the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
JOSHUA, THE SON OF NUN, MOSES' SERVANT
WHERE were Gershom and Eliezer all this time? Were they both dead? Or, if living, had theyno heart for their father's God till it had been better for them and for their father that they had never been born? Can it be possible that even Moses had come so far short as this, in the supreme duty and fast-passing opportunity of bringing up his own sons? Had her husband been so cumbered with the exodus, and with the law, and with all the cares and labours of the leadership in Israel, that he had no leisure so much as to eat his meals beside Zipporah and her two sons? Had Moses been far too long in accepting a staff of elders to assist him in ruling and judging Israel? And were Gershom and Eliezer grown up and gone clean out of hand before their father had wakened up to that and was aware of it? But, when all is said, it is far less the father than the mother in this matter. Had Moses house, then, been so divided against itself that it fell upon his two sons? And had Miriam and Aaron been right after all in their hot opposition to their brother's marriage with the Ethiopian woman? We ask these questions at the text, but we get no answer. We are left to look for the answers to all these questions in our own house, among our own sons and daughters, and in our own heart and conscience. At the same time, though Moses had wholly lost hold of his own sons, there is this to be said for the father of Gershom and Eliezer: that he had an immense attraction for some other men's sons. There was nothing more remarkable about Moses than the openness of his heart and the freshness of his mind to double the age of ordinary men; as Isaac Walton says, God had blessed Moses with perfect intellectuals and a cheerful heart to old age; and the young men who were always about him had had a great deal to do with that. You will sometimes see stranger young men crowding around a minister in his classes and in his congregational work, and saving their own souls by so doing, while those young men that have been born in the family are never so much as seen or heard of. And that was always the case with Moses. There was quite a circle of young men continually around Moses, and Joshua, the son of Nun, was the choicest and the most capable of them all. We know nothing as yet about Joshua-nothing but this, that he was not the son of Moses and Zipporah, but of a certain unknown man named Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim. Joshua had no such start in life as Gershom and Eliezer had, but by his high character and his great services he not only took their crowns from them, but at the same time he won a crown and sceptre and a great name in Israel all his own.
It is stated again and again in the sacred history that Joshua stood before Moses and was his minister. Stood ready, that is, to run the great man's errands, and to set out with him on his hallowed expeditions, and, in short, to be more than a son to Moses in the absence of bis own sons. 'He departed not out of the tabernacle' is another very remarkable testimony for that time concerning the son of Nun. Now, in that Joshua was exactly like his Great Namesake in the New Testament whose wont it was to go up to the synagogue of Nazareth every Sabbath day, and who said to His father and mother when they sought Him all through Jerusalem sorrowing: 'How is it that ye seek Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?' Joseph and Mary had sought the child Jesus in all those places where other sorrowing fathers and mothers were seeking their lost sons also,-among the theatres, and the circuses, and the shows, and the races, and the wrestling arenas, and the inns, and shops, and streets of Jerusalem; but He departed not out of the temple. We, too, have boys sometimes among ourselves not unlike that. They love and choose and are always to be found among good things, in good places, and reading good books while yet they are still mere children. They take to the Sabbath-school, and to the church, and to the Bible-class, and to the missionary meeting as other boys take, and no blame to them, to cricket, and football, and fishing, and shooting. Wordsworth has two such boys:
Never did worthier lads break English bread:
The finest Sunday that the autumn saw,
With all its mealy cluster of ripe nuts,
Could never keep those boys away from church,
Or tempt them to one hour of Sabbath breach,
Leonard and James!
And as such boys rise to he young men they are already promising pillars in the house of their fathers' God. They are our Sabbath-school teachers, our elders and our deacons, our best preachers and pastors, and the heads of our seminaries and colleges. And Joshua, the son of Nun, was the first figure and far-off forerunner of all such young men as he stood before Moses, and was his minister, and went up with him to the mount, and never departed out of the tabernacle.
