The Serpent of Brass and the Jordan

Numbers 21:1‑18  •  34 min. read  •  grade level: 7
(Num. 21:1-181And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners. 2And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. 3And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah. 4And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. 5And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 7Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. 10And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in Oboth. 11And they journeyed from Oboth, and pitched at Ije-abarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, toward the sunrising. 12From thence they removed, and pitched in the valley of Zared. 13From thence they removed, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, which is in the wilderness that cometh out of the coasts of the Amorites: for Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14Wherefore it is said in the book of the wars of the Lord, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon, 15And at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab. 16And from thence they went to Beer: that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water. 17Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it: 18The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves. And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah: (Numbers 21:1‑18); Josh. 5:1-151And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel. 2At that time the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. 3And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of the foreskins. 4And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt. 5Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised. 6For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord: unto whom the Lord sware that he would not show them the land, which the Lord sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey. 7And their children, whom he raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised: for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them by the way. 8And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. 9And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day. 10And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho. 11And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day. 12And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. 13And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? 14And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? 15And the captain of the Lord's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:1‑15).)
We will now look at the truth connected with " the serpent of brass," and " the Jordan." They are two aspects of the death of Christ. Each presents the truth in an entirely different way, but still a way in which it is of the last importance for our souls to get hold of. I think in the serpent of brass we have the wonderful truth of how God gets rid of me, for Himself, and in the Jordan, we have the truth of how I can get rid of myself, in my own experience.
The purpose of God for Israel, as given in the book of Exodus, was, that He would bring them out from Egypt, and bring them into a good land and large, a land flowing with milk and honey. It is an immense thing for the soul to ever deepen in the apprehension of God's purpose, and that, no matter what comes in, God's purpose will not be frustrated. Spite of all the opposition of Pharaoh, and spite of the many compromises that Pharaoh suggested, God brought them out, and spite of Israel's failure in the wilderness, He brought them into Canaan.
First of all comes the truth of the blood on the lintel, redemption by blood. That is the aspect of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ by which we are secured from God's judgment, as sinners, and we feed on " the lamb roast with fire "-the sufferings and death of Christ-our souls entering into that which is expressed in His death.
Then we have the passage of the Red Sea That we have seen is the truth of the death and resurrection of Christ for us and our sins, the power of the enemy absolutely broken, God's salvation manifested, and the people brought to rejoice in it. The Red Sea, I believe, is the death and resurrection of Christ for our sins, as for ourselves also. And it is a great thing for a young soul to see this, that I am clear of the enemy's land, that I am brought right out from that land by death and resurrection. You touch the same truth in a certain way when you come to the Jordan. It is a great thing for my soul to see that I am before God in connection with Christ, dead and risen. It is what you get in the epistle to the Romans. I believe, what the Red Sea teaches me, as well as the epistle to the Romans, is, that I am taken into death to escape all that was against me. By death-Christ's death viewed as mine-I escape everything that oppresses me as a man in the flesh. In Rom. 5 you escape from association with the first man-Adam-death breaks the link; in chapter 6, you escape from sin as a master; and in chapter 7 you escape the condemnation that is connected with an infringed law.
It is very striking to notice that you see Israel as a company go into the Red Sea, but you never see them come out. They did come out, but it does not say they did. I think the reason is this, that when you come to the Jordan, you do not read of them going into the Jordan, you see the ark going in, but you see
them come out. The fact is this, the Red Sea and the Jordan coalesce. To bring them out of Egypt and to bring them into Canaan was God's purpose.
But, you say, the wilderness came in between. Yes, but that was not part of the purpose of God. It was in His ways, but His purpose was to bring them out, and bring them in. The forty years in between became the occasion of learning what they were, and gave occasion also to learn God's ways of grace. If you look at the eleventh chapter of Hebrews you will be struck with this. " By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned." That is, nature could not walk in the pathway of faith. And what is the next word? " By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days " (vers. 29, 30). You have no mention of Jordan. Why? Because the journey through the wilderness, with Jordan at the end, was not the path of faith, it was the path of failure. When God recounts the history of the life of faith, you have the Red Sea and the fall of Jericho put together. They go side by side, and the forty years in the wilderness is not as much as mentioned.
Well, delivered by the sovereign grace of God, and brought out of Egypt as we have seen, it took them forty years to enter Canaan. Their journey was divided into four stages. The first, with which we are all pretty familiar, is from the banks of the Red Sea till they come to Sinai (Ex. 15-19:1, 2). In that stage of their journey they were under pure sovereign grace. If they come to Marah, where the waters are bitter, God turns the bitter water into sweet. When hungry, He gives them bread from-heaven. If they say, We are dying of thirst, He smites the rock, and out comes water. If they have an enemy to meet, there is Moses interceding for them on high, and Joshua leading them on to certain victory in the valley below. There we have the energy of a risen Christ, by the Holy Ghost, leading God's people to victory.
The first stage takes you to the middle of the book of Exodus. The latter half of the book is occupied with the instructions connected with the setting up of the tabernacle, in which God was to dwell. Leviticus gives to us the manner of their approach to God. Christ is presented in all these types and figures as the basis of all worship. That is the great subject of the book of Leviticus.
When you come to Numbers you get the itinerary of the people of God through the wilderness. The chapter I have read is really in the last stage of their history. They are getting toward the close of their journey when the story of the serpent of brass comes in. To connect our subject I will glance briefly over the early part of the book.
The first ten chapters of the book are occupied with marshalling them, and getting them ready for the journey. The book of Numbers opens with, " And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt" (Num. 1:11And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, (Numbers 1:1)). The first thirteen months, the first stage of their journey, was occupied in getting from the Red Sea to Sinai, where you know, in fatal folly, they put themselves under law. They abandoned grace and took upon themselves the responsibility of walking before God, consenting that their blessing should depend upon their own behavior. We have all, however, to learn as we pass on that the only secret of blessing is the grace of God, in connection with His purpose.
Well now, in the first ten chapters of Num. 1 repeat, you learn the way in which God marshalled them, gathered them round about Him, and how He Himself was in their midst. When you come to chapter 10 you read, " And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle of the testimony" (ver. 11). That is, in twenty days they are all put in order. God was then in their very midst, but Moses, like the rest of us, wanting something down here for the eye to rest on, as a guide through the wilderness, turns to Hobab and says, You be eyes for us. " Come with us... leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be unto us instead of eyes " (vers. 29-32). The child of the desert refuses to be their guide, and in tender grace the Lord says, I shall go before you, and the ark of the Lord becomes their guide. The pillar of cloud had been their guide before, but the Lord, in His beautiful grace, now goes before them Himself. " And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days' journey, to search out a resting place for them " (ver. 33). This was beautiful grace, beloved friends, in meeting failure.
And now you come to that which is a very sorrowful bit of their history. The second stage of their history was very short, but very eventful. It embraces chapters 10:11-36, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15. They reached Kadesh very quickly (see 12:16, 13:26).
It was only an eleven days' journey from Sinai to Kadesh—barnea (Deut. 1:22(There are eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir unto Kadesh-barnea.) (Deuteronomy 1:2)), but there was an immense amount of, dreadful failure in those few days. In the eleventh chapter you find them saying, " But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes " (ver. 6). That is, in plain language, they got tired of Christ. Ah, beloved, are any of us tired of Christ? Do I want something besides Christ? That is the first failure.
The end of the chapter shows that the Lord gave them quails, in answer to their murmuring, and then dealt with them in His government (vers. 31-34). " He gave them their own desire; they were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel" (Psa. 78:29-3129So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire; 30They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths, 31The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel. (Psalm 78:29‑31)). You will all, I am sure, be struck with this comment of the Spirit of God, in the Psalms, upon this scene. I believe really what we want we get. If I want flesh, God will give it me, but discipline and leanness of soul with it. The hand of God in government was upon them here really. It was not like the first case, in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus, where they asked, and God gave them quails. Then they were upon the ground of pure grace, but now, being on the ground of responsibility, He acts differently. There it was sin met by grace, here it is sin judged in government.
Then in the twelfth chapter of Numbers the priest, Aaron, and the prophetess, Miriam, rise up against Moses, who was king in Jeshurun-God's representative. When you come to the next chapter they send out spies to see what the pleasant land was like, and to see by what way they should go (see Deut. 1:22-2522And ye came near unto me every one of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by what way we must go up, and into what cities we shall come. 23And the saying pleased me well: and I took twelve men of you, one of a tribe: 24And they turned and went up into the mountain, and came unto the valley of Eshcol, and searched it out. 25And they took of the fruit of the land in their hands, and brought it down unto us, and brought us word again, and said, It is a good land which the Lord our God doth give us. (Deuteronomy 1:22‑25)). I quite admit God permitted the spies to go, for He did not thwart Israel in their unbelief. Hence He said, " Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel " (Num. 13:22Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them. (Numbers 13:2)). They sent up these spies, and as unbelief always brings trouble to the unbeliever, I daresay you have noticed that this mission was the way Arad knew that Israel were coming, and went out to fight against them (see Num. 21:11And when king Arad the Canaanite, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel, and took some of them prisoners. (Numbers 21:1)). Unbelief always brings sorrow. The next thing is that when the spies come back the congregation will not believe what is told them.
First of all the report is very good, and the bunch of grapes-taking two men to carry it-attested the goodness of the land, and then they said, " The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature " (ver. 32); that is, the land did not give plenty of provision. Caleb and Joshua stood up for the truth, and were nearly stoned (13:30, 14:6-10). "They despised the pleasant land " (Psa. 106:2424Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word: (Psalm 106:24)) is the next step. They did not want to go on. It is like a heart now that does not want to go to heaven.
Next they say, " Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt, or would God that we had died in this wilderness. And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?" (chap. 14:1-4). Let us go back, they say. Oh, could you suppose it after all the grace shown to them? But, beloved, we know what our own hearts are. Have we never wished to turn back? Ah, every heart in this hall knows how often there has been a turning back. God's answer was this: You say you wish you had died in the wilderness-you shall die in the wilderness. " As for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness, and your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness " (14:32, 33). Says God, You will have to die, only it will take you forty years to do it, " After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years " (ver. 34). They must know death.
Then the fifteenth chapter comes in. Did you ever study the fifteenth chapter of Numbers? It is a beautiful chapter. Why? Because God's purpose shines in it as clear as ever, spite of the sin of the people. It opens thus, " And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you" (ver. 2). Ah, it is lovely! I get the Lord giving directions as to what shall be when they get into the land, as though there had never been a murmur, or any failure. It is a gem, that chapter. It comes in as the expression of how God s purpose is never upset. No matter what the people's sin is on the road, God carries out His purpose regarding them. A perusal of the chapter will let you see how beautifully the truth comes out in that way. That chapter takes you to the end of the second stage of Israel's journeyings.
And now in the third stage the Lord makes them wander for thirty-eight years in the wilderness, and when you come to the twentieth chapter you will find that they have got back again to Kadesh. If you trace their journeyings you will find that they consist of aimless wanderings up and down the peninsula of Arabia, from Kadesh (12:16, 13:26) to Kadesh (chap. 20:1), and no real progress made. What a picture of many a saint now, who has rebelled against God, and never really got on in his soul.
In this third stage you have the rebellion of Korah (chap. 16), which leads God in grace to manifest who is His priest (chap. 17). The only way in which a feeble people can be brought right through the wilderness to God's Sanctuary is by grace and priesthood. Oh, how much we, as Christians, owe to the priesthood of Christ! How we are maintained by that blessed One! In the eighteenth chapter you have instructions as to the maintenance of the priests, and in the nineteenth chapter you have the story of the red heifer, or how, in the wilderness, defilement can be met and cleansed.
And then, when you come to the twentieth chapter, again there is no water, and there it is that Moses and Aaron break down, because they did not glorify God. God bade Moses go and speak to the rock. He was told by God to " take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock " (ver. 8). He was to take the rod of priesthood. It was not judgment that was to be expressed, but grace through priesthood. It is priestly grace that puts a heart right, always. " And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as he commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the
congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice" (vers. 9-11). That was not the rod the Lord bade him take. He smote it with the rod that he had smitten Egypt with, the rod of judgment. That is a figure of the death of Christ, undergoing the judgment of God. There can be no repetition, even in type, of that. God's answer was this: " And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them " (ver. 12). Thus, you see, Moses and Aaron break down on the road, and the latter dies (ver. 28). Then the next thing is that there is opposition on the part of Edom, and Israel, humbled at last, gives way.
And now in the twenty-second verse of chapter 20, they begin the fourth, and last stage of their journey, which occupied about one year or so. Then in the twenty-first chapter we have another outbreak of evil, and the story of the serpent of brass. It is very simple, but I do not think that we learn its truth at the beginning of our Christian pathway. Oh, you say, is it not about the new birth? Well, it is connected with it in John 3, but there is something deeper than merely meeting the need of a poor sinner. What comes out here is, that the flesh is incurable and incorrigible. They murmured, and the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died " (ver. 6). But then as they turned to the Lord, and owned their sin, He bade Moses make a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole, and when a bitten man looked upon it he lived (vers. 5-9). There, in type, is the wonderful truth that Christ, who knew no sin, was made sin. It is the spring of a totally new life. Our Lord, in the third chapter of John's Gospel, connects it with eternal life, and I do not doubt that the things that are in figure in this chapter are brought out in the doctrine of John 3 and 4. The first man is incurably bad, cannot be mended, and must go from before God's eye. He must go in death, in judgment, that is the point. That is to say, there is nothing in you or me that will suit God. All that we are must go in death, and there is brought in that which is entirely and absolutely new. It is Christ, as Son of Man, lifted up, in John 3:14, 1514And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14‑15), and, as a consequence, through faith in Him, not only new birth, but eternal life, and in the fourth of John you have the water springing up to eternal life, i.e., life in the power of the Holy Ghost rising to its source-the Father-in worship.
Look again for a moment at the serpent of brass. The thing that did the mischief was the fiery serpent, and what cured them was a look at a fiery serpent. Sin brought in death, and only by death is sin put away. Sin in the flesh is incorrigible, incurable, and ineradicable. What then can be done with it? God tells us: " For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:33For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:3)). That is the serpent of brass. What I am, as a man, has been utterly condemned in the cross of Christ, and absolutely set aside from before God in death. It has gone from God's eye in the death of His blessed Son, an immense thing for the soul to see. Why? Because until this is learned, there is self-confidence, and an endeavor to improve the flesh. Hence, very often, we have to learn by very painful and prolonged practical experience and failure what a poor good-for-nothing thing man is. When I learn the truth of the serpent of brass I find that God has got rid of me, in the cross of His Son, and only Christ remains.
Next you get, " And from thence they went to Beer: that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it" (21:17, 18). That is in type what the Lord said to the woman at the well, " If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.... Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:10, 13, 1410Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. (John 4:10)
13Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: 14But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13‑14)
). What is that? Why, beloved friend, it is the Spirit of God in the bosom of the Christian, in the soul of the believer, now leading your soul up in the enjoyment of eternal life into that which is yours in heaven, although you are still in the wilderness. " Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it." That is the Spirit of God carrying the heart now into the enjoyment of heavenly things, that really are our own. It is the energy of the Holy Ghost in the Christian. It is not a bit of use for me to tell you to get rid of this thing and that. You will never do it. What we want to know is the unhindered energy of the Holy Ghost. He will occupy us with Christ, He will bring Christ to us, and tell us of Christ. " Gather the people together, and I will give them water." Oh, how God loves thus to set His people up in the energy and power of the Holy Ghost.
You do not get the serpent of brass until the close of Israel's wilderness history. It is a long time before we learn that God has set us aside, and aim to set ourselves aside. Oh, what battles and struggles have souls gone through in trying to get rid of the flesh. I see here, with deep relief and thankfulness, that aspect of the death of Christ in which all that I am, as a man in the flesh, is gone, and that I am replaced by the Man of God's heart, the Man out of heaven, the Lord from heaven. And it is He in the energy and power of the Spirit of God that leads the soul on.
The final effort of the devil to prevent them entering the land is given in the section (Num. 22-25) which introduces Balaam. He is hired to curse them, but really he blesses them, and in his remarkable prophecies shows that they are God's people; separated to Him (23:9); justified by Him (23:21-23); seen of Him in order and beauty only (24:5-9), and destined to victory and glory with Him (24:17-19). He always wins who is on God's side.
Balaam was a wicked man, but he knew God would judge evil, specially in His people, so he " taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication " (Rev. 2:1414But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. (Revelation 2:14)).
He tried to corrupt them by mixing with the world religiously and socially. Some fell into the snare, and came under God's judgment.
How many of God's people. today are caught in the same way!
In chapter 27 the daughters of Zelophehad indicate that at length there is a desire for the pleasant land instead of despising it. They claim their father's portion, and God honors the demand of faith. He ever loves to give. Hence "the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, The daughters of Zelophehad speak right; thou shalt surely give them a possession " (vers. 6, 7).
The spirit that moved these women did not animate the whole congregation, for in chapter 32 the children of Reuben and Gad ask that their families and flocks may not be carried over the Jordan, now in full sight.
They actually fell into Pharaoh's snare. They did not want to go over the Jordan. They saw that the land of Gilead was a nice place, and they said to Moses, If you will allow us, we will leave our wives and little ones and cattle here, and we will go over and help you to fight and then return to them. Ah, it was a very sad thing, beloved. They are like souls that do not go in now for heavenly things. It is important for the soul to see this. Hear what they say: " And bring us not over Jordan " (chap. 32:5). Oh, beloved friends, God keep us from ever breathing a word like that. Put into plain language, it is, I do not want to enter now into heavenly things. Ah, they had dropped right down into that which Pharaoh proposed, and Moses refused. In very sight of Canaan they say, We will settle down where we are. They were not content with a tent, they wanted a house. Yet when the devil tried to hinder them through Balaam, he said one of the truest and loveliest things about them.: " How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel." These tents had been forty years on the road, and the dwellers therein were going to get into the land, and Balaam felt that they would get in. But, alas, these two tribes were tired of the tent, and said, We will settle down. "We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones " 16). God let them have their way, and they were the first to be carried into captivity (see 2 Kings 15:2929In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria. (2 Kings 15:29)). Ah, beloved, what a lesson as to world-bordering and its results!
Now turn to Joshua, and you will see the way in which we are brought into the blessing that is ours. Joshua is the Old Testament equivalent for Ephesians, just as Ephesians is the New Testament Joshua. You will find in the opening chapter, " Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses " (chap. 1:3). It is no good for me, therefore, to say such and such things are mine. It is quite true they are mine in Christ, but they are not mine experimentally unless I put my foot on them. It is a great thing for the soul to see that it is heavenly. God has called us to heaven. To heaven we belong, and everything that is ours is in heaven. We are pilgrims passing through this scene, but are viewed as belonging to heaven.
To enter into Canaan Israel must cross the Jordan, and they were simply to follow the ark. " Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore" (Josh. 3:44Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore. (Joshua 3:4)). Of course I need not say, the ark is Christ. It is Christ who has gone into death, as passing through the judgment of God, really ending man's history, and overcoming the power of death. In verse 14 they struck their tents in the wilderness for the last time. They had the pilgrim character about them to that moment.
It must have been a wonderful moment when they came to Jordan. It was a wonderful time when they came to the Red Sea, as we have seen. That was a very little strait, and they went in by fives, so also here. When it was a case of going into the Red Sea, it was a narrow path. The waters stood up as crystal walls. But when they came to Jordan there was not a drop of water within thirty miles. Jordan is death. So with us, all that I shrunk from is gone if I see that death is annulled by Christ Jordan is death, not my death, but Christ's, and mine with Him. It is not only death, but it is my getting the sense that Christ has gone into death, and annulled it, and overcome it. If you take your map and look for Zaretan (ver. 16), you will see it was some thirty miles up the river, and there God kept back the waters. There was nothing but dry land in sight, and we read, " The priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan " (3:17).
The lesson from this for us is simple. If the heart is set for heaven, it is easy to get in. It is wonderfully easy to get into the land if you are only set for heavenly things, for God takes every hindrance away, and He loves to get His people's hearts to dwell in the enjoyment of what He has now made theirs in Christ.
" And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man; and command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging-place, where ye shall lodge this night" (4:1-3). It was the testimony of where the ark had been. I do not doubt that the twelve stones are the memorial. It is like what the Lord's Supper is to us.
But further, " And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day" (ver. 9). The putting in of these twelve stones expressed the whole of the company. What we were, so to speak, is all under the waters of death. I learn that in the death of Christ I am free to say good-bye to myself. I am a person dead and risen, and I have life in a risen Christ, but God would always keep alive in my memory the way in which I have been brought into blessing and association with His Son. To this end I think we are greatly helped in the Lord's Supper. " And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal " (ver. 20). They remained as the eternal witness of a finished work, just as the Lord's Supper speaks to us.
And now the next thing is they are consciously clean over Jordan. And, beloved, it is an immense thing for the soul to be consciously sure of this. It is a person who can truly say, I know I am dead and risen. Experimentally? Yes, certainly. The point is, I have deep in my soul the sense that I am in association with Him who is risen. Through grace we are occupied with a risen Christ all the week round, and then, at the Lord's Supper, for an hour our hearts are afresh touched with the sense of His death and all that it involved for Him and us.
When Israel reached Gilgal a new lesson was learned. Gilgal was the place of self-judgment. There they were circumcised (chap. 5:2-9). You cannot cut off the flesh in the energy of the flesh. They were a dead and risen people in figure, ere they were circumcised. And you will never find a Christian able to walk practically in the power of what this brings out, until he knows that he is before God in the life of Another. Where do we get this truth? I think you have it in Colossians.
Now, young Christian, look at the third chapter of Colossians. The second chapter says, " In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (ver. 10). I accept for myself the circumcision of Christ. I am set aside. I accept it. You are in newness of life now. What is the next thing? " If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God " (chap. 3) How definite! Where Christ is. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. Note, it is earth here, not exactly the world, that is Egypt. If my affections are on the things of earth, clearly, I am not heavenly. That is the point. I can find worldly Christians, and earthly Christians, and again I can find souls that are heavenly. Ah, what a cheer it is to come alongside of a heavenly person.
That is, that I am to practically keep all that is of the first man in the place of death. That is our Gilgal. " And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal (i.e., rolling) unto this day." They set aside that which is the mark of a man who is living for this world. For a heavenly man to be worldly is his reproach. He needs to go again to Gilgal. And you will observe afterward that Israel always had to return to Gilgal. So must we. After victory or defeat, Gilgal-self-judgment—is our only recourse, if we are to progress in the divine life.
" And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month, at even, in the plains of Jericho" (ver. 10). They are out of Egypt, and in Canaan. The promise of God is faithfully kept, and His purpose carried out; though as yet nothing of Canaan is possessed, nor any victory gained. I have often thought how Caleb and Joshua must have enjoyed that passover. They had eaten it in Egypt, and, moreover, they had kept the passover in the wilderness (see Num. 9:1-141And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season. 3In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it. 4And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, that they should keep the passover. 5And they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel. 6And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day: 7And those men said unto him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the Lord in his appointed season among the children of Israel? 8And Moses said unto them, Stand still, and I will hear what the Lord will command concerning you. 9And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 10Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the Lord. 11The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12They shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the passover they shall keep it. 13But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the Lord in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin. 14And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the Lord; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land. (Numbers 9:1‑14)); but I am sure they enjoyed this one a great deal more than the first, or the second. When they ate the second they might have said to each other, " I like this much better than the one in Egypt. We were rather in fear of Pharaoh then, but now he is gone, and we are on our way to the land." Yes, but even then they were not in it. There was what was better in store for faith. But now they sit down and eat the passover in the land. They eat it in heavenly joy. So do we, if divinely taught. Our souls, fully enjoying which is the first thing that gave us the sense of the grace of our God. I believe Caleb and Joshua thoroughly enjoyed that passover, and if you and I are really over Jordan we shall enjoy the Lord's Supper in a wonderful way.
" And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and patched corn in the self-same day" (ver. 1). Yes, they had reached Christ in glory. It is Christ, now known in glory, the soul feeds on. The third chapter of Philippians is the old corn of the land. It is Christ known where He now is. " And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year " (ver. 12). But for us to eat the manna is most important. It is Christ humbled in human life here, and we as pilgrims, finding ourselves in the circumstances that He passed through, feed on Him and His ways of grace. That is manna. If I do not feed upon the manna, I certainly shall not be a steady pilgrim (a pilgrim is one who is going to a fixed point), and if I do not feed on the old corn of the land, I shall not be a vigorous warrior. We need both. They had both, and both the manna and the old corn of the land are to be our daily food. " Unleavened cakes and parched corn " they partook of there, and may God give us to feed on the same, and thus enter more and more into the enjoyment of what is our own, as risen with Christ.
" And it came to pass, when Joshua came by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto his servant? And the captain of the Lord's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so " (vers. 13-15). The captain of the Lord's host is the Lord Himself. With drawn sword in hand He would now lead them to victory; but " Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy," reminds us that holiness becomes His presence now, just as when He came to redeem His people (Ex. 3:55And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. (Exodus 3:5)). If I am going to enter into heavenly joys and associations with Christ, and be led to victory, there must be, so to speak, the putting off of the shoe, the withdrawal of the foot from what has touched the earth. If you take the shoe off, the foot will be clean. God will have holiness in those that draw near to Him.
It is wonderful what God, by His Spirit, will bring our souls into, if we but yield ourselves to Him. The man that knows most about heaven will, perhaps, say the least about it, but he enjoys it and lives there.
Here, then, we shall conclude our study of Israel's early history. They are in the land that flows with milk and honey, feeding on the old corn thereof-that which grew in the land-and have, the Lord Himself as their leader to future victories.
May God guide us each to answer to this in the history of our souls. We are to know ourselves risen with Christ; then we feed on Christ, and are to be led by Him to victory over all enemies who oppose our acquisition and enjoyment of heavenly life and blessings.
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