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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 1

 

 

Verse 1

JOSHUA’S DIVINE COMMISSION, Joshua 1:1-9.

The date of these events is, according to the common chronology, 1451 years before Christ. The place was Shittim, in the plains of Moab, about seven miles east of the Jordan, and opposite Jericho. Numbers 33:49. Here, in the shade of the acacia groves, Israel had been beguiled to licentiousness by the Midianites, “in the matter of Peor,” (Numbers 25;) here they had been visited by the Divine judgments for their sin; and here they had witnessed the last works and received the last counsels of Moses.

1. Now — More properly, and it came to pass. Hebrews ויהי. With this formula most of the historical books begin. It indicates in each case an intimate connection of the narrative with what immediately precedes. Perhaps the Book of Joshua originally began with the last chapter of Deuteronomy, and, for the purpose of completing the biography of Moses, that chapter, containing the details of his death and burial, was accustomed to be read with the scroll of Deuteronomy, and finally, for convenience, was appended to it.

After the death of Moses — These words include the thirty days of mourning in honour of the great lawgiver. Deuteronomy 34:8. At the end of these days the succession to the leadership was revealed by the Lord. A long interregnum would have been perilous to a people so inexperienced in the art of self-government.

The Lord spake — Whether by a direct communication through his angel, as in Joshua 5:13-15, (see Joshua 6:2,) or by the urim of the high priest, is uncertain, but probably the latter, inasmuch as this manner of speaking is prescribed to him in Numbers 27:21. The urim (lights) and thummim (perfections) are always alluded to as well known, but nowhere described. They were a part of the ephod, the sacred robe of the high priest, and were either the twelve gems on the breastplate or some objects intimately connected with them, and were a divinely appointed medium of revelation. Whether the gems became luminous, or whether there was an audible voice, or whether the priest when arrayed in the ephod was endowed with a miraculous insight similar to the vision of the inspired prophet, cannot now be determined, See note on Exodus 28:30.

Joshua — Before the death of Moses this great warrior had been clothed with authority and designated as the commander-in-chief of the Israelitish armies. See Introduction.

Son of Nun — Nothing more is known of Nun than that he was of the tribe of Ephraim. Great military genius is often cradled in obscurity. Nun lived and died undistinguished from the thousands of his brethren, who passed all their days in the Egyptian bondage; but his son, by his valour and piety, rescued his father’s servile name from oblivion. So the poet Horace, by his genius, immortalized the Roman bondman who begat him.

Moses’ minister — Not his menial, but his premier in peace, his lieutenant in war. It was customary for great prophets to be thus attended by ministers or servants, as Elijah was ministered to by Elisha. In this relation Joshua had witnessed Moses’ conversation face to face with Jehovah, (Exodus 33:11,) and had been pavilioned with his master in the cloud of Sinai. Exodus 24:13. Thus had he been trained in the best possible school, and the people were prepared, by the public honour bestowed upon him, to yield him obedience when their great emancipator was taken away.

[In this verse we notice that Moses is called the servant of Jehovah, and Joshua minister of Moses. A servant is less honourable than a minister, but it is unspeakably greater to be Jehovah’s servant than merely the prime minister of any earthly potentate however good and mighty. The phrase servant of Jehovah is applied in the Old Testament to patriarchs, prophets, kings, the whole body of the chosen people, and in some prophetical passages to Messiah. The highest type of man under the Law was a servant of God; it was reserved for the Gospel to develop the son of God, and perfect man in Christ.]


