Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE POSSIBLE INJUSTICE CONSEQUENT ON A STRICT ADHERENCE TO SOCIAL TRADITIONS. Try to imagine how this appeal of the daughters of Zelophehad arises. Canaan is now very near, the borders of it visible across the flood; and God has just told Moses the great general principles on which it is to be allotted. Thus the minds of the people are naturally filled with the thoughts of the inheritance. They can no longer complain of being in desolate places. There was good land even before they crossed Jordan (chapter 32), and so Canaan was looked forward to with great expectations. In such circumstances, every family would be on the look-out to anticipate and assert its share. The disciples after they had heard Jesus discoursing so frequently and earnestly on the coming kingdom of heaven, fell to in hot rivalry as to who should be greatest in the kingdom. So here we may well suppose that the sons of Hepher were only too ready to reckon the daughters of their brother Zelophehad as outside any right to the land that would fall to Hepher's children. Natural relations are only too easily trampled on in the greed of gain. Disputes over the division of property breed and sustain deadly quarrels among kindred (Luke 12:13). Very possibly the brothers of Zelophehad told their nieces that they had no claim to inherit, it being the settled custom that inheritances were to go to sons. Let them be satisfied with marriage into some other family. But the daughters felt pride in their father's name. They do not claim great things for him, feeling that such a claim would not accord with the lot of one who belonged to the doomed generation; but at all events they can say that he died in his own sin; he was free from the taint of that great rebellion which left so deep an impression on Israel's mind. Why then should his name perish from among his family, because he had no son? The answer which we are led to infer is very simple; very worldly also, it is true, but all the more conceivable because of that, "We cleave to our customs; we cannot even give way to feelings which are so creditable to daughters." This perhaps openly - then in their own hearts they would add, "They are only women; they can do nothing."
II. A BOLD REVOLT AGAINST THE ARTIFICIAL DISABILITIES OF SEX. We have imagined an actual refusal to let these women share in the possession. But even if it were not actual, they have a shrewd idea of what will happen, and come appealing to Moses, in the most public manner, so that they may have his weighty authority to settle the matter before he goes. They were but women, yet they had all a man's decision and courage - and more than belongs to most men - to break away from all conventional notions rather than tamely submit to injustice. Paul's disapproval of women speaking in the churches was of course very good as pointing out a general rule, but probably he would have allowed, on a prudent occasion for allowing it, that it was a rule not without exceptions. He may have reckoned it well at the time, for reasons drawn from the state of a particular church, to make the injunctions express and decided. Who were to speak for these women, if not they themselves? When the down-trodden find no sufficient advocate among spectators, it is time for them to raise their own voices. Is it not plain that these women were the best judges of their own position? So in the pressure of modern social life, is it not very inconsistent with the maintenance of liberty and truth, to hinder women from asserting their claims in whatever way they deem best? They may indeed be unfit for many fields of labour which they profess their fitness and anxiety to occupy, but at all events let them discover the unfitness for themselves. Has it not been said beforehand of many achieved and glorious facts that they were impossible of attainment? Modern history abounds with such disgraced predictions. Paul said, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind," which is surely every whit as needful and every whit as serviceable for the woman as the man.
III. THE ACTION OF THESE WOMEN WAS JUSTIFIED BY THE RESULT. God approves their action, as they gain from him the authoritative laying down of a general principle, applied indeed to property, but surely of equal application to all disabilities of sex which arise in other ways than from the impassable limits of nature. God has written for the woman, in her own nature, certain laws she must not transgress, but he never gave man the right to construe these laws, certainly not after the domineering fashion he so frequently adopts. It is undoubtedly true that God made the woman for the man; human nature finds here its completeness, derives hence the means of its continuance, and that diversity of personality and character which constitute so much of the peculiar riches of humanity. But man is not therefore to settle the woman's sphere with his strong and irresponsible hand. Is it not a thing almost certain that many disabilities of sex have arisen through man being from the first the stronger? In the days when might made right -
He took advantage of his strength to be IV. WE SEE A GOD OF EQUITY SHOWING HIS DISREGARD FOR MERE LEGAL RIGHTS. Nowhere is it shown more clearly than in the Scriptures that law is one thing and equity another. How should a world ignorant of the righteousness of God, and full of the selfish and domineering, make laws such as he will sanction and uphold? "We have law with us," the uncles may have said. Possibly so; but not the law of him who spoke from Sinai. Any law of men which contradicts the law of love to God, and love to the neighbour, is doomed in the very making of it. And is it not a blessed thing that such laws get broken and ultimately destroyed by the energy of an expanding life which cannot be contained within them? (Matthew 9:10-13; Matthew 12:1-13; Matthew 15:1-20; Matthew 19:8-9; Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 14:5; Galatians 3:28). - Y.
