The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
THIS chapter is remarkable for two or three points which happily combine the miraculous and the experimental. Here and there we cannot touch the genius of the chapter at all, and then suddenly it descends upon familiar lines, so that we can interrogate it, and in a measure understand it, because it confirms our own personal experience. The foot of this ladder is upon the earth: the head of it is in the sky. Take the first verse:—
"And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were on the side of Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel" ( Joshua 5:1)
The heathen kings did not disbelieve in miracles. It seems as if we had lost a good deal by our civilisation. We have come into a very complicated state of existence, and are so fretted by questions and scepticisms as to be almost divested at once of our dignity and our peace. It must have been wonderful living in the days when miracles seemed to be quite credible, quite near at hand, topics of common converse, instances which men had seen with their own eyes. We have lost something by this cessation of the outward miracle. What we have lost is faith—faith in human history, faith in the processes of human evolution and education: we have lived ourselves into the commonplace pointless. Lord Lytton says: "The man who has no faith in religion is often the man who has faith in a nightmare. Julius Caesar publicly denounced a belief in hereafter, and rejected the idea of a soul and a deity, yet muttered a charm when he entered a chariot, and did not cross the Rubicon until he had consulted the omens. Lord Herbert, of Cherbourg, writes a book against Revelation, and asks a sign from heaven to tell him if his book is approved by his Maker. The man who cannot believe in the miracles performed by the Saviour, gravely tells us of a miracle vouchsafed to himself." Thus we measure everything by our own experience and consciousness. We have lost the power of projecting ourselves into the universal consciousness of ancient and contemporary spiritual history. The heathen kings drew inferences from what had occurred around them. They said—If the river has been crossed, the city is gone. They were not unreasoning or infantile minds. They saw somewhat of the logical issue of things. The power of following the seed to its fructification is what we have lost. Otherwise, we should all be prophets: we should know that as certainly as a man has told a lie he has dug a hell. We think the law will be modified, or turned aside, and that the thunderbolt of judgment will somehow be averted. We are not morally logical. We peddle about verbal sequences and account it cleverness to trace literary consequences, but what about moral concatenation and issue? Were we as bold in the matter of inference as were the heathen kings, we should know that the moment a man has given up self-control he is damned. It seems to be a great leap from the first step to the last, but that is moral logic, that is spiritual sequence; as a question of logic there is no way of getting out of it. What then can be done? All men have surely been false, and all men have surely done that which is wrong. There comes the sublimity of divine revelation. God takes up the case: the great miracle is performed from above. There is no halting between falsehood and perdition; so far as the man is concerned, his first lie killed him. The first act of disobedience "brought death into our world and all our woe." Death is not the result of a series of actions; it is the result of a thought, a purpose, a deed. Whilst thus we contemplate with a kind of inexcusable dignity the kings and mighty men who lived long ages ago, and even begin to question whether they lived at all or not, they seized the great idea of process, development, and culmination: they knew that one miracle meant all miracles. They did not ask for another sign from heaven as the unbelieving Jews were always asking. Therein was the sophistry of the Jewish reasoning and the folly of the Jewish relation to the great Man of their day: they did not know that one miracle meant all miracles, one lie meant all the fire of eternity burning the liar. We, too, seem to suppose that only at the end of a series of offences can certain penal consequences arise. That may be well for mere social convenience, that may be a proper limit for human magistracy and imperfect power; but looking at things in the light of heaven and the light of eternity, to tell one lie is to go into everlasting punishment. Who, then, can be saved? None by himself. No man has the power to rub out a lie. You cannot expunge a falsehood; once done, it is done for ever, so far as the doer is concerned. If there be any balm in Gilead, if there be any physician there, if there be any undreamed of love and power in heaven, if it lie within the circuit of Almighty power and infinite wisdom to meet the case, so be it; but within the limits of the man"s own life and responsibility and power, the lie means hell. Blessed be God, there is a gospel in relation to this—a Cross, a Saviour, a way out of it all,—not to be understood or reduced to words which always exactly fit the occasion, but to be seized by faith and appropriated by the hunger of the helpless heart. Heathen kings lost spiritual conviction, and therefore their arms fell right down by their sides. It is when the heart "melts" that the arm gives in. Men fight with the heart; men live with the heart; men return to the battle because of the inspiration of the heart. What wonder, then, if the Christian teacher should come forward and say, "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness"? Man does not lay a withered hand upon leaven"s pillars and draw himself up by that palsied grasp. It is with the heart we live and suffer and return to the battle; it is the heart which says—To-morrow shall see victory; tomorrow we bury the enemy in the grave. The walls of Jericho were still standing; all the kings of the Amorites and all the kings of the Canaanites had their armies intact and all their resources at hand, but "their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more." And what is a man without heart, without spirit, without moral confidence? To know that righteousness is not with us is to have all the pith taken out of our muscles; to know that we are going into the garden to kiss an innocent Christ and thus betray him Isaiah, when we see him, to fall right back, blanched and dead. Be right in spiritual conviction. Know that the thing proposed to be done is right, wise, good; and then the rest will be peace, victory,—enduring, untainted honour.
Another interesting point occurs in the sixth verse:—
"For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord: unto whom the Lord sware that he would not shew them the land, which the Lord sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey." ( Joshua 5:6)
Here we find what we are constantly seeing: a new generation but a permanent humanity. According to this statement all the people that were men of war which came out of Egypt were consumed. The Israel that entered Canaan was not the Israel that left Egypt, so far as detail was concerned. This is the mystery of human development or human progress. Men die—man lives. The generation passes away—humanity abides. God thus raises up a Church to himself. Much is apparently lost by the way: the leaves of a thousand years ago are all dead and buried, or have entered into chemic relations with the universe which we cannot follow, but the tree on which they grew still stands, lifting itself up to the blue heavens, and waiting next year"s inspiration and fruitfulness. Here lies a truth which many men dare not really put into words, which cannot be so put into words as to explain itself to everybody. We must grow up into some mysteries, pass into them subtly and come to their realisation suddenly; they are not to be explained or made matters of controversy; they are to be seized by the expand ing and strengthening mind; they are to be appropriated by the refined and sanctified consciousness. The mocker might step in here and say, Where are they who left Egypt to come to a land of promise? They are dead; their carcases are in the wilderness. That is historically, and as a matter of detail, true; but humanity is in man. The great human quantity is within the individual detail. The Church is within the sinner. Here are men who, like ourselves, were born in the wilderness but destined for Canaan. That is human life in a sentence. All these people were children of the wilderness, yet they were not meant for the wilderness as a final settlement; they knew it: the spirit of marching was in them; the angel of battle moved them to arms. Is it not so in our own consciousness? We were born in poverty, but never meant to remain there; we were born under great disadvantages, but had a soul given to us which said—We will beat them all down, stand upon them, and make use of them to heighten the very honour and dignity the Lord has enabled us to win. We are all wilderness-born: we have no right to remain in the wilderness or to die in it. The men died in the wilderness, "because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord"—and there cannot be two Lords, two Masters, two Sovereigns, two thrones. "Hear, O Israel,"—O humanity,—"the Lord our God is one Lord." Do not let us set up our little will and whim and idea as against the eternal purpose, but fall down and resolutely and tenderly pray that we may know God"s will and do it every syllable. That is "the whole duty of man." God is disappointed with the individuals, but he will be pleased with the race. When God made Adam he did not make an Adam; he made what "Adam" signifies—man. The judgment of God does not lie as between himself and the one little creature we call a man. God is not set up as the centre of innumerable details any one of which may crush his purpose and render his decree a nullity. God takes another view of man:—As I live, saith the Lord, the whole earth shall be filled with my glory. What part or lot are we about to play in this matter? Fool is he who thinks he can rule back the purpose of God or tear in twain the covenant of Heaven. It is one of two things: we fall upon the stone and are broken, or the stone falls upon us and we are ground to powder. Do not let us contend about terms or technicalities, or avail ourselves of all the suggestions offered by a crudely-formed and crudely-expressed theology. Here lies the infinite truth, confirmed by all life, that there can be but one will that is right, one God blessed for evermore. He will carry out his purpose. He has vowed as it were by his life, his eternity, that his word shall not return unto him void. He may be cast out, reviled, killed; but he will still have the whole earth for his inheritance and humanity for a gem in his crown. "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." Every man has within himself the power—not the right—of self-damnation; but God"s word shall be fulfilled, though it take innumerable ages to accomplish it, that man shall stand in his image and likeness. He will never cease to work until the image is perfected. Whoever comes, whoever goes, though the wilderness be one infinite cemetery, God shall have a seed to serve him and to call Jesus blessed. We can fight, we can disobey, we can have our own poor way,—all that lies within the possibility of sin; but it comes to nothing, except dishonour and ruin and death.
The most interesting point of all is found in Joshua 5:11-12 :—
"And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day. And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year." ( Joshua 5:11-12)
The manna had fallen in the wilderness thirty-nine years and eleven months, excepting on the Sabbath-day. A modern commentator says:—"The manna finally ceased or kept Sabbath on the very day afterwards marked by our Lord"s resurrection, which became the Lord"s day." Now this is matter of simple arithmetical calculation. There is no possibility of so using figures and dates as to mislead the mind upon this particular; and here, by a process of rigid arithmetical demonstration, it is made clear that the manna finally kept Sabbath on the very day afterwards marked by our Lord"s resurrection; and our Lord replaced the manna of ancient teachers by himself saying:—I am the true Bread sent down from heaven: eat of me—eat of this old corn; other means of sustenance are done away, and I am the Bread sent down from heaven. Some very striking inferences immediately follow the perusal of this state of things. For example, here we have the reason for the cessation of miracles. When did the manna cease to fall?—Immediately that there was corn to be eaten. No sooner was it possible to live, as we should say naturally, than the supernatural method of existence was ended. This is God"s method all through. There is no further need for manna, the manna will cease to be rained upon the wilderness. When we can find food for ourselves God will not find it for us otherwise than primarily, otherwise than by showing us how to discover and appropriate it. This is the beauty of righteousness: this is the very centre and soul of the divine discipline of mankind. When we are in the wilderness and cannot grow corn, we shall not die of hunger, for God will intervene and sustain the life of his servants. Have no fear; let your courage abide in God. When the times are so hard and cruel and difficult that it is impossible for any honest man to live by natural methods and ordinary customs, God will not see him lost for want of sustenance. No man can say how that sustenance will be found, but it will be supplied. We may speak sometimes of the method of its production almost flippantly, or regard it with some measure of indifference, but in our most serious moods we shall come to the conclusion that after all there is a hand, infinite in power and in tenderness, working amid the affairs of men. But the other lesson is just as true. When the times are not so hard and impracticable and inhospitable, when men can dig and sow and cut down and grind and bake their bread, God will allow natural processes to be resumed, and he will so far throw us upon them as to withdraw what may be termed the supernatural or unimaginable. This is the very way of life. It is the right way in the house; it is the right way in the culture and upbringing of little children; it is the very secret of Providence:—God always near to us if there is no meat in the wilderness; God always ready to train by labour when labour is possible. So we are called to duty, to diligence. We are not to look for the supernatural so long as the natural is available. What do we want with the miracles when the whole land simply waits to be cultivated in order to answer our industry with abundant harvest? If any thing unrighteously stand in the way of this it must go down: it will inevitably go down, for God is with humanity—the whole, the sum-total quantity, with Prayer of Manasseh, and for man all things shall be smoothed, and man shall pass on to the fulfilment of the divine idea. Not one word here can be spoken for indolence; not a single excuse can be set up for reluctance to labour. The light was made to work in. He who invented a jet that should break up the darkness invented a method of extending the sphere of industry. We are not to look to fathers and mothers to do for us what we can do for ourselves; it is unmanly, ignoble, unworthy. Depend upon it the fatherly and motherly spirit will see that the wilderness be turned into a fruitful field, if it be impossible for us to do anything by ourselves; but when that possibility is an open fact it is right that fatherly and motherly care should be withdrawn, and if not withdrawn its continuance becomes a crime.
A wonderful process we have seen in all these readings. We have seen the cloud by day displaced, giving way to the ark of the covenant. Hence the words, "Ye have not passed this way heretofore,"—that Isaiah, as we have seen, Ye have not heretofore had the ark of the covenant ahead of you, but only a symbolic cloud—now the cloud goes and you follow a written document. We have seen the manna displaced by the corn of Canaan: there is no more manna because the corn is plentiful, and nature will not do the work of the supernatural: the work of the supernatural is not indeed amid the bountifulness of nature. And, further than this, let us remind ourselves again and again, we know Christ no more after the flesh. Paul says, "He is risen." He is vanished. There is no fleshly Christ now. The great dispensation of the Spirit has opened. Under that dispensation we live. How wondrously we have returned to the cloud period and the fire-by-night method of guiding the world!—for what is the Spirit but as it were a cloud without measure, impalpable,—a fire we cannot touch, yet whose radiance and warmth are always available? We live under the dispensation of the Spirit, under the dispensation of new influences, new movements of the soul, daily inspirations from Heaven; and so living, it is not for this man or that man in his individuality to arise and set up any Church in his own name, saying, I have a special revelation from God. To-day it is humanity that is inspired, the whole Church that is a sacred priesthood. This, from my point of view, is the true philosophy of succession. It is folly to dispute that great principle. Whoever disputes it dissociates himself from organic history and from organic humanity. From the first the principle of succession has been asserted in the Scriptures; to the last things were committed from man to man—put in trust, so that they have been handed on from one generation to another. The only thing to insist upon now is this: that the Church is the great individual—the whole Church, not as broken up into communions, one having the partiality of Heaven and another living under the disapprobation of the skies, but the whole redeemed Church. There is a common sentiment, a common cry—a great, grand faith common to every soul in all the uncounted host. It is when we introduce our petty opinions, and one man sets up his inferences as against the inferences of some other Prayer of Manasseh, that we lose touch and lose the altar, and lose God. From these verbal controversies we must retire, and know that the kingdom of heaven is not in contentions, in philosophies, in vain representations of self-will and self-opinion; but under all forms of worship, under all ecclesiasticisms, there is a spirit common to the whole redeemed Church. To realise the presence of that spirit is to enter into the very mystery of the work of Christ and to understand what he meant when he prayed that we might all be one, as he was in the Father and the Father in him.
Almighty God, thou art writing thy signs upon the heavens and upon the earth, and upon all the flying days of time. Blessed is he who can read them and apply their lessons to his heart, and walk according to their meaning. We can discern the signs of the weather—how is it we cannot discern the signs of the times? We have quick vision in some directions, and yet we are quite blind in others. We are double men,—eloquent, yet dumb; bright of eye, yet dull of perception. We cannot tell what we are, we are so confused and bewildered within our own consciousness. Sometimes we think we see the dawning light: then we sing like birds that are glad; then the whole sky is a great cloud, unbroken, unblessed with a single star; and then we sink into silence and despair. We have no constancy of life, no steadfastness of faith; our souls as to their moods veer about like the incalculable wind. We pray that our faith may be established, that it may be broad, massive, not to be shaken, strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Lord, increase our faith—especially in solidity, that we may be the same tomorrow as today, confidently hoping in God. We know what thy word is: we are ennobled as we read it; no man can utter such words as thou hast written without being enlarged by their very perusal: they are sublime, they are full of God. Still, we cannot see the application of thy words; we look upon life within some one day and say—Behold, the purpose of Heaven is frustrated, and the counsel of the Most High is turned upside down. We are impatient, because ignorant; we are furious, because weak. We would be calm with the peace of God. Help us to live every moment as if it were the last. May the spirit of solemnity touch our whole life; yet may we feel that the highest solemnity is consistent with the purest joy. The Lord grant unto us clear shining after rain. The Lord bless us with the sound of the turtle when the winter is over and gone. We love the summer: we long for things that are verdant and beauteously coloured, and we long to hear all nature sing. If the winter days must come, give us a brave heart, a true faith, and may we so live in Christ, God the Song of Solomon, that the winter itself shall be but a variation of summer. We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us. He is the mighty Saviour, he is the infinite Redeemer; there is none other who can save. He died for us, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. We know that we are the unjust; we would flee unto the living Christ and ask him to give us all he has; the very asking shall express a divine inspiration, the very desire shall bring its own answer and comfort: thou dost not excite such passions in the soul without gratifying them with a great content. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 5". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25