Verse 2

2. This Jordan — This celebrated river was in full view from the elevation on which the Israelites were encamped. Thus far in Scripture history the Jordan has acquired no special importance. But henceforth, in

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Jewish and Christian literature, in sacred song and figurative expression of Christian hope, this humble stream occupies a larger place in the world’s thinking than the broad Amazon or the majestic Mississippi. In the poetic language of Tacitus, “The Lebanon nourishes and pours out the Jordan.” It flows entire through the first and second lake, and is retained by the third. These lakes (each with a triple name) are the Merom of the Old Testament, called Samochonitis in ancient classics, and Huleh in modern geography, the second the Sea of Galilee, or Lake of Gennesaret, called also Tiberias; the third lake is the Dead Sea, called in the Old Testament the Salt Sea and the Sea of the Plain. The river, which in most of its course flows in a deep trench, is at the Dead Sea 1308 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. The general course of its current is to the south, but the river has a number of sharp bends, which deflect the regular flow of its waters. From the rapidity of the flow it may be styled almost a continuous cataract. From the first lake to the second, a distance of less than 9 miles, is a descent of 600 feet; and from the Lake of Tiberias to the Dead Sea are 27 great rapids, besides a great many of less magnitude. The average descent through its whole course is nearly twelve feet in a mile, justifying the name of “the Descender.” Its length is about two hundred miles from the roots of Anti-Lebanon, where it bursts forth in all its purity, to the Sea of Salt, where it is lost in a briny, seething caldron. Yet the distance by a straight line between these points is less than ninety miles. There are shallows where it can be forded. It is subject to periodical overflows when the snows of Lebanon melt. At these times it overflows the first of the two terraces which constitute its banks. Within its lowest banks it varies in width from seventy feet, where it enters the Sea of Galilee, to one hundred and eighty yards at the Dead Sea.

All this people — Numbering, according to the last census, 601,730, from twenty years old and upwards. See Numbers 26:51. Migrations on so vast a scale are not without parallel in the East. As late as the last century a whole nomadic people — 400,000 Tatars — retreated under cover of a single night from the confines of Russia into their native deserts.

The land which I do give to them — Canaan, or the Land of Promise; so called because it had been promised to the patriarchs centuries before.


Verse 3

3. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon — Compare the similar language in Deuteronomy 11:24. The entire land was before them, and their own faith, and courage were to decide how much of it they would actually possess.


Verse 4

4. The wilderness — This word is especially applied to that desert of Arabia Petraea in which the Israelites sojourned under Moses. It stretches from Mount Sinai northward between the two branches of the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, Palestine, and the Mediterranean. Its eastern boundary is Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix; its western, Egypt and the western arm of the Red Sea. It is a rolling desert, covered generally with loose gravel and stones, and everywhere furrowed and torn with torrents. Says Dr. Robinson, “A more frightful desert it had hardly been our lot to behold. Through the deep gorge on the eastern side, extending from the Gulf of Akaba to the Dead Sea, there is every indication that the Jordan once flowed before the great convulsion which depressed the Dead Sea.”

This Lebanon — A double range of mountains, with a valley called Coele (hollow) Syria between, constituting the eastern limit of Phenicia and the northern limit of Palestine. The eastern spur, called Anti-Lebanon, terminates on the south in Mount Hermon, and was visible from Shittim. Hence the expression this Lebanon, like this Jordan in Joshua 1:2, because, though at a distance, it could be pointed out as a definite landmark. The name, which signifies white, is derived from the white appearance caused both by the limestone rocks and the snows. The height is about ten thousand feet. (See note on Hermon Joshua 11:3.)

The Hittites — Or children of Heth. A tribe of Canaanites living in Abraham’s time in Hebron and its vicinity, in the southern part of the Land of Promise. As they had been an especial terror to the twelve spies, or to the craven ten, whose report disheartened the people, they are here mentioned by name, and put for the whole body of the Canaanites — Ye shall possess the land of even the dreaded Hittites. This designation of Canaan as “the land of the Hittites” occurs in the Bible only in this passage, though frequently used in the Egyptian records of Rameses II., in which Cheta or Chita appears to denote the whole country of lower and middle Syria.

The Euphrates — “The great river” of western Asia, one thousand four hundred miles in length, is mentioned in connection with the garden of Eden, (Genesis 2:14,) and throughout the Scripture history is often mentioned with this adjective.

Great sea — The Mediterranean, called great in comparison with the small inland bodies of water, such as Genesareth and the Dead Sea.