IV. WE SEE A GOD OF EQUITY SHOWING HIS DISREGARD FOR MERE LEGAL RIGHTS. Nowhere is it shown more clearly than in the Scriptures that law is one thing and equity another. How should a world ignorant of the righteousness of God, and full of the selfish and domineering, make laws such as he will sanction and uphold? "We have law with us," the uncles may have said. Possibly so; but not the law of him who spoke from Sinai. Any law of men which contradicts the law of love to God, and love to the neighbour, is doomed in the very making of it. And is it not a blessed thing that such laws get broken and ultimately destroyed by the energy of an expanding life which cannot be contained within them? (Matthew 9:10-13; Matthew 12:1-13; Matthew 15:1-20; Matthew 19:8-9; Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 14:5; Galatians 3:28). - Y.
I. A PLEA FOR FAVOURABLE CONSIDERATION. The daughters of Zelophehad felt that if he. had been numbered among the conspirators with Korah, it would have been very difficult for them to stand forward and make this claim. It is one of the saddest things in a world of sad things that the innocent children of guilty parents are made to inherit the shame of the parental offence. The parental name, instead of being one of the sweetest sounds to fall upon their ears, becomes one of the most hideous and torturing. Not seldom they are looked upon with suspicion, and though it be admitted they cannot help the parents' crime, yet they begin life with a millstone round their necks. The words of these women, meant only as a plea for themselves, inflicted at the same time a blow, none the less severe because unconsciously given, on any children of Korah (Numbers 26:11) or of his confederates who might be present. Not that it made any real difference to the principle of the matter in question, whether Zelophehad died in his own sin or as partaker in a huge rebellion, but it did make a difference in the spirit with which these women presented their case. The fact that they were women did not make them afraid to go into the face of the whole congregation, but if they had been children of Korah, the chances are that a sense of shame would have compelled them to suffer wrong. What an admonition to those who stand among temptations to some shameless and heinous deed to ponder well the consequent stain and difficulty that may come to their innocent progeny! That the sins of the fathers are visited on the children is a fact apparent in nature, but society heartily accepts the principle, and only too often works it out in the most unsparing fashion.
II. IT WAS THE RIGHT SPIRIT OF APPROACH TO GOD IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES. Zelophehad belonged to the doomed generation. He may indeed have been a better man than most, but a census had just been taken which revealed the fact that there was not a single survivor of the generation; and it was not the time to say more in way of commendation than that Zelophehad died in his own sin. A deferential humble recollection of the holiness of Jehovah we may well believe to have marked the present approach of these women. He would hardly have connected the assertion of a general principle with their request if there had been anything unseemly or insolent in the manner of it. We shall do well not to claim too much for men in the way of commendation, when we are thinking of them in relation to God. We must neither abase them too low nor exalt them too high, but preserve the golden mean of a loving, charitable, and Christian appreciation. How offensive in the hearing of God many eulogies of men must sound, where not only superlative is piled on superlative, but altogether erroneous principles of judgment are adopted. There is a time and a need to praise devoted servants of God, and to maintain their reputation for fidelity, zeal, and spiritual success, but never let it be forgotten that the very best of men, to say the least of him, dies in his own sin. That will be largely his own consciousness. Whatever his services may have been, it is in the grace, wisdom, and ample preparedness of God in Christ Jesus that he will find his only hope. It only needs a little thought to see the impropriety of praising men, because they are laden with the free gifts of God's grace, and at the very time when the suitability of those gifts is especially made manifest. Any sort of praise of human excellence and service which even for a moment pushes into the background the universal depravity of man and the universal necessity of God''s grace and mercy, is thereby self-condemned.
III. THOUGH A MAN DIE IN HIS OWN SIN ONLY, YET THAT IS ENOUGH TO WORK IRREPARABLE MISCHIEF. It was well to be able to say of Zelophehad that he had kept out of Korah's conspiracy, but it was a poor thing to say, if there was nothing better behind. Out of negations, nothing but negations will ever come. It is of no avail to keep out of ten thousand wrong ways, unless we take the one right way. The sum of human duty is to leave undone all the things which ought to be left undone, and to do all the things which ought to be done. Your own sin, small as it may seem in your present consciousness, is enough to bring death. The mustard seed of inborn alienation from God will grow to a mighty and everlasting curse if you do not stop it in time. Those who have passed through untold agonies because of conviction of sin, once laughed at sin as a little thing. They did not dream it would give them such trouble, and drive them about incessantly till they got the question answered, "What must I do to be saved?" Sin sleeps in most, as far as the peculiar consciousness of it is concerned, but when it wakes it will prove itself a giant. Look at the analogy in physical life. A man says that he is full of health and vigour, and he looks it; he even gets complimented upon it. Suddenly, in the midst of these compliments, he is stricken down with a fierce disease, and a few days number him among the dead. Why? The real disease was in him already, even with all his consciousness of health. There must have been something in his body to give the outward cause a hold. Our present consciousness is no criterion of our spiritual state. The word of God in the Scriptures, humbly apprehended and obeyed, is the only safe guide to follow.
