Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Joshua 5:10, 11). Thus they not only had in this feast a pledge of the promised deliverance, BUT AN EARNEST OF THE GOOD THINGS TO COME. They not only had a fresh guarantee of the promise, but a beginning of its fulfilment. The same thing is true of the Christian sacrament. While it is an essentially spiritual feast, it still gives in part that which it sets forth and symbolises. Faith receives the Holy Spirit in baptism, and feeds upon the invisible Christ in the Lord's Supper. Christ is to the soul "the living bread which came down from heaven" (John 6:31). Thus even before the Jordan is crossed, the Christian soul eats of the corn of the land of promise. - E. DE P.
It brings before us the question of the neglect of sacraments, and the wisdom of repairing that neglect. To bring the chief points before us, observe first -
I. WE ARE PRONE TO NEGLECT THE SACRAMENTS OF GOD. The neglect reported here strikes us as very strange. With the great miracles in recollection which had accompanied their leaving Egypt, it should, we feel, have been impossible for them to have forgotten or disobeyed their God. But here we have the statement that the entire nation had neglected the sacramental circumcision; and the narrative leaves some uncertainty as to whether there had not been some irregularity in the observance of the passover as well. It is not easy to explain such neglect. Perhaps the first sacrament was overshadowed by the law given at Sinai, the preoccupation with the new rites leading to the neglect of the old. The more so as, excepting the precept implied in the word, "No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof," there was no precept given at Sinai concerning this rite. Probably the neglect of the one carried with it the neglect of the other. Possibly some sullenness and dissatisfaction with the length of their desert wanderings intensified this feeling. However that may be, here we have the fact that beneath the eyes of the law giver the people neglect the observance of one or both of these rites. It is not, I think, that they are under any interdict, as some have imagined. There is no trace of a prohibition to observe them. It seems to have been simple, sheer neglect. If we feel it strange they should neglect these rites, we ought to feel it stranger still that they find so many today who resemble them in doing so. Like Israel, we have sacraments. As they had one for the individual confession of belonging to God, we have the rite of Baptism; as they had the social sacrament of the Passover, we have that of the Lord's Supper. But everywhere, from some reason or other, we see both neglected. Both meant to be observed by those who can make intelligently the avowals which they express, both are neglected. Sometimes, through carelessness and misconception, baptism will be neglected; but sometimes, merely because it is irksome, or because it seems not essential to salvation, or because it carries with it reproach for Christ, or involves responsibility, persons are found neglecting the rite of baptism, which the Saviour meant them to observe. And for much the same reasons the other, the social sacrament, is neglected. Around every Christian Church there is a fringe composed of persons alive to the glory of the gospel who yet shrink from the formal rites of covenant with God. How much they lose by it, none can tell. The mental clearness; the safety that lies in a well-defined position; the higher purpose; the greater ease with which the confession of Christ is made anti the denial of Christ avoided; the closer and firmer fellowship with God's saints, with all its quickening influences - these are all forfeited by the dull neglect of a blessed rite. And how much the Church and the world lose by their lukewarmness, by their refusal of service, by their unintentional but serious influence in abating the spirit of religious earnestness! Of these they never think. It is more agreeable to the indolence of their natures, or the timidity of their hearts, to abstain from all avowals; and so, like Israel, they neglect the sacraments of God. Let those guilty of such action remember that the sacraments are commandments which cannot be neglected without sin on the one hand and danger on the other. Secondly observe -
