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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 17

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-18

Joshua 17:1-18

Zelophehad . . . had no sons, but daughters.

The rights of women

The question decided by their case was the right of females to inherit property in land when there were no heirs male in the family. We find that the young women themselves had to be champions of their own cause. The decision was, that in such cases the women should inherit, but under the condition that they should not marry out of their own tribe, so that the property should not be transferred to another tribe. In point of fact, the five sisters married their cousins, and thus kept the property in the tribe of Manasseh. The incident is interesting, because it shows a larger regard to the rights of women than was usually conceded at the time. Some have, indeed, found fault with the decision as not going far enough. Why, they have asked, was the right of women to inherit land limited to cases in which there were no men in the family? The decision implied that if there had been one brother he would have got all the land; the sisters would have been entitled to nothing. The answer to this objection is, that had the rights of women been recognised to this extent it would have been too great an advance on the public opinion of the time. The benefit of the enactment was that, when propounded, it met with general approval. Certainly it was a considerable advance on the ordinary practice of the nations. It established the principle that woman was not a mere chattel, an inferior creature, subject to the control of the man, with no rights of her own. But it was far from being the first time when this principle obtained recognition. The wives of the patriarchs--Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel--were neither chattels, nor drudges, nor concubines. They were ladies, exerting the influence and enjoying the respect due to cultivated, companionable women. And though the law of succession did not give the females of the family equal rights with the males, it recognised them in another way. While the eldest son succeeded to the family home and a double portion of the land, he was expected to make some provision for his widowed mother and unmarried sisters. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities.--What with “could not” in the one, and “would not” in the other, the enemies of peace and purity were allowed to remain. But why was it, but because of the cowardice and unbelief of “could not”? for no rebellion and opposition of “would not” could hold out against the strength of Israel’s sword. It is not so correctly our “cannot” as our “will not” that so many hold a share in our hearts to their annoyance and pollution; for what enemies might not a Christian conquer, what achievements not make, in the spiritual warfare, who goes forth in the strength of the Lord, and in the power of His might? (W. Seaton.)

What hinders

No, as they were then, and as just then they were going on, they “could not” drive out the Canaanites--that was true enough.

1. Their mood was wrong. They preferred ease to energy. Josephus tells us: “After this the Israelites grew effeminate as to fighting any more against their enemies, but applied themselves to the cultivation of the land, which producing them great plenty and riches, they neglected the regular disposition of their settlement, and indulged themselves in luxury and pleasures. The Benjamites, to whom belonged Jerusalem, permitted its inhabitants to pay tribute; the rest of the tribes, imitating Benjamin, did the same; and, contenting themselves with the tributes which were paid them, permitted the Canaanites to live in peace.” In such a mood of course they “could not.”

2. Lapped thus in luxury, and thinking more of their own pleasant ease than of their nobler duty, these Israelites had lost practical and prevailing faith in God. And so, of course, letting the weapon of their faith rust in a bad non-use they “could not” drive these Canaanites from their strongholds.

3. Lying thus in this enervating ease, and losing thus their practical faith in God, the dangers and difficulties in the way of the extirpating these Canaanites were, to their thought, correspondingly increased. The strongholds, to their fearful ease-loving feeling, grew very strong; the fortresses perched upon the rocky hill-tops seemed very unassailable; the chariots of iron--which, drawn by maddened horses and horrible with long, sharp knives, would come dashing upon their ranks--grew awfully terrible. And thus again, of course, “they could not.”

4. But think now of these Israelites marshalled and armed for their duty; as ready to obey their God’s command; as determined to put Jehovah to the proof, and to go forth relying on His promise. How plain it is that the “could not” would have belonged to the Canaanites, and the “would” would have been the word for these Israelites. Then we had had Scripture of another sort, viz., And the children of Manasseh “would” drive out the inhabitants of those cities, and the Canaanites “could not” dwell in that land. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)

Little will, and thus no way

. Inability in its relation to unbelief. The promises of God had been many, and the warnings urgent (Exodus 34:10-17; Numbers 33:50-56, &c.). They who begin by disbelieving God may well fear to encounter powerful enemies.

Inability in its relation to indisposition. The indisposition that comes--

1. Through fear of men.

2. Through love of ease.

3. Through undervaluing the importance of God’s command.

The inability of God-aided men presently shown to be a mere pretence and a poor excuse.