IV. THOUGH A MAN MUST NEEDS DIE IN HIS OWN SIN, HE MAY ALSO DIE IN THE FULNESS OF CHRIST'S SALVATION FROM SIN. The end of life, with all its gloom, with all its manifestations of despair, callousness, and self-righteousness in some, is in others an occasion to manifest in great beauty the power of God in the spirits of men. One must die in his own sin, yet he may also experience the cleansing of that blood which takes away all sin. One must die in his own sin, yet this very necessity may also lead to dying in the faith of Jesus, in the hope of glory, and in the arms of infinite love.
V. WE SHOULD AIM THAT NOTHING WORSE THAN DYING IN OUR OWN SIN MAY BE SAID OF US. It is bad enough that sin should be dominant, even without compelling us to leave the ordinary paths of life; those reckoned, among men, useful and harmless. It is bad enough to feel that in us there are the possibilities of the most abandoned and reckless, of the worst of tyrants, sensualists, and desperadoes; only lacking such temptations, associations, and opportunities: as may make the possible actual. Be it ours, if we cannot show a spotless record, if we cannot claim a personality that started from innocence, at all events to show as little of harm to the world as possible. We cannot keep out of Zelophehad's company; let us keep out of Korah's. There is a medium between being a Pharisee and a profligate. - Y.
Numbers 31:2). (Evidently the events of chapter 31 are earlier in time than those of Numbers 27:12-23.)
I. THE PLACE OF DEPARTURE IS ALSO THE PLACE OF A GLORIOUS VISION. The eyes of the dying leader closed upon the sight of the land which the Lord had given to the children of Israel. We may be sure that God directed the feet of Moses to the one spot where there was the most suggestive view of Canaan. Not of necessity the view of greatest geographical extent, but probably one that would sufficiently indicate the variety of surface and products, showing also something of the populous cities. There would be everything to impress on Moses a most decided and cheering contrast with the wilderness. There might be no place even in the promised land itself where he could get a better view for the purpose. He may have climbed to different heights during the sojourn of the people in Moab, and seen many things to gladden his heart, yet never found just the Abarim point of view, until God signified it to him. There are many points of wide and spirit-filling view to which we may come in our excursions through the high lands of Scriptural truth and privilege, but we must wait for God himself to give us the great Abarim point of view. Many a Moabite shepherd had wandered on those heights, and seen with the outward eye the same landscape as Moses; but it needed a Moses, with a long-instructed, experienced, and privileged heart, to see what the Lord would show him. Balaam was driven from one height to another by the unsatisfied Balak, yet from them all even he, the man of carnal and corrupt mind, saw something glorious. What then must not Moses have seen, being so different a man from Balaam. and looking from God's own chosen point of view?
II. IT IS ALSO THE PLACE FOR CHEERING ANTICIPATIONS OF THE EARTHLY FUTURE OF GOD'S PEOPLE. Moses is to see with his own eyes that the land was worth forty years' waiting and suffering for. The object stands revealed before him as worthy of the effort. And though the earthly future of Israel is not to be his future, yet how could he look upon it otherwise than with as much interest and solicitude as if it were his own? Certainly that future was assured, as far as promise could assure it, and all the tenor of experience in the past. Whatever the circumstances of Moses' death, they could not materially affect the course of the people, seeing the ever-loving, all-comprehending God had them in charge. But it became God - it was a sign of loving care for a faithful servant - that Moses should die as he did. Quite conceivably he might have died in the gloom caused by some fresh aberration of the people, or at the best in the ordinary circumstances of daily life, with nothing more to mark his departure than if he were one of the most obscure persons in the camp. But God orders all things so that he shall depart where and when his mind may be filled with great joy because of Israel's coming years in Canaan. It happened not to him, as it has happened often in great crises of human affairs, that the leader has been suddenly called away with the feeling in his heart, "After me the deluge." None indeed knew better than Moses that Canaan would have its own difficulties. From the wilderness to Canaan was in many things only an exchange of difficulties, but still Canaan had things the wilderness never had, never could have, else it would not have been the promised land. Moses looks down on Canaan, and he sees not only the land, but a Joshua, with 600,000 fighting men under him, a tabernacle, an ark of the covenant, institutions in a measure consolidated by the daily attention of forty years.
