Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Salem" - that is, "peace." And the title of their king was Melchizedek, or Adoni-zedek - King or Lord of Righteousness. These names are amongst the earliest contributions to the science of political economy. The one name, "Salem," contains as much valuable suggestion as is found in many books on "the wealth of nations." The second condenses all principles of sovereignty into a single word. No one is a good rafter unless the title Adoni-zedek would suit him. King or Parliament, the Father in his family, the Prime Minister in his Cabinet, all should remember that the ruler of men is really an usurper unless the title, Lord of Righteousness, suit him. Let us look at this name, and observe -
I. We have here A GRAND TITLE FOR A RULER. Perhaps the people had degenerated since the days of Abraham. Then this ruler was that Melchi-zedek, who was a "Priest of the Most High God." However degenerate, they cling to this title, and as the kings of Egypt were Pharaohs; and those of Gath, Abimelechs; and those of Damascus, Benhadads; so those of Jerusalem were Adoni-zedeks. There is an instinct in all people that desires the throne to be filled with righteousness. Just as in our days, the Khan of Merv has carried the same titles - King of Righteousness and King of Peace - so in the absence of constitutional checks on regal power, they gave their kings the title which was meant to be at once impulse and restraint. The lesson of this title should be learned by all of us. In a ruler of men there are many qualities requisite. Wisdom to perceive the true necessities of those under his care; strength and energy enough to carry out the dictates of wisdom; courage to face and provide calmly against every, danger. But when the utmost value has been allowed to these supreme qualities, an accurate judgment will still allow a higher value to one other - that of EQUITY. In outside relations, equity will enable a king to maintain peace with neighboring peoples better than any diplomacy or strength could do. In ancient days, the king was the judge of all causes, from those of our County Courts to those of the Court of Chancery. What a boon to a people when the judge was an embodiment of justice inaccessible to bribes, ready patiently to unravel the entangled case, never misled by partiality or by antipathy, but to those liked or disliked meting out even-handed justice. This old people saw all these things, anti when a Magna Charts was an impossibilty, they tried to compass its ends by giving their king this stimulative and restraining title. Righteousness is still the most essential quality of a statesman. Fairness of mind that holds the balance evenly between all conflicting claims - this has been the distinguishing quality of all the English statesmen of this century who have earned the nation's gratitude. It is the quality needed in our Legislature today. It is the quality needed by every employer of labour. The serving classes want no favour, nor mere amiability in a master. Fairness will ever secure their deepest attachment. A father in a family should be a "Lord of Righteousness." In short, this equity is the supreme want everywhere. People would be more charitable if they were more just. And peace in homes, in churches, in nations would be much less frequently imperilled, if only fairness of mind moderated the claims we make, and permitted us to see whatever element of right lay in the claims made upon us. If we have here a good title, observe secondly -
II. We have A GREAT TITLE BORNE BY ONE OF A POOR NATURE. Name and nature do not always correspond. And here "The Lord of Righteousness "is found acting unrighteously. Gibeon with its sister cities was probably disliked for its republican institutions by all those neighbouring states that maintained a monarchy. Now to the fault of liberty it adds the sin of wisdom. A maxim, unfortunately not obsolete today, was accepted then - that the making of any alliance containing a possibility of danger to us is a sufficient casus belli against the state that makes it. His title had not sufficiently instructed this ruler to make him see the wrong of this position. He is perhaps the more easily led to make war against Gibeon because, guarding as it did one of the great passes into the heart of the kingdom, to seize it seemed the best way of securing the safety of the country from Israelitish attack. And so unrighteously the "King of Righteousness" attacks his neighbours; and, like so many, shows that the grandeur of a title is not always matched by greatness in him who bears it. A long way from us in time, locality, and circumstances, how near us in nature does this characteristic bring him. Sometimes we inherit great names, and forget the lesson of the poet -
"They who on the deeds of ancestors enlarge, III. PROFESSION CANNOT SAVE FROM PERDITION. This man with the grand name perishes miserably - dishonoured, hanged, involving in his own ruin that of his people and that of all those confederated with him. The providence and the judgment of God are no respecters of persons. As we sow we reap. The obedience of faith is salvation. The unrighteousness of self will is destruction. Let us see that we have more than the "name to live," lest the greater name only condemn us to the greater destruction. - G.
III. PROFESSION CANNOT SAVE FROM PERDITION. This man with the grand name perishes miserably - dishonoured, hanged, involving in his own ruin that of his people and that of all those confederated with him. The providence and the judgment of God are no respecters of persons. As we sow we reap. The obedience of faith is salvation. The unrighteousness of self will is destruction. Let us see that we have more than the "name to live," lest the greater name only condemn us to the greater destruction. - G.
I. THE EXISTENCE OF THIS TROUBLE. Though the true Church is an ark of safety, she is an ark upon stormy waters. He who joins the Church on earth joins the Church militant, and shares her dangers (John 15:18).
(1) So long as the world is at enmity with God, they who stand on the side of the people of God will be subject to the assaults of the world in
(b) social ostracism,
(d) ridicule, etc.
(2) While the Church is fulfilling her mission to conquer the world for Christ, she will bring the hatred of the world upon all who are identified with her (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
II. THE ADVANTAGES OF THIS TROUBLE. All trouble permitted by Providence is blessing in disguise. So is this:
(1) It serves as a test of genuineness. We may join the Church
(a) from motives of selfish pride and profit,
(b) under the influence of superficial sentiment.
Worldly trouble directly arising out of our Church relations proves the genuineness of our attachment to Christ by showing whether we are willing to risk danger and suffer loss for Him (Matthew 3:12; Matthew 13:21).
(2) It promotes union among Christians. The Gibeonites were drawn closer to the Israelites by the threatened danger. Selfish isolation, mutual jealousy, divisions, and ecclesiastical quarrels spring up in times of peace. Sympathy and charity are developed in seasons of adversity.
(3) It cultivates unworldliness. The friendship of the world is a dangerous snare. The favour of the world brings with it the spirit of the world. In worldly prosperity the Church tends to worldly habits. The enmity of the world drives us to the sympathy of God and refuges of unworldly living.
III. THE REMEDIES FOR THIS TROUBLE. Gibeon was threatened with destruction, but on her appeal to Israel her allies fought for her, and God secured them the victory.
(1) The remedy for worldly trouble arising from our religious associations will be found in mutual help. The Christian Church is a brotherhood. We are called to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2). The rich should help the poor, the strong the weak, the prosperous at home the persecuted abroad.
(2) The remedy will also be found in the Divine aid. God fought with Israel in the defence of Gibeon (ver. 13). They who are brought into danger for the cause of God will find that God is on their side and will secure their deliverance. The real danger is to those who are fighting against God. It is safer to be in trouble with the people of God than in prosperity with their enemies, for God must and will triumph in the end, and then His people will share His victory (John 16:33). - W.F.A.
I. GOD USES OUR EFFORT TO FULFIL HIS PROMISES, Israel was apt, perhaps, to expect the possession of the land to come too easily. Jericho was got by a miracle, Ai by stratagem, Gibeon by submission; and perhaps the ease of these successes led them to dream dreams of gaining the whole land without an effort. But all the steps of progress are not to be so easy. Miracles come only where weakness needs them. In the degree in which they develop vigour and self reliance, the miraculous element in their experience will grow less. Always sufficient - there will never be more help of God than is needed. And so with the confidence and vigour developed by their successes, comes greater strain upon their powers. The nations of southern Canaan gather together to oppose their progress: to gain possession of that Gibeon which commands the entrance by the pass of Beth-horon to the land. And at once "foemen worthy of their steel" confront them. God will fulfil His promise to give them the land of Canaan; but He will employ their effort and their prowess to realise the fulfilment of His promise. And to some extent by their efforts is His promise fulfilled. Such is all life. It is the heir of promises which, however, require our effort for their fulfilment.
(a) For instance: Truth is a land of promise. Only when God gives can we get it. "The Spirit of truth" alone can impart it. It is a land flowing with milk and honey - the home of God's elect. But though thus a land of God's promises, and in a special sense His gift, it comes not to the inert or the supine - to the critics that are at ease in Zion. It comes to the fighters only. When we face bravely all lies, strive fearlessly to see and grasp and own the truth, get lodgment for it in the heart by obeying it, strive against doubts that rise within us, and fears disabling us, then do we gain "the promised possession."
(b) Salvation is God's promise, and a Divine gift in all its elements. Obviously it is beyond our power to compass it. Only the God that made us can mend us. And atonement, grace, repentance, faith, perseverance to the end, are all God's gift. But there is the battle of Beth-horon at the outset of every Christian life, and many a conflict afterwards, a strait gate to begin with, and a narrow way to follow. And if we do not make the effort and fight for the attainment of what we desire, we shall not find it.
(c) Character is another Canaan. A thing of promise, but only reached by effort. Daily deeds of self denial lead to it; and daffy conflicts with doubts and disinclinations.
(d) Usefulness is, perhaps, the grandest of all God's promises. It is that in which we most resemble God. Its joys are the likest of any to those of the everlasting home. It comes not to the dreamer, but to the fighter. The abolition of slavery was a fight. Mary Carpenter's triumph in getting a place for Ragged Schools, Industrial Schools, and Reformatories in English legislation, required thirty years of effort. When the Church faces the abounding drunkenness of the land, she will find God will help her to destroy it, but that His help will be conditioned on a tremendous effort. Do not believe in salvation made easy. It is always simple, it is never easy. The possession of every Canaan is a Divine promise, and needs Divine power; but one of the conditions of its fulfilment is the forth putting of human effort. Take a second lesson.
II. THE HEARTIER THE EFFORT IS, THE MORE SURELY AND EASILY SUCCESS WILL COME. Joshua saw the need for action, had God's guidance in it, and then with an energy which had something Napoleonic in it, threw himself into his task. Was Gibeon threatened? within a few hours of his knowing it, Israel is on the march. Doubtless there were counsellors advising caution, consideration, and delay. Joshua had gathered the wisdom, but not the weakness, of old age, and knew the value of energy. That night the host is marshalled for its uphill, moonlit march over the fifteen or eighteen miles of valley intervening between them and Gilgal. And before the five kings have any thought of his approach, he rushes "like a torrent" on the foe. And such is the energy, the surprise of that charge, that, martial as are the habits of the enemy, they are obliged to yield. Apparently a long fight takes place, the enemy disputing every inch of ground so long as the gradual rising to the Upper Beth-horon gives them the advantage. But the sun stands still over Gibeon to let them finish the fight; and then a headlong flight down to Lower Beth-boron, and then to the valley of Ajalon and the plains that skirt the Mediterranean, subjects them to terrible destruction. A great hailstorm breaks on the fugitive masses, not extending far enough eastward to affect Israel. And the moon stands over the valley of Ajalon after the sun has set, to let them finish their pursuit and complete their victory. It is as fine an instance of the value of decision, of energy, of heartiness in our work as the whole Bible gives. "What thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might." The impact of any projectile is in the ratio of its mass, multiplied by its velocity. And a thing of slight mass, but of high velocity, will be more effective than one of much greater mass, whose velocity is sluggish. So is it in the world of morals. Weight multiplied by momentum measures the power. Most of us are inefficient, because, while weighty enough, we have little or no momentum. We languidly pursue the good, and half-heartedly oppose the evil. Unlike St. Paul, it is not one thing, but twenty-one, that we do. In everything decision and heartiness is needed, but in religion it is indispensable. Be cold or hot, not lukewarm. If the gospel be true, it is tremendously true; if a dream, ignore it altogether. Half-hearted fighting prolongs the contest, invites defeat, loses the benefits of victory. In march, attack, pursuit, we have an example of the supreme advantage of doing heartily whatever has to be done by us. Take a third lesson.
III. THE GOOD FIGHT, WHEN WELL FOUGHT, ALWAYS ENDS IN VICTORY. It might have seemed a very dubious affair, this war with the nations of Canaan. The Canaanites were the English of that period: the nation leading the world in maritime enterprise and daring, and wealthy and strong in their successful commerce. Israel had been for generations in slavery, debased and weakened by servitude. But against these odds on the side of Canaan there were some things to be set.
1. Immorality is destructive of courage. Paganism, with its debasements, destroyed self respect and that interest in life, home, and liberty which is the soul of patriotism. For heroism religion is an essential element. Cromwell's Ironsides, Nelson's Methodists, Havelock's regiment of Teetotallers, the rower of resistance to oppression developed by religion in Holland and in Scotland, show how immediate and direct is the influence of godliness in vitalising all the manlier virtues. Corruption of character followed corruption of creed, and was followed by deterioration of courage.
2. The enemy of the good has never Divine guidance. These nations were badly advised. Their true policy was a defensive one. Within their ramparts the labour of conquering them would have been terrific and inevitably slow. All uniting, in the open they lose the advantage of their cities "walled up to heaven," and a single disaster is a fatal one. "A good understanding have they that love God's law;" and all others unwatchful in presumption, or feverish in solicitude, lack wisdom which they Deed.
3. And God fights on behalf of those who fight for Him. The long day, the moonlight night, the destructive hail, are all Divine, however we may abate the miraculous significance of the poetic history. And they who aim at any form of good find a secret providence furthering their enterprise: many influences cooperating with them, strange providential openings, a Divine backing which, all uniting, make it that, however weak they may be, they are more than conquerors through Christ that loved them. "Wherefore take to yourselves the whole armour of God," and FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH. - G.
1. It consists, first, in a miraculous intervention of the Divine power, which sends down a fierce storm of hailstones upon the Canaanitish armies, and so lengthens out the day as to make the conflict decisive. No one believes now that the sun stood still. Holy Scripture speaks the popular language of the day, and makes no pretension to being scientific in its records. God reveals only that which man has no power to discover, and it was not the calling of Joshua to be a Galileo or Copernicus. Do we not still speak in common parlance of the rising and setting of the sun? All that is essential is, that we hold fast our faith in the miracle itself. Let us not marvel that such a prodigy was wrought for so small a nation; for that nation was the depository of the promise that in it should all nations of the earth be blessed. The God of nature may surely show Himself the King and Master of nature, and it is most fitting that the heavens which declare His glory should do His commandments. The supreme law of the universe is not the physical law, but the dependence of that law upon the sovereign will of the Almighty.
2. This Divine aid was manifested, in the second place, by the heroic confidence and courage infused into the hearts of his people. "Fear them not," was the message to Joshua, who might well nave been dismayed at so powerful a league of enemies, "for I have delivered them into thine hands." "Therefore," as we read in the following verse, "Joshua came unto them suddenly." The Divine word alone gave him courage to go forward, and courage is in itself an irresistible power, even more formidable than the storm of hailstones from heaven. With more than redoubled force, Israel rushes on to certain victory. Thus the noble words of the Psalm 21. are anticipated and fulfilled: "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God" (ver. 8). Did not Elisha describe Elijah as the chariot and the horsemen of Israel? Let us place unwavering trust in all our conflicts in this Divine aid, and that confidence will be the first condition of victory. - E. DE P.
I. GOD IS ACTIVELY CONCERNED WITH THE EVENTS OF HUMAN HISTORY. Divine powers aided Joshua in resisting the onslaught of the Canaanites. God is present, when He is not clearly so recognised, in all crises of life.
(1) His overruling power so disposes of the order of creation that even without miracle the outward world works His will.
(2) His providential control of the minds of men and the course of their lives determines ultimate events. Therefore note: God has not left the world to go its own course only to be judged and rectified at a future judgment day. lie judges now, and intervenes now, and works on the side of right, for the protection of those who submit to His rule, and to the loss of such as fight against His will (Psalm 68:1, 7, 24).
II. NATURE IS SUBSERVIENT TO THE WILL OF GOD. Miracles are not rare and occasional instances of the way in which God makes His will felt in nature. They are rather abnormal manifestations of the Divine power which is equally present in the regular course of nature. God is as much working in the natural as in the miraculous event, though the miraculous serves to impress us with the consciousness of His power. If we believe in God at all, it is unreasonable to suppose that He would create the universe in some age of dim antiquity, and then leave it to itself like a self-acting machine, which being once wound up only needs adjusting by miracle now and again to suit special emergencies. It is much more reasonable to regard the universe as an organism of which God is at once the creating, the inspiring, the energising, and the controlling spirit. Thus the sun and moon and stars and the earth always move by His power, and at every moment express His will (Psalm 104:2-4, 16, 21, etc.; Romans 1:20).
III. NATURAL EVENTS ARE LINKED WITH HUMAN DESTINIES. Like all great delusions which have exercised wide influence over men, astrology was the perversion of a deep truth. Our lives are connected with the stars. All nature is one, and we - in our earthly life - are part of nature. The processes of nature affect us; e.g., possibly sun spots acting through atmospheric phenomena have some influence over human calamities, and even over moral relations. Therefore note:
(1) God touches us through nature, and we must regard nature as an instrument in His hands for our discipline.
(2) Nature should be studied in its bearings upon human life for our practical instruction.
IV. NATURE FIGHTS AGAINST THOSE WHO RESIST THE WILL OF GOD. The Canaanites were resisting God's will concerning the settlement of the land, and thus they made themselves enemies to God's servant, nature. So the stars out of their courses fought against Sisera (Judges 5:20). It is objected that it is unworthy of the character of God to suppose that He would intervene by means of natural agencies to assist in a work of destruction. But it should be remembered that God is always employing destructive agencies in nature, as earthquakes, storms, etc., and that physical destruction is a less evil than moral corruption. - W.F.A.
I. THAT GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY OVER NATURE IS SUBSERVIENT TO THE HIGHER PURPOSES OF HIS SPIRITUAL KINGDOM. We look through these outward incidents to the Divine end which they were all helping to work out. God was "forming a people for his praise." Giving them a local habitation, that they might the better conserve His truth and show forth His glory. He drove out the heathen before them, and planted them there that they might bear rich fruits of blessing to the world, that in them and in their seed all the earth might be blessed. Everything is to be looked at in the light of that moral purpose.
(1) The whole visible universe exists for spiritual ends the revelation of the invisible Divine beauty and order; the magnifying of the law of eternal righteousness. Its activity and its rest, its discords and its harmonies, its terror and its loveliness, all have a moral meaning and intent.
(2) The forces and laws of the universe are against those who are against God. You must be morally one with Him if you would have them befriend you. "The stars in their courses fight against Sisera." How terrible to think of some of the forms in which the Creator might, if He pleased, array the powers of nature against sinful men! His long-suffering beneficence is their only safeguard. "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed" (Lamentations 3:22).
(3) The created universe attains its consummation only in the final spiritual triumph of the Redeemer. The groaning creation waits for the "manifestation of the sons of God." The glorious presence of the Lord will be "the restitution of all things." There will be "nothing to hurt or to destroy" in the "new heavens and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness."
II. THAT MAN IS AN EFFICIENT INSTRUMENT IN SERVING THE CAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS JUST SO FAR AS HE HAS FAITH TO LAY HOLD ON THE SOVEREIGN POWER OF GOD. "There was no day like that before it or after it," not because there was anything singular, unparalleled, in God's "hearkening to the voice of a man." This was simply a conspicuous and noteworthy example of a universal law. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man "has always" availed much." The resources of heaven wait upon it. Such prayer is
"A breath that fleets beyond this iron world, (1) Let the Church "stir itself up to lay hold on God." Its strength lies in faith and prayer. The Lord will never fail to "fight for Israel" when she is true to her high calling. The weapons of her warfare are mighty through Him. "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early" (Psalm 46:5). This pledge of Divine protection and deliverance is given, not to ecclesiastical systems, which may have much that is of man rather than of God in their constitution, but to that Church which Christ has redeemed and chosen out of every land and nation to represent His own cause of truth and righteousness. When the Church goes forth in the energy of faith and prayer, its enemies flee before it. (2) Let the individual Christian recognise the true source of moral power. No emergency of life need be overwhelming to one who casts himself unreservedly on God. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Move on steadily in the path of duty and fear not. In all conceivable times of difficulty and danger, of temptation and sorrow, Christ's answer to the cry of His faithful ones is the same - "My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness." - W.
(1) Let the Church "stir itself up to lay hold on God." Its strength lies in faith and prayer. The Lord will never fail to "fight for Israel" when she is true to her high calling. The weapons of her warfare are mighty through Him. "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early" (Psalm 46:5). This pledge of Divine protection and deliverance is given, not to ecclesiastical systems, which may have much that is of man rather than of God in their constitution, but to that Church which Christ has redeemed and chosen out of every land and nation to represent His own cause of truth and righteousness. When the Church goes forth in the energy of faith and prayer, its enemies flee before it.
(2) Let the individual Christian recognise the true source of moral power. No emergency of life need be overwhelming to one who casts himself unreservedly on God. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Move on steadily in the path of duty and fear not. In all conceivable times of difficulty and danger, of temptation and sorrow, Christ's answer to the cry of His faithful ones is the same - "My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness." - W.
I. THE DECEITFULNESS OF SIN. It deludes the transgressor, and leads him blindfold to ruin. It moves men to seek false refuges, inspires them with a vain hope. They think to hide themselves, but God's laws and retributions always find them out. Jonah would fain "flee from the presence of the Lord," but God's "strong wind" was swifter than his flight, and the sea, by which he thought to escape, only brought him face to face with his Judge. The subterfuges to which men resort in any guilty way often become the very means of their detection and punishment. The kings dream of safety in their cave; it turns out to be the very thing that shuts them up hopelessly to Joshua's vengeance. As Matthew Henry puts it: "That which they thought would have been their shelter, was made their prison first, and then their grave." So do sinful purposes often defeat themselves. "The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands" (Psalm 9:16).
II. THE HUMILIATION THAT, SOONER OR LATER, BEFALLS A PROUD DEFIANCE OF DIVINE AUTHORITY. See here an illustration of high handed rebellion against God. Its overthrow in the end is sure. "The wheel of fortune turns and lowers the proud." Kings are as helplessly subject to the Divine power by which that wheel revolves as other men (Psalm 76:12; Isaiah 41:25). Into what abject misery have they sometimes fallen, under the mighty hand of God, who once, in the career of their ambition, set all Divine and human law at defiance, and made the earth to tremble! Let not the wicked exalt themselves; there is a power that can easily lay them low.
III. THE VICTORY THAT REWARDS FAITHFUL AND PATIENT MORAL CONFLICT. The captains are called, in the presence of all the men of Israel, to "put their feet upon the necks" of these doomed kings. So shall it be the honour and joy of all earnest warrior souls to see their enemies at last subdued under them. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20). 'Tis hard work to be continually fighting against some form of evil in the world without or the world within; to have continually to confront some new foe, or "old foes with new faces;" to be compelled often to drag forth some lurking iniquity from its hiding place in our own hearts that it may be slain. But let us be resolute and patient and we shall "come off more than conquerors through him who hath loved us," and at last plant our feet proudly on the necks of all our adversaries.
IV. THE FINAL GLORIOUS VICTORY OF CHRIST. It is the eternal purpose of God that every stronghold of evil should fall before Him and all His enemies be put beneath His feet, and the events of time are all helping in some way or other to bring about that issue (Psalm 110:1; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Philippians 2:9-11). - W.
I. THE DUTY TO BE BRAVE AND STRONG. This is often insisted on in the Book of Joshua (e.g., 1:6). Christianity gives prominence to gentler graces of humility, mildness, and the forgiving spirit. But it does not therefore exonerate us from the more masculine duties (1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:10).
(1) It is our duty to be brave. Cowardice is a sin in a Christian even more than in a pagan, because the Christian has higher motives for courage. The exhortation, "Fear not," is not only an encouragement to comfort; it is an incitement to duty, because cowardice leads us to shrink from
(c) pain and loss,
(d) ridicule; and yet all of these may come in the way of our life's work.
(2) It is our duty to be strong. We should not simply bewail weakness as a calamity; we should repent of it as a failing. Moral weakness comes from moral corruption. It makes us fail in our work of resisting sin and doing good. It is therefore needful that we should overcome it if we are to fulfil our mission.
II. THE CALL FOR THE EXERCISE OF THIS DUTY.
(1) We are surrounded by alarming dangers;
(a) in our own sinful hearts;
(b) in the evil of the world, and the troubles and temptations which arise from this;
(c) in the mystery of life.
He who is not brave with God's courage will sink before these terrors when once he realises their full proportions.
(2) We are called to difficult tasks;
(a) like the Israelites, we are invited to take possession of an inheritance. The kingdom of heaven is not won without fighting (1 Corinthians 9:26);
(b) like the Israelites, we have foes to resist in sin within and temptation without (1 Peter 5:8, 9);
(c) like the Israelites, we have territory to conquer for God. We have not to fight for our own inheritance and safety only or chiefly, but that we may win the world for Christ (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3).
III. THE SECRET OF COURAGE AND STRENGTH.
(1) They are derived from God. We are not to fear, because God is with us (Isaiah 43:1, 2). We are to be strong in His strength (Psalm 29:11; Philippians 4:13). Therefore those naturally most timid and weak can be strong and brave in God (Isaiah 40:31; 2 Corinthians 12:10).
(2) They are encouraged by experience. To us it appears a brutal source of courage - those Hebrew captains planting their feet on the necks of the conquered kings in triumph. But rejoicing in the victory, it was well that they should see God's hand in it, and gain strength from it. We may seek strength and courage in the contemplation of the way in which God has helped us in the past (Psalm 34:6).
(3) They are increased by practice. The text is an exhortation. Though strength and courage come from God, they come through our own efforts to be brave and energetic. We must exercise Divine grace in order to realise its efficiency (Philippians 2:12).
(4) They are mutually helpful. Courage and strength are associated. Courage without strength is rash. Strength without courage is futile. We must be strong to justify our courage and brave to use our strength. Thus the various Christian graces are linked together in arming a soul with the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6:11). - W.F.A.
I. THE CONDUCT OF JOSHUA. This appears cruel and murderous. But note:
(1) It was in accordance with the customs of the times. Christian lenity was unknown. A man must be judged in the light of his age. It is wrong to "follow a multitude to do evil" (Exodus 23:2), when we know it is doing evil, because the number of guilty persons does not mitigate the guilt of each individual. But our own judgment of what is right and wrong is largely determined by the prevalent ideas and unblamed conduct of our contemporaries; and if, when we have used the best light at our command, "our hearts condemn us not" (1 John 3:21), we cannot be accounted guilty.
(2) It was in obedience to the understood command of God. A supposed command from heaven is no justification for an act which a man sincerely believes to be wrong, because in no case is he justified in violating conscience, and because he has more reason for doubting the Divine origin of the voice without than that of the voice within. But when the certainty of the Divine command is so strong that it carries conviction to the conscience, it becomes right for a man to obey.
(2) It was in execution of what was believed to be a Divine decree of judgment. Joshua did not consider that he was destroying the Canaanites simply to make way for the Israelites. He believed that he was a "scourge of God," sent to bring doom to the guilty, to rid the land of men who lived only to dishonour it, and to introduce a better race in their stead.
II. THE RELATION OF GOD TO THE SLAUGHTER OF THE CANAANITES. Did God really command it? and if so, how can we reconcile this with His character of goodness?
(1) If God commanded this slaughter, He was ordering no more than He does directly in natural events - in tempests, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and visitations of death generally.
(2) If men deserve destruction for their sins, it is really no more harsh for this to be sent by human agency than for it to come from physical causes, as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
(3) If the punishment of sin generally is reconcilable with the goodness of God, this particular instance may be so.
(4) The extermination of the Canaanites was a blessing to the world.
(5) It was no real evil to the Canaanites. If men are living in sin and will not repent, the judgment which shortens their lives and prevents further evil is rather a blessing than a curse; for any loss or suffering is better for us than that we should be permitted to live on in sin (Luke 17:1, 2). It is better for us that we should be punished for sin than that we should continue in sin unpunished.
III. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE EARLIER AND THE LATER DISPENSATIONS.
(1) Joshua brought punishment and destruction to sinners. Christ brings forgiveness and life.
(2) Joshua could only find room for his people after exterminating their predecessors. Christ has room for all who will come to His kingdom (Luke 14:22).
(3) Joshua proved himself fit for the inheritance of his nation by the exercise of destructive warfare. Christians arc made meet for their inheritance by the practice of Christlike deeds of charity (Matthew 25:34-36). - W.F.A.
Deuteronomy 10:12) can only be justified by reference to the perfections of His character. If there be the least flaw, implicit trust cannot be expected of us. Herein all heathen systems of religion are defective, presenting to us a deity whom we cannot worship, a creature maimed, liable to the same passions as ourselves. The Christian religion bears traces of its Divine origin in the grandeur of its conceptions concerning the character of God. There is a height that dwarfs into littleness the puny gods invented by man; there is a many sidedness of view which could not have been the product of imagination. Just and holy, merciful and gracious, all knowing and Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer, a Friend and Judge, our Father and King, such He is declared to be. Hence it is that those objections are felt to be most serious which are urged, with any show of reason, against the reality of God's perfections. Especially when His benevolence is challenged do we fear lest the dark shadow becloud the skies and chill our hearts. Now, in the text there is an account of a sweeping destruction executed on the south of Canaan by command of God. No quarter was given. So dreadful the desolation that some have called it cruelty. And though it is not incumbent on us to justify all the ways of God, yet as some are led from passages like the present to entertain hard thoughts of God, it may be well for once to look the implied objection calmly in the face. A command from God may render that action lawful and right, which done with.. out His authority would be deserving of reprobation. He is the Lord and owner of life. He gave, and it is His to take away. He commits no more injustice than when a parent redemands from his children the goods of which they are making an improper use. The text is therefore no excuse for the unauthorized seizure of the land of one nation by another, or for those violent acts for which no direct behest of God can be alleged. These were single detached commands against particular foes. There was no injunction "to cultivate the principles of treachery or cruelty;" "none of these precepts are contrary to immutable morality "(Bp. Butler). When an army was led blindly into Samaria the king said, "Shall I smite them?" "No," answered the prophet Elisha in effect (2 Kings 6:21, 22). On another occasion the prophet Elijah had rebuked King Ahab because he had allowed a king to escape, whom "the Lord had appointed to utter destruction." The reason of the case alters the nature of the action. The extermination of the Canaanites was a punishment for wickedness. See Leviticus 18. "The land is defiled... vomiteth out her inhabitants." The very earth stank with their practices, and yearned to be rid of its unhallowed burden. "Ye shall not walk in the manners... for they committed all these things, therefore I abhorred him." Again, in Deuteronomy 18., "Because of their abominations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee." So also Deuteronomy 9:5. It is to be remembered that the things censured were not merely occasional acts, but abominable customs. Indeed, the odious practices were a part of their religion, incorporated into their most solemn services. So degraded had they become. A considerable period of respite had been granted, but without avail. God had said to Abraham, "The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." When the cup of iniquity was filled to overflowing, then did the righteous fiat issue. During that period warnings of the severest character were given. Sodom and Gomorrah perished in a terrible manner, and later the kings of Og and Sihon had fallen. Still no repentance. It is useless to say that the warnings were not sufficiently distinct. We see the same indifference today. Men destroy their health by sinful habits, grow worse and worse. Do they need a Divine hand on their shoulder or an actual voice in their ear to warn them? The warning is plain, if only they will attend to it. But no I and the fearful end arrives. The method of punishment adopted was one of which the nations of Palestine would not complain, since it was in keeping with their own conduct. They would find no injustice done them. They would defeat other nations and dispossess them of life and territory if they could. They believed in the tenure or lease of the strong arm. Granted, therefore, that God was executing righteous judgment, the prevailing code removes all charge of cruelty. The judgments as well as the favours of God must be conditioned as to form by men's surroundings. In legislating for the Israelites, whilst we expect and find such purity and such an anticipation of the opinions of modern times as justly entitles the "the law of Moses" to be considered a revelation from God, yet would it have been Quixotic to take no account of prevalent opinions and tendencies, to demand of the Israelites exactly what Christianity now demands after so many centuries of civilisation. There is no change, therefore, in the character of God, no advance in wisdom or love supposed, only such a difference of reputation as is necessitated by a due regard for the condition of those to whom Divine commands are given. We must not, therefore, talk of a contradiction between the spirit of the gospel maxim, "love your enemies," and the precept followed in the text as seeming to say, "act with barbarity." As a rule, God's judgments here do not distinguish degrees of guilt. Famines and pestilences of old times scourged a whole neighbourhood. So in the present instance the sword visited all with punishment. Let us not forget, however, that these judgments are not final. Nothing is determined respecting the ultimate state of those involved in the general destruction. Minute discrimination is for the other world. Is not God's love exemplified even in the stern precept of the text?
1. Love to surrounding nations. This terrible example might prove beneficial The only proof to them of superior power was prowess in war. This alone could bring them to acknowledge that the God of Israel, "he was Lord."
2. To His own people. The danger was lest the Israelites should be contaminated, and after events showed the wisdom of God's command. The people were so easily seduced from their allegiance to Jehovah, And God was impartial. He threatened that if the Israelites did evil, their fate should be similar.
3. To the whole world. Since if the chosen people had utterly lost the truth, the light would have been universally extinguished. Through Israel the promised Messiah was to Come. Woe to the world if the way were blocked up, and no Saviour appeared dawning as the Sun of Righteousness on this benighted earth. Many lessons may be drawn. We learn the authority of God, and His hatred of sin. Ours is no emasculated religion. If God were a being of kindness only, then kindness with sin would mean total misery. "Except we repent, we shall all likewise perish." When we look at His anxiety for the welfare of His people, and the preparation made for the gift of His Son, we are taught "the goodness and severity of God" (Romans 11:22), - A.