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The passing of the Jordan was a wondrous and significant event; but it was not everything. It sank deep into the consciences of the Canaanites on all sides; but there was more that was needed, and more that was wrought by God in Israel. At once it brought into prominence a remarkable fact that those who had been born in the wilderness had never yet been circumcised. The Spirit of God uses this occasion to draw attention to a necessity that could be overlooked no longer. Here there is no question of any imagination of man's. We have the plain fact before us; we have the Spirit of God dwelling upon it with no little precision; but we have more. The light of inspiration in the use made of the institution in the New Testament must be taken into account. We have therefore divine certainty as to its intended meaning and its importance. The children of Israel who had been in the wilderness had no doubt been objects of the tender mercy of God; but there was altogether another measure that became necessary when they were brought into the land of Emmanuel when His good hand conducted them into that land where He was pleased to dwell with them. If He deigned to dwell in their midst, they must at least be taught to feel what was due to the place of His habitation.
Here then circumcision becomes imperative. We may readily discover, from the Holy Spirit's doctrinal allusion to it, what spiritual truth lay under the form. There is more than one passage in the apostolic writings in reference to it. I will take two of the more prominent places where an express mention is introduced, and it is not merely therefore open to us to gather the idea intended; for in this case the very term is so used as to preclude question, which is by no means always the case in the types of Scripture.
In the epistle to the Philippians the apostle says, "We are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." It is plain that he means Christians; but at the same time he means such as are conscious of, or at least been taught, what Christianity means. I do not mean by this that others are not so privileged; but it is no uncommon thing to find a Christian who walks below or even contrary to his principles; not of course dishonestly, but sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through will, unjudged in ways here and there which ignore his very calling. Now it is clear the Spirit of God does not contemplate this, but always addresses Christians according to the will of God and the glory of Christ our Lord. It could not be otherwise. If the word spoke with calmness of children of God while walking apart from His will, I need not say what an excuse for unfaithfulness it would give, if not an apparent sanction. Men are ready enough to take license to themselves when in a poor condition before the Lord, gathering some apparent allowance of their wretchedness from the slips of good men who may have fallen into bad ways. Yet habitually in Scripture nothing can be more marked than the jealous care with which God renders inexcusable all such misuse of His word. I consider then that Scripture does wisely and holily as a rule address the children of God according to His thoughts and intentions about them. This alone could suit His glory; this alone is wholesome for us. Hence the apostle has his heart tried greatly by some who, having borne the excellent name of the Lord, were seeking earthly things, as he says here, "Many of them walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ."
But here in the beginning of the same chapter he addresses the saints according to God's mind concerning them in Christ, and says, "We are the circumcision." Thus he predicates of them what God has made them in Christ. The meaning is that nature is judged, sentence of death being passed upon it. It is not only that the saint is brought from under condemnation because of his sins, but the nature fallen into rebelliousness against God, evil, and selfish, has now had sentence of death executed upon it in Christ; and the believer is spoken of accordingly. "We are the circumcision," therefore, says he, "which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."
Again, in Colossians 2:1-23, we find another plain allusion. He says not only, "Ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power," but "in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." Thus he looks at the mighty working of divine grace in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. I need not say that the text has nothing at all to do with the historical fact of circumcision as related in Luke. It is a circumcision "made without hands;" whereas the literal act of course was done by hands. This is in contrast with it. The ordinance was an obligation for the Israelite, a figure simply, and nothing more, as to truth. But here we are told of what God had wrought in Christ and His cross, where He had dealt with everything belonging to us that was contrary to His mind.
We accordingly are said to be circumcised. This is particularly laid down here. He does not say merely, "In whom we are circumcised," but " ye." He was speaking of these Gentile believers persons to whom the apostle had been a stranger after the flesh. That they had never seen him we may, I believe, fairly infer from an earlier part of this very chapter. Here he says that they were already circumcised by a better circumcision rite than man could observe. This was more especially seasonable for such as were in danger of attaching inordinate value to ordinances. There has been a tendency also to claim special value from the fact of having been personally under the teaching of the apostle. This was an early superstition. The Holy Ghost therefore seems to have taken care that some epistles should be sent to such as were strangers, and Gentiles also as well as to Christians who had been Jews. Every point was guarded; and amongst others the most distinct testimony to the only stable means of blessing the solemn fact that all that is offensive to God, all that savours of the fall, of the pride of nature rising up against God, is judged, cut off, and set aside before Him.