There is no finer grace to be found in any young man's heart than his admiration and reverence for great and good men. We really are already what we love and admire and honour. And when a young man has eyes to see and a heart to love and honour those good and gifted men he reads and hears about; or, still better, those who live near him, nothing could be a sounder sign or a surer promise of his own future character than that.
We live by admiration. hope, and love;
And even as these are well and wisely fixed,
In dignity of being we ascend.
The mother of Gershom and Eliezer, from the very little that we see of her, would seem to have been a froward, forward woman, and a rude and disrespectful wife; and a worse up-bringing than that what child could ever have? But Joshua's nameless mother-judging her from her son, she must have been a true mother in Israel. And she had already her full wages paid her when she saw her son Joshua standing of his own accord before Moses and serving him as his minister. And if she lived to see him at the head of the tribes of Israel, and leading them on from victory to victory, she would feel herself to have been far more than overpaid for all the watchfulness, and all the care, and all the nights of prayer she had laid out on her noble boy. And thus it came about that through her, and through some other nameless mothers like her, what Moses missed so much at home he found so thankfully as often as he went abroad, when Joshua and his companions gathered round Moses to drink in his counsels and to execute his commands. But it was Joshua alone in all the camp who was all to Moses that John was to Jesus. Moses loved and trusted Joshua, and Joshua lay at Moses' feet. At the same time, the defect of Joshua's finest quality, as we are wont to call it, came out on an occasion, and was warmly and nobly rebuked by Moses, as we read in a very beautiful passage in the Book of Numbers. There was a day of Pentecost in Israel as Moses grew old, when the Spirit of the Lord fell on seventy of the elders of Israel in order to fit them to be Moses' assessors and assistants in ruling and in teaching the refractory people. And, as God would have it, over and above the selected seventy, there were two exceptional men on whom the Spirit fell also, till Joshua grudged and fretted at the way the people's eyes were drawn off his master and turned to Eldad and Medad as they prophesied in the camp. 'Forbid them, my lord!' said Joshua, in his jealousy for Moses. To which speech of Joshua Moses made the golden answer: 'Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!' see John 3:26, the margin steps in and says. And when we turn to John's gospel we find this fine parallel passage: 'A man can receive nothing,' said the Baptist, 'except it be given from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ. The Christ must increase, but I must decrease.' It is beautiful to see Moses' best disciple so jealous of other gifted men, and all out of pure honour and love to his great master; and it is beautiful to see the same mistaken loyalty in John's disciples. But both Moses and John shine splendidly to all time in their rebukes to their disciples, and show themselves to be the true masters of such deserving disciples in their never-to-be-forgotten answers and lessons and reproofs. Moses, and John, and Paedaritus of Sparta, Moses' contemporary, who, when he was passed over and left out in the election of the Three Hundred, went home to his house beaming with happiness, it did him so much good to see that there were so many men in Sparta who were better men than himself.
For years and years, and all the time wholly unknown to anybody but himself, Moses had been schooling his own heart till the case of Eldad and Medad only called out into words what had for long been in his thoughts. Joshua had but put in rude and angry words the bitter jealousy that Moses had for years and years been battling with in secret. And Moses' magnificent answer to Joshua was but another proof of the incomparable meekness and sweetness of Moses' so subdued heart. And then, when long afterwards we find Moses suing for a successor who should take up his work and finish it, he does it in a way that proclaims Moses to have been a man after God's own heart long before David was born. 'Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.' Noble soul! Great servant and great saint of God! Though his eye was not dim, nor his natural strength abated, yet because it was made clear to him that it was the will of God, and that the time had now come when he was to stand aside and give up his place to another man, he put off his harness and his honour without one murmur. The cross would, no doubt, have been somewhat less sharp had Gershom or Eliezer stood ready to take up the laid-down leadership, and it may well have been the last pang of that painful time to Moses that he had no son of his own to take his place, to finish his work, and to transmit his name. Aaron, the high priest, under a like bereavement, held his peace. And so did his desolate brother, the great law-giver and leader of Israel. And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua, the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay thine hand upon him. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of Israel may be obedient. And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. 'A man in whom is the Spirit,' said the Lord, who gave to Joshua that great gift. The Spirit of the Lord had begun in Joshua from a child, from his mother's milk, indeed; and to him that hath shall be given, till by the time that Moses died we are reassured and rewarded as we read that Joshua, the son of Nun, was full of the spirit of wisdom, and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses.
It is a great epoch to a nation and to a church, as well as a great testing time to all concerned, when an old leader has to put off his harness, and when a new and an untried man is summoned up to put on his harness for all the toils and crosses that await him. I was present once at such an impressive moment, and I often remember it. An old servant of God who had been a very Moses to multitudes in our land was about to die when he sent for the man who had been a very Joshua, a son and a servant to him, and from his death-bed addressed him in words of love and trust and prophetic assurance that must often come back to his heart, as they often come back to mine. And then the old leader put his arms round his successor's neck and kissed him, and lay down and died. Men like Moses and Joshua, and all who serve God and man, pass through extreme and painful experiences. The time had been when Caleb and Joshua stood absolutely alone with their life in their hand as all Israel bade stone them with stones. But never, all his days, was Joshua more or better the servant of God, and the best and the most far-seeing friend of the people of Israel, than he was just at that solitary, slanderous, murderous moment.
Just when Joshua was in the act of putting on his armour to attempt his first battle, he looked up, and, behold! a man stood over-against him with his sword drawn in his hand. 'Art thou for us?' demanded Joshua of the armed man; 'or art thou for our adversaries?' 'Nay,' answered the mysterious soldier, 'but as Captain of the Lord's host am I come.' And Joshua fell on his face, and said, 'What saith my Lord unto His servant?' And on the seventh day Jericho fell into Joshua's hands without sword or spear of Joshua.
Fell flat every stone wall of it before a blast of rams' horns only blown over Jericho in the name of the Lord. And Joshua from that day learned how to enter on the wars of the Lord in a way he never forgot. David, also, while yet a ruddy youth, had read the Book of Joshua in the intervals of feeding his father's flock. For we hear him as he puts off Saul's helmet of brass and coat of mail and takes five smooth stones out of the brook. Turning to Goliath, David said, 'Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield, but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts. For today all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands.' And all down sacred history, through Israel, and not less through England and Scotland, there have never failed prophets to preach how to war a good warfare, nor has the Lord's hosts lacked leaders like Joshua, who fell at that Divine Captain's feet and worshipped. Theodor Keim, in his volume of genius on our Lord's early life on earth, says that in His choice of a trade, which He was bound to choose, though He chose to be a carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth might have chosen anything else, anything but to be a soldier. But, surely, He was a soldier before Jericho, when He said to Joshua that He had come to him as Captain of the Lord's host. And we see Him in the thick and at the head of many a bloody battle all down the ages, till at last we are let see Him clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, and on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords. But we are not all soldiers, and we civilians have this same Divine Man as our forerunner and example as well as soldiers. For, in the manifold wisdom and abounding grace of God, the Son of God appears to each one of us as we enter life, and summons us to put the shoes oft' our feet as we stand on that holy ground. To the young soldier He appears in vision as a captain, to the young preacher He appears as a preacher, to the young pastor He is the chief shepherd, to the young merchant He is an example of successful buying and selling, to a master He appears as a master, and to a servant as a servant; sometimes He is a lover, sometimes He is a husband, sometimes a son, and sometimes a brother, and so on, till He never leaves any man at his entrance on life without a divine vision, and an ideal example, and a sacred summons to take his shoes off his feet. And all young men who, like Joshua, make their start on this holy ground,-they shall surely finish their course and keep the faith till the Captain of their salvation shall not be ashamed to call them His brethren. Loose thy shoes from off thy feet. And Joshua did so.
