CHAPTER 11. —MOSES (CONTINUED)
We have not exhausted the illustrations of the ways of providence to be found in connection with the journey of Israel to the land of promise under Moses and Joshua. There is an instructive incident in the conquest of Bashan. On approaching Heshbon, God said to Moses:
“Behold, I have given unto thine hand Sihon, the Amorite, the king of Heshbon, and his land” (Deuteronomy 2:24).
On a superficial view, one might have reasoned that if this were the case—if God had given Heshbon and its king to Israel, Israel had nothing to do to obtain possession: that God would do all. Instead of this, the intimation that God had given Heshbon and its king to Israel, is accompanied by a direction that Israel should proceed to the work of obtaining possession:
“Begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle.”
Suppose Moses and Israel had not taken the steps to obtain possession, obviously things would have remained as they were—Heshbon and Sihon undelivered into the hand of Israel. This points a lesson already made abundantly evident—that in our expectations of divine cooperation, we must adopt the means which He has appointed as the way of getting at the results desired. Jesus said to the Philadelphian ecclesia, sixty years after his departure from the earth,
“Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Revelation 3:8).
This was a very comforting assurance to the brethren at Philadelphia: but supposing they had supinely sat down and made no effort to use the open door, of what advantage would it have been? If God gives men opportunities, He expects them to discern and enterprisingly use them. This is His way of doing His work. He could do it all Himself: but then His sons would have no share in the results. They are “labourers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1). It is a co-partnership of divine appointment with this glorious result that at the last,
“Both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together” (John 4:6).
God will finally admit us to His joy by requiring us first to take part in the work by which the joy will be wrought out.
A present application of the principle may be found in the matter of daily bread. We have a promise that what we need will be provided (Luke 12:29-31), and that God will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6); but the realisation of this promise is as contingent as the obtaining of the land was on Israel’s adoption of the needed measures. It is contingent on our obedient compliance with the will of the father, as expressed in the commandment to—
“Provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17);
To labour with our hands for the things needed (Ephesians 4:28); to be not slothful in business (Romans 12:11); a principle carried to this extent that where a man does not yield submission to it, he is not to be relieved (2 Thessalonians 3:10). So also when God-blessed industry secures what is needful, the continuance of the blessing depends upon our faithful use of results in the way directed, as good stewards of the substance of God (2 Corinthians 11:8-13; Psalms 41:1-3; Acts 20:34-35; Romans 12:13; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Peter 4:10).
We may learn something also of discretion in the doing of divine work, from the way Moses proceeded to carry out the command to “begin to contend with Sihon in battle.” An impulsive blunderhead would have gone straightly and abruptly to work. He would have issued orders to Israel to get into fighting form at once, and marching on Heshbon would have burst on Sihon without explanation or parley. Moses in full view of what was pending, “sent messengers to Sihon with words of peace,” asking permission to march through his country, and offering to pay for whatever they might need. This was a dignified and a becoming way of bringing about the work. It had the advantage of putting Sihon in the wrong before beginning. God, working with Moses, “hardened Sihon’s spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into Israel’s hand” (Deuteronomy 2:30). In the heat of an offended spirit,
“Sihon came out against Israel and all his people to fight at Jahaz” (verse 32).
The result of the fighting was the destruction of the Heshbonites. Thus the result of Moses’ tactics was to put the responsibility of the offensive upon Sihon, and to cause him to bring about his own destruction. The lesson is that a graceful wisdom is to be employed in reaching results divinely intended, and that we must never forget the truth expressed in the popular maxim—that God works by means.
The action of Moses in this case may throw some light on the work to be done by Christ at His coming. We know that the work to be done is to “break in pieces the nations like a potter’s vessel”; to grind to powder the political image seen by Daniel; to tread the winepress of Jehovah’s anger. But we may imagine from these vigorous figures of speech that the process will be prompt, rough and hurried, after the manner of the tornado, without warning and without diplomacy. This would be a mistake. The first Moses illustrates the second. The scale of operations is larger, because the whole earth, instead of a single country, is in question; but the aims and the principles of action will be the same, for it is the same God, with the same objects at work, in both cases. There will be proposals to the governments of Europe, and the rejection of them, which the governments will follow up with a military initiative against Christ, as in the case of Sihon against Moses. The proposals are indicated in Psalm 2:10-12:
“Kiss the Son lest He be angry,” etc., and—Revelation 14:7:
“Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment is come”;
And the result in Revelation 17:14; 19:19:
“These ten kings shall make war with the Lamb.”
These Scriptures briefly sketch events involving time and much detail in their evolution, for a foreshadowing of which we may usefully consult the narrative of the conquest of the land of the Amorites.
When the time came for Moses to transfer the work to Joshua, he said to him, concerning the strong nations on the western side of the Jordan:
“Ye shall not fear them, for the Lord your God, He shall fight for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22).
This comes under the same category of reflection as the statement of God to Moses that He had given Sihon into his hand. The words of Moses superficially construed, would seem to justify inaction and uncarefulness on the part of Joshua, because if God was to fight for Israel, what need of Israel fighting? so it might have been asked. But Joshua did not so understand them. He took all necessary measures implied in the work assigned to him. When Moses was dead, God addressed to Joshua these inspiring words:
“There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life. As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee. I will not fail thee nor forsake thee” (Joshua 1:5).
Surely nothing was necessary on the part of Joshua in the face of this assurance! Did he not simply have to “stand still and see the salvation of God”? Such a conclusion would have been a great mistake. There is a time to stand still, but not when God proposes to work by us. All that is said concerning Joshua in this declaration pre-supposes his active, diligent, courageous, and care-taking cooperation. A clause is added expressly stipulating this, and to show that the fulfilment of the promise depended upon his faithful observance of the commandments.
“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do all the law which Moses My servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, THAT THOU MAYEST PROSPER WHITHERSOEVER THOU GOEST. The book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein, for then shalt thou make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (verses 7-8).
The imperative force of this specified condition was forced roughly home upon Joshua’s attention in the repulse of Israel, which we noticed in Chapter 10. The instruction of the case is manifest—that no man may presume upon God’s cooperation who does not faithfully observe the conditions implied in all the promises. The words addressed by Azariah the prophet to Asa, king of Judah, are applicable to every man:
“The Lord is with you while ye be with Him: and if ye seek Him, He will be found of you: but if ye forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chronicles 15:2).
A more indirect form of divine procedure—His action towards nations (involving the political sphere)—is illustrated in the statement of Moses concerning the nations to be driven out by the armies of Israel:
“For the wickedness of those nations, the Lord doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, nor for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations, the Lord thy God doth drive them out before thee” (Deuteronomy 9:4-5).
The nations referred to were in a gross state of unrighteousness, and had been for centuries. In the days of Abraham, it was given as a reason for the apparent postponement of the promise concerning the occupation of the land by Abraham’s seed, that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Genesis 15:16). This implies that the cup was filling at that time—470 years before the arrival of the armed hosts of Israel on the borders of Moab. The enormity of their iniquity is amply indicated in Leviticus 18. After the prohibition of a variety of unnatural offences, there are these words at verse 24:
“Defile not yourselves, in any of these things, for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you. And the land is defiled. THEREFORE I DO VISIT THE INIQUITY THEREOF UPON IT.”
So also with reference to other matters, Moses said to Israel,
“All that do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee” (Deuteronomy 18:12).
From this it follows that not only was the providence of God at work among Israel for purposes connected with Israel, but the providence of God was at work through and by means of Israel towards nations that had no recognition of His hand in the case one way or other. To the Amorite nations, the approaching host of Israel would appear a marauding swarm of robbers and murderers, bent on the destruction of their neighbours and the lawless appropriation of their lands, whom to oppose was a virtue of common patriotism. In point of fact, this menacing assembly of the Israelites was the arm of divine justice uplifted in vengeance over a cluster of nations who had forfeited all right to their lands, or right even to live, by centuries of godlessness and violence. From this picture it is not difficult to turn and recognise in many a rough-hewn confusion of events, a “divinity” shaping national “ends,” where no divine element is recognised or even suspected. God is displeased with the wickedness of men now as He was then. He is not an indifferent spectator of the ways of nations, though He would appear so in this time of long-kept silence. It is the testimony of Daniel that—
“The Most High God ruleth in the kingdom of men, and appointeth over it whomsoever he will” (Daniel 5:21).
Babylon was weighed in the balances and found wanting, and therefore the kingdom was divided and given to the Medes and Persians (verses 27 & 28). This was done by events with which, apparently, God had nothing to do, namely, the successful enterprise of Darius and Cyrus. So now national disasters do not come without divine intention and manipulation. A threatening army gathered on the frontiers of a country may be the hand of God for the visitation of justice.
But it may be said that such an idea is not exactly on a par with Israel’s invasion of the land of the Amorites. It may be said that while it is easy to recognise a divine visitation in the operations of an army directly commissioned by divine authority, as Israel was, it is different with the case of an army acting without any divine authority whatever, but simply obeying the commands of an ambitious monarch, who goes to war to compass his own ends. The answer is to be found in the calamities threatened against Israel themselves in the case of disobedience, considered in the light of the mode of their infliction and the divine explanations in connection therewith. Moses said to Israel in the case in question:
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you” (Deuteronomy 4:20).
Again, he said:
“The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies. Thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them, and shalt be removed into all kingdoms of the earth. . . . And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee. Thou shalt serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger and in thirst, and in nakedness and in want of all things. . . . The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth,” etc.
(Deuteronomy 28:25, 37, 48-49).
Here we have a distinct intimation (which is repeated hundreds of times throughout the prophetic and other scriptures) that the events which should lead to Israel’s downfall would be of divine initiation and guidance. Without understanding, we should imagine that the statements meant that God would send commands to the enemies of Israel to do these various things, in the same way as He gave command to Moses and Joshua to proceed against the Amorites. But, with understanding, we know that this was not meant; but that the meaning was that God would invisibly make use of Israel’s enemies to do these various things without these enemies being aware that God had anything to do with their proceedings. This understanding comes in two ways—first, from a knowledge of how the threatened calamities came; and, secondly, from the express declarations of the God of Israel on the first point. Whether we take the inroads of the Amorites, Midianites, Philistines, etc., who repeatedly brought Israel into affliction because of their sins; or the formidable invasions of the Egyptian Necho or the Assyrian Shalmaneser, and Sennacherib; or the conquest effected by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon; or the final destruction of the Jewish polity by Vespasian and Titus of Rome; we know, as a matter of fact, that all these adversaries acted from an ordinary lust of spoil and military glory and without any idea of carrying out the purposes of Jehovah. This is a matter of notoriety and need not be argued.
On the second point, God, by the prophets, several times explained, in love to Israel, that the triumph of the enemy, though brought about by Him, was a grief to Him, and unknown to the enemy in its real meaning. Thus we have a general intimation to this effect at the time of Judah’s desolation:
“I am very sorely displeased with the heathen that are at ease, for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction” (Zechariah 1:15).
Then to Babylon, as a reason for judgment upon her, this is addressed:
“I was wroth with My people; I have polluted Mine inheritance, and given them into thine hand: thou didst show them no mercy: upon the ancient thou hast very heavily laid thy yoke” (Isaiah 47:6).
Again, although it was recognised that Nebuchadnezzar was Jehovah’s servant (Jeremiah 43:10), and that he and his army had “wrought for Jehovah” (Ezekiel 29:20), we have the following pathetic lament:
“My people hath been lost sheep, . . . all that found them have devoured them; and their adversaries said, We offend not because they have sinned against the Lord, the habitation of justice, even the Lord, the hope of their fathers. . . .So I will raise and cause to come up against Babylon an assembly of great nations from the north country. . . And Chaldea shall be a spoil. All that spoil her shall be satisfied, saith the Lord, because ye were glad, because ye rejoiced, O YE DESTROYERS OF MINE HERITAGE: because ye are grown fat as the heifers at grass, and bellow as bulls. . . . Put yourselves in array against Babylon round about; all ye that bend the bow, shoot at her; spare no arrows, for she hath sinned against the Lord. . . . Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away—first, the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last, this Nebuchadnezzar hath broken his bones. Therefore, thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, Behold I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria” (Jeremiah 50:6-7, 9-11, 14, 17). Again,
“Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunken. . . I will render unto Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea, all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight, saith the Lord. . . . As Babylon hath caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon shall fall the slain of all the earth. . . The Lord of recompenses shall surely requite”
(Jeremiah 51:7, 24, 49, 56).
In the case of Assyria, the information is very explicit, that the Assyrian, while made use of was only bent on his own evil designs, without any idea that God was accomplishing a purpose against Israel by him. See Isaiah 10:7:
“Howbeit he meaneth not so; neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few. . . He saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it. . . Wherefore it shall come to pass that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion, and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the King of Assyria and the glory of his high looks.”
There is a touching recognition of the same principle in the prophetic song that God, by Moses, put into the mouth of Israel, as a witness against them and for Himself throughout all their generations. Delineating the rebellious course that Israel would pursue, and the sore evils He would bring upon them by the hand of their enemies in consequence, He says (Deut. 32:26),
“I said I would scatter them into corners; I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men, were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high: The Lord HATH NOT DONE ALL THIS.”
This is a conclusive recognition of the fact that the calamities of Israel would apparently be due wholly to human power, and that those who would be instrumental in inflicting them would be tempted to claim them as the results of their own triumph, and to repudiate the idea that they were in any sense the doings of God. That this view of the case should be placed on record so long ago—over 3,000 years ago—actually before Israel had begun the conquest of the Amorites, gives it greatly increased force.
The evidence goes to show that God may be at work when men, as mere natural observers, see no evidence of it. This helps us in the discernment of the signs of the times, and will enable us to realise the individual application of the declaration of scripture:
“There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord. The horse is prepared against the day of battle; but safety is of the Lord” (Prov. 21:30-31).
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