III. THE SIMILAR ASSURANCES WE MAY HAVE AS TO THE FUTURE OF GOD'S WORK IN THE WORLD. We have things which our fathers had not - instruments, opportunities, liberties, and successes which were denied to them. Yet they saw the bright day coming; its first streaks fell on their dying faces; and they rejoiced even in what they could not share. Aged and bone-weary Israelites who died just as the people were leaving Egypt would nevertheless rejoice with all their hearts in the deliverance of their children. And Moses, who had been born an exile, who had lived forty years among strangers in Egypt, forty years more in the second exile of Midian, and forty years in the wilderness, was just the man to appreciate the satisfactions which were coming to his brethren at last. Thus we should learn to rejoice with all our hearts in the advent of possessions and privileges which have come too late for us individually to share. It is not enough languidly to say that things will be better for the next generation than they are for the present; it should be our joy to live and work as Moses did for the attainment of this. Let all our life be a slow climbing of Abarim, then our closing days will be rewarded with Abarim's view. It was the glory and joy of Moses that while he looked from the top of the mount, Israel was in the plain beneath. They were not far away in the wilderness of Sinai or, Worse still, in the brick-yards of Egypt. Moses had brought them with him, or rather God had brought him and them together. All humble, unselfish, and God-respecting hearts, who work through evil report and good report to make the world better, will assuredly have something of the reward of Moses from the top of Abarim. As concerns the greatest treasures of the kingdom of God, it matters not in what generation we live. It was better to be a believing Israelite in the wilderness, even though he died there, than an unbelieving one in Canaan. It will be better in the judgment for the man of two thousand years ago who looked forward longingly for the Messiah than for the man of to-day who looks back carelessly on the cross. The resources and revelations of eternity will equalize the disparities of time. All the same it will be no small matter if those who have taken part in guiding a generation through the wilderness see the earthly Canaan on which it is entering before they are gathered to their people. Each generation should leave to the next more of Canaan and less of the wilderness. Each generation, though it enters in some sort upon a Canaan, should leave it as only a wilderness compared with the brighter Canaan that is to follow. Let our confident, determined cry ever be, Out of Christ there is no hope for the world. Out of Christ the generations of men must become more and more corrupt, and give more hold for the pessimist with his dismal creed. But equally our cry must be, In Christ there is no room even for despondency, let alone despair. Black as the outlook remains on a world's sins and sorrows, the God who showed Canaan to Moses from Abarim holds his resources undiminished still (Matthew 37:20; Romans 8:28; Romans 11:33-36; Romans 15:19, 29; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 1:20). - Y.
scene of it, a mountain-top, where he might be alone with God and yet have a wide prospect of the promised land; the manner of it, not by gradual failure of natural strength, but while he was still able to breast the steep mountain side; the mystery of it, such that no man knew where he was buried. Yet underneath this singularity there was much that is often seen in the departure of God's servants, and which we shall find it profitable to contemplate.
I. THE LORD REMINDS HIS DYING SERVANT OF HIS SIN (verse 14). Dying thoughts are serious thoughts, and it would be strange if they did not often turn on the falls and shortcomings of the past life. Thoughts about sin are of two kinds: -
1. There may be the recollection of sin without any knowledge of forgiveness. It was not so that Moses remembered Meribah. The remembrance of unforgiven sin banishes peace. The soul cannot bear to look back, for the past is full of shapes of terror; it cannot bear to look up, for it sees there the face of an offended God; it cannot bear to look forward, for the future is peopled with unknown terrors.
2. There may be the recollection of sin and at the same time an assured persuasion of forgiveness. This is by no means inconsistent with peace. Not that, even thus, the remembrance of sin is pleasant. Moses is put in mind of Meribah to keep him humble. Sin remembered cannot but cause shame; yet it is quite compatible with great peace of mind. Not only so, there is a calm and soul-filling peace which is the fruit of forgiveness, and diffuses itself most abundantly when the soul expatiates on the remembrance at once of its own sin and the Lord's forgiving grace. "Bless the Lord, oh my soul, who forgiveth all thine iniquities."