There is no greater comfort to the soul that really values being set in perfect purity and righteousness before God. Here it is not a question of what we have to attain. There is ample scope, as we shall find presently, for the practical power of the Spirit of God; but then that power for practice is based upon what God has done already, and always flows from His work in Christ. The Holy Spirit carries on an answering work; but surely there is something to be answered to, and this is what God Himself has done already for us in Christ our Lord. So he says that they were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands in putting off the body [of the sins] of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ.
We return therefore to our chapter, and we see thus the proper force, as it appears to me, of the blessing foreshadowed that day in crossing the Jordan. Canaan could not be entered as a place where flesh was to be gratified, or its evil to be allowed. Not that there was no dealing with the flesh in the wilderness; but it could not be said to be done with; it was not yet treated as that which had come under the final judgment of God. From the Jordan we see this: death is treated as the only door of deliverance, and the knife of circumcision must pass over all the males of Israel before the good fight. Thus it is not only that death and resurrection with Christ makes it possible for the people of God to enjoy heavenly things and enter into their own proper position, as we were seeing in the last lecture, but there is a further effect, though all be part of the same work of God, brought out distinctly in the type.
Just as we find various offerings to set forth different parts of the work of Christ, so, whether it be the Red Sea or the Jordan, or, again, the circumcision that follows, they each represent distinct aspects of that which God has given us in and with the Lord Jesus dead and risen. Very clearly we derive from circumcision at this point the fact that fallen nature in us is judged completely, and that we are entitled to take our stand peremptorily as against flesh in ourselves. We are then also fitted to have to do with one another, being all as to this upon the same common ground. God could not sanction anything less. He has given us Christ, and with Him, to faith, the full portion of His death and resurrection. That portion necessarily supposes the work in which He has completely done with fallen nature in all its forms before Him. Not a trace of evil was in Christ. He was man as truly as the first Adam Son of man as Adam was not, but Son of man which is in heaven a divine person, yet none the less a man. But for these very reasons He was capable and competent according to the glory of His person, to be dealt with by God for all that was unlike Him in us. Had there been the smallest taint in Him, this could not have been done. The perfect absence of evil in this one Man furnished the requisite victim; as in Himself and all His ways the divine nature found satisfaction and delight. Would He then bear all? be willing to go down to the depth of the judgment of all men, according to God's estimate of the evil of our nature? The entire, unbroken, unmitigated judgment of God fell upon Him in order to deal with it and put it away for ever. No less, I believe, is the force of Christ's death for us.
Hence we start now, no longer viewed simply as pilgrims and strangers, but as those who are ushered into the land of God even while we are here who take our place as heavenly persons; for this is our character now. So says the apostle, "As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." Accordingly nothing of the old man is spared; all that is really self is seen in its hatefulness. The necessity that all this be put away is brought before us; but, wondrous to say, for us united to Christ the thing is done. What we have to do now is, first of all, to believe it without question to take our stand before God as dead and risen with Christ, that through grace, Gentiles or not, if Christ's, we are the true circumcision. Only such can mortify their members on the earth intelligently and thoroughly. Otherwise it is an effort either to die or to better the flesh; and both are vain. In presence of this the carnal circumcision now is a poor and pitiful thing at best, yea, a rebellious snare. The true circumcision is what God has made the Christian in Christ, and that through death and resurrection. Those that of old were content with their Jewish place rejected the truth it symbolized, proving that they understood nothing as they ought; those who in Christendom can leave the truth of Christ to occupy themselves with the mere shadows are far, far worse. The reality of the truth is given to us only in Christ our Lord. All is ours in Him.
Can we wonder then that the Spirit of God dwells upon this at considerable length, calling the place where the people are circumcised Gilgal? We shall find the importance attached to this elsewhere in looking at the book. No flesh must glory in His presence. Made heavenly by grace, consciously dead and risen with Christ, we are called to mortify, for this reason, our members in the earth. "And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho." (Verse 10)
Again, another fact of interest is brought before us: the passover is kept now. Undoubtedly it had been instituted in Egypt, and kept even in the wilderness. Grace made provision, as we are aware, for the casualties of the dreary way. But all this is passed away. There is deeper communion henceforth with God's mind. The passover itself is now celebrated in Canaan with solemn Joy. It is exceedingly precious for us that advance in the knowledge of God makes foundation truths to have a profounder character to the soul. To remember Christ in the breaking of bread was sweet and strengthening from the first: how much more where the revelation of the mystery wove into that showing forth of His death our oneness with Him and with each other! I am persuaded that the man who values most the gospel is he who has the deepest acquaintance with the mystery of Christ. There can be no error more offensive, and, I think, none which shows a shallower spirit, than to suppose that the great fundamental truth of God in meeting our souls in grace loses its importance because of entering into the counsels of glory or of any other advance in the truth, no matter where or what it may be. Contrariwise, we learn to see more in all we saw before; we value Christ better everywhere; we enter more, not merely into questions of our own need, or into a retrospect of Egypt or of the wilderness, but into the mind of God. Hence, as it appears to me, the force of introducing the passover here. The less we are occupied with the circumstances, the more calm, free, and deep is faith's enjoyment of the deliverance of grace and of God Himself in it
"The children of Israel kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho."
