Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
CONDITIONS OF SUCCESS. Joshua 1:1-9.
"After the death of Moses the Lord spoke unto Joshua." Although God buries His workmen He does not bury His work. Before Elijah is called away his mantle was cast over Elisha. The great purposes of God, begotten and nurtured in a past eternity, will not fail of their accomplishment in time. To be successful in God's work is just to fall in with His will, and to do it in His way. All that is pleasing to Him is a success. In these verses there is given us an infallible prescription for good success, or how to "do wisely" (margin),
I. An Understanding of the Purpose of God. "The Lord spoke, saying, Arise, go over this Jordan" (vv. 1, 2). Joshua did not need to say, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" This call he could never doubt. The way for him was perfectly plain, and in the doing of it he was fully conscious that he was doing the will of God. Unless we have made our calling sure all else will be uncertain (Galatians 1:1). The next thing is, "Understand what the will of the Lord is. "
II. Faith in the Promise of God. "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon have I given you" (v. 3). All things are possible to them that believe. The land had to be claimed by their feet. Every promise claimed is an inheritance given. Believe that you receive, and you shall have. Are there not much land in the "heavenly places" yet unpossessed? (Isaiah 36:3; 2 Corinthians 2:14).
III. Assurance of the Presence of God. "I will be with you; I will not fail you, nor forsake you" (v. 5). This threefold promise is to faith an inexhaustible legacy. His presence with us means all that He is in Himself for us. "Lo, I am with you, and in My Name you shall cast out devils. " This assurance leads to boldness and victory (Daniel 3:17). Know you not that God dwells in you?
IV. Courage in the Name of God. "Be strong and very courageous" (v. 7). If we believe that He is with us, then we may be bold as a lion to face the giant foe (I Samuel 17:45). What nerved Elijah to confront the 450 deceivers? Greater works than these shall you do if you believe on Him (John 14:12-14). "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might" (Ephesians 6:10). "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. "
V. Faithfulness to the Leadings of God. "Turn not from it to the right hand or to the left. " God's Word must be to us our only and infallible guide. In keeping to it there is great reward. The example of our Lord Jesus Christ should be ours. How devoted He was to the words of His Father. "The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself. " To reject His Word is to be rejected (1 Samuel 15:26). Sons of God are led by the Spirit of God.
VI. Delight in the Word of God. "You shall meditate therein day and night" (v. 8). Those who really find delight in the Scriptures of truth will be like trees planted by rivers of water (Psalm 1:2), always fresh and fruitful. Those who hide His Word in their hearts will, as good men, be able to bring out good treasure (Matthew 12:35). Is it not in these hearts of ours where the Lord lays up sound wisdom for the righteous by the working of His Holy Spirit through the Word? (Proverbs 2:6). Christ Himself is called the Word of God (Rev. 19:13).
VII. Obedience to the Will of God. It was not enough that Joshua heard the call and knew the will of God, if whole-hearted obedience and submission did not follow. The surrender of our will to God is as indispensable to spiritual life and prosperity as breathing is to the natural life. The answer the people gave to Joshua is certainly the answer we should give to our Lord and Leader: "All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go" (v. 16) "Then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success" (v. 8). He who is our great Example became obedient unto death. Whatever He says unto you, do it. Then shall you do wisely.
RAHAB. Joshua 2:8-24.
"Bone-weary on my wretched quest,
An aching heart still longs for rest;
Dark memories my soul appal,
And old sins like to fire-sleet fall;
I lay me, Lord, at Your Cross down,
Guilty, hell-worthy, all I own. "
Joshua sent spies to view the land, but this did in no way help the promise of God. His Word is true whether we see it or not. We walk by faith, not by sight. No one can justify Rahab's doubtful dealings with the King of Jericho (vv. 3-6); but no one is an angel because they are seeking after salvation. The God of all grace knows that it is only out of the depths of darkness and guilt that any one can come into the light of life. Let him that is without the sin of pretending to be what he is not cast the first stone. Let us follow her step by step into the higher life. She—
I. Heard. "We have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea for you," etc. (v. 10). The tidings of God's great salvation had reached her ears. How shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard? Tell out His wondrous doings among the people. The opening up of the Red Sea, and the opening up of the new and living way through the atoning blood of Christ, these things were not done in a corner.
II. Confessed. "As soon as we heard our hearts did melt because of you" (v. 11). The tidings of what the Lord had done for His own people broke the backbone of their pride and caused their self-confident hearts to melt like wax within them. Oh, that it were so now! She makes honest confession of her utter helplessness and hopelessness. There is no attempt at self-justification. Without strength.
III. Believed. "I know that the Lord has given you the land" (v. 9). The terror of the Lord had fallen upon all the inhabitants of the land, but Rahab only believed. Hers was a faith produced by fear, but such faith will save as well as the faith that works through love. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord we persuade men.
IV. Prayed. "Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord," etc. (v. 12). Having believed she now pleads for a place in this great deliverance that Jehovah was accomplishing for His people. It was a great request for a condemned harlot to make, but her faith made her bold. "By faith," the apostle says, "the harlot Rahab perished not" (Hebrews 11:31). Her request was not only for herself, but also for her "father's house," and even that was not all. She pleaded for an assuring evidence that her request would be granted, for she added, "and give me a true token. " There is a delightful simplicity about this sinful but anxious inquirer. An assuring token every believer may have (Hebrews 6:18). The Spirit also bears witness with our spirit. He is the True Token.
V. Received. "The men answered her, Our life for yours, we will deal kindly and truly with you" (v. 14). She has now received the promise. If she rested on the promise of men, surely the promise of God is greater. Faith lays hold on the Word of God. If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead. "He who believes not God has made Him a liar. "
VI. Worked. "She let them down by a cord through the window" (v. 15). The apostle James fastens on this deed to prove that she was justified by her works (James 2:15). Her works justified her faith in the sight of the men she was dealing with, and justified her most nobly and perfectly too. Show me your faith without works (impossible), and I will show you my faith by my works. Faith without the works that manifest life is dead. We are justified before God without works by faith only; but faith in God will be justified before men by works of love and kindness. Faith which works by love.
VII. Obeyed. The men said, "You shall bind this line of scarlet thread in the window, and bring your father and your mother," etc. And she said, "According to your words so be it. And she bound the scarlet line in the window" (vv. 18-21). The sailor believes in the wind, so he spreads his sails to the breeze. Rahab honored her father and mother by earnestly seeking their salvation as well as her own. The life of faith is a life of simple obedience. Put all right in the home of your heart, and take refuge under the scarlet line of Christ's precious blood that ever speaks for us. It is a fearful thing to count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing (Hebrews 10:39). The scarlet line was to Rahab the sign of the covenant, so she bound it in the window immediately.
VIII. Triumphed. "Joshua saved Rahab, and all that she had, and she dwelt in Israel" (Joshua 6:25). She received exceeding abundantly above all that she did ask or think, for she afterwards became the wife of a prince in Israel, and the mother of Boaz, who took to wife the graceful Ruth. Thus she was brought into the honorable and glorious line of our Lord's genealogy (Matthew 1:5). All who believe are made the sons and daughters of God, brought into His family, and made partakers of the divine nature. Rahab, through her faith, was both saved and sanctified.
CROSSING THE JORDAN. Joshua 3.
The soul that has ceased to long for a fuller experience of the riches of God has ceased to grow in grace. Every Christian will have his or her Jordan to cross before entering into the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ. In the minds of men Jordan has been always associated with death, although it is not easy to see here any connection between them. After death we enter into rest, and our works follow, but when the children of Israel crossed the Jordan their work was before them. By their own works were they to drive out the enemy and take possession of their inheritance by the power of the sword. Their salvation from Egypt was all of grace, but they entered into possession of the land of plenty through the stern works of faith. See how it came about. There was—
I. A Word of Warning. "When you shall see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God,... then you shall go after it. Come not near unto it, that you may know the way by which you must go" (vv. 3, 4). This warning is twofold. 1. They must follow when the ark moved. The ark was the symbol of Jehovah's presence and the sign of the covenant. This is an unalterable condition of spiritual progress; we must be prepared to follow the Lord anywhere and at any time. 2. They must have a space between them and it. "About two thousand cubits by measure" (v. 4). The reason given for placing such a distance between them and the ark is, "For you have not passed this way heretofore. " Surely this is intended to remind us that there is always a distance between the eternal I am and the creatures of but yesterday (Psalm 89:7). And also that every new path should be entered upon in entire dependence upon Him. You have not passed this way heretofore, therefore make sure that the ark of His guiding presence is before you.
II. A Call to Preparation. "Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you" (v. 5). It is a law in the spiritual kingdom that if God is to be glorified through us He must first be sanctified in us (Leviticus 10:3). The Holy God must have holy instruments for the accomplishing of His wonders among men. Sanctify yourselves. Put off the old man with his deeds if you would in your inmost soul pass over into the more "abundant life" and the "greater works" of your wonder-working God.
III. A Word of Encouragement. The Lord said unto Joshua, "This day will I begin to magnify you in the sight of all Israel" (v. 7). On the day that Joshua called for a sanctified people did God begin to honor Joshua. Seek the honor that comes from God only; it makes rich and adds no sorrow. All human honors are like cut flowers, they soon wither in the wearing, but the honor of God crowns with everlasting reward. This diadem of divine favor is never put upon the head of those who seek it for their own glory. Begin to sanctify the Lord in your life, and God will begin to magnify you in the sight of the people. Become a prince with God, and you will have power with men.
IV. A Strange Halt. "The priests that bear the ark shall stand still in Jordan" (v. 8). Crossing the Jordan does not seem to represent the passing of a soul from time into eternity so much as the passing of a soul from a lower into a higher experience of the things of God. The ark of the covenant halted right in the river as the Lord's guarantee to His people that the mighty floods of difficulties that would hinder them from taking possession of His inheritance will be rolled back before the feet of faith (v. 13). It is surely significant that near this very spot, Belhabara (the house of passage), the feet of the Son of God rested, who is the true Ark, in whom the law was hid. And that while He stood there the clouds rolled back, and Heaven opened, and the Spirit like a dove descended upon Him. That baptism has opened up a passage for us from the wilderness experience into the milk and honey land. In this Jordan, that separates between the self-life and the Christ-life, our "Ark of the Covenant" still stands by His intercession, keeping the way open for all who by faith will enter in. Oh, that it were true of God's people now, as it was then, that "all people passed clean over" (v. 17). Receive you the Holy Spirit. Without this mighty baptism how will you do in the swelling of Jordan?
V. An Assuring Promise. "As soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord rest in the waters of Jordan, they shall stand upon an heap" (vv. 13-16). "He who has ears to hear let him hear. " You who have been made priests unto God, and who bear the Christ, the Ark of the Lord (Acts 9:15), be comforted and encouraged. No river of opposition whose destiny, like Jordan, is the dead Sea will ever hinder you from the enjoyment of the promises of God if in your heart you bear the Son of God. "What ailed you,... you Jordan, that you were driven back?" (Psalm 114:5). "Greater is He that is in you. "
VI. A Proof of His Presence. "Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you. He will without fail drive out from before you" (v. 10). The proof of His presence is overcoming power. The overcomer is always an inheritor (see Rev. chaps. 2 and 3). If we are not living a victorious life we may well question whether the Lord is with us. Hear the apostle's testimony, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. " "If God be for us, who shall prevail against us?"
THE MEMORIALS. Joshua 4.
Every God-ordained memorial is a great mercy. We all are so ready to forget the great things He has done for us. His memorials do not always appear in cairns of stones, in temples made with hands, or philanthropic institutions. Every living stone built upon Christ, the living foundation, is a memorial of His redeeming power.
I. How these Memorials were Raised.
1. By Prepared Men. "Joshua called the twelve men whom he had prepared" (v. 4). Not every one can build a memorial for the glory of God's grace. A work of personal preparation is needed by our heavenly Joshua. We must be called of God and believing.
2. By Representative Men. "Out of every tribe a man"(v. 2). It is a blessed privilege to be chosen of God to represent Him before the people, and to raise a monument to His Name. These twelve men acted for the whole nation, each one having a "stone laid upon his shoulder. " Privileged men will be burdened ones, but the burden of the Lord is not bondage (Matthew 11:29, 30).
II. Where these Memorials Rested.
1. In the Midst of Jordan. "Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, where the feet of the priests stood" (v. 9). On that very spot where the ark of the covenant rested were these memorial boulders piled. Jesus Christ, the Ark of our Covenant, went down into the Jordan of death and separation for us, and rose again. So they came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month (the day on which the lamb was taken for sacrifice, Exod. 12:2, 3). Now the memorials of the Last Supper still remind us of Him who stood in the midst of Jordan that we might pass clean over.
2. In the Lodging Place of Gilgal. "Those twelve stones which they took out of Jordan did Joshua pitch at Gilgal" (vv. 3-20). Gilgal means the place of rolling. All their past sins and failures are now rolled away. They stand, as it were, on resurrection ground. This second testimonial has a different voice. It speaks of rest and possession as the first spoke of deliverance. These stones, taken out of the place of death, now become memorials of life and blessing, having been saved from the flood, and appointed as signs to others.
III. What these Memorials Mean. These two heaps of stones, one in Jordan and the other in Gilgal, may have been intended to teach the children of Israel what Calvary and Pentecost are intended to teach us, the salvation and sufficiency of God. These stones declared the—
1. Mercy of God. "The Lord your God dried up the waters" (v. 23). Nothing impossible with Him; He has opened up for us a new and living way. "That you may know the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe. "
2. Faithfulness of God. "Until everything was finished" (v. 10). He who has begun the good work will carry it on. The angel of the Lord stood by until Joshua the high priest got everything that he needed (Zechariah 3:1-5). The Holy Spirit is able and willing to do the same for every trusting one.
3. Grace of God. As long as the priests stood in Jordan the way stood open, but when the priests came out the waters returned and overflowed (v. 18). Then the day of grace was passed, and the door shut. The grace of God that brought salvation still appears. "Behold, now is the accepted time. "
4. Love of God. "Let your children know" (v. 22). This is the language of Him who will have all men to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth. "Suffer the little children to come to Me, and forbid them not. "
5. Power of God. "That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty" (v. 24). These stones are a witness to the saving power of God. They are as brands plucked out of the fire. Let all the people know it. Tell it out. "He is able to save to the uttermost. "
WHAT MEAN THESE STONES? Joshua 4:21-24.
There are "sermons in stones," in mill-stones, mile-stones, and grave-stones. "What mean these stones?" might be written over the gateway of every cemetery, although God alone knows what they all do mean. According to the Lord's declaration, these twelve stones piled up at Gilgal were to teach the rising generation of Israelites what He had done for their fathers (vv. 22, 23). The history of these stones may be regarded as figuratively setting forth their deliverance by the power of God. Just as we might say now, What mean these Jews? or, What mean these Christians? In either case we are face to face with witnesses, with memorials of the past. What mean these stones?
I. They Speak of Bondage. Once they lay buried in the dark rolling Jordan, the floods overflowing and imprisoning them within its deep and dismal bosom. Such was Israel in Egypt, when the deep, dark waves of oppression rolled over them, and floods of persecution swept about them. Such also is the condition of every unsaved soul. They lie buried in the darkness of death, imprisoned by iniquity, and the stream of worldliness flowing over them.
II. They Speak of Helplessness. The Israelites in Egypt could no more save themselves out of the stream of Pharaoh's tyranny and bondage than these stones could lilt themselves out of the river of Jordan. They were utterly helpless. No more can you who are accustomed to do evil. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean, or life out of a thing that is dead? There is only one who can (Ephesians 2:1). That one is not you, but God.
III. They Speak of Discovery. "God dried up the waters" (v. 23). This was God's way of bringing the stones to light. These stones would never have been found out by man had not God the Lord wrought this great and merciful work of rolling back the drowning flood. This is what He did for His people in the house of bondage. He dried up the pride and power of Pharaoh, and unbosomed from the flood of affliction those who for long lay helpless beneath the ever flowing stream of oppression and death. Yes, our God can dry up the waters that bury and conceal from His sight and favor. If these stones had feelings, what would these feelings be when the waters were turned back, and they brought suddenly into the sunlight of Heaven? Those who know the power of God in conversion know what this means; the rolling back of the dark waters of judgment, and the soul brought into the light of God's favor through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ His Son. Resurrected from the dead into a new kingdom, and now nothing between, Hallelujah! But there is here a solemn thought for those who would cover themselves from God in the waters of formalism and hypocrisy. He will suddenly dry up these water coverings. What then?
IV. They Speak of Deliverance. These twelve stones were taken out of the midst of Jordan and carried on the shoulders of prepared men (vv. 4, 5), and laid down in a lodging place (v. 8). What a picture of Israel's salvation and of ours! Carried out of bondage into rest and liberty on the shoulders of the Shepherd, who has come to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 15:5). His presence is a carrying presence (Exod. 33:15). He who has delivered us from so great a death will yet deliver (2 Corinthians 1:10) out of the horrible pit on to the songful Rock (Psalm 40:2).
V. They Speak of Testimony. They are memorial stones. Signs of what the Lord has done. Once they were buried and useless in Jordan, now they are exalted and witnesses for God. Israel was to be a witness for Him, but, alas! through iniquity her testimony soon withered. All God's called out ones are to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). Witnesses of a rolled back flood of wrath, and of the mighty uplifting and transplanting power of the grace of God. "You are My witnesses. " What mean these stones? "Let your children know" (v. 22).
GILGAL. Joshua 5:1-12.
By welcoming the will of God Israel entered into the rest of God. Many could not enter in because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:18, 19). Gilgal was the first lodging place after they crossed the Jordan. As we may expect, the first day spent in the land of promise would be very memorable. Who can forget the day of conversion when the soul for the first time tasted the fruits of salvation? Gilgal was to them—
I. A Place of Memorials. Here the twelve stones were pitched that were taken out of the midst of Jordan as witnesses to the fact that God had dried up the river. Every soul that has passed over into the kingdom of God's dear Son has many memorial stones of the goodness and power of God their Savior.
II. A Place of Sacrifice. "They kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month." They passed over Jordan on the tenth day, and on the fourteenth they kept the Passover.
Days have a meaning in the purpose of God. The lamb was taken on the tenth day and killed on the fourteenth (Exod. 12:3-6). These two days suggest chosen out by grace and passed over in mercy. This is what the grace of God, that brings salvation, has done for all that believe.
III. A Place of Rest. Here they found a "lodging place" (chapter 4:8). The promise had been left them, and they entered into His rest (Hebrews 4:1). Let us therefore fear lest any of you should seem to come short of it. The evil heart of unbelief goes another way (Hebrews 3:12). "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest."
IV. A Place of Humiliation. "Them Joshua circumcised" (vv. 5-7). The spiritual significance of this act seems to be the putting away of all confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:5). The circumcised in heart can say, "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing." It is needful after entering into rest through faith in Jesus Christ that we should learn experimentally that the flesh profits nothing in the service of God, and that we are crucified with Christ.
V. A Place of Freedom. "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you" (v. 9). Whom the Son makes free are free indeed. The "reproach of Egypt" points back to poverty, bondage, and unbelief; but, blessed be God, He can roll the past all away. Your sins and your iniquities will I remember no more—rolled away. All that believe are justified from all things. There is freedom from guilt, from condemnation, and from the fear of man, irreproachable by the rolling away mercy of God.
VI. A Place of New Food. "They did eat the old corn of the land on the morrow" (v. 11). The old corn was something new for them, as all but Joshua and Caleb had been born in the wilderness, and had in all likelihood never tasted it before. "The old corn of God's precious promises," old, yet ever new, can only be enjoyed by those who by faith have taken possession. Here the wilderness fare (manna) ceased, thereby declaring that what is sufficient merely to preserve life is not enough for those who have the battles of the Lord to fight. Those who would witness and win souls for Christ need more than the milk of the Word, they must have the old corn, strong meat, if they would be strong to do exploits and be more than conquerors.
STOOPING TO CONQUER. Joshua 5:13-15.
As seen from the former part of this chapter, Gilgal has a deeply significant meaning (v. 9). When God rolls away one thing it always makes room for another. The place of blessing is often followed by the place of testing. This is what happened to Joshua as he came and stood by Jericho. It seems to us that these three verses are heavy laden with spiritual instruction to all whose ears are open. We might look at his—
I. Determination. "It came to pass when Joshua was by Jericho" (v. 13). After the trying and refreshing experiences at Gilgal he is now face to face with his great life's work as he stood "by Jericho." What are his thoughts now as he is within sight of those terrible walls? Like Nehemiah, he goes calmly to view the difficulties. "What will You have me to do?"
II. Interruption. "Behold, there stood a man over against him with a drawn sword in his hand" (v. 13). This was another crisis in the life of Joshua, such as Jacob had (Genesis 32:24), and also Balaam, but he (Balaam) failed to take advantage of it (Numbers 22:41). Such seasons as these in one form or another come in every Christian's life. Sudden interruptions, privileges, switches that may turn the force of our lives into brighter lines of blessing or shunt us into inactivity or uselessness. No man is ever the same after he has been brought face to face with the Divine One (Rev. 3:20).
III. Interrogation. "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?" (v. 13). Joshua, as a man wholly devoted to the cause of God, sees but two great classes and causes. "Us and our adversaries." There is a prince who works for and in the adversaries (Ephesians 2:2), but "greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). This question might be put with profit concerning every new difficulty that may arise in our way, yes, and to every questionable thought and feeling and act, for ail will either help us or our adversaries.
IV. Revelation. "Nay, but as captain of the host of the Lord am I come" (v. 14). The Prince of Heaven does not come to take the place of a private in the army of Jehovah. If He is not leader, then He is not there. The Lord Jesus Christ is not the servant of the Church, but the Head. Perhaps as Joshua stood by Jericho he was tremblingly thinking of himself as captain of this great host, but here he learns that another must get all the responsibility, and that he is only a follower. Have we learned this most important lesson? Have we given our Lord His true place in all our work for Him? Not I, but Christ.
V. Adoration. "Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship" (v. 14). When any one has had their eyes opened to see the grace and power of Jesus Christ, as Joshua did, they will not try to be humble, they will fall on their faces; they will not pray for the spirit of worship, but they will worship. This lowly attitude betokens entire surrender, a perfect willingness to take the place appointed him by the Captain of Salvation, who in all things and circumstances claims the pre-eminence.
VI. Petition. "What says my Lord unto His servant" (v. 14). Those who have a humble heart will also have an open ear. It was when Abram fell on his face that God talked with him (Genesis 17:3). Daniel had his face towards the ground when he heard the voice of His words (chapter 10:9). When we have been humbled before the Lord, let us then hear what God the Lord will speak. "Learn of Me, for I am lowly in heart."
VII. Submission. "The Captain of the Lord's host said, Loose your shoe from off your foot, for the place whereon you stand is holy, and Joshua did so" (v. 15). Every place is holy where the Holy One is. Taking off the shoe had much the same meaning as taking off the hat has now. It was an act that indicated reverence (Exod. 3:5). The high priest ministered before the Lord with naked feet. If in olden times they cast off their shoes who stood before the messenger of God, what shall they do now in whom God by His Holy Spirit dwells? Surely this, that the whole inner man be laid naked and bare before His Holy presence. Such an attitude of soul will always honor God and gain victories for Him (see chapter 6:27). He stooped and conquered. "He who humbles himself shall be exalted."
THE FALL OF JERICHO. Joshua 6.
The terror of the Lord had fallen upon the Canaanites on hearing what the Lord had done. Joshua believed God, and He overcame. All really holy men are a terror to the ungodly. Those who live only for God will have a power for Him that the wisdom and strength of the world cannot resist (v. 1). All human defenses melt in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. Power for testimony is oneness with God, witness the life of Jesus Christ. It was easy for Joshua to overcome, just because he trusted in God, who goes before in the spirit of conviction, showing to the enemy their utter weakness in the presence of the Almighty. We shall notice three leading thoughts in this chapter—
I. A Doomed City, or the Sinner's State. It was—
1. Under the Curse of God. "The city shall be accursed" (v. 17). The sentence of death had been passed upon it forty years ago (Exod. 23:27, 28), although then they were glorying in their strength, ignorant of their condition in the sight of God, just as many still are insensible of their state. Their doom "was as surely fixed when they were rejoicing as when they were trembling. The Scriptures has concluded all under sin, and so under the curse of a broken law. The sentence of death has already passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Romans 5:12).
2. Straitly Shut Up (v. 1). If it had been straitly shut up by God as Noah was shut up in the ark, then they might have laughed the Israelites to scorn. When He shuts no man can open, but they shut themselves up against God. He who covers his sins shall not prosper. This is characteristic of the vain effort of proud, defiant sinners, shutting themselves within the walls of their own righteousness. Every mouth must be shut up.
3. Quickly Brought Down. "The wall fell flat" (v. 20). Their only refuge failed, and great was the fall of it. What is the value of a refuge that will not stand the day of trial? It is like a rotten ship in a storm. These great walls, the work of their own hands, were all their confidence (Isaiah 28:17). Such hopes will only make ashamed.
II. A Strange Assault, or the Victory of Faith (Hebrews 11:30). The means appointed by God are often foolishness with man. But the believing heart delights to obey. The means appointed were the—
1. Compassing of the City (v. 3). Here we see the measure of faith. Paul says: "By faith the walls of Jericho fell." They must have had great faith; their faith as well as their feet must compass the city. Our faith also must compass the object of desire if we would possess it. "According to your faith," etc. It is in the compassing that the faith is tried, for nothing is seen but huge walls of difficulty. Nothing is felt but human inability. But these only make the trusting heart more confident in God.
2. Blowing of the Trumpets (v. 4). Here we see the means of faith. The means faith uses are far different from the inventions of the carnal mind. They are the simple, seemingly weak, things of God; but they are the weapons, not of doubt or experiment, but of faith. The sling and the stone would be no use to Saul, but they are mighty in the hand of David. The trumpet of the Gospel must be blown in faith if the victory is to be won. The holy lips of the priests alone were to blow. Holy men must still speak, being moved by the Holy Spirit.
3. Carrying of the Ark (v. 6). Here we see the object of faith. The ark, the symbol of Jehovah's presence. All was arranged according to the ark. What confidence! The Ark that divided Jordan is coming. Their faith would not be in their blowing or marching, and yet if they do not march the ark does not follow. So our faith must look up to Him who has said, "Lo, I am with you always," and press on with the compassing and the blowing.
4. Shouting of the People (v. 20). Here we see the expectation of faith. This is not the work of the priests alone, but of all the people (v. 5). Through what has been done faith has been increased in the hearts of all Israel. Now all are trusting and expecting, and all shout the downfall and the victory. Why so few great victories for God? Because so few expect. So few join in the shout. Oh, how much blowing there is in these days of much preaching, but how little shouting among the people.
III. A Family Spared, or the Great Salvation (v. 25). "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not" (Hebrews 11:31). Notice that she—
1. Believed. "I know that the Lord has given you the land; ... for the Lord your God, He is God" (chapter 2:9, 11). She hid the message as well as the messengers. Her old beliefs and prejudices were cast aside. She heard and believed (vv. 2, 11). "Who has believed our report, to whom is the arm (power) of the Lord revealed." He who believes shall be saved.
2. Obeyed. "She bound the scarlet line in the window" (chapter 2:21). Her faith was justified in the sight of men by her works. She hid the messengers and exposed the line (James 2:25). "Faith without works is dead." By the scarlet cord she is to be justified or condemned. Is the crimson blood between you and the approaching vengeance, which must come upon all who obey not the Gospel? When I see the line (blood) I will pass over you.
3. Testified. She not only saved herself, but "all that she had" (v. 23). How she would persuade them we know not, but drowning ones will catch at a straw; the hope might seem vain, but the honor of Joshua was at stake. The name of the Lord is a strong tower. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house." "Behold, now is the accepted time;" not when the walls are fallen flat. "Come you and all your house into the ark."
THE FAILURE AT AI; Or, THE POWER OF SECRET SIN. Joshua 7.
The fall of Jericho was followed by the temporary fall of Israel. We have much need to beware of the dangers of success. When Uzziah was strong his heart was lifted up to his destruction (2 Chronicles 26:16). The seed of pride and self-confidence is often sown in the joyful but unguarded hour of victory, or amidst the dangerous applause of men. There are still Achan desires lurking in the heart, just waiting a chance to enrich themselves with the things that are to be wholly devoted to God (chapter 6:17, margin). Sin always brings failure. To lose fellowship with Christ is to lose all power for testimony for Him. There are two intensely solemn thoughts here—
I. The Shameful Defeat of Israel, or the Believer's Failure. It was—
1. Unexpected. They said: "Let not all the people go up" (chapter 3). They were very confident of success, but very ignorant of their own condition in the sight of God. Confidence and earnestness in a Christian worker will never stand in the stead of holiness. Our power lies not even in our past experiences. Is your heart right with God? Even unexpected failure has its tap-root of evil somewhere.
2. Complete. "They fled before the men of Ai" (v. 4). Why did they flee? Because the Lord was not with them. There is none so helpless as the Samsons when their strength is gone. The man whose strength God alone is must ever be a helpless object without Him (John 15:5). But ask them: Do you believe God is with you? They say: Yes. Look how He helped at Jericho. But the past is not the present. All our efforts will be as completely abortive unless the presence and power of God is in it. We don't win the victory simply because we are Christians any more than the children of Israel did because they were Israelites. We must be Christians after the holy mind and will of God if we would be overcomers.
3. Humbling. "O Lord, what shall I say?" etc. (v. 8). Israel's failure brings dishonor upon Israel's God. How keenly our failures should cut us to the heart when we know that by them our Master is dishonored. How we should bow our heads to the dust, confounded and ashamed, saying, like Joshua, "O Lord, what shall I say?" etc. If past failure does not bring humbling and self-searching before God we will never find out the true source of power. Those who expect failure are never humbled because of it, and by them the Lord is not magnified in the sight of the people. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.
4. Needful. "Wherefore lie you upon your face? Israel has sinned. Neither will I be with you except you take away the accursed thing" (vv. 10-13). Many are mourning over their failure who have more need to mourn over their sin. The Lord cannot use us at times because of secret sin. Although we may be ignorant of it, God is not. He cannot treat sin lightly because we don't realize it. If they had not failed here they would just have gone on in their sin. God can have no fellowship with unrighteousness. The accursed thing must be taken away or His presence will be taken away. Our failures should set us also a searching of the tent of our heart. "Search me, O God!"
II. The Sin of Achan, or the Sinner's Doom. His history is very short and very sad. Four thoughts include all. His—
1. Desire. "I saw, then I coveted them" (v. 21). Sin often begins with a look. Eve saw the fruit. Lot saw the well watered plains. Ahaz saw an altar and copied it (2 Kings 16:10). But Achan's sin lay not in seeing the gold, etc., perhaps he could not help that, but he "coveted them." He loved the forbidden gain, until desire moved his hand. The pleasures of sin will always attract the more when one looks on them with a desire. Christians have much need to watch their hearts. Certain circumstances might bring ruinous results if every thought is not led captive to Christ.
2. Disobedience. "He took of the accursed thing" (v. 1). God had warned them in any wise to keep themselves free from the accursed (devoted) thing (chapter 6:18). He sinned willingly, not ignorantly. The fact that he hid the goods proves that he was conscious of his wrongdoing. Just as many still willingly disobey God by preferring the world to Christ, and often keeping up the appearance of godliness to deceive men. Achan's hypocrisy is not uncommon in these days, even among professedly workers for Christ. Although the Lord has clearly said, "Love not the world," alas, how much of it is hid in the heart!
3. Detection. "And Achan was taken" (v. 18). Be sure your sin will find you out, whether you be saint or sinner, Christian or not. Among all the thousands of Israel he was found out, because nothing is hid from the eye of God, with whom every sinner has to do. How solemn the discovery, exposed to the eyes of all the people, and every hidden thing brought to light. What a forecast of the Great Judgment! He who covers his sins shall not prosper.
4. Destruction. "And all Israel stoned him with stones" (v. 25). There was no way of escape. How shall you escape? What a contrast between Rahab's house and Achan's. The one saved, the other lost (chapter 6:25). The faith of the one and the disobedience of the other made all the difference. As parents, are you acting the part of Rahab or Achan? What will the end be, salvation or destruction? There is sin in the camp. "Is it in me, Lord?" What the law could not do God can now accomplish through the sending forth of His Son.
THE ALTAR ON MOUNT EBAL. Joshua 8:30-35.
The altar on Mount Ebal is the fulfillment of God's command (Deuteronomy 27:2-8) and a foreshadowing of the Cross of Christ. The great coming event, the death of the Son of God, casts its shadow before. The whole scene before us is most impressive and suggestive. "Open You mine eyes to behold wondrous things out of Your law."
I. The Mount of Ebal, or the Place of Curse. Ebal was right in the center of the land, and here they were commanded to put the curse (Deuteronomy 11:29). Ebal means "stony," or "heap of barrenness." It may be a figure of what Jerusalem was to become in after years, or of a stony heart and a barren life. In both cases the curse has come because of unbelief (Galatians 3:10).
II. The Altar cf Sacrifice, or the Cross of Christ. "Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel, in Mount Ebal" (v. 30). It is sublimely suggestive that the altar was built in the place where the curse was put; this is the thought that we have in Galatians 3:13, "Christ being made a curse for us." This altar was made of "whole stones, over which no man has lift up any iron" (v. 31). The warning given was, "If you lift up your tool upon it, you have polluted it" (Exod. 20:25). In the making of atonement there is absolutely no allowance for the work of man. All man's cutting and carving only pollutes the saving grace of God. Unhewn stones were stones prepared and finished by God. As Ruskin said, "God alone can finish." The altar of Christ's Cross raised in the place of the curse, and the offering of Himself unto God for us is a divinely finished work, and finished with materials of His own forming. Modern hewers attempting to improve this only mar and pollute, while they betray their ignorance and unbelief. The altar was for God, and never was intended for an ornament; it was an awful necessity.
III. The Law of Moses, or the Word of God. "And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses" (v. 32). These plastered stones, on which the law was written, were different from the altar stones (Deuteronomy 17:2-8). Where the altar was built there the law was declared. With the Cross of Christ comes the revelation of the Word and will of God. The pillar of truth stands by the altar of the Cross. Surely the law of the Lord has a new meaning in the presence of the altar of the Lord. The altar declares atonement for the sin of a broken law. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." "The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life."
IV. The Ark of the Covenant, or Jesus in the Midst. "And all Israel stood on this side, and on that side the ark; half of them over against Mount Gerizim, and half of them over against Mount Ebal" (v. 33). The ark of the covenant, as the symbol of God's presence standing between the cursing and the blessing, seems like a foreshadowing of that solemn scene recorded in Matthew 25:31-46. "Before Him shall be gathered all nations. He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats." As surely as the unfailing covenant of Jehovah was in the ark, so surely shall His Word in Christ be fulfilled. Jesus Christ is the divinely appointed Man, by whom He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31).
V. The Twofold Purpose, or Blessing and Cursing. "He read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings" (v. 34). All the words of the law were read, all the blessings and all the cursings were pronounced and justified. There was no neutral condition possible. In the presence of God we are either blessed or cursed. To be unblessed is to be accursed. The only alternative to life is death (Deuteronomy 30:19). Salvation or condemnation. All the threatenings as well as the promises of God will be read out in literal fulfillment on that day when the judgment is set.
THE ANXIOUS GIBEONITES. Joshua 9.
Two sins were committed in connection with the Gibeonites:
1. Joshua judged according to his own wisdom instead of asking of God (v. 14, margin), and so made a league with them, contrary to the command of God. Let us beware of being flattered into disobedience.
2. The Gibeonites came with a false pretext. They did evil that good may come. Had they been humble and honest like Rahab they might have been saved all the same. Rahab was greatly exalted (Matthew 1:5). They were greatly humbled (v. 23). But laying aside the faults let us look at some of the facts in their life as illustrating the way of grace and salvation. We see them—
I. Greatly Alarmed (vv. 9, 10). And no wonder, when they believed that they were all under the condemnation of God, and that the sentence of death was passed upon them (Romans 3:23). They were sore afraid (v. 24), just because they believed. The devil believes and trembles. The false peace of the sinner is founded on the sands of "I don't believe it." It is impossible for a man to believe God's Word and remain unaffected thereby. Oh, that many had this deep sense of their own state before God! What concern, anxiety, sleeplessness, and sorrow it would create! Visit Gibeon, converse with the citizens, price their articles. What a change has come over the whole city, just such a change as comes into the heart when the conscience is truly convicted of sin.
II. Pleading for Salvation. "Make you a league with us" (v. 6). We have not to do just now with the way they came, but with the object of their coming. They wanted saving grace. They were convinced that on this lay their only hope. Resistance was useless. When sinners are awakened they deeply feel that mercy is their chief need. Self-justification is out of the question. Their only refuge is in the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8). They said, "Make a league with us." They wanted the promise of Joshua as a guarantee of safety. This is what our Joshua gives to all that come to Him, so that they are assured of salvation, and can rest, like the Gibeonites, on the word of Him who will not lie. Go not away without the promise. What the Gibeonites feigned we can say in truth. "We be come from a far country" (v. 6), like the prodigal in Luke's Gospel.
III. Graciously Reconciled. "Joshua made peace, and made a league with them to let them live" (v. 15). He might in justice have condemned them. He had the power and authority for it, but he let them live. It was purely a permission of grace; moreover, there was added to the peace the oath of confirmation, which is the end of strife (Hebrews 6:16). Three things stand out in connection with this reconciliation: (1) The Acceptance, (2) The Covenant, (3) The Oath. The sinner in coming to Jesus is accepted through mercy. Then he enters into the covenant (or league) of grace, and then the seal of the promise of God makes the engagement eternally secure (Ephesians 1:13).
IV. Wholly Consecrated. They said, "We are in your hand, as it seems good and right unto you to do unto us, do" (v. 25). The effect of grace is not to make them proud and defiant. How beautiful when the soul, melted down by the mercy and love of God, yields so sweetly to its great Deliverer! This is the language of consecration: You have saved us, we are Your, just do Your will in us and with us. We owe our life to You, it is Your own, Your will be done. This is the pure effect of the grace of God when truly enjoyed. If His love has not constrained you to yield all to Him it must be little of the love that you enjoy.
V. Actively Engaged. "Joshua made them hewers of wood and drawers of water" (v. 27). We must not only be humble and submissive, but willing and active. It is very humbling work they get to do. Some are willing, like Naaman, to do some great thing, but it is in doing the little things that our true character is seen. If we profess to be very humble God is sure to try us with some lowly service. But the true heart finds nothing too mean that is His will. An angel would sweep a street as heartily as proclaim "Time to be no more," if sent. We have been saved to serve (Luke 1:74). Hewers of wood for the altar and drawers of water for the laver are still in great demand.
VI. Bitterly Despised. "Come and help me to smite Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua" (Chronicles 10:4). They were hated because of their peaceful connection with Joshua. They were despised for His sake (John 15:19). Those who have made peace with Jesus fare no better now. The world still hates the Christ of God as much as ever, but He shall gain the victory. Some are ashamed to confess their league with Jesus lest they should be despised by men. The Gibeonites did not seek to hide it, they rejoiced in it. What cowards, to be ashamed of being at peace with God!
VII. Mightily Protected. In the day of trouble and threatening danger they send unto Joshua, saying, "Come up quickly, and save us, and help us" (chapter 10:6). What a friend they have in Joshua! He is able to save them to the uttermost. Their Savior becomes their protector. Is our Savior less to us? The sun and moon stood still upon Gibeon, that the victory might be complete. What honor is now put upon the trusting Gibeonites! They call on Joshua, and he conquers for them. They looked unto him and were lightened. He put their enemies under his feet (v. 24). The Church of God, like Gibeon, seems about to be crushed with surrounding enemies, but He who is the Savior King shall suddenly come (v. 9). Is your soul like this city, ready to perish? Let your cry be to the all-conquering Jesus. These Gibeonites who had taken the place of strangers now claim the privileges of servants. Their petition is, "Slack not your hand from your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us." Their prayer was speedily answered. "And shall not God avenge His own elect? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily" (Luke 18:7, 8; 2 Chronicles 16:9).
CALEB. Joshua 14:6-15.
If the worldling's fame ends only in the blinding mists, it is not so with the man of God, for the "path of the just is as the shining light that shines more and more until the perfect day." The name Caleb means wholehearted. In his character he was true to his name, and his fame is still spread abroad as sweet ointment poured forth. His career did not end in the cold vapor of disappointment, like that of the half-hearted Balaam. He "followed God fully," and was rewarded abundantly. Here is a revelation of—
I. His Character. He was—
1. Honest. He says, "When Moses sent me to espy out the land, I brought him word again as it was in my heart" (v. 7). His heart was right with God, so he spoke out what was in it. Solomon says, "The heart of the wise teaches his mouth" (Proverbs 16:23). The man with his heart so fixed, trusting in the Lord, is not afraid of evil tidings (Psalm 112. 7, 8). The hypocrite is a man without heart. "The pure in heart shall see God."
2. Charitable. "Nevertheless my brethren that went up with me made the heart of the people melt" (v. 8). Although his companions in the search brought back an evil report, which discouraged the people, dishonored God, and belied his own testimony, still he speaks of them as "my brethren." Charity suffers long, and is kind; is not easily provoked. Moses cried, "You rebels!" and so his tongue hindered his feet from entering the land.
3. Devoted. "I followed the Lord my God" (v. 8). Caleb had another spirit within him (Numbers 14:24). He followed the Lord his God exactly in the way in which we should follow Him. By accepting His will, trusting His Word, casting himself into His revealed purpose, and fearlessly standing in the strength of it. As Luther said, "I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And God did help.
II. His Faith. He—
1. Recalls the Promise. "Moses swore on that day, saying, Surely the land whereon your feet have trodden shall be your inheritance" (v. 9). "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Unbelief has a very short memory, but faith remembers the Word of the Lord.
2. Believes the Word. The promise of God (Numbers 14:24) is not only remembered, but trusted. All along he had been making it the rod and staff of his comfort. Let it be ours also through faith to look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
3. Claims the Blessing. "Now therefore give me this mountain whereof the Lord spoke in that day" (v. 12). The conditions had been fulfilled, and he would enter "now therefore" right into the possession of it. This is not presumption, it is the courage of an honest faith in God that wins His smile, that secures His favor, and gains that crowning benediction—a satisfied soul. Put in your claim. "Now therefore give me this blessing whereof the Lord has spoken." Remember His promise, believe it, claim the fulfillment of it. "Be it unto me according to Your Word."
III. His Testimony. "I am going to preach Jesus," said one man to another on his way to a meeting. "I trust the Lord will be with you," replied his friend. "Well, if He is not I shall speak well of Him behind His back," was his happy answer. Caleb speaks well of God. He testifies to—
1. God's Faithfulness. "Behold, the Lord has kept me these forty and five years" (v. 10). Kept through these terrible forty years in the wilderness. Kept by the power of God, while the whole multitude melted away through unbelief. Kept by the power of God through faith unto this salvation now revealed and enjoyed. He is faithful. Testify according to the proportion of your faith.
2. God's Goodness. "I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me" (v. 11). If the joy of the Lord is our strength there is no reason why the lapse of time should weaken it. Those who lose their first love will also lose their first strength. The trees of the Lord's planting and nurturing are always full of sap. Healthy, fruit bearing trees are a good testimony to the wisdom and carefulness of the gardener. A strong, healthy Christian is a continual witness to the riches and goodness of his Lord and Savior.
3. God's Power. "If so be the Lord will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out" (v. 12). This testimony is true. Our ability to gain the victory over our enemies lies not in our wisdom or strength, but in His presence with us. Caleb knew that God alone could gird him with strength sufficient to break the bow of steel (Psalm 18:32-34). "Through God we shall do valiantly, for He it is that shall tread down our enemies" (Psalm 60:12). "Thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57). It is not surprising to find that after such a testimony as this Joshua blessed Caleb and gave him the inheritance (v. 13). "Blessed are all they that trust in Him."
OTHNIEL'S PRIZE. Joshua 15:16-19.
"Anoint our eyes that we below
The walk of faith, not sight, may know;
Midst fiercest storms Hope's anchor cast,
And still in love our Lord hold fast.
Faith! that clings unto the Cross;
Hope! that looks beyond the sky;
Love! that counts all things but loss,
To win the bliss that is on high."—Grosart.
Othniel's dare and doing to win the hand of Achsah, the daughter of Caleb, is a beautiful and unique little episode in the taking of the cities of Canaan. It would be perfectly absurd to imagine that an honorable God-following man like Caleb would offer his daughter to any man who might happen to be the first to scramble over the walls of Debir. A man that could smite this fortified city, and take it, could only be the man that could take command of an army and lead them to victory. That worthy man was Othniel, the brother of Caleb. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine." So we are quite warranted to look for doctrine even here, "that the man of God may be furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16). We always accept this statement of the apostle as a divine license to seek spiritual teaching from historical events.
I. The Hero Mentioned, or the Character of Christ. The name of Othniel is significant, the "Lion of God," or the "Strength of God." This was no misnomer, for in after years when the children of Israel got into bondage, and cried unto the Lord, He raised up this same Othniel as a deliverer to them (Judges 3:9). Jesus Christ, like Othniel, is the "Strength of God," sent forth as a Deliverer for His people. The Lion of the tribe of Judah. If I speak of strength, lo, He is strong, He travels in the greatness of His strength, and is mighty to save.
II. The Task Accomplished, or the Work of Christ (vv. 16, 17). Othniel's mission was to smite and to take, and he finished the work on which he set his heart to do. The taking of Kirjath-sepher would doubtless cause him much effort and agony; but, like the Son of God, he set his face like a flint to go up. The work of Jesus Christ was also to smite and to take. He smote the devil with the weapon of the Word, and spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them (Luke 4:1-12; Colossians 2:15), and took the helpless prey from the hand of the mighty, making them prisoners of grace (Luke 11:21, 22; 2 Corinthians 1:9, 10). In capturing the citadel of the human heart He has still to smile with the spirit of conviction before He can take it as an habitation for Himself.
III. The Reward Offered, or the Bride of Christ. Caleb said, "He who smites and takes it, to him will I give my daughter to wife" (v. 16). It was a battle for a bride. The work of conquering the land was a God-given work; the reward offered in Achsah was a reward of love, reverence, and service. What a suggestive picture of the Church, as the Lamb's wife, the reward given Him by God for His work, and passion, and victory! Purchased at the sacrifice of His own blood. "He loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might present it to Himself" (Ephesians 5:25-27). Caleb's daughter was married to him who had fought and conquered for her. This is also our privilege, as sons and daughters have we been given by God to Him, who lived, and loved, and died, and conquered for us (John 17:6). Are we acting the part of a true wife by giving Him the love of our hearts and the service of our lives? It is expected of the wife that "she reverence her husband" (Ephesians 5:33).
IV. The Dowry Given, or the Christian's Portion. "And he gave her the upper springs, and the nether springs" (v. 19). She asked for springs of water, and she received them. A spring was a great inheritance in these days. To possess springs in the hills and springs in the valleys was to be the heir of an everlasting source of wealth. These springs are perennial emblems of the believer's portion in Christ. Since we have the honor of being part of the bride of Christ, let us, like Achsah, go in for the springs that are freely given us of God. Springs for the hills and springs for the valleys of our daily life. Every promise of God to us is an unfailing spring of refreshing and comfort. If you know the gift of God, ask of Him, and He will give you a spring of living water that shall be in you, springing up everlastingly (John 4:10-14). It is the delight of the Lamb now to lead us unto these living fountains of water (Rev. 7:17). Every child of God may have his or her dowry of living springs. All is yours, for you are Christ's. "Covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31). In the upper springs we have the promise of supply for all our spiritual need, in the nether springs the promise of supply for all our temporal need. "My God shall supply all your need." "All my springs are in You" (Psalm 87:7).
THE CITIES OF REFUGE; Or, CHARACTERISTICS OF CHRIST AS A SAVIOR. Joshua 20.
"I am safe, for Christ holds me;
Comforted, for I hold Him;
Savior, O thus let it be,
When my dying eyes are dim;
I held of You, You holding,
Your strong love me enfolding."
It takes all the cities of refuge to form a perfect type of the "Man who is an hiding-place from the storm and a covert from the tempest." Observe the—
I. Nature of their Appointment. It was—
1. Divine. The Lord said: "Appoint out for you cities of refuge." These cities then were sanctified, or set apart for their sakes, according to the will of God. They undoubtedly point to Christ (Hebrews 6:18), who for our sakes sanctified (set apart) Himself, according to the will of God. It surely would be a consolation to the refugee when he entered the city to know that he was in God's appointed shelter. So we may have strong consolation who have fled for refuge. There is no safety but in being where and what God would have us to be.
2. Merciful. They had respect specially to the murderer. How gracious is the Lord to think of such, and make provision for all who truly felt their need of present mercy and righteous protection! These each city afforded, these each sinner sorely needs, and this is what we find in Jesus. Mercy to pardon, grace to help, and the power of justice to protect. He is the Justifier of every one that believes in Jesus. As guilty sinners we need more than mere shelter, we need righteous justification, and Christ is all this.
II. Significance of their Names. In looking over the meaning of the names of these cities one is struck with the distinctive characteristic of each, as showing forth some particular feature of the character of Christ, and when taken as a whole illustrating the sufficiency of Christ as a Refuge to meet all our need and the need of all.
1. Kedesh (holy place). A Refuge for the Unclean. The holiness of Jesus and the sinfulness of man are at once suggested here. None of these truths can be denied, both are alike clearly taught in Scripture. The holiness of Jesus Christ becomes the hope of the unclean. Only that which is clean can cleanse. The unrighteous can only find refuge in the righteousness of God. Christ's finished work affords a holy hiding-place, for there only are the unclean made holy. There is no cleansing for the unclean apart from the fountain opened for sin (Zechariah 13:1).
2. Shechem (shoulder). A Refuge for the Weary. The lost sheep found both safety and rest upon the Shepherd's shoulders (Matthew 11:28; Luke 15:5). He is a Savior, and a strong one. "The government is upon His shoulders." We can find no rest in ruling ourselves, but the weary can find rest under His government. When we trust we lean not only on His merit, but also on His almightiness, or rather His almighty merit. When on the shoulder the strength of the carrier is beneath us. What a refuge for the weary child is the shoulder of its loving father! Christ has borne our burden upon His shoulder, as Samson carried the gates of Gaza.
3. Hebron (fellowship). A Refuge for the Homeless. Man is spiritually a homeless wanderer, like Noah's dove. Outside the ark, no rest, no fellowship, no safety. The homeless prodigal found a refuge in the father's house and in the father's fellowship. "Let us eat," etc. Jesus Christ is the only Hebron for the soul. No fellowship with the Father but through Him (1 John 1:3). This is not the refuge of a lonely prison, but in the bosom of a loving and beloved one. What a refuge the sailor's home is from a dangerous voyage, or the family ingle to a benighted and bewildered pilgrim. So Jesus is to the soul a refuge of love and communion (John 17:21).
4. Bezer (stronghold). A Refuge for the Helpless. Man is not only a sinner, he is also helplessly sinful. In the case of the manslayer there was to be no such thing as self-protection, so is it with us as sinners. We are "without strength." The Name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous flees into it and are safe. Flee from the justice of God into the mercy of God. The mercy of God in Christ is a stronghold that can never give way. No matter how helpless you are, here you are eternally safe. Jesus is the only Bezer, all other hiding-places will fail and fall like the walls of Jericho, though straitly shut up (Matthew 7:27).
5. Ramoth (exalted). A Refuge for the Hopeless. By nature we are not only without strength, but without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). Those who hope in the world have no hope. We must hope out of the world. He is our Hope, exalted at the Father's right hand with a name above every name, high and lifted up. Jesus is our Ramoth. If you are downcast, and feeling yourself hopeless in the world, look up. Jesus is a Refuge for you. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw." Flee to Him to hide you, then you are exalted with Him. No mountain could save from the flood; those saved were lifted up in the ark. He is the Ark of hope.
6. Golan (separated). A Refuge for the Tempted. Many Christians are tempted much in the world because they tamper much with the world; they have not fled to Jesus as their city of separation. They have not become exiles with Him, and for His sake. Although He says, "Come out from among them, and be you separate, and I will receive you," yet they flee not, and the tempter often overtakes them. He separated Himself for our sakes, that He might support the tempted. Golan is the last city mentioned. Separation from the world unto God is about the last refuge that is sought after. Jesus must be our All in All if we would be perfectly sheltered from the curse, the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Being enfolded with the arms of His almighty power, and resting on the bosom of His infinite love, we can sing with a restful, joyful heart, "God is our Refuge and our Strength."
From these names we may also learn that in Christ we have: (1) Holiness, (2) Rest, (3) Fellowship, (4) Safety, (5) Exaltation, (6) Separation.
HOW TO POSSESS AND KEEP POSSESSION. Joshua 23:1-13.
"The disciples were bow'd by stress of their toll,
The Master was touched, and with gracious smile
Said, 'Come to the desert and rest awhile.' "
It is ever the longing of Christ's gracious heart to give His beloved ones rest (Matthew 6:28, 29). Joshua was about to enter into his rest after a long, busy, and faithful life for God, being now "old and stricken in age," and in these verses we have what may be regarded as his dying testimony, and, as we might expect, the predominant features of his noble life are "strong in death." It is a blessed sight to see early faith ripening into such God-glorifying fortitude. From his last message to Israel we may learn how to get into our possessions, and the conditions on which they may be kept.
I. How this Possession was Secured. There was—
1. A Past Deliverance. "As a people they were saved out of the land of Egypt, and out of the house of bondage. The power that held them as bondslave had to be broken before they could even set their faces toward the possessions reserved for them in Canaan. So with us, we had to be delivered from the guilt and power of sin before we could set our hearts on things above.
2. A Present Deliverance. "The Lord had to fight for them even while in the land" (v. 3). There were many enemies that sought to hinder them from enjoying their possessions. But the Lord was able to deliver them from them all. There is also a present deliverance needed by all who have been saved from the bondage of sin and the wrath to come. The world, the flesh, and the devil are as bitterly opposed to our entering into our inheritance in Christ as the Canaanites were to the Israelites. We need the power of the same Lord who brought us out of the world to keep us in the place of blessing. But He is able to keep us from falling out of the blessed land of promise, and to drive out every usurping thought from the heart (v. 5).
II. How this Possession was to be Kept. There must be—
1. No Going Back. "If you do in any wise go back, know for certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out from before you" (vv 12, 13). There must be no going back to Egypt nor to the wilderness of sin. The principles that governed the old life must be given up. Put off the old man with his deeds, and let the time past suffice for the will of the flesh (Hebrews 10:38, 39). The evil heart will always seek to depart from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). Evil things not driven out of the heart never fail to act as pricks in the eyes (Numbers 33:55).
2. No Fellowship with the Enemy. "Come you not among them," etc. (v. 7). "You shall make no marriage with them" (v. 12). "Come out from among them, and be you separate, and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). To mingle with the Canaanites never improved the Canaanites, and always brought misery to the people of God. To become worldly that you might better the world is the doctrine of devils, if they should be white ones.
3. No Division of Heart. "Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that you love the Lord your God" (v. 11). Love can bear no rival. The first commandment is, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exod. 20:2). "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" (Deuteronomy 6:5). "This," said Jesus, "is the first commandment" (Matthew 22:37, 38). Lot's wife had a divided heart, and judgment overtook her.
III. The Consequences of Going Back. "Be sure your sin will find you out." The backsliding Christian will surely be found out by this impoverished life and heartless testimony. To go back out of the way and will of God means the—
1. Loss of Power. God would not be with them if they went back. This is clearly taught in verses 12 and 13. To turn out of God's way is to grieve the Holy Spirit and become utterly impotent. It is an awful loss to lose one's power to live and witness for Jesus Christ. Samson turned aside, and the Spirit of power left him (Judges 16:20). Separation from the Vine entails loss of that sap which is the power of life.
2. Loss of Comfort. "Scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes" (v. 13). These are the results of disobedience. Miserable failures instead of joyful conquerors. To turn away from the light is to turn into the darkness. It is a great mercy that the sins of God's people pinch the conscience. The most terrible calamity that can befall a soul is to be comfortable and happy without God.
3. Loss of Capacity. "You shall perish from off this good land" (v. 13). This perishing from off the land of promise, because of disobedience and unbelief, was not the work of a day. When they turned away from God they became day by day more unfit, as a people, to keep possession of the God-given land. Backsliding is, of course, a process (Psalm 1:1), and a process by which our capacities for the enjoyment of the spiritual things freely given us of God gradually perish, until we in heart go right out of the land as far as our personal experience is concerned. If you be willing and obedient you shall eat the good of the land.
BLESSINGS REVIEWED; Or, MOTIVES FOR SERVICE. Joshua 24:1-13
"I place me, Lord, 'neath Your touch that thrills,
Will You, O will You me melt?
Give me the power Your own arm fills
To impart whatever of grace I have felt."
In verse 14 we notice: (1) That service is demanded. "Now, therefore, fear the Lord, and serve Him." Every blessed one should arise and serve (Mark 1:31). (2) How this service should be given. "In sincerity and truth." Mere perfunctory service is an abomination (Luke 19:20-23). (3) What this service implies. "A putting away of other gods." The Lord's will alone must be the ruling principle of the life. The God, self, must be put away. Him only shall you serve (Romans 15:3). "Now, therefore." This word "therefore" suggests some foregoing reasons why this service should be rendered. We observe the following. There had been—
I. Deliverance. "I brought you out" (v. 5). They were emancipated through blood (Exod. 12:13). So are we (1 Peter 1:18, 19). Once the slaves of sin, now the children of God. Delivered to serve (Luke 1:74).
II. Separation. 'The Lord put darkness between you and the Egyptians" (v.7). The darkness of death still lies between the saved and the unsaved (John 5:24). The Lord does put a difference (Exod. 11:7). No human power will ever be able to bridge the great gulf fixed between death and life.
III. Victory. "I gave them (enemies) into your hand" (v. 8). All the enemies of the believer are conquered foes. They need not have dominion over you (Romans 6:14; Micah 7:9). He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 7:25).
IV. Protection. "When Balak called Balaam to curse you he blessed you still" (vv. 9, 10). He can turn the counsel of the wicked to naught (Nehemiah 4:15). "The Lord is your keeper; He shall preserve you from all evil" (Psalm 121:5, 7).
V. Possession. "I have given you a land for which you did not labor," etc. (v. 13). " Not of works, lest any man should boast." What did the prodigal do for the benefits he received? (Luke 15:22, 23) What have we that we have not received (Ephesians 2:7). "Now, therefore, fear the Lord, and serve Him."
CONSECRATION AND SERVICE. Joshua 24:14-28.
"How scant and measur'd are our gifts,
Each on the other duty shifts;
Upon ourselves we lavish spend,
And paltry nothings His cause send.
What cost it Him to save your soul,
Before you on Him your sins did roll?"
It has been said that "Entire consecration embraces three things—being, doing, and suffering. We must be willing to be, to do, and to suffer all that God requires. It covers body, soul, and spirit. These are to be used when, where, and as God requires, and only as He requires. Must be made deliberately for all time coming, without any reserve, and in reliance upon divine strength. This is a faithful and true witness. Here is—
I. A Call to Decision. "Choose you this day whom you will serve" (v. 15). You cannot serve two masters. To halt between the opinions of self and God is to tarry upon the plain of destruction, like Lot's wife (Luke 16:13). "Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves, His servants you are?" (Romans 6:16). Yielding to sin makes us the servants of sin. Yielding to God makes us the servants of God.
II. A Noble Determination. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (v. 15). The Lord in some way will publicly acknowledge those who, in the fear of God, command their children and their households (Genesis 18:19). But let this be an individual decision, "As for me." "What will You have me to do?" Every man shall give an account of himself to God. To serve the Lord implies making Him your Master. Not I, but Christ. One is your Master. Who is He? Self or Christ?
III. A Stirring Reflection. The people answered and said, "The Lord our God, He it is that brought us out of Egypt, . . . and did those great signs, . . . and preserved us all the way, . . and drove out the Amorites, . . . therefore will we serve the Lord" (vv. 16-18). Their calling to mind the past goodness of God led them to a definite surrender of themselves to Him. Shall the memory of Christ's sufferings and victory for us not constrain us to yield ourselves in loyal service to Him? "You are not your own, for you are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your bodies and your spirits which are His."
IV. A Solemn Declaration. Joshua said, "You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God; He is a jealous God" (v. 19). It is an easy thing to say that we will serve the Lord, but it is a very different thing to put it into daily practice (see Matthew 26:33-35). The service of God is a holy service, and only holy ones can render it (Leviticus 19:2). "Who shall be able to stand before this holy Lord God?" (1 Samuel 6:20). Those cleansed by the blood and filled with the Spirit. You cannot serve God if Mammon or self has any authority over you, for He is a jealous God, jealous because He is Love (1 John 4:8).
V. A Decided Affirmation. "Nay, but we will serve the Lord. We are witnesses" (vv. 21, 22). They were witnesses against themselves that they had chosen the Lord to serve Him. Peter and the rest of the disciples affirmed that they would rather die than deny their Lord, but they all forsook Him, and fled when danger appeared. Self-confidence is ever the arm of flesh that fails. A strong will may be a blessing or a snare. All depends on whether the strength is merely human or divine. Be strong and very courageous (Joshua 1:7).
VI. An Indispensable Condition. "Now therefore put away the strange gods, and incline your heart," etc. (v. 23). If the Lord is to be served every other usurping God must be put away, and the whole heart inclined leaning only upon the Lord. Everything that takes the place the Lord alone should have in our hearts is a strange God to Him; that with which He can have no fellowship. Service must always be associated with holiness. Work for God is to be the fruit of personal consecration to God. David would not offer to God what cost him nothing (2 Samuel 24:24). The ministry of the Son of Man was to give His life (Matthew 20:28). So should we first give our own selves to the Lord. "And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God" (2 Corinthians 8:5).
THE DEATH OF JOSHUA. Joshua 24:29-31.
"When the dangerous rocks are past,
When the threatening tempests cease.
Oh! how sweet to rest at last
In a silent port of peace.
Though that port may be unknown,
Though no chart its name may bear,
Brightly beams its light on One,
Blessed to find his refuge there."
The spiritual mariner's port of rest has no place on the business charts of earth. Port Death is a haven where those greedy of the world's gain have no desire to cast anchor. Some do rush into it in stress of weather to escape what seems more terrible than the separation of soul and body. The Christian's "port of peace" is the bosom of God. To him death is but the placid waters in the bay that speak of the nearness of the rest that is in the harbor of His all-satisfying presence. To die is gain. The death of Joshua was the final triumph of a conqueror. It suggests—
I. A Great Honor. "Joshua, the servant of the Lord" (v. 29). What a privilege to have one's name and character so closely linked with the Lord! To be known as "the servant of the Lord" is a heritage worth coveting earnestly. It is infinitely better than being known as a successful man or a millionaire. There is no degree that will tell in eternity like this. Of many it may be truly written, "John, the servant of the world." "Samuel, the servant of sin." "Mary, the servant of self." "Martha, the servant of fashion." Such have their reward, their crown of honor is in the dust instead of in the Lord.
II. A Passing Privilege. "It came to pass that Joshua died" (v. 29). Yes, even those who are reckoned indispensable to the success of God's work die. No matter how great the burden of responsibility it must be put aside. Life itself, with all its great and eternal possibilities, is but a passing opportunity. The key-note of Genesis 5 is, "And he died." "It is appointed unto men once to die." But this quickly vanishing "little while" is enough to fulfill the work God has given us to do if the time is redeemed. Did not our Lord realize this when He said, "I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day" (John 9:4). His working day was a short one, but, oh, what wealth of labor was in it.
III. A Rebuke to Covetousness. "They buried him in the border of his inheritance" (v. 30). It does not matter how large our earthly possession may be, a little hole in the border will suffice when the spirit departs. Those who pride themselves in adding house to house and land to land should remember that a few odd shillings will be enough to pay for their shroud. There are many graves in the border land. That lair in the cemetery may mean the border of your inheritance. The grave is not only in the border of our earthly heritage, it is also in the border of eternity. "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:44). The border is the last point of contact with the old and the perishing before we touch the new and the eternal. Set your affections on things above, and not on the things which are on the earth.
IV. An Encouragement to Faithfulness. "Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua" (v. 31). Another evidence of the posthumous influence of a holy life. "He being dead, yet speaks." The king that knew not Joseph dealt hardly with his brethren. The memory of the wicked shall rot, while the righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance. Think of the posthumous influence of Jesus Christ. The higher the life, or light, the farther will the radiance of its power and glory go. Jesus Christ has been exalted to Heaven, "far above all," that His influence might reach out to the uttermost parts of the earth, and down to the uttermost depths of human need, and on to the uttermost end of the ages. In so far as our lives are lived in the heavenly places will they tell with restraining or encouraging power upon those who may come after. The sun may set, but the effect of its healing beams is still felt by every living thing. To me to live is Christ.