With all his clearness of head and with all his honesty of heart, Joshua made one great mistake in the opening of his military and diplomatic life. That great mistake arose out of his youth and inexperience, and he is not much to be blamed-by us, at any rate-for making that mistake. All the same, that mistake, once made, was disastrous and irretrievable. The Gibeonites were terrified to death at the approach of Joshua and his army. And they made as if they were come to him from a far country, a country that he would never have commission or interest to conquer, but with whose people it would be to his advantage in many ways to be good friends and in a league of peace. And their old shoes, and old bottles, and old bread, and their wily speeches, and other fine fetches completely circumvented Joshua, till he made a covenant of peace with a cruel, corrupt, and accursed people that he had been armed and ordained and commanded to sweep off the face of the earth. And for this, and for other like mistakes of ignorance, and simplicity, and over-leniency, both Joshua and all Israel suffered long and bitterly. The mystical interpretation here tells us that pride was the sin of the Amorite, and envy the sin of the Hittite, and wrath of the Perizzite, and gluttony and lechery of the Girgashite and the Hivite, while covetousness and sloth were the corruptions of the Canaanite and the Jebusite. And then that same method of interpretation passes on to this, that many young men when they first enter on their inexperience of sanctification are cheated into sparing some of their pride under this disguise, and some of their envy under that. Gluttony and lust also come to them each under its own cloak of deceit, and covetousness and sloth also each under its own mask, till all their days many men are tempted and led into this and that besetting sin through early ignorance and simplicity and self-will. Still, just as Joshua put the Gibeonites to hew wood and draw water for the altar of the Lord when he could not root them out, so we may turn the remnants of our pride, and envy, and ill-will, and gluttony, and sloth to this same good use. These things will try us and will prove us, as the Scripture says, to see what is in our hearts, and whether we will serve God in spite of them or not. It was the thorn that was in the apostle's flesh that brought down this word to him: 'My grace is sufficient for thee, and My strength is made perfect in weakness.' And the children of the Gibeonites, while thorns in their eyes and scourges in their sides, and snares and traps to them, were at the same time hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the Lord to this day, in the place which the Lord shall choose.
Joshua never ceased all his life long to mourn over the great mistake he had made at Gilgal. He could not shut his eyes a single day to the disastrous results of that great mistake to himself and to all Israel. And when he was on his death-bed it all came back to him, till he summoned the heads of Israel around him to hear his dying apology and protest; 'Choose you out this day among all the gods of the Gibeonites and the other Canaanites the god that you and your children will serve; but know this, that as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.' You all know, I suppose, what that meant on Joshua's dying lips that day. Joshua had never forgotten that day of days in the great days of his youth, when Moses took his young servant up with him to the top of the mount, ay, and even into the cleft rock itself.
From that awful day never a day, never a night, never an hour of a day or a night, had passed over Joshua that he had not heard the Lord passing by and proclaiming, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin. Ever since that day on the mount and in the cleft rock the Lord, and no heathen god of them all, had been Joshua's God. Happy man who had such a revelation made to him in the days of his youth! Happy man, who could call all Israel to come and see that he was leaving a house behind him of the same experience, of the same fixed mind, and of the same assured and inherited happiness. Young men, still choosing whom and what you will serve; young fathers and young mothers, still choosing a God for yourselves and for your household,-Joshua speaks to you out of his noble life, so nobly begun and now so nobly ended. Choose and say. Are you yourselves to be, and are you to bring up your children after you to be, Amorites, and Hittites, and Hivites, and Canaanites, and Jebusites in the land? Are you to let ambition, and envy, and pride, and anger, and self-will rule in your hearts and be your household gods? No! Never, never! Not so long as you have still this day in your choice for yourselves and for your households the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, and abundant in goodness and truth. And Moses and Joshua made haste in the cleft rock, and they bowed their heads to the earth, and they said, If now we have found grace in Thy sight, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Thine inheritance. And from that day it was so.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Joshua'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​j/joshua.html. 1901.