II. THE LORD COMFORTS HIS SERVANT IN THE PROSPECT OF DEPARTURE.
1. By giving him a sight of the good in store for the Church. It is remarkable how often saints who have spent their strength on some great Christian enterprise, and earnestly desired to see it accomplished before their departure, have been denied this gratification. Moses did not cross the Jordan; David did not see the Temple, nor Daniel the Return, nor John the Baptist the manifestation of Christ's glory. Yet to all those saints there was granted some such view as that which gladdened the eye of Moses on Nebo. He who knows the hearts knew how dear to Moses' heart was the good of Israel. It is an excellent token of grace in the heart when the prospect of good days in store for the Church and cause of God is a cordial in one's last sickness.
2. By telling him of the good and congenial society that awaits him in the other world. "Thy people." When we die we go to God. The ascension of Christ in our nature has filled heaven for us with such a blaze of fresh light that we must ever think of heaven chiefly as a "being with the Lord." Yet it is a precious thought, and full of comfort, that those who fall asleep in Jesus are gathered to their people, their true kindred. Moses goes to be with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, with Joseph, with Miriam and Aaron. - B.
I. A CLEAR VIEW OF THE GLORIOUS FUTURE OF THE CHURCH. As Moses saw the land, not yet possessed, but already "given," so may faith anticipate the goodly heritage of the future. Illustrate Joseph's death-bed (Genesis 1:24); David's anticipations of an age of glory under Solomon; the bright glimpses of the future with which nearly every one of the minor prophets concludes.
II. A RELEASE FROM THE GRAVE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THAT FUTURE. Moses was spared from the wars of the Lord in the conquest of Canaan. And Christians, though willing, like the aged Dr. Lyman Beecher, to "enlist again in a minute," "to begin life over again, and work once more" ('Autobiography,' 2:552), are spared from the conflicts of the "perilous times" of the future.
III. AN ASSURANCE THAT THE WORK OF GOD WILL BE EFFICIENTLY CARRIED ON WITHOUT us. Not even a Moses is essential to the Church of God; Joshua will do the work as well.
IV. AN ADMITTANCE TO THE COMPANY OF THE PIOUS DEAD. "Thy people," who died in faith, and now live with God. With brighter hopes than any heathens, or even than Moses, we may say, "I go to the majority."
V. A PEACEFUL DEPARTURE SUCH AS OTHER LOVED ONES HAVE EXPERIENCED. "As Aaron thy brother was gathered." We have seen "the end of their course" (Hebrews 13:7), and may expect grace for dying hours such as they enjoyed. - P.
I. THE FIGURE UNDER WHICH MOSES INDICATES ISRAEL. He speaks of them as a flock of sheep, thus venturing on a meek reference to the quality of his own past services. He speaks like a man who had been long preparing, even before Meribah, for an emergency such as this. He knew he could not live always, and he saw no sufficiently hopeful change in Israel. He had to deal with the sheep-nature in them from the first, and that nature was in them still in undiminished vitality. They would, he implies, be as helpless in Canaan as in the wilderness. He had not yet got the view from Abarim, but that view would only deepen his thankfulness that God had given the people a shepherd. For the more impressive the view, and the more there was revealed of rich and abundant pasture, the more evident it would become that the sheep needed guidance in order to make full use of the pasture. Passing from the wilderness into Canaan, while it vastly enlarges the sheep-privileges, does not in itself change the sheep-nature. The need remains in equal force both for guidance and protection. Where the privileges are greater, there, consequently, the possessions will be greater; there also there will be more to attack, more danger of attack, and more need of defense. And in like manner how helpless we are of ourselves among the vast resources and promises which belong to God's grace in Christ Jesus. Unless we have some one to guide and strengthen, and show us the meaning and power of Divine truth, we are as helpless as an infant would be with a steam-engine. Weak and strong are relative terms. Sheep are strong enough in certain ways - strong to rebel against wholesome restraints and break through them, but not strong enough to repel the dangers which come when the restraints are broken through. Moses had only too often seen Israel hanging together like sheep. going in troops after some headstrong Korah, while men of the Caleb and Joshua order were almost to be counted on one's fingers.
II. THE PEOPLE BEING SUCH, A SHEPHERD WAS A MANIFEST NECESSITY. Given sheep, it does not take much reasoning to infer a shepherd. Moses had been a shepherd himself, both literally and figuratively, and his experience of the sheep in Midian doubtless sharpened his sense of the analogy as he gazed on the human sheep whom he had led for forty years. A man unfamiliar with pastoral life might indeed talk in a general way of the fallen children of men as sheep; but it needed a Moses to speak of the shepherd's work with such minuteness and sympathetic interest as he shows here. The shepherd is to go out before the sheep. With him rests the responsibility of choosing the place of pasture. And he must lead the sheep. He must go before them, and not too far before them, or he cannot truly lead. He leads them out to find pasture, and he leads them in to insure security. The Good Shepherd is in himself the guarantee both for nourishment and security, and the sheep follow him, as if to show that the real nourishments and securities of religion must come by a voluntary acceptance. There is much difference between being drawn and driven. The sheep following the shepherd is not like the ox dragging the plough and quickened by its master's goad. There are times indeed when, like the ox, we must be driven and chastised, but the greatest results can only be gained when we are drawn like the sheep. In the lives of God's people there is a very instructive mingling of freedom and constraint. Let us add, that in thinking of the responsibility of the shepherd for the providing of pasture it must not be forgotten how soon the manna ceased when Canaan was entered (Joshua 5:12). The people then needed guiding into a forethought and industry from which, in the presence of the daily manna, they had long been free.
