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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JOSHUA “I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are Thy works” ( <19D914> Psalm 139:14).
The reference there is to the physical body of man, which is the product of Omniscience. “Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep (treasure and submit to) them” ( <19B929> Psalm 119:29).
The Maker of man’s body is the Author of the Word and each is alike “wonderful”, evidencing its Divine source. The human body is made up of two halves; two arms and legs, two eyes and ears, two lungs and kidneys etc.; so also the Word is made up of the two Testaments. Each is a living organism: a single and complete entity, yet with many members. Each of those members is necessary to give completeness to the others, and the cutting off of one results in mutilation to the whole. Each of those members has its own function to fulfill and each book in the Scriptures makes its own separate contribution to the sum of Divine revelation. As each physical member is fitted for discharging its own distinctive office, so the substance of each book in the Bible is suited to its own special theme.
The analogies drawn between the living and physical body of man and the living and holy Word of God might be considerably extended. The design and functions of some members of our bodies are self-evident even to the layman. But there are others which are understood only by a trained physician. In like manner, the purpose and purport of some of the books of the Bible is more or less apparent to the rank and file of God’s people, but the special character and distinctive features of others is discerned only by the Spirit-qualified teacher. That particular parallel may be extended still further: as there are certain glands of the body which still puzzle anatomists, so there are some books of Scripture the theme of which is by no means certain to the most diligent student. After all the centuries that have passed and all the attention that has been devoted to the human body and the Divine Word there yet remains an element of mystery about the one and the other, and only the blatant or the ignorant will deny it.
Now it should be evident that in approaching the study of one of the books of Scripture it must be of considerable help to the student if he can ascertain what is its main design and what is its outstanding topic. As we pointed out in these pages over twenty years ago, in our Introduction to Exodus (now out of print), each book in the Bible has a prominent and dominant theme which, as such, is peculiar to itself, around which everything is made to center and of which all the details are but the amplification. What that leading subject may be, we should make it our business to prayerfully and diligently ascertain. This can best be discovered by reading and re-reading the book under review, noting carefully any particular feature or expression which occurs frequently in it — such as “under the sun” in Ecclesiastes or “the righteousness of God” in Romans.
If other students before us have published the results of their labors it is our bounden duty to closely examine their findings in the light of Holy Writ, and either verify or disprove. Before pointing out the peculiar character and dominant subject of Joshua, let us briefly state that of the books preceding.
Genesis is obviously the book of beginnings. Considered historically there is a three-fold beginning recorded: of the heavens and the earth, of the post-diluvian world, of the nation of Israel — in the call of Abram. Viewed doctrinally, it illustrates, as might be expected, the foundation-truth of election, for our salvation began in God’s eternal purpose. Thus we see here that Noah (alone of the antediluvians) “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” ( Genesis 6:8), and that Shem (rather than Japheth or Ham) was the one selected to be the channel through which should ultimately issue the Savior ( Genesis 9:26). Here we see God singling out Abram to be the father of the chosen Nation. Here we see God choosing Isaac and passing by Ishmael, loving Jacob but hating Esau. Here we behold God appointing Joseph from the twelve sons of Jacob to be the honored instrument of saving them all from the famine. The same principle appears again in the passing by of Joseph’s older son and bestowing the portion of the firstborn upon Ephraim ( Genesis 48:13-20). “God hath from the beginning chosen you unto salvation” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:13), and that basic truth is illustrated again and again in that book which begins the Scriptures.
Historically the book of Exodus treats of the deliverance and departure of the Hebrews out of Egypt, but doctrinally its theme is clearly that of redemption. That is just what the spiritual mind would expect, for it is by means of the redemptive work of Christ that the Father’s eternal purpose is made good. If the first book of the Bible reveals a sovereign God passing by some and choosing others to salvation, Exodus makes known how that salvation is accomplished, namely, by the mighty power of God and through the blood of the Lamb. Moses was bidden to say unto the children of Israel “I am the Lord, and will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm and with great judgments” ( Exodus 6:6) — the first clause showing what redemption is from and the last how it is effected. At the Red Sea they sang “Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed. Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation” ( Exodus 15:13).
Between those two passages comes the record of the slaying of the lamb and the efficacy of its blood, while the remainder of the book is devoted to instructions re God’s habitation.
The book of Leviticus covers a period in Israel’s history of less than two months, for the whole of it (as well as the first ten chapters of Numbers) treats of what occurred between the first day of the second year and the twentieth day of the second month ( Exodus 40:17, Numbers 10:11).
As we might expect, being the third book of Scripture, it views the people of God as on resurrection ground — regenerated. It is not so much doctrinal as experimental. The key is hung upon its door: “And the Lord called unto Moses and spake unto him out of the tabernacle” ( Leviticus 1:1).
It naturally and necessarily comes after Exodus, informing us what we are redeemed for, being the book of Divine fellowship and worship. Here we are shown the glorious privileges of the believer, the holy requirements of God and the gracious provisions which He has made to meet them. It proclaims that God will be “sanctified in them that draw nigh Him” ( Leviticus 10:3). Typically it is full of Christ, setting Him before us as our Altar, Sacrifice, and High Priest.
The fourth book of Scripture treats of the practical side of the spiritual life, tracing the history of the believer in the world — for four is the number of the earth. Its key is also hung upon the porch: “And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai” ( Exodus 1:1) — the “wilderness” being a symbol of this world in its fallen condition, alienated from God. It records at greater length than Exodus the history of Israel’s journeyings and sojournings. Its theme then is the walk and wanderings of the believer during this life, depicting his testings and trials in the world. Note well it is preceded by Leviticus, for only as we first commune with God within the veil are we fitted to go out into the world and there walk before Him.
Typically it represents the experiences we encounter in this scene of sin and suffering, our repeated and excuseless failures and God’s long-sufferance.
It reveals God maintaining His holy government and yet dealing in grace with His own, destroying unbelieving rebels yet preserving the faithful.
Deuteronomy is the bridge between the four books which precede and the seven which follow it, for the former deal with Israel before they entered Canaan and the latter with their history after settling there. Its name signifies “a second law” — the ten commandments of Exodus 20 being repeated in Deuteronomy 5: the reason for this being, because of their awful sin at Kadesh-barnea, God swore that all the adult Israelites who came out of Egypt (with the sole exception of Caleb and Joshua) should perish in the wilderness ( Numbers 14). That fearful threat had now been carried out and in Deuteronomy we find Moses (himself on the eve of death) addressing the generation who had grown up in the wilderness. That new generation required to know on what terms they were about to enter Canaan and on what conditions they should hold and enjoy it. The addresses of Moses therefore centered around two things: reviewing the past and giving instructions for the future, pressing upon them the claims of God ( Deuteronomy 10:12): hence the key words are “remember” (14 times), “hear” (over 30) and “do” (about 100). In its application to us it reveals that whole-hearted obedience to God is the grand condition of possessing our possessions.
The book of Joshua records one of the most interesting and important portions of Israel’s history. It treats of the period of their estatement as a nation, of which Genesis was prophetic and the rest of the Pentateuch immediately preparatory. The books of Moses would be imperfect without this one: as it is the capstone of them, so it is the foundation of those which follow. Omit Joshua and there is a gap left in the sacred history which nothing could supply. Without it what precedes would be incomprehensible and what follows unexplained. The sacred writer was directed to fill that gap by narrating the conquest and apportionment of the promised land.
Thus this book may be contemplated from two distinct but closely related standpoints: first as the end of Israel’s trials and wanderings in the wilderness, and second as the beginning of their new life in the land. It is that twofold viewpoint which supplies the clue to its spiritual interpretation, as it alone solves the problem which so many have found puzzling in this book.
As the inheritance which the Lord appointed, promised and gave to Israel, Canaan has rightly been regarded as a type of Heaven, unto which the Church is journeying through this wilderness-world. But Canaan was the scene of fierce battles, and that presents a serious difficulty unto many, though it should not. They point out that Heaven will not be the place of fighting, but of eternal rest and felicity, and then ask, How could Israel’s history in Canaan prefigure our experience on High? It did not, but it strikingly and accurately foreshadowed what Christians must accomplish if they are to enter and enjoy “the purchased possession”. The book of Joshua not only exhibits the sovereign grace of God, His covenantfaithfulness, His mighty power put forth on behalf of His people, but it also reveals what was required from them in the discharge of their responsibility: formidable obstacles had to be surmounted, a protracted warfare had to be engaged in, fierce foes overcome, before they entered into the actual enjoyment of the land.
If our conception of what constitutes a Christian or the character of the Christian life be altogether lopsided, little wonder that we have difficulty in rightly applying to ourselves the contents of that book which typically contains so much important instruction for us. If we will confine our viewpoint solely unto the sovereign grace of God in connection with our salvation, and deliberately close our eyes to all that Scripture teaches upon the discharge of our responsibility in relation thereto, then it would indeed be strange if we apprehended how that on the one hand Canaan was a free gift unto Israel, which they entered by grace alone; and on the other, that they had to fight for every inch of it! But when we realize that “eternal life” is both the gift of God ( Romans 6:23) and a “crown” which has to be won by faithfulness ( Revelation 2:10), that the Christian inheritance is not only purchased by the blood of the Lamb, but is also the “reward” of those who “serve the Lord Christ” ( Colossians 3:24), then we should have no trouble in perceiving how the type answers to the antitype. “Narrow is the way that leadeth unto Life” ( Matthew 7:14) i.e., unto Heaven, unto Glory. There is but one way that “leadeth unto” it, and that is the way of personal and practical holiness ( Isaiah 35:8), “without which no man shall see the Lord”. That “way” is a narrow one for it shuts out the world and excludes self-pleasing. True, the few who tread it have previously been made partakers of spiritual life, for none of the unregenerate walk therein; nevertheless they must persevere in it to the end, resisting temptations to forsake it and overcoming whatever would impede, if they are to enter Life itself. Salvation is indeed by grace, and grace alone, for human merit has no place therein; yet good works are necessary, because it was to fit us for them that grace is given. In Joshua we have a striking and blessed exemplification of the two-foldness of Truth and the perfect balance of its essential parts. The sovereign grace of God and the discharge of His peoples’ responsibility run side by side therein.
The reader should keep steadily in mind that Israel’s entrance into Canaan occurred at the end of their trials in the wilderness. Taking that alone, by itself, we have a foreshadowing of our entrance into Heaven at the close of this life ( Revelation 14:13); but viewing Israel’s entrance into Canaan in the light of all that is recorded in the book of Joshua, we must regard what precedes as the experiences of the soul prior to conversion, and Israel’s history there as adumbrating his new life. Thus, in Exodus we see the natural man in bondage to sin and Satan; in Leviticus we behold him as one to whom God is speaking, making known His holy requirements; in Numbers he finds himself in a great howling wilderness, which is what the world appears to one who has been awakened by the Spirit; while in Deuteronomy he learns the strictness and spirituality of the Law, which cuts into pieces his self-righteousness and reveals that Another than Moses must become the Captain of his salvation if ever he is to be estated in the antitypical Palestine.
Let the reader also remember that Israel’s entrance into Canaan marked the beginning of a distinct stage in their history, and there we have a figure of the new life of the converted soul. Observe carefully how definitely and clearly this is brought out in the type. It was a new generation of Israel (the second and not the adult one that came out of Egypt) which is here in view; that they were under a new leader — no longer Moses but Joshua; that they were inducted into a new sphere — delivered from the wilderness, entering into Canaan. Thus we have a picture of those who have passed through a season of conviction of sin, who have felt the terrors of the Law, and have now been brought to put their trust in Jesus Christ, the antitypical Joshua. Conversion dates the end of the old life and the beginning of the new. As Israel’s entrance into Canaan marked the end of their wilderness wanderings, so at conversion the soul experiences the verity of Christ’s promise, “Come unto Me and I will give you rest”.
Those two aspects of the Christian’s rest are brought together in Hebrews 4.
First , “we which have believed do enter into rest” (verse 3). The moment a regenerated, awakened, convicted soul savingly believes in Christ the burden of his sins roll away, and peace of conscience, rest of soul, assurance of acceptance by God, are his. Yet, he is not there and then taken to heaven. No indeed, he is now made conscious of foes, both within and without, of which previously he knew nothing. He is now called upon to mortify the flesh, resist the Devil, overcome the world: not by his own might, but in the strength of the Lord, under the leadership of the antitypical Joshua; and this in order to an entrance into the promised inheritance. Thus, Second , Hebrews 4:11 bids us “let us labor therefore to enter into that Rest”. Yes, “labor” is necessary (cf. John 6:27, 2 Corinthians 5:9): fighting the good fight, finishing our course, keeping the faith is required, if we are to receive the “crown of righteousness” ( 2 Timothy 4:7,8)!
JOSHUA’S EARLIER DAYS Joshua was born in the land of Egypt and with the sole exception of Caleb he was the only adult Israelite in the great exodus who survived the forty years wanderings in the wilderness and actually entered Canaan. He is mentioned for the first time in Exodus 17:9, where he is introduced to our notice most abruptly, nothing being told us there of his parentage, early history, or his piety. It was on the occasion when Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim: “Moses said unto Joshua, Choose out men and go fight with Amalek”. From that brief statement we gather that our hero had already attracted the notice of Moses, gained his confidence and was therefore a man of valor and competent to be captain over others. The following verse also represents him in a favorable light: “So Joshua did as Moses had said to him”: he made no demur, objected not to receive orders from his superior, but obediently complied with his instructions. “And Joshua discomfitted Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (verse 13): thus success attended his efforts.
What we have briefly glanced at above supplies a most striking illustration of the law of first mention. The initial occurrence of anything in Scripture invariably supplies the key to the later ones, forecasting by means of a broad outline its subsequent usage. In other words, the first time a subject or object, a person or thing, is brought before us in God’s Word what is there said of it or him virtually supplies a definition of its meaning, or at least gives us the principal clue to the significance of its later mentionings.
Thus it is here. The very first time Joshua is brought to our notice it is as a successful warrior: and note carefully, not slaying innocent people, but in fighting the enemies of the Lord. How this brief allusion in Exodus foreshadowed the great work which lay before him! The immediate sequel confirms this: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of (not Israel, but) Joshua, for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” ( Exodus 17:14) — a plain hint of his future work, as an appointed instrument to execute the Divine vengeance upon His foes.
Personally we believe there is a definite reference unto Joshua in Exodus 23:20-23, though his name be not specifically mentioned. Those verses contain a Divine prophecy and promise unto Israel, and as is so often the case with similar passages, there is, we conceive, a double allusion. “Behold I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.” No doubt the primary reference is to Christ as the Angel of the Covenant, yet subordinately it points, we think, unto Joshua as God’s “messenger” or “angel”, for he was the one who actually brought Israel into the heritage which God had prepared for them. So too it seems clear that there is a double allusion in “My name is in Him” (verse 21): when the Angel of the covenant became incarnate it was said “His name shall be called Immanuel” ( Matthew 1:23), and when our hero’s name was changed from “Oshua” to “Jehoshua” ( Numbers 13:16), the Divine name was incorporated into his!
The next reference to him is found in Exodus 24:13, when in response to Jehovah’s bidding Moses went up unto Him in the mount that he might receive from Him the tables of the Law, we are told that “Moses rose up and his minister Joshua, and Moses went up into the mount of God”. From this reference we learn the peculiar and honored position which he occupied even at this early stage in his career: he was the “minister” or assistant of Moses, the personal attendant of that eminent man of God. But there is more in it than that: he was subservient to Moses, yet he was also to complement his work. Moses brought Israel out of Egypt, but Joshua would bring them into Canaan. That the latter was not disconnected from the former is clear from the opening verses of his book, for not only is Joshua there again designated “Moses’ minister” ( Joshua 1:1), but when the Lord gave to him his great commission He expressly bade him “do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded thee” ( Joshua 1:7).
So in the antitype: Christ was “made under the Law” ( Galatians 4:4).
When Moses left the camp to go unto Jehovah into the mount, his minister Joshua accompanied him, though evidently only a part of the ascent — the attendant being left at some lower level as Moses drew near unto the Lord.
In what follows we are furnished with a valuable sidelight on our hero’s character. Joshua was left alone for “forty days and forty nights” ( Exodus 24:18)! What a testing of his faith, his patience, and his fidelity was that! His response to that severe test shines out the more blessedly when contrasted from the conduct of Aaron in the camp. Exodus 25 to gives a record of the instructions which Moses received, while the opening verses of 32 show us what transpired in the camp. “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron and said unto him, “Up, make us gods which shall go before us, for as for this Moses... we wot not what is become of him” (verse 1). Apparently Aaron shared their fears that they would see Moses no more, for he yielded to their solicitation.
Now in blessed contrast from the unbelief and impatience of the people and of Aaron, Joshua trustfully and perseveringly awaited the return of his master. Thus was he tried and proved, manifested to be “a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use” before the grand task of conducting Israel into Canaan was assigned unto him. Proof that Joshua had remained in the mount during those forty days and nights is supplied by Exodus 32:15-18, for there we are informed “And Moses turned and went down the mount... and when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted (in their idolatrous and carnal revelry: see verse 6), he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp. And he said, It is not the noise of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the noise of them that cry for being overcome; but the noise of them that sing do I hear” — observe that though puzzled by what he heard, yet Joshua placed a favorable construction upon it, not suppposing the worst.
When Moses drew nigh unto the camp and beheld the idolatrous and lascivious scene spread before him, he was filled with righteous indignation, and took the golden calf, burnt it in the fire, ground it to powder, strewed it upon the water and made the children of Israel drink.
Under his orders the Levites slew about three thousand men and the Lord “plagued the people”. After they had been severely chastened and humbled, Moses “took the tabernacle and pitched it without the camp”. Then as he entered into the tabernacle the Cloudy Pillar descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle and the Lord talked with Moses. Later “he turned again into the camp, but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle” ( Exodus 33:11).
That is indeed a remarkable statement, yet too brief to warrant inferences.
But it at least shows the distinguished favor bestowed upon the honored servant of Moses, that he, rather than Aaron, was here left in charge of the sacred tent of meeting: whether he was inside it when Jehovah stood at its door we cannot say.
Another brief mention is made of Joshua in Numbers 11. On the occasion when Moses gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people and set them round about the tabernacle, the Lord came down in a cloud and spake unto him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him and gave unto the seventy elders, so that “they prophesied and did not cease”. Two others of the elders had for some reason remained in the camp, yet the Spirit now rested upon them, so that they too “prophesied” even in the camp.
Evidently deeming this irregular, a young man ran and told Moses of the unusual occurrence. “And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord, Moses, forbid them” (verse 28). That too reveals his character: he did not take it upon himself to rebuke the elders, nor did he request Moses to slay them. It was zeal for his master that promoted his petition, as Moses’ reply clearly indicates: “enviest thou for my sake” There was no jealousy or self seeking here on the part of Joshua, but only a concern for the honor of the one he served.
We turn now to that passage which is probably the most familiar to the reader wherein our hero figures. When the Lord gave order to Moses that he send twelve men to “search the land of Canaan”, a ruler from each tribe, Oshua was the one selected from the tribe of Ephraim, and it was on this occasion that his name was changed to “Jeho-shua” ( Numbers 13:16), or, in its abbreviated form “Joshua”: so that he was one of the persons mentioned in Scripture — all of them of eminence — whose name was changed. “Oshua” means “salvation” and “Jeho-shua” he by whom Jehovah will save. We need hardly add that, through the Greek, Joshua is precisely the same as “Jesus” — see Acts 7:45, Hebrews 4:8. When the twelve spies returned to Moses and made report of what they had seen, though they acknowledged the land was one that flowed with milk and honey, yet its inhabitants appeared to them so formidable and their cities so powerful they declared, “We be not able to go against the people, for they are stronger than we”. The immediate sequel was most solemn and sad.
Though Caleb boldly declared “Let us go up at once and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it”, his fellow-spies persisted in their “evil report” and the whole congregation wept, murmured against Moses and Aaron, lamented that they had ever started out on their journey and said one to another “let us make a captain and let us return into Egypt. Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly... and Joshua and Caleb... rent their clothes”. Then it was that our hero (and his faithful companion) evinced his spiritual character and caliber, for we are told that they said unto) the whole company of Israel, “The land which we pass through to search it is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it us... Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land, for they are bread for us: their defense is departed from them, and the Lord is with us; fear them not” ( Numbers 14:7-9).
Thus we see their confidence in God and their courage, for as the next verse shows they took their lives into their hands in so remonstrating with the people.
It was there that that wayward and stiff-necked generation of Israel filled up the measure of their sin. It was then that Jehovah swore in His wrath that they should not enter into His rest ( Psalm 95:11, Hebrews 3:18). They had said, “Would God we had died in this wilderness” ( Numbers 14:2), and now He took them at their word, declaring “your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness, and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, who murmured against Me, doubtless ye shall not come into the land which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye despised” (verses 29-31).
The ten spies who brought an evil report upon the land “died by the plague before the Lord, but Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh... lived” (verses 37, 38), being the only two adults who came out of Egypt which entered into Canaan.
In Numbers 27 we have an account of the ordination of Joshua to office as the future leader of Israel. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay thine hand upon him (the symbol of identification), and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight (as proof of his induction into office). And thou shalt put some of thine honor upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient (to him). And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his (Joshua’s) word shall they go out and at his word shall they come in, he and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation. And Moses did as the Lord commanded him” (verses 18-22).
Thus, to all who feared the Lord and had respect unto His servant Moses, none could henceforth doubt that Joshua was the man appointed to lead Israel after the removal of Moses from this scene. “Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt... shall see the land... save Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun for they have wholly followed the Lord” ( Numbers 32:11,12).
That is another statement which throws light upon the spiritual character and caliber of Joshua. When Jehovah declared he had “wholly followed” Him, He did not signify he had lived a sinless life, but that he had trod the path of obedience, faithfully performed his duty and sincerely aimed at the glory of God in it. He had stood firm and fearless in a day of prevailing unbelief and general apostasy. In passing it may be pointed out, at a later date, Caleb did not hesitate to affirm he had “wholly followed the Lord” ( Joshua 14:6-8), upon which Matthew Henry rightly said that “since he had obtained this testimony from God Himself, it was not vain glorious in him to speak of it, any more than it is for those who have God’s Spirit witnessing with their spirit they are the children of God, to humbly and thankfully tell others, for their encouragement, what God has done for their souls” “These are the names of the men which shall divide the land unto you: Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun” ( Numbers 34:17): here we learn that our hero, under the guidance of the high priest ( Joshua 14:1), was to apportion the inheritance among the tribes. “Joshua, the son of Nun, which standeth before thee, he shall go in thither: encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it” ( Deuteronomy 1:38).
That was surely necessary, for well might he be discouraged after seeing Moses himself fall under the weight of leadership. A part of the encouragement which Moses gave to his successor is recorded in Deuteronomy 3:21, “I commanded Joshua at that time (namely, when reviewing the overthrow of the powerful monarchs of Bashan and Og), Thine eyes have seen all that the Lord your God hath done unto these two kings: so shall the Lord do unto all the kingdoms whither thou passest”, which was as though Moses reminded Joshua, when the Lord begins a work He finishes it — His overthrow of those kings was an earnest of the destruction of all who opposed His people. It is blessed to remember that those whom God calls into His service He also grants “encouragement” along the way. So we have always found it. “And Moses called unto Joshua and said unto him in the sight of all Israel: Be strong and of a good courage, for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee: He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee; fear not neither be dismayed” ( Deuteronomy 31:7,8).
Here was further “encouragement” for Joshua and the final charge which he received from his predecessor. That “charge” was a wise mingling of precept and promise, of calling unto the discharge of duty and of informing him where his strength lay for the performance thereof. It is blessed to see that the apostle did not hesitate to apply unto all the people of God ( Hebrews 13:5) this promise made specifically to Joshua “He will not fail thee nor forsake thee” — something which should be carefully noted by those who have so much to say about “rightly dividing the Word of Truth”! “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the children of Israel hearkened unto him and did as the Lord commanded Moses” ( Deuteronomy 34:9).
This is the final reference to Joshua in the Pentateuch, occurring right after the account of the death and burial of Moses. God may remove His workmen, but He ceases not to carry forward His work. When one of His servants be, removed, He raises up another to take his place — not always to fill his place, for the work may already be completed (for the time being, at any rate) in that particular section of His vineyard, and if so, the new man may be called upon to break soil elsewhere. This was really the case here. Moses was raised up specifically to bring Israel out of the house of bondage — a stupendous and difficult task — and by Divine enablement he accomplished it. He was Israel’s leader throughout their wilderness journeys, but now they were over. An entirely new venture lay before the people of God: their entrance into and taking possession of their heritage, and that called for a new leader.
In the preceding paragraphs we have seen how the new leader of Israel had been duly appointed by God (not chosen by the people!) and then publicly ordained or inducted into his office, for God requires all things, especially in connection with His immediate service, to be done “decently and in order”. We have seen too something of the qualifications which Joshua possessed for the work assigned him, for when God calls a man to a work, He endows him suitably for the same, equipping him both naturally and spiritually. Pharaoh might require the Hebrews to make bricks without supplying them with straw, but not so the Lord! Joshua was indwelt by the Spirit ( Numbers 27:18), possessed of unusual faith, patience and courage, and “full of the spirit of wisdom” — that being as necessary as any of the others. Finally, we are told above “and the children of Israel hearkened unto him”, for God ever works at both ends of the line: when He fits a man to minister, He also prepares a people for him to minister unto.
A GENERAL SURVEY As Moses sent forth the twelve spies to “search the land of Canaan” before Israel sought to enter into occupation of the same, so we propose to now take a bird’s eye view of that book which bears the name of Joshua before examining it in close detail. We shall not give a chapter by chapter summary of its contents, but rather essay a comprehensive sketch of those contents as a whole, pointing out the main design of the book, and some of its leading features. It has already been stated in our Introductory article, that this portion of Scripture treats of the period of Israel’s estatement as a nation in that land which Jehovah gave unto their fathers, and that it forms both the capstone of the Pentateuch and the foundation of the Historical books which follow. The design of its penman, under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, was to describe the conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews and the apportionment of it among their twelve tribes.
It was not Joshua’s intention to give an account of his own life, nor even to undertake a description of his principal exploits and achievements: rather was it his purpose to show how the Lord had made good His promises unto the patriarchs. If that dominant fact be kept steadily in mind it will explain fully and satisfactorily the principle of selection and the arrangement of the materials he was guided to use. We can then the better perceive why Joshua recorded what he did, why he related certain incidents in fullness of detail and merely glanced at others, and why whole years are passed over in silence. He was writing with a definite plan before his mind, and therefore he related only what was pertinent to his scheme and design, omitting everything which was not relevant thereto. The same principle of selection regulated all the sacred penmen, and it is only as we are able to discern the particular plan of each book that we can properly appreciate what is brought into the picture and what is left out.
It has been far too little realized that the historians of Scripture were much more than journalists narrating interesting events, more than mere chroniclers writing for the sake of gratifying the curiosity of those who should live in a future age, or even of detailing memorable incidents to please their contemporaries. They were theocratic historians (a theocracy is a government in which the chiefs of state are the immediate servants of God — there has never been but one), whose object was to trace the progress and development of the kingdom of God on earth: to mark its great epochs and record those events which were, from a religious standpoint, of deep importance to their own and future generations. Thus it is with the book that is now to be before us — and equally so with those that follow, for they give not merely the history of Israel, but the history of God’s kingdom in Israel: discover its plan or theme and tire choice or rejection of certain materials becomes patent.
The book opens with the Lord’s directions to Joshua, who had already been designated as the successor of Moses, to go over Jordan and take possession of the land which He had sworn to their fathers and to divide it among the people as their inheritance, with the promise that if he faithfully observed the laws given by Moses that God would be with him, and “there shall not a man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life” ( Joshua 1:5).
Those opening verses supply the key to the whole book. Joshua’s execution of his commission in strict obedience to the Divine directions and God’s gracious fulfillment of His promised assistance are the sum of all it contains. The first twelve chapters treat of the conquest of Canaan. They do not contain a detailed account of all the marches and the battles of each campaign: instead, only the outstanding particulars are narrated — those which marked the progress of events, those which brought out most clearly God’s miraculous help, and those which demonstrated the necessity and inseparable connection between their obedience and that miraculous help.
Many other things belonging to the Conquest, such as battles, capture of cities, and even long expeditions which had nothing remarkable about them, are therefore mentioned only summarily, so as to give a general view of the whole line of operations with its ultimate success. The time occupied in the conquest was much briefer, everything considered, than might be supposed. Though we cannot calculate the exact length of it, we may its approximate duration. After Canaan had been subdued and upon the division of its territory, we find Caleb saying “And now, behold, the Lord hath kept me alive as He said these forty and five years, even since the Lord spake this word unto me (in Numbers 14:80) while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness” ( Joshua 14:10). From that forty-five years we have to deduct the thirty-eight years spent in the Wilderness ( Deuteronomy 2:14), so that the whole campaign lasted less than seven years.
In chapters 13-21 we have the Dividing of the Land among the several tribes, concerning which it is difficult for a commentator to write profitably at any length. In chapter 22 the two and a half tribes who had assisted their brethren in the Conquest and stood by them in the allotting of Canaan, return to their own possession across the Jordan. Then an interval of several years is passed over during which Israel was settled in the Land, an interval which fell not within the scope of the writer to take notice of, for it furnished nothing suited to his particular theme. Finally, we come to the closing scene of Joshua’s life, when he gathered around him the responsible heads of the Nation, rehearsed what God had done for them in giving them-such a goodly heritage, and engaged them to renewed pledges of obedience unto Him. Thus the book closes with a recapitulation of Jehovah’s fulfillment of the promise with which it opens and a public covenant-engagement of the people to serve the Lord who had driven out the Amorites and the other nations from before them.
After Joshua had received his orders to go up and possess the Land, he at once sent forth two spies. The experiences they met with are described with considerable detail not because of the interest attaching to their hazardous undertaking and their remarkable escape from a perilous situation, but because what occurred vividly exemplified the promise which the Lord had given to Moses’ “there shall no man be able to stand before thee, for the Lord shall lay the fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon” ( Deuteronomy 11:25) — a promise, which as we have seen, was repeated in substance to Joshua himself. Hence we fine in striking and full accord therewith Rahab acknowledging to the spies, “I know that the Lord hath given you the land and that your terror is fallen upon us and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you” ( Joshua 2:9).
The anxious preparations of the king, his vigorous pursuit of the spies, and their language to Joshua upon the accomplishment of their mission ( Joshua 2:24) all served to forcibly illustrate that fact.
Next follows the passage of the Jordan. Its waters though unusually high, were supernaturally divided, so that the people of God passed over dry shod. Let us pause and ask, What was the design of that remarkable event?
God works no trifling miracles. He does not suspend the established order of nature without good reason, nor unless some important end is to be answered by so doing. Wherein lay the necessity for this prodigy? Israel could have crossed the Jordan by natural means, without the intervention of Omnipotence. Though the river was then too high for fording, especially for the women and children, yet boats could have been built or bridges thrown across it, for the Jordan is neither swift nor very wide, and such a delay had been but a brief one. The reason for this miracle was the same as of all others recorded in Holy Writ the necessity for it was not physical but moral. The object of all miracles is to reveal the power and grace of God.
The laws of nature which God established at the beginning were amply sufficient to accomplish every physical end it is only to meet our moral and spiritual needs that they are ever interfered with. Israel might have taken Canaan without any miracle, but in such a case there had been no glorious display unto them of God’s all-mightiness, His loving-kindness, His nearness to them. The stupendous marvels which He wrought in Egypt, at the Red Sea, in the Wilderness, and now in Canaan, were designed to teach the covenant people (and the surrounding nations, too) that the gods of the heathen were no gods and could neither do good nor evil. Jehovah was the living and true God “the Lord of all the earth” ( Joshua 3:11,13)! Those miracles were intended to make them more sensible of the infinite perfections of the One with whom they had to do, and of their complete dependence upon Him. Consequently they were brought into situations from which they could not extricate themselves in order to learn it was the Lord their God who delivered them.
In a variety of ways Israel were made to see that it was not their own valor and strength which delivered them, but rather Jehovah’s right hand and mighty arm which secured the victory for them. Canaan did not become theirs so much by their own prowess and conquest as by Divine gift. But there was a special reason why the Lord intervened for them in the extraordinary manner He did at the Jordan, for it was as though He then opened to them the door of that land which He had promised and personally conducted them into it. By that memorable act the Lord pledged to them the subjugation of the whole country. At the same time there was in connection therewith, the public act of Joshua in his new capacity as leader of the people, and thus it gave Divine authority and confirmation to his office in their eyes, and was, in comparison with his predecessor at the Red Sea, a striking verification of that word to him “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee” ( Joshua 1:5).
The circumcising of the people and their celebration of the Passover comes next (chapter 5). There should be no difficulty in perceiving the relevancy and significance of these events at this stage in the book we are now reviewing. They belonged to the Conquest, inasmuch as that very conquest was conditioned upon Israel’s punctilious compliance with all that Moses had commanded. After the appearing unto Joshua of the “Captain of the Lord’s host,” there follows an account of the capture of Jericho. In connection therewith there stand out plainly the same two features which mark the passage of the Jordan: that an unquestioning obedience to God’s orders was required from them, and that the victory was His and not theirs.
In the conquest of Ai the same lesson is taught, though in reverse: there they were made to taste the bitter consequences which followed upon their disobedience to the Divine injunctions. But we will not now further anticipate what we hope to consider in the articles which are to follow.
At this point a word needs to be said, perhaps, in reply to the attacks made now upon this book by the enemies of the Lord. The ethical character of the contents of Joshua has been viciously criticized by infidels and agnostics. The Israelites have been regarded as a horde of fierce nomads, falling upon and murdering the Canaanites, and stealing the land of a peaceful people. These critics have asserted it is unworthy of the Divine character to represent Him as sanctioning such injustice and ferocity. In reply it needs to be pointed out that, Canaan was Israel’s by Divine appointment and gift long before (Genesis 15) — a promise repeated to Abraham’s immediate descendants; and it was in fulfillment thereof that they now received the land. They entered and took possession of Canaan by immediate command from God, who has an absolute right to interfere in human affairs as He pleases. Moreover, it was in the exercise of His righteousness (as well as of His sovereignty) that God now took from the Canaanites the land which they had forfeited by their sins, and by His grace gave to Israel with the distinct understanding that they, too, would be deprived of it if they proved unfaithful and disobedient stewards.
But why should God give instructions for the utter destruction of the Canaanites? Because of their horrible depravity and gross idolatry: let the reader turn to Leviticus 18:3,27,28 and then see the verses between and 27 for a description of those “abominations,” and also remember God did not act in judgment upon them until” the iniquity of the Amorites “had come to the” full” ( Genesis 15:16). God now glorified His justice by destroying those who refused to glorify Him by a willing obedience. Israel acted not under the impulse of a lust of conquest but as the executioners of Divine wrath — just as the flood, the pestilence, the earthquake are commissioned by Him to cut off those who provoke His holiness. When He is pleased to do so, He makes use of men as His instruments, rather than the elements. “The Assyrian” was the rod of God’s anger to cut off nations, though he knew not he was being so employed ( Isaiah 10:5-7).
Why then might He not use an elect and godly nation as the conscious instrument of His just vengeance!
Israel was manifestly under God’s guidance, and their success mast be attributed to His presence and might. Miraculous power attended them and proved that the commission and commands they had received were no fanatical delusions, but the mandates of the Judge of all the earth. He opened a way for them through the Jordan, threw down the walls of Jericho, smote their enemies with hailstones and even stayed the sun in its course. There could be no mistaking the fact that the living God was in their midst. But there was also a special reason why Israel should be the particular executioner of God’s vengeance in this instance rather than that the land should be totally depopulated by, say, pestilence. In that case, they could not have felt so sensibly their own weakness and entire dependency on the power of God. In such a case they had soon forgotten His agency in giving them the land, and attributed it to secondary causes; nor would the residue of the Canaanites been left as a continual trial to test their faithfulness in the service of the Lord.
But why should only the Canaanites be singled out for this summary judgment? Were there not many other idolatrous nations? — why then should they be exempted? The righteous government of God extends over all nations, and each is punished when its iniquities are come to the full: not by the same means or to the same extent, but punished as God deems best.
But the Canaanites were not only idolaters, but they were guilty of practices which the heathen themselves regarded with abhorrence. Let it also be remembered that this generation of Israel under Joshua was the most pious one in all their history as a nation, and that they burned with the same holy zeal against Achan as against the degenerate Canaanites; and that later God sorely punished Israel, too, when they turned away from Him. Most important then are the lessons contained in this book. It shows how God intervenes in the affairs of human history. It reveals that He deals with nations as well as individuals — deals with them in mercy or judgment according as they honor or displease Him.
The contents of this book and the lessons which they are designed to teach us are greatly needed by our own generation. First, in counteracting the one-sided “evangelism” of our day, which tells the sinner that all he has to do is to accept Christ as his personal Savior and Heaven is then his certain portion — ignoring the fact that there is a fight which must be fought and a race to be run before he can be crowned. Second, in rebutting that doleful view that the Christian should expect nothing but frequent and well-nigh constant defeat in his warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil — overlooking the truth that if he meets the required conditions he may “do all things through Christ strengthening him.” Third, in setting before us, by clear exemplifications and striking illustrations, the rules and requirements upon which success is conditioned. Here,.as nowhere else in Scripture, are we shown how we may be “over-comers.” Fourth, in making known the blessed fact — so little apprehended by Christians today — that it is both their privilege and birthright to enter into a present possession and enjoyment of their Inheritance. O that more of us may do so.