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TROUBLE IN THE LORD’S CAMP
Joshua 7:1. Committed a trespass] Lit., “deceived a deceit” The meaning of the verb is to cover, as with a garment, thence to act deceitfully or treacherously. The sin of this single member of Israel is put as the transgression of the whole body. Achan] Called, in 1 Chronicles 2:7, Achar, the troubler of Israel. “Josephus also calls him” Ἄχαρος for the same reason; the Vat. Cod. of the LXX. reads “Ἄχαρ, the Alex. Ἀχάν” (Keil). Son of Zabdi] Zabdi, in 1 Chronicles 2:6, is given as Zimri, which latter form is thought to be an error of transcription.
2. Ai] The same as Hai in Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3, usually mentioned with Bethel. A small population returned to Ai from the captivity (Ez. 2:28; Nehemiah 7:32). In Nehemiah 11:31, it is called Aija; and in Isaiah 10:28. Aiath; while in Joshua 18:23 it is apparently the same place which is called Avim. Bethaven] The situation is uncertain. From this verse, it cannot, as some have thought, have been “another name for Bethel.” Kitto thinks that in Hosea 10:5, Bethaven, “the house of emptiness,” is put in derison for Bethel, “the house of God.”
3. They are but few] The number is given in chap. Joshua 8:25, as twelve thousand. Judging by the small force sent against the city, the spies seem to have been mistaken in their estimate of the inhabitants.
5. Unto Shebarim] “Probably stone quarries; it is evidently a proper name, as the Vulgate, Arabic, and most commentators agree, belonging to some locality between Ai and Jericho” (Keil). “Or, by translation, to the broken places, i.e., to the steep broken sides of the Mutyah” (Crosby).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 7:1-6.7.5
THE FIRST REPULSE
I. The separation which comes through sin. “The anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel.” Jehovah, who till now had been in alliance with them, “was turned to be their enemy.” Their sins had separated between them and their God. The separating power of sin is one of its chief and most disastrous features. Sin is disintegrating; where holiness tends to join together in the blessedness of a beautiful unity, sin rends, and divides, and isolates, and thus desolates all through God’s fair world. Sin is that ingredient from the devil’s laboratory, which, thrown into the cup of creation’s happiness, precipitates all that which otherwise would hold men and things together in the solution of a perpetual joy. It disturbs at once the unity, the beauty, and the peace of a world.
1. Sin separates between men, irrespective of character. It rends society, and revolutionises kingdoms; it breaks up families, divides churches, brings to an end partnerships in business, discharges the servant from his master, and has no more regard for unity in a palace than in a cottage.
2. Sin separates between good men and bad. It is a kind of perpetual judgment, through which, already, the sheep are being set on the right hand and the goats on the left. The sinful man withdraws himself from the righteous by preference, and the righteous from the sinful for protection, lest, standing in the way of sinners, he should become as one of them. Each, being let go, joins his “own company.”
3. Much more mwst sin separate between God and the wicked. The polar regions cannot be reconciled to the tropics; the night cannot make the same hours a common home, and dwell together within them in amity with the day; spotless purity cannot be at one with defilement; much less can He who is the source of all warmth and light and love and goodness and truth have fellowship with the powers of darkness and evil.
II. The blindness which comes through sin. God was not with the spies to enlighten and guide them, and therefore they were deceived (Joshua 7:3). In the next battle the strength of the people and place is very differently estimated. Instead of sending three thousand, Joshua selects at least thirty thousand men, five thousand of whom are detached to form an ambush on the west side of the city, while he himself appears to lead the remainder into the midst of the valley. While the former defeat would induce extra precautions, God had evidently suffered the judgment of both Joshua and the spies to become obscured when about to make this first attack on Ai. No such mistake was made in the matter of Jericho, either by the spies whom Rahab sheltered, or by any of the leaders of Israel. This is but an incidental illustration of an ever-recurring fact: sin is ever leaving men in obscurity, or actually deadening their perceptive powers.
1. God still refuses to grant His light to such as choose to walk in the darkness of sin. Those only does He guide with His eye, who have learned to say, “Our eyes are up unto Thee.”
2. Sin, in itself, works blindness. They who do God’s will shall know of His doctrine, and also of His ways.
III. The weakness which comes through sin. The conflict at Jericho is an exposition of the words of Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me; “the conflict at Ai is an exposition of the utterance of the Lord Himself, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” We learn in one battle that nothing is too hard for the Lord; in the other, that little is sufficiently easy for men. When God departed from the Israelites, that clause entered most naturally into the history, “They fled before the men of Ai.”
IV. The wide-spread suffering which comes through sin. “The men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men,” and presently Achan and his family fall by the hands of their own brethren. The entire camp of Israel was made to suffer by reason of Achan’s transgression.
1. Sin brings loss and ruin. All its gains have presently to be returned.
2. Sin produces fear. This is not only so among those who know not God, but equally so among God’s people. They have but to transgress, and their hearts, also, “melt and become as water.”
3. Sin works shame. The Israelites are humbled before their enemies, Joshua is humbled before his brethren, Achan’s family have the shame of knowing that their deadliest foe is of their own household, and Achan himself is humbled in the deepest shame of all. This thief has to feel that he is bankrupt for his pains; this father, that he is childless by his own folly; this soldier, that he has brought defeat on his country; this Israelite, that his name must do worse than perish out from among his people—that he must henceforth be known as “the troubler” of his nation.
4. Sin, let it work what it may previously, has its ultimate issues in nothing less than death. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” It ends thus with Achan and his family, thus with the thirty-six men who were slain, thus with myriads more; and but for Him who redeems souls from the power of the grave, it would have this for its ultimate issue in every member of the human race.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 7:1.—CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY.
Achan sinned, and it is said, The children of Israel committed a trespass; for some time, no man out of Achan’s household knew of his wickedness, yet it is written, The anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel. The act of this one man brings penal consequences on all the host, and Jehovah is said to have regarded the sin of the one as the transgression of all. However difficult it may be to satisfactorily define and illustrate the principle on which accountability of this kind rests, there can be no doubt of its almost universal acceptance by men. It is easy to clamour against it theologically, and to demand a philosophical explanation of its basis and working; but no man should rail against religious people in general because some religious people fail to enlighten him, lest he lay himself open to the charge of blaming a whole community because of the offence of some, and thus shew that his own sociology has the same dogma as the theology which he so readily vilifies in others. The explanation of the difficulty must not be sought in any arbitrary dogma imposed on men from without, but in that inherent and essential oneness which every one practically believes to pertain to every form of organic unity. It is just because it is impossible for it to be otherwise, that it becomes foolish to inveigh against this principle. Let a body be made up of limbs or individuals, let it be held together by joints that are physical, by interests that are pecuniary, or by ties that are social, responsibility cannot be disbursed between its particular joints or ties so as to fall singly on the culpable member, but must be attached to the body as a whole. In practical life, men find absolutely no alternative from this law. It can hardly be other than weak to stigmatise as an arbitrary dogma that which all men find to be inherent and unavoidable. Because it so pertains to bodies, as such, it may be better to term it corporate than representative accountability. It will be sufficient, here, to indicate its wide-spread adoption by men for the purposes of daily life.
I. Corporate responsibility is adopted in the intercourse of nations. It is recognised between civilised nations. Let one of our ambassadors abroad offer an insult to the government to which he is accredited, and that government would interpret it as the insult of England, reparation for which would be counted due from our country. If violence were committed by the vessel of a foreign nation to a vessel, or to any person on board a vessel, sailing under the English flag, England would hold herself to have suffered that violence, and would look for apology and acknowledgment, not from the officers or crew of the offending vessel, but from the government from which they came. In the Alabama case, America held herself to have suffered loss by England, and did not concern herself with the firm which built the vessel; nor could this country, without some intervention, have suffered any harm to have been done to members of that firm, even though they had been found travelling in America prior to the settlement of the claims; for, just as offending children must be dealt with by strangers through their parents, so must offending subjects be dealt with through their governments. Nor are these principles in any measure the outcome of an overwrought civilization; they are of equal force among barbarians, and assert themselves with the same emphasis in the intercourse of savages. Every missionary and inoffensive European, who has been slain by natives in the South Sea Islands, and elsewhere, because of the wicked wrongs perpetrated by Europeans who have preceded them, furnishes an instance in point. Failing to reach those actually guilty, the savages have sought to avenge themselves by punishing men of the same community. Let a man in one tribe of North American Indians have offered in past years insult and injury to the member of another tribe, and the fierce war whoop would have proclaimed that in creeds savage as well as in creeds civilised there stood for an article of faith that ineradicable dogma of the universal conscience—The sin of a member is the offence of the body. It is not the sin of the body, excepting indirectly, unless the body condone it in the member, or refuse to make reparation to those who are injured. Indirectly, the body may also have moral participation in the guilt; it may be a remote party to the sin, through not having done its duty in training the member, through not having exercised sufficient care in selecting that member for the service under which he was tempted to sin, or through not having restrained him in some stage prior to the commission of the sin. Yet, although there may be little moral participation by the body when a member of it sins, the body must be, and is universally held to be, responsible for the consequences of the wrong done. It is perfectly in harmony with the world’s own practice that, when Achan sins, God should be angry with Israel.
II. Corporate responsibility is admitted in family and social life. If the servant of a master, or firm, or company drive recklessly, and cause an accident, the employers of that servant are held by law to be responsible. Here the liability is pecuniary, though there might still be a measure of moral guilt, such as would arise from employing the servant without taking reasonable care to ascertain his efficiency, before employing him in a service which might prove dangerous or injurious to others. If however-a child grow up a thief, or is presently executed for murder, society holds all the family to be disgraced. The penalty exacted from the father and mother of the murderer is far more than pecuniary; nor does this arise merely from the supposed neglect of such parents in training the child who ultimately committed murder, for the very children of such a murderer would also be held by society to be disgraced, and they would feel that disgrace themselves, whether society were lenient to them or harsh. If a man were to join for a single hour a party of ten burglars, and one of the burglars during that hour were to commit murder, each man would be held in law liable to capital punishment, not excepting the man who became merely for the hour a member of the nefarious body.
III. Corporate responsibility is the foundation of many exhortations and reproofs which are addressed to the Church of Christ. Every appeal made to Christians not to disgrace the Church, or to bring shame on the name of Jesus, and every reproof to any who have thus sinned, is based on the universal conviction that the sin of a member is rightly held to disgrace the entire community. Even the sacred name of the Saviour is held not to be exempt from these inexorable and far-reaching penalties. Peter and Judas, in the days of the ministry, could bring dishonour upon Him; and we, who live now, are exhorted not to become of them who “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.”
IV. Corporate responsibility is made the basis of deliverance in the case of every one who is spiritually saved. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Through the first head of the race, sin and death came upon all, and the former of these penalties is no less severe than the latter: through Him who became by His own grace and righteousness the second head of the race, holiness and eternal life are given for a heritage to every member of His body. Only those are lost who detach themselves from Him by sin and unbelief. Coming into the race as its second head, it is not merely those who accept Him that are saved, but all who do not reject Him, that is, little children. The first head carried its penalty of death to all belonging to the body; the second head carries, no less, to all who do not reject Him the gift of life. In each case, the body follows its head, and for those who choose to renounce Christ, after they have entered into this natural life under His headship, there remains nothing but the old head and the old doom.
THE ANGER OF GOD
“God’s anger is not an ebullition of blind passion, but a holy displeasure against the unrighteousness of men. When this unrighteousness is removed, God’s anger ceases, as Joshua 7:26 shews. All which has been injuriously said concerning the blood-thirsty and wrathful God of the Old Testament rests on a failure to apprehend this holy displeasure of God against the unrighteousness of men. That brings upon them indeed judgment and penalty, but never goes so far as to shut up His compassion.… Eternal justice, which belongs as a constitutive element to the nature of God, without which we cannot conceive of any government at all of the world, is constantly limited by His love. But, conversely, His love towards men is not a blind love, but rather a truly paternal affection which leaves no fault, no transgression of His commands, unreproved. Both justice and love co-exist in God, and are mutually blended in Him with an interpenetration of the most intimate, highest, absolute kind. Hence the jurists may say: Fiat justitia pereat mundus! God never has and never can.” [Lange.]
“There is a community amongst men that are of the same society, every one being a part of the body, so that what evil he does, he does not as one alone by himself, but as a part of the body whereof he is a member.” [Augustine.]
God not only knows every transgressor’s name, but each transgressor’s history. The fathers, the tribe, the training, and all the surroundings of a sinner are naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Joshua 7:2-6.7.4.—MAN’S UNCONSCIOUSNESS OF GOD’S ABSENCE.
