The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
WE have seen how, from a certain point of view, all the arrangements made for the capture of the walled city were obviously impracticable—from a military point of view, simply absurd. We are now prepared to advance a step, and look at one or two of the almost hidden points of the narrative with a view to its illumination from incidental lights and references. Our object will be to find out how far these points are confirmed by our own experience and observation, how far they commend themselves as probably historical to our religious consciousness. The subject before us may well be described as the subject of Discipline. The men were held in severe check. The laws laid down for their marching and general conduct were laws marked by great rigour. Let us inquire whether those laws were merely arbitrary, expressing the will of one Prayer of Manasseh, and limited as to their action to one locality or to one event. If we find that they were simply arbitrary, thus local, and thus limited, they can have no deep moral concern for us; if we find that they were not arbitrary, but were part of the gracious necessity of things, we may read another lesson on that sublime doctrine the continuity of Prayer of Manasseh, the oneness of God, the infiniteness and unchangeableness of law.
Was it not of the nature of discipline that the men were to have arms, and yet were not to use them? Was not that a great lesson in the most difficult of all arts—the art of self-control? That the men were armed is clear from the ninth verse, which opens with the words, "And the armed men went before the priests." Yet no arm was to be used. Had the men been without arms, they would not have felt the pressure of the discipline. Is it not a continual lesson in life that, having certain things capable of executing immediate effects, we are yet to let them fall as it were by our side, and to look in other directions, and to adopt other methods in view of deliverance and victory? It is hard to have the weapon, to see the thing that is to be done, and to know that the proposed thing could be done by the use of the weapon, and yet to allow it to remain in disuse. This is part of the continual discipline of life; this is what we are all called upon to do today. We do not use all our faculties; sometimes we have almost to strip ourselves of our distinctive faculties, or to let them lie in disuse, and to be doing everything by doing nothing. This is part of a deeply-planned scheme of education. The government that has established this law in the great school of human culture moves in wide ranges, is apparently not careful about immediate effects, has contemplated the acquisition of issues upon a scheme and upon lines which transcend the impatient imagination of man. To see the stone which could be thrown at the enemy, and to know that our right hand has the power and skill to throw that stone, yet to walk past it, as if it were not discerned, is a lesson worth learning. To know that it lies easily within your power to blast an opponent with satire or bitterness which he could not endure, and yet to treat him with all courtesy and deference, is no small attainment in Christian education. To have the power, and yet not to use it—that is how we stand in the school of Christ. This is how Jesus Christ himself conducted his own life in the sight of men. He did not use all his faculties; he did not call into requisition all his resources; he was quiet when he might have been restless, calm when he might have excited a tumult which would have had all the effect of an unexpected and irresistible storm. When one offered to defend him, he said, Nay, not thus; thou dost not understand the spirit of the kingdom; thinkest thou that I could not now pray unto my Father, and he would send twelve legions of angels, which would look all these petty enemies into dismay? We must not use all our resources. We have the strength, but do not resort to the tyranny of using it. Some things are to be accomplished by submission, patience, meekness; knowing the righteousness of the cause, we await the issue with imperturbable calm. But what a lesson this is to those who are impatient! We want things done at once, and when asked as to the practicability of their accomplishment, we point to arms, and weapons, and stones, and faculties, and say, Why not put all these things instantaneously into action, and the issue is a matter of easy calculation? We admit all this with regard to military arrangements; and, so far as the proposition is kept within what may be termed abstract limits, we have no hesitation whatever in adopting it in some measure; but it is a proposition which touches every life. To be armed, and yet to be peaceful; to have weapons, and not to use them; to stand with a hand upon a gun, one discharge of which might shatter the walls of the enemy, and yet to fall down before that gun as if it were a sacred altar, and there wait with bowed head and clasped hands the revelation of the divine will—that is religion. Anything short of that is vanity, self-will, impatience; the kind of thing which is valued by men who mistake the bubble for the river, the thunder for the lightning. Life without discipline is life without dignity.