But there is also another remarkable notice "And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day." That is, we find the witness of Christ risen in a way that was never connected with the passover before. New food was used and supplied now. "And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year." We too are given to eat of the old corn of the land: for this we do not wait till we reach heaven. As He is our peace on high, so is He risen our food and strength. Thus characteristically do we know Him no longer after the flesh, but glorified on high.
There is, however, a needed remark to be made along with this. In our case (for the Christian enjoys the most singular advantages) it would be a grievous mistake and a real loss to suppose that Christ as our manna has ceased. For Israel there could not be such a state of things as the eating of the manna and eating of the corn of the land continuously going on together. The Christian has both unquestionably. And for this very simple reason: Israel could not be in the wilderness and in the land at the same time; we can be and are. Thus, as we have often seen, the Christian stands on altogether peculiar ground. It is not only the wilderness and its mercies we now have to do with, but also the heavenly land and its blessings and glory. Hence therefore we have to be on our guard in looking at such a type as this. There could scarcely be anything more dangerous than to suppose that we had passed out of the circumstances of trial, or that the gracious supply of the Spirit of Christ was no longer needed. Here below we are ever in the place of weakness and danger and sorrow. Here we are but passing through temptation. Emphatically this is the wilderness. Here the daily manna is vouchsafed to us, and we own and feel that only the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the ever living and interceding Priest, could bring us safely through. I do not mean the power of resurrection alone: this we have; but the grace that brought Him down, and that enters into every daily need and want, and that sustains us in all our infirmity. But this is not Canaan; and in such pitiful and tender consideration we have nothing at all to do with the characteristic blessings of Canaan. We have then to do with power: here the manna meets us in our need and weakness.
The Lord Jesus then ministers to His saints in both ways. Everywhere we have Christ. Take the same epistle to the Philippians already used for the present force of circumcision. We have not only Christ according toPhilippians 3:1-21; Philippians 3:1-21, but according to Philippians 2:1-30; for the second of Philippians shows us the very trait that I have been referring to the grace of the Lord coming down where we are; whereas chapter 3 would fix our eyes and hearts on Himself where He is now. Surely we need both, and we have both. So here we find not that which takes away the manna, but the new condition and place of Israel, and the due provision of God for it. The old corn of the land points to Christ risen from the dead; and so the apostle Paul loved to present Him, though never to the disparagement of the Lord in His grace and mercy toward us in all our circumstances of exposure as His saints. We are more indebted to the same apostle for this than to any other of the twelve; but then Paul does associate us truly and distinctly with Christ risen from the dead and in heaven, as no one else does. This he was specially called to make known. Not that he exclusively gives us the heavenly place of Christ, but that he, above all, brings us into it, while he magnifies the grace that watches over us here below.
This then is the eating of the corn of the land. It is what spiritually answers to the apostle's word in 2 Corinthians 5:1-21 "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." This is our form of relationship to Christ the Lord in what is peculiar to us now as Christians. What distinguishes us is that we have Christ risen and glorified; we are entitled to take all the comfort of knowing old things passed away, all things become new; we are brought triumphantly into it ourselves, and have Him in all His heavenly glory as an object before us; nay, more, as One to feed upon. The Spirit of God brings out the Lord Jesus particularly in the epistle to the Ephesians, where His first introduction is as One dead, risen, and exalted in heaven. In Colossians, in a similar way, we have our Lord there. All this then is the old corn of the land. But then if we take the Gospels, and, further, if we look at John's epistles, it is not thus we see Him. We behold our Lord here below particularly thus indeed as the object of the Spirit. It is clear then that all is brought out to us. We have Christ everywhere, and cannot afford to do without Him anywhere. What saint would have a part only of our blessing? God gives us a whole Christ, and in every way.
There is another point too in the chapter which may well claim a word. When God enters on a fresh action, or calls His people to a new kind of activity, He reveals Himself accordingly. The same God that made Himself known to Moses displays Himself afresh to Joshua, always, it need scarce be said, (for could it be otherwise?) manifesting Himself in the way which establishes His glory, and binds it up with the new circumstances of His people. There is no repetition of Himself the very same One, unchanged of course, but withal real in His ways, and occupied with us in order to identify us with His glory. Hence therefore there is now no burning bush. Nothing was more admirably suited to the wilderness; but what had this to do with Canaan? What was wanted there? A witness not of One judging, but of one that would preserve, spite of appearances, the emblem of utter weakness yet of all that weakness sustained. Was not this suited to the wilderness? But how or what in Canaan? As the captain of Jehovah's host. Here it is a question of conquering the foe, the power or wiles of Satan. God forbid that we should have any other foe! Others may be foes to us; but these emissaries of Satan only we have to count foes, and to deal with as such. It is not so with men. These may become our enemies, but never we theirs; while we have nothing to do with Satan, save to treat him, when discovered, as an enemy. We are entitled, steadfast in the faith, to resist him who only seeks in his workings and ways to dishonour the glory of God in Christ our Lord, and so ruin all that are blinded by him.
This then is the revelation that Jehovah makes of Himself for the new work to which His people are called a man of war to lead those who have henceforth to fight.
But there is another remark to connect with a previous part of the chapter. Joshua was not given to see a sword in the hand even of the captain of the host, till the knife was put in the hand of each Israelite to deal with himself. The call to circumcision had done its work before there was a moral fitness to have to wield the sword against others.
Further now, just as much as in the wilderness more, I think, we shall see as we go on the solemn word, even to Joshua, is this "Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy." There was the more need to insist upon this, because the task in Canaan was one of putting down the enemy. This necessarily calls for severe blows, continual watchfulness, incessant opposition. So much the louder call to begin and go on with reverence and godly fear. (Verse 15)
And now they are before the doomed city; and "Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in." (Joshua 6:1-27) In Joshua it is the standing type of the power of Satan in the world. "And Jehovah said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour. And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days." But let it be remembered that it is the power of Satan put forth by the world to hinder our entering into our heavenly blessings. It is not simply the world as a means of dragging us back to Egypt; this is not the point here. But Satan adopts fresh snares according to the blessing that God gives. Whatever would arrest the progress of the saints altogether; whatever might hinder their setting their moral mind, their affection, on things above to further this now Satan bends all his force.
Jericho then gives us a lively image of Satan's power as that which stood right in the way of the people entering the Holy Land. Jericho was the key of entrance into Canaan, and must, be taken: God would have it wholly destroyed. Hence Jehovah takes the whole case under His direction of His people. Not that He enters upon the work single-handed. It is not as was once done with the host of Pharaoh. Here the people must fight; they must have each their portion; they must take expressly and personally an active part in the war with the Canaanites. "Ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once." It was a well-walled and strong city, and Israel had but poor appliances for siege or storming; yet never did city fall so easily since the world began.
But then there is striking instruction in the manner of it: "And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets." There is the greatest care to insist upon the word of Jehovah. The city was to be taken, and would surely be taken; but this could only be in God's way. There is no book in Scripture which demands obedience more rigidly than the Book of Joshua, which exhibits the people entering on their heavenly portion now by faith. "And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him." So Joshua and the people do. He directs the priests and people accordingly, and they are found carrying out the instructions of Jehovah, whatever they might appear to the eyes of others, with the most careful obedience. All is persevered in exactly during the full term of waiting. (Joshua 6:1-7)
Not only were their means seemingly inadequate, and really so if God had not been in them, but His ark is again prominent. "And it came to pass, when Joshua had spoken unto the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns passed on before Jehovah, and blew with the trumpets: and the ark of the covenant of Jehovah followed them. And the armed men went before the priests that blew with the trumpets, and the rereward came after the ark, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets. And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout. So the ark of Jehovah compassed the city, going about it once: and they came into the camp, and lodged in the camp." (8-14)
At length comes the crisis when faith had its answer: "And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city." Can anything be more remarkable than the way in which Joshua calls the people, in the use of means wholly and evidently insufficient on human grounds, to the settled and thorough assurance of what is going to befall Jericho before it takes place? There is communion with the mind of God. It is as fully set out before Joshua and all the people as if the city already lay in ruins. And so it should be with us. We are intended of God to know what He predicts before the event. (2 Peter 3:1-18) The world itself cannot but own when His word is fulfilled. Hence we are told that "we have the mind (or intelligence) of Christ;" and this goes far beyond prophecy. But then there may be hindrances to this as a practical fact. Thus, where the saints are mixed up with the world, there can be no full enjoyment of nearness to the Lord. His glory is in this denied, and so the Spirit of God is grieved. The allowance of fleshly arrangement in the church, or of anything that is a departure from His word, hinders the genuine simplicity of God's light from shining upon the soul.
