The Book of Joshua

10. The First Act in Canaan.

Joshua 4:1-8; 10-13; 15-24.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." — Eph. 1:3.

Before the Jordan was crossed, Jehovah had bidden Joshua select "twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man" (Joshua 3:12), in readiness for an action to be performed after traversing its empty bed. God purposed that a definite witness should be made by Israel to His wonders, and commanded that all the people, representatively, should be prepared in view of the action He had planned. When all the people were "clean passed over" Jordan, Joshua was bidden carry out this divine purpose; "Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones; and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night." Israel, by doing this, made acknowledgment through their representatives of what Jehovah had wrought for them. This action was performed, it must be borne in mind, when all of them were passed over into Canaan.

These stones proclaimed certain realities. Taken from the dry bed of the river, they declared God's power in cutting off the waters before the ark of His covenant; twelve in number, one stone for each tribe, they declared how that all Israel had entered into Canaan; set up together in Canaan, they witnessed to Israel's unity in that land. Moreover, they became a memorial to the nation of Jehovah's work for them.

First, these stones declared Jehovah's great work for His people; even Jordan emptied of its waters before the ark of His covenant, and His people brought thereby into the fulness of their blessing.

Now as we truly recognize that we are brought, in Christ, into the heavenly places, our first action in spirit will resemble that of Israel: we shall extol God for His power and might in accomplishing His purpose in bringing us into such blessing. And in order that this may be so, the apostle prays that we may have the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him, that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, so that we may know what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe. Christ, our Ark, went down into death for us, exhausted its power, stripped it of its might; and God has given us, who were dead in sins, life "together with" Christ risen from among the dead, and has set us in Him in the fulness of blessing, so that as truly as Israel through the passage of the Jordan were in Canaan, saints now are in Christ in the heavenly places.

To enter into this grace, it is necessary to keep before our hearts, in faith, the measure of God's divine power exercised towards us; the exceeding greatness of which is according to that energy and might of His "which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:20). And speaking in the language of the type under our consideration as "clean passed over" Jordan, the Christian's first act should be the heart recognition of what God has done. There should be the open acknowledgment that through the work of God all true Christians are seated in Christ Jesus in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:4-5, 6). And, while we acknowledge that we are in the heavenly places, let us attribute the blessing to Christ alone, who went down into death for us. We are across the River, to God through Christ be the praise.

Next, the stones, twelve in number, "according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel" (verses 5, 8), spoke of the whole of Israel. True, two and a half tribes had settled on the opposite side of the river and but nine and a half had entered Canaan proper, yet none the less were twelve stones taken from the place where, on behalf of all, the ark had rested. God did not ordain, that nine and a half stones should be set up in Canaan, and two and a half on the wilderness side of the river, according to Israel's attainment of possession, but He commanded the number that spoke of the whole nation to be set up, where, in His purpose, undivided Israel inherited, and encamped (Joshua 4:19-20). His will was, that a testimony should be rendered to His purposes for all His people Israel.

As God's people enter into His thoughts about His purpose, actions result which tend to His glory. We see this in the case of Elijah who nobly testified to Israel's oneness even in the days of the nation's apostacy, for in the very presence of the priests of Baal he built to Jehovah an altar of "twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob" (1 Kings 18:31). The prophet recognized the divine purpose as regards Jehovah's people, even when their actual state was apparently desperate. And in a like spirit the apostle Paul, when before Agrippa, testified of the hope of Israel's "twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night" (Acts 26:7), yet as he thus spake, ten of those tribes were scattered over the face of the earth, and two were guilty of the death of their Messiah! But the apostle's stand-point was faith in God's purpose.

Further, the type teaches that the stones taken up out of the depths of the river were to remind Israel how that through the ark of the covenant standing in the bed of the Jordan for them, they had entered the promised land. God would have His saints ever maintain in their hearts the remembrance of Christ's death. The believer has died with Christ; he is also risen with Him, and ever should he remember what the Lord underwent in dying for him. Therefore, as risen with Him, and as being by His death delivered from our old condition, let us in strength divinely given, in the power of the Spirit, place upon our shoulders our stone from the bed of the river, "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus" (2 Cor. 4:10).

The stones set up together in Canaan were a monument to Israel's oneness, for their number was according to the twelve tribes — i.e., of Israel as a whole. Christians occupy themselves practically with spiritual, not national, unity, therefore with the truth that all saints of every nation are one in God's sight and according to His purpose. Saints are seated together in the heavenly places in Christ, the one common place of blessing for all who believe. One association and one privilege mark all saints, and all equally have the highest and the best place. Even as each individual believer has life for himself "together" with Christ risen (Eph. 2:5), so have all believers the highest privileges in common; they are by God made "to sit together" (v. 6).

The pillar of twelve stones, set up in Gilgal, became a memorial to the nation of Jehovah's work for them. The question, "What mean ye by these stones?" which the children would ask their fathers was to be answered by a relation of the Lord's doings: "The waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off." And well indeed may Christians recount to their children what God has wrought. Our little ones should be grounded in the great truths of God's word. Redemption, resurrection, and ascension facts should be implanted in their minds and memories.

The pillar of stones of witness from Jordan's bed has long since been cast down; but, in the days to come, Israel's oneness in Canaan shall be seen by the whole world. The Christian's pillar of witness is the word of God, and can never be removed. There stands the record that God's people are one family, one body. Upon that page is recorded indelibly the truth of all saints being one. Christ died, Christ rose again, Christ ascended to heaven; and for the honour and glory of His Name, God has made all His people on earth one. In Christ the many are but one. Whatever the former differences were between Jew and Gentile, none are now recognized by God, but all saints are one in Christ "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). The stones of our witness declare the fact; and, by recounting the work of the Lord, the souls of God's people are lifted up to the fact. The soul is elevated by declaring what God has done, and what His purposes are.

Once the Gentiles were fenced off from the Jews, but now the middle wall of partition is broken down in the cross of Christ. Christ Himself, the peace of all saints, has made both Jew and Gentile one. In His own flesh, on the cross, Christ abolished the enmity. He has made the two, separate and naturally antagonistic, in Himself into the one new man (Eph. 2:11-22). Let us go to the bed of the Jordan, where the feet that bare the ark of the covenant stood firm, and meditate upon God's ways. There is a wondrous power of uniting heart to heart in the consideration of Christ suffering for us all; in His making through His death His people into the one new man. Religious enmity, that awful element of dividing power, is slain, by the sight of Jesus dying alike for all.

God's people are all risen with Christ, one saint as much as another, and in speaking of "risen life" let us remember that the eternal life we each receive from Christ is received now from Him risen, and that all Christians have been quickened together by God with Christ. Again, all God's people are alike seated in Christ in heavenly places; there are not two platforms of blessings in Christ for saints but that one only, which is the highest and the greatest.

Beyond these things, the Holy Spirit of God, sent to the earth by our ascended Lord, has united every saint to Christ, and further, has united each to the other, and has made all in Christ one body and all members one of the other, because all are members of Christ.

We recount what He has done and build our altar accordingly.

Whether some believers, like the two and a half tribes, settle down, in spirit, on the wilderness side of the river, or whether some, like the nine and a half tribes, make, in spirit, the heavenly Canaan their home, faith ever pitches the twelve stones in our Gilgal; for what Christ did in dying for us, He did for all saints. To allow for an instant that there is not "one body," would be to dishonour Christ who is the Head of the body; to assume that some saints are more of the One body than others, would be to deny the reality of the One body.

Any circle of interests, less than that of "all saints," is necessarily sectarian, such interests being confined to a part of God's whole. In what way then is practical oneness to be reached? What is the true power of unity amongst the members of the body of Christ? The Holy Spirit of God, who has formed all saints into the one body of Christ, has but one mind. He cannot think or act contrary to Himself. Let the Spirit of God dwell in twice ten thousand saints of every clime and nation, and of every natural temperament and mode of thought, still He is the One Spirit. However diversified His ways, unity must of necessity mark them all. His varied actions result from His one will. Our loyalty to the truth of the personality of the blessed Spirit of God demands of us adhesion to the fact that His mind is but one mind.

There are not two spirits in the body of Christ "There is one body, and one Spirit" (Eph. 4:4); and true, practical Christian union is of the Holy Spirit. He dwells in each believer, and, so far as each member of the body of Christ is subject to and guided by the Spirit, he keeps the unity of the Spirit with his fellow-believers. Each member of Christ should earnestly endeavour to maintain the one-mind of Him who dwells in the children of God, "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Each believer is surely conscious of the existence in himself of self-will, and of there being in himself the germs of the various forms of insubjection to Christ, which tend to division in the camp, and to the separation of soldier from soldier; and, consequently, all should be more ready to blame themselves than others for the dishonour done to Christ's name by the divisions of God's people in Christendom. Were this the case, brighter hopes of unity might arise, for the principle whereby expressed unity is attained is a practical one. It lies in these words: "I, therefore …" (because all saints are one: compare Eph. 3:1 and end of Eph. 2 with Eph. 4) "beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called" (the calling by God of His heavenly people from Jews and Gentiles into one), "with all lowliness and meekness" (having the spirit of the Lord Jesus, who was meek and lowly of heart), "with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (walking as Christ walked, thus being graciously disposed one towards another), earnestly "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Christlike character (lowliness and meekness) will produce Christlike behaviour one towards another (longsuffering and forbearance in love); thus, in the mutual love, which is of God, in the uniting bond of peace, is the unity of the Spirit maintained. A holy state of soul, resemblance to Jesus Himself, and to His ways when on earth, alone is walking worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called.

The unity of the Spirit of God, truly kept by God's people, is only to be arrived at by dependence of soul on God, day by day, hour by hour. If the Spirit of God be ungrieved in two saints, they will be keeping together the unity of the Spirit, and if two thousand act likewise they also will be doing so, and will be walking in obedience to the Scriptures. The world values appearances, and thinks much of uniformity, of regimental action, of the maintenance of a creed, or of terms agreed to and obeyed, affecting an outward unity; but, for the keeping of the unity of the Spirit of God, for the maintenance of the indivisible one-mindedness of the blessed One, who dwells in all saints, His unhindered action is necessary, and His action produces Christlike ways and obedience to the Scriptures. Conformity to the Spirit of Christ, or distance from it, marks our individual nearness to, or distance from, our keeping of the unity of the Spirit.

"What mean ye by these stones?" What mean ye by this mighty power of God in drying up the waters of Jordan before you, in the work of God in raising up Christ from the dead? Such questions will be best answered by the evidence of lives lived not unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again. The stones stood in Gilgal, which was Israel's place of power; of this we shall speak in another chapter.