For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4
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JOSHUA - CHAPTER 1

 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

1:1.  "Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying,"

It is generally recognized that Moses is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ dying to deliver us from the bondage of sin and Satan, leading us out of the world as represented by Egypt, to begin our journey home to heaven; but Joshua is a type of Christ in resurrection, as the Captain of our salvation, leading us into the enjoyment of the inheritance (spiritual blessings) secured for us by His death.  The words "Now after the death of Moses" assure us that the lessons of the book of Joshua are related to what has to do with Christ "raised again for our justification" (Ro 4:25), "the Captain of our salvation," living for us, and leading us into the spiritual sphere represented by Canaan; and confusion will be avoided if we remember that Canaan is a type, not of heaven, but of the spiritual sphere into which we are introduced at conversion, and the blessings of which we are meant to enjoy even while we are still here on earth.

In this context it is instructive to note that Joshua is described as "the son of Nun," for Nun means perpetuity.  Joshua portrays Christ as the true "Son of perpetuity," the One Who lives in "the power of an endless life" (Heb 7:16).

1:2.  "Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel."

Moses must die before the work of Joshua could begin.  Christ must die to redeem us before He could lead us into the enjoyment of the blessings which God has reserved for the redeemed.

The word "arise" conveys the thought of resurrection, and reminds us that what was true of Paul is true also of every believer, as it is written, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Ga 2:20).  That death is typically depicted in Israel's going through the Red Sea, which brought them out of Egypt.  Our death with Christ (God imputes Christ's death to every believer) has brought us out of "Egypt," the place of spiritual bondage, as Egypt was the place of literal bondage for the Israelites.  And as the Israelites were brought through the Red Sea into the literal wilderness, so do we now stand in a world which has become for us a spiritual desert.

The crossing of the Red Sea, therefore depicts the truth that through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ we have become dead to the world as represented by Egypt (Ga 6:14).  That world has now become for us a wilderness through which we pass on our way home to heaven.  Israel's forty years in the wilderness represent the duration of our physical lives here on earth as believers; but the years they spent in Canaan, our spiritual lives lived here on that same earth.  Israel's time in Egypt prior to the night of the Passover represents the unbelieving part of our lives. 

Our physical lives lived here in the context of earthly experience are to demonstrate that we are men who are dead to the world; but on the spiritual plane we are to live as men who are in Canaan, i.e., the realm of the heavenlies (Ep 1:3).  As to the physical, our bodies are dying day by day.  The "old generation" is dying out, but even as that process is going on, we ought to be living in such fashion as will demonstrate that "... though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Co 4:16), that truth being typologically portrayed in the generation that grew up in the desert and entered Canaan.

The final clause of the verse "... even to the children of Israel" has also its lesson.  It might have been said that they were "the children of Jacob," for both names belonged to the same man.  But Jacob is associated with the "old man," Israel with the new, the spiritual.  Israel is associated with obedience; Jacob, with self-will.  The spiritual blessings represented by Canaan's literal riches, are for the obedient believer, not the disobedient.

1:3.  "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses."

No one can fail to note the simplicity of this.  The extent of their possession of Canaan's riches was governed only by the extent to which they were willing to walk forward, and take those riches, believing God's promise, "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you."  The same principle governs our enjoyment of the riches that are ours in Christ.  Simple trust in God's promises will make us possessors of spiritual riches greater than we can comprehend.  Many rob themselves of those riches by equating blessing with the possession of earthly things.  The two can't be compared, and it is utter folly to value the earthly above the spiritual, for the one is ephemeral, the other, eternal.

1:4.  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 toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast."

It is generally recognized that the warfare in which Israel engaged to take possession of her inheritance in Canaan, is an OT foreshadowing of the warfare in which the believer of this present age is engaged, "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 high places" (Eph 6:12).  Israel's warfare was against literal foes, for a literal inheritance.  Ours is against spiritual foes, for a spiritual inheritance.

The record of that literal warfare has been preserved to teach us lessons necessary for the successful prosecution of our own spiritual war against the forces of darkness, and part of those lessons is embodied in the record of the boundaries by which God marked off the limits of their inheritance.  

As we should expect in connection with an earthly inheritance, the boundaries were four, the Scriptural number of earth and testing.  The obedience of the people would be tested by their remaining within, or transgressing beyond those divinely appointed borders.  God has appointed boundaries for us, and they similarly test our obedience.

The first boundary was "the wilderness."  It was the great desert which lay to the south (the Biblical direction that speaks of faith), and formed the barrier between Canaan and Egypt.  Egypt, as noted already, represents the world of business and pleasure living in independence of God.  The Nile was the source of Egypt's wealth, and therefore the source also of her independence of God.  The Israelites were dependent upon God, for it was He Who gave or withheld the dew and the early and latter rains, without which they couldn't live.  Not so the Egyptians.  They needed neither dew nor rain: they had the never-failing Nile.  That great river, however, represents the great river of wealth that "waters" the world of business and pleasure, and causes men to think that they have no need of God.

But the end of the Nile has a lesson for men.  Unlike the Amazon whose waters pour out far into the ocean, the Nile reaches the sea through a number of smaller streams flowing through a marshy delta where the parent stream is scarcely distinguishable from its branches.  So is the river of wealth.  As those who thirst for its "waters" approach the great sea of eternity, they discover how diminished is the might of the river they once thought so powerful.  They discover too late that it can't buy health, peace, or the assurance of heaven; that it has carried them down to the place of confusion and death.

As the Israelites had once been bond slaves in the land watered by that great river, so were believers once the bond slaves of Satan in this world.

It was by the blood of the Passover lamb that the bondage of the Israelites had been broken, and they themselves brought into the desert through which they marched to Canaan as a redeemed people.  And so with believers.  It is by the blood of the true Passover Lamb (Christ), 1 Co 5:7, that we have been delivered from spiritual bondage, and have been brought out of the world represented by Egypt, into one represented by the desert.  In the literal desert the Israelites found God sufficient for all their needs.  His presence, in the form of the pillars of cloud and fire (both are types of the Holy Spirit), guarded and guided them, while His hand provided their food and water.  Believers enjoy the same protection and care as they journey through the desert of this world on their way to heaven, the guidance of the Holy Spirit being given through the written Word.  

Having entered Canaan, however, the Israelites were forbidden to return to that desert.  Their southern boundary was "from the wilderness."  An Israelite's only reason for returning to that wilderness would have been to return to Egypt; but the man who traveled in that direction must do so without the guidance of the  pillar of cloud or fire, and without the assurance of Divine provision and protection. 

The spiritual lesson is easily read.  When we turn back to the world we find ourselves spiritually in "the wilderness," but it is a wilderness that is different from the one we cross when going from "Egypt to Canaan."  When we travel with our backs to "Canaan" and our faces towards "Egypt" it is through a desert where there is no assurance of either Divine guidance, protection, or provision.  We do well to remember that one of the boundaries of our inheritance is "the wilderness."  We are not to return to the world as represented by Egypt lying on the other side of that desert.

The second boundary was "this Lebanon."  It was the northern border.

As the south in Scripture is the direction that speaks of faith, so does the north speak of mere human intelligence and knowledge (used frequently in opposition to God), so that part of the spiritual significance of Lebanon is that for believers there is a divinely appointed boundary in the sphere of knowledge beyond which we are not to go.

It is surely significant that the temptation of the human race came through Satan's inducement of Eve to acquire knowledge beyond what God had given her, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil....  And when the woman saw that the tree was ... to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof" (Ge 3:5-6).

It is not that God sets any premium on ignorance: He doesn't.  The problem arises when mere earthly knowledge is set above the knowledge of God as revealed in His Word, and that Word becomes a despised thing.  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111:10).  There is no problem as long as man adheres to that principle, and holds earthly knowledge subject to the truth revealed in the written Word.  The testimony of many a young Christian, however, has been shipwrecked on that very rock.  The worth of worldly knowledge must be assessed by whether it undermines faith in the Scriptures.  It requires more credulity for example to accept the nebulous theory of evolution (and it is emphasized that it is nothing more than an unproven theory) than it does to accept the clear statement of Scripture that, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," (Ge 1:1).  Not one shred of proof has yet been produced to validate the theory of evolution, yet there are many professing Christians who accept it, and abandon faith in the Scriptures whose veracity is confirmed in countless ways, e.g., history's confirmation of prophecy, the internal structural patterns of the Bible, its numerical structure, the remarkable consistency of Biblical typology, to name but a few.

There is another warning connected with Israel's northern border, and it lies in the meaning of Lebanon whiteness.  White is the color of purity or righteousness, and earthly wisdom always seeks to present itself as a right thing; and such is the nature of fallen man that he is all too ready to invest earthly wisdom with a sanctity it doesn't deserve.  Let some piece of earthly wisdom receive the endorsement of a great name among men, and immediately it will be accepted as truth even though it may be diametrically opposed to the Word of God.

One safe test by which to assess the worth of any knowledge is, Does it contradict Scripture?  To accept such knowledge is to go spiritually "beyond Lebanon."  It may be that an inadequate knowledge of Scripture may sometimes result in a wrong judgment of a particular piece of knowledge, but far less harm will accrue from rejecting the worldly knowledge than from rejecting Scripture.  It is always better to give Scripture the benefit of any doubt that may exist.

Finally, Lebanon was a mountain, and in Scripture a mountain is the symbol of a king or kingdom.  The realm of worldly knowledge is a very powerful one.  Its pronouncements emanate from many ancient and prestigious institutions; its exponents are often highly esteemed in the world; its teachings have brought wealth and fame to many; but none of these things necessarily makes it right.  The average man, however, tends to be intimidated by the prestige of the institution, by the titles of the teachers, by the fact that the knowledge has been printed in a book, and the result is that he accepts without question much that would not survive scrutiny under the light of God's Word.  The Christian should never allow himself to be intimidated by any of these things.  The test of knowledge is not the age or prestige of the institution from which it comes, the titles of its professors, or the general acceptance of a book in which it is written.  The only standard the Christian has any right to apply to his judgment of knowledge is, Does it seem to contradict Scripture?  If it does, then it must be rejected.  To accept it is to go "beyond Lebanon."

Since a mountain is the Biblical symbol of a king or kingdom, Lebanon may perhaps represent the governmental power of the prince of this world, Satan (a power exercised only by divine permission of course) administered through earthly rulers.  An additional lesson of Lebanon, then, may be that Christians should be careful as to the extent of their involvement with the world's politics.  It is significant that Scripture is silent on the subject other than to command us to pray "for kings, and for all that are in authority" (1 Tim 2:2), and to submit to government as long as that submission doesn't require us to disobey God.  Romans chapter thirteen should be read by those seeking to know God's will in regard to the Christian's involvement in politics.  

Israel's third boundary was the Euphrates on the east, not the Jordan as is commonly believed.  And as with the first two boundaries, what was literal for Israel, has spiritual significance for believers (spiritual Israelites) today.

This river, designated as Israel's eastern border, watered the land of Babylon, which in Scripture, is always associated with oppression of God's people, and is the Biblical symbol of the world's false religious systems.  Very clearly, then, we as believers (spiritual Israelites), are  being shown symbolically that as the Euphrates was the clear-cut line between Israel and Babylon, so is there an equally clear-cut divinely appointed line of demarcation between the believer and the world's false religious systems, including apostate Christendom.

Babylon and Egypt have much in common.  Both oppressed Israel.  The Israelites were captives of both.  Each has a great river: the Nile, as noted already, representing the river of wealth that "waters" the world of business and pleasure; the Euphrates representing the great river of error that "waters" the realm of the world's religious systems.  And the Euphrates, like the Nile, reaches the sea by means of a number of small streams flowing through a marshy delta, in which the parent stream is difficult to distinguish from its smaller divisions.  In this we see symbolically the truth that the world's religion, like its wealth, leads only to eternal confusion and ruin.

It shouldn't be forgotten that the Israelites had originally come from Babylon, for it was out of that land of idolatry that God had called their father Abraham.  In this, however, we are reminded that every believer has also come out of "Babylon," for prior to conversion we had all been associated with some religious system, either apostate Christianity, or some heathen cult.

It is significant that in Scripture the east is always connected with sin and departure from God; for example, Adam went eastward out of Eden; Cain went eastward from the presence of God after killing Abel; in the tabernacle the high priest moved westward in approaching God, eastward when leaving the divine presence; the wise men came from the east (going westward) to present their gifts to the Savior.  When Abraham was called to leave Babylon he was being called to move westward to Canaan.  The Israelite who would disobey by crossing the Euphrates to return to Babylon would be moving eastward.  The spiritual lesson, then, of this eastern boundary, beyond which Israel was not to go, is that believers are not to return to the religious systems from which grace has delivered them.

Is there any danger of their doing so?  There certainly is, and it is no small danger.  Literal Babylon held out many allurements, as is evident by the fact that when the seventy years of the captivity ended, and the Jews were free to leave, only a small handful did so.  Spiritual "Babylon" holds out to spiritual "Israelites" (believers) allurements which are just as tempting as were those offered by literal Babylon to literal Israelites in the days of Joshua when God appointed the Euphrates as Israel's eastern border.

Let's look at a few of the things that tempt believers to forsake "Canaan" (the place of obedience) to go "eastward" (away from God) across the "Euphrates" (the boundary between the Scriptural and the unscriptural), back to "Babylon" (the world's unscriptural religious systems).  Some Christians remain in, or return to a religious system that they know to be wrong, because "there are activities for my children which aren't offered by the assembly which I know is the place I should be Scripturally."  We find much in Scripture about bringing up our children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4), but nowhere do we find authorization to remain in, or return to, an unscriptural religious association whose "activities" may amuse our children.  God's command to believers in the great harlot church is "Come out of her, my people" Re 18:4), and surely spiritual intelligence should teach us that that principle applies to any religious association that ignores Scriptural order.  Can we be so foolish as to believe that there can be blessing where there is disobedience?  There will be more blessing where there is Scriptural order and no "activities" than there will be where there are many "activities" but also known departure from Scriptural order.

This is only one example of "going beyond the Euphrates" spiritually.  Another might be cited.  It is usually more "socially acceptable" to be a member of a big church "that takes a more tolerant view of things" than it is to be associated with a small assembly that seeks to maintain God's order.  It happens not infrequently, however, that the size and popularity of a church are in direct inverse proportion to its preservation of Scriptural order.  God is no less concerned today that His people remain within the spiritual boundaries of which these literal boundaries appointed for Israel, are symbols or types.

Before mentioning the fourth border, God promises to give Israel, "All the land of the Hittites."  The Hittite, meaning terror, represents fear, so that God's promise to Israel becomes the reminder to spiritual Israel (the Church) that fear must be conquered.

In regard to fear, we read, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111:10); but in contrast, "The fear of man bringeth a snare" (Pr 29:25).  An inverse relationship exists between faith and fear.  As our faith in God is great, our fear of man will be small, and vice versa.  The man who has implicit faith in God exclaims with confidence, "The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb 13:6).  Thus in God's promise to Israel we read the assurance that in Him we too can overcome the Hittite (fear).

That encouragement was given before the fourth boundary was described, and an understanding of what that boundary represents will enable us to understand the need for the encouragement.  As we have noted in preceding studies, the sea represents the nations in their restless rebellion and hatred of God, "The wicked are like the troubled sea...." (Isa 57:20).  That hatred of God displays itself in hatred of those who are His, "Ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake" (Mk 13:13).  That hatred, however, is the very thing that produces fear, and fear all too often produces unfaithfulness to Christ.

Since the sea represents humanity in its restlessness and rebellion against God, the appointment of the great sea as Israel's fourth boundary, becomes for us, God's prohibition against returning to any unnecessary involvement with the restless rebellious activity of humanity estranged from God, except to bring them the Gospel.

Since this is the fourth boundary, and four is the Biblical number of testing, one lesson we may learn here is that the enmity of the world tests our loyalty to Christ.  We can't be the friends of Christ and also the friends of the world that crucified Him, and that still hates Him.

This isn't the only lesson, however, to be learned from the great sea that was Israel's fourth and western border.  While we are not to be friends with the world in any way that would necessitate our being disloyal to Christ, we are to love the men and women comprising that "great sea" of unconverted humanity, and we are to make every effort to win them for Christ.  They will be won, however, not by our joining them in their sinful activity, but by testifying to them from a place of separation. 

It is significant that when the Lord called the first four disciples, He called them to separate themselves from occupations that were directly connected with the sea.  Upon hearing His call, "Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men," we read that Peter and Andrew, "forsook their nets, and followed Him" (Mk 1:17-18); and of James and John we read that they "were in the ship mending their nets," but when "He called them ... they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after Him" (Mk 1:19-20).  Believers are similarly called from earthly "fishing" to spiritual, from "fishing" for money, pleasure, fame ... to "fishing" for souls.  It still involves occupation with the "sea," but it is from a different position, and for a different purpose.

We ourselves were in that "sea" until the day when one of the Lord's "fishermen" caught us in the Gospel net as he fished for souls.  We have to live and work in the world, while at the same time keeping ourselves apart from it; but we must never forget that our principal business with the world is to win men for the Savior.  Once we were "fish" in the "sea" of humanity, but now as those "dead" to their former state, and alive to a new one, we are to be "fishers" of men.

Significantly the west is the Biblical direction that represents approach to God.  The fact that the great sea was Israel's western border should surely remind us that the closer we walk with God, the greater will be our compassion for the men and women who are the "fish" in the great sea of humanity.  He who has compassion for souls will never be far from God.

To sum up, then, what we have gleaned from our study of Israel's four divinely appointed boundaries: to attempt to return to the world of business and pleasure represented by Egypt, is to find ourselves in "a great desert," where there is neither "manna" nor "water," and where there is no protecting and guiding "pillar."  Manna, incidentally, represents the Word as our spiritual food; and water, that same Word in its ability to cleanse and refresh us; while the pillars of cloud and fire represent the Holy Spirit.  Disobedience robs us of the Holy Spirit's guidance, and of His ability to transmute the study of Scripture into our spiritual food and water.  This is invariably the experience of the believer who returns to "Egypt," the world of business and pleasure living in rebellious independence of God.

To attempt to return to the world of mere human knowledge and power, as represented by mount Lebanon, is to find ourselves in a cold harsh realm, cut off from the genial warmth of God's love.  Lebanon is snow-covered for six months of the year, and ice is almost invariably connected in Scripture with divine wrath and judgment.

To return to the world of false religion, as represented by Babylon and its great river Euphrates, is to be transported into a realm of error and spiritual darkness, governed by Satan's lies instead of by God's truth, and where is found only the frenzy of emotion that is Satan's counterfeit of Christian love.

And finally, to return to illegitimate involvement with the things of the world, as represented by the great sea, is to find ourselves, like Peter with his eyes off Christ, beginning to sink in those "waters," with the result that instead of overcoming the world, the world will overcome us.

1:5.  "There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee."

Israel's conquest of Canaan began with God's assurance of victory, and it is with the same assurance that the believer begins to lay hold of the spiritual blessings to which faith in Christ introduces him, and which are represented by Canaan's riches, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (age)" (Mt 28:20).

1:6.  "Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them."

The command to Joshua to be strong reminds us that the exhortation applies also to us, the secret of spiritual strength being revealed by Paul, God's words to him being, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness," his response being, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Co 12:9-10).

It is Christ of course Who will eventually divide to each of us his inheritance, but there is a sense in which the words apply to every believer.  As we are strong and courageous, we may encourage others also to be the same, and thus be the means by which they will inherit an eternal portion greater than would have been theirs apart from our example and encouragement.

1:7.  "Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest."

The repetition of the command to be strong and courageous, declares the absolute necessity of these two virtues, while the need of obeying Moses' words declares also the need of obedience to all God's commands.  Since the right hand is the side of power; and the left, of weakness, the command to turn aside neither to the right nor to the left is the symbolic declaration of the warning not to be guilty either of sins of commission or of omission.

1:8.  "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success."

More than reading was involved.  Joshua was also to meditate upon what he had read, and there has never been a time when obedience to that command was more needed than today.  Meditate means to think, ponder, contemplate, reflect.  But meditation has become a lost art.  The world's frenzied busyness has affected believers also, so that few have time for meditation, and the result is that there is appalling ignorance of Scripture, not just in the world, but on the part of those professing faith in Christ.  This should not be, nor does any weight attach to the old excuse that we live in a busy age.  A great deal of the activity that keeps God's people from the study of His Word is unnecessary, and until we are prepared to drop from our schedules the things that keep us from that study, we can expect no blessing, for God's command is still, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteous-ness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Mt 6:33). Failure to meditate on the Word of God robs believers of "the peace of God which passeth all under-standing" (Php 4:7), and all that the world has to offer can't compensate for that loss.

"... that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein," reminds us that if we don't know God's will we can't obey Him, and apart from obedience there cannot be blessing.  The link between obedience and blessing is emphasized in what follows, "for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success."

1:9.  "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."

Obedience wasn't an option for Joshua, nor is it for any man.  As Creator, God has the right to command the obedience of all men; and as their Redeemer He has a double right to command the obedience of believers.

The command, "be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed (discouraged)," declares a truth little perceived today: fear is one of the causes of disobedience.  It is fear of man that keeps us silent when we should be warning men of their need of the Savior; and it is fear of not having enough that keeps us scrabbling for money, when we should be content with what we have.  It is significant that one of Israel's most formidable foes were the Hittites, meaning terror, and representing the principle of fear.

1:10.  "Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying,"

1:11.  "Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the Lord your God giveth you to possess it."

Every biblical reference to literal food is meant to teach us truth relative to the written Word, our spiritual food.   The need therefore to prepare victuals (food) prior to their beginning the conquest of Canaan, announces the truth that apart from our being nourished by the Word of God we will be no match for the spiritual foes of which the Canaanites are but types.  As the Canaanites opposed Israel's taking possession of the land, so do the unseen forces of darkness oppose our taking possession of the spiritual blessings of which Canaan's riches are also the types.  The malnourished state of the believer who neglects to feed on the written Word precludes any hope of his possessing much of the spiritual blessings portrayed by Canaan's milk and honey.

The spiritual poverty of the professing church bears eloquent testimony to the fact that few believers today feed their souls on the written Word.  Like the swine herded by the prodigal son, they are satisfied to gnaw on the husks which are the food of an unbelieving world.  What has been largely forgotten by the vast majority of professed believers is that the written Word is described as "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph 6:17), but it is such a sword only as it is known and obeyed.  Small wonder that a professing but disobedient church knows more of defeat than victory in its conflict with the forces of darkness.

But a still more ominous fact needs to be considered relative to Christendom's ignorance of the written Word.  That Word is nothing less than the revelation of Him Who is the Living Word, so that a dislike for the one is nothing less than a dislike for the other.  Those who have no desire for the study of Scripture would be well advised to consider whether they have in fact ever had a new birth.

The crossing of Jordan was to be within three days, but since three is the Biblical number of resurrection, the truth being presented is that those who would possess the spiritual blessings mentioned in Eph 1:3, and which are represented by the riches of Canaan, must be those who are on resurrection ground, that is, they must have experienced that new birth which raises believers up out of spiritual death, to walk in newness of life, as new creatures in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The need for them to cross Jordan in order to possess Canaan and its riches, teaches a further lesson.  The Jordan always represents death, so that the need for Israel to cross it, reminds us that those who would inherit spiritual riches must live so as to demonstrate that they are those who can say in truth, "For I through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.  I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Ga 2:19-20), and, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Ga 6:14).  The lifestyles of many professing Christians furnish very little evidence that they know anything of the separating power of the cross of Christ.

1:12.  "And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, spake Joshua, saying,"

There is much misunderstanding relative to the two and a half tribes who were given their portion east of Jordan, i.e., on the wilderness side.  Invariably they are viewed as being representative of carnal believers, settled down in the world.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It is to be remembered that they too crossed Jordan, and helped their brethren to conquer Canaan, and when that conquest under Joshua was complete, he dismissed them with the highest commendation, see 22:1-6.  They represent believers living their lives in the context of earthly experience.  The nine and a half tribes who settled west of Jordan represent believers in the context of spiritual experience, men physically here on earth, but spiritually living in the realm of the heavenlies.

The crossing of Jordan teaches the necessity of dying to the world (represented by the desert) in the context of spiritual experience.  Nor should we fail to note that there could have been no crossing Jordan, no enjoyment of Canaan's riches, had there not first been the crossing of the Red Sea.  The lesson is easily read.  If in the context of physical experience, we don't "die" to the world, we cannot hope to enjoy the spiritual riches that are ours in Christ.

Their enjoyment of Canaan, however, was conditional: there must be an obedience that was linked to a knowledge of "this book of the law," verse 8. The same condition governs spiritual Israel.  The believer who would be blessed must be obedient; and that obedience must be according to God's Word, not according to the caprice of man's own imagination.  The necessity of implicit obedience is found in verses 7 and 8, "... do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee.... Turn not from it to the right hand or to the left.... Meditate therein day and night."

It is generally recognized that "the law" here is the Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT referred to by the Lord when He talked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Lk 24:27.  A continual study of those writings was necessary to guard against transgressions of ignorance.  It is all too evident that many believers today are neglecting this imperative, their spiritual poverty advertising their negligence.  The principle, however, hasn't changed: "Canaan's" riches are available only to the obedient believer.  When a Christian fails to "meditate day and night" upon the Scriptures that God has placed in his hand, then the transgressions are no longer sins of ignorance, but of deliberate choice, a fact which makes them far more heinous in God's sight.

In regard to the command to "meditate therein day and night," it is not to be supposed that Joshua spent every waking minute reading and thinking about the Scriptures: clearly he didn't.  It is obvious that the affairs of life made such continuous reading and meditation impossible; as it is equally obvious that the same affairs make it impossible for the believer today to obey this command literally.  But the other side of the coin is that those legitimate affairs were not to claim so much of his time and attention that daily study and meditation were impossible.  He is too busy who is so busy that he hasn't time for daily study and meditation; and though such a busy believer may possess much of this world's goods, he will have little of spiritual value.

1:13.  "Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, The Lord your God hath given you rest, and hath given you this land."

1:14.  "Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall remain in the land which Moses gave you on this side Jordan; but ye shall pass before our brethren armed, all the mighty men of valor, and help them:"

1:15.  "Until the Lord have given your brethren rest, as he hath given you, and they also have possessed the land which the Lord your God giveth them: then ye shall return unto the land of your possession, and enjoy it, which Moses the Lord's servant gave you on this side Jordan toward the sunrising."

There isn't a word to indicate God's disapproval of their dwelling place.  On the contrary, it is specifically stated that it was God Who had given it to them.

"Armed" is literally "marching by five," that is, they marched in rows of five; and since five is the number of responsibility, their marching order represents responsibility fulfilled (obedience).  (Incidentally, when Israel came out of Egypt, they also marched in ranks of five, for that is the literal meaning of "harnessed" Ex 13:18).  Since the Israelite's weapon represents the Word of God, their being armed presents them as being representative of believers skillful in the use of the Word both in attacking the enemy, and in defending themselves.  This is not the picture of carnal believers.

"... ye shall pass before your brethren."  These mighty men of valor led the way as Israel went against the Canaanites.  Again, this is not the mark of a carnal believer.  We must not overlook the fact that the literal warfare of Israel is a type of our spiritual conflict with the unseen powers of darkness.  The carnal believer isn't found in the vanguard of that warfare.

They too crossed the Jordan, which, as we have seen, speaks of the believer's death with Christ," I am crucified with Christ...." Ga 2:20.  They left their wives and children, and their flocks and herds on the eastern side of the river, while they risked their lives to help their brethren expel the enemy and lay hold of Canaan.  And it wasn't a short-term commitment: the initial conquest of the land took about seven years.  Since seven is the number of perfection or completeness, those seven years of warfare become the symbol of the life-long warfare in which the believer is engaged.  (We should not conclude, however, that they never saw their families during those seven years.  Israel frequently returned to Gilgal, during which intervals they probably did return for visits).  Their self-sacrifice marks them, not as being representative of world-bordering Christians, but rather of those who put God's business ahead of their own comfort or convenience.

Another fact that points to good rather than bad in connection with these two and a-half tribes is that they were the minority, and Scripture makes it clear that it was always the minority that was faithful to God amid the apostasy of the majority.

Nor should the meanings of their names be overlooked in the effort to determine what they represent spiritually.  Reuben means see ye, a son; Gad, a troop: an invader; and Manasseh, forgetting.  In the forefront of the nation which God called "My son, My firstborn" Ex 4:22, marched the tribe whose name means see ye, a son.  In the forefront marched the Gadites, a troop: an invader, leading the battle in Israel's invasion of the stronghold of the enemy.  In the forefront marched the Manassites forgetting, mighty men of valor willing to forget their own comfort and convenience so that God's war might be successfully prosecuted.  It is difficult to see in all this the symbolic representation of carnality.

Wherever we find a half number or measure in Scripture, God is reminding us of some degree of imperfection, either in the thing symbolized, or as in the half cubits of some of the tabernacle furniture, in the inability of the symbol to fully reveal the reality of that which it represents (in the case of the tabernacle furniture, Christ).  Two and a-half is itself half of five, the number of responsibility.  These two and a-half tribes represent spiritual believers seeking to fulfill their responsibility to God, but He would remind us that even the most spiritual believers are still not perfect.  As another has said, "The best of men are, at best only men."  "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all these things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants" (Lk 17:10).  God had only one perfect Servant, Christ.

It is clear that these mighty men of valor from the two and a-half tribes represent spiritual believers (always the small minority), willing to forego personal comfort, willing to die to the things of this world, willing to serve their brethren, willing if necessary, to lay down their lives for Christ's sake, and for their brethren.

"... then ye shall return unto the land of your possession, and enjoy it ... on this side Jordan...."

In their crossing the Jordan and entering Canaan to help their brethren in the conflict with the Canaanites we have seen in symbol the believer's death with Christ.  (Crossing the Red Sea symbolizes our death with Christ as delivering us from Sin's bondage; crossing the Jordan symbolizes our death with Christ which separates us from the world, and brings us into the enjoyment of spiritual blessings).  This return crossing of Jordan therefore represents resurrection; and connected with that return is the enjoyment of their possession on the eastern side of the river.  That side, however, as already noted, represents the world, just as Canaan represents the spiritual realm into which the believer is brought at conversion.  This return, then, becomes the symbolic announcement of the truth that the believer who is willing to live as one in regard to whom Ga 6:14 is a reality, and not just a religious theory, is the man who here on earth, enjoys his "possession," that is, the riches that are his in Christ, as Paul could say, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."

1:16.  "And they answered Joshua, saying, All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go."

1:17.  "According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the Lord thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses."

1:18.  "Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage."

Here we see them binding themselves to obey Joshua as they had obeyed Moses, both in regard to what they must do, and where they must go.  Moses' commands represent those given in the OT; and those of Joshua, those given in the New Testament.  In linking them together here God would teach the lesson which many  believers haven't learnt: the OT is as much for our instruction as is the New.  There is an ever increasing tendency to regard the OT as having no relevance to the life of the believer today, with the result that for many a Christian the OT (except for Psalms, Proverbs, and a few passages from Isaiah, etc.,) has become an unread book.  The assumption that all the instruction for our worship and warfare is to be found only in the New Testament has led to the conclusion that anything not covered by the specific command of the New Testament falls into the realm of "Christian liberty," with the result that the anarchy of the days of the Judges now reigns in the professing church, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Jg 21:25).  The truth is that the OT furnishes a very considerable part of God's instruction for the Church, of which Israel is a type.  It is not without significance that the anarchical rule of the Judges was followed first by the reign of Saul, and then by the reign of David.  The days in which we live are foreshadowed by those of the Judges.  As the reign of David was preceded by that of Saul, so will the coming reign of Christ be preceded by that of the beast, of whom Saul is a type.  As their only hope lay in the coming of God's king, so does the hope of the Church, and the world, lie in the coming of Christ.  Those sad days preceding the reign of David (days which picture the present experience of the Church) afford no justification for the hope that there will be recovery in the Church.  They teach rather that the declension will become more pervasive.  Yet the picture isn't completely dark.  The book of Judges presents us with many examples of individual faithfulness in the midst of the general apostasy; examples which are intended to encourage similar individual faithfulness today.

A fact we shouldn't overlook is that Israel was governed throughout their history far more by the commandments of Moses than of Joshua.  The book of Joshua records their warfare with the Canaanites, and is designed to teach us truth relative to our spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness; but the instructions for Israel's worship, and everyday living are found in the writings of Moses.

By the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and a careful searching of the Scriptures, godly men of the past century were led to see the relevance of the OT to  the present-day life of the believer and the Church; and that recovered truth, obeyed, brought an outpouring of God's blessing on the assemblies of His people.  It is very evident, however, that those truths so recently recovered are in the process of being lost again.  Liberalism, masquerading as Christian liberty, but untaught in the Word, because too busy with the things of the world to study the Word, is sweeping the assemblies back into the dead orthodoxy from which they have so recently escaped.

As the people, under Joshua, were still governed also by Moses' commands, so are we today governed also by the OT as well as the New.  As has also been noted already, however, Israel's literal instruction has become the symbol through which God now instructs spiritual Israel, the Church.  For example, instead of offering bullocks and lambs on literal altars, we offer "the sacrifice  of praise to God continually, that is the fruit of our lips" (He 13:15).  Acknowledgment of this requires also the acknowledgment that the ritual governing the presentation of those literal offerings becomes also the symbolic order to be observed in the presentation of the corresponding spiritual sacrifices.  In many of our assemblies the celebration of the Lord's supper demonstrates that there are many who concede the one truth while rejecting the other.

Before concluding that absence of specific instruction in the New Testament implies that there is no instruction; and that we are therefore free under Christian liberty to do as we choose, it would be wiser first to consult the OT.  Those who have done so with an honest heart, and a sincere desire to know God's will, have discovered that very little has been left to our own judgment.

This obedience promised by the two and a-half tribes was no mere gesture.  He who refused to obey would be put to death.  We may learn an important lesson here.  Disobedience always brings death, though not always literal death, as here, and as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira; but in the sense that disobedience is always the activity of the old nature, never of the new.  The disobedience of the unbeliever is the result of his being in a state of death: he is spiritually "dead in trespasses and sins."  But the disobedience of the believer, being also the work of the old nature, produces the very same activity as when the man was an unbeliever: it produces that which God rejects , and which caused the Lord to die.  Disobedience on the part of the believer will have the same effect at the Bema (the judgment seat of Christ) as if he had been dead during the time of disobedience, for it will prove to have been time that produced nothing worthy of reward, but on the contrary, what the Lord must condemn.  Nor was this obedience to be selective: it was to be in regard to "ALL that thou commandest." 

[Joshua 2]

 

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     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
2000-2005 James Melough
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