By J.B. Stoney
THE first notice which we get of Joshua is in Exodus 17: 9, where he is introduced to us as appointed by Moses to lead the choice men of Israel against Amalek. From this appointment we conclude that he was the one best qualified for the post; but what is especially interesting for us to note in studying the history of any of God's servants is the peculiar aspect or condition in which they are first presented to us, for herein lies the grand characteristics which distinguish their course.
So it is with Joshua. Type, as well as servant, of Christ, he is presented to us at the outset as a warrior chief, prepared to encounter the adversaries of Israel, and is thus typical of the Captain of our salvation ; Heb. 2 : 10. Joshua's first recorded engagement is with Amalek, who represents to us the flesh, or the natural man, in active opposition to the progress of the people of God. Egypt is more properly the world ; Amalek, the flesh personated; Assyria, nature in its attractions and influences. The conflict with Amalek was the beginning of warfare to Israel, and Joshua for the first time characteristically appears on the scene as leader. He discomfits the enemy by the edge of the sword ; but, while thus victorious, he is made to know on what his success depends. He learns to lead the people to victory by being himself subject to the vicissitudes of conflict while depending on an unseen agency for success. Moses stands on the top of the hill with the rod of God in his hand. Success wanes whenever his hands droop, and in the very alternations of the conflict Joshua learns to depend on God, and succeeds because he depends. This illustrates to us in a very striking way the true manner of conflict. It exemplifies practically that word, " Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure," Phil. 2 : 12.
The conflict is a real one, literally a hand-to-hand engagement, and success oscillates alternately in favour of each of the combatants. God is the energiser in us both to will and to do. Faith sustains Joshua. He knows that Moses is on the hill with the rod of God in his hand, and thus is he taught at the outset of his history to endure the vicissitudes of actual warfare in dependence, and as dependent to be wondrously victorious. It gives great vigour to the soul to have grappled with the actual difficulties of our onward march, and in the strength of the Lord to have conquered, to be able to say, " I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." This Joshua learns and expresses, in his first essay as captain-general of Israel; and as it was his first achievement, and, like David's victory over Goliath, indicative of all which should follow, the Lord directs that it should not only be written in a book, but rehearsed in the ears of Joshua, " For the Lord will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." What an encouragement such a memorial must have been to him in his many subsequent engagements! Well might he fall back upon it, if tempted to be discouraged. If the Lord had swom to annihilate this his first enemy, would He not be equally faithful as to the rest?
We next hear of Joshua in Exodus 34, and he there appears before us as minister to Moses, when the latter is called to the mount to receive the tables of testimony. This notice, though scanty, is very important, for it shows us that the man of action down here was no stranger to the solemn and wondrous manifestations of the invisible God. He not only learned how to war against the enemies of God's people, but he learned also the realities of God's glory, by which he was formed for service down here. Inwardly he was (even as was the Lord Jesus perfectly) in communion with God's glory; outwardly, a warrior from his youth; and by both God was forming him for subsequent service. Communion in glory on the mount was as necessary as the alternations of conflict on the battlefield. There are what we may call circles, or distinct forms, in the school of God. In the warfare with Amalek, Joshua is in one circle, or one class of service; and in the mount he is in another, even that of communion with God, and an enlarging of his acquaintance with the mind of God-a most blessed season of instruction. But even in this high association, Joshua retains his calling. When Moses turned and went down from the mount, and the sound of Israel's apostasy reached their ears, Joshua's comment on it is, " There is a noise of war in the camp," Exod. 32: 17.
His mind interprets the shoutings of idolatry according to its leading impression. But when the idolatrous scene is unfolded before him, and Moses pitches the tabernacle outside the camp, Joshua evinces the value which the blessed season of instruction in the mount had been to him, by taking the place of separation, and refusing to mix himself with the defiled camp. We read, " Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle," Exod.33:ii. He had learned what it was to abide in the secret of the Almighty, and though the service of Moses might call him to go to and fro, this young man, whom God was instructing, knew it was better for him to remain with God in the separated tabernacle. Service did not call him to the camp, and therefore he remained entirely apart from it with God. Moses has a service to render, and he enters the camp. But if there is no room in it for service, let us be as separate as possible from it, for the separation will prepare us for the most effectual service when we are called to it.
Mere knowledge of God's will and counsel is not the full effect of nearness to Him, but the sense of what suits Him, and meets His mind: in fact, holiness, and this is the great end of the Father's discipline.
But Joshua is still a learner. The next notice that we get of him is in Numbers ii , where he misapprehends the mind of God. That very truth which had before saved him from defiling association, and preserved him in unison with God's mind, he would now make use of to circumscribe God. It is very important to remember that it is God Himself who is to counsel me, and determine my judgment, and not any single line of His truth. To remain in the separated tabernacle was plainly the way of truth and blessing, when Israel was in apostasy; but when Eldad and Medad prophesy in the camp, God's Spirit must be acknowledged, though they do not come to the tabernacle. So Moses rebukes Joshua as savouring of the things of men, and not of the things of God. The heart is right, but it has taken counsel from the flesh, and must be rebuked. This is necessary and bitter discipline, but effectual in preparing one for the entirely new and divine way in which God leads His people.
Joshua has now been taught not to trust in himself, and he is appointed to go and search the land. Moses distinguishes him by the name of Jehoshua instead of Oshea (Num. 13 : 16), and thus intimates to us that he was now, according to his new name, entering on a new line of service. He had hitherto been only Moses' minister or servant, to carry out his instructions. Now he, with eleven other heads of the people, is sent on a special mission to search the land. Caleb and Joshua alone report favourably, and bear witness to God, and to the goodness of that which He had sworn to give them, in the midst of the unbelief of their associates. The trial they had to pass through, and how deeply they felt the sin of the people, is evinced by their action. They rend their clothes, and, while boldly bearing witness to the goodness of the land, they declare that their entrance therein depends not on their own strength, but on the Lord's delight in His people. But all the congregation bade stone them with stones, when the glory of the Lord, bursting on the tabernacle, " in sight of all Israel," arrests their evil intention.
Let us note here the distinctness of the education to which Joshua is subjected. He had already been associated with God as the deliverer, but this is his first acquaintance with the place which God had promised His people, and to which he himself was eventually to lead them.
Moses and Joshua, as servants, had different missions. Moses' was to lead the people out of Egypt; Joshua's, to lead them into Canaan. Moses typified the Lord combating the devil down here ; Joshua, as leading us into all the blessed results of life and rest ; and to fit him for this high mission Joshua must be disciplined. He must not only see the land, but he must see and feel the nature of the people he has to lead thither. And not only so, but having seen the land-having proved in his soul, and confessed with his mouth, his faith in God's purpose and power to bring them in, and endured the opposition and persecution of this very people on account of it-he must wait the lapse of forty years before he can behold and realise the portion which his faith had reckoned on.
What a trial of faith! What a prolonged education! A break seems now to occur in the narrative of his history, but surely not in the moral of it. Failing to animate the people to a sense of their calling he retires, as it were, from public life, but only to resume his place the moment he is called on.
The forty years in the wilderness must have been a time of great deepening to his faith. As he saw the unbelievers one after another die off, until he and Caleb were alone left of the former generation, each death must have confirmed to him how blessed is faith and how fatal to all blessing and service is unbelief Like Moses in Midian, he had to lie by for forty years waiting on the Lord and learning patience which is the first great quality of a servant of God.
There never was faith without corresponding work sooner or later. Thus James says, " The scripture was justified when it said, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness." The faith must be held fast until the work declares it, and it sustains the soul because it is dependence on God.
The thread of Joshua's history is resumed where it broke off. He had assured Israel that they were well able to go up and possess the land, and at the end of the wilderness journey, when Moses is disqualified for leading them into it, Joshua appears on the scene again. The time is come, he is ordained for this special service ; Num. 2 7: 18-22. He might often have wondered to what end was the faith which forty years before had lighted up his soul and enabled him to proclaim the glories of the inheritance, but faith will always justify God. The less appearance there is of proof the more is the soul thrown back on God, and this necessarily increases faith, because He confirms its reality unsupported by anything outward.
Very fully was Joshua's faith realised, and now, " full of the spirit of wisdom," and prepared by all these years of discipline, he is not only ordained by Moses, who laid hands on him, but personally commissioned and encouraged by the Lord for this high mission. " Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread on, that have I given you " was now the Lord's word to Joshua. Traverse any of the endless domains of glory and that will be yours for ever; and not only so, but the reality and value of it will be declared in testimony down here, even as it was with Stephen when he saw Jesus and the glory.
We must remember that Joshua, properly speaking, is the continuation of Moses, and that both of them typify the Lord Jesus in different aspects. Moses conducts me unto the death of Christ ; Joshua conducts me victoriously out of it, carrying his spoils with him ; and therefore when the Lord commissions Joshua, the son of Nun, " Moses' minister," He says, " Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give them.... Be strong, and of good courage ; for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land which I sware unto their fathers to give them." According to the terms of this commission he was not only to lead them into possession, but by dividing the inheritance he was to give them assured occupation, and this typified that finish of our Lord's work which He announced on earth when He said, " I go to prepare a place for you." Joshua's service is not consummated until this be accomplished and therefore we find in the second part of his history the trials and difficulties which he has to encounter in fulfilling his commission -a page of deep instruction for ourselves.
Years before Joshua had believed that God could and would bring them into the land. This was his foundation, for " without faith it is impossible to please God." But now he realises that which by faith he had so long enjoyed and he is not indolent therein. He announces to the officers, " Within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in and possess the land." " Prepare you victuals," he says. The onward path was to be entered on heartily but with holy calmness. " Sanctify yourselves," says Joshua, " for to-morrow the Lord will do wonders for you." I pass over the wondrous scene of the passage of Jordan as to its import, which has been fully dwelt on elsewhere ; the relation which it bears to Joshua is what we have to do with here. The Lord's object in it with regard to him may be seen in chapter 3 : 7 ; chap. 4: 14: " This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel," etc. Almost singly had he forty years before stood firm for God's purpose and power amid the opposition and unbelief of the people. Now he was to be magnified before all Israel, and the Lord's presence with him proved to be as great a reality as it was with Moses. It was a glorious period in his history and corresponding to the character of his faith. Joshua, while typifying the Lord Jesus in his success, is, on the other hand, a sample for us in the struggles and conflicts which he passes through ere he arrives at success.
I do not undertake to write the life of Joshua, and must therefore confine myself (after merely enumerating his great achievements) to the exercises which his soul passes through. His first achievement in leadership is passing the Jordan ; secondly, the rolling off of Egypt's reproach at Gilgal ; thirdly, the fall of Jericho, or taking possession of the land ; fourthly (chap. 15), dividing the inheritance. These comprise his great successes. His exercises we may consider in more detail. Foremost of these is the discomfiture at Ai ; chap. 6. This was the first check in his bright career. Jordan passed-the reproach of Egypt rolled off-the walls of Jericho fallen to the earth through faith-the possession of the land entered on in the most distinguished way-what must have been his distress and disappointment when he saw Israel flee before the men of Ai! Joshua is little prepared for any reverse. Blessing and success had followed him like a swelling tide, and he is in agony. He tends his clothes and falls to the earth. He must now learn for the first time how much man may fail in scenes of the fullest blessing. He had seen their failure in the wilderness, but here is failure and discomfiture in Canaan. And this causes strange and peculiar distress to his soul. How well can the heart understand the cry, " 0 Lord, what shall I say when Israel turneth their back before their enemies? " The greater the truth and blessing known and enjoyed the greater the dismay does discomfiture cause to the heart which is true to the glory of God.
But Joshua, like many of ourselves, had to learn an important lesson in this stage of his history. It was this that no amount of previous acquisition or enjoyment can secure us against defeat and overthrow, if in spirit we have connived at or become associated with principles or practices contrary to God. In ignorance of the cause he prays, mourns, and even remonstrates with the Lord. His faith wavers in the intensity of his distress. But it appears from the Lord's rebuke to him that he lacked spiritual wisdom in so doing, for such would have concluded, from a previous knowledge of God, that He would not have permitted defeat to have overtaken His people had there not been some grievous departure from Him. He ought thus to have searched for the concealed evil, instead of upbraiding the Lord. Prayer will never compensate for neglected action; it leads to action-seeks light and strength for action, but if I use not the light I already possess, no amount of prayer will obtain more for me, for if I believe not the revelation which I have received, I am not prepared to receive more.
The Lord chides Joshua for lying before Him in ignorant, inactive mourning. He says, " Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned," etc. And He goes on to announce what must be done in order to retain His presence among them, and consequent success.
Let us note here that Israel was now entering on the inheritance, which represents to us God's kingdom and the heavenly portion of His saints. They were as one people. The sin of one affected the whole nationally. With us the union is spiritual, and we should be warned that if such manifest disaster was occasioned on account of the sin of one man, among those who were only united naturally and in the flesh, how much more is it so in the church, where each is, through the Holy Ghost, a member of the one body.
It was new to Joshua to hear that the secret departure from God of one man in the army could so disastrously interrupt the progress and blessing of all Israel. He is crushed by it, and almost loses hold for the moment of the faith that so characterised him. But in his deepest distress, mark what a true sense he has of God's greatness and glory ! " What wilt thou do with thy great name? " is his first anxiety.
The first line of action prescribed by the Lord is inquiry. All the congregation must be presented before Him. Great scrutiny, patient and anxious investigation, is necessary. The lot is cast, but the decision is of the Lord.
Joshua after his deep exercise proves himself equal to the emergency. Having " risen up early " to discover the cause, he is prompt and decided in judging and executing judgment on the transgressor. Summary and unrelenting must it ever be! "And Joshua took Achan, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned him with fire." Not an article belonging to him escapes, and Joshua thus testifies that the nearer a man is to God, and the more he is within the circle of His greatest blessings, the more wholly and distinctly must he denounce every one and everything derogatory to His glory. The Joshua who fears not the external foe, who has seen all creation bow to his conquering tread, is the same as he who is thus faithful and effective in purging out the internal evil. The two are inseparable. Power is power, in whatever form it may be exercised. Power over the Canaanite - the opponent to our realisation of our heavenly inheritance, insures power over internal evil. If Joshua had learned the one gloriously, and with a high hand, he now learns the other deeply and sorrowfully, in secret counsel with God, and no less wondrous intervention of His power. Let us remember that the greater our victories as to the inheritance, the stricter our separation from everything unsuited to the mind of God.
The sin of Achan was of no common order. It had a twofold enormity. It was a double transgression against God, and-of a character fatal to the heavenly warrior. He had taken a garment accursed of God, and gold and silver which were devoted to God's treasury, thus disclosing the corruption of the heart, which, while receiving the favours; of grace, has the treachery to seek its own advantages and gratification.
Joshua, having passed through this great exercise and its results, is now taught how he is to succeed against Ai. It must not be in an open and distinguished way, as *at Jericho, for failure entails consequences even after the breach is healed. The conquest, however, is no less effective, and faith can discern the same amount of spiritual power, although the army is less distinguished. But Joshua has yet more to learn, and chapter 9 unfolds another order of trial, and one brought on, too, by a temporary lack of dependence on God on his part and that of the princes. The snare is not now from within, but from without. The Gibeonites " did work willingly," and Joshua is deceived, and makes peace with them, neglecting to ask counsel of the Lord. Here was the real cause of the snare proving successful, for whenever dependence on God is lost for a single moment, be it even in the very flush of victory, failure must ensue.
This was Joshua's first lesson, as we have seen, in his conflict with Amalek, and even now, after so many years of discipline and victory, it causes a check in his onward course. Achan's sin was against God, that of the Gibeonites more against Israel. The latter was man assuming before man to be what he is not, in order to be accepted. The sin being different, the punishment is different ; the former was total and unsparing condemnation ; the latter, perpetual and public infliction. The deceiving party are the most severely dealt with ; they are made subservient to the interests of Israel ; but the deceived, that is, Israel, also suffer, for had they followed the Lord's way and mind the subjugation would have been much more complete.
No doubt Joshua learnt much of God's mind in all these peculiar trials, and immediately after he enters on a glorious and unbroken career of victory, in which no check occurs to the remainder of his course. Highly honoured of God, foe after foe is subdued, and the Lord even stops the course of creation (the sun and the moon stand still) " at the voice of a man," chap. 10 : 14. What a moment that must have been when, after treading on the neck of all their enemies, Joshua and his host smote and utterly destroyed them, from Kadesh-barnea to Gaza-Kadesh, the scene of the people's former unbelief, and of Joshua's firm and enduring faith!
The next important era in this history is the allotment of the inheritance to each tribe (chap. 13-19), according to the special commandment of the Lord; and this being done by Joshua, he himself is given a personal inheritance * 50), in which he builds a city and dwells therein.
Joshua in practical achievement presents to us four distinct blessings connected with this new and heavenly inheritance : First, the passage of Jordan ; secondly, the rolling off the reproach of Egypt ; thirdly, taking possession of Jericho and onward ; fourthly, dividing the inheritance to each tribe and assuring each of his own.
On the other hand he had three great conflicts in connection with his leadership into Canaan.
I. He had to learn how the whole army could be enfeebled and shorn of strength by the defilement of one man.
2. How he himself could be deceived and ensnared by neglect of asking counsel of the Lord.
3. (And this is his last.) How little he could depend on the congregation of Israel adhering to the place and path of blessing to which they had been called. This trial is presented to us (chap. 23, 24) as the closing scene of his service. He had, through God's goodness, led them to wondrous blessing. God had been faithful but they will not be faithful or a witness to His mercy to them. What a sorrow to Joshua, after all had been accomplished according to God's promise, and his own faith fully answered, to know of a certainty that no reliance can be placed on the congregation! This conviction must have been early and deeply instilled into him from the time that he had heard the idolatrous shout issuing from the camp as he descended the holy mount with Moses ; so that, as we often see, the trials of the beginning and the end of a course closely correspond to one another. How afflicting to the spirit after being used largely in making known the blessings of God, and after seeing souls in the enjoyment of them, to foresee that ere long there will be few or none to appreciate them! This trial the Apostle Paul endured when 'All they of Asia turned from him' (2 Tim. i), and the same now awaited Joshua.
But what was his resource? He took a great stone and set it up there under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord, and said unto all the people, " Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us, for it hath heard all the words which he spake unto us ; it shall therefore be a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God." This stone typified Christ, and looking to Him as the only sure Witness, " the faithful and true," Joshua closes his course, setting forth, in this his last act, how effectual the discipline of God had been, for now his heart rests only in Him whom that stone typically foreshadowed. Hence, in the dependence of one taught of God he is earnest to maintain the truth of God, hopeless as to man, but assured and at rest because his hope is in God.