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Their heart melted . . . because of the children of Israel.
Divine control over all
Kings and princes, captains and nobles, are most perfectly under the control of God; not only their counsels and operations, but their very spirits are subject to the influence of His secret and all-pervading dominion; they are restrained by cowardice, or incited by courage; intimidated by fear, or emboldened by valour, as best may promote the purposes of Providence and the interests of the Church. More has often been effected by this, wherein has appeared no human agency, than could have been by all the advantages of physical strength. It has been seen in the procedure of the Divine government, and opening of the secret counsels of heaven, that turns the most peculiar and results the most momentous have proceeded from this invisible working of God. But for this, the condition of Israel, as frequently appeared in review, would have inspired their adversaries, and, in the mere opposing of force to force, insured to them triumph. A spirit of blindness and infatuation has been permitted to seize the enemies of the Church, and to fall upon the powers of the world, or the Lord’s people had again and again been swallowed up. The expedients of infinite wisdom, and resources of almighty power, never fail: they are innumerable, and always at command; not confined to the common laws of nature, but comprehend the secret dominion of spirits, and that unlimited range of omnipotence, by which, in special operations, all things are possible with God, and present to instant adoption, as the purposes of His love may require, or the counsel of His will determine. (W. Seaton.)
Make thee sharp knives and circumcise.
The circumcising at Gilgal
Even those comparatively unenlightened people must have realised that there was deep spiritual significance in the administration of that rite at that juncture. On more than one occasion they had heard Moses speak of circumcising the heart, and they must have felt that God meant to teach them the vanity of trusting to their numbers, or prowess, or martial array. Their strength was nothing to Him. The land was not to be won by their might, but to be taken from His hand as a gift. Self and the energy of the flesh must be set aside, that the glory of coming victory might be of God and not of man. We must be content to be reckoned among the things that are not, if we are to be used to bring to nought the things that are, “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” We, too, must have our Gilgal. It is not enough to acknowledge as a general principle that we are dead and risen with Christ, we must apply it to our inner and outer life. We have no warrant to say that sin is dead, or that the principle of sin is eradicated, but that we are dead to it in our standing, and are dead to it also in the reckoning of faith. But for this we need the gift of the Blessed Spirit, in His Pentecostal fulness. It was by the Eternal Spirit that our Lord offered Himself in death upon the Cross, and it is by Him alone that we can mortify the deeds of the body. For, first, the spirit of self is so subtle. It is like a taint in the blood, which, stayed in one place, breaks out in another. Protean in its shapes and ubiquitous in its hiding-places, it requires omniscience to discover, and omnipresence to expel. And, secondly, only the Spirit of God has cords strong enough to bind us to the altar of death; to remind us in the hour of temptation; to enable us to look to Jesus for His grace; to inspire us with the passion of self-immolation; to keep us true and steady to the resolves of our holiest moments; to apply the withering fire of the Cross of Jesus to the growth of our self-conceit and self-energy--for all these the grace of the Spirit is indispensable. He is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, therefore He must be the Spirit of death to all that pertains to the old Adam. There is a sense in which all believers have been circumcised in Christ; but there is another sense in which it is needful for them to pass one after another through the circumcision of Christ which is not made with hands, and which consists in the putting off of the body of the flesh. To that all who would lead a life of victory and inherit the land of promise must submit. The process may be sharp, for the knife does not spare pain. But it is in the hands of Jesus, the lover of souls. Oh, shrink not from it! (F. B Meyer, B. A.)
The more a man learns of God, the more he knows of grace. If we would apply to ourselves spiritually the lessons of the circumcision in the land, we must give the grace of God, which led to the circumcision, full place, and remember that God asks for the devotion of His people, because He has, in Christ, brought them into perfect favour. Was it by observing God’s ordinances, or was it through God’s almighty grace that Israel entered the land of promise? They entered it as a nation in uncircumcision, and therefore exclusively by God’s sovereign grace. And why did God not seek for circumcision from the people of Israel, so long as they walk in the wilderness? The wilderness was the scene of their distrust of God. A distrusting spirit is ignorant of God’s real character, and consequently is not morally fitted for separation to Himself; but God, having brought us by His grace to know ourselves to be in the heavenly places in Christ, seeks separation to Himself, corresponding with the liberty into which He has brought us. Grace known and realised is the only true power for heart separation to God. Circumcision with Israel was merely a carnal ordinance, and, in common with all ordinances, gave neither power for communion with God, nor for conflict with His enemies. It was a sign that the children of Israel were God’s earthly family, and a people separated from all the rest of mankind. The circumcision made without hands, with which the Christian is circumcised, in Christ, is a separation to God from the whole world. As the people of Israel, because brought through the Jordan, were enjoined by God to be circumcised, and their careless wilderness ways were allowed no longer, so the Christian, because he has died with Christ to the world, and to his old self, is exhorted to mortify his members, and his worldly ways are no longer permitted. This mortification is simply self-denial, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Man naturally loves sin; he loves his own way which is the essence of sin; but he who lives in Christ is called to die to himself in daily walk and conduct. There is no way of living to Christ but by dying to self. It was by no means sufficient to Israel to know that they went across the Jordan, in order to enjoy the riches of the inheritance; for until circumcision was effected none of Canaan’s food was spread before them, nor were they called to conflict. And we may be sure that so long as we walk in the flesh and please ourselves, there can be no communion--no feeding upon Christ. Neither can there be any victories for the Lord, unless self is subdued. Satan would beguile the youthful believer into the misty atmosphere of a Canaan of the imagination, where the flesh is allowed to work. In this aerial Christianity, circumcision--self-mortification--is not permitted; the practical result of being dead with Christ is not allowed to wound the will. But there is no stability of soul, no solid devotedness. Such a believer is like the insect, which, well-nigh composed of wings, and possessing scarcely any weight, is driven from the flower garden by the first storm. Sorrowful as is the result of letting the imagination carry away the soul, perhaps the effect of accepting Divine truth in intellectualism is more so. A Christian holding the doctrine of death with Christ, and resurrection with Christ, in the understanding only, goes out from the sunlight of God’s presence into a land of deathlike coldness. If circumcision in its spiritual signification were rightly valued, such abuses of the truth of God would certainly find no place in the believer’s heart. To mortify our members is not a painless exercise. Saying, “We are dead,” is not mortifying; but it is to deny the wishes of our old nature because “we are dead” (Romans 8:13). The mere fact of the people of Israel’s entrance into Canaan did not constitute them at liberty before God. They were brought into the land of promise by the passage of the Jordan, but were not pronounced free by Jehovah until circumcised. God’s liberty for His people is that of His own making, and therefore perfect. It is what He thoroughly approves and delights in. And the means by which, step by step, He brings His people into the enjoyment of this liberty, is grace. If we are God’s free men, it is evidently in the land of promise that we have liberty, for only in the fulness of God’s favour can we experience His rolling away the reproach of our bondage. (The Gospel in the Book of Joshua.)
Why was circumcision suspended in the wilderness?
Some have said that, owing to the circumstances in which the people were, it would not have been convenient, perhaps hardly possible, to administer the rite on the eighth day. Moving as they were from place to place, the administration of circumcision would often have caused so much pain and peril to the child, that it is no wonder it was delayed. And once delayed, it was delayed indefinitely. But this explanation is not sufficient. There were long, very long periods of rest, during which there could have been no difficulty. A better explanation, brought forward by Calvin, leads us to connect the suspension of circumcision with the punishment of the Israelites, and with the sentence that doomed them to wander forty years in the wilderness. When the worship of the golden calf took place, the nation was rejected, and the breaking by Moses of the two tables of stone seemed an appropriate sequel to the rupture of the covenant which their idolatry had caused. And though they were soon restored, they were not restored without certain drawbacks--tokens of the Divine displeasure. Probably the suspension of circumcision was included in the punishment of their sins. They were not to be allowed to place on their children the sign and seal of a covenant which in spirit and in reality they had broken. But it was not an abolition, only a suspension. The time might come when it would be restored. The natural time for this would be the end of the forty years of chastisement. These forty years have now come to an end. Doubtless it would have been a great joy to Moses if it had been given him to see the restoration of circumcision, but that was not to take place until the people had set foot on Abraham’s land. We may well think of it as an occasion of great rejoicing. The visible token of his being one of God’s children was now borne by every man and boy in the camp. In a sense they now proved themselves heirs to the covenant made with their fathers, and might thus rest with firmer trust on the promise--“I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” Two other points demand a word of explanation. The first is the statement that “all the people that were born in the wilderness . . . they had not circumcised” (Joshua 5:5). If the view be correct that the suspension of circumcision was part of the punishment for their sins, the prohibition would not come into operation for some months, at all events, after the exodus from Egypt. We think, with Calvin, that for the sake of brevity the sacred historian makes a general statement without waiting to explain the exceptions to which it was subject. The other point needing explanation is the Lord’s statement after the circumcision (Joshua 5:9). The words imply that, owing to the want of this sacrament, they had lain exposed to a reproach from the Egyptians, which was now rolled away. What seems the most likely explanation is, that when the Egyptians heard how God had all but repudiated them in the wilderness, and had withdrawn from them the sign of His covenant, they malignantly crowed over them, and denounced them as a worthless race, who had first rejected their lawful rulers in Egypt under pretext of religion, and, having shown their hypocrisy, were now scorned and cast off by the very God whom they had professed themselves so eager to serve. But now the tables are turned on the Egyptians. The restoration of circumcision stamps this people once more as the people of God. (G. W. Blaikie, D. D.)
The reproach of Egypt
By this reproach we are to understand all that stigma which clung to Israel through its relation to Egypt. This stigma had two aspects, an inner and an outer; an active and a passive. It consisted in that feeling of humiliation and self-reproach, which must have rested on the heart of every intelligent and pious Israelite during the wilderness wanderings. And it also consisted in the feeling of scorn and contempt with which their great oppressors the Egyptians must have looked upon them during all that period. In its inward aspect, the reproach of Egypt was caused by spiritual assimilation to Egypt. Moses had said, “The Lord will put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.” This difference was manifested in many striking ways, during the progress of Israel’s gradual emancipation. But when this rite was in abeyance, this difference was lost in a measure. Physically, there was no difference between the children born in Egypt after the Exodus and those born in the wilderness. Circumcision was, as it were, God’s brand on His people marking them for His own. Its lack proclaimed that they were “Lo Ammi,” not God’s people. But there could be no greater outward stigma than this. It was Israel’s glory to be Jehovah’s peculiar people and to bear in their bodies the seal of His covenant. From this height of privilege they looked down on all men. For an Israelite, therefore, to consider his position during the forty years, would be to acknowledge that there was no difference, so far, between him and an Egyptian. Jehovah was no longer, in this mode of outward recognition, his God. But there was a deeper and more potent assimilation, of which the outward and physical was only the sign. There was on the part of Israel assimilation to Egypt in spirit. They reproached God for their redemption, saying that He had brought them from Egypt to destroy them; they actually went the length of appointing a leader to guide them back to the house of bondage. What could be more grievous than such sin? what could more plainly show their assimilation in heart to Egypt? Therefore to a pious and penitent Israelite there was here cause for the deepest abasement. His cry in self-reproach would be, “My sin is ever before me.” This also would be implied in the inner aspect of the reproach of Egypt. But in addition to this inner aspect of the reproach, there is also the outer to be considered. The reproach of Egypt not only consisted in those feelings which must have taken possession of a pious Israelite, but also in those taunts which must have been hurled at them by Egypt. Their haughty taskmasters would no doubt make their former bondmen a subject of reproach and mocking scorn. They would look down upon them, and speak of them with unutterable contempt. They would describe them as a despicable race of worthless runaways. And they would also find good cause for merriment in the prolonged wanderings in the wilderness. “Where are all their high hopes?” they might have said. “They have ended in smoke. A great deal better off they are now than they were with us, hungering and thirsting in that desert, instead of living on the fat of the land! A nice wild-goose chase that famous Moses has led them.” Such was the reproach of Egypt; but here and now it is rolled away. By this act at Gilgal Israel is no longer assimilated to Egypt in body. The knives of flint have again put a difference between Israel and Egypt. Each man bears in his body the mark of Jehovah’s covenant. And seeing the land of Canaan was God’s gift to them as Abraham’s seed, and to Abraham’s seed as faithful to Jehovah, i.e., as circumcised, this act was a Divine and formal conveyance of the land to these men of Israel. Thus at Gilgal the title-deeds of Canaan were signed, sealed, and delivered; and thus again, the reproach of Egypt was rolled away. Israel is no longer a homeless wanderer but an heir of God. Also the assimilation to Egypt in spirit has come to an end. No longer are they uncircumcised in heart. Never again do they cast a longing, lingering look behind. Surely this transaction is also recorded for our instruction and reproof. Gilgal says, “Put off the old man with his affections and lusts; put off all moral and spiritual assimilation to the world. Crucify the flesh and its deceitful lusts. Mortify the deeds of the body.” The great need of the present age is to be brought in spirit to Gilgal, i.e., to learn to the very centre of our souls the spirit of self-sacrifice. The process may be painful, like cutting off a right arm or plucking out a right eye; yet it is the necessary sequel of entrance into God’s inheritance. And as it is the necessary sequel of entrance, so is it the necessary prelude to worship and to victory. There can be no true worship of God except our hearts are cleansed from the filthiness of the flesh. There can be no true victory for God, either within or without, except our souls are purged from the power of sin. (A. B. Mackay.)
The consecration of the Lord’s host at Gilgal; or, a revival
The need, the tokens, and the blessedness of this revival are set before us.
(1) Its need appears in the reproach of Egypt.
(2) Its tokens are the restoration of ordinances.
(3) Its blessedness consists in the return of favour.
I. Let us first dwell upon the need of Israel’s revival, as seen in the reproach of Egypt. There are many among us who have indeed left Egypt. To the questions, “Is the Lord among us, or not?--Are we His people?” they can humbly answer “Yes”; for He has given them sure pledges of their interest in the everlasting covenant. And yet, if asked to give a reason of the hope that is in them, they would not be ready. The answer of faith can scarce find utterance amid the sins and shortcomings that compass them round, and testify against them. Their words, their tempers, their works, their experiences, all seem to give the lie to their Christian profession and to their hope. The world of unbelievers, too, joins issue against them, and, discerning their failures and inconsistencies, derides their religion, calls them hypocrites, and prophesies their doom. This “reproach of Egypt,” lies heavy upon God’s saints who thus walk in darkness.