I. Here are men working together for God, but not with God. God had withdrawn Himself from the Israelites. Even if still present in the camp, the Lord had ceased to work with any of the people. I. To be doing God’s work is not a sufficient guarantee of having God’s help. The people were as much engaged in doing the work of the Lord when they attacked Ai as when they destroyed Jericho; yet the Lord, who was with them in the one case, refused to accompany them in the other. We see (a) Joshua sending out spies, while he himself is not moved to do this by God; (b) the spies searching in God’s cause, but without God’s guidance; (c) the three thousand Israelites fighting God’s battle, but none of them having God’s assistance.
2. God’s presence with us in the past is no sufficient guarantee of His continual presence. The marvellous passage of the Jordan, and the magnificent triumph at Jericho, were but things of yesterday, and indisputably God was with them there; yet neither the one nor the other, nor both, prevented God’s absence and Israel’s defeat at Ai. We need manifest grace for each day of our lives. Yesterday’s mercies may have been large, and should be long and gladly borne in mind, but we need also the assurance of to-day that God is with us. Yet let no one think that these temporary withdrawings of God furnish an argument for the doctrine that He withdraws from His people perpetually. The truth or falsity of that must be settled elsewhere, not here. The history at Ai distinctly shews that God does but forsake Israel for a time, that He may again come to them in even more than the closeness of the former union. The very design of the absence is to provide for Jehovah’s future presence.
3. The godliness of any part of a body of the Lord’s people is no sufficient guarantee of the Lord’s fellowship and co-operation with that body. Joshua, and the rest of the leaders, and the general multitude of the people probably loved God more than ever. Their hearts were warm with gratitude for the wonderful help of the past, and filled with hope in the Lord as to the future. We can think of no time in all their previous history when the people were likely to be so close in union and ardent fellowship with God as after the fall of Jericho. Yet because one man, and perhaps his family, had broken covenant with God, God had turned against all Israel. One offender in a church may prevent the Divine blessing from resting on that church. When a church altogether walks in holiness, it may confidently expect abundant blessing from on high; but the piety of any part of that church, although it be a large part, may be insufficient to secure God’s manifest presence. The sin of one member may still be held to corrupt the entire body.
II. Here are men working together for God, and utterly unconscious of God’s departure from their midst. One of the most solemn aspects of the narrative is its revelation of the complete ignorance of all the people that the Lord was no longer with them. Joshua was ignorant of this. Apparently he sent out the spies, and formed his plans for the overthrow of Ai, with as much confidence as when he proceeded to lay siege to the City of Palm Trees, albeit on that occasion he took his instructions from the Prince of the host of the Lord in person. The spies were ignorant of the Lord’s departure. Comparing their conduct with that of the spies who went to search out Jericho, they were as prompt to undertake the work, as ready in forming an opinion, and perhaps even more confident in the judgment to which they came. There is an assurance, a definiteness, and a precision about their recommendation to Joshua, given in the third verse, which has nothing to correspond with it in the recorded utterance of the spies who returned from a similar mission to Jericho (cf. chap. Joshua 2:23-6.2.24). The army, also, seems to have been ignorant of this terrible change that had come over the camp. The people who waited in their tents remained quietly, and the three thousand who went up to the battle seem to have gone confidently. No one seems to have had the least suspicion that Jehovah had withdrawn from Israel. It is, perhaps, even more possible for us to suffer the withdrawal of the Lord’s presence, and to remain for some time ignorant of our loss. Just as the Ark still remained in the camp of Israel, and Eleazar the high priest, with his assistants, still ministered in the service of the tabernacle, thus enabling the people to think that all things continued as before; so may we, as we retain our Bibles, and continue our religious worship and service, satisfy ourselves with the outward signs of religion, while God Himself is absent from us. There is no more solemn feature in the sad history of Samson than that brief chronicle of a similar ignorance, in which we read, “He awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.”
III. Here are men working together for God, and learning through defeat and shame and death that God is not with them. This ignorance is, and can be, only for a time. Samson was not long in discovering his loss. Saul, also, learned to cry, “God is departed from me.” The fathers of these very Israelites would not believe Moses when he said, “Go not up, for the Lord is not among you,” but they speedily learned how true it was, when the Amalekites and Canaanites came down from the hill, “and smote them, and discomfited them even unto Hormah.” So, in their very first battle after the Lord’s departure, the Israelites learned at Ai what they had failed to discover when encamped around the Ark. Yet some only learned this as they fell slain in the battle. Happy is he who so walks and talks with God as to promptly feel the loss of Divine fellowship when God is no longer present; on the other hand, terrible is the lot of him who only makes the discovery as he knows death to be drawing nigh, and then, like Saul, learns his loss too late.
Joshua 7:5.—THE CHANGELESSNESS OF GOD AND THE MUTABILITY OF MEN.
I. The apparent vicissitudes of God’s changelessness. God here appears to have altered His mind, and to have turned completely round in His relation to the Israelites. From being Israel’s friend, “He turned to be their enemy, and fought against them.” What the swellings of Jordan could not do, the tides of wicked feeling in Achan’s single heart did but too effectually,—they turned aside the power of Jehovah, and made it work in another direction. The majestic strength which the walls of Jericho were unable to resist for a moment, this single man both resisted and reapplied. The history reveals Achan as the morally weakest man of all the host, and yet as the man who reverses omnipotence, making it to work in the direction of seeming enmity instead of in the way of manifest love. So great is the power of a traitor friend beyond the might of an open foe, and so infinitely beyond the force of physical things is the strength of things which are moral.
Thus it is that we are abruptly brought face to face with what has been called the seeming vicissitudes of God’s changelessness. In plainer words, God’s changeless way with men is made up of apparent and well-regulated changes. But these changes are only apparent; they are not real and actual. In this instance, before Ai, although it may sound paradoxical, if God had not changed, He would have changed, and by changing He preserved His glorious immutability. If God had continued to fight for Israel, He would have been helping men who had gone over to the side of sin; He would have been found in alliance with men who had done an act of rebellion against holiness and against Himself. In a word, it was Israel who had turned, representatively, against God, hence the apparent turning of God against Israel. Life is full of these seeming changes on the part of God. They are all to be brought to this one explanation: God alters His outward relation to men, that He may sacredly preserve His own immutable way in the interests of truth and righteousness and mercy. When God seems to have turned against us, it is because we have changed our ground. If He followed us, He would change also. He keeps on in the way of mercy and truth, saying, as only He in all the universe can say, “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” Take an illustration. The ship alters its course, and the compass changes at once; it traverses just as many points over the deck of the ship as the ship itself turns away from its previous bearings. And thus it is that the compass remains true to itself, and continues to be known as
“That trembling vassal of the Pole,
The feeling Compass, Navigation’s soul.”
It is exactly because the compass moves in its relation to the veering ship that it continues to be so abiding in its relation to the pole. Thus it is that when Israel alters its course, and actually turns back on its former path, it must needs come into collision with an undeviating God. Thus, too, in another and more pleasant instance, when Nineveh repents and turns to the way of the Lord, the Lord is said to “repent of the evil that He had said He would do unto Nineveh.” The outward relation is but altered that God’s eternal way of love and goodness may stand firm and abiding.
1. When God is against us, it is because we have got where we are against Him. If we find Him “hedging up our way with thorns,” it is because we are in the wilderness. As Bunyan puts it, if we are in the hands of Despair, it is because we are out of the King’s highway.
2. Where God is seemingly against us, He is really for us. It would have been a curse on Achan, indeed, if all things had continued prosperous; not less would it have cursed Achan’s family and all Israel. The people would have learned that they could sin with impunity, and yet conquer triumphantly as ever. It was Mercy that pleaded for defeat, and for judgment on Achan; and just because God’s love was so deep and true, the warning became so solemn and bitter.
II. The mutability of human life.
1. The entire prospects of a man’s life may be suddenly altered by himself. While God remains thus true, the reversal of our prosperity will be as sudden as our departures from Him. This may not always be manifest. God does not always reveal His changed attitude in our altered temporal life. For other reasons than those appearing in this battle before Ai, He sometimes lets “the wicked flourish.” Yet just as abruptly as men turn aside into ways of sin, will God ever turn aside their real prosperity.
2. The position and prospects of a man’s life may be as suddenly changed by others. Achan brings defeat on all Israel. So long as we participate in the profits of fellowship with men, we must also suffer the penalties. Every corporate body, with an identity of interest, is a kind of firm; the members associate and unite in view of certain advantages, and they cannot do this without a joint responsibility common to them all. Thus may an individual bring shame and loss on a host.
III. The unswerving influence of man’s sin.
1. Sin ever tends towards defeat. It may not seem to do this, but it at once begins to work in that direction, and in that only.
2. Defeat which comes through sin invariably works fear. All defeat does not bring fear. Sometimes it stimulates. But when men have to trace failure to their transgressions against God, fear is the certain result. In such a case, it matters not whether they are Canaanites or Israelites, unbelievers or Christians, the same record serves for the history of all, “Wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.”
“At Jericho, Jehovah had shewn Himself to be merciful. At Ai, He magnified Himself as the just One, who will not allow His laws to be broken with impunity.” [Hävernick.]
“It is not good to contemn an impotent enemy. In the second battle the Israelites are beaten. It was not the fewness of their assailants that overthrew them, but the sin that lay lurking at home. If all the host of Israel had set upon this poor village of Ai, they had been equally discomfited: the wedge of Achan did more fight against them than all the swords of the Canaanites. The victories of God go not by strength, but by innocence. [Bp. Hall.]
Joshua 7:6. Rent his clothes … put dust upon their heads] Both are ancient and common signs of mourning. They were practised among the Greeks and Romans, as well as among the Jews. With Joshua and the elders they were indicative of humiliation before God.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 7:6-6.7.9
DEFEATED AND PRAYING
Defeat is very painful when it comes to us as a first experience. The child, the business man, the soldier, each is troubled to bear his first humiliation of being beaten. When Adam was overcome for the first time, he hid himself. When Robert Hall failed in his early efforts to preach Christ, he cried, “If this does not humble me, the devil will have me.” When Joshua was beaten back before the men of Ai, he, and the elders of Israel with him, fell before the Ark in humiliation and prayer.
I. We see the Lord’s servant acknowledging defeat. Joshua felt that he had been sent on Jehovah’s mission, that he had the prestige of former help from on high and of previous victories, and that he had gone up to this fresh conflict in the strength of Divine promises which hitherto had never failed him.
1. Think of the connection between the defeat of the godly and the confession of such defeat before God. The first Napoleon is reported to have said of our soldiers, “The worst of those English fellows is, they never know when they are beaten.” That may be a good thing to say of bravery in earthly service and conflicts, but it must not be said of the soldiers of Christ. When the Lord is gone over against them, and defeat succeeds separation from Him, they can have no more fatal trait of character than that proud stubbornness which refuses to own that the battle has resulted in their overthrow. (a) All actual defeat, to a Christian man, is from God. God permits it, or occasions it. This is so in business life; in family life; in Christian life; in Christian work. (b) Defeat being always from God, should ever be carried to God. Joshua falls before the Ark. Low at their Father’s feet; that is the place for His beaten children. They will learn the reason of defeat as they lie there. Thus, when the beaten disciples at the foot of the mount of transfiguration fail to heal the boy with the dumb spirit, and confess their failure before the Saviour, they soon learn the cause of their humiliation. They had only to ask, “Why could not we cast him out? “and the answer came at once, “Because of your unbelief.”
2. Think of the relation of defeat to humility. Joshua rent his clothes, and fell on his face, and put dust on his head. Thus he, and the elders of Israel, fasted and humbled themselves all the rest of the day until the evening. They took the way common to the time and country in which to express their humiliation. These usual forms were merely the vehicle in which they came with humbled hearts to God. We need not take the same forms. It does not matter what the vehicle is, if it only be sufficient to carry our hearts in true humility to the mercy-seat. But all defeat in the Lord’s war should work lowliness of mind. It is for this that each defeat is sent. Grosart has noticed that there was “a kind of ascending scale” in our Lord’s temptations in the desert. This seems to have been the case. The temptations both in physical position and moral intensity seem to lie successively on higher ground. For the first temptation, “Jesus was led up of the spirit into the wilderness;” the second temptation was higher still,—it was “on a pinnacle of the temple;” the third was highest of all,—it was “up into an exceeding high mountain.” And with this idea of physical elevation there is a concurrent gradation of intensity in the temptations themselves. The first temptation is to work a miracle on the stones to satisfy bodily hunger; the second is to make a sensuous demonstration in order to secure speedy success to His work; the third is to take the short road to universal power by meeting sin and the devil half-way. Our temptations, also, intensify as we go up. Let us not refuse to take the lowly position to which God ever invites us by our defeats. He puts us low on the ground at His feet, just because in our present state we could not bear the greater ordeal of the higher position to which we should be brought by further success. When God brings us down, we should learn to lie down; that is the safest place for the present, and the quickest way up as concerning the future.
