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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Joshua 20". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ joshua-20.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Joshua 20". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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In the wars of Jehovah it was not always a question of hostile power. Indeed this is not the most serious evil which the people of God have to encounter in this world. The very same principle which was true of Israel then applies to the Christian now. The wiles of the evil one are much more to be dreaded than his power; and Satan as a serpent acts far more grievously to the injury of the Lord's name among His people than as a roaring lion. Undoubtedly it is an afflicting thought, how far the adversary can, and does, employ the world to the hurt of God's people and God's dishonour; but grace is ever above evil, and through its full revelation in Christ we have now a new standard to judge of good and evil, more particularly for the Christian. He can thus say that all that is wrought by the mere enmity of the world, set on by Satan, cannot harm; for he is not like a Jew, called to the preservation of life in this world, or to any circumstances of ease and quietness; but, on the contrary, "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."
The rejection of Christ has to Christian faith changed everything to us here below, and the possession of Christ for heaven has made all plain to us, supposing there were the loss of anything here, of life itself; for what is aught now in presence of eternal life? And Christ is that life in resurrection power. Having Him as our life therefore, we have to do with a hostile world which Satan turns against us; but, in exciting the world against the saints, we only learn the strength of our blessing; for supposing the world, filled with hatred, inflicts its stripes or contumely, and deprives us of this or that necessary (it might seem) for subsistence, certainly for anything like a measure of comfort in this world, what then? If the effect of all that Satan can do is that we give God thanks, what does he gain? Praise to the Lord. Suppose, again, he put forth the world's hatred to imprison or to kill, we shall not give the Lord less thanks then, but rather praise Him that He counts us worthy of suffering these things for His name's sake.
So it is only a question of going forward at the will of the Lord. Just in proportion to the malicious keenness of Satan's strokes does the Lord give more grace. Thus are sufferings in the world, trials, persecutions, all invariably turned to the good of the souls that accept all; and we are entitled to do so, as Christ always did. It mattered not who the person or what the thing was; it might be Herod or Pilate as instruments. The Lord, viewed now as the blessed witness for God here below, always took them from God. "The cup which my Father giveth me," He says, "shall I not drink it?"
No doubt there lay behind what was, if possible, deeper than the outward fact of rejection. For the expiation of sin God must act according to His immutable nature in righteousness, and not merely as Father. But whatever might come, the effect on our Lord Jesus was that He justified God, even when in atoning for sin there could be no sensible enjoyment nor expression of communion. It is impossible that the eternal Son, the perfect Servant, could welcome or be indifferent to divine judgment, when He for us became its object, which He necessarily must be, if we were to be cleared from guilt and ruin by His bearing sin away. Hence we find the Lord Jesus then, but in the expression of abandonment, not of fellowship, not in doubts or fears, as some have said blasphemously, but realising what it was when God made Him sin for us. Anything else would have been morally impossible and unsuitable at such a moment; but even then did He cherish unwavering confidence in God, reckoning upon Him, feeling the reality of His own position, entering in all the depths of His soul and those depths were unfathomable into all that God's moral nature must demand when the question was of sin, even though with Christ Himself, His only begotten, suffering for us in atonement.
We speak here of the cross of Christ in view of atonement. This doubtless is the one solitary exception. It belongs to Christ in atonement, and to none else but Christ there and then; and out of Him came, not only His praises for ever, but ours with His, His in our midst. Apart from that which thus stands necessarily alone, where thanksgiving would have been wholly unseasonable and unsuited, not to say a mockery apart from this one stupendous fact which refuses comparison with all others, because of its nature, and where failure could not be, because He was then as always absolutely perfect, ever do we hear Him blessing His Father. Jesus in all things glorified His Father; and in the final suffering His perfection shone most of all; not because He was one whit more perfect then than at any other time, but because never before had it been His so to suffer, and it never could be again.
Take the Lord at any other moment than His suffering for sins, and no matter what came upon Him, the effect was thanksgiving. Take Him gradually, yea, utterly rejected; take Him most despised, where He was most known, where He had done such works, where He had spoken such words, as never were before. Thoroughly He felt all, and He could say "Woe" upon these places. It could not be otherwise; for they had refused the gracious and rich testimony of the Messiah. But He turns to God with "I thank thee Father," at the same time. So we see victory in Him always. We too are entitled to look for it. Only remembering that to stand in presence of the wiles of the devil, as we are called to do now, is a harder thing than before his power already broken for us.
So it turns out here. We have seen that, when the full strength of the enemy presented itself after Jordan was crossed, Jehovah gave His people the most magnificent victory that this book affords. Alas, that it should be so! that the first occasion should be brighter than the last! Ought it so to be? It was far otherwise with Jesus. His way was a shining one; but the brightest of all was the light that shone forth when it seemed to go out in death, only to rise again, to be enjoyed now by faith, then to be displayed in the kingdom and throughout eternity.
In this case we find Israel more than checked. There had been a severe repulse from Satan's power, and this because the people ventured to act without the guidance and protection of Jehovah. Having already proved the Lord's presence with them, they did what we are apt to do. They assumed that Jehovah must follow them, instead of their waiting on and following Him. It was human inference, and this is never safe in divine things. They took for granted that, Jehovah having brought them into that land, there was nothing for them but to go forward. What was that? A forgetfulness of the enemy and themselves? More than that a forgetfulness of God. Would it become men of faith to do without the Lord in the wilderness, not to speak of contending against the enemy in Canaan? Certainly not, if our souls had the sense of having to do with One that loves us; with One without whom we are nothing; with One who! having been glorified, has called us and saved us for the purpose of being glorified in us. Absolutely do we need Him; but besides it is our heart's earnest desire, though we are apt sometimes to forget it.
It was so with Israel, and even Joshua, upon this occasion. After having been victorious at Jericho, one can well understand the sad mistake in the matter of Ai. But was the profit now lost when, by the intervention of the Lord's gracious power, the mischief was retrieved? The Lord had put Israel in their proper place, disciplined them, broken down confidence in their own power. He had made them feel that there was nothing for Israel but to be subject to Him. They must not think, like the Gentiles, that it is a question of marshalling strength against strength. Such thoughts leave out God, and are utterly unbecoming to those who are called to walk in the consciousness of His presence.
This was a most wholesome lesson. But there was more to learn; and now they must be tried after a new sort. "It came to pass when all the kings that were on this side Jordan, in the hills, and in the valleys, and in all the coasts of the great sea over against Lebanon, the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, heard thereof; that they gathered themselves together to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord." In all probability these tribes were encouraged by the check before Ai. The fall of Jericho had struck them with dismay; but they learnt through what took place at Ai that Israel were not necessarily invincible. So far they were right. They had learnt that Israel might be beaten, and disgracefully beaten. They had learnt that a much smaller force sufficed there to arrest that wonderful host of Israel, which before had filled them with consternation, and made their hearts melt at the very thought of their approach. They seem, however, to have consulted together, and judged that with a union of their forces the people whom Ai had stayed for awhile might be defeated. Even that little town, with its feeble resources, had contrived unaided to delay the advance of Israel, and was only afterwards, when too confident and off their guard, taken by stratagem.
Evidently the Canaanites had no notion of the lesson God was teaching His people. Nor need we wonder; for the people of God themselves had not learnt it thoroughly They had profited, yet it had not so convinced their souls of the need of God's guidance, the one thing which ensured victory, but that now, in presence of all this muster of nations against them Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Canaanites, and so on, when the inhabitants of Gibeon came forward and offered an alliance with them, this seemed to many a desirable and welcome aid. Israel then had some friends who would succour them against the enemy. It is true that a certain uneasiness was felt. "They went to Joshua, unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him and to the men of Israel, We be come from a far country." This naturally threw the children of Israel and Joshua off their guard. They knew perfectly and it is important to see how well understood it was that God had called His people to no peace with the Canaanites that they were a doomed nation. It is hundreds of years before God had given that land to Abraham. The Canaanites were then in the land, but they had gone on undisturbed for centuries, and until lately had allowed themselves to think their settlement there not so dangerous. But, when the passage of the Red Sea was heard of, terror struck their hearts. Then when the people, after their long pause in the wilderness, crossed the Jordan, fresh pangs warned them of approaching destruction if they defied the God of Israel. No doubt they might have fled. It was open to them to leave Canaan. What title could they pretend to seize the land of God? Had God no sovereignty? Is He the only one who possesses in this world no right? What a thought of God prevails in this world!
But there is more to consider. We may have noticed, and it is important to bear it in mind, that it was under the fullest title on God's part that the Jordan was crossed. His was the ark of "the Lord of all the earth." He would not abate His claims; He would not deny His rights. It was on this very ground, and with that banner as it were, that they entered the Holy Land. It was at the peril therefore of any who, knowing that God destined that land (and it was well known) for Israel, and who, having the warning voice of all that had befallen Pharaoh, and Amalek, and Og, and Sihon, and Midian, still dared to brave His host. Assuredly then they must take the consequences.
But the Gibeonites set to work after their fashion. If the mass of the nations trusted to force, the Gibeonites betook themselves to crafty counsel. There we may see typified the wiles of the devil. This represents some of them at least. The epistle to the Ephesians gives us divine authority for the solemn fact, that we need the whole armour of God in order to resist the two things the power of Satan on the one hand, and the wiles of the devil on the other, and this with pointed reference to this very book of Joshua. Chapter 6 teaches us in contrast with Israel that, as they wrestled with flesh and blood, we, on the other hand, have to contend with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.
Thus the nature of the case comes before us very plainly. The Gibeonites denote those that are energized with Satan's craft to deceive the people of God into a false step, and how far this succeeded we have now to learn.
"They went to Joshua, unto the camp at Gilgal, and said unto him and to the men of Israel, We be come from a far country. Now therefore make ye a league with us. And the men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us." To my mind this is painfully instructive. It was not Joshua that suspected the trick, nor yet the elders or princes of the congregation, but the men of Israel. How often simplicity is right where the best wisdom fails: God makes us feel the need of Himself. And if this was true of Israel, it is still more needful in the church of God. We cannot be independent of a single member of the body of Christ; where the simple-minded man has a suspicion roused that is given of God, it were well that the wise should heed what the Lord would use to bring all to a right conclusion. But it was not heeded at this time. It is not often, and it seems not natural, that men accustomed to guide and rule should listen to those who are used to obey and follow. But in divine things those who despise the least must pay the penalty; and so it certainly was now.
"The men of Israel said unto the Hivites, Peradventure ye dwell among us, and how shall we make a league with you?" Feeling, no doubt, that it was dangerous to talk more on so delicate a subject, they said, "We are thy servants." This again seemed fair-spoken; but when Joshua put the question, "Who are you, and from whence come ye?" they said unto him, "From a very far country thy servants are come, because of the name of Jehovah thy God." Here the unscrupulous deceit of the enemy comes out thoroughly. It was extraordinary to hear from the lips of a Canaanite the confession of the name of Jehovah; and this they knew well would tell more particularly with such an one as Joshua. He who most values the name of Jehovah would be apt to welcome it most where he least expected it. Accordingly, this weighed powerfully with him, when they added, "We have heard the fame of him and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, which was at Ashtaroth. Wherefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spake to us, saying, Take victuals with you for the journey, and go to meet them, and say unto them, We are your servants: therefore now make ye a league with us. This our bread we took hot for our provision out of our houses on the day we came forth to go unto you, but now, behold, it is dry, and it is mouldy. And these bottles of wine, which we filled, were new; and, behold, they be rent: and these our garments and our shoes are become old by reason of the very long journey. And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of God."
The bait had taken, the mischief was done, and its effects wrought long. The men of Israel, who were not without fears at the beginning, allowed themselves to be ensnared. If Joshua led, we must not wonder that the rest followed. They "took of their victuals" the sign of fellowship in its measure "they took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of Jehovah."
The enemy had defeated Israel. It was a fatal act, though the consequences did not yet appear. How much may be involved in what might be called the simple act of taking victuals! So another day, when it is rather the converse of this, we find in the New Testament. Thus to Paul's mind, who ordinarily made so light of meats or herbs, the truth of the gospel might be staked on eating or not eating I do not even speak of the Lord's Supper, but of a common meal, when it was a question between the Jew and the Gentile, and this tried before no less a person than the great apostle of the circumcision. For a time was Barnabas carried away, and Peter too, by the old traditional feeling of the Jew. The good man and the fearless withdrew from the uncircumcision, ashamed or afraid of thwarting the feelings of the brethren at Jerusalem. Thus Satan gained a great point for the moment; but there was one at hand to vindicate grace promptly. Thank God, it was not yet that Satan had drawn away the whole church, or even those that best represented it. If there were together Peter and Barnabas, there was a Paul who resists, and Paul promptly decides, at cost (you may be assured) of every feeling. On the other side stood the man who had once shown him generous love, on the other side Peter, chief among the twelve, honoured of God most signally among Jews and Samaritans, and even Gentiles (Acts 2:1-47; Acts 3:1-26; Acts 4:1-37; Acts 5:1-42; Acts 6:1-15; Acts 7:1-60; Acts 8:1-40; Acts 9:1-43; Acts 10:1-48), most to be honoured of man therefore, and very justly so.
But who is to be honoured if the Lord is to be put to shame in His grace? And so it was that Paul rose up in the might of his faith and in the simplicity of his jealous vindication of the truth of the gospel; for this was the question, this was what he saw involved in it. Who would have seen it but himself? But so it was; for there, and on that very occasion, the whole point of the gospel would have been surrendered, if Paul had consented to withdraw like the rest from the uncircumcision. Thank God, Satan did not succeed altogether in his wiles, though he did to a considerable extent.
But here it was God who was not consulted; and it is a more serious thing, beloved brethren, when it is not merely the men of Israel, but the elders, the princes, the chiefs of the congregation, yea, Joshua himself who thus left Him out of a matter which He only knew. And so it was on this occasion. They "asked not counsel at the mouth of Jehovah. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them to let them live, and the princes of the congregation sware unto them." There they bound themselves by the name of Jehovah, and it is a very striking thing for us also to see that at this time there was no trifling with the honour of that name. They felt that they had been beguiled. This was true; but they did not therefore consider that it was open to them to break the oath of Jehovah because they had been deceived into it. We too must take care how, where we have committed ourselves to that which is wrong, we lightly deal with that name. No; the thing was done: it could not be undone. They could have asked counsel of the Lord again; we are not told that they did so. They had made a double error: they entered into it without the Lord, and when the thing was done, we do not find that they spread the difficulty before Him. Thus it is most manifest the enemy gained an immense advantage over the host of Jehovah on that day.
And may we be watchful in our day, beloved; for "these things are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come." Nor is there a more important thing in difficulty, trial, or anything that may involve the feelings, and perhaps drag us into practical obligations, than that, before we venture on an opinion, before we take a measure, before we allow ourselves to be engrossed on this side or that, we should ask counsel of the Lord. This would spare us from many a sorrow, and it would hinder much shame and defeat before our enemies, and more particularly, I must say, in men that have wisdom, that are accustomed to guide; for there are few things harder than for such to retrace their steps, and the more so, the higher the character, the greater the experience, in the ways of God. If Satan gains such an advantage, the difficulty is enormous. We have only to apply it to ourselves. It is very easy to speak about what another should do; but let us only consider for a moment it to be publicly our case. It is easy to say what ought to be, and there is no doubt of it; but those who in any measure approach to it, and know the seriousness of such a position, cannot ignore, whatever others may theorise, that this mischief is incalculable. Therefore let us pray for one another; let us pray for those that most of all need counsel from God, that they may be ever kept from hasty words and measures either for themselves or for others, especially where the name of the Lord is involved with the adversary.
This then is, as I judge, the grave teaching that is brought before us in the account of the men of Gibeon. It is true that God permitted that they should bear a certain stamp of degradation in consequence. They were enslaved as the only course left open righteously. There was wisdom given so far to those who led the host of the Lord that the Gibeonites should be hewers of wood and drawers of water. After the treaty it would have been fresh sin, a crime, to have put them to death. The name of the Lord had been solemnly passed, and that can never be trilled with; but on the other hand, the Gibeonites were reduced to the most menial services for the sanctuary of Jehovah. Thus it was made plain that nothing preserved them but His name. Hence they were attached to the sanctuary, but this with the brand of slavery on them.
Nevertheless the wrong in the matter of the Gibeonites was of the most serious kind. It was not even like what had occurred before, where they sustained a temporary defeat, for there God looked to and brought them out of their humiliation; but here was a permanent difficulty that rose up witheringly for Israel at a later day, as we find elsewhere in Scripture. So grave and injurious were the consequences of the wrong step now taken through want of seeking the counsel of Jehovah.
In the next chapter (Joshua 10:1-43) we find the threatened coalition of the Canaanite nations consummated, not checked, by what had just taken place, and directed against Gibeon. "Now it came to pass, when Adoni-zedec king of Jerusalem had heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it; as he had done to Jericho and her king, so he had done to Ai and her king; and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them; that they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty." Accordingly the king of Jerusalem turns to the kings of Hebron, and Jarmuth, and Lachish, and Eglon, saying, "Come up unto me and help me, that we may smite Gibeon." This is the shape that it takes. Gibeon becomes an object of attack; but Jehovah accomplishes His designs. This is a great and gracious consolation. There is never ground to distrust the Lord, no matter what the circumstances may be. We may have been foolish, hasty, and drawn into a snare, but we are never justified in distrusting Him. When we justify Him, which in such cases necessarily supposes our taking the fault to ourselves, there is a moral victory gained over our souls; and victory over self is the direct road to victory over Satan.
So it was on this occasion. The Canaanites joined together: "The men of Gibeon sent unto Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us; for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered together against us. So Joshua ascended from Gilgal;" that is, from the place where circumcision took place. Such was the earliest result of peace with Gibeon. Joshua had to help them, not they Israel, as was expected. As this was never repeated, it is a fair question suggested by the Book of Joshua, what we are to gather from Israel's constant return to encamp there. We have seen the force of circumcision to be the judgment of our fallen nature in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, which, once done, cannot in itself be repeated. But if so, what is the force of Gilgal always recurring? Why was the camp pitched there rather than anywhere else? We might have supposed that the camp would be naturally pushed forward. The victories of Israel gained, why do they always take the trouble of going back to that point? Why there rather than anywhere else in the land? The reason is most important, and it is this, that, founded upon the fact that the old man has been judged in the cross, we are always to rest as it were on that fact, and always to dwell upon what has been done there.
In short; then, it will have been seen that practical mortification is the answer to Gilgal, as the judgment of the flesh is the answer to circumcision. Thus the constant encamping in Gilgal is the continual recurrence to mortify self before God. Self-mortification would be useless unless the judgment had taken place in the cross of Christ. So far from being from God without the cross, it could only puff up the flesh. A man without Christ crucified as the expression of his own total ruin, judgment, and means of deliverance by grace, always thinks himself so much the better for his efforts in this way. There is no more insidious snare sometimes than even a man confessing a fault; he really seems greater in his own eyes when he has done so than before. He arrogates a certain credit of lowliness to himself because he has owned himself wrong. Now it is plain that the reason of that is, because the cross of Christ is so little, self so great, in his eyes. There then the importance of the encamping at Gilgal is felt, because Gilgal is not merely a man striving to mortify himself, but self-mortified on the ground of what God has done in Christ our Lord. This only is of grace, and hence by faith; that is something humiliating in appearance, but exalting self because it is self-occupation, not God's judgment in the cross.
There is another thing to be observed. It is an important thing that we should, according to the language of this book, encamp at Gilgal. I have not the slightest sympathy with one who says that it is enough for him to find all his nature already judged in Christ. Yes, my brother; but what about returning to encamp at Gilgal? What about your mortifying yourself? Remember this always; for one is just as true as the other, though no doubt God's great act of judgment in the cross takes due precedence as the ground of our habitual self-judgment. It is granted cordially that our mortifying self is nothing without the work of grace in the Lord Jesus; but when we have known it, are we to allow the thought that we are not to judge ourselves? that we are not to be ashamed of our inconsistency with the cross and with the glory of Christ? that we are not to use both as the best of reasons for not sparing ourselves?
Of course nature at once rises to argue stoutly, and defend itself if it can, for the last thing a man fairly and fully gives up is himself. But the moment the heart turns to Christ, and considers that all my blessedness is bound up with the solemn truth that all flesh has been made nothing of, and a new man brought in, and that God has done both in One who, having no evil, nevertheless suffered all for it, there only is the soul brought back to its true starting-point. When we fail in our souls to judge ourselves, God sends some painful circumstances to help us. Were we always walking in the power of divine truth before God, and judging ourselves, we should not come into so many sorrows of our making, nor require so much chastening from our Father. But supposing we fail in self-judgment, God is faithful; He takes good care of us, and makes us feel what cuts us every now and then, just because we have not returned, as it were, to the camp at Gilgal.
We have been going forward, desirous, it may be, to add victory to victory, or perhaps settling down without identifying ourselves as we should with God's people and testimony and conflicts as a whole. For I am not now supposing our rest on the other side of Jordan; still less do I put the case of going back into Egypt; but it is easy in Canaan to forget the need of returning to Gilgal, yet there is Gilgal, and we need it in the scene of our blessing. Not only was Christ crucified for me, but I am crucified with Him. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts;" and therefore, if we fail to walk consistently with the cross, snares from the enemy, and from God grief and bitter humiliation, come to us, it may be, exactly where we are most sensitive. He will have us back to Gilgal. Thus I think it is not hard to see the practical moment of the type. It is not only that Gilgal saw Israel circumcised. There it was done; but there is also the keeping up of the place of circumcision as being the only proper place for the host of Jehovah to encamp in. They must always start from Gilgal, and always return there.
"So Joshua ascended from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valour. And Jehovah said unto Joshua, Fear them not." Why should they? yea, why should they not? "Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee. Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night. And Jehovah discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Beth-horon, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah. And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Beth-horon, that Jehovah cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died; they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword."
"Then spake Joshua to Jehovah in the day when Jehovah delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel." How truly the intervention of that day is all felt to be Jehovah's doing! He uses His people, and it was a gracious thing in a certain sense that He should; for He could now, as at the Red Sea, have done all without them; but He would employ the people of God according to the dispensation. Thank God, we have a better calling than this, even an heavenly; but still, in its own place it is short-sighted and irreverent folly to overlook the honour of being employed in doing the then work of the Lord clearing the land of what was an ulcer and plague-spot, not merely for that locality, but for the whole earth; and such the Canaanites were. If there was to be a people of God at all, what other way was open than sweeping the land clean from the world-polluting Canaanites? And so Jehovah then "delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel."
But mark the beauty of the truth. It was to Jehovah Joshua spoke, not to the creature, for Him only did he honour. How admirably clear of all creature worship even when creation was to be used marvellously! "And he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies." A memorable day it was in every point of view the cavil no doubt of the infidel, but the joy of every believer. I grant you that the men of science have their difficulties, as they usually have in what is above them; and I am afraid that we shall not be able to help them much. The truth is that the main, yea, only thing which lifts out of every difficulty, is confidence in God and in His word. Let us not essay to measure God by difficulties, but measure difficulties by God. Alas! it is the last thing that man thinks of doing.
Another thing not a little remarkable is that on this occasion Joshua addresses not merely the sun (a bold enough thing to do, to bid the sun stand still), but the moon also. It was not that the moon could give any appreciable increase of light when the sun thus ruled the prolonged day. There must therefore have been some other and worthy motive why the moon should be joined along with the sun in Joshua's command, if, as I have not the slightest doubt, Joshua was guided by God in so singular an appeal to the sun and moon, when divine power was exerted to arrest the apparent course of the sun. We all know, of course, that it is the earth that moves; but Scripture does not speak in the technical language of science, which not only would have been unintelligible to those for whom it was intended, but unnatural in the ordinary language of the greatest philosophers. Sir Isaac Newton talked about the sun's rising and setting just as much as the simplest countryman, and quite right. The man who does otherwise has no common sense. Here then Joshua employed so far the only language proper to his purpose. But this does not explain his call to the moon. Not only was no knowledge then possessed by Jews or Gentiles, but one may doubt whether our men of science would have thought of it even now: at any rate one has never heard it from them. Yet, if there had not been an action of the power of God with regard to the moon as well as the sun, the whole course of nature must have been deranged. How could Joshua, or any Jew who wrote Scripture, have known this? There was no astronomic science for two thousand years afterwards adequate to put the two things together; and mere observation of phenomena would certainly have been content with the light of the sun alone. But so it was. He whose power wrought in answer to the call guided his voice and the pen of the writer of the book. If there could have been an interference with the sun without the moon; if the moon's course had not been arrested as well as the earth's, so as to give this appearance to the sun, there would have been confusion in the system. It seems to me therefore that, so far from the sentence affording a just ground of cavil against God's word, it is none of the least striking instances of a wisdom and power incomparably above science. So faith will always find in Scripture.
But there is one remark more to be made. Whenever you hear men talking about science against Scripture, fear them not. There is not a man of them that will stand before you if you only cleave to the word of God. Do not dispute with them: there is no moral profit, in it, and seldom anything of value to be gained by it: on the contrary, one may have the spirit ruffled if we do not try others by it. But God's word is sharper than any two-edged sword, and can only be wielded aright by the Holy Ghost. And God will be with you if you trust in the perfectness of His word, and will deign to guide you if dependent on Him. Look the adversaries full in the face, and hear all they have to say to you; but confront them only with the written word of God. Cleave to the word in simplicity, and you will find that the difficulties urged against revelation are almost all due to wresting a passage out of its context. When they take this passage, they try to ridicule the voice of man telling the sun to stand still; whereas the moral truth is strikingly grand and beautiful. These scoffers never think of his including the moon in his command, still less of its force, as already hinted.
I merely use the instance that comes before us in this passage; but you will find that the principle applies to every part of the word of God. Read it as a believer; read it not as one that doubts or that distrusts God; for you have known it, you have fed upon it, you have lived upon it, you have been blessed by it, you have been cheered in every sorrow by it, you have been brought into peace and joy by it, you have been delivered from all your fears by it, you have been set free from follies and sins by it, you have gazed on the glory of God in the face of Jesus by it. All this and more you have enjoyed thereby, and you have thus learnt by it, what science never teaches, because it never knows, the reality of God's grace and love in Christ; yea, you thus know God Himself. Am I not then entitled to say, beloved brethren, confide in that word in the smallest detail, in every difficulty, whatever arises? Take it, looking up to God, and He will be with you in all your need.
But what is the main purport of the wonder of that day? For there surely is no miracle without a divine or moral reason attached to it. I doubt that there is a mere display of power in the Bible. And here let me add a needed observation on the usual notion of a miracle. Men constantly lay it down that it means a suspension of the laws of nature. This is really defective and misleading. The laws of nature are never suspended as a rule; but God withdraws from the action of those laws either a thing or a person as to whom He wishes to show His special interest. For instance, to give an application of this by examples taken anywhere from the word of God, when Peter was sustained upon the water, or when the iron was caused to swim, the laws of nature were not really suspended; they went on all the same. Everywhere else iron sunk, and had any other ventured to follow Peter, he must have failed to walk on the water. Thus it was no question at all of suspending the laws of nature. But Peter, by the direct power of God, was sustained, spite of those general laws. That is, he was exempted from their application; but the laws themselves were not suspended. Just so in the case of one raised from the dead before the day of Jehovah. There is no change in the reign of death as a law; but unequivocally the power of God interferes for the particular person that is exempted from the operation of those laws nothing more; so that it is all a mistake to speak of the suspension of the laws themselves. This observation will be found to be of some use in meeting not a little sophistry that prevails on the subject.
But to what end was it that God interposed on this occasion? Why this singular intervention? It was the most wonderful sign of a manifest kind up to that moment of the direct interest of a God, who was not only the God of Israel, but evidently the Lord of the heavens as well as of all the earth; and this was exhibited on that day particularly for man here below, but more especially in behalf of Israel. And what makes it so much the more surprising was this: it was not wrought when Israel had walked without mistake. Grace was much more apparent than when they were crossing the Jordan. It was in an hour of need, after they had erred and been defeated before the little city of Ai; and it was done after they had been thoroughly deceived by the great city of Gibeon. It was evident therefore that the people of God had no great might or depth of wisdom to boast of. They had been more than once at fault, but only so because they had not sought counsel of Jehovah. There is no enemy that can stand, and there is no defeat that can succeed, where the people of God wait in dependence on the Lord. But it is better to be defeated when we depart from the Lord, than it would be under such circumstances to gain a victory. If there could be victories gained at the expense of dependence on the Lord, I do not know that it is possible to conceive a greater snare. No, beloved brethren; far, far better to be broken, to suffer and be put in the dust, than to be allowed to triumph where we are really far from God and without His direction. The moral import of the wonder is thus plain; and God's part in it appears to me most wholesome, needed, and weighty instruction for the children of God now.
We are approaching the end of the chief lessons of the book as to the wars of Jehovah. The latter part of Joshua does not so much consist in that. The middle and end of this chapter (Joshua 10:1-43) lets us see the dealing of Joshua with the kings that were taken in the land, by which Joshua caused it to be felt that the victory was in Jehovah's name, who would completely put down the power of the world before His people. They might combine; but they must be broken if Israel looked to Jehovah. Stronghold, city, army, people, all fell before Joshua. "And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time, because the Jehovah God of Israel fought for Israel. And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, unto the camp to Gilgal."
In the next chapter (Joshua 11:1-23) are some further matters on which a few words may suffice before noticing the latter portion of the book. "And it came to pass, when Jabin king of Hazor had heard those things, that he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings that were on the north of the mountains, and of the plains south of Chinneroth, and in the valley, and in the borders of Dor on the west, and to the Canaanite on the east and on the west, and to the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite in the mountains, and to the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpeh. And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, much people, even as the sand that is upon the sea shore in multitude, with horses and chariots very many. And when all these kings were met together, they came and pitched together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel. And Jehovah said unto Joshua, be not afraid because of them: for to morrow about this time "How gracious is Jehovah! He speaks to Joshua now, not merely Joshua to Him, and we have both. Do not overlook either; we have both. It is not only that we need to pray, but we have His word. And we need both.
Let none in his ignorance slight the word, nor think that, because His word is written, it is not Himself speaking to us. What difference does the writing make? What there is is in our favour. If we could have the Lord speaking directly to us, without His written word in a permanent shape, would we be gainers? No; but losers, unquestionably. And therefore it is that our Lord (in John 5:1-47) puts the Scripture, as a weapon to use with others, above His own words: this we all know familiarly. The Old Testament may not by any means enter so profoundly into the truth as the words of the Lord and His apostles; but the Old is just as much God's word as the New; one writer is just as much inspired as the other; still, though God made the heavens and the earth, it will be allowed, I presume, there is a great difference between them. And so it is, that though the words of the Old Testament are as truly divine as those of the New, it has pleased God in His later revelation to bring out deeper and more glorious things according to His own perfection, as declared in His Son, not merely in the measure in which man could bear it, as He was doing of old. Still the Lord Jesus, spite of all that difference, tells the incredulous, as must be well known to most of you, that He did not expect His words to convince where the Scripture was slighted. If they did not believe Moses' writings, how should they believe His words? Such is the way in which He treats unbelief as to Scripture.
I therefore use this fact the more readily, because many a simple soul might think what a delightful thing it would be to have the Lord saying now, "Go up tomorrow, and I will give thee the victory." But, beloved brethren, do not forget that although it may not come home to feeling, to nature, in so direct and explicit a manner, the possession of God's word, which we can weigh and consider, and pray over, and take up again and again before God, not only gives His mind and will with assurance, but with permanency to those who are apt, through carelessness, to lose its force. Who does not know that a word or letter may make a most important difference, easily let slip by negligent eyes and thoughts? God has provided against this in His written word. Whether it be prayer, in which they are encouraged to ask counsel of the Lord, or whether it be the Lord Himself anticipating their wants, both are true; but they are not true of them merely, but of us, and, as we have seen, even more fully and definitely true of us. Let us not complain, as if we had not a God to count on to direct us by His word; and the less as He has given us His Spirit whereby we search all things, even His depths.
Here then He says to Joshua, "Be not afraid because of them: for tomorrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt trough their horses, and burn their chariots with fire. So Joshua came, and all the people of war with him, against them by the waters of Merom suddenly; and they fell upon them. And Jehovah delivered them into the hand of Israel, who smote them, and chased them unto great Zidon, and unto Misrephoth-maim, and unto the valley of Mizpeh eastward; and they smote them, until they left them none remaining. And Joshua did unto them as Jehovah bade him: he houghed their horses, and burnt their chariots with fire."
It is well known that not a few have found a difficulty in these extreme measures of Joshua, as expressing Jehovah's will. The exterminating severity with which the work was pursued in the land of Canaan shocks them. But they forget, or do not know, that these Canaanites were the most daring enemies against God, the most openly depraved and shameless on the face of the earth; not only morally the grossest, but this bound up most of all with idolatry of the most corrupt kind. They were the chief originators and patrons of unnatural crimes, which were as common as possible in their midst. If then God meant that the seed of Abraham should be His people in the land, how possibly could those who must be in evils moral and idolatrous the most infectious to Israel be tolerated there? I repeat, they might have fled elsewhere if they did not repent of their iniquities. It had been long revealed that God meant to bring His people to Canaan. It was therefore their rebellious unbelief if they did not look for it; for God had long ago said it plainly. But then, as we are told in the book of Genesis, the cup of the Amorites was not yet full. If God was waiting for His people to go through the necessary discipline in bondage and sorrow, all that time Satan was working up the Amorites to their abominable excesses of evil. The cup of their iniquity was full when the divine dealings with Israel were sufficiently ripe for bringing His people in.
Again, it is evident that God has been pleased at various times to judge the world, as notably and on the largest scale at the time of the flood. If it was consistent with God Himself to deal with a corrupt earth, then surely He was equally free to employ the Israelites later as His instruments for the land He gave them.
Besides, it was accustoming Israel to feel, by that flagrant example, what iniquity, corruption, idolatry, rebellion were against God. Their having to do it was of moral importance for their souls and ways: sharp discipline; but what of the cause? If God so judged the Canaanites, would He spare Israel? There was the reflection it was intended to produce on their consciences. And God, as we know, was far more unhesitating in dealing with His own people when they yielded to any of these enormities. In point of fact their own ruin was largely due to the fact that the children of Israel failed to carry out the will of Jehovah as to the Canaanites, perhaps yielding to sloth and cowardice, to amiability in some cases, though, I have no doubt, far more frequently because they were not really up to His mind in the matter. Thus they spared themselves far more than they spared the Amorites, and God was forgotten by them.
The moment you know the will of the Lord, leave all appearances with Him, who will take care of you. Do not you be afraid to do His will. You may be charged with harshness; you may be accounted as having no love. Do not you trouble about that; go on with what you know to be the will of God. He will vindicate your doing His will, though it may not be all at once. Faith has to be tested, and patience must have its perfect work.
Thus we find the Lord strengthening Joshua at this time to do His will to a very considerable extent. The chief cities were dealt with, and every creature that breathed was destroyed. "As Jehovah commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so did Joshua; he left nothing undone of all that Jehovah commanded Moses. So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same; even from the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir, even unto Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon: and all their kings he took, and smote them, and slew them. Joshua made war a long time with all those kings."
They may plot and fight awhile, but cannot hinder; for they have to do with Jehovah, and not with Joshua only. "There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of Jehovah to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle." Not that Jehovah made them that they should be wicked, but it was of Jehovah that they, being wicked and indifferent to His will and warnings, should not now believe their danger that they should be blindly daring at last to their own destruction. God never makes a person a sinner; but when men are wicked, and are following their own lusts or passions, He may close and seal their eyes to the folly of what they are doing and the danger they are incurring, and till their extermination becomes a moral necessity. But these races deserved to be an example before the Israelites arrived; it was no hardship, boldly as they disputed God's will, if they suffered in this new way. They deserved to suffer before they were led in this path in which they were devoted to death.
Justly therefore, "It was of Jehovah to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as Jehovah commanded Moses. And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel: Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities. There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza) in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained. So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that Jehovah said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war." So it will be in the day that is coming: there will be war and resistance then, but war in order to rest the rest that remaineth to the people of God.
Then in Joshua 12:1-24 we have a catalogue of the various kings that they conquered, with their kingdoms, all given in detail. It is a retrospective glance at the victories which the people had won, and the natural close of this portion of the book. The rest of the book does not consist of the wars of Jehovah so much as of the details of plotting the several portions of the land which had been already gained. They had defeated some of the Canaanites, but still there were many of the accursed that were not yet dispossessed of the inheritance given by God to. Israel. On this I do not dwell, but merely refer to it. The important principles which lie beyond can only be brought out now in a cursory view.
Thus Joshua 12:1-24 is a summary of the conquests of Israel: first, those of Moses on the other side of Jordan (verses 2-6); next, those of Joshua on this side (verses 7-24). It will be noticed, however, that the kings are made prominent here. These were smitten if their people were not quite subdued, and their possessions became Israel's; nevertheless we must distinguish between title and actual entrance on it, as we shall see in the half of the book that follows.
To the believer it ought not to be a question whether Israel was justified in the conquest of Canaan; and the endeavours to soften the matter, whether by Jews or by Christians, are vain. It was righteous vengeance on earth, not wrath from heaven, still less grace reigning by righteousness as in the gospel. It is not well founded, if Scripture be our authority, that Joshua proposed flight or peace, with war as the unwilling alternative; nor is there any ground to suppose that the Canaanites would have been spared in case of surrender, whatever the mercy to individuals exceptionally. The Canaanites were devoted, in the most stringent and solemn manner, to utter destruction. It was not vengeance on the part of Israel, but of God, who was pleased to make His people executors of judgment.
On the other hand, Deuteronomy 32:8 should be weighed: "when the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel." God might have justly claimed all the world, but He was pleased to claim only the land of Canaan for the seed of Abraham. This is no Jewish fable, but the revealed will of God; and from the very call of Abraham it was certain that a land was to be distinctly given him a land soon understood to be Canaan, however long the chosen people might have to wait for it. (SeeGenesis 15:1-21; Genesis 15:1-21) Scripture therefore is very far from being silent on God's resolve to take that land for Israel, though it was a part of His ways that their fathers should be pilgrims and strangers, while the Canaanite was then in the land.
Along with this would coalesce the moral necessity of judgment on its actual inhabitants. (Genesis 15:16) Natural right of course it was not, but a divine gift, to be made good by the extermination of the enemy. But for this very reason it is absurd to argue that the God of the Old Testament is the same in character and working as the God of the New, unless earthly righteousness be the same as heavenly grace. It is to play into the hands of infidels if theology countenance such an illusion as the denial of the difference of dispensation, on the pretence that the difference is in form only with an essential agreement: only we must bear in mind that the former is excellent in its season, the latter perfect for eternity.
Undoubtedly, ever since sin came into the world, God is its righteous judge and avenger. In this very land the destruction of the cities of the plain was a standing witness to it; so did Israel prove in the wilderness, as well as in the land, and this up to the destruction of their city by the Romans. But New Testament time is not necessarily New Testament principle; nor is providential government in the world to be confounded with the principles of Christianity; nor temporal judgment with that of the secrets of the heart, the issue of which is the lake of fire.
But every Christian must feel that Jehovah was thoroughly justified in visiting their iniquity upon the Canaanites; for indeed the land, according to the energetic language of Scripture, could not but vomit out its inhabitants because of their abominable idolatries and their unnatural crimes almost unspeakable. They had many warnings also, both in the judgment executed on the most notorious in the land at the beginning of God's ways with the fathers, and then again at the end when the children were brought out of Egypt and through the wilderness, with such wonders as did speak to their consciences, however they might brave all at the last.
But it is ridiculous to contend that the practical principle of the gospel, suffering for righteousness and for Christ's sake, is not in direct contrast with the calling of the Israelite, the appointed executor of divine wrath. The Christian ought to know better than either to question the propriety of the past, or to assimilate it with the present. He ought to know also that the Lord Jesus is Himself coming again, and this not more surely in grace to take us to be with Himself in the Father's house, than to appear in judgment of His adversaries, let them be Jews or heathen, or falsely professing Christians; for God is about to judge the habitable world by that man whom He has raised from the dead, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is the confusion of the two distinct principles which does the mischief: for Christians in making them worldly-minded; for unbelievers in affording material for their unseemly scoffs. He who holds both without confusion alone adheres to the truth intelligently, and affords no countenance to the infidel, while he maintains his own proper separation from the world unto Christ. There are judgments yet to be inflicted, but upon apostate Christendom, and even apostate Judaism. Never will the church have in her hand a two-edged sword to execute vengeance on the heathen. This is an honour reserved for all Jewish saints (Psalms 149:6), not for Christians. We shall be at that time glorified. The only vengeance which the church can rightly execute is of a spiritual kind. (2 Corinthians 7:1-16; Ephesians 6:1-24) It is the sheerest confusion to pervert such intimations as these into the work of the gospel, and to interpret them of destroying men's condition as heathen by the sword of the Spirit, and turning their antagonistic into a friendly position. God has made it as clear as light in His word that there is to be an outpouring, first of providential judgments, ending with the ruin of Babylon, next of the Lord's own intervention in vengeance at the close of the present dispensation and the introduction of His reign of peace for a thousand years. But all this is as distinct from the ways of the gospel as from the state of things in eternity.
It is curious also to notice how modern Rabbinism approaches in this to modern theology. They do not hold the execution of divine vengeance in its plain and natural sense at the end of this age. They both soften down, the one for the Jew, the other for Christendom, the solemn threats of God into a sort of moral suasion a conquest to be effected not by external violence, but by the exhibition of truth and righteousness putting to shame the adherents of falsehood and corruption. Alas! it is not only with sneering infidels we have to do, but with real but half-hearted and wholly unintelligent believers who have ceased to be, or even understand, a true witness in the church for Christ, rejected in the world, but glorified on high. Hence they court and value worldly influence themselves, instead of maintaining our true place as a chaste virgin espoused to Christ, above the world through which we pass, and cast out by it, till we are caught up to meet the Lord, and He appears for its judgment.
In Joshua 13:1-33 Jehovah says to Joshua, "Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed." He was jealous for His servant, and rouses him to the fulfilment of his commission. For the Israelites had been slothful; they were slow to act upon the full grant of Jehovah They would have rested when they had acquired enough to sustain themselves; but not such is the mind of God for us any more than for them. He will have us care for the things of others, yea, for the things which are Jesus Christ's; for indeed all things are ours, and the more we make them our own in the power of the faith, the more is :He glorified and the church blessed. For there is no better way to help on another saint than to win upon Satan and make progress ourselves.
Hence the land that remained is set out in detail: "All the borders of the Philistines, and all Geshuri, from Sihor, which is before Egypt, even unto the borders of Ekron northward, which is counted to the Canaanite: five lords of the Philistines; the Gazathites, and the Ashdothites, the Eshkalonites, the Gittites, and the Ekronites; also the Avites: from the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that is beside the Sidonians, unto Aphek, to the borders of the Amorites: and the land of the Giblites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrising, from Baal-gad under mount Hermon unto the entering into Hamath. All the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon unto Misrephoth-maim, and all the Sidonians, them will I drive out from before the children of Israel: only divide thou it by lot unto the Israelites for an inheritance, as I have commanded thee. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance unto the nine tribes, and the half tribe of Manasseh." Thus Joshua is commanded to divide by lot even what was not yet wrested from the hands of the inhabitants. What an encouragement to advance without fear! Is not Jehovah worthy of trust? Nevertheless He will have His people to fight for Canaan; not for redemption from Egypt, but for their inheritance in the promised land to fight as those who are dead and risen with Christ, blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Him. And most minutely does Jehovah point out the borders of what He was giving them, and the enemies who must be-dispossessed of their present hold, even as He deigns to mark out precisely what the two tribes and a half had already acquired under Moses, though it was short of the proper inheritance of His people.
We may note also how repeatedly, even in this chapter, attention is drawn to the tribe of Levi as without any such portion by the will of God. (Verses 14-33) To the Levites was given no inheritance in the land. The sacrifices of Jehovah God of Israel made by fire, yea, Jehovah Himself, was their inheritance, as He said unto them. The workmen of the Lord stood on a different footing from the rest of His people, and were called to special confidence in His provision for them and His word about them. If they failed in this, could they wonder that their words had little power?
In Joshua 14:1-15 we find Eleazar and Joshua, with the heads and the fathers of the tribes, distributing the lands by lot in the land of Canaan. The first who comes before us is Caleb with the children of Judah, who reminds Joshua of what Jehovah had said unto Moses concerning both in Kadesh-barnea. According to his faith so was his strength now, though forty-five years were added to the forty; and in his confidence, still as simple-hearted as ever, he asks for the mountain to be given him of which Jehovah spoke in that day. "For thou heardest in that day how the Anakims were there, and that the cities were great and fenced: if so be Jehovah will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as Jehovah said. And Joshua blessed him, and gave unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh Hebron for an inheritance." Caleb is the striking witness to us of one who was strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, here for conflict (compare Ephesians 6:10-12), as before for patient endurance in the wilderness. (Colossians 1:12) Nor do the words, "if so be Jehovah will be with me," etc., imply the least doubt of His presence and succour in making God his hope, but a pious and becoming expression of his own distrust of self. Again, there was no covetousness in this, but confidence in the Lord, which made him the more value what He had promised. We cannot too much have our mind on the things above: to this Caleb's request answers for us. And this becomes the more evident, when we remember that the dreaded sons of Anak were there with their great fenced cities, in the face of which Caleb had to wrest it out of their hands, as, on the other hand, the city itself was afterwards assigned to the Levites. Caleb indeed was a lowly, or, rather, faithful man; and, though fearless, it was for peace he fought, not for love of war. "And the land had rest from war," says the Spirit at this point. Indeed it was the lack of faith that prolonged the need of fighting so long; otherwise the people had soon taken possession of what God gave them, and the enemy had vanished away before the people leaning on Him.
In chapter 15 we have not the tribe of Reuben, but that of the children of Judah's lot for themselves, a very considerable one indeed, independent of the special portion of Caleb, as traced in the last chapter, from the Dead Sea to the river of Egypt, to Jerusalem on the north, and the Mediterranean on the west. This, however, was modified by the introduction of Simeon afterwards, as we shall see. But here again Caleb is introduced, as he had a part among the children of Judah, with details of his generosity to his daughter Achsah, whom he gave to Othniel. Thus early does the lot of Jehovah give the first place to the royal tribe, according to divine purpose and the prediction of Jacob. Grace makes a difference.
In Joshua 16:1-10 we have the lot of the children of Joseph, that is, of Ephraim, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (compare Genesis 48:1-22 end). They receive, in consonance with the fruitfulness of their father, the centre of Canaan from Jordan to the Mediterranean. But here we find even greater failure than at the close of chapter 15. For as it is said, the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites to this day, as was said of the Jebusites or inhabitants of Jerusalem. There was this great difference, however, that the children of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites to this day, and serve under tribute. Josephus is wrong in his way of putting the case; for he says the Benjamites, to whom belonged Jerusalem, permitted its inhabitants to pay tribute, and that the rest of the tribes, imitating Benjamin, did the same. Scripture discriminates. The men of Judah could not drive out all, the men of Ephraim did not; and these latter turned their remissness into a source of gain.
So following up this naturally, inJoshua 17:1-18; Joshua 17:1-18 we have a lot for Manasseh, the first-born son of Joseph, and once more the case of the daughters of Zelophehad among the rest. Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of their cities, but the Canaanites willed to dwell in that land. (Ver. 12) Had Manasseh looked to God the obstinacy of the Canaanites would have proved a slight defence. "And it came to pass, when the Israelites were waxing strong, they put the Canaanites to tribute; but did not utterly drive them out." They suited their own convenience, without care for the word of the Lord. The unfaithful are apt to complain, as the children of Joseph did to Joshua, as we learn from verse 14: "Why hast thou given me one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as Jehovah hath blessed me hitherto?" Joshua answered them on their own ground. If a great people, why not get up to the wood, and cut down for themselves? On their rejoining that the hill was not enough, and all the Canaanites of the valleys had chariots of iron, Joshua repeats his word to Ephraim and Manasseh: "Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only: but the mountain shall be thine." He does not swerve from nor add to his former decision; still less would he humour their vaunting pusillanimity or their sluggishness.
Joshua 18:1-28 shows us the whole congregation assembled together at Shiloh, and the tabernacle set up there. Now that five of the tribes had entered on their portions, seven remained to receive their inheritance. What a picture of lack of energy, in spite of the visible tokens of God's presence, to go forward against the Canaanites, according to His word, yea, command! The very fact that the land was subdued became a snare. It was not otherwise even with the apostles, not to speak of the church in apostolic days. "O faithless generation! how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" said the Lord, aggrieved with their unbelief, not their mere weakness or the power of the adversary. He is superior to every need, to every demand; but what can, what must, be the result, if His own people avail themselves not of His presence and love and power?
His servant makes a fresh appeal, and takes measures suitable to the occasion. "And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Jehovah God of your fathers hath given you? Give out from among you three men for each tribe: and I will send them, and they shall rise, and go through the land, and describe it according to the inheritance of them; and they shall come again to me. And they shall divide into seven parts; Judah shall abide in their coast on the south, and the house of Joseph shall abide in their coasts on the north. Ye shall therefore describe the land into seven parts, and bring the description hither to me, that I may cast lots for you here before Jehovah our God. But the Levites have no part among you; for the priesthood of Jehovah is their inheritance: and Gad, and Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh, have received their inheritance beyond Jordan on the east, which Moses the servant of Jehovah gave them." He would both rouse the people to feel what they ought to possess, and keep up before them in the way best adapted to their state that the whole disposing of the lot is of Jehovah. The separate position of those who served the sanctuary is carefully maintained: a striking testimony in the midst of the earthly people.
And so it was done. This Domesday-book was made according to their survey and description (ver. 8, 9): "And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before Jehovah: and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel according to their divisions."
Benjamin's lot is next described, borders and land and cities, to the end of the chapter. (Verses 11-28)
The second lot came forth to Simeon; and this is described similarly in the beginning ofJoshua 19:1-8; Joshua 19:1-8, with the added statement that it was out of the portion of Judah Simeon's inheritance was taken, the part of the former being too much for them: and therefore the latter had their portion within their part. (Ver. 9)
The third lot fell to the children of Zebulun, according to their families; their landmarks are laid down in verses 10-16.
In the fourth place comes Issachar's allotment, described in verses 17-23; in the fifth, Asher's, in verses 24-31; in the sixth, that of Naphtali, in verses 32-39; and in the seventh; Dan's, in verses 40-48.
Beautifully is it shown (ver. 49-50) that "when they had made an end of dividing the land for inheritance by their coasts, the children of Israel gave an inheritance to Joshua the son of Nun among them." Nor is this all: "According to the word of Jehovah they gave him the city which he asked, even Timnath-serah in mount Ephraim: and he built the city, and dwelt therein." Self-seeking was not in Joshua more than in Moses. Each had his part in what was given to their leader Jehovah's word, Joshua's petition, and Israel's gift: but not till they had ended their dividing of the land.
In Joshua 20:1-9 we have for the last time the cities of refuge, of which we heard repeatedly in the books of Moses; and my mind has no doubt that the introduction of their appointment here connects itself with the scope of Joshua. It is the shadow of God's provision for His people after they shall have lost the land of their inheritance through blood-guiltiness, unwittingly and without hatred as grace will make good account in the godly remnant by and by, when apostates and rebels perish in their sin. "And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them. And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime. And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days: then shall the slayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled." It is at the end of the age that the return of the slayer takes place at "the death of the high priest that shall be in those days." The dew returns, when Christ closes that intercessional priesthood which He is now carrying on within the veil for us. As long as He is now in heaven, pleading as the true "great priest" over the house of God, the manslayer abides outside his possession; but when it comes to an end, Israel, the "all Israel" of that day, will be restored as well as saved.
Joshua 21:1-45 gives the list of the forty-eight Levitical cities, with their suburbs, including the six cities of refuge just spoken of. "And Jehovah gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And Jehovah gave them rest round about; according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; Jehovah delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not ought of any good thing which Jehovah had spoken,unto the house of Israel; all had come to pass." (Verses 43-45)
The two tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh are then called and blessed and sent away by Joshua inJoshua 22:1-34; Joshua 22:1-34. On their return to their possessions beyond Jordan they built an altar by Jordan, "a great altar to see to." The report of this altar at once roused the whole congregation of the children of Israel, who gathered together at Shiloh. Before proceeding to war however, they sent Phinehas, and with him ten princes representing the other tribes, who taxed them with their trespass against the God of Israel in rebelling against Jehovah As yet they realized the solidarity of Israel and the honour of Him who dwelt in their midst, and urged on their brethren's consciences the iniquity of Peor and the sin of Achan, offering them room on this side of Jordan, if their land were unclean. To this the two and a half tribes called the God of Israel to witness how far from iniquity or rebellion it was that they had built the altar, for it was with no thought of offering upon it in independence of God's altar, but lest their children should cease from fearing Jehovah: "A witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of Jehovah before him with our burnt-offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace-offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in Jehovah." This appeased the rising wrath of their brethren, who owned themselves delivered from the hand of Jehovah for the trespass they had dreaded. Whether it was not an invention of man in divine things always dangerous, as being a substitute for faith in God and His memorials is another question.
In Joshua 23:1-16 Joshua calls for all Israel, their elders, heads, judges, and officers, and lays before them what Jehovah had done and would do for them if faithful, warning them against affinity or religious fellowship with the Canaanite: else Israel must perish not their enemies from off the good land He had given them.
The final charge of Joshua follows in Joshua 24:1-33, where we learn the striking fact, never told us before, that their fathers were idolaters, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor, on the other side of the river (i.e. the Euphrates) when Jehovah took Abraham as the root of promise, and began that line whence they were born. His deliverance of the people from Egypt, care through the wilderness, and gift of the land, are next recounted, all of His grace; on which Joshua challenges them and their allegiance, to which the people answer, owning His mercy, and repudiating all other gods. But Joshua lets them know their insufficiency (ver. 19, 20) and danger, which draws out their resolve to serve Jehovah repeated again and again in various forms. A covenant was made that day, and Joshua wrote the words in the book of the law, and set up a great stone in witness, lest they should deny their God. Then the people departed, and Joshua died; but the people served all the days of the elders that prolonged their days after Joshua.
Joseph's bones too were buried in Shechem, in the ground bought by Jacob of the son of Hamor, the father of Shechem, naturally mentioned with the death of Joshua in mount Ephraim as well as that of Eleazar, Aaron's son, buried in a hill of Phinehas his son, which was given him in the same mountain. Joshua brought the people into the land, as Moses led them out of Egypt, in accordance with the faith of Joseph. But a greater than all will give a deeper meaning in His day.