The Book of Joshua

2. The Exhortation to Arise and Possess.

Joshua 1:2-9.

God had given Israel a leader to bring them into their promised possession, and, as a preliminary to their conflict, He taught Israel definite principles to ensure success, which are stated in the exhortation opening the book.

From the study of divine exhortations to the Christian we learn that we are to live, or walk, in the power of what we have. God does not bid sinners, dead in sins, to walk in His ways; but, having given us life in Christ when we were dead in sins, He bids us walk as Christ walked. God does not require the sinner in his spiritual paralysis to do one single work of righteousness; having given us, when in that condition, strength through Christ, He exhorts thus, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." (Phil. 2:12-13.) God enables His people to do, and He gives the desire to perform.

The exhortation, opening the book of Joshua, is based upon the fact that the land belonged to Israel by divine promise. On that ground God commanded them to "Arise and possess it." The beauties of the plain of Jericho, noted for its countless flowers, the wealth of Canaan's corn-fields, olives, vineyards, and mountains out of which they should "dig brass," spread themselves before the eyes of Israel. The brooks of water, and depths that spring out of valleys and hills, were before them. One thing only was requisite to the enjoyment of their portion they must "Arise" and possess. Arise, believer, and enter into the blessings wherewith God has blessed us in Christ. All things are yours; arise, enter in.

The land across the river, which spread itself before the eyes of Israel, was the evidence of the faithfulness of God respecting His promises. The sight stirred the soul of the people. Before them was their home, with its wealth and delights, the gift of their God who had brought them out of Egypt.

What shall the Christian say who obtains a sight, ever so feeble, of his spiritual blessings? He sits down and ponders over the words, "Blessed … with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3), and as he meditates upon them, and owns that the blessing is his, a fresh zeal enters his soul. He reads on, and gives his earnest Amen to the inspired prayer, that "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding [or heart] being enlightened; that ye may know" (ver. 17, 18).

God attracts to Himself by the display of what is ours in Christ. "Arise."

It was harvest-time, the time of the year's richest good, when Israel thus saw their place of blessing, but the Jordan (the Descender) on its impetuous way barred them out, for "Jordan overflows all his banks all the time of harvest." The river was swift, wide, and deep. What then was to be done? Obey the word of the living God. Go forward, and leave God to deal with the difficulty. Each of us has his own difficulties in the path to full blessing of the soul. "I cannot be truly devoted to Christ until my aged relation dies," said one to us not many years ago, "for if I were it would break her heart." "If I were decided for Christ," said a man to us, with tears, "my friends would give me no rest." Arise, go forward, believe God, and leave the difficulty with Him.

"Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you," is a deeply practical word, for beholding the corn-fields was not eating their fruits, nor was gazing on the mountains, digging out their wealth; the one condition which the Lord imposed upon His people for actual possession was, that as a matter of fact they should enter, and have foot-hold on the land which He had given them.

No ability to map out doctrines or dispensations, no power to see what this epistle teaches, or that prophet tells, is of itself practical spiritual possession; not what the eye takes in, but what the foot covers, is experimentally our own. The eye directs the foot, and the further the foot goes the more the eye sees. The eye beholds a vast expanse, the foot covers a very small space; and that little portion only of the truth of God which we have laboriously trodden is, as a matter of realization, our own.

All is ours in Christ; but such of our blessings only are ours, in our spiritual apprehension, as we have gained by the Spirit's teaching. Real possession becomes the portion of those who by individual contest, step by step, have won ground — "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you." Are we ready to say, "How little have I covered with the sole of my foot; how small is the area that I have really won?" God is for us. Be strong, and of a good courage. Win in the strength God gives. Get direct from Him; shun that second-hand knowledge which never avails in the day of difficulty, nor gives strength in the hour of conflict. "Foot"-possessors in the church of God are comparatively few. Many are geographers, who can map out the varied doctrines of the Bible; few are travellers, who describe what this and that blessing is, having themselves found its preciousness.

In the purposes of Jehovah, Israel's possession was vast: "From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea towards the going down of the sun, shall be your coast." Now, save for a very limited period (1 Kings 4:21), Israel has not entered upon these lengths and breadths; that day of permanent possession is yet to come. The Christian's portion in Christ is immeasurable; but today is his day of possession, for God, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3), has made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 11:6). Yet what does this "all" mean? The most well-taught believer is simply learning what it is, as he advances day by day in the truth of God. The more he sees what the blessings are, the less does his apprehension seem to him to be, for God's gifts are, like Himself, infinite.

More than the bare knowledge that God has made all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places ours in Christ, is necessary to stimulate true Christian zeal; personal communion with Christ Himself, as to the truth of these heavenly blessings, is needed. Jehovah said to Joshua, "I will be with thee, I will not fail thee nor forsake thee"; and the Lord Jesus in effect has said the same to each believer. He will not allow the heart to sink, He will not fail to uphold us with His hand. We have, therefore, promised and secured to us, His abiding presence, His unfailing grace and strength, and the assurance of His never forsaking us.

In the exhortation before us there are three calls to strength and to courage: the first, because the possessions belong to God's people; the second, because in obedience to the word success is assured; the third, because the Lord Himself is with His people.

As to the first, Christ being risen from the dead, and seated above all power at God's right hand in the heavenly places, in Him His people have their blessings secured. Nothing stimulates Christian courage like this certainty. Jehovah had sworn to the fathers to give the land to Israel; the knowledge of and faith in God's purpose, therefore, were the strength of Israel's energy; and God, in His purpose of grace, is the source of our strength and courage to go forward. The glory will be ours, for "He that has wrought us for the selfsame thing is God … therefore we are always confident." (2 Cor. 5:5-6.) The foe will be overcome, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). Self is silent when faith views God's thoughts, and herein is strength. Christ is risen from the dead. He is in heaven, and in Him are our blessings. Therefore, fellow Christian, let us go forward in this strength to enter practically upon our portion. "Stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong." (1 Cor. 16:13.)

As to the second call to courage, we fall back upon God's thoughts as expressed in His word, in order to act obediently to Him. The written word opens to us the mind of God; there is the revelation of His gracious thoughts about His people, and there He records what He says is ours by grace. To obey that word is a command from God. In believing what God says, when He tells us how He has blessed us, we practically lay hold of these blessings. The courage that flows from faith in God's word makes the Christian soldier hardy and resolute. He pursues the path of obedience because he believes the Scriptures.

Practical blessing lies in obedience to the word of God — yea, to all of His word. Herein is the condition of blessing. First we believe that what God says is ours in Christ, is really ours next we lay hold of those blessings in the way He has enjoined us to lay hold of them. We can only go forward in soul as we both know and obey His word, and for this we need not only courage, but to be very courageous, for Satan will array himself against us immediately we put down our foot to tread the path of obedience to God.

Strength and courage to "observe to do" according to all the divine word, are of vital importance. The giants who overcome God's people are not the enemies they encounter for these are as nothing to God — the victorious giants are our own unbelief and disobedience.

We are called to obey God's word as a whole — "All My law," — not our particularly prized portion of it. When the believer follows his favourite lines of truth, he is not strong and very courageous in obeying the whole of God's word. Some believers have selected from God's word certain portions for their obedience most congenial to them, and thus have practically constructed a revised Bible! "All My law" is the divine exhortation.

A wise path will be a prosperous one, and the prosperous path is acting wisely on the straight line of obedience to the distinct instructions of the divine word. No deviation is lawful — "Turn not from it to the right hand or to the left."

Now how shall intimate knowledge of the will of our God be obtained? The word of Scripture is to be ever in our mouth (Joshua 1:8). To depart from it is certain failure. We want Scripture for anything. "It is written" must decide all questions. When a difficulty arises, our first duty is to hearken to, "Thus saith the Lord." A degenerate Christianity evades the plain truth of the divine word, and substitutes for it the voice of human authority. The book of the law has departed out of the mouth, and as a consequence, instead of prosperity, demoralization, confusion, and disorder exist among the soldiers.

Now, how shall the believer have his mouth filled with the words of his God? How shall he know what God says to him? By deep, painstaking, prayerful labour over it. The knowledge of even the letter of the word is not gained at once. Continual feeding upon the word is requisite, the whole soul needs to be taken up with it — "Thou shalt meditate thereon day and night." By filling the affections with the words of the sacred volume, by loving labour over the book of our God, by seeking the Holy Spirit's teaching, praying for the eyes of our heart's enlightenment, and for the spirit of revelation in the knowledge of God, the heart becomes so stored with its words, that we are able to observe to do, according to all that is written therein. And thence flow spiritual prosperity and good success. The great aim of the child and servant of God should be acquaintance with, and obedience to, his God's mind.

"Thou shalt meditate" is a distinct call, which should exercise the heart. Spiritually feeding upon the word, we gain the desired heart-knowledge. There is no hour more profitably spent than that in which the Christian is alone with God over His word, humbly pondering upon God's thoughts in God's presence. A book-learned and a Spirit-taught Christian are very distinct. There may be a knowledge of the truth of the word, obtained by reading or instruction, where "thou shalt meditate" is but scantily observed. There may be an intellectual grasp of the doctrines and principles of Scripture, and what then "Knowledge puffs up!" The Christian, who has learned to enter in secret into God's presence as to knowledge, is necessarily humble and lowly in mind. We say necessarily so, because God's presence ever makes man humble.

Truly blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates therein day and night, "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper" (Ps. 1:3). This beautiful figure is considered to be taken from the orange, which tree blossoms and bears fruit at one time, and is evergreen. The fragrance of Christ diffused from the believer; the sweetness of Christ waiting to be gathered from the believer; always the same Christ like spirit; ever fresh, ever sustained by the living stream of the hidden water-courses! Where such orange-groves are found, how attractive they are! Let us seek for the sustaining nourishment of the water of the word entering into our spiritual being, reaching into that which the eye sees not, even to our roots, for then shall there be profitable testimony for God. Dryness and fruitlessness arise from not being Spirit-fed.

Having meditated upon the word, we are to observe to do according to all that is written therein, upon which course of action prosperity and success depend.

The third call for courage is because the Lord is with us (Joshua 1:9).

God's own command is our authority, His presence is our power. God, who gives the command, is with the soldier who obeys His command. The strength here enjoined is that of the hand for taking and holding, and that of the knee not to be overthrown. In the Epistle to the Ephesians we are exhorted to be "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might … For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places" (Eph. 6:10,13): which are to the Christian what the hosts of Canaan were to Israel. Neither must there be rest in this warfare, "for having done all," or, as the margin reads, "having overcome all," we are called upon to stand.

Like sentinels at their posts, they must "stand" who hope to retain what they gain. It is ever easier to obtain than to maintain in the things of this life, and how distinctly is this the case in the things of God. Persistency in God's strength, and in courage, is required. Many a Christian, who followed in the path of self-sacrifice to reach the knowledge of some truth of God, having obtained what he sought, has settled down into indifference and spiritual sloth. The apostle Peter warns that, unless there be adding to what is obtained, we shall lose what we have. (1 Peter 1:5-10.)

Finally come the words, "Be not afraid or dismayed." Fear is a bad symptom in the Christian. Fear indicates the presence of unbelief in God, or of some unjudged evil in ourselves. Not, indeed, that godly loving fear, that reverence, which dreads lest God should not be really obeyed, or His will should not be clearly apprehended, but that fear which quails before the enemy and hinders Christian warfare. Firm faith in God dispels dismay before enemies.

The principles set out in this stirring exhortation to Israel are of the last importance to ourselves in this our day. Therefore may each of us know the grace and the power of the appeal.