three reasons:—
1. To shew that they held, and would continue in, the same faith with their father Abraham, to whom this sign was first given.
2. That they would be separated from the wicked manners of the heathen Canaanites, into whose land they were now come, and would have nothing in common with them.
3. For the mystery which was chiefly respected herein, viz., our Jesus bringing of us into the land of life, by our drawing the sword, and fighting as it were with ourselves.” [Ferus.]
Joshua 5:4-7.—QUALIFICATIONS FOR RELIGIOUS ORDINANCES.
I. The celebration of religious ordinances as independent of outward surroundings. “All the people that came out were circumcised.” Nothing in Egypt disqualified them for those rites of formal service incidental to the dispensation of the first covenant. The spirit of religions service is ever the same. That being so, we see that—
1. Slavery is no disqualification for participating in ordinances. The Israelites were in a bitter bondage; that made no difference to the liberty which they had in God. The Lord’s Supper, ten years ago, might be partaken as acceptably to God by Christian slaves in the Southern States of America, as by any free citizen of the freest nation upon earth. The baptism of a bondsman may be as much a baptism into Christ as that of a freeman. In thus drawing near to God,
“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.”
2. Poverty is no disqualification. The Israelites could call very little their own, but they might approach God in the rites which He had appointed. The poorest of Christian communicants is no farther from the Saviour because of his poverty. It is said that the late Duke of Wellington was on one occasion taking the Lord’s Supper in the country, when a poor labourer in a smockfrock, not knowing who he was, came and knelt beside him. As one of the churchwardens whispered to the labourer to retire, the Duke, noticing the action, turned and said, “Let him remain; we are all equal here.” Even so: the liberty of God’s children knows no limitation from poverty.
3. Persecution and contempt are no disqualification. The Hebrews in Egypt could not call even their children their own; it made no difference before God that they were smitten and despised of men. Our liberty to serve and follow the Saviour does not stand in the good opinion of our fellows.
4. Mental degradation is no disqualification. The abject state of these men, who on leaving Egypt were so untutored and debased by bondage, was not one jot off from their religious freedom. Even in Egypt they administered to each other the rites of the covenant. The “Education Act” is a great boon to many as earthly citizens; no man needs it as a preliminary to intercourse with the Saviour.
5. Ecclesiastical deficiencies are no disqualification. The tribe of Levi was not then set apart for religious ministration. There was no high priest, no priest at all, no ecclesiastic of any kind; and yet, in this most ritualistic dispensation, even that made no difference. “All the people that came out were circumcised.” The ordinance was not dependent on priestly administration. Many religious men in the present day are claiming large prerogatives as to the intercourse of their fellow-men with God. These men claim an essential place of mediation between each ordinary worshipper and his God. Perhaps no Scripture is more pressed and distorted than the verse (John 20:23), “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” The circumstances under which these words were spoken are conveniently forgotten by those who press for auricular confession and mediatorial prerogatives. At the time when the Saviour uttered these words, there were no written words of the new dispensation to guide anxious men and women who wished to know if their sins were forgiven. The Gospel, upon which we can so readily fall back to help us in our anxieties, was not a word of it written. It is almost impossible for us, with all our light, to mentally put ourselves in the position of a man who, under the new preaching of John the Baptist and the apostles, might come to cry out in an agony of spirit for some assurance that he was forgiven. So the extraordinary power bestowed on the apostles was not even the outcome of their official position, but of the urgent needs of the anxious. Jesus breathed on the apostles, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Spirit was so to guide them, that they should be able to pronounce to the anxious whether God had forgiven them or not. The men who felt sin an intolerable burden, and who had no written Gospel to go to, as we have, might go to these God-guided men, and they in turn should be so infallibly directed, that where they declared sin remitted, it should be remitted, and where they pronounced it retained, it should be retained. In other words, they should be so instructed as to declare the mind of God on each particular case. We even see something of the exercise of this prerogative by the apostles. To the agonised jailer of Philippi, Paul says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” On the other hand, Peter says to the commercial Simon Magus, “Thy money perish with thee.” The “delivering unto Satan,” of which Paul speaks, was probably simply the exercise of this declarative power. Other instances might be named, and these expounded in fuller detail; they should be enough to shew how utterly untenable is the priestly rendering of the verse in question. Even the ritual of the Old Testament gives no such place to men as this. There might be no priests; religious ordinances might be administered notwithstanding.
II. The disqualification for religious ordinances arising from unforgiven sin. “All the people that were born in the wilderness.… they had not circumcised.” The reason for this is stated at length in the sixth verse. On account of the rebellion, God had sworn a punishment which should endure to the end of the forty years. During that time there might be no circumcision at all. All the bondage of Egypt could not break in upon their glorious liberty as the children of God; what all the tyranny of Egypt could never accomplish, their personal sin had wrought in a single day.
1. Wilful disobedience in any one thing is the rebellion of the heart. We are apt to measure our disobedience to God by the magnitude of the things in which we fail to yield. We persuade ourselves that the thing is small, and that therefore the sin is small. The sin is that we have dared to disobey. One wilful sin carries with it all the heart into an act of disobedience; it is the rebellion of the whole man, until the sin is realised and confessed and abandoned.
2. The heart that is in rebellion against God cannot worship God. It is a contradiction. It is playing at adoration, and indulging in practical despising. It is an endeavour to mix absolute and essential opposites.
3. God sometimes sees it well to punish sin even after repentance. Many of the Israelites doubtless repented of their transgression. Even this repentance may have been largely owing to the penalty of forty years’ wandering which God had sworn to inflict. If the penalties of sin could be all averted, and immediately averted, by our repentance, a premium would be put on guilt by the cheap facilities with which its painful consequences might be avoided whenever we chose.
