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<060701>JOSHUA 7:1-26 HUMILIATION AT AI The seventh chapter of Joshua presents to us a drastically different scene from those which have engaged our attention in the previous chapters, yea, so startling is the contrast that we are reminded of that old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Up to this point everything had gone smoothly and blessedly for Israel, but now their progress is suddenly halted. Hitherto we have witnessed them, under God, going from strength to strength and glory to glory. Strict obedience to the Divine commands had marked their every movement; here, the very reverse obtained. They had duly attended to the essential matter of circumcision and had kept the appointed Passover feast.
On His part, the Lord had wrought wondrously for them, bringing them through the Jordan dry-shod and overthrowing the principal fortress of the enemy without a blow having to be struck by Israel. But a startling contrast now confronts us: immediately following the memorable victory at the formidable Jericho, Israel suffer humiliating defeat at the much weaker town of Ai. A member of the tribe of Judah had committed a grievous crime, and the whole nation suffer in consequence. As there was a serpent in Eden and a Judas among the apostles, so there was an Achan in the midst of an obedient Israel.
A series of sad failures are set before us in the passage we are about to consider. The whole nation is thus depicted, “The hearts of the people melted and became as water” ( Joshua 7:5). That dejection of God’s people was occasioned by the cowardice shown by three thousand of their armed men, who had “fled before the men of Ai,” thirty-six of them being slain as the enemy chased them (verse 5). That had been preceded by the remiss conduct of Joshua himself, who, instead of seeking counsel from the Lord, had acted upon the carnal advice of his spies (verse 4). The men whom Joshua had sent out to reconnoiter Ai so far forgot their place that, upon their return, instead of making a simple report, they presumed to inform their commander-in-chief of the policy which they deemed it best for Israel to follow on this occasion (verse 3). But before all this, the anger of the Lord had been kindled against Israel by the sin of Achan at Jericho (verse 1). That was what explained all which followed: the cause of which they were the consequences. One decayed apple will soon infect a whole box of sound ones; or, to change the figure for a more Scriptural one,” A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” ( 1 Corinthians 5:6).
In the light of history there is nothing at all unusual in the sad failures mentioned above, for poor human nature is “as unstable as water” ( Genesis 49:4). Yet in view of the fact that this generation was far and away the best which Israel ever had, and that Jehovah Himself was their Captain ( Joshua 5:15) in the conquest of Canaan, it does seem strange that such a deplorable lapse now occurred. How are we to account for the Divine permission, yea, fore-ordination of the same? From the general teaching of Scripture, may we not say that the Lord suffered this grievous defection for such reasons as these? First, to teach all succeeding generations of His people that they are never in greater danger of yielding to the pride of their hearts than when the Lord’s power has been most signally displayed on their behalf. Second, to exemplify the basic truth that, if we are to enjoy a continuation of God’s governmental blessing, we must remain steadfast in our subjection to His holy will. Third, to set before His saints a lasting warning that the Holy One is jealous of His glory, and will not condone sin in His own people. Fourth, to emphasize that nothing can be concealed from Him: that the most secret actions of an individual fall beneath His observation ( Proverbs 15:3).
How ominous is the initial “But” of Joshua 7:1 — the first chapter of our book opening thus: sad intimater of what follows, and well suited to point the contrast with the closing verse of chapter 6. There we read, “So the Lord was with Joshua and his fame was noised throughout all the country”; now we are told, “But the children of Israel committed a trespass... for Achan... took of the accursed thing, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel.” The contrast is a double one: the Lord was with Joshua, but here His anger was kindled against Israel. The consequence of the former was that Joshua’s fame was proclaimed abroad; the sequel of the latter is that he was humiliated and lies on his face before the ark ( Joshua 7:5). How often are the brightest prospects dimmed and the most promising projects hindered by sin! It was so with king Saul, and later with Solomon. Thus with Israel’s progress in the conquest of Canaan: victory at Jericho gives place to defeat before Ai.
How this shows us that a time of success is when we most need to be on our guard, and “rejoice with trembling” ( Psalm 2:11). The moon never suffers an eclipse except at a time when it is at the full! Grace is needed by us to use the grace God gives us and to save us from turning His blessings into curses.
Here, then, is another most important practical lesson for us to lay to heart in connection with the possessing of our possessions and the present enjoyment of our spiritual heritage. When God has vouchsafed light from His Word and opened up to us some passage, beware lest we become conceited and attribute the same to our own perspecuity. When victory is granted over some lust or deliverance from a powerful temptation, boast not, but rather endeavor to become more watchful. When God gives the pastor souls for his hire and prospers his labors, humbling grace must be diligently sought that he may not cherish the spirit of Nebuchadnezzar and say, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power!” ( Daniel 4:30).
We need to be much on our guard and fight against the Laodicean selfsufficiency and self-glorying of this evil day. Unless we be kept “little in our own sight” ( 1 Samuel 15:17) and “poor in spirit,” the overthrow of some Jericho in our experience will be followed by an ignominious defeat before an Ai! “But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing.” This awful trespass was committed within the very environs of Jericho, immediately after GOd had miraculously caused its walls to fall down flat. In connection with the destruction and sacking of that city, specific instructions had been given to Israel that they must neither spare any lives nor take any of the spoils unto themselves ( Joshua 6:17-19). The spiritual lesson for us therein is that “the good fight of faith” in which the Christian is called to engage consists of a mortifying of the flesh, the denying of self, and the renouncing of this world in our affections. It was far more than a bare theft of which Achan was guilty, namely, the heinous act of sacrilege, a taking of that which was “consecrated to the Lord”! It is to be carefully noted that the Holy Spirit has furnished us with the genealogy of the offender, and since there is nothing meaningless or unimportant in the Word of Truth, it behooves us to attend to this detail. Achan was the immediate descendant of “Zerah,” and he was the son of Judah’s whoredom ( Genesis 38:15-30). What a solemn example of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children I Significant indeed is the name of this disturber of the nation’s peace and prosperity, for Achan means “Trouble.” It is both solemn and striking to note how the Holy Spirit has phrased His allusion to Achan’s sin: He does not say “one of,” but rather “the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing.” God regarded them as a unit, and hence what one individual is considered the sin of the nation. This is borne out by what follows, for the whole congregation was affected thereby; “and the anger of the Lord was kindled against [not simply “Achan” but] the children of Israel.” We have a parallel in the local church of the New Testament: “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it ( Corinthians 12:26), an example of which is furnished in Joshua 5:17, of the same epistle. Israel had been plainly warned that if any one of them took of the accursed thing, they would “make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it” ( Joshua 6:18), yet that solemn warning deterred not the selfish and rebellious Achan. Until the walls of Jericho fell, all kept strictly, to rank, but upon their fall they went “every man straight before him ( Joshua 6:20). Thus the moment discipline was relaxed this reprobate cared only for himself. “And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them saying, Go up and view the country” (verse 4).
Joshua did not rest on his oars, but proceeded to the task which lay before him, sending out scouts to examine the next place to be captured. After such a notable victory, he did not deem himself entitled to sit down and take things easy, or give himself to feasting; but believed in the policy of striking while the iron is hot. The best time to hoist sail is when the wind is blowing, so that advantage may be taken of the same. Thus it is spiritually.
When favored with a breeze from Heaven ( John 3:8), it is a propitious season for religious enterprise. Yet observe that the zeal of Joshua was tempered with prudence: he did not rush blindly ahead, but wisely took a preview of what was next to be done. It is the feverish energy of the flesh which impels professing Christians to act hurriedly and rashly, instead of “sitting down first and “consulting” whether they be sufficiently equipped for the task which they assay ( Luke 14:31). There is a happy mean between recklessness and a caution which degenerates into apathy.
Ai was a place of sacred memories, for in Genesis 12:8, we are told of Abraham that he removed “unto a mountain on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent [emblem of being a “stranger and pilgrim” there], having Bethel on the west and Hai [same as “Ai” in Joshua 7] on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord [symbol of his being a worshipper] and called upon the name of the Lord.” But now this territory was occupied by the wicked and marked out for destruction. It was because of their abominable idolatry and immorality that the Lord used Israel as His instrument of judgment upon the Canaanites ( Leviticus 18:24,25; Deuteronomy 18:10-l2). Evidence of this is found in the names mentioned in Joshua 7:2, for “Beth-aven” signifies “House of vanity” or “iniquity.” Incidentally we may note an example of the minute accuracy of Scripture in the topographical reference there: “Go up and view the country,” said Joshua, while the Holy Spirit informs us in Genesis 12:8, that Abraham “removed unto a mountain on the east of Bethel” — which means “The House of God.” Ah, my reader, there are no “contradictions” in Holy Writ, but, instead, the most perfect harmony ‘throughout; but only the reverent and diligent student perceives that. “But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing, for Achan... took of the accursed thing, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai... saying, Go up and view the country. The two verses are linked together, and thereby a solemn lesson is pointed. It is evident that Joshua was ignorant of the perfidy of Achan, and therefore was quite unaware that the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Israel. It is a very serious thing to provoke the Lord, and thereby forfeit His providential smile. Yet how few of the “churches” today are conscious that the anger of the Lord is kindled against them! Kindled against them for the self-same reason that it was here against Israel, namely, for having trafficked in “the accursed thing.” Dispensationalists may deny it, and say that occurred under the Dispensation of Law, but there is no parallel in this “Dispensation of Grace.” Therein they betray their crass ignorance, and, it is much to be feared, their unregeneracy — hearts which know not the Holy One. The case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5; Revelation 2:14-16 and 20-23) and a quenched Spirit in our midst clearly give the lie to their assertions. “And the men went up and viewed Ai. And they returned unto Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go out, but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; make not all the people to, labor thither, for they are but few (verse 3). In carrying out Joshua orders those men acted commendably, but in taking it upon them to advise their general, their conduct was most reprehensible. It was nothing but downright impudence for those subordinates to tell Joshua what he should do. Had he asked for their suggestions it had been a different matter, but to proffer them unsought was a piece of impertinence. It appeared to be the language of kindness, prompted by consideration of others — to save the great bulk of the nation from a needless waste of energy. Yet, plausible as were their words, it was carnal counsel they gave: as much so as Peter’s “Pity Thyself, Lord,” which seemed to emanate from deep solicitude for Him, when in reality it issued from Satan ( Matthew 16:22,23). The same answer which, the Redeemer returned unto the apostle was due these spies: “thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”
They were leaning on the arm of flesh, filled with a sense of selfsufficiency.
These men who returned from their reconnoitering were inflated with pride. Their language was that of presumption, engendered by previous success. They began to entertain the idea that they belonged to a great nation, and none could stand before them. They contemptuously regarded Ai as an easy prey, as their “for they are few” indicated. What need for the whole of the army to journey thither: a small company of our men will suffice. There was no dependency upon the One who had wrought wonders for them. Instead, they felt that a couple of battalions could do wonders, and that there was no need for Israel to put forth all their strength. Alas, how like unto them God’s servants and people often are today. When the Lord is pleased to exercise His power in the saving of souls, preaching appears to be an easy matter, and the minister is tempted to spend less time and labor in the preparation of his sermons. And when God grants a saint victory over some powerful lust, he is apt to feel there is less need to pray so earnestly. But such a spirit is disastrous. Only as we continue sensible of our weakness shall we seek strength from Above.
