It is solemn to reflect on the various ways in which the enemy of the truth of God and of His people is at work to set aside His purpose in their blessing. The variety of means resorted to, in order to discredit the prime thought of God for the time being, proves two things, namely, the malice and hatred of the god and prince of this world, and the infinite blessedness and unspeakable value of the thoughts of God in the testimony revived in these last times.
It is very striking to trace in the scriptures this decided character of opposition; it is seen, or may be recognised, in all times, taking, no doubt, diverse methods of expression, as well as employing various kinds of instruments, and from time to time, in the skilfulness of wile, changing the tactics of his warfare, and varying the method of his assault; yet to faith it is more than evident, that, whatever is for the moment the thought of God about His people, that is the point assailed by Satan with malignant energy. Now the history of Israel in the past will be found, as we examine it, to furnish us with a striking illustration of this deadly hostility of the wicked one.
I need not long delay in showing that Canaan, the country beyond Jordan, was the land of Jehovah's choice and purpose for that nation. A reference to Exodus 3 and 15 will clearly show the earliest intimation of this purpose to Moses, while the people were still in the house of bondage, even in Egypt, as well as how fully afterwards they entered into this mind of Jehovah, singing as never before; not only celebrating their deliverance and praising their Deliverer, Jehovah their salvation, but connecting the full height of His purpose with the beginning of their blessing in these words: "Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in; the sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever." (Ex. 15:17, 18.) Very blessed is it to see a delivered people, in the first joys of their new found liberty, reaching on in faith and hope beyond their immediate or present portion, blessed though it were, to the full height of Jehovah's purposes respecting them.
Now even in this, as well as in an earlier stage of their history, the malice of Satan shows itself; for Pharaoh was Satan opposing redemption, the first step towards Canaan, as Amalek was Satan opposing the march of dependence through the wilderness on the way still to Canaan. I do not doubt for a moment the satisfaction of Satan in holding Israel, through Pharaoh's instrumentality, in the thraldom and bondage of Egypt; nor do I question a like pleasure in opposing, by means of Amalek, their dependent march through the desert, to the mountain of Jehovah's inheritance; yet, inasmuch as at the very outset the purpose of Jehovah had been made known in the touching language of Exodus 3:7, 8, to Moses, I can have no question, but that it was this definitely avowed intention of Jehovah that Satan set himself directly to thwart, whether in Egypt by Pharaoh, or past the Red Sea by Amalek; and, I may say, this seems to be strengthened and maintained by the fact so often pressed and referred to, namely, that the wilderness was no part of Jehovah's purpose, though it came in in connection with His ways with that people. How solemn then to think that, even at this early period of their history, the opposition of the enemy clearly declares itself, and that in relation to the full purpose of Jehovah's heart, even the land beyond Jordan!
In order to guard against any misconception on this head, I add a word further with respect to the opposition of the enemy. It is quite clear that as to conflict, in the Christian sense of the term, there was none until Israel entered Canaan: the trials of the wilderness, its murmurs and its Marahs, were not Canaan conflict; neither was the fight with Amalek like conflict in the land; the great thought seems to be the testing of the people, yet in grace, the circumstances and sorrows of the way intended of Jehovah to cast them upon Himself; used by Satan to oppose and hinder, by creating, through their means, murmuring and discontent, the very opposite to dependence and confidence; and that dependence, and not fighting, properly so called, won the battle in the wilderness, Exodus 17:11, 12, clearly proves; for what do we find there? Success depended on Moses' hands being lifted up. Yet how clearly marked is the opposition of the enemy to the people of Jehovah, set free from Egypt, and on their road through the desert to Jehovah's land!
But now, passing over most of their history in the desert, following that which we have touched upon, I would turn to another scene, in order to trace this opposition of Satan to the mind of God. In turning to the record of the searching of the land, permitted and allowed though it was, there are the clearest indications of the satanic energy which was at work by means of it, acting upon the weakness and unbelief of the ten spies, so as to discredit the goodliness of the land of promise in their eyes and that of all Israel (compare Deut. 1 and Num. 13), and succeeding for the time in awakening the worst fears and passions of unbelief, until they finally burst into open murmuring and almost rebellion. How solemn such words as these: "Wherefore hath the Lord brought us into the land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt? . . . Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt." But it is specially noted here, as a proof of our present theme, namely, the various ways in which at the outset of their history, as well as here in its after course, satanic hatred; assailed the purpose of God.
Very blessed is it to see how in that day, as now, God will have His witnesses to the excellency of His purpose and thought, as well as His delight and ability to make them good; hence satanic energy here calls to the forefront the testimony of faith and faithfulness in Joshua and Caleb. And may we not learn a lesson in these days from the loyalty of these devoted men of God and servants of the Lord? Does not their simple yet mighty appeal rebuke the fears and faint-heartedness of many at this present time? "The land is an exceeding good land" was faith's simple rejoinder then to all Satan's hindrances, and is it different to-day? Surely the spirit of Numbers 14 is working sadly at the present moment. Not only are there the faint-hearted and fearful, who are ever ready to parade the anti-types of the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites, as these formerly were; but there are not wanting those who never miss an opportunity of heaping terms of scorn and contempt upon the truth which sets forth the Christian's present heavenly standing as in Christ in heaven, ridiculing it as transcendentalism, or mere shibboleth, and trading for the purpose of opposition, upon the failures and inconsistencies of those who, feeble though they be, yet have their heart's desires set on the present mind and purpose of God about His saints.
It needs but little perception to discover in all this hatred of and opposition to the truth, the malice of Satan, the god and prince of this world; and, moreover, those who oppose in this manner are for the most part worldly and earthly minded themselves, and thus betray the real secret of their dislike. Alas! that they should show themselves to be the representatives of like characters in the past, and that the history of the searching of the land should be thus sadly repeated. The Lord grant His saints of to-day faith in His present purpose and mind respecting them, as well as faith in His heart and His hand to make that purpose good.
The next instance of satanic opposition is furnished by the history of the two tribes and a half; the record of their sorrowful choice and inducing second causes, is contained in Numbers 32, as well as Joshua 22. I say second cause, because the instigation was in the first instance satanic, as was the case in the previous history of the nation. Now let me recur to the purpose of God again, in order to show the opposition of Satan, expressed in the history of these tribes. His purpose was Canaan, which is beyond Jordan; the place of their choice was not Egypt, it was beyond the Red Sea, this side Euphrates, but not Canaan; the inducing causes were their numerous cattle, and the land of Gilead and Jazer afforded wonderful opportunities for this. Thus blinded and losing sight of the call of God, their choice is expressed in these mournful words: "Bring us not over Jordan." "Alas! these beautiful meadows, well suited to feed their flocks, have found but too many Lots and tribes of Israel to settle in them to their loss." Such was their history; for in after days, when Israel's sin and weakness left them the ready prey of their foes — the enemies of God, the lovely country this side Jordan was the first that passed into the enemies' hands.
Has not all this a solemn voice for saints in the present time? Are there not those who have made a similar choice, having taken their place this side Jordan, that is, this side death and resurrection, applied to the soul by the Spirit of God? Is it asked, what can that mean? There can be no question, it is worldly Christianity on this side of death and resurrection. How many of the saints have cast in their lot here, settling down in the place of wandering, the heart clinging to what is this side death and resurrection; short of the purpose and mind of God about His saints at this time!
It is striking to observe the resemblance between these tribes and some now-a-days; they did not desire or intend to give up being Israelites: by no means; but they would be Israelites this side Jordan; and is it not so at the present time? Are there not saints who, from one supposed cause or another, stop short of the call of God? They are not lacking in either zeal or earnestness, but some, through fear and timidity, others from dislike and distaste, yet both equally, say: "Bring us not over Jordan."
A counterpart to all this is found in 2 Timothy 4. Were not all that forsook the apostle, as well as Demas, practically the two and a half tribes of that day? They did not either in fact or intention give up Christ, any more than Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, the altar of Shiloh, or the position of the Israel of God; yet who can fail to see that "loving this present world" is taking possession this side death and resurrection? And what is forsaking the apostle, the heavenly man in the wilderness, but a practical denial of the truth that "our commonwealth has its existence in the heavens"? Thus we see how the antagonism of satanic power was and is directed to defeat the purpose of God respecting His saints, whether past or present; and, of this, the history of the two tribes and a half, as well as those who like Demas, deserted the apostle Paul, are melancholy instances. The Lord make His saints of to-day divinely watchful as to this.
The next instance of satanic opposition is that furnished by the sorrowful history of Israel in the land, and of this Joshua 23, compared with the book of Judges, is the mournful record. They failed as grievously in Canaan as they did in apprehending Jehovah's purposes respecting them ere they reached the goodly land itself. We have seen how, in various ways, satanic opposition displayed itself in keeping them short of Jehovah's purpose and revealed mind and now we have briefly to trace like enmity and opposition in making them inconsistent with that purpose whilst seemingly answering to it.
In Joshua 23:6-12, they are warned in the most earnest manner by Joshua himself, his advanced years and his "going the way of all the earth" lending peculiar solemnity to his charge. Observe these three points here: —
1. Courage to obey and cleave to the Lord.
2. He warns them as to false worship.
3. He warns them as to false associations.
In other words, he tells them their snare would be in the religious and social directions. I need not detail the manner in which this solemn charge was lost upon guilty Israel, nor the various steps downward taken with all the gradual characteristics that mark decline, until Gilgal is exchanged for Bochim.
The history suggests many a solemn thought as to his saints of to-day, and the various depths of Satan in opposing the purpose of God. To those who judge after a human method or standing it is preferable to be short of the mind of God than to be inconsistent with it; that is to say, it is better to be the two and a half tribes this side Jordan than the tribes the other side. But I plead that the man of faith would never so judge. On the contrary, he, sorrowful, convicted yet confiding, turns to the Lord in earnest longing to be preserved from the failure of both; timid it may be, yet full of trust, he is possessed by the purpose and mind of God to have him in heaven in spirit now, as in body presently, and to maintain him on the earth true in practice to what he is in standing and position, namely, a heavenly man, one who belongs to "the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and boast in Christ Jesus and do not trust in flesh." As such, he seeks grace to walk becomingly; he seeks preservation from all that which practically is a blot upon testimony, either on the side of God or his own side; he cultivates an unworldly spirit, because he belongs to heaven, and as the true security against worldly ways in his business and his home; having a home in heaven he lives there, but from it addresses himself in true strangership to all he is called to undertake on earth. This, I very earnestly plead, would mark the man of faith; he would avoid being short of the mind of God, as of being inconsistent with it, while waiting and looking from heaven for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
May the Lord, in His grace, preserve His truth to His saints in these last days, and defeat the devices of Satan, who seeks to set aside His purpose, and so rob them of their portion and blessing.