Joshua vii. 1-13
Individual and Collective Defeat.
by F.C. Bland
IT is the privilege of every child of God to know that everything he does concerns God. God was pleased when His people were brought out of Egypt. He tells them to date their very existence from the day they were brought out. In the book of Deuteronomy, He tells the object of His bringing them out: He says He brought them out that He might bring them in. Exodus tells us of His bringing them out. Joshua tells us of His bringing them in, and it shows us that after they were brought in, God gave them something to do in the way of possessing the land into which they were brought. It is a very common thing for Christians, when they are converted to God, to rest satisfied with being converted, and to forget that the fact of their being converted brings responsibility with it, and that everything they do concerns God. There are other expressions in the previous parts of the Word of God, and one or two after, something like that of Joshua (Joshua vii. 6-9). Israel on two occasions, when some little trouble occurred to them, wished they might get back into Egypt. This was not Joshua's wish. Israel's wish, when trouble seemed before them, was that God had left them there: "It had been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness." In another place, they lusted after the things of Egypt, and they desired to go back again. "We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; but now our souls are dried away, there is nothing at all beside this manna before our eyes." And you know, dear friends, that those desires of the hearts of Israel did not result at all from the same thing that the desire of Joshua did. It was not that the children of Israel were afraid that the glory of God would be touched; but because their wicked hearts lusted after the things of Egypt, and they forgot from what they had been delivered. If one looks back at the deliverance from Egypt, it is perfectly amazing that anyone could for one moment allow the thought to rest in their minds of going back into it. They came out from bondage, where the waters, that should have been for refreshment, were turned to blood; where the air was filled with flies, and the judgments of God came down in hail. They were delivered out of darkness into a light which went before them by day; and yet the people that knew what redemption was, and saw what God had done for them, actually forgot what God had done, and desired to go back again; one time because a little trouble was before them; another because they lusted for the things of Egypt. As I was coming down here tonight, I believe there was a ball at the Lord Mayor's, and I began to think of Egypt. There was a time when that was my occupation. What would it be to go back from what we feast on here to the fleshpots of Egypt—to the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic? I do not suppose there is any Christian, (at least, any who cares for the glory of God), who has not at some time almost found the expression of Joshua on his lips, when he found himself in circumstances where he feared the glory of God would be touched. But it is one thing to consider the glory of God; and it is another thing to think, like Israel, of eating of the fleshpots of Egypt.
Now, I am going to refer in detail to the circumstances of this chapter; others have often done this before me; but I want to say a few words on the result of the defeat of Israel told of here, and the causes manifest. God never brought His people into the promised land for the purpose of leaving them defeated; and God never brought a Christian from darkness into His marvellous light, and delivered him from the power of Satan, with the purpose that he should be defeated; and therefore I say, a Christian should never be content with defeat, or with being anything else than a victor. God is with us now as He promised to be with Joshua, and if you and I are defeated in the conflict with the world and the devil, and in the conflict with our own hearts, there is a reason for it too, and the eye that could search out Israel, first by tribes, then by families, and then man by man, sees into every heart before Him, and knows what is the reason if we suffer a defeat. Joshua did not know where the wedge of gold or the Babylonish garment was; but the Lord knew it—Achan thought it was hid; but the Lord knew it, and not only was Achan punished but Israel was defeated on account of it.
Dear friends, there is something more for Christians to consider than individual defeat; there is collective defeat; and these are times when we should take to heart as to what our position is, and see that our responsibility is not only individual, but collective. Now, a thing that would have been taken little notice of in the wilderness, would attract much attention in the promised land. The book of Deuteronomy is the reiteration of the law of God—God making a covenant with Israel, and promising to deliver them from all their enemies, provided they obeyed Him. The book of Joshua shows God fulfilling His part. Judges shows Israel lamentably failing, and breaking their part. The keynote of the book of Joshua is "Gilgal;" and the keynote of the book of Judges is "Bochim;" and in all the victories Israel had, you will remark that all the camp returned to Gilgal, the place of putting away of the flesh; they were circumcised again at Gilgal; and if we look for victory, remember that the flesh is nothing, or we shall meet with the same fate that Israel did before Ai. They trusted in their own strength in this case; in their own wisdom in the next; (Joshua ix. 14) and in both, they failed and suffered defeat. I do not know whether you have noticed this, how, when one reads the Word of God alone, it finds one out. When we sit down to read the Word of God together, God lets us, generally, find out something from it; but when I sit down to read the Word of God alone, I generally get found out—there is something there which speaks to my heart and conscience; something of the two edged-sword; something like Solomon's sword (