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These axe the kings of the land, which the children of Israel smote.
The goodness and severity of God
This chapter is a short summary of the work that has been done. In this resume of the conquest Moses is not forgotten. He is named as well as Joshua. The Holy Ghost delights to point out how God causes many instruments to work out His designs, and thus takes all praise from man. Thus the chapter is a miniature, suggesting all the victories that Israel won, and all the defeats which overwhelmed the Canaanites. Accordingly it is valuable as a demonstration that both the promises and the threatenings of God will be fulfilled to the letter. Here as in a glass we see on the one hand the course and the end of those who follow God, and on the other the course and the end of those who resist. Or, we have pointed out to us the narrow way that leads to life, and the broad road that leads to destruction. May we ponder these things and learn the way wherein we should walk.
I. The different roads. That of Israel was the path of obedience. Everything was done by Divine command. But it was not always easy work for Israel to obey. The commands of God not only led along a narrow way, but often brought them up to a strait gate. They had just to go right on, according to the command of God. Obedience was their watchword. To stop and parley was to be lost. Patient endurance characterised them all through. When an old general was asked why he picked out the old veterans for a forced march he replied, “Because they have the most staying power.” For hard work of any kind this is what tells in the long run; and from the first encounter with Sihon and Og to the last wrestle with the Anakim Israel exhibited this quality both in things physical and things spiritual. Obedience was the path: patient endurance was the characteristic of those who walked therein. On the part of the Canaanites their course was marked by rebellion. They said, “Who is Lord over us?” Thus they hardened themselves against God’s will, and fought it out to the bitter end, learning no lesson and yielding no submission. These two paths of obedience and rebellion have not ceased to be trodden. Neither of them is grass-grown. Thank God there are many who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality. If there must be patient continuance on the part of those who walk the narrow way, there must be constant contention on the part of those who hurry down the broad road. There must be the resistance of the Holy Ghost, of the warnings of conscience, of the light of truth. There must be at times the fear of death and judgment and eternity.
II. The different objects placed before each. That placed before Israel was something very definite and tangible, viz., the sure promise of Jehovah. To them that promise was the title-deed of the Holy Land; therefore all through this war they had in their eye a Divine inheritance, and all the glory and honour which this implied. Can we find any similar incitement on the part of the Canaanites? Nay. Theirs was a hopeless struggle. They were without God and therefore without hope. They obeyed unrighteousness, and were therefore filled with unrest. So is it now. They who walk in the obedience of faith have a glorious object before their eyes to stimulate and encourage them. They seek for glory and honour and immortality. And they have good hope through grace of obtaining it. Yea, they have God’s faithful promise, and therefore glorious assurance of the result. But where is the hope of the rebellious? It is but a vague, unsatisfying dream. At the very best they have no certainty of a happy issue. When they pass hence it is “A leap in the dark.” What a miserable plight is this l Notwithstanding their vast coalitions, their imposing armies, their formidable weapons, their notable leaders, they go forward with fear. The Sihon and Og of materialism, the Adoni-zedek of sacerdotalism, the Jabin of false philosophy, can inspire no true and blessed hope in the hearts of their faltering followers.
III. The different ends. We see the Israelites marching on from victory to victory; entering into Canaan, enjoying the smile of God, and reaping the fruit of their labours. We see the Canaanites swept with the besom of destruction, and all that is left of their mightiest kings is the chronicle of their tombstones as given here. The ends are different because the beginnings are different. Of Israel it might be said, “These all fought in faith.” Of the Canaanites it might be said, “These all died in unbelief.” Paul has laid plainly before us in the Epistle to the Romans these two ends, as we must know them. On the one hand he places eternal life, glory, honour, peace. On the other he places indignation, wrath, tribulation, anguish. One or other of these is the terminus to which every life is hastening. And he also plainly tells us that without faith it is impossible to walk in the good way or to attain the glorious end. Remember then God’s solemn record of the dead. He marks His own as precious jewels, to be worn in His crown in the day of glory, but He counts His enemies but worthless ashes to be trodden under foot. In the Divine record of the dead there are no omissions, no oversights, and no lies. He counts His enemies and He counts His friends. How will He count you? (A. B. Mackay.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25