Joshua and Caleb: Thoughts on the Book of Joshua, Part 1

Joshua  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 14
Thoughts on the Book of Joshua
The book of Joshua is remarkable, mainly, in that the “ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth” is seen passing over before Israel, into Jordan, to prepare a resting place for God and His people. This involved the driving out of the Canaanites by the introduction of “the captain of the Lord's host” with the drawn sword in His hand, before whom Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship. The wars of the Lord follow in quick succession, and the victories of His people—together with the overthrow of the seven nations, and the destruction of their thirty-one kings. The tribes of Israel then took possession of the land of promise, under Joshua and Eleazar the priest, and went up into their inheritance, as distributed to them by lot in Shiloh before the Lord, where the tabernacle of the congregation had been set up. The God who redeemed His people out of Egypt, by the arm of His strength, and dried up the Red Sea from before them till they were all passed over, did the same thing in the depths of Jordan; and swept away the nations of Canaan, in proof that “the God of the whole earth” had risen up out of His place, and was come down to deliver and to establish His people. The song they sang at the Red Sea had come to pass in the promised land; for “the Lord had brought them in, and planted them in the mountain of his inheritance in the sanctuary which his own hands had established.” As regards their enemies too, “sorrow had taken hold of the inhabitants of Palestine, the dukes of Edom were amazed, the mighty men of Moab, trembling had taken hold upon them, and all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.” It is not until God has done all that is needful for the glory of His name, and connected Himself thus in grace with the blessing of His people, that their new responsibility begins. Will the earthen vessel be true to the treasure, and use what it has received for the honor and praise of the giver? has been always the question, which such love and goodness must create whether with Israel, or with the church of Christ since.
Joshua, the son of Nun, and Eleazar the priest, glorified the God of their fathers, and served their day and generation well, though not without many a misgiving as to the people (with whom they had traveled forty years) and their ways towards Jehovah. Brought into the land of promise, having rest from war, and dwelling in peace, they settled down contented with the measure of blessing which they enjoyed and which satisfied them, but failed to drive out the Canaanites. Joshua, when old and stricken in age, called for the elders and judges and the heads of Israel, and rehearsed before them the faithfulness of the Lord, and sought to rally them anew, and strengthen their confidence in God, as well as to deepen their mistrust of themselves. Behold, he says, “I am going this day the way of all the earth; and ye know in all your hearts, and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you. If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. And the people entered into covenant at Shechem, and said unto Joshua, Nay, but we will serve the Lord:” so they departed every man into his inheritance; and Joshua, the servant of the Lord died, being a hundred and ten years old; and Eleazar the priest, the son of Aaron, died, and they were buried, each in the border of his inheritance. Whatever these two men of God may have been and Were, in their faithfulness to the Lord, as Moses and Aaron were before them; yet collectively the tribes broke down in their covenanted allegiance to Jehovah; so that the book of Judges takes up the history of their decline and fall, when the angel of the Lord descended from Gilgal to Bochim (the place of weeping). What a contrast! and what a lesson! The earlier scriptures (at the calling out of Abraham) give the bright record of the God of glory breaking in upon the darkness, and hiding nothing from His friend of all He was about to do, walking with one patriarch and another, by covenant and by promise, till at the close Joseph buried his father Jacob, and carried him up from Egypt into Canaan, where Isaac and Abraham were laid before him.
So when another relation was formed between the God of Israel and Moses, as the deliverer and mediator of His people, and further revelations were made known to him, and he saw the land from the top of Pisgah; the Lord took him and buried him in a valley over against Beth-peor, but no man knoweth his sepulcher unto this day. The book of Joshua too (where the Lord of hosts rose up as a man of war to shake the earth, and Jordan fled, and the sun and the moon stood still in the heavens when He fought for His people) likewise closes with the burial places where they laid the heirs of promise, each in his inheritance. The seed of a yet coming and glorious resurrection was thus cast into the ground, in hope of that day when they shall all come forth to sit down together, “Ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God.” These all having obtained a good report through faith received not the promises, but saw them afar off, and were persuaded of them and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. It is only as brought thus by divine love into communion with the purposes of the Lord in the final blessing of His people, that either Moses or Joshua, David or the prophets, can stand in the midst of personal and corporate failure as they did, and yet point on the hopes of the godly to a morning without clouds when the Lord Himself shall come, and “He that ruleth over men shall be just, ruling in the fear of God:” for this the nation still waits. Nevertheless Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived him, and which had known all the works of the Lord that He had done for Israel.
Joshua had been called into a remarkable place, as leader and commander of the twelve tribes; and Eleazar into one as distinguished, as the high priest in connection with the ark of the covenant at Jordan, and afterward with the tabernacle at Shiloh. These two offices, established between God and the people, necessarily created a wide opening for the faith and obedience of others to follow, and obtain a good report. It was into one of these vacant places that Caleb stepped as the claimant of Hebron; according to the oath which Moses sware unto him in Kadesh-Barnea, because “he wholly followed the Lord his God.” Caleb, as an heir with the royal tribe of Judah, becomes an example to the co-heirs throughout all the other tribes of Israel to maintain their rights and titles as he did, and to drive out the enemy. He thus becomes as remarkable, in his place, as an heir of promise in taking possession of his inheritance; as Joshua was in leading Israel into the length and breadth of the land of Canaan; or as Eleazar and the priests were who bore the ark of the covenant round the walls of Jericho, as they stood firm in the depths of Jordan till the people had all passed across to Gilgal. However different Joshua, Eleazar, and Caleb were from each other, yet the Lord Himself had trained each up for their respective places into which He led them; and this is a very important fact to realize at any time in reference to the formation of the vessel which God may be about to use.
If we examine this additional point in the light of scripture, as regards each of these servants of the Lord, we shall find much profitable instruction. The first mention of Joshua is when Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim in Ex. 17, and Moses and Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill with the rod of God. It was with this enemy that Joshua fought the first of the Lord's battles and prevailed. “The Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua, for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; and Moses built an altar there and called it Jehovah-nissi.” This first lesson in the school of God was followed by another of a very different kind in Ex. 24, when Moses went up, and his minister Joshua, into the mount of God, and the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. This future warrior of the Lord had been taught at Rephidim already that it was only as Aaron and Hur upheld the hands of Moses (in intercession) Israel could prevail over Amalek; and now he accompanies Moses up to the mount to learn who and what the God of Israel is in His holiness, under whose feet was as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as the body of heaven in its clearness! Moses' minister, the future Joshua and savior, is thus called to know God, the Jehovah of Israel; as terrible in His majesty and power at Rephidim against Amalek (with whom He will have war from generation to generation) as He is fearful in praises, doing wonders, and glorious in holiness when revealed to Moses and the nobles of the children of Israel on the top of the mount, where they saw God and did eat and drink. The claims of God in righteousness written upon the tables of stone, and a law and commandments were likewise given out to Moses from the mount Horeb that he might teach them to the people. And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. Such were the scenes and occupations in the presence of God in holiness, and under the rod of His hand against Amalek in retributive justice, where Joshua's qualifications for serving Jehovah in Canaan were gathered up.
But another and a very different lesson still awaited him in Ex. 32, when the Lord sent Moses down quickly from the mount upon the matter of the golden calf, which Aaron and the people had set up during their absence. By the intercession of Moses the Lord turned from His fierce anger and repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people. Now when Joshua heard the tumult as they came near, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp; but the more practiced ear and heart of Moses, instructed by the Holy One, could better distinguish between the shout of mastery, the voice of crying, and the noise of them that sing. In effect, the tables, which were the work of God, and the writing which was graven thereon, Moses immediately cast out of his hands and broke; for how could he bring them nearer? The golden calf ground to powder and strawed upon the water which the children of Israel drank, the swords of the sons of Levi by which they consecrated themselves to the Lord and avenged the outrage upon His majesty, are the new and strange lessons which Joshua is learning for himself, and for the glory of God through him in a future day. It was a fine action, and one in unison with the mind of God, when Moses sought to interpose further by atonement and self-sacrifice, so that the sin of the people against God in His holiness, might be blotted out; but a finer one still when he accepted the Lord's rebuke as to its insufficiency. Moses could not make an atonement for their sin (this was a work kept in reserve for a greater than he), but another thing remained open for him to do below for the honor of God and the healing of the people (in withdrawing from the evil) and this thing he did.
The children of Israel stripped themselves likewise of their ornaments by the mount Horeb, that the Lord might know what to do unto them; and Moses took the tabernacle and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of the congregation. The nearness to God in which Moses had been for forty days, led him not merely to act in jealousy for His name where it had been profaned, but also to separate His dwelling place from the abomination of the golden calf. How could He abide there? If Moses broke the tables, he must for the same reason remove the tabernacle. The Lord owned this action, for as Moses entered into the tabernacle the cloudy pillar descended and stood at the door where the Lord talked with him face to face, as a man speaketh with his friend. Two great principles had been introduced, as we have seen, and established: the one was intercession, when the hands of Moses were sustained by Aaron and Hur, in the day of conflict with Amalek; and the other was mediation, founded on the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the day when the people worshipped the calf, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of a four-footed beast. These two principles being recognized between God and Moses, became the acknowledged ground of the people's safety and blessing, and have since found their true and proper place in the perfect ministry of Christ, “who ever liveth in the presence of God to make intercession for us.” Moses acting on this new footing turned again into the camp, but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle. Rephidim and Jehovah-nissi, mount Horeb and the God of Israel, the broken tables and the action of the sons of Levi, the cloudy pillar and the tabernacle, and the new meeting place between the Lord and Moses, marked out a path and showed Joshua the spot where he could with confidence plant his feet, and there he abode. The minister, Joshua, is no longer seen in the further and secret intimacies with Moses and the God of Israel at the cleft of the rock, or when Moses came down the second time from the mount with the tables that were put into the ark. Like Elisha afterward, when with his master going the round of Bethel, Jericho, and Jordan, a double portion of Elijah's spirit rested on him; or like Paul in his instructions to Timothy: so Jehovah “the God of the spirits of all flesh” had, by means of Moses, been preparing a man to set over the congregation of the Lord.
It is not till Num. 13, that Joshua comes forth in his own character, and enters upon his own proper business, though privately, and as one of the twelve rulers, in association with Caleb, who were sent by Moses to spy out the land of Canaan and its cities and its inhabitants. After forty days they returned from searching it, and made their report to Moses and Aaron and all Israel. Those who judged after the flesh, and according to sight and sense, declared that the cities were walled up to heaven, and the men were all of great stature, so that they were in their own sight as grasshoppers. Those who saw by faith, and measured every difficulty and danger by the God with whom there are none, affirmed they were able to go up and possess the land at once. The connection between Joshua and Caleb, as regards the land of promise, is as remarkable in the development of the onward ways of God with Israel, as was his relation to Moses (when his minister) in the unfolding of His counsels to that man of God. The tribes to which these two rulers respectively belonged were brought forward into their rightful prominence by the faith and devotedness which distinguished these chiefs, in contrast with the other spies who brought back an evil report. Caleb was of the royal tribe of Judah, out of which Shiloh should spring, and to whom the gathering of the people is prophetically yet to be. Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim, upon whom Jacob laid his right hand and declared his seed should become a multitude of nations. And he blessed the sons of Joseph that day: one by counsel, and one by promise, and by the blessing of their progenitor Jacob they became united in faith and purpose of heart, now that the appointed time is come for the people to go on their way to their inheritance. Moses consistently changed the name Oshea into Joshua (or Jesus), Savior of the people, in reference to the mind of God and Israel, whilst Caleb, as an heir of promise, bears his own name which means devotedness of heart; and proves it by his readiness to go up and take possession of the whole land. Nor is it without divine significance that “Hebron” is the place now mentioned in connection with the journeyings of their future Savior, and of Caleb the heir— “they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron, where the children of Anak were.” If the unbelief of the ten failed to learn the deep moral lesson which these facts conveyed to the heart of a true Israelite, what would be the yet further appeal which the occupation of Hebron by the giants Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai would make to the faith and feelings of Joshua and Caleb? This Hebron to which their father Abram removed his tent after he had separated himself from Lot, and where the Lord appeared and said, “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever.” Then Abram came and dwelt in the plains of Mamre, which is Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord. Nor was Hebron remarkable only as “the place of society, or friendship and enchantment” to Abram the friend of God, and the father of the faithful, but it was to be remembered too, as the place where Sarah died (who is the mother of promise, and the free woman) and was buried. There, also, Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham and there Jacob came unto Isaac his father to Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned. Machpelah, in Hebron, became thus the sepulcher of all the patriarchs who had died in faith, not having received the promises but having seen them afar off and connected them with the Christ of God and His day, and were glad. Descendants of these fathers, not merely in the flesh, but associated with them by the same faith and hope, they were alive, so to speak, before the eyes of Caleb and Joshua; just as Jesus Himself said of Moses and the bush afterward, “Now God is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to him;” and this is what faith affirms, which calls things that are not as though they were. The promised land was thus a living scene to faith in these two spies, as it had been to Moses when he viewed it from the top of Pisgah. The faith which is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, whether in Abraham or in Moses or in the spies, looked at the land, or walked through the length and breadth thereof with the living God, and in the light of His purposes counted the giants but as bread to eat in the time of the coming conflict. Hebron too, though for a moment in possession of the sons of Anak, asked to be remembered by the heirs of promise as the sepulcher of their fathers, who were sleeping there “in hope of the better country, that is, a heavenly.”
Joshua and Caleb who walked thus with God through the land made a good report of it, and carried a cluster of the grapes of Eshcol and brought of the pomegranates and the figs as proofs of what grew there. The action of Caleb was in keeping with this report when he stilled the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it.” His confidence was in the right hand of God's power, which had just destroyed Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red Sea, and would further display itself in driving out the Canaanites on the other side of Jordan, if there was but faith on the part of Israel to follow Him. Instead of this the congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron, and said one to another, “Let us make a captain and return into Egypt.” Then Moses and Aaron fell upon their faces, and Joshua and Caleb rent their clothes, saying, “If the Lord delight in us, he will bring us into this land and give it us, a land which floweth with milk and honey; only rebel not ye against the Lord.”
(To be continued.)