II. GOD PERMITS US TO REPAIR OUR NEGLECT AND ENTER INTO COVENANT WITH HIM. It is a marvellous thing that we should be permitted to enter into covenant with God; that in rites in which all the promises made are made by Him, not by us, He should bind Himself to be our redeeming God; that in the one sacrament He should make offer of cleansing from all guilt, and in the other of the bread of immortal life. It is a matter more marvellous still that to those who have neglected those rites for stretches of years He yet extends the permission to approach them. But so it is. Here is an illustration of this willingness. He had little hope of much honour or satisfaction from Israel. They would be a rebellious and gainsaying people through all their future. Yet here He allows them again to resume their relation to Him, to "lay hold on his covenant." It is no slight mercy to us that God is willing still to enter into an "everlasting covenant with us, ordered in all things and sure." If now our neglect is regretted, let not despair prolong it. Whatever falseness to conscience we have been guilty of, He keeps the door open, and gives us what we have no title to expect - the opportunity to repair neglect. He lays it as a charge on all to observe these covenant rites, so that we cannot without being disobedient keep outside of a covenant relation to Him. Belong to the Church of the redeemed. Let the name of God and of the city of God be upon you. When God permits us to repair our neglect, let us do so. Thirdly observe -
III. ALL BEGINNING ANY NEW ENTERPRISE SHOULD BEGIN IT WITH GOD. Israel has a great task before it. He will do well to lay hold on God's strength to help him. The messenger of God's justice, he must himself be just. "They must be holy who bear the vessels of the Lord." Exposed to great strain and great difficulty, they act wisely to close with God, and gain Him on their side. In this we have lessons for several classes. First, for the young, and those beginning life. When life is yet all before you, and the struggle with your foes yet to come, join your redeeming God in solemn saved from wreck had this been done. covenant. Many a life would have been Save yours. You will be saved many a grief, and come safe out of every danger, if in the beginning of your career before leaving Gilgal you enter into sacramental covenant with your Saviour. Well begun is half done. And a good beginning of the better life secures its perfectest and easiest development. The earliest is always the most convenient season for the great religious decisions of life.
(2) Those not young, but yet entering on some new career, some new set of experiences or duties or dangers, will always act wisely by consecrating the opening of a new career. Begin all things with God. His wisdom will preserve from error, and His power from all danger. Hallow the new undertaking, the enjoyment of the new mercy, the experience of the new trial, by getting closer to God. Commence business life, commence married life, commence your life in a strange land, by special consecration. Let all ponder these matters. Let those who have made, keep their sacramental vows, and those who have neglected make them; for while the Saviour is honoured by them and rejoices in them, their blessings on ourselves surpass all our conceptions. - G.
I. Manna, as A SPECIAL PROVISION FOR A SPECIAL EXIGENCY.
1. The exigency shows us that even under the guidance of God there is no exemption from trial. At first all had seemed easy and comfortable. Passing through the sea as on dry ground, the Israelites soon beheld their late tyrants dead on the seashore. The bitter waters of Marah were sweetened and Elim furnished its wells and palm trees for their refreshment. A month passed. The dough cakes were nearly finished, and provisions began to fail. The murmuring of fear and discontent was heard. Those whom the sea had not devoured quaked lest the hungry wilderness should destroy them. Forgetting the tasks and bondage of Egypt, they remembered only its fleshpots, garlic, onions, and bread, and now they could wish rather to have died in ravenous plenty than live in noble penury. The Almighty will thus prove His people. He does not always conduct them by easy roads, for He values the discipline of their spirits more than the external comfort of their bodies. Faith is to be tested that it may come forth as "gold tried in the fire."
2. The provision assures us that under the leadership of God all real wants will be supplied. The glory of the Lord had appeared in the cloud. Quails - feathered fowl - were sent in the evening, and in the morning, manna - bread from heaven. God would not suffer His people to remain in absolute need. He would give them the "finest of the wheat," and "honey out of the rock." They should have the bread of angels and the meat of kings. Infinite wisdom and might sit on the throne, and these are engaged for the believer's support. The light may flicker, it shall not be extinguished; or if ordinary sources of relief raft, other springs shall be discovered. "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." The gift by God of His beloved Son to die for the world is the transcendent example of God's benevolence. Christ is the true Manna, which satisfies the hunger of the soul. Christianity, or the scheme of redemption, is the remedy which Eternal Love has devised to meet the emergency of a sin stricken world hastening to ruin.
