The Book of Joshua

28. How the Mass of the People Inherited.

Joshua 15, 16, 17.

"Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong." — 1 Cor. 16:13.

Joshua 15:1-15. Judah's lot — the royal tribe, for whom the Lord ordered a royal portion, the noblest and the greatest in Israel — is mentioned first. As it has been observed, Judah's inheritance "was placed on elevated ground, that it might be more conspicuous than the others, until the sceptre should arise from it." Moreover, in Judah's lot was the seat of the future kingdom — Jerusalem; for, in the ways of God, no lot which He orders is determined save with the definite purpose of bringing glory to His Son. Whether in valleys or in mountains, Judah's cities are numerous, and the detailed account of them marks off this part of the inheritance from the rest of the tribes. The abundance and the fruitfulness of the possession, thus described, teach that God's gifts to His people are marked by their munificence.

Joshua 15:16-19. Caleb's name arising again in the enumeration of Judah's cities, recalls the courage and zeal in possessing in which God delights. Caleb's burning heart for victory fired others. His warrior-soul induced others to great deeds — a grand characteristic, which marks the great overcomers for God in all ages. To Othniel, Caleb's nephew, fell Kirjath-sepher (the City of Books), evidently some seat of learning; and upon its capture Achsah, Caleb's daughter, became the victor's wife. These cousins were worthy descendants of their race; the one maintained the excellence of the home, the other acquired land from the enemy. Where the springs of water in the home, and the sword abroad, are united — where the wisdom that provides the living waters for the flocks, and the courage which conquers the enemy, abide together — the true spirit of possessing is found. Never should the refreshment so necessary for a sunny south land be forgotten. Waters for the high and the low places should not be neglected, the pastures or vineyards should not be left uncared for, the upper springs and the nether springs must be sought; for the true possessor, practically speaking, of divine blessings is he who is as careful to cultivate what he has won as he is brave to conquer what is yet to be possessed. Achsah leaped not from her ass for nothing, requesting gifts of Caleb, her father; and her eager practical spirit, spiritually speaking, is a lesson to all.

Joshua 15:63 Great as was the lot of Judah, it is melancholy to read at the close of its description "As for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out: but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day;" and in these words are chronicled the opening of Israel's failure to possess, and the beginning of the history of their loss of liberty. Let spiritual enemies get a stronghold in an individual heart, or amongst a company of Christians, and sooner or later, as the Jebusites did in David's day — man their walls with lame and blind, and taunt the king (2 Sam. 5:6-10) — so will spiritual enemies defy God's saints.

"They could not drive them out!" The note has been struck, its tone will increase in volume, it will repeat itself again and again, until the sound of victory be swallowed up in the cries of defeat and loss and in the wails of bondage and ruin.

Joshua 16:1-9. The lot of the children of Joseph came after Judah's, another instance of God's hand so ordering Israel's inheritance that his word to the patriarchs should be fulfilled. The distinctness and the breadth of Judah's lot are absent in the lands and cities portioned to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and also there is an intermingling of their lots, which is difficult to explain. The want of carrying out God's purpose by these tribes is again apparent. "The separate cities . . . of Ephraim were among the inheritance of the children of Manasseh," "And Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher."

Joshua 16:10. The feebleness of the Ephraimites, as that of their brethren of Judah, is noted, "They drave not out the Canaanites . . . but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day, and serve under tribute."

Joshua 17:1-6. With the slackness and want of courage now apparent, it is cheering to read of a warrior having a goodly heritage, "because he was a man of war"; for the family of Machir was brave, and so conquests fell to it; thus the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Machir, acquired their portion according to promise.

Joshua 17:7-13. The cities of Manasseh are next enumerated, and once more the refrain is heard, "Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities . . . did not utterly drive them out" (vers. 12, 13). "Yet it came to pass when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute." Their strength exposed the secret of their inability, they "could not," because they "would not" drive them out; they preferred to make a gain of these heathen rather than obey God; and so it happened that, after a time, Israel learned all the abominations of the Canaanites, and served them as a punishment for their sins. The shortsighted principle of making terms with the enemy, in disobedience to God, ended in the tributaries becoming thorns in their eyes and pricks in their sides, and at last their masters. When faith in God, with its arduous life, is exchanged for compromise with evil and for a course of self-seeking, the reaping day will discover, by its sorrowful fruits, the bitterness of departing from God.

Putting false things under tribute is a common practice in the church of God, but trifling with evil will result in eventual ruin and misery. Spiritual foes placed under tribute will, as did these Canaanites, assert their right to rule. Do not we see in Christendom "the rudiments of the world," "the commandments and traditions of men," "worshipping of angels," "philosophy and vain deceit," under tribute? Do not we see Christian men suffering known iniquity in their communities, and allowing in their midst persons and practices which are enemies to God? Winking at evil, pandering to sin, smoothing over the false doctrines or practice of favourite leaders — is but putting the enemy under tribute. Such disloyalty to the Lord ever ends in the tributaries mastering the people of God and enslaving them.

"The Canaanites would dwell in that land" (ver. 12). Decision and purpose are marked here. The saints may fail in earnestness, but the enemy will not fail herein.

Joshua 17:14-18. Having given in all its vividness the secret of their failure, the inspired historian next presents the pretension of the children of Joseph. In them the old man-of-war energy was supplanted by inflation, due to historic memories. The faith in God, which, while making a man nothing in his own eyes makes him great in his deeds, was exchanged for the "I-am-a-great-people" doctrine! "Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the Lord has blessed me hitherto." Regarded numerically the Josephites are a "great people" in our own times. We meet with them everywhere. They boast of the holiness and faith of their fathers, or even of their own faith in the bygone "old times"; ancient victories, and a good old history are inscribed upon their banners, and, indeed, so grand and great are they, that their Mount Ephraim "is too narrow for" them. Surely they should be accredited, because of what their fathers and their founders were! But the past is passed, and the assumption of present greatness because of bygone victories, but a bubble. Faith in God is faith in the living God, and faith in God means living this day in overcoming power in His Name. "If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants." "Up, O great people! and prove your words by your deeds; get ye up, O proud boasters in your fathers' faith and deeds, and prove this day your own faith, by deeds of hardship and of courage! Cut down the woods, and cultivate the wastes for God; cut down the giants, and free the land from His enemies. Visit the sick, the dying; preach the gospel to the enemies of God; awake from vainglorious dreaming, and arise to the reality of hardship for the Lord. Behold the most difficult places: let them be your points of attack, and cut down for yourself there! Look to yourselves, to your own ways, be no more men of words, but men of deeds for God."

Then the Josephites said, "The hill is not enough for us." Virgin soil and wooded districts sufficed not for them! they wanted the easy and the prepared, as did the Corinthians in their day. These were great enough in words, and grand enough reigning as kings; but Paul, the apostle, that great cutter down for himself, reminded them that true greatness measures not itself by itself, but toils on and conquers new regions for the Lord (2 Cor. 10:12-16).

These Josephites, so great in words, eschewed the axe and feared the sword, saying, "all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron." However, Joshua allowed them no departure from their first words; "Thou art," says he, "a great people, and hast great power," "the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down." So may we be sure the Lord Jesus Christ takes us up according to our profession. If we are such wonderful people, so great as we profess, then let us "cut down for ourselves;" if we have so much power, that among the tribes there is none like unto Ephraim, then "thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots and though they be strong."

"Cut down for thyself!" Former victories are not power today. Nay, boasting of the past is but evidence of weakness in the present. "The Lord hath blessed me hitherto" is no proof of the hand of the Lord being with us for blessing today. If the believer be building on the past, he is building on the blessing, and not on the Lord. Today "cut down for thyself," prove the Lord's might by present faith in Him. The experience of the past is but a motive to encourage ourselves in the Lord today. "Cut down for thyself," "in the land of the giants;" let their names be Deadness, Indifference, Worldliness, Iniquity, Superstition, Atheism, or what they may be. "Cut down for thyself," ye Josephites of this nineteenth century.

God's way for His people to enlarge their borders is by driving out the enemies. Aggressive Christianity, the winning of souls, following on to know the Lord, daily victories of faith, alone leads to true possession. Cut down the woods, and plant in the barren places the truths of the gospel; and, instead of lamenting the smallness of the openings for usefulness in our lot, arise, and in God's strength, by sword and axe cut down the giants and widen the borders.

The Holy Spirit of God has surely for our admonition placed the spirit of Caleb at the beginning, and that of these Josephites at the end, of the record of Israel's inheriting Canaan. Are we like Caleb, or like the Josephites Like the one brave man of war, who stood alone for God amongst his murmuring brethren, or like the multitudes whose name and numbers were their credentials. We may be sure of this, the noble and brave warriors who spend and are spent for Christ, who toil on, day in day out, patiently praying, earnestly working, grasping the word, striving for souls, are those whom our Joshua blesses, while the boasters in their traditions and in the memories of their fathers' deeds, receive from Him but these words, "Thou art a great people," then "cut down for thyself."