III. IT IS MANIFEST THAT NOTHING BUT A DIVINE APPOINTMENT WAS ADEQUATE TO MEET THIS NECESSITY. Popular election was certainly not available. The sheep would make a poor business of it if they had to choose a shepherd. Popular government is less objectionable than the rule of despots, but it has its own delusions, its own narrow aims. The natural man is the natural man, circumscribed by the limits of time, and sense, and natural discernment, whether he be noble or peasant. The follies and cruelties of democracy have caused as sad, humiliating pages to be written in the history of the world as the follies and cruelties of any despot whatever. The man who says vex populi, vex Dei speaks error none the less because he speaks out of a generous, enthusiastic heart. Never till the voice of Christ becomes the willing and gladsome voice of the people can vex populi, vox Dei be the truth. Equally plain is it that the choice of Moses was not available. He feels that the thing can only be done in entire submission to God. Moses himself, in the day of his first call, had spoken very depreciatingly of his own qualifications. Yet not only had God chosen him, but also proved the choice was right. The event had shown that he was the leader after God's own heart. What a thing if he had turned out like Saul; but that he could not do, he was so completely the choice of God. It was not for Moses then, who had gone so tremblingly from Midian to Egypt, to say, "Who is fittest man for shepherd now?" Moses felt well able to estimate the qualifications of a leader; but who best supplied those qualifications was a question which none but the all-searching, all-knowing God could answer. God had not only seen fitness in Moses, but he had seen fitness in Moses only; for we must ever believe that in each generation, and for each emergency, he takes the very fittest man among the thousands of Israel. God had chosen at the departure from Egypt; God also shall choose at the entrance into Canaan.
IV. NOTICE THE SUGGESTIVE AND APPROPRIATE WAY IN WHICH GOD IS ADDRESSED. "The God of the spirits of all flesh." It is God who breathes in the breath of life, sustains and controls it, and can fix the time of its cessation. Speaking to God in this way, there is thus an expression of humble personal submission. Moses cannot choose the time of death, any more than he has been able to choose anything else. God had shielded the faint and delicate breath of the infant as it lay in the flags by the river's brink, and now he calls upon the old man of a hundred and twenty years, who has passed through such a difficult and oft-endangered course, to yield that breath up. There is also in this mode of address a clear recognition of how it is that God may be looked to for the choice of a leader. God has but lately proved his knowledge of individual men by his complete control over those dying in the wilderness (Numbers 26:64, 65). He who assuredly knows the hearts of all the 600,000 lately counted can say who of them is fittest to be leader. God knows who is nearest to him as a follower. There is no fear but the sheep will recognize those whom God appoints. In spite of all the difficulties of Moses, in spite of rebellions and curses, in spite of the crumbling away of a whole generation, the nation is still there. Moses can say, on the verge of Jordan and at the foot of Abarim, "Here am I and the flock that was given me." But all this achievement only glorified God the more, that God who had chosen Moses and hedged up his way. Any other leader than the one God had chosen could never have got out of Egypt. Any other leader than the one God will now choose cannot get across Jordan. - Y.
