30. The Last Call to Possess.
Joshua 18, 19.
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." — 2 Tim. 2:3.
The peace God had given Israel enabled them to assemble at His call in Shiloh, and from Shiloh arose Joshua's last exhortation to the nation to possess what God had given them — "How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the Lord God of your fathers has given you?" God had said, "I will not fail thee;" but Israel had relaxed in energy, lost grasp of the promise, and had become slothful. Warnings as to the consequences of slackness were subsequently given, but never again such an exhortation to possess. The last call had come. Let the believer take warning lest, he sink slowly down into spiritual inertness; lest call upon call to him to awake and arise be neglected, and at length the last appeal be made in vain, and his career of victory end.
"There remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance" (Joshua 18:2). Out of the twelve, merely two and a half tribes inherited in Canaan, and two and a half had their possessions on the other side Jordan; hence, despite mighty victories, the feebleness of the mass is apparent.
Joshua 28:4. Joshua bade three men from each tribe go forth from Shiloh, walk through the land, and describe it. "Ye shall therefore describe the land into seven parts, and bring the description hither to me, that I may cast lots for you here before the Lord our God" (ver. 6). So the land was surveyed, and the result recorded in a book, and laid before Jehovah in Shiloh. There were lots cast before the Lord for them (ver. 10); His purpose, as He had promised the fathers, for His people was proved, the land was divided "unto the children of Israel according to their divisions." These divisions are enumerated (see Joshua 18:11 to end of Joshua 19:48). Speaking generally, Israel's portion was stored up in the book before the Lord; the seven tribes did not make their inheritance their own, according to the spirit of the exhortation in which Canaan was entered.
While this fact declares loudly the inertness and unbelief of the nation, it finds its echo in the slackness of soul of those of God's saints who are content to know that their portion is in "the book," and, satisfied that it is recorded for them, are too slow of soul "to go to possess." Israel knew exactly what belonged to them, for the unpossessed land was minutely set out, and the districts so described were divided among the tribes; but it is one thing to know our portion, another to dwell in it. Even in Israel's palmiest days — the time of Solomon — the land was not entirely occupied.
In things spiritual, there is all the difference between knowing and possessing. Possessing means practically driving out the enemy, and dwelling in the power of what is known. Great was the difference between Israel's hearing the cities of their inheritance detailed to them at Shiloh, and dwelling in them.
To be "slack to go to possess" our spiritual inheritance, the wonders of which are in some measure known to us, is slighting the favours of God.
Every day was a day lost in which Israel allowed the enemy to continue in his strongholds, or return from his hiding-places and re-establish himself in the land; and each such day rendered more difficult the going "to possess" which was incumbent upon them. And while every step in true devotedness to God is real positive gain, every day spent in spiritual idleness is a fresh difficulty to be overcome. The Christian should address himself to steady, persistent energy of soul; he should cultivate habitual earnestness, and that spirit which turns to heavenly things without effort.
How have those soldiers of Christ whom we know as His mighty men of valour, and see acting in the vigour of His Spirit, attained their spiritual strength? The young men, who had overcome the wicked one (1 John 2:13), were once "babes"; they did not learn to "endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ," without training. Paul tells us that he kept under his body, and brought it into subjection (1 Cor. 9:26, 27), and, even in him, greater spiritual strength is observable towards the end of his course than at the beginning. The inertness of our nature, its utter inaptitude to divine things, nay, its contrariety of tastes and desires, added to the attractions to our senses of the exterior world, are used by the adversary to dwarf our growth "in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," and to conduce to our "slackness." But as a soldier may invigorate his companions, so may the soldier of Christ help his comrades; and we are told to exhort one another daily, and so much the more as we see the day approaching. "Add to your faith virtue," i.e., courage, valour! (2 Peter 1:5).
Let the example of Paul, the apostle, appeal to us. He was determined to know nothing amongst the contentious Corinthians but Christ and Him crucified; men were as nothing in his estimation, when he faced the enemy who was leading captive the Galatian Christians; Christ's glories were all to him when he warned the Colossians of the foe; and he shunned not, to be solitary in Asia for Christ's sake. Nothing was allowed to move him, his soldier-spirit was ever firm, and true to Christ.
We speak of Israel's possessing their land flowing with milk and honey, but that land gives a feeble idea of the heavenly places, and of their spiritual abundance. The Canaanitish foes resemble the Christian's spiritual enemies only in measure. The natural type is insufficient to convey the spiritual reality to the mind; language fails to express the deep feelings of the heart, for it is the Spirit only who searches the deep things of God, and that Spirit only who reveals them to us (1 Cor. 2:10). But Israel is an ensample and warning, to which the Christian is bidden take heed (1 Cor. 10:11). The land having been made over to Israel, and divided to each tribe according to the order the Lord saw well, the people "gave an inheritance to Joshua, the son of Nun, among them," and thus ended the apportioning of the inheritance.