The Book of Joshua

4. Who is on the Lord's Side?

Joshua 1:12-15.

Joshua, having commanded the officers of the people, next gave special directions "to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh" — the two and a half tribes who had already received their possessions on the wilderness side of the Jordan. It was a different kind of message from that given to the "officers of the people;" indeed, a distinction is apparent in various ways between the two and a half and the nine and a half tribes of Israel.

A deeply interesting theme is thus opened up, nor one simply concerning the history of Israel as recorded in the book before us, but also for ourselves, since "all these things happened unto them for ensamples [or by way of figure]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." (1 Cor. 10:11.)

To obtain a right judgment of a moral or spiritual movement, it is necessary to go back to its beginning. An insight into the first principles which led the two and a half tribes to seek their inheritance on the east side of Jordan is gained by turning to the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Numbers. There we read how these tribes "saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle" (ver. 1). "Wherefore, said they [to Moses], if we have found grace in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan" (ver. 5). In plain language, they did not wish to enter into the inheritance towards which the face of Israel was turned, and whither the hopes of the nation aspired, but, instead, they were determined to remain in the rich pastures of Moab. To rest on the eastern side of the river, and to build cities there, was to fall short of the divine purpose of Israel's blessing, and their words, "We will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward" (ver. 19), mark a determination to refuse to dwell in the legitimate portion of Israel, and also show a spirit of severance from those who would be faithful to the word of promise. The indignation of Moses was roused at the resolution of these two and a half tribes; for not only was this resolve sufficient to stir the Lord's anger against the whole of Israel, but the sight of two and a half tribes sitting still in the enjoyment of what had been won already, was enough to discourage the rest of the people from going forward and winning what Jehovah had promised as the portion of all. He compared their desire to the sin of the spies at Eshcol, and saw in it an earnest of Israel's reaping again those bitter fruits, which they had been warned would be the result of despising the promised land. Grieved at their spirit, he said, "Shall ye sit here? And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them …? And they came near unto him," and said they would leave their wives and children and cattle behind, and go themselves to the war. Expediency argues plausibly, and finds many ready ways of gaining its object; but it is a poor thing to fight God's battles unless for Him alone; for where the treasure is, there the heart will be also. Let such as are not in spirit inheriting "yonder and forwards," who are not fighting the fight of faith with a whole heart, consider what it is to "sit here."

The languid believer is a sore check upon the devotion of others, and thereby are wrought, not only dishonour to God and wrong to ourselves, but robbery from others of their zeal. One false step usually begets another — evil leads to evil. These tribes, beginning with the spirit of expediency, added to expediency wilfulness, and to wilfulness schism — "We will not inherit with them." To carry out their purpose they were prepared to make a breach in Israel. "We," and "them," said they of Jehovah's one undivided family. Jehovah had given one inheritance to His people, but they would have their inheritance, and Israel should have theirs! — "We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance." Moses accepted the compromise that the armed men of these two and a half tribes should go in the van and help Israel "into their place"; but still the fact remains — they did not possess "over this Jordan."

God permitted them to carry out their wishes, as He so often permits His people to have their own way for a time; but, sooner or later, a man will reap that which he has sown, as Moses warned the two and a half tribes at the time of this their determination, "Be sure your sin will find you out."

It is profitable, in connection with the failure of the nation as a whole to possess the land, to consider the divine beginning for Israel in the promise made respecting their inheritance.

Jehovah established a covenant with Abraham, and gave to his seed the land of Canaan, together with the surrounding country from the Nile to the Euphrates. (Gen. 15:18.) All this land was made over to Abraham's seed without any condition. Here we have divine purpose, and when divine purpose in giving is our contemplation, human responsibility in acquiring must be kept out of sight. it is true of all saints this day that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in Him. All these blessings are the possession of all saints by the purpose and will of God. Human responsibility has not one whit to do with this, for all these gracious things are ours in Christ, and we are blessed, not according to our behaviour on earth, but "according as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world." (Eph. 1:4.) Herein lies the absolute character and the immeasurable breadth of our blessings in Christ.

But the unalterable favour of God does not shorten our responsibility. When the seed of Abraham rose into a nation, Jehovah addressed that nation respecting His promise to Abraham, and He then enforced upon His people their responsibility thus — "If thou shalt indeed obey his voice [that of the angel whom He sent], and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries." (Read Ex. 23:20-33.) Israel's prosperity was, therefore, conditional — it was dependent on their obedience. The promised possession was theirs by divine sovereignty; their prosperity was conditional on their behaviour; and so it is with the Christian.

Again, some forty years later, when Israel was about to enter the promised possession, Jehovah afresh enjoined upon Israel obedience to the word as the condition of victory (Deut. 11:22-23); adding, moreover, to the necessity of obedience to the commandments that of practical possessing (ver. 24, 25). And so, too, it is with believers now; obedience to the word, and faith-entrance into spiritual blessings, are necessary for their experimental possession. There is no clashing between the sovereignty of God in blessing His people, and their responsibility to obey His word. God by grace has made secure in Christ to all His people all spiritual blessings; but none the less does every man reap what he sows. The two and a half tribes proved the truth of this. They were determined to fall short of the land to be won, and they were the first to go into captivity.

In the part of the history of Israel now before us, as related in the Book of Joshua, we find ourselves in the camp of Israel, at the passage of the Jordan. Our backs are towards the wilderness and the south; our faces towards Lebanon and the north; the country stretches across the Jordan as far as the Mediterranean on the left; and the river Euphrates forms the eastern boundary on the right. The whole of the expanse is Israel's by promise; but the land specially given, and which they had left Egypt to inherit, was "over this Jordan," and the nations to be dispossessed were on the west of the river, not on the east, where the two and a half tribes had chosen their portion.

In order to possess, Israel had first to dispossess; and so it is with the Christian, who gets for himself nothing but what he wins by driving out enemies.

In the word of exhortation to these two and a half tribes, it is impossible not to feel that their leader is addressing men, who, though of Israel, have interests and objects which differ from those of the nation as such. As Joshua speaks to them, he seems to turn his face towards the mountains of Gilead, rather than to the range of Lebanon, he seems "to view the sunrising" rather than to look "towards the going down of the sun." He calls for "all the mighty men of valour" of their tribes, it is true, but to that call only about one-third of these warriors respond (Num. 26).

Two standpoints are thus distinctly presented, that of Joshua, or rather Jehovah, and that of the two and a half tribes. Canaan, the land of the Hittites, was to Joshua the home side of Jordan; the land of Gilead was the home side to the two and a half tribes. We form our ideas of spiritual things from the standpoint we occupy. Let us see to it that our Christianity is learned from the divine standpoint — the other side of death, resurrection with Christ. May this be indeed our home side of the river.

Gilead, we say, was their home, and a Christian is in his life what he is at home. He may go out at times on the warpath, but the true test of his spiritual condition is the character of his inner life. All the time of their wars in Canaan, these forty thousand were fighting for others, not for themselves; and it is a most solemn thing when Christians in spiritual warfare are, as it were, only auxiliary troops. Genuine Christian soldiers are exceedingly rare; they are soldiers for life. To such everything subserves the one great object — the pleasing of Him who has called us to be soldiers. "Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle," on the east of the river, were the true witnesses of the actual dwelling-place of the forty thousand. Sooner or later these warriors would return home, and not a man of them was a soldier across the Jordan for his lifetime. The wars of the Lord prove men. All God's people must engage in spiritual battle; but, like the forty thousand, numbers fight the fight of faith with the prospect of returning to their ease and enjoyments here. Too few fight on with the object of obtaining victories for God on earth, and think not, dream not, of rest until they shall reach their home in glory.

Welcome, indeed, the help of every believer and every word of encouragement, but would that "all saints" knew the true Christian soldier character!

Some take it that the words of courageous answer recorded in verses 16 and 18, chapter 1, are those of Israel as a whole through their captains to their leader; that "and they" mean not merely the forty thousand of the two and a half tribes, but the whole people, who with these forty thousand replied to the words of Joshua. If such be the case, it is the great, the strong, answer of faith, the response of the nation stirred to go forth to the wars of the Lord. Israel was the army of God appointed for the destruction of Jericho, Israel came into Canaan to sweep its iniquitous inhabitants from the face of the land, and to do this work of judgment in the strength of Jehovah. Their faith responded to the exhortation of their God, and echoed back these grand words — "only be strong and of a good courage."