II. The narrative goes on to tell of the tokens of Israel’s revival, as seen in the restoration of ordinances. As the sacrament of baptism perpetuates and expands the teaching of the rite of circumcision, so that of the Lord’s Supper repeats the lessons of the Passover. The Christian ordinance looks back, as the Jewish sacrifice looked forward, to the death of Jesus as our substitute. Since the fall of Adam, there has been but this one way of salvation. May we, amid our fuller privileges, and clearer light, approach the same God whom Israel worshipped, confiding in the same atonement, and renew our covenant with Him in the breaking of bread, and the drinking of the cup of blessing. Our feast similarly commemorates the past, the present, and the future: for we herein shew forth an accomplished redemption, our own reconciliation thereby, and our participation in our Saviour’s love at the marriage feast above.
III. It remains for us now to speak of the blessedness of Israel’s revival, as seen in the return of favour.
1. First, the Lord expressly declares to Joshua, as the head and representative of the nation, “This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.” Blessed assurance!
2. Beside the answer of God to Joshua, a second gracious token was granted. The enemy was still as a stone. With blanched cheeks and palpitating hearts, the Canaanites looked on and saw the people all en-camped at Gilgal. Now, shall not Israel, with soldierly decision, seize on the opportunity, and ere they have recovered from their panic, strike a decisive blow, and so possess the land? Such is not the Lord’s order: but until the fourteenth day of the month the men of war are shut up in their tents; and then, as though in a land of peace, during a full week the Passover is kept throughout their families.
3. Was it not providentially ordered by a loving Father that Israel should be brought into the land at the time of harvest? Thus temporal supplies shall not fail those whom God accepts and approves: thus, also, spiritual provision shall never fail God’s people.
4. The close of the chapter presents us with a fourth token of the return of favour to Israel, in the manifestation to Joshua of the great Angel of the Covenant, with His drawn sword lifted, not in vengeance against Israel, but against their foes. This was the promised angel who should go before them, and lead them to victory. (G. W. Butler, M. A.
I. Attention to the special services which we owe to God ought to stand before all other considerations. What is religion? The question seems a simple one; but, indeed, it is one the true answer to which involves a great deal. The term is a most comprehensive one, including all that men should believe and all that men should do. A religious person is one whose heart has been imbued with Christian truth, and whose affection has laid hold on God as revealed in the Scriptures with a firm grasp; a person whose life, regulated increasingly by such principles, manifests more and more of the beauty of holiness. In religion, then, we come to deal with the doctrine and the practice of the Bible. It tells of what may alarm, and what may soothe. It shows a reality of wretchedness, want, guilt and death in which men are by nature; and a reality of joy, perfection, righteousness and life in which they may be by grace. It appeals to men as immortal beings, urges on them the consideration of their immortal interests, and in the words of Him, around whom all true religion circles and to whom it is intended to lead, charges all thus: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” I would ask you, seriously, should not this matter have our first and most solemn consideration? Is there any matter which ought to engage us before this?
II. We may repose implicit confidence in God while walking in his ways and aiming at his glory. Men are never losers by religion. The man who can style himself servant of Christ has a Master whose service is the guarantee for every possible good. Affairs and matters come to be so differently weighed and estimated, when heavenly wisdom is granted for the test, that it is no wonder to find men reckoning gains and losses, probabilities and duties, by a standard the reverse of that which they formerly used. What if we had accosted the leader of the hosts of Israel when he promulgated the order for observing circumcision and the Passover at Gilgal? Suppose that we had said, Strike your decisive blow; push on at once; select your picked men, and leave the rest to fortify your position, and to take care of the women and children; go straight up to Jericho. Your rite of circumcision Will render you defenceless, your paschal feast is hardly fitted to such a critical position and such unusual circumstances as yours. Suppose that we had argued with Joshua thus. Would not his reply have been, “We can trust God: we know Him. He has said, ‘I will not fail you, nor forsake you’”? (C. D. Marston, M. A.)
Time taken for religious duties is not lost
Dr. James Hamilton once related an anecdote which illustrates a vital question in the Christian life. A writer recounts it as follows: “A gallant officer was pursued by an overwhelming force, and his followers were urging him to greater speed, when he discovered that his saddle-girth was becoming loose. He coolly dismounted, repaired the girth by tightening the buckle, and then dashed away. The broken buckle would have left him on the field a prisoner; the wise delay to repair damages sent him on in safety amid the huzzas of his comrades.” The Christian who is in such haste to get about his business in the morning that he neglects his Bible and his season of prayer rides all day with a broken buckle.
Encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover.
Three successive days
In one of his sonnets, Matthew Arnold tells of an interview he had on a day of fierce August sunshine, in Bethnal Green, with a preacher whom he knew, and who looked ill and overworked. In answer to the inquiry as to how he fared, “Bravely!” said he; “for I of late have been much cheered with thoughts of Christ, the Living Bread.” There is a great difference between the strength which may be supplied from without, and that which is assimilated within. To illustrate the first. We tread the cathedral close and examine the mighty buttresses that steady the ancient walls. What though the “high embowed roof” presses on them with all its weight to make them bulge, they may not stir an inch from the perpendicular so long as those masses of stone, built up without, forbid. To illustrate the second. We must visit the forest glade, where giant oaks withstand the blasts of centuries, because they have incorporated into their hearts the properties of earth and air, becoming robust, and sturdy, and storm-defying. There are many ways in which the holy soul derives strength from without. It is buttressed by remonstrances and appeals, by providences and promises, by the fear of causing grief, and by the incitement of passionate devotion. But if these were all they would be in sufficient. We need to be strengthened from within, to have within ourselves the strong Son of God; to know that the Mightiest is within us, and working through us, so that we, even as He, can do all things. In this old record we may discover without effort the Living Bread under three aspects--the Passover; the corn of the land; the manna. Each of these consumed one of three successive days.
I. The passover How little we understand the way by which each part of our body takes the particular nourishment it requires from the food we eat. But we know that such is the case, and that bones, muscles, and tissues appropriate their sustenance from the common store. So though we may not be able to explain the philosophy of the process, we believe and are sure, that as we hold fellowship with Jesus in quiet hallowed moments, our weakness absorbs His strength, our impatience His long-suffering, our restlessness His calm, our ignorance His wisdom. “He is made to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” His flesh is “true meat” because it makes us strong to endure and do. His blood is “true drink,” because it satisfies our thirst, and makes glad our heart. But let it ever be borne in mind that as no uncircumcised person was permitted to partake of the Passover, so none who are living in wilful sin can feed on the flesh and blood which were given for the life of the world. There must be a Gilgal before there can be a Passover in the deepest and fullest sense. This is why you have no zest in prayer, no appetite for your Bible, no enjoyment in the ordinances of the House of God. You have not yet put away all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, you have not yet submitted yourself to the sharp two-edged sword, you have not yet been delivered from the reproach of Egypt, you have not yet purged out the leaven of insincerity and falsehood.
II. The corn of the land. The Paschal Lamb is good, but the corn of the land includes the fruits, and honey, and bread-stuffs that grow on the soil of the Resurrection-life. The ascension of Christ may be considered in many aspects, but in each we seem to stand beneath His outstretched hands of benediction, as they did who saw Him parted from them, and taken up before their adoring gaze. Happy indeed are they who also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with Him continually dwell. To do this is to eat of the corn and fruit of the land.
III. The manna. The corn began before the manna ceased. The one overlapped the other as the thatch of a hay-rick or the feathers of a bird. God does not wish that there should be those intervals of apparent desertion, and the failure of supplies of which so many complain. It is quite likely that He may have to withdraw the extraordinary and exceptional, as represented by the manna; but He will wait until we have become accustomed to the ordinary and regular supplies of His grace, as represented by the corn. In the blessings of our outward life, He does sometimes humble us, and suffer us to hunger. The brook Cherith dries before He sends us to Zare-phath. But as to the inward life, He gives without stint. The table is always prepared before us in the presence of our enemies--one form of soul-sustenance is within reach before another form fails; we must have learned to feed ourselves with strong meat before He drops the spoon with which He had been wont to nourish us with milk. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land.
Manna and corn
Various conjectures have been formed regarding the nature of the manna, which every morning whitened like hoar-frost the ground around the encampment of the Israelites in the wilderness. It was indeed a miraculous substance in the sense of its having been provided at the very time when, and in the very circumstances where, it was required. But we have no reason to believe that it was in itself a miraculous substance, a material previously unknown, created specially for the purpose and coming down straight from heaven. God economises the supernatural element in His working, and makes use of ordinary means as far as they will go. He who used the ordinary thorny growth of the desert as the medium of His transcendent revelation when He appeared in the burning bush, and converted the simple shepherd’s rod in the hand of Moses into a serpent, and made it the instrument of compassing the deliverance of Israel by signs and wonders, would in all likelihood employ on this occasion a substance indigenous to the desert, as the basis of the great miracle which He wrought for the supply of the daily bread of His people. Such a substance might well have been the white hard exudation that drops from the thorns of the tamarisk shrub, and frequently covers the ground to a considerable extent, which is used for food at the present day by the Arabs, and to which they give the name of manna. We cannot expect to trace an exact correspondence, for some of the qualities and conditions of the manna of Scripture were unmistakably supernatural. It is sufficient if the natural object could serve as a mere fulcrum for the miracle, But whatever might have been the nature and origin of the mysterious substance which God made use of, it is evident that the manna was intended to serve a wise and gracious purpose in the religious economy of the Israelites. He who said that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness all other things that we truly need will be given to us, furnished a remarkable illustration of the truth of the promise in the experience of the Israelites. There was no want to those who feared God and did His will; bread was given to them and their water was sure, even if the bread had to come down from heaven and the water had to be produced from the flinty rock by the smiting of the miraculous rod. But this supernatural life was not to last for ever. It was appropriate to the wilderness, God’s special dwelling-place, as it were, where there was nothing but God and nature; but it was not suitable to the promised land, where all the conditions of a natural human life existed, and which was the haunt of man as well as the scene of nature’s most beneficent operations. Accordingly we read that when the Israelites first tasted of the corn of Canaan at Gilgal, the manna which had been their food for so many years previously ceased at once. The natural, which is always, superseded the supernatural, which is only occasional. The miracle must give place to the common processes of life. The manna ceasing when the Israelites ate of the corn of Canaan teaches us the lesson that God’s help is given, not to supersede our self-help, but to enable us to help ourselves. No one can truly know what it is to find his sufficiency in God but he who puts forth all the strength which he himself possesses. It is exactly in proportion as we strive to do all, and strive in vain, that we can have an experimental consciousness of God’s almighty aid. And thus the believer feels that God’s strength is made perfect in his own weakness. The difference between manna and corn is most suggestive. Manna was a supernatural product provided directly by Divine power. It came to the Israelites in the wilderness without any toil or trouble of their own. No tiller of the ground had wrought for it in the sweat of his face, and therefore it was but little esteemed by the Israelites. They soon lost their relish for it; it became tasteless and insipid, and their souls loathed it in the end. But corn, on the other hand, implies and involves great and continuous labour. A sacrifice is made, a loss sustained in parting with the seed-corn. There is much sweat of the face in preparing the ground for its reception; faith is exercised in entrusting it to the earth; patience and hope in watching its growth and waiting for its ripening; and toil again is required in reaping, storing, and preparing the harvest for bread. And is there not the same wide difference in spiritual things between manna and corn--between what is given to us without any toil or trouble of our own, and what is wrought out for us and in us, as the result of our own toil and, it may be, our own sad experience? No doubt we should prefer manna to corn; we should like to get heavenly blessings straight out of God’s hands. But the rule of the Divine kingdom is “no cross, no crown.” In no other way would God’s spiritual or natural blessings do us good. Only in this Divine way does the procuring of them act as a heavenly discipline, counteracting the evil tendencies of our nature, enabling us to sympathise with the plans and hopes of God, and fitting us for the enjoyment of His everlasting rest. When the Israelites entered the Holy Land, God gave them at first the corn of their enemies, as He had given them the manna of the wilderness. That was necessary--just as it is necessary for the child to be supported at first by its mother’s nourishment, and the young plant by the provision stored up in the seed. But this old corn would last only a little while; it would cease as the manna had ceased. When it was done the Israelites would have to sow and reap their fields in order to get a new supply; they would have to provide for themselves by the toil of their hands. And how significant of the new life which it nourished was the new corn in these circumstances! The Israelites looked forward from the wilderness to the promised land as the place of consummation and rest. But they found that their former discipline in the new circumstances was not ended, but only changed in its character; that amid golden cornfields and rich pastures and luxuriant vineyards they would have to practise in even higher degree the virtues which the wilderness-life called forth. And how symbolical was the new corn of the land--the bread for which they toiled in the sweat of their face--of this life of self-conquest and devotion which it sustained! It might seem that their life in the wilderness, directly supported by God and under His immediate care, was higher and more heavenly than their life in Canaan, sowing and reaping their fields, and providing for their wants by their own labour. But it was not so; for the wilderness-life fed by the manna of heaven was only an introduction to, and a preparation for, the higher life of Canaan fed by the corn of earth. And let us remember this solemn fact when we are tempted to think that life spent in directly religious acts in the sanctuary, at the communion-table, in the closet, a holier and more acceptable life to God than the life spent in the place of business and in our homes, in everyday duties and labours. The incident of the manna of the wilder ness giving place to the corn of Canaan is in entire harmony with all God’s dealings with man. The dispensation that was inaugurated by supernatural manifestations is carried on by common helps, and through the homely experiences of human life. The supernatural life in the visible presence of Jesus must merge into the natural life of faith and hope amid ordinary circumstances. God gives at appropriate times meat to eat which the world knoweth not of--hidden manna, living bread direct from heaven. And when the manna is withdrawn and we are supplied with corn- with “human nature’s daily food”--let us seek to profit by what the manna has done for us and taught us. We have received spiritual food that we may have grace and strength to carry on the common duties of life. We have tasted that the Lord is gracious on the Holy Mount that we may follow hard after Him along the beaten paths of life. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Not manna, but old corn
The manna ceased when the people had the old corn of the land. Now the question is--
I. Was the old corn of the land any less wonderful than the bread of the wilderness? If we think of the reproductive energy of nature we are amazed. There are always apples, pears, grapes, melons, cherries, gooseberries, currants; there is always wheat for man, and corn for animals. The year comes, and these things come. But more than recurrence, there is multiplication. One grain of wheat will produce from 20 to 100. This is as inexplicable a wonder as was the manna, and cannot be explained without the recognition of two facts--the Divine power, and the Divine wisdom. Life and growth are in the hands of the Lord. The common mercies of life are direct Divine gifts. But look at another fact--the whole material life of the nation, and of the world, depends upon the harvest. If bread be dear there is less to spend upon other things. The price paid for bread depends upon the abundance or deficiency of the harvest; and that fixes the amount of production which can safely be ventured upon; and that again, the wages that can be paid; and that again, the condition of every poor man’s cottage, and of every rich man’s mansion throughout the land, and throughout the world. Manna! An international aspect of the question is thus unfolded. The necessities of peoples, and the abrogation of distance, and their separations by steam, have led to a freer exchange of commodities. We have had three or four poor harvests, but bread has not risen as it must otherwise have done! Why? Distant supplies have been available: we are not now dependent only on our own harvest.