1. The revelation which comes through transgressors themselves. “When the children of Israel were waxen strong, they put the Canaanites to tribute.” “Could not” is here seen to be “would not.” That “tribute” told the entire story in its true colours. Tribute goes on telling secrets still. The tribute of Judas burned into his very soul, till he threw the thirty pieces on the temple floor, and cried over them in agony. The tribute of the craft by which Demetrius had his wealth let out the secret reason of his great love for the despised Diana (Acts 19:24-27). The dishonest merchant cannot keep his gains from preaching. Transgressors win their way to success unobserved, and then betray themselves with the very gains they have won.

2. The revelation which comes through those who succeed transgressors. Out of this very section of the tribe of Manasseh arose Gideon, of the family of the Abi-ezrites (verse 2). On this very ground of the half-tribe of Manasseh was fought the great battle which delivered Israel from the Midianites. And how was it fought? By an army from which more than thirty thousand had been sent to their homes; by a small force of three hundred men, who merely brake their pitchers, and held their torches on high, shedding light on a truth afterwards embodied in one of the famous sayings of Israel, “The battle is the Lord’s.” It was as though God were purposely reproving the faint-heartedness and idleness of these men who had lived in the days of Joshua. (F. G. Marchant.)

Why hast thou given me but one lot?--

The complaining of Ephraim

A grumbling reference seems to be made here by Ephraim to his brother Manasseh, who had received two lots, one on each side of the Jordan. Alas, how apt is the spirit of discontent still to crop up when we compare our lot with that of others! Were we quite alone, or were there no case for comparison, we might be content enough; it is when we think how much more our brother has than we that we are most liable to murmur. And, bad though murmuring and grieving at the good of our brother may be, it is by no means certain that the evil spirit will stop there. At the very dawn of history we find Cain the murderer of his brother because the one had the favour of God and not the other. What an evil feeling it is that grudges to our brother a larger share of God’s blessing; if at the beginning it be not kept under it may carry us on to deeds that may well make us shudder. Joshua dealt very wisely and fearlessly with the complaint of Ephraim, though it was his own tribe. “You say you are a great people--be it so; but if you are a great people, you must be capable of great deeds. Two great undertakings are before you now. There are great woodlands in your lot that have not been cleared--direct your energies to them, and they will afford you more room for settlements. Moreover, the Canaanites are still in possession of s large portion of your lot; up and attack them and drive them out, and you will be furnished with another area for possession.” Joshua accepted their estimate of their importance, but gave it a very different practical turn. We have all heard of the dying father who informed his sons that there was a valuable treasure in certain field, and counselled them to set to work to find it. With great care they turned up every morsel of the soil, but no treasure appeared, till, observing in autumn, what a rich crop covered the field, they came to understand that the fruit of persevering labour was the treasure which their father meant, We have heard, too, of a physician who was consulted by a rich man suffering cruelly from gout, and asked if he had any cure for it. “Yes,” said the doctor, “live on sixpence a day, and work for it.” The same principle underlay the counsel of Joshua. Of course it gratifies a certain part of our nature to get a mass of wealth without working for it. But this is not the best part of our nature. Probably in no class has the great object of life been so much lost and the habit of indolence and self-indulgence become so predominant as in that of young men born to the possession of a great fortune and never requiring to turn a hand for anything they desired. After all, the necessity of work is a great blessing. It guards from numberless temptations; it promotes a healthy body and a healthy mind; it increases the zest of life; it promotes cheerfulness and flowing spirits; it makes rest and healthy recreation far sweeter when they come, and it gives us affinity to the great Heavenly Worker, by whom, and through whom, and for whom are all things. This great principle of ordinary life has its place, too, in the spiritual economy. It is not the spiritual invalid, who is for ever feeling his pulse and whom every whiff of wind throws into a fever of alarm, that grows up to the full stature of the Christian; but the man who, like Paul, has his hands and his heart for ever full, and whose every spiritual fibre gains strength and vitality from his desires and labours for the good of others. And it is with Churches as with individuals. An idle Church is a stagnant Church, prone to strife, and to all morbid experiences. A Church that throws itself into the work of faith and labour of love is far more in the way to be spiritually healthy and strong. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)


The easy way to discontentment. Anybody can complain. Everybody is tempted to complain. Most of those who murmur think that they can show good cause for their complaints. No man is rich enough to be out of the reach of discontent. No man is poor enough to be below the possibility or: happiness.

The unfailing testimony of discontentment.

1. Complaints furnish no trustworthy evidence about a man’s lot. How can they, when so many murmur in every kind of lot which the world knows?

2. Complaints bear unfailing witness against the murmurer himself. Scripture often condemns the man who complains, apart from considering the cause of complaining.

The true answer to discontentment.

1. Joshua was too wise to dispute the assumption of greatness (verses 15-17). He who tries to argue a discontented man out of his favourite assumptions does but waste breath.

2. Joshua turned the plea of greatness back on those who used it: “If thou be a great people, then”--work, fight.

3. Joshua sought to cure the murmuring of the heart through the diligence of the hand. The energy which is absorbed in gloomy thoughts, and poured out in bitter complaints, would generally double the small inheritance, if it were rightly directed. Apart from this industry and courage ever tend to happiness.

4. Joshua encouraged these murmurers to think that to the people of God no difficulties were insuperable. He would have them think of the invincible might which had promised to support their faithful efforts (Deuteronomy 20:1-4), and make them victorious. The after history shows us that, a discontented spirit is not easily cured. These people showed the same haughty dissatisfaction again and again after the death of Joshua (Judges 8:1-3; Judges 8:12. I-6). He who has cultivated contentment through faith in God is not readily disturbed; while the man who has learned, in whatsoever state he is, to find some fault with his fellows, has given room in his heart for a demon that is not easily expelled. (F. G. Marchant.)

The self-aggrandising spirit

They did not use the power which God gave them for the execution of His commands and for driving out the Canaanites, but they misapplied it to their own self-aggrandisement, and to the indulgence of their own covetousness; and they were not content with the lot they had received, although it was the most fruitful part of Palestine; but in a boastful spirit of self-adulation they said, “I am a great people”; they claimed a larger portion for themselves, in order that they might be enriched thereby. Here is an example of that self-idolising and self-aggrandising spirit in nations and in Churches which seek to extend themselves by colonisation and conquest, and even by missionary enterprise, not so much that they may gain kingdoms for Christ, and win subjects to Him, but in order that they may have vassals and tributaries to themselves. Is there not here a solemn warning to such nations as England, which publicly and privately derives an immense revenue from her two hundred millions of subjects in India, and yet has done little hitherto to bring them into subjection to Christ? (Bp. Chris. Wordsworth.)

Discontented with our lot

When the last national census was when it would have been an interesting question to have asked just how many people were where they wanted to be. I fear that the really contented souls would have been a very small minority. Contentment with one’s spiritual condition is quite too common; and of such low-grade Christians there is not much hope of improvement. But those who are really contented with their present lot, present place of residence, present circumstances or fields of labour, are not in the majority. Take, for example, the ministers of the Gospel and see how many will say: “Well, my place of labour has peculiar difficulties; it is a hard field, and I have a great deal to encounter, and if I could get a first-rate call to some better place I would be off in a minute.” Very probably you would. But, my good brother, if you will discover any parish on this round globe that has not some “peculiar difficulties” to encounter, then you wilt have found a people so perfect that they will not need any preaching. Mary Lyon’s noble advice to her pupils at Mount Holyoke Seminary was: “When you choose your field of labour for Christ, go where nobody else is willing to go.” Heaven is the only place I have ever heard of where there is no hard work or no difficulties. (T. L. Cuyler.)

Restless discontent to be avoided

My first parish was a very discouraging one, and I was just threatening to play Jonah and leave it when the Lord poured out His Spirit on the little flock and we had a revival that taught me more than six months did in a theological seminary. Many years afterwards I was sorely harassed with doubt whether I should remain in a certain pulpit or go to a very inviting one nearly a thousand miles away. I opened Richard Cecil’s “Remains”--a volume of most valuable thought--and my eyes fell on these pithy words: “Taking new steps in life are very serious dangers, especially if there be in our motives any mixture of selfish ambition. ‘Wherefore gaddest thou about to change thy way?’” I turned up that text in the book of Jeremiah; it decided me not to gad about or change my field of labour, and I have thanked God for a decision that resulted in my happy thirty years’ pastorate in Brooklyn. There are un questionably times and circumstances in which a minister or any Christian worker should change his place of labour, but never under the promptings of a restless, discontented, or self-seeking spirit. (T. L. Cuyler.)

The Lord hath blessed me hitherto--


A confession: “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.” I will not at present speak to those of you upon whom the blessing of God has never rested. Re member, that every man is either under the curse or under the blessing. They that are of the works of the law are under the curse. Faith in Him who was made a curse for us is the only way to the blessing. But I speak to as many as have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the Lord saith, “Surely, blessing I will bless thee.” You can say at this time, “God hath blessed me hitherto.”

1. He has blessed you with those blessings which are common to all the house of Israel. You and I, who are in Christ, are partakers of all covenant blessings in Christ Jesus. “If children, then heirs”; and if we are children of God, then we are heirs of all things. “Ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s,” and therefore “all things are yours.” Can you not say--“The Lord hath blessed me hitherto”? Has He ever denied you one of the blessings common to the covenanted family? Has He ever told you that you may not pray, or that you may not trust? Has He forbidden you to cast your burden on the Lord? Has He denied to you fellowship with Himself and communion with His dear Son? Has He laid an embargo on any one of the promises? Has He shut you out from any one of the provisions of His love?

2. But then, besides this, Ephraim and Manasseh had special blessings, the peculiar blessing of Joseph, which did not belong to Judah, or Reuben, or Issachar. Each saint may tell his fellow something that he does not know; and in heaven it will be a part of the riches of glory to hold commerce in those specialities which each one has for himself alone. I shall not be you, neither will you be me; neither shall we train be like another two, or the four of us like any other four, though all of us shall be like our Lord when we shall see Him as He is. I want you each to feel at this hour--“The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.” Personally, I often sit me down alone, and say, “Whence is this to me?” I cannot but admire the special goodness of my Lord to me.

3. I think, besides this, that these two tribes which made up the house of Joseph, also meant to say that, not only had God blessed them with the common blessings of Israel, and the special blessing of their tribe, but also with actual blessings. As far as they had gone they had driven out the Canaanites, and taken possession of the country. They had not received all that was promised; but God had blessed them hitherto. Come, we have not driven out all the Canaanites yet, but we have driven out many of them. We are not what we hope to be, but we are not what we used to be. We cannot yet see everything clearly, but we are not blind, as once we were, We have not seen our Lord as He is, but we have seen Him; and the joy of that sight will never be taken from us. Therefore, before the Lord and His assembled people, we joyfully declare that “The Lord hath blessed us hitherto.”

Let us expand this confession a little, and speak thus:

1. All the blessings that we have received have come from God. Do not let us trace any blessing to ourselves, or to our fellow-men; for though the minister of God may be as a conduit-pipe to bring us refreshing streams, yet all our fresh springs are in God, and not in men. Say, “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.”

2. And, mark you, there has been a continuity of this blessing. God has not blessed us, and then paused; but He has blessed us “hitherto.” One silver thread of blessing extends from the cradle to the grave. There is an unconquerable pertinacity in the love of God: His grace cannot be baffled or turned aside; but His goodness and His mercy follow us all the days of our lives.

3. In addition to that continuity there is a delightful consistency about the Lord’s dealings. “The Lord hath blessed us hitherto.” No curse has intervened. He has blessed us, and only blessed us. There has been no “yea” and “nay” with Him; no enriching us with spiritual blessings, and then casting us away. He has frowned upon us, truly; but His love has been the same in the frown as in the smile. He has chastened us sorely; but He has never given us over unto death.

4. And, what is more, when my text says, “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto,” there is a kind of prophecy in it, for “hitherto” has a window forward as well as backward. You sometimes see a railway carriage or truck, fastened on to what goes before, but there is also a great hook behind. What is that for? Why, to fasten something else behind, and so to lengthen the train. Any one mercy from God is linked on to all the mercy that went before it; but provision is also made for adding future blessing. All the years to come are guaranteed by the ages past.

The argument: “Forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto.”

1. This is cause for holy wonder and amazement. Why should the Lord have blessed me?

2. Be full of holy gratitude. Get into the state of that poor man who was so greatly blessed to pious Tauler. He wished the man a good-day. The man replied, “Sir, I never had a bad day.” “Oh, but I wish you good weather.” Said he, “Sir, it is always good weather. If it rains or if it shines, it is such weather as God pleases, and what pleases God pleases me.” Our sorrows lie mainly at the roots of our selfishness, and when our self-hood is dug up, our sorrow to a great extent is gone. Let us, then, utter this text, “Forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto,” with hearty gratitude for His holy will. Summing up gains and losses, joys and griefs, let us say with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord.”

3. Say also, with holy confidence, “The Lord hath blessed me hitherto.” Speak as you find. If any inquire, “What has God been to you?” answer, “He hath blessed me hitherto.” The devil whispers, “If thou be the son of God”; and he then insinuates, “God deals very hardly with you. See what you suffer. See how you are left in the dark!” Answer him, “Get thee behind me, Satan, for surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life; and if God takes from me any earthly good, shall I receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall I not receive evil?” He who can stand to this stands on good ground. “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” But he that gets away from this drifts I know not where.

4. Furthermore, if this be true, let us resolve to engage in enlarged enterprises. If the Lord has blessed us hitherto, why should He not bless us in something fresh? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

If thou be a great people, then get thee up.

