— Joshua 1:1-11. —
Golden Text:—"I will not fail thee nor forsake thee." — Joshua 1:5.
JOSHUA, the divinely appointed leader after Moses' death, is calculated to have been eighty-three years old at the time. His name originally was Hoshea, the same as that of the prophet. The name signifies "Salvation" or "Help." Subsequently this was changed to Jehoshea (Numbers 13:16) which signifies "Jehovah is salvation." This was afterwards shortened to Joshua and later modified to Jeshua. (Neh. 8:17.) The latter name in its Greek form in the Septuagint is Jesous, Jesus, the significant name given to our Lord at his birth. It is reasonable to infer that in some respects Joshua typified him.
Joshua was evidently a great man, although that greatness does not so much appear until after the death of Moses and his appointment as his successor. Previously, in harmony with the divine will and arrangement, his greatness was overshadowed by that of Moses, whom he served as general assistant, private secretary, etc. This training was evidently most valuable to him as a preparation for his future work. It made him familiar with the divine plans and methods as understood and practised by Moses, whose confidence he seems to have had in a remarkable degree. It will be remembered that to him was entrusted the command of the people in their first battle, in which they, unused to war, worsted the Amalekites by the Lord's providential assistance. It was Joshua who went with Moses into Mount Sinai, it was he who led one of the companies of spies through the land of promise and who brought back a good report, and who courageously stood with Moses in advising that the people have faith in God and proceed to conquer and possess the promised land. He must have been either the oldest man in all the nation or next to the oldest, for only himself and Caleb of all the nation that were above twenty years of age at the exodus remained alive. In every way, therefore, Joshua was peculiarly fitted to be the Lord's servant in leading the Israelites into Canaan, and in every way he must have had the confidence of the people for such a position and service more than any other man in the world.
JOSHUA DIVINELY COMMISSIONED
It was not sufficient that Moses had given Joshua a course of training preparing him for this service. It was necessary that the Lord, who proclaimed himself the real leader of Israel, should specially authorize Joshua to take command and to lead the people into Canaan. The intimation is that Joshua, like Moses, was a meek man, humble minded, and that instead of attempting to grasp authority he needed rather that the Lord should encourage him to undertake the responsibility of the position of leader. Happy would it be for all of the Lord's people if they were similarly meek and backward. All should criticise their own hearts and motives along these lines, and such as find in themselves an ambitious spirit should remember its dangers to themselves and to the Lord's people with whom they have to do, because the Lord resists the proud, the self-conscious, the boastful and ambitious, and shows his favor to the humble. The self-conscious need to be restrained, and cannot be permitted of the Lord to come so close to him nor to enter so fully into the secrets of the Lord as can those of more humble mind, who indeed need his encouraging words and gracious promises of assistance ere they could have strength and courage to proceed with his work. Realizing their own littleness and insufficiency and the greatness of the Lord and the importance of his work, these
"fear to touch
Things that involve so much."
The nation of Israel needed to be encouraged, because, although they had been forty years in preparation for this very event, still they realized that great difficulties stood before them. The river Jordan was to be crossed, and at this particular time it was swollen and large; the enemy, ready to repulse their advances, was keen and on the alert and better used to warfare than they. If they should succeed in crossing the river in the face of their enemies it would appear to mean a great expenditure of energy and a great loss of life. They had no bridges nor pontoons from which to construct temporary bridges; and on the other side, if they ever reached it, they knew that the cities were strong walled, with a view to withstanding attacks and sieges, and they were comparatively unprepared as respects military equipment, battering rams, etc. What wonder if the people of Israel needed encouragement to undertake such a conflict—to take possession of the land which God had given them. The Lord began this work of encouragement by strengthening the heart of Joshua as the leader, by reminding him that he had promised the land, and assuring him that "every place that the sole of your foot shall tread, to you have I given it, as I spake unto Moses." Nevertheless this promise implied that nothing was theirs except as the soles of their feet claimed possession. It was theirs by faith in that promise—a faith that would lead to works. And is not this a general illustration of all of God's dealings with us of Spiritual Israel? He gives to us better promises, exceeding great and precious promises, but they are ours only in proportion as we take them and appropriate them and act upon them, and through such exercise of faith and obedience gain the desired strength and blessing.
Next the Lord outlined the promised land (v. 4), and practically gave the very boundaries which subsequently marked the possessions of Israel at the close of David's reign and throughout that of Solomon—from the Arabian wilderness on the south and Mount Lebanon to the river Euphrates on the north and the Mediterranean Sea on the west. This definiteness in statement of the boundaries would prove strengthening to faith, and would indicate to them clearly when they had attained possession of all that the Lord had given them. We may reasonably suppose that had their faith and courage been equal to the task they would have been capable of taking possession of that land promptly, but as it was they took possession of only a portion, and Amalekites and Canaanites still dwelt with them in the land and subsequently gave them trouble.
Some have used this as an illustration of how the Christian's full consecration means the surrender of everything to the Lord, that his Spirit and his will may have full control in our bodies and spirits, which are his. In proportion as we have faith and avail ourselves of the Lord's assistance we may equally take possession of our mortal bodies, and transfer our talents to the service of the Lord and his cause; but if through fear or sympathy with sin we permit the will of the flesh to dominate us here and there in this, that or the other affair of life, we will always have trouble in proportion. The sins and weaknesses which we fail to fight against will be sure eventually to fight against us and to injure us as New Creatures. Hence our consecration and our faith should be so full and so strong that we would fight a good fight against sin and meanness in every avenue of our natures and in our sentiments, at last bringing every power of our natures into captivity to God. In proportion as this new mind fails to take possession of the mortal body and to rule it, in that proportion will we be weak when we should be strong, troubled when we should have peace, overcharged and ensnared when we should have the full smile of God's favor. Not that we are advocating the thought of it being possible to reach actual perfection in the flesh, but that we do advocate as Scriptural the thought that we should have perfection of heart, of will, of intention, and that quite early in our Christian experience, and that only such as attain this are overcomers and may expect joint-heirship with the Lord in the coming Kingdom.
"I WILL BE WITH THEE"
God's encouragement of Joshua was not along the lines common amongst men. He did not say to him, "Remember your age and long experience and previous successes as a general," etc., but he did give to him the better counsel, the assurance that as he had stood by Moses as his servant so he would be with him and would not forsake him and would not fail him in any hour of test and trouble. As a consequence of the Lord's assistance he was assured that no one would be able to withstand him all the days of his life, nor would any Israelite be permitted to occupy his place as the captain of the hosts during his lifetime.
Was it not thus with our Lord Jesus, too? And is not the Lord's message a similar one to all the members of the Body of Christ—"I will be with thee. I will not fail thee nor forsake thee"? In this let us rejoice while realizing that of ourselves we can do nothing. Remember the Master's words to the disciples returning joyful when they had been used in his service. When they recounted how in his name they had been able to heal the sick and even cast out devils the Lord said to them, Let not your rejoicing be on this account, but rather that your names are written in heaven—rejoice rather that your Father himself loveth you, that you have been accepted of him, and that he is on your part as you are enlisted in his service.
"BE STRONG AND OF GOOD COURAGE"
Attention has been called to the fact that the Hebrew word here rendered strong is one which rather implies strength of the arms and of the shoulders, and thus gives the thought of aggressive warfare, while the word rendered courage has an association with the lower limbs and thus implies defensive or resistive power, steadfastness. So then the Lord exhorted Joshua to be strong, to have confidence, to lay hold upon the blessings he and the Israelites were commissioned to take and to possess; and he urged him to be of good courage, to be firm in the resistance of opposition and very steadfast in the face of difficulties. And how much all the people of God today need to apply to themselves this same encouragement and to remember that Joshua and the Israelites and the promised land were merely foreshadowings of the greater and more wonderful antitypes. To us the Lord has given still greater blessings and promises. If the typical Joshua needed to be strong and firm, bold and courageous, what shall we say of the Spiritual Israelites, who must not only wrestle against the world and the flesh, but also, as the Apostle says, must contend with wicked spirits in influential positions?
How much strength and courage we must have if we would come off more than conquerors through him who loved us and bought us! And here is the point necessary to be remembered, viz., that this is not our battle but the Lord's, that we are not fighting at our own charges but with his commission and with his promised assistance and support. "I will be with thee, I will not fail thee nor forsake thee." No wonder that the Apostle, gaining a clear view of this situation, exclaimed, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." (Phil. 4:13.) And so it is with all the true followers of the Lord: we do not know how much we can accomplish, we do not know if there would be any limitations to our powers within the limits of the Lord's commands and while upheld by his promise. We must remember, however, the limitations, "Without me ye can do nothing," and again, that what we are to do is clearly indicated in the divine Word, and that we are not to look for nor expect divine aid beyond those limitations: just as in the case of Joshua and Natural Israel. Had they gone outside the boundaries of Canaan specified in the Lord's Word they could not have expected the divine assistance. Here again we remember the Master's words, "If ye abide in me and my words abide in you"—under these limitations we can do and be and pray anything and everything, but outside these limitations we must expect nothing.
Courage is always admirable, but there is a moral courage which should rank higher far than physical. This moral courage is greatly needed amongst the Lord's people; without it they can do nothing, and many of their difficulties in the Christian way are because they fail to appreciate this matter and fail to develop this courage. It requires real courage of the highest order to stand for the Lord's Truth and his people when these are misunderstood, misrepresented, antagonized. It takes real courage to stand for the light when the great Adversary with a world-wide influence brands it as darkness and leads an assault against it. It requires real courage to denounce the darkness, meekly, persistently, when it has on its side wealth, culture, influence and Churchianity.
The story was recently told of a general in the United States army, returned from the Philippine war, who received the Truth into a good and honest heart. Anxious to serve the good tidings to others, anxious to honor the great Captain of our salvation, the general inquired respecting opportunities for serving the Truth and was promptly informed respecting the various methods by which its propaganda is going forth in this harvest time. He was not so situated that he could take hold of the Colporteur work, and hence he concluded that he must be a sharpshooter and a volunteer tract distributor under the banner of his King. The Bible class of which he is a member elected him the captain of the Volunteer work for this year, and thus the duty of districting the city and assigning the various quarters for tract distribution fell into his hands. What portion did he assign to himself, a brigadier-general in the army, and widely known throughout the city? Instead of choosing some out-of-the-way place, where few would recognize him, he assigned as his district the very one in which he lived and in which he would be most widely known and recognized, his argument being, "I am not ashamed of the Lord, and if I have any influence amongst my fellow men, I want that influence to tell for the Lord and for his Truth." Surely this dear brother was strong and of good courage, and just as surely his faithfulness to the Lord and to the Truth must have brought him rich spiritual blessing and help to crystallize his character as a New Creature in Christ. Doubtless it requires courage in the field of battle, facing enemies and dangers of every kind; but surely it requires still greater, still more honorable courage to thus take one's stand for the Lord and for an unpopular Truth and to be seen and known as a tract distributor of the same.
Other cases somewhat similar might be mentioned, illustrating the same principle. We believe that the Lord has so ordered his work that it will always cost something to be soldiers of the cross and always serve to test the loyalty, the strength, the moral courage, of every member of the Body of Christ. This Volunteer tract distribution is certainly serving a valuable purpose in connection with the Lord's people, however much or little it may be accomplishing for those who receive the tracts.
VERY COURAGEOUS TO OBSERVE THE LAW
There is a peculiar force in the language of the seventh verse of our lesson—"Only be strong and very courageous to observe and to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded thee." Whatever of strength and courage may be implied in the sixth verse as necessary to the conquering of the land of promise, this seventh verse evidently refers to moral courage—strong and very courageous in obedience to the divine commands. The injunction implied that Joshua would find obstacles and difficulties before him, and discouragements in respect to the observance of holy things. It is so with the Spiritual Israelites, the Body of Christ today: while some are lacking in courage as respects the outward things, a still larger number lack these qualities in their own hearts, in their own lives. They see and to some extent appreciate the divine will as being righteous altogether, but the self-denial necessary to a full obedience they are not willing to render. Perhaps the greatest battles any of us have to fight are those of which none may know except ourselves—our mental battles. As a Methodist brother once put the matter, "My greatest battle is to gain the consent of my own will." However, no Christian should be in this attitude. This should be our first battle—to gain the consent and full cooperation of our wills with the divine Word. Then let us go on to victory after victory, battling against the world, the flesh and the Adversary. Once our hearts are fully surrendered to his law it should never again be necessary to have a battle there; the victory should be so thorough, so complete, so far-reaching.
MEDITATING DAY AND NIGHT ON GOD'S LAW
The Lord explained to Joshua what would lie at the foundation of his success, and that neglect would mean his failure—"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous and thou shalt make good success"—v. 8.
No clearer expression of the divine will could be made to the antitypical Joshua and the members of his Body than is given in this Scripture. Its teaching is that there is no safety, no real success for those addressed, except in obedience to the divine will, as recorded in the divine Word. Thus also the Lord Jesus is represented as saying, "I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is written in my heart"; and again prophetically—"O, how I love thy Law! It is my meditation all the day." (Psa. 40:8; 119:97.) Meditation on the divine law day and night is not, of course, to be understood literally—that we should do nothing else day or night than think upon the Scriptures. We are to understand the Lord to mean that we should ever have in mind, in connection with all of our life's affairs, the thought that we are his, and that he is our guide and director in all things, and that the slightest matter that would pertain to our lives and our interests, day or night, should be undertaken with due consideration of the Lord's will respecting the same.
In other words, as elsewhere expressed, whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do, we should do all to the Lord's glory; and this implies not merely a haphazard wish to do the Lord's will, but a studying of the divine Word that we may know what that will is—not merely a studying of the creeds and traditions of the past, however we may honor those who made them and believe in their sincerity. It is for us rather to prove all things that we accept, and then to hold fast that which we have proven to be the good, the acceptable, the perfect will of God. As Joshua was told that his good success would be in proportion to his attention to the divine Law, so Spiritual Israelites similarly are informed that their success in making their calling and election sure will be proportionate to their loving, zealous obedience to the divine message. Meditating on the Lord's Law day and night implies a study of the Scriptures, a course which some of us at present are endeavoring to follow, using such helps as the Lord's providence has supplied to us—not relying upon any helps to the abandonment of the Word, but rather using these helps and proving everything received by the divine standard.
"HAVE I NOT COMMANDED THEE?"
This question is asked by way of stimulating Joshua's thought—that he might realize that he had not commissioned himself nor been commissioned of man to undertake this great work. Similarly the Apostle points out that our Lord Jesus took not the honor upon himself to be the High Priest of our profession, but that he was called of God to this position. Similarly, also, we who are seeking to walk in the footsteps of Jesus are to consider that we have not chosen him but he has chosen us, commissioned us and authorized us, so that we can go forth in his name as ambassadors for him and the Kingdom which he represents. What strength and courage this gives to the true soldiers of the cross—to realize that his labor is not in vain in the Lord. How it nerves him to be and to do in harmony with the Word and Spirit of his Master.
No wonder that these are in the Scriptures termed "more than conquerors." And no wonder, either, that the Lord has made the conditions of their present experiences such as to necessitate a good fight and a victory. He seeketh such, strong, courageous—not in themselves, but in the power of his might and through faith. As soon as Joshua got this message from the Lord he proceeded to put the people in order for an aggressive campaign, and instructed the proper officers to prepare the people and to prepare victuals and to be ready within three days to obey the divine command to enter in and possess the land which the Lord had given them. The promptness and zeal here displayed are worthy of emulation. We may be sure that, as we read, "The Lord loveth a cheerful giver," so he loveth those who are prompt and energetic in everything they undertake to be and to do for him and his cause. Let us who are members of the greater Joshua, the antitype, be very courageous also, very prompt, very zealous, that we may be used and useful more and more in the Master's service.