III. The distinction made in the history between judicial pardon and Divine love. The sin could not be said to be forgiven while the punishment continued. Judicially, the offence was not put away till the penalty was withdrawn. But God’s love was every day proclaiming itself through all the forty years. The mercies which were new every morning were telling of forgiveness in the Divine heart.
1. The suffering which men feel on account of sin is no evidence that God does not love them. Given that a man has to trace his trials to his transgressions, there is still much to proclaim that God is love, and that God loves him.
2. To walk gratefully in the sense of God’s love is to have the promise that any present suffering for sin will be ultimately put away. Just as every year in which the Israelites walked in submission to God, and in the consciousness that He loved them still, told of an ever-narrowing margin to that life in the wilderness; so he who yields where he has rebelled, and rejoices in Divine mercy, may contemplate the time when the love of God will remove all his present suffering. Even the cross of Christ may not at once put away the penalties of past transgressions; yet, to accept Christ crucified is to know the love and to have the promise of the salvation of God.
Where God speaks, it matters not whether we read prophecy or history; they are ever alike. Thirty-eight years before, the sentence had gone out against every living man of the host, saving Caleb and Joshua; it is only a matter of course that we read here, “All the men of war died in the wilderness.”
The fact that the fulfilment of God’s word is recorded so quietly, and that it excites in us so little surprise, assures us of the absolute truthfulness of Divine words, and of our inward acquiescence in their statements.
Divine promises are not more sure than Divine threatenings. The graves of the rebels are as certainly found in the wilderness as the homes of the obedient are found in Canaan. When all the theories of men on the improbability of final punishment have been elaborately expounded and carefully proved, hell will still remain as sure as heaven; the “lake of fire,” though ever so figurative, will be seen to have as much reality as the “sea of glass like unto crystal,” or the “streets of pure gold.” During those thirty-eight years which followed the sentence on Israel, there would have been time and room for a great many sermons on Numbers 14:28-35, in which some of the gentlest hearts and noblest spirits might have clearly proved the mercy of God, and the improbability of so many deaths in so short a time. For all that, when the years had ended, there were exactly as many graves in the wilderness as had been predicted.
Joshua 5:4.—FRUITS OF SIN.
I. Sin as the cause of our disappointments. “The Lord sware that He would not shew them the land.”
II. Sin as the occasion of much of our poverty. The Lord would not give them the land “flowing with milk and honey.”
III. Sin as the instrument of death. “They were consumed because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord.”
IV. Sin as revealing Divine mercy even more than Divine anger. The deaths were spread over forty years. Space was given for repentance, and opportunity offered for securing eternal life. God’s anger is not vindictive; it has little in common with the anger of men; it waits to save with an everlasting salvation; if it destroy some suddenly, it generally appears that these are so evil that they will probably prevent the repentance of others. Thus the very anger of God seems rooted and grounded in love.
Joshua 5:7.—DIVINE PATIENCE AND MERCY.
I. The Lord’s independence of particular men. If the fathers failed, He would raise up the children.
II. The Lord’s steady persistence in His purposes. Although the generation then living had proved themselves unfit for Canaan, God would not be defeated in His promise to Abraham.
III. The Lord’s abundant and stately patience. “One day with Him is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
IV. The Lord’s merciful beginning with individual men. The children of the slain are permitted to begin their new life in the full covenant rights which their fathers had once enjoyed.
Joshua 5:9.—REPROACH ROLLED AWAY.
I. The reproach of man is ever of men and by men.
1. It has its occasion in man’s sin.
2. It is ever ministered by men: “God, who upbraideth not,” is said to cause those who sin to be a reproach, and to bring reproach upon them; but He Himself reproaches not. The word partakes of the idea of taunting, and God could not descend to that. It is men, who also have sinned, who reproach their fellows when suffering for sin.
II. The effectual rolling away of reproach is ever of God. The Scriptures abound with records of prayers to God to take away reproach, of praises to God for taking it away, or of God’s assurances that He will deliver His people, and vindicate them against those who have held them in contempt. It is only God who dares to say, “I will blot out thy transgressions.”
III. The removal of man’s reproach should lead to the perpetuation of God’s praise. “Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day.” The place was named after the mercy, thus declaring the goodness of the Lord throughout many generations. What memorials should we raise for the rolling away of our reproach on Calvary! The Israelites had only Gilgal; we have Golgotha. “Let us go forth, therefore, unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach,” who has taken ours away, that it should be remembered against us no more for ever.
Joshua 5:10. Kept the passover] This was the third passover feast; the first was kept in Egypt, the second at Sinai (Numbers 9:5). The feast of the covenant could not be observed while the covenant itself was broken.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 5:10-12
THE FIRST PASSOVER IN THE PROMISED LAND
Several events of deep interest are recorded in these three verses; probably there were others which happened about the same period, of scarcely less significance, of which no mention is made. Somewhere about this time the pillar of cloud must have disappeared. It seems natural to suppose that, having accompanied the people all through the wilderness, it remained with them during the passage of the Jordan; perhaps it departed from them here in Gilgal. Hero, also, the tabernacle would be for the first time set up in the land. Here the ark would be deposited in its place; the altar of burnt offering, for the morning and evening sacrifice, would probably be erected; and the fire which “came out from before the Lord,” and which was never to be suffered to go out, would consume its first victims in Canaan, offered as the morning and evening sacrifices. The first of a long series of observances, to be perpetuated through many years, were, it is likely, even now beginning to be celebrated. Conspicuous above all these was the keeping of the third paschal festival mentioned in these verses.