3. Think of the effect of defeat upon Joshua’s faith. When defeat came, Joshua was utterly surprised. His faith in God was so simple, and yet so strong, that he had no room for a lost battle. The chief feeling, perhaps, which impresses us on reading his prayer, is his utter astonishment at the repulse. We think our faith great when we believe in a victory that comes. “My husband is to be converted to-day,” said an American Christian woman to her minister. “How do you know that?” asked he. And then the believing wife told how she had been praying, and how, although her husband shewed no sign of repentance, the assurance had taken firm hold of her heart that he would that day be brought to Christ. Her minister testifies that the man was converted on that selfsame day, and, in an exposition of some verses in the previous chapter, narrates the incident, as it would probably strike most modern believers, as an instance of great faith. Joshua’s faith had room for nothing but victories. We are surprised at one success; he was overwhelmed with shame and confusion when he was not triumphant everywhere. How this trust of the men who knew not a verse of our Gospels, and who had no Cross in which to glory, should put our small faith to shame! We ought to live so in the faith of Him who died for us, that defeat should make us stand aghast with astonishment, and then fall low in the dust with humiliation. It is said that a few years ago a young engineer was being examined for graduation, when his examiner proposed the following question: “Suppose you have a steam pump constructed for a ship, under your own supervision, and know that everything is in perfect working order, yet, when you throw out the hose, it will not draw. What should you think?” “I should think, sir, there must be a defect somewhere.” “But such a conclusion is not admissible; for the supposition is that everything is perfect, and yet that the pump will not work.” “Then, sir,” replied the student, “I should look over the side to see if the river had run dry.” We profess to believe in the omnipotence of the Spirit, and that the Spirit has been poured out from on high in a baptism of holy power. When our children are not given to us in Christ, when no spiritual victories follow our spiritual efforts and conflicts, is it not time to look for the cause of failure? Everything on God’s part must be perfect, but may it not be that we have let go our union with Him? Surely it must be so, if in all these things we are not more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
II. We see the Lord’s servant praying that defeat may be turned into victory.
1. Prayer may have much infirmity, and yet be heard and answered by God. (a) Joshua’s petition shews a spirit akin to murmuring and reproach. It seems to partake too much of the tone of some of the previous rebellions, as we hear it said, “Wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us?” (b) Joshua loses sight of God’s past leading of the people, or else he questions the wisdom of Divine guidance. He peevishly cries, “Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!” He speaks as though the past had been a mistake. (c) Joshua shews us the nearness of faith to unbelief. He whose former faith had been so great as to leave no place whatever for defeat, now shews a distrust which can hardly find room to hope for any future victory: “The Canaanites shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth.” So poor, in some aspects, seems the spirit of Joshua’s petition before God. Yet this prayer prevailed; if it did not bring an immediate reversal of defeat, it made the way clear for future victory. Our prayers may be moved by an imperfect spirit, and may be poured out in unseemly words; if, like Joshua, we have a heart earnest with holy longings, and desirous of God’s honour and His people’s welfare, they will not be poured out in vain.
2. True prayer throws its principal stress on the glory of the Divine name. “What wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” Just as Moses had done before him, Joshua felt truly and deeply concerned for the Divine honour before the heathen nations. This is the true spirit of prayer, and one to which God ever has regard. The Saviour said repeatedly, before leaving His disciples, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you.” Yet prayer is not merely the formal mention of the Divine name, for, if that were so, the Lord’s prayer itself would be imperfect. The suppliant who would prevail indeed, must come in that spirit which God loves, and which makes the Divine name the glorious name which it is; he must come, as the Saviour Himself loved to plead, having no will or wish that stands opposed to that Sovereign will which by prayer he seeks to move.
Joshua 7:6-6.7.9.—GODLY SORROW
I. The sorrow of the godly is deep and unfeigned.
1. It is involuntary. It is independent of any act of the will. It comes as suddenly as its cause, answering to the blow that smites as the echo answers to the call, or as the thunder responds to the lightning. Godly sorrow flows naturally and freely, not stiffly and artificially. True humiliation has no onion tears.
2. It is continuous as the necessity. It is not satisfied with a prescribed amount of tears and shame. Such sorrow has no thought of any intrinsic merit in humiliation. It has no regard to penance. It does not set itself a given lesson in grief, thinking that so much grief is equal to so much guilt. Joshua fell upon his face, not merely until eventide, but till the Lord said, “Get thee up.”
II. The sorrow of the godly is not so much the sorrow of selfishness as sorrow with God. Joshua has fears for Israel, and he is not free from the sense of the personal pain which will come to himself and the people through shame and loss. This is only human and natural. But Joshua’s great grief is that the enemies of the Lord will find opportunity to blaspheme. He thinks it less that Israel’s name shall be cut off from the earth than that the great name of Jehovah shall be dishonoured. The late F. W. Robertson has said on the subject of sorrow for sin: “God sees sin not in its consequences, but in itself: a thing infinitely evil, even if the consequences were happiness to the guilty, instead of misery. So sorrow according to God, is to see sin as God sees it. The grief of Peter was as bitter as that of Judas. He went out and wept bitterly; how bitterly none can tell but they who have learned to look on sin as God does. But in Peter’s grief there was an element of hope; and that sprung precisely from this—that he saw God in it all. Despair of self did not lead to despair of God. This is the great peculiar feature of this sorrow: God is there, accordingly self is less prominent. It is not a microscopic self-examination, nor a mourning in which self is ever uppermost: my character gone; the greatness of my sin; the forfeiture of my salvation. The thought of God absorbs all that.” Such is the hopeful feature in Joshua’s sorrow for the defeat at Ai. Though he may suspect some wrong, he does not, at the time of this prayer, know how fully the defeat is owing to actual sin. Yet the grief of this godly man for himself and Israel is comparatively lost and absorbed in his concern for the honour of his Lord’s name. So, if our sorrow be really holy, it will ever gather round the name and truth of God, rather than around our most sacred personal interests.
III. The sorrow of the godly is sometimes impatient and unreasonable. Without, on the one hand, taking the seventh verse to be an “irreverent remonstrance,” and without reading it, on the other, merely as the utterance of what the heathen would “infer from the event,” it is almost impossible not to discern in the language something of the peevishness of pain,—something of that bitterness of impatience which is rather the sharp outcry of a wounded heart than a remonstrance with Jehovah. The words are more subjective than objective; we must read them rather as words escaping from the man, than as words addressed to God. Some men feel pain more keenly than others. Thus a finely wrought spirit has cried out the enquiry:—
“Is it true, O Christ in heaven! that the highest suffer most?
That the strongest wander farther, and more hopelessly are lost?
That the mark of rank in nature is capacity for pain,
And the anguish of the singer makes the sweetness of the strain?”
It is even so. As the author of “Ecce Deus” has told us, “Suffering is a question of nature. The educated man suffers more than the uneducated man: the poet probably suffers more than the mathematician; the commanding officer suffers more in a defeat than a common soldier. The more life, the more suffering; the billows of sorrow being in proportion to the volume of our manhood. The storm may pass as fiercely over the shallow lake as over the Atlantic, but by its very volume the latter is more terribly shaken.” It is this volume of manhood, this capacity for pain, this sensitiveness to shame and wounding, that, to superficial gazers, makes the very strong sometimes seem so very weak. The pain of the jelly-fish may be hardly perceptible, the agony of the lion is terrible. Moses and Daniel and Paul stand conspicuous above their contemporaries, not only in ability to work, but also in power to suffer. So Joshua, with his great nature, his fine feeling, and responsible position, is bowed down by this calamity to the very dust, the prostrate form of his body hardly serving to express his greater prostration of spirit.
1. Those who have greatness enough to be Christians must not wonder if they suffer more than those who have not. The man who is sensitive to sin, to the commandments of God, to the power of truth, to the pain of conscience, to the love of Christ, must not wonder if he suffers more than those, many of whom are morally “past feeling,” and the remainder of whom are more or less advanced in this most terrible of all the forms of insensibility. Not only as from the lips of the Saviour, but as the very outcome of the Christian condition of the conscience, true disciples must expect to find it stated as their heritage in the way of life, “Through much tribulation ye must enter into the kingdom.”
2. Those who are great enough to be greatly Christian must expect to suffer conspicuously even among the suffering Church. The greater tribulation of men like Moses, and Joshua, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Daniel, and Peter, and Paul, is no more an arbitrary regulation than it is an arbitrary regulation that the Church should suffer more than the world. Christ’s word about the necessity of suffering is not to be read merely as the decree of a sovereign; though it be the assignment of His will, it is even more emphatically the heritage of life that is in Him; and the larger the measure of that life, the keener will be the sensitiveness to the suffering which, in this world of sin, is inflicted on every hand.
IV. God is very tolerant of such impatience as is merely the expression of His children’s pain. A child may call out sharply under the touch of the hand that tends him in some infirmity, but a mother never mistakes the cry of her child’s distress for the utterance of dislike to herself, or for the expression of rebellion against her authority. Patients under the hand of the surgeon have been heard to heap words of insult and threatening on the man who was engaged in setting a broken limb, but no wise operator would interpret words like those as being more than the expression of pain. Thus God ever discerns between the outcry of a wounded heart and the irreverence of a rebellious spirit. Joshua may speak, not as it is becoming that he should speak, but in the hastiness of disappointment and the bitterness of pain; God has not so much as a word of rebuke for this; He simply proceeds to say, “Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?”
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 7:6-6.7.7.—MAN PRAYING AND GOD SILENT.
I. The ignorance of man in prayer. The defeat before Ai seems to have been in the morning. During all the remainder of the day, Joshua and the elders of the people were bowing in humiliation and fasting and prayer before God. Joshua was ignorant of Achan’s sin, ignorant of God’s deep anger, ignorant of the fact that victory at Ai would have been one of the greatest evils that could have befallen Israel. Human prayers are ignorant from various causes.
1. There is the ignorance that results from carelessness. Men fail to study themselves, sin, the Bible, God.
2. There is the ignorance consequent on our limited capacities and our straitened powers of obtaining knowledge. Joshua could not watch an army to see that none transgressed. It required infinite knowledge to mark the conduct of every man in the hour of battle and confusion. Only omniscience could see every man. Only omniscience, too, could see the evil of the sin which had been committed.
3. Ignorance sometimes stands connected with the thing for which prayer is made. Joshua wanted victory restored to Israel. He did not know, during these hours of prayer, how much richer Israel was to be made through defeat.
4. Ignorance often has to do with the way in which prayer is to be answered. God gave Joshua victory after all; but the way to victory lay through further shame and a yet profounder humiliation. Israel was to be discovered as guilty of breaking the covenant, and one family in Israel was to be utterly destroyed out of the camp.
II. The wisdom of God’s silence. We are not told of the way in which God generally communicated with Joshua, neither are we informed how long God usually kept His servant waiting ere He answered. Commonly Divine counsel seems to be given to Joshua at the time and place where it is needed. It might be expected that in a grave emergency like this God would have responded to His servant’s cry at once. Yet the Lord kept silence, although for hour after hour Joshua lay pleading to be heard. Yet, now that we have the entire account before us, the wisdom of Divine silence is manifest. God’s silence would gradually prepare the mind of Joshua
(1) To suspect that something was wrong in the camp;
(2) To realise the severity of the Divine anger;
(3) To acquiesce in, and presently execute, the solemn sentence against Achan;
(4) To understand, when the people were again purified, that victory when in alliance with sin, would be the most ruinous defeat of all.
III. Man’s misinterpretation of God’s silence. The seventh, eighth, and ninth verses seem to be only uttered when the day of humiliation and prayer had well nigh closed. Perhaps the sixth verse is meant to epitomise the history of hours of patient pleading for light, and in that case the three verses which follow would tell the tale of the impatient outburst of Joshua’s broken heart when he finds himself unheard.
1. Failing to obtain God’s answer in the present, men despondingly misinterpret God’s mercy in the past. “Wherefore hast Thou brought this people over Jordan?” One would have never expected to hear any question as to the mercy and love of God in the passage of the Jordan. Apparently Divine goodness was indisputably manifest there. In times of darkness men question God’s greatest mercies, doubt their own richest experiences, blot out and re-write in hard terms the noblest parts of their personal history.