Was it not, further, of the nature of discipline for the men to be in the midst of plenty, and yet not to touch it? Joshua 6:18-19 are very clear upon this point:—
"And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord." ( Joshua 6:18-19)
Is it not in the nature of discipline to be in great excitement, and yet not to express it? Read Joshua 6:10 :—
"And Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout." ( Joshua 6:10)
Here we clearly see that much detail must go before great results. The men must go out one day, and another day, and even to six days, and on the seventh day rising early, "about the dawning of the day." Their impatience seems to betray itself a little. Things cannot go beyond the "seventh" day. There is no mention made of an eighth day. "Three days"—there may be a resurrection: "seven days"—Sabbath! Now the "seventh day" has come, and some very early risers are abroad. There is a faint whitening in the far east: the full day is coming:—
"And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they rose early about the dawning of the day, and compassed the city after the same manner seven times: only on that day they compassed the city seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city" ( Joshua 6:15-16).
We have come to hear thy voice, O thou Saviour of the world! Thou art full of compassion. We live upon thy mercy, and therefore we are the witnesses of thy love. Jesus wept! Thou hast sanctified the tears of sorrow, and made sorrow itself a piety by thy shedding of sympathetic tears. Thou art always compassionating us. Thou dost not burn with anger against human weakness or human want; thou dost burn with anger only against human sin; and dost thou not treat human sin as it was never treated before? Dost thou not go far back into things, and show us darkness centuries old, and wickedness nearly as old as time? And dost thou not trace the progress of evil, and point out to us somewhat of the mystery of guilt? We are not individuals; we are links in a long chain. No man liveth unto himself; no man is himself alone: he is his father and his mother; he is in one life all the lives that went before him. Herein is mystery; herein is sorrow; herein is sin manifold and aggravated. We know not what to say. We ourselves are double men: when we do good, evil is present with us; the spirit says yes to God, and the flesh says no. Sometimes we wonder which answer will be uppermost at the last! The Lord help us, sending us strength daily from his sanctuary, and comforting us as he alone can comfort the struggling and weary sons of men. We bless thee for the ends we see, as well as for the beginnings we enjoy. We should be killed by an infinite monotony; but thou hast made the morning a beginning and the night a close, and by this symbol thou hast marked off all time and all the ways of men, so that no man knoweth even the day of his birth or the day of his death: he can but say, Born—died; and between these two points, what tumult urges itself, what sin defiles the little space, what prayer seeks to redeem it, and what divine love seeks to turn it into spiritual fruitfulness! Behold, we find ourselves pressed upon by mysteries, mocked by spectres, pursued by enemies; and yet, amid all this uproar and assault, we find the altar, the revelation of heaven, the Son of God, the Cross of Christ. Help us to be patient, careful, reverent; keep us steadfast in all holy faith, and may we cling to that which is good, that, having such in our hands, the rest will come, or such revelations will be granted as will cheer the desponding life. Thou hast appointed men to places as thou wilt; so far, all is good, for thou knowest what space each spirit wants, and what room each life can take up. But some men have appointed themselves to their own places, and brought disorder into the great social poem. Thou dost not crush their self-will and greed by violence, thou dost rather train men by long processes, showing light in new directions, sending deliverers from unexpected quarters, so that shepherds become captains, and mean men lead the army, and those who were not known stand up in the infinite fame of manhood. We will put everything into thine hands; we will do nothing of ourselves; we will await the voice within, the light of the soul, the face at heaven"s window beckoning us to further progress and service. We will talk of our sins to ourselves, and we only name them to thee that they may be destroyed in the confession: for Jesus Christ hath tasted death for every man. Help us to seize the truth as it is in Christ; give us clearness of vision to see horizons and not the arbitrary boundaries set up by men; give us a clear view into heaven"s own blue arch, lest we mistake the roofs built by human hands for the heavens of God. The Lord grant unto us the quietness of heart which is essential to true education, the comfort of soul which enables the spirit to seize the prizes of God; and thus may we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and without knowing it of ourselves, as a merit due to ourselves, may we come into a great estate of wisdom and power. Be with all our loved ones who cannot be with us in the public sanctuary; they are with us in sympathy, in eager wonder as to what we are doing; they think they know the time of the song and of the prayer, of the sweet reading and the speech to the minds and souls of men; and they accompany us along the living line; the Lord give them comfort in solitude, hope in darkness, and a healing of soul in the time of bodily frailty. The Lord look upon the little child as if there were but one in all the universe, and so pet him with infinite love as to make him strong and wise. The Lord save young life from those who would devour it; the Lord save it from the jaws of hell. Help us to esteem one another very highly in love for Christ"s sake—to live in confidence and affection, and in such union as will make the weakest feel that he enjoys the protection of the whole. God be merciful unto us, and bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us; and in the shining of that look we shall forget the sun. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 6". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25