II. Consider the ceasing of the manna in connection with the development of the people’s life. The gathering of manna from the ground was a short and simple affair, requiring neither much skill nor wit. In the land miracles ceased, and means had to be employed. Gifts are not so helpful as labour. To earn a fortune is better than to inherit one.
III. The ceasing of the manna suggests the removal of things on which human happiness seems here wholly to depend.
IV. Canaan was a type of heaven, and the ceasing of the bread of the wilderness suggests the contrast between the condition of life here and there. We shall lose much we here deem essential, but it is far better. What will it be to be there? It is the harvest-life of earth and time and the redeemed Church. (W. H. Davison.)
Corn for manna
After receiving the title-deeds of an estate, the next step is to enter into possession. And one of the best evidences that this has been done, is to take the use of all that the inheritance contains. Thus the Israel of God acted. First they celebrate the solemn feast of the Passover, and then partake of the fruits of the land. In this connection two things are coupled together, the eating of the corn and the: cessation of the manna,
I. This sudden change would bring to mind God’s power. It is a well-known fact that our ears may get so accustomed to a sound as to be unconscious of it. In like manner men may get so accustomed to the wonders of God’s might as to be unmoved by them. But this sudden stoppage of the manna must have arrested them all. It would be as if the sun had risen in the west. How strikingly would it teach them that this was a gift of Almighty power! The manna came not a day sooner than it was needed, and it did not stay a day later. They beheld the manna no more: but they saw instead fields white unto the harvest, and the power of Jehovah matured the one as truly as it sent the other. God has been supplying our wants of mind, body, and estate during all the past years of our life; and it may be we have been forgetting that we owe all to His power; therefore, to rouse us to this consciousness, He cuts off these supplies. The shock is great. Astonishment fills our hearts. Sorrow lays hold on us; indeed, we may be tempted to despair. Is this seemly? Nay. If we are His there is never room for despair. We can never drift beyond His love and care. He who has provided for the past will provide for the future.
II. The cessation of the manna would also magnify his grace. Whatever their feelings and thoughts and deeds, Whatever their spiritual state during these years, His supply never varied, was never suspended for a single day. And surely in our earthly course we too have had experience of this goodness of God. Notwithstanding our forgetfulness, thanklessness, rebellion, He has never cast us off, He has never left us to ourselves. He who has thus dealt with us in the past, will continue to do so to the end.
III. This event would also exalt his liberality. There is a great change in the material supplied to Israel for its physical wants. But it is a change, not from better to worse, rather from good to better. For forty years they had been accustomed to food of the same flavour; now there is great diversity, a supply to suit every taste. During these past years the supply was measured, there was a fixed quantity for each; now the store is unlimited. As it was with Israel in regard to this bodily provision, so it is with the children of God in regard to that which is spiritual. They receive grace and more grace. They go from strength to strength. With ever-increasing capacity comes more and more abundant supply. And this law not only regulates the Christian experience on earth and in time, it will also hold in heaven and in eternity. Faith, hope, and love are grazes that abide for ever.
IV. This cessation of the manna would also serve to display God’s carefulness. God is very liberal, but with all His liberality there is no wastefulness. God always appraises His gifts at their true value, and would have us do the same. God will never be so lavish of His gifts as to allow them to be scorned as superfluous. When He gives them the abundance of Canaan He takes away the manna. When men become careless or indifferent concerning His heavenly gifts, we need never be surprised if He takes them away.
V. This cessation of the manna also exhibited God’s wisdom. The manna was suited to the state of the people in the wilderness, it was not so convenient an article of food in Canaan. Whether or not it was more nourishing, it did not demand the same punctuality and regularity in gathering, and therefore was more suitable as the supply of soldiers. Corn would keep for an indefinite time, manna would not; therefore for those whose time would be so fully occupied, and yet whose hours of rest and work would be so uncertain, the corn was better. Also to have continued the supply regularly or intermittently, even for those who were not fighting, would have bred indolent and luxurious habits. It is good for man to be busy. As it is with material things so it is with spiritual. As the manna was taken away, so often spiritual experiences vanish to make room for others. Anything which does not serve the purpose for which it was first given may well be taken away. Thus we find as we pass through time that though many gifts, good, seasonable, necessary, are taken away, there are always compensations which leave us no losers. (A. B. Mackay.)
Corn in place of manna
This subject leads me, first, to speak of special relief for special emergency; and, secondly, of the old corn of the Gospel for ordinary circumstances. If these Israelites crossing the wilderness had not received bread from the heavenly bakeries, there would, first, have been a long line of dead children half buried in the sand; then, there would have been a long line of dead women waiting for the jackals; then, there would have been a long line of dead men unburied, because there would have been no one to bury them. It would have been told in the history of the world that a great company of good people started out from Egypt for Canaan, and were never heard of, as thoroughly lost in the wilderness of sand as the City of Boston and the President were lost in the wilderness of waters. What use was it to them that there was plenty of corn in Canaan, or plenty of corn in Egypt? What they wanted was something to eat right there, when there was not so much as a grass-blade. In other words, an especial supply for an especial emergency. That is what some of you want. The ordinary comfort, the ordinary direction, the ordinary counsel, do not seem to meet your case. There are those who feel that they must have an omnipotent and immediate supply, and you shall have it. Is it pain and physical distress through which you must go? Does not Jesus know all about pain? He has a mixture of comfort, one drop of which shall cure the worst paroxysm. Is it approaching sorrow? Have you been calculating your capacity or incapacity to endure widowhood or childlessness or disbanded home, and cried, “I cannot endure it”? Oh, worried soul, you will wake up amidst all your troubles, and find round about you the sweet consolation of the Gospel as thickly strewed as was the manna round about the Israelitish encampment l Especial solace for especial distress. Or is it a trouble past, yet present? A silent nursery? A vacant chair opposite you at the table? Oh, try a little of this wilderness manna: “I will never leave thee, I will never forsake thee.” “Like as a father pitieth his children,” &c. But after fourteen thousand six hundred consecutive days of falling manna--Sundays excepted the manna ceased. Some of them were glad of it. You know they had complained to their leader, and wondered that they had to eat manna instead of onions. Now the fare is changed. Those people in that wandering army under forty years of age had never seen a cornfield, and now, when they hear the leaves rustling and see the tassels waving, and the billows of green flowing over the plain as the wind touched them, it must have been a new and lively sensation. “Corn!” cried the old man, as he opened an ear. “Corn!” cried the children, as they counted the shining grains. “Corn!” shouted the vanguard of the host, as they burst open the granaries of the affrighted population, the granaries that had been left in the possession of the victorious Israelites. Then the fire was kindled, and the ears of corn were thrust into it, and, fresh and crisp and tender, were devoured of the hungry victors; and bread was prepared, and many things that can be made out of flour regaled appetites sharpened by the long march. “And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land.” Blessed be God, we stand in just such a field to-day, the luxuriant grain coming above the girdle, the air full of the odours of the ripe old corn of the Gospel Canaan. “Oh!” you say, “the fare is too plain.” Then I remember you will soon get tired of a fanciful diet. We soon weary of the syrups and the custards and the whipped foam of fanciful religionists, and we cry, “Give us plain bread made out of the old corn of the Gospel Canaan.” This is the only food that can quell the soul’s hunger. Christ is the Bread of Life, and taking Him, you live and live for ever. But, you say, corn is of but little practical use unless it is threshed and ground and baked. I answer, this Gospel corn has gone through that process. When on Calvary all the hoofs of human scorn came down on the heart of Christ, and all the flails of Satanic fury beat Him long and fast, was not the corn threshed? When the mills of God’s indignation against sin caught Christ between the upper and nether rollers, was not the corn ground? Oh, yes! Christ is ready. His pardon all ready; His peace all ready; everything ready in Christ. Are you ready for Him? There is another characteristic about bread, and that is, you never get tired of it. There are people here seventy years of age who find it just as appropriate for their appetite as they did when, in boyhood, their mother cut a slice of it clear around the loaf. You have not got tired of bread, and that is a characteristic of the gospel. I notice, in regard to this article of food, you take it three times a day. It is on your table morning, noon, and night; and if it is forgotten, you say, “Where is the bread?” Just so certainly you need Jesus three times a day. Oh, do not start out without Him; do not dare to go out of the front door, without having first communed with Him I Before noon there may be perils that will destroy body, mind, and soul for ever. You cannot afford to do without Him. You will, during the day, be amidst sharp hoofs and swift wheels and dangerous scaffoldings threatening the body, and traps for the soul that have taken some who are more wily than you. When they launch a ship they break against the side of it a bottle of wine. That is a sort of superstition among sailors. But oh, on the launching of every day, that we might strike against it at least one earnest prayer for Divine protection! Then at the apex of the day, at the tiptop of the hours, equidistant from morning and night, look three ways. Look backward to the forenoon; look ahead to the afternoon; look up to that Saviour who presides over all. Bread at noon! When the evening hour comes, and your head is buzzing with the day’s engagements, and your whole nature is sore from the abrasion of rough life, and you see a great many duties you have neglected, then commune with Christ, asking His pardon, thanking Him for His love. That would be a queer evening repast at which there was no bread. This is the nutriment and life of the plain Gospel that I recommended you. But alas for the famine-struck! Enough corn, yet it seems you have no sickle to cut it, no mill to grind it, no fire to bake it, no appetite to eat it. Starving to death, when the plain is golden with a magnificent harvest! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The cessation of the manna
The special supply ceased with the special demand. They were not to look for extra ordinary relief when, with due diligence on their part, the ordinary would suffice. This fact suggests some important points with regard to the government of God.
1. There is no wastefulness in the Divine economy. God does not use extraordinary means where the ordinary will avail to accomplish His purposes. We can easily conceive how, out of a prodigality of power, the manna might have been continued long after the land of Canaan had been reached; it might have been argued that such a continuance would be very helpful to the Israelites, supplying them with a perpetual and visible reminder of God’s care for them. The answer is, that at any rate such a continuance was not granted; and further, that it is not our Father’s way to permit the repetition of an aid the absolute necessity for which has departed. He is glorious in giving, but there is with Him no expenditure which would only tend to produce in the long run a contempt for His daily, His common, His highest, gifts. This principle is of widest application. When the Lord Jesus came to establish His kingdom, He wrought miracles in abundance; but when in the course of time the Church became firmly established, and the truth of the gospel was made evident by its renewing power over men, then the miracles gradually ceased, and that not because the Church had gone backward, but because she had advanced, and her claims could rest upon proofs of a more spiritual order. This principle receives a yet further illustration in the fact that, whilst the Lord displays His power, He yet takes up the work directly only when man is compelled to lay it down. The manna of the desert did not supplant the sowing and reaping of Canaan. Christ will raise the little child to life, but her parents must find her something to eat. Christ will speak the word of power, only possible to Him, “Lazarus, come forth,” but human hands must roll away the stone, and unbind the grave-clothes from the man risen from the dead. An angel struck the fetters from the limbs of Peter, and brought him out of the prison, but after that the apostle must put forth his own efforts in order to escape the rage of his persecutors. In all these cases a Divine power might have accomplished the whole transaction; but it did not, and it does not now. God is pleased in His mercy to give to us certain powers, all His and yet ours, ours and yet His, and it is for us diligently to use them. In no impious sense we may say that God helps those who help themselves. We have seen that there is with God no useless expenditure. He does what is sufficient, but not more than sufficient, for the occasion. Now, if that be true, how vast in His eyes must be the needs of sinners, how heavy the task of saving them, that in order to its accomplishment it was needful that the Lord Jesus should come to suffer and die. The greatness of the Redeemer argues the magnitude of the work of redemption.
2. But further, whilst there is no waste in the Divine economy, yet there are special provisions for special occasions. There is here, if we can lay hold of it, a truth for us, full of real comfort, instinct with hope. What was the case of the Israelites? It was this. By no ingenuity, by no conceivable diligence upon their part, could the necessities of the vast host of men, women, and children have been supplied in the wilderness, and yet these very necessities arose because at the command of the Most High the journey from Egypt to Canaan had been undertaken. That is, it was the path of duty which was thus beset with difficulty. That being so, the Israelites could rightly look up to God to have their wants supplied. If the Lord Jesus bids a dozen men supply five thousand with bread, He Himself multiplies the tiny store until there is enough and to spare. If He commands a paralytic to take up his bed and walk, He gives the strength by which the command can be accomplished. The manna given to the Israelites in the sandy desert is a symbol of the most helpful truth, that God will not fail us in any difficulty that may come to us in doing His will. Our principal business is not to perplex ourselves with a thousand questions as to how we may accomplish this or that; our anxiety should gather about an earlier point and a simpler--namely, what is the path of duty--have we a right to enter upon such and such manifest duties and burdens? If the command is plain, let us obey. If God point the way, then, even if it visibly lead into perplexing responsibilities, expectant faith is the highest reason, and the soundest wisdom is hope in Him. Yes, without doubt, we have a right to look for special supplies for special needs.
3. There remains one more truth necessary for the completion of the subject before us, namely, that, on the whole, the ordinary conditions are the highest, the best, the most abiding. Which was really the best state, the wandering or the settlement, the desert or Canaan? And yet the first condition was that of manifold miracles, the water from the rock, the pillar of cloud and of fire, the daily manna; the latter, that in which the people were handed over to the ordinary conditions of life--they had to sow and till and reap, to buy and sell, even as we. The new convert has experiences which by and by yield to firmer principles; his love may deepen and become infinitely stronger in its influence upon him, and yet some of the peculiar brightness of the early days may have departed. There are times of great exaltation, of movement, of excitement, in the history of churches, but it has yet to be proved that these are indeed, all things considered, the best. I have much faith in quiet, plodding work in our churches, in the continuous use of such means of grace as God gives us, the common corn of the land. I have much faith too in the power of a quiet, steady Christian life, which is regularly fed with the Word of God and with prayer. The exaltation of the special above the ordinary has even served to keep men from accepting Jesus Christ, by obscuring the simplicity of that faith by which we are saved. (E. Medley.)
