Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
Joshua 1:7-9. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the Law which Moses my servant commanded you: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Have not I commanded you? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
IN an address to Joshua, when about to invade a country "wherein were seven nations greater and mightier than he," we might well expect a charge to him to "be strong and very courageous:" but we should naturally suppose, that the exhortation to fortitude would have respect chiefly, if not exclusively, to the enemies whom he was about to encounter: whereas his enemies are left, as it were, altogether out of sight; and no notice is taken but of the Law of God, as that towards which his courage should be exercised. But, as all his success depended entirely upon God, it was indispensably necessary that he should secure the divine favor; which could not be done but by an obedience to God's commands: and an unreserved obedience to them would, in fact, require in him a stronger principle of courage, than the most formidable enemies would give occasion for. In confirmation of this, I will show,
I. Wherein the fortitude of a Christian soldier should chiefly display itself—
He is to contend with all the enemies of his salvation, in obedience to the laws of God—
The world, the flesh, and the devil, are the enemies with whom he is to fight: Now, a soldier in the army of an earthly prince is to act in all things according to certain rules, which are laid down for him in a code of laws drawn up for that specific purpose: these are called the Articles of War; and with them he is to be conversant, in order that he may conform himself to them in all things. The Christian soldier, also, has his code drawn up for him by God himself, and revealed to him in the Oracles of Truth. This code he is to study with all diligence, and "to meditate on it day and night," that there may be in him an accordance with it in every particular. "Never is he to turn aside from it, to the right hand or to the left." However difficult or self-denying its injunctions, he must obey it: and by it, as a test, must he try all the instruction or advice given to him in relation to his conduct. It must be so sacred in his eyes, that he will die rather than depart from it in anything. If blamed in anything, as too scrupulous and too strict, he must refer to that as his standard: "it must be ever in his mouth," as well as in his heart; and he must inculcate on others the same observance as he pays to it himself.
And this will require all the courage that any man can possess—
It will require no little courage so to subdue and mortify all his corrupt inclinations, as to have them brought into subjection to the laws of God. And to maintain such an habit in the midst of an ungodly world, will expose him to the heaviest trials. A man who enlists in an army has but to contend with enemies: but the Christian soldier will have to maintain sore conflicts even with his friends: yes, "his greatest foes will be those of his own household." Nor is it only for a season, during a few campaigns, that he must fight; but every day, every hour, throughout his whole life. He is never off the field of battle: he is never at liberty to relax his vigilance for a single hour. His armor must be girt upon him day and night. The weapons, too, with which he is assaulted, are formidable in the extreme. Shall it be thought that death alone has its terrors? I scruple not to say, that there are thousands who would find it easier to face a battery of cannon, than to withstand the sneers, and pity, and contempt, and ridicule, of their nearest and dearest friends. Not but that the Christian soldier must be prepared to "resist even unto blood." If he will not lay down his life for Christ, he cannot be his disciple. And does not this require courage? Worldly soldiers have many things to animate and embolden them, which the Christian soldier wants. They are surrounded by multitudes, who are engaged in the same contest, and who invigorate one another by their voices and example; but he engages alone, or nearly so, at the point of attack, and at the time that he is most pressed. They are applauded in proportion to their exertions, and commend themselves to the esteem of all who behold them: but the more strenuously the Christian soldier exerts himself, the more is he hated and despised by all who ought to encourage and commend him: and, instead of looking for any reward in this life, he knows that to his dying hour he has no other treatment to expect. Truly, it is not for nothing that the Christian soldier is bidden to be strong and very courageous: for there is more need of a principle of fortitude in him, than in any other person under Heaven.
Let us however notice, on the other hand,
II. The encouragement which God himself affords to all who desire to serve him in truth—
As he reminded Joshua of the grounds he had for encouragement, so he would have us to consider,
1. In whose service we are engaged—
"Have not I commanded you?" Yes, it is the God of Heaven whose battles we fight, and in whose service we are engaged. Were it only an earthly monarch to whom we had devoted ourselves, we ought to serve him with all fidelity: what, then, should we not do for the King of kings, who has not only chosen us to be his soldiers, but has himself taken the field for our sakes, to subdue our enemies, and to deliver us from their assaults? I Contemplate Jehovah as our Covenant-God—contemplate him as assuming our very nature on purpose to fight our battles—rounder him as submitting to death itself, that on the very cross he might "spoil the principalities and powers of Hell," and "lead captivity itself captive."–This is "the Captain of our salvation" under whom we fight; and shall not that encourage us? Suppose the whole universe combined against us, and issuing their orders that we shall not obey so strictly the laws of God; what reply should we make, but that of the Apostles, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge you; for we cannot but fulfill his will and execute His commands."
2. The pledge he gives us of his presence and support—
"Be not afraid, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go," said the Lord to Joshua: and says he not the same to us, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world Matthew 28:20." Now, imagine a soldier with his commander and his prince always at his side: would he not be stirred up by that to acts of valor, which, in the absence of such a stimulus, he would be unable to put forth? Know, then, that your God is ever with you; and with you, not only as a Witness of your actions, but as a Helper, to strengthen you, to uphold you, to combat with you. What encouragement can you desire beyond this? Hear his own words, addressed to every soldier in his army: "Fear not, for I am with you: be not dismayed, for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness Isaiah 41:10." What matters it, then, how many there may be against you? If they were as numerous as the sands upon the sea-shore, you may boldly say, "There are more with you than with them." In fact, "If God be for you, who can be against you?" They may assault you, and boast of their triumphs; but they can do nothing, but in accordance with his will, and in subserviency to his designs.
3. The assurance he gives us of ultimate success—
"Then you shall make your way prosperous, and you shall have good success." You are persecuted: you are imprisoned; you are put to death: but are you vanquished? Was the Savior overcome when he was put to death? Did he not "by death overcome him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage?" "He was the stone which the builders rejected: but, is he not the Headstone in the corner?" Know, then, that you are not to estimate victory by the present and temporary effects, but by the ultimate and everlasting results. Be it so: you are sorely oppressed, and your enemies are exulting over you: but God's word is not broken: for tribulation is the way to glory; and the cross precedes the crown. Only be content to suffer with Christ; and be assured you shall speedily be "glorified together Romans 8:17."
1. Let none expect victory without conflicts—
What shall we say of the religion of your enemies? Has it any resemblance to the religion of the Bible? Are they hated for righteousness' sake? No: the world cannot hate them, because they are of the world. You, on the contrary, are hated purely because you will conform yourselves to the laws of God. Be thankful, then, that you have this evidence that you are the Lord's.
2. Let none doubt of victory, who fight in dependence on the Lord's strength, and in conformity to his commands—
Be strong, and very courageous to do his will. But take special care what kind of fortitude it is that you maintain. There is an unhallowed boldness, which savors of pride and vain-glory. You cannot be too much on your guard against this. Yours must be a passive fortitude, such as Christ manifested when "he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and opened not his mouth." You are to "love your enemies, to bless them that curse you, and to pray for them that despitefully use you." "You are not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good." In you are to be seen "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." Only fight with these weapons, and, "even though you be slain like sheep, you shall be more than conquerors Romans 8:36-37."
RAHAB PROTECTS THE SPIES
Joshua 2:8-14. And before they were laid down, she came up unto them upon the roof: and she said unto the men, I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in Heaven above, and in earth beneath. Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord, since I have showed you kindness, that you will also show kindness unto my father's house, and give me a true token: and that you will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if you utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the Lord has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you.
GOD is pleased to accomplish his promises by the use of means: to neglect the means therefore is to tempt him, rather than to trust in him; and to expect the end without using the means is not faith, but presumption. Hence the strongest believers have always accounted it their duty to exert themselves as much as if success depended solely on their exertions; while, on the other hand, they placed their hopes in God, as much as if no effort whatever were used by themselves. Joshua had no doubt respecting his ultimate success in conquering and possessing the land of Canaan: yet, as every prudent General endeavors to obtain information respecting the state of any fortified city which he is about to besiege, before he proceeds actually to invest it, so Joshua felt it his duty to send spies to ascertain the state of Jericho, before he passed over Jordan to attack it. To the spies themselves the undertaking was perilous in the extreme: yet they went forth in humble reliance on their God, and were almost miraculously preserved from falling into the hands of their enemies. The manner of their preservation is here circumstantially related: it was effected solely by the good offices of a woman who lived in the city, and to whom they were providentially directed. Her name was Rahab; and she is constantly in the Scriptures called an harlot; but whether she was at that time an harlot, or was a reformed character, we know not: but this is plain, that her mind was wonderfully overruled by God to screen and protect them. The interposition of God in this matter seems to have been not unlike to that which fifteen hundred years afterwards led to the conversion of Cornelius. Cornelius was instructed in a vision to send for Peter, and was directed where to find him: and at the same time Peter was instructed in a vision to go to him, notwithstanding he was a Gentile. Thus the minds of the spies were directed to the only person in the city that would have afforded them an asylum; and her mind was directed to prefer their safety before every other consideration whatever. The conduct of Rahab on this occasion is repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament, and that too in terms peculiarly honorable to her. We shall find it therefore not unprofitable to consider,
I. The service she rendered—
In speaking upon this part of our subject, we shall notice separately,
1. What she did—
From the first interview which she had with the spies, she knew the true object of their mission; and determined to advance it to the utmost of her power. Her first object therefore was to prevent any discovery: and for this purpose she conducted them to the roof of her house, and there covered them with stalks of flax. As she had foreseen, they were traced to her house, and messengers from the king were sent to apprehend them. She acknowledged that they had been there, but said that they were gone away but a little before, and, if pursued immediately, would certainly be taken. Thus she avoided all suspicion of favoring them, and prevented all further inquiries about them at her house. Having succeeded thus far, she went up to them, and asked of them an assurance, that they, in return for this kindness, would spare her and all her family, when they should take the city. To this they bound themselves and all Israel by a solemn oath; stipulating, however, that the matter should be kept a profound secret; that her family should all be collected under her roof; and that a scarlet line, by which she let them down from her window, should be bound in the window, to prevent any mistake. The instructions which she gave them for the avoiding of their pursuers, were such as prudence directed: these they followed implicitly; and after hiding themselves three days in a neighboring mountain, they returned across the fords to their own camp in safety. Thus did she effectually preserve the spies that Joshua had sent.
2. From what principle she acted—
It certainly appears strange, that she should so betray her king and country; and stranger still, that she should be commended by God himself for this conduct; more especially when we find, that she uttered various falsehoods for the attainment of her end. Let us then investigate this point.
The principle from which she acted, was faith. Of this we are assured on the authority of an inspired Apostle; "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace Hebrews 11:31." The same is manifest in the account before us. She believed that the God of Israel was the only true God. She believed that God was the great Disposer of all events: that he had given the land of Canaan to his people Israel: that he had miraculously opened a way for them through the Red Sea, at their first coming out of Egypt: that he had enabled them to destroy Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites, and to take possession of their land: and that he would infallibly accomplish his promises to them, in the total subjugation of the Canaanites. All this is evident from the very words of our text. Now, if we consider how contracted were the views even of the pious Israelites at that time, this faith, strong and assured as it was, was truly wonderful: it might justly be said of her, as of another Canaanite woman, "O woman, great is your faith! I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."
But here arises a question of considerable difficulty: How can we reconcile the falsehoods which she uttered with the professions which she made, and with the commendations given her in the Scriptures? To solve this difficulty, commentators have had recourse to various expedients; some extenuating, some justifying, and some altogether condemning her conduct. But we apprehend that the true solution must be found in the strength and assurance of her faith: she herself said, not, "I fear," or, "I believe," but, "I know that the Lord has given you the land." She was fully assured that it was in vain to fight against God: that, if these two spies were put to death, it would make no difference whatever as to the issue of the contest: that the whole city and all its inhabitants would infallibly be destroyed: and that the only possible way of securing herself and family would be to submit to the God of Israel, and to unite themselves to his people. To what purpose then would it be to deliver up the spies? it would not save one single life: it would only be to continue fighting against God, and to bring on herself and all her family that destruction which it was now in her power to avert. By concealing the spies she, in fact, could injure nobody; but by giving them up, she would sacrifice, both for herself and family, all hopes of life either in this world or the world to come. At the same time that this view of the matter gives the easiest solution to the difficulty, it serves to explain the commendation given to her by the Apostle James: "Was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way James 2:25." Yes; she did by this act evince the reality and strength of her faith, and prove, that she had determined to cast herself entirely, both for time and for eternity, upon the mercy of the God of Israel.
If it is asked, whether faith in God will produce, or even countenance, falsehood; we answer, No: but that question does not fairly belong to the subject: let it be asked, whether Elisha was justified in deceiving the Syrian army, and leading them from Dothan, where they had come to destroy him, to Samaria, where they were brought into the power of the king of Israel 2 Kings 6:13-19. Or, if the cases be thought not sufficiently parallel, let any one ask, whether, if a maniac were coming to destroy his whole family, he should not think himself justified in denying them to him, when no evil could accrue to the maniac himself by means of it, and the preservation of so many lives depended on it? Yet even this case, strong as it would be, would fall very far short of Rahab's, whose eternal, no less than temporal, interests depended on her forwarding the purposes of Heaven. But, whether we justify or condemn her conduct, it can afford no precedent to us: for, before we can plead her example in justification of treachery or falsehood, we must be circumstanced like her, which it is nearly impossible we should ever be.
Such was the service which she rendered to the Lord. Let us now consider,
II. The reward she obtained—
This was greater far than ever she herself could have conceived—
1. She and all her family were preserved—
In a few days, Joshua and all his army appeared before the city; and, by God's special interposition, took it. The sign before agreed upon had been attended to by Rahab, and the two very persons with whom the agreement had been made were sent to secure the execution of it. They went to the house, brought out Rahab and all her family, and placed them in safety near the camp of Israel: then the order was given to burn the whole city, and to destroy every one of its inhabitants without exception. The fulfillment of the covenant which the spies had entered into is particularly noticed at the taking of Jericho; and Rahab herself long continued in Israel a monument of the mercy of God and of the fidelity of his people Joshua 6:22-25.
This alone was an exceeding great reward: to be so distinguished herself; and, after all the distress which her former wickedness had occasioned to her family, to be made an instrument of saving all their lives, surely this was an inestimable benefit, and assimilated her to the angels which rescued Lot and his family from the flames of Sodom.
2. She is enrolled among the number of God's most eminent saints—
We have already had occasion to refer to the testimony of two Apostles in her behalf. The very scope of one was to illustrate the transcendent excellence of faith, and of the other to show its operative and transforming power: by both of them is she united with the patriarch Abraham himself: and by one she is said to be justified by this work of hers, as Abraham was justified by offering up his son Isaac on the altar. The blessing she desired was, temporal life; and behold, here was given to her spiritual and eternal life. How loudly did this proclaim to Israel the determination of God to incorporate with them in due time the Gentile world! And how strongly does it declare to us, that "where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound!" Methinks, as Paul says of himself, that "for this cause he obtained mercy, that in him the chief of sinners God might show forth all long-suffering for a pattern to them that shall hereafter believe on him to life everlasting," so we may say of this woman. O that all the harlots in the world could hear of the mercy showed to this notorious prostitute! Despised as they are and abandoned by their fellow-creatures, O that they knew what compassion for them exists in the bosom of their God! They usually persist in their wickedness, through an utter despair of obtaining the mercy and grace which they stand in need of: but here they might see, that the vilest of sinners may become the most eminent of saints. Our Lord indeed tells us, that publicans and harlots are often more willing to seek for mercy than proud self-complacent moralists Matthew 21:31; O that the instance before us might lead many to repentance, and that, like another of whom we read, "having had much forgiven, they may love much!"
3. She was made an ancestor of the Messiah himself—
Mysterious truth! A Gentile, belonging to an accursed nation, and to a place peculiarly obnoxious to the wrath of God: and she too, an harlot of peculiar notoriety; to be chosen of God, not only to become an eminent saint, but an instrument of continuing the line of his elect, and ultimately of bringing into the world his only-begotten Son Matthew 1:5. What shall we say to this? The truth of it cannot be doubted; for she is expressly mentioned in the genealogy of Christ If Salmon, who married her, was, as is by no means improbable, one of the two spies, what beautiful considerations would arise out of that circumstance! But, where there is so much known, it is not desirable, unnecessarily, to introduce conjecture. How infinitely did this honor surpass all that she could ever have imagined! What a reward was here for protecting the spies! But truly we never can entertain too exalted thoughts of God's love and mercy: the riches of his grace are altogether unsearchable, and the extent of his love, incomprehensible.
This however we may learn from it, that God will abundantly recompense whatever we do for him ———" Even a cup of cold water given for his sake, shall in no wise lose its reward." Let us then enlarge our expectations from him, and open our mouths wide, that he may fill them. Let us not be afraid to incur risks for him; but let us serve him at all events, accounting nothing of any value in comparison of his favor, nothing desirable but an inheritance with his people: The brief practical hints contained under these three subdivisions, might be omitted, and added separately as three inferences from the subject. Thus — Infer, 1. There is no person so vile, but he may become an eminent saint—2. Faith, if true, will uniformly produce good works—3. Whatever we do for God shall most assuredly be richly rewarded. This plan would contract the second head; but it would admit of these important thoughts being more expanded and enforced.
THE PASSAGE OF JORDAN COMMEMORATED
Joshua 4:20-24. Those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. And he spoke unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? then you shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until you were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: that all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that you might fear the Lord your God forever.
TO remember God's mercies to us, and to transmit the remembrance of them to future generations, is a solemn duty imposed upon us, especially where the mercies are of such a nature as to involve the welfare of our posterity as well as our own Psalm 78:4-8. On different occasions God appointed memorials for that express purpose; and ordered, that the children in all succeeding generations should make inquiries respecting them, and receive an answer from one duly qualified to give the desired instruction. This was the case with respect to the Passover, which was instituted in order to perpetuate the remembrance of the deliverance of Israel from the sword of the destroying angel, when all the first-born of Egypt were slain Exodus 12:24-27. So the unleavened bread, 13:7, 8. The passage of the Israelites through Jordan was also to be borne in everlasting remembrance. For this end twelve stones were erected in Gilgal; and an order was given, that when children, even to the remotest ages, should inquire what event these stones referred to, they should be informed of all the circumstances which took place when their forefathers first entered into the promised land. We propose to notice two things;
I. The mercy commemorated—
Here we shall content ourselves with briefly relating the circumstances which preceded and accompanied the passage of the Israelites over the river Jordan. That they are deserving of our attention is evident from the injunction given by the prophet many hundred years afterwards; "O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal, that you may know the righteousness of the Lord." Shittim was the place from whence they last proceeded (perhaps about seven miles) to the banks of Jordan Joshua 3:1. There all the people were ordered to sanctify themselves, in order that on the morrow they might be in a fit state to behold the wonders which the Lord was about to do for them Joshua 3:5. A similar order was issued previous to the giving of the law, Exodus 19:10-11; Exodus 19:13-14.
The time being arrived, the ark, which was accustomed to be carried in the midst of them, was borne before them, and they were to follow it at a respectful distance (about three quarters of a mile), that they might all be able to behold it, and that they might see, that, instead of their protecting it, they owed all their protection to it. And the respectful distance which they were to keep, gives us a most important hint in reference to the mode in which we should on all occasions follow divine providence: precipitancy must be avoided, as well as delay.
As soon as the priests who carried the ark touched the brim of the waters with their feet, (for at that season, the snows of Lebanon having begun to melt, the river, as was usual, had overflowed its banks,) the waters were arrested in their course, and formed a wall on their right hand; while those which had passed them ran down towards the Dead Sea, and left the channel dry for the space of several miles From the city Adam to the part opposite Jericho was eighteen or twenty miles, Joshua 3:16. The priests then proceeded with the ark into the midst of the channel, and abode there while the whole nation of Israel, with their cattle and baggage, passed over: nor did they leave their position, until they were expressly ordered to do so by God himself: and then, as soon as ever their feet touched the opposite bank, the waters resumed their course, and flowed in their accustomed channel. What a proof was here, that the passage was opened not by any natural means, but by the immediate agency of God himself! The people "hastened over," for, where so much was to be done in one day, there was no time to be lost; but we do not apprehend that their haste proceeded from any unbelieving fear of the impending flood; it rather indicated a fearless confidence in the divine protection, and an assurance that the enemies whom they were invading should not be permitted to prevail against them.
Such was the mercy given unto them. Let us now proceed more particularly to notice,
II. The means used to perpetuate the remembrance of it—
For this end two monuments were erected; one, of twelve stones, in Jordan, on the very spot where the priests who bore the ark had stood, which was probably visible at low water; and the other in Gilgal, where they immediately afterwards encamped.
In our text two reasons are assigned for the erection of them; they were to serve, both to Israel and to the world at large,
1. As evidences of God's power—
What could not God effect, who by a simple act of volition wrought such a miracle as this? The miracle could not be denied, because the stones which commemorated it were taken out of the midst of the river by persons selected for the purpose out of all the tribes. Who then, we may ask,
Who can ever oppose him with success?
It should seem that the Canaanites, if they had acted according to the rules of war, should have opposed the Israelites in their passage: but the destruction of Pharaoh at the Red Sea had spread such a panic through the land, that they did not dare to avail themselves of any supposed advantage, lest they should perish after his example. The event indeed shows how vain any attempt on their part would have been. And does not this convince us, that, when the measure of any person's iniquities is full, he shall in no wise escape the vengeance of his God? Whatever obstacles may appear to lie in the way, and whatever barrier an ungodly world may have, or think they have, for their defense, God will surely make a way for his indignation: opposing myriads shall be only as the stubble before the consuming fire: "though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." Let any one, dreaming of security, go and behold the stones in Gilgal: let him ask of Jordan, "What ailed you, O sea, that you fled? and you Jordan, that you were driven back?" and then let him add with the Psalmist, "Tremble, you earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob Psalm 114:1-7." We may further ask,
Who can ever fail, that trusts in him?
There might have been some hope of crossing the ford, as the spies had done, if the river had not overflowed its banks: but now it seemed to present an insurmountable obstacle to their passage, especially considering that their cattle and baggage were to be taken over with them. But this generation were not like those who had perished in the wilderness; they had learned to confide in God: and God interposed for them in a way which they do not appear to have at all expected. It had been promised indeed that they should pass over Jordan, and that no opposition should be made to them in their passage; for that their enemies, "through fear and dread, should be still as a stone" until all the people should have completely passed Exodus 15:13-17; but they do not seem to have had any precise idea of the way in which the promises should be accomplished: nor, on the other hand, do they appear to have entertained any doubts but that they should be brought over in safety. Their confidence was well rewarded; and the very impediments which obstructed their progress served only to display and magnify the power of God.
Thus, whatever difficulties his people may have to surmount, they may at all times adopt the triumphant language of the prophet, "Who are you, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain:" and they may assuredly expect, that He who has "laid the foundation, will finish it, and will bring forth the head-stone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace, unto it Zechariah 4:7-9."
But these monuments were intended also,
2. As memorials of his love—
The conduct of Israel in the wilderness abundantly showed, that God had "never set his love upon them for their righteousness," but solely from his own free and sovereign grace. When therefore they looked upon these stones, they could not but see how greatly he was to be loved, and honored, and feared, and served, for all the mercy, the undeserved mercy, which he had shown unto them. They would be ever ready to exclaim, "Who is like unto you, O God, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?"
In like manner we may see in these stones how effectually God will interpose in our behalf, if only we fear and honor him as our God.
We see what we may expect from him,
In the time of trouble—
We are brought perhaps by God's providence into great tribulation, so that "all his storms and billows go over us." But we need not therefore suppose that he has forsaken and forgotten us: for his word to us is, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you; for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel your Savior Isaiah 43:2-3." The greater our trials are, the richer will be the manifestations of his love and mercy: his consolations will abound, not only according to, but far above, all our afflictions. This is the very improvement which the Prophet Habakkuk made of the history before us. He expatiates upon the event, as if he had himself been an eye-witness of it: "I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? was your anger against the rivers? was your wrath against the sea, that you did ride upon your horses, and your chariots of salvation? The mountains saw you, and they trembled; the overflowing of the water passed by; the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. You went forth for the salvation of your people, even for salvation with your anointed. You did walk through the sea with your horses, through the heap of great waters." Then he adds, "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation Habakkuk 3:7-8; Habakkuk 3:13; Habakkuk 3:15; Habakkuk 3:17-18."
We see also what we may expect from him,
In the hour of death—
The passage of the Israelites through Jordan is not improperly considered as an emblem of the Christian's transition from the dreary wilderness of this world to the Canaan that is above. And when the time is arrived for passing by that unknown, untrodden path, we are apt to fear lest we should sink in the deep waters, and never attain the wished-for end. But God has promised to be with us, to "make the depths of the sea a war for the ransomed to pass over Isaiah 51:9-11," and to bring us in safety to the land that flows with milk and honey. "When therefore we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need to fear no evil:" yes rather we may rest assured that "God will perfect that which concerns us," and "preserve us safely unto his heavenly kingdom."
1. Let us mark, and bear in remembrance, God's mercies towards us—
There is not any one who, if he had marked the dispensations of God towards himself, might not find many occasions for erecting monuments to his praise: nor is there anything which will be more conducive to our comfort; since every past mercy may be considered as a pledge of future blessings. The Psalmist's mode of arguing may safely be adopted by every child of God: "You have delivered my soul from death: will not you deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before the Lord in the light of the living Psalm 56:13." Set up then within your own bosoms an Eben-ezer, whenever God vouchsafes to favor you with any peculiar deliverances 1 Samuel 7:12; then will you have within yourselves a never-failing source of comfort, and an irresistible incentive to "fear the Lord."
2. Let us endeavor to transmit the knowledge of his goodness to the latest generations—
We should encourage young people to seek instruction, and should be glad of everything may afford us an occasion of making known to them the wonders of redeeming love. The whole scene of God's dispensations towards Israel, from their first deliverance out of Egypt to their final possession of the promised land, was figurative of our redemption by Christ Jesus: and it is worthy of observation, that this was strongly marked at the commencement and conclusion of their journey. The night before they set out from Egypt, they feasted on the paschal lamb: and they entered into Canaan, forty years afterwards, four days before the Passover, that is, precisely on the day when the law required them to set apart the paschal lamb for the approaching festival Compare Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6 with Joshua 4:19; Joshua 5:10. Thus was it intimated to them that our redemption from first to last is the fruit of Christ's sacrifice: on that must we feed in order to obtain deliverance; and even in Heaven itself must we ascribe the glory of our salvation "to Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." Let us then labor to diffuse this saving knowledge, as opportunity shall offer, that our fellow-creatures may reap the benefits designed for them, and God may have the glory due unto his name.
ISRAEL'S FIRST PROCEEDINGS IN CANAAN
Joshua 5:8-10. It came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, until they were whole. And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Why the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day. And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho.
THERE are, in the Scripture history, many important incidents which we overlook, as not supposing them to be capable of any spiritual improvement. To those, indeed, which are directly typical, we pay attention, because they are illustrative of the Gospel: but if they command not our respect in that view, we rarely consider what great practical lessons may be derived from them for the regulation of our conduct. But if, in reading the Sacred Oracles, we were frequently to ask ourselves this question, What is the state of mind which is manifested in this or that action? we should gain an insight into many truths which now utterly escape us; and derive to our souls far greater benefit than we can readily imagine. Take, for instance, the conduct of Joshua on his entrance into Canaan. Doubtless it was novel and curious, and such as we should not have expected: but we little think what exceedingly rich instruction it is calculated to convey. To point out this, will be my endeavor at this time. Yet, in pointing it out, I have in view, not merely the elucidation of this particular event, but a general suggestion as to the mode in which the Scripture history may be improved. Let us then consider,
I. The conduct of Joshua on his entrance into Canaan—
God had opened for him, and for all Israel, a passage through Jordan, at a time when it overflowed all its banks; just as he had for Moses through the Red Sea, at the time of his departure from Egypt. Now, therefore,
What should we expect to be the conduct of Joshua?
Certainly, I apprehend, if he acted on principles which were common to all other Generals, when invading an enemy's country, he would either prosecute his advantage instantly, while all his enemies were filled with terror, and crush them before they had any time to concert measures for their defense; or he would fortify his own camp, to prevent surprise, and prepare for carrying on his conquests by such a disposition of his army as his skill in war might suggest.
But, what is the information given in our text?
Behold, instead of adopting any military plans whatever, the very day after he had invaded a country in which there were seven nations greater and mightier than his, he appointed every male in the whole nation, that had been born in the wilderness, and consequently that was under forty years of age, to be circumcised. He did not even wait a day, to know what the effect of his invasion should be, or what efforts his enemies were making to repel it; but by one act disabled the greater part of his whole army from even standing in their own defense.
It may seem strange, that Moses, whose own life had been endangered by neglecting to circumcise his son Exodus 4:24-26, should suffer the whole nation of Israel, who until the hour of their departure from Egypt had observed the rite of circumcision, utterly to neglect it for forty years. Whence this neglect arose, we are not informed: but I conceive, that if in the first instance it arose from the unsettled state of the people until they came to Mount Horeb, and was permitted by Moses for about three months on that account, it was suffered afterwards by God as a just judgment on account of the worship paid to the golden calf, and because of the murmuring of the people at Kadesh-barnea when they were discouraged by the report of the spies who had searched out the land. On the former occasion, Moses brake the tables of the covenant, to show that the covenant which God had made with them was dissolved; and on the latter occasion, God swore that not a soul of those who had attained the age of twenty at the time of their departure from Egypt should ever enter into the promised land. Being thus disclaimed by God as his peculiar people, they were suffered to withhold from their descendants, for forty years together, that seal, by which alone they could be admitted into covenant with God.
But, however the neglect originated, so it was, that not one of all the children of Israel was circumcised for the space of forty years; and all of these did Joshua circumcise, the very day after his entrance into Canaan.
Only three days after this, (for they passed over Jordan on the tenth day of the month, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth, at even Compare Joshua 4:19 with Joshua 5:2; Joshua 5:10,) did he also enjoin the observance of the Passover. The Passover had also been neglected, just as circumcision had been Amos. 5:25 and Acts 7:42; and now that also must be revived, together with the attendant feast of unleavened bread. But was this a fit season for such observances? Had not Joshua other matters to occupy his attention? In a time of peace we might well expect that a holy man of God would renew these ordinances: but at the very moment of invading an enemy's country, and within two or three miles of a fortified and strongly-garrisoned city, was this a measure to be adopted? Human prudence, doubtless, would have deferred it: but piety towards God was regarded by Joshua as superseding every other consideration, and as the best means of securing His favor, through whose blessing alone any human efforts could prove effectual.
Now, instead of passing over this conduct of Joshua as an event in which we have no interest, it will be well to inquire,
II. How far it is proper for our imitation at this day—
Enter into the state of Joshua's mind at this time; and then say, whether we may not learn, from his conduct, many lessons for ourselves at this day. We may learn,
1. That, in whatever circumstances we he, religion should he our first concern—
If ever there were circumstances under which the offices of religion might be postponed, methinks they were those of Joshua on this occasion, when he had but just set foot on the land where great and powerful nations were prepared to combat for their very existence. And, in fact, it is the general opinion of military and naval commanders, that they have, as it were, a dispensation to neglect the ordinances of religion on account of the urgency and importance of their occupations. The same idea prevails through almost all the orders of society, every one being ready to plead his temporal engagements as an excuse for neglecting the concerns of his soul. The statesman is too much engaged with politics: the merchant with business; the philosopher with his researches; the student with his books; the servant with his duties; and every man with his own separate vocation: each, in his place, urges his occupations as justifying a neglect of his duties towards God. But, if Joshua, under his peculiar circumstances, sought first to serve and honor God, we can have no hesitation in saying, that in comparison of the divine favor there is not an object under Heaven worthy of a thought. I mean not by this to say, that we are at liberty to neglect the discharge of any office to which God in his providence has called us. or so to postpone the discharge of it as to endanger our ultimate success: far from it. It is the inward service of the soul, of which I speak; and which needs not to delay any outward act for one moment. It is not the act of Joshua which I propose to your imitation, but the habit of his mind: and that, I say again, is proper to be exercised by every child of man.
2. That, in whatever circumstances we be, we should place the most implicit confidence in God—
Suppose yourself in the presence of Joshua while these religious ceremonies were proceeding: you would naturally ask, Are you not in an enemy's land? and have you not many conflicts to maintain before you can get a quiet possession of it? yet you seem as much at your ease as if the whole land were already subdued before you. What reply do you suppose Joshua would make to observations like these. True, he would say, you behold me in a state of as much quietness and confidence as if I had not an enemy to contend with. But whose battles am I fighting? In whose service am I engaged? Is there any device or power that can succeed against God? In him I trust: and he it is that "keeps my mind in perfect peace Isaiah 26:3-4." Now, though in respect of temporal trials we cannot be sure that we are called to them in the way that Joshua was, in our spiritual warfare we stand, as it were, on the same ground as he: we are called to it, as he was; and it is the way appointed for our getting possession of our destined inheritance. We also have our enemies at hand, enemies with whom, in our own strength, it would be impossible for us to cope. But "our God is for us;" and therefore, we ask with confidence, "Who can be against us?" Though in ourselves we are weak, we may be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." Though we have a warfare to maintain against all the powers of darkness, we should never regard it as of doubtful issue: we should assure ourselves, that in all our conflicts we shall be victorious, and that "Satan himself shall be bruised under our feet shortly Romans 16:20." Already may we look upon the land as ours, and see the crowns and kingdoms there reserved for us. There, in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, we should consider ourselves as already enthroned Ephesians 2:6; and look forward with joy to the dissolution of our earthly tabernacle, in order to its erection in that good land where it shall be the habitation of God forever and ever 2 Corinthians 5:1; Ephesians 2:21-22.
3. That, in whatever circumstances we be, we should be determined, through grace, to "roll away the reproach" of our unconverted state—
The reproach of the Israelites in Egypt was, that they were in bondage both to men and devils: for, while they were involuntarily engaged in the service of their Egyptian task-masters, they voluntarily worshiped the gods of Egypt Joshua 24:14 with Ezekiel 20:5-8. But behold them now consecrated to God by circumcision, and their reproach was completely rolled away. And is not the unconverted man also both a bond-slave and an idolater? Yes, whatever be the exterior of his deportment, he serves the world, the flesh, and "the devil, by whom he is led captive at his will:" and, whether more or less correct in his outward conduct, he "worships and serves the creature more than the Creator, who is God blessed for evermore." Now then, I say, if you are consecrated to the Lord in baptism, your duty is to rise superior to all your lusts, and to give yourselves entirely to the service of your God. You must also, in remembrance of your adorable Redeemer, be feeding continually on his body and blood, by means of which you are to be strengthened for all your conflicts, and to be "made more than conquerors" over all your enemies. "Christ our Passover being sacrificed for us," your whole life must be one continual feast, which you are to "keep, not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." It is the reproach of man that ever he was the servant of sin in any degree: and this reproach we are to be rolling away; and, as the redeemed of the Lord, we are to be "glorifying God with our body and our spirit, which are his 1 Corinthians 6:20." To this employment I call you all. I ask you not what your engagements are in life, or what else you have to do: this I am well assured of, that there is not a person under Heaven that is not called to this duty; nor is there a circumstance that can be imagined, wherein this duty can be dispensed with. Be you, then, upright in serving God; and never fear but that God will be faithful in saving you.
CHRIST THE CAPTAIN OF THE LORD'S HOST
Joshua 5:13-14. It came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Are you for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What says my Lord unto his servant?
MOST seasonable are the mercies which God vouchsafes to his people. His interpositions for them at the Red Sea and the wilderness, and at their entrance into Canaan through the river Jordan, are ample illustrations of this truth, as is also the peculiar fact recorded in my text. Joshua was now surveying Jericho, which was the first fortress that was to he attacked by him. That he had no fears about success, was evident; because, from his first entrance into the land to that hour, he had acted rather like a person at peace with all men, than as one in the midst of enemies whom he was commissioned to destroy. Still, the visible manifestation of Jehovah's presence with him could not but greatly strengthen his faith, and increase his assurance that every enemy, however powerful, should fall before him.
The points for our consideration are,
I. The character which our blessed Lord assumed on this occasion—
The person who now appeared to him as "a man," was no other than the Son of God himself—
Many were the occasions on which, at that period of the world, the Son of God assumed either an angelic or human shape, for the purpose of encouraging his believing people. To Abraham Genesis 18:2, and Jacob Genesis 32:24-30, and afterwards to Manoah Judges. 13:6; Judges. 13:22, were manifestations given similar to that which was here given to Joshua. That the person who here appeared to Joshua was more than either man or angel, is clear, I think, from the worship which Joshua, on discovering who he was, paid to him: "Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship." Now, I grant that Joshua might have made a mistake; but if he had, it would have been corrected by the person, who, if he had not been God, would not have suffered these divine honors to be paid him Compare Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:8-9 where such a mistake was made indeed, but rectified with holy abhorrence, But, so far were these honors from being declined, that the bestowment of them was sanctioned by an express command, similar to what had been before given to Moses. Jehovah, when he appeared to Moses in the burning bush, commanded him to "put his shoes from off his feet, seeing that the place whereon he stood was holy," being sanctified by the divine presence verse 15 compared with Exodus 3:2-6. But indeed, in the beginning of the next chapter, the very person who thus addressed Joshua is called Jehovah: "And the LORD (Jehovah) said unto Joshua Joshua 6:2." I think, then, that we are in no danger of mistake, when we say that the person who here appeared to Joshua as "a man," was no other than the Son of God himself, the Second Person in the ever-blessed Trinity.
He, in answer to the question put to him by Joshua, declared himself to be "the Captain of the Lord's host"—
This, in its primary import, signified that all Israel were under his special protection; and that under his command they might be assured of victory. But the same is true of God's spiritual Israel, in all ages of the world. They are one great army collected under him, and fighting the Lord's battles, in order to a full and undisturbed possession of the promised land. Of these the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head and Chief. He has received a commission from his Father to be "the Leader and Commander of his people Isaiah 55:4;" and whatever a general is, or can be, to his army, that is he to all who fight under his banners. Instruction in the use of arms—provision for their whole campaign—encouragement to meet their foes—support in every difficulty—protection from every danger—and all the rewards of victory, are assured to every one of them, in due season These several ideas may be somewhat amplified with good effect.
Seeing, then, that we have such a Captain, let us contemplate,
II. Our duty towards him under that character—
Doubtless our first duty is to enlist under his banners: for we are not his soldiers by nature: yes rather, we are his enemies, and fight against him in every possible way. But He is held up "as an Ensign to the people; and to him must all people seek Isaiah 11:10." And, as a man entering into the army of an earthly monarch surrenders up himself altogether to the disposal of the general who is placed over him, so must we voluntarily devote ourselves to the service of Christ, before we can be numbered among his host over whom he presides. But, supposing this to have been done, then we say that,
1. We must execute his commands—
Observe the question which Joshua put to him, the very instant he knew the Lord under this character: "What says my Lord unto his servant?" A similar question was put by the Apostle Paul, the very instant that the Lord Jesus Christ revealed himself to him: "Lord, what will you have me to do Acts 9:6." In truth, there is not a soldier in any army who does not look for orders from his commanding-officer from day to day, or who does not feel himself bound to carry them into execution. Now the reading of the Scriptures with diligence will, for the most part, supply the needful information: yet are there many particular occasions whereon we must be peculiarly attentive also to the voice of his providence; and in those instances must we seek, by prayer and supplication, his special guidance, which he has promised to us in answer to our prayers. For instance: in the attack which was to be made on Jericho, nothing was left to the direction of Joshua, but every the most minute particular was given in command from this great Captain. And we also, if we will look unto Him, may expect all needful directions: to which, of course, we must adhere with all fidelity, in order to approve ourselves good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
2. We must go forth in an entire dependence upon him—
Soldiers of necessity confide in their commander; and in proportion as is their estimate of his talents, will be, for the most part, their expectation of success. Among men, however, this confidence is mutual: for the best general in the universe can effect nothing, if he have not good soldiers to carry his orders into effect. But, in the Christian camp, the confidence must be altogether in the Captain; without whom the most gallant army in the universe must fail. We must be strong indeed, and of good courage: but we must "not lean to our own understanding," or "trust in an arm of flesh." In fact, we are really strong only in proportion as we feel ourselves weak, and look to Christ to "perfect his strength in our weakness 2 Corinthians 12:9-10." We must therefore be strong, not in ourselves, but "in the Lord, and in the power of his might Ephesians 6:10."
3. To disregard difficulties, and even death itself, in his service—
A soldier necessarily expects to encounter difficulties, and to expose his life to hazard in the service of his king and country. And the greater the difficulties which he has to sustain, the more he rises to the occasion; insomuch that, if a service of peculiar danger is proposed, a whole army will vie with each other in their readiness to undertake it. Now, if this be the case with those who have enlisted under the banners of an earthly monarch, shall it not much more obtain among the armies of the living God? Paul "gloried in distresses and necessities for the Lord's sake:" and the same spirit should animate us also. Indeed, at our very first admission into the service of our Lord we were forewarned, that "he who loved his life, should lose it; and that he only who was willing to lose his life for Christ's sake, should save it unto life eternal Matthew 10:39." We must "be faithful unto death, if ever we would attain a crown of life."
Inquire now, I pray you, whether this Savior he to you a friend or an adversary? He is here in the midst of us, "and with his sword drawn," though we see him not. And to every one of us is he either a friend or a foe. There is no neutrality, either on his part or on ours. Our Lord himself has told us, "that he who is not with him, is against him; and he who gathers not with him, scatters abroad Matthew 12:30." Would you, then, ascertain whether he be a "Captain" unto you? Examine your own hearts; and ask, Whether you have ever enlisted under his banners by a voluntary surrender of yourselves to him; and then, Whether you are habitually regarding his will as your rule, and his arm as your stay, and his glory as the one object of your life? These are points easy to be ascertained: and on them your eternal happiness depends. If these things be true, then will he be a "Captain of salvation" unto you Hebrews 2:10; but if this be not the experience of your souls, then you have nothing to expect, but that he will say concerning you, "Bring hither those that were my enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me Luke 19:27." Oppose him, and you have nothing to hope; submit to him, and you have nothing to fear, to all eternity.
THE TAKING OF JERICHO
Joshua 6:20-21. So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pats, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and donkey, with the edge of the sword.
THE promises of God, though often delayed beyond the time that our impatient spirits would fix for their accomplishment, are always fulfilled in their season. The period at which God promised to Abraham that he would bring forth his posterity out of Egypt, was at the end of four hundred and thirty years. During the latter part of that time the afflictions of the people increased beyond measure; yet was their deliverance neither accelerated nor delayed: but at the precise period that God had fixed in his eternal counsels, and had revealed to Abraham, even on "the self-same day," they were brought forth from their bondage Exodus 12:51. They would doubtless have been brought also into the full possession of the promised land if they had not provoked God to transfer to their children the mercies which they had treated with contempt. The space of forty years was allotted for that generation to wander, and to die, in the wilderness. During that time a new generation arose; and to them God fulfilled his word: he led them in a miraculous manner into Canaan, as we have seen: and now began to subdue their enemies before them. The first place which they were to conquer, was Jericho, a city of great strength; the taking of which is the subject for our present consideration.
We shall notice three things;
I. The preparations for the siege—
One would naturally suppose that they would instantly avail themselves of the terror which their miraculous passage through Jordan had inspired; and that, after fortifying their own camp, they would proceed to construct works for the capture of the city. But behold! instead of engaging in any such labors, they address themselves to works of a very different nature, suited only to a season of profound peace.
1. They renew the ordinance of circumcision—
This ordinance had been entirely neglected in the wilderness; so that, with the exception of those who had not attained the age of twenty at their departure from Egypt, all were uncircumcised. Their first object therefore, after entering into the promised land, was, to renew their covenant with God by circumcision Joshua 5:2-9. But was this a time for such an ordinance, when they would thereby disable themselves for war, or even for repelling an assault in case their enemies should attack them? Was it wise, or was it right, to act thus at so critical a juncture? Was it not a tempting of God, rather than a service that could be pleasing in his sight? No: it was commanded by Jehovah himself; and was therefore commanded, because God would make them to know that HE was their defense; and, that to mortify sin and surrender up themselves to him, was the surest road to victory. It was not by human policy or strength that they were to prevail, but by his care and his power: and whatever was most suited to obtain his favor, was most calculated to ensure success.
2. They keep the feast of Passover Joshua 5:10.—
This ordinance also had been neglected in the wilderness: and, in renewing it, they brought to their remembrance God's gracious interpositions for them at their departure from Egypt, and expressed their conviction, that their whole security depended on the blood of that great Sacrifice which should in due time be offered. How strange does such an occupation appear, when the delay occasioned by it might give time for the arrival of supports to the besieged city! But, to those who know what interest God takes in the welfare of his people, this time would appear to be spent to the greatest possible advantage. And, though we, who are not to expect miraculous interpositions, should not be justified in following literally the example of Israel on this occasion, yet would it be well if we were more conformed to it in spirit: for assuredly, whatever difficulties or dangers we are in, it is our wisdom first to betake ourselves unto prayer, and, by renewed exercises of faith on the Lord Jesus, to secure the favor and protection of our God.
The wisdom of the preparations appears, in that they secured,
II. The fall of the city—
The manner in which it was taken was indeed surprising—
The armed men were appointed to go round the city in perfect silence verse 10, once every day for six successive days; and, on the seventh day, they were to compass it seven times. In the midst of this procession the ark was to be carried by the priests, and to be preceded by seven priests with "trumpets of rams' horns," (or rather with the trumpets of jubilee Rams' horns being solid, would be unfit for the purpose. The other seems the preferable translation. See Numbers 10:1-10,) which they were to sound during the whole procession. On the seventh day, at the seventh time of compassing the city, the army, on a signal given, were to shout: and behold, no sooner did they shout, than the walls on every side fell down flat, opening a ready way of access for the hosts of Israel, and causing the disconcerted men of Jericho to fall an easy prey to their invaders.
It is also replete with instruction—
We are not warranted perhaps to speak of this event as typical: nevertheless it was doubtless intended to convey most important instruction to all succeeding ages; and to show to them, how easily God can make a way for the accomplishment of his own purposes, and for the salvation of his own people. If it did not typify, it certainly well illustrates, the victories which the Gospel was to obtain over all the principalities and powers of earth and Hell. No human force was used: nothing but the sound of the gospel trumpet prevailed for the subversion of Satan's kingdom. Though preached by men of no education, it proved effectual for the destruction of idolatry, and the establishment of the Redeemer's power, throughout the earth. In like manner at this time it prevails over the lusts and prejudices of mankind: the publication of it is committed to weak and sinful men, who go forth in Jehovah's name to subdue the world to the obedience of faith: and though "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal," nor such as appear likely to be wielded with success, yet are they "mighty through God to the pulling down of strong-holds," and to the "bringing" of, not only the actions, but even "the thoughts, of men, into captivity to the obedience of Christ 2 Corinthians 10:4-5." As for the weakness of the instruments, God has selected such on purpose, "that the excellency of the power may appear to be of him 2 Corinthians 4:7." His voice to us is the same in all his wonders both of providence and grace; "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts Zechariah 4:6."
The next thing which calls for our attention is,
III. The destruction of the inhabitants—
With the exception of Rahab and her family, for whose preservation the word of the spies was pledged, every human being, old and young, male and female, was destroyed. Even the beasts also of every kind were destroyed, and the whole city was burnt with fire. Nothing was preserved but the silver and gold, and brass and iron, which were to be put into the treasury of the Lord for the use of his sanctuary.
Now in this indiscriminate slaughter we are apt to find occasion of offence, as though we thought ourselves more merciful than God. But were not these people the enemies of Jehovah? and had he not a right to cut them off in any way he pleased? If he had taken them away by an earthquake or a pestilence, or had cut them off, as he did the Egyptian first-born and the Assyrian army, by the hand of an angel, we should have bowed to his sovereignty, and confessed him just: but because he used his own people as the executioners of his vengeance, we are ready to accuse both them and him of inhumanity and injustice. But we are sure that the Judge of all the earth will do right; and that whatever is done by his command is right, whether we can discern the reasons of that command or not. With respect to this particular act, if there was severity in it towards them, there was goodness in it, yes great goodness, towards the world at large: for it has shown the danger of unbelief and impenitence in such awful colors, that the proudest and most obdurate must tremble. The inhabitants at first were certainly filled with terror and dismay: but probably when they saw for six successive days nothing but an empty parade, they would begin to think themselves secure. At the appointed time however the judgment came; and that in a way that they did not at all expect. And thus will it be towards impenitent transgressors. They may imagine that the delay of God's judgments warrants them to expect impunity in the ways of sin: but "when they are saying, Peace and safety, sudden destruction will come upon them as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape."
From this part of divine history we may learn,
1. The excellence of faith—
What was the principle which enabled the Israelites to manifest such composure in the presence of their enemies, and to forbear the use of all common means either for the preservation of themselves or for the destruction of their enemies? It was faith. And so says an inspired writer; "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days Hebrews 11:30." This is the principle which will carry us through all difficulties, and enable us to triumph over all our adversaries. Under the influence of this, our first care in every situation will be to serve and honor God. In the path of duty, we shall feel no fear about our ultimate success. The means which God has appointed we shall use, and none other. If they appear wholly unsuited to the end, we shall not on that account despond; but shall expect his gracious interposition in his own time and way, assured that He will make the weakest and most contemptible of beings to confound the honorable, and to overcome the mighty 1 Corinthians 1:27-28. Let us then cultivate this principle, and go forth to our warfare "strong-in the Lord and in the power of his might."
2. The benefit of enlisting under the banners of Christ—
Christ revealed himself to Joshua under the appearance of a man, and professed himself "the Captain of the Lord's host Joshua 5:13-15." It was he who directed Joshua how to conduct the siege, and "gave the city of Jericho into his hand verse 2." And who but He is "the Captain of our salvation?" Who but He can guide us aright in our spiritual warfare, or give us success in it? Truly, if we be made "more than conquerors, it must be through Him that loved us Romans 8:37," and gave himself for us. To him will we direct you in every part of your warfare. Do nothing without first asking counsel of him; attempt nothing, but in his strength: and doubt not but that in all your conflicts you shall have reason to say, "Thanks be unto God who has always caused us to triumph" hitherto, and will "give us everlasting victory through our Lord Jesus Christ 2 Corinthians 2:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:57."
ISRAEL DISCOMFITED BY THE MEN OF AI Fast-day Sermon for disappointments and defeats in war.
Joshua 7:8. O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turns their backs before their enemies!
UNINTERRUPTED prosperity is not to be expected in this changeable and sinful world. Even the most favored of mankind must have some trials; nor is there any season when they can presume to say, "My mountain stands strong; I shall not be moved." If at any time Joshua and Israel might adopt this language, it was immediately after they had entered on the possession of the promised land, and had received a pledge of the complete enjoyment of it by the miraculous destruction of the walls of Jericho. Yet behold, scarcely had they tasted the first-fruits of God's mercy, before a cup of bitterness was put into their hands; which made them regret that they had ever attempted the conquest of the land.
In an attack upon Ai, a detachment of Israelites had been defeated with the loss of thirty-six men: and this filled them all with such terror and dismay, that the whole nation, not excepting Joshua himself, gave way to despondency. Of this we have an account in the passage before us: to elucidate which, we shall notice,
I. The discomfiture of Israel—
Their mode of proceeding to the attack of Ai was far from right—
Having so easily vanquished a much larger and stronger city, they held Ai in contempt, and concluded of course that God must interpose for them just as he had done in the former case. Hence they say, "Let us send only about two or three thousand thither, and not make all the people to labor thither." Now in this they were guilty of very great presumption. To confide in God was right; but to expect his aid, while they neglected to use their own endeavors, was highly presumptuous. And what excuse had they; what plea? None, except that they did not choose to fatigue themselves with the march. They did not even consult God respecting it; but acted purely from their own conceit. What was this, but to tempt God? And how could they hope to succeed, when acting in such a way?
However favored any man may have been with divine support and protection, if he presume upon it, and enter into temptation without necessity, and conceive that because his spiritual enemies appear weak, he shall of necessity overcome them; if he neglect to use the proper means of grace, such as searching the Scriptures and prayer to God, he shall fall: God will leave him to himself, that he may learn by bitter experience his own weakness, and "no more be high-minded, but fear This is taught us in Philippians 2:12-13 which says, "Work, etc. and God will render your efforts effectual: but work, not with self-confidence, but with fear and trembling, because all your strength is in God; and if by pride or negligence you provoke him to withhold his aid, you can never succeed.""
But their discomfiture was owing to another cause—
God had forbidden that any one should take to himself any of the spoils of Jericho: but one man, (how astonishing was it that only one among all the hosts of Israel was found to transgress the command!) tempted by the sight of a costly Babylonish garment and some silver, and a wedge of gold, secreted them for his own use verse 21. This sin was imputed to the whole nation, and visited upon them all. God had declared, that, if any such iniquity were committed, the whole camp of Israel, as well as the guilty individual, should be accursed Joshua 6:18; and now the curse was inflicted upon all; so that if the whole host of Israel had gone against Ai, they would have been discomfited, even as the small detachment was. To this the failure of the expedition is ascribed by God himself verse 11, 12.
And to what are we to ascribe the calamities inflicted on our nation, the reverses experienced, and the losses sustained, in this long-protracted war? Is it not to our sins, which have incensed God against us? We all acknowledge the greatness of our national sins, but forget to notice our own personal iniquities; whereas, if we saw everything as God sees it, we should probably see, that our own personal guilt has contributed in no small degree to bring down the divine judgments upon us. Because we are mere individuals, we think that our transgressions can have had but little influence in matters of this kind: but did not Saul's violation of the covenant he had made with the Gibeonites, occasion, many years afterwards, a famine of three years' continuance 2 Samuel 21:1. And did not David's numbering of the people occasion a pestilence, to the destruction of seventy thousand of his subjects 2 Samuel 24:10-15. But these offenders, it may be said, were kings; whereas we are obscure individuals. And was not Achan an obscure individual? Yet behold, how one single act of sin, an act too which would not have been considered as very heinous among ourselves, stopped in a moment the course of Israel's victories, and turned them into shameful defeat! Let this point be duly considered in reference to ourselves; and let us learn, that abstinence from sin is an act no less of patriotism, than of piety.
The defeat coming so unexpectedly, we do not wonder at,
II. Joshua's distress—
His conduct on this occasion was by no means unexceptionable—
The manner in which he complained to God reflected even upon the Deity himself; "O Lord God, why have you at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us?" Alas! alas! Is this Joshua, that thus accuses the Most High God of cruelty and treachery? Lord, what is man! What will not the best of men do, if left by you to the workings of their own corruption! Such had been the language of the murmuring Israelites on many occasions: but we readily confess that Joshua, though he spoke their sentiments, was by no means actuated by their rebellious spirit: yet he was wrong in entertaining for a moment such a thought. His distrust of God also was highly unfitting; "Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!" What, do you so readily relinquish the possession of Canaan, because of this single check? You are afraid that "all the inhabitants of the land, hearing of this defeat, will be emboldened to environ you around, and to cut off the name of Israel from the earth:" but have you so soon forgotten all the wonders that God has wrought in order to bring you into Canaan, and all that he has promised in relation to the ultimate possession of it? "Is God's hand shortened, that he cannot save, or his ear heavy, that he cannot hear?" "Has he at last forgotten to be gracious, and shut up his loving-kindness in displeasure?" Alas! Joshua, "this is your infirmity." But it is an infirmity incident to the best of men under great and unexpected misfortunes. We are but top apt to give way to murmuring and desponding thoughts, both in relation to our temporal and spiritual concerns, when we should be rather encouraging ourselves with the recollection of past mercies, and pleading with God his promises of more effectual aid.
Yet on the whole there was much in it to be admired—
We cannot but highly applaud the concern he expressed for the loss of so many lives. Common generals would have accounted the loss of thirty-six men as nothing: but "the blood of Israel was precious in the sight" of Joshua. We might have expected that he would have blamed the spies for deceiving him in relation to the strength of the city; and have punished the soldiers for cowardice: but he viewed the hand of God, rather than of man, in this disaster: and this led to (what also we much admire) his humiliation before God on account of it. This was very deep: "he rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the even-tide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads verse 6." He had seen on many occasions now Moses and Aaron had succeeded in averting the divine displeasure from the people; and, in concert with the elders, he now tried the same means: and we may confidently say, that, if all the hosts of Israel had been defeated, this was the sure way to retrieve their affairs. But his tender regard for the honor of God was that which eminently distinguished him on this occasion; "O Lord, what will you do unto your great name verse 9." This was the plea which Moses had often used Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:15-16, and to which God had paid especial regard Ezekiel 20:9; and the man that feels it in his soul, and urges it in sincerity and truth, can never be ultimately foiled.
O that such were the disposition and conduct of our whole nation at this time! But alas! we hear of numbers slaughtered, without any emotion. We have fasts appointed; but how few are there who observe them with such humiliation as that before us! It is true, the honor of God's name, I fear, is but little interested in our success: perhaps it is rather interested in the destruction of such an ungrateful and rebellious people as we are. But in relation to his Church and the advancement of religion among us, his honor is concerned; because he has bestowed on us advantages equal, if not superior, to any that are enjoyed elsewhere on the face of the whole earth. Here then we may, and should, plead the honor of his name: he expects us to lay to heart the abounding of iniquity in the midst of us; and takes it ill at our hands that there are so few who "mourn for the afflictions of Joseph Amos. 6:6," and "cry for the abominations of Israel Ezekiel 9:4." Let, however, the example of Joshua and the elders be impressed upon our minds, and serve as a pattern for our future imitation.
Let us not confine our attention to public calamities, but turn it to those afflictions which are personal and domestic. In this history we may behold the source and remedy of all the evil that can come upon us.
That God, in some particular case, may afflict his people, as he did Job, for the magnifying of his own power, and the furtherance of their welfare, we acknowledge: but yet we never can err in tracing our afflictions to sin, as their procuring cause: and, if only they be the means of discovering and mortifying our corruptions, we shall have reason to number them among the richest mercies we ever received
Let us then inquire of the Lord, "Why he contends with us?" Let us set ourselves diligently to search out our iniquities; and let us beg of God to discover them to us, that no one sin may remain unrepented of and unmortified.
If in anything we have been overcome by our spiritual enemies, let us not reflect upon God, as though he had tempted us to sin; nor, on the other hand, let us distrust him, as though he were either unable or unwilling to deliver us: but let us humble ourselves before him, remembering that he is still full of compassion and mercy; and relying on that gracious invitation, "Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely."
ACHAN'S GUILT AND PUNISHMENT
Joshua 7:19-20. And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what you have done; hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done.
THE rise, and progress, and termination of sin, afford as interesting a subject, as any that can be presented to our view. It is exhibited to us by James in few words, and with remarkable precision: "Man is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed: then, when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death James 1:14-15." Here we see the whole process: the inward corruption of the heart is first drawn forth by some enticing object; the desire of gratification is then formed, and the determination to attain it fixed. Then comes the act whereby it is attained; and then death, the bitter consequence of sin, inevitably follows. On this passage the history before us is an instructive comment. Achan saw a goodly Babylonish garment, with two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold, and coveted them: then he took them, contrary to the divine command; and then the penalty of his transgression was inflicted on him.
In discoursing on this event, we would call your attention to,
I. His guilt—
This act of his had been perpetrated with so much caution, that it was unperceived by any human being. The consequences of it were felt in the divine displeasure; but what evil had been committed, or by whom, no one knew. How then was it detected? How was the offence brought home to Achan? His guilt must be proved, before he can be punished: nay, there must be two witnesses, or testimony equivalent to that of two witnesses, before he can be put to death Deuteronomy 17:6. Behold then by what means his guilt was ascertained: it was proved,
1. From unquestionable testimony—
Though the matter was altogether hidden from man, it was known to the omniscient, omnipresent God. "The darkness is no darkness to him; but the night and the day are both alike." God's eye was upon him, while he thought that no eye could see him: and God himself gave the information against him. He declared to Joshua what the true reason was of his displeasure, and of Israel's defeat. But though he revealed the fact, he did not name the person that had committed it, but left that to be discovered in a way more impressive to the nation, and more merciful to the offender, (inasmuch as it gave him time for repentance and voluntary acknowledgment,) summoning the whole nation, as it were, before him, first, by their tribes, that he might point out to which tribe the offender belonged; then, by their families: then, by their households; and lastly, by their individual persons: and thus by four successive lots he fastened upon Achan as the guilty person. Never was there a more striking comment than this on those words of David, "Evil shall hunt the wicked man to overthrow him Psalm 140:11." The offender was out of sight; but his steps were traced with unerring certainty: the first lot showed, that his scent, if I may so express myself, was found; and, when found, was followed with undeviating steadiness, and irresistible rapidity: until at last the criminal was seized, a lawful prey, a just victim to the divine displeasure.
2. From personal confession—
The testimony of God would of itself have been sufficient: because he could neither deceive nor be deceived. But, as it was intended that the offender should be made a public monument of divine justice, and be held up as a warning to the whole nation, it was desirable that other proofs of Achan's guilt should be adduced, sufficient to convince the most scrupulous, and satisfy the most partial. Behold then, Achan himself supplies a testimony which none could controvert or doubt: he bears witness against himself.
Joshua, assured that God had fixed upon the guilty person, entreats the offender to declare openly wherein he had transgressed. And here, we cannot but admire the tenderness of Joshua's address. He insults not over Achan, nor loads him with reproaches; but, as a compassionate father, beseeches him to acknowledge the truth of God's testimony, and to "give glory to him by confessing" his crime. This indeed was known to Joshua, and might have been specified by him; but it could not be proved; and therefore he wishes to hear it from Achan's own mouth; more particularly as a confession of it would honor God in the sight of all; it would glorify his omniscience in discovering, his holiness in hating, and his justice in punishing the iniquity which had been committed.
Achan, convinced that any further attempt to conceal his guilt would be in vain, confessed it, and that too with an ingenuousness and fullness, which would have given us hopes concerning him, if the confession had not been extorted from him by a previous discovery.
On this testimony, sentence might well have been passed and judgment executed. Nevertheless, that no doubt might remain on any mind, it was further desirable that his guilt should be ascertained also, as it eventually was,
3. From corroborating facts—
It has sometimes been found that persons have unjustly accused themselves: but it was not so in this case: for Achan, in confirmation of his word, told them where they might find the stolen property. A messenger is sent; the property is found; the proofs of his guilt are exhibited before the Lord and in the sight of all Israel. To this testimony nothing was wanting, nothing could be added. The truth of God was manifest, and the equity of his judgments was demonstrated: and nothing now remained but to execute on the offender the punishment he had deserved.
Proceed we now to notice,
II. His punishment—
God had before declared that any person who should take to himself any part of the spoils of Jericho should be accursed Joshua 6:18-19; and, after the transgression had been committed, he declared that he would no more be with his people until they should have destroyed the accursed person, and everything belonging to him, from among them verse 12, 13, 15. No option therefore remained to Joshua, but to execute the sentence according to God's command.
The sentence, though dreadful, was not too severe—
Achan, with all his children, and his cattle, were stoned to death, and afterwards, with his tent and stolen property and every thing belonging to him, consumed by fire. Now it is true, that God had expressly forbidden that parents or children should be put to death for each other's iniquities Deuteronomy 24:16; but God is not restrained by the laws which he gives to man; he may alter or reverse them as he sees good: and in the present instance he was fully justified in the sentence he pronounced. The sin that had been committed, was peculiarly heinous. View it in itself; it was a sacrilegious robbing of God, who had ordered the gold and the silver to be appropriated to his use in the sanctuary. View it in its circumstances; it was committed immediately after a most solemn surrender of himself to God by circumcision and at the paschal feast, and at the very instant that God had magnified his power and lore in causing the walls of Jericho to fall at the sound of rams' horns and the people's shout. Had Achan scaled the walls of Jericho and gained the spoils by his own sword at the peril of his life, it would have been some little extenuation of his crime: but God had disarmed his enemies, and made them like sheep for the slaughter: and therefore to rob him of the spoils was the basest ingratitude. In a word, it was direct atheism; for the very idea that he could hide the matter from God was a practical denial of his omnipresence. View it, lastly, in its effects; what evil it had brought upon the whole nation; what a calamitous defeat, accompanied with the loss of six and thirty Israelites; and what inconceivable misery it would have entailed upon the whole nation, if it had not been duly punished, even the entire loss of God's favor, and the utter destruction of all the people. View the transaction, I say, in this light, and the punishment, awful as it was, will be acknowledged just: he who sought in this manner the destruction of every family in Israel, might well be destroyed together with his own family.
If our proud heart still rise against the sentence, let us silence every objection with this unanswerable question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
The execution of it was calculated to produce the best effects—
It was necessary that, in the commencement of this new scene of things, the people should know what a God they had to do with; and that, while they learned from his mercies how greatly he was to be loved, they might learn also from his judgments how greatly he was to be feared. This lesson they were now effectually taught: they could not but see that "God is greatly to be feared, and to be had in reverence by all them that are round about him." To impress this lesson more deeply on their minds, an heap of stones was raised over the ashes of this unhappy family; that, as a lasting memorial of God's indignation against sin, it might declare to all future generations, that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Now if we consider what incalculable benefit was likely to arise, not only to the people then existing, but to all future generations, from that act of severity, and that the good issuing from it would in many instances be, not merely temporal in relation to their bodies, but spiritual also and eternal in relation to their souls, we shall see that severity to them was kindness to millions; and that therefore the punishment inflicted on them comported no less with the goodness of God than with the sterner rights of justice.
That We may gather yet further instruction from the history, let us behold in it,
1. The deceitfulness of sin—
Achan at first contemplated only the satisfaction he should feel in possessing the Babylonish garment, and the comforts which the gold and silver would procure for him. The ideas of shame and remorse and misery were hid from him; or, if they glanced through his mind, they appeared as visionary, and unworthy of any serious attention. But O! with what different thoughts did he contemplate his gains, when inquisition was made to discover the offender! or, if at first he thought that the chances were so much in his favor, as to preclude all fear of discovery, how would he begin to tremble when he saw that his own tribe was selected as containing the guilty person! How would his terror be increased when he saw his own family pointed out! and what dread would seize hold upon him when the lot fell upon his household! Methinks, when the different members of that household came before the Lord, it might have been seen clearly enough who the guilty person was, by the paleness of his cheeks and the trembling of his limbs. What now becomes of all his expected enjoyments, when once he is detected? With what different eyes does he view the garment and the money when brought forth before the people, from what he did when first he coveted them in the house of their owner! how glad would he now be if he could recall the act, which had thus brought him to shame and ruin! Thus then will it be with all who violate the laws of God. The seducer, the whoremonger, the adulterer, the thief, thinks of nothing at first but the pleasure he shall receive in the gratification of his lusts; and congratulates himself on the attainment of his wishes: but he has no sooner attained his object, than he begins to be filled with apprehensions of a discovery: he is carried on perhaps by the impetuosity of his passions; but he is a stranger to peace. Perhaps he silences his convictions, and follows his sinful ways without much compunction: but it will not be always so: there is a time coming when he will view his gratifications with other eyes; or if he be so blinded by the devil as to make light of sin unto the last, his illusions will vanish the very instant that his soul is departed from the body. For the most part, that is found true which is spoken of hypocrites in the book of Job; "Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue; though he spare it, and forsake it not, but keep it still within his mouth; yet his meat in his affections is turned, it is the gall of asps within him Job 20:12-14." How awfully was this experienced by our first parents! When tempted to eat of the forbidden tree, they thought of nothing but the delicious flavor of the fruit, and the prospect of being made "wise as gods." But they were soon convinced, by bitter experience, that "to regard lying vanities was to forsake their own mercies." Some indeed, by continuance in sin, are become "past feeling, having their consciences seared as with an hot iron:" but death and judgment will speedily undeceive them, and the wrath of an almighty God shall teach them, that "sin was indeed exceeding sinful."
2. The certainty of its exposure—
It is profitable to observe how often God interposes to discover the hidden iniquities of mankind. Some sins in particular appear to engage him in more decided hostility against the perpetrators of them. I refer more especially to murder and adultery. The interest which the guilty persons feel in concealing their iniquity makes them as cautious as possible to prevent discovery: yet is their very caution oftentimes the cause of their detection. To such sinners we may almost universally address that solemn warning, "Be sure your sin will find you out." It not unfrequently happens that men are so harassed in their minds, as no longer to be able to conceal their guilt: like Judas, they cast back the wages of their iniquity, and court even death itself, by their own hand, or by the hand of a public executioner, as a relief from the torment of a guilty conscience. But be it so: they hide their wickedness from man: but can they hide it from God? Is there "any darkness or shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves?" No: if they go up to Heaven, or down to Hell, or flee to the remotest parts of the earth, there does God behold them, and from thence will he bring them to judgment. In that day shall the book of his remembrance be opened, and men shall see the records of their own actions. Then shall the proofs of our guilt be exhibited before the assembled universe, and we shall be unable to utter one syllable in arrest of Judgment. O that we could realize the thoughts of that day! What a day will it be, when the secrets of all hearts shall be exposed to view, and every hidden abomination be brought to fight! Happy, happy they, who in that day shall be found to have an interest in Christ, and in whom his love and mercy shall be forever magnified! Now since it is certain that our sins will sooner or later find us out, let us consider how we shall view them in that day: and, as we would not now commit a scandalous iniquity in the sight of a fellow-creature, lest he should proclaim our wickedness, so let us bear in mind that there is One, "unto whom all things are naked and opened," and who has declared that he "will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart." Surely, however skillfully we conceal our abominations now, he will be a swift witness against us in that day to our everlasting confusion.
3. The awfulness of its award—
Who does not shudder at the thought of that vengeance which was executed on Achan and his family? Who does not see how hot the indignation of God against sin was, when the sin of one single person prevailed more to incense him against the whole nation, than the innocence of the whole nation did to pacify his wrath against the individual, and when nothing but the most signal punishment of the individual could reconcile him to the nation to which he belonged? Yet was all this but a faint shadow of the indignation which he will manifest in a future world. Surely we should profit from such a history as this: we should learn to dread the displeasure of the Almighty, and to glorify him now by an sincere confession, that he may not be glorified hereafter in our eternal condemnation.
Hear you then, Brethren, what the weeping prophet speaks to us in the name of the Lord: "Hear you, and give ear; be not proud, for the Lord has spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while you look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But, if you will not hear, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and my eyes shall weep sore, and run down with tears" for the destruction and misery that shall come upon you Jeremiah 13:15-17. Blessed be God, though Achan's confession did not avert punishment from him, ours shall from us, provided it be truly sincere, and deeply penitential. The Lord Jesus Christ never yet spurned from his feet a weeping penitent. He shed his blood even for the chief of sinners, and "will save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him." But confession on our part is indispensable: his word to us is, "Return, you backsliding sinner, says the Lord, and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, says the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever: Only acknowledge your iniquity Jeremiah 3:12-13." Let us but do this aright, and we shall soon be enabled to say with the Psalmist, "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and so you forgave the iniquity of my sin."
PERSEVERING ZEAL RECOMMENDED
Joshua 8:26. Joshua drew not his hand back, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.
WHATEVER instruments God is pleased to make use of, it is by his hand alone that anything is wrought: and he will be seen in his works. For this end, he has frequently appointed such means to be used, as had, in reality, not the smallest degree of fitness to the end proposed; and which were of no other use, than to direct the eyes of men to him as the true agent, and to constrain them to acknowledge him in the effects produced. The stretching forth of Moses' rod neither had, nor could have, any direct influence in producing the plagues of Egypt, or in opening a passage through the depths of the sea: but it marked, in the most signal manner, the power of Almighty God, who had engaged to accomplish his wonders by those means. Thus it was, that God decreed to give to Joshua the victory over Ai, by the stretching forth of his spear. The Israelitish host had been repulsed before Ai: but now they were ordered to attack it again. Means of every kind were to be used, as if the victory were to be gained by human skill and valor. Thirty thousand men were to be placed in ambush: and a feigned retreat was to be made, in order to draw the people of Ai from their strong-holds, and to seize upon their city while they were pursuing the retreating hosts of Israel. All this was well, according to the arts of war: and all this was to be rendered subservient to the end proposed. But still it was not by this that success was to be obtained. Joshua must stretch forth his spear: and, though that could be no signal to direct the operations of his army, (for he was alone, and at a distance from the army,) it was the signal by which, if I may so speak, God would act: for at the moment that Joshua, according to the divine appointment, stretched forth his spear, God stirred up the hosts that were in ambush to execute the concerted movement; and thus a speedy and entire victory was gained The second night before the battle, Joshua was with the army, arranging the plans of attack: but the night preceding the battle, and the whole time of the battle, Joshua was alone with God in the valley. Compare verse 9, 13. For the order given by God to Joshua, and its instantaneous effects, see verse 18, 19. But God would still have it seen that the success was owing to him alone: and, therefore, Joshua must still keep his arm and spear extended, until all the people of Ai were completely destroyed.
Now, in this significant act, Joshua was both a type and an example: and in it we see,
I. How our Great Captain interests himself for us—
Joshua was a very eminent and distinguished type of Christ—
To him was committed the office of leading God's chosen people into Canaan. Moses might conduct them through the wilderness; but he could not bring them into the promised land. He represented the Law, which serves as a rule of conduct, but can give no man a title to Heaven. He must give up this honor to Joshua, who was raised up of God for this purpose, to subdue their enemies before them, and to put them into the possession of the promised inheritance. His very name was changed, in reference to his appointment, from Osea to Jehoshua; which is a compound of Jah Osea, and signifies 'divine Savior Numbers 13:16.' His name, thus altered, is the very same with that of Jesus, whose type he was. And no less than twice in the New Testament is his name translated "Jesus," when it should rather, for distinction sake, have been translated "Joshua Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8;" and both times in reference to his conducting the children of Israel into Canaan. He was the ostensible leader of the Lord's people: but the Lord Jesus Christ was the real "Captain of the host:"and before Joshua had fought one battle in the land, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him in a visible shape as a warrior, and made known to him, that he held but the second place, and that the Messiah himself was, in truth, "the Leader and Commander of the people Joshua 5:14 with Isaiah 55:4." Agreeably to this appointment, the Lord Jesus Christ is called "the Captain of our salvation Hebrews 2:10," and is declared to be "exalted of God to be a Prince, and a Savior, that he may give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins Acts 5:31." In fact, it is through him alone that any of "the sons of God are brought to glory Hebrews 2:10."
He was a type of Christ in the very act we are considering—
He was at a distance from the immediate combatants, and in the presence of his God, with whom he was, no doubt, engaged in fervent intercession for the people: and through him was the victory obtained. To the eye of sense, he did nothing; but to the eye of faith, he did everything. Thus it is that the Lord Jesus Christ is gone into Heaven, "there to appear in the presence of God for us Hebrews 9:24." There is he "our Advocate with the Father 1 John 2:1," and never ceases to make intercession in our behalf; and on that very account "he is, and shows himself, able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him Hebrews 7:25." True it is, that we must fight, as if all depended on ourselves: but still it is through him alone that we can prevail: and whoever he be that is finally made a conqueror, he is made so altogether "through him that loves him Romans 8:37;" "God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ 1 Corinthians 15:57 and 2 Corinthians 2:14."
From the same significant action we may see,
II. How we are to engage in combat for ourselves—
Behold the attitude of Joshua, his spear stretched out from the very commencement of the battle to the close. Who sees not in this his determined purpose, and his confident expectation of success ? Thus, then, must we fight the Lord's battles against our spiritual enemies;
1. With determined purpose—
A command is given us to destroy them: and, as in God's purpose they are all devoted to destruction, so they must be in ours. No truce is to be made with any of them; not one is to be spared. We have enlisted under the banners of our Lord Jesus Christ; and his battles we must fight, until every enemy is subdued before us. Under whatever discouragements we may fight, we must approve ourselves "good soldiers of Jesus Christ;" never retreating through fear, never fainting through weariness, never relaxing our efforts in any respect, nor ever dreaming of rest, until "Satan and all his hosts are bruised under our feet Romans 16:20." The posture of Joshua was no doubt painful to maintain; even as that of Moses had been on a similar occasion, when he held up his rod on the hill in Horeb Exodus 17:9. His hands were heavy, and he needed the assistance both of Hur and Aaron to hold them up. Through their help, however, he did hold them up until the going down of the sun, and until Amalek was discomfited before Israel Exodus 17:10-13. Such resolution must we also possess; and never draw back our hand, until the victory is complete.
The importance of this determination of heart will appear by the effects produced by the want of it in Joash king of Israel. The prophet Elisha being sick, the king of Israel went to visit him. The prophet announced to him God's gracious intention to destroy the Syrians, his powerful and bitter enemies. The prophet bade him take a bow and arrows; to shoot with an arrow, which should mark the speed with which they should be destroyed; and to strike the arrows on the ground, in token of the extent to which success over them should be obtained. But the king, being but languid in his desires of victory, and not very sanguine in his expectations, smote the ground but thrice; when he should, with determined purpose and joyful confidence, have smitten it five or six times. For this lukewarm conduct he was severely reproved; and his success was limited to the measure of zeal which he had expressed 2 Kings 13:15-19. So shall we find that our success will exactly correspond with the zeal with which we prosecute our endeavors. Let us determine to conquer, and the victory is ours: let our efforts never be relaxed, and they shall infallibly succeed at last Galatians 6:9.
2. With confident expectation—
It is clear that Joshua entertained no doubts of final success: he was well assured that the event would be such as God had given him reason to expect. It is true, he could see no connection between his holding forth a spear in the valley, and the success of combatants at a distance from him: to the judgment of sense it would appear, that he would have been better employed at the head of the army, animating and directing his men. But he knew Who alone could give the victory, and that a compliance with God's command was the surest means of obtaining help from him. Hence, without any apprehensions about the issue, he maintained his stand before God, and held forth his spear until all his enemies were destroyed. Such is the confidence which we also must maintain, in all our conflicts with sin and Satan. God has promised us success; and "what He has promised, He is able also to perform." There may appear to us but little connection between our poor efforts and the destruction of such mighty foes: but we are not to be listening to the suggestions of unbelief; but to "be strong in faith, giving glory to God." We should even now, by anticipation, see all our enemies subdued before us, and the crown of victory set upon our heads. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" should be our triumphant boast: and we should hurl defiance at our enemies, in the name of the Lord of hosts. Though we be only as David, a stripling, with a sling and stone, going forth against Goliath fully armed for the combat, we should know in whom we have believed, and advance as to certain victory. Trusting assuredly in the promise of our God, "we shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end."
Let me, in conclusion, say to all of you,
1. Think not lightly of the spiritual warfare—
Every one among us has a warfare to maintain. Notwithstanding Canaan is the gift of God, it must be obtained by a manly and continued conflict with our spiritual enemies. The world, the flesh, the devil, are all combined against us, as much as ever the seven nations of Canaan were against God's people of old; and we must go forth against them in the name of our God. We must not despise any as too weak, nor fear any as too strong. Joshua erred in sending only about three thousand men against Ai in the first instance, because the warriors in Ai were but few. His success against Jericho had led him to indulge an undue confidence in the prowess of his men: and he forbore to impose on any greater number what was deemed both by him and them an unnecessary burden and fatigue. But this unhallowed confidence was punished with defeat: and afterwards he proceeded with his whole force, and with a careful attention to all the stratagems of war. We, too, must follow him in this respect. There is no enemy so weak, but he will be able to overcome us, if we indulge a careless habit, or confide in an arm of flesh. We must fight the good fight of faith, and quit ourselves like men upon the field of battle: but we must, also, be much and often with our God "in the valley verse 13;" there must we be holding forth our hands in prayer; nor must we ever draw them back, so long as one single enemy survives. In this respect we cannot do better than follow the steps of David: "Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that stave with me: fight you against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help: draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am your salvation Psalm 35:1-3." If you hold forth your spear, and prevail on God to draw forth his, it will be impossible for any enemy to stand before you.
2. Cease not to prosecute it, until your victory is complete—
As to "run well for a season only" is the sure way to lose the prize; so to fight, however well, for a season only, will ensure nothing but defeat. You are told, that when Moses' hands hanged down, Amalek prevailed: and it was only by their being held up until the evening, that ultimate success was gained. "Be you then faithful unto death, in order that you may obtain the crown of life." "If any man draw back, it is to certain and inevitable perdition Hebrews 10:39." Take the great Captain of your salvation for your pattern: he never ceased from his work, until he could say, "It is finished." Or, if you would have for your pattern a man, "who was of like passions with yourselves, then set Joshua before your eyes; and let his posture in the presence of his God be the continued posture of your souls.
JOSHUA'S LEAGUE WITH GIBEON
Joshua 9:15. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live.
IT is not uncommon for persons to harden themselves against God, and, like Ahaz, "in their distress to trespass yet more against the Lord 2 Chronicles 28:22." The inhabitants of Canaan had been filled with terror and dismay even before the Israelites had passed over Jordan: yet they prepared to contend with the invading army, and to repel force by force. But when they saw that a passage was opened for Israel through Jordan, and that the walls of Jericho were thrown down by the sound of rams' horns, and that Ai also was vanquished, it might have been hoped that they would submit themselves to the God of Israel, and endeavor by penitence to avert the impending danger. This however was not the case: on the contrary, the different kings of the country formed a confederacy, to oppose with their united power those whom they despaired of withstanding by their separate exertions. One people indeed ventured to stem the tide: the Gibeonites determined to shun the storm which they could not avert: accordingly they sent some of their chief men to make a league with Joshua.
This league is the subject of our present consideration: and we shall notice it, with a view to,
I. Moral instruction—
Two things in particular require our attention;
1. The deceit they practiced—
The device which they executed was extremely subtle and ingenious. They knew that God had given to the Israelites a command to extirpate the seven nations of Canaan: and they saw by the manner in which Jericho and Ai had fallen, that there was no hope of resisting them with success. They therefore sent some of their chief men, with instruction to feign themselves ambassadors from a distant nation, and in a very submissive manner to entreat that they might not be extirpated also. Whatever terms Joshua chose to impose, they were ready to accede to, provided they might but return to their country assured on the oath of Israel that they should be permitted to live. That their story might have the appearance of truth, "they took old sacks, old and rent leathern wine-bottles, old shoes, clouted upon their feet, and old garments, and, for their provision, bread that was dry and moldy," pretending that everything was new when they set out from home, but that, by reason of the length of their journey, it had been reduced to the state in which it then was. They professed a great regard for the God of Israel whom they feared, having heard of all the wonders he had wrought for his people in Egypt, and of the victorious manner in which he had enabled them to prevail over the kings on the other side of Jordan. But respecting the miraculous passage through the river Jordan, or the fall of Jericho and Ai, they said not a word; because they would have it supposed that their country was so far distant as not to admit of such recent events being known there.
But this falsehood was altogether unjustifiable. It is true, the very existence of their nation apparently depended on it; and to deceive an enemy may in some cases be allowable: but here was falsehood, direct, palpable, systematic falsehood: and, as is usually the case, having begun with one falsehood, (That they were come from a far country,) they were forced to utter a multitude of others to support it. Nothing could justify this: and, if they had been truly pious, they would have preferred death before it. Their better way would certainly have been, to declare the whole truth, and to implore Joshua's intercession with God to spare their lives, and to instruct them in the knowledge of his ways. This, we can have no doubt, would have succeeded, though no provision was made for such an event in the general orders which God had given to Israel. The exception of sparing those who opened their gates related to distant nations only, and not to those within the borders of the promised land Deuteronomy 12:10-11; Deuteronomy 12:15-16. Yet God, as a God of mercy, would have spared them: or, if he had not, it would have been better for them to die, than to preserve their lives by falsehood: for the sentence of God against liars, without any respect to the occasion of their lies, is, that "they shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; which is the second death Revelation 21:8."
2. The league that Joshua made with them—
Joshua, though some suspicion was intimated in the first instance verse 7, was too easily imposed upon: (for those who are themselves guileless, are least suspicious of deceit in others:) he formed his judgment from the circumstances that were before him, and made up his mind without consulting God verse 14. This in him was faulty: both he and the elders were guilty of criminal neglect. To what purpose had God given them the Urim and Thummim, but that they might ascertain his will in all doubtful matters ? and Eleazar, the high-priest, was at hand; so that no delay would have been occasioned. To the same source may be traced innumerable errors of our own. We "lean to our own understandings," instead of seeking direction from God. To what purpose is it said, "In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths Proverbs 3:5-6," if we do not avail ourselves of this privilege? Let us bear in mind, that there is nothing so great or so small, but it is our duty and our privilege to ask counsel of God respecting it.
But though we blame Joshua for so hastily concluding a covenant with the Gibeonites, we highly applaud him for adhering to his engagement. There might indeed have been much to say for rescinding the covenant: 'He had been imposed upon: they were not the people whom they had represented themselves to be; nor were their cities out of the precincts of the promised land.' Still however, "he had sworn to them by the Lord God of Israel;" and therefore he considered the whole nation as pledged to fulfill the covenant; nor would he suffer the congregation to execute upon them the vengeance which they meditated. This was doubtless the proper line of conduct for him to pursue. If he had rescinded his covenant, the whole people of Canaan would have represented him as a violator of his engagements: it was therefore better to fulfill his hasty and unadvised agreement, than by departing from it to give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme. From hence we may learn our duty on all such occasions. Joshua had erred through haste, and a neglect of properly consulting God; and therefore it was right to abide the consequences. Had his oath indeed been like Herod's, duty would have required him to violate it; because an engagement to commit murder could not be binding upon any man: but as there was no such obstacle to the performance of his vows in the present instance, he acted the part of an upright man, who "swears to his neighbor, and changes not Psalm 15:4." Nevertheless it was not necessary that he should go beyond his agreement. All that he had promised, was, to spare their lives The text, with verse 20; that therefore he adhered to: but as they had deceived him, and as it was necessary to pacify the congregation who were offended at the covenant, he reduced them all to a state of servitude, and made them hewers of wood and drawers of water to the whole congregation in the house of the Lord. This satisfied all parties; and turned even the error which he had committed, into a public benefit.
Thus have we considered the subject with a view to moral instruction, particularly in reference to the evil of falsehood, and the importance of seeking direction from God, and the indispensable necessity of fulfilling our engagements. We shall now consider it with a view to,
II. Religious improvement—
It is thought by most commentators that the league made with Gibeon was typical of the admission of the Gentiles into the Christian Church: but without insisting upon that, we may justly deduce from it the following instructions:
1. That we ought without delay to seek the salvation of our souls—
The Gibeonites did not wait until Joshua had invested their cities, but, while he was yet at a distance, sent to desire conditions of peace. They believed that God had given the whole land to Israel, and had ordered them to slay all the inhabitants, and that it was impossible to oppose them with success. They knew also that there was abundant evidence of God's power to execute all that his wisdom had decreed verse 24. Therefore they lost no time in seeking to arrest the hand of vengeance, and to obtain life on any terms. Did they then act thus for the life of their bodies, and shall not we for the life of our souls? Have not we as clear evidence of God's determination to destroy all the ungodly, as they had of the gift of Canaan to Israel? and are not the judgments inflicted on the rebel angels, on the old world, on the cities of the plain, and on the Jews themselves at this hour, as clear proofs of God's determination to fulfill his word? I say then, Learn of these heathens: learn to come to Jesus before it be too late. Stay not until you are besieged by sickness and death; but now, while the enemy appears distant, seek a covenant of peace and life. You need not cover your design with falsehoods, but rather declare the whole truth: and come at first, as they did after their imposture was detected; "Behold, we are in your hand: as it seems good and right unto you to do unto us, do verse 25."
2. That no man shall seek for mercy in vain—
The Gibeonites, though they obtained mercy by fraud, were spared from a respect for the honor of the God of Israel. Notwithstanding Joshua had been commanded to extirpate all, yet were they spared, when once he had inadvertently passed his word in their favor. And shall not we be spared if we apply to the true Joshua? The Lord Jesus to whom we apply "came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." So far therefore is mercy from being contrary to the ends of his mission, it is the very end for which he came, that he might "seek and save that which was lost." Nay more, he came not only to spare us, but to bring us into covenant with himself, that we might be numbered among his own peculiar people. Hear his own word, addressed to every one of us in his name by the Prophet Isaiah; "Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David Isaiah 55:3." If you are inclined to doubt whether "he will take the children's bread, and cast it to such a dog as you;" learn from the Canaanite woman, that your unworthiness shall be no bar to your admission to his favor: only, like her, believe in Jesus; and, like her, you shall assuredly and acceptance with him. Moreover, if Jesus once admit you into covenant with himself, not all the universe shall ever prevail upon him to violate his engagements with you. If at any time he appear to frown upon you, you may take his covenant, and plead it with him at the throne of grace; "Do not abhor us for your name sake; do not disgrace the throne of your glory; remember, break not your covenant with us Jeremiah 14:22." What astonishing pleas are here! And shall they be used in vain? Had Joshua such respect for the honor of God, that he would not violate his inadvertent covenant, and shall not Jesus fulfill the covenant which he has ratified with his own blood? Surely none ever did, or ever shall, make application to him for mercy in vain.
3. That, if we would obtain mercy, we must submit to the terms imposed upon us—
The Gibeonites accounted it no great matter to cede their cities, and to spend their days in servitude, seeing that their lives were spared. And shall we think much of sacrificing any temporal interests, or of performing any self-denying duties, when we have reason to hope that God has spared the life of our souls ? What if we be called to give up father and mother, and houses and lands, for Christ's sake: should we not "account them all as loss for Christ?" What if we be menaced with cruel torments and death for his sake; should we not say, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may but fulfill his will, and finish my course with joy?" Had the Gibeonites demurred, they had lost the benefit conferred upon them: and so shall we, if we refuse to comply with the terms assigned us: for "whoever loves his life, shall lose it." If we look for mercy at the hands of Jesus, all that we have, and all that we are, must be the Lord's. Our whole life must be a life of self-denying obedience. Hear this then, you Gibeonites, who desire a covenant of life and peace: these are the terms, and only these, that can ever be allowed you. But know you this, that though they may appear hard to flesh and blood, they are not really hard: on the contrary, the service of God is perfect freedom: and it is "better to be a doorkeeper in the house of your God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." If then you have been awakened from your heathenish security, whatever terrors may have brought you to the feet of Jesus, bless God for them: and whatever hardships you may endure in the service of your Lord, bless God for them also. If only you submit to God, and take part with his people here, you shall have your portion with them to all eternity.
JOSHUA'S VICTORY OVER THE CONFEDERATE KINGS
Joshua 10:24-25. And it came to pass, when they brought out those kings unto Joshua, that Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said unto the captains of the men of war which went with him, Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings. And they came near, and put their feet upon the necks of them. And Joshua said unto them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong, and of good courage: for thus shall the Lord do to all your enemies against whom you fight.
THE Jewish history, considered merely as an history, is the most wonderful, and most instructive, that ever was recorded: but considered as a shadow of things to come, it has an interest peculiar to itself. The attention which it excites, is not that of speculative curiosity, but of practical concern: and every one who desires to obtain favor with Israel's God, feels himself bound to study it, in order to learn from it the character of God, together with the duties and privileges of his chosen people.
Having had frequent occasion, in our discourses on the Pentateuch, to show, that the figurative import of this history is not imaginary, but real; and that such an explanation of it is strongly intimated in the New Testament; we may dispense with any remarks of that kind at present, and proceed to notice, in reference to the Christian's warfare, the defeat of the five confederate kings by Joshua; a full account of which is given in the chapter before us.
The things which we shall more particularly refer to, are,
I. The occasion of the confederacy—
The Gibeonites, who were a strong and powerful people, had made a league with Joshua, while all the other kingdoms of Canaan were determined to oppose him. This incensed all the other powers against them, especially their nearer neighbors, who considered it as betraying the common interest, and as facilitating the threatened subjugation of the whole country. To prevent the influence of such an example, and to punish those whom they regarded as traitors, fire kings united their forces to go and smite Gibeon, before they should be able to obtain any assistance from their new ally. They accordingly went up with all possible expedition to attack the city, and to wreak their vengeance on its inhabitants.
Here then we may see what usually takes place when any of the enemies of Christ submit themselves to him. Their former friends and companions consider it as a defection from their standard, and a dereliction of their cause; and often resent it with no little acrimony Isaiah 59:15; John 15:19; Luke 12:51-53; and though their opposition does not in all cases proceed to the same extremity, it never fails to show itself in a way of contempt and ridicule 1 Peter 4:4. Satan too is indignant at losing one of his vassals; and not only stimulates his subjects to commence hostilities against them Ephesians 2:2, but labors by all possible wiles and devices to reduce them to their former bondage Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:16; 1 Peter 5:8; There is the same enmity against the cause of Christ existing now as ever. As "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed Psalm 2:2," in the days of old, and the same rage continued against all the Apostles and Disciples in after ages Acts 4:1-3; Acts 5:18; Acts 5:40; Acts 9:23, so must it be, and so it will be, as long as Satan shall be permitted to exert any influence over the minds of men 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Timothy 2:26; earth and Hell will combine against the Church of Christ; and every one that enters into covenant with Jesus, shall have a powerful confederacy to contend with Galatians 4:29; 2 Timothy 3:12; Ephesians 6:12.
From the occasion of that confederacy, we proceed to notice,
II. The means by which it was defeated—
Instantly, and with great importunity, did the Gibeonites make application to Joshua for timely support verse 6. They rightly judged, that, having once made a covenant with them, he would afford them his effectual aid. Nor were they disappointed of their hope: for Joshua, without delay, gave orders to his whole army, and marched all night to their deliverance.
Such is the way in which Christians also must obtain deliverance. If they attempt to resist their enemies in their own strength, they will infallibly be vanquished: but if they betake themselves to prayer, they cannot but succeed. Prayer calls Omnipotence to their aid: and while it is yet offering, God will both heat and answer it Isaiah 65:24. Behold the Apostle Paul, how sorely he was beset, how grievously he was assaulted: yet scarcely had he been able thrice to repeat his cry for help, before the Lord answered him, "My grace is sufficient for you:" and immediately you behold him triumphing, as if all his enemies were lying prostrate at his feet 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Thus the Christian, whatever confederacy be formed against him, has only to cry unto the Lord for help, saying, "I have no might against this great company that comes against me, neither know I what to do;" and the victory will be no longer doubtful 2 Chronicles 20:12; 2 Chronicles 20:15-17; the devil himself could not stand before such a prayer as that, but would instantly be put to flight James 4:7. Joshua felt that there was danger of his coming too late: but no such danger exists in relation to the Christian; for his Lord is always near, a present, "a very present help in the time of trouble Psalm 46:1."
Let us next contemplate,
III. The extent of that defeat—
The confederate armies were discomfited in a moment, and the pursuit of them continued so long, that Joshua entreated that the sun and moon might be arrested in their career, in order to afford him light to finish the work he had begun verse 12, 13. And because the slaughter of them by the hand of Israel was not sufficient, God himself cast down great hailstones upon them, and slew more than all the host of Israel had slain with the sword verse 10, 11. All the five kings also were taken, and, after the captains of Israel had put their feet upon their necks, were slain, and hanged up on trees, as accursed monuments of God's wrath and indignation. Thus complete was the destruction of Israel's enemies by Israel's God.
Thus shall the Christian also be enabled to say with the Apostle, "Thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ!" When once he has entered into covenant with Christ, "sin shall no more have dominion over him:" "being Christ's, he shall be enabled to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts:" yes, God will so give him the victory, that "Satan himself shall be bruised under his feet shortly Romans 16:20." See the victories granted to David in answer to his prayer: these were a counterpart of those recorded in the text, and of those also which every true Christian shall experience Psalm 18:4-10; Psalm 18:16-19; Psalm 18:36-40; Psalm 18:50.
It was not for the purpose of insulting over a vanquished enemy that Joshua ordered his captains to trample on their necks, but in order to show unto Israel, what sentiments this victory should inspire; and to set before their eyes,
IV. The prospect it afforded them in all their future conflicts—
Many conflicts yet remained for them, before the whole land would be completely subdued. But, however numerous or severe these conflicts might be, the people had no reason " to fear or be dismayed," since every enemy should be subdued before them in like manner, and be, as had long since been foretold, mere "bread for them Numbers 14:9."
In like manner are we also taught to regard our victories as pledges of future and greater conquests. While we are in this militant state, we shall and many enemies to encounter. Sometimes they may appear so formidable as almost to defy Omnipotence itself: but we need not fear: there are at all times "more with us than with them: "we shall always have Jehovah himself on our side: and "if God be for us, who can be against us?" Our own weakness is no ground of fear; because God "will perfect his own strength in our weakness:" "instead of breaking the bruised reed or quenching the smoking flax, he will bring forth judgment unto victory." In this light then let us view the menaces and assaults of all our enemies: they shall only be the means of displaying and magnifying the power of our God. Only let us remember that encouraging direction, "Call upon me in the time of trouble, and I will hear you, and you shall glorify me; "and then may we rest assured, that "no weapon which is formed against us shall prosper;" yes, we may defy all the powers of earth and Hell ever "to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord Isaiah 54:17; Romans 8:35-39."
1. To those who put discouragements in the way of repenting sinners—
Few will acknowledge themselves to be persecutors of the Lord's people, though there is scarcely a more common character to be found. But know, that mocking is as painful to the mind, as scourging is to the body Hebrews 10:33; Hebrews 11:36;" and "it were better to have a millstone hanged about your neck, and to be cast into the sea, than that you should offend one of Christ's little ones Matthew 18:6.": If any think, that, because multitudes concur with them, they are the less in danger, I would remind them of Gibeon's enemies, and say, "Associate yourselves, and you shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and you shall be broken in pieces Isaiah 8:9-10."
2. To those who yield to discouragement—
Think not of your own weakness, but of the power and grace of Christ. And if others cry out by reason of a confederacy, join not with them in their desponding apprehensions, but "sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself, and make him your fear, and him your dread Isaiah 8:12-13."
THE CONQUEST AND PARTITION OF CANAAN
Joshua 11:23. So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes.
THE promises of God, though often slow in their accomplishment, are sure to be fulfilled in due season. Abraham waited twenty years for the promised child, until, according to the course of nature, there was no hope that Sarah should ever become a mother; yet Isaac was born to him in due time. God promised to give to him and to his posterity the land of Canaan; yet it was four hundred and thirty years before his posterity were brought out of Egypt; and forty more before they entered into Canaan; and even then it was six more years before they obtained a quiet possession of it. Still however, the promise could not fail, nor did it fail in any particular. The accomplishment of that event is recorded in the words we have just read; which will naturally lead us to contemplate the conquest and partition of the promised land.
I. The conquest of the land—
Beautiful is the analogy between the warfare of the Israelites, and that which is maintained by every true Christian. We have had repeated occasion for this remark before; but the illustration of it admits of endless diversity.
Mark their warfare in its various stages—
Behold its commencement: it began with wonderful interpositions of the divine power in their behalf. The river Jordan opened to them a passage, as on dry land, at a time that it had overflowed all its banks: and the walls of Jericho fell down at the sound of rams' horns, and the people's shout: and thus a footing for them was gained in a way that gave all possible encouragement to their future efforts. In its progress they were left more to their own personal exertions. Great combinations were formed against them; and they had sometimes to contend with powers, which seemed likely to overwhelm them Joshua 10:5; Joshua 11:4; at other seasons they enjoyed comparative rest; yet were they never without some enemies to combat, and some conflicts to maintain. God had told them, that he would "not drive out the Canaanites before them in one year, but by little and little;" that the beasts of the field should not multiply against them, and that their population might so increase as to enable them to occupy the land Exodus 23:29-30. Hence, long after the inhabitants of the south were subdued, their northern enemies remained unbroken: and some of their fiercest conflicts were reserved for a period when they had expected nothing but easy and progressive triumphs. their last trials even seemed to be the greatest; for the Anakim, who were of such gigantic stature, and whose strong-holds were so impregnable as to intimidate all the spies that Moses had sent forty years before to search out the land, maintained themselves to the last, and were never conquered until all the other powers had been rooted out verse 21. With the exception of Gibeon, there was not so much as one city that sought peace with Joshua; all of them being given over to judicial blindness, that they might suffer the full punishment of their iniquities verse 19, 20. At last, however, came the completion of their warfare, when every enemy being subdued, they rested from all their perils and fatigues, and took possession of the whole land. Then they reaped the fruits of all their labors; they occupied all the cities, enjoyed all the spoils, and sat down in peace and safety, none making them afraid verse 13, 14.
And now contemplate the Christian's warfare—
In its commencement, the power of God is not less displayed than in the history before us. The transition which a person experiences in conversion, is justly represented in the Scripture as a coming "from darkness into marvelous light 1 Peter 2:9;" or rather, as "a passage from death to life 1 John 3:14." What human power is sufficient for a change like this? Paul represents the power displayed in it as equal to that which was exhibited by Almighty God in raising his Son Jesus Christ from the dead, and in setting him at his own right hand in Heaven, above all the principalities and powers, whether of Heaven or Hell Ephesians 1:18-22. The remembrance of this is an encouragement to the Christian in all his future conflicts. He knows assuredly who it is that "has begun the good work within him:" he is constrained to say, "I have labored, yet not I, but the grace of God that was within me: by the grace of God I am what I am 1 Corinthians 15:10." In its progress the work is carried forward more apparently by his own exertions. He has the armor given him; but he is called forth to use it. His whole life is to be a state of warfare; and it is by fighting that he is to obtain the victory. He will not find any one enemy that will submit to him, until smitten by the sword of the Spirit, and constrained by the holy violence of faith and prayer. The world, the flesh, and the devil, will combine their forces to destroy him. There will be some seasons of more than ordinary temptation, when he will need peculiar support from on high: and there will be other seasons of comparative rest: but, if Satan at any time depart from him, it will only be for a season, as he departed from Christ himself Luke 4:13. As it is with the Church at large, which has times of persecution and times of peace Acts 9:1; Acts 9:31, so is it, in a greater or less degree, with all the individuals that compose the Church: and not unfrequently has the Christian his sorest trials, either when he is most expecting peace Job 1:10; 2 Corinthians 12:2; 2 Corinthians 12:7, or when his last enemy, even death itself, is about to be swallowed up in everlasting victory 1 Corinthians 15:54. At last the completion of his warfare will arrive: O blessed season, when every enemy shall be finally subdued! Then the almost invincible Anakim shall be rooted out; and Satan, that great adversary, by whom all the rest are concentrated, and led on to battle, shall be bruised under his feet; and he shall enjoy the fruit of his victories in everlasting rest.
The same resemblance as we have traced in reference to the conquest of Canaan, may yet further be discovered in,
II. The partition of it—
The land, when conquered, was divided to the tribes by lot; God having reserved to himself the whole disposal of it: his it was from the beginning; and his it continued to be; and they must all receive it as a gift from him. Mark here the order of events;
1. The grant—
God gave the land to Abraham, whom of his own sovereign will he had called out from an idolatrous people, and to whom for his own glory's sake he had revealed his will. To him, I say, God gave the land: not for any merit that was in him, either seen or foreseen, but, "for the manifestation of his own glory." And whence is it that man is taken, in preference to the fallen angels? or whence are Christians selected from the whole world, which lies under Pagan darkness or Mohammedan delusion? or whence are some "recovered out of the snare of the devil, by whom they have been led captive at his will," while others are left still in bondage to him, wallowing in their lusts, and enemies of all righteousness? Will any man presume to say that he "made himself to differ 1 Corinthians 4:7," or that God chose him for his own superior goodness, either seen or foreseen Deuteronomy 9:4-6. Even such a thought is reprobated; and how much more such an assertion!? Let not that man ever speak of pride; for wherein could Lucifer himself exceed such presumption as this? No: we must affirm with the Apostle, that "God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world; and that, not because we were holy, or because he foresaw we would be holy, but that we might be holy, and without blame before him in love Ephesians 1:4." He, of his own sovereign will, gave his Son to us, and us to him John 17:6; John 17:9-10; yes, he "predestined us also unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the Beloved Ephesians 1:5-6. It is not expedient to be always harping upon this subject; but we must not be ashamed of it, or afraid on proper occasions to confess it."
2. The acquisition—
This, though a gift, was yet attained by means of their own exertions. The common objection against the doctrines of predestination and election is, that it encourages men to sit down supinely, expecting God to do everything, while they themselves do nothing. But did Joshua and Caleb argue so; or was there found one single person in the whole kingdom of Israel that argued so? No; they all knew that the gift of Canaan did not supersede the necessity of their exertions, nor did the efforts they used prevent it from being a gift. They knew that it was a gift; and that very consideration encouraged them to fight for it; and they labored cheerfully, because they "knew that their labor would not be in vain in the Lord." Thus then it must be with us. "The covenant whereby Heaven is made over to us, is ordered in all things and sure:" yet we must "fight the good fight of faith" and "quit ourselves like men," if ever we would enjoy any one of its blessings. It is "to those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, that eternal life will be given Romans 2:7;" nor is there one single hour on this side eternity when we are at liberty to put off our armor: we must "be faithful unto death, if ever we would obtain the crown of life." The will of God is made known to us: every assistance is offered for the performance of it: in obeying it we must find our present happiness, and ensure that which is to come. This order of things is absolutely irreversible: "we have need of patience therefore, that, after we have done the will of God, we may receive the promise Hebrews 10:36."
3. The enjoyment—
This, though long delayed, they attained at last; and doubtless considered themselves as well repaid for all their labors. But what was their rest in comparison of that which God has reserved for us? Of ours David speaks, when he represents God as swearing that the impenitent and unbelieving shall never enter into it: and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, this declaration of David's is brought to prove, that there must be some other, and better, rest than ever was enjoyed in this world. The rest which Joshua promised and gave to Israel in the land of Canaan, was only a type and shadow of that which God has prepared for us: "If Joshua had given them rest," says the Apostle, "David would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest to the people of God Hebrews 4:7-9. In verse 8 the name "Jesus" should be translated "Joshua." They are both the same word in the Greek." Now here the whole parallelism which we have illustrated, is marked by God himself. Their Captain has the very same name with ours, and was a most illustrious type of him: and the rest of Canaan which he gave them after all their conflicts, was a distinguished type of Heaven; to the everlasting possession of which we shall be advanced, when, under the direction, and by the aid of Jesus, we have subdued our spiritual enemies. Then all difficulties, temptations, trials, conflicts, will be forever banished; and rest in the bosom of our God will be our everlasting portion.
Let us learn then from hence the issue,
1. Of the world's impieties—
God bears long with sinners; and because his judgments against their evil works are not executed speedily, their hearts are the more fully, and more securely, set in them to do evil. But "God is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness." He has fixed a period beyond which his forbearance shall be exercised no longer: and then the most secure shall be visited, and the most powerful brought down. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." O that the secure and thoughtless would reflect on this, before it be too late! Hostility to Jesus and his people, whatever men may imagine, can never terminate, but in the destruction of those who indulge it. Beware then, Brethren, of hardening yourselves against God: for "who ever hardened himself against him and prospered?" His hand will surely find out all his enemies; and every refuge of lies shall be swept away with the broom of destruction.
2. Of the saint's conflicts—
Victory may in some cases be long held in suspense: and the most courageous veteran may need peculiar comforts from above. But the weakest shall triumph in due time; and be made "more than conquerors through Him that loved them." We readily grant, that, as the Israelites had to contend with "nations that were greater and mightier than they," so it is with us: but the issue of our conflicts shall be like theirs also. It is said on different occasions, that "God delivered their enemies into their hands;" and from thence the victory became certain. The same promise has he made to us; and it shall be fulfilled to every one of us in its season. Let not any then give way to unnecessary alarms. Appearances may be awful and alarming: but our consolation is, that "greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world:" and, if at any time we be tempted to say, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" let us instantly reply with the holy Apostle, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
SLOTH AND LUKEWARMNESS REPROVED For New Year's Day.
Joshua 18:3. And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are you slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers has given you?
CONSISTENCY in religion is by no means an easy attainment. Certain duties may be performed with zeal, while others of a more difficult and self-denying nature are shamefully neglected. We admire and applaud the conduct of "the whole congregation of Israel" in relation to the tabernacle, which with one consent they "set up for the Lord in Shiloh," as soon as ever "the land was subdued before them." This mark of respect and gratitude, of love and devotion, was due to God in the first place: but should we not have expected, that they would immediately go on to complete the work which God had assigned them, and which they had almost brought to a successful termination? Yet behold, there were no less than seven tribes out of the twelve, who had not yet received their inheritance, and who manifested a most criminal indifference respecting the possession of their appointed portion. This negligence Joshua reproves in the words which we have read: for the elucidation of which we shall show,
I. The force of the reproof as applied to them—
God had given them the land, and had so far subdued the inhabitants before them, that little remained but to go and take possession of the whole country. But they delayed, and their neglect brought a just reproof upon them;
1. For their indolence—
It is manifest that they gave way to an indolent and slothful spirit, which kept them from making the exertions necessary for the acquisition of their respective lots. Now this is an habit which we are all too apt to indulge, and which has a most injurious effect wherever it prevails. Solomon speaks of it as rendering a man averse to the most necessary duties, insomuch that "his way is always like an hedge of thorns" that makes his every motion difficult and painful Proverbs 15:19. Hence he is impoverished; "The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing Proverbs 13:4;" even the attainments he has made are rendered unprofitable to him through the influence of this corrupt principle: "he roasts not that which he took in hunting Proverbs 12:27;" in fact, as Solomon further observes, "The desire of the slothful kills him Proverbs 21:25." Now to yield to this principle at any time is very reprehensible; but under their circumstances, when God had done so much for them, and there remained so little for them to do, it was highly criminal.
2. For the undue satisfaction they took in their present comforts—
Doubtless their present state formed a great contrast with that which they had experienced in the wilderness; for they enjoyed all the rich provisions which had been treasured up for the use of the former inhabitants. But, because they were at present possessed of such abundance, they were unmindful of that which was destined for their future and permanent support. Thus it frequently happens, that a present portion diverts men from the pursuit of an ulterior object, which would have more richly compensated their continued labors. Not that we mean to decry moderation; for, when it is seated in the desires without impeding our actions, we consider it as a distinguished virtue: but where a partial attainment of what is truly good, renders us indifferent to the fuller possession of that good, we regard that as an abuse of God's goodness to us, and a perversion of what he designed for our encouragement. In the Israelites it argued base ingratitude to God, and was a very shameful method of requiting all his kindness to them.
3. For the light thoughts which they entertained of their promised inheritance—
It is evident that they did not regard it in the exalted light in which God had represented it to them: they thought but little of it as an inheritance assigned to them by the Deity, and still less as a type and emblem of that glorious inheritance reserved for his people in a better world. In this respect they are followed by the whole race of mankind. God bestows innumerable blessings on us, to lead up our minds to Him who gave them, and to stimulate us to the pursuit of far higher blessings: but we view these mercies only as they conduce to our present comfort, and entirely overlook the intention of the Donor: yes, we scarcely ever begin to think of spiritual benefits, until he has either withdrawn, or embittered to us our carnal enjoyments. In Israel, this conduct was peculiarly criminal, because the possession of this land had been promised to Abraham so many hundred years before, and had constituted the chief encouragement to the whole nation to devote themselves unreservedly to the service of Jehovah.
The reproof however must not be confined to them; we must acknowledge,
II. The justice of it as applied to ourselves—
God has given to us a better inheritance, even Heaven itself: and much has he done for us, in order to bring us to the possession of it. We speak not now of those who are yet "in darkness and the shadow of death," but of those who have been "brought out of darkness into marvelous light:" yes, to the greater part of them is this reproof preeminently due. Let it only be considered how "slack" the professors of religion almost universally are in the pursuit of Heaven; how slack, I say,
1. In reading the Scriptures—
The sacred volume contains, not only the will which makes over to us the grant of this inheritance, but the title-deeds themselves, yes, a map also of the whole estate, a description of everything that is valuable in it, and clear directions for securing to ourselves the everlasting possession of it. Now I would ask, What would be our employment, if such a document were put into our hands in reference to an earthly inheritance; especially if we were called to make out our title to it, and our ultimate enjoyment of it depended on proofs to be adduced from the records themselves? Should we not diligently apply ourselves to those records without loss of time? Should we not call in professional aid, and use every possible effort to establish our right? Should we find ourselves at ease while the issue of our exertions was doubtful? or should we waste our time in unprofitable pursuits, and thereby endanger the ultimate loss of our property through the craft and subtlety of an envious adversary? We all know how we should feel and act on an occasion like that. But how do we act in reference to the inspired volume? (I speak not of those who entirely neglect the Bible; their conduct speaks loudly for itself: I speak of those who do occasionally read the Scriptures.) Do we search that blessed book with half the interest that we ought? Do we mark everything in it that can assist us either in discovering our title to Heaven, or in securing the attainment of it? Let us ask ourselves, whether we do not often find less interest in it than in a common newspaper? and, though for conscience sake we read a portion of it every day, we find it oftentimes only a dead letter, and a sealed book, from whence we derive no real benefit. Does not this then show how justly the reproof of "slackness" may be applied to us?
2. In prayer—
Prayer is that which brings down aid from above, and tends, more than anything else, to the furtherance of the work of God within us. But O! what a poor, cold, formal service is prayer in general, even among those who profess to be looking for the enjoyment of Heaven! But, what if we were professing great anxiety to reach a destined port, and yet carried no more sail than was just necessary to keep the vessel's head towards it; and every storm threatened to drive us out of our course; and it was often doubtful whether the currents had not a more powerful influence to counteract our design, than the wind to further it; would any one believe that we were in earnest? It is by prayer that we catch the heavenly gales, and are advanced towards the land which we pretend to seek: let conscience say then, whether we carry the canvass which we might; or whether our secret aspirations justify our outward professions. Who among us, in the view of these holy duties, does not even reproach himself, and almost doubt his own sincerity?
3. In the mortification of sin—
In this we particularly resemble the Israelites of old. Because the armies of Canaan were no longer formidable to them, they overlooked the scattered remains which still occupied many strong-holds, and considered them as unworthy of their notice. And is it not thus with too many among ourselves? We are not any longer tempted to the commission of gross, open, scandalous iniquities; and therefore we rest satisfied with the victories we have gained, instead of prosecuting them to the utter extirpation of our indwelling corruptions. Look at many professors of religion: they will not be guilty of palpable dishonesty: yet will harbor covetous and worldly desires: they will not commit whoredom or adultery: yet will indulge much impurity in their imaginations. See the various parties in the Church: instead of exerting all their powers against their common enemy, they can waste their time in contending with each other: and even those who are united in the same Church too often weaken each other's hands by mutual disagreements, instead of edifying each other by fervent love. Do not these things show, how lukewarm we are in the prosecution of our best interests? Were we in earnest, as we ought to be, we should account sin our only enemy: and the extirpation of it would be the one labor of our lives.
4. In pressing forward for the prize of our high calling—
This distinguished the great Apostle of the Gentiles; he "forgot the things which were behind, and reached forward for that which was before:" and, after his example, we should account nothing attained, as long as anything remains to be attained: we should consider victories only as steps to future conquests: and think it time enough to rest, when every enemy, even death itself, has been put under our feet. Instead of dreading the dissolution of our earthly tabernacle, we should groan for it, desiring to be dissolved, that we may be with Christ; yes, we should be "looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of Christ," when our sanctification will be perfect, and our triumph complete. But, how far is this from being the experience of the generality of Christians! We seem to cleave to life, as if a state of pain and conflict were preferable to that of rest and happiness. Alas! alas! we live far below our privileges: whereas, if we were as heartily engaged in the work of our salvation as God requires us to be, we should manifest in our very countenances the radiance of God's image, and bear about in our souls the felicity of Heaven.
That we may give more effect to this reproof, we will set before you,
III. The considerations which are proper to stir us up to diligence—
1. How much time you have lost already—
What attainments might we not have secured, if, from the commencement of our warfare, we had made no truce with our enemies, but had followed up our advantages with becoming zeal!: Many may look back for years, and yet be scarcely able to point out one foot of ground that they have gained, beyond that which was ceded to them in their first conflicts. But we must not forget, that it is not he who begins well, but "he who endures to the end, that shall be saved."
2. How your difficulties are increased by delay—
Forty years after this time, the tribe of Dan had yet to fight for their inheritance Judges. 18:1; and it was four hundred years before the Jebusites were driven from Jerusalem 2 Samuel 5:6-8. Had all the tribes proceeded with united vigor to fulfill the divine command in its utmost extent, they would not so long have had to lament that their remaining enemies were as "scourges in their side, and thorns in their eyes." And who does not find, that corruptions gather strength by indulgence, and that graces decay for want of exercise? "Look then to yourselves, that you lose not the things that you have wrought, but that you receive a full reward 2 John, verse 8."
3. How certain is your success, if you advance in your work—
The promise and oath of Jehovah are on your side. If there were any room for doubt respecting the ultimate success of your labors, there would be some little excuse for lukewarmness: but when victory is sure, methinks the most timid person in the universe should not fear the conflict, nor the weakest hesitate to put forth his strength. Go on then without fear; and "you shall never fall, but so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ 2 Peter 1:10-11."
4. How richly Heaven will compensate for all your labors—
What was Canaan, in comparison of the rest that is above? It is no uncommon thing for the ungodly to find fault with the Lord's people as too strict, and to dissuade them from the exercise of so much zeal in the cause of Christ: but what would they think, if, like Paul, they were caught up to the third heavens, and beheld for a single hour those blessed abodes? Would they think us then too much in earnest? Would they not rather stand amazed at the lukewarmness of those, whom they now condemn as "righteous overmuch?" They themselves cannot but feel the full force of this appeal: much more must you who are engaged in the service of the Lord, be well convinced, that "it is good to be zealously affected always in a good cause." To you therefore we say, as the spies did to the neglectful Danites, "We have seen the land, and behold, it is very good: and are you still? Be not slothful to go, and to enter to possess the land Judges. 18:9."
THE DISBANDING OF THE TROOPS OF ISRAEL
Joshua 22:4-5. Now return you, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side Jordan. But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to lore the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.
THE duties of soldiers and of their commanders are well illustrated in this passage. The soldier's chief excellence is a prompt, steady, persevering, uniform obedience to the commands of his superiors, without regarding any difficulties, any dangers, any sacrifices: and among the chief excellencies of a commander is an attention to the spiritual and eternal interests of those who are under his authority.
The Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassites, had received their portion on the other side of Jordan on the express condition, that a just proportion of their tribes should pass over Jordan to fight in concert with the other tribes, and not return unto their inheritance until the whole land should be subdued. This they had done; and now that they were about to be disbanded, Joshua acknowledges to their honor, that "they had kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded them, and had obeyed his voice also in all that he had commanded them." But while he commends them for their fidelity to him, he endeavors to impress upon their minds a sense of duty and allegiance to God; and enjoins them to "take diligent heed to serve the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their soul."
From this parting exhortation we are led to remark,
I. That a progress in holiness is above all things to be desired—
Had Joshua merely judged it proper to insert an admonition relative to their religious duties, one or two expressions would have sufficed: but from the multitude of expressions used in the text, we see of what unspeakable importance he considered religion to be to every child of man. He not only mentions the subject first in general terms, that "they should do the commandment and the law," but enters particularly into it: they must have, as the principle of their obedience, the love of God: the extent of it must be to all God's ways: and, as to the manner of it, they must cleave to him with an unalterable determination of their wills, and the most ardent exercise of their affections: This is holiness; but nothing short of it will suffice. We do not say that the Christian must be perfect: for where should we then find a Christian? but he must aim at perfection, and be continually pressing forwards for the attainment of it. This was the great object of Joshua's solicitude both for himself and his soldiers: this was the great end for which our Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross, even "to purify to himself a peculiar people zealous of good works:" and this must be the one object for which we should desire to live.
II. That, whatever progress any person may have made, he still needs to hear words of counsel and exhortation—
The soldiers whom Joshua was disbanding had continued with unshaken fidelity to fulfill their engagements: and though they had been detained from their families and possessions for seven years, they never once murmured or repined at the delay: yet Joshua did not on that account think that his religious counsels to them were superfluous. Nor should the most established Christian imagine himself to be beyond the reach of danger, or to have attained such eminence as not to need every possible help for his furtherance in the divine life. Peter, writing to those to whom "the divine power had already given all things that pertained to life and godliness," says, "I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you know them, and be established in the present truth." And indeed the counsel in our text intimates, that, in order to do the commandments, we must "take heed," yes, "take diligent heed" to them; so many are our temptations to violate them, and so averse are we by nature to observe them: In a general way, the truth of these observations will be thought so obvious, as that they scarcely deserved a mention: but experience proves, that they need to be insisted on with all possible earnestness: for, while the professors of religion depart from open iniquity, there is in every one of them some besetting sin, which they are prone to cherish and indulge. Moreover, their blindness with respect to that sin is most astonishing: for, not only are they unconscious of its domination, but they are even ignorant of its existence in them; and not unfrequently do they give themselves credit for that as a virtue, which others see to be their greatest defect. How blind are men to their pride, their vanity, their worldliness! How often does an angry and bitter spirit habitually prevail in men, who never mourn over their unchristian tempers, or appear even to be aware of them!: We call upon all then to "be jealous over themselves with a godly jealousy;" and to hear the exhortations of the Gospel with an especial reference to themselves, searching out their own spirit, and striving to attain the full "mind that was in Christ Jesus."
III. That a state of peace and prosperity is a season of peculiar danger—
Now the disbanded soldiers were returning to the bosom of their families, and the peaceful prosecution of their worldly business: and, as Moses had long since warned them, they were in danger, while enjoying "houses which they built not, wells which they dug not, and vineyards which they planted not; they were in danger, I say, of forgetting the Lord their God." And who does not feel how apt the mind is to yield to the pleasures of sense, and to relax its ardor in the pursuit of heavenly things, when it has no trials or troubles to stimulate its exertions? Visit the chambers of sickness, and of health; and see how different the same persons are under the two different states! View persons under painful bereavements, and see them afterwards in the full enjoyment of all earthly comforts! Truly, if we regarded heavenly things only, we might rather congratulate men on troubles than on the absence of them, and account prosperity their greatest snare. To all then who are looking forward to any worldly acquisitions or comforts, or who are now living in the possession of them, we would urge with peculiar earnestness the necessity of vigilance, lest having "begun in the Spirit, they end in the flesh." Hear the exhortation of an inspired Apostle: "Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord; looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled Hebrews 12:14-15;" there you may see the hidden nature, the growing tendency, the baneful effects of sin; its effects in the heart, the Church, the World: O that we may be ever on our guard against its secret workings; and most of all on our guard, when ease and prosperity are administering opiates to our souls!
"Suffer you then, Brethren, a word of exhortation Hebrews 13:22. If this were on the occasion of disbanding troops, the commendation given by Joshua, as well as his exhortation, should, as far as was applicable, be insisted on."—
When you are released from your present warfare, and are dismissed to your eternal inheritance, you will be beyond the reach of sin: in the bosom of your God your holiness and felicity will be complete. But, as long as you are in this world, you will need to have every word of Joshua's injunctions repeatedly enforced. See then to it that you "love the Lord your God," who has redeemed you from sin and Satan, death and Hell: See that, from a sense of love to him, and his love to you, your obedience be carried to its utmost possible extent; and strive to "be perfect even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect": And, since it is certain that you will find many things to draw you away from him, mind that you "cleave to him with full purpose of heart," "abhorring that which is evil, and cleaving to that which is good": Lastly, let all your affections center in Him, and in his ways: let "your whole heart and your whole soul" be engaged in his service; and let the delight which you experience in fulfilling his will, be manifested, "not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth;" so that your bitterest enemy, or most watchful observer, may have no room to doubt either the excellence of your principles, or the reality of your attainments.
THE ALTAR OF WITNESS
Joshua 22:11-12. And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel. And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them.
RELIGION has often been made a plea for ambitious and bloody projects: but it never was on any occasion so truly and properly the ground of war, as in the event that is here recorded. The tribes who had their portion on the east of Jordan, after having been disbanded, came to the land of their possession: and, apprehending that at some future period they might be disowned by their brethren on account of their not having their inheritance in the land of Canaan, they built a large altar on the borders of their own land near Jordan, to serve as a memorial to all future ages, that they belonged to the tribes of Israel, and were the worshipers of Israel's God. The other tribes having no conception of an altar being erected but for sacrifice, regarded this as an act of rebellion against God, and determined instantly to go and punish the supposed apostates. But first they agreed to send an embassy, to see whether they could not prevail by milder methods to reclaim them from their wickedness. The ambassadors went; a convention met; an explanation took place; the misapprehensions were removed; and all was speedily and amicably settled.
Now this history will suggest many useful hints for the regulating of,
I. National interests—
The question was, in fact, of infinite importance to the whole nation. Repeated occasions had arisen wherein the sin of individuals had been visited upon the whole nation. The iniquity of Achan had not long since caused the defeat of Israel's hosts, and the loss of six and thirty men: and, not very long before, the connection of many with the Midianitish women in whoredom and idolatry, brought destruction on twenty-four thousand Israelites in one day. What then could he expected, but that, if these who had erected the altar should pass unpunished, God would punish all the other tribes as partners in their guilt? To avert so terrible an evil was their bounden duty; and therefore they acted right in determining to avenge the quarrel of their God. But, as it was possible they might prevail by gentler means, they sent delegates from every tribe, with Phinehas at their head, to expostulate with them on their conduct. These were met by other delegates from the supposed offenders, and everything was cleared up to their satisfaction: and thus the controversy was terminated to the unspeakable joy of all parties.
Now in this we see how nations ought to act, whenever grounds of disagreement arise, and their mutual interests interfere. Their ambassadors should confer with each other in a conciliatory manner, anxious to prevent extremities, and, by mutual explanations and concessions, to adjust their differences. One thing in particular was worthy of applause in those who seemed disposed for war: they were intent only on the prevention of iniquity; and, imagining that the altar had been raised with a view to put the land of Gilead on a footing of equality with the land of Canaan, they offered to give up a proportionate share of their own land to those who had erected it, and thus to sacrifice their own interests for the preservation of peace. Alas! how different is this from what is usually found among contending nations! Modern embassies are most frequently characterized by duplicity and concealment, by chicanery and finesse, and by a wanton pertinacity about matters of inferior moment. Were all actuated by the spirit of Israel on this occasion, were frankness on the one side met by patience and conciliation on the other, the earth would be no more deluged with blood, but the "swords would be beaten into ploughshares," and happiness would reign, where nothing but desolation and misery is seen.
But this history will be further useful for the regulation of,
II. Judicial policy—
This act was in reality an enforcing of the existing laws under the direction of the civil magistrate: for, though Joshua is not mentioned, we can have no doubt but that Phinehas and the ten princes had received his sanction at least, if they did not proceed by his express command. The law of God had plainly enjoined, that there should be only one place for God's altar, and that all the tribes should offer their sacrifices there Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:7. It also commanded, that, if any attempt should be made by any part of Israel to establish idolatry among them, the remainder, after due inquiry, should cut them off with the sword Deuteronomy 13:12-15. This then was an interference of magistrates in support of the laws: and it was indispensably necessary that they should interfere, to prevent so fatal a schism as was likely to arise.
We would not be understood to say, that civil magistrates would be justified in using the sword for the prevention or punishment of schism now. The true Church is not so accurately defined now, as that any one body has a right to assume to itself the exclusive privilege of being called The Church of Christ: nor is there any commission given to magistrates to use carnal weapons in the support of any particular system, either of doctrines or of discipline, in the Church: but where, as in the instance before us, there appears to be a public renunciation of all religion, and a profane contempt of all laws, the magistrate is bound to interfere; and every Christian in the land is bound to give him his support. Opinions are not within the cognizance of the civil magistrate, except when they are manifested in actions, or are so promulgated as to endanger the peace and welfare of society: but, when carried to that extent, they justly come under his control. This vigilance however, though sufficiently exercised in relation to the things which concern the State, is but little seen in the suppression of profaneness and iniquity. We have laws against every species of iniquity; but they are not carried into effect. The fear of divine judgments on the land scarcely ever enters into the bosoms either of magistrates or people: hence, if only there be no flagrant violation of the peace, iniquity may prevail almost to any extent, without any one to vindicate the honor of God, or to avert his displeasure from a guilty land. In this respect there is an awful difference between the Israelites and us: insomuch that we, with all our superior advantages, are not worthy to be compared with them. Yet we must remember, that whenever we put forth the arm of power for the suppression of vice, our first object must be, by expostulation, to reclaim; nor must we ever inflict punishment, until milder measures have failed of success.
This history will be yet further useful to us in the regulation of,
III. Religious zeal—
"It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing:" but our zeal should particularly exert itself,
1. To prevent apostasy from God—
This was the real object of the persons who raised the altar: they, in a most reverential and solemn manner, called God to witness that they had been actuated only by a desire to transmit to their posterity an indelible assurance, that they were as truly the Lord's people, as those who dwelt in Canaan; and that though their land was separated from that of their brethren, their interests and privileges were the same.
Here was a noble example of regard for posterity. It might have been better indeed to have consulted Joshua, or rather to have taken counsel of the Lord, respecting this measure, before they had carried it into execution: but holy zeal does not always pause to consider all possible effects and consequences; (though doubtless, the more tempered it is with wisdom, the more excellent it appears:) but God does not blame their conduct: and in this at least we shall do well to follow it, namely, by exerting ourselves in every possible way to transmit, and to perpetuate even to the remotest ages, the knowledge of God, as our God, our Father, and Redeemer.
The other tribes also manifested a noble zeal, in the same cause, though by different means. They were fearful that this altar would be the means of turning many of their brethren from the worship of the true God; and they went forth at the peril of their lives to prevent it. It may be said, that these two were less temperate than they should have been: but, convinced as they were in their own judgment, their zeal was not at all more ardent than the occasion required. Though they spoke roughly, they spoke with candor, and with a perfect openness to conviction, if anything could be said to justify the act. And their offer to surrender a part of their own possessions, in order to remove the temptation to which, in their own minds, they had ascribed the act, showed, that they were actuated solely by a regard for God's honor and for Israel's good.
Here then is proper scope for all our zeal. We should remove, as far as possible, both from ourselves and from our children, every temptation to apostasy from God. We should rebuke sin in others also, and set ourselves against it to the uttermost, We should show ourselves on all occasions on the Lord's side; and be willing to sacrifice, not only our property, but even life itself, in vindicating his honor, and maintaining his interest in the world.
2. To preserve love and unity with man—
If we find somewhat to blame in each of these opposite parties; in the one, an undue precipitation in building the altar; and, in the other, an undue hastiness in ascribing it to wrong intentions; we behold much, very much, to admire in both. When the accusers found themselves mistaken, they did not shift their ground, and condemn their brethren for imprudence: nor, when the accused had evinced their innocence, did they condemn their accusers on the ground of uncharitableness and injustice: the one were as glad to acquit as the others were to be acquitted; and both united in sincere thankfulness to God, that all ground of dissension was removed.
Now it will almost of necessity sometimes happen, that the well-meant actions of our brethren shall be misconstrued, through an ignorance of their precise views and intentions: it may also happen, that the well-meant reproofs of our brethren may be founded in misconception. Here then is ample room for the exercise of well-tempered zeal. To avoid, on the one hand, unnecessary accusations, and gladly to retract them if they have been unwittingly adduced; and, on the other side, to avoid vindictive recriminations, and with pious meekness to satisfy the minds of any whom we may have unintentionally grieved: this is the spirit which we should continually cultivate: it should be the labor of our lives to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
3. To avert the divine judgments from our guilty land—
It is a memorable expression which is recorded on this occasion: "Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord verse 31." Sin delivers us into his hand for punishment. Of this, the history of Israel in all ages is a decisive proof If this be the subject of a Fast Sermon, the judgments inflicted on us may be adduced as an additional proof. On the other hand, repentance delivers us out if his hand; as was remarkably exemplified in the case of Nineveh: which, but for the intervention of their penitence, would have been overthrown in forty days. But we need not go further than to the history before us, where this very effect is ascribed to the pious zeal of the Reubenites and Gadites. Happy would it be for us, if we all considered the effect of our conduct on the public welfare! God has no pleasure in punishing his creatures: and he is ever ready to remove his judgments, when they have produced in us the desired humiliation. Let us then approve ourselves to him: and then, though our zeal be misinterpreted, and even our own brethren be for a time incensed against us, our righteousness shall be made to appear, and our labors be crowned with the approbation of our God.
GOD'S INTERPOSITIONS FOR US ARE OBLIGATIONS TO LOVE AND SERVE HIM
Joshua 23:10-11. The Lord your God, he it is that fights for you, as he has promised you. Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that you love the Lord your God.
MUCH as patriotism and valor are admired, and deservedly as, in many instances, they have been rewarded by men, they are of no value in the sight of God, if they be not accompanied with true piety. Their utility to the state of which we are members is undoubted; but their moral excellence depends on their union with religion. Abstracted from a regard to God, they are a mere compound of pride and selfishness; but, regulated by religion, they are in a high degree amiable and praiseworthy. Many bright examples of patriotism, united with piety, are set before us in the Scriptures; but none shines with greater luster than that of Joshua: when his whole nation was sinking under desponding fears, he encouraged them by his unshaken fortitude and confidence in God Numbers 14:6-9; and when he had vanquished all their enemies, and put them into the quiet possession of the promised land, he still improved his influence to confirm their faith, and to establish them in the paths of righteousness. The words before us are part of his dying address to all the elders of Israel. In applying them to the present occasion, we shall show,
I. To whom our successes have been owing—
God has promised to interpose on behalf of those who wait upon him—
His promises to hear the prayers of individuals are numberless Matthew 7:7. And the same are made also to repenting nations 2 Chronicles 7:14.
His interpositions on behalf of our nation have been signally manifest—
We may be led to ascribe them to the valor of our forces, or the skill of our commanders. But it is God who endues them both with skill and courage, and gives the victory to whoever he will. Besides, there have been many peculiar circumstances which owed their origin to him alone. And, while these mark his providential care, they compel us to acknowledge that "it is he who fights for us Here the particular circumstances may be mentioned, and be illustrated by Psalm 44:3."
Nor are we without a hope, that his mercies to us have been sent in accomplishment of his promise—
Many have mourned over the troubles of the land, and have made earnest intercession with God on our behalf. And though there is nothing meritorious in their petitions, yet when God sends the mercies for which we have prayed, we have reason to hope that he has sent them in answer to our prayers.
Whatever may be our opinion respecting this, it becomes us to consider,
II. The improvement we should make of them—
Every mercy from God is an additional obligation to love and serve him—
God has commanded us to love him with all our heart: and he is worthy of our supreme regard on account of the perfections of his nature, and the dispensations of his grace. But he is also to be loved in a peculiar manner for hearing and answering our prayers Psalm 116:1. The effect produced on the mind of David, should result from every expression of the divine goodness towards us Psalm 18:1 with the title of the Psalm.
But we are very prone to forget all his benefits—
However earnest we may be in a season of affliction, we become remiss and careless when the affliction is removed. We are like metal, which is melted in the furnace, but returns speedily to its original hardness as soon as it is taken from the fire. Like the Jews we "forget the Rock that bought us." Even good "Hezekiah requited not the Lord according to all that he had done for him 2 Chronicles 32:25." And too many among ourselves forget to pay the vows which we have offered in a time of trouble.
On this account we should take good heed to remember them—
Nothing is more displeasing to God than ingratitude. Nor will he overlook it even in his most highly favored servants 2 Chronicles 32:25. But "shall we thus requite the Lord?" Let us rather survey with gratitude the mercies we have received. Let us habitually behold the hand of God in them. And let us anxiously inquire, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits that he has done unto me?"
This subject may teach us,
1. Where to look for future successes—
If we look to our fleets and armies we may expect nothing but defeat. We are indeed to use all possible means of defense, but not to trust in any of them Isaiah 22:11. Our eyes must be directed unto God alone. "The battle is not ours but his." "He can save by many or by few." Were we ever so superior to our enemies he could bring us down like Sennacherib Isaiah 10:8-19; or if we were reduced to ever so low an ebb, he could render us victorious Isaiah 10:4. And it is certain that if we "walk in pride, he will abase" us; but if we humbly seek his aid, he will support and deliver us.
2. Where to look for success in our spiritual warfare—
Whatever external peace we might enjoy, we yet should have a warfare to maintain. There never will be one moment's truce with our spiritual enemies. The world, the flesh, and the devil, will incessantly fight against us; and we must conflict with them even to the end. But God fights for those who put their trust in him. Let us call upon him, and he will clothe us with armor from the arsenal of Heaven Ephesians 6:13. The Captain of our salvation will go forth with us to the battle. He will shield our head, and strengthen our arm, and make us "more than conquerors" over all. Let us then "love him" for the victories we have already gained. Let us take good heed to ourselves that we never rob him of his glory. Let us thankfully ascribe our every success to him Psalm 115:1; and begin the song which we shall shortly sing in Heaven, "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ 1 Corinthians 15:57."
GOD'S FAITHFULNESS TO HIS PROMISES
Joshua 23:14. Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing has failed thereof.
IT has been common in all ages to pay peculiar attention to the words of dying men: and the more eminent their characters were, the more regard has been shown to their last instructions or advice. The person speaking in the text, was, in some points of view, distinguished even above Moses himself: for though Moses was the appointed instrument of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, he was forced to leave them to the care of Joshua, who alone was commissioned to settle them in Canaan; and who was therefore a more illustrious type of Jesus, whose name he bore, and whose character he prefigured. The dying words of such a person, when speaking under the dictates of inspiration, may well be considered as calling for more than ordinary attention: especially when the scope of them was to vindicate the honor of God, and they were delivered in a way of solemn appeal to the whole nation of the Jews. But they have yet a further claim to our regard, because, though primarily applicable to those to whom they were immediately addressed, they are equally applicable to the Lord's people, in every place, and every age.
To illustrate them in this view, we shall,
I. Notice some of those good things which the Lord our God has spoken concerning us—
In order to mark, what we are principally to insist upon, the faithfulness of God in performing his promises, we will specify some that were made,
1. To the Church at large—
God promised to the Church the gift of his dear Son Genesis 3:15; Genesis 22:18; Deuteronomy 18:18; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 53:6; Daniel 9:24; Jeremiah 23:6; the abiding presence of his Spirit Proverbs 1:23; Isaiah 32:15; Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 15:26.John 16:14; John 16:8; Zechariah 12:10; Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:22; and a final triumph over all our enemies Isaiah 27:2; Isaiah 33:20; Isaiah 54:17; Jeremiah 31:35-37; Matthew 16:18.
2. To individual members in particular—
Though the names of individuals are not specified, their characters are delineated, and that too in such a way, that all who study the sacred oracles may read, as it were, their names in them. There are distinct promises made to the humble Isaiah 66:2; James 4:6; Isaiah 57:15; the weak Isaiah 42:3-4; Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 41:14-15; Isaiah 41:17-18; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Amos. 9:9; the tempted 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 2:18; the backslidden Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 3:22; Hosea 14:4; and especially to them that trust in God Isaiah 26:3; Psalm 125:1; Jeremiah 17:7-8; In that class is every rank and order of true Christians comprehended, "Truly it shall be well with the righteous Isaiah 3:10."
These are "great," "exceeding great and precious, promises 2 Peter 1:4;" and the persons who correspond with the different characters, are at full liberty to apply them to themselves.
Having taken a short view of the promises, we may proceed to,
II. Show the faithfulness of God in fulfilling them—
There is in the minds of all who have heard the Gospel, a general conviction of the truth and faithfulness of God—
It is seen that God has already fulfilled all that he has promised in reference to the Church at large. Besides what he did for the Jews Joshua 21:43-45, he has sent his Son; he has poured out his Spirit; he has maintained his Church, notwithstanding all the efforts that have been used both by men and devils to destroy it. And from hence we feel a persuasion, that his word shall be fulfilled in other respects also. We do not indeed suffer our convictions to operate as they ought; yet we revolt at the idea that "God should lie Numbers 23:19," and we know that "he cannot deny himself 2 Timothy 2:13."
All who have ever sought after God at all, have had proofs of his veracity in their own experience—
The Israelites "knew in all their hearts, and in all their souls," that God had fulfilled his promises to them. And are there any who have ever called upon him, or trusted in him, and not found him ready to hear their prayers, and to supply their wants? If we look back to seasons of peculiar trial, shall we not find some manifestations of his mercy, sufficient to show, that, if we have not received more from him, it has been owing to our own backwardness to ask, rather than to any unwillingness in him to give?.
Nor can the whole universe produce one single instance wherein his promises have failed—
We can make the same appeal to you, as Joshua, after sixty years' experience, did to the Israelites. Bring forth every promise from the Bible; then search the annals of the world; and inquire of every creature in it, to find one single instance of God's violating or forgetting a promise: and if one instance can be proved, we will consent that his word shall henceforth be called in question. Tell us then, To whom has he "been a wilderness Jeremiah 2:31." What penitent, believing, and obedient soul has he ever forsaken Hebrews 13:5; Isaiah 49:14-15; Isaiah 54:7-10. He himself bids you "testify against him Mic. 6:3." But we defy the whole world to impeach his veracity, or to contradict our assertion, when we say, that "all which he has promised us is come to pass; not one thing has failed thereof": God may have delayed the accomplishment of his promises, or fulfilled them in a way that was not expected: but not one of them has ever failed.
1. Those who have not considered the faithfulness of God—
In spite of the general conviction of God's truth that floats upon our minds, there is a proneness in us to indulge a thought, that his mercy will in some way or other interpose to prevent the execution of his threatenings. But the veracity of God is pledged as much for the accomplishment of his threatenings as of his promises: and of this he labors in the most earnest manner to persuade us Ezekiel 24:13-14. How many, alas! are now experiencing in Hell what they would not believe when they were on earth! Let us learn to "tremble at God's word." Let us remember, that though the antediluvian scoffers said, as others now do, "Where is the promise of his coming 2 Peter 3:3-4." he did come at last, though he bore with them a hundred and twenty years. And in like manner he will overwhelm us also at last with the deluge of his wrath, if we enter not into the ark before the door be shut against us: "We are going the way of all the earth," whether we be old or young, rich or poor: and as death finds us, so shall we remain forever. Stay not then until death overtake you; but join yourselves to the Lord, and to his people. "Come with us, and we will do you good; for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel Numbers 10:29."
2. Those who are tempted to doubt his faithfulness—
Let not delays lead you to harbor unbelieving fears. God sent not his Son until four thousand years after he had announced his purpose to the world: nor did he bring Israel out of Egypt until the time fixed in his promises was just expired. If a few more hours had elapsed, his promise to Abraham would have been broken: but God remembered the very day; and then inclined the rebellious Pharaoh to submit: yes, he disposed the Egyptians to "thrust his people out" from their land, on "the self-same day" that he had fixed four hundred and thirty years before Exodus 12:51. Tarry then the Lord's leisure. Take the promises of God as your support, and "claim them as your heritage forever Psalm 119:111." Be not hasty in concluding that God will not accomplish them 1 Samuel 27:1; Ezekiel 37:11; but take them with you to a throne of grace, and plead them as the saints of old were accustomed to do Genesis 32:12; then you shall find them all to be "yes, and amen, in Christ 2 Corinthians 1:20." "If things be marvelous in your eyes, do not imagine that they must therefore be so in the eyes of God Zechariah 8:6;" for as "there is nothing too hard for him" to do, so there is nothing too great, or too good, for him to give to his believing people.
3. Those who are relying on his faithfulness—
It cannot but be a source of unspeakable comfort to observe, in how many passages the faithfulness of God is expressly pledged for the performance of his promises. Does he promise to forgive our sins 1 John 1:9, to deliver us from temptation 1 Corinthians 10:13, to further in us the great work of sanctification 1 Thessalonians. 5:23-24, and to preserve us to the end 2 Thessalonians. 3:3. We are told in each, that he is "faithful to do it" for us. It is also delightful to reflect, that "his word is tried 2 Samuel 22:31." Solomon's testimony was precisely that which is given in the text 1 Kings 8:56; and, the more we trust in God, the more evidence shall we have that "he keeps covenant and mercy to a thousand generations Deuteronomy 7:9." But remember that his fidelity to you requires in you fidelity to him: it lays you under a tenfold obligation to "hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering Hebrews 10:23." See then that you bear in mind the vows that are upon you, and that you execute all that you have undertaken in your baptismal covenant. Labor to be found "children that will not lie; so will He be" your faithful and almighty "Savior Isaiah 63:8."
JOSHUA'S COVENANT WITH ISRAEL TO SERVE THE LORD
Joshua 24:21-27. And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the Lord. And Joshua said unto the people, You are witnesses against yourselves, that you have chosen you the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel. And the people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said unto all the people. Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord which he spoke unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest you deny your God.
THE pious servants of God may be disabled through age and infirmities from continuing their personal exertions, but they never will relax their zeal in the service of their Divine Master; and what they want in effective labors, they will endeavor to supply by stimulating and confirming the zeal of others. Moses, at an advanced age, renewed with Israel in the land of Moab the covenant which he had forty years before made with them in Horeb Deuteronomy 29:1; and Joshua in like manner, now that he was "waxed old and stricken in age," and was speedily "going the way of all the earth," convened all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, for the purpose of engaging them once more to give themselves up to God in a perpetual covenant; that so the good effects of his influence might remain, when he should have ceased to move them by his authority and example.
I. Consider the covenant which he made with them—
The covenant itself was, that they should serve the Lord—
Not contented with requiring this of them in general terms, he specified the manner in which they must serve the Lord. They must serve him sincerely. It was not sufficient for them to call themselves his people, and to observe his ordinances with hypocritical exactness: their hearts must be fixed upon him; their delight must be to do his will; they must have no secret reserves of unmortified corruption; but must serve the Lord "in sincerity and truth verse 14."
They must also serve him resolutely. It might "seem evil to them to serve the Lord," yes, it might be accounted so by the whole nation; but they must be inflexible in their purpose, and determinately say with him, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord verse 15."
They must also serve him exclusively. The admonition in the 19th verse is variously interpreted. Some think it was an objection in the mouth of an adversary, to deter persons from the Lord's service: others think it was a strong statement of the difficulties attending the Lord's service, suggested by Joshua for the purpose of stirring up the Israelites to more fixedness of purpose, and greater energy in their exertions. But we apprehend that the whole context determines the passage to a very different meaning. There were still among them some idols, which, though they did not worship, they valued and were averse to part with: and Joshua saw, that, if these were retained, the people would in time relapse into idolatry: he warned them therefore of the impossibility of their serving God acceptably while they retained these; and assured them, that God would never forgive them, if they did not put away the things which were sure to prove to them an occasion of falling. The following warning in the 20th verse, and the exhortation in the 23d, show most satisfactorily, that this is the true meaning of the passage we refer to. God must be served alone: his glory will he not give to another: he is a "holy" God, that will tolerate no secret lust; and a "jealous God, that will endure no rival in our hearts, or in our hands."
Having stated to them the terms of the covenant, he calls them to ratify and confirm it—
Covenants are usually signed by the parties themselves, and then attested by others, as witnesses. Thus on this occasion he calls the Israelites to confirm and ratify this covenant by their own express consent, which they give in terms no less plain than if they had annexed to the covenant their own name and seal. The manner in which they do this is peculiarly worthy of observation: they first express their utter abhorrence of the very idea of departing from God verse 16; and then, assigning their obligations to Jehovah as a reason for their determination, they declare their fixed purpose to serve him, and him only verse 17, 18. Upon Joshua's expressing the jealousy which he entertained respecting them on account of their backwardness to cast away their idols, they renewed their declarations with increased energy verse 21. Then, when reminded that they will be witnesses against themselves, if ever they should turn aside from God, they voluntarily engage to be witnesses, and thereby affix, as it were, to the covenant their signature and seal verse 22; and lastly, on being required to give evidence of the sincerity of their professions, they renew their protestations with more strength and energy than ever verse 23, 24.
Joshua now calls other witnesses. He wrote their words upon the very copy of the law which Moses had deposited in the ark, that that might remain an everlasting witness against them: and then he "took a large stone, and set it up there under an oak, that that also might be a witness against them," if ever they should depart from God: thus taking care, that, the covenant being fully attested, they might be convicted, and condemned, and be forever without excuse before God and man, if they should ever forget and deny their God verse 26, 27.
The zeal which Joshua showed on this occasion will be approved by all: we may hope therefore to perform an acceptable service to you, while, with an eye to that covenant, we,
II. Propose the same to you—
The duty of serving the Lord our God will be denied by none; and least of all by those who know the obligations which they owe to him for redeeming them from death by the blood of his only-begotten Son: But we beg leave to retrace, with application to yourselves,
1. The engagements you have entered into—
You are bound to serve the Lord your God, sincerely, resolutely, exclusively.
There must be no dissimulation in this matter: you must have "truth in your inward parts:" to "call him 'Lord, Lord,' will be of no use, if you do not the things which he says." His word must be the rule, his will the reason, his glory the end of your obedience.
You will find that many will account the service of God an "evil" thing; odious in itself, injurious to society, and contemptible in all who addict themselves to it. You will find also that the great mass of nominal Christians are alienated from the life of God, as much as ever the Jews of old were. For the truth of this we appeal to the lives of all around us. Yet you must "not follow a multitude to do evil," or forbear to walk in the narrow path of life, even though the whole world should urge you to accompany them in the broad road that leads to destruction. Nay; you must not only be steadfast yourselves, but must exert all your influence to animate and encourage others: you must adopt the noble resolution of Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
You must be on your guard too against harboring any "idol in your heart Ezekiel 14:3-4." Sensuality, or covetousness, or any other unmortified lust, will provoke God to jealousy, as much as gods of wood and stone: and if any one sin be willingly retained, any one service willfully neglected, or any sacrifice deliberately withheld, we must say with Joshua, "The Lord will not forgive your transgression and your sin:" "an eye, or a hand or foot, retained in opposition to his command, will cause the whole body, and soul too, to be cast into Hell:" he only that will "lose his life for Christ's sake, shall find it unto life eternal".
2. The witnesses that will attest your violation of them—
You must be "witnesses against yourselves:" your own consciences will testify, if, when you are convinced that it is your duty to serve the Lord, you continue to neglect him. Well are we assured that we have even now within your own bosoms a witness to the truth of all that we affirm.
But there will be other witnesses against you. The word that we speak, the same will testify against you in the last day: for it is written "in the book of God's remembrance," and reserved in the sanctuary to be brought forth as the evidence of God's righteousness and the ground of his procedure. I may add too, The very walls wherein we are assembled will testify against you: to use the strong language of our text, "they have heard all the words that have been spoken to you," the faithful declarations, the earnest entreaties, the rich encouragements: yes, "the stones out of the wall will cry out against you Habakkuk 2:11," if you continue to violate your baptismal engagements, and indulge an indifference to all the subjects of your prayers. Times without number have you prayed, that you might "live a righteous, sober, and a godly life, to the glory of God's holy name;" and yet, many of you at least, have either never set yourselves in earnest so to live, or have carelessly declined from the ways of God, and forgotten the vows that are upon you. Finally, God himself also will be "a swift witness against you." Yes, "he searches the heart, and tries the reins, and will give to every man according to his works."
"Choose you now whom you will serve." To unite God and Mammon is impossible: "if Baal be God, serve him: but if the Lord be God, then serve him".