CHAPTER 12. —JOSHUA
Bidding adieu to Moses in the nameless but honoured spot on the summit of Nebo, which received his sleeping form at divine hands, we follow Israel across the Jordan under Joshua, and mark the further illustrations we find of the ways of providence. No feature is more noteworthy than this, that though the whole enterprise was divine and divinely impelled and guided, the agent of its execution was constantly exhorted to sustain his part with courage:
“Be strong and of a good courage;”
“Only be thou strong and very courageous;”
“Fear not, neither be thou dismayed.”
Such were some of the expressions by which the lord strove to inspire Joshua with fortitude in the performance of the part assigned to him as leader of the people in the subjugation of the Amorites. At first sight, it would seem as if such exhortations were altogether superfluous. Of what importance (It might have been asked) can the deportment of any human being be one way or other, in relation to a work of divine inception and guidance? The exhortations to Joshua show that it is not unimportant. The feature comes out in other cases. Jeremiah was addressed as follows in reference to the duty he had to fulfil as the prophet of the Lord:
“Gird up thy loins and arise and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces lest I confound thee before them” (Jeremiah 1:17).
Ezekiel was similarly exhorted:
“Be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briars and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak my words unto them whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, . . . be not thou rebellious” (Ezekiel 2:6).
In these cases, it is plainly shown to us that the attitude of the servants of God is not a matter of indifference to God in the carrying out of a work of God. God looks to them for that intrepidity and resolution which are so reasonable in the doing of anything God requires; and where the achievement of results contemplated by Him depends upon the instrument used, manifestly the behaviour of the instrument is a matter of first importance. Joshua was about to execute the divine mandate against the Amorites and to carry out the divine purpose in regard to Israel. The realisation of both objects depended in some measure on his deportment. If he were fearful and faint, the circumstance would never arise in which God would have His opportunity, so to speak, of backing Israel’s exertions for the accomplishment of the object in view. The circumstances were such as to make a man nervous; from which arose the need of exhortation. Joshua had only God’s word as his warrant for the bloody enterprise on which he was about to enter. He was not in so good a position as we are: we know how affairs came out: and as we look back, we are liable to imagine that Joshua knew it all too, that it cost him no more trouble to do his part than it costs us to read about it: whereas the case was one of obvious difficulty, for there were before him seven strong nations embattled behind high walls and fortresses, and possessing large armies in the field. He was in command of a large body of men, but in great part undisciplined, and whose defeat meant utter perdition to the whole congregation. The position was one for faith: the natural surroundings were suggestive of fear, and God’s pledged word was the only basis of action. Consequently much depended on the courage of Joshua.
It is not difficult to see some guidance for ourselves here. It is a way of providence to make use of men’s courage and enterprise in the accomplishment of even divinely-purposed results, concerning themselves or others. God could accomplish His purpose another way; but this is His way; and if one man lacks courage in the work of God, another will be found who is “strong and very courageous, and fears not.” Our surroundings may be fraught with elements causing fear; it is ours not only to exercise faith but to exercise the courage and resolution which such a relation to God justifies.
It may be suggested that this lesson is misapplied to us as drawn from the case of Joshua, or any other servant of God who had specific work to perform. In truth, the argument works the other way; because if ever there were a case in which personal energy, and fortitude were immaterial, it might be imagined to be where the work to be done was clearly defined, and the divine pledge distinctly given. If Joshua required to be “strong and courageous,” much more does it belong to us to be so, who have only general indications and assurances—not personal to ourselves. But the relation of the matter to us does not depend upon general arguments; the principle is visibly defined and distinctly applied in the New Testament in more ways than one. What are the seven messages to the churches in Asia but so many appeals to individual enterprise and fortitude in spiritual directions? Witness the constant promise “to him that overcometh.” EPHESUS is commended because the brethren “could not bear them that are evil;” “had tried them that said they were apostles and were not, and had found them liars;” “for His Name’s sake had laboured and not fainted.” The brethren in SMYRNA are told to “fear none of those things that were to come upon them, but to be faithful unto death.” PERGAMOS was commended for holding fast the name of Christ at the very head-quarters of the Satanism of the first century. THYATIRA was approved for “works, charity, and service, and faith, and patience.” What are the excellencies thus calling forth the commendation of the Lord, but such as require the exercise of the qualities enjoined on Joshua—strength, courage, enterprise, fortitude? The promise “I will give to every one of you according to your works,” strongly points in the same direction.
In the apostolic letters, there are constant exhortations in the same sense:
“Stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, . . . that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:10-14).
“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision” (Phil. 3:2).
“It was needful for me to write unto you to exhort you, that ye should contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Such are a few of the New Testament inculcations upon all believers of the spirit of courage, which was inculcated upon Joshua in the arduous work of the subjugation of the land of Canaan.
In the execution of the enterprise committed to him, Joshua evinced the circumspection exhibited by Moses in the cases considered last chapter. He was told at the outset that God had given Israel the land (Joshua 1:2-11). Instead of presuming upon the information and waiting passively for the divine performance, he set to work to adopt the means of bringing about what God had promised. He sent spies over to Jericho to obtain needful information. He did not go to work with a blind confidence. He recognised that God’s work in the case was to be performed through himself and Israel, and that God’s cooperation would not be lacking if they did their part. In this we have a much needed lesson, that has already been frequently visible in the course of these examinations of the ways of providence. We ought never to neglect those reasonable measures which are calculated to bring about any result we may desire. When we have committed the matter to God, and taken care to avoid every element of wrong doing in our proceedings, we may go ahead with the assurance that God will prosper us, if the enterprise upon which we may be engaged is for our good in relation to Him. If we sit down supinely and act the part of the sluggard or the fool, our prayers will ascend to heaven as unregarded as the lowing of oxen.
Having obtained the necessary information by means of the spies, Joshua went to work. The hand of the Lord was with him in an open miraculous manner at certain critical points, such as the crossing of the Jordan, and the fall of Jericho. With these we do not at present concern ourselves, because of the absence of visible operation during these times of the Gentiles; but it is profitable to note the relation of these visible acts of power to the faithful and courageous performance of Joshua’s part. In certain phases of the work of Joshua, the ways of providence in what we may call their natural form, are profitably visible. The two spies, for example, heard from the lips of their hostess that the country in general was in a state of great apprehension and feebleness, in relation to the Israelitish invasion. We read that before the spies were laid down,
“She came unto them on the roof; and she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you; for we have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea for you, when ye came up out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites that were on the other side of Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed: and as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt because of you, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and in the earth beneath” (Joshua 2:9).
The spies, on their return, reported this piece of casual information, evidently with feelings of confidence and elation. They said unto Joshua,
“Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land, for even all the inhabitants of the land do faint because of us.”
A communication like this could not fail to cheer and strengthen Joshua and all the people in the enterprise in hand. How came the woman to make a communication with so important an effect? The only answer to be found is in the fact that God was working with His faithful servants, and operated in such a way upon the woman’s mind as to move her to unburden herself of information useful to them. A similar instance may be found in the case of Gideon, who was called upon to address himself to a more formidable enterprise than that entrusted to Joshua (Judges 7). With 300 men, he was required to break up an army of considerably over a hundred thousand men. He was faithfully endeavouring to summon the necessary courage; to help him in which, the Lord invited him to overhear a conversation in the enemies’ camp. God said (verse 8),
“Go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host, and thou shalt hear what they say, afterwards shall thy hand be strengthened to go down to the host.”
In obedience to this command, Gideon went down into the valley by stealth, and listened outside one of the soldier’s tents, and heard one man express to the other a conviction that Gideon would overthrow the Midianitish host. Thus strengthened, he returned to his post, and made the arrangements by which the enemy was overthrown. Now, these are among the things written for our instruction. A piece of conversation is ordinarily a very insignificant affair; yet, in special cases, it may be an important link in the working out of God’s purpose with us. An enlightened view of the subject will teach us to regard nothing as necessarily outside the scope of divine supervision, God may touch the heart of friend or foe to speak certain words at a certain time, for good or evil, according to His own will. It is ours to commit ourselves to His hand. By this rule, David was able to say of Shimei’s maledictions on the day that David fled from Jerusalem:
“Let him curse, because the Lord hath sent him to curse David; who shall therefore say, Wherefore hast thou done so?”
In prosecuting the campaign after the fall of Jericho, Joshua showed a disposition in some instances to treat amicably with the hostile inhabitants. Had they met his advances in a reasonable way, it would probably have resulted that some of them, at least, would have been spared the destruction that came upon them. But this would have been contrary to the divine purpose and intent. It was effectually prevented by God’s incitement of the Canaanites to oppose. We are told that—
“There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the inhabitants of Gibeon. All others they took in the battle: for it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle that He might destroy them, and that they might have no favour, but that He might destroy them as the Lord commanded Moses.”
The Pagan maxim current in modern times that whom the gods intend to destroy they first dement, has its basis in a scriptural fact which has many other illustrations. No more signal illustration of it is to be found than in the temper of the Jewish nation before the destruction of the nation in the days of Vespasian. Josephus himself was struck with it. He says it seemed to him as if a frenzy from God was upon them, in that they would listen to no reasonable proposal which would have averted calamity, nor accept defeat when actually sustained, but fought and persisted like madmen to the bitter end, leaving the Romans no alternative but their utter destruction. The same principle is illustrated in the complete ascendancy of the Gentile Apostasy from the apostolic faith. The Gentiles did not gladly and modestly enjoy the privilege brought to them by the ministry of the apostles, and Paul foretold that, for this cause, God would send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie.
The principle illustrated in this general and large way, is without doubt, of individual application. Where men despise the goodness of God, or arrogantly make use of the powers bestowed upon them, whether of faculty or of control of means, sooner or later, God may work against them and impel them into courses that will bring about their own destruction, after the example of the seven nations of Canaan, utterly destroyed by the sword of Joshua.
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