I. The time at which this passover took place.
1. It was immediately after the renewal of the covenant. During what Jehovah called His “breach of promise” (Numbers 14:34), it was deemed unallowable to perform the rite of the covenant, and not less so to keep the feast of the covenant. Both circumcision and the passover seem to have been discontinued on account of the sin at Kadesh-barnea. God will have no service from us which is untrue, unreal, and insincere. Acts of worship are nothing in themselves; the heart must go with the act. The soul tied to an untrue and dead service might cry with the apostle, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” A service which had ceased to have any meaning, and which represented an untruth, must needs be corrupting in its influence; man should not have it, and God would not. With what care should we, who live in the greater light of these latter days, celebrate the rites and services of the New Covenant! Surely a meaningless baptism, which represents things which have no existence in fact; or a Lord’s Supper, which commemorates the putting away of sin, observed by any who have never sought forgiveness; or worship offered outwardly, when the heart is still in rebellion, must be offensive to God.
2. The passover was celebrated after a long interval of cessation. Thirty-eight years had fled since the Israelites rejoiced together at Sinai in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. This must needs be a time of gladness. It must have been like the joy of the people, after a similar interval of cessation, at the passovers of Hezekiah and Josiah (cf. 2 Chronicles 30:21; 2 Chronicles 30:23; 2 Chronicles 30:26; 2 Chronicles 35:18). They who have been long kept from the service of the house of the Lord may well cry, “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!”
3. This passover was celebrated when the exodus was complete. The people were not only out of Egypt, but in Canaan. In the first passover they celebrated the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham; the second found them far advanced through the wilderness; this was eaten when they were really in the land. The feast of “Christ our Passover” will be ever fresh and precious, and the fulfilment of His promised deliverance of us will be ever seen advancing, as we continually bring our new experiences to aid us in expounding the meaning of the service. The feast may be ever the same; he will find in it no monotony, who eats and drinks in the light of past journeyings, past trials and mercies and victories, new camping grounds, fresh spiritual scenery and surroundings, and who marks that each commemoration finds him one stage nearer being “for ever with the Lord.”
4. This passover was celebrated preparatory to fresh conflicts. Our feastings here are only to make way for our successful fightings. The Saviour Himself went from the baptism to the wilderness, and from the passover, which He had so desired, to Gethsemane and Calvary. “It is not meet that the servant should be above his Lord.”
II. The place where this passover was celebrated. It was “in the plains of Jericho;” in the very front and presence of their foes. God can make us a feast anywhere; He can fill us with contentment and gladness even in our direst necessities. He fed Elijah by the brook during a famine, and refreshed him under the juniper tree when despairing in the wilderness. He gave Daniel peace even in the presence of the lions. He enabled Peter to sleep when in prison, and bound fast with chains, though he might soon be led out to a death like that already suffered by James. He helped Paul to say, when chained to a Prætorian guard as a prisoner of the monster Nero, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” He who bade Israel eat the passover on the plains before Jericho, has been shewing, through all the history of His Church, that He can make a feast for His people, irrespective of their surroundings (cf. succeeding outline on Joshua 5:10).
III. The events by which this passover was followed.
1. The corn of the land became henceforth their food. God had fulfilled His promise, and led them into “a good land.” The well-stored granaries of the Canaanites, who had fled into Jericho, and the roasted ears from the cornfields of Gilgal, enabled the Israelites to find a sufficiency of pleasant food.
2. When they had eaten of the corn of the land, the manna ceased. The cessation of the manna just then would serve to assure them afresh that it had been always given miraculously. They would also see the necessity of at once going on to conquer the country, now that they were dependent on their own efforts for their temporal supplies. God works no miracles where natural supplies are sufficient. We must not expect Divine help to furnish what is within the reach of our own powers.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 5:10.—THE FEAST OF THE BATTLE FIELD.
God has literally anticipated here, in the plains of Jericho, the song which David sang some four centuries later—“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” What the Israelites at Jericho, and David afterwards thus realized, is still and ever true in the history of the Church of Christ.
I. There is the satisfaction which God provides in the presence of enemies who SURROUND US.
1. Take the case of the scorner. Scorn is loftier to-day than it used to be. A recent writer in the North American Review, speaking of frauds in New York, said, “The cunning civilization of the nineteenth century is but a hypocritical mask spread over the more honest brutality of the twelfth.” Perhaps that is not far from the truth. Formerly people who wished to commit robbery became highwaymen, and used for their instruments fleet horses and deadly weapons; now they study stock exchanges, banking methods, and practise all kinds of handwriting. Similarly the religious scorner has changed his weapons, and altered his bearing. Men no longer hear or use the coarse invective of the past generation of atheists and deists; the seat of the scorner has been removed to the halls of learning and science, and, excepting in occasional instances, the language of the scorner is that of a scholar, and his manners are the manners of a gentleman. And this makes scorn so much the harder for some to endure. Many young men who would be able to laugh at the ribald vulgarities of fifty or a hundred years ago, are concerned to find the atheism of to-day guilty of only decent manners, and to hear it speaking with the reservations of a well-bred courtesy. Perhaps it is only the young and the undecided on whom even this polished scorn makes any considerable impression. Those who have sat at the Lord’s table, and have feasted indeed on the provisions of His love, little care whether the antipathies of infidelity are written down in coarse epigrams, or penned in the politer periods of a better bred animosity. The evidence of the truth of the Gospel is so sufficient, and its pleasant food is so sweet, that the enemies are often almost forgotten, saving in the wish that they could sit at the table too. What would it matter to the hungry labourer, in the presence of good food, in what language or spirit an author might write against genuine bread and healthy meat? classical or rude, he would still feast. So it is with those who really rejoice in the Lord. The character of the Saviour is so strong and lofty and beautiful, that probably no one ever yet felt the beginning of shame because of Him. His doctrines are so lofty, their influences so pure, and the hopes which spring from them so exalted, that the people may still feast joyously, even when fronted by their foes. His name is indeed a strong tower, into which His children may run, and be, not only safe, but glad.