Divine giving and withholding
I. The faith-fulness of God to his friends.
II. God will not work miracles when he can meet his children’s needs by ordinary methods.
III. A temporal blessing is sometimes removed when it has wrought the desired spiritual end. (W. Harris.)
The old gospel or the new
In the pulpit of our times we have two different gospels, each calling itself Christian and each asserting its superior excellence. The one is satisfied to rest on the testimony of God, to stand by the old landmarks, to receive the traditions of Scripture as delivered by prophets and apostles, and with these to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. The other, or new gospel, sets out from the principle that Christianity, like any other system of human knowledge, is an evolution and development. There is no absolute standard of truth back in the past; the only standard is in man himself--the highly educated man of the present, the advanced and incomparable man of the future. Some things are all the better for being new. But religion is not one of them. In a world of doubt and uncertainty, it is no small proof of the truth and excellence of the gospel that it is so old, that it has been so long tried and so fully tested--tried and tested in the crucibles of experiment, in the very fires of persecution.
1. This is the gospel which first converted the world. It was not liberalism, but the doctrine of Christ’s atonement for sin and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which converted the three thousand sinners of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Will any one tell us how long it would have taken the rose-water gospel of our modern dilettante to have done this work?
2. It is this old gospel alone that has sustained the Christian martyrs of all ages and all lands under their trials and persecutions. Who cares for science, literature, or art, when racked with pain and passing through the valley and shadow of death? Talk to us of God, tell us of heaven, show us the way to God and heaven, is then the high and only demand.
3. It was the preaching of this old gospel that awakened the Church to new life and produced the great reformation of the sixteenth century. It was as life from the dead, and Pentecostal baptism from heaven, when God raised up the great reformers, and by His grace enabled them, with a restored Bible, to proclaim again from the pulpit and the press the grand distinguishing truths of the ancient faith.
4. This again is the only gospel that has ever founded and sustained missions to the heathen. The new gospel of moderatism, of sentiment and art, or philosophical superiority to all creeds as equally good or indifferent, has never aspired to the dignity of converting the world to Christ.
5. Other grounds might be added for adherence to the old gospel--as that it has produced all the greatest characters in history, has founded all the great institutions of Christendom, has caused all the great revivals of religion in the Church, has been adorned by all the greatest preachers and evangelists of all ages--in a word, has accomplished nine-tenths, if not ninety-nine hundredths, of all the good that has thus far been accomplished in the world. (Prof. Leroy J. Halsey.)
Miracle and the commonplace
It is a strange thing to read that when at last the long-promised land had been attained there should be a diminution of the splendour of that Divine assistance which had attended the chosen people throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. “The manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the old corn of the land.” That is to say, the experience of the Israelites was one which swept down from the experience of splendid and wonderful works into that of ordinary, commonplace operation of the laws of nature. It looks a backward step. We, too, envy those who lived in the days when manna fell from heaven and the water came forth from the smitten rock, when the Jordan was cleft in twain, and men, without striking a blow, felt that the Divine arm was outstretched on their behalf. Or our thoughts may go back to the life of Him who lived in the world, not merely the life of beauty, but the life of power, and we may envy those who were privileged to walk at His side and see His hand stretched forth to touch the leper and he was healed, to raise the dead to life again. The dawn of early life has passed away, and with it the splendour of the morning, and all that we may claim is to live in a light which has faded down to the mere light of common day. It is a step downwards, we say, from those days of wondrous power to the days in which we can trace but little of the Divine in our midst. My purpose is to ask you to notice that so far from this transition from the extraordinary to the ordinary being a step downwards in the education of human beings it is distinctly a step upwards: that the whole story; if we will read it aright, may show us that God is leading us to far clearer and more constant manifestations of Himself. Your life and mine is real and strong in proportion as it is filled with a clear conception of God, in proportion as it is full of spiritual vigour within, and in proportion as it is energetic towards those whom we meet abroad. In these three relationships life finds its perfection. It does not find its perfection in itself alone; it is related by origin with God. And therefore it cannot grow out in fruition and in perfection of beauty at all except in certain conscious relationship to Him. It cannot ripen in the mere consciousness of God, because we are moral beings and we must ripen within ourselves; neither can we ripen within ourselves without relationship to our fellow-men, for God has put us in the midst of those men where the very order of things is a social order; and we grow not merely by the law of our own inward development, but we grow also by the law of contact and association with our brother men. And if you will look at this story which tells us of the transition from the marvellous to the commonplace, I think you will see that whether you regard life from any one of these three points you are asked to take a step forward and to move higher.
1. First, then, the relation we bear to God. The thought which underlies our regret when we say that we wish we had lived in the days of more marked interposition of God is this--that somehow or another wherever there is a marvellous or miraculous manifestation of God there is an opportunity of knowing Him which is denied to us. If you will reflect you will see that on the contrary the demand that underlies our thought is a demand which is destructive of our conception and consciousness of God sooner or later. What are we saying? We are saying in effect this: we want to be back in the old days of miracle, and we want the Divine made known to us through His marvels. What is that but saying; “O Lord, Thou hast made the world, and Thou hast made the world according to order, and laws govern that world. Break Thy laws that we may know Thee!” But surely that is to demand almost an impossibility! It is an admission that we have but little conception of the Divine working at all. You and I can see immediately what would be the result. That which happens constantly ceases to be extraordinary from the nature of the case, and there would be no more reason for believing in God because of such frequent manifestations of a startling character, for they would no longer be of the very character which we plead is their essential power. But you say, “We do not want Him to do this; we do not want Him to show Himself thus by for ever breaking up His laws, and being for ever doing the thing which we now deem extraordinary, but we do ask Him to break the silence and let us see some startling manifestation of His presence.” And then that means to say that we should only realise Him in proportion as He came and stood beside us veiled in these splendours. What, then, would be our inheritance in God? We should have an occasional God, not a permanent one. If we have any vivid conception of Him, He must be a permanent and a perpetual God to our lives and our souls. What you and I want is not a God of occasional work, but the God of a perpetual working in our midst. Therefore, surely we are enlarging our thoughts of God when we say, “God is not only in the startling things, but He is in the commonplace things, of life; God is not only in the cleft rock, He is also in the quiet hill and in the soft meadow; He is not only in the cloven sea or the Jordan struck asunder, but He is in the little burn that babbles at our feet.” Surely that gives us a much larger and nobler idea of the Divine; that brings us into closer relationship with Him. It enlarges our conceptions; we feel that we live not in a world which now and then is privileged to behold God as ruler, marching in stately procession through His universe, but rather as the Father of His children who dwells with them at all times. He is about our path and our bed; His tender mercies never fail to the sons of men, but are over all His works.
2. But life is not merely made up thus of the conceptions which we have of God, but it is made up of our own personal growth. The object which God has, if I may speak with all reverence, in putting us into this little world for the three score years and ten is not to secure our happiness nor to startle us into a kind of hysterical perception of His presence, but to educate us as His children. And therefore, when we ask that God should make Himself manifest by these miracles and wonders, we are really making a false conception of our own powers and capabilities in relation to God. For by what faculty do you perceive God? For everything that we look at is apprehended by one faculty or other that we possess. Do I expect to apprehend Him by the physical eye? Do I imagine that I shall apprehend Him by intellectual effort? Surely those are only conceptions which belong to past ideas, crude notions of God. I cannot perceive God by the physical eye. God is a spirit! I cannot perceive God by my intellectual powers, because the world, by wisdom, knew not God, and if He be God at all to me He is the Incomprehensible One. Then, of course, the miracle and the wonder are outside the case, for the marvellous can only speak on the plane of things physical or appeal to the power of the mind, the intellectual power within us. Our Lord was constantly teaching that. In His parable of Dives and Lazarus He uses the very principle. Here the man in his torment imagines that a wonder will convince his brethren. “Send Lazarus! Let the marvel appear!” And the only answer is, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead”--in other words, if they have not the moral capacity to follow the teachings of Moses and the prophets, if they have no moral affinity and sympathy with the prophets’ teaching, no wonder will give them that capacity. You cannot create a capacity by a wonder outside a man. You cannot make a blind man see red because he cannot see pink; you cannot, by intensifying a force outside, give him a faculty which is lacking in himself. The way in which you can understand God is by the exercise of your moral faculties. Jesus Christ was the greatest moral teacher that ever lived, and what is Jesus Christ’s emphatic statement concerning this? He says there are two faculties by which God can be apprehended, one is single-mindedness, the other purity of heart. For so, He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” That was His idea, and John, the beloved disciple who laid his head upon the bosom of the Christ, uttered the same principle when he said that the only way by which God could be apprehended was by the exercise of a loving disposition. A loving disposition is indispensable. You cannot perceive Him without it, and you can understand why. The reason is written down on the very surface. How can you understand him whose nature is loving if you be not loving also? How can you understand him whose nature is simple-minded if you too are not simple-minded? The faculty by which you apprehend God, then, is not the intellectual, not the physical, but the moral; and hence how will a miracle affect your moral faculties? How can it appeal to your moral powers? So that when you have asked that you should have a miracle to show you God, the answer of the thought and the answer of the principle is the same, you cannot so apprehend God unless you previously possess the moral faculty to enable you to grasp Him. And if you will reflect upon it, this is only another way of saying what is true of everything in the world, that the one condition by which you can understand anything or anybody is that you shall be in some degree a sharer of their nature. That is true! Let us picture to ourselves the tourist who hurries across the Atlantic, and hurries through the towns of Europe in order to see or “to do” the Continent. Place him down with his erratic mind untrained before the greatest masterpieces of art; plant him in the chapel at Florence; let him stand face to face with Michael Angelo’s creations of Night and Morning. His first impression will be, “These are greatly over-praised; why, the very anatomy is faulty; I cannot see why people should praise these things.” But now for a moment imagine that there drops upon that man’s soul as he stands there some little portion of Michael Angelo’s nature. What a transformation takes place within his soul in his power of perception at that moment! Then he says something new; then these “greatly over-praised” figures begin to have a message for him; they seem to speak into his life now because Michael Angelo is in his soul, and he can read what Michael Angelo meant. I put it to you in your homes; measure your acquaintances, tabulate them in your own mind, and see what the result is. Only where there is that sort of affinity you can really enter into the capacity of knowing one another in the true friendly sense; and what is the secret of it all? Your power of knowing and entering into the lives of these people depends upon your sharing in some degree their nature. It is the same surely with God. We talk of knowing God. How blind and foolish we are! Knowing God, the measureless, pure God, the bright and eternal God, the God whose mercy is over all His works. How can we know Him if we be not righteous? How can we understand Him if we be not holy? How can we enter into His love if no love dwells within our soul? It is the moral faculty, it is the possession of these moral qualities which are power, Hence, when the message comes to you, “Go forward! rest no longer upon the miracle! Rest now upon the ordinary manifestations!” it is as if it said--and the message came to the Israelites as it comes to you and me--“You are no longer in a state of babyhood, dependent upon these things outside your moral nature.” “You must give moral co-operation”--that is the meaning of the message. You must give moral co-operation now in your own education, for only by that moral co-operation can there be a pure apprehension of the Divine and the real entering into communion with Him. Thus, then, it is a step upwards, is it not? a step upwards in the moral education of men. But there is a third aspect of life.
3. Your life and mine is a life of association with others, and so long as men were in the state in which they were surrounded by the marvellous, the manna fell just where they could gather it without any exertion, but the corn needed to be sown, and the corn needed to be gathered in the spot where it grew, and therefore the children of Israel were now in the position of being made co-operators in the work of God. And so it is for you and me to understand that the advantage of its coming in that way is that it draws us into partnership with the work, and we are promoted to a stage higher when we are sent into the fields to gather, and when we are made so far co-agents with God that in the great work of the distribution of His food amongst men we take our share. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)
The old corn eaten by the Israelites was to them a verification of the Divine promise. Abraham was a pilgrim in Canaan, but he could mentally claim the whole land for his descendants. When Lot left him for the rich plain of the Jordan, the Lord said to him (Genesis 13:14-16). This was a great promise for the patriarch; also for his son and grandson, to whom it was in substance repeated. But what about those Israelites in Egypt whose hands and faces were smeared with the clay of the brickyards? There were probably times when they thought the promise was for gotten. But the promise was not forgotten, and every grain of the old corn eaten by the Israelites was a proof of God’s fidelity to His word. We are reminded by corn, whether old or new, that God is an active power in the world. We may talk about germination and the fructifying influences of dew, rain, and sunshine; but behind all secondary causes there is the great First Cause. In Tibet there is a sacred tree which is said to bear on its leaves hymns, litanies, and pictures of Buddha. On grains of corn, if we look aright, we shall see psalms in praise of God’s truthfulness and pictures of God’s goodness. He whose finger has yearly given a vitalising touch to the seed in the ground, and shown His beneficence in a long succession of harvests has not failed, and will not fail, in either His threatenings or His promises. The corn eaten by the Israelites was old, and therefore good corn, If it had been badly harvested it would have sprouted, and when parched or made into cakes would have lacked the right flavour. It was in prime condition, and so was a treat to the Israelites after their long diet of manna. In the Bible we have what may be spoken of as old corn. The truths which God has given for the nourishment of our souls are not of recent date, but bear the impress of primitive years. We are not to despise those truths because they are old; if they are old, they are a glory for modern times. Whenever the Church has risen to new life, it has been because of a return to biblical beliefs and biblical methods of activity. When, however, the Church has become little more than a gorgeously decorated petrifaction, it has been revived by the old corn of simple doctrine. Novelties in theology may be attractive, but they cannot do for us what is done by doctrines which are ancient without being antiquated, and venerable without being enfeebled by years. Much as men have grown in science and literature, they have not so grown religiously as to be independent of the atonement. We need the old truths, and we can no more do without them for our souls than we can do without bread made of sound corn for our bodies. (J. Marrat.)
