The Book of Joshua

3. The Command to Tarry Three Days.

Joshua 1:10, 11.

The stirring exhortation just considered produced an immediate result. Joshua communicated its spirit and authority to the officers of Israel, who commanded the people to be ready for action, and thus the whole camp arose from end to end.

When Christ by the Spirit stirs the souls of His people, He does so through His appointed leaders. Joshua communicated the result of the divine exhortation to the officers, and thus the authority of the divine command passed down to each of the rank and file of Jehovah's army. Thus God, by His Spirit, worked through leaders when He established Christianity on earth, when in His grace He revived the great truth of justification by faith at the Reformation, and when He quickened in His saints' hearts a burning love for souls, in the days of Whitfield and Wesley. First, the overseers of His people are possessed with the truth of the word, and then, through them, the people. Christ, by the Holy Spirit, makes living and energetic, in the souls of men of His choice, the truths of the Scriptures He is pleased to revive in the Church at large. In the scene immediately before us, the word of God ran through the chosen channels till the whole camp was alive with the energy the word had first produced in Joshua's soul.

The Christian soldier, in whose soul the truth produces a distinct energy in life and ways, becomes in a greater or less degree an "officer" in the Lord's army. According to the unhindered action of the Spirit within him, he is a captain of a hundred or of a thousand, the power of Christ within him influencing other Christians in the ways of the Lord. It should be remembered that it is only as the believer is continually influenced by the word of God that he can rightly influence others in the things of the Lord's mind. True godly influence results from the Christian being in communion with Christ. Many an one who was once an "officer" in the "host," by letting his soul fall out of the place of dependence on Christ, has become but a false leader of God's people; and the wider the influence for good once was, the wider the influence for evil becomes. This will be presently unfolded in the instances of Achan, and of the princes who were deceived by the Gibeonites.

Notwithstanding the stir the command of the Lord produced in the camp, the people had to prepare food and wait a certain period of time before crossing the Jordan. "Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals, for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God gives you to possess it" (Joshua 1:10, 11). It was seemly and right, that a process should go on in the camp as one result of the word of God being brought to it.

A preparedness was necessary. This indeed had been the burden of much of the last words of Moses, as recorded in the close of the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy. There was an intense desire on his part that the people should consider and approach and enter the land of Canaan in the right state, in the spirit of separation to God, and in dependence on God — His grace toward them the while filling their souls. Such practical lessons we cannot press too earnestly on our own individual spirits.

A preparedness is necessary in the Christian soldier who hears his Lord's words. We have to learn that human energy cannot cross rivers of death, or break down walls of this world's strongholds and if we be aroused to follow the Lord, it must be in His own way. Impulse is not faith. Going forward in the mere strength of humanly-acquired knowledge of God's truth, is not being led by the Spirit. God would not have His people act in the excitement of freshly-gained knowledge, and well would it often be, if instead of pushing on in the impulse of newly-acquired truth, there were first a tarrying, as it were, three days, to digest it, to make it, by the power of God's Spirit, thoroughly part of the new man.

According to the word before us, the camp had to be put into a properly-organized state for the passage of the river, for it was not now with them as it had been when they came out of Egypt in haste. Thus the soul of the Christian soldier needs to be subject to God, fit for the Lord to make use of, steady and calm, and prepared by grace. The truth of God must become part of ourselves, or our weakness will betray itself in the day of battle; but the knowledge of the divine word, having sunk down deep into the heart, will stay the soul when its support is most needed. Bare knowledge cannot be used in the presence of the enemy. A truth of God, learned as a matter of intelligence from another, without being experienced in our own souls, is knowledge without power. Knowledge is power to a Christian only so far as he is filled with the Spirit.

There is no necessity for a set interval of time elapsing in order to effect a needed exercise of soul, for God can and does work similar results in different periods in the souls of His people but there is a needs-be for the practical and experimental acquaintance with the truth of God.

The three days seem to carry the mind back to Israel's departure from Egypt. So far as we can learn, three days were spent by them, from the night they left the land of bondage to the completion of their salvation at the Red Sea, "Three days" speak to us of the familiar period of time of the cross and the empty grave of the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel had bidden farewell to Egypt through the death of the paschal lamb, and were secured by the passage of the Red Sea. On those shores the song had arisen, "Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed: Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation" (Ex. 15:13). Their place in Jehovah's holy habitation was the subject of their song, and this truly was the counsel of God concerning them. At that moment they entered into the purposes of God with exceeding joy and triumph and sang, "all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away" (ver. 16). But the wilderness had intervened, with its forty long and unexpected years of testing and now these years were ended, and once more Canaan, as their possession, was the one thought of the camp, and the three days' pause was ordained for them of God.

Shittim, the last stage of their wilderness journey, was left: Shittim, the place of flowering acacias — the trees, the wood of which was used for the boards of the tabernacle and the ark of God Shittim, with its memories of the wilderness, and its dark remembrances of their sin with Moab. "And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over." (Joshua 3:1.)

Let us, too, "lodge" for a season at the banks of our river of Jordan. Its waters are both broad and deep, they flow swiftly. Who shall bridge them? What ferry shall cross them? Divine power, and divine power alone, can lead us into the glowing Canaan on the other side of our river. Our possessions are in Christ, in heaven and heaven is only to be reached by man through the death of Christ. Death, in itself, to man is destruction: the swift river would sweep him away for ever. Let us look into the waters and consider, for thereby Christ, in His death for us, will be more wonderful in our eyes, and the grace of God toward us, in associating us with Christ in His death, will become to us more exceeding in its greatness. The knowledge of our death with Christ is the first step towards the primary requirements of Christian soldiership.