Your coast — Your boundaries. These included a larger territory than the Hebrews ever possessed, except for a short time during the reigns of David and Solomon. The breadth from Lebanon on the north to the desert on the south is one hundred and forty miles; the length from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates is about four hundred miles, making an area of fifty-six thousand square miles, equal to the States of New York and Vermont. But Canaan proper, or Palestine, was only one hundred and forty miles by forty — an area smaller than the State of New Jersey. Jehovah devised liberal things for his people, but they failed through unbelief and cowardice to come into immediate possession of the munificent gift.


Verse 5

5. Not any man be able to stand before thee — Literally, There shall not place himself a man before thee, that is, for the purpose of opposition. Compare Deuteronomy 7:24; Deuteronomy 9:2; Deuteronomy 11:25. Divine promises often imply a condition, in this case the condition is found in the next verse — “Be strong.”

I will be with thee — He needs no other allies who is allied with the Almighty. All that He has done for Moses He pledges to do for Joshua, and all his successors who possess like precious faith. Joshua needed these strong and cheering assurances; for he appreciated the magnitude of the nation’s loss in the death of Moses, and knew that a crisis had arrived in the history of the Hebrew nation. They had advanced to the borders of the Promised Land. and found it bristling with armed foes. Years of peril, warfare, and suffering were awaiting them. Although Moses had laid his hands upon him, consecrating him to the headship of his people, (Numbers 27:18,) he was justified in waiting for the imposition of a mightier hand.


Verse 6

6. Be strong and of a good courage — [Better, Be strong and firm. Michaelis remarks that the verb חזק, to be strong, denotes strength of hand and arm to lay hold of and retain any thing within one’s grasp; while אמצ, to be firm, denotes rather firmness in the knees, and ability to maintain one’s position against the attack of foes. The expression occurs with increasing emphasis four times in this chapter, and is rather a command than an exhortation. Compare Isaiah 35:3 : “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.”] It is a command as imperative as any in the Decalogue, for strength of will and indomitable firmness must constitute the state of mind out of which all acts of obedience spring.

For unto this people shall thou divide — Or, thou shalt cause this people to inherit the land. The Lord would inspire Joshua with strength of soul by disclosing to him the grandeur of his mission. He reveals to him that his agency is the last link in the chain which unites prophecy and fulfilment, hope and fruition: that all the glorious possibilities of his nation hinge upon his own personal valor and fidelity.


Verse 7

7. All the law — The Torah, the body of moral, ceremonial, and political precepts given from Jehovah by the hand of Moses. The very conception of a moral agent involves the idea of a law. They who have not the written law are a law unto themselves. Their own conscience perceives the immutable distinction between right and wrong. In addition to this, God has added positive commands and prohibitions. These from the days of our first parents till the completion of the Torah, were of a fragmentary character; as, for example, the penalties against murder, adultery, and fornication, (Genesis 9:6; Genesis 38:24,) the Levirate law, (Genesis 38:8,) the distinctions of the clean and unclean beasts, (Genesis 8:20,) and the sacredness of the Sabbath, (Exodus 16:23-29.) The first revelation of the law in any thing like a perfect form is found in the Book of Deuteronomy at a period when the people, educated to freedom and national responsibility, were prepared to receive it, and carry it with them to the land of promise. In this present passage we are assured that it was written in the form of a book, and appealed to as of supreme authority. When we consider the reverence with which all subsequent generations of Hebrews have regarded this “book of the law” — their jealous care lest it should be corrupted, counting the words and letters, and recording their number, indicating the middle word and the middle letter by peculiar signs — the argument amounts to a certainty that we have in our Hebrew Bibles the very Torah which Joshua is here commanded to take as his authoritative guide. Add to these considerations the respect which Jesus Christ always pays to the law, which he came not to destroy but to fulfil, and we can reasonably demand no stronger proof of the authoritative character of the Torah as a rule of life for us in all things which are not manifestly ceremonial.

To the right… or to the left — Perfect obedience is represented by a straight line, and a course of sin by a crooked way. Hence the terms righteousness, rectitude, uprightness, and, in matters of opinion, orthodox; while the word wrong is etymologically akin to wrung, twisted.

That thou mayest prosper — Rather act wisely. Sin is the highest folly, virtue is the only true wisdom.