I. THE QUALIFICATION OF JOSHUA. "A man in whom is the spirit;" a spirit doubtless such as was bestowed on the seventy elders, of whom, in all probability, Joshua was one (chapter 11). Having the spirit was the one indispensable thing. Nothing of such work as Joshua had to do could be done without it. There are diversities of operations, but they are all the operations of those in whom there are special and necessary endowments for the work they have to do. Others beside Joshua had some of the qualifications he possessed, but, lacking the spirit, they might as well have lacked everything. What, for instance, was there to prevent Caleb from being leader? Like Joshua, he had been one of the spies, and seen Canaan before. He strikes us as being even a bolder and more resolute man than Joshua; but courage, fidelity, the following of God rather than man, while these are the qualities that make martyrs, they are not enough to make leaders. A Christian might make an excellent figure at the stake who would be nowhere as the guide of the flock. It is beautiful to feel that Caleb continued his simple-hearted devotion to the cause of Israel. Joshua and he seem to have continued the best of friends (Joshua 14). Whether a man is a leader or not should not affect our judgment of him in his whole humanity. Let us esteem most those who are best. It is a foolish question to ask who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven, for every one may conceivably have such excellence of spiritual qualities as may put him in the first place. We may conclude then that, good and true man as Caleb was, he lacked the particular spirit which Joshua possessed. Notice, again, that some who certainly had the spirit as well as Joshua lacked other qualifications. For one thing, Joshua had been long and intimately connected with Moses. It is interesting to notice how many things were done to give Moses pleasure in this departing hour. His death before crossing Jordan is a necessity; there is no way to obviate it; but really as we read of it we have hard work to connect the usual gloom of death with the event. The view that he gets, the compliance with his request, and the choice of one who had been long his faithful and affectionate companion, all these things made the cup of the dying Moses run over. It was euthanasia indeed. The friendship of Joshua with Moses may have had a very great deal to do with the appointment. Those who choose the company of the good and remain steadfast in it are likely to gain such positions as may enable them to transmit the influence of the good. Passing over the immediate circumstances of the appointment, which were such as to impress deeply both the shepherd and the sheep, and remain in the shepherd's mind, at all events, till his latest hour, we notice -
II. THE GREAT RULE FOR THE SHEPHERD'S GUIDANCE. God was not about to visit Joshua as he did Moses. Moses stood in lonely and awful eminence as the prophet with whom God spoke face to face (chapter 12:8; Deuteronomy 34:10). Such a mode of revelation was needed for the work Moses was called to do. The work in the wilderness was a peculiarly critical one. In one sense we may say it was even more important than the work in Canaan. Given your foundation, which may require great toil and great destruction of existing things if you are to get down to the rock; given your materials, which have to be accumulated with much searching, discernment, and exactitude; given, above all things, your design, in which even the least thing is to have vital connection with the great principles - given all these, and then the chief thing required is a competent, honest, and industrious builder. Moses was the man who gets to the foundation, gathers the material, and furnishes the design; Joshua, the subordinate, to come in afterwards and by simple-hearted, plodding, tenacious fidelity to complete the construction of what was intrusted to him. There was no need for God to visit Joshua as he did Moses. The signs of the Urim were quite sufficient, and therefore nothing more was given. Notice also that the priest became thus associated with the leader, to confirm his position when right, and to check him in case he showed signs of going wrong. If Joshua had gone anywhere else than to the intimations of Urim, the resort itself would have been sufficient to condemn him. God took care of Moses in all the directions he had to give by immediately and most abundantly strengthening and supporting him. And so Joshua here was wonderfully helped by the Urim. Any one who refused obedience to him must have been resolutely opposed to truth, for who could deny intimations plainly palpable to the senses? Thus we are helped by the thought of what the Urim was to Joshua in our consideration as to the authority of the New Testament Scriptures over Christians. It is sometimes asked why inspiration should be held to stop with the canon of Scripture. An equally pertinent question is to ask why it should continue. God alone is the judge as to the modes of revelation, and the duration of those modes. It is out of the sovereignty and wisdom of him whose ways are unsearchable that he dealt with Moses after one fashion, and with Joshua after another. And it is by a practical reference to the same sovereignty and wisdom that we shall account for the difference between the New Testament Scriptures and even the most copious and esteemed of the earlier post-apostolic writings. We have our Urim in the great principles of the New Testament.
III. THE CHOICE WAS JUSTIFIED BY THE RESULT. The Book of Joshua is a very remarkable one for this peculiarity, which it shares with the Book of Daniel, that there is no record of any stumbling on the part of its leading character. Joshua is always alert, obedient to God, jealous of God's honour, and keeping the great end in view. There is sin recorded in the Book and a dilatory spirit, but Joshua himself appears in striking contrast to this. And so it always has been and always will be; he whom God chooses will justify the choice. The successful leaders whom God has given his people in the past are an ample assurance that he will continue to provide them. - Y.
I. AT WHOSE INSTANCE THIS APPOINTMENT TOOK PLACE. It was Moses who sued for a successor. It was not the people who urged on the business, nor was it necessary to overcome the reluctance of the present leader by a Divine command. No sooner does Moses receive notice to demit than he prays for a successor, and begs that his eyes may see him before he dies. His experience of the government makes him dread the dangers of an interregnum. "Sheep without a shepherd," such would the tribes be without a leader; unable to keep order among themselves, and exposed to every enemy. It betokened great nobility of soul in Moses that this was the thought uppermost in his mind on hearing that his hour was come. The paramount feeling of his heart was concern for the honour of the Lord and the good of Israel after his decease. Some men cannot endure the sight of a successor; Moses earnestly desired to see his successor before he died. Such being his desire, see where he carries it. "Let the Lord set a man over the congregation." From the Lord he had received his commission at the bush; from the Lord he sues for a successor. Moses was emphatically the "servant of the Lord;" and none but the Lord has authority to nominate the heir to so high an office. Moses has another reason for turning God-wards at this time. None but the Lord knows the fittest man, or can furnish him with the wisdom and valour the office will crave. He is "the God of the spirits of all flesh." He made men's souls, and he knows them. He admits them into intimacy with himself. He is their Saviour and Portion. When the Church, or any part of it, finds itself in want of a man fit to be intrusted with some office of high responsibility, or to be sent forth on some peculiarly difficult mission, this is the quarter to which it must turn. The God of the spirits of all flesh can furnish them with the man they want; He, and no other.
II. ON WHOM THE APPOINTMENT WAS BESTOWED. "Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit." Joshua was no stranger to Moses; he had been "Moses' minister from his youth" (Numbers 11:28), and known to him as a man every way fitted to be his successor. He must have thought of him; yet he did not presume to suggest his name; he waited to hear what the Lord would speak. N.B. When Moses was about to die and a successor was sought, it turned out that the Lord had anticipated the want. The successor of Moses was in training for forty years before Moses died. This happens oftener than many suppose.
III. THE MANNER OF THE INVESTITURE.
1. Joshua was presented to the congregation in a public assembly. To be sure, he owed his appointment to Divine nomination, not to popular election. He was, like Moses, the Lord's vicegerent. Nevertheless, the people were acknowledged in the appointment. They were to be Joshua's subjects, but not his slaves. Accordingly, it was judged only fair and right that they should be informed publicly of the appointment; that they should witness the investiture and hear the charge (cf. Numbers 20:27).
2. Moses laid his hands upon him. This is the earliest example in Scripture of a rite of investiture which was afterwards much in use, which was transferred by the apostles to the New Testament Church, and is the familiar custom of the Churches of Christ still. The terms in which it is here enjoined place the intention of it in a clear light.
(1) It denoted the investiture of Joshua with the office of leader and commander in succession to Moses. "Thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation may be obedient" (verse 20). Not all his honour; for Moses was set over all God's house, and in that respect had no successor; but part of his honour, particularly that part in virtue of which he was captain of the host of Israel (cf. Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3).
(2) It denoted also the bestowment on Joshua of the gifts appropriate to his new office. Not that Joshua was, till now, without valour or wisdom. During his long apprenticeship of forty years he had given abundant evidence of a rich dowry of these virtues. But the laying on of the hands of Moses by Divine command was a token and pledge that a double portion of his master's spirit would be thenceforward bestowed, to strengthen him to take up his master's task and carry it forward to completion. The pledge was redeemed. "Joshua was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands upon him" (Deuteronomy 34:9; cf. 1 Timothy 4:14).
3. Moses gave him a charge. The scope and substance of the charge are recorded in Deuteronomy 3:28 and Deuteronomy 31:7,
8. The design of this part of the service was twofold. On the one hand. Moses faithfully expounded the duties belonging to the office with which he was now invested. He certified him that it was no idle dignity he was now entering upon, but an arduous work. And this was done not within a tent, or in some solitary place, but publicly, and before all the congregation, that they as well as Joshua might hear. On the other hand, Moses laboured to strengthen his successor's heart. No man was so well able to comfort Joshua as Moses was. The Lord in calling Moses at the bush had given him the promise, "Surely I will be with thee." He had kept the promise. Moses was able to testify that when God calls a man to any duty, he will be with him in the discharge of the duty; so that the most timid man may well be strong and of a good courage in the work the Lord has given him to do. - B.
I. THE INDWELLING OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD (verse 18). This obvious from the past history of Joshua, especially at Kadesh (chapters 13, 14). Union with Christ through faith, attested by his Holy Spirit, essential for us.
II. A CLEAR CONVICTION OF DUTY. We need the assurance of a mission, "a charge" (verse 19), whether addressed from without or heard in the secret of the soul.
IV. THE CONFIDENCE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD (verse 20; cf. 1 Timothy 3:7). In carrying on our work we may need the cheerful co-operation, or even "obedience" (verse 20), which confidence in our character and commission inspires.
V. CEASELESS COMMUNION WITH AND DIRECTION FROM GOD (verse 21). For the welfare of a "congregation" or of a nation may depend on the instructions given, or assumed to be given, in God's name. - P.