The Divine law of economy
A law of economy, we might almost say parsimony, prevails, side by side with the exercise of unbounded liberality. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fishes to feed the multitude, but He will not let one fragment be lost that remains after the feast. A similar law guides the economy of prayer. We have no right to ask that mercies may come to us through extraordinary channels when it is in our power to get them by ordinary means. If it is in our power to procure bread by our labour, we dare not ask it to be sent direct. We are only too prone to make prayer at the eleventh hour an excuse for want of diligence or want of courage in what bears on the prosperity of the spiritual life. It may be that of His great generosity God sometimes blesses us, even though we have made a very inadequate use Of the ordinary means. But on that we have no right to presume. We are fond of short and easy methods where the natural method would be long and laborious. But here certainly we find the working of natural law in the spiritual world. We cannot look for God’s blessing without diligent use of God’s appointed means. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
The loss of one kind of advantage is compensated by the advent of another
In childhood and early youth we depend for our growth in knowledge on the instructions of our teachers. What puzzles us we refer to them, and they guide us through the difficulty. If they are wise teachers they will not tell us everything, but they will put us on the right method to find out. Still they are there as a court of appeal, so to speak, and we have always the satisfaction of a last resort. But the time comes when we bid farewell to teachers. Happily it is the time when the judgment becomes self-reliant, independent, penetrating. We are thrown mainly upon our own resources. The manna ceases, and we eat the fruit of the land. So in family life. The affection that binds parents and children, brothers and sisters, to one another in the family is both beautiful and delightful; and it were no wonder if, on the part of some, there were the desire that their intercourse should suffer no rude break, but go on unchanged for an indefinite time. But it is seldom God’s will that family life shall remain unbroken. Often the interruption comes in the rudest and most terrible form--by the death of the head of the house. It is often a painful and distressing change. But at least it wakens up all who can do anything; it rescues them from the temptation of a slumbering, aimless life, and often draws out useful gifts that turn their lives into a real blessing. And there are other compensations: As old attachments arc snapped, new are gradually formed. And even in old age a law of compensation often comes in: children and children’s children bring new interests and pleasures, and the green hues of youth modify the grey of age. Then there is the happy experience by which the advent of spiritual blessings compensates the loss of temporal. Such instances are not uncommon as that which the Rev. Charles Simeon gives, in speaking of some blind men from Edinburgh whom nearly a century ago he found at work in a country house in Scotland: “One of the blind men, on being interrogated with respect to his knowledge of spiritual things, answered, ‘I never saw till I was blind; nor did I ever know contentment while I had my eyesight, as I do now that I have lost it; I can truly affirm, though few know how to credit me, that I would on no account change my present situation and circumstances with any that I ever enjoyed before I was blind.’ He had enjoyed eyesight till twenty-five, and had been blind now about three years.” Lastly, of all exchanges in room of old provisions the most striking is that which our Lord thus set forth (John 16:7). Very precious had been the manna that ceased when Jesus left. But more nourishing is the new corn with which the Spirit feeds us. Let us prize it greatly so long as we are in the flesh. We shall know the good of it when we enter on the next stage of our being. Then, in the fullest sense, the manna will cease, and we shall eat the corn of the land. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
How gracious is the gentle, thoughtful kindness of God, who lets us see the new before He quite takes away the old, accustoming us to walk before He removes the chair on which we had leant so long, careful that we should be able to swim before He removes the cork. Do not fret if the rhapsodies, and outbursts, and exuberant manifestations of earlier days have ceased; it is better to live by the ordinary laws of human life than by the abnormal and miraculous. And after all there is as much Divine power in the production of a fig and pomegranate, of oil-olive and honey, of barley and wheat, as in the descending manna; as much in the transformation of the moisture of earth and air into the ruddy grape as in the miracle of Cana; as much in the maintenance of the soul in holiness and righteousness all its days as in the communication of unspeakable visions and words that may not be uttered. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Nay; but as Captain of the host of the Lord.
The warrior Christian
I. The special significance of this vision to Joshua. “The Lord’s host” does not primarily allude to those Israelite armies encamped beside the overflowing waters of the Jordan, but to other and invisible hosts encamped all around on those heights, though no ear ever heard the call of the sentries at their posts of duty, or saw the sheen of their swords flashing in the sunlight, or beheld their marshalled ranks. Those troops of harnessed angels were the hosts of which this wondrous Warrior was captain. The story of the conquest of Canaan is not simply the account of battles fought between Israel and the Canaanites, but of the results of a conflict yet more mysterious and far-reaching between the bright squadrons that follow the lead of the captain of the Lord’s host, and the dark battalions of evil entrenched in the hearts and strongholds of the enemies of God. Is it, therefore, any cause for wonder that the walls of Jericho fell down; or that vast armies were scattered without a blow being struck; or that the land was subdued in a seven years’ campaign? These achievements were the earthly and visible results of victories won in the heavenly and spiritual sphere by armies which follow the Word of God upon ‘white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure. Those walls fell down because smitten by the impact of celestial hosts. Those armies fled because the dark powers with which they were in league had been put to the rout before the Lord God of Sabaoth.
II. The significance of this vision to the church. Throughout the world of nature there are signs of conflict and collision. There is no pool, however tranquil; no forest-glade, however peaceful; no isle bathed by southern seas, and set gem-like on the breast of ocean, however enchanting; no scene, however fascinating, which is not swept by opposing squadrons contending for victory. The swift pursue their prey, the strong devour the weak, the fittest alone survive in the terrific strife. So it has been in the history of our race. The books that contain the records of the past are largely records of wars and decisive battles. Their pages are wet with tears and blood. The foundations of vast empires have been laid, like those of African palaces, on the writhing bodies of dying men. For the student of God’s ways all this leads up to a more tremendous struggle between darkness and light, evil and good, Satan and our King. And here is the real importance of the ascension, which was the worthy climax of the wonders of the first advent, as it will introduce the glories of the second.
III. The significance of this vision to ourselves. We sometimes feel lonely and discouraged. The hosts with which we are accustomed to co-operate are resting quietly in their tents. No one seems able to enter into our anxieties and plans. Our Jerichos are so formidable--the neglected parish, the empty church, the hardened congregation, the godless household. How can we ever capture these, and hand them over to the Lord, like dismantled castles, for Him to occupy? That problem at first baffles us, and appears insoluble. Then we vow it shall be untied, and summon all our wit and energy to solve it. We study the methods of others and copy them; deliver our best addresses and sermons, put forth herculean exertions. We adopt exciting advertisements and questionable methods, borrowed from the world. Suppose Israel had taken lessons in scaling walls and taking fenced cities from the Canaanites! Or that the people had made an attack on Jericho with might and main, determined to find or make a breach! Finally, in our hours of disappointment, when we have tried our best in vain, and have fallen, as the sea birds who dash themselves against the lighthouse tower fall to the foot with broken wing, it is well to go forth alone, confessing our helplessness, and tarrying for the vision, for we shall then be likeliest to see the Captain of the Lord’s host. He will undertake our cause, He will marshal His troops and win the day, He will fling the walls of Jericho to the ground. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The armed angel of the covenant appearing to Joshua
I. Joshua went forth to be alone with God. The hour, thought of for forty years, had now arrived; the campaign was about to begin, and everything devolved upon him. No Moses now to direct him. There was the impregnable fortress before him. A long siege or a speedy capture alike impossible. A dilemma. He knelt for guidance.
II. The lord came to be alone with Joshua.
1. To Abram, a wanderer, He appeared as a wayfarer; to Jacob, distressed at the prospect of a conflict with his brother, He appeared as a wrestler who allowed himself to be overcome; and now, to the warrior, He showed Himself as a warrior. This teaches that there is no condition of life in which we shall not find the Lord Jesus in full sympathy with His people.
2. Joshua’s doubt; whether He was for or against him was soon set at rest. So will yours, if your heart is right with Him.
3. When Joshua knew who He was, he fell upon his face and worshipped. We have a like assurance that Joshua had. “All power is given unto Me.” “Lo, I am with you alway.” But if this be really given to us by the Holy Ghost, our attitude will be like Joshua’s.
(1) Deeply reverential (Isaiah 6:5).
(2) Entirely submissive to the Divine will (Acts 9:6).
4. The first thing the Lord required--“Loose thy shoe,” &c. So now, Leave worldly cares, cut off carnal indulgences, and give yourself up wholly to Me.” “And Joshua did so . . . And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand, Jericho,” &c. A similar promise is given to us. Jericho is a type of the world (John 16:33; Romans 8:31; 1 John 4:4). The promise was definite: “I have given.” That set Joshua’s mind at rest. Have we not many a promise us definite? Why should we fear? (see 1 John 5:4).
5. But faith does not mean sitting still and doing nothing. The land was given to them, but they had to conquer every foot of it. The Christian conflict is no less a conflict because “a fight of faith.”
In order to conquer in “the good fight of faith,” we want--
1. The readiness of faith, which is found only in our realised perfect standing in Christ.
2. The prayer of faith.
3. Faith’s recognition of the Divine presence.
4. Faith’s reverential submission to the Divine will.
5. Faith’s energetic obedience to the Divine commands. (W. J. Chapman, M. A.)
The Captain of the Lord’s host still with us
We see in Joshua an observant man meditating over the plans of the morrow, and turning in upon his own thoughts and reflections, yet quick to note the presence of a danger. Every commander of men must have an eye in his head. He must be quick to note the presence of a foe or to detect danger. He must watch as well as meditate and pray. Joshua was quick to take in his surroundings, while he carefully weighed problems which pressed themselves upon him. What was he to do? It was when face to face with that perplexing question that Joshua looked up and saw an armed man. Could he let that man go unchallenged? Nay, he must have the courage to go up to him. That courage was the necessary condition of the revelation which Joshua was about to receive. The cowards in the Lord’s army never receive such a vision as this, but the men who have forgotten themselves in their desire to serve their Lord. Now observe what Joshua first received. He received a clear revelation that the One to whom he had spoken was far greater than he had ever imagined Him to be. In other words, that the Captain of the Lord’s host, who alone could ensure victory, was nearer to him than he had ever dreamed. Again, notice that the character of this revelation was adapted to the nature of the circumstances by which Joshua was surrounded. Now, when God appeared to Moses, He did not reveal Himself in the form of an armed man. He appeared to him in a flame of fire--a flame which lit up the bush, but did not consume it. Then God appeared in the mystery of fire: and that was just the kind of revelation that Moses needed. But now things were different. Joshua had to pass through experiences through which even Moses had not to pass. The religion of God had been now established. The law had been given, even the ceremonial instructions had been supplied; but now the nation had to find their way into the possession of the promised land, God had given them Canaan, it is true, but it was only on condition that they should, in His strength, conquer the inhabitants of Canaan. Thus the revelation which Joshua needed now was that God would fight for them and with them. He therefore appeared before Joshua, not as a flame of fire, but an armed man, with His sword unsheathed. Joshua thus learnt that the result of the conflict was not dependent upon his wisdom in planning, or upon his courage in prosecuting the campaign. This was supremely all Joshua needed to know. It is this that gives courage to all the true servants of the Lord--the assurance that they have merely to obey the command of their King in detail, leaving all the rest with Him. Next observe that the conditions of being permitted to receive any command from the Divine Captain arc reverence and faith. No man can receive from Him orders for battle until he has learned to take the warrior’s sandal from off his foot and bow in submissiveness before the great Captain of his salvation. It was when Joshua had learned the truest reverence, when he had realised that the very place upon which he stood was holy, that the great secret was given him how to take Jericho. The Lord bade Joshua order the priests first of all take the ark, and then command seven priests to blow the “seven trumpets of ram’s horns” before the ark of the Lord, &c. That was an extraordinary command, and an extraordinary assurance, and they required very exceptional faith in God to act upon them. But the possession of that faith was the condition of victory. So is it still; if we have a similar faith, the triumph is ours. Now think for a moment of Joshua’s thoughts after all this. He would soliloquise: “I have mourned over the loss of Moses: I mourn over it still; but now I see as I never did before that there is One who can make up for that loss. I have not to look to Moses, but to the Master who gave Moses his commission: and if obeying His command is all that is necessary for me, I too can be leader.” The Lord’s cause does not depend upon the life of any hero, however great he may be, and the prosperity of the gospel the wide world over shall not be restrained by any loss, but as long as the Church is faithful to its privileges and ready to obey the Master’s command, we as the Lord’s army shall go on conquering and to conquer, until at last the shout of victory will be heard, and every Jericho of worldliness and iniquity will be laid low. (D. Davies.)
Timely aid; or, a vision of the Captain of the Lord’s host
I. The time of his appearance.
1. After attending to “religious duties,” “circumcision” and the “Passover.” Joshua knew what kind of beginning was likely to end well; unlike a number of modern Christians.
2. While pursuing his appointed work. “By Jericho.” Probably alone, yet fearless of danger. “By Jericho” for some important purpose. God visits the working man. Moses, Gideon, David, Elisha, sons of Zebedee. The covetous and idle are rarely called by God to great work.
II. The manner of his appearance.
1. As supreme in command: “Captain of the Lord’s host.” Captain over Joshua. Whatever be our abilities, our titles, or our claims to office, we must yield them all up to the “Captain of the Lord’s host.”
2. As the very friend Joshua needed--in the character and dress of a soldier.
3. As justifying the war in which he was about to engage. There are wars in which God will engage--against sin and the devil. The victories of the Church are bloodless.
4. As encouraging him to wage it valiantly. “Drawn sword.” Ready to take the defensive or the offensive. To Abraham He said, “I am thy shield.” To the disciple He said, “Follow Me.”
III. Our duty in relation to such an appearance.
1. To be found evincing an interest in Israel. “Joshua was by Jericho.”
2. To be ready to lay ourselves at Jesus’ feet, saying, “What saith my Lord unto His servant.” Say anything, Lord, and I will do it. Appoint me any work, and I am ready to perform it. (W. H. Matthews.)
The Captain of the Lord’s host
“Art thou for us or for our adversaries?” There is a great deal in this bold challenge which commends itself to our admiration. Joshua knew of no neutrality in the warfare of God. The stranger must be friend or enemy. Joshua was not like so many Christian soldiers of to-day, who, before declaring their principles, wait to find out their company, trimming themselves to the breeze, very pious with the pious, indifferent with the indifferent, and openly irreligious with the irreligious. But there is something amiss with the question, for it is rebuked. Joshua made the mistake of thinking of the warfare in which he was engaged as having the two sides--“our side” and “the other side.” Whoever approached the host must come to aid “us” or oppose “us.” And this view was all wrong. It was just like the Homeric idea of the gods descending to earth as partisans in human strifes, Apollo patronising the diligent offerer of hecatombs, Venus favouring this or that one of her mortal kindred. It was like the Romans expecting Castor and Pollux in their van to spread dismay in the opposing hosts. It was an idea of God which the Jews got in a certain stage of their national history, an idea of God as a patron deity, a national divinity, just as Chemosh was the national divinity of Moab. In due time, when the exclusive national spirit had done its work, this idea was destined to be swept away. The vision rebukes it now. “Nay,” he says, “not for you, nor yet for your adversaries, am I come, but--as Captain of the Lord’s host am I now come.” “Not as a partisan,” he would say, “but as a Prince am I come. Not such as you deem me am I, a welcome ally or a hated foe, come to mingle in the clash and din of earthly warfare, but as captain of an army in which Israel forms but one tiny battalion, I am come to take my place and give my intructions.” What a struggle must have taken place in the mind of Joshua! Was not he the captain, divinely chosen by God, and consecrated by the laying on of the hands of Moses? Did not this matter touch the dignity of his office? At any rate, we may be sure--for Joshua was a man--that it touched his pride. Just as he was so full of plans, perhaps had got everything ready for the attack on Jericho, had seen exactly how this wall was to be scaled, how that apparently impregnable tower was to be battered down, how the troops were to be disposed with the certainty of victory--an unknown One comes to him, levels all his plans to the ground with a word, and proclaims Himself the Captain of the host. Longfellow tells the story of the same conflict in “King Robert of Sicily,” but there is a difference. King Robert requires years of humiliation and discipline to bring him to the confession all must make before the Captain; Joshua wins his battle on the spot--a battle which showed his fitness for leadership more than when he fought with Amalek at Rephidim. And he won it, as many of the great battles in the world’s history--although they have not scarred the fair fields of earth--have been won--on his knees. No longer looking up, he falls with his face to the earth. Oh, what bitter pain and self-abasement were there in that moment when the strong soldier of Israel bowed himself to the dust! Who can say how hard the struggle was? We are only told that the battle was won. “What saith my Lord unto His servant?” Then the Captain of the Lord’s host gives His orders, tells of His plan--not at all like the plans of Joshua--how Jericho is to be taken, not by might or Strength of armed men, but by the blast of the Spirit of God toppling down the stupendous walls in which the heathen Canaanites put their trust.