Verse 8

8. This book of the law — Already had revelation solidified itself into a book form. The wisdom of God in selecting this form will be evident when we consider, (1) That the human race instinctively put into monumental form all the great truths, laws, discoveries, and historic events which they wish to perpetuate; (2) The untrustworthy character of oral traditions; (3) The difficulty of corrupting documents intrusted to the guardianship of a class solemnly set apart for that purpose, and imbued with a religious awe for the very letter of the sacred manuscript, or as published to the world by the multiplication of copies scattered abroad through all lands.

Shall not depart — The written divine law shall be a theme of constant study, thought, and conversation, the rule of both his private and official life.

Shall meditate — The Hebrew word הגה, sometimes means to mutter, speak aloud, but “we are not to think of this meditation as a learned study, nor as a ‘reading aloud,’ as Bunsen explains it, but rather as a mature reflection upon the law, by which Joshua should penetrate more deeply into its meaning.” — Fay. Happy is the nation of Bible readers ruled by one who receives the law at the mouth of God!

Have good success — Rather, act wisely. Compare Joshua 1:7.


Verse 9

[9.

Have not I commanded thee? — Such an emphatic interrogation is often the strongest possible form of affirmation.

Thy God is with thee — As the soldier’s valour is stimulated by the eye of his captain, so a vivid realization of the immediate presence of God is the best safeguard against unmanly terror.]


Verse 10-11

PREPARATIONS FOR THE MARCH, Joshua 1:10-11.

[10. Officers of the people Shoterim; subordinate magistrates or scribes among the Israelites, and more or less intimately associated with the administration of justice. They assisted the Egyptian taskmasters in apportioning and supervising the work of the Israelitish bondmen, (Exodus 5:10; Exodus 5:14-15,) were associated with the elders (Numbers 11:16) and with the judges, (Joshua 8:33,) acted as overseers of levies, (Deuteronomy 20:5,) and from this verse, compared with Joshua 3:2, and Joshua 8:33, it seems to have been a part of their work to notify the tribes of any public order, and prepare them for action in any emergency.]


Verse 11

11. Prepare you victuals — Provision for a journey; natural produce; not manna, for this became putrid on the second day. The manna did not cease to fall till they had entered Canaan and eaten of the corn of the land. Joshua 5:12. But it was in harmony with the divine economy that the supernatural supply should diminish as the natural supply increased in the fertile trans-Jordanic region. God never works miracles as a premium to indolence.

Within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan — If we follow the order of the narrative, and allow that the spies were sent out after this proclamation to the officers, we shall find that the Israelites did not cross the Jordan within three days. The spies were gone three days, and the people paused on the river’s bank three days more, so that the crossing could not have taken place till the seventh day. To meet this difficulty some suppose that the spies had been sent out previous to Joshua’s proclamation to the officers; see note on Joshua 2:1. [But it is not necessary to understand these words of Joshua as a positive prediction that all the people would actually cross over the Jordan and be in the Promised Land within these three days. The words are literally ye crossing, that is, ye will be on your march to cross. He proposed within three days to break up the camp at Shittim and be on his way over the Jordan, and this is all the words can necessarily be made to mean. Keil supposes that because the two spies were detained, and obliged to hide three days in the mountain, (Joshua 2:22,) Joshua was thereby hindered from carrying out his purpose as he at first designed. But why is it necessary to maintain that the spies returned to Joshua at the camp at Shittim? It is not so written, (see Joshua 2:23,) and we may possibly suppose that when they returned to Joshua they found him arrived at the Jordan. But even granting that they returned to the camp at Shittim, as the history most naturally implies, the three days they hid in the mountain may have been only parts of three days. See note on Joshua 2:22.] The inspired writers directed their attention more to facts than to chronological order. In this command Joshua displays a remarkable degree of that faith and courage to which he had just been exhorted. The rapid Jordan, at its flood, is before him, and he has no boats, no bridge, no pontoon train, but he assures that vast host that they and their wives and children and flocks shall, within a few days, safely cross that angry torrent.