But here all was sufficiently clear, as far as man could see, though we shall soon find how, as everywhere, the first man fails. "And ye, in any wise," says he, "keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto Jehovah: they shall come into the treasury of Jehovah. So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down fiat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. But Joshua had said unto the two men that had spied out the country, Go into the harlot's house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye sware unto her." (18-22)
And so it was done: grace exempted before judgment. "And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of Jehovah." Nor was the word of mercy forgotten in the hour of victory: "And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had; and sue dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho." But a curse also is pronounced: "And Joshua adjured them at the time, saying, Cursed be the man before Jehovah, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates" a word fulfilled in its due season. "So Jehovah was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country." (24-26)
There is not a blessing that God gives to man which does not furnish an occasion to Satan; and so it was at this moment of the capture of Jericho. The children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing, and God called His people to such a close and comprehensive clearance of the evil by the judgment of the wrongdoers as never was heard of in the wilderness. The more magnificent the display of the gracious power of God to His people, the more tenacious He is and must be of that which belongs to His own character and nature. Had there been the allowance on God's part of hidden evil, where were the testimony to His presence with the children of Israel? It had been irreparably ruined. This could not be. God must prove Himself there in their midst. And have we less now? Is He gone because of our ruined state? Did the Holy Ghost come down to be in us for a brief season, or for ever?
We shall find that God took a way to secure His glory not more effectual than humbling. And this is the more striking too, because it was at the very time when God had drawn the attention, we may say, of all the world to that which He was doing for His people. It had been confessed that their hearts were melting. The report of Israel had spread far and wide. But can it be supposed that men heard of the triumphant passage of the Jordan, or of the divinely directed overthrow of Jericho, and that Israel's shameful defeat before the little city of Ai was kept a secret? Is that which does honour to God and His people spread abroad, and their disgrace concealed or unknown? Far from it. There is one who sees to it that anything which lowers God in His people shall quickly circulate through such a world as this! Nor is it well that evil should be hidden; for grace makes it morally good for God's people to bear the burden and approve themselves clear, besides the fact of discipline in the individuals concerned. Whatever the pain and shame of the case itself, it is good for those exercised thereby, not for such as make an evil use of it.
But God will have His people walking in the truth of what affects His glory; and this comes out more now than ever. He manifests His watchful care, and insists on what is suited to Himself, for no less than this is the standard. It was not merely with reference to the people, but God measures everything henceforth by His own presence, who had brought them into His own land. He had particularly set aside the silver and the gold of this city, pronouncing a curse upon any one who should alienate it for himself; and now no Canaanite but a man of Israel dared to trifle with the mighty power of Jehovah to act as if Joshua were but the crafty master, yet slave, of an idol that had neither eyes nor ears. To pass over such an act would have been fatal. "Achan, the son of Carmi the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of Jehovah was kindled." (Joshua 7:1-26) Against whom? Achan? Nay, more, "against the children of Israel." The same principle applies yet more strikingly to the Church. If "one member suffer, all the members suffer with it."
