Discipline: 9. Joshua

Joshua  •  28 min. read  •  grade level: 9
THE first notice which we get of Joshua is in Ex. 17:99And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. (Exodus 17:9), where he is introduced to us as appointed by Moses to lead the choice men of Israel against Amalek. From the appointment we must conclude that he was the best qualified for the post; but what interests us most in studying the history of any of God's servants, is the peculiar aspect or condition in which they are first presented to us; for in these first presentations we may behold the grand characteristics which will distinguish their course.
So with Joshua-type, as well as servant, of Christ, he is presented to us on the outset as a warrior chief, prepared to encounter the adversaries of Israel, a fitting expression for one so eminently typical of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Captain of our salvation. His first recorded engagement is against Amalek, who represents to us the flesh or the natural man in active opposition to the progress of the people of God. Egypt is more properly the world, Amalek is the flesh personated, Assyria is nature in its attractions and influences. The conflict with Amalek was the first intuition of warfare to Israel and characteristically Joshua, for the first time, appears on the scene as leader. He discomfits the enemy by the edge of the sword; but while thus victorious he is made to know on what his success depends, even on Moses who is on the hill top with the rod of God in his hand. He learns to lead the people to victory by being himself subject to the vicissitudes of conflict while depending on an unseen agency for success. Success wanes, not uncertainly, but still wanes; and in the very alternations of the conflict he learns to depend on God, and succeeds because he depends. This illustrates to us very pointedly the true manner of conflict, and how needful it is for us to be disciplined in order to ensure success. It exemplifies to us practically that word, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worked in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” The conflict is a real one, literally a hand-to-hand engagement, and success oscillates alternately in favor of each of the combatants. God is the energizer in us both to will and to do. Faith sustains Joshua. He knows that Moses is on the hill-top with the rod of God in his hand, and thus is he taught at the outset of his history to endure the vicissitudes of actual warfare in dependence and to be wondrously victorious. It gives great vigor to the soul to have grappled with the actual difficulties of our onward march, and in the strength of the Lord to have conquered: to be able to say, “I know how to be abased and how to abound.... I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
This Joshua learns and expresses in this his first essay as captain-general of Israel; and as it was his first achievement and indicative of all which should follow, even as David in slaying Goliath, the Lord directs that it should not only be written in a book, but rehearsed in the ears of Joshua, “for the Lord will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” What an encouragement such a memorial must have been to him in his many subsequent engagements! Well might he fall back upon it, if tempted to be discouraged. If the Lord had sworn to annihilate this his first enemy, would He not be equally faithful as to the rest?
We next hear of Joshua in Ex. 24, and he there appears before us as minister to Moses, when the latter is called to the Mount to receive the tables of testimony. This notice, though scanty, is very important, for it shows us that the man of action down here was no stranger to the solemn and wondrous manifestation of the invisible God. He not only learned how to war against the enemies of God's people, but he learned also the realities of God's glory, for which in His people he continued down here. In secret he was (even as was the Lord Jesus more perfectly) in communion with God's glory, but outwardly a warrior from his youth; and in both aspects was God forming him for subsequent service. Communion with glory on the Mount was as necessary as the uncertainties of conflict on the battle-field. There are what we may call circles, or distinct forms in the school of God. The warfare with Amalek was one circle, or one class of service already passed by Joshua; and in the Mount he is in another, that of communion with God, an enlarging of his acquaintance with the mind of God—a most blessed season of instruction; but even in this high association, Joshua retains his peculiar characteristic. When Moses turned and went down from the Mount, and the sound of Israel's apostasy reaches their ears, Joshua's comment on it is, “there is a noise of war in the camp.” His mind, evidently imbued with warlike scenes, interprets the shootings of idolatry, according to its leading impression. But when the idolatrous scene is unfolded before him, and Moses pitched the tabernacle outside the camp, Joshua evinces the value that the blessed season of instruction in the Mount had been to him, by taking the place of separation and refusing to mix himself with the defiled camp. We read, “Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.” He had learned what it was to abide in the secret of the Almighty, and though the service of Moses might call him to go to and fro, this young man whom God was instructing, knew it better for him to remain with God in the separated tabernacle. Service did not call him to the camp, and therefore he remained entirely set apart unto God from it. If there be not a distinct call for service, it is better not to associate with the defiled thing at all. Moses has a service to render, and he can enter and tarry in the camp without damage; but if we go like Peter “to see the end,” we are sure to suffer loss, because we thus gratify a true desire, in a human way. As a rule, if there be no room for service, let us be as separate as possible, for the separation will prepare us for good and effectual service by and by; and even if we be not introduced into this, our souls have drunk in more deeply of the mind of God.
Mere expressible knowledge of God's will and counsel is not the full effect of nearness to Him; but rather the sense of what suits Him and meets His mind: in fact, holiness, the highest attainment, and the great end of the Father's discipline.
But Joshua is still a learner. The next notice that we get of him (Num. 11) is in the self-same tabernacle; but here he openly exhibits a misapprehension of the mind of God. That very truth which had before saved him from defiled association, and preserved him in unison with God's mind, here contracts his spiritual vision when he makes use of it to circumscribe God, instead of regarding it as only in part a revelation of His mind. This is a very important connection, for it is God Himself, and not any single line of His truth which is to counsel me, or determine my walk and judgment. To remain in the separated tabernacle was plainly the truth and way of blessing, when Israel was in apostasy; but when Eldad and Medad prophesy in the camp, God's Spirit must be acknowledged, though they do not come to the separated tabernacle.
Hence Moses rebukes Joshua, as really caring for the things of men, and not for the things of God. But a rebuke of this kind is not intended to dishearten, for mistakes, in personal attachment, never bebar us from the highest and closest confidence the very next moment. The heart is right, but it has taken counsel from the flesh and must be rebuked; but this being done, it is set free for God. Peter expressed the mind of Satan as to the Lord's death and was sharply rebuked for his misapprehension, but he is not disqualified from accompanying the Lord to the holy mount, nor is Joshua here disqualified for the special service of a spy. Error is dealt with very much according to what it springs from. It may be from natural, and therefore unacceptable, affection, or from indifference or from malice. The ignorance of Mary Magdalene is met and counteracted with a tenderness very different to that which the seven apostles who went d fishing, are corrected and enlightened.
Joshua, then, in spite of his late error, is appointed to go and search the land, and Moses distinguishes him by the name Jehoshua instead of Oshea. This intimates to us that he was now, according to his new name, entering on a new lime of service. He had hitherto been only Moses' minister or servant, to carry out his instructions. Now, he with eleven other heads of the people, is sent on a special mission to inspect the land, and report accordingly. Caleb and Joshua alone report favorably, and bear witness for God and for the goodness of that which He had sworn to give them, in the midst of the unbelief of their associates. What a trial they had to pass through, and how deeply they felt the sin of the people is evinced by their action. They rent their clothes, and while beautifully bearing witness to the good land, they declare that their entrance therein depended not on their own strength, but on the Lord's delight in His people. But all the congregation bade stone them with stones, when the glory of the Lord, bursting on the tabernacle, “in sight of all Israel,” arrests their evil intention. Let us state here, the peculiarity of the education to which Joshua was subjected. He had already been associated with God as the Deliverer, but this was his first acquaintance with the place which God had promised His people, and to which he himself was eventually to lead them.
Moses and Joshua, as servants, had a different mission. Moses was to lead the people out of the world—out of Egypt; Joshua, to lead them into Canaan. Moses, typifies the Lord combating the devil down here; Joshua, as leading us into all the blessed results of life and rest: and to fit him for the high mission Joshua must be disciplined. He must simultaneously see the land and see and feel the nature of the people he has to lead thither. And not only so, but having seen the land, proved in his soul, and confessed with his mouth, his faith in God's purpose and power to bring them in, and endured the opposition and persecution of this very people on account of it, he must wait the lapse of 40 years before he can behold and realize the works which his faith reckoned on.
What a trial of faith! what a prolonged education must this have been! A break seems now to occur in his history a break in the narrative, but surely not in the moral of it. Failing to animate the people to a sense of their calling, he retires, as it were, from public life; but only to resume his place and function there the moment it would be acceptable, and consequently we do not hear of him again till he is commissioned to lead the people into Canaan.
These forty years must have been a time of great deepening of his faith. As he saw the unbelievers, one after another, die off, until he with Caleb was left alone of the former generation; each death must have confirmed to him how blessed is faith, and how fatal to all blessing and service is unbelief. Like Moses in Midian, but far more honorably, he had to be by for forty years, waiting to be the champion of a faith which the people would not receive, though nothing else could bless them.
He would not be employed on any lower occasion, and therefore he remains for this lengthened period waiting until the time should come when an opportunity would be afforded him for proving, that “holding fast the beginning of our confidence” has great recompense of reward. No number of years can wear out faith. The wilderness had to be traversed all that time, not that faith should lose its origin, but that it should sustain him until the moment came for its fulfillment.
There never was a faith without a corresponding work, sooner or later, and this explains that passage in James, “the scripture was justified when it said Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” The faith must not be surrendered until the work declares it. It sustains the soul in the interval, in the blessing of the work, according to the strength and vividness of it.
The thread of Joshua's history is resumed where it broke off. he had assured Israel that they were well able to go up and possess the land; and at the end of the wilderness journey, when Moses is disqualified for leading them into it, Joshua appears on the scene again; the time is come; he is ordained for this special service. (Num. 27:18- 2218And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; 19And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. 20And thou shalt put some of thine honor upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. 21And he shall stand before Eleazar 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 they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation. 22And Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation: (Numbers 27:18‑22).) He might often have wondered to what end was the faith which forty years before had lighted up his soul, and enabled him to proclaim the glories of the inheritance, but every germ of the Spirit produces its fruit. Faith must always verify itself. The less prospect there is of a declaration, the more is the soul thrown back on the convictions which faith produces; and this action necessarily increases faith, because it confirms its reality unsupported by anything outward. If held at all, it must be held from God. The visions presented to one's soul by the Holy Ghost, are not dreams, merely affecting us for the moment, but if of the Spirit they must be realized sooner or later.
Very fully was Joshua's faith realized; and now, “full of the spirit of wisdom,” and prepared by all these years of discipline, he is not only ordained by Moses, who laid hands on him, but personally commissioned and encouraged by the Lord for this high and honorable mission. “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread on, that have I given you,” was now the Lord's word to Joshua.
Traverse any of the endless domains of glory, and that will be yours forever; traverse it, and the verity and value of it will be ensured in testimony down here, even as the sight of Jesus and the glory was to Stephen.
We must remember that Joshua, properly speaking, is the continuation of Moses, both typifying the Lord Jesus in different aspects. Moses conducts me unto the death of Christ; Joshua conducts me victoriously out of it, carrying his spoils with him; and therefore when the Lord commissions Joshua, the son of Nun, “Moses' minister,” He says, “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give them.... Be strong and of good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.” According to the terms of this commission, he was not only to lead them into possession, but, by dividing the inheritance, to invest them with assured occupation; and this typified the closing act of our Lord, which He intimated on earth when He said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Joshua's service is not consummated until this is accomplished, and therefore we should be prepared to find in the second part of his history the trials and difficulties which occur to hinder this settlement; and how interesting to us to have these hindrances. He encounters and overcomes them, and herein instructs us; for though we encounter them, it is often very slowly that we overcome them.
Joshua, years before, had believed that God could and would bring them in. This was his foundation, for “,without faith it is impossible to please God.” But he is now realizing that faith which he had so long enjoyed, and he is not indolent therein. He announces to the officers, “Within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in and possess the land.” There is neither dilatoriness or imprudent haste in entering on what God had called him to. “Prepare you victuals,” he says; the onward path was to be entered on calmly, preparedly, but heartily, and we may add,Sanctify yourselves, (says Joshua) for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders for you.” I pass over the wondrous scene of the passage of Jordan as to its import, which has been fully dwelt on elsewhere; the relation to Joshua is what we have to do with here. The Lord's object in it with regard to him may be seen in chap. 3:7; 4:14. “This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel,” &c. Almost singly had he forty years before stood firm for God's purpose and power amid the opposition and unbelief of the people. Now he was to be magnified before all Israel, and the Lord's presence with him proved to be as veritable as it was with Moses. It was a glorious passage in his history, and corresponding to the strong and elevated character of his faith. Joshua, while typifying the Lord Jesus in his success, is, on the other hand, a sample for us in the struggles and conflicts which he passes through ere he arrives at success. The difficulties, our difficulties, are there; but our Joshua has surmounted them for us; and, blessed be God, the practical success may be ours too, for “it is he that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
I do not undertake to write the life of Joshua, and must therefore confine myself (after first merely enumerating his great achievements) to the exercises which his soul passes through.
His first rehearsement in leadership is passing the Jordan; 2nd, the rolling off of Egypt's reproach at Gilgal; 3rd, the fall of Jericho, or taking possession of the land; 4th, chap. 15, dividing the inheritance. These comprise his great successes. His exercises we shall now consider in detail. Foremost of these is the discomfiture at Ai. This was the first check in his bright career. Jordan passed—the reproach of Egypt rolled off—the walls of Jericho fallen to the earth, through faith—the possession of the land entered on in the most distinguished way,—what must have been his distress and disappointment when he saw Israel flee before the men of Ai! Joshua is little prepared for any reverse. Blessing and success had followed him like a swelling tide; and he is now in agony. He rends his clothes and falls to the earth. He must now learn for the first time how much man may fail in scenes of the fullest blessing. He had seen their failure in the wilderness; but here is failure and discomfiture in Canaan. And this brings strange and peculiar distress on the soul. How well can the heart understand the cry, “O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turneth their back before their enemies?” The greater the blessing and truth known and enjoyed, the greater the dismay does discomfiture cause to the heart most true to the glory of God. But Joshua, like many of ourselves, had to learn an important lesson in this stage of his history. It was this—that no amount of previous acquisition or enjoyment can secure us against defeat and overthrow, if in spirit we have connived at, or become associated with, principles or practices contrary to God. In ignorance of the cause, he prays, mourns, and even remonstrates with the Lord. His faith wavers in the intensity of his distress. But it appears from the Lord's rebuke to him that he lacked spiritual wisdom in so doing; for such would have concluded from a previous knowledge of God that he would not have permitted defeat to have overtaken His people, had there not been some grievous departure from Him. He ought thus to have searched for the concealed evil, instead of upbraiding the Lord. Prayer will never compensate for neglected action; it leads to action—seeks light and strength for action. But if I use not the light I already possess, no amount of prayer will obtain more for me; for if I believe not the lesser revelation, I am not prepared to receive the greater.
The Lord chides Joshua for lying before Him in ignorant, inactive mourning. He says, “Get thee up. Wherefore liest thou before me? Israel had sinned,” &c. And goes on to announce what must be done in order to retain His presence among them, and consequent success.
Let us note here that Israel was now entering on the inheritance—representing to us God's kingdom and the heavenly portion of His saints. They were as one people. The sin of one affected the whole; not spiritually, but nationally. With us it is spiritually; and we should be warned, that if such manifest disaster was occasioned on account of the sin of one man, among those who were only united nationally and in the flesh, how much more is it so in the Church, where each one is a member of the one body in Christ, and united in spirit, and not merely in nature.
It was new to Joshua to hear that the secret departure from God of one man in the army could so disastrously interrupt the progress and blessing of all Israel. And he is crushed by it, and almost loses hold for the moment of the faith that so characterized him. But in his deepest distress mark how true to his sense of God's greatness, and how anxiously God's glory is before him! “What wilt thou do with thy great name?” is his first anxiety.
The first line of action prescribed by the Lord is inquiry. There must be a full presentation of all the congregation before God. Great scrutiny, patient and anxious investigation, is necessary. The lot is cast; but the whole decision is of the Lord. And the guilty party, being convicted and exposed, confesses—after Joshua's touching appeal to give glory to that Lord whose glory was so dear to his own heart, confesses how and when and where he had taken of the accursed thing.
Joshua, after his deep exercise, has proved himself equal to the emergency. Having “risen up early” to discover the cause, he is prompt and decided in judging and executing judgment on the transgressor. Summary and unrelenting must it be! Not an article belonging to the originator escaped the flame of extirpation. Joshua now expounds and witnesses to the principle, that the nearer a man is to God, the more he is within the circle of His greatest blessings, the more distinctly and entirely must he denounce everyone and everything derogatory to His glory. The Joshua who fears not the external foe—who has seen all creation bow to His conquering tread, is the same as he who is valiant and faithful and effective in subduing and purging out the internal evil. The two are inseparable. Power is power, in whatever form it may be exercised. Power over the Canaanite—the opponent to our realization of our heavenly inheritance—insures power over internal evil. If Joshua had learned the one gloriously, and with a high hand, he now learns the other deeply and sorrowfully, in secret counsel with God, and no less wondrous intervention of His power. Let us remember that the greater victors we are as to the inheritance, the stricter separatists shall we be from everything unsuited to the mind of God, which pervades and reigns in those holy places.
The sin of Achan was no common sin. It had a two-fold enormity. It was a double transgression against God, and of a character which, when successful, insures the fall of the heavenly warrior.
Achan had taken a garment accursed of God, and gold and silver, which were devoted to God's treasury; thus, in symbol and essence, disclosing the corruption of the heart, which, while advancing into the fairest displays of grace, has the treachery to seek its own gratification at God's expense. It was the selfsame spirit of those who “serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own bellies;” and, at the same time, by fair speeches (by a respectable outward walk) deceive the hearts of the simple: thus embarrassing the congregation of God by departing from the truth declared to them for their own private ends.
Joshua, having graduated through this great exercise and its results, is now taught how he is to succeed against Ai: no longer in an open and distinguished way, as at Jericho, for failure entails results even after the breach is healed. The conquest, however, is no less effective, and faith can discern the same amount of spiritual power, although the army is less distinguished. But Joshua had yet more to learn; and chap. ix. unfolds another, and a difficult, order of trial, which harasses and besets him. And one brought on, too, by a temporary lack of dependence on and reference to God on his part and that of the princes. The snare is not now from inside, from false allegiance or unfaithfulness, but from outside. The Gibeonites “did work wilily,” and Joshua deceived by them made peace with them, neglecting to ask counsel of the Lord. Here was the real cause of the snare proving efficacious, for whenever dependence on God is lost sight of for a single moment, even in the very flush of victory, failure must ensue. This was Joshua's first lesson, as we have seen in his past conflict with Amalek; and even now, after so many years of discipline and victory, it causes a flaw in his onward course.
Achan's sin was against God; that of the Gibeonites more against Israel. Man assuming before man to be what he is not, in order to be accepted. The sin being different the punishment is different; the former was total and unsparing condemnation; the latter perpetual and public infliction. The deceiving party are the most severely dealt with; they are made subservient to the interests of Israel; but the deceived, i.e., Israel, also suffer, for had they followed the Lord's way and mind, the subjugation would have been much more perfect.
No doubt, Joshua learned much of God's mind in all these peculiar trials, and immediately after he enters on a glorious and unbroken career of victory, in which no check occurs to the remainder of his course. Highly honored and owned of God, foe after foe is subdued, and the Lord even stops the course of creation (the sun and moon stand still) “at the voice of a man.” What a moment that must have been, when, after treading on the necks of all their enemies, Joshua and his host smote and utterly destroyed them from Kadeshbarnea to Gaza—Kadesh, the scene of the people's former unbelief, and of Joshua's firm and enduring faith!
The next important era in this history is the allotment of the inheritance to each, chap. 13.—19., according to the special commandment of the Lord; and this being done by Joshua, he himself is given a personal inheritance, (verse 50,) in which he builds a city and dwells therein. It was in perfect keeping, the possessions being marked out and plans prepared, the leader properly rests; even as did the Lord Jesus Christ, who, having perfected His work, sat down until His enemies be made His footstool. The heavens received Him, though earth rejected Him, and He now rests until the whole universe shall how to His own.
Joshua, in practical achievement, presents to us four distinct blessings connected with this new and heavenly inheritance:-1st, the triumph of the waters of Jordan; 2nd, the rolling off the reproach of Egypt consequent on which was eating of the old corn of the land, the produce of the heavenlies; 3rd, taking possession from Jericho onward; 4th, dividing the inheritance to each tribe, and assuring each of his own; which exemplifies to us that acquaintance with the inheritance which God only reveals by His Spirit, “for it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive what God has prepared for them that love Him.”
On the other hand, he had three great conflicts and painful pages of instruction in connection with his leadership into Canaan.
He had to learn how the whole army could be enfeebled and shorn of strength by the defilement of one man.
How he himself could be deceived and ensnared by neglect of asking counsel of the Lord.
3. (And this is his last). How little he could depend on the congregation of Israel, adhering to the place and path of blessing to which they had been called. This trial is presented to us (chap. 23., 24.) as the closing scene of his service. He had, through God's goodness, led them to wondrous blessing. God had been faithful, but they will not be faithful or a witness to His mercy to them. What a sorrow to Joshua after all had been accomplished according to God's promise and his own faith fully answered, to know of a certainty that no reliance can be placed on the congregation! Its conviction must have been early and deeply instilled into him from the time that he had heard the idolatrous sounds emanating from the camp as he descended the holy Mount with Moses; so that, as we often see, the trials of the commencement and end of his course closely correspond to one another. How afflicting to the spirit after being used largely to make known the blessing of God, and after seeing souls in the enjoyment of them, to forsee that ere long there will be few or none to appreciate them! This trial the Apostle Paul was enduring when he laments that all Asia had turned from him, and the same now awaited Joshua.
But what was his resource? He took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord, and said unto all the people, “Behold this stone shall be a witness unto us, for it hath heard all the words which he spoke unto us; it shall therefore be a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.” This stone typified Christ, and looking to Him as the only sure Witness, “the faithful and true,” Joshua closes his career. His heart earnest to maintain the works and truth of God, hopeless as to man, but assured and at rest because of the one great and chief Corner-stone the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, to whom be glory forever and ever.
John 1:1717For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:17). “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The law told man what he ought to be. It did not tell him what he was. It told him of life if he obeyed, of a curse if he disobeyed; but it did not tell him that God was love. It spoke of responsibility; it said, “Do this, and live.” All this was perfect in its place; but it told neither what man was nor what God was: that remained concealed, but that is the truth. The truth is not what ought to be, but what is—the reality of all relationships as they are, and the revelation of Him who, if there are any, must be the center of them. Now that could not be told without grace; for man was a ruined sinner, and God is love. And how tell, moreover, that all relationship was gone, morally? For judgment is not a relationship, but the consequence of the breach of one. Hence, Christ is the truth. For sin, grace, God Himself, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, even, are revealed as they are; what man is in perfection in relationship with God; what man's alienation from God; what obedience, what disobedience; what sin, what God, what man, what heaven, what earth—nothing but finds itself placed where it is in reference to God, and with the fullest revelation of Himself—while His counsels even are brought out, of which Christ is the center,.