Verses 12-15

ADDRESS TO THE TRANS-JORDANIC TRIBES, Joshua 1:12-15.

Palestine, east of the Jordan, had already been conquered, and allotted, at their earnest request, to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, in the order here enumerated, passing from the south toward the north. Numbers 32:23. It was a more fertile and attractive country than “the mountain,” as Western Palestine is sometimes appropriately called.


Verse 13

13. The Lord… hath given you rest — He has permitted you to settle your families in fixed abodes on the express condition that you should assist in the subjugation of the land on the western side of Jordan.

Numbers 32:16-22. The promise of these two and a half tribes, solemnly made to Moses, must now be fulfilled.

This land — Like the expressions this Jordan and this Lebanon, (Joshua 1:2; Joshua 1:4,) the land immediately around them east of Jordan, in which all Israel was yet encamped.


Verse 14

14. [

This side Jordan — An incorrect translation of בעבר הירדן, which can only mean beyond the Jordan. Our translators were governed, in their rendering, by the position of Joshua at the time of this address; but the Book of Joshua was written after the conquest and settlement of Palestine when beyond the Jordan was the common term for the country east of the Jordan, and so the writer simply follows the usus loquendi of his time. This eastern section, which in our Saviour’s time was called Perea, and was the region of much of his ministry, (see notes on Matthew 4:25; Luke 9:51,) is designated in Joshua 1:15 as (Hebrews) beyond Jordan towards the sunrising; and in Joshua 5:1. Western Palestine is called beyond Jordan towards the sea.]

Mighty men of valour — The more valiant of the two and a half tribes, not their entire military strength. From Joshua 4:13 we learn that only forty thousand of them were required to cross to the western side; the remainder — probably about seventy thousand, (see Numbers 31,) — remaining on the eastern side of the river to protect the families and substance of the two and a half tribes from the incursions of their still numerous though defeated enemies dwelling in the wide eastern plains.

Armed — Scholars differ as to the meaning of this word. Some assert that it signifies “girt about the loins;” hence “ready, equipped, drawn up for battle.” Others, on very good grounds, believe that it means “in five divisions, namely, the centre, two wings, vanguard, and rearguard,” according to the usual form in which an army marches into battle. In Exodus 13:18 (see note) it is rendered harnessed.


Verse 15

15. Until the Lord have given — Observe how early Joshua inculcates the idea of national unity. Perhaps he already had forebodings of the alienation of the eastern from the western tribes, in consequence of the deep trench of the Jordanic valley, the modern Ghor. It is an historic fact that this geographic insulation caused the eastern tribes to cherish a national feeling far less intense than that which animated their western brethren. Reuben, “unstable as water,” (Genesis 49:4,) in consequence of his separation from the main body of the nation became a roving Bedouin tribe.


Verse 16

OATH OF ALLEGIANCE TO JOSHUA, Joshua 1:16-18.

16. That thou commandest we will do — A response not only from the eastern tribes, but also, probably, from the entire nation, encouraging to the spirit of the new commander. He must have regarded it as a formal expression of their loyalty to his authority. Like true patriots, in their nation’s extremity they volunteer under their great captain.


Verse 17

17. Only the Lord… be with thee — By this language they do not avow a qualified and conditional allegiance, but only responsively reiterate with myriads of tongues the brief and stirring exhortation given by God, “Be strong and of a good courage.” It is because they believe that Jehovah is with Joshua that they bind themselves to obey him.


Verse 18

18. Against thy commandment — Literally, Every man who rebels against thy mouth; that is, who shows contempt for thy commands.

Shall be put to death — A righteous verdict against the rebel, and in accordance with the law of the Most High. Deuteronomy 17:12. Resistance to His chosen representative is a crime no less heinous than avowed rebellion against His sovereignty. So long as a government is subserving its ends in administering justice and conserving human society, the attempt to subvert it by violence is a crime of the greatest enormity, striking at the very foundation of all the earthly interests of mankind, and opening wide the floodgates of civil war. Notes Romans 13:1-7.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joshua 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/joshua-1.html. 1874-1909.

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