2. Failing to obtain God’s answer in the present, men unbelievingly doubt God as to the future. Hast Thou brought us over Jordan “to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us”? Defeated and distressed minds see everything through the disorder and confusion of the present. With so many examples in the Scripture of the noblest servants of God who have proved themselves utterly unfit for calm judgment of their hope in the Lord during times of sorrow, we might well refuse to be led by personal feelings in the hours of our own distress.
3. Failing to obtain God’s answer in the present, men are tempted to think any part of their lives more profitable than that. “Would to God we had been content,” etc. In after days Joshua would come to look on those hours of weary agony in prayer as some of the most notable and useful in his life. They were a time of crisis, in which, amid intense suffering and doubt, this good man waited for the salvation of Israel. They were one of those times of trial in which so many who are but superficially pious begin to go eternally wrong. They were one of those judgment days of the Lord which even here on earth go to separate between the sheep and the goats. Happy was it for that generation of Israelites that, in this crisis of trial, they had a leader whose piety was deep enough to wait before God, and too deep to turn to anything else than to prayer for a solution of this mystery of darkness, and in order that a way might again be found through which he and they should again walk forth into the light of the smile of God.
With those who are truly devout, outward forms are the suitable expression of inward feelings. God never has to say to such, “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.”
The devout heart alone is qualified to pronounce on the religious ceremonial in which its own sense of woe, or want, or joy can best be told out to God.
So long as human hearts and experiences differ, and men are true to themselves, so long will the forms through which they tell out their life to each other and to God be various and unlike also.
I. The human weakness of the Lord’s people. They too can turn their backs (cf. Psalms 78:9-19.78.10).
II. The Divine prerogative of the Lord’s people. They need not turn their backs. Let them but walk with God, and they have omnipotence on their side. It is their privilege alone to say, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
III. The pious shame of the Lord’s people. “O Lord, what shall I say?
1. There are no logical words in which to account for a Christian’s defeat. If Omnipotence says, “Lo, I am with you alway,” there is no making out of a reasonable case for the overthrow of a child of God.
2. The only words in which to speak of such a defeat, are words of shame. We can but say, “I confess that there are no words.” 8. The best place for words of shame, on account of such defeat, is low before God.
Joshua 7:9, first clause.—
I. The effect of faith and victory. All the time Israel believed and prospered, the hearts of the Canaanites did melt and become as water. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.”
II. The influence of fear and failure. “They shall hear, and shall environ us round.” Every increasing thing tends to increase, and every decreasing thing to decrease. The impetus of success. The retarding influence of failure. “Nothing succeeds like success.” Doubting Christians, who morbidly encourage doubt, think far too little of the depressing effect of their ceaseless discourse about fear and failure.
“The heart of man can nowhere observe a just proportion. In prosperity it is too proud, in adversity too pusillanimous.” [Cramer.]
In times of unusual prosperity we are apt to unconsciously trust our success rather than God from whom all success must come. Thus, Elijah was bold and undaunted when he had no victory upon which to lean. Then came the triumph on Carmel, in which the prophet heard the multitude with one voice confess Jehovah. Forthwith Elijah hoped for Israel; he seems to have trusted the prospect of a spiritual harvest rather than the God of the harvest. After that, it only needed Jezebel’s threat to fill him with a despair which made him cry, “O Lord, take my life.” So, after Jericho, Joshua finds it hard to endure Ai.
Joshua 7:9, last clause.—THE GLORY OF GOD’S GREAT NAME.
I. God’s delight in His name is not in any measure akin to self-praise and vanity. The Scriptures constantly bid us to seek the glory of God. God does not desire glory as men desire it. With men, the pursuit of glory is selfish and vain; God’s way to glory is through self-sacrifice.
II. God’s delight in His name is delight in those things which make His name glorious. His name and Himself are alike The Good. He delights in helping the helpless, in comforting the wretched, in vindicating the cause of the oppressed, in sanctifying the sinful, in saving the lost. He hates sin, in the very attributes of His being, with deliberate and eternal enmity; He loves holiness and truth in the same infinite degree. His name, taken as such, is no mere centre around which His interest perpetually and eternally revolves; His name is Himself, and He is the everlasting embodiment of all that is lovely, and of all that makes His intelligent creatures happy and good.
III. God’s care for the honour of His name is also a care for those who need that name for a refuge and a joy. If God’s name were to lose its glory, heaven would lose its lustre, and the universe its brightness; angels would have no home, man no rallying centre, and devils no restraint: the universe would be as a huge solar system without its sun; confusion, and darkness, and ruin, and death would be everywhere. If but a stain were found on the character of God to-day, the power of that evil would uproot the cross, abolish the Church, blast every better human hope, banish the redeemed, make heaven into hell, and hell riotous in the fierce fury of a newfound and malignant joy. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”
IV. Where men are seen most concerned for the honour of the great name of God, God is seen most taking care of that name. It is precisely where Joshua is found crying, “What wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” that God is found taking such solemn measures to reassert His antipathy to sin. All His Divine sympathies for His people are crossed, the majestic tide of events which was flowing so fast to fulfil His covenant with Abraham is suddenly stayed, a temporary encouragement is even permitted to the idolatrous workers of iniquity, that God may have, and may be seen to have, no collusion or connection with sin. So it was where Moses feared for the Divine glory, that God was even then vindicating the honour of His name (cf. Exodus 32:11-2.32.14; Numbers 14:11-4.14.24). Let us learn:
1. How impossible it is for God to favour him who persists in sin;
2. How abiding is the refuge of the righteous;
3. How encouraging is the hope of the penitent;
4. And that there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved, but the name of God as it stands revealed in Jesus Christ.
“Joshua’s humble prayer before God. God withstands the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
“Joshua’s grief for his people compared with the lamentation of Moses and Ezra.
“Joshua as an example of mourning before God.
“Comparison between Joshua’s penitence and that of Ahab.
“Rending the garments a significant symbol of rending the heart (Joel 2:13).
“How God hears prayer.” [Lange.]
Joshua 7:11. Have also stolen and dissembled, etc.] To steal devoted things was solemnly sinful; every moment of hiding was a moment in which the guilt of theft was perpetuated and repeated in the conscience, in addition to which all Israel was being deceived and wronged; but the sin mentioned last, as though that were the greatest sin of all, was that of putting the devoted things “even among their own stuff,” and thus shewing a determination to appropriate to private uses what was under the awful ban of God.
Joshua 7:14. Brought according to your tribes] Heb.,” be brought near,” probably near to the Ark—near to the Divine Presence. Jehovah Himself would solemnly discover the offender. The tribe which the Lord taketh, etc.] This is the process of election by lot, and was frequently pursued, sometimes for widely different purposes than that of discovering the guilty (cf. 1 Samuel 10:20-9.10.22; 1 Samuel 14:40-9.14.43; 1 Chronicles 24:5; Acts 1:26). The land of Canaan was divided in this manner among the tribes, and Jonah was discovered similarly, when he fled to Tarshish.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 7:10-6.7.15
GOD DEALING WITH HUMAN SIN
In this chapter we see God dealing
(1) with sin,
(2) with an individual sinner,
(3) with a sinner’s family,
(4) with a sinner’s possessions,
(5) and with a community having a sinner for one of its members. This paragraph shews us the mind of Jehovah concerning sin and the forgiveness of sin.
I. Sin not only brings a need for the prayer of suffering and tears; but while sin is unforgiven it limits the influence of prayer. God says to Joshua, “Get thee up.” The power of unforgiven sin in limiting the power of prayer is here very emphatically marked.
1. The prayer of the unforgiven is not refused a hearing, or even an answer. God comes to Joshua. True, He does not come till eventide; Joshua and the elders of the people have to lie all day ere He draws nigh to attend to this prayer of suffering; but God does come, and to a certain extent He answers this cry of the needy. So far this is very merciful; it is like God. If men really pray, He keeps not silent, even though prayer come up to His ear from the lips of the unforgiven. God, who answered not “by prophets nor by dreams,” spake nevertheless through Samuel to unforgiven Saul in his agony; and had Saul truly repented, even though Gilboa might still have received its royal victim, the pains of death would have been soothed with the thought of Divine pardon. No man can truly pray and God not hear. The breath of real prayer is not a mere electric current which rings a bell and moves the hands on a dial in front of the throne and before the eyes of a God who sometimes refuses to attend; it is a current of troubled desire in man which moves in the heart of God as a compassionate, wise, and holy sympathy. We may be sure that when we pray importunately from our heart, sooner or later God draws nigh to see if we are in a right mind to profit by help from on high.
2. But the prayer of the unforgiven can only secure God’s attention in respect to the sin which is not put away. The Lord comes to Joshua, and virtually says, “Get thee up: all that I will hear thee upon is this matter of sin.” He will speak on nothing else. He will consider nothing else than this matter of sin. Mark the holy irony of the question, “Wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” As if prayer were not God’s own appointment! As if lowly humiliation were not His own ordained method of approach to the mercy-seat! As if Abraham and Moses and others had not been answered, till lowly prayer had become known, even through the Divine response, as a mighty power! But in this case there was this difference, Joshua and the elders of the people, in common with all Israel, were held to be guilty of Achan’s sin—not personally guilty, yet corporately guilty. That is why this question is asked, and that is why Joshua is bidden to get up, and to desist from his particular pleading, while God speaks with him on this question of sin. (a) Humiliation is nothing when it is not humiliation for the unforgiven sin. In this sharply defined picture, God shews us that it is useless to humble ourselves for adversity, and leave out any unforgiven sin which may have had to do with the adversity. It is so in national fasts; in personal trials, etc. Rent garments, prostrate forms, dust and ashes and sackcloth, are nothing to God, if we take no account of sin. (b) Grief is nothing, if it be not grief for the guilt. A man may feel his heart broken at the consequences of sin, and cry out of that broken heart to God; and God will hear him on the question of the sin, but not on the question of consequences till the sin itself is put away. If a man lose a situation through ill-temper or idleness, squander a fortune by prodigality, incur physical disease through intemperance, it is useless to plead the sorrow till he have first communed with God in sincere repentance on the matter of the transgression. Joshua may mourn his thirty and six slain, and the shame and pain which have come through defeat: God thinks it in good time to consider these when the camp has been cleansed from its impurity. (c) The plea of future consequences is nothing, if the unforgiven do not find the most disastrous consequence of all in the wrong done to God. God says in effect, “Wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face to tell me of Amorites and Canaanites to be feared, of Israelites who turn their backs to the enemies, or of a national name to be cut off from the earth? Wherefore concernest thou thyself with the honour of My great name? What is that to thee, thou unforgiven leader of an unforgiven people? Get thee up.” So may an unpardoned man plead for his future peace and honour, for his family, for the church with which he stands connected: God declines to consider these sorrows to come, just as much as sorrows that are, till sin be put away. The consequence which the guilty should mourn as most unbearable, is the wrong done to God,—the wrong done to His nature, His past mercies, His unfailing goodness and love.
II. Sin is not only limitation and weakness to urgent prayer; it is, in itself, full of injustice and wrong. The eleventh verse contains six allegations; the first two dealing with the sin in its relation to God, and the remaining four describing the character of the transgression. Two of these four descriptions, the taking and the stealing, seem to be synonymous, unless the taking be intended to refer to the secret appropriation of the heart, and the stealing to the outward act of the hand. Probably, however, the verse should be read as a succession of cumulative utterances, rising to a climax in the natural rhetoric of strong emotion, rather than as containing that philosophically exact analysis of the sin, more suitable to calmness of heart and thought. Taking the terms of description as three, rather than four, we see that:
1. Sin is theft. And this description of the particular sin of Achan has far more general truth in it than some imagine. Sin is taking something from another. It is always that, and never less than that, let the sin be what it may. The murderer takes life; the burglar and the pickpocket take goods; and the theft in transgressions of this kind is manifest. But the liar is also a thief; the drunkard, the vain man, the ambitious, the false-hearted, each deprives his fellows of valuable possessions. Each takes from the purity of the moral atmosphere which surrounds his neighbour, and thus takes away from his neighbour’s means of maintaining a healthy tone of life. Each, moreover, robs his fellow of the good example which every living man owes to those about him.
2. Sin is deceitful. Achan stole not only the gold and the garment; but he robbed the Israelites of God’s favour; he made the camp of Israel to become devoted, and then by hiding both the stolen goods and the knowledge of the curse brought upon his people, he suffered them to go ignorantly up to their defeat. Achan stole the devoted things from God; he stole from Israel God’s smile and help, victory over the men of Ai, and thirty-six lives; and he dissembled about the theft even in the presence of the slain. Thus sin does yet other injury in the deception with which it is ever accompanied. It leads the innocent unsuspectingly into danger, and, it may be, to death.
9. Sin is misappropriation for personal advantages. “They have put it even among their own stuff.” The sinful seek personal gain and pleasure at the expense of others. Like Achan, however, who presently has to restore all, and more than all that he had taken, no man ever sins without having to feel ultimately that transgression always costs more than it yields.
III. Sin is not merely a wrong in itself; it is a rejection and a breaking of God’s covenant. “They have also transgressed my covenant.” The breaking of the covenant is put as an additional and distinct feature of the sin. If it be said that Achan made no personal covenant with Jehovah, it is enough to reply that the covenant made with the host was binding on him individually. He was a member of the community, and he had stayed with the people, and enjoyed with them the common privileges of the covenant for many years previously. Thus Achan had voluntarily become a party to the covenant. In addition to this, no man is at liberty to ignore any covenant of the Lord. For Jehovah to proffer Himself to man in anything, is for man to stand bound.
1. The covenant made with men in Christ is binding on all men. Hence, the Gospel leaves no man where it finds him. It is the “savour” of something to everybody,—“of death unto death, or of life unto life.” Every man comes into life under this “New Covenant.” It is because of this, and not because of some specific act of mercy lying outside of the plan of salvation, that children dying in infancy are saved. The child of a Hottentot, or a Maori, or a Greenlander, dying ere it comes to years of responsibility, is saved because of God’s covenant with the human race. When Paul says, “As in Adam all die,” he means everybody; there is no exception. Equally does the apostle mean everybody when he says, “Even so in Christ shall all be made alive;” there is no single exception in the case of the life, any more than in the case of the death. Every one comes into life under the covenant with the race made through Christ, and if nothing were done to forfeit that life, thus forensically secured in the Redeemer, every one would be saved. But no one comes into life regenerate. The judicial life is one thing, the principle of the new life is another. In Adam all have died, not only judicially, but morally, and hence it is written to all men, “Ye must be born again.” Yet it is true that till every child becomes responsible for his acts he is under the covenant of life, and till actual sin be committed, he has the promise of life. Were it otherwise, we should be absolutely forced to accept the monstrous creed of elect babies and lost babies. There would be no logical alternative but the absurdly fanciful conclusion that all the babies who have died in their infancy, would, had they been spared, have grown up to become Christians; or that they came into the covenant of grace by the mere act of dying before a given day, after which they would have been personally responsible, when the act of dying would no longer have been efficacious. If all children who are saved, are saved by the work of Christ for the human race; and if all children are not in Christ by virtue of being members of that race; then, either some children are lost, or they must come into Christ by the mere act of dying at a given time, or only such children as are elected to life ever die as children The first of these alternatives is not only unlike God, but inhuman; the remaining two are simply frivolous. If this be so, then every child begins this life completely justified by the work of Christ; every child is under the covenant.
2. Every adult living in sin is not merely a being who has not accepted the covenant, but a being who, having been under the covenant, has ignored and rejected it. It is this that makes the position of each intelligent transgressor so unspeakably solemn. It is not that unbelieving men merely refuse to accept Christ; such, having begun life under the shelter of Christ’s work, absolutely reject Christ. Like Achan, who had partaken of covenant privileges, they presently treat the covenant as of less concern than the things which tempt them to transgress.
3. The most aggravated form of human sin now, is the rejection of the covenant made with them in Christ. It is a rejection of God’s love, of the Saviour’s sacrifice, of the past mercy which shielded them as helpless children.
IV. Sin has not only these aggravated forms of guilt in itself, but weakness, and injury, and many other evil results in its train (Joshua 7:12).
1. Sin brings weakness. God is not with sinners, and every transgression is so much loss of a man’s own moral strength.
2. Weakness brings defeat. The weakness that comes through sin is not a mere sentiment of the pulpit; it is something more than ecclesiastical poetry. History, whether national, family, or individual, has many battle-fields of failure and flight and shame and loss, to expound the reality of the weakness.
3. Such defeat may stand connected with death. Not only before Ai are there thirty and six slain; many, yea countless, are the broken-hearted, and other dead, who have gone down to their graves unable to bear the defeat which has been wrought by some one’s transgression.
V. Sin is not only at the time of transgression, but till the time of repentance. “Neither will I be with you any more,” etc. The heart repeats the guilt through every moment in which it refuses to repent. A state of unrepentance is not negative, but positive; the heart refuses to think repentance a present necessity. The heart thus virtually certifies the guilt afresh, and, in spirit, commits it over again. In this light,
(1) think of the importance of prompt repentance;
(2) think of the aggravated guilt, and of the solemn position of an aged unbeliever.
VI. The forgiveness of sin requires not only separation from the transgression, but some adequate acknowledgment of its guilt.
1. Forgiveness of sin requires separation from the sin. “Sanctify yourselves.” The formal sanctification of the people was meant to be the outward expression of a heartfelt antipathy to Achan’s transgression.
2. Forgiveness of sin requires an adequate protest against the evil of sin “He shall be burnt,” etc. Ere the Israelites were forgiven, they were to express in some suitable way their disavowal and detestation of the offence. This expression of feeling was imperatively necessary for the Israelites themselves. If a child sin against his father, a wise father will not recklessly forgive, but will, for his child’s sake, require some expression of contrition and disavowal which shall be, so far as possible, commensurate with the magnitude of the offence. It is not because of any longing to honour the abstract principles of justice that a wise father would make such a demand; justice would furnish the ground for that demand; but it is the father’s love to his child, his love to his other children, and his sense of duty towards society generally, which would make the demand imperative and the father inflexible. In a modified form, the same feelings would actuate a good governor or judge in dealing with criminals, and, allowing a sufficiency of power, a good and wise nation in dealing with the offence of some other nation. Justice is passive, and does but furnish the license of right to proceed; it is the sense of duty to others, or the feeling of love to them, which is active and urgent in its demand that the offender suitably express contrition. It was God’s love to Israel that made Achan’s prospect of pardon so hopeless; the offence had been great, and nothing less than the life of the more immediate offenders would be understood by Israel, and therefore be taken by God, as a suitable and sufficient acknowledgment of the guilt. So it was God’s love to men, and not His hunger for justice, that made the cross of Christ so absolutely imperative. Either man, the offender, or God who wished to pardon, must for the sake of the world at large, perhaps for the sake of the intelligent universe, suitably recognise the guilt of human sin. Man could only do this in his own ruin; to save him from that ruin, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This “power to forgive sins,” without disordering the moral forces which influence sinners, is the most wonderful manifestation of power ever displayed even by God. Thus the narrative of the cross is greater than the record in the opening chapter of Genesis; the glory of Calvary transcends the majesty of creation.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 7:10.—THE RELATION OF PRAYER TO WORK.
I. In times of new perplexity and distress, the natural order is first to pray, and then to work. It was not till eventide that the Lord said, “Get thee up.” Although it would have been useless to pray after that, God does not rebuke Joshua for praying before that.
1. Prayer brings light upon the difficulty itself. Without this humble and persevering petition, Joshua must apparently have remained ignorant of the sin which had been committed.
2. Prayer secures the Lord’s guidance. The petition that brings God to our side cannot be useless. Jehovah guided His servant (a) to know that sin had been the cause of the defeat, (b) to understand fully the nature of the sin, (c) to the assurance that sin must be put away before He would again be with Israel, (d) to discover the sinner, (e) and to the way in which the Divine presence could once more be secured. When God begins to enlighten His people, He guides them, not merely to know the measure of their difficulty, but entirely through that difficulty. He gives the light of the law to reveal sin, the light of the cross to shew how sin can be put away, and the light of precious promises to assure us of His personal presence till the last enemy shall be destroyed.
3. Prayer brings strength for work. It was no light task which Joshua had to perform. For the first time in his capacity as leader, he was called on to inflict the judgment of death. The prayer, the words of the Lord, and the solemn process of discovering the offender, would prepare both Joshua and the people for this dreadful task.
II. In times of distress, work should never be willingly allowed to precede prayer. Difficulty may overtake men in the midst of work, when there is little opportunity for prayer. It was so when Joshua first saw the beginning of the defeat at Ai. Excepting momentary supplication, there would have been little time for Joshua to think of anything but the battle, and the management of the retreat. But, in times of emergency, work should not precede prayer from choice. Had Joshua renewed the battle with a greater force, he would probably have sustained a fresh defeat. Defeat would have been added to defeat, and distress to distress. He who pursues work that has failed, when he should be asking help from the Lord, can only expect to add sorrow unto sorrow.
III. Work should never be neglected for prayer. While Joshua merely prayed,
(1) sin could not be put away,
(2) God would not come to the help of the people,
(3) and the Canaanites would exult in their recent victory.
“The question: ‘Wherefore fallest thou thus upon thy face?’ is one of reproof, implying that Joshua had no reason to doubt the faithfulness of the Lord, or to implore its continuance; since it was not to God, but to the sin of the people, that he must trace the calamity which had befallen Israel. The reproof does not of course apply to the mere fact of Joshua’s turning to the Lord and prostrating himself in prayer, nor even to the tone of complaint against the Lord observable in the words of his prayer, but to the disposition, which he manifested, to seek the cause of his misfortune in God and His superintendence, whereas it was to be found altogether in the transgression of the people.” [keil.]
Joshua 7:11.—THE SINFULNESS OF SIN.
I. The successive stages of sin. “When Achan longed, he ought to have resisted; when he planned, he ought to have stopped before taking; when he had taken, he should have cast it away instead of stealing; when he had stolen, he should have freely confessed it; and when it was buried, he ought to have dug it up again.” [S. Schmidt.]
II. The aggravated guilt of sin.
1. It was a transgression of righteousness. “Israel hath sinned.”
2. It was a transgression of the law of gratitude. God had graciously entered into covenant with them, under that covenant they had already received mercies for forty years, and recently these mercies had been wonderful beyond conception. Forgetful of all this, and in the very hour of a miraculous victory under the covenant, Achan ignored the covenant altogether.
3. It was a transgression of God’s word. “Which I commanded them.”
4. It was the transgression of good faith. Under the specific condition of not touching the spoil, the victory had been granted, and Achan had “even taken of the cherem.”
5. It was a transgression of honesty and truth. “They have stolen and dissembled also.”
6. It was a transgression of Achan’s own conscience. Had he not felt it wrong to put the devoted things “among his own stuff,” he would not have hidden them.
III. The wide-reaching evil of sin. God held that “Israel” had done this wickedness. Through each of the six charges contained in the verse, the sin is ascribed to all the people: “They have also transgressed,” etc.
IV. The connection between sin and unbelief. Achan had no real faith:
1. In Divine omniscience. Had he really believed that God saw him, he could not have taken of the spoil.
2. In Divine punishment. Had he been convinced that he would have been “devoted,” he would have resisted the temptation.
3. In the Divine word. To disbelieve in the punishment was to disbelieve Him who had threatened to destroy. The man evidently believed concealment from his brethren a much more important matter than concealment from Jehovah. Thus does unbelief in God usually lie at the root of all transgression.
Joshua 7:12.—THE CONSEQUENCES OF UNFORGIVEN GUILT.
I. To be without forgiveness is to be without God. II. To be without God is to be without strength (cf. John 15:5). III. To be without strength is to be without courage. IV. To be without repentance for the sin which works results like these, is to be without hope.
“The oracle of God, which told Joshua that a great offence was committed, yet reveals not the person. It would have been as easy for God to have named the man as the crime.” [Bp. Hall.]
Joshua 7:13-6.7.15.—GETTING READY TO BE SANCTIFIED.
I. Human preparation for putting away sin. What Jehovah teaches Israel, we should learn as necessary for ourselves. There are no superfluities in the Divine teaching, and human hearts are as weak now as they were three thousand years ago. In order to be sanctified indeed, the Lord teaches us the following things:
1. To get a deep consciousness of sin’s existence and guilt. “There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee.” There will be no question of sin’s presence in us if we wait long in the Divine presence. We are to feel that sin justly makes every one who entertains it worthy to be devoted.
2. To maintain an unwavering conviction that sin works misery and ruin. “Thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until,” etc. He who suffers himself to entertain the smallest hope that sin can ultimately bring anything but loss and misery, is hindering his sanctification. If we would be made holy, sin must be regarded in its results, as well as in its nature, as an unmixed evil.
3. To undertake deliberate and specific acts tending to sanctification. It is only the forms, and never the moral principles of the old dispensation, which are abolished in the N. T. We also need the help of a deliberate purpose to be sanctified, and of outward things in which we can manifestly act in that direction. Regular times for private examination, meditation, prayer, and the reading of the Scriptures, are helps which no man can dispense with for long without becoming irregular in holiness. For special times of departure, fasting and humiliation, in secresy before God, should not be despised. Most men are more in danger on the side of worldliness, than on the side of superstitious asceticism.
II. Divine help for putting away sin. The Lord would discover the way in which sin entered into the camp, the person who had introduced it, and the place where the proofs of it lay hidden. This discovery:
1. Supposes omniscience by its boldness. The proposal was to single out one person from two or three millions. A charlatan, relying on effrontery in himself, and superstition in his victims, has sometimes ventured to assert his power to detect a thief from among half a dozen ignorant and credulous people, one of whom has been known to be guilty of stealing; and, owing to the timidity which accompanies transgression, he has occasionally succeeded. It would be a widely different thing for a man to gravely propose to unfailingly detect one thief from among all the inhabitants of London, and that by means of considering the people, in their absence, under some systematic division of the multitude into classes. It required God, calm in the consciousness of infinite discernment, to announce that He would, with invisible hand, unfailingly guide the lot past the myriad names of Israel to the name of him who was guilty of the crime.
2. Is impartial in its spirit. Prejudice had no place whatever in the enquiry.
3. Is deliberate in its method. God moves to judgment slowly, that the guilty may have opportunity to repent and confess.
4. Is solemn in its steady progress. Jacob, under no special accusation, felt the very presence of God to fill him with awe: surely when Achan watched the ever-narrowing and unerring procession of the lot, which pointed out successively his tribe and his family, he must have been ready to anticipate the last selection, and to cry out in an intenser fear than the patriarch, “How dreadful is this place!”
5. Is certain and convincing in, its result. Probably no single person in the host had, any more than Joshua (Joshua 7:19), the smallest doubt that Achan was the offender. Then, what God so unerringly shews, and his brethren without exception believe, the guilty man unavoidably confesses. So bold, and fair, and solemn is the judgment of the Lord; so terrible, to the guilty, is its issue.
III. Characteristic features in the putting away of sin. If we would be sanctified in heart, as well as outwardly, we must deal severely with that which offends (Joshua 7:15).
1. No necessary sacrifice must be withheld. Sin may call for extreme measures, but the Saviour said for our guidance, who live in this dispensation, “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.”
2. No weak hesitation is to be suffered. “In the morning ye shall be brought,” etc., and after that each step is prompt and firm to the bitter end.
3. No room for sympathy with transgression is to be left. Achan, and all that he had, were to be destroyed. No opportunity was left to mourn with “the bereaved,” and thus get gentler thoughts of the sin in fellowship with the sufferers. The transgressor and his family, who might have been privy to his guilt, were to be alike “stoned with stones, and burned with fire.” He who would fight manfully against sin, must leave no way of retreat into the regions of transgression.
Joshua 7:10-6.7.15.—I. Prayer and humiliation are of no ultimate account without repentance.
II. Repentance avails nothing without sanctification.
III. Sanctification is impossible without abhorrence of sin really felt and unmistakably expressed.
Joshua 7:21. A goodly Babylonish garment] Lit. “A cloak of Shinar,” Shinar being the ancient name for the land of Babylon (Genesis 10:10). These garments have the reputation of having been highly wrought works of art. Pliny, Hist. Nat., lib. viii., c. 48, says of them, “Colores diverson picturæ vestium intexere Babylon maxime celebravit et nomen imposuit.” Josephus (Ant. v. 1. 10), says that the robe hidden by Achan was “a royal garment woven entirely of gold.” A wedge of gold] Mary., “a tongue” of gold. “What we commonly call an ingot of gold, from a corruption of the word lingot, signifying a little tongue” (Clarke). “The value of the silver, reckoned at 5s. per oz., would be nearly £28; and the ingot of gold would, at £4 per oz., be worth rather more than £90. An estimate of this kind must however be very uncertain, because we are unacquainted with the value which precious metals bore in the time of Joshua” (Kitto).
Joshua 7:23. Laid them out before the Lord] Marg. = poured them out. They were thus poured out before Jehovah, in token that they had been made cherem, and belonged unto Him.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 7:16-6.7.23
THE REVELATION OF PARTICULAR SINS
Although God knew the actual offender as fully as He knew that transgression had been committed, He directed Joshua to proceed as if the criminal were altogether unsuspected. God would manifest the guilt in a manner which should bring conviction to every individual in the camp. It is a beautiful feature in Divine justice that the Lord never rests, as He might rest, in His own unerring assurance of right; He is concerned, also, to satisfy every feeling of enquiry and doubt in the minds of those whom He judges. The issues of the Judgment Day will represent not only the mind of Jesus Christ, the Judge; they will express the unwavering conviction of the lost, the undivided feeling of the redeemed, and the confident assent of the universe.
I. The God directed search, for sin. The enquiry was directed to the discovery of a specific act of sin, and to the detection of the individual transgressor. We see the Lord deliberately undertaking to expose some particular act of sin in some particular members of Israel. There is an immense difference between the moral effect of any general exposure of sin, and such revelation of specific and individual guilt as is undertaken here. Men think comparatively little of general acknowledgments of iniquity. Witness the general confessions of sin made in public services and prayer meetings. It would make confession a different thing indeed, if those who acknowledge that they are sinners, at the same time named their sins. The exposure of sin in this form concentrates and focuses the attention. The result in the two cases presents all the difference that there is between a dreamy theory, which all men admit, and a sharply defined and localized fact, at which everybody is alarmed. It is sin in a specific form, and attaching to an individual man, that God here undertakes to reveal. It may be asked, Why did Jehovah concern Himself to reveal actual sin in this form? Why did the Saviour repeatedly draw attention, openly, to particular transgressions among the Apostles? Why in the course of Divine providence, now, does God frequently bring to light instances of guilt in Christian men, which at once shock the feeling of the Church, and afford opportunity for the scorn of enemies? Would not society gain by the concealment of iniquity in instances like these? The late F. W. Robertson, speaking of the case of sin in the Corinthian Church, has thus dealt with the whole question: “There are two views of sin: in one, it is looked upon as a wrong; in the other, as producing loss—loss, for example, of character. In such cases, if character could be preserved before the world, grief would not come; but the paroxysms of misery fall upon our proud spirit when our guilt is made public. The most distinct instance we have of this is in the life of Saul. In the midst of his apparent grief, the thing still uppermost was that he had forfeited his kingly character: almost the only longing was, that Samuel should honour him before his people. And hence it comes to pass, that often remorse and anguish only begin with exposure. Suicide takes place, not when the act of wrong is done, but when the guilt is known, and hence, too, many a one becomes hardened, who would otherwise have remained tolerably happy; in consequence of which we blame the exposure, not the guilt; we say if it had hushed up, all would have been well; that the servant who robbed his master was ruined by taking away his character; and that if the sin had been passed over, repentance might have taken place, and he might have remained a respectable member of society. Do not think so. It is quite true that remorse was produced by exposure, and that the remorse was fatal; the sorrow which worked death arose from that exposure, and so far exposure may be called the cause had it never taken place, respectability, and comparative peace, might have continued; but outward respectability is not change of heart. It is well known that the corpse has been preserved for centuries in the iceberg, or in antiseptic peat; and that when atmospheric air was introduced to the exposed surface it crumbled into dust. Exposure worked dissolution, but it only manifested the death which was already there; so with sorrow, it is not the living heart which drops to pieces, or crumbles into dust, when it is revealed. Exposure did not work death in the Corinthian sinner, but life.”
Who can say that this was not the effect in Achan’s case? Judging by his free and open confession, so swiftly forced upon him, the opportunity for repentance was sincerely seized; and the low and poor measure of life, which would soon have expired under concealment, was enabled again to shew itself, ere its possessor was hurried into the more manifest presence of his Maker. This is why God so often deliberately exposes guilt: if the guilty have any remaining life, He would free that life from an oppressive and destroying incubus; if there be no life, He would reveal the death that is there, and thus give warning and salvation to the life that is in others.
II. The God-guided process of the lot. Whatever may have been the exact method of the lot, the successive stages of its advance towards the detection of the criminal were marked with terrible certainty. There was no haste, and no hesitation; no faltering even for a moment, as if waiting for light, and no mistake which rendered necessary the retracing of a single step, or the repetition of any one ineffectual movement. Like the hound, which with keen powers of smelling, and a strong scent to guide it, running “breast high” towards its game, never hunting on the “heel,” never pausing to recover scent, and never faltering till its fierce fangs meet in its exhausted victim; so the very lot itself must have seemed, to one man in that great multitude, as if mysteriously instinct with a life unerring in its discernment, and unrelenting in its pursuit. Changing the figure: from the circumference of that vast circle necessary to enclose the camp of Israel, standing where Achan stood, every line drawn to detect the guilty would seem, from the very first, to be pointing directly to himself, and to be coming ever nearer as it was produced successively through the three inscribed circles, the last of which narrowed the examination to his own immediate family: the twelve tribal lines of indication would centre on his tribe, the five lines from the ancestral heads of Judah would join together on his ancestor, Zarah (cf. Genesis 46:12), the lines from the Zarhite ancestry would meet in the family of Zabdi, or Zimri (cf. 1 Chronicles 2:6), while the lines from the family of Zabdi, passing through the apparently thin house of Carmi, would focus themselves on Achan, becoming there, in their silent intensity, almost vocal with an utterance which, later on, rang out from the lips of an indignant prophet down into the conscience of another criminal—“Thou art the man.” So surely was the lot guided to its mark by God.
1. Learn the folly of all the attempts which are made to conceal sin. Exposure, at the farthest, does but await the judgment of the Lord.
2. Admire the glory of Divine omniscience. God saw the acts of every man in the host of Israel, even during the tumult of war. He sees, not less accurately, the thoughts of every mind, and the desires of every heart. As Archbishop Secker quaintly puts it, “God hath a glazed window in the darkest houses of clay: He sees what is done in men, when none other can.”
III. The God-honouring result of discovery.
1. The act of God, in this revelation of sin, carried with it the full concurrence of men. (a) The transgressor himself fully acknowledged his guilt. Achan felt that he had done wickedly, nor could he dispute the justice of his sentence, (b) The spectators must have been equally impressed with the wisdom and justice and love of God. The confession of Achan vindicated Divine wisdom, the solemnity of the offence and the express terms of the covenant assured the people as to Divine justice, while in the stern execution of the sentence they might behold God’s love hedging up as “with thorns” their own way to sin. (c) While the conscience and judgment of men were fully satisfied, the formalities prescribed by the law were also scrupulously met. The law explicitly stated: “At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.” Although the lot had pointed out the guilty man, and Achan himself had confessed his sin, Joshua sent messengers to the tent to furnish yet further evidence of the transgression.
2. This act of discovery was not only a revelation in the present, but also light upon the past. The defeat before Ai, the slaughter of the Israelites, and the slowness of the answer to the prayer of Joshua and the elders, were all explained now. Thus does the Divine discovery of human sin still light up the darkness of the past. Thus, too, will the revelation of the final judgment discover the cause of many defeats, shew the reason of much pain, and disclose the grounds of not a few unanswered prayers.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 7:16-6.7.18.—FAMILY HISTORY AND FAMILY SIN.
Joshua rose up early in the morning
(1) when he was about to lead the people to behold God’s wonderful works (chap. Joshua 3:1-6.3.5;
(2) when he was about to lead them to a great victory (chap. Joshua 6:12; Joshua 6:14-6.6.15);
(3) when he was required to conduct this search for sin. Our vigilance must not be one-sided. He who would serve God indeed, must not only be active in duties which go with great honour and joy, but also in duties which are accompanied with much shame and sorrow.
I. The insufficiency of family name and greatness to shield men from sin. “The tribe of Judah was taken.” The tribe of Judah was considered the chief in Israel. This was the most numerous and powerful of all the tribes, and had assigned to it the place of honour in the general encampment around the tabernacle (cf. Numbers 2:3). To this tribe, too, had come the richest blessing from their father Jacob; they were to be the royal family among all the families of Israel; in their inheritance should stand both the metropolis of the kingdom and the temple of the Lord, or, as the patriarch prophesied, “Unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Not all the prestige which came from past history, from present dignity, or from future prospects, saved Judah from this disgrace.
1. There is no family name which stands sufficiently high to make pride allowable in any man.
2. No family dignity is great enough to furnish to any of its members securities against sin.
II. The connection between a bad life and a bad antecedent history. “He took the family of the Zarhites.” It is sufficient merely to remind ourselves that Zarah, or Zerah, was one of the children of Judah’s transgression. A fact like this might have weakened the moral force of Zerah through all his life, and have enfeebled the character of his descendants. One sin in a family often repeats itself in that family’s subsequent history. He who sins, sins not only to himself, but to his children after him.
III. The wide intervening space which is sometimes seen between the conspicuous transgressions which mar the glory of a family name. Judah sinned, but we hear little for good or evil about Zerah, or Zabdi, or Carmi. Their names never come into prominence in connection with either virtue or vice. Through the three intervening generations the family life went, for the most part, smoothly and quietly. Then Achan came, and another blot was made upon the family history. There may be a much closer connection between these prominent acts of wickedness in a family than we are accustomed to think. No one can assert that it is out of Judah’s weakened life that sin, in another form, presently appears in the life of Achan; it is equally true that no one can prove the contrary. Speaking of the powers of memory, MacLaren has said, “The fragmentary remembrances which we have now, lift themselves above the ocean of forgetfulness like islands in some Archipelago, the summits of sister hills, though separated by the estranging sea that covers their converging sides and the valleys where their roots unite. The solid land is there, though hidden. Drain off the sea, and there will be no more isolated peaks, but continuous land. In this life we have but the island memories heaving themselves into sight, but in the next the Lord shall ‘cause the sea to go back’ by the breath of His mouth, and the channels of the great deep of a human heart’s experiences and actions shall be laid bare.” As it is with our memories of sin, so is it with the sins themselves. Conspicuous transgressions stand island-like above the ocean of ordinary life and history, and succeeding generations, seeing one sin here and another there, treat them as separate and disconnected; but in the life to come, when there is “no more sea,” and when we “know even as also we are known,” it may appear that the huger evils which force themselves up above the common level of the family history are all connected by a chain of lesser transgressions which now lie hidden from our view.
“At the casting of the lots, we are not of course to suppose that all the male members of the tribes were present; but that the heads of the people attended, and the lots were cast on them in the following order: first, upon the heads of the twelve tribes; then upon the heads of all the clans of Judah; thirdly, upon the heads of the father-houses of the clan of Zerah; and lastly, upon the individual members of the father-house of Zabdi.”—[Keil.]
I. The tenderness of Joshua towards the sinner. “My son.” “I pray thee.”
II. The severity of Joshua toward the sin. While Joshua speaks in accents of the utmost gentleness to Achan, he holds out no hope of pardon; he does but require the criminal to confess, that the glory of God may be made manifest before all Israel, and that Achan’s hope for another life, if any, may not be destroyed by his obstinacy in this. Thus we are taught
“To hate the sin with all our heart,
And yet the sinner love.”
THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE CONFESSION OF SIN
I. To confess sin to be sinful, is a tribute to the glory of God as the upholder of the majesty of truth and the beauty of holiness. II. To confess sin, even when it is already detected, is to acknowledge God’s glory in His omniscience. III. To confess sin which brings disgrace on the Lord’s people, is to display the glory of God as consisting in light and truth, and not in concealment. IV. To confess sin at the Divine bidding, is to confess that the glory of God is independent of men. V. To confess sin, is to “give glory to the Lord God,” not as adding to His glory, but as admitting and manifesting that glory. VI. To confess sin when the judgment of death will certainly follow, may be to hope in Divine mercy for the life to come, and thus to honour God’s glory in forgiveness.
Joshua 7:20-6.7.21.—ACHAN’S CONFESSION OF HIS CRIME.
I. The confession as a revelation of human weakness.
1. Man as too weak to see the beautiful. The goodly garment was too attractive; it drew Achan into theft, and thus into forgetfulness of the rights of God. The beauties of Nature, and the beauties of Art, as leading men to forget God, merely appropriating pleasure, instead of also rendering praise.
2. Man as too weak to behold the means of easily obtaining life’s comforts. Achan found the gold and silver too attractive also. Whatever might have been the difficulty of using these in the present, the day would doubtless come, he thought, when they would be a power. They would stand, then, for so much ease from labour, for so many of the necessaries and comforts of life, for so much social influence. Thus does the unlawful pursuit of wealth often lead men, still, to forget the claims of God.
3. Man as too weak to be grateful. In the very hour when victory had been given, that victory itself, if rightly used, leading on to a peaceful inheritance, Achan ungratefully forgat God. The mercies of the wilderness, the mercies of victory over Sihon and Og, the mercies of the passage of the Jordan, and the mercies of a renewed covenant at Gilgal, were all forgotten, and this in the very midst of new mercies at Jericho. A single coin, held close enough to the eye, will shut out the glory of the sun; so a little spoil, held too close to the heart in a spirit of covetousness, shut out from this man’s soul the sight and remembrance of Jehovah’s manifold goodness. And still this weakness repeats itself—worse than repeats itself. Less valuable spoils than these are not seldom permitted to shut out the cradle of the incarnation, the ministry of humiliation, the cross of suffering, and thus, too, the present love of a living Christ.
4. Man as too weak for faith. God had said, “Lest ye make yourselves to be devoted.” It may be that Achan had believed that, and felt its solemnity; with the glittering prize well before him, like many another in the hour of temptation, he was too feeble to believe then.
5. Man as too weak to understand that the future will soon be the present. Achan’s lack of faith must surely have been unbelief, not disbelief. With so many assurances of God’s power to see, and power to work, lying, as they did, close about him, he could not deliberately disbelieve that God saw, and that God would punish. The gold and the garment did but shut out the future; present pleasure and present possessions, just then, made up the whole vision of the man’s life. So with many, to-day still obscures to-morrow, life hides death, and time shuts out eternity.
II. The confession as reiterating a needful warning.
1. It warns us to avoid temptation. Here we may learn again to pray as Christ taught His disciples, “Lead us not into temptation.”
2. It teaches us to resist the beginnings of evil. These beginnings of evil were, probably, long before Achan saw the spoil which tempted him to sin. It may be that an hour before he took the devoted things he would not have thought himself capable of the transgression; yet we are not therefore to think that the point where he began to go astray was in the actual sin. The very act of guilt supposes a previous life in which there had been low thoughts of sin, cold considerations of Divine goodness, and poor views of God Himself. It is here that the preparation for the reception of temptation constantly begins, and here that it can best be resisted.
3. It warns us that repentance deferred is repentance embittered. At no place would confession and restitution have been so easy as immediately after the sin. Every step, after the spoil was taken, made repentance harder: the defeat at Ai, the deaths of the slain, the grief of Joshua, and even the solemnities attending the lot, were all so many obstacles in the path backward.
4. It shews us that confession at last is infinitely better than no confession at all. This confession is the one and only softening feature of the wretched man’s story; it is the one oasis in this moral desert, and even that is small. If there be any bow whatever in the cloud, it is that which is faintly reflected to us from these forced tears of penitence.
III. The confession as affording room for hope. Are we to take the solemn judgment on Achan in this life as shutting out all hope for him in the life to come?
1. There is no word uttered to tell us that Achan was eternally lost. (a) The silence of the Bible on this point. Perhaps the darkest case mentioned in Scripture, excepting the parable of Dives, is that of Judas. Even here, the indication of the eternal state is dim, although very terrible: “It were good for that man if he had never been born” … “That he might go to his own place.” And this seems to be the only instance in which the Bible indicates positively the eternal perdition of any one of its characters. True, to reverse a familiar line, there are many names, like those of Saul, Jeroboam, Ahab, and Ananias, which seem light with insufferable darkness, and yet even on the eternal state of these men the Scriptures are silent. (b) The mercy of this silence. Had the eternal state of wicked individuals been positively shewn, how many of the desponding living would have read their likeness in the character of some one known to be lost, and then have despairingly pronounced their own doom. (c) The hope that comes of this silence in cases like Achan’s. Where God has not shut out all hope, and penitence leaves some room for hope, let us hope, even though we have to fear.
2. The character of Achan’s confession furnishes some slight ground for hope. That it had been made earlier, every one must desire; yet even the confession of the penitent thief seems to have been made later. (a) Achan’s confession has no apparent reservation. “I came, I saw, I coveted, I took, I hid,” he says. (b) The confession has no attempt to implicate others. There is nothing here which corresponds with the word of the first man,—“The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree;” or with the similar utterance of the first woman,—“The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” (c) The confession has no attempt at excuse. The only word that looks towards anything else than Achan’s own weakness, is that which names the “goodly” character of the Babylonish garment, and even this can hardly be said to plead the stress of the temptation. The acknowledgment throughout has a simple regard to the man’s own wicked weakness, (d) The confession bears marks of sincerity. The first words of it almost anticipate the deep anguish in which David cried, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned.” “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel,” says Achan. Let us hope that the contrition was not in vain; let us also fear to stand at last where hope needs so many words to reveal it, and where, even then, it has to be left so faintly discernible.
Joshua 7:21.—THE PROGRESS OF SIN.
“I. It enters by the eye. II. It sinks into the heart. III. It actuates the hand. IV. It leads to secresy and dissimulation. ‘I saw,’ etc. ‘I coveted,’ etc. ‘I took and hid them in the earth.’ Thus saith James: ‘When lust (evil desire) is conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and when sin is finished, it bringeth forth death.’ ” [Clarke.]
Joshua 7:22-6.7.23.—THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF TRANSGRESSION.
I. The wretched issue of dissembling. “Behold, it was hid,” etc. The hidden had become the revealed. That which had been so carefully and industriously concealed, the messengers now “behold,” and it would soon be exposed before the eyes of all Israel. When God questions in the judgment, the things done in the body will be fully revealed. Not only will every person be present, but “we must all appear (be made manifest: Alf.) before the judgment seat of Christ.”
II. The humiliating and impoverishing act of restitution. “They took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua.” Achan’s labour had been all in vain. He was as poor, outwardly, as before the theft; and, in heart, his theft had left him bankrupt indeed. The gains of sin will all have presently to be returned.
1. God will have every sinner, not only to repent, but, as far as is possible, to make restitution.
2. He who makes restitution too late, may have also to suffer retribution. Anne of Austria, the Queen of France, when suffering from the repeated cruelties of her implacable enemy, Cardinal Richelieu, is said to have remarked: “My lord cardinal, there is one fact which you seem entirely to have forgotten. God is a sure paymaster. He may not pay at the end of every week, or month, or year; but I charge you, remember that He pays in the end.”
III. The only place in which men can effectually deal with sin. “They brought them unto Joshua … and poured them out before the Lord.”
1. We shall best discover sin as we search for it before the Lord. Joshua had evidently conducted the inquisition for the offender immediately before the Ark of the Divine presence. Those who “walk in the light” of fellowship with God, will most readily detect iniquity. “Sin doth like itself appear” nowhere so much as beneath the cross of the Saviour.
2. We can only rightly confess sin as we confess it before the Lord. Thus, standing before the Ark, Joshua said unto Achan, “Give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto Him. Although the sin was to be told to Joshua, Achan was to feel and to acknowledge it as in the presence of Jehovah, and as sin against Him.
3. We shall most effectually condemn sin as we judge it before the Lord. Remembering the presence of Him who is merciful and gracious, and who will by no means clear the guilty, Joshua was very tender to the man, and very severe with the offence itself. There was a moral majesty about the bearing of Joshua, which must have very deeply impressed itself upon the people around him. We shall never condemn sin effectually, unless we bear ourselves towards men in “the meekness and gentleness of Christ,” and towards sin in the spirit of Him who chose to suffer for it unto death, rather than to suffer it in others.
Joshua 7:24. All that he had] In ordinary matters, touching the national welfare, the law provided that the children should not “be put to death for the fathers” (Deuteronomy 24:16), but this can hardly be used as an argument to prove that the family of Achan could not have been slain. (a) God might well reserve to Himself a right with which human discrimination and mercy were not to be trusted. (b) The awful solemnity with which the ban of devotement was regarded places it in an exceptional position. (c) This was a wrong deliberately done to God, as well as to the nation, and thus had features which might take it out of ordinary law. From Joshua 7:15; Joshua 7:25, with chap. Joshua 22:20, it seems that all the family of Achan were put to death. They may have been privy to Achan’s sin, but this is not stated. Nothing is more solemn and emphatic throughout the whole chapter than the representative character given to the entire transaction. Even the camp of Israel was counted to be devoted till the iniquity was purged from out of their midst, and the thirty-six men who were slain in battle were as much made cherem as Achan himself.
Joshua 7:26. The valley of Achor] This was doubtless so called from Achan’s sin and punishment. Is it not also probable that the man took his name from his sin, and thus is literally known by his deeds? It seems unlikely that Achan would have borne such a name before his transgression, nor would the coincidence, had he been known all his life as “the troubler,” be less singular. Instead of playing on the man’s original name, in Joshua 7:25, does not Joshua bitterly and graphically so describe the act, that the term of description henceforth becomes the appellation by which the man is known in Israel, and thus also the name under which the historian refers back to so much of his life as is noticed? From Isaiah 65:10 and Hosea 2:15, it is evident that this solemn judgment made a deep impression, and took a lasting hold of the national mind.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 7:24-6.7.26
THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN
When the Israelites were beaten back from Ai, and some of them slain, Joshua rent his clothes, and fell upon his face before the ark of the Lord, and fasted and prayed till the evening. He seems to have had some suspicion of evil among the people; his bearing and words have about them more of the tone of enquiry than of the spirit of complaint. Yet if Joshua suspected the people, he did not charge them with sin, or, apparently, so much as name it to them, until he knew from the lips of God that they were guilty. In the defeats and sufferings of men now, there may sometimes be cause to suspect that they are connected with transgression. But while defeat and suffering should lead us to examine ourselves, they should not lead us to make accusations against others. Let this course of treatment be recognised, and there would be no end to the recriminations of men against one another. It is related that Charles II. once said to John Milton, “Do not you think that your blindness is a judgment upon you for having written in defence of my father’s murder?” “Sir,” answered the poet, “it is true I have lost my eyes; but if all calamitous providences are to be considered as judgments, your majesty should remember that your royal father lost his head.” Every man who heedlessly charges a fellow-creature to find in his afflictions a proof of his wickedness, is open to some retort, although his family history may not furnish occasion for a rebuke so severe as that which was deservedly administered by Milton.
The affliction of Israel in the repulse at Ai is clearly seen, at this stage of the history, to stand connected with the transgression of Achan. The sin has been traced home to the sinner, and he who has brought shame and death upon others, is here called to suffer in like manner himself.
I. Achan’s punishment as the expression of a deep abhorrence of sin. Every man in the camp may not actually have felt this abhorrence. Where one man was found willing to commit such wickedness, it may be that there were others found to sympathise with it. By the severity and manner of punishing Achan, God would teach all the people that sin was to be hated exceedingly. Everything which the transgressor had stolen was to be destroyed; the Babylonish garment, and even the silver and gold, were to be utterly put away. All the goods which Achan had possessed before his theft were likewise to be devoted; the very tent which had sheltered him and his, and the oxen and asses and sheep which he had accumulated, were to be burnt with fire. Even his sons and his daughters seem to have been stoned with him, and then in like manner to have been consumed.
1. Iniquity is on no account to be passed over, but to be solemnly put away. Men may be forgiven, but sin never; that is to say, sin may be forgiven unto men, but it must never be forgiven in itself. Sin must be put away (a) irrespective of temporal loss, (b) irrespective of social affections, (c) and irrespective of pain in its severest forms.
2. The gains of iniquity are all to be esteemed unholy. To retain the things which Achan had stolen would be to retain the sin.
3. The gains of iniquity are not only accursed in themselves, they pollute also that which they touch. Zacchæus restored not only that in which he had wronged his fellows, but fourfold. Such a restitution acknowledges that all the estate of a man is corrupted by its corrupt part. “The eagle, in the fable, that stole flesh from the altar, brought a coal of fire with it, which burnt her nest (Habakkuk 2:9-35.2.10; Zechariah 5:4). They lose their own that grasp at more than their own.” [Henry.] This expression of abhorrence against sin must not be held to relate merely to material possessions. The outward picture, given in such terrible colours to Israel, portrays also God’s law for the inner life. The sins of the heart are to be equally hated, and similarly put away. As Arnot has written, “To cover the sin which lies on the conscience with a layer of earnest efforts to do right will not take the sin away; the underlying sin will assimilate all the dead works that may be heaped upon it, and the result will be a greater mass of sin.
II. Achan’s punishment as a vindication of God’s law and covenant.
1. The punishment was to be carried out under the express provisions of the law. The law held (a) that Achan had made himself and his people to be devoted by taking of the devoted thing (chap. Joshua 6:18; Deuteronomy 7:26); (b) that those who were thus sentenced to die should, as for other capital offences, be stoned (Deuteronomy 13:10); (c) that such individual persons as were put to death should be stoned without the camp (Leviticus 24:14); (d) that all the possessions of devoted persons, including the bodies of their slaughtered cattle, should be burnt, and that their own bodies should thus be consumed with their goods (Deuteronomy 13:15-5.13.17). Thus in the destruction of Achan the formalities of the law were emphatically carried into execution. God would have the Israelites trace Achan’s punishment, not to any sudden impulse of anger, but to that deliberate wrath against idolatry which stood as a perpetual record embodied in His covenant.
2. The punishment was to be carried out in the true spirit and interests of law. The one impression left on the thousands of Israel must have been that God would have His commandments honoured, no matter what the cost; yet the tenderness of Joshua and the merciful deliberateness of Jehovah must have assured the people that love to them, no less than hatred of sin, was moving slowly round and forward the wheels of this solemn judgment.
III. Achan’s punishment as a memorial for future guidance and help. Modern monuments are almost invariably, perhaps always, the records of triumphant personal career, or the memorials of national victory. Wisely or unwisely, men and nations now never celebrate their shame. History, more and more, gets to be one-sided; and while it presents much to animate, it has little to warn. The Israelites erected memorials of their great events, and not merely of their great victories. The passage of the Jordan has its cairn, but so has the grave of Achan; the stone of Ebenezer is set up between Mizpeh and Shen to tell the glory of victory, so also is the “very great heap of stones” piled over the body of Absalom, to perpetuate the shame of rebellion. This heap on the grave in the valley of Achor would be interpreted in Israel’s after history:—
1. As a memorial of solemn warning. Men should read there: “So speedily may sin be committed, so certainly does God behold it, so unerringly may it be revealed, and so bitter and shameful is its end.
2. As a memorial of national purification and reconciliation with God. If all Israel was held guilty in Achan’s sin, not less is all Israel held purified in his punishment; the purification is judicial, rather than personal—it lies immediately in the direction of justification, and only indirectly in that of sanctification; but the purification is held by God to be real, and not fictitious. “The Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger,” just as He had some time before declared that He would (Deuteronomy 13:17). Nor is this turning from anger any less real than the anger itself. As under the Divine anger Israel had been defeated, so under the Divine forgiveness Israel proceeded directly to victory. Sin had been put away in God’s method, and every person in the camp, not long since held to be “accursed,” or “devoted,” might now proceed to say, “There is therefore now no condemnation.” It should be noticed that in this revelation of God’s mind on the question of forgiving sin, there is absolutely no room for the commercial theory of an equivalent in atonement. All Israel was solemnly held to be worthy of death in Achan’s sin, but it cannot be pretended that the lives of Achan and his family were an equivalent for the lives of all the people. Atonement is here proclaimed to be, not so much value in blood for so much sin, but an adequate expression of a general abhorrence of sin so great that God who forgives, and man who is forgiven, alike are seen determining that, whatever the cost, sin shall not be tolerated even for a moment. Thus is law “magnified and made honourable;” thus, too, does Divine love proclaim itself in the one and only direction in which God could speak, or man be benefited—the direction of right, and truth, and purity.
3. As a memorial for guidance into hope in times of future darkness. The remembrance of Divine mercy which followed human penitence should long abide with Israel. In times when the national sin would lead to God’s departure, and to the consequent darkness of succeeding defeat, this vision of Achor should become a bow in the cloud, teaching the godly not to despair. It should be even more than this; it should become as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and victory shall take the place of defeat; Repent ye, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Thus more than six centuries later the Lord stirred again the pulse of the national feeling by crying through Hosea, “I will give her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope.” Still later, Isaiah was taught to sing: “And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor a place to lie down in, for my people that have sought me.” So careful is Divine mercy ever to leave a place to which sinful men may return in tears, and from which they may presently sing in joy, “We are saved by hope.” Let who will teach himself to despair, God ever leaves the fastenings of the “door of hope” well within reach of the hand of penitence.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 7:24-6.7.26.—THE DOOR OF HOPE.
Read in connection with Hosea’s obvious reference to this solemn incident, some such thoughts as the following might be expanded to profit:—
I. The unconscious beginnings of hope in the place of human sin and trouble.
II. The silent growth of hope under Divine chastisement.
III. Hope becoming visible through the putting away of iniquity.
IV. Hope fully revealed through words of Divine pardon and the witness of succeeding victories.
THE JUDGMENT IN THE VALLEY OF ACHOR
From the foregoing narrative we may learn:
I. The deceitfulness of sin.
II. The certainty of its exposure.
III. The awfulness of its reward.” [Bush.]
THE CERTAINTY AND SEVERITY OF SIN’S PUNISHMENT
“Punishment is the recoil of crime; and the strength of the back stroke is in proportion to the original blow.” [French.]
“The thought of the future punishment for the wicked which the Bible reveals is enough to make an earthquake of terror in every man’s soul. I do not accept the doctrine of eternal punishment because I delight in it. I would cast in doubts, if I could, till I had filled hell up to the brim; I would destroy all faith in it; but that would do me no good: I could not destroy the thing. Nor does it help me to take the word ‘everlasting,’ and put it into a rack, like an inquisitor, until I make it shriek out some other meaning: I cannot alter the stern fact.” [Beecher.]
“Day and night follow each other not more surely than punishment comes upon sin. Whether the sin be great or little, momentary or habitual, wilful or through infirmity, its own peculiar punishment seems, according to the law of nature, to follow, as far as our experience of that law carries us, sooner or later, lighter or heavier, as the case may be.… Who can pretend to estimate the effect of apparently slight transgression upon the spiritual state of any one of us? Who can pretend to say what the effect of it is in God’s sight? What do the angels think of it? What does our own guardian angel, if one be vouchsafed us, who has watched over us, and been intimate with us from our youth up; who joyed to see how we once grew together with God’s grace, but who now is in fear for us? Alas! what is the real condition of our heart itself? Dead bodies keep their warmth a short time; and who can tell but a soul so circumstanced may be severed from the grace of the ordinances, though he partakes them outwardly, and is but existing upon and exhausting the small treasure of strength and life which is laid up within him? Nay, we know that so it really is, if the sin be deliberate and wilful; for the word of Scripture assures us that such sin shuts us out from God’s presence, and obstructs the channels by which He gives us grace.” [J. H. Newman.]
“Let us suppose, that at the time when Britain was peopled by half-savage tribes, before the period of the Roman sway, some gifted seer among the Druids had engraven upon a rock a minute prediction of a portion of the future history of the island. Suppose he had declared that it should, ere long, be conquered by a warrior people from the south; that he should name the Cæsar himself, describe his eagle standard, and all the circumstances of the conquest. Suppose he should portray the Saxon invasion centuries after, the sevenfold division of the monarchy, the Danish inroad, the arrival and victory of the Normans. Our imagined prophet pauses here, or at whatever other precise period you please to suppose; and his next prediction, overleaping a vast undescribed interval, suddenly represents the England of the present day. Now conceive the forefathers of existing England to have studied this wondrous record, and to find, to their amazement, that every one of its predictions was accurately verified; that, as their generations succeeded, they but walked in the traces assigned for them by the prophetic inscription, and all it spoke progressively became fact. Can we suppose, that however far away in futurity was the one remaining event, and however impossible to them, at their early stage, to conceive the means by which all the present wonders of this mighty empire could ever be realised, they would permit themselves to doubt its absolute certainty after such overwhelming proofs of the supernatural powers of the seer who guaranteed it? Would they not shape their course as confidently in view of the unquestionable future as in reference to the unquestionable past? It should be thus with regard to the coming judgment.” [Archer Butler.]
THE SPIRIT IN WHICH SIN IS TO BE CONFRONTED
“Sin is never at a stay; if we do not retreat from it, we shall advance in it; and the further on we go, the more we have to come back.” [Barrow.]
“Use sin as it will use you; spare it not, for it will not spare you; it is your murderer, and the murderer of the world; use it therefore as a murderer should be used. Kill it before it kills you; and though it kill your bodies, it shall not be able to kill your souls; and though it bring you to the grave, as it did your Head, it shall not be able to keep you there. If the thoughts of death and the grave be not pleasant to you, hearken to every temptation to sin as you would hearken to a temptation to self-murder. You love not death; love not the cause of death.” [Baxter.]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany