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JOSHUA 1:10-18 “Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people”, giving to them their orders. Observe that he did not call a conference of the heads of the tribes to ascertain how many of them he could count upon for cooperation, nor to seek their counsel and advice. No, like the apostle, when the Lord’s will was made known to him, he could say “I conferred not with flesh and blood” ( Galatians 1:16). Nor did he, like vacillating Felix, defer the performance of duty unto “a more convenient season”. There is an old but wise adage “Strike while the iron’s hot”: act at once in response to the convictions of conscience or the promptings of the Spirit. Or better, perform your duty immediately it is clear to you. The longer we delay, the more reluctant we are to comply with God’s requirements. Delay itself is disobedience. Procrastination evidences a lack of heart for the Divine precepts and an absence of concern for the Divine glory.
It is nothing but a species of hypocrisy for me to tell myself that I am willing to obey God while I delay in doing so, for nothing hinders me but want of heart — where there’s a will there’s always a way. When there is an earnest bent of heart we shall not linger. When the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem proceeded apace we are told “for the people had a mind to work” ( Nehemiah 4:6). Once a duty is discovered, it should be discharged. Peril attends the neglect of any acknowledged obligation. “Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people”: he not only complied with God’s order, but he did so promptly. There was no absorption with the difficulties confronting him, no inventing of excuses for the nonperforming of his task, no tardiness of action, but prompt obedience. That is another important secret of success which each of us needs to take to heart. “Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people”. That was his response to the commission he had received’ an immediate tackling of the duty nearest to hand. He could say with David, “I made haste, and delayed not, to keep Thy commandments” ( <19B960> Psalm 119:60).
He resolved upon a course of instant obedience, and promptly put it into execution. He considered that the One who was vested with such sovereignty and power, and who had given him such blessed assurances, was worthy of being loved and served with all his heart and might. Is that the case with you? with me? “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord” ( Colossians 3:23), and where there is heartiness, there will be no delay. Is it not evident then, my reader, that the readiness or tardiness of our obedience is a good index to the state of our hearts? When we stand debating instead of doing, reasoning instead of “running” ( <19B932> Psalm 119:32), something is seriously wrong.
Alas, how different is our obedience from our praying under the pressure of need. When at our wit’s end or sorely afflicted and we cry for relief or deliverance, is not our language that of David’s “Lord, hear me speedily” ( <19A202> Psalm 102:2)? And how disappointed and fretful we are if His answer does not come swiftly. Ah, may we not perceive from what has been before us why it is that His answers are often delayed! If we be so slow in responding to His calls of duty, what right have we to expect the Holy One to be early in responding to our calls for favor? The One who has reason to ask “how long?” ( Revelation 6:10) is not myself, but God. A holy alacrity in God’s service is much to be desired. “We are too often in haste to sin; O that we may be in a greater hurry to obey God” (C.H. Spurgeon).
Have we not much lost time to make up? “Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people”. In so doing he did not act officiously, but was rightly exerting the authority with which God had endowed him. As the servant of Jehovah he was himself subject to the will of his Master, but as the leader of God’s people it was both meet and necessary that he should exercise his power and control over them. Therein he has left an example which each genuine minister of the Gospel would do well to emulate. While it be true that they today do not occupy a position which is in all respects analogous to that of Joshua’s, yet as those who have been called and commissioned by Christ to preach in His name ( John 13:20) and “rule over” His assemblies ( Hebrews 13:17), it behooves them to conduct themselves with becoming dignity and decorum so as to command the respect of those they address.
The true minister of the Gospel is neither a pope nor a mere figure-head.
He is to behave neither as a Diotrophes lording it over God’s heritage, nor as a sycophant who is subservient to others. There is a happy medium between conducting himself as a blatant dictator and a servile flatterer.
There are far too many preachers today who act as though they are begging their hearers to do Christ and His cause a favor, who are so apologetic, fawning and effeminate they have forfeited the respect of real men. “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” ( Titus 2:15). “The most effectual way for ministers to secure themselves from contempt, is to keep close to the doctrine of Christ and imitate Him” (Matthew Henry), and He taught “as One having authority” ( Matthew 7:29). ‘Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, Pass through the host and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals, for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God giveth you to possess” ( Joshua 1:10,11).
It is striking to note the iteration of this word “commanded”.
First, the Lord declared unto Joshua “Have not I commanded thee!” (verse 9), then he commanded his officers, and they in turn commanded the people: the exercise of Divinely-given authority and the requirement of implicit obedience was essential if success was to be theirs. And those two things are indispensable today if we would have the Lord show Himself strong on our behalf. If the minister of the Gospel be required to “exhort and rebuke with all authority” ( Titus 2:15), those committed to his care are bidden “obey them that have the rule over you” ( Hebrews 13:17).
God requires from His people a subjection to the ministerial office, as truly as he does to the magisterial in the civil realm ( Romans 13) and to the husband and parent in the domestic ( Ephesians 5:22; 6:1). Discipline must be maintained in the house of God. “Prepare you victuals”. A journey lay ahead, a strenuous campaign was before them, but the one thing enjoined by way of anticipation was “prepare you victuals”. The spiritual significance and application of that unto ourselves is obvious. If we would be strong and stouthearted, and therefore equipped for our warfare, we must be well fed — nourished up in the words of faith” ( 1 Timothy 4:6). The “victuals” are furnished us by God, but we must “prepare” them. At no point does God encourage slothfulness. Unless we give good heed to this injunction we shall not be able to overcome our foes. That word is addressed as directly to us today as it was unto Israel in the time of Joshua. We are guilty of flagrant dishonesty if we appropriate to ourselves the promises “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee... The Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (verses 5, 9), and disregard the precepts “Observe to do according to all that is written... meditate therein day and night... be strong and of a good courage... prepare you victuals”. “Prepare you victuals, for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan” One had naturally expected that order to be “Prepare you boats”, for there was no bridge across the river. There had been none over the Red Sea, yet Israel had crossed it safely, dry-shod, and that without recourse to boats or rafts. As Matthew Henry pointed out “He that brought them out of Egypt on eagle’s wings, would in like manner bear them into Canaan”. Such was evidently Joshua’s expectation on this occasion. He was fully assured that if he and those under him rendered obedience to the Divine Will they could count upon God’s help: hence his contemptuous “this Jordan “ — it would present no difficulty to Omnipotence, nor need it dismay them. “In three days ye shall pass over this Jordan: not “ye may”, nor “ye shall attempt to do so”: it was the language of full confidence — not in them, nor in himself, but in the living God. Such must be the spirit of those who feed and lead God’s people today, otherwise they will depress rather than hearten.
There is an important typical and spiritual truth contained in that “three days”: it is the number of resurrection. It is only as the Christian conducts himself as one who is risen with Christ that he can overcome the flesh, the world and the Devil, and that requires two things from him: the exercise of faith and of obedience. Faith seeing myself as God sees me, faith viewing myself as one with Christ in His death and resurrection, faith appropriating His victory over sin, death and Satan. “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Jesus Christ our Lord” ( Romans 6:11).
That is the “reckoning” of faith, for feelings have nothing whatever to do with it. It is taking our stand on the infallible Word of God, irrespective of our conscious “experience”. In the reckoning of the Divine Law the one who trustfully commits his soul unto Christ has “passed from death unto life”, and faith is to accept that blessed truth on the bare but all-sufficient authority of God. The believer is legally and vitally united to a risen and triumphant Savior.
What has just been pointed out is of first importance. There can be no real peace for the conscience, no substantial rest of soul, no lasting joy of heart, until the Christian is assured on the authority of Him who cannot lie that “our old man is (Greek “was”) crucified with Him” ( Romans 6:6) and that we are “risen with Christ” ( Colossians 3:1). The believer cannot walk on resurrection ground until it is a settled and glorious fact in his mind that he is on resurrection ground, legally one with his risen Surety, rejoicing that “there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus”; yea glorying in the fact that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to his account. When that is received by faith then “the joy of the Lord is my strength”. I cannot possibly go forward and “fight the good fight of faith” nor expect any success in overcoming the Canaanites, so long as I doubt my acceptance before God and fail to realize my union with Christ. That is foundational, and we repeat, feelings have nothing whatever to do with it.
But something more than the exercise of faith — resting on the declarations of Holy Writ — is required if I am to enter experimentally and practically into the good of my being legally one with Christ, and that is, the rendering of obedience to Him. “He died for all (His people), that they which live (legally) should not henceforth live (practically) unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again” ( 2 Corinthians 5:15). “But now we are delivered from (the curse of) the Law, being dead to that wherein we were held, that we should serve in newness of spirit” ( Romans 7:4) — from a spirit of gratitude and joy. Henceforth the Christian is to “walk in newness of life” ( Romans 6:4): a new principle is to actuate him — love; a new design is to regulate him — honoring his Master. The self-will which dominated him while unregenerate is to be displaced by seeking to please Christ in all things. That is to “walk in newness of life”, on resurrection ground.
The antitypical Canaan is ours. It is the “purchased possession”, bought by Christprecious blood. That inheritance is to be enjoyed now: by faith, by hope, by fixing our affection upon things above. As we do so, we experimentally “possess our possessions”. “The upright shall have good things in possession” ( Proverbs 28:10) — not merely in prospect, but in actual possession. But there are powerful foes seeking to keep us from enjoying our heritage! True, but we may obtain victory over them, as Israel did over theirs. We may, we shall, in proportion as faith is in exercise and as we walk obediently. Note the precision and meaning of Joshua language: “to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God giveth you to possess it” (verse 11). God had given Canaan in promise long before (verse 3), but that promise was to be realized by that generation according as they submitted themselves to Him. So it is with us: God will give us a present possession if we meet His requirements.
Hitherto He had furnished them with manna, for there was nothing in the wilderness they could live upon; but now His command was “prepare you victuals”, and that was indicative of what was required from them — they must discharge their responsibility. The Lord never panders to laziness: it is the one who is out and out for Him who enjoys most of His smile. A protracted conflict had to be waged, and success there in was made dependent upon their implicit compliance with God’s orders through Joshua: only thus would He give the land into their possession. That is the central message of this book: unreserved obedience as the condition of God putting forth His power against our enemies and bringing us into the enjoyment of our inheritance. “And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites and to half the tribe of Manasseh, spake Joshua, saying, Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you (12, 13). The reference is to what is recorded in Numbers 32. Upon Israel’s conquest of the kingdoms of the Amorites and Bashan (verse 33), the two and a half tribes, who had “a very great multitude of cattle” (verse 1), came to Moses and asked “let this portion be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan” (verse 5). At first he was very displeased, regarding their request as proceeding from unbelief and from an unwillingness to bear their share in the fighting which lay ahead. But being assured that on permission being granted them to build sheepfolds for their cattle and dwellings for their children, their men-folk would accompany the other tribes and fight with them until Canaan was conquered (verses 16-19), Moses consented to their proposal (verses 20-24).
If careful attention be paid to Moses’ words on that occasion we see how that incident supplied a striking illustration of what is dominant in this book. Numbers 32:33 says “he gave unto them” that portion of country, yet it was not an absolute grant but a provisional one, which turned upon the faithful discharge of their responsibility. If the reader does not like the sound of that statement, if it clashes with his “belief”, let him pay extra diligence to what follows, and if needs be correct his “beliefs”. “Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the Lord to war... until the land be subdued before the Lord, then afterward ye shall return (to your side of the Jordan) and be guiltless before the Lord and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the Lord” (verses 20-22).
They agreed: “thy servants will do as my lord commandeth” (verse 25).
Accordingly, now that Moses was dead and the Lord’s time had come for Israel to enter Canaan, Joshua said unto those two and a half tribes “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you”. In so doing he complied with his commission, for Jehovah had bidden him “observe to do according to all the Law which Moses My servant commanded thee” (verse 7), and this was one of those things ( Numbers 32:28)! It was not natural prudence or a spirit of expediency which actuated Joshua to seek their cooperation, still less was it from fear that the remaining tribes would be insufficient for the task confronting them, but obedience to his Master which regulated his action.
Joshua did not take it for granted that the two and a half tribes would now carry out their agreement, but definitely reminded them of the same and held them to it. But note how he did so. He did not beg for their compliance as a favor unto himself — I hope you will be willing to serve under me. Nor did he appeal on behalf of their brethren — the other tribes will be encouraged if you are willing to help them. Nor did he bid them remember their promise to Moses. No, he pressed upon them the Word of God! That is another lesson for the servants of God to heed today: if we would honor Him, we must honor His Word, by enforcing its requirements. “God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” should be their language to the unsaved. “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, The Lord hath given you rest and hath given you this land. Your wives, your little ones and your cattle shall remain in the land... but ye shall pass before your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valor, and help them. Until the Lord hath given your brethren rest, as He hath given you, and they also have possessed the land which the Lord your God giveth them; then ye shall return unto the land of your possessions and enjoy it” (verses 13-15).
There are a number of things here on which we can but briefly touch. That word “remember” signifies heed, and is invariably a call to obedience. The fact that their portion had already been “given”, placed an additional obligation on them — gratitude demanded their compliance. As Matthew Henry reminds us “when God by His providence has given us rest, we ought to consider how we may honor Him with the advantages of it, and what service we may do to our brethren” Once again we would call attention to the truth here exemplified: we cannot enter into our inheritance without fighting. See how the two aspects combine: the eastern country of the Jordan had already been allotted and given to the two and a half tribes, but they must now bear their share in the conquest of Canaan. Nay, they must take the lead in the fighting: “ye shall pass before your brethren armed” — they were to form the ‘spearhead’ of Israel’s army. See the meetness and justice of that arrangement: they had obtained their inheritance before any of their brethren, and so they must be in the van. And thus it came to pass: when the Jordan was crossed the two and a half tribes “passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake to them” ( Exodus 4:12). Observe it was “the mighty men of valor” who did so — there were no women in the ‘forces’! “And they answered Joshua saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us we will go.
If we wrote a separate article on these verses, we should entitle it “Joshua’s encouragement” and dwell upon the relation between this incident and that which precedes. It is ever God’s way to honor those who honor Him. Joshua had promptly complied with his commission and had magnified God’s Word, and now He moved those two and a half tribes to willingly serve under him. In his words “Until the Lord have given your brethren rest... and they also have possessed the land” (verse 15), he had spoken in unwavering faith as to the outcome, and now the Lord graciously inclined these men to fully cooperate with him.
Those two and a half tribes might have pleaded that their agreement had been made with Moses, and that since death cancels all contracts, his decease released them from their engagement. But instead, they averred their unqualified readiness to accept Joshua as their leader and yield to his authority. Their promise to him went beyond what they had pledged unto Moses. Joshua had received the assurance “Be not afraid neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (verse 9), and in His mowing those two and a half tribes to loyal subjection unto Joshua, He gave the initial manifestation and earnest of His fulfillment of the same. Their promise to Joshua on this occasion was no idle boast, for as Joshua 22:1-6 shows, they faithfully kept their word. “Only the Lord be with thee, as He was with Moses” (verse 17) should be regarded as their prayer for him. “Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage” (verse 18).
They suggested that this military edict should be enacted in order to prevent cowardice and disloyalty on the part of others in the army, implying their readiness to cooperate in the enforcing of the same. It is probable that they had in mind the Lord’s word unto Moses, “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren like unto thee, and will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which he shall speak in My Name, I will require it of him” ( Deuteronomy 18:18,19).
We know that prophecy received its ultimate fulfillment in Christ, but Joshua was a type of Him. “Only be thou strong and of a good courage” was tantamount to their declaring “We, for our part, will do nothing to weaken thy hands, but on the contrary will do all in our power to make thy lot easier!” Such should ever be the attitude of the Christian unto both magistrates and the ministers of the Gospel.