II. THE CESSATION OF THE MIRACULOUS SUPPLY teaches us -
1. Not to expect to be furnished directly from God with what He enables us to procure by our own exertions. Apparently the inhabitants of the land had fled for refuge to Jericho and the neighbouring towns, abandoning to the Israelites the harvest ripening in the fields and the old stores housed in the granaries. The Almighty economises His acts. Extraordinary occurrences are for extraordinary needs. We see in the life of Christ that He would not perform wondrous works merely to gratify inordinate curiosity or to satisfy the demands of unreasonable scepticism. The lesson of realising our responsibilities is important. It will not do to indolently expect the Divine providence and power to supply the lack of human effort. Prayer and work must go together. Not only faith is necessary, but exertion, if the Divine purposes are to be accomplished. If on a specially appointed mission our Father may take care of us as He does of the birds of the air, it is ordinarily our duty to "sow and reap and gather into barns," but without anxiety or corroding care.
2. To be thankful for a return to ordinary ways and means. The Israelites got tired even of "angels' food;" they loathed "this light bread," with all its sweetness. As at present constituted, variety is pleasing to men. Certainly man is not yet fitted for the splendours and employments of the beatific state. Moses and Elijah spent many days on the mount with God, but probably a return to earthly scenes was essential to their continued life. When glorified, man may be able to live entirely on the manna of heaven, the life hidden with Christ in God. In seasons of affliction wondrous revelations are sometimes granted; there is a support given which raises the soul above the surrounding sorrow, causing it to exclaim, "It is good to be here!" Deprived of the usual ordinances and channels of consolation, the Spirit ministers of the things of God, illumines the sacred page, makes the promise of Christ's presence a fulfilled reality. Nevertheless, it rejoices the Christian to be permitted to resume wonted occupations and to enjoy the customary privileges. To revel for a time in the glorious scenery of the Alps does not diminish the saris-faction with which we behold again the quiet beauty of our much-loved home. As the ceremonies connected with the passover were renewed, the exchange of manna for ordinary corn was at least fitting, if not absolutely necessary.
3. The duty of keeping in remembrance past displays of the might and compassion of God. According to Exodus 16:32, a (golden) pot was to be filled with manna and deposited in the ark as a memorial of grace and favour received in the wilderness. Naught more treacherous than the memory. The picture of the past is a dissolving view that grows fainter dally until it disappears from sight. To remember what the Almighty has done is pleasing to Him and beneficial to us. It rebukes ingratitude and faithlessness. Hence the need of erecting our altars, which shall call to mind continually the blessings which have been bestowed.
III. THE DIFFERENT FORM WHICH GOD'S INTERPOSITIONS ASSUMED, varying according to the requirements of His people. The following verses narrate the appearance of Jehovah to Joshua, and the instructions given respecting the siege of Jericho. The stoppage of the manna nowise implied the withdrawal of the Divine presence. The tolls of the wilderness were left behind, the dangers of Palestine commenced. Help must be afforded by different means. And the Christian life calls into prominence certain principles at certain crises. Today we want food, tomorrow weapons; today strength, tomorrow guidance; now hope, then charity. We are variously tested; and manifold are the aids of the Divine Spirit; thus a perfect character is cultured. The text speaks to us of the everlasting rest into which we hope to enter. It shall be a Sabbath in which we shall live on the principles which were made ours during the working week, and it shall also be a Canaan where we shall no longer need the food of the wilderness. Faith, as trustful love, shall survive forever, whilst faith, as believing hope, shall vanish in glorious sight and full fruition. What a Passover shall that be when the Supper of the Lamb is celebrated! The intermediary dispensation shall terminate. "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father." Can we anticipate with joy the renouncing of the life on earth for a life beyond the grave? "He that eateth me," said Christ, "shall live forever. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna.." - A.