But to proceed: "Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth-aven, on the east side of Beth-el, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country." We do not read at this time of any seeking the Lord; we do not hear of prayer to ask from the Lord counsel as to that which they were to do. I assuredly gather from all the facts that here the children of Israel failed in this. A little place seemed not to need God's power, wisdom, and guidance as a great. It is not merely a question of the most guilty party. There may be fidelity in much, but withal the need in God's eyes to deal with His people as a whole when He thus puts them to shame before the world. When we shrink from this, we only defraud our souls of the blessing; and, further, we induce a distrust of the Lord instead of cherishing perfect confidence, spite of what seems perhaps outwardly hard. Many an one, I dare say, may have thought it strange that Jehovah's anger should be kindled against Israel, all because of one individual who, unknown to them, had been thus guilty. But He is always wise and good; and our wisdom lies in unwavering trust in Him. Joshua then, instead of enquiring of the Lord how the matter stood, and whether His holy eyes had discerned that which offended Him, is all for action. Now, where there is activity before men, there is especial need of previously drawing near to God. For one step taken is apt to involve many more, and there is danger. Here too we may well learn a lesson. We have the Lord's anger kindled against them, and Joshua quite unconscious that there was anything amiss. Those sent go; "and they returned to Joshua, and said to him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people labour thither; for they are but few." (Joshua 7:3)
There is self-confidence instead of dependence on the Lord. There was a looking at the comparative strength of the town; there was a fleshly judgment, reasoning after appearances, which for the believer is never safe, that it would call for no such serious action as in the taking of Jericho. There indeed that city with its high walls made them feel, and compelled them to own, that nothing but the power of God could bring it down; and there they found His strength made perfect in their weakness. God was their implicit trust; but now it was in their eyes a mere question of comparing the resources of Ai with their own. Thus the easy victory with which God had crowned them at Jericho became a snare. To those that had gained at once a city like Jericho, the capture of Ai seemed a matter of course. The inhabitants were but few. There was no reason therefore for the host of Jehovah to go up in force against such a place. "So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai." And not only so, but "the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water."
It was no longer the hearts of the Canaanites melting; no longer their kings who became as water; but Israel. What are we without God, my brethren? It is wholesome that we should feel it. Our only boast is in what He is not only to us, but with us. They had not God with them; they were utter weakness. And Joshua now is filled with chagrin and humiliation before God. "And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of Jehovah until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads. And Joshua said, Alas! O Lord Jehovah, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?" They had failed in not seeking direction from God. "Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of Jordan!" There was repining, if not a reproach, cast on Him who had thus failed them. (6, 7)
I do not mean to say that there was not the working of real sorrow and shame of heart before God but certainly patience had not yet attained its perfect work in the soul. "O Jehovah, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name?" There at least he was right, and there it is that God answers "And Jehovah said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff." (8-11)
But mark, it is not Achan, it is not the ill-doer only but Israel. There was no such identification before the crossing of the Jordan. There was the principle, no doubt, of an evil thing affecting the-camp. This was always true; but now it is made far more precise and definite. The greater the blessing of God to His people, so much the more their responsibility. So now, they being all identified with God, there was done in their midst a daring sin against God, who will make them feel it for the express purpose of their purging themselves from it. "Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed." "Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed." (13) Whatever may be the rich grace of God in dealing with all our evil and putting it away, that which dishonours Him when God has so blessed us makes us nothing before the enemy. The worst evil disappears before the power of redemption; but what man would count a very little evil, if cherished or overlooked, becomes afterwards a source of incalculable weakness in the presence of Satan. Is this a reason for distrust? Not the least. It is the greatest possible reason for watchfulness and care. And more than that, beloved brethren for who are we, and what are our eyes worth, and where has been our watchfulness? our strength lies in this, that we have God to watch over us and for us. Here was precisely that in which Joshua had been lacking. He had not sought the Lord about it; he had not enquired. God accordingly makes the shame of it to appear, and Joshua now painfully learns it, and the people.
"Up," says Jehovah to His servant, "sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow: for thus saith Jehovah God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you. In the morning therefore ye shall be brought according to your tribes: and it shall be, that the tribe which Jehovah taketh shall come according to the families thereof; and the family which Jehovah shall take shall come by households; and the household which Jehovah shall take shall come man by man. And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire." Thus, although God would make them all feel that they were involved, there is careful provision in His own goodness that the particular offender shall be brought out, now that they are really waiting upon God, and humbling themselves because of it. Thus, when unwatchful and unprayerful, all are involved in the sorrow; but when His people draw near to God the sorrow is traced home to the one who is guilty. There is a clearing of themselves by the fact that they all humbled themselves before God. This very act shows that they have no wilful connivance at evil; and, God therefore taking the matter into His own hands, the offender is soon brought out.
"And Joshua rose up early." He was as much in earnest about this as he was about the fall of Jericho. "So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken: and he brought the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zarhites: and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken: and he brought his household man by man; and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken." God was faithful; but Joshua would have man vindicate Him, that others also might fear, not to speak of his own soul. Hence more follows.
"And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to Jehovah God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against Jehovah God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it. So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it. And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before Jehovah. And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? Jehovah shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones." They all took their part in it. God insists that there should be thus the clearing of themselves before His own name. "And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So Jehovah turned from the fierceness of his anger." But notice how "all Israel" have their part, as in the consequences of the sin, so now in every step of its judgment from God.
And now we have the Lord's full restitution of the people. They had gone forth in self-confidence; they had received the most serious check; but, now that the sin was judged, Jehovah was free to act on their behalf. Even then He had His own way. And now it was not a question of great things, it was no season to show the resources of the all-overcoming power of God, which, before a blow was struck, brought down the towering walls of the city. I am persuaded that there is quite as practical and deep a lesson to learn hence as from the fall of Jericho; but it is a different lesson. And this is a very important thing, brethren; because, we being so ready to contract the ways of God into one single groove, it is a very good thing for us to leave room for His wisdom to shape its own course suitably to the new circumstances, in view surely of His own glory, but also in His goodness, always taking account of the condition of His people. Hence He says to Joshua, "Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land."
So Jehovah adds at this juncture, and such injunctions might surprise some. First He summons Joshua to take all the people of war; then He promises to give all into Joshua's hand. He next lays down a plan, not the one that brought in the ark and the priests, where it was pre-eminently a question of following His own word and the power of Jehovah's holy presence. But here he says, "Lay thee an ambush for the city behind it. So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour, and sent them away by night. And he commanded them, saying, Behold, ye shall lie in wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city, but be ye all ready: And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at the first, that we will flee before them, (for they will come out after us,) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them. Then ye shall rise up from the ambush, and seize upon the city: for Jehovah your God will deliver it into your hand. And it shall be, when ye have taken the city, that ye shall set the city on fire: according to the commandment of Jehovah shall ye do." That is, even more care and implicit obedience in every particular are insisted on as to the preparations against the little Ai than had been employed in the capture of Jericho. All this is set out with the utmost minuteness for our instruction.
"Joshua therefore sent them forth: and they went to lie in ambush, and abode between Beth-el and Ai, on the west side of Ai: but Joshua lodged that night among the people. And Joshua rose up early in the morning." He himself "numbered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. And all the people, even the people of war that were with him, went up, and drew nigh, and came before the city, and pitched on the north side of Ai: now there was a valley between them and Ai. And he took about five thousand men, and set them to lie in ambush between Beth-el and Ai, on the west side of the city. And when they had set the people, even all the host that was on the north of the city, and their liers in wait on the west of the city, Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley." The all-importance of heeding the Lord and His word was felt now; and recovery after haste must be humbling, however sure.
The enemy, as we shall see, is never so self-confident as when his hour is come. So men shall cry, Peace and safety, when sudden destruction cometh upon them. "And it came to pass, when the king of Ai saw it, that they hasted and rose up early, and the men of the city went out against Israel to battle, he and all his people, at a time appointed, before the plain; but he wist not that there were liers in ambush against him behind the city. And Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten before them, and fled by the way of the wilderness. And all the people that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city. And there was not a man left in Ai or Beth-el, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel. And the Lord said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city. And the ambush arose quickly." They were on the other side. This is the more remarkable, because it might appear as if it were merely a signal but it seems evident, as it has also struck others, from the disposition of the forces, that such was not the thought, but a far deeper intimation than a simple sign. It is rather a lively witness of God causing all things to conspire, where we do not trust in our manoeuvring, but cherish subjection of heart to His word, after the-evil was seen and judged which made it impossible for God's presence to be with His people in power. You will always find this the case.
Where Christians bring their own plans into the difficulty, they defeat themselves instead of the foe; and even though they may be thoroughly upright in the main, the Lord has a controversy with the self-sufficiency which trusts to plans instead of being subject to His will. The Lord is surely with His own. Dependence and trust in Him is the wisdom of those who are engaged in conflict with the enemy. And, beloved brethren, we (Christians) are all engaged in it. We are called to this now, if ever men were called to it doubly, because it is not only that God has; brought us into the consciousness of heavenly blessing through His grace, but He has recalled us to it when long let slip. Surely this ought to be the conflict of all saints' though in fact it is scarcely understood save by such as know the mystery of Christ and the church. Sorrow to think that it should be so! But thanks be to God that there are any! Thanks surely we owe that we have been favoured by infinite mercy so entirely above and apart from any question of ourselves at all. But have we not known this and do we not always find it so that where we are' on the ground of the Lord, and know ourselves so much the more called to obedience, as we have to face the subtlest wiles of the foe, so the most unexpected conjuncture of circumstances is ordered of Him in our favour) He knows how precisely to time everything for us.