2. Take the case of the patronising enemies. There are men who profess sincerely to pity Christians. Those who keep festival at the table of Christ care not even to reject such pity; it is not worth the trouble, so they simply sit and feast. They have a gospel eighteen centuries old, and never more suitable to the world than now; a Master whose life and words never raised a blush, and “a hope that maketh not ashamed.”
3. Take the case of the seemingly triumphant enemy. There are times when, to the superficial observer, the world seems to have the best of the battle. “The wicked flourish,” and the righteous are “an afflicted and poor people.” It is forgotten that they “trust in the name of the Lord,” and how much of prosperity and satisfaction are contained in that. Paul and Silas in prison; Paul before Felix and Agrippa; Paul at Rome.
4. Take the case of the worldly enemy. There are many foes who are encamped on what Bunyan has called the “Enchanted Ground.” The fascinations of the world. Too many, alas, fall here; but for the man who would really resist there are not only weapons, there are better provisions and richer songs:—
“I need not go abroad for joys;
I have a feast at home.”
So in the presence of all His people’s surrounding foes the Lord enables them to keep the feast.
II. The satisfaction which God provides in the presence of enemies which may be said to be UPON US. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” These touch his very flesh; they come both upon himself and those of his family. Pain and disease and death are the lot of all. What kind of feast does the Lord provide in the front of foes like these?
1. There is Divine forewarning to set over against suddenness and surprise. Christ has “told us before it come to pass,” “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Sorrows come unannounced by any lips of men, and they often come in rapid succession. Like the vultures, in the song of Hiawatha, which follow one another
“From the invisible ether,
First a speck, and then a vulture,
Till the air is dark with pinions.
So disasters come not singly;
But as if they watched and waited,
Scanning one another’s motions.
When the first descends, the others
Follow, follow, gathering flockwise
Round their victim, sick and wounded,
First a shadow, then a sorrow,
Till the air is dark with anguish.”
Thus sufferings came successively to Job; he was able to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Thus, too, Paul writes of having “sorrow upon sorrow;” he does but “reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” The Lord has so prepared the minds of His people for suffering, that they can meet it, even when it comes thus heavily, without counting that “some strange thing has happened” unto them.
2. There is Divine sympathy to set over against seeming severity. The love of God, and the sympathy of Him who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” have been made too manifest to allow of any place for doubt.
3. There are Divine promises to set over against human fears. Every one is “Yea and Amen,” and the number and variety are so great, that no man ever stood where he had to feel there was no promise of God for him.
4. There is the Divine example to set over against the worst sorrows possible. Stand where we may, and “consider Him who endured” for us, He will always be found in front.
5. There are the rod and staff of the Divine Presence to set over against death. Even before the Saviour came to deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage, faith could look up and say, “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Christian history continually shews that when face to face with the “last enemy,” the people whom the Lord leads are wont to hold festival.
III. The satisfaction which God provides in the presence of enemies WITHIN US. Our sins are the worst foes of all; but, even here, Christ bids us keep the feast.
1. There is an army of sins in the rear. Can we be forgiven? The Lord provides “patterns for them who should hereafter believe.” David; Peter; the penitent thief; the sinful woman who loved much; Saul of Tarsus, who says, “Sinners, of whom I am chief.” Even Judas is wooed by the love of Christ, and seems to go “to his own place” only because he can find no place for repentance.
2. There is an army of temptations in front, and the best of men feel that they carry terribly correspondent weaknesses within. The habits of half a lifetime are not easily forgotten; the tenacious vitality of the nature, which is always having to be crucified to make it die, cannot but be felt and feared. Even here Divine provision is bountiful and sufficient. Those who testify to His power to save from sin are “a cloud of witnesses,” and He Himself says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
Christ our Passover is given:—
I. In view of sin’s bondage and burden. He came to give liberty to the captive.
II. In view of the sinner’s gladness and purification. “Therefore let us keep the feast;” yet “not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness.”
III. In view of sin’s judgment and penalty. The warnings which precede the sinner’s overthrow, and the power and grace in which God delivers those who harden not their hearts, tell at once of the love which would “have all men to be saved,” and of the holiness which “will by no means clear the guilty.”
“The first passover on the soil of Canaan:
(1) A feast of thankful remembrance;
(2) a feast of blessed hope. The bread of the land, although not manna, yet also bread from heaven.” [Lange.]
“The passover would assure them that He who had been with them in the exodus would sustain and protect them now. The circumcision would remind them of God’s promise, the passover would remind them of His power to deliver them, and the two together would lead them to encourage themselves in the Lord their God.” [Dr. Wm. Taylor.]
1. In whatever circumstances we are placed, religion should be our first concern. If ever there were circumstances which would seem to justify the postponement of religious duties, one would think they were those of Joshua on this occasion.
2. In whatever circumstances we are placed, we should put the most implicit confidence in God. These religious services were in an enemy’s land.” [Bush.]
“God is everything to His people. In the wilderness they had no pathway; but He led them in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. They were in danger; but He was their defence. They had no water; but He gave them streams in the desert. They had no provision; but He rained down manna around their tents. So what Nature refused, Providence furnished; and what could not be derived from the ground came from the clouds.… At length the manna ceased, and wisely too. What was necessary before, became needless now; and what want would have endeared, abundance would have despised. This teaches us not to look for extraordinary supplies when relief is to be had in an ordinary way. He who sustained Israel is as almighty as ever, but we must plough, and sow, and gather into barns. He who fed Elijah by ravens, commands us to labour, working with our hand the thing that is good. If a man neglects the means of subsistence, he is not trusting Providence, but tempting it, and is likely to be reminded by something more than Scripture, that if any man will not work, neither shall he eat. Even in miraculous achievements, what human agency could do, was not done supernaturally. When Peter was in prison, the angel of the Lord opened the door, and broke off his fetters, for this Peter could not have done; but he did not take him up in his arms and carry him out, but said unto him, ‘Bind on thy sandals, and follow me.’ Miracles were never needlessly employed.… The manna was typical. ‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘that bread of life.’ As the manna came down from heaven, and preserved the Israelites from famine, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ And the Saviour surpasses the emblem. The manna was for the body: He saves the soul. The manna could not preserve from death always: but they who partake of Him live for ever. The manna was confined to one people: He gave His flesh for the life of the world. He therefore is the true bread.
