25. The Call from Jehovah to Incite Israel to Possess.
"There remains yet very much land to be possessed." — Joshua 13:1.
The second section of the Book before us commences with the Lord's word to Joshua, "Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remains yet very much land to be possessed." Much, very much, land had to to be seized and subdued, and the weakness of old age had stricken the great leader.
As we open the thirteenth chapter of our Book, we breathe another atmosphere from that in which we found ourselves when reading its first exhortations; we are face to face with new difficulties — not the iron chariots of the Canaanite, not the cities walled to heaven, not the giants of the mountains, but foes harder to overcome, even sloth and ease-seeking in the army of the Lord.
The exhortation of the Lord, at this point in Israel's history, is very different from that with which the Book began, for, after describing "the land that yet remains," Jehovah says to His aged servant, "I," emphatically, "I will drive them out." Joshua may lose vigour, great leaders may become infirm, but the Lord remains ever the same. If the saints did but look to God and not to leaders, they would prosper even when deprived of such by death. Not that true leaders should be made light of, for they are God's gifts to His people; but for all that, to God must His saints look. Israel held on to God so long as Joshua, and the elders who outlived him, led them to confide in God; even, as in the early days of Christianity, the saints clung to Christ while Paul and such as he were among them; but Joshuas and Pauls die, and the only confidence for God's people must be God Himself. Therefore, in the divine assurance, "I will drive them out," and in commending ourselves "to God, and to the word of His grace" (Acts 20:32), is courage found to set up our banner.
The energetic conquering leader, now the aged servant of Jehovah, was bidden divide the land amongst the tribes of Israel. All of it, the portions conquered and unconquered, were assigned to Israel, and described as their inheritance. God had promised, and He would perform. Would Israel fulfil their part, in faith and obedience to Jehovah's word? In passing, it should be observed how well and wisely Joshua in his old age adapts his service to his years. The grand object of his life was victory and when he was too aged to lead the army, he led the whole nation to God's thoughts respecting the lengths and breadths of their inheritance, so that Israel might be stimulated to arise and possess. In Joshua the spirit of the true leader is seen — that spirit which, while urging on God's people in His ways, ever centres their courage and confidence in God Himself.
By no means was all the land of promise inherited. The two and a half tribes — the half of Manasseh and the tribes of Reuben and Gad — inherited their possessions on the other side Jordan; and two and a half more tribes, the other half of Manasseh (Joshua 17), Ephraim (Joshua 16), and Judah (Joshua 15), "inherited in the land of Canaan" (Joshua 14:1); the remainder of the tribes, seven in number, possessed not, but had their portions according to lot as it was "described by cities into seven parts in a book" (Joshua 18). Thus seven out of the twelve tribes of Israel did not possess their portion; while of those who did possess, whether "this" or on the "other side of Jordan," we read, "they expelled not," "could not drive out," or, "drave not out," the inhabitants who "would dwell" among them. Hence the second part of the Book of Joshua describes a state eminently critical for Israel, and full of suggestive warning for the children of God at large, for it is written, "then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord." God had brought Israel into Canaan, and had broken the power of the enemy, but the prosperity of Israel already trembled in the balance; upon themselves had devolved the responsibility of maintaining their position by future conquests, of retaining by a fresh gaining: a principle never to be forgotten, but one too rarely acted upon.
The full force of the Lord's words, "There remains yet very much land to be possessed," will not be gained save by occupying His standpoint, and looking therefrom at the lengths and breadths of the possession. In the things of God, Christians are apt to take the standard of their Christianity from the state of their own village or city, and not from the divine standpoint of all spiritual blessings being ours in Christ. Thus Israel regarded the land of promise from the result of what they had captured thereof, and not from its actual lengths and breadths. But northward and southward, toward the sunrising, and toward the country of the Sidonians, Jehovah saw possessions which He had given to Israel still untrodden, and cities and villages not held nor lived in. Jehovah was not satisfied that His people should lose the enjoyment of their blessings, therefore He again promised them His support, and gave Israel His emphatic "I will drive them out."
Could Israel have seen the lengths and breadths of the promised land as Jehovah saw them, would they have been slothful to possess? But their eyes were off God's view of their blessings, and fixed upon their present enjoyment. Did they believe what those seven portions were that were written in the book, each having peculiar reference to the seven tribes who had not received their inheritance, they must have arisen to further victory. But they arose not. Israel in Canaan is an ensample to Christians in the heavenly places in Christ, and Israel's sloth a warning to Christians to whom it is written, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 5:14). In the epistle, which of all others most gloriously describes the wealth of the Christian's spiritual possessions according to God the Father's own great counsels in Christ, we have this exhortation to awake and to arise. Even where all spiritual blessings are described as his in Christ, the Christian is found asleep among the dead, his eyes closed to his portion, and his soul in darkness thereto. "Awake, arise, and Christ shall shine upon thee"! are words of the most solemn import. The idea that individuals, or associations of Christians, can retain what they or their fathers won by fighting and endurance, save by fighting and endurance, is utterly vain. If we settle down to enjoy our spiritual portion or position, we have already lost the grip of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; and we shall find, as did Israel, that the idea of remaining stationary in divine things is a delusion, and that the dream of such enjoyments ends in an awakening to discover the loss of what had been gained, and to learn that our souls are in captivity.