1. Oh, that we imitated Joshua in his vigilance! We, too, are in the promised land. But Canaan, for us, as for Israel, is a battle-field. Enemies prowl around, mighty fortresses of evil frown before us, and it is only our blindness which prevents us from seeing the momentous issues which depend upon our wakefulness. Do we ponder much and often upon the charge laid upon us? Do we often rise from slumber, leave the host of sleepers, and go out alone to survey the field of the approaching battle? Let us not shrink from challenging the unknown influences which at such times touch our lives. “Try the spirits,” says St. John; good or evil, they must be challenged, for God has made us creatures of choice, and He has willed that by choice (and not by instinct) we must obey Him. This is the mark of our manhood, the mark which distinguishes us from the beasts.
2. But let us avoid Joshua’s error. There is no “our side” in the matter. There is God’s side, and the side against God. The Persian poet, Jellaladeen, tells us that, “One knocked at the Beloved’s door, and a voice asked from within, ‘Who is there? ‘ and he answered, ‘It is I.’ Then the voice said, ‘This house will not hold me and thee’; and the door was not opened. Then went the lover into the desert and fasted and prayed in solitude, and after a year he returned and knocked again at the door; and again the voice asked, ‘Who is there?’ and he said, ‘It is thyself’; and the door opened to him.” All true Christian warriors have, with Joshua, learned this utter renunciation of self. The Jehu spirit, “Come and see my zeal for the Lord,” is banished, and the spirit of Paul takes its place, “yet not I, but Christ that dwelleth in me.” (H. H. Gowen.)
The heavenly Captain of the Lord’s host; or, the vision at Jericho
I. The time of the vision.
1. It was immediately after God had been publicly honoured and sought in His ordinances. Christian, wouldst thou see Jesus? Then consecrate thyself anew to the service of thy God, and seek Him in the employment of the means of grace. Especially exercise faith in the Lamb of God, and feed upon the paschal sacrifice in thy heart by faith. Honour thy God by thy devotion, and He shall honour thee by revelations of His glory and His grace.
2. It was immediately before the mighty campaign with the Canaanites. This is often the method of God’s procedure. When a great trial is at hand, great revelations of His glory; transporting experiences of His presence are given in anticipation. It was thus with our Divine Master Himself. Before His temptation, the heavens were opened to His view; the Spirit descended upon Him in bodily shape; the audible voice of the Father declared that Father’s love, relationship, and approval of Him. It was thus, again, that the disciples were strengthened to bear the trial to their faith in the betrayal, suffering, and death of Jesus.
II. The aspect of the vision. Joshua’s question is not the utterance of doubt and distrust, but rather of a hope and an expectation that crave a fuller confirmation. It is like the prayer of David, “Say unto my soul, ‘I am thy salvation.’” Oh, it is a solemn thing to see the naked sword in the hand of the destroying angel standing over against us: a petition for a reassuring word from Him who wields that sword is no disgrace to a believer. A humble soul that is taught of God to know what sin is must ofttimes be conscious of sin and guilt enough to justify a prayer for a renewal of assurance, and to prompt the anxious question, “Art Thou for us, or for our adversaries?”
III. The communication of the vision. Lessons:
1. Let unsaved sinners read here a lesson of terror and alarm, and heed the call to repentance. His sword is in His hand. But still, still His long-suffering mercy defers the stroke of judgment. Wilt thou not repent and believe the gospel?
2. To those who have accepted His offer of grace, and who plead His precious blood as their title to pardon, there is nothing to dread in the person of their Saviour. Do you belong to the Lord’s host? Then bow your heads and worship, for as Captain of the Lord’s host is He now come. Say, can you trust this heavenly Guardian? Will you follow this heavenly Guide? He claims these of us all--full confidence, entire obedience.
3. Note that while God’s people are reassured and delivered from the fear that hath torment, there is a reverence and godly fear, from which they are not excused, but with which it is their duty to approach their Saviour. This is the symbolism of the loosing of the shoe. (G. W. Butler, M. A.)
Captain of the Lord’s host
I. The relation here indicated between Christ and his people. Ruler, Defender, and Leader of the Church on earth.
1. This He is by virtue of the sufferings and conquests of Calvary.
2. By the free choice of His people.
II. The character and office in which jesus here manifests himself. Warrior with drawn sword (Revelation 1:16).
III. The position and duty devolving upon Christians in consequence of this relation to Christ, The true ideal of the Christian is not that of the shepherd with crook and pipe on sunny hillside; or even that of the pilgrim slowly toiling on, and leaning on his stall’; but rather that of the soldier, with shield and helmet, fighting his way against doubts that agitate his mind, against fears that even disturb the serenity of hope, against fiery passions that threaten to overmaster his patience, against the flesh in all its varied forms of opposition to the Spirit, against the world and its allurements, against invisible enemies, &c. Over and above these single-handed conflicts with our foes, we are called upon as soldiers of the Cross to march forward with the host against envy, and wickedness, and sin; to fight for the overthrow of Satan’s stronghold, at home and abroad.
IV. Christ’s relation to the church involves the assurance of all needed grace and power for the warfare. We have His word to direct us, His Spirit to give strength and guidance, His love to inspire us with zeal, His promise to assure us that the conflict shall end in victory. (A London Clergyman.)
I. Realise the fact of the divine presence. Jesus Himself comes to this holy war. Joshua saw a man clad in armour, equipped for war. Cannot the eyes of your faith see the same? There He stands, Jesus, God over all, blessed for ever, yet a man. Not carnally, but still in real truth, Jesus is where His people meet together. Joshua saw Him with His sword in His hand. Oh, that Christ might come in our midst with the sword of the Spirit in His hand; come to effect deeds of love but yet deeds of power; come with His two-edged sword to smite our sins, to cut to the heart His adversaries, to slay their unbelief, to lay their iniquities dead before Him. The sword is drawn, not scabbarded, as alas! it has been so long in many Churches, but made bare for present active use. It is in His hand, not in the minister’s hand, not even in an angel’s hand, but the sword drawn is in His hand. Oh, what power there is in the gospel when Jesus holds the hilt, and what gashes it makes into hearts that were hard as adamant when Jesus cuts right and left at the hearts and consciences of men! The glorious man whom Joshua saw was on his side. In the midst of His Church, Christ carries a sword only for the purposes of love to His people. The Divine presence, there, is what we desire, and if we have it faith at once is encouraged. It was enough for the army of Cromwell to know that He was there, the ever victorious, the irresistible, to lead on his Ironsides to the fray. Many a time the presence of an old Roman general was equal to another legion; as soon as the cohorts perceived that he was come whose eagle eye watched every motion of the enemy, and whose practised hand led his battalions upon the most salient points of attack, each man’s blood leaped within him, and he grasped his sword and rushed forward secure of success. Our King is in the midst of us, and our faith should be in active exercise. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” When the King is with His people, then hope is greatly encouraged, for saith she, “Who can stand against the Lord of hosts?” Where Jesus is, love becomes inflamed, for oh I of all the things in the world that can set the heart burning, there is nothing like the presence of Jesus. A glimpse of Him will overcome us, so that we shall be almost ready to say, “Turn away Thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me.” Suppose that Christ is here. His presence will be most clearly ascertained by those who are most like Him. Joshua was favoured with this sight because he alone had eyes that could bear it. I would that all of you were Joshuas; but if not, if but some shall perceive Him, we shall still receive a blessing. I am sure this presence of Christ will be needed by us all. Go not to warfare at your own charges, but wait upon your Master, tarrying at Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high. But Jesus Christ’s presence may be had. Do not despond and say that in the olden times the Master revealed Himself, but He will not do so now. He will, He will. His promise is as good as ever.
II. Understand the Lord’s position in the midst of his people. “As Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come.” What a relief this must have been for Joshua. Perhaps he thought himself the captain; but now the responsibility was taken from him; he was to be the lieutenant, but the King Himself would marshal His hosts. Wherever Christ is, we must recollect that He is Commander-in-chief to us all. We must never tolerate in the Church any great man to domineer over us: we must have no one to be Lord and Master save Jesus. Down with thee, self, down with thee! Carnal judgment and foolish reason, lie still! Let the Word of God be paramount within the soul, all opposition being hushed. If we do not act with the Captain, disappointment will be sure to follow. One action brought defeat upon Israel.
III. Our third rule is, worship him who is present with us. Joshua, it is said, fell on his face to the earth. Worship is the highest elevation of the spirit, and yet the lowliest prostration of the soul, Worship the Son of God! Then, when you have so done, give up yourself to His command: say to Him, “What saith my Lord unto His servant?” When you have done this, I want you to imitate Joshua in the third thing, namely, put off your shoes from off your feet. Joshua, perhaps, had not felt what a solemn thing it was to fight for God, to fight as God’s executioner against condemned men. He must put his shoes off, therefore. We never can expect a blessing if we go about God’s work flippantly.
IV. To conclude, let us now advance to action, according to the Master’s command. Unconverted men and women, you are our Jericho, we wish to conquer you for Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Captain of the Lord’s host
I. A transient revelation of an eternal truth. You will observe that there run throughout the whole of the Old Testament notices of the occasional manifestation of a mysterious person who is named “the Angel,” “the Angel of the Lord,” and who, in a remarkable manner, is distinguished from the created hosts of angel beings, and also is distinguished from, and yet in name, attributes, and worship all but identified with, the Lord Himself. If we turn to the New Testament, we find that there under another image the same strain of thought is presented. The Word of God, who from everlasting “was with God, and was God,” is represented as being the Agent of Creation, the source of all human illumination, the director of Providence, the Lord of the Universe. “By Him were all things, and in Him all things consist.” So, surely, these two halves make a whole; and the Angel of the Lord, separate and yet so strangely identified with Jehovah, who at the crises of the nation’s history, and stages of the development of the process of revelation, is manifested, and the Eternal Word of God, whom the New Testament reveals to us, are one and the same. The eternal order of the universe is before us here. It only remains to say a word in reference to the sweep of the command which our vision assigns to the Angel of the Lord. “Captain of the Lord’s host” means a great deal more than the true General of Israel’s little army. It does mean that, or the words and the vision would cease to have relevance and bearing on the moment’s circumstances and need. But it includes also, as the usage of Scripture would sufficiently show, if it were needful to adduce instances of it, all the ordered ranks of loftier intelligent beings, and all the powers and forces of the universe. These are conceived of as an embattled host, comparable to an army in the strictness of their discipline and their obedience to a single will. It is the modern thought that the universe is a Cosmos and not a Chaos, an ordered unit, with the addition of the truth beyond the reach and range of science, that its unity is the expression of a personal will. That is the truth which was flashed from the unknown like a vanishing meteor in the midnight before the face of Joshua and which stands like the noonday sun, unsetting and irradiating for us who live under the gospel.
II. The leader of all the warfare against the world’s evil. “The Captain of the Lord’s host.” He Himself takes part in the fight. He is not like a general who, on some safe knoll behind the army, sends his soldiers to death, and keeps his own skin whole. But He has fought, and He is fighting. Do you remember that wonderful picture in two halves, at the end of one of the Gospels, “The Lord went up into heaven,” &c “they went forth everywhere preaching the Word”? Strange contrast between the repose of the seated Christ and the toils of His peripatetic servants! Yes. Strange contrast; but the next words harmonise the two halves of it: “The Lord also working,” &c. The leader does not so rest as that he does not fight; and the servants do not need so to fight as that they cannot rest. Thus the old legends of many a land and tongue have a glorious truth in them to the eye of faith, and at the head of all the armies that are charging against any form of the world’s misery and sin there moves the form of the Son of Man, whose aid we have to invoke, even from His crowned repose at the right hand of God. If this, then, be for us, as truly as for Joshua and his host, a revelation of who is our true leader, surely all of us in our various degrees, and especially any of us who have any “Quixotic crusade” for the world’s good on our consciences and on our hands, may take the lessons and the encouragements that are here. Own your leader. That is one plain duty. And recognise this fact, that by no other power than by His, and with no other weapons than those which He puts into our hands, in His Cross and meekness, can a world’s evils be overcome, and the victory be won for the right and the truth. We may have, we shall have, in all enterprises for God and man that are worth doing, need of patience, just as the army of Israel had to parade for six weary days round Jericho blowing their useless trumpets, whilst the impregnable walls stood firm, and the defenders flouted and jeered their aimless procession. But the seventh day will come, and at the trumpet blast down will go the loftiest ramparts of the cities that are walled up to heaven, with a rush and a crash, and through the dust and over the ruined rubbish Christ’s soldiers will march and take possession. Do not make Joshua’s mistake. “Art thou for us?” Nay! “Thou art for Me.” That is a very different thing. There is a great deal that calls itself, after Jehu’s fashion, “my zeal for the Lord,” which is nothing better than zeal for my own notions and their preponderance. Therefore we must strip ourselves of all that, and not fancy that the cause is ours, and then graciously admit Christ to help us, but recognise that it is His, and lowly submit ourselves to His direction, and what we do, do, and when we fight, fight, in His name, and for His sake.
III. The ally in all our warfare with ourselves. That is the worst fight. Far worse than all external foes are the foes that each man carries about in his own heart. In that slow hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot struggle I do not believe that there is any conquering power available for a man that can for a moment be compared with the power that comes through submission to Christ’s command and acceptance of Christ’s help. He has fought every foot of the ground before us.