“Shall this Bread cease? Far from it. You shall live by Him, as well as with Him, for ever. But many things now necessary will then be done away. Conjecture, opinion, reasoning, will give place to knowledge.… We are now glad when they say unto us, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord;’ but says John, ‘I saw no temple therein; but the glory of God and of the Lamb was the light thereof.’ When that which is perfect is come, that which is in part will be done away. The fare of the wilderness will be superseded by the produce of Canaan.” [Jay.]
Joshua 5:13. By Jericho] Lit., in Jericho. Ewald gives the meaning, “the immediate neighbourhood, the closest connection with another thing, and, as it were, the act of entering into it.” This should have prevented the remark, “The place may have been near Gilgal.… ‘Near Gilgal’ would be equivalent to ‘by Jericho.’ ” Joshua had evidently gone to investigate the city, and was hear to it when the vision occurred.
Joshua 5:14. And did worship] “The words are not only used in connection with the worship of God, but also to denote the deep reverence which is shewn in the East by a subject to his king; e.g., 2 Samuel 9:6; 2 Samuel 14:33” (Keil). Taken by themselves, therefore, the words do not prove that this was the Divine Being; taken with other expressions, they are nevertheless contributive to this conclusion. Whatever reverence kings may accept, angels seem jealously to regard such homage as the sole prerogative of God (cf. Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:9).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 5:13-15
TIMES AND FORMS OF DIVINE MANIFESTATION
The angel who here appears to Joshua was manifestly none other than the Angel of the Covenant—Jesus Christ. Calvin, and many since him, have come to this conclusion. As it was none other than the Lord Himself who wrestled with Jacob at the ford Jabbok, so that Jacob cried, “I have seen God face to face;” as it was none other than He who appeared to Moses in the bush, and gave His name as “I AM,” though He is called an angel; so He who now appears to Joshua is none other than Jesus Christ. There are several things in the narrative which seem to require this interpretation.
1. This armed being calls himself the Captain, or Prince, of the host of the Lord, a phrase which comes near to “the Lord of hosts”—“the Lord of Sabaoth”—by which we are ever wont to recognise Deity.
2. This warrior claims to make the very place holy by his presence God said to Moses at the bush, “Put off thy shoes,” etc.; so, similarly, it is said to Joshua, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot.”
3. Joshua is said to have worshipped. Referring to the usage of the East, when a subject meets his king, and quoting 2 Samuel 9:6; 2 Samuel 14:33, Keil expresses his opinion that the word does not mean Divine worship. The custom of kings, as has been shewn, is no rule for the conduct of angels, whom we see in the book of Revelation repeatedly refusing even the prostrations of men; to them the very act meant worship.
4. In chap. Joshua 6:2, this armed visitant claims Divine powers: “See, I have given into thine hand Jericho.”
5. In the same verse the speaker is actually called Jehovah. Thus we may unquestioningly take this as one of those Old Testament anticipations of the Incarnation in which the Son of God appears to men. It is what Isaiah calls “the Angel of His presence,” once more drawing near to save His people. As a recent writer has said, “Thus the first and the second Joshua met, the type and the Antitype; he who led Israel to victory over fierce and terrible foes, and He who leads the spiritual Israel to the conquest of the world, the flesh, and the devil; who will finally cause them to triumph over death, the last enemy, and will award to each faithful follower the crown of endless life. [Groser.]
I. The Saviour loves to recognise the spiritual life of His people, and when they seek to come close to Him, He delights to draw near to them. Joshua had followed the Divine will in the circumcision, he had drawn near to God in the passover and the feast of unleavened bread; these are hardly over when Jesus Himself draws near to Joshua. It is like the Divine way in the repeatedly occurring words, “Turn ye unto Me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts.”
1. When God graciously reveals Himself to men, it is to men who love Him and walk with Him. When the three angels come, it is to commune with Abraham, not with Lot, albeit they proceed to save the man who dwells in Sodom. The vision of the burning bush was for Moses, not for Pharaoh. When the form of the Son of man is seen in the province of Babylon, it is with the throne Hebrews in the fire, not with Nebuchadnezzar on the throne. It was as they communed together, and reasoned on their Lord’s death, that Jesus Himself drew near, and walked with the two disciples to Emmaus. It would hinder us, and curse us, if God drew near to bless us when we were living far from Him. Fancy the effect of the Divine smile on Pharaoh; it would have made that hard heart harder still. Think of Nero and Judas singing,
“My God, the spring of all my joys;”
of having occasion so to sing, and yet remaining wicked as ever; they would have been even worse than they were, had God given them His presence in their sin. God will not draw nigh to us, any more than to others, if we persist in living in disobedience to Him. It would put a premium on sin for Him to bless us in times like these.
2. Although the Saviour does not now come to men visibly, we are not to think that His coming is less actual and real than it was of old. We have all the joy of reading the accounts of these visions given to the godly men of former days. The very consideration of such mercy to them helps us also, by faith, to see Him who is invisible. But this is not all:
“We shine not only with the light
Thou didst send down of yore;
The fathers had not all of Thee,
Thy comings are not o’er.”
Was not Christ as much with the apostles at Pentecost as during His ministry? When Peter was sinking, his Lord took him by the hand; when the Saviour drew apart from men into the glory of the transfiguration and into the darkness of Gethsemane, He took with Him Peter; but Peter never stood so near to his Lord as when preaching at Pentecost. Let us learn to feel that Christ is with us indeed when we in life and spirit are found with Him. His very name is Emmanuel. It was one of the sins of this ancient people, that they asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?” “I do set the Lord always before me,” is, to the godly man, not merely a faith, but a life.