Take warning from this incident and strive against pride and presumption, especially when God has granted some success. “Let not all the people go up: but let about two or three thousand go up and smite Ai; make not all the people to labor thither, for they are few” (verse 3).
How different was that conceited boast from me language or the first spies: “Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land” ( Joshua 2:24)!
Let not victory lead to negligence. We have no right to count upon the Lord’s doing all for us unless we make full use of the means that He has appointed. All of Israel were required to assemble at Jericho: none was left behind in his tent, none suffered to remain at a distance as a mere spectator. It might appear to them as a needless waste of “man-power,” but God required it; and gave success to their obedience. There was the precedent for them to follow. But the dictate of carnal wisdom intervened.
Ai appeared to be an inconsiderable place and no great force required to reduce it. Self-confidence promised an easy conquest, so the greater part of the army might be spared. Instead of regarding it as a blessed privilege for the whole nation to behold the Lord showing Himself strong in their behalf, these men said, “make not all the people to labor thither” or to be a “weariness,” as the word is eight times rendered elsewhere — just as at the close of the Old Testament a degenerate Israel said of God’s worship “what a weariness is it!” ( Malachi 1:13). “So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men” (verse 4).
Very solemn indeed is that, for it shows us what the most honored of God’s servants are when left to themselves. We say riot “the most eminent,” for that savors far too much of the flesh; but rather the “most favored.” Whatever privileges we have enjoyed, or nearness to God has been granted us, we are still entirely dependent upon Him for a continuance of preserving grace. If that be withheld from any one of us for a single hour, we shall miserably fail and sin. The upholding Spirit was now withdrawn from Joshua for a season (why so, will be pointed out later), and therefore he acted as a natural man would and followed the carnal policy advanced by his underlings. Instead of rebuking their pride with “Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off” ( 1 Kings 20:11), he adopted their fleshly policy, This was the more lamentable and excuseless because express instructions had been given him, “he shall stand before Eleazer the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at His word shall they go out and at his word shall they come in” ( Numbers 27:18-21).
Alas, the evil leaven of Achan’s trespass was at work “leavening the whole lump,” secretly yet surely defiling all his fellows. Failing to ask counsel of the Lord, Joshua was now deprived of spiritual perception, and so discerned not the carnality and evil of the plan set before him. He should have realized at once that it was at direct variance with the Divine pattern given him at Jericho. There everything was done in complete obedience to the revealed will of God, in full dependence upon Him, and yet without the slightest neglect of means or human instrumentality — the entire congregation took their assigned places and parts. But here there was no inquiring of God’s mind, no reliance on His intervention, and a small part only of the “armed men” were deemed sufficient to perform the work of the whole. Thus the greater part would be idle and the congregation itself deprived of the grand privilege of witnessing the mighty works of their God. When Jericho fell, the whole nation saw by whose Hand its powerful walls were demolished, and could give Him the glory. Thus, the plan adopted now by Joshua was a breaking in upon the Divine design.
What a warning is there here for the pastor to give no heed to the carnal advice of his church officers, and to say with David “My soul, wait thou only upon God” ( Psalm 62:5). Emulate the apostle who “conferred not with flesh and blood” ( Galatians 1:16). It matters nothing what others think and say of you so long as you have the Divine approbation. No matter how plausible may be the suggestions proffered, take orders from none save your Master. At the beginning of the campaign Joshua had given commandment that the Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manassah should “remain in the land” and not enter into possession of their inheritance on the other side of Jordan “until the Lord have given your brethren rest” ( Joshua 1:12-15), thereby insisting that the whole of the twelve tribes should present a united front before the enemy until victory was complete. But the plan now followed introduced disunity. It is the following of fleshly methods which generally brings divisions among the people of God. Later, the Lord said to Joshua “Take all the people of war with thee” ( Joshua 8:1). He had to return to the Divine plan before there could be any success!
The sad failure of Israel before Ai is one which calls for the most careful and prayerful study. Not only because it points, in a general way, a warning which needs to be taken to heart by all of God’s people, especially so by His servants, but more particularly because of the book in which it is recorded and the grand truth which is there illustrated. As we proceed from chapter to chapter it needs to be definitely borne in mind that the theme of Joshua is Israel’s entry into and conquest of Canaan, and that this typified the Christian’s occupation by faith of his heavenly heritage. In the earlier articles of this series we emphasized that fact considerably, frequently pointing out the principles which must regulate the saints if they are to actually “possess their possessions” (Obadiah 17) in this life. Alas that so few of them do enjoy their inheritance — because of their failure to act by the same. We need not now enumerate and describe these principles suffice it to say that they are all summed up in, unremitting submission to the revealed will of God. While Israel followed that course, all went well for them; but as soon as they departed therefrom, disastrous was the consequence. And that is written for our learning ( Romans 15:4). O that a teachable spirit may be granted both writer and reader. “The upright shall have good things in possession” ( Proverbs 28:10).
The upright are they who walk with their eyes fixed on God, in subjection to His authority, and in dependence on His grace. While they maintain that character they have the “good things” purchased by Christ not merely in promise and prospect, but in present “possession,” enjoying real and blessed foretastes of their eternal portion. But when self-will and selfpleasing obtrude, they are made to eat the bitter fruits of their folly. And hence it is that in the book we are now studying we are shown, both in the crossing of the Jordan and the capture of Jericho, the blessed effects of Israel’s obedience unto the Lord; and on the other hand, we have faithfully set before us — in the shameful defeat at Ai — the evil results which inevitably followed Israel’s disobedience. In the one we are taught some of the secrets of success, or the things which must be attended to by us if we are to have the mighty power of God working in our behalf; while in the other is made known what are the certain precursors of the Lord’s displeasure and of our being overcome by our enemies. The one is as necessary for our instruction as is the other.
It would be stating the same thing in a slightly different form and from another angle if we said, The principal subject developed in the book of Joshua is a showing unto God’s people how their enemies are to be conquered, for Israel had to vanquish and dispossess the Canaanites before they could occupy their land. In like manner the Christian must overcome the Devil, the world, and the flesh before he can experimentally enjoy his heavenly heritage. Israel’s warfare against the seven nations of the land was a figure of the believer’s conflict with his spiritual foes. The grand lesson which is set before us in the type is that our foes can be subdued by none but the Lord, and that He will fight for us only so long as we are in complete subjection to Him and maintain entire dependence upon Him. “For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave unto Him. Then will the Lord drive out all these nations from before thee” ( Deuteronomy 11:22,23).
The first thing for us to heed — as we observe that the defeat of Ai followed immediately after the victory at Jericho — is the startling fact that the people of God are never in greater danger of giving place to pride and presumption than when God has signally blessed and prospered them.
Never does a believer need to act more warily and in full dependence upon the Lord than when his graces are in lively exercise and his heart in an exhilarated frame. Unless he does so, self-confidence will creep in, and more reliance will be placed upon inherent grace than upon the One from whose fullness we need to be continually receiving grace for grace. No matter how strong be our faith, joyful our heart, energetic our grace, we must still look up for fresh supplies and renewings in the inner man, for without such our graces will no longer act, no, not for a single hour. Only as we remain in the place of conscious weakness are we really strong. Only as the empty hand of a beggar continues to be extended, shall we receive “the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” ( Philippians 1:19). Alas, how often do we give the Lord occasion to complain, “I spoke unto thee in thy prosperity, but thou sadist [by thy selfsufficient attitude] I will not hear” ( Jeremiah 22:21).
The hidden cause of Israel’s defeat at Ai was the sin of Achan, who had secretly committed a grievous trespass against the Lord ( Joshua 7:1), and as the sequel shows, it is a very solemn and serious matter to provoke Him. In this case His displeasure was evinced by his leaving Israel to act in their own wisdom and strength, and that could issue in naught but disaster.
Here we have illustrated the important truth that so long as there be an ungrieved Spirit in the midst of an assembly, He directs its counsels and moves its officers and members to work in a wise and becoming manner; but when He is slighted, then His gracious operations are suspended, and they are left to act in the energy of the flesh — to the dishonor of the Lord, and to their own undoing and sorrow. Thus it was here. Out of the hidden root of Achan’s offense grew the more obvious causes of the Ai defeat.
Pride and presumption were at work. Ai was regarded with contempt, as an easy prey (verse 3); but to their own overthrow. Learn from this, my reader, that it is a fatal mistake to underestimate the strength of our enemies! It is only as we truly realize that our spiritual foes are too powerful for us to vanquish that we shall really seek help and strength from the Lord.
And what was the inevitable outcome of such carnal self-confidence? This: “they fled before the men of Ai.” What a spectacle! Behold attentively the consequence of leaving the place of humble dependency! Mark well what happens when we follow our own devices. Left to themselves, the courage of these men of war wholly deserted them. It is only as we take unto us “the whole armor of God” that we are “able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand” ( Ephesians 6:13).
If instead we lean upon the arm of flesh, it is certain to fail us. Sad it is to see those three thousand Israelites panic-stricken before the heathen, especially as the record of the same follows right after the final statement of chapter 6: “So the Lord was with Joshua and his fame was noised throughout all the country.” How the ignominious defeat of his soldiers would reflect upon the name and fame of Israel’s commander! Sadder still is it to know that our sinful failures not only injure ourselves and those people of God with whom we are connected, but that they also bring dishonor upon our Redeemer. Should not the realization of that make us work out our salvation “with fear and trembling”? “And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men, for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down” (verse 5).
How forcibly does this incident illustrate what was repeatedly pointed out in the earlier articles. Israel’s success in conquering Canaan depended entirely upon the Lord’s showing Himself strong in their behalf, and that turned upon their unqualified obedience to Him. As Matthew Henry rightly pointed out, the check which they here received “served to let them know they were still upon their good behavior.” Success was to come from God and not their own valor, yet that success was bestowed only so long as they adhered to the pattern which He had given them. One essential feature in that pattern was that the unity of Israel must be preserved — a united front was to be presented to the enemy; consequently “all the men of war” and “all the people” of Israel were bidden to march against Jericho ( Joshua 6:3,5). But in connection with Ai the spies counseled Joshua, quite otherwise: make not all to labor thither” ( Joshua 7:3). He acceded: “there went up thither about three thousand”; and now we see them in flight, some of them slain, and the remainder chased to “Shebarim,” which most significantly means “breaches”!
Next we are shown the effects which this disgrace had upon the congregation. When they learned of the retreat and heard that some of their brethren had been slain, “the hearts of the people melted and became as water.” And well they might. Had not Joshua previously assured the nation, “Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites” ( Joshua 3:10)?
Now that He was no longer leading them to victory, but suffering them to be overcome by their foes, they had reason to be thoroughly dejected. As Matthew Henry well remarked, “True Israelites tremble when God is angry.” Here again we may note yet another striking contrast. When Jehovah had put forth His mighty power on Israel’s behalf in the drying up of the Jordan, we are told that “all the kings of Canaan,” when they heard of it, “their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more” (verse 1). But here the hearts of Israel melted and became as water ( Joshua 7:5)! Nevertheless, even then, God was working in mercy unto Israel. By that painful and humiliating providence He was about to bring to light the hidden things of darkness, give His people an opportunity to dissociate themselves from the trespass of Achan and punish the culprit. “And Joshua rent his clothes and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads” (verse 6).