I. THIS DIVINE CAPTAIN HAS NEVER LEFT THE ARMY OF THE HOLY, though He may NOT AT ALL TIMES have made Himself VISIBLE. He was with the Church when it entered upon the conflict with the old world. Weak, insignificant, without power, and without prestige as it was, His sword of fire sufficed to ensure it the victory. It was He whom Luther saw in the dawn of the Reformation morning, when he sang: "The Son of God goes forth to war."
II. This Divine personage is the same with whom Jacob wrestled all the night at the Ford Jahbok. He begins by turning His sword against His own soldiers, and plunges it deep into their hearts to destroy their pride and sin. Blessed wounding, which makes them in the end more than conquerors, and Israelites indeed. We must not, then, marvel if, often in the early stages of its warfare, the Church is humbled, foiled, for a time it might seem almost crushed. Neither should we be surprised if the Christian soul is made victorious only through suffering. Soon the Divine Captain will take command of the host which He has disciplined, and will lead them on to victory. This Captain is the very same whom St. John saw in vision with a flaming sword in His mouth. He is the Word made flesh, the Redeemer (Revelation 5.). He Himself was wounded before He triumphed. The conquering Head of the Church is "Jesus, who was crucified." - E. DE P.
I. JOSHUA'S ANXIETY. Gilgal, where the ceremonies related in preceding verses were celebrated, was not far from Jericho, the great stronghold which protected the eastern district of Palestine and which it was necessary for the Israelites to capture before they could advance into the country with safety. The opening words of the 18th verse imply that Joshua had gone out alone to view Jericho, to survey its defences, and to form plans of assault. He was deeply concerned for the success of the siege It was his first conflict in the promised land, and the Israelites were inexperienced in attacking fortified cities. We can well believe that this thoughtful leader was deep in meditation, pondering over the past promise of God, and praying that it might be fulfilled in his hour of need. Unworthy are those men of high places in God's Church who are not concerned for the welfare of the Divine purposes committed to their charge, who do not "watch as they that must give an account." In some sphere or other we are all masters or captains; let us endeavour to realise the responsibility resting upon us. We axe informed how Joshua's anxiety was relieved. "He lifted up his eyes and saw," etc. In the season of exigency Jehovah (Joshua 6:9.) appeared. He could not violate His word and leave His servant alone. Here is comfort for the careworn and despairing. Said Jesus, "Lo, I am with you always." Whilst we forget not to use diligently our talents and resources, let our eyes be lifted from the earth that we may see Him who stands by us as He did by Paul in the cell at Jerusalem, saying, "Be of good cheer" (Acts 23:11). We go not to the warfare at our own cost. Let us learn to expect His presence. We will think of the future, but not take over anxious thought. Not work but worry saps the strength. Let our councils wait till Christ is present to preside.
II. HIS COURAGE. Not in vain had the admonition, "Be courageous," been bestowed upon him. Nowise affrighted, Joshua went up to the man with the sword and put the inquiry, "On whose side art thou come to fight?" Ignorant of the stranger's dignity, his warlike attitude did not daunt our hero. He would know the truth, even if unpleasant and at the hazard of his life. Truly many a trouble would have its gigantic dimensions lessened if we faced it stoutly and investigated its nature. That new theory which wears such hostile aspect may after all confirm the old position. Joshua knew but of two armies. And to our conflict with sin there are but two sides. "He that is not with us is against us." It is well to put the query to our acquaintance, "Art thou for us?" Notice also that God appears in the form best suited to His servant's need. He contended as an athlete with Jacob that by wrestling the patriarch's faith and knowledge might be increased. To Moses, needing to be reminded of the indestructibility of the Church of God, there was shown a burning bush unconsumed. And now, to inspirit Joshua for the campaign, God reveals Himself as a warrior armed and as the "Prince of the Lord's host," Captain of the visible and invisible armies, the Israelites and the angels. Analogous to these varied appearances are the titles of God, framed to assure His people that He can "supply all their need." To the afflicted He is the "God of all comfort," to the depressed the "God of hope." In our loneliness He is a Friend, in orphanhood the Father of the fatherless, in the storm our refuge, amid the waves our Rock, and in battle our Captain and Shield. Thankful may we be for the chequered experience of life, if it reveals to us the many sidedness of our God, and the satisfaction to be found in Him of every want.
III. HIS HUMILITY. The words and bearing of the speaker, even if they did not at once render Joshua conscious of His exalted character, were quite enough to indicate the need of reverence. Accordingly he bowed.and worshipped, and, great general though he was, exhibited his readiness to receive commands or advice respecting the management of the siege. This is the spirit in which the approach of Christ to the heart should be met. We must say with Saul, "What writ thou have me to do?" Men who cavil at every utterance of the Saviour are not likely to be favoured with a full disclosure of His glorious person. If the heart has been stirred by some appeal of Scripture or some religious argument, it is only right that we should display a willingness to listen further and to follow the light whither it may lead us. A lowly attitude befits the proudest intellect in the presence of messengers and messages from heaven. Let us, like Joshua, inquire, "What saith my Lord unto his servant?" Humility prepared the way for the reception of a command that clearly revealed a present Jehovah. Not to the disrespectful will such a revelation be granted. Therefore to the doubting we say, Bow at the feet of Christ, and there shall come a mandate which by its own inherent authority shall manifest His dignity and dismiss uncertainty. Often have the very absoluteness of the commands of Christ, and the very thoroughness of the claim He makes to men's homage, assured them of His being the Son of God. Imposture and falsehood stand not forth in such clear light, they would be instantly detected.
IV. HIS OBEDIENCE. Promptly did Joshua loose the shoes from off his feet, recalling, doubtless, the similar order issued to Moses in the desert. The presence of God is true consecration. He is everywhere; but where He manifests Himself, there the place is holy. As the shoe partook of the defilement of the earth, it was not fit to remain on holy ground. The New Testament does not diminish the awe inspired by the majesty of the Most High, though it brings pre-eminently into view His character of love. Not outward prostration, however, do we want so much as the bowing of the heart and bending of the will. "Rend your hearts and not your garments." Obedience was rewarded with directions and a promise. By instant compliance with the behest, Joshua displayed a hearty acceptance of his Prince's will, and a fitness to receive further proofs of Divine favour. For the gifts of God are conditioned by the preparedness of the recipient. And if in answer to our repeated prayers there has come a seemingly strange command, let us immediately obey. No further revelation will he ours till we have thus shown our fitness to participate in heavenly blessings. We shall find that in keeping the commandments we acquire a true knowledge of God, and that therein is eternal life. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." - A.
Exodus 3:1-6), so with Joshua, now that he is about to make his first onslaught on the strongholds of the Canaanites. The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire. God spoke to him from the midst of the bush that burned but was not consumed. The supernatural radiance was the vehicle of the Divine Presence. God clothed Himself with light as with a garment. The vision and the voice were alike wonderful. The apparition in Joshua's case was of a different kind. It was the common semblance of a man prepared for battle. There seems to have been nothing supernatural in his aspect, and nothing in Joshua's question indicates that he was startled or alarmed by what he saw, or that the Being who appeared before him was other to his view than a veritable flesh-and-blood warrior who was come to take his place on one side or the other of the conflict that was at hand. And yet as he gazed more intently upon the warrior form he must have discovered something in it that told him it was no mere "man" - some majesty of mien or look, some grandeur of the Spirit shining through the countenance. The form was that of a man, the eyes were "as a flame of fire." And it was in the consciousness that he stood in the immediate, though veiled, presence of Jehovah Himself, the Prince and Leader of His own hosts, that Joshua "fell to his face on the earth and did worship." In each of these cases the form of the manifestation was adapted to the circumstances of the time and the speciality of the Divine purpose. Moses was taught that the light of the Lord's presence should be with him and his people - a guide, a glory, a defence - and that through whatever fiery ordeal they might pass they should not be consumed. Joshua, whose heart might well quail and tremble at the prospect before him, was made to know that the Captain of a mightier host than his was with him, the sword of whose strength was drawn and ready for the fight. With such forces on his side victory must everywhere attend his steps. This "Captain of the Lord's host" we believe to be none other than the Eternal Son of God, whose function it has ever been to be the channel of communication from the infinite Father Spirits - the "word" of His thought, the arm of His power - and whose appearances in the olden time in human and angelic forms were prophetic of His after manifestation in the flesh. This view makes the scene before us strikingly suggestive of the relation in which lie stands towards His redeemed Church in its grand conflict with the evil powers of the world. Observe -
I. CHRIST'S PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE. These miraculous manifestations give a tone of great solemnity to the history of the olden times, and invest the leading men of those times with an aspect of something like superhuman grandeur. But we greatly err if we fail to link those times with our own and those men with ourselves - if we look on these ancient records as relating to a condition of things altogether exceptional and foreign to our own experience. The remote and occasional miracle bears witness to the abiding, ever present truth. God gave those signs and wonders that we might know Him to be always near in the fulness of His love and power. "The good will of him that dwelt in the bush" is the perpetual inheritance of the Church. The "Captain of the Lord's host" is ever going forth before His armies, and it is by the sharpness of His sword and the strength of His right arm they win all their victories. Distinguish between the miraculous form of the incident and the truth enshrined in R. The one belonged to that particular age, and was suited to its exigencies; the other belongs to every age, and meets the permanent necessities of all individual and social religious life. In the heightened spirituality and richer grace of our Christian times we have the substance which those mystic visions did but shadow forth. In place of startling signs and symbols we have Divine words of promise - appeals not to sense but to faith - awakening the intelligence, kindling the heart; words of assurance to the individual believer, "If any man love me," etc. (John 14:23); to the worshipping Church, "Where two or three are gathered together," etc. (Matthew 18:20); to all faithful heralds of gospel truth, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). No need of miraculous manifestations if our faith can grasp the full meaning of gracious words like these.
II. THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST OVER THE HEAVENLY POWERS. "Captain of the host of the Lord" - i.e., the angelic host. The profoundly interesting, and not altogether profitless, question of the relation of the angelic world to our humanity is opened up to us here. Angelic ministry in human affairs is a fact to which Old and New Testaments alike bear abundant witness. "Are they not all ministering spirits?" etc. (Hebrews 1:14). Every age has had its "heirs of salvation," whose history, if we knew all its secrets, would illustrate this truth. Here, too, the supernatural wonders of the past inspire faith in the enduring reality. Why not believe that between us and the Infinite there is a glorious gradation of pure, personal spirit life linked in kindly interest and helpful service with our own? The relation of Christ, however, to the angels is chiefly indicated. In what way these earlier manifestations of the Son of God, and His after assumption of our nature, may have affected the interests of their being, we know not. But their personal subjection to Him is made evident. "When he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him" (Hebrews 1:6). The gospel and apostolic histories are full of proof of their subordination to his redeeming purpose. He leads the heavenly host - leads them in the great conflict with the foes of God and man. If our eyes were opened, as were the eyes of Elisha's servant, we should see that we are not so much alone as we sometimes suppose. The angels that "ascend and descend upon the Son of man" are powers that He sways by the impulse of His sovereign will and makes the instruments of His almighty love. Shall our hearts yield to fear when we know that such forces as these are fighting on our side? Shall we hesitate to follow the leading and obey the behests of the great "Captain of salvation," who has such armies as these at His command?
III. THE SANCTITY THAT BELONGS TO SCENES OF SPECIAL DIVINE MANIFESTATION. "Loose thy shoe," etc. The incarnation of Christ has consecrated all the earth and made every part of it hallowed ground. He has withdrawn again behind the veil, only to come more near to us, to fill all places with the energy of His viewless Spirit. But there are times when the veil seems to be uplifted; states of consciousness in which the Divine Presence is intensely real; manifestations that
"Dissolve the soul in ecstasies,