Encroachments not permissible

Encroachments were not to be made upon their brethren, but new inroads upon their enemies, whom it had become their duty utterly to exterminate. This was the work which Providence had assigned to them, both for the enlargement of the portion, and for the exercise of their piety; and therefore the straitness in which they were placed, intended as it was for an excitement to diligence, fortitude, and faith, was no real crook in the lot. What employs men’s hearts and hands for God must be a work with a blessing annexed to it, and always attended with its own reward. In the cultivation of Messiah’s kingdom, the assigned inheritance of the Church, and extension of its borders in the world there are many wastes of sin to be taken in, many longstanding thickets of corruption to be hewn and cleared away. The straitened boundaries of Immanuel’s land require many spiritual, never-weary labourers in well-doing. How much ought it to be the grief of every pious mind, and the matter of his most anxious concern, in seeing those vast territories yet the possessions of enemies worse than the Perizzites and giants on the borders of Ephraim. Whatever presses on the view to desist from undertakings to which we have the Lord’s special call, or the token of His marked approbation, the considerations of His power and promise are quite sufficient to encourage exertions. In a spiritual view all the Lord’s people are a great people, and having great power are destined to mighty enterprises and achievements. In themselves and outward condition, none are more weak and contemptible; yet in their infinitely glorious Lord and Captain they are both great and powerful, so that through grace strengthening them they can do all things, even cut through the greatest obstructions, and conquer the most formidable enemies. Success was to crown action. Neither the axe nor the sword would be employed in vain; the woodland instrument nor the warlike weapon. Reward, though but in promise, sweetens labour, and the hope of triumph emboldens to conflict; but how much more the assurance of both! The Christian has no less encouragement in all the enterprises assigned him; for whether in works of faith, in labours of love, or in the toils of conflict, this is the invigorating address: “Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season ye shall reap if ye faint not.” They had only to work and the way would open; to fight, and the enemy would yield to the sword, as the thicket to the axe. The possession was theirs, and needed only to be claimed. Who would not thus have his coast enlarged? for the inheritance that improves, and widens beneath its owner’s own hand and eye has far more charms, and yields higher satisfaction than the seat of ease obtained by others. Heaven will be but the sweeter, the more welcome and valued, after the labours of this mortal life, and its conquests close in eternal triumphs. (W. Seaton.)

Labour the price of excellence

This is the voice of God’s providence to every soul that has dreamed of greatness, or of the possession of unfolded powers and abilities. By labour show your talent. Express what you are by what you do. Michael Angelo once exhibited a rare specimen of his art, and it was pronounced beautiful and wonderful. Months passed, and visitors saw nothing more in his studio, and when he was asked what he had been doing Angelo answered that he had been at work on the same statue, reducing this feature and developing that; and his visitors said those were but trifles, and he should be engaged on something great. To this he replied, “Trifles make perfection, and perfection itself is no trifle.” That was a noble answer. Indeed, genius may be defined as that power which best magnifies trifles. It sees the worth of everything, it glorifies the small because of their relation to the great. The most finished actor of our age, on retiring from his profession, and on receiving a public testimonial as having made the best impression on his” age in reference to his art, made the memorable remark, “Whatever is excellent in art must spring from labour and endurance.” That sentiment may well be written on the shield of every aspiring young man. Greatness is from culture, rather than from genius; and if it had a voice for the world, it would sing of “The high endeavours and the glad success.” There are unquestionably some instances of that original intensity of a mental faculty by which the mind springs, as it were, at a leap, to the results it desires; but it is certain that many of the most remarkable men have attributed to patient labour what the world have attributed, in them, to endowment. That Newton attributed his success to greater patience with the minute is well known, and Sir Joshua Reynolds held that superiority resulted from intense and constant application of the strength of intellect to a specific purpose. “Genius,” he said, “is the art of making repeated efforts.” The first effort he made with his pencil was the perspective of a book-case from sheer idleness; but his father saw it, encouraged him, and he went on by labour to success. Benjamin West, when he drew the babe’s face as he watched it in the cradle, was kissed by his mother for the effort, and was wont to say, “That kiss made me a painter.” And to every department of artistic, mechanical, and professional life the advice of Sir Joshua Reynolds to his scholars is adapted, where he said, “Make no dependence on your own genius. If you have great talents, labour will improve them; if you have poor talents, labour will increase them. Nothing is denied to well-directed labour. Nothing is to be obtained without it.” Napoleon well said, when once asked to create a marshal out of a man who belonged to a noble family, but who had no other claim, “It is not I that make marshals, but victory.” What we attribute to some gift may be traced to the kindling and concentrating power of feeling or passion, as is illustrated in the many instances where the greatest mental effort has sprung from passion. Scorched and stung by a Scottish reviewer, Byron wrote a poem, and he who was deemed but a simple rhymester became a poet, as he himself once said,” I went to bed one night, and woke up to find myself famous.” So in sharp debates, in violent controversy, the most remarkable things have been uttered; men have gone beyond themselves and have astonished the world. A mighty intensity of thought has burned within them, and they have brought the whole stock of intellectual attainment to bear upon the matter before them. The best things of many men in all departments of effort have been unpremeditated; but this gives no argument against labour, study, and forecast, because these men have been made capable of these great or uncommon efforts, by the wealth of mind stored up. The ripe things of nature fall into hands prepared to receive them; and in a profound sense may the wise man’s words be applied beyond religion, where he says, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” Genius, therefore, is really intensity of thought, feeling, emotion, activity. All the faculties of the man are in earnest. The whole man is glorified by the intensity of the determined spirit, and what is done is done with every energy--with a resoluteness that means with persistence of effort to conquer if such a thing can be. Take up any man’s life who has risen to real, permanent eminence, and you see there the marks of labour; so that it may be said of many, as was said of Piso, “What he withdrew of application he deducted from glory.” Goethe said truly, “What is genius but the faculty of seeing and turning to advantage everything that strikes us?” And so thought the celebrated French landscape painter, Poussin, who, when asked how he was able to give such an effect to his paintings, simply answered, “I have neglected nothing.” The price of excellence, then, is labour. What most we need is to intensify our love of God and His gospel--to make faith more a fire--a fire that rouses up to action every inmate of the house, and shows what wonders can be wrought. A fire that demands more and more fuel, when it is rightly confined to its place, and that bids us go out of our Mount Ephraim, into the land of the giants, and cut wood. (Henry Bacon.)

The responsibility of greatness

1. It is not a brave and wholesome thing to be too eager for favours and for help from others. There are men of this class in every community. They want to rise in the world, but they would rise on the exertions and sacrifices of others--not their own. We find the same in spiritual life. There are those who sigh for holiness and beauty of character, but they are not willing to pay the price. They would make prayer a substitute for effort, for struggle, for the crucifying of self. They want a larger spiritual inheritance, but they have no thought of taking it in primeval forests which their own hands must cut down. The truth is, however, that God gives us our inheritance just as He gave Joseph’s lot to him. Our promised land has to be won, every inch of it. You must train your own faith. You must cultivate your own heart-life. You must learn patience, gentleness, and all the lessons of love yourself. No one can give you any Christian grace.

2. True friendship ofttimes declines to do for men what they can do for themselves. If you can wake up a young man, arouse his sleeping or undiscovered powers, so that he will win a fortune with his own hands and brain, that is an infinitely better thing to do for him than if you were to give him a fortune as a present. In the former case, in getting his fortune, he has gotten also trained powers, energy, strength, self-reliance, disciplined character and all the elements that belong to strong manhood. In the other case he gets nothing but the money. A little poem tells the story of two friends. One brought a crystal goblet full of water which he had dipped from flowing streams on far-off mountain heights. The hills were his, and his the bright, sweet water. But the water did not refresh his friend. The other looked upon him kindly, saw his need, and gave him--nothing. With a face severe he bade him seek his own hard quarry, hew out the way for the imprisoned waters, and find drink for himself. He obeyed, and the water gave him satisfaction. That is God’s way with us. He does not make life easy for us. Surely it is a wiser love that puts new strength into your heart and arm, so that you can go on with your hard duty, your heavy responsibility, your weight of care, without fainting, than would be the love which should take all the load away and leave you free from any burden.

3. True greatness should show itself, not in demanding favours or privileges, but in achieving great things. The way a commander honours the best regiment on the field of battle is, not by assigning it to some easy post, to some duty away from danger. He hot, ours it by giving it the most perilous post, the duty requiring the most splendid courage. So it is in all life--the place of honour is always the hardest place, where the most delicate and difficult duty must be done, where the heaviest burden of responsibility must be borne. It is never a real honour to be given an easy place. Instead of demanding a place of honour as a favour of friendship, which gets no seat of real greatness upon our brow, we should win our place of honour by worthy deeds and services. The truth is far-reaching in its applications. It should sweep out of our thought for ever all feeling that others owe us favours; all that spirit which shows itself in self-seeking, in claims for place or precedence over others. The law of love is that with whatsoever we have we must serve our fellow-men. The most highly dowered life that this world ever saw was that of Jesus Christ. Yet He demanded no recognition of men. He claimed no rank. He never said His lowly place was too small, too narrow, for the exercise of His great abilities. He used His greatness in doing good, in blessing the world. He was the greatest among men, and He was the servant of all. This is the true mission of greatness. There is no other true and worthy way of using whatever gifts God has bestowed upon us. Instead of claiming place, distinction, rank, position, and attention, because of our gifts, abilities, wisdom, or name, we must use all we have to bless the world and honour God. (J. R. Millar, D. D.)

The proof of greatness

Petty jealousies are harder to deal with than anything else. Joshua had not only to conquer but also to divide the country. It was divided into several parts. Jealousy was aroused. Some said, You have not considered my greatness as you did that of Ephraim. In the present day a worker for God has need to pray for tact to deal with others. Our text is very suggestive, and may be applied in many ways. Prove thy greatness by clearing the forest. Pretension proved by achievement; thus prove thy strength by thy actions.

1. If great, why not clear the forest? Great power demands corresponding enterprise! Some financially are great; if so, let your contributions be beyond others who are not in such a position. If possessed of a superior education, prove it by your exertions to benefit others. Some are great in position as standard-bearers in God’s army; prove it by your faith; show what faith will do; go up and clear the forest by your zeal and consecration--the more advantages we claim the more obligations we contract.

2. If cramped for room, why not clear the ground you have? Some are always asking for more scope, from the village to the town, from the town to the city, forgetting that in their own sphere they have not done all they could do. When this is done God will open up a larger sphere. Do thoroughly all that in which you are engaged. The man who looks after the ones and twos God will bless with other larger spheres for usefulness. Greatness does not lie in pretensions but in actions. (A. G. Brown.)

Cure for complaining

This, then, is the cure for our complainings--the memory of the Lord’s promises of help; and then the brave going forth against the causes of the complainings, and thus the curing of them.

1. Apply this cure for complainings to the winning of culture. How often we complain, “in our circumstances, with our limitations, with our business, &c., no chance for culture.” And we settle to the newspaper or fill up the chance moments with a hurried reading of the last novel--not the last best; too often the last worst. But the cure for such complainings is, with God’s help, to go forth and seize culture. Take up the Chautauqua scheme for reading, for example. Take it up, go through with it, put the energy into doing your work and not into complaining, and you will grow in culture surprisingly.

2. Apply this cure for complainings to the maintaining a consistent Christian profession. Think of the saints in Caesar’s household. By God’s help determine to be a saint, whatever your circumstances.

3. Apply this cure for complainings to the duty of becoming Christian. What Canaanites and Perrizzites of objections men are apt to make--e.g., do not understand whole Bible; it is a hard thing to serve God; it is gloomy to be Christian; I am afraid God will not receive me; so many hypocrites among professing Christians; I don’t know that I am one of the elect; I have not time; I am not fit; I will meet a good deal of opposition; I don’t feel; I am afraid if I do become a Christian I will not hold out; I cannot believe; I am willing to be a secret Christian, &c., illimitably. But stop complainingly conjuring such objections. Go forth in the promised help of Christ to Christ, any way. So at once get cure for your complainings and surely find the forgiveness and peace of Christ. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)

Thou shalt drive out the Canaanites.--

Driving out the Canaanites and their iron chariots

We must drive them out. Every sin has to be slaughtered. Not a single sin is to be tolerated.

1. They must all be driven out, for every sin is our enemy. Any pretence of friendship with iniquity is mischievous.

2. Sin is our Lord’s most cruel enemy. Saved by Jesus, will you not hate sin as He did? Would any person here lay up in his drawer as a treasure the knife with which his father was murdered? Our sins were the daggers that slew the Saviour. Can we bear to think of them?

3. Remember, also, that a man cannot be free from sin if he is the servant of even one sin. Here is a man who has a long chain on his leg--a chain of fifty links. Now, suppose that I come in as a liberator, and take away forty-nine links, but still leave the iron fastened to the pillar, and his leg in the one link which is within the iron ring, what benefit have I brought him? How much good have I done? The man is still a captive.

They can be driven out. I do not say that we can drive them out, but I say that they can be driven out. It will be a great miracle, but let us believe in it; for other great wonders have been wrought.

1. Note first that you and I have been raised from the dead. Is it not so? “You hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” If a dead man has been raised, then anything can be done with the man who is now made alive.

2. You have also by Divine power been led to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as the result of Divine grace within your heart, what is there that you cannot do? If you have been enabled to believe, you can be enabled to be holy. He that led you to exert faith, can lead you, by faith, to overcome any and every iniquity.

3. You have already conquered many sins. He that has helped you so far can surely help you even to the conclusion of the fight. Do not doubt that the almighty power of Divine grace, which has achieved so much, can achieve yet more. Be strong and very courageous, for the Lord of hosts Himself is at your side.

4. Have you not seen other Christians conquer? Oh, let your memory charge you now with brethren and sisters in whom you saw great infirmities and sins at the commencement of their spiritual career; but how they have grown! How they have vanquished inbred sin! What God has done for them He can do for you.

They shall be driven out.

1. This is what Christ died for, to save His people, not from some of their sins, but from all their sins.

2. This is what Christ lives for. Christ in heaven is the pattern of what we shall be, and He will not fail to mould us after His own model. We shall one day be perfectly conformed to His image, and then we shall be with Him in glory. Our Lord’s honour is bound up with the presentation of all His saints in spotless purity to Himself in the day of His glorious marriage.

3. This is what the Holy Spirit is given for. He is not given to come into our hearts, and comfort us in our sins, but to deliver us from all evil, and to comfort us in Christ Jesus. He quickens, He directs, He helps, He illuminates; He does a thousand things; but, chiefly, He sanctifies us. He comes into the heart to drive out every other power that seeks to have dominion there. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

All sins to be conquered

They must all be conquered, every one. Not one single sin must be allowed to occupy the love of our heart and the throne of our nature. There are certain sins that, when we begin to war with them, we very soon overcome. These Israelites, when they were up in the mountains, and in the woods, soon got at the hill-country Canaanites and destroyed them; but down in the plain, where was plenty of room for horses and chariots, the Israelites were puzzled what to do; for some of these Canaanites had chariots of iron, which had scythes fixed to the axles, and when they drove into the ranks of an army, they mowed down the people as a reaping machine cuts down the standing corn. For a while this seems to have staggered the Israelites altogether; it was a terrible business to think about, and fear exaggerated the power of the dreadful chariots. Dread made them powerless, till they plucked up courage, and when they once plucked up courage, they found that these chariots were not nearly so terrible as they were supposed to be. There were ways of managing and mastering them, if Israel would but trust in God, and play the man. “When a man is converted by Divine grace, certain sins are readily overcome: they fly away home at once, never to return. Swearing is a kind of Canaanite that is soon settled off--driven out and slain. So it is with many other forms of evil. We get our sword at their throats quickly, and by God’s grace we are clean rid of all temptation to return to them. Such sins, though once powerful, are left dead on the field of battle. I know that some of you could bear testimony that your favoured sins became so disgusting to you that you have never had a temptation to wander in that direction; and if a desire towards them has crossed your mind, you have revolted against it, and cast it away from you with indignation. But certain other sins are much tougher to deal with. They mean fight, and some of them seem to have as many lives as a cat. There is no killing them. When you think that you have slain them, they are up and at you again. They may be said to have chariots of iron.

1. These sins are sometimes those which have gained their power--their chariots of iron-through long habit. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” No, he never shall, but the grace of God can work the change.

2. Some sins get their chariots of iron from being congenial to our constitution. Certain brethren and sisters are sadly quick-tempered; and as long as ever they live, they will have to be on their guard against growing suddenly angry, and speaking unadvisedly with their lips. They are quick and sensitive, and this might not in itself be a serious evil; but when sin wields that quickness and sensitiveness, evil comes of it. How many a sincere child of God has had to go for years groaning, as with broken bones, because of the quickness of his temper! As for these constitutional sins, you must not excuse them. Everything that is of nature--ay, and of your fallen nature when it is at its best--has to be put under the feet of Christ, that grace may reign over every form of evil.

3. Frequently the chariot of iron derives its force from the fact that a certain sin comes rushing upon you on a sudden, and so takes you at a disadvantage. Yet we must not say, because of this, “I cannot help it,” for we ought to be all the more watchful, and live all the nearer to God in prayer.

4. Sometimes these sins get power from the fact that, if we do not yield to them, we may incur ridicule on account of them. I would not, if I could, prevent any of you from being persecuted in your measure. Should not soldiers fight? I would stay the persecution for the sake of the persecutor; but for the sake of you who have to bear it, I would hardly lift a finger to screen you, because the trial is an education of the utmost value.

5. Perhaps one of the things that is worst of all to a Christian is, that certain sins are supposed to be irresistible. It is a popular error, and a very pernicious one. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/joshua-17.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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