In the case before us the mere sight of the eyes could hardly have availed for men so distant and also hiding: was it not of God Himself? Did not He cause Joshua to stretch out his spear? What serves to make it plain enough that more is meant than the human notion that ordinarily supplants the truth here is that we are told a little afterwards (verse 20) that "Joshua drew not his hand back wherewith he stretched out his spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai" Had it been merely a signal for man, where would have been the reason for keeping his hand thus stretched out? To stretch out the spear, if he had drawn it back soon, would have been quite enough. The work was done, had it been a mere preconcerted act. But no; it appears to be a sign on God's part, a significant token, that called them to the taking of the city. It was seemingly and strikingly intended to give them the certainty that Jehovah was with them now, Jehovah undertaking the lead, Jehovah prospering all in the very place where they had been put to shame; Jehovah would retrieve the glory of His own name. Let us always trust to Him so. No doubt it may be by no means a question here of that which would strike the mind of man with the same wonder as the capture of Jericho; but still it was no small cheer to Israel after their grievous check.
If God puts the sentence of death on us now, it is to help us the more really in result by leading us to trust only in Him that raises the dead. If we submit, He can use us. So here; it was the place of previous defeat, where the Lord, having purged out that which was the hidden cause of the mischief, and brought to light the failure of all in dependence, can lead them to victory. At the same time, while recalling to their mind every part of their fault, He impresses upon them more than ever the all-importance of subjection to His word, and, further, of dependence upon Himself. The word of God, blessed as it is, is not everything. We need the God of the word as well as the word of God. What weakness if God Himself be not with us! What assured victory when He is, as we find in this twofold history! It is true that only God knew Achan's trespass in their midst. But God would have brought it all out if they had waited on Him for light; for He had no pleasure in the shame that haste entailed on Joshua and His people. He will be enquired of, and must rouse His people to learn from Him, sooner or later, that which they knew not, but which He knew and would make known, for it concerned His honour as dwelling with them.
Thus then the taking of this little city is turned into weighty and most needed instruction for the people of God, we being such as we are here below. The men of Ai we have in all their distress when they looked behind and saw the snare in which they had been taken, the ambush rushing in on one side, and those that seemed to flee from them advancing to attack them on the other. The case was soon decided now, whatever the pains and trouble He demanded for it. "And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai. For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of Jehovah which he commanded Joshua." They are allowed the prey now, having been tested at Jericho.
Observe this other fact too: "And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day." God caused the word He had laid down as to these very matters to be brought to mind. Is not this an intentional instruction for us here? The conscience of Israel was roused by Joshua to the nicest care for the will of Jehovah. It was not a command that had been just then given, but one that had been laid down on the other side of Jordan. It was remembered now; as the circumstances indeed first called for it at this time. It was God's land, and must not be defiled, but be regarded according to the rights of divine holiness. He had forbidden them to leave one hanged on a tree till the sun went down. They must never forget what was due to Him, and to His land.
"Then Joshua," as we are told and this too is in evident connection with the same principle "built an altar unto Jehovah, God of Israel, in mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of Jehovah commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto Jehovah, and sacrificed peace offerings. And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses." All shows the exercise of conscience and sense of the glory of God according to His revelation. It was the expression of thanksgiving offered: to the Lord, but we see care for the law under which. they were. "And all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side the ark and on that side before the priests the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, as well the stranger, as he that was born among them; half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of Jehovah had commanded before." It is a fresh proof of the jealousy which Israel felt for the word of Jehovah, and the Christian may learn from their reverent attitude before it. "And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them." Every word was read, and read to every man, woman, and child, yea, to the strangers among the Israelites. As His authority extended over all, so each and every word was caused to fall on their ears thus solemnly, and the stranger that sojourned in their midst must hear the law, though there were privileges which none but Abraham's seed could share.
I shall not proceed farther now, desiring to dwell more particularly on these chapters where the moral principles of the book are apparent to me. We have seen, first, the secret of victory; next, that of defeat; then we had, thirdly, the means and process of restoration; and, fourthly, the great practical lessons that resulted from all. May the Lord grant us, beloved brethren, to read every word as the revelation of the living ways of the living God with our souls! Those of the children of God will feel its application seasonable who have been brought in some little measure to appreciate the place given to all, but which all alas! have not taken. If we have, let us rejoice and fear not, though God will surely deal with us according to that which He has given us in His grace, not as on ground which our faith has left behind as none of His, whatever be His considerate care for such as have never learnt better.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Joshua 8". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany