Joshua 21
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The Levites were scattered among the other tribes of Israel, and yet not individually but in clusters, in cities of their own. This arrangement must have had some object: -

I. THE LEVITES WERE SET APART FOR THE SERVICE OF GOD. They were freed from the claims and cares which fell on the other Israelites. They were maintained by the offerings of the people. Those who minister in spiritual things have temporal wants which the people who are benefited by their services should care for. They are not the less men because they are servants of God, and their home comforts should be secured that they may be free for spiritual work.

II. THE LEVITES WERE ABLE TO MINISTER TO THE PEOPLE BY LIVING AMONGST THEM. When it was not their turn to be serving at the temple, the Levites appear to have been engaged in educational work and religious ministrations among the people of their neighbourhood. Church services are useless unless the private lives of men are improved. We must carry the gospel to those who will not come to hear it in the regular place of worship. It is the duty of Christians not to live apart from the world for their own sanctification, but to live in the world for the world's redemption - to be the leaven leavening the whole mass, the light of the world shining into the dark places. Thus the world will be Christianised

(1) by the gospel reaching those who are out of the way of ordinary religious influences;

(2) by example;

(3) by direct personal persuasion.

III. THE LEVITES WERE ABLE TO CULTIVATE THEIR HUMAN SYMPATHIES BY LIVING AMONG THE PEOPLE. The religion of complete separation from the world is unnatural. It destroys some of the finest qualities of human life. Godliness cannot exist without humanity. The man of God is most truly human. Sympathy for human affairs, active pity for the distress of the world, and brotherly kindness are essential to the Christian life. Therefore the best school for the saint is not the hermit's cell, but the marketplace. Complete separation from the world for religious ends developes

(1) morbid subjectivity,

(2) spiritual selfishness,

(3) pride,

(4) idleness.

IV. THE LEVITES WERE ABLE TO CULTIVATE THEIR SPIRITUALITY BY MUTUAL INTERCOURSE. They lived in cities together; though in the midst of the tribes of Israel. Christians should unite in Church fellowship. Solitary mission work is difficult and painful. Christian society secures

(1) mutual sympathy,

(2) wholesome emulation.

The Church should be a home for the Christian. It is bad to be always in worldly society. - W.F.A.

There might seem at first something strange in the withholding from the tribe of Levi its share among the cities of Canaan, divided by lot among the other tribes. There were, however, as we shall see, substantial reasons why the tribe of Levi should not be treated like the other tribes in the apportionment of the land of Canaan. IT HAD ITS OWN PECULIAR WORK TO WHICH IT WAS TO BE ENTIRELY CONSECRATED. Set apart for the service of the altar, it was not to be distracted by other interests. The sacrifices of the Lord were its inheritance. On the other hand, as it must have means of subsistence, every tribe was to set apart from its own lot that which was needful for the sacrifices and service of God. These temporal conditions of the tribe of Levi in the land of Canaan give us a very fair idea of the priesthood of the old covenant, and we shall be able to derive from their consideration several principles applicable to the priesthood of the new covenant.

(1) The fact that the tribe of Levi was to have no portion of its own, shows that it is not the will of God that His service should be mixed up with temporal and material interests.

(2) It is made incumbent on the whole nation to provide for the maintenance of the Levites. This is a sacred duty which cannot be neglected without prejudice to the service of God. In fulfilling this duty, the people associate themselves with the priesthood. The Levites, whom they maintain, are their representatives. The eleven tribes have their delegate in the twelfth. This truth was impressed on the minds of the children of Israel by the offering by which they had to redeem the first born of their male children. Thus even under the old covenant, the great idea of the universal priesthood was implicitly recognised. Now all Israel is a nation of priests, for, as says St. Peter, in Christ "we are made kings and priests unto God" (1 Peter 2:9). Still the Church has its ministers; but these are not a clerical class apart; they are but the representatives of the people; or rather, they do but devote themselves specially to that which is at the same time the duty of every Christian. In fulfilling this ministry, they are called, as was the tribe of Levi, to renounce all earthly ambition, and not to attempt in any way to make holy things the handle for securing their own material advantage. Freely they have received, freely they are to give; or they will come under the condemnation of Simon Magus. It is for the Church to maintain these her servants by voluntary gifts. This duty was urged by the apostles. Let him who is taught communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things" (Galatians 6:6).

(3) The Church has become altogether a race of priests. As a Church she has no right to secular dominion. When the papacy pretended that temporal power was a condition of safety for the Catholic Church, it ignored the laws concerning the priesthood, both under the old covenant and the new. Whenever a Church seeks to reign after the manner of temporal sovereigns, she becomes guilty of the same rebellion, and forgets the great words of her Divine Founder: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:86). - E. DE P.

These words project before us essentially the Church establishment of ancient Israel. It is quite true that the Old Testament priesthood in its functions differed in very many most essential points from the clergy of any modern Church. Their function was ritual rather than instruction. Their office came, not by fitness, choice, or ordination, but by birth and training. Throughout its history, from its earliest institution, when it was named "The Host," down to the days of the Maccabees, the priestly was one of the most warlike of all the tribes. According to Dr. Stanley ('Jewish Church,' vol. 2., Lecture on Jewish Priesthood), the employment of the Levites in the temple service was that of the butcher rather than of the theologian. And though distributed in every tribe, there was no attempt to secure that distribution of the Levites in every city, which would have been essential if their work had partaken in any great degree of the educational character marking that of the Christian ministry. Still they were a religious order. Chiefly serving in the temple at Jerusalem, they had yet some instruction work to do in their provincial homes. To them belonged the duty of "preserving, transcribing, and interpreting the law." They were the magistrates also who applied it (Deuteronomy 17:9-12; Deuteronomy 31:9, 12, 26). Though only a portion of their time occupied in attendance on the temple, and thus left free to pursue other labours, yet their service was recognised by a national provision. Roughly one-twelfth of the population, Levi had as its share the tithes of the produce realised by the other eleven tribes. It had no land, excepting a little suburban pasture land, given it; but forty-eight cities situate in all the tribes were given them for their dwelling. And while the priesthood never had the glory belonging to the line of prophets, it yet rendered splendid service to the land. It was a bond of unity between the various tribes. It linked them to God, it gave persistence to the national history, was the most enduring part of the most enduring people that the earth has seen; gave some of the finest psalmists, e.g., Heman and Asaph; produced grand prophets, e.g., Samuel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and probably Isaiah, Joel, Micah, Habakkuk, and others; statesmen, like Ezra; patriots, like the Maccabees. While the Ten Tribes today are lost, in the frequency of the names Cohen and Levy you see the grand persistence of the tribe and the stamp of God's approval of at least much of its service. In all this ordering of the Levitical institutions, and the provision made for the support of the tribe, we have a conspicuous example of a Church Establishment. As such consider it -

I. As an illustration of RELIGIOUSNESS OF MAN. How strange is the universality of religious provision in the world! Egypt had its caste of priests; large provision was made in Greek and Roman societies for religious service; India has its caste of Brahmins; China has its Buddhist priests and monks; Israel has here its sacred tribe. Whatever else such a provision may import, it certainly involves a wonderful testimony to the force of the religious principle in man. Man cannot be utterly secular. The mystery around him, conscience within him, all aspirations of the heart, make him grope after God. However vague the creed and limited the law, every nation from the beginning has been religious. Israel's Church establishment illustrates this fact.

II. This example suggests that IN ALL THINGS A NATION OUGHT TO ACT RELIGIOUSLY. The writer questions the expediency, on grounds hereafter to be noticed, of a Church establishment in England today. He, at the same time, would equally protest against the opposite extreme, which would deny to a State any right to recognise the truth of God, God's claims, or the spiritual nature of man in its legislature. It is desirable that at once our national policy and law should in all points harmonise with those highest teachings of morals which we find in the word of God. If all do not agree in their views on these points, then, as in all other cases, the majority should have the power of carrying out their opinions, while the minority should have perfect freedom individually to hold and to propagate theirs. Recognising God and His claims, the policy and taws of a land would be more elevated in their tone. Is the question one of war, our English parliament should ask, What would God have us do? and should do it. On such questions as Sunday trading, the demoralising traffic in strong drink, religious education, or laws of marriage, the State could not without grave harm omit religious considerations from its grounds of action; on the contrary, it ought to place them in the forefront, and in all such questions adopt as its course that which, in its judgment, most accords with the will of God, and most furthers the spiritual as well as temporal benefit of man. If it believes God's will to be revealed in the Bible, it should appeal to and boldly follow the teaching laid down there. No desire to keep sacred things from irreverent handling should be permitted to divorce legislation from religion. No undue regard for sensibilities of a minority should keep the majority from acting according to its highest views, so long as the freedom of the minority is unimpaired. Without religion government degenerates into a thing of police and sanitation; and is apt to become mean in its tone, reckless in its principles, and adverse to the nation's real good.

III. EVERY PATRIOT SHOULD SEEK FOR HIS COUNTRY THE DIFFUSION OF TRUE RELIGION. In what way this is to be done is a grave question. But if we aim at the right end, probably not much harm results from endeavouring to reach it in various ways. In Moses' time God ruled that the best way was a Church establishment. Expedient then, it seems to the writer inexpedient (not unlawful) now. He mentions a few out of many grounds.

(1) Christianity, as being a more spiritual system, is much less dependent on external support than Judaism was.

(2) There the order of precedence was Church before State; the whole nation being a theocracy, the law of Moses the statute book. While this was the order, the Church was free to carry out its mission in allegiance to God. In almost every modern union of Church and State the Church has had to purchase State support by a serious sacrifice of its spiritual self government and freedom of action.

(3) There is an absence of the harmonious, united feeling which alone makes a national Church a possibility.

(4) The wealth of the nation, and its religious interest, are so great that it can easily provide for the effective maintenance of all Christian activities, without needing anything beyond the freewill offerings of the people. On such grounds it is suggested that a Church establishment is today inexpedient. But, if a national provision of religious ordinance is inexpedient, a provision of religious ordinance throughout the land should be made in some other way; and it behoves every lover of his God and of his country to consecrate wealth and give labour to secure in every community a house of God, and to put within reach of all the preaching of the gospel of Christ. A church of Christ in every village, training children, consecrating youth, supporting manhood, glorifying age, the home of gentle charities, a quiet resting place, where all learn to love each other beneath the smile of God, is a provision on which God would smile, and by which man would be highly blessed; and feeling this, every true patriot will take every means and make every sacrifice to secure that something, thus answering to a tribe of Levi, shall in our land diffuse the immeasurable advantages of religious truth and united worship. Let all strive to establish, by the consecration of their gifts and labours, the Church of Christ more firmly in our native land. - G.


(1) The unchangeableness of God. This is seen

(a) in nature - in changeless laws, as of light and gravitation, and in geological uniformity;

(b) in revelation, the development of which is like that of a tree retaining unity of life and growing according to fixed principles.

(2) The omniscience of God. Men cannot foresee

(a) the novel circumstances under which they will be required to redeem their word, and

(b) the breadth of the issues to which their promises may lead them. When God promises He knows

(a) all future circumstances to which His word may apply, and

(b) all that is involved in the pledge He gives.

(3) The omnipotence of God. We may promise help, and fail in the hour of need from inability to render it. This is seen in business engagements, national treaties, pledges of friendship, etc. God has all the sources of the universe at His command.


(1) In history; e.g., the return of the seasons and the production of the fruits of the earth, according to the promise to Noah (Genesis 8:22); the possession of Canaan promised from the time of Abraham (Genesis 12:7); the return from the captivity promised in the law (Deuteronomy 30:3); the advent of Christ (Isaiah 11:1), and the enjoyment of Christian blessings (Matthew 11:28-30).

(2) In personal experience; e.g., deliverance from sin, comfort in sorrow, watches guidance in perplexity, strength for duty. Andrew Fuller says, "He that Providence will not lack a Providence to watch."


(1) Time of fulflment. God does not always fulfil his promise immediately, or when we expect. He will do so in His own time, at the right time, in the fulness of time.

(2) Mode of fulfilment. The promise is not always fulfilled in the way we expect, because (a) we misinterpret God's word, and (b) God is educating us by illusions 'which cover greater truths than we can at first receive.

(3) Conditions of fulfilment. God's promises are conditional on our faith and conduct. His covenant is sure so long as we keep our side of it. He is faithful to us if we are true to Him. We often fail to receive a promised blessing because we neglect to carry out the conditions God has attached to it.


(1) It extends to all God's promises - the threats of chastisement as well as the assurances of mercy.

(2) It extends to all time. God's promises are as fresh now as when he first uttered them.

(3) The fruits of it are enduring. The people "possessed the land and dwelt in it."

(4) The realisation of it is perfect. "All came to pass." - W.F.A.

Joshua 21:43-45
Joshua 21:43-45. The Lord is not a man that He should lie, or the Son of Man that He should repent. His promises are "yea and amen." This is the great truth brought home to us by the beautiful conclusion of the partition of the land of Canaan. "The Lord gave to Israel all the land which He sware to give unto their fathers. There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass" (vers. 48, 45). Heaven and earth may pass away, but the word of the Lord must stand.

(1) His word cannot return to Him void; for it is always instinct with vital power. "In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God." God spoke, and a world sprang into being. Every word of prophecy has been fulfilled in the history of our race. His promises in like manner can never be empty words - they must have an answering reality.

(2) He is the God of truth, ever faithful to Himself.

(3) He is the God of love, and His love cannot belie itself.

(4) He is the God of eternal ages. To Him there is no interval between the promise and its fulfilment; it is to our apprehension only that the promise tarries. The new Israel may say, like Israel of old, "Not one good word has failed of all that He has spoken." The covenant of grace is a new land of promise. In it the Church has found a settled abiding place: it has overcome its adversaries and shall go on conquering and to conquer. So also shall it be with the third great land of promise, the heavenly Canaan. Upon this inheritance shall the redeemed at last enter singing, with a new meaning, this old song of triumph: "The Lord hath given us rest round about, according to all that He sware unto our fathers" (ver. 44). - E. DE P.

Joshua 21:43-45
Joshua 21:43-45. Last among the tribes to know the particular inheritance assigned to them came the Levites, since they were not to occupy a distinct territory, but certain selected cities in each district. By this arrangement each tribe recognised the duty of providing for the support of the service of God, and had religious instructors abiding within its borders. The sacred historian having finished his narrative of the partition of the land, deems it a fitting opportunity to bear witness to the fact that God had proved equal to His word. He had brought His people into their possession, and they were busily engaged in arranging their habitations, tilling the soil and other occupations of landed proprietors. The Israelitish dispensation was typical, foreshadowing the dispensation of the fulness of times, of which theirs was but a dim anticipation, an emblem and a shadow. As mind is superior to matter, and spiritual are preferable to bodily satisfactions, as righteousness is more important than wealth, and elevation of soul more desirable than prowess in war, so do the advantages of which believers in Christ are partakers immeasurably outweigh all that was the portion of the Israelites in their brightest period.


(1) Mention is made of the inheritance, the land which they now possessed, and wherein they dwelt. Hope was at last fruition. Buoyed up in their journeys by the thought of the "land flowing with milk and honey," they had crossed the Jordan and planted their feet on the soil that was to be theirs. When a man realises his sonship to God, the whole earth becomes his. For him the trees unfold their leaves and the birds sing. He takes fresh interest in the world of nature, it is his Father's garden. But our thoughts centre chiefly in those mercies bought for the Church by Christ at such enormous cost. Forgiveness, justification, adoption, sanctification, whole acres of fruitful soil that yield sustenance to the soul, yea, spiritual luxuries, if only we be diligent. Our inheritance is not to be enjoyed without appropriating effort. The word of God is the register of our estate. The territory expands by viewing, "'tis a broad land of wealth unknown." The higher we ascend on the hill of meditation, the better shall we behold our property, stretching far and wide, up to heaven and away to eternity. The ground furnishes all manner of fruit; the graces of the Spirit are many. The believer enters into the kingdom of God, an empire larger than that of Charlemagne and he is made richer than Croesus. Angels are his attendants.

(2) Best is spoken of, rest from wanderings. There may be some of vagabondish tendencies to whom incessant travelling, with the variety it affords, is pleasing, but a nomadic life is neither desired by the majority nor healthful for them. Forty years in the wilderness did not reconcile the Israelites to the continual shifting of the camp. Perhaps no more piteous nor clamorous cry is heard today than the demand for rest. The rush of life is everywhere bewailed. Turmoil and bustle may delight for a season, but soon pall upon the taste and tire the faculties. A gospel intended for men must be capable of meeting the legitimate demands of every age. And the gospel of Jesus Christ claims to give rest to the weary. Not that the Christian is summoned to a position requiring no vigilance nor exercise of his talents. To superficial observers, the disciples who embraced the offer of Jesus may have appeared to lead an extremely unquiet life, now tossing on the waves at their Master's command, then journeying on foot through hamlets and towns, and finally proclaiming the truth in the midst of foes and persecutors. But rest is not idleness, carnal ease. The Israelites had still their proper work to do. But they were not tormented by the constant need to transport themselves, their wives, and children, and their baggage, to a different residence. The Christian has obtained peace of conscience, rest of soul, by reposing in Christ for security.

(3) The text speaks of victory, or rest from conflict. The inhabitants of Canaan had been defeated in several pitched battles. Many were slain, and others remained scattered in small groups through the land. The period of warfare necessary to acquire possession was at an end. "There stood not a man of all their enemies before them," etc. And victory is another blessing which God grants the believer. Satan has been driven from the citadel, and the rightful king installed. Sin staggers under a mortal wound. The contest may be long and sharp. The agonised soul cries, "What must I do?" Hopes and fears struggle for the mastery, passions fierce rend the breast, the thunders of Sinai roll, temptations darken the sky. But the radiance of the cross, the glory of the risen Saviour, the brightness of the ascension cloud, these dissipate the gloom, and the believer shouts, Victory! Victory! "Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Henceforth the character of the fight is changed. The enemy may not be completely extirpated; he may be left to prove the Christian, who has only to be true to his Lord, and the country shall be reduced to entire subjection. All the equipment, guidance, and succour requisite are provided; he may go from strength to strength, and if not triumphant, the blame is attributable to himself alone.


(1) The Author of our blessings must be held in constant remembrance. Four times in three verses is the name of the Lord repeated. Herein lies the distinction between morality and religion. We are but heathen, if we speak of warring against evil, expelling selfishness, and slaying vice without acknowledging the impulse derived from on high. We are not Christians unless we ascribe the merit of the victory to the Lord, "Thou hast redeemed us by Thy blood."

(2) Blessings are all the sweeter from contrast with previous trials. Poverty teaches thankfulness for riches, labour enhances subsequent rest. It is the lame man healed that leaps and runs in the joy of his new found powers. Angels can never know the delight of exclaiming, "Whereas I was blind, now I see." In this way will God recompense the afflicted. The pained in body will be overjoyed to experience ease. The desolate will understand the comfort of sympathy and association with like-minded saints. These vagrant Israelites, harassed by perpetual marching and warfare, estimated highly the privilege of a restful settlement. And to any struggling with difficulty, we say, "Hereafter it shall delight thee to remember these thy labours." The veteran soldier will talk with honest pride of his wounds, and the traveller of his fatigues.

(3) Reminded of two truths that are like sunbeams in the word of God. The Lord is mindful of His oath, and able to redeem it to the very letter. "There hath not failed ought of any good thing all came to pass." How often the Israelites murmured because of the length of the way, were tempted to think the promised land a delusive mirage, that it was better to return to Egypt with its certain bondage, but also certain leeks and bread. The report of giants afield overwhelmed them with dismay. They would not look at the stars in the sky, the power of God and His covenant faithfulness. Now, in a class at school, what the teacher says to one is intended for the information of all. And what the Almighty has done to one individual or nation is for the instruction, refreshment, consolation of all. Unbelief is ever ready to lodge suspicion in our breasts. "Hath God forgotten to be gracious?" The holiest men have known seasons of despondency. Shut up in the ark they believe they are safe, but the floods are all around, and the tame of release is long in coming. If tempted to doubt the execution of God's plans, we must rise above the crowd, and from the tower behold the growth and grand proportions of the city. Withdraw a little, and try to obtain a comprehensive glance at history past and present, and your faith will be confirmed in the accomplishment of the Almighty purposes concerning mankind Order will be educed out of fancied confusion. The building of your faith cannot fall. Seize its pillars and test their strength, the pledged word and omnipotence of God, and all your fright will vanish.

(4) It is ever seasonable to record with gratitude the fulfilment of God's promises. If we only acted upon this statement in proportion to our consciousness of its truth, there would oftener issue from our complaining lips a burst of thanksgiving. The declaration of the text was reiterated by Joshua in his solemn charge to the people (Joshua 23:14), and a similar testimony was borne by Solomon at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:56). What monuments were constructed and institutions established in order to commemorate the faithfulness of Jehovah! And we to whom "the fulness of the time" is come, could surely tune our harps to louder, nobler anthems, by reason of the more excellent gifts poured upon us from the treasury of Infinite Love, in accordance with His prophecies. "Praise our God all ye people!" His glory and our welfare concur in demanding this tribute of gratitude. THIS SUBJECT RAISES OUR THOUGHT TO HEAVEN, as the place to which perfect rest and enjoyment of our inheritance are reserved. We have here "the spirit of promise as the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of our purchased possession." This is the morning twilight, that the noon; this the portico, that, the inner palace; this the foretaste, that the banquet; this the type, that the reality. Here "we groan being burdened," there we have the house eternal, the body that is the out-flashing glory of the spirit. Here we slake our thirst and appease our hunger, and soon we crave again; there "they hunger no more, neither thirst any more," for the Lamb doth feed them, and lead them to living fountains of water. Here we revive under the physician's touch, and fall ill again; there the inhabitants never have to say, "I am sick." - A.

A beautiful little word, recording a nation's experience, and one adopted as the correct statement of the experience of multitudes that none can number! Look at it, and observe first -

I. GOD SPEAKS GOOD THINGS TO THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL. "Good things," i.e., "of its future: exceeding great and precious promises - words on which He causes us to hope." Man lives not in the present only. The past clings to him; the future presses on him. Especially this future - near and further! Our bliss comes chiefly from its hopes, our sorrows from its fears. With the present it is easy to deal; its form is fixed, and we can determine at once how to meet it. But the future is filled with "maybes" so indefinite and changeful in their form that we cannot settle how to meet or what to do with them. In the case of Israel, God covered all this darkness with His good words of hope. He would go before them; they should be brought to a land flowing with milk and honey; no enemy should stand before them; vineyards they had not planted, cities they had not built, should be theirs. They should find an earthly dwelling place singularly suited for their habitation: fertile for their sustenance, secure for their safety, central for the diffusion of their truth. So God speaks to all His Israel. To every one some promise is given. Even His prodigal children have some promise to cheer them. His sun of promise rises on the evil and on the good; but on the good it sheds its richest warmth. There are great words given to us. Providential mercies are promised; support of the Spirit of all grace is assured us: the Voice behind saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it:" and that temptation's shall not overpower, nor inward weakness destroy us; that we shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved us; that death itself shall be a ministering angel, wrestling with us, but blessing us at "break of day;" that there will be an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom, a perfected likeness to our Lord, an occupation before the throne, in which all our power will find delight and all our capacities be filled with satisfaction. These are the pledges given us. It is well to realise how vast they are, how worthy of the generosity of the infinite God. Be not dismayed, there is no sorrow whose consolation is not pledged in some word of promise, and no perplexity the solution of which is not tendered in some other. Marvel not that the words seem too vast to belong to us. The dimensions of mercy are Divine. Put against every thought of fear these words of comfort and of hope. We are sad and fearful chiefly because we forget them. God speaks good things unto Israel. Observe secondly -

II. IT SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE THAT THESE WORDS SHOULD NOT FAIL. When Moses brought them, the people "believed not for anguish of splint and cruel bondage." How could such promises be redeemed? They, a nation of slaves, whose spirit was ground out of them; their oppressor having a standing army, strong in cavalry? Impossibilities multiplied as they advanced. By the route they took they found themselves hemmed in by ranges of hills on either hand, sea in front, foe behind them. How could they reach the other side? There were desert difficulties, or rather impossibilities, as to water and food. How could they possibly dispossess the Canaanitish nations, all of them stronger than themselves - these peoples of Gilead in their fortresses, impregnable by nature, and rendered still more so by consummate art and by the marvellous vigour of the inhabitants? Without artillery of any kind, how could it be deemed a possibility to reduce the fenced cities of the Canaanites? How was Jordan to be crossed, with its deep ravine and swift stream that made it one of the strongest lines of defence that any nation ever had? Ten out of the twelve spies - all of them of course chosen for their courage - declared the task an utter impossibility. And it is worth our while to mark this, for there is a sort of family likeness running through all God's promises; and almost all have this look of impossibility about them. I suppose all spies are apt to feel that the promises God has made to us cannot possibly be fulfilled. One battling with doubts deems continuance in saintly living impossible, though God promises grace sufficient. One battling with strong proneness to sin feels it impossible that a feeble seed of grace should survive and conquer forces so much stronger than itself. The promise of usefulness resulting from our labour seems impossible of fulfilment, so does the promise of answers to our prayers. The promise of some survival of death and of our fragile spirit weathering all storms, and reaching a perfect home, seems impossible to be fulfilled. It is well to mark exactly the force of the favourite promises. They are not poor probabilities. They are the grand impossibilities of life. The supernatural enters into all our hopes. They cannot be realised unless God troubles Himself about them. We must not try and eke out faith with the consideration of natural probabilities. The natural probabilities are all against any one of the grander promises being fulfilled. But thirdly observe -

III. ALL THE PROMISES WERE FULFILLED. "All came to pass." There failed not ought of any good thing the Lord had spoken. The sea was crossed; the desert had its food and water; Bashan was subdued; Jordan crossed; the whole land possessed. And all this took place easily, without any hitch whatever, so long as Israel was willing simply to go on. And from then till now the experience of the Church of Christ has, on a large scale and with invariable uniformity, been, that however impossible the fulfilment of God's promises might seem, they have all been realised exceeding abundantly above all asked or thought. God is the same today as yesterday: not further from us in heart, not feebler in powers. His anointing is not exhausted; He is still fresh to do what He has promised. And if we faithfully follow on in the way in which He leads us, there will not fail ought of the good that God hath spoken to us. - G.

This cannot mean that the Divine plan in reference to Israel's possession of the land was now in all respects completely fulfilled. The Canaanite still dwelt in certain parts of it, and was never really cast out. But in the main the work was done. The country, as a whole, was subdued, and the invaders no longer had any formidable opposition to contend with. Moreover, God's part in the work was fully accomplished. Whatever partial failure there may have been was due to Israel's faithlesssness and weakness. There was no failure in God. He had been inflexibly true to His purpose. His word had not been broken. "There failed not ought," etc. The absolute fidelity of God to His purposes and promises is our theme. Let us take a broad view of it.

I. THE GENERAL CONSTITUTION AND ORDER OF THE UNIVERSE ILLUSTRATES THE DIVINE FAITHFULNESS. The universe of being is but an embodiment of the thought of God. A Divine purpose governs every part of it. His laws are not only expressions of His will, but are of the nature of pledges and promises, and no law is ever frustrated, no promise ever broken. They partake of the eternal steadfastness of His essential Being. "They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness."

(1) It is so in the material realm. Physical laws are simply the impress of the eternal mind on matter and the method by which that Mind sees fit to mould and govern it. The "course of nature" is but a continual unfolding of the steadfast thought and purpose of God. The world passed through many structural changes before it was trodden by the foot of man, and has passed through many since, but the laws that govern it have been the same from the beginning. Ages pass before those laws are discovered, but they existed of old. Great liberty of action is given to man within the natural order, but he cannot change it in one iota. It is a rock against which the waves of his self will and vain ambition only dash themselves in pieces - so beneficent and yet so terrible in its inflexibility; rewarding his trust, yet rebuking his presumption; inflicting on his ignorance and feebleness so severe a penalty, and yet guarding and befriending it. Our place in this great system of things is that of learners. Our highest science and skill are but a feeble answer to its truth and certainty. Life proceeds on the principle of trust in the constancy of nature, which is but another name for the faithfulness of God.

(2) It is so in the moral sphere. The material order is but the shadow and reflection of the moral. Moral laws belong to a world not of shadows and appearances, but of substantial and enduring reality. "The things that are seen are temporal," etc. If there is fixity in the principles that govern the outer, how much more in those that govern the inner, life of man. Our earthly existence is a restless ebb and flow of circumstance and feeling. No two human histories, no two social situations, events, experiences, are alike. And yet there is "nothing new under the sun." "That which hath been is now" etc. (Ecclesiastes 3:15). As the kaleidoscope, out of a few simple shapes and colours, presents ever-changing forms of beauty to the eye, so does the revolution of our days and years embody in an endless variety of forms the primary principles and laws that govern our moral life. Those laws partake of the nature of the Lawgiver. They change not, "raft not," because He is "without variableness," etc. Whether as regards the threatening of evil or the promise of good, all infallibly "come to pass." Conceive it in a single case to be otherwise, and the whole moral system of things is involved in utter confusion and hopeless ruin.

II. THE SPHERE OF FULFILLED PROPHECY ILLUSTRATES IT. Prophecy, as at once an inspiration and a revelation, is essentially supernatural, Divine. As regards its predictive element, it is as a passing gleam of light from the Infinite Intelligence, to which all things, past, present, and future, are alike "naked and opened." The prophet, as a seer, is one for whom God's own hand has for a moment lifted the veil of the future. Every really prophetic word is thus a Divine pledge, and its fulfilment is the redemption of that pledge. Biblical revelations from the beginning breathe the spirit of prophecy, and biblical history is rich in the verification of it. What is the whole career of Israel - its national existence, its captivities and deliverances, the advent of Messiah and His glorious kingdom, the after destiny of the Hebrew people - but the translation of prophecy into history? Thus does age after age present some new testimony to the truth and faithfulness of God. Dispensations change, the generations come and go, but His purposes move on steadily to their accomplishment. "Not one faileth." Heaven and earth may pass away, but His word shall not pass away.

III. THE COVENANT OF GRACE ILLUSTRATES IT. In this the covenant made with Abraham found its consummation (Genesis 22:18). David died in the calm, glad faith of it. "Yet hath He made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure etc. (2 Samuel 23:5). Having its birth in the depths of a past eternity, being no mere after thought, it was manifested "in the fulness of time" in Him "in whom all the promises of God are yea and amen." His blood is the seal of the everlasting covenant. In Him God "performed the mercy promised to the fathers," and "the word that He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets since the world began." And as all foregoing ages foreshadowed it, so do the after ages give ever accumulating witness to its truth and certainty. Every earnest Christian life - every reward of obedient faith, every answered prayer, every new victory over death - confirms it. Our fathers trusted in it and were not put to shame. They passed peacefully away with its language on their lips, and the hope of immortality it enkindled in their hearts. We ourselves are learning more and more daily how worthy it is of our trust. And we know that when the tale of our changeful life is told, and we also shall have passed away, our children will enter into the inheritance of blessing with the "long interest" of added years: "heirs together with us of the grace" it reveals.

"The words of God's extensive love
From age to age endure;
The angel of the covenant proves
And seals the blessing sure." All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you (1 Peter 1:24, 25). - W.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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