Meditations on the Book of Joshua: Ai and the Accursed Thing

Joshua 7-9
AND Joshua the man of God? Alas! he rends his clothes and falls to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord. (Ver. 6.) Where was the ark in the war with Ai, before which the walls of Jericho had fallen? Joshua's godly soul acknowledges its worth, but he does not know what to do, and, ignoring the accursed thing, he gives vent to regrets, not regrets as to what he has done, nor as to what the people have done, but, alas! as to what God had done when He brought them over Jordan! " Would to God we had been content and dwelt on the other side Jordan," said he. How plainly these words show what man's heart is! This blessed place is the only one that Joshua would fain have avoided.
The tone of his request betrays weakness. First it is Israel, the name of Israel which occupies his thoughts; then it is the Canaanites, the world. " Israel turneth their backs before their enemies." " The Canaanites shall hear of it." " They shall cut off our name from the earth." Then quite at the end: "What wilt -thou do unto thy great name?" (Vers. 8, 9.) The example given us in the history of God's faithful servant Moses is very different. (Ex. 32:11,1311And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:11)
13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. (Exodus 32:13)
.) He had been on the mount of God, and there God reveals to him the evil which had gone on in the camp; the sin of the people does not remain hidden from the eyes of Moses. Aware of it before coming down from the mount, does he think of Israel's shame? No, he is occupied with what is suited to the Lord's name. He recognizes the claims of offended holiness. As for the nations his only concern is, as to whether God would be glorified, in the eyes of the Egyptians by the defeat of His people. As for Israel, he appeals to the grace of God, to the only thing which glorifies Jehovah's name in the presence of guilty Israel. Moses had no need, like Joshua, to recover lost communion; he can intercede for the people, and he is heard.
Joshua, on the contrary, is found precisely in the attitude in which he ought not to be. " Get thee up," said the Lord to him, " wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face?" (Ver. 10.) To humble himself for his lack of power was not the only thing to be done; it was time to act. We find, the opposite to this in Judg. 20, where Israel ought to have humbled themselves first and then acted. Miserable flesh! What disorder does it not introduce into the things of God! Always outside the current of His thoughts, if not in open hostility to Him. May we join with the apostle in saying: " We, who have no confidence in the flesh." Joshua had to act; the accursed thing had to be put away from amongst them.
The children of Israel had soon forgotten the presence of the Lord, which alone could open their eyes to the evil in their midst. Joshua himself had been in some measure taken in this snare of Satan, and involved in the people's weakness. If he had realized in his soul the attitude he assumed in chapter 5., in loosing the shoe from off his foot, he would have understood the necessity of holiness for the people, if God's holy presence was to be with them. But Joshua falls to the earth upon his face and almost reproaches God for His grace, forgetful of His holiness: " Wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan?" He was not, for the moment at least, in the current of God's thoughts, and God makes him feel it. His thoughts were out of tune. When the accursed thing enters into the testimony of God, what we have to do, is to sanctify ourselves, and to put away the evil from our midst. It is not a question here of power, but of holiness and of obedience. God said to Joshua: " Up, sanctify the people." To sanctify oneself is to separate oneself from all evil to God. It is impossible without holiness to have God with us.
This is one of the most important truths for the present day. What should characterize us now, as in Philadelphia, is communion with " the and the true." I am speaking merely of an ordinary case of excommunication, and not of a case of discipline complicated, it may be, by the-' incapacity of the assembly to judge evil. I would not for a moment omit the true humiliation which should always accompany action in a, case of discipline.
It was necessary that Israel should both individually and as a nation pass in review under-the searching eye of Jehovah Himself (vers. 14, 15); their conscience was thus awakened and self was judged; each one took his place in presence of the judgment. It was the same when the wicked person at Corinth was put away.
" Godly sorrow " had worked in the Corinthians. "a repentance to salvation not to be repented of." Sorrow had produced humiliation, accompanied by activity and zeal in purifying the, assembly of God from evil. Thus true humiliation and action went together. " For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly-sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire yea what zeal yea what revenge!" (2 Cor. 7:1111For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:11).)
To return to the question of holiness. In chapter 5 we have individual holiness, and in chapter vii corporate. In order that Israel should not be defiled and partakers of the accursed thing, they must put away what had entered into the midst of the congregation. Rarely do we find intelligence amongst the children of God with regard to these two aspects of practical holiness. Christians more often seek the first, that is individual holiness, and esteem the second of no importance.
Let us take an illustration to show that individual holiness is never fully entered into apart from corporate holiness. Supposing I have a son who is blameless as to his character, and whose virtues are everywhere spoken of. He is respected in the town, and on all sides I hear the remark, " What a good son you have!" Now, this son of mine, though he does not himself drink, spends every evening at the public-house, in the company of drunkards, instead of remaining in his father's house and taking his place at the family board. Can I call him a good son?
From 2 Cor. 6:1616And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (2 Corinthians 6:16) to 7. 1 we learn the close connection between these two aspects of holiness. God begins with corporate holiness. " Ye are the temple of the living God." (Ver. 16.)." The temple of God is holy." (1 Cor. 3:1717If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Corinthians 3:17).) It is positional holiness. " What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" " Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate." (Ver. 17.) This is practical corporate holiness. Then he adds: " Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (Chapter 7:1.) This is individual holiness, and it is inseparable from corporate holiness and the promises attaching thereto.
But the corporate side is not understood by the generality of God's people who go through the world, alas! without troubling themselves about their fellow Christians, and to whom such a thing as corporate responsibility is unknown.
One often hears it said: " Oh! I do not concern myself about others; I am alone with God; I take the Lord's supper individually," &c. This is not how God views us. Let me repeat it: He sees us altogether as forming one body, united by the Holy Spirit to His glorified Son. The sin and the suffering of one member is the sin and suffering of the whole body. One more word in passing, on the sentence referred to above, which one so often hears from the lips of Christians: " I take the Lord's supper for myself." What does Scripture say? " For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread." (1 Cor. 10:1717For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:17).) Who are the " many " with whom you profess to be one body? You take the supper individually to excuse your alliance with the world at the Lord's table, and you do not see that you profess to be one body with the murderers of our Savior, for it is the world that crucified Him.
Let us notice another point in the chapter. God said, " Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow." (Ver. 13.) We are called to sanctify ourselves before and not at the moment of action. Whence comes our frequent incapacity to judge evil and to act for God? Because we have not sanctified ourselves beforehand. Why is it that so often at the worship meetings our hearts are cold and our lips silent in praise? Because we have not been obedient to the word: " Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow." It is the same in 1 Cor. 5 The apostle possessed the power, but not the Corinthians. They were simply to obey in purging' out the old leaven to be a new lump; they -had to put away the wicked person from their midst.
Achan had partaken of what was under the curse of God, and he had to be put away. It was clone in the valley of Achor.
But, wonderful to say, we read in Hos. 2:1515And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. (Hosea 2:15) this comforting word respecting Israel: " I will give her the valley of Achor for a door of hope." Yes, beloved friends, it is always thus; blessing is given to us on the very threshold of judgment.
It is at the place of judgment that the soul at the time of its conversion finds the door of hope; it is there that it meets Christ. And later on, the believer finds the time of discipline to be the first place of hope and joy. It will be in this valley where God pronounced their judgment, that the people of Israel will, by-and-by, be blessed of God. It was there that Joshua was recovered in soul for a walk henceforth with God, while leading the people to victory.
Chapter 8—the Way of Recovery.
The wicked person had been put away from the congregation of Israel, but by the presence of evil in their midst, God had brought them to the discovery of their own self-confidence. Such.cases often present themselves when an assembly is satisfied with its state, and begins to boast of—it, and of its blessing and growth. Israel did this, placing their reliance not in God but in their late victory, and thus preparing a way for defeat. They had to be judged, and then to purify themselves from the evil. But restoration of soul does not consist only in self judgment and practical sanctification. Communion with God, which sin has interrupted, must be restored.
Here I would make a remark which is perhaps of importance. In chapter vi. God manifests His power in connection with Israel in the victory over the enemy at Jericho. This same power is shown too in the 'Christian's life. It may be that one has been in the enjoyment of divine power and the victories thereby obtained, without perhaps having really known either God or oneself.
And yet there was no excuse for Joshua's want of apprehension. The Captain of the Lord's host had revealed Himself to him with the drawn sword in His hand, as the Holy One armed with power for the conflict. Then, in company with the people, Joshua had witnessed the exercise of this power before Jericho; but his conscience had to be brought in contact with divine holiness,' and he had as yet no sense of what it necessitated from the people as to the character of their walk. The anger of the Lord (chap vii. 1) had to be made known to Israel and their leader, before they could learn that God in His holiness could not tolerate the accursed thing. The knowledge of God in power is not all. To possess a true and complete knowledge of Him, much more has to be learned.
With regard to Gilgal and the learning of ourselves, it might seem that when once this point in the soul's history is reached, self ought to be done with, but in reality this is only practically realized in the measure that one keeps at Gilgal.
How little did the people know themselves after the victory of Jericho! Though God had taken a thousand pains to prove to them that all was of Him in the victory, what self-sufficiency, what forgetfulness they show in attempting to face the enemy without Him!
Flight and trouble are the result, and when they resume the offensive, their path becomes difficult, laborious, and full of complications, thus, exposing to their view their own weakness, which had been already made apparent to the enemy in their defeat. They have to retrace their steps, forced afresh to the discovery of themselves, but it will now be a lesson learned through grace with Christ and not with Satan.
Notice in chapter viii how complicated everything becomes, through not having followed the simple path of faith. The soul, humbled, finds itself once more with God, and His presence with it, but the consequences of a carnal walk remain; and although God can ultimately use these for their blessing, the path has no longer the simplicity of the early days of faith. It is a very simple path, for, to the believer who follows God's guidance in human dependence on His word, victory is assured. It was thus at Jericho, and the same power which had brought down the walls of the accursed city is with Israel at Ai; it has not changed, although the army must maneuver and separate into two corps, five thousand men lying in ambush, whilst the rest entice the defenders of Ai out of their stronghold.
In chapter 7 the spies had said in their -report: " Let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai, for they are but few." And now about thirty thousand chosen mighty men of valor are required. What a humiliation, and how it lowered Israel in their own estimation! 'They had to go up by night, and whilst some hid, others feigned flight before the enemy. What room for boasting after this?
But you may say: You have shown us that at Jericho it was not a question of human means, -;and now here are all sorts of contrivances for conquering the enemy. I reply: If you are content to use means which bring your incapacity into prominence, leaving on man the impress of his total weakness, and humiliating him so that his only resource is to flee before the foe, all well....and good. But it is not in your power to do this. In truth at Ai they are no more human means than at Jericho. The difference is, that there God, ordered the arrangements so that Israel might learn his power, whilst at Ai His object was to -teach them their own weakness.
But in the one case and the other, let me repeat, the power of God had not changed. Israel gained the victory at Ai by means of it; Joshua was there, Joshua with the spear in 'his hand. At Jehovah's command Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city(Ver. 18.) "For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai." (Ver. 26.) It remained stretched out all through the conflict.
One often hears it repeated: " What does it matter if there are divisions? Have we not all the same end in view? Are we not all fighting for the same Lord, although it may be under different standards?" Is this then the teaching to be gathered from these chapters? No, they contain one great prevailing truth. The people were one; one in their victory, one in their failure, one in their defeat, one in the judgment of the evil, one in their restoration. We see around us the poor children of God scattered and divided, and they are content to say: " What does it matter?" Brethren, for what purpose did Christ die? Was it not " to gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." (John 11:5252And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. (John 11:52).) Does God scatter them after He has gathered them? No, it is the wolf who scatters the sheep. (John 10:1212But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. (John 10:12).) And can we say: " What does it matter?"
Diversity is not division; for it displays itself in unity. The ambush take Ai and set it on fire, whilst the twenty-five thousand men flee before their enemies, until advised by the smoke of the city to turn back upon them. Just as they begin to fight, the ambush issuing out of the city join in the battle (ver. 22), and then all the Israelites return unto Ai and smite it with the edge of the sword. (Ver. 24.) Thus there is diversity in the action and service, but it is an action in common. The body is one; the several parts are joined together, and Joshua with his spear is the bond of union. If the unity is lost sight of, defeat is the result.
In 1 Corinthians 12., we find diversity and unity closely brought together in the church. " Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit;" " and there are diversities of operations; but it is the same God which worketh all in all." (Vers. 4, 6.) " For as the body is one and hath many members " (this is diversity in unity), " and all the members of that one body being many are one body" (this is unity in diversity), " so also is the Christ." We are united in one body, the Christ, and yet every child of God has his appointed work which no one can accomplish for him. Each one is entrusted with a different service; I cannot do yours, nor' you mine.
Israel is now restored to communion with God. Throughout this scene the activity of the people is blessedly characterized by the presence of Joshua. When they were going to war, we read: "Joshua arose, and all the people." (Ver. 3.) On the eve of battle: " Joshua lodged that night amongst the people." (Ver. 9.) When the march was about to begin: "Joshua went that night into the midst of the valley." (Ver. 13.) When it was a question of enticing the enemy: " Joshua and all Israel made as if they were beaten." (Ver. 15.) When they had put to flight the enemy: " Joshua and all Israel.. slew the men of Ai." (Ver. 21.) And finally when the victory was decided in their favor: " Joshua drew not his hand back.. until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai." (Ver. 26.)
The Recovery of Gibeah.
The effect of the defeat at Ai was that the Israelites learned to know their own hearts better, and at the same time the character of the God who went before them. Before noting the practical results of what God had taught them through -discipline, I should like to point out a resemblance between Josh. 7;8, and Judg. 20;21
It is an accepted fact that the book of Judges after chapter 17 does not follow any chronological order (chap. 20:28), but gives us a picture of what took place before God raised up the judges, of the history of Israel immediately after the death of Joshua. There had been utter and rapid decline; idolatry and moral corruption reigned everywhere. At the beginning and end of these chapters we find the statement: " Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.' No such thing as dependence on God and His word, man's conscience being the measure of good and evil. Each one walked according to his own sense of right and wrong, making conscience the measure of his conduct.
Is not this a picture of Christendom and of what happened after the departure of the apostles? Was decline less complete and sudden?' Leaving aside the corrupt principles of popery, which does enlightened Protestant Christendom bring forward as the rule of conduct, the-word of God or conscience? Does it teach subjection to the Scriptures, or is its watchword liberty of conscience? If conscience is taken as a guide, absolute confusion is the result, each one', hastening to follow his own opinion.
But a horrible sin had taken place at Gibeah and that not as in Josh. 7, the accursed thing, bidden failure, but as a sin committed openly before God and man. The unhappy Levite himself publishes his shame, every tribe in Israel being apprised of it (19:29). And the people, what of them? Well, God uses the sin of Gibeah, as He did the sin of Achan, to lay bare their moral condition, to, humble them and to awaken within them the consciousness of what is due to God. Only here the moral state of the tribes is, more serious; they have sunk much lower than at Ai. Indignant at the -wrong done to them selves, the thought of the wrong done to God is entirely overlooked. They speak of the folly wrought by Gibeah in Israel, of the wickedness done amongst those of the tribe of Benjamin, but not a word of the dishonor brought upon the Lord's name. How evident the declension, and how different are the words of Phinehas to the two and a half tribes: (Josh. 22:1616Thus saith the whole congregation of the Lord, What trespass is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the Lord, in that ye have builded you an altar, that ye might rebel this day against the Lord? (Joshua 22:16)) "What trespass is this that ye have committed against the God of Israel?"
To this first symptom of decline, we may add a second; namely, that they had abandoned what might be called their first love. The Lord was no longer before their eyes; their affection for Him, and consequently for those born of Him, had diminished: They forgot that Benjamin was their brother. "Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin?" (Ver. 18):and these last on their side " would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel." (Ver. 13.)
A third symptom of decline is that they lose sight of the unity of the people. No doubt, to all appearance, the eleven tribes presented a unity nearly as perfect as when Israel purified them-:selves from Achan and were restored at Ai. Nevertheless it was no longer God's unity. It was in vain that the people " were gathered together as one man" (ver. 1), or that they "arose as one man " (ver. 8), or that they were knit together as one man" (ver. 11), against Gibeah: God could not recognize the unity of Israel whilst Benjamin was lacking. Beloved, these links in the chain of declension are rivetted one to the other; forgetfulness of the presence of God, surrender of the first love, contempt for the real unity in spite of a show of the same.
And was not Benjamin guilty? Yes, exceedingly so. One sees that his mind was made up, from the outset not to judge evil. Warned equally with the other tribes (xix. 29) of a crime patent to all, knowing that the children of Israel were about to judge the evil, in fact warned, albeit in a carnal spirit, that he would have to purify himself, he yet turns a deaf ear to the call of duty.. By establishing the principle of independence, he disowns the unity of Israel, and far from purifying himself from the crime of Gibeah, he links himself with it, at the same time resorting to a useless and miserable attempt at making a distinction. (Ver. 15.) Benjamin had to be judged, but the state of the people as a whole was too-bad to admit of a divine judgment on their part, and they must be sifted before being able in truth to purify themselves from the sin of Gibeah..
If Israel had had a right sense of things, they would have first humbled themselves before the Lord, taken counsel of Him, and then acted;: instead of which they begin by consulting one another, miserable result of forgetfulness of God's.
presence; they take measures, and decide very scripturally "to put away the evil from Israel," quite forgetting that they are themselves infected by the evil, that Benjamin is in fact part of them. After having made all their arrangements and numbered their warriors, " they arose and went up to the house of God and asked counsel of God." (Ver. 18.) This is also the spirit of declension, and it is to be found everywhere in Christendom; and often amongst the children of God; in fact it is a widely established principle. We propose some plan to ourselves, and at the moment of its execution, often after all is arranged, we ask the blessing of God.
The result of this total oversight of divine principles, was that in the first day twenty-two thousand Israelites were destroyed down to the ground. Then they went up and wept before the Lord; their hearts are now full of sorrow instead, of carnal indignation, and they call Benjamin their brother. Their love and sense of responsibility one to another is revived. After this they again set their battle in array and lose eighteen thousand men in a second defeat. God in His goodness sought to produce a perfect result. Sorrow in itself was not everything, neither the proclamation of the bonds which united them; what was needed was a full and complete judgment of self; repentance before God. To enjoy once more the presence of the Lord and His communion, they must retrace their steps in the pathway of declension. Thus it is said: " Then all the children of Israel and all the people went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace-offerings before the Lord." (Ver. 26.)
What comes next bears a striking analogy to the scene at Ai. They were obliged to set Hers in wait (ver. 29), to flee before Benjamin (ver. 32); and after all their previous losses to have thirty men -wounded to death, and to make a great flame like smoke rise up out of the city, to serve as a signal. Thoroughly judged and restored to communion with God, Israel can now discharge the painful duty of judging Benjamin for his profanity; but ah! what weeping and tears follow on the victory. (Chapter 21:2.) How different from the scene at Jericho, where " the people shouted with a great shout, and the wall fell down flat." (Chapter 6:20.) Here it was a question of their own brethren, of a tribe all but cut off in judgment. But God in grace restores the gleaning of Benjamin, notwithstanding the many complications brought about by the carnal hate of Israel in their first decisions.
There is however one part of the congregation of Israel which the restored people treat with more severity than Benjamin himself. There came none to the camp from Jabesh-Gilead to the assembly. (Chapter 21:8.) It was bare-faced indifference, and neutrality with regard to the evil of which they took no account; far worse than the spirit of fleshly indignation in which Benjamin had revolted, despising a decision of the assembly, and which had led him to take arms against his brethren, while associating himself with evil. Jabesh had to, be utterly destroyed.
Results of Discipline.
BUT to return to Joshua and the people. Israel had learned in the pathway of humiliation not to trust in themselves, and this expression at once bears fruit. Henceforth if controlled by the word of God, and trusting in its perfect guidance, they would escape further falls. In verses 27-35, we see Joshua and the people obeying the Lord's commandment (vers. 27, 31, 33, 35), and depending on what is written in the book of the law.. (Vers. 31, 34.) The effect of being humbled is that Joshua and the people are reminded in heart of the statutes laid down in Deut. 27
More than this: the hanging of the king of Al shows that Joshua is informed as to the details of his conduct by the word of God. " As soon as the sun went down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcass down from the tree." (Cf. Deut. 21:22,2322And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:22‑23).) To all human appearance this would be a detail of no importance, but a heart fed by the word of God could not overlook it. To neglect it, would have been to lose sight of the holiness of God, and Joshua would then have failed in the very point which brought down chastisement on the people. "His body shall not, remain all night upon the tree.. for he that is hanged is accursed of God; that thy land be not defiled which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance." (Deut. 21:2323His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:23).) And again:- Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel." (Num. 35:3434Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel. (Numbers 35:34):) In a word, a holy God could not dwell in the midst of defilement; this was the blessed lesson which Joshua received from the Lord of hosts, before Jericho, which he learned amidst tears in the valley of Achor, and which, with a conscience exercised in the school of God, he blessedly realized in the day of victory.
We learn another lesson in the judgment of the king of Ai. The bringing together in Deut. 21:18-2318If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: 19Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; 20And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. 21And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. 22And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:18‑23) of the two events contained in Josh. 7 and 8., the cutting off of the wicked person and the judgment of the enemy, is not without significance. This is practically always the case. The assembly must purge out the evil from its midst before it can silence and bring to naught the evil outside. You will find, where evil is tolerated in the assembly, a total absence of that decision and firmness which deals-with the enemy as such, without coming to terms, and puts him at the outset in the only place assigned to him of God, according to the scripture: " He that is hanged is accursed of God."
There is one more striking coincidence in the, verses we are considering. The gibbet of the king of Ai was the place of the judgment and curse of Israel's enemy. But here the people are obliged to stand themselves on Mount Ebal,, where the curse of God is pronounced upon them.. This terrible conclusion of: the law which Israel could not escape, God had brought to naught by the cross of Christ.
Christ bore on the cross” the curse which was pronounced at Ebal on man as a responsible being, to redeem us from it.. Israel could see in type on the gibbet at Ai, what, we see in the cross of Christ, Satan, our chief' enemy, defeated and annihilated; but we see-also, as has been already remarked, all the curse. Under which we lay at Ebal, forever gone in the actual judgment of Him who took this place for us. In Gal. 3:10,1310For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (Galatians 3:10)
13Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (Galatians 3:13)
,, we find the same: blessed connection between Ebal and the cross. "For it is written " (Deut. 27:2626Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen. (Deuteronomy 27:26)), " Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.'"
`The curses at Ebal close with these words, but the apostle adds: " Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: -for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." This is the hanging of the king of Ai.
A further result of discipline was that Israel, now humbled, were in a state to worship. " Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal and they offered thereon burnt-offerings unto the Lord, and sacrificed peace-offerings." With us likewise, there can be -no communion without self-judgment, and no -worship without communion. The altar in Mount Ebal was the provision in grace for the curse of the law on transgressors. In the altar we have -propitiation, which is the basis of all true worship; only here it is in presence of a people threatened by the curse if they do not obey. The cross -which has put an end to the curse for us, is the starting-point or center of our worship, and sheds upon us the full light of divine grace.
But grace itself never weakens our responsibility as God’s children. There are conditions under which the land is taken possession of. A duplicate of the law was to be written upon great stones set up and plastered with plaster. (Deut. 27:2,32And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster: 3And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee. (Deuteronomy 27:2‑3); Josh. 8:3232And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel. (Joshua 8:32).) This same law was read aloud " before all the congregation of Israel." (Ver. 35.) Let us never forget that Jesus Christ is at the same time our Savior and our Lord, the One who has pardoned us, and the. One who has every claim over us. The knowledge of His grace fills our mouths with praise in worship; the sense of our responsibility leads us-to persevere in holiness and truth, to fight the good fight, to take possession of the promise& land.
Chapter 9. the Snare of Gibeon.
As we advance in the study of our chapters, the-enemy presents himself under new aspects. Satan knows how to make war; he knows how to place his batteries, to attack openly, and to overwhelm by numbers; but he also knows how to employ subterfuge, to deceive by craft, and to, ensnare. Jericho, as an obstacle, gave way before faith; but Satan is not discouraged, he gets at Israel by means of their lusts, and the accursed thing enters into the camp; he occupies the soul with past victories, and self-confidence takes possession of the heart. Israel, forgetful of the whole armor of God, is caught in the enemy's nets: But Satan's victory is the school of God for the righteous. They cease trusting in themselves, and entering into the claims of God's holiness, they seek their safeguard in the word of God, owning, at length, their responsibility, of which they seemed previously scarcely Aware.
In chapter 9 we find more particularly " the wiles of the devil," and it is expressly against these that we are cautioned in the word. In -order to stand firm, we must " put on the whole Armor of God; be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."
We see the power of God under various aspects in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and in the first chapters of Joshua. In Eph. 1:1919And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, (Ephesians 1:19), His power toward us corresponds typically with the crossing of Jordan. In chapter 3:16, 20, His power in us corresponds with the divinely-spread table in Josh. 5; and in chapter 7:10, His power with us, and the armor, in its various parts, corresponds with the conflict with the power of evil, such as we see in the succeeding -chapters of Joshua.
We have already seen what vessels God takes up, through which to glorify Himself in this conflict; creatures so weak, that their only resource is to depend on Him. As I have often said, God makes use of two classes -of instruments to accomplish Hi's work: first, those who have no value in themselves. " God hath chosen the foolish, weak, base things of the world, and things which are despised, and things which are not." (1 Cor. 1:27,2827But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: (1 Corinthians 1:27‑28).) Could stronger language be used to convey the nothingness of the vessels God deigns to use? But He also takes up instruments which are of great value in the eyes of men and to themselves. Saul of Tarsus was a man looked up to-learned, religious, energetic, conscientious; to all appearance he lacked in nothing of that which God could turn to account. Yet God lays hold of him, strikes him to the ground, on the way to Damascus, and, so to speak, breaks the vessel to pieces. Then He says, Now I can use him.
The consciousness of our nothingness as instruments keeps us in constant dependence on the hand which makes use of us, and this is the pathway of power. It was thus at Jericho, but the people had yet to learn that without dependence they became the prey of Satan. In closing the description of the armor, the apostle adds, Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance." (Eph. 6:1818Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; (Ephesians 6:18).) Prayer is the -expression of dependence; continual, persevering prayer is the expression of habitual dependence. Now the Israelites' chief fault, in chapter 9., was, " that they asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord." (Ver. 14.) We saw, at the close of the preceding chapter, that the word of God had recovered its importance for them; but here they forget to go to God, so as to have communion with Him as to His mind for them.
Notice how Satan succeeds in making then lose, the sense of dependence. He intimidates them by something calculated to strike terror into their hearts; the hatred of the world, a confederation of kings assembled for war. (Vers. 1, 2.) He begins by engaging their attention with this formidable power prepared to crush them, and then, without losing a moment, he offers them his resource: the inhabitants of Gibeon come to the camp at Gilgal. Israel was not prepared for this, they had not on the whole armor of God. The leaders of the people failed in detecting what seems to have occurred to the minds of the simple-for a moment, at least; and it is often so; humility and a single eye go together, and are accompanied by true and divine intelligence. " Make ye a league with us," said the Gibeonites. What a good opportunity for Israel! "The enemy is before you," whispered Satan; "this would be a splendid way of overcoming him."
These men came, with all sorts of good intentions, seeking an alliance with the people of God, and openly acknowledging their moral and spiritual supremacy. " We are thy servants," they said to Joshua (ver. 8), words well calculated to influence him in their favor. Finally, they proclaim the power and fame of Israel's God, and -what He had done in Egypt and the wilderness, though, it is true, they do not say a wordy about Canaan; Satan would betray himself by chancing to speak of heavenly places and their conflicts.
The character of the Gibeonites, and their religious convictions, are very strongly marked, but they are Canaanites in disguise, the world under an external form of piety-the religious world. Up to this Israel had been kept from seeking human aid, but it was hard to resist those who professed to have the same object, and the same aspirations. Is it not a legitimate thing to form an alliance? We own Jehovah, as you do, and, in case of need, we could co-operate with you as your servants.
Ah! how little the children of Israel suspected at this moment that the Gibeonites were those very Canaanites whom they were commanded to drive out from the land of promise. They are caught in the enemy's net, having neglected to take counsel of the Lord, and, as a sign of fellowship, they take of the victuals of these men. The treaty is concluded; the world is introduced into the midst of the congregation of Israel: What a diabolical artifice! Satan suggests to the people the introduction of the world into the camp, as a method of conquering the enemy thus offering himself as a means of overcoming himself. He knew well that the moment he had succeeded in bringing in this element, the way would be paved for everything else.
Do not these things remind us of the church's history? The hearts of the Lord's people had begun to be corrupted as early as the days of the apostles, by the outward attractions of a religion suited to the earth and the world, which was creeping in everywhere, and which obscured the heavenly position, its interests and hopes, beguiling souls into a' n alliance with the world which had crucified Christ. Satan gained his end. He set up his throne in the midst of the church, and the apostle was obliged at length to say, " among, you, where Satan dwelleth." (Rev. 2:1313I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. (Revelation 2:13).) Henceforth, alas! it is no longer a question merely of conflict with enemies outside, but of standing against the power of evil in the church.
But the grace of God is with Israel, and although, this chapter gives us the entrance of evil into the congregation, we do not find its development. God delivers us from certain consequences of our sin, and allows others to remain. The people of God, had to undergo the mournful experience of keeping the Gibeonites in their midst, as a lasting witness to their failure. Having begun by murmuring against the princes, the children of Israel are brought eventually to a truer sense of their duty. There was but one thing to do, namely, to bear' with the Gibeonites in their midst whilst keeping them in the place of the curse. " Now, therefore, ye are cursed," said Joshua unto them. (Ver. 23.) Israel could Only view them as an accursed-race. The judgment of the king of Ai was pronounced, not executed, upon them, and in the meantime their safety lay in the name of Jehovah. Israel could not touch them; they must bear their humiliation, and avoid henceforth having any fellowship with those whom they left under the weight of the divine curse.
We, too, in the church have to undergo the consequences of our unfaithfulness, and to be humbled on account of the evil which has crept-into the house of God. But, whilst truly alive to this our shame, we shall yet, if faithful, be able to distinguish between what is of God, and what merely bears His name outwardly. The word discerns and reveals to us the mixture, and faith leaves the religious world under the curse, At the same time acting in grace towards it.
In 2 Sam. 21 we find another chapter of the history of the Gibeonites; and here we clearly see that God's purpose was in nowise to remove them from the place which they had usurped in the congregation of Israel. Saul, animated by ardent zeal for the congregation, but in nowise for God, being completely ignorant of His mind; had exterminated them. Years pass, and suddenly we find a famine breaking out-in Israel. David seeks the face of the Lord, and inquires into the cause of this calamity; and the Lord answers: " It is for Saul, and for his bloody house because he slew the Gibeonites." The flesh, which has brought in the evil, is eager, above everything, to get rid of it. The way of God is quite otherwise: His children must feel the evil, and it is thus that their communion with. Him spews itself in an evil day. In Ezek. 9. 4, the Lord tells the angel to Set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst of Jerusalem. Those who felt the evil were expressly sheltered from the destructor.
Beloved brethren, principles such as these, should guide us in these closing days. It is not for us to take the sword, and cut off the evil, but—to groan and sigh, saying, "The evil is mine." We cannot purify the place; it only remains for us to humble ourselves, and, at the same time, purge ourselves from vessels to dishonor. This-is what a worldly Christian never learns; he is-not humbled by the presence of the world in the, church; he defends it, and deems it an impossibility- to distinguish between the Gibeonites and the children of Israel. Far from pronouncing them accursed, or robbing them of any part of the blessed liberty of the children of God, or declaring them strangers to His people (cf. Deut. 29:1111Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water: (Deuteronomy 29:11)), he would be tempted rather to become, their servant, and to cut Wood for the house of their god.
The seven sons of Saul were hung, and became accursed, on account of this bloody deed of slaying the Gibeonites, which was a pretense at purifying the congregation. How many similar cases the history of the church affords. The extermination of heretics, real or supposed, was no other than the crime of Saul, and will be reckoned to its perpetrators.
May God give us a spirit of constant depend-fence upon Him, that so we may be enabled to resist the snares of the devil. This chapter gives 'us only one of his wiles, but, if alive to the danger, we shall discover that his design in every artifice is to turn away our gaze from heavenly things, and so to lower our Christianity, that it should be nothing more than what the world can share in with us. (N. L. R.)