3. Our more striking realizations of the Saviour’s presence are not designed to be perpetual. Joshua sees this vision but for a little time, and then it vanishes away. The mercy was transitory, or it would have ceased to be a mercy. The work would have been hindered, had worship been indefinitely prolonged. Moses at the bush, and Saul on the way to Damascus, do but behold the Lord for a brief season. And these transitory blessings of the old days are like our higher visions of Christ—we cannot have them always. Constant rapture would not be good; it would drain and enfeeble the life, rather than give it strength. In his “Scrambles amongst the Alps,” Whymper says, with true perception, “No views create such lasting impressions as those which are seen but for a moment, when a veil of mist is rent in twain, and a single spire or dome is disclosed. The peaks which are seen at these moments are not perhaps the greatest, or the noblest, but the recollections of them outlive the memory of any panoramic view, because the picture photographed by the eye has time to dry, instead of being blurred, while yet wet, by contact with other impressions.” It would not be well that we should always gaze as in our more vivid beholdings of God. Our better strength above may bear this more continuous sight of Him, but here it is otherwise. The vision needs time to dry. It is when we see the Lord for a moment between the riven cloud of some terrible affliction, or in the joy of more rapt communion, that the sight abides with us. When in a moment of ecstacy Peter beheld the glory of the Lord, he wished to prolong the vision, and cried, “Let us make three tabernacles.” It was good to be there, and the servant wished to stay. The Holy Ghost tells us that Peter spake, “not knowing what he said.” Even so, when the glory was so bright, the fleeting vision was its better form. And the fleeting vision was none the less permanent in its hold on the mind and heart. More than thirty years after, Peter could call on his memory, reproduce to himself the scene again, and write to them who had obtained like precious faith, of the way in which “there came such a voice from the excellent glory.” Probably it was more than sixty years after the vision when John wrote, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” Brief visions of God may be life-long helps. Joshua would never forget, in all his wars, Him who said, “See, I have given Jericho into thine hand.” He who would always live amidst exciting services, and can speak hopefully of nothing but perpetual raptures, may be earnest, but is not wise.
II. The Saviour beholds the necessities of His people; and where they particularly need Him, there they may look for His special appearance. It is over against Jericho that Jesus reveals Himself to Joshua; it is by the city that is fortified against Joshua, and on the scene of the coming battle.
1. It is where we want Christ that we may look for Him. What a blessed way He has, all through His ministry, of suddenly putting in an appearance by the side of some one in urgent necessity! How He ever seems coming across the path of the blind! How, when the impotent man at Bethesda had been a long time in that sad case of his, the Saviour seems to come that way in the very hour of the despair which feels the hopelessness of waiting there any longer! It is when the man has come to realize that he has no one to put him into the pool, and to know the certainty of some one stepping down before him, that Jesus comes. We look at the funeral procession leaving the city of Nain, and are apt to think of the Saviour’s meeting with it as a happy coincidence. How many similar coincidences that sacred ministry of pity was always having! It is Christ’s sweet mannerism of heavenly compassion to time His meetings to our crises. He loves to meet want, because His love to help the needy is genuine. Men talk about compassion, but too often, like the priest and the Levite of the parable, they “go by on the other side,” lest they should have some opportunity for its exercise. He who is the Good Samaritan comes to the wounded where they are. Jesus has a heavenly way of being a “God nigh at hand” when men are ready to perish. Do we feel our need of Him? Are we thinking on our conflicts, present and to come, and, like Joshua, as he gazed on the fortified city, feeling they may be too hard for us if we are unaided? Let us lift up our eyes, that we may look on His form, who times His visits to our necessities. It is the Divine way to be near men in their hour of want. The Scriptures are full of such instances of His mercy. When we cannot bear to wait any longer as we are, then is the time for prayer; He, whose way often is to come when no word is uttered, will not leave us unanswered then.
2. This vision was given to a man who had work to do for God. It is not only when we have anxieties to disturb our peace, and burdens too heavy to be endured, but when we have tasks to perform which are too difficult for us, that we may look for His presence. He who said, “Without Me ye can do nothing,” will hardly leave us to work alone in duties commanded by Himself.
III. The Saviour has regard to the individuality of His people; and as they need His help in that manner, and in that character, He comes to meet their want. To Joshua, who has battles to fight, Christ comes as an armed warrior. In order to encourage and strengthen His servant, the very “Prince of Peace” manifests Himself with a drawn sword in His hand.
1. The Lord has regard to our particular work. He appeared to Gideon to encourage him as “a mighty man of valour.” To the apostles, who were charged to preach the gospel to every creature, the Holy Ghost revealed Himself at Pentecost as a tongue of fire, sitting upon the head of each of them. As our work, so is God’s help.
2. The Lord has regard to the special character of our trials. Moses should see, in the bush, that things which were burned were not consumed when the Lord was in the midst of them. What a help to the man who had to enter himself, and lead his brethren out of, the furnace of Egypt! Jacob the outcast should see the ladder that united heaven with earth, and hear the voice that said, “I am with thee in all places whithersoever thou goest.” Jacob, whose life was to be one long struggle with adverse providences, should wrestle with Him who was the author of them all, and thus learn that he might have power with God, and prevail, and come to great victory even through seeming defeat. The man of the unclean lips should see the seraph fly with a live coal, as from the altar of sacrifice, and hear a voice that proclaimed all his iniquity to be taken away. As we want Christ, so Christ comes to us. It is said that in twelve niches of a bridge in Austria there are twelve different representations of the Saviour, and that day by day men may be seen praying before the particular representation of Christ suitable to themselves. The mechanic will pray before Christ the carpenter, the sick and wounded before Christ the physician, the keeper of sheep before Christ the Good Shepherd, and similarly all through the various representations. Whatever our personal need may be, the Saviour has revealed Himself in sufficient variety to embrace our wants also; and if our necessities and trials seem peculiar, He shews Himself willing to meet us with appropriate help.