IV. The power which it is madness to resist. Think of this vision. Think of the deep truths, partially shadowed and symbolised by it. Think of Christ, what He is, and what resources He has at His back, of what are His claims for our service, and loyal, militant obedience. Think of the certain victory of all who follow Him amongst the armies of heaven, clad in fine linen, clean and white. Think of the crown and the throne for him that overcomes. Remember the destructive powers that sleep in Him; the drawn sword in His hand; the two-edged sword out of His mouth; the wrath of the Lamb. Think of the ultimate certain defeat of all antagonisms; of that last campaign when He goes forth with the name written on His vesture and on His thigh, “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Think of how He strikes through kings in the day of His wrath, and fills the place with the bodies of the dead; and how His enemies become His footstool. Ponder His own solemn Word, “He that is not with Me is against Me.” There is no neutrality in this warfare. Either we are for Him or we are for His adversary. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A strengthening vision
(a Sermon to Soldiers):--The vision described in the text was God’s way of teaching Joshua. It revealed to him the important truth, it showed him that the secret source of all splendid achievements was in the strength that comes from the realised union between God and man. When and where did this vision come to Joshua? It was on the eve of an expected battle. At any moment the first blood might be shed. Uncertainty was in every heart. Men recounted to each other as they walked silently about the camp the wonderful doings of Jehovah, their God. These Israelitish soldiers gathered hope from the past for the future, and so stood erect for expected duty. But it was a moment of supreme anxiety, for an untried matter lay before them. It was a moment of supreme anxiety, and heart-sickening suspense to every soldier who stood before that first stronghold they had to attack. What must it be to Joshua the commander-in-chief? Earnest thoughts about his duty, about his responsibility, would surely rise up within him at such a moment, and his heart must well-nigh faint at the difficulties and the dangers. Did ever soldier meet greater encouragement? At that moment, then, when Joshua for the first time was face to face with the difficulties and the dangers of that unexpected campaign, at this place with the grim fortifications frowning round him, this vision of the text appeared. It was an answer to that which was going on within him. It was a striking vision; the appearance of a soldier ready for battle to a soldier. But what did this man with the drawn sword in his hand mean? Joshua knew a conflict was certain, that there was a long and severe campaign before him, but what was it, victory or defeat? What about the issue? The vision leaves Joshua still in uncertainty and doubt, and so with a soldier-like promptness and courage he goes up to the man, and the thought that is in his heart appears at the very abruptness of the question: “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” That was what Joshua wanted to know. But no direct answer was given; instead came the majestic words: “Nay, but as Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come.” I am thy fellow-soldier, but I belong to another army. I was with Moses as a guiding angel; I will be with thee as a soldier, the commander, the orderer of the battle. Thou needst not fear; to thy army there is a reserve of which thou knowest nothing. The Lord of hosts is with thee, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob is on thy side. He arranges all this battlefield: thou needst not fear; thou art safe under His protection. So God spoke to Joshua, and the watchful soldier understood the message that was given to him, he recognised the reviving vision and bowed before the Divine presence. Faith in God is a great inducement to a good heroic life; the enthusiasm of faith is strength: “All things are possible to him that believeth.” But what does this vision of the man with the drawn sword in his band reveal to us? Surely, first of all we are able to recognise this truth, that a soldier’s life ought to be, must be, may be, looked upon as a vocation from God. The essence of an ideal soldier’s life is self-sacrifice. To do your work because you must, to do it as slavery, to do as little of it as possible, to get away from it as soon as you can, and then to find your amusement or your pleasure in some wild form of self-indulgence, that is unsoldierlike and wrong. The Cross of Christ is the true symbol of a soldier’s life. Self-sacrifice should mark it; duty to God and duty to man is that which lies hidden in its uniform. And again, surely the vision teaches us this, that in like emergencies English soldiers and English commanders may expect the same Divine revelation, a man with a drawn sword in his hand to appear to them. “I never knew,” said a cultured Christian officer to me, “I never knew the delight of God’s presence, I never realised it so thoroughly, as when in the darkness of the night we were crossing the deserts of Egypt to the unknown dangers of Tel-el-Kebir.” And surely in these days of newness, when not only is a new England rising up about us, but a new army with new weapons, and with new modes of warfare and unexplored campaigns in the distance, it behoves us to believe that whenever war comes, if it be undertaken for the good of men and the glory of God, this vision of the man with the drawn sword in his hand will lead our army and inspire our officers and soldiers to noble deeds. This vision came to Joshua, but Joshua had a prepared heart. A man can only see that which he is prepared to see. Such a vision would not come to unprepared souls. Joshua had learned the lessons of fighting successful battles long ago. Years before this the first battle that Israel had ever fought, that at Rephidim, had been gained when Joshua was the leader, the chosen selected leader. An able, young, and capable leader he was then, and the army was made up of picked men. He was brave and enduring, and everything seemed to be on the side of the Israelites, but yet the final force was not with the fighting men, but up on the mountain-side. The final force was in the uplifting of hoary men’s hands to God. Moses and Aaron and Hur, old men, stood on the mountain side and supplicated God while the young men fought. How goes the battle, do you want to know? You must watch the hands of Moses. When the hands of Moses are uplifted the children of Israel march grandly on, and when they drop down in their weakness the Amalakites spring forward, and neither good generalship nor hard fighting can keep them back. The secret of all true power is with God. We, men, cannot wipe off evil in our own strength or might, but God will drive it out. Not by a miracle, but He will work through willing men, and do His work thoroughly and well. We know there are difficulties and dangers in a soldier’s life, but amid the difficulties and dangers we see deliverance; amid sin we see salvation; with the Cross of Christ before us we will never despair of men. We will never despair, for the Word tells us that Christ came into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it. Then, again, there are surely special times in a soldier’s life when he needs special encouragement. There is war with its many horrors, mangled forms, vast heaps of dying and wounded; and at such a moment, in such a crisis, the memory of the Church at home, the hymns sung, the prayers offered, the teaching received, comes back and lightens up the darkest hour of a soldier’s life. It tells him of hope in unexplored dangers, and in the last great danger of all, death. I have listened with tearful eyes from all sorts of men’s lips of such strength being given them in hours of danger from hymns they have sung. Some thought comes, some stray thought, as it seems, which the Holy Spirit brings into their minds, that in the garrison towns of England prayers are being offered up for them. This thought comes in and gives the man a new gleam of hope, new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven. There is a touching incident in one of the books which Mrs. Ewing wrote about soldiers. She could enter into their tenderest feelings better than most people. She knew, too, by constant experience with soldiers, what religious associations could do for them, and what a power the Church of Christ, with its hymns, prayers, sacraments, and ministrations, could be to them. Jackanapes lay dying on the battlefield. He had given his life for another, as many a soldier has done. There stood by him his old major. Jackanapes said, “Say a prayer for me, a Church prayer. A Church prayer on parade service, you know.” But the old major was not used to prayer and praise, and he could only say, “Jaconite, God forgive me, I am afraid I am very different to what some of you young fellows are.” And there was a moment of silence, deep silence and terrible pain, and then the old major said with that charming simplicity which we so often find, “I can only repeat the little one at the end.” Impressed with the conviction that what he could do, it was his duty to do, the old major knelt down and unbated his head and said by the dying boy reverently, loudly, and clearly, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God”--and then Jackanapes died, and how could he die better! God’s love came before him at the last supreme moment. Oh, there is many a word heard in the church, heard again and again, falling upon unheeding ears, but which God hears, and which comes up again at God’s appointed time. When an English soldier like Joshua has to face unexplored dangers, such words as the soldier hears in the church speaking of the love of God are so valuable. When the soul needs them most, when the man is about to fall into the hands of God, whose character he longs to know, then to recall thoughts of the love of God, it is to such gracious memories as we trust the services in the church will have that he looks. (J. C. Edgehill, D. D.)
Jesus our Captain
I. Our leader inspires confidence. He has never been defeated. In one of the Napoleonic battles on the Peninsula a corps of British troops were sorely pressed and began to waver. Just then the Duke of Wellington rode in among them. A veteran soldier cried out, “Here comes the Duke, God bless him! the sight of him is worth a whole brigade.” So to the equipped warrior, under the ensign of the Cross, a sight of Jesus, our Leader, is a new inspiration.
II. Jesus is able to assure the victory to every redeemed soul who is loyal to him. What a bugle-blast that is which sounded from the lips of the heroic apostle (Romans 8:37). To be a conqueror is to vanquish our enemies. But to “more than conquer” is to reap a positive, spiritual good from the battle itself. If life had no encounters we would acquire no spiritual sinews.
III. Each one of us has a personal conflict to wage. No other human being can fight it for us. Some have to contend with a powerful passion, some with a besetting sin, some with a temptation from without; others with infernal doubts and abominable suggestions by the adversary.
IV. Jesus met and overcame the devil. He is able to “destroy his works.”
1. Jesus gives us the only armour which can protect us, and with it He gives the strength to wield the weapons.
2. Jesus makes intercession for us when the battle waxes hot.
3. These conflicts bring us into closer, sweeter sympathy with Jesus.
4. He flies to the relief of every redeemed follower who is ready to perish. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Christ the Captain of salvation
I. It is important to contemplate the Lord Jesus Christ in the source of his authority.
1. The authority of the Saviour is founded upon His essential Divinity.
2. While the authority of the Saviour, as the Captain of all the hosts of the Lord, is founded upon His essential Divinity, it is also to be taken as founded upon His mediatorial office. The special charge which He had of the hosts of the Lord, or the tribes of Israel, in another form of manifestation, must be regarded evidently and distinctly as the symbol of that covenant relationship which He holds, throughout all ages of time, to those who constitute the spiritual Israel and God’s covenant people, out of every nation, tribe, and tongue.
II. The glory of his objects.
1. These objects are glorious on account of their intrinsic importance. The literal object had in view by the Saviour, in the manifestation of Himself to Joshua, was one of much magnitude--the leading of the tribes Of Israel to conquest and to the promised land, so that the promise might be fulfilled to these people, upon which they had been looking now for a long succession of ages. But the Lord Jesus Christ has been revealed as the great Leader of “the sacramental hosts of God’s elect”; and it should be observed that this possesses an importance far beyond what, by any human being, hath been conceived, and demands all that can be rendered of the adoration and praise of the universe.
2. These objects are glorious by their extended influence. We are all aware of the influence of extent, either in increasing the evil of what is pernicious or in increasing the value of what is beneficial. According to the number of persons affected by a curse, we assign the magnitude of that curse; and according to the number of persons affected by a blessing, we assign the magnitude of that blessing. Let this principle be applied to the theme on which we now are meditating, and new honour will be found to be given to those objects which are proposed by the great Captain and Leader of the hosts of the Lord.
III. The certainty of his triumph.
1. The grounds of this.
(1) His Divinity.
(2) His promises.
2. We must also recollect that the certainty of this triumph must also be connected with the exercise of certain influences over those minds who are interested in it. And if the triumph we anticipate in connection with our own salvation be secure, one influence to be inspired is that of--
(3) gratitude. (J. Parsons.)
The Captain of the Lord’s host
I. That before undertaking any difficult enterprise, indeed in all our trials and distresses, in all our ways, we should direct our thoughts to heaven. Joshua “lifted up his eyes” to heaven, from whence he knew that his help would in due time come. So should our eyes not be lowered to the “earthly, sensual, devilish,” but be lifted up to the noble, holy, pure.
II. That the help of God is not merely to be passively received, but is to be actively sought for. Joshua not only lifted up his eyes: he also “looked.” God helps those that help themselves. Men should all be, not merely idle waiters on God’s bounty, but really “workers together with Him.”
III. That Christ is ever ready to help those that look to him for succour. The Captain of the Lord’s host “stood over against Joshua with His sword drawn in His hand”--typical of Christ, prepared to afford His omnipotent aid to all who are fighting manfully under His banner, and striving by His grace to continue faithful.
IV. That when faith has made known to us heavenly truths, reason must disclose to us the exact bearing of those truths. “Art thou for us or for our adversaries?” Bringest thou with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell? Be thy intents wicked or charitable? Many a noble human soul, like stately galley, has been lured to destruction by “phantom ships” in “the spirit land.”
V. That in the light of eternity earthly conflicts are paltry and unimportant. Sectarianism must cease when Christianity reigns.
VI. That honour should be given where honour is due. Joshua “fell on his knees,” &c.
VII. That obedience is not the least of the christian virtues. When commanded by the Captain of the Lord’s host to “loose his shoes,” &c., he at once “did so.” Obedience is a sign, not of servitude, but of intelligence. (R. Young, M. A.)
The true campaign
I. That in the true campaign God has committed to man a great work.
1. An onerous work. We live in a world of evil. Corrupt principles, the mighty “powers of darkness,” possess the world. They crowd our sphere of action; and, alas! they are encamped within us. The work to which we are called is their entire extermination, both from within and without.
2. A righteous work. The man who consecrates his energies to the downfall of evil, whose life is one earnest struggle against the principalities and powers of darkness, is acting evermore in accordance with the eternal law of rectitude. He is “fighting the good fight of faith,” and if he is faithful he shall receive “a Crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
3. An indispensable work. Never will you possess the Canaan of spiritual harmony, moral approbation, self-control, uplifting thoughts, heavenly affections, ever-brightening hopes, and free and blessed intercourse with the Infinite Father of spirits, without the expulsion of all evil from your soul.
II. That in the true campaign god blesses man with a great leader. “The Captain of the Lord’s host”--Jesus Christ, “the Captain of our salvation.”
