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ISRAEL’S FIRST PROCEEDINGS IN CANAAN
Joshua 5:8-10. It came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day. And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho.
THERE are, in the Scripture history, many important incidents which we overlook, as not supposing them to be capable of any spiritual improvement. To those, indeed, which are directly typical, we pay attention, because they are illustrative of the Gospel: but if they command not our respect in that view, we rarely consider what great practical lessons may be derived from them for the regulation of our conduct. But if, in reading the Sacred Oracles, we were frequently to ask ourselves this question, What is the state of mind which is manifested in this or that action? we should gain an insight into many truths which now utterly escape us; and derive to our souls far greater benefit than we can readily imagine. Take, for instance, the conduct of Joshua on his entrance into Canaan. Doubtless it was novel and curious, and such as we should not have expected: but we little think what exceedingly rich instruction it is calculated to convey. To point out this, will be my endeavour at this time. Yet, in pointing it out, I have in view, not merely the elucidation of this particular event, but a general suggestion as to the mode in which the Scripture history may be improved. Let us then consider,
The conduct of Joshua on his entrance into Canaan—
God had opened for him, and for all Israel, a passage through Jordan, at a time when it overflowed all its banks; just as he had for Moses through the Red Sea, at the time of his departure from Egypt. Now, therefore,
What should we expect to be the conduct of Joshua?
[Certainly, I apprehend, if he acted on principles which were common to all other Generals, when invading an enemy’s country, he would either prosecute his advantage instantly, whilst all his enemies were filled with terror, and crush them before they had any time to concert measures for their defence; or he would fortify his own camp, to prevent surprise, and prepare for carrying on his conquests by such a disposition of his army as his skill in war might suggest.]
But, what is the information given in our text?
[Behold, instead of adopting any military plans whatever, the very day after he had invaded a country in which there were seven nations greater and mightier than his, he appointed every male in the whole nation, that had been born in the wilderness, and consequently that was under forty years of age, to be circumcised. He did not even wait a day, to know what the effect of his invasion should be, or what efforts his enemies were making to repel it; but by one act disabled the greater part of his whole army from even standing in their own defence.
It may seem strange, that Moses, whose own life had been endangered by neglecting to circumcise his son [Note: Exodus 4:24-26.], should suffer the whole nation of Israel, who till the hour of their departure from Egypt had observed the rite of circumcision, utterly to neglect it for forty years. Whence this neglect arose, we are not informed: but I conceive, that if in the first instance it arose from the unsettled state of the people till they came to Mount Horeb, and was permitted by Moses for about three months on that account, it was suffered afterwards by God as a just judgment on account of the worship paid to the golden calf, and because of the murmuring of the people at Kadeshbarnea when they were discouraged by the report of the spies who had searched out the land. On the former occasion, Moses brake the tables of the covenant, to shew that the covenant which God had made with them was dissolved; and on the latter occasion, God sware that not a soul of those who had attained the age of twenty at the time of their departure from Egypt should ever enter into the promised land. Being thus disclaimed by God as his peculiar people, they were suffered to withhold from their descendants, for forty years together, that seal, by which alone they could be admitted into covenant with God.
But, however the neglect originated, so it was, that not one of all the children of Israel was circumcised for the space of forty years; and all of these did Joshua circumcise, the very day after his entrance into Canaan.
Only three days after this, (for they passed over Jordan on the tenth day of the month, and kept the passover on the fourteenth, at even [Note: Compare Jos 4:19 with Joshua 5:2; Joshua 5:10.],) did he also enjoin the observance of the passover. The passover had also been neglected, just as circumcision had been [Note: Amo 5:25 and Acts 7:42.]: and now that also must be revived, together with the attendant feast of unleavened bread. But was this a fit season for such observances? Had not Joshua other matters to occupy his attention? In a time of peace we might well expect that a holy man of God would renew these ordinances: but at the very moment of invading an enemy’s country, and within two or three miles of a fortified and strongly-garrisoned city, was this a measure to be adopted? Human prudence, doubtless, would have deferred it: but piety towards God was regarded by Joshua as superseding every other consideration, and as the best means of securing His favour, through whose blessing alone any human efforts could prove effectual.]
Now, instead of passing over this conduct of Joshua as an event in which we have no interest, it will be well to inquire,
How far it is proper for our imitation at this day—
Enter into the state of Joshua’s mind at this time; and then say, whether we may not learn, from his conduct, many lessons for ourselves at this day. We may learn,
That, in whatever circumstances we he, religion should he our first concern—
[If ever there were circumstances under which the offices of religion might be postponed, methinks they were those of Joshua on this occasion, when he had but just set foot on the land where great and powerful nations were prepared to combat for their very existence. And, in fact, it is the general opinion of military and naval commanders, that they have, as it were, a dispensation to neglect the ordinances of religion on account of the urgency and importance of their occupations. The same idea prevails through almost all the orders of society, every one being ready to plead his temporal engagements as an excuse for neglecting the concerns of his soul. The statesman is too much engaged with politics: the merchant with business; the philosopher with his researches; the student with his books; the servant with his duties; and every man with his own separate vocation: each, in his place, urges his occupations as justifying a neglect of his duties towards God. But, if Joshua, under his peculiar circumstances, sought first to serve and honour God, we can have no hesitation in saying, that in comparison of the divine favour there is not an object under heaven worthy of a thought. I mean not by this to say, that we are at liberty to neglect the discharge of any office to which God in his providence has called us. or so to postpone the discharge of it as to endanger our ultimate success: far from it. It is the inward service of the soul, of which I speak; and which needs not to delay any outward act for one moment. It is not the act of Joshua which I propose to your imitation, but the habit of his mind: and that, I say again, is proper to be exercised by every child of man.]
That, in whatever circumstances we be, we should place the most implicit confidence in God—
[Suppose yourself in the presence of Joshua whilst these religious ceremonies were proceeding: you would naturally ask, Are you not in an enemy’s land? and have you not many conflicts to maintain ere you can get a quiet possession of it? yet you seem as much at your ease as if the whole land were already subdued before you. What reply do you suppose Joshua would make to observations like these. True, he would say, you behold me in a state of as much quietness and confidence as if I had not an enemy to contend with. But whose battles am I fighting? In whose service am I engaged? Is there any device or power that can succeed against God? In him I trust: and he it is that “keeps my mind in perfect peace [Note: Isaiah 26:3-4.].” Now, though in respect of temporal trials we cannot be sure that we are called to them in the way that Joshua was, in our spiritual warfare we stand, as it were, on the same ground as he: we are called to it, as he was; and it is the way appointed for our getting possession of our destined inheritance. We also have our enemies at hand, enemies with whom, in our own strength, it would be impossible for us to cope. But “our God is for us;” and therefore, we ask with confidence, “Who can be against us?” Though in ourselves we are weak, we may be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Though we have a warfare to maintain against all the powers of darkness, we should never regard it as of doubtful issue: we should assure ourselves, that in all our conflicts we shall be victorious, and that “Satan himself shall be bruised under our feet shortly [Note: Romans 16:20.].” Already may we look upon the land as ours, and see the crowns and kingdoms there reserved for us. There, in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, we should consider ourselves as already enthroned [Note: Ephesians 2:6.]; and look forward with joy to the dissolution of our earthly tabernacle, in order to its erection in that good land where it shall be the habitation of God for ever and ever [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:1; Ephesians 2:21-22.].]
That, in whatever circumstances we be, we should be determined, through grace, to “roll away the reproach” of our unconverted state—
[The reproach of the Israelites in Egypt was, that they were in bondage both to men and devils: for, whilst they were involuntarily engaged in the service of their Egyptian task-masters, they voluntarily worshipped the gods of Egypt [Note: Jos 24:14 with Ezekiel 20:5-8.]. But behold them now consecrated to God by circumcision, and their reproach was completely rolled away. And is not the unconverted man also both a bond-slave and an idolater? Yes, whatever be the exterior of his deportment, he serves the world, the flesh, and “the devil, by whom he is led captive at his will:” and, whether more or less correct in his outward conduct, he “worships and serves the creature more than the Creator, who is God blessed for evermore.” Now then, I say, if you are consecrated to the Lord in baptism, your duty is to rise superior to all your lusts, and to give yourselves entirely to the service of your God. You must also, in remembrance of your adorable Redeemer, be feeding continually on his body and blood, by means of which you are to be strengthened for all your conflicts, and to be “made more than conquerors” over all your enemies. “Christ our Passover being sacrificed for us,” your whole life must be one continual feast, which you are to “keep, not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” It is the reproach of man that ever he was the servant of sin in any degree: and this reproach we are to be rolling away; and, as the redeemed of the Lord, we are to be “glorifying God with our body and our spirit, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].” To this employment I call you all. I ask you not what your engagements are in life, or what else you have to do: this I am well assured of, that there is not a person under heaven that is not called to this duty; nor is there a circumstance that can be imagined, wherein this duty can be dispensed with. Be ye, then, upright in serving God; and never fear but that God will be faithful in saving you.]
CHRIST THE CAPTAIN OF THE LORD’S HOST
Joshua 5:13-14. It came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto his servant?
MOST seasonable are the mercies which God vouchsafes to his people. His interpositions for them at the Red Sea and the wilderness, and at their entrance into Canaan through the river Jordan, are ample illustrations of this truth, as is also the peculiar fact recorded in my text. Joshua was now surveying Jericho, which was the first fortress that was to he attacked by him. That he had no fears about success, was evident; because, from his first entrance into the land to that hour, he had acted rather like a person at peace with all men, than as one in the midst of enemies whom he was commissioned to destroy. Still, the visible manifestation of Jehovah’s presence with him could not but greatly strengthen his faith, and increase his assurance that every enemy, however powerful, should fall before him.
The points for our consideration are,
The character which our blessed Lord assumed on this occasion—
The person who now appeared to him as “a man,” was no other than the Son of God himself—
[Many were the occasions on which, at that period of the world, the Son of God assumed either an angelic or human shape, for the purpose of encouraging his believing people. To Abraham [Note: Genesis 18:2.], and Jacob [Note: Genesis 32:24-30.], and afterwards to Manoah [Note: Judges 13:6; Judges 13:22.], were manifestations given similar to that which was here vouchsafed to Joshua. That the person who here appeared to Joshua was more than either man or angel, is clear, I think, from the worship which Joshua, on discovering who he was, paid to him: “Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship.” Now, I grant that Joshua might have made a mistake; but if he had, it would have been corrected by the person, who, if he had not been God, would not have suffered these divine honours to be paid him [Note: Compare Revelation 19:10; Rev 22:8-9 where such a mistake was made indeed, but rectified with holy abhorrence.], But, so far were these honours from being declined, that the bestowment of them was sanctioned by an express command, similar to what had been before given to Moses. Jehovah, when he appeared to Moses in the burning bush, commanded him to “put his shoes from off his feet, seeing that the place whereon he stood was holy,” being sanctified by the divine presence [Note: ver. 15 compared with Exodus 3:2-6.]. But indeed, in the beginning of the next chapter, the very person who thus addressed Joshua is called Jehovah: “And the LORD (Jehovah) said unto Joshua [Note: Joshua 6:2.].” I think, then, that we are in no danger of mistake, when we say that the person who here appeared to Joshua as “a man,” was no other than the Son of God himself, the Second Person in the ever-blessed Trinity.]
He, in answer to the question put to him by Joshua, declared himself to be “the Captain of the Lord’s host”—
[This, in its primary import, signified that all Israel were under his special protection; and that under his command they might be assured of victory. But the same is true of God’s spiritual Israel, in all ages of the world. They are one great army collected under him, and fighting the Lord’s battles, in order to a full and undisturbed possession of the promised land. Of these the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head and Chief. He has received a commission from his Father to be “the Leader and Commander of his people [Note: Isaiah 55:4.]:” and whatsoever a general is, or can be, to his army, that is he to all who fight under his banners. Instruction in the use of arms—provision for their whole campaign—encouragement to meet their foes—succour in every difficulty—protection from every danger—and all the rewards of victory, are assured to every one of them, in due season [Note: These several ideas may be somewhat amplified with good effect] — — —]
Seeing, then, that we have such a Captain, let us contemplate,
Our duty towards him under that character—
Doubtless our first duty is to enlist under his banners: for we are not his soldiers by nature: yea rather, we are his enemies, and fight against him in every possible way. But He is held up “as an Ensign to the people; and to him must all people seek [Note: Isaiah 11:10.].” And, as a man entering into the army of an earthly monarch surrenders up himself altogether to the disposal of the general who is placed over him, so must we voluntarily devote ourselves to the service of Christ, before we can be numbered amongst his host over whom he presides. But, supposing this to have been done, then we say that,
We must execute his commands—
[Observe the question which Joshua put to him, the very instant he knew the Lord under this character: “What saith my Lord unto his servant?” A similar question was put by the Apostle Paul, the very instant that the Lord Jesus Christ revealed himself to him: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do [Note: Acts 9:6.]?” In truth, there is not a soldier in any army who does not look for orders from his commanding-officer from day to day, or who does not feel himself bound to carry them into execution. Now the reading of the Scriptures with diligence will, for the most part, supply the needful information: yet are there many particular occasions whereon we must be peculiarly attentive also to the voice of his providence; and in those instances must we seek, by prayer and supplication, his special guidance, which he has promised to us in answer to our prayers. For instance: in the attack which was to be made on Jericho, nothing was left to the direction of Joshua, but every the most minute particular was given in command from this great Captain. And we also, if we will look unto Him, may expect all needful directions: to which, of course, we must adhere with all fidelity, in order to approve ourselves good soldiers of Jesus Christ.]
We must go forth in an entire dependence upon him—
[Soldiers of necessity confide in their commander; and in proportion as is their estimate of his talents, will be, for the most part, their expectation of success. Amongst men, however, this confidence is mutual: for the best general in the universe can effect nothing, if he hare not good soldiers to carry his orders into effect. But, in the Christian camp, the confidence must be altogether in the Captain; without whom the most gallant army in the universe must fail. We must be strong indeed, and of good courage: but we must “not lean to our own understanding,” or “trust in an arm of flesh.” In fact, we are really strong only in proportion as we feel ourselves weak, and look to Christ to “perfect his strength in our weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.].” We must therefore be strong, not in ourselves, but “in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.].”]
To disregard difficulties, and even death itself, in his service—
[A soldier necessarily expects to encounter difficulties, and to expose his life to hazard in the service of his king and country. And the greater the difficulties which he has to sustain, the more he rises to the occasion; insomuch that, if a service of peculiar danger is proposed, a whole army will vie with each other in their readiness to undertake it. Now, if this be the case with those who have enlisted under the banners of an earthly monarch, shall it not much more obtain amongst the armies of the living God? St. Paul “gloried in distresses and necessities for the Lord’s sake:” and the same spirit should animate us also. Indeed, at our very first admission into the service of our Lord we were forewarned, that “he who loved his life, should lose it; and that he only who was willing to lose his life for Christ’s sake, should save it unto life eternal [Note: Matthew 10:39.].” We must “be faithful unto death, if ever we would attain a crown of life.”]
[Inquire now, I pray you, whether this Saviour he to you a friend or an adversary? He is here in the midst of us, “and with his sword drawn,” though we see him not. And to every one of us is he either a friend or a foe. There is no neutrality, either on his part or on ours. Our Lord himself has told us, “that he who is not with him, is against him; and he who gathereth not with him, scattereth abroad [Note: Matthew 12:30.].” Would you, then, ascertain whether he be a “Captain” unto you? Examine your own hearts; and ask, Whether you have ever enlisted under his banners by a voluntary surrender of yourselves to him; and then, Whether you are habitually regarding his will as your rule, and his arm as your stay, and his glory as the one object of your life? These are points easy to be ascertained: and on them your eternal happiness depends. If these things be true, then will he be a “Captain of salvation” unto you [Note: Hebrews 2:10.]: but if this be not the experience of your souls, then you have nothing to expect, but that he will say concerning you, “Bring hither those that were mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me [Note: Luke 19:27.].” Oppose him, and you have nothing to hope; submit to him, and you have nothing to fear, to all eternity.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Joshua 5". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany