Scripture Sketches: Joshua

Joshua  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 9
“One soweth and another reapeth.” He that does the first part of the work seems to be wasting his time and throwing away valuable seeds on the ground. They sink in and are covered with the black soil. They fall into the ground and die. Often the sower dies too in neglect and poverty; and he and his work are forgotten.
But the sower knew that Time would silently and invisibly carry on his work; and the day at last comes when the fields are ripe to harvest over the ground where the seed had been scattered and apparently wasted. Then comes some other man who enters into the labors of his predecessor. He has only to thrust in his sickle, or shake the richly laden boughs of the trees; and he possesses the whole accumulated fruits of his own and his predecessor's labors. We should therefore judge wrongly if we estimated that the reaper had done all the work because we see him bringing in the sheaves: we must not forget the pathetic endeavors of his dead colleague, then apparently fruitless and hopeless. One man finishes his course in blank failure; another is crowned with success: but if each works as he is called, the work is one, and one God overhead.
There are two appropriate phrases in the Jewish Talmud. The first is “The sun will set without thy assistance.” That fact is obvious enough, one would think; and yet what a world of fretful anxiety is removed from the breast when it is realized that, after all, things will get on somehow without us! “God removes His workmen, but carries on His work.” He can even take away Moses or John the Baptist, without the work collapsing; for to finish Moses' work there is Joshua; and to finish John's comes the Christ. But the other Talmudic precept is equally important: “Though it is not incumbent on thee to complete the work, thou must not therefore cease from pursuing it.” There is nothing better than to work while it is day in obedience to the great Lord of the harvest; as we are directed whether sowing or reaping, whether in discouragement or success. We want no Monthyon prize for virtue. If virtue were always rewarded, it would cease to be virtue and become policy. It would be “prosperous to be just.” Let us at least avoid the vulgar stupidity of judging of our own or others' labors by their outward and present success.
But it is no less true that we should not undervalue the reaper's work either. It is necessary that he should do it, and do it thoroughly, conscientiously, and in its season: otherwise he sacrifices or endangers the whole results. In this sense he has a larger responsibility than the sower. If the sower work amiss, he wastes his own labor; but if the reaper work amiss, he wastes his own labor and the labor of all his predecessors. From this point of view Joshua was a conspicuous and splendid workman, taking up the work when it came to his turn with his whole heart, and mind, and strength, and the whole faculties of his magnificent, God-given, genius and capacity.
He is from the first a thoroughly “consistent” character, one of the very few consistent men who have ever lived, uncompromising in loyalty, truth, and devotion, from the day (and doubtless before it) when he “discomfited” Amalek with the edge of the sword, till the day when, at the close of his long and eventful life, he says “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” In which brief sentence, with his life and personality emphasizing it, we seem to hear each word closing with a decisive snap like a steel spring. That is about all we know concerning his house, and it is entirely honorable to them and to him. Usually a conqueror makes pretty free with the spoils of victory and puts his relatives in good places. “Go to! Let us found our dynasty! Let us make our brother Joseph king of Naples, brother Louis king of Holland, Jerome of Westphalia, and so all round. To the victor the spoils!” But this man Joshua, “Serene, and resolute, and still, and calm, and self-possessed,” lives altogether in a higher plane. Neither he nor Gideon would found dynasties to aggrandize their own houses and put their partisans into good posts at the public expense. That lofty disregard for these things, which Fabricius and Curius Dentatus carried with them in their honorable poverty and Cincinnatus to his farm, was manifest here also. Now Caleb, though a good and great man, was not of this nature: forty-five years after the promise was made to him about that bit of property at Hebron, he went up to see after it, and took care he got it too.
Joshua had been trained and qualified for his office by many years of personal service to the great leader Moses, whom he accompanied up the holy mountain in the early days, under whose eyes he fought in the van of the warriors at Rephidim, and with whom he journeyed in the closest inter-communion for forty years. When he by divine command assumed the leadership and passed into Canaan,1 his course was a brilliantly triumphant one. Whether he would have borne defeats and disasters with the dignity and patient heroism which characterized his illustrious master, we cannot tell. Probably not: the only serious defeat he suffered was at Ai, and then he seemed utterly prostrated; though to be sure what unnerves him is that Israel should have turned their backs on their enemies. But then that is the kind of thing which most leaders have, to take account of, occasional panic and half-heartedness in their followers. He rends his clothes and throws himself on the ground, whence he is sternly commanded by the Lord to arise and deal with the evil which caused the defeat.
He promptly obeys, he does everything promptly and vigorously; and from that time he seems to regain, and regain permanently, his calm strength. When Achan is taken, and he sits in judgment on him, there proceeds no denunciation of the Judge Jefferies type from the bench. There is indeed a very courtesy and magnanimity of justice in the words of Joshua, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel and make confession.” A bystander might have thought from this calm unimpassioned demeanor that some weakness or spurious mercy would be shown; but he would be mistaken. Heat is not always a sign of strength: steel is cool enough, and so is adamant. Joshua could to some extent pity the man; but if there were no one else to do it, he would placidly and politely slay him with his own hands. “My son” found himself no better off in the face of that unimpassioned inflexible justice than the sons of Junius Brutus, or the son of that Galway sheriff, whose own father adjusted the rope round his neck.
One would think that it would be difficult to deceive a man of this cool deliberative wisdom and long experience. Yet the Gibeonites manage to do so by a neat little stratagem which makes him very angry when he discovers it, and causes him to upbraid them with their deceit; as if it was worse for the poor wretches to use strategy to save their lives than for himself to use strategy, which he constantly, did to destroy his enemies! We look in vain for that which is the conqueror's greatest glory, the magnanimity to fallen foes that David could grant from his heart, or Augustus Caesar could exercise for policy's sake. But then Joshua's case was entirely peculiar. He was sent by divine command to execute judgment on a people who had cursed and afflicted the earth by the most appalling wickedness—dimly disclosed in such passages as Gen. 19—which the world has ever known; and it was not within his option to show leniency.