1. As a moral commander He is ever present when needed.
2. As a moral commander He is always ready.
3. As a moral commander He is all-sufficient.
III. That in the true campaign God requires a great spirit. Joshua here displays--
1. A spirit of indomitable valour.
2. A spirit of reverent inquiry.
3. A spirit of solemn obedience. (Homilist.)
The Captain of the Lord’s host
Joshua’s question, “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” was a perfectly natural one for him to ask, at the sight of an armed man in an enemy’s country; we can scarcely say he did wrong to ask it; but it seems as though the Lord met the question with something like a rebuke. “He said, Nay.” It seemed to Joshua that there were two sides, his own and the enemy’s, between which the battle was to be fought out: he had to learn that it was not for him nor for Israel to gain the victory, but for the Lord their God. To teach him and all Israel this more plainly, the Lord gave him special commands as to the way the first victory was to be gained, in the taking of Jericho; this was to be done, entirely and plainly, by God and not by man; and for all the war that followed, though more was to depend upon human prudence and courage, they were still to know that they were fighting, not for themselves, but for their Lord; that they were not at liberty to act as they pleased, but were to act in entire obedience to Him. Is not this a lesson which we require to learn in the war we have to fight against the power of sin within and about us? The recognition of this would do something to calm and soothe the bitterness of men’s minds about the questions of party that are so fiercely and frequently argued in our days. And as in public and party questions, so the same fault of selfwill comes into men’s efforts after goodness in other matters also. Most people sometimes feel it would be easier for them to be good if they were in a different state of life from what they are, if they lived in a different society or neighbourhood, if their family circumstances were different; if they had different business or employment in life, and the like; and they often set down their own faults, as far as they are aware of them, to the blame of their neighbours or of the circumstances that they think are the great hindrances to their curing them. This is nothing but claiming to ourselves the right to command the Lord’s host, instead of fighting in it as simple soldiers, whose duty only is to obey orders. Are we to expect the Lord to be “for us,” not only so that He means and wishes us to get the victory, but so that He shall take every means that we choose to secure it, shall serve under our command, and make bridges over all the steep valleys and roads through all the different passes, and give us the chance of fighting the enemy just on our own ground, when we choose and where we choose? There is one source of difficulty in the way of duty of which it is especially wrong to complain or to want to have it altered so as to suit us, though it is perhaps the commonest of all--I mean the difficulties we find to our own right conduct from the conduct of other people. Here, if we ask whether the Lord is “for us or for our adversaries,” the only possible answer is, “For both.” He loves both equally. God gave Joshua and the Israelites the victory over the Canaanites only “by little and little,” for this reason among others--that He desired to spare the Canaanites themselves as much as possible, and to give them time to repent if they would. Much more is it wrong and selfish for us to want any of our fellow-Christians swept out of our way--to think of them as mere spiritual enemies, or expect God to deal with them as mere temptations to ourselves, and hindrances to our own goodness. Patience and sub mission to God’s will are the foundation of all excellence in the Christian character; just as discipline, and ready and unquestioning obedience are the most important of all qualities in an army of this world. It is when things are against you that your mind is tried and trained; you have to make the best of them, but you are not tempted to “seek great things for yourself”; if you escape disaster you will be satisfied, and that is hard enough. Now it cannot be useless for us to remember in our spiritual war, if we find things are against us, and that the operations in which we are engaged are unsuccessful, that it was under these conditions that the Captain of the Lord’s host Himself fought out His great battle on earth. Judging it in a natural way, His life was a failure, His ministry a failure. He had fought the world for God, and had lost the battle. But His faith and obedience did not fail--rather it was perfected by His defeat. He still went on fearlessly until He had finished the work God gave Him to do: then He said, “It is finished!” and bowed His head and gave up the ghost. And then He had conquered. Let us, then, not be discouraged if we find that He gives us work to do that we do not like, or in which we do not see our way to success. It may be only that He means us so to win glory like His own--such as is won by the highest faith in Him, the faith that removes mountains. But whether that be so or not, we have to accept His orders and obey them. Do your duty patiently, and trust God for its having a good event. (W. H. Simcox, M. A.)
The vision for the great campaign
See the British fleet lying anchored at Spithead. It is in commission for an important expedition. Every ship has orders to be ready to sail at a moment’s notice. Accordingly all are ready. Every officer, every man, every boy is aboard. The captains are assured that every preparation is completed; that all stores of every description are laid in; that steam is up, and that in a moment their ships can be under weigh. Why, then, do they not hurry seaward? Is not this delay a waste of precious time? No, for the admiral is not yet on board the flagship. The supreme, responsible, directing mind, on whose energy and ability the whole nation is depending, is not yet at his post. See, here he comes. Every ship acknowledges the little craft that bears his flag; he steps on the quarter-deck of the vessel he commands, the signal for departure is hoisted; all are off. Such an event as that will give some idea of the meaning of this part of the sacred narrative. Israel has received orders to enter on this momentous campaign. All things are ready for a beginning. They have crossed the river; they have been circumcised; they have kept the feast; they have partaken of the corn of the land; why, then, this pause? Because they wait for Him who is their Captain. Here on the plains of Jericho the typical Saviour and the true Joshua and Jesus, stand face to face. Yea, Joshua’s work at that time was the work of Jesus; was the work of Jesus so peculiarly and definitely that Joshua must wait on Him for instructions. He who came the lowly Lamb comes here the mighty warrior, with a sword of judgment drawn and gleaming in His awful hand. He who came to save comes to destroy. This vision makes very emphatic what was clearly revealed before, viz., that this campaign is under the Divine sanction and direction. Divine skill plans the work. Divine power carries it forward.
I. Behold our captain. We have a Leader in this great war. We are not left to fight alone; herein lies our comfort. “He goeth before.” We go not a warfare at our own charges. If Joshua was unfit for that conquest of Canaan by himself, how much more are we unfit for the fight against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places. For Joshua, Jesus came, “The Captain of the Lord’s host.” For us Jesus comes “the Captain of salvation.” And it is a comfort to think that this Leader of the people is one of the people Himself. In any war, which is the captain whom the soldiers love to follow? He who shares their lot most closely--he who, like Skobeleff in the Turkish war, knows all their hardships and privations. He who sleeps with them in the trenches, eats the same coarse and scanty rations, and leads them into the thickest of the fight. Now, this great Captain of whom we speak acts in this very fashion, tie has shared our lot in every particular, however hard, sin excepted. Also, like the warrior that appeared to Joshua, our Leader is thoroughly equipped for His work. His hand is drawn ready to smite. The word of truth is the royal weapon He wields in this war of grace and salvation; quick, powerful, sharp, effectual. He puts it in the hands of every faithful follower and bids him use it well. Again, Jesus is our Leader in virtue of Divine appointment: “The government shall be upon His shoulders.” “To Him shall the gathering of the people be.” Moreover, He is Captain in virtue of His own purchase. Jesus has the right to lead God’s people, because He has died for them. He is made perfect, as the Captain of salvation, through suffering. Also He is our leader because of His own resources. These are infinite. Lastly, we would say, He is Leader because of His qualities. He is an able Leader, thoroughly fit to command God’s army, a true King of men, always present, always ready. He is faithful to His word; wise in His plans; glorious in His achievements; ravishing in His perfections.
II. See here also the faithful follower. We know that Joshua stands prepared to follow this great Captain, because we remember his past obedience. By doing whatever duty comes to hand, under the eye of the great Leader, we prepare for higher achievements. Joshua’s heart is also in his work. He is not slothful and indifferent. He is not careless and unconcerned. He is not fearful and oppressed, with no stomach for the fight. Thus the follower of Jesus should be a willing worker, full of energy and watchfulness, ever on the alert to do whatever in him lies to extend the Saviour’s kingdom. Joshua is also brave. When this warrior started up before him, though he was startled he was not unmanned. Without moral courage there can be no nobility of character, no strength of soul, no effective work. And this brave man is also humble. He fell on his face before this majestic Presence. He was deeply conscious of the superiority of his Leader and of his own nothingness. Therefore his heart is also filled with reverence. He worshipped before Him. He took the shoes off his feet, for the place was holy. Men who have done anything great for God, men who have followed the Lord fully, have been always marked by a spirit of deepest reverence. The gravity, the solemnity of the work in which they are engaged, the consciousness of the Divine presence before which they walk, fills them with awe. Joshua was also docile and obedient. He put the question, “What wilt Thou have me to do?” And when he got the answer he did as he was commanded. Unquestioning, prompt obedience is due to Him who commands us with such unerring wisdom, who leads us with such invincible might. (A. B. Mackay.)
An inspiring vision
Constantine, with his young, enthusiastic heart, was setting out on his war campaigns, when, they tell us, the appearance of the sky arrested his attention. As the eyes of the conqueror looked up into the heavens, behold, there seemed shaped to his vision a cross of fire, and beneath it, in letters of flame, were inscribed the Latin words, “In hoc signo vinces” (“In this sign thou wilt conquer”). It may have been a dream--it very likely was; but oh, there is truth in it! If you can see the Cross, you have got the vision that ennobles and enlivens, and brings conquering power to you in this life. “Where there is no vision, the people perish”; but when there is a vision--the vision of Calvary, the vision of the Lord Jesus--there is life, there is joy, there is peace, there is blessing. (J. Robertson.)
There are moments when we see without seeking, what at other times does not appear to us, and will not appear. An inward eye that had been closed seems to open, and we stand suddenly in the presence of hitherto invisible things. Midnight, solitude, sorrow, a felt crisis in our lives, what revealings they have brought with them; and it was as though a veil had been rent in twain, as though a flash of lightning had illumined the darkness. We all have our occasional transient visions of something higher, grander, or more solemn than we are ordinarily sensible of. Joshua has now to begin afresh, in fresh scenes; another period of toil and endurance is opening before him. So we stand to-day upon the threshold of another year, waiting, after we have finished, to commence again. And, as he waited, gravely meditative, with earnest thoughts stirring in him concerning his duties and responsibilities, there came upon him the vision of the text; for, unless he had been meditative and earnest, he would not have beheld what he beheld, we may be sure. It was the shining answer to what was taking place within him. One sees only that which one is tuned and prepared to see; and, to catch inspiring glimpses, one must be aspiring. All things must be met by us half-way. For none but those whose hearts are kindling, does the bush burn with fire. May ours be the inner temper of mind to-day, to which angels of God shall be able to show themselves. But notice first the agitation of uncertainty in the breast of the son of Nun. “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” wondering anxiously what the apparition meant. You see, this was the form in which the future in the strange country appeared--a mighty man with a drawn sword in his hand. Yes, of course the future would be filled with the clash of war. Nothing but conflict could be expected; conflict perhaps, severe and prolonged; but what of the issue? with whom would the victory lie? with Israel or the enemy? Ah, if he could but tell. Mystic form of the Future, wilt thou reveal it to me? And it is with like uncertainty that we front now the new year. We have most of us lived long enough--we most of us know enough of life to discern, as we lift our eyes, a man with a drawn sword in his hand. That there will be more or less of disagreeable and trying encounter, is sure. We shall have difficulties to grapple with, in the sweat of our face. Temptations will assail us; vexations and annoyances will have to be borne. But will it be, upon the whole, one of our happy and prosperous years? Shall we get through it, however threatened or assaulted, untitled and unharmed, without being sore wounded or overthrown in the way. The character of past years has varied. Some, notwithstanding many little rufflings and unpleasantnesses experienced in them, we have looked back upon with satisfaction and thankfulness, and have called them good years. Ah, we did well in them. They were marked by much sunshine. Our enterprises prospered; our friendships yielded only sweetness. Other years, perhaps, we were glad to have done with. They are remembered as black years, in which the sun shone only at rare intervals, and for a brief space, between ever-returning clouds. The years have varied with us. In some, if we have had to fight, we have conquered. In others, the tide of battle has rolled against us, leaving us broken and mauled. “New year coming on apace, what hast thou to give me? Comest thou promising peace and brightness, or big with thunder and gloom?” We ask in vain, as Joshua did when he cried, “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” For observe, that question of his was not replied to. “Nay,” said the armed angel, “I am no token, no prophecy of that, one way or the other.” But what does he say to the wistfully inquiring man? “As the captain of the host of the Lord I am now come.” Here, then, was what Joshua saw, presently, in looking forward to the future. Not what was going to happen--not the victory or the defeat to which he was destined in marching against the Canaanites; but, that it would not be himself alone at the head of the Hebrew army; that One would be there, superintending and disposing, ordering and commanding, whom the people beheld not, even the very same angel of Jehovah’s presence. He saw himself divinely overlooked and attended; planning, manoeuvring, fighting to the best of his ability, as the chosen general, under the constant eye and control of an unseen Generalissimo, who had His purposes, whose purposes were good and right, and would be always fulfilling themselves in and through all. It was thus that the Future answered his appeal, “What hast thou hidden for us in thy thick darkness?” It answered, “God is here--caring, managing, ruling to the end; the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.” An inspiring vision, to have been borne in upon him as he stood alone in the plain, with the grim fortifications of Jericho frowning down on him, and thought of the work to be done, with its difficulties and dangers. Better, surely, than any glimpse or foreshadowing of coming events would have been. And if we be able to receive it, what can be more inspiring for us in our entrance upon the unknown laud of a new year than the vision, not merely of an existence in the universe over and above all phenomena, and producing and sustaining them; but of a living Being, transcendent in wisdom and goodness, whose purpose is our education and the education of the world, and who is working evermore, in whatever happens, in whatever chances and changes may befall, to forward it; of One who is not only with us in our doings and sufferings, our aspirations and struggles, our mistakes and stumblings, but in them with continuous tuitional intent; under whom we are pursuing our ends, by whom, in all paths, we are led, in whose kingdom we are from morn to eve, let it be with us as it may. Many earnest souls around us are starting afresh to-day, as they have come through the year that is gone, with no such vision. Joshua’s angel does not manifest itself to them. Lifting their eyes, they behold nothing but the walls of Jericho and the encampment of Israel, and over all, an empty sky. Nor are they the less ready for the battle, or the less patient and strong, hopeful and brave, in essaying to conquer. And we may be sure too, that guidance and help from above, is theirs; for the presence and energy of the Captain of the Lord’s host does not depend upon men’s seeing Him. He is not absent or inoperative because they are unable to discern Him. Nevertheless, happy are they to whom He is visible. Let us be thankful then, if to-day, as we are girding our loins anew for the work of life, and for whatever life may bring--let us be thankful if we can behold with Joshua the angel of Jehovah’s presence, and, in setting out, pause a little to entertain and foster the strengthening vision. “But what saith my Lord to His servant?” cried the son of Nun when he felt the august Presence about him, and bowed himself to the ground before it. “What saith my Lord to His servant? Ah! now that I have Thee here; now that Thou art revealed to me in the way, speak to me; tell me something. Surely, I shall hear some great thing from Thy lips--surely, some great secret will be whispered to me. With the Invisible Power thus consciously nigh me, I may expect wondrous words, important disclosures.” We can understand and sympathise with the expectation, can we not? What might not God Almighty tell, we are apt to think, if He were once found speaking. So thought Joshua, waiting in awed anticipation with his face to the earth. And from the mystic Presence overshadowing him, what syllables fell? What was it that he heard to whom it grew vocal? “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy.” Was that all? That was all. No declaring of things that had been kept hidden, no weighty revealings. Only a plain and familiar admonition, to cherish and preserve within him a right temper of mind, a right spirit--to see to it that he walked reverently, and cultivated purity, as one who dwelt in a temple. That was all the heavens told him, when they leaned toward him with a word. “Take heed to yourself, to your character and conduct; be dutiful, be loyal to the vision that is yours. Recognise and answer the claim on you to be holy.” And should we be disappointed, were the silent sky, in sending on a sound, to drop upon our ear no more than such an admonition as Joshua heard? What, however, do we need so much, for all present and future benediction, as to be taught a truer, finer ordering of ourselves? and what better, richer, more brightly fruitful new year’s gift could we have from above than a deepened sense of duty and a fresh impulse toward reverent and noble living? Yes, oh yes, “Blessed are the lowly in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the pure in heart; they shall see God.” (S. A. Tipple.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17