IV. Let the Saviour appear to His people when and how He will, the more graciously He manifests Himself to men, the more devoutly are they to remember that He is none other than their Lord and their God. Christ comes to Joshua seemingly as a man and a fellow-soldier; He will forego none of the reverence due unto His name because of His grace and condescension.
1. The more God blesses us, the more profound should be our humility, and the deeper our adoration.
2. The more God vouchsafes to help us, the more complete should be our sense of dependence. “What saith my Lord unto His servant?” is meet language in which to confess our allegiance, and declare our readiness to obey.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
THE COURAGE OF THE FEAR OF GOD.
The courage of God-fearing men will bear examination:—
I. In the light of history. The Divine word to Joshua, that he should “be of good courage,” was not spoken in vain. Walking out by Jericho, he was probably seeking to make himself acquainted with its surroundings. He did not yet know the mind of the Lord concerning the plan of battle; he would see where the city was strong and where it was weak, that his attack might be made with advantage. Suddenly, as Joshua lifted up his eyes, an armed man was seen standing over against him. The very place, and not less the attitude, was suggestive of an enemy. With no hesitation, so far as we can gather from the narrative, Joshua went unto him, and said, “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” Insensibly we are reminded of the similar appearance to Balaam. Balaam went forth on a mission of sin, and he, too, saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and having a drawn sword in his hand. How did this man, walking in the ways of sin, bear himself before such an appearance? He bowed his head, and fell flat upon his face. He did this at the very sight of the angel, and in a manner which looks more like the fear so becoming his guilty life, than this reverence of Joshua, who bowed himself to the earth only when he heard the lofty title of Him before whom he stood. All through the history of men, those have been the bravest who have feared God.
1. They have been behind none in martial courage. It was the son of Jesse, who feared the Lord from his youth, that dared to meet Goliath. Not a single warrior of the army seems to have thought of a deed like this. It belonged to the future leader of Israel’s holy service and ardent song to do what the trained veterans of Saul trembled to think of, and refused to attempt. It was just because David feared the Lord, that he had no fear of the monster who had defied the Lord’s army. So it has been ever since. Though war is not the chosen sphere of Christian service, and though not a few who have lacked piety have been unquestionably brave, the most pious soldiers have ever been among their country’s staunchest defenders. “Cromwell’s Ironsides” and “Havelock’s Saints” found none to despise them in the field, let who would scorn them in the camp. Col. Gardiner and Captain Vicars never tarnished their swords with their religion, though many would have preferred their religion apart from their military prowess.
2. In conflicts on moral and spiritual fields, God-fearing men have ever stood in advance of the courage of others. Many religious professors have been cowards, but not those who have feared the Lord. They have excelled their fellows in courage in standing by the weak and the outcast; in upholding commercial and social integrity; in bearing the trials of life; in meeting the last enemy—Death.
II. In the light of their peculiar subjects of thought. In the estimation of some, it might be supposed that the particular subjects of religious meditation set forth in the Scriptures, are unfavourable to courage.
1. All of Divine revelation lies over in the direction of the unseen. The very name “revelation” suggests looking into what, without it, belongs to the invisible. To an ordinary mind that is not supposed to be helpful to bravery. Tell a man human imaginings of the unseen world, recapitulate the stories of “ghosts,” and talk about “the invisible spirits that walk the earth,” and the usual result is trepidation. How is it that the people who are students of the book which shews them that they are encamped around with angels, and that spirits of evil go about them seeking whom they may devour, are able to sleep with so few disturbing dreams? How is it that the men who meet God in every path are not timid? How is it that this constant gaze into the dark and awful invisible does not destroy the balance of the nervous system? It is precisely because these men have learned to look into the unseen world, that they are as they are. They have seen God; they have seen Him awful in majesty, but more tender than a mother in love; and they have learned to say, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Thus do they sing, each to the rest,
“Fear Him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear.”
2. Much of Divine revelation deals with sentiment and emotion. These things are not usually thought good for courage. Poetry and prayers and visions are not supposed by some to lie in the same direction as manliness and stamina. “Reason,” men say, “think calmly, and wisely, and judicially, and then you will not fear.” Christianity, on the other hand, stimulates the strongest feelings, claims the heart for its centre, deals with subjects of pathos and song and ardent emotion; its very key-word is “faith;” and the Saviour, around whom its adherents rally and move, is invisible, saving in works which declare His hand, and in words the latest of which are eighteen centuries old. And yet no men dare to sing in sorrow, and to be bold everywhere as Christian men do. Why is this? It is because they fear God.
3. Much of Divine revelation is a manifestation of supernatural power. Every morning’s ordinary mercies make the God-fearing man say, “Thy mercies;” but supernatural things especially are only to be accounted for by the presence of God. Prayers are from Him, as well as to Him; comfort and help in the sanctuary are because He is there; any single conversion means that He is present; all the generous ministries of the Church, which come each from a true heart fervently, come of Him. The worldly and the wicked man is like the child with his head beneath the bedclothes, who seeks to shut out at once the terrifying darkness, and the suggestive creaking of the boards, or the moaning of the wind; the only way to his peace is the way of oblivion. “God is not in all his thoughts.” “I will fear no evil,” is peculiarly the watchword of those who fear God; sinful men have never made it their own yet, and they never will.
III. In the light of their spirit of humility and obedience. Joshua no sooner knew that he was in this great Presence, than he bowed himself; “he fell on his face to the earth, and did worship:” he was told to loose his shoe from off his foot, “and Joshua did so.” Yet this was the man who met his seeming foe with so bold a front. The man who bows lowest before God, ever bears himself most nobly before those whom he ought to count his enemies; and he who knows how to obey the Lord, knows how to resist where he ought not to yield. It is sinful Adam who hides, and guilty Cain who cries, “My punishment is greater than I can bear;” it is Job who answers the tempter, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
Joshua 5:13.—The path of watchfulness and duty is often the place where the Lord is met.
The Lord often seems to be resisting His people, where He does but intend to help them.
They who meet the Lord in the ways of life, having, apparently, His sword drawn against them, do but need to inquire of Him with a right heart, when they will find that the sword is for their protection.
The godly man will pause to inquire of his seeming foes, with gentleness and candour, before he smites them in anger.
Joshua 5:13-14.—THE LORD AND THE SERVANT.
I. The Lord’s claims upon His servants.
1. Absolute authority. “As Captain am I come.” This authority is claimed in the very moment of revealing Himself. “As Captain am I now come.” This authority is claimed over all the Church in common. “As Captain of the Lord’s host,” etc.
2. Profound reverence and adoration for Himself. The prostration was not enough. Joshua must “loose his shoe from off his foot.” This act of homage, also, was necessary.
3. Holy awe for the place where He is, and for the things with which He has to do. “The place whereon thou standest is holy.
II. The servant’s response to his Lord. The true servant has:—
1. Humility in his Lord’s presence. “Joshua fell on his face to the earth.” He himself was revered by all Israel;
“But merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to Thee.”
2. Worship for his Lord’s person and character. The very consciousness of the Divine presence filled Joshua with adoring awe: the style and title were great, the Being and the character were far greater.
3. Inquiry concerning his Lord’s will. He who says not, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” can hardly claim to be a servant.
4. Obedience to his Lord’s command. “And Joshua did so.”
Joshua 5:13-15. THE TRUE CAMPAIGN.
“In Hebrew history the Infinite Artist gives us a picture of the mind in its fallen condition, struggling to deliver itself. The emancipation from Egyptian bondage, the trying pilgrimage in the desert, the special interposition of heaven in the crossing of the Jordan, the fearful battles that were fought, and the settling down at last in the promised land, are all photographs of struggling souls making their way from the thraldom of sin into ‘the inheritance of the saints in light.’ … The war scene of the text suggests three facts concerning man’s true campaign.
I. That in the true campaign God has committed to man a great work.
1. It is an onerous work. The work to which God called Joshua on this occasion was the utter extermination of most formidable antagonists.… Our work in the moral campaign is still more onerous. We live in a world of evil. Corrupt principles, the mighty ‘powers of darkness,’ possess the world we live in. They crowd our spheres of action; and, alas, they are encamped within us! The work to which we are called is their entire extermination, both from within and without.
2. It is a righteous work.… The man who consecrates his energies to the downfall of evil, whose life is one earnest struggle against the principalities and powers of darkness, is acting evermore in accordance with the eternal law of rectitude. He is fighting ‘the good fight of faith,’ and if he is faithful, he shall receive ‘a crown of glory that fadeth not away.’
8. It is an indispensable work. Never will you possess the Canaan of spiritual harmony, moral approbation, self-control, uplifting thoughts, heavenly affections, ever-brightening hopes, and free and blessed intercourse with the Infinite Father of spirits, without the expulsion of evil from your soul. He only that overcometh shall inherit.
II. That in the true campaign God blesses man with a GREAT LEADER. Taking the description which is here given of Christ as a figurative representation of Him as our moral chieftain, three facts are suggested concerning Him in that capacity:
1. He is ever present when needed. Joshua needed some special manifestation to reassure him of his duty, to inspire his courage, and to nerve his arm for his terrible mission. And here it is. ‘He lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood,’ etc. So it ever is. ‘The Lord stood with me and strengthened me,’ said Paul.
2. He is always ready. He was not only present in the hour of need, but prepared. He stood before Joshua ‘with His sword drawn in His hand.’ He stands by our side, and says, ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth.’ ‘Lo. I am with you alway.’
3. He is all-sufficient. He is ‘the Captain of the Lord’s hosts.’ He is the controller of all powers. The forces of the material universe are at His command.… All the forces of the spiritual universe are at His command. He is Captain of the hosts of heaven. ‘He maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.’ ‘Him hath God exalted,’ etc. With such a chieftain as this, shall we fear our enemies, or can we fail in battle?
III. That in the true campaign God requires a great spirit.
1. Joshua displays a spirit of indomitable valour. ‘Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?’ This is the courage which we want, which we honour, and which we must have, before we can win one victory in the battle of life.
2. He displays the spirit of reverent enquiry. ‘He fell on his face to the earth,’ etc. This is the true spirit. Paul had this: ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?’ With this spirit, victory is certain; without it, defeat is inevitable.
3. He displays the spirit of solemn obedience ‘Loose thy shoe,’ … ‘And Joshua did so.’ On whatever place we stand, it is holy ground, because God is present.… Did we always feel His presence, we should walk this earth with reverent and solemn step; feel that
‘Life is real, life is earnest;’
and that the great end and blessedness of our being consists in working out the will of the GREAT ALL IN ALL.…
“Would you be a hero in the strife? Then put yourself under the command of the Captain of the Lord’s host. He will lead you on from victory to victory. His victories are real. They are not over the body, which is the mere instrument of the man; they are over the soul—over the man himself. He who subdues the mind is the only true conqueror. The Lord’s victories are merciful. It is love that nerves His arm. He strikes not to wound, but to heal; not against life, but against its evils and curses; not to destroy, but to save. Every blow He gives is to crush an evil and to save a soul.” [Dr. Thomas, Homilist.]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16