The Historical Books.
As has already been noticed, the five books of Moses give us the foundation of the whole Scripture, and the model upon which it has been written. They are, however, different from any other book of the Bible, different entirely from what we have before us tonight, in this respect more particularly, that in them you have chiefly God's thoughts. It is God's salvation in Exodus, for instance; you have God's holiness all through Leviticus; you have scarcely anything of man in the whole book of Leviticus; it is God's mercy even in Numbers, though that is the most human, I might say, of all the books of the Pentateuch; while in Deuteronomy, of course, it is God going over the whole history with them. Now that is number one, the first division; it is the foundation of all, God's thought, in connection with His people, and when they come in, it is in more or less of a minor way.
Now when we come to these books of the history, you are in quite a different atmosphere. Here man is prominent. You will find for instance nothing here that will take the place absolutely of the book of Leviticus, where God is before us, but you do find Him coming in constantly, interposing in the midst of their failure, rescuing when they had departed from Him, lifting them up out of the mire into which they had fallen, setting aside their thoughts, their purposes, their ways, in order to establish His counsels. In that way you have not merely in this second great division of the Bible, the history of the development of His people or the history, alas, too often of departure, but, thank God, also the history of His deliverance. Now we have not time to point out the correspondence of the numbers all through, with which you are familiar; but I find it most helpful to have clearly in our minds their significance. Look for a moment at this second division. It is a history of development. "Two" gives the thought of growth, of development. It is the history of failure, or departure rather. "Two" speaks of a breach, of severance; then of deliverance, and so on. Herein lies the difference between these historical books, and the books of Moses. Man is prominent here, and wherever that is the case, you find departure and evil.
Coming next to the books themselves it is interesting to notice that each of these books has a correspondence with the one of the books of Moses. Thus Joshua, corresponds to the book of Genesis; Judges with Ruth as a supplement, to Exodus; the four books of Kings, as we shall see presently, to the book of Leviticus; then the captivity books, of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, corresponding to the book of Numbers in a striking way, while the two books of Chronicles, really one, give us again the Deuteronomy, or God's review with His people. Let us look at this a little more closely.
Joshua is a fresh beginning. You are on entirely new ground, in a new place, no longer in the wilderness, but in the land. Then in like manner you have in the book of Judges that which corresponds to the book of Exodus. Judges gives us accounts of departure from God, and when the people cry to Him, and own their departure, you have His deliverance coming in, answering in a most consistent way with its place here as a historical book, to the book of Exodus. You do not find the actual Exodus there, the mighty hand of God delivering His people once for all from the hand of Pharaoh; but only a partial deliverance to be followed again, alas, by fresh departure and by a briefer deliverance. So departure and deliverance occur through the whole book in parallel lines. But there is a beautiful supplement, as you will see, in the book of Ruth.
In like manner in the book of Kings you find certain features which correspond closely to the book of Leviticus. It is a Levitical history, as it were. You find, for instance, the priesthood brought before us, and the prophet superceding or supplementing it. You have next the kings, man's king first, and God's king succeeding him. Then you find the tabernacle that was at Shiloh in Israel, and God's temple at Jerusalem superceding that. These are thoughts connected with the divine presence and manifestation, and they correspond in this minor way to the book of Leviticus which speaks of divine manifestation and presence.
In the same way the captivity books give us the wilderness experience, God's people under the sway of the Gentiles, but in His mercy restored to the land. In Chronicles we read the divine review of what had taken place, with the moral lessons, and in this it differs from the book of Kings which covers the same period historically.
Let us now look at these books a little more closely, and seek to discover the main thoughts that underlie them. Joshua as we were saying is the Genesis, a fresh beginning. It is not now the ultimate purpose of God, nor the history of the individual, but the history of the nation of Israel brought according to His counsel into the place which He had given them for an inheritance. Just as Abraham was brought out from his native land, and given Canaan as an inheritance, absolutely and unconditionally, as recorded in Genesis, so in this new Genesis we have the inheritance of the land, but as actual conquest by faith. First, however, we are reminded that God had promised to give them the entire land as their possession. Connected with this, however, you find man's responsibility to enter in, and take possession. In one word God tells them the land is theirs, in another that every place that the sole of their foot shall tread upon is theirs. It is theirs, but theirs to conquer.
So you find when they go into the land, they meet at once the enemy. Jericho, with its solid walls apparently able to resist all assaults must be taken, and then follows Ai. These are but the beginning of a course of conquest until the entire land is subjugated.
Historically all refers to Israel, but how strikingly is it a figure of our present possessions in Christ, in the heavenly places. I need scarcely more than remind you of the fact that the book of Joshua corresponds in a remarkable way to the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Ephesians tells us that we are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ"; and yet in that very epistle you find that we "wrestle against principalities, and powers, and wicked spirits in heavenly places," that would stand between us and the enjoyment of our portion.
Now that is not fighting the flesh, overcoming our sinful passions and lusts. That would be like fighting Amalek, which is always to be avoided, save where our own negligence has entangled us with it. The rule for the Christian is "walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh."
But does that set us free from conflict? Ah, no! the warrior of Christ is just in the position to fight when he is clear from fleshly lusts; he is just in the place where he can contend most earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Unless you have been in conflict with Satan, you will not have very much enjoyment of your possessions. We may talk about God having blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, but how do we enjoy these things? Look at Jericho — this fragrant world of palm-trees, whose waving branches cast such a spell, and seem to invite us to enjoy their shade and fragrance, rather than the rugged mountain heights — our true home! Have we not felt the power of the world? Do you not remember how the apostle John writes to the young men, the very men of valor, the warriors? — "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." That is the first thing that meets us in connection with the entering upon possession of our inheritance. Here is the world, Jericho, which means "fragrance," — "the city of palm-trees," the mighty power that would hinder our enjoyment of the things that are ours in Christ. Have we not seen thousands of Christians under the spell of Jericho? Have we not seen the king of Jericho victor perhaps? If we are to fight, and take possession of our inheritance, we must overcome that power which keeps us in the world and that is going to keep us out of our own portion. There is needed, as you know well, the power of that faith which simply walks in happy testimony about this world's wall until it is fallen down flat.
There is much else in the book of Joshua very tempting to dwell upon, did time permit, but I must call your attention to another great fundamental thought that lies even back of what I have been speaking. We have been speaking of Jericho, the world-power that lies at the very gate of our entering into the land. Back of that is yonder river of Jordan, and before they could even fight Jericho, they had to go down into Jordan, and through it and up again into the land. And after that, before they could engage in any conflict, they had to be circumcised at Gilgal. All that speaks to us most powerfully of the reality of death and resurrection with Christ. Typically, the Jordan is the same as the Red Sea, only what is emphasized is not deliverance from sin, but deliverance into our portion. In it we learn that we have been brought, through the death and resurrection of Christ, into the place where our portion is. Dead and risen with Christ. Thank God, He has gone ahead of us into that Jordan of death and judgment. He has stopped all its waters which would otherwise have flowed over us, and the way is for us as dry shod into our inheritance as it was for Israel into the land of Canaan beyond.
In the two heaps of twelve stones, one in the bed of the river and one on the Canaan side, we see our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection.
Gilgal simply brings the sentence of death practically home, and if we are dead and risen with Christ, it is not a thing to boast about, but rather a fact to enter into. "Make thee sharp knives" is God's word, and those knives speak of the death of Christ being applied practically to us, our entering, in some reality, into that death, and so being able also to enter into the life of Christ.
Gilgal teaches thus the lesson of "no confidence in the flesh," and is fitly symbolized in what follows: Joshua is to remove his shoes, his natural protection, from his feet, in presence of the "captain of the Lord's host." Now from Gilgal they can go on conquering and to conquer. Jericho's walls have fallen. Ai, after the first humiliating defeat, because they had forgotten Gilgal, is burned to ashes. All the mighty power of the enemy from the south country to the far north, crumbled before them there is not an enemy there to stand before their face. That is largely what you have in this book — victory because they are associated in type, in death and resurrection with Christ, brought home to them in reality by Gilgal.
May we not take this book as our hand-book for conflict, to get our lessons out of and our furnishing, in order to take possession of what is ours in Christ. Who, however, can say that he has fully conquered? How like Joshua, we can say, "There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed?" Take our individual cases, how much of the precious things of God we do not know which truly belong to us.
But there is another part of Joshua, and that is the actual inheritance after the conflict is over; and how wonderful it is that every city, every valley, every spring, everything is dwelt upon in such minute detail in the last half of the book, without doubt to tell us of the varied spiritual blessings that are ours.
God in His mercy has been in some measure recovering these things to us; so that we can take up the latter portion of this book with its apparently barren names of places, and its boundary lines; its water-courses, valleys, and mountains, — everything; and see there the boundless treasures that are ours.
How fully thus does this book of Joshua answer to Genesis a new and true beginning for our guidance. Surely we ought to make ample use of what it unfolds.
But we come to Judges, which, alas! gives us the saddest kind of contrast to all this. Instead of a victorious people passing on from one battle to another, their enemies put to flight, cities burned and the treasure given to the Lord, — instead of all that, you find the people, after a large measure of conflict and victory, settling down into indolence. Strange as this may at first appear, it is not strange if you look at your own history for I am sure that whenever we have gained any victory, whenever we have entered into the possession of anything that is ours, the first great temptation is to let the hands hang down, to be satisfied with present attainments.
We need the conscience awakened or we fall into indifference, which means not merely gaining no more possessions, but losing what we have, the very things we once enjoyed.
That first chapter of Judges tells us about the conquests of the tribes. It begins with Judah, and speaks of victory going on in a vigorous way; but you find right in the very beginning, instead of killing Adoni-zedek, they only cut off his thumbs and toes. It is only a partial mutilation of an enemy instead of his absolute destruction. As you go on you find everything done in part only. At first they simply put the enemy to flight. Then they are no longer able to do that, and the enemy is driven into the mountain fastnesses to live there alone. Then you find, a little further on, that they are not able to do even that; they actually make the enemies of God tributaries to them. Rome has been a great one at that. The next step shows us no power even for this; they dwell amongst them; and, lastly, you actually find that they could not drive them out of the fat valleys, the choice pastures; but that the children of Israel had to live in the mountains, and the enemy to have the best of all the land. What a progress that is!
Remember that so far as the work of Christ and the mighty power of God is concerned, there is no limit to the Christian's victory, no limit whatever. That victory is absolutely complete, but what is put in our hands most surely fails. How differently God speaks to them now, recalling their departure from Him, and delivering them into the hands of their enemies. Good, indeed, is it to see them come, if but with tears and lamentation, to Bo-claim. Had they retained the spirit of Gilgal, this would have been needless. Still there is reality, and where the failure is the same, there should be at this time, the same state of soul. How good it is to remember that our blessed God comes in even at Bochim. I would to God there were a Bochim for His people now, that there were such a thing as seeing His people come together and owning how they failed to drive out the enemy, owning how the enemy has prevailed and taken possession of their portion and their heritage. God can meet us at Bochim. He cannot meet us when we lift up our head in pride and think that we have not failed.
Let the first chapter of our Judges be written as you have it recorded in the second and third chapters of Revelation. There is the book of Judges for us. If we have learned the lesson of those two chapters of Revelation, the Church's departure from her place of privilege and testimony, we will be truly in the place of weeping, owning our departure. Then there would follow deliverance, it is the second book, the book of deliverance as well as of departure. There would be for us the raising up of deliverers who would under God snatch from the enemy his power even yet, and if we would not have the mighty general conquest such as we ought to have had, as in Joshua, we would have practical victory such as Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, and Barak, and Jephtha gave them in the land. There would be the practical deliverance even in the present time.
Would that we could look a little at these deliverances; they are exceedingly interesting. Othniel is first. He is the man whose energy carried him through the conflict; who went down and conquered Kirjath Arba, and turned it into Debir. He is the man whose very name, "the Lion of God," speaks of strength. The one who has been personally a victor, and entered into his portion is the one who can deliver his brethren. Ehud again gives us another view of that recovery which God. in His mercy grants them. Here is a man who goes single handed against the king of Moab — Ehud a left-handed man. By his name he is a Benjamite, "son of my right hand," but in actual power he is only a left-handed man. As to our standing, we are "sons of my right hand," because we are linked with the Man of God's right hand, but I never saw a Benjamite yet who was not left-handed. He only has strength in weakness. But take a left-handed man, if he but realize that he is one of God's Benjamites, realizes that first of all he has no strength, his left hand will be found to be strong indeed.
So we might look at them all. There seems to be all through that sort of deliverance, by the power of weakness. And so you find in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, when the apostle is rapidly summarizing this history of Judges, that he says, "out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, put to flight the armies of the aliens." It is out of weakness that is the lesson all through from Ehud's left hand to Samson's long hair. Shamgar kills hundreds of men with a simple ox-goad, a thing used to prick up the oxen to make them go a little faster. You can take that, any kind of weapon if it be used just in dependence on God. So even an exhortation. Here is a poor humble saint who could not discourse very learnedly, but he has a goad; he can speak a word to the conscience; that is what stirs up the saints and recovers them from the enemy. Oh, for the faith of some of these Judges in these days of the Church's captivity! Who among us is ready to be deliverers? If they are Judges, men first of all who have judged themselves, then they can judge Israel.
But, alas, Judges is true to its character, and you find in the deliverances themselves, that they decrease gradually in brilliancy. Instead of the mighty victories of Gideon, you have at last in Samson, the strongest man of them all, one who does less than they all. Is it because of his strength in which he had confidence? For as to Samson certainly, instead of being a true deliverer, he needed deliverance; and while as to any of these others, we might think of them as in some way a type of Christ, it is always with hesitation that we think of Samson as a type of the blessed, holy, harmless Nazarite of God. We might say that it is the purpose of God that Samson is a type of Christ, but when it was entrusted to his responsibility there is not much resemblance to the Lord.
Darker yet grows the picture. Trace it on through the whole book, and you find it closing in a wretched state of anarchy, and the fitting conclusion of it all is, "there was no king in Israel in those days; every man did that which was right in his own eyes." We have in that the explanation of their failure, and on the other hand the first glimmer of hope, for if it said every man did that which was right in his own eyes, it pointed on to the time when there should be a king, who would rule in the fear of God. And that is what you get in the next book.
Ruth is a beautiful contrast, and supplement to Judges. Judges says to man, look what you have done; Ruth says, look what God has done. It takes up the people as having forfeited all right to the land, for Naomi is a figure of Israel. In Judges we find that they had left a great part of the land, but in Ruth, Naomi goes entirely off into the land of Moab; it is not merely captivity, but departure. But then Ruth comes back with her, and in Ruth you see the dawning of God's grace in regard to His penitent and broken people who come back owning their sin, and their departure from Him. But having forfeited all right to anything by virtue of what they were according to nature, Ruth takes Naomi's place, and it is through this despised Moabitess, one who has no place in the congregation, even till the tenth generation, that blessing comes to Naomi. Not only does Ruth secure food for herself and Naomi, but she becomes the bride of Boaz, type of Christ in Resurrection — "in him is strength" — and thus an ancestor of David and of David's Lord. Most beautifully thus it shows Israel set aside on the ground of law, and then restored on the ground of pure grace, forever restored, "married," to Him from whom she had so grievously departed.
In the next book, We come into the heart of God's thought. We find first that picture of Eli which reminds us of Judges, for it is the last of the Judges. It is the one that ought to have been the example of the people in all things. What a rebuke it is, that so far from ruling the people, he cannot rule his own house, and he has to listen to its doom from the lips of a little child. What more significant of the fact that God is giving a new channel. It is to be through the prophet now, a divine oracle, the word of God brought directly to the people, no longer through the priest and sacrifice, but these things as it were set aside for communication with God by the prophet. Thus Samuel is called out, and the ark is carried off into the land of the Philistines, — God's throne led into captivity — because of the people's sin. The ark never was restored to the tabernacle, and there was no sanctuary of God till David established it in Mount Zion. He forsook the tabernacle, and the next place where He put His name was Mount Zion, the place I might say that was linked with Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, for it was Mount Moriah; and there the temple of God was built. Thus you have the priesthood according to the flesh set aside, and the prophet, the divine word of God, put in its place. You have the tabernacle set aside and the temple put in its place. Lastly you have a man, the king, brought before us.
We need say little of king Saul, for in this first part of the books of the Kings you have always man's side as well as God's side. Man first set aside like Eli, then the tabernacle, then king Saul, all these set aside for God's substitute to be brought in its place; and so in the person of David, you have a figure of the true King who reigns, and through whom righteousness and blessing are to come. But the whole history gives us, even in David, the history of man's failure. Solomon forsakes God, then the division of the two tribes from the ten occurs, — you have all the way through the history of constant failure. But in spite of that you have also God's goodness and grace coming in, and preserving His throne. Now that gives us the thought of these four books. It would be useless to attempt anything like an outline, but you have those prominent thoughts, the true prophet, that is the word of God, and the true King, and in connection with that, the true sanctuary. These all point, I need not say, to Christ the true Prophet, Priest, and the true King.
The history of the Kings is one of downward progress; things get darker and darker until there is no remedy, particularly in the last part of the books. The ten tribes are first carried away captive, then the two tribes. The kingdom of Judah is carried away, Jerusalem destroyed, trodden under foot of the Gentiles, and the glory departed from Israel, not merely as in the day of Ichabod, when it departed temporarily into the Philistine's land, but the glory departed from Jerusalem itself, and I may say never has it returned in any real sense. Surely a brighter glory shone upon the hills of Judea, a more glorious Person than any other king presented Himself, but the people were in gross darkness, and they closed their eyes to their King. That Shechinah glory which shone upon His face at Caesarea Philippi, that would have been for them the very holy of holies, is quenched in the night of their own rejection, and in the night more awful yet of God's judgment of the blessed Substitute for sin.
Jerusalem was trodden under foot of the Gentiles then, and has been ever since, and the captivity books give us, in the fourth place, the Gentile aspect of things. It is the failure of the people. We have been seeing how under Joshua they were brought into the land, and were given complete authority to take possession of it all; they were brought in, and it would have been complete and final victory had it not been for their unbelief. Now that same people is carried off into captivity, and in these three books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, they are in the hands of their enemies; and even if restored to the land it is by the permission of the king of Persia who allows them to go back, and they are his servants. Never anything but servants to the Gentiles, servants yet to the Gentiles, and will be, until that time when they shall be delivered completely by a power not their own, and put in possession of their land, not by their own might or their own effort, but by the mighty power of Him who is their true leader and true Lord.
In Ezra we have a remnant of the people restored, and the temple rebuilt — midst mingled shouting and weeping, for there is no glory there, no throne of God. Alas, the throne had passed to the Gentiles, and God will not reign with a rival. And so in the recovery of divine truth in these days. Some of us younger ones perhaps, rejoicing and glorying in the wonderful amount of truth that has been opened up, and in all the wonderful things God has made known to us. We say, The temple is rebuilt; the temple is rebuilt! but ah! the elder ones remember the pristine glory. By the elder I mean those who know Him that is from the beginning, who go back to the pentecostal glory, the full revelation of God, in the Person of Christ the Lord. In the temple reared in captivity in these days there are tears as well as joy. We bow and own the failure, and the ruin, the scattered condition of God's people, but we thank God for His mercy too.
In Nehemiah, we get the other side. In Ezra, the temple is built, a true centre established, and in Nehemiah a wall is reared to keep out that which would defile the temple.
You will always find when God establishes a centre of blessing, He builds a wall about it; He always encloses it; there must be an enclosure for that which is of any value. Let the enemies mock, and say that it all means nothing. Let faith build its wall, You find that the more our weakness is manifested, instead of there being the need of greater enlargement of path, instead of there being the need of less care there must be greater.
"Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." The Philadelphian, has he anything to boast in? A little strength — he has kept My word, he has not denied My name, the Lord says; but that only describes the very least that can be done. But because he has so little, all the greater need for his holding fast what he has. Let us remember that, and if it is nothing but a little patch of lentils in which we stand, let us hold it fast.
In its place Esther ought to be a sanctuary book, a book of Leviticus, a third book and in one sense it manifests what God is in His care for His people, but how it witnesses of their ruin. It reveals a sanctuary without the glory. Not even is the name of God mentioned in the whole book, and yet His care and love manifested all through.
As to the book of Chronicles, it is the Deuteronomy or fifth book, and as we have seen, that gives us God's review, to bring out His thoughts. Thus you find in Chronicles, while it resembles the book of Kings in many ways, there is a special purpose running through the entire book. Significantly the record begins with Adam. No matter how far separated in time, man has a moral link with him who brought sin in.
God traces the genealogy of the people from Adam, and when He gets to David you find king Saul is left out, and in David's history there is no mention of any failure. So also in Solomon's life. God is giving us thus the history from His side of view. He is presenting to us what these men are typical of David is the victor, Solomon is the peaceable king who reigns in righteousness. You will find that so far as He can, God omits the failures in this book. The whole ten tribes are left out as having left the place of responsibility and testimony before God. Most prominently do we find the prophet coming in all the way through — the divine witness, God speaking with man. Now all of that has instruction, and it is to show us that when God gives us His history, He does it with a purpose, to make everything centre about His blessed Son. Everything in Chronicles centres about the glory and the kingdom of David and Solomon, Christ in the two-fold thought of Victor and peaceable King. And the later history gives the account of how the people departed from that submission, and that subjection to God which marked the reigns of David and Solomon. But there is a very touching close to that book, and that is when at last we have the account of the captivity of the people. We find in the order of the Gentile king of Persia, Cyrus, that the people should go back to the land of Judea, and should rebuild their temple. That shows God's complete power over the authority of the Gentiles, making even the wrath of man to praise Him.
And so we have here in this group of historical books, God's purpose, like a golden thread, running through it, though from the very fact of their being history, as I indicated at the beginning, they are occupied primarily with man, and with man's sin. How good to know even in that which witnesses of man's shame, God has purposed to bring out victory. A victory in which we can rejoice even spite of our own sin. There is much in these books, that I have not even touched upon. Very much of principle even that we have not looked at. But I believe that we have seen at least the thought that underlies each, and that we have at least the key, which will enable us to understand this precious portion of God's word.