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<060301>JOSHUA 3:1-6 THE JORDAN The long season of preparation had reached its close, and the arduous task confronting Israel must now be tackled. The forty years they had spent in the wilderness requires to be viewed from a twofold standpoint. First, it was a Divine judgment on the adult generation which, after being so graciously brought out of Egypt and so gloriously delivered at the Red Sea, gave way to an evil heart of unbelief, baulking at the prospect of conquering Canaan ( Numbers 13:28-33) and resolving to “return into Egypt” ( Numbers 14:1-4) — whose carcasses fell in the wilderness ( 1 Corinthians 10:5,10; Hebrews 3:8-17). Second, it was a training for the younger generation who were to occupy the land of promise. This has not been sufficiently recognized. During that forty years many sons and daughters had been born, and they were given to behold the wonders of the Lord in a manner and to an extent which no other generation ever has. Not only was there a visible display of Jehovah’s faithfulness and power before their eyes in sustaining such a vast number by a daily supply of food from heaven, but at the close Moses could say “your clothes are not waxed old upon you and thy shoe is not waxed old upon thy foot” ( Deuteronomy 29:5).
And is not this ever the Lord’s way with His people. He does not bid them to trust in Him with all their hearts and lean not unto their own understandings until He has given them clear proof that He is fully worthy of their confidence. He does not call upon them to overcome the world, mortify their lusts and resist the devil, until He has strengthened them with might by His Spirit in the inner man. He does not exhort them to tread that path of “much tribulation” which alone conducts to Glory, without first weaning their hearts from this world, giving a death wound to their love of sin, and vouchsafing them a ravishing earnest of that glory. How gracious is the Lord, and how tender are His ways! He does not quench the smoking flax, but feeds the spark of grace with the oil of His Spirit. He carries the lambs in His bosom ( Isaiah 40:11) until they be able to walk. Only a personal and experimental knowledge of Him with whom they have to do will sustain the heart of a saint under the testings and trails to which he must be submitted.
In the same way the Lord deals with and furnishes His servants. It was thus with Joshua’s predecessor. When Jehovah first appeared unto him and made known it was His purpose to employ him in leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, he was fearful, and though the Lord declared He would stretch forth His hand smiting Egypt with all His wonders and giving His people favor in the sight of their oppressors, poor Moses continued to raise objections that Israel would not believe him nor hearken to his voice. Then the Lord bade him cast his rod on the ground, and it became a serpent; told him to take it by the tail, and it became a rod in his hand. Ordered him to thrust his hand into his bosom, and he drew it forth leprous as snow; repeating the action and it was made whole ( Exodus 4:1-4). Thus assured Moses went forth on his mission. So it was with the Eleven: before they entered upon their life work and went forth to “make disciples of all nations”, they spent three years with Christ ( Mark 3:14) — witnessing His miracles and being instructed by Him.
We have already seen how such was the case with Joshua. First, the Lord had spoken to him after the death of Moses, giving him the most definite and heartening promises for his faith to rest upon ( Joshua 1:1-6). Then his hands had been strengthened by the ready cooperation of the two and a half tribes whose portion lay on the eastern side of Jordan, vowing “According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee” ( Joshua 1:12-18).
Next he had sent forth the two spies to reconnoiter the land and they, having received a most unlooked-for welcome and assistance from Rahab, had returned and said unto Joshua, “Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land, for all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us” ( Joshua 2:24). “What more could Israel and their leader want! The Lord had gone before them preparing their way, causing His “terror” to fall upon the inhabitants ( Joshua 2:9). With what confidence then might Joshua and all the people go forward into their inheritance! And should it not be the same with Christians now? “When He putteth forth His sheep He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him” ( John 10:4).
But we must now turn to the sequel: and what does the reader suppose is the nature of it? A severe testing of faith? Doubtless that is what many would term it: personally we would prefer to say, A glorious opportunity for exercising faith in the living God. Do not, dear reader, look so much upon painful circumstances and difficult situations as unpleasant trials of faith which have to be endured, but rather thankfully regard them as golden occasions for you to prove afresh the sufficiency of Him who never fails those who fully trust Him. God gives His people grace not only for the comfort of their hearts, but to use for Him. He has placed His sure promises in the Word not merely for us to wonder at, but to turn unto good account. He grants encouragements along the way and strengthens us that we may press forward and do further exploits in His name. He imparts faith unto His people that they may employ it in a manner honoring to Him.
Such it appears to us is, in part, the relation between Joshua 1 and 2 and what is now to be before us. Israel was faced with a most formidable obstacle, but in view of what God had wrought for them, there was no ground for dismay.
Above we have said, Such it appears to us is, in part, the relation between Joshua 1 and 2 and what is now to be before us. But there is something else, and if we deliberately disregarded it, we should be guilty of handling the Word of God deceitfully and seriously misleading His people. That ‘something else’ is either blankly repudiated today — by those who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness in failing to insist that grace reigns through righteousness ( Romans 5:21), teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, that we should live soberly, righteously and godly ( Titus 2:11,12); or is ignored by those who studiously omit everything which would be unpalatable to empty professors, well knowing that if they are to receive their support, such must be Bolstered up in their worldliness and carnality. These hirelings harp continually on God’s grace, His promises, and naught but faith being required by Him; and woefully fail to lay stress upon God’s holiness, His precepts, and obedience being indispensably necessary. Joshua 1 and 2, my reader, contains something more than precious promises and gracious encouragements. Joshua 1 and also make prominent the claims of God and strongly enforces human responsibility. Let us refresh the reader’s memory. First, the Lord had bidden Joshua “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded thee. This Book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous” Thus was the leader himself required to render the most complete subjection unto the revealed will of the Lord, and informed that success would hinge thereon. Joshua, in turn, “Commanded the officers of the people” what orders to give unto them. Then he pressed upon the two and a half tribes their obligations, bidding them “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you” ( Joshua 1:7-13).
It was only in the behalf of a people whose hearts were right with Him and who walked in the way of His precepts, that the Lord would show Himself strong. Faith in Him was to be evidenced by obedience unto His commands; no other faith would He own.
It is to be carefully noted that Joshua 3, like Joshua 2, opens with the word “And”, which not only shows the three chapters are closely connected, but also tells us we must carry in our minds what has previously engaged our attention. Joshua and the people, as they started forward on their new venture, must be regulated entirely by the instructions which they had already received. So must we be! And if we are to make a right application of this memorable incident unto ourselves, if we are to draw from it the spiritual lessons which it is designed to teach us, then we need to heed what was before us in the previous sections. A most formidable obstacle lay in Israel’s path: the river Jordan barred their entrance into Canaan, and we are now to behold how that obstacle was surmounted. If we are to make a personal and practical use of this portion of Scripture, that river which intercepted Israel’s progress should be regarded as illustrative of any problem or obstruction which confronts the minister of the Gospel or the ordinary Christian, and then ascertain from this passage what he must do if he is to overcome his difficulty and be enabled to go forward. “And Joshua rose early in the morning’ ( Joshua 3:1). Observe well that the Holy Spirit has taken due notice of this! Not only so, but He has recorded the same thing again in Joshua 6:12; 7:16; 8:20! In his early rising, as in so many other respects, he foreshadowed the antitypical Joshua, our Savior: see Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42, etc. Joshua’s “early” rising shows that he was not slothful, a lover of his own ease, but one whose heart was in his work and who diligently applied himself unto the same. Therein he has left an example for each servant of Christ to follow.
The minister of the Gospel is to be no slacker and shirker, but rather “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed” ( 2 Timothy 2:15). Whether he rises early or (as this writer) finds it more expedient to burn the midnight oil, he is in honor and duty bound to spend at least as many hours in his study each day as does the farmer in his field, the clerk in his office, or the labored in the factory. He has no warrant to expect God to use him unless he be industrious and denies himself. “And they removed from Shittim and came to Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over” ( Joshua 3:1).
Moses had conducted Israel as far as Shittim ( Numbers 25:1), and after his death it was from there that Joshua had sent out the two spies ( Joshua 2:1). They had returned to him with their favorable report, and now we behold the sequel. In his “rising early” Joshua gave proof that he did not shirk the difficult task before him, but was anxious to come to grips with it. The Lord rewarded his diligence by inclining the people to cooperate with him. They might have demurred, saying “What is the use of leaving this place where we have so long been en-camped, and moving forward to Jordan itself, where there are neither bridges nor boats for us to cross over it? Instead, they laid hold of the promise “within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan ( Joshua 1:11), and went forward in faith and obedience. They knew not how the obstacle was to be overcome, and for the moment that was none of their business. Their responsibility was to proceed along the path of duty so far as they were able, and count upon God’s continuing to keep that path open for them! “And it came to pass after three days that the officers went through the host” (verse 2).
At first thought it seems strange that such a multitude should be left encamped there for this length of time ere a further word was spoken to them, but a little reflection should indicate the Lord’s design therein, and then show us the important lesson we should learn there-from. Ponder this incident; visualize the scene before your mind’s eye. It was not an army of men only, but a vast congregation of men, women and children, to say nothing of their baggage and herds of animals, and further advance was blocked by the river. Whatever the breadth and depth of the Jordan in recent centuries or today, it is evident that it presented an impassable obstruction in Joshua’s time — moreover, it was in flood at that particular season ( Joshua 3:15): and yet they were left to gaze upon it for three days, faced with the fact that they had no means of their own for crossing it! Why? What was the Lord’s object in this? Was it not to impress Israel more deeply with a realization of their own utter helplessness? Was it not to shut them up more completely unto Himself?
And is not that, very often, the chief design of God’s providential dealings with us? To bring us to the end of our own resources, to make us conscious of our own insufficiency, by bringing us into a situation from which we cannot extricate ourselves, confronting us with some obstacle which to human wit and might is insurmountable? By nature we are proud and self-reliant, ignorant of the fact that the arm of flesh is frail. And even when faced with difficulties, we seek to solve them by our own wisdom, or get out of a tight corner by our own efforts. But the Lord is graciously resolved to humble us, and therefore the difficulties are increased and the corner becomes tighter, and for a season we are left to ourselves — as Israel was before the Jordan. It is not until we have duly weighed the difficulty and then discovered we have nothing of our own to place in the opposite scale, that we are really brought to realize our impotency, and turn unto Him who alone can undertake for us and free us from our dilemma. But such dull scholars are we that, the lesson must be taught us again and yet again before we actually put it into practice.
Those three days before that unfordable river was the necessary preparation for what followed — the background from which the following miracle might be the more evident to and the more appreciated by Israel.
Man’s extremity furnishes the most suitable opportunity for God to display His power. And it is not until man is made painfully aware of his extremity that he turns unto the Lord and seeks His intervention. That truth is writ large across the 107th Psalm, which forcible illustrates and exemplifies what we have been seeking to express. “Hungry and thirsty their souls fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble” (verses 5,6). “There was none to help: then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them” (verses 12,13). “They draw near unto the gates of death: then they cry unto the Lord” (verses 18,19). They “are at their wits’ end: then they cry unto the Lord” (verses 27,28). They are brought into a desperate situation, to the end of their own resources, and then it is that they — not merely utter a few cold and formal petitions, but — “cry unto the Lord”, and such a cry is ever responded to by His deliverance.
Ah, my reader, do not close your eyes to the Jordan — the problem, the difficulty, the obstacle — that confronts you, but face it. Do not attempt to minimize it, but take its full measure. Continue contemplating it until you plainly realize your own helplessness to cope with the same, and then trustfully turn unto Him who is capable of dealing with it. Suppose you be a minister of the Gospel, and you yearn for your hearers to be saved is there not an insuperable obstacle standing in the way of the realization of your desire? Indeed there is’ the stolid indifference and unresponsiveness of your hearers. That is the “Jordan” which confronts you the spiritual insensibility of your congregation — and “Jordan” is the symbol of death!
Do you fully realize that’ that your hearers have no more spiritual life in them than the waters of that river had? That you can no more open their hearts to the reception of the Gospel than Israel could open a path through the Jordan? Are you acting accordingly? Few ministers, few churches today are! When they would have a “revival” they hire an outside evangelist and count on special singing, instead of crying unto the Lord. “And it came to pass after three days that the officers went through the host. And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place and go after it” ( Joshua 3:2,3), For three days the congregation of Israel had been encamped before that river which barred their entrance into the land of promise, thus being obliged to take full stock of that formidable barrier and made fully conscious of their own helplessness. The Jordan is the symbol of death, and it is not until the saint appropriates the solemn truth or has learned from painful experience that death is written upon all his natural powers that he is likely to make any real spiritual progress or enter practically into his fair heritage. That was the great lesson which had to be learned by the father of them that believe, before his longing could be realized and fruit borne.
Because Sarah was barren he thought to obtain the desired son by Hagar, only to bring trouble upon his household. Not until he truly recognized the natural impotency of himself and his wife did he count upon Him who quickeneth the dead’ Romans 4:17-21.
Thus it was too with the chief of the apostles. “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life. But we had the sentence of death in ourselves that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead. Who delivered us from so great a death ( Acts 19:22-41), and doth deliver (from those who then sought his life), in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us” ( 2 Corinthians 1:8-10). It is God’s way with His people to so order His providences that they are “pressed out of measure, above strength”, until they are brought to despair of deliverance by their own efforts. Then it is they discover that death is stamped upon all their members and powers and are brought to acknowledge “we have no might... neither know we what to do” ( 2 Chronicles 20:12).
Ah, but note they at once added, “but our eyes are upon Thee”! It was for that very reason Paul and his companions had “the sentence of death” in themselves — that they “should not trust in themselves, but in God which raiseth the dead” By nature we are self-confident and by practice to a considerable extent self-reliant. But those qualities have no scope or place in the spiritual life, having to be completely renounced. Just as we must repudiate our own righteousness before the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, so we are required to disown our own wisdom and strength ere the power of Christ works in us and for us. “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” ( Mark 8:34) is Christ’s own unchanging demand. To “deny himself” is for a man to abandon all trust in himself, to disclaim any capability of his own, to be emptied of self. In order thereto God often brings him into situations where he discovers it is utterly vain to look to himself for relief. Until he has found out that all attempts to extricate himself are futile, he has not learned his utter helplessness, and until he does so he will not really look outside himself unto the Lord. Israel then were made to feel their powerlessness during the three days they were encamped before the overflowing Jordan, and that, in order to prepare them to count upon the Almighty.
But let it is also be duly observed that to “deny himself” is not only for a man to disown his own righteousness, wisdom and strength, but also to renounce all self-will and self-pleasing. The whole of “self” is to be set aside and “the cross” taken up: that is, the principle of self-sacrifice, is to dominate and regulate him, and that, in order to “follow Christ” The former are negative — means to an end’ they are preparatives unto a life of obedience or a practical owning of the Lordship of Christ. We turn to God “from idols” — the chief of which is self — that we should “serve the living and true God” ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9) i.e., that we should be subject to Him, governed by Him. And that is the important truth set forth here. Israel were now commanded to turn their gaze away from the Jordan and fix their eyes steadily on “the ark” And of what or of whom does the ark speak? Of Christ, says the reader.
If of His office, which particular aspect thereof?
It should be evident to any attentive student that the spiritual interpretation of our passage — both doctrinally and practically — turns upon our answers to those questions. The ark is the central object in this miraculous event, being mentioned by name in chapters 3 and 4 no less than sixteen times and alluded to as “it “five times, or a total of twenty-one times, or 7x3, which in the language of Scripture numerics signifies, a complete manifestation of God. What, then, was the ark, and for what purpose was it made? The ark was a coffer or chest, made of shittim wood, overlaid both within and without with pure gold ( Exodus 25:10,11). It was to be a depository for the two tables of stone ( Exodus 25:16), and accordingly, when all its sacred furniture was made and the tabernacle was set up, we are told that Moses “took and put the testimony into the ark” ( Exodus 40:20), where it still abode in the days of Solomon ( 1 Kings 8:9). It is most essential that this fact be carefully noted, if we are to perceive aright the spiritual meaning of this holy vessel: the ark was made for the Law, and not the Law for the ark, as is abundantly clearly from Deuteronomy 10:1-5.
It was for the above-mentioned reason that the ark was called “the ark of the testimony” ( Exodus 26:33,34, etc.). The tables of stone on which the finger of God had written the ten Commandments were termed “the tables of testimony” ( Exodus 31:18), and from their being deposited in it the ark received its principal designation, and since the ark was the most important object in the tabernacle, it was called “the tabernacle of testimony” ( Numbers 1:51,53, etc.). The tables of stone were designated “the testimony”, the ark “the ark of the testimony”, and the tabernacle “the tabernacle of testimony” because they one and all declared what God is and made known the terms on which He would hold fellowship with His people. The Law was a revelation of the righteousness of Jehovah, with its demands upon the faith, love and obedience of His saints. It witnessed immediately to the Divine holiness, yet by necessary implication to the sinfulness of Israel. The tabernacle was the place of God’s habitation where Israel was to meet with Him: not only to receive a knowledge of His will and hold fellowship with Him ( Exodus 25:21,22) but also having a prominent respect to their sins against which the Law was ever testifying, and to use the appointed means of their restoration to His favor and blessing.
It has not been sufficiently recognized by more recent writers that in that Tabernacle of Testimony not only was witness plainly borne unto the ineffable holiness and majesty of the Lord, but also to His gracious condescension and abounding mercy. It testified to the wondrous provisions He had made whereby transgressors of the Law could receive pardon and the defiled be cleansed. In its outer court stood the brazen altar, where sacrifices of atonement were offered. There too was the laver of water for the washing of the hands and feet ( Exodus 30:18-20). Still more significant and blessed, the very ark which enshrined the Law was covered with the mercy-seat ( Exodus 25:21)! That mercy-seat formed Jehovah’s throne in Israel, for it was there between the cherubim that He “dwelt” ( Psalm 80:1 etc.), ruling over His people. Thus the ark and its lid, the mercy-seat, testified unto His being “a just God and a Savior’!” ( Isaiah 45:21): the Law, proclaiming His inexorable justice, the mercyseat testifying to the provision of His grace for the transgressions of His people — a covering of mercy that they might draw near unto Him and live.
We turn now to take particular note of the fact that in Joshua 3:3 etc. the ark is called “the ark of the covenant”, the reference being to that compact into which Jehovah entered with Israel at Sinai and which they solemnly bound themselves to keep ( Exodus 19:1-6; 24:1-8). By the establishment of the Sinaitic Covenant the relation between God and Israel was brought into a state of formal completeness. Under the Abrahamic covenant ( Genesis 17:7,8 etc.) the Lord had pledged Himself to faithfully bestow upon Abraham’s seed every needful blessing, and now that covenant of promise was supplemented by the covenant of Law, which bound that seed to render the dutiful return of obedience which their gracious God justly required from them. The foundation was thus outwardly laid for a near and lasting relationship, resulting in a blessed intercourse between the God of Abraham on the one hand and the dutiful descendants of Abraham on the other. And it was primarily with the design of furthering and securing that end that the ratification of the covenant at Sinai was so immediately followed by instructions for the making and erection of the tabernacle.
The Ten Commandments were the terms of the covenant entered into at Sinai ( Exodus 34:28): “He declared unto you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, even ten commandments” ( Deuteronomy 4:13), and it was on the basis of their compliance therewith that God undertook to deal with Israel and make good His promises to Abraham. His readiness to show Himself strong in their behalf was at once evidenced: “and they departed from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey; and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days’ journey, to search out a resting-place for them” ( Numbers 10:33).
But alas, the very next thing recorded is “the people complained” and “it displeased the Lord”’ and His chastening hand fell heavily upon them ( Numbers 11:1). Then we learn of the opposition made against Moses by his own brother and sister, and the Lord’s smiting Miriam with leprosy (Numbers 12). That is at once followed by an account of the sending forth of the twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan, the mixed report which they made upon their return, the unbelief and rebellion of the people, with their repudiation of Moses as their leader and determination to return unto Egypt ( Numbers 13:1; 14:5).
Their breaking of the covenant at once released the Lord from making good unto that perverse generation His declarations unto Abraham, and therefore He told them “your carcasses they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness... after the number of the days in which ye searched the land, forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, forty years, and ye shall know My breach of promise” ( Numbers 14:32-34).
They should know to their lasting misery what had produced that “breach of promise” (compare the “if” of Exodus 19:5!) and the protracted and woeful consequences thereof. The promises Jehovah made unto Abraham and unto Moses would not be fulfilled unto that particular generation because of their unbelief and disobedience; but unto their descendants they should be made fully good. As Joshua himself testified at a later date, “the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hands. There failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel: all came to pass” ( Joshua 21:44,45).
The forty years’ wandering in the wilderness expired with the death of Moses, and all whose sins occasioned that punishment had also died. It was the new and younger generation over which Joshua was placed, and now a fresh chapter opened in the history of Israel What has been pointed out above explains not only the prominent position occupied by the ark in the crossing of Jordan and in the subsequent events, but why it is there designated “the ark of the covenant”. Israel’s success, or rather the Lord’s showing Himself strong in their behalf, would turn upon their keeping of the covenant established at Sinai and their walking in implicit obedience unto God. Israel’s crossing of the Jordan with their eyes fixed on the ark signified that they marched into Canaan led by the Law!
What has just been emphasized is of something more than mere historical importance: it is recorded for the instruction of God’s people in all generations, and needs to be turned by them into earnest prayer for Divine enablement. It reveals to us the principal thing which the Holy One requires from us if He is to undertake for us and make a way through whatever “Jordan” may confront us. It makes known the basic principle of God’s governmental dealings with His people in every age: the exercise of His power on our behalf is regulated by our submission to Him. God cannot be the Patron of sin, and therefore He will not show Himself strong in the behalf of rebellious subjects. As said before, we must deny self and take up our cross in order to “follow” Christ, and what that signifies is made clear to us here in Israel’s “following” the ark of the covenant. “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked” ( 1 John 2:6), and He walked in perfect subjection to the Law of God!
THE ARK “And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it.
Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go; for ye have not passed this way heretofore” ( Joshua 3:3,4).
Keeping in mind the principal things which have already been before us: that this was a new generation of Israel which was about to enter into their heritage; that that heritage prefigured the portion and privileges which should — in this life — be enjoyed by the Christian; that the ark was an outstanding type of the person of Christ; that the particular name by which it is here designated intimates the special character in which Christ is to be viewed and followed by the believer; that Israel’s crossing of the Jordan and entrance into Canaan is fraught with the most important practical instruction for us today; let us proceed.
The ark was the sacred chest in which the two tables of stone were deposited, and thus it pointed to Christ as our Lawgiver ( Psalm 40:8; John 14:15). The ten commandments were the terms of the covenant which was mutually entered into between Jehovah and Israel at Sinai ( Exodus 34:28), and it was on the basis of their compliance, or noncompliance with that solemn pact that the Lord agreed to deal with Israel and make good His promises to Abraham. Hence the name by which the ark is called throughout Joshua 3 and 4. Thus the ark here prefigured Christ as the believer’s Covenant-head, the meaning of which, though of the first moment, is alas little understood today. It is in the Gospel that Christ is tendered unto u: as such, and it is by our complying with its terms that the soul enters into a covenant with Him. “Incline your ear, and come unto Me: Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” or” the Beloved” ( Isaiah 55:3). That is the Gospel offer or proposal, and our acceptance thereof is a “joining ourselves to the Lord, to serve Him and to love the name of the Lord” and is a “taking hold of His covenant” ( Isaiah 56:6).
That which will best enable us to grasp the basic truth which we are here concerned with is the marriage contract, for marriage is a covenant voluntarily, lovingly, and solemnly entered into between two parties, wherein each gives himself or herself unto the other, disowning all rivals, pledging unending fidelity, vowing to make the interests and welfare of the other his or her own. Nothing less than is what the Lord requires from man. The evangelist calls upon his hearers to throw down the weapons of their enmity against Him, forsake all illicit lovers, and unite themselves with those who declare, “Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten” ( Jeremiah 1:5).
Thus it was in that wondrous and blessed foreshadowment in Genesis 24, where Abraham (figure of the Father) sent forth his servant Eliezer (figure first of the Holy Spirit, yet principally of the evangelist through whom He works) to seek and woo a wife (emblem of the Church collectively and of the believer individually) for his son Isaac — Christ; the whole of which sets before us a most instructive picture of the preaching of the Gospel, both from the standpoint of God’s sovereign grace and the enforcing of human responsibility — though, as usual, the latter is ignored by most Calvinistic writers thereon.
As the figure of the evangelist we may note how Eliezer received most specific instructions from Abraham concerning his mission and how that servant obediently complied therewith ( Genesis 24:10). Then we observe how Eliezer betook himself unto prayer, asking the Lord to grant him “good speed” and success on his errand (verse 12) — an unmistakable plain intimation that Eliezer is not to be regarded solely as a type of the Holy Spirit. When Abraham’s servant encountered the object of his quest he presented her with tokens of his good will (verse 22), and extolled the excellency of his master (verse 35). Then we behold how she was required to make a personal decision “Wilt thou go with this man?” (verse 58): she had to choose for herself, freely and deliberately. Such a decision, personal and definite, is required from the sinner as the terms of the Gospel are presented unto him, for they are addressed to him as a moral agent, testing and enforcing his responsibility. “And she said, I will go.” She was willing and ready to turn her back upon the old life, and forsake her family to become the wife of Isaac. “And she became his wife” (verse 67), and never regretted her decision. And that is the grand type and picture of a soul entering into an everlasting covenant with the Lord Jesus, the eternal Lover of His people — made willing in the day of His power.
In full accord with the striking type of Genesis 24 we find our Lord Himself speaking of the Gospel-order thus: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain King which made a marriage for His Son” ( Matthew 22:2), upon which Matthew Henry rightly averred. “The Gospel covenant is a marriage covenant betwixt Christ and the believer, and it is a marriage of God’s making. This branch of the similitude is only mentioned, and not prosecuted here”; by which he meant that the wedding feast and its guests is what is mainly dwelt upon in the sequel. Concerning the force of the “marriage” figure itself. Thomas Scott aptly said, “The union of the Son of God with man by assuming human nature; the endeared relationship into which He receives His Church and every member of it; the spiritual honors, riches and blessings to which they are advanced by this sacred relation; the comforts they receive from His condescending and faithful love, and from communion with Him; and the reciprocal duties of their relation to Him are all intimated by the metaphor.”
True, yet, with their accustomed partiality and lack of balance, most preachers have dwelt considerably upon the first four of these analogies, but have been criminally silent upon the “reciprocal duties” which that relation involves, and which we are here insisting upon.
Thomas Scott is right in saying, “This denotes that some who are not true believers appear as willing and welcome guests at the Gospel feast and intrude into its most sacred ordinances,” but it seems to us he quite missed the point when he added, “It is not material whether we understand the wedding garment to mean the imputed righteousness of Christ, or the sanctification of the Spirit; for both are alike necessary and they always go together.” This parable is not treating so much of the Divine side of things, but rather the testing of human responsibility and the disclosing of its failures. Verses 3,5 and 6 exhibit man’s obstinacy and enmity, while verse 11 depicts the exposure of an empty profession. “If the Gospel be the wedding feast, then the wedding garment is a frame of heart and a course of life agreeable to the Gospel and our profession of it” (Matthew Henry).
Many take up a profession of the Gospel and claim to be united to Christ without any newness of heart and life. They lack a disposition and conduct suited to Christ and His precepts: they are devoid of habitual and practical holiness. They have no marriage “certificate ”!
Now none can enter into and enjoy the heritage which God has provided for His people save those who have personally and experimentally passed from death unto life, who have entered into definite and solemn covenant with Him, and who cleave unto and conduct themselves by the commandments of Christ — the anti-typical Joshua. That is the great and grand truth portrayed here in Joshua 3 and 4, and it is because it is such a momentous one, and yet so little apprehended today, that we are laboring it so much in our comments upon this passage. It is at regeneration that me soul passes from death unto life, when by a sovereign act of God’s power — wherein we are entirely passive — we are spiritually quickened and thereby capacitated to turn unto Him. This miracle of grace is made manifest by the understanding of its subject being enlightened to perceive his awful enmity against God, by his conscience being convicted of his guilty and lost condition, by his affections being turned against sin so that he now loathes it, by his will being inclined God-wards; all of which issues in a genuine conversion or right-about-face — a forsaking of his wicked ways, an abandoning of his idols, a turning away from the world, and a taking of Christ to be his absolute Lord, all-sufficient Savior, and everlasting Portion.
Hence we find the conversion of the Corinthians described thus: they “first gave their own selves to the Lord and unto us, by the will of God” ( 2 Corinthians 8:5): that is, they willingly yielded and gladly dedicated themselves unto the Lord — acknowledging the just requirements of His proprietorship and authority, and responding to the claims of His redeeming love as the only suitable acknowledgment of that debt which can never be repaid; and gave up themselves unto His servants to be directed by them; which is ratified in baptism, when we openly give up ourselves to be His people. Hence, under a slightly varied figure Paul reminded those who had been thus converted under his preaching, “I have espoused you to one Husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 11:2).
The apostle had been the instrument in forming a connection between them and Christ like that of the marriage union, the obligations of which are devotedness, fidelity, loving obedience; and unto the preservation and promotion thereof the apostle labored with a godly jealousy for them.
At regeneration the Spirit vitally unites us to Christ; at conversion we personally and practically give up ourselves unto Him. Conversion is when we accept Christ to be our Husband and Lord, to be cherished and ruled by Him. It is an entering into a covenant-engagement with Him, for Him to be our only God, and for us to be His faithful people. That the covenant relationship is a marriage union is clear from Jeremiah 31:32, Hosea 2:18,19 (and cf. Jeremiah 2:2; Ezekiel 16:60); and that is why Israel’s idolatry was commonly spoken of as (spiritual) adultery — unfaithfulness to Jehovah, going after other gods. Since conversion be our entering into covenant with God in Christ, the great business of the Christian life is to “keep His covenant” ( Psalm 25:10): that is, to be regulated at all times by its terms. Or, since conversion be a marriage union with Christ, the w, hole aim of the Christian life is to be as a loving and dutiful wife should unto her husband. All of which is summed up in that comprehensive word. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him” ( Colossians 2:6): continue as you began, be actuated by the same motives and principles now as when you first surrendered to Him, let your Christian life be a perpetuation of your conversion, be wholly devoted to Him.
What we have endeavored to set before the reader above as a definition and description of the true and normal Christian life is that which is typically portrayed in Joshua 3 and 4. The ark was a figure of Christ; the “ark of the covenant of the Lord your God” pointed to Him as our Covenant-head, the One with whom we entered into a solemn compact and engagement at our conversion, to be henceforth and for ever only His.
Israel’s following of that ark pictured our keeping of the covenant, our being in practical subjection to Christ as our Lord and Lawgiver, our being faithful to the marriage relationship, ever seeking to please and promote the interests of the eternal Lover of our souls. Just in proportion as we conduct ourselves thus will Israel’s experiences become ours. As they submitted unto Joshua’s orders, as they obediently followed the ark of the covenant, God put forth His mighty power on their behalf, they entered into a present “rest” ( Hebrews 4:3), He subdued their enemies, and a land flowing with milk and honey became their actual portion. And if such experiences be not those of the writer, or the reader, it is just because he is failing to conduct himself as Israel did here.
Having entered so fully into an attempt to explain the fundamental principles underlying this incident and the main lessons to be learned from it, there will be the less need to spend much time on its details. “There shall be a space between you and it about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it” (verse 4). That was parallel with the solemn prohibition given unto Israel when the Lord was about to enter into covenant with their fathers, and make known unto them the terms of that covenant: “the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves that ye go not up into the mount or touch the bound of it. Whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death” ( Exodus 19:12).
The spiritual application of both unto us is set forth in that word, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about Him” ( Psalm 89:7).
The natural and local reason why the ark of the covenant should proceed so far in advance was that it could readily be seen by all the vast multitude: had there been no space between it and them, those who followed closely behind it would obscure the view of the others — only those in the first few ranks had been able to behold it. But being borne by the priests half a mile in the van, the ark would be visible to the whole multitude. But typically and spiritually the lessons inculcated were:
Second , that as sinners we are to look off unto Christ as our Sin-bearer, of which the mercy seat or propitiatory (which formed the lid of the ark) spoke. As the uplifted serpent on the pole (emblem of Christ bearing the curse for His people) was visible to all the congregation, so the ark in the foreground.
Third , that as saints we need to keep our eyes steadfastly fixed upon Him, “looking off unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of faith” ( Hebrews 12:2), for it is a life of faith unto which He has called us, strength for which is to be found in Him alone.
Fourth , Christ’s leaving His people an example that they should “follow His steps,” for “when He puteth forth His sheep, He goeth before them and the sheep follow Him” ( John 10:4): our duty is to “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth” ( Revelation 14:4).
Fifth , the immeasurable superiority of Christ above His people — “that in all things He should have the preeminence” ( Colossians 1:18), He being the Head we but members of His body. This must ever be borne in mind by them, for though He be their Kinsman-Redeemer and is not ashamed to call them “brethren,” nevertheless He is their Lord and their God, and to be owned and worshiped as such — “that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father” ( John 5:23).
Seventh , that He entered the and-typical Canaan in advance, to take possession of heaven on our behalf: “whither the Forerunner is for us entered “( Hebrews 6:20) — there is both a present and future, an initial and a perfect occupying of our heritage. “Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go; for ye have not passed this way heretofore” ( Joshua 3:4).
Having pointed out some of the probable reasons why the ark was to proceed so far in advance of the people, we must now turn to consider the meaning of the last clause of this verse. Personally, we consider the commentators and sermonizers have quite missed the force of the “for ye have not passed this way heretofore” when they explain it is signifying “For ye are about to march over unfamiliar ground.” Admittedly the Hebrew, and at first glance this English rendering, appears to decidedly favor such a view, yet a careful weighing of this clause in the light of its whole setting seem to require a different interpretation of it, understanding it to mean “for ye have not marched in this manner hitherto.” Nor is that by any means a wresting of the text, for though the Hebrew word “derek” be translated “way” in the vast majority of instances, yet it is rendered “manner” eight times — as, for example, in Genesis 19:31; Isaiah 10:24,26).
To give as the reason why the children of Israel should follow the ark on this occasion as “because ye are about to tread new and strange ground” seems to possess little or no point, for had not that been equally true on most of their journeying across the wilderness! But, it will be asked, to what else is the reference? We answer something entirely different from what had marked their marches previously, as the “heretofore” indicates.
The immediate context is concerned with the informing of Israel as to when they were to advance: “when ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place and go after it” (verse 3). Hitherto, it was only when the cloud moved that they did so too (see Exodus 3:21,22,49,38); “whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed” ( Numbers 9:21, and cf. 14:14). During the whole of the preceding forty years Israel had been led by that supernatural “pillar of cloud,” but now and henceforth that cloud was no longer to be with them.
It was a visible token of Jehovah’s presence, especially granted unto. ‘Moses, and with his death it disappeared.
A different arrangement was now made, a new means for recognizing God’s will concerning their journeyings was now revealed unto Israel, another symbol of Jehovah’s presence should henceforth strike terror into. the hearts of His enemies. The ark of the covenant now took, in an important sense, a new position. Formerly, when journeying the ark had been carried in the midst of the host. It had indeed gone before Israel on one previous occasion “to search out a resting place for them” ( Numbers 10:33), yet the very next verse informs us “and the cloud of the Lord was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp”; and, as we have seen, the immediate sequel was the fatal apostasy of that generation. The cloud had moved above the ark (cf. Leviticus 16:2), where all the people could see it easily and follow the ark without inconvenience; but now the cloud was no longer with them — the ark becoming their visible guide. Another indication of this new arrangement appears in the ones who bore the ark. A specific command had been given that the ark should be carried by the sons of Kohath ( Numbers 3:30,31; 4:15), but here “the priests” were appointed as its bearers.
Thus, in keeping with this new venture by the new generation, a different order of procedure was appointed — “ye have not traveled in this manner before.” The first generation of Israel had been a lamentable and utter failure, but there can never be any failure with the Lord God, nor in the accomplishment of His eternal counsels. God always takes care of His own glory and of the full and final blessing of His people according to His purpose; yea, He never suffers them to be divorced or pass out of His own hands. In His wondrous wisdom and amazing grace God has inseparably united the two, and therefore does He make all things, work together for the accomplishment of each alike, for He has made His people and their blessing a constituent part of His glory — “Israel My glory” ( Isaiah 46:13). Thus we see how fitting it was that the ark of the covenant went in advance of the twelve tribes on their entrance into Canaan, which the Lord had chosen to be the place where He would make a full display of Himself in the midst of His people. As the Lord had magnified Himself before Pharaoh and his hosts in Egypt and at the Red Sea in connection with Israel’s exodus, so now He would magnify Himself in the sight of the Canaanites as He bared His arm on behalf of His people.
This is indeed a marvelous and blessed truth that God has bound up the good of His people with His own manifestative glory, that at the same time that He furthers the one He promotes the other also. It is a truth which ought to exercise a powerful influence upon our hearts and lives, both in strengthening holy confidence and in preventing unholy conduct. It furnishes us with an invincible plea when praying for the prosperity of God’s cause on earth or for our own individual fruitfulness: “grant it, O Lord, for the honor of Thy great name.” It was on that ground Moses, in a sore crisis, presented his petition ( Numbers 14:15-17), so Joshua ( Joshua 7:9), Hezekiah ( 2 Kings 19:19), Joel ( Joel 2:17). But One far greater than any of those prayed “Father, the hour is come, glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” ( John 17:1).
And should not each Christian say, “Father undertake for me, that Thy child may — in his measure — glorify Thee”! Yet this wondrous truth has a bearing on duty as well as privilege. Since my good and God’s glory be inseparably united, how careful I should be in avoiding everything which would bring reproach upon His name! How diligent in seeking to tread that path where communion with Him is alone to be had! How zealous in “doing all things to the glory of God” ( 1 Corinthians 10:31. “And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” ( Joshua 3:5).
The word “sanctify” is one of the most difficult terms to define that is used in Scripture: partly because of the great variety of objects to which it is applied; partly because it has so many different shades of meaning; partly because doctrinally and experimentally considered there is both a Divine and a human side to sanctification, and few find it easy to adjust those two sides in their minds. With their customary partiality Calvinistic writers and preachers confine themselves almost entirely to the Church’s sanctification by the Father (setting her apart from the non-elect by His eternal decree), by the Son (who cleansed her from her sins and adorned her by His merits), and by the Holy Spirit (by her regeneration and daily renewing), and say little or nothing upon the necessity and duty of the Christian’s sanctifying himself. Whereas Arminian writers and preachers dwell almost exclusively on the human side of things, as the believer’s dedication of himself unto God and His service, and his daily cleansing of himself by the Word: Since the days of the Puritans few indeed have made a full-orbed, presentation of this important truth.
The first time the term occurs in Holy Writ is Genesis 2:3, and, as is invariably the case, this initial mention at once indicates its essential meaning and content: “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it,” which obviously means that He separated it from the other six days and set it apart for His own particular use — such is the underlying and root idea in all its subsequent occurrences where God Himself is the Agent or Actor.
The next reference is Exodus 13:2: “Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn: whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, of man or beast: it is Mine”: that was something which the Lord required from them, namely, to dedicate and devote the firstborn entirely unto Him. The third occurrence is in Exodus 19: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And be ready against the third day, for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai” (verses 10, 11, and see verse 15).
Now it is quite clear that the injunction which Joshua gave unto Israel in verse 5 was of precisely the same import as that which Moses received for the people in Exodus 19. The Lord Was about to appear on their behalf, and they were required to be in a meet condition. When God bade Jacob go to Bethel and make there an altar unto Him, we are told that the patriarch said unto his household, “Put away the strange gods that are among you and be clean, and change your garments” ( Genesis 35:1,2) — idols and the worship of the Lord do not accord. Unto the elders of Bethlehem the prophet said, “I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice” ( 1 Samuel 15:5).
In each case the reference was first unto the removal of ceremonial defilement, the putting away of all outward pollution, and then to bringing their hearts into a suitable frame towards the One with whom they had to do, for God has never been satisfied with mere external purification and punctiliousness of formal worship ( Isaiah 29:13,14). Sacred duties call for diligent preparation on the part of those who would discharge them.
Christians are bidden to draw near unto God, “having their hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience [i.e. all known sin forsaken and confessed] and their bodies washed with pure water” — their daily walk regulated and purified by the Word ( Hebrews 10:22), for we must not insult Him by carelessness and moral unfitness. In order thereto we need to give constant heed to that precept, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:l).
And be it carefully noted that “cleanse ourselves” is as much a part of the inspired Word of God as is “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin,” and that that latter statement is qualified by (though scarcely ever quoted!) “If we walk in the light as He is in the light.” The Holy One requires us to sanctify ourselves both internally and externally, and if we do not, our worship is unacceptable. “If a man purge himself from these [the things which “dishonor ”] he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified; and meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work” ( 2 Timothy 2:21). “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as He is pure” ( 1 John 3:3).
How? By mortifying his lusts and cultivating his graces, by daily repentings and renewings of his consecration. “Sanctify yourselves,” then, has been an imperative requirement of God upon His people in all generations. The only difference which the change of covenant has made is that, under the old, their sanctification of themselves consisted chiefly in a ceremonial and external purification, while that of the new is principally a moral and internal one, and where that obtains the outward life will be adjusted ‘to our Rule. No servant of Christ declares “all the counsel of God” who fails to press that imperative requirement of God’s upon His people, and if he be silent thereon he “withholds” that which is “profitable for them.” We must “draw nigh to God” if we would have Him draw nigh unto us ( James 4:8), and, as that verse goes on to tell the careless and those with unexercised consciences, in order to draw near unto Him aright we must “cleanse our hands and purify our hearts”! “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place?” which in New Testament language means, Who shall be received by God as an acceptable worshipper? The inspired answer is. “He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” ( Psalm 24:3,4).
Alas that so little heed is now given to such verses. “And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” That was an enforcing of their moral responsibility. It was a call for them to cleanse themselves and dedicate themselves unto the Lord their God. It was a bidding of them to prepare themselves by prayer and meditation, to recall God’s gracious interventions in the past, to ponder His ineffable holiness, awful majesty, mighty power and abundant mercy, and thereby bring their hearts into a fit frame, so that with faith, reverence and admiration they might behold the great work which Jehovah was about to do for them. They must be in a suitable condition in order to witness such a manifestation of His glory: their hearts must be “perfect toward Him “ — sincere and upright, honest and holy — if He was to “show Himself strong in their behalf” ( 2 Chronicles 16:9).
Have we not here the explanation why God is not now performing marvels in the churches? — they are too carnal and worldly! And is not this the reason why a way is not being made through our personal “jordans”? And why we receive not wondrous and blessed discoveries of His glory — we are not “sanctified” in a practical way nor sufficiently separated from the world. “And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Observe the positive and confident language of Joshua: there was no doubt whatever in his mind that their covenant God would perform a miracle on their behalf, and therefore he assured them accordingly. What an example for Christ’s servant to follow!
He has no right to expect that his flock will wax valiant in fight if their shepherd be full of unbelief and fear. And, too, when urging upon them the duty of self-sanctification, he should fail not to add the encouragement, “the Lord will do wonders,” for sure it is that the more we shun that which defiles, and devote ourselves unto God’s service and glory, the more will He work mightily in us, for us and through us. It is quite possible that on this occasion Joshua had in mind that word, “And it came to pass when the ark set forward that Moses said, Rise up, O Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered” ( Numbers 10:35), for certain Joshua was that when. the ark should now advance the waters of the Jordan would recede. “And Joshua spake unto the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant and pass over before the people. And they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people” (verse 6).
Having directed the people what to do, Joshua now gives instruction unto the priests. Thereby he acted in strict accord with his own personal commission (“do according to all that is written in this book of the Law” ( Joshua 1:8) — i.e. the Pentateuch), for in preparation of Jehovah’s descent upon Sinai Moses had given express charge to the priests as well as to the people ( Exodus 19:22). In the charge here given to the priests we see how their subjection to the revealed will of God was put to the proof, how their faith and courage were tested, and how their reverence for the symbol of the Lord’s presence was to be manifested. Corresponding unto them today are the ministers of the Gospel, concerning whom T.
Scott well said, “They are especially required to set before the people an example of obedience, patience, and unshakable confidence in God, by abiding in their perilous position or difficult stations which He has assigned them, when others fear to pass that way; and in so doing they may expect peculiar support and protection.”
The people were commanded to follow the priests as far as they carried the ark, but no farther, and God’s children today are responsible to heed and obey His servants ( Hebrews 13:7,17) only while they set forth and honor Him of whom the ark was a figure. Namely, Christ; yet not simply as a Savior, but in the fullness of His threefold office: as our Prophet or Teacher (the Law within the ark), our Priest (the propitiatory upon it), our King and Lord’ (“the ark of the covenant”). But the minister of the Gospel is required to do more than faithfully preach Christ, namely live Him: “Be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity’” ( 1 Timothy 4:12); “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works” ( Titus 2:7; and cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:10; 1 Peter 5:3). The minister is to set before his people a godly example. Unless he takes the lead in enduring hardships and facing dangers (not showing more concern for his own ease and safety), then his exhortations unto self-denial and courageous action will have no power upon his hearers.