It is to be duly noted that nothing is here said of Joshua berating the soldiers for their cowardice, or of his expostulating with the people for their faint-heartedness. He did not prate about “the fortunes of war” and tell them there was no need to be dismayed, nor did he make any effort to raise their spirits. Rather did he realize the exceeding gravity of the situation and refuse to say “Peace, peace” when he knew that something was radically wrong. The “elders” — the responsible heads of the nation — also recognized that the defeat was owing to the Lord’s being provoked, and they too abased themselves before Him. The rending of their clothes was a symbol of perturbation and lamentation ( Genesis 37:24; 2 Samuel 1:11), the putting of dust on their heads betokened distress and grief ( 1 Samuel 4:12; Job 2:12). How very different was their conduct from the foolish and fatal “optimism” that is now so rife, and which is nothing else than a declining to face realities, a refusing to recognize the fact that the Lord is displeased and is withholding His blessing.
When things go seriously wrong, either with the individual Christian or with the local church, diligent and solemn examination is called for. When the providential frown of God be upon us, and we ignore the same or “seek to make the best of a bad job,” we are only inviting still heavier chastisements. We are bidden to “hear the rod” ( Micah 6:9, and not to disregard or steel our hearts against it; and the first thing required of us in order to ascertain its message is to humble ourselves before the One who wields it, for “the meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way” ( Psalm 25:9).
For thirty years past that is what God has been saying — by His providences — to the whole of Christendom, and particularly to our nation. But alas, it has to be said of us, as of Israel of old, “Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved... they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than rock” ( Jeremiah 5:3). “And Joshua rent his clothes and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord.” It is to be carefully observed that not only did he now humbly take his place in the dust, but he did so before that sacred coffer which was the symbol of the Lord’s throne and presence in Israel. Most suitably was that posture and position selected, for the holy ark had been grievously slighted! Both in the crossing of the Jordan and the march around Jericho, the ark had, by Divine orders, been accorded the place of honor, as it was borne aloft by the priests, signifying unto Israel thereby that victory for them depended upon their covenant God being duly magnified and counted upon. His glory shone forth unmistakably as, by His almighty power, He had made a way for Himself and His people. It was Joshua’s sad failure in not giving the ark its proper place, which was the immediate cause of Israel’s humiliation at Ai. Not only had Israel’s unity been broken by his heeding the boastful suggestion of the spies, but the guidance and help of the ark was dispensed with, and thereby Jehovah had been affronted! It was, we believe, in the conscious realization of this, that Joshua now lay on his face before it.
Once before, and only once, had Israel suffered defeat at the hands of the heathen, and it is by comparing the two together, that fuller light is obtained upon the incident now before us. Both that reverse in the wilderness and this one in the land issued from the same cause: the pride of self-confidence. The earlier defeat occurred just after the crisis at Kadehbarnea, when the nation succumbed to unbelief, refusing to follow the counsel of Caleb and Joshua, and listening to the God-dishonoring report of the ten spies. After hearing the Divine sentence that all of them should perish in the wilderness, mourning and confessing their sin, they went to the opposite extreme, and in blatant self-sufficiency declared “We will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised.” Moses at once rebuked them: “Wherefore do ye now transgress the commandment of the Lord; but it shall not prosper. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you, that ye be not smitten before your enemies. But they presumed to go up to the hill-top; nevertheless the ark’ of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp. Then the Amalekites came down... and smote them” ( Numbers 14:44-45).
Thus history repeated itself: in their mad assurance, the three thousand went to Ai without the ark and suffered defeat. “And Joshua rent his clothes and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord.” That act and attitude of his not only expressed an humbling of himself beneath the mighty hand of God, an unsparing selfjudgment for his failure, but it also betokened a spirit of hope. Does the reader ask, How so? Because that which formed the lid of the ark was the “mercy-seat,” where forgiveness could be obtained on the ground of propitiation. Nor do we regard it as a straining of the verse to introduce this idea here: rather does it appear to us to be required by the Spirit’s having informed us that Joshua continued thus “until the eventide.” Very blessed indeed is that if it be remembered that the God of Israel had appointed, “thou shalt offer upon the altar two lambs of the first year, day by day continually: the one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning, and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even” ( Exodus 29:38,39).
Then does not Joshua’s remaining before the ark until the time of the evening sacrifice confirm the thought that he did so in the expectation of receiving an answer of peace,” of obtaining mercy through the Lamb! Let the reader compare 1 Kings 18:36; Ezra 9:4,5; Daniel 9:21!
Ere passing from this verse its central figure needs to be contemplated from yet another angle. Does not Joshua’s “falling to the earth upon his face” foreshadow once more the Divine Savior! When we remember that the root cause of the Ai calamity, which Joshua was here lamenting, was the trespass of Achan in “the accursed thing,” must we not recognize in Joshua’s humiliation thereat a striking and solemn prefiguration of the Redeemer’s anguish in Gethsemane? When entering upon the climax of His sufferings and the Surety of His people was about to be “made a curse” for them before God, we are told that He “fell on His face, and prayed” ( Matthew 26:39).
And the very next thing which Joshua here did was to pray (verse 7). If it be objected that Joshua was acknowledging his own sad failure, we answer, That only brings out more pointedly the type, for in Gethsemane the Holy One is seen as the Sin-bearer, the iniquities of His people being laid upon Him. Yet in all things He has the pre-eminence: very different indeed was His prayer in the Garden from that of Joshua’s on this occasion, for the types instruct us not only by comparison but also by way of contrast — as in Israel’s eating of the manna, and later dying; not so with those who eat the Bread of Life ( John 6:49,50). “And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us?” (verse 7).
Here begins one of the prayers of the Old Testament, which, like those contained in the New, vary considerably both in tenor and tone. It is therefore well for us to inquire, What is prayer? That question may be answered in many ways, according as it be considered from various angles.
Thus, prayer is a communing with God, an adoring of Him. Prayer is offering praise to Him, a thanking Him for all His mercies. Prayer is also the making known of our needs unto God, and a looking to Him for the supply of the same. Likewise it is an acknowledging of our sins before Him, and seeking His forgiveness and restoration. Further, it is a taking on our spirits the burdens of others and making intercession on their behalf.
But here in Joshua 7 we have something quite different from any of those aspects of prayer which, though an humbling one, is nevertheless one which all saints at some time or other in their lives need to avail themselves of. On this occasion we behold Joshua overwhelmed, heavily burdened, deeply perturbed, and we hear him pouring out his heart before God without restraint. It is our privilege and duty to do so in similar seasons, though endeavoring to avoid his faults. It will bring relief to an oppressed spirit!
There was no eloquent phrasing, no pleading of the Divine promises, no expressing of any definite petition in Joshua’s prayer; but instead an unstudied and spontaneous unburdening of himself before the Lord. If it be examined in a critical and carping spirit, it will be easy to detect its faults and condemn it for its incoherency and inconsistency. But whatever defects this prayer possessed, it must not be overlooked that it obtained a hearing from God! It will therefore be well for each of us to ponder Joshua 7:7-9, in the light of the title of Psalm 102: “A prayer of the afflicted when he is overwhelmed and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.” Upon these words an exceptionally favored and honored servant of God wrote: “You and I may be in various cases of affliction: we may at times be overwhelmed with the same: it will be well with us if we act as the Psalmist here doth. I never in the whole of my life got any good by carrying my affliction, or speaking when overwhelmed with sorrow to anyone else; no, let it be with a saint of ever so great a degree in the school of Christ. When I have poured out my complaint before the Lord, I have. Blessed be His name for it.”
A PENITENT LEADER’S PRAYER In our last we contemplated Joshua, after Israel’s humiliating defeat at Ai, on his face before the ark of the Lord. There he lay, with rent garments and dust upon his head, in a posture of self-judgment and abasement. Not until the hour of the evening sacrifice did he open his mouth to God, and then he might have said, “I poured out my complaint before Him, I showed Him my trouble” ( <19E202> Psalm 142:2).
Those words present to us an aspect of prayer all too little dwelt upon by preachers and writers. It is wrong to think that we should approach God only when our hearts are composed and in a spiritual frame. It is our privilege to come to the throne of grace for “mercy” and to sob out our griefs when deeply distressed. David tells us he did so “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me” ( <19E203> Psalm 142:3). It is for our relief that we tell out our woes to One who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”
When none other can enter into our case or assuage our grief, we should present ourselves before the Divine footstool as objects of compassion, remembering that “the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy” ( James 5:11), and therefore He will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. “When it lies in his line of duty for an expositor to comment upon a recorded instance of an outpouring of heart by a troubled soul, his task is neither an easy nor a pleasant one; for not a little scum rises to the surface when the spirit reaches boiling point. The Hebrew word for “complaint” in <19E202> Psalm 142:2, does not mean fault-finding, but signifies, rather, that which causes pain and anguish, as in Job 7:13, and 9:27. We may indeed complain to God and unburden ourselves before Him, yet we ought never to complain of Him or murmur at any of His dealings. But where shall we find one clothed with flesh and blood who is guiltless in this respect? Where indeed! Only in Him who, amid “strong crying and tears,” said, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” If one of our “complaints” be examined in a captious spirit it will not be difficult for another to find in it expressions which are inadvisable. Let us not then scrutinize this prayer of Joshua’s in a pharisaic spirit, but rather let us approach it with that word before us, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone” ( John 8:7). On the other hand, we must not gloss over the faults nor deliberately condone what is reprehensible in it.
Not a little of human infirmity was discovered by Joshua’s language on this occasion, and though that be easily accounted for, yet it must not be rendered an excuse for justifying our failures. As is so often the case with us, especially when deeply perturbed, there was a strange mingling of the flesh and the spirit seen in the prayer which is now to engage our attention.
While some of its expressions cannot be approved, yet it should be borne in mind that Joshua was not here murmuring against any direct dealing of the Lord with himself, but was venting his sore distress over what had just befallen his nation, and, was deeply grieved at the reproach which the same must bring upon the name of the Lord. While those considerations might modify his fault, yet they by no means absolve him. The truth is that Joshua too was a sinner saved by sovereign and amazing grace, and that fact was made to appear clearly in this incident. Let us then admire once more the impartiality and fidelity of the sacred historians in narrating this blemish in Joshua’s conduct, and behold therein another proof of the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures, which painted each character in the colors of truth and reality, concealing not the defects of its greatest heroes.
The temporary breakdown of Joshua in heeding the presumptuous counsel of the spies, instead of seeking guidance from the Lord through the high priest ( Numbers 27:21), and in slighting the ark instead of according it the place of honor, was now further betrayed by his mouth and the hard thoughts which he entertained against God. “And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!” ( Joshua 7:7).
In this failure of so honored a character as Joshua let both writer and reader see his own deep need of walking humbly before God and clinging to Him in conscious weakness. An object lesson is here set before us of how quickly faith fails its possessor when it be not sustained by its Author and Giver. The trouble was that Joshua’s heart was no longer occupied with the plain and sure promises he had received from God. And why?
Because he was walking by sight, viewing things with the eyes of carnal reason. He rashly concluded from the setback at Ai that it was the harbinger of total defeat. Unbelief is unable to see things in their proper perspective and proportions: thirty-six men and not the whole of the three thousand had been slain! It was not without good reason that the apostle was moved by the Spirit to say to those who were partakers of the heavenly calling, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief” ( Hebrews 3:13).
There is a very real danger of our doing so, and we need to be ever on our guard against it, walking circumspectly. Even the faith of. him who is designated “the father of all them that believe” ( Romans 4:11) failed, for when there arose a famine in the land, instead of trusting God to supply all his need (as Elijah did), he “went down into Egypt to sojourn there” ( Genesis 12:10).
That breakdown in Abraham’s faith was due to the same cause as that of Joshua’s! He was out of communion with God. First, he had left Bethel (“the house of God”), where he had built an altar to the Lord, and then he journeyed “toward the south” ( Genesis 12:8), i.e. Egyptwards. And thus, as we have seen with Joshua, instead of inquiring of the Lord, he had hastily adopted the carnal policy of his underlings. Disaster followed, and now a spirit of unbelief possessed him. Learn, then, dear reader, that faith will only be preserved in a healthy condition as we maintain close communion with God through those means of grace which He has appointed. “Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over Jordan to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?” Very sad indeed is it to hear Joshua now using the very language which had been employed forty years previously by that generation of Israel whose carcasses fell in the wilderness. Of them it is recorded that they “murmured in their tents and said, Because the Lord hated us He hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us”; the explanation of such despondency being, as Moses charged them, “in this thing ye did not believe the Lord” ( Deuteronomy 1:27,32). And now Joshua is guilty of expressing the same unbelief. This is the more lamentable since he (together with Caleb) had rebuked the skepticism of the congregation, saying, “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 14:9) — that was the language of confidence in God. But as faith in Him will make the weak and timid strong and courageous, so will unbelief fill the stoutest heart with terror.
Observe how inconsistent and incoherent is the language of unbelief.
Joshua acknowledged that it was the Lord who had brought Israel over Jordan, and then asked if He had done so only for them to be destroyed at the hands of the heathen. It is ever thus. Though the wise of this world look upon the children of faith as a company of credulous simpletons, yet really “the shoe is on the other foot.” Nothing is so reasonable as to believe the Bible, for it is the Word of Him who cannot lie. But none so imposed upon and irrational as those who reject a revelation from heaven that is attested by “many infallible proofs”: to scorn what is authenticated by unimpeachable evidence is a mark of madness and not intelligence. And when a child of God gives way to unbelief his spiritual understanding becomes deranged, and the conclusions he then draws are faulty and absurd. Behold another example of this in the case of David, when he “said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul ( 1 Samuel 27:1). How could he possibly do so, when God Himself had assured him of the throne? He, too, had failed to ask counsel of the Lord, and now that he talks with his own deceitful heart he utters the language of a fool.
What need is there for the Christian to cry, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” And if that prayer be sincere, so far from his excusing unbelief, he will mourn over it; so far from regarding it as an innocent infirmity for which he is to be more sympathized with than blamed, he will strive against its evil workings. We have no patience with those who wellnigh exalt the carnal fears and doubts of God’s people into spiritual graces and evidences of humility and “deep experience.” Any teaching which makes light of the distrust of God, or which causes His children to pity themselves for their failures and falls, is to be condemned and shunned. To call into question the Divine promises is to make God a liar, and that is a heinous offense by whomsoever committed. As faith honors God, so does unbelief dishonor Him. Faith is said to glorify God ( Romans 4:20), and therefore unbelief is a failing to render to Him the glory which is His due.
Unbelief in His people is the sin against which God has most proclaimed His displeasure. Moses and Aaron were excluded from Canaan because of their unbelief ( Numbers 20:12). The father of John the Baptist was stricken dumb for not believing what God had revealed ( Luke 1:20).
Christ chided His disciples for nothing so much as He did for their unbelief ( Matthew 8:26; Luke 24:25). “Lord, increase our faith” must be our daily request. “Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! “Surely this cannot be the language of one who was on his face before the ark of the Lord! Ah, my reader, no fictitious history had contained such an unthinkable anomaly as that. Nevertheless it is true to life, as many a saint discovers by sad experience. Just previously “the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was noised throughout all the coast ( Joshua 6:27); here disgracing himself, by complaining of the Lord’s dealings with Israel. Then in the posture of self-abasement, and now uttering the language of self-will.
For how many of God’s own people do those words of Jacob’s concerning Reuben apply: “Unstable as water” ( Genesis 49:2). Humbly seeking for light from the Word, and puffed up with conceit when it be granted.
Praying for more patience, and fretful when the Divine providences are working it in us ( James 1:2). Intrepidly contending, single-handed, against eight hundred and fifty false prophets (1 Kings 18), and immediately after fleeing in terror from the threats of a woman ( 1 Kings 19:2,3). Ephraim was not the only one like “a cake not turned” ( Hosea 7:8) — baked on one side, dough on the other. Oh, what a compound of inconsistencies and contradictions is the Christian as the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh! Oh, the long-suffering of the Lord!
The best of God’s children (if there be any best!) are frequently affected with fits of unbelief and chillings of love. Today they find themselves earnestly proposing and resolving to do those things which are good, but tomorrow they may discover their zeal has somewhat abated, so uncertain and inconstant are their affections. Now hopeful, anon despondent; now singing God’s praises, anon their harps upon the willows; now walking obediently in the path of the Divine precepts, anon straying off into bypath meadow. None differ so much from them as they often differ from themselves! Nay, in the very graces for which they are eminent, how have they failed! Moses was the meekest man upon the earth, yet in what a froward passion was he when he struck the rock twice and “spake unadvisedly with his lips”! Peter was the most zealous and courageous of the apostles, yet he yielded to sinful fear in the presence of a maid. Some will glorify God in one condition, but dishonor Him in another. They may conduct themselves becomingly while God keeps them low, and then become fretful against Him when they are exalted. On the contrary, others who tread softly in a time of prosperity are filled with murmuring when the cold winds of adversity smite them. “Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!”
Alas, what is man? What is a saint when left to himself? What will not his inbred corruptions produce unless Divine grace suppress them! How the,evil leaven was working! How horribly Joshua himself was affected by Achan’s sin! Yet that in no wise excused his own unseemly language, JOSHUA was here taking direct issue with the Most High, openly quarrelling with His dispensations, complaining at His providential dealings. And has the writer and the reader, even after becoming a Christian, never been guilty of the same black offense? Ah, have we not cause to hang our heads in shame? And should not the remembrance of past risings up of a rebellious spirit cause us to beg God to subdue our iniquities and bring our will into fuller subjection to His? Instead of marvelling at the sad language of Joshua, see in it a portrayal of our own wayward hearts and our deep need of crying “Hold Thou me up” ( <19B9117> Psalm 119:117). “Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan! “Most assuredly that was not the utterance of “a sound mind,” least of all as now issuing from one who had recently passed through such an experience as Joshua’s: he had just witnessed a whole generation of his nation discontented with the wilderness, repeatedly lusting after the fleshpots of Egypt. It was the height of folly to express such a wish.
Moreover, it was not at all a matter of “contentment”: they had left the wilderness at the command of God, and not because they were dissatisfied with it. Mark well the sad process which preceded that frenzy. First, a severance of communion with God, then giving way to an evil heart of unbelief, then quarrelling with God’s providential dealings, and now bereft of spiritual sanity, for surely it was nothing less to prefer the wilderness to Canaan! But is it not ever thus when fellowship with the Lord is broken and unbelief actuates us? The barren wilderness is a figure of this perishing world, and when a Christian is out of touch with Christ and a spirit of distrust possesses him he is infatuated with the things of earth and, unless Divine grace restores him to his senses, becomes more attached to them than the things which are above. “O Lord, what shall I say!” It seems to us that these words mark a return to sanity. The wild outburst of the preceding verse is checked. It is almost as though he now felt ashamed of his rash utterances as he began to realize to whom he was speaking. Yet he is still quite disturbed and scarcely knows how to express himself. “O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies!” (verse 8). Israel was beloved of him, yet he could think of nothing to say on their behalf which excused their cowardly defeat. Nevertheless he should have known how to answer his question. The Lord does not act capriciously, nor does He “afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” ( Lamentations 3:33), but only as they give Him occasion; and therefore Joshua ought to have humbly begged the Lord to make known to him the reason for His afflicting judgment. Should he not have asked, “O Lord: why doth Thine anger burn against Thy people? wherein have we provoked Thee?” When they were defeated in battle by the Philistines, the elders of Israel inquired, “Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us today?” ( 1 Samuel 4:3). When there was a famine in the land for three years, “David inquired of the Lord” ( 2 Samuel 21:1), and He at once made known the cause of the same.
What has just been pointed out presents a lesson which we do well to heed.
Much less has the Lord any pleasure in smiting His own people. Yet He must maintain His own honor, and deal with them according to His holiness as well as His grace. And they must “hear the rod” if they would profit from it and “be partakers of His holiness” ( Hebrews 12:10,11).
Closing our eyes to the providential signs God gives us of His displeasure will not improve matters; nor will wringing our hands in despair when things go wrong get us anywhere. While on the one hand God has said, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord,” yet on the other He bids us nor faint when thou art rebuked by Him” ( Hebrews 12:5). What then should we do and say? Humble ourselves beneath His mighty hand and pray “give me to understand wherein I have erred... show me wherefore Thou contendest with me” ( Job 6:24; 10:2) that I may put right what is wrong, and once more have Thy smile upon me. Such an inquiry, if it be sincere and humble, will not be in vain. “O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies! “Let us apply those words to ourselves. What should be the believer’s reaction to the sad state which the religious world is now in? As he beholds the awful declension of the outward cause of Christ on earth, and realizes that the Spirit has been quenched, what ought he to do and say? First, solemnly examine himself and his ways, and seek to ascertain how far his own sins have contributed to the present absence of the Lord’s blessing from the churches. During “the desolations of Jerusalem” Daniel sought the Lord, and he tells us “I made my confession and said... we have sinned and committed iniquity” ( Joshua 9:2-5, etc.).
Let each of us do likewise. Second, we should be deeply affected by the present situation and mourn before God because of the reproach which prevailing conditions in Christendom cast upon His name: see <19B953> Psalm 119:53, 136; Jeremiah 9:1. Third, we should turn the exhortation of Revelation 3:2, into earnest prayer, and beg the Lord to “strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die,” and revive His work in the midst of the years. Fourth, we should plead before Him the promise “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” ( Isaiah 59:19). “Who can tell if God will not turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger that we perish not?” ( Jonah 3:9). “For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” (verse 9).
Here the supplicant becomes more intelligible, for the first half of this verse is to be regarded as a plea, being tantamount to asking the Lord to remember that Israel were the sheep of His pasture, and therefore to spare them from falling a prey to the wolves. Then Joshua pointed out the danger Israel were now in, thereby taking the place of weakness; next, he looked to the love and pity of the Lord: Israel’s name, which is dear to Thee, will be blotted out if the heathen completely destroy them — which was an indirect appeal to the promises God had made to the fathers ( Genesis 15:18, etc.). Finally, he points out the reproach which would be cast upon God were the Canaanites to triumph completely. Thus when we penetrate beneath the surface agitations of Joshua, we see that at heart it was concern for the Divine glory which had prompted this prayer!
He could not endure a prospect which reflected upon the fidelity and power of their covenant God. Herein he foreshadowed the antitypical Joshua. He, too, when in deep trouble of soul, had asked “What shall I say?
DIVINE INQUISITION Joshua 7 presents to our notice that which is very different from what is found in the preceding chapters. It opens with the ominous word “But,” which solemnly prepares for what follows. First, the heinous sin of Achan, which, though the nation knew it not at that time, caused the Lord to burn in “the fierceness of his anger” against Israel (verse 26). The evil effects of Achan’s offense and the consequences of Jehovah’s displeasure soon appeared. The spies whom Joshua sent out to reconnoiter Ai were left to the exercise of their carnal reason. The result was that when making their report they presumptuously took it upon them to advise their leader how to act. Regarding Ai as an easy prey, they intimated there was no need for the whole nation of Israel to journey thither, that a single battalion of their men would suffice. Thereby they suggested a departure from the pattern which the Lord had given His people both at the Jordan and at Jericho, and introduced disunity. Instead of seeking counsel from the Lord, Joshua adopted their foolish plan. The ark of the covenant was left behind in the camp, and three thousand only were sent against Ai. The outcome was disastrous. A spirit of cowardice possessed them, and they fled from the Canaanites, thirty-six of them being slain.
The whole congregation was thoroughly dismayed: “the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.” Quite unaware of the root cause of Israel’s ignominious setback, Joshua and the elders of the nation rent their clothes, put dust upon their heads, and fell to the earth on their faces before the slighted ark of the Lord. There they remained “until the eventide,” when the second of the daily sacrifices was presented. At that hour Joshua addressed himself unto the Lord, pouring out his distressed heart before Him. In view of the circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that the infirmities of this honored servant of the Lord were made manifest on this occasion. As is usually the case with us at such times, there was a strange mingling of the flesh and spirit, in the supplication of Joshua. While some of his utterances are not to be condoned, still less echoed, yet it should be borne in mind that he was not complaining at any of the Lord’s dealings with him personally, but was deeply perturbed at what had befallen God’s people. Though his opening expressions were unseemly, his closing ones evidenced that his heart beat true to Jehovah and that it was the honor of His name which so greatly concerned him. We shall now consider the response which his prayer met with from God. “And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” ( Joshua 7:10).
Before considering those somewhat puzzling words, let it be attentively observed that God did not refuse His servant a hearing, even though considerably infirmity had marred it. Blessed be His name, “He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust” ( <19A314> Psalm 103:14), and in His tender mercy “A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench” ( Matthew 12:20).
Joshua had exclaimed, “O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth; and what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?” (verse 9).
In those words he had virtually confessed his own failure. used the language of godly sorrow, and had evinced a deep concern for the glory of God. Well for us if such elements be present in our lispings before the throne of grace. The holy but gracious One never repulses those in whom such a spirit is found. On the ground of the evening sacrifice (the slain lamb!) Jehovah met with this soul who manifested a “broken and contrite heart” ( Psalm 51:17). How that should encourage failing yet penitent believers today! “And the Lord said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” Care needs to be taken in the interpreting of this verse. If it be detached from its context we are almost certain to err and jump to a wrong conclusion, regarding it as an expression of the Lord’s displeasure.
But if due attention be paid unto its opening “And,” and note carefully both what precedes and what immediately follows, we should have no difficulty in arriving at its general tenor. It is not God’s way to condemn those who take their place in the dust before Him: rather is His controversy with them who refuse to do so. Nevertheless, though He pardons, He does not gloss over our faults: see Psalm 85:8; John 5:14. As the prayer of Joshua had been a mixed one, so with the Divine response. God did not turn a deaf ear to it, nor did He ignore His servant’s petulance, but gently reproved him. It was both a mild rebuke and a word of instruction. “Wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” Why so distressed and dejected? There is other work for thee to do. But before performing it, he must be directed by his Master. Up to now Joshua was in complete ignorance of Achan’s offense — the root cause of the disaster. “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them: for they have taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff” (verse 11).
That too needs to be pondered, first, in the light of its setting. As we do so, it will be seen that an important and blessed practical truth receives exemplification: “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him” ( Psalm 25:10). If we really seek God’s honor and glory, we shall not be left long in ignorance of the best way to recognize and promote it. So it was here: the Lord now informed Joshua what it was which lay behind Israel’s defeat at Ai. In like manner, if our seeking unto Him be sincere and earnest — whether it be an individual or an assembly — God will soon reveal to us what it is that has been withholding His blessing upon our efforts. “Israel hath sinned”’ there has been no failure on My part. I have not changed, but am just as willing and ready as ever to undertake for My people; but they have choked the channel of blessing. Thus it ever is. We speak of God’s hiding Himself, when in fact we have departed from Him. It is always man that does the turning away, thereby depriving himself of the Divine strength, protection and prosperity.
In the above words of Jehovah unto Joshua it is most noticeable how He set forth and stressed the enormity of Achan’s crime: one detail being added to another until no less than six items are specified in the terrible indictment.
First, the general charge is made “Israel hath sinned,” followed by the fearful accusation “they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them,” which greatly aggravated their sin. Observe that the charge is preferred against the whole nation, and not simply against a single individual’ “Israel,” “they,” for in the sight of God they were a corporate and federal unit: as the local church of this Christian era is a moral unit before Christ: see 1 Corinthians 12:20,26; 5:6. This feature received additional emphasis in the reference to “the Covenant,” for that had been made with and solemnly entered into by the whole congregation (Exodus 24). Next we behold how the Divine Law was brought to the fore: “They have taken of the accursed thing,” which was a definite violation of the explicit prohibition of Deuteronomy 13:17 — “there shall cleave naught of the cursed thing to thine hand.” Yet more: “and have also stolen,” thereby adding considerably to the heinousness of the offense, for it was a direct breach of the eighth commandment in the Decalogue. “And have also stolen” emphasized another reprehensible feature of the crime — it had been committed surreptitiously and with previous design. It was not that Achan had been suddenly overcome by an unexpected temptation, but that he acted with deliberation, stealthily and secretly, his deceitful and wicked heart persuading him that he would thereby escape the cognizance of the Most High. Horrible impiety is it when we entertain the idea that we can impose upon Omniscience. The more secret our wickedness be, the more does it evince the heart’s depravity and industry therein, planning and scheming how to bring the sin to pass with the least danger and shame to ourselves. It was thus with David when he plotted the death of Uriah ( 2 Samuel 11:14,15). So too had Ananias and Sapphira arranged in private to impose a fraud upon the Holy Spirit ( Acts 5:27).
How we should pray to be preserved from secret sins! They are particularly heinous because of the premeditation and dissimulation which is used in their commission. “And dissembled also,” which made his case that much blacker. When Israel met with shameful defeat at Ai, and the whole nation was plunged into grief, Achan played the part of a hypocrite, pretending to be innocent of causing the same — instead of confessing his iniquity.
Finally, “And they have put it even among their own stuff,” instead of bringing it into the “treasury of the Lord” ( Joshua 6:19). “Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed; neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed thing from among you (verse 12).
Weigh attentively that statement my reader, for it casts a flood of light upon the reason why the visible cause of Christ is in its present lamentable condition. What took place at Ai has been and is being duplicated in thousands of churches and assemblies the world over. Instead of enjoying the Lord’s blessing, His frown is upon them; instead of overcoming the Enemy, they are humiliated before him. How many a minister of the Gospel has to the best of his ability faithfully preached the Word, yet to no effect, unless it be to considerably reduce the size of his congregation! How many a one fearing that he was a “misfit,” has resigned his charge and has accepted a call to another part of the Lord’s vineyard, only to discover after a short time there that conditions are just as heartbreaking as those in his previous sphere! A spirit of deadness rests upon his church: the prayer meeting is cold, and thinly attended, preaching is burdensome. His most earnest appeals seem to hit the wall and return upon him. The power of the Spirit is markedly absent: souls are not converted, nor even convicted.
The above verses makes known one of “the ways of the Lord” or one of the principles which regulate His governmental dealings in time. When a company who profess to be in covenant relationship with Him violate its terms and flagrantly transgress His commandments, then His blessing is withheld from them. No matter how zealous and active they may be, God prospers not their efforts. They may go out as of yore against the foe, but the Lord fights not for them. They are left to themselves, and soon their nakedness and shame is made manifest. God will not be trifled with. To the church in Pergamos the Son of God declared “I have a few things against thee,” and after specifying what they were, added, “Repent, or else I will come on thee quickly, and will fight against thee with the sword of My mouth ( Revelation 2:14-16). Likewise did He threaten the church in Thyatira, “I will kill thy children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searcheth the reins and hearts, and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” ( Revelation 2:23).
Alas that the majority of the churches today know nothing of that solemn fact. Alas that they have received so little instruction upon the holiness which must obtain in the assembly if the presence of Christ is to be enjoyed there. Alas that “the accursed thing” has not only been suffered a place, but “they have put it even among their own stuff.” Alas that they know not the Holy One has a controversy with them over this very thing. Alas that they are ignorant of the fact that their spiritual poverty and powerlessness, their being humiliated before the world, is due to the Divine judgment upon their sins. Alas that they are completely unaware of the Divine sentence “neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed thing from among you.” Paul had to rebuke the Corinthian assembly because they tolerated moral evil in their midst, and bade them “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump” ( 1 Corinthians 5:17). “Except ye destroy” was the enforcing of Israel’s responsibility.
How unmistakably the defeat at Ai and God’s solemn words to Joshua make it evident that such a promise as that given in Deuteronomy 20 was not an absolute one. There God had given instruction, “And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priests shall approach and speak unto the people, and shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the Lord your God is He that goeth with you to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (verses 2-4).
Neither in those words, nor in anything preceding or following, was there any proviso. It has the appearance of an absolute promise, without any qualification. Taken by itself, it was so; but taken in conjunction with other passages in Deuteronomy, it was not so — as the event at Ai, and the later experiences of Israel demonstrated. Scripture needs always to be compared with Scripture in order to arrive at the full meaning of any single verse. If we are too lazy to do the necessary searching in order to locate other qualifying or amplifying passages, then the fault is entirely our own if we be left in ignorance of the signification of any statement of Holy Writ. The whole book of Deuteronomy needs to be read through if we are to rightly understand such a passage as the one in the twentieth chapter.
Our purpose in calling attention to Deuteronomy 20:2-4, in connection with our study of Joshua 7, is to show how easy it is to wrest God’s Word, and to utter a warning and protest against the careless and dishonest manner in which it is now so often handled. Such passages as Deuteronomy 6:16-18 and 11:8, 9, require to be kept steadily in mind when reading Joshua and the books which follow, for they supply the key to much that is recorded in them. And in connection with the promise in Deuteronomy 20:2-4, particularly do we need to set side by side with it such statements as “For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you to do this day, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to cleave unto Him, Then will the Lord drive out all these nations from before you” ( Joshua 11:22,23) and “It shall come to pass if thou shalt hearken diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments which I command thee this day... that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth” ( Joshua 28:1); but if they obeyed not, His curse would certainly fall upon them ( Joshua 28:15). It is handling God’s Word deceitfully to stress its promises and ignore their qualifying conditions: to quote John 8:32, and omit verse 31, to cite John 10:28, and be silent upon verse 27. Hebrews 3:6,14, are just as necessary for us as Joshua 8:10-12. God has indeed promised to show Himself strong in the behalf of those whose hearts are perfect towards Him; but nowhere has He declared that He will fight for the self-willed and disobedient. “Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow for thus saith the Lord God of Israel. There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel. Thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you” (verse 13). This was the sequel to the “wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?” (verse 10); this was the duty concerning which the Lord was now instructing His servant.
It was not simply “Arise! “but “Up” — bestir thyself now unto the duty which I enjoin thee. “Sanctify the people”: this was ever the order when the nation was about to witness some outstandingly solemn or glorious transaction. Thus it was immediately before God gave the Law at Sinai ( Exodus 19:10). Thus it was following the murmuring at Taberah, when the Lord “came down” and talked with Moses ( Numbers 11:18). Thus it was on the eve of Jehovah’s wondrous intervention for them at the Jordan ( Joshua 3:5). In each case the call was for the people to be sanctified, that is, for them to be formally and reverently assembled before the Lord. Joshua was also to bid them sanctify yourselves against tomorrow,” which signified, duly prepare yourselves for the solemn and searching ordeal which the Lord has appointed: spare no pains in seeing to it that you are in a meet condition for the approach of the Holy One.
Continuing the Lord’s response to Joshua’s prayer subsequent to the humiliating repulse at Ai. After informing him that Israel had sinned grievously, and therefore His blessing had been withheld from their efforts, the Lord bade His servant, “Up, sanctify the people” (verse 13). Before we consider the immediate and historical application of those words, let us observe how they supplied yet another line to the typical picture of the Savior which is set forth in this book. As we have passed from chapter to chapter the readers’ attention has been directed to quite a number of things in which Joshua foreshadowed the Lord Jesus. A further detail now appears in this injunction for him to sanctify the people, for it prefigured Christ as the Sanctifier of His Church: “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate” ( Hebrews 13:12).
And what was the moral condition of His people when He did so? Precisely the same as Israel’s was here: defiled under the curse of the Law, “the fierceness of God’s anger” being upon them ( Joshua 7:26 and cf. Ephesians 2:3). To deliver them therefrom, the antitypical Joshua suffered the full penalty of their sins, and set them apart unto God in all the acceptableness of His meritorious sacrifice. Mark also the time when this occurred: as it was immediately following upon Joshua’s “falling to the earth upon his face” ( Joshua 7:6) that he was bidden to “sanctify the people,” so it was a few hours after His prostration on the ground in Gethsemane that Christ sanctified His people at the cross!
Turning from the spiritual and mystical signification of the order Joshua received to its literal and historical meaning, we understand by God’s “sanctify the people” that he was to formally and reverently convene the nation in orderly array before the Lord. That injunction was probably the exact equivalent of one received by Israel’s prophet at a later date, “Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children” ( Joel 2:15,16), for it is clear from what follows here that all Israel were required to take their place before the Divine tribunal. “Sanctify the people, and say unto them, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, for thus saith the Lord God of Israel. There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel, thou canst not stand before thine enemies until ye put away the accursed thing from among you” ( Joshua 7:13).
It is striking and interesting to note how that the Lord here repeated what He had just said in the previous verse, both in charging them with their being an accursed thing in Israel’s midst and that because of it they could not stand before their enemies. Such reiteration not only evinced how heinous was their crime in the eyes of the Holy One, but also gave point unto the call for the people to “sanctify yourselves” — not “for the morrow” but against it. They were to duly anticipate in their consciences the Divine inquisition which would then be held, when the guilty would be unerringly identified and severely punished. Thus, “Sanctify yourselves” was tantamount unto “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel” ( Amos 4:12). “Sanctify the people, and say unto them sanctify yourselves against tomorrow.” The same demand had been made at Sinai, and what is recorded of it casts light upon the import of it here: they were to wash their bodies and clothes, and abstain from their wives” ( Exodus 19:14,15).
Thus, “sanctify” here has the force of purify: “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh” ( Hebrews 9:13 and cf. 2 Timothy 2:21).
Under the law “sanctification” or “separation and consecration to the Lord, was secured by a process of cleansing. By a comparison with Joel 2:15,16, and its context (verses 13, 17) it is clear that, in addition to ceremonial purification, Israel were here enjoined to cleanse themselves morally. “Sanctify yourselves” would therefore imply and include a solemn call to self-examination, humiliation, and supplication; and that in turn would necessitate a separating of their minds from all other cares and concerns, that they might give themselves undistractedly and earnestly unto those solemn duties. Such acts of devotion can only be suitably performed as the thoughts and affections are detached from the daily business and worries of this world. As they had been required to sanctify themselves before they received the Law, so now they were ordered to do so when about to witness a most fearful enforcing of its penalty.
Possibly some will be inclined to ask, Since a single individual only had committed this offense, or at most with the connivance of his family ( Joshua 7:21), what reason or propriety was there in calling upon all the people to employ themselves in solemn self-examination? How could those who knew they were innocent of perpetrating a serious crime, sincerely engage in such a task? Those who are truly jealous of the glory of God and who are painfully conscious of the fact that “in many things we all offend:’ ( James 3:2) will have no difficulty in meeting such an objection. The name of the Lord had been grievously sullied by the enemy’s triumph at Ai, and His saints could not but bitterly mourn over it. Furthermore, the whole nation had been put to shame when their soldiers had fled before the Canaanites; yea, the nation was vet in imminent danger while exposed to “the fierceness of God’s anger” (verse 26), and therefore it was most fitting that there should be an humbling of the entire congregation before the Lord — as the example of Joshua and their elders (verse 6) had intimated. Moreover, as Matthew Henry pointed out, “The sins of others may be improved by us, as furtherances of our sanctification, as the scandal of the incestuous Corinthian occasioned a blessed reformation in the church: 2 Corinthians 7:11.” Every time a saint is overtaken in a fault, it should give point unto his fellows of that warning “let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall” ( 1 Corinthians 10:12).
Ere passing on, one other question needs to be noticed: if the “sanctify the people” unto Joshua foreshadowed Christ’s sanctification of His Church, then what was spiritually connoted by his bidding the people “sanctify yourselves”? There was a double sanctification: one by Joshua and one by themselves! That two-foldness of Truth appears again and again in connection with God’s people. As believers on the Lord Jesus Christ they are saved ( Acts 16:31), yet they are bidden to work out their own salvation ( Philippians 2:12) and cf. ( 1 Timothy 4:16). They are new creatures in Christ, yet exhorted to put on the new man ( Ephesians 4:24). They are now clean, and yet need to have their feet washed. They are complete in Christ ( Colossians 2:10), yet are bidden to grow in grace and add to their faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, etc. ( Peter 1:5). Every believer has been “perfected forever” ( Hebrews 10:14), yet confesses that he is not already perfect ( Philippians 3:11).
The one refers to what they are in Christ, the other to what they are in themselves. Unless the Christian reader learns to draw that distinction, much in the epistles will seem almost a meaningless jumble; if not a series of contradictions. There is a tremendous difference between how the believer appears in the sight of God, and how he looks in his own eyes and those of his fellows. He stands before God in the infinite value of Christ’s righteousness, while in his actual experience he is warring against the world, the flesh and the devil, and is often worsted by them. “Sanctification” is still more complex, for a threefold distinction is necessary in order to bring into view its leading features, namely, our federal, personal, and practical holiness. By our fall in Adam we lost not only the favor of God but the purity of our nature, and therefore we need to be both reconciled to Him and sanctified in our inner man. The former is secured by the work of Christ; the latter is effected by the operation of the Holy Spirit. The former is judicial; the latter is vital. Christ is the covenant Head of His people, and since He is the Holy One, all in Him are representatively holy. He is their holiness as truly as He is their righteousness: “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” ( 1 Corinthians 1:30).
He is “made unto them” sanctification in precisely the same way as God “made Him to be sin for us” ( 2 Corinthians 5:21), namely, by legal reckoning, by imputation. But that is not all: believers are not only sanctified federally and legally, but personally and vitally in themselves. In consequence of their covenant union with Christ, the Holy Spirit is sent to quicken them into newness of life, to indwell them. to abide with them forever. This is their “sanctification of the Spirit” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
The fruit of the believer’s sanctification in Christ and of the Spirit’s indwelling are, in various ways and degrees, made manifest in their daily lives, which is what we term practical sanctification. A principle of holiness is imparted at regeneration, and the workings and effects of the same soon appear in the conduct. Sanctification of the Spirit produces a real and radical change in its favored subject, and so transforms his behavior “as becometh the Gospel of Christ.” That which has been wrought within every believer is manifested without, by an obedient walk in the paths of holiness as marked out in the Word. Thereby evidence is given that they have been created “by God in righteousness and true holiness” ( Ephesians 4:24). It is on the basis of their federal and vital oneness with Christ that exhortations unto practical holiness are addressed to them: “he that saith he abideth in Christ ought himself also so to walk even as He walked” ( 1 John 2:6).
And it is by virtue of the Spirit’s sanctification that such exhortations are exactly suited to the new nature He has wrought in them: “Let it not be once named among you as becometh saints” ( Ephesians 5:3).
Those whom the Spirit has made “saints” (i.e. “sanctified ones”) are to conduct themselves as such ( Romans 16:2). The nation of Israel had been set apart unto the Lord, and that call, “sanctify yourselves,” was the equivalent of saying, Act accordingly. To us the word is, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” ( 2 Corinthians 7:1; and cf. 1 Peter 1:15). “Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies until ye take away the accursed thing frown among you.” “The Lord did not point out the criminal immediately, but He left the matter in ambiguity for some time, and at last brought it to light gradually: that both magistrates and people might learn to do their duty, and to keep a vigilant eye over one another; and that the delay and process might make the transaction more solemn, and excite the more careful selfexamination and sanctification of themselves by every method appointed under the law” (T. Scott).
Similarly did the Savior say unto His apostles, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” ( John 6:70). Later He informed them that one of them would betray Him, though still without actually naming the one who would be guilty of such horrible perfidy; which resulted in each of the eleven asking: “Lord is it I?” Such ought to be the first concern of each of us, once it becomes evident that the light of God’s countenance is no longer shining upon the company of saints with whom we are in fellowship: bowing before a heart-searching God and asking, Am I responsible for the withdrawal of Thy favor? Where such a spirit obtains among the members it will not belong ere the One who is jealous of the honor of His house makes known the cause of His displeasure. “In the morning therefore ye shall be brought according to your tribes: and it shall be that the tribe which the Lord taketh shall come according to the families thereof; and the family which the Lord shall take come by households; and the household which the Lord shall take shall come man by man” (verse 13).
First, the opening words of this verse teach us that once an evil be known there must be no delay in dealing with it — true alike whether it respects an assembly or where only a single individual be concerned. The honor of God and our own welfare alike demand prompt action when any “accursed thing” be involved. To procrastinate in such a case is like playing with fire.
Delay in such a matter is a sure sign our hearts are not right with God. By all means investigate thoroughly and make sure that God has been publicly slighted, and then be not tardy in dealing with the offender. Next, we should note the Lord’s insistence upon what Joshua had previously disregarded, namely, the unity of Israel. In heeding the counsel of the spies and detaching three thousand from the body of the nation (verse 3), he acted contrary to the pattern God gave him in the crossing of Jordan and taking of Jericho. “Israel hath sinned,” God declared, and now He required that the whole of the tribes should share in the shame of Achan’s offense — as later He gave orders “Take all the people of war” against Ai ( Joshua 8:1). “In the morning therefore ye shall be brought according to your tribes, and it shall be that the tribe which the Lord taketh shall come according to the families thereof.” The culprit had not been named, and before he was identified there must be a searching investigation. Very solemn indeed was the procedure followed. Most probably the whole congregation was assembled before the tabernacle. The word “brought” is the one generally used in connection with offering of the sacrifices ( Leviticus 1:2,10) — “bring,” therefore, has the force here of the people being presented for the Lord’s inspection. Doubtless it was the “princes” or heads of each tribe which came, respectively, before Joshua and Eleazar. Three times over in this verse we have the expression “which the Lord shall take.” We naturally inquire, what is signified thereby? In what way or by what process did He do so? If Scripture be compared with Scripture it seems clear that the Lord here distinguished between the innocent and the guilty by means of the Urim and Thummim in the high priest’s breastplate. When Joshua was first set apart unto his office, orders were given that “he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment [decision or verdict] of the Urim before the Lord” ( Numbers 27:21).
Of Saul it is said that “when he inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by urim, nor by prophet” ( 1 Samuel 28:6) — proof of His having abandoned the apostate king. Thence we gather that by means of the urim and thummim, prophetic guidance was at certain times obtained from God. This is further borne out by Ezra 2:63, when Nehemiah forbade the rejected children of the priests eating of the most holy things, he added “till there stand up a priest with urim and thummim” — through which the Divine mind will again be revealed. From these passages the late Dr. Bullinger drew the following deductions: “The Urim and Thummim were probably two precious stones, which were drawn out as a lot to give Jehovah’s judgment. ‘The lot is cast into the lap [Hebrew “bosom”] but the whole judgment thereof is of the Lord’ ( Proverbs 16:33) — bosom is here put for the clothing or covering over it: of Exodus 4:6,7; Ruth 4:16... Thus, those two placed in the ‘bag’ and one drawn out would give the judicial decision which would be ‘of the Lord.’ Hence, the breastplate itself was known as ‘the breastplate of judgment’ ( Exodus 28:15), because by that Jehovah’s judgment was obtained when it was needed. Hence, when the land was divided ‘by lot’ ( Numbers 26:55) Eleazar the high priest must be present. ( Numbers 34:17; Joshua 17:14).”
Both words are in the plural number, though (as is often the case in the Hebrew) probably it is what is known as the plural of majesty” — used for the purpose of emphasizing the importance of a thing or the dignity of an object. It is likely that the “urim” was a single stone or object and the “thummim” another, though we cannot be certain. The English equivalent for those words is “light” or “lights” and “perfections”; in the Septuagint they are rendered by “delosis” and “aletheim,” meaning “manifestation and truth.” As the high priest thrust his hand into the bag of his breastplate (note “doubled” in Exodus 27:16), possibly the bringing forth of the “urim” indicated the Lord’s yes and the “thummim” His no, or vice-versa.
In the instance we are now considering, most likely the appearing of the urim signified the bringing to light of the guilty; whereas the issuing of the thummim announced the “perfection” or sincerity of the innocent. Thus, as the head or heads of each tribe stood before Eleazar he would draw out the thummim until the turn of Judah arrived, as indicated by the urim. The same process was followed after the guilty tribe had been identified: the heads of its leading “families” standing before the Lord’s representative, and when the particular family was identified, the same with its “households,” until the culprit himself stood unmasked before all. “And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel” (verse 15).
Solemn indeed was the transaction which we have endeavored to picture above, fearful the trial of all who took part in it. A threefold reason may be suggested for the leisurely nature of this inquisition.
First , it manifested the calmness and thoroughness of the Judge of all the earth: He is ever a God of order, departing not therefrom when sitting in judgment.
Second , the terribleness of their ordeal would impress upon Israel the reality of the holy covenant which God had made with them, and demonstrate before they again the majesty of the Divine Law — seen in arresting the waters of Jordan, overthrowing the walls of Jericho, and now equally so in taking vengeance on the transgressor. Third, in affording the guilty one further space for repentance: but alas, his heart was hardened and he refused to come forward and own that he was the cause of the whole trouble. The dreadful sentence that he should be “burnt with fire” does not necessarily signify he was to be roasted alive — Joshua 7:25 seems to clearly show otherwise. If it be asked, Why burn them and their possessions if they were already dead from stoning? To express still more vividly the Divine detestation, and that nothing whatever of the accursed thing should remain.
Here we behold his willingness and readiness in obeying the command he had received (verse 14). However painful the task, there was no delay. In Joshua 3:1, we saw God’s servant rising early to engage in a pleasant duty; here, there was equal alacrity when a distressing one was to be performed. Though a sore trial to flesh and blood, yet Joshua’s heart was in this work; for he yearned to have the Lord’s honor vindicated, and for the nation to be restored to His favor. Therein we have a further adumbration of the antitypical Joshua, of whom we read that after announcing “behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners,” at once added “Rise, let us be going” ( Matthew 26:45,46). Yet here, as everywhere, the Savior had the preeminence.
There was no “rising early in the morning,” for there was no retiring to rest for Him that night! Through all the hours of darkness He was hounded from pillar to post: from Gethsemane to appear before Annas, then sent from him to Caiaphas, from him to Pilate, from him to Herod, from him back to Pilate, from him to the cross: all the while on foot, His body a mass of bleeding wounds, without His eyes closing in slumber! Nevertheless, He advanced unto those who thirsted for His blood ( John 18:4), ready to be led as a lamb to the slaughter. “So Joshua rose up early, in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken.” This must have come as a most painful shock to that tribe as a whole, as well as to Joshua himself. Wondrous things had been foretold of Judah. It was to be the royal and ruling tribe ( Genesis 49:10). The Lord had laid honor on it by supernaturally endowing one of its men for special skilled work in connection with the furnishing of the tabernacle ( Exodus 31:3-5). Of it sprang the illustrious Caleb ( Numbers 13:8). Judah was the tribe which took the lead when the nation was on march across the wilderness ( Numbers 10:14). His was to be the largest portion of Canaan ( Deuteronomy 34:2). And here their name was disgraced! Nor was this the first time, as a reference to Genesis 38:2,15 and 16 will show — Achan being a direct descendant of the Zarah or Zerah of Genesis 38:30, in Joshua 7:18. “This was an allay to their dignity and might serve as a check to their pride. Many there were who were its glories, but here was one that was its reproach. Let not the best families think it strange if there be those found in them and descended from them that prove their grief and shame. Since Judah was to have the largest lot in Canaan, the more inexcusable is one of that tribe if, not content to wait for his own share, he break in upon God’s property” (Matthew Henry).
Achan remained obdurate even now that it was made known that the guilty one belonged to the tribe of Judah. As he had not confessed his offense when Israel was repulsed at Ai and the hearts of the people melted and became as water (verse 5), so now he maintained silence, yea, continued doing so when his own “family” was singled out (verse 17) and when his particular “household” was identified (verse 18), But in a few more moments he was to receive proof of that Divine declaration “Be sure your sin will find you out” ( Numbers 32:29). He was also on the point of learning “he that covereth his sins shall not prosper” ( Proverbs 28:13).
To “cover sin” is a keeping of it within our own bosom, a refusing to bring it out into the light by a frank confession of the same unto God. Pride restrains many therefrom: they have such a high esteem of themselves that even though guilty they are too self-opinionated to own their sins. With others, unbelief is what hinders: they who have no faith to be assured that God will cover repented sins, vainly attempt to do so themselves even while remaining impenitent. Fear and shame are what cause the majority to hide their sins. Sin is such a hideous monster that they will not own it as theirs. But whatever be the cause, they “shall not prosper.” “And he brought the family of Judah: and he took the family of the Zarhites, and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken; he brought his household man by man: and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah was taken” (verses 17, 18).
It should be borne in mind that all of the innocent were under a cloud of suspicion until the culprit himself was definitely recognized. Moreover, it was expedient for the benefit of future generations that no stigma should rest upon the guiltless. “The tribe, family, parentage of the offender were specified with exactness, that the infamy might not rest on the reputation of any other of the same name” (T. Scott).
Achan “was taken” means that he was now identified by the “urim,” singled out by the unerring judgment given through the high priest. It was now made manifest before the whole congregation that the Divine justice had seized him. When the secret sins of men are brought to light God should be owned in it, and the perpetrator should acknowledge with the brethren of Joseph: “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants” ( Genesis 44:16). “For there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known” ( Luke 12:2). “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 thou hast done, hide it not from me” (verse 19).
God Himself will judge, yet not immediately, but mediately through Christ.
So here Achan was bidden to give glory to the Lord God, but Joshua at once added, “tell me what thou hast done, hide it not from me”! The expression “my son” was not here a term of tenderness or kindness (as it usually is with us), but a form of address used by one of eminence or authority unto an inferior, as Saul termed David “my son” ( 1 Samuel 24:16) and Joab designated Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok, “my son” ( Samuel 18:22); conversely, a superior was owned as “father” ( 2 Kings 5:13; 6:21). Nevertheless, it is striking to note how mildly Joshua addressed Achan: “This is an example to all not to insult over those who are in misery, though they have brought themselves into it by their own wickedness, but to treat even offenders with the spirit of meekness, not knowing what ourselves should have been and done if God had put us into the hands of our own counsels” (Matthew Henry). “And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel and make confession unto him.” Very striking and blessed is that’ the honor of Jehovah was what was uppermost in His servant’s heart and mind — as it ever was with the anti-typical Joshua ( John 8:50; 12:23). But how could Achan’s confession give glory to God? In many ways. It testified to the Divine omniscience in detecting and exposing his profane and stealthy conduct, picking him out from that vast multitude as the guilty one. It acknowledged God’s holiness in abhorring his wickedness, thereby setting to his seal that “He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” ( Habakkuk 1:13).
It witnessed to His justice, that God was righteous in being so displeased with him. It owned His veracity that “the soul that sinneth it shall die” ( Ezekiel 18:4). What is the glory of God but the sum of His perfections? It is by those perfections that He is made known to us both in the written and personal Word. And therefore to glorify Him is for us to recognize, acknowledge and be suitably affected by the Divine attributes; as conversely we are guilty of slighting Him when denying, either in word or act, His perfections. When we trample upon His Law we repudiate His authority. When we defy Him, we disdain His power. When we think to conceal sin from Him, we disown His omniscience. “My son, give, I pray thee glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto Him.” It is all too little realized by any of us that this is one of the ways appointed by God in which we glorify Him. In connection with the confessing of sin we are too apt to confine our thoughts unto the clearing of our conscience and being restored to fellowship. In other words, we are too much wrapped up in ourselves and too little occupied with the excellencies of the One we approach. A truly contrite soul will eye the dominion of God, acknowledging His right to rule over us and our duty to live in entire subjection to Him, and will bemoan his insubordination. He will eye God’s righteousness and own that “His law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” ( Romans 7:12), and therefore that he is without excuse in breaking it. He will eye His long suffering, which has granted him space to repent, instead of cutting him off in the commission of sin. He will eye the abundant mercy of God, which has opened a way. for his pardon without compromising His holiness, laying hold of the promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” ( 1 John 1:9).
Acceptable confession is very much more than an exercise of our lips unless it issues from groanings within, our words are worthless and ineffectual. And there will be no inward groaning until we realize the sinfulness of our sins and are duly affected thereby. We shall never confess sin with a true sense of its infinite evil until we consider its contrariety to the nature and will of God, and perceive how it reflects dishonor upon the Divine perfection, particularly as it is a contempt of His authority and a direct opposition to His purity. Nor shall we ever confess our sins with brokenness of heart and confusion of face, until we are sensible of the vile ingratitude of them, as they are committed by those who are under the strongest obligations to the contrary. There will be no confession of sin with self-abhorrence until we recognize that it is aggravated by the light and privileges, the goodness and mercy, the exhortations and warnings, against which we have transgressed, for they greatly heighten our iniquities ( Ezra 9:10-15). To affect our minds and consciences with the heinousness of sin, so as to be kept humble and filled with self-abasement, we need to meditate frequently upon what it cost Christ to make atonement for the same. The sincerity and fervor of our confession evince the depth of our hatred of sin. “And Joshua said unto Achan... tell me now what thou hast done, hide it not from me.” That “now” was a word of reproof and reproach because the offender had remained silent so long. Achan had delayed until it was impossible any longer to conceal his guilt — his confession being wrung from him by the preceding process. The earlier confession be made, the more God is honored, and the sooner will peace be restored to the conscience; but, better late than never. It is the fool who procrastinates; the apostate who defiantly refuses to do so. Fearfully solemn is that warning: “Give glory to the Lord your God before He cause darkness and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light. He turn it into the shadow of death and make it gross darkness” ( Jeremiah 13:16).
Note that to “make confession” and “hide it not” are equivalent terms, and that not to confess is tantamount to a denial ( John 1:20). Joshua’s “tell me now what thou hast done, hide it not from me” makes known unto us what confession of sin is to consist of, namely, a frank and full acknowledgment of the offense, without any attempt at concealment or self-extenuation, however humiliating it may be. By so doing we bear witness that God’s prohibition was a righteous one and that His punishment (or chastisement) is just. “And Achan answered Joshua and said, Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done” (verse 20), which was no more a proof of his genuine contrition than was King Saul’s acknowledgment, “I have sinned and transgressed the commandment of the Lord” ( 1 Samuel 15:24), or the remorseful avowal of Judas, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood” ( Matthew 27:4).
In what follows we are shown that confession of sin must be in detail. “When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of thy tent, and the silver under it” (verse 21).
The temptation entered through the eye, and that excited the concupiscence of his corrupt heart: as the prophet said in a different connection, “mine eye affecteth my heart” ( Lamentations 3:51). How needful it is that we emulate the holy example of Job, who declared: “I have made a covenant with mine eyes” ( Job 31:1). How earnestly should we cry unto God daily “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity: quicken Thou me in Thy way” ( <19B937> Psalm 119:37) — make me to view things as Thou dost, and to esteem or disesteem them according to the teaching of Thy Word. Had Achan regarded those objects with the eyes of faith, he had looked upon them as “accursed things,” for so had God pronounced them! “I saw... then I coveted them.” Having viewed them with the eyes of unbelief, he lusted after them. What a solemn warning for each of us to heed! Covetousness has in it a far greater degree of malignity and is more highly provoking to God than is commonly thought. Colossians 3:5, declares that covetousness “is idolatry,” for it is a bestowing upon the creature that respect and love which is due alone unto the Creator. When we mortify not our inordinate desire, we cherish a viper within our own bosom, for it gnaws at the very roots of contentment and gratitude ( Hebrews 13:5). When our desire exceeds the present portion God has allotted us, we are no longer satisfied with the same and are unable to enjoy and give thanks for it. “I coveted... them, I took them”: thus he followed precisely the same order as did Eve ( Genesis 3:6, and cf. James 1:14,15). “And behold they are hid in the earth in the midst of the tent.” There we behold both the “deceitfulness of sin” and the anxiety it brings. “No sooner had he got possession of his plunder than it became his burden!... so differently do the objects of temptation appear at a distance to what they do when apprehended and when the infatuation ceases” (T. Scott).
They who yield to a spirit of covetousness “pierce themselves through with many sorrows” ( 1 Timothy 6:8-10). “So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent.” The members of the congregation were as desirous and zealous to have Jehovah’s honor vindicated as was their leader. “And behold it was hid in his tent and the silver under it. And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua and unto all the children of Israel” (verses 22, 25).
This was done in order that conclusive evidence of Achan’s guilt should be laid before the eyes of the whole nation, and thereby was brought to light the hidden things of darkness. By that procedure a solemn warning was given the people (and us) of the utter futility of any attempt to conceal anything from the eyes of Him which are “in every place, beholding the evil and the good” ( Proverbs 15:4). “And poured it out before the Lord” (verse 23): that is, either at the feet of His representative, the high priest, or more probably immediately before the ark of the covenant. The accursed things were not poured out “unto the Lord” for His acceptance, but before Him for His destruction — they were never brought into His treasury for use in His service, but totally destroyed, as the sequel shows. “And Joshua and all Israel took Achan, the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons and his daughters, and his oxen and asses and his sheep, and all that he had, and they brought them into the valley of Achor” (verse 24).
Here was unity of action. The whole nation was required to dissociate itself from the trespass and take part in punishing the culprit. For any not to concur therein would be to condone the sin — just as when any church members refuse to take part in a similar action. Achan and all pertaining to him were taken outside the camp — compare “take away from among yourselves” ( 1 Corinthians 5:2)! Note how what followed gave force to, and shows an additional reason for, the “sanctify ourselves” of verse 13.
For those who are themselves erring creatures to sit in judgment upon one of their fellows calls for unsparing self-judgment. Ere a church is in a meet condition to enforce a holy discipline it is required that its officers and members humble themselves before God and clear their own consciences, by confessing every known sin and pleading the cleansing blood of Christ.
Only then can they act in godly fear and trembling. Only then will “he that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone no longer prevent them performing a necessary but painful duty. “And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire. after they had stoned them with stones” (verse 25). “By this severity against Achan the honor of Joshua’s government — now in the infancy of it — was maintained; and Israel, at their entrance upon the promised Canaan, were minded at their peril, the provisos, and limitations of the grant by which they held it” (Matthew Henry).
It is worthy of note that at the opening of the tabernacle worship we behold an instance of the severity of Divine judgment upon the two sons of Aaron ( Leviticus 10:1,2), so here upon their entry into Canaan, and similarly at the dawn of Christianity in connection with the death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) we have examples of the same thing: designed no doubt to increase godly fear, promote dutiful circumspection, and prevent general wickedness. Such solemn demonstrations before the eyes of the people would render it the less easy for them to forget that their God was “a consuming fire” unto those who provoked Him “The severity of the punishment must be estimated by the relation of Achan’s crime to the whole plan of the conquest of Canaan. If the destruction of Canaan was indeed the execution of Divine vengeance, it must be kept entirely clear of all human motives, lest men should say that Jehovah had given His people license to deal with the Canaanites as seemed best for themselves. The punishment of Saul, ( 1 Samuel 15:21-23) and the repeated statement in Esther 9:10,15,16 (notwithstanding the king’s permission in Esther 8:11), ‘but on the spoil laid they not their hand” are illustrations of the same principle” (Ellicott). In addition, it is to be borne in mind that Achan deliberately transgressed the plain commandment of Deuteronomy 13:17, that he acted in contempt of the awful curse which Joshua had just previously denounced ( Joshua 6:17-19), that he defied Jehovah at a time when His presence was so conspicuously manifest among His people, that his crime was not only one of theft but sacrilege (converting to his own use what was devoted to the Lord), and that his offense resulted in the people of God being put to shame in the sight of the heathen.
Our remaining space permits us to do no more than briefly point out that the above incident shadows forth most of the principal features of the Last Assize. (1) It is then there will be a full and final display of God’s perfections and the Divine glory will shine forth conspicuously. (2) As “all Israel” here, so all mankind there, will stand before the antitypical Joshua. (3) As the tribe of Judah was marked off from the others, so will the goats then be separated from the sheep. (4) The hidden things of darkness shall then be brought to light. \\ (5) As the innocent were cleared before the guilt were charged, so the righteous will be vindicated before the unrighteous are condemned. (6) As Achan made no attempt to deny his guilt or demur at his punishment, so the damned will concur with the justice of their sentence. (7) As all Israel united in the stoning of Achan’s family, so the saints “will judge the world” ( 1 Corinthians 16:2). (8) As the guilty were “burned with fire” after their death, so everlasting fire will be the portion of the lost. (9) As there was a permanent “memorial” unto the grace of God ( Joshua 4:9), so unto His holiness ( Joshua 7:26): the redeemed will for ever exemplify God’s love, the reprobate His wrath.
Lack of space prevented our adding a word at the close of our last on the concluding verse of Joshua 7, so to it we now turn. “And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called the valley of Achor [Trouble], unto this day.” Three things are to be noted: the memorial to solemnly remind Israel of Achan’s sin, the Lord’s reconciliation, and the name given to the place of execution and appeasement. As the twelve stones taken out of Jordan were permanently pitched in Gilgal ( Joshua 4:20-23) to perpetuate the memory of the miracle which the Lord had so graciously wrought there, so a great heap of stones was raised to mark the spot where the vengeance of the Holy One fell upon the one who had so grievously offended Him. That heap of stones was designed to serve as a terrible warning, against the crime of sacrilege, to rebuke those who imagine themselves secure in secret sins, and to furnish a witness of what an awful thing it is to be a troubler of God’s people.
There is an instructive emphasis in the “so the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger,” teaching us that the assemblies of His people must exercise a strict and holy discipline (for the honor of His name) if they are to escape His governmental judgments and chastenings. Cast into its positive form that statement would read, when Israel had put away “the accursed thing” and dealt faithfully with the disturber of their peace, they were restored again to God’s favor. Two further references are made in the Scriptures to this place, and very significant and blessed they are. Unto backsliding Israel the Lord declared His purpose to recover and restore her, saying, “I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope” ( Hosea 2:15): our putting away of the offensive thing — by repentance and reformation — affords ground for hoping that God will renew His favors unto us. “And Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the valley of Achor [where things are put right with God] a place for the herds to lie down in, for My people that have sought Me” ( Isaiah 65:10) — a promise which should be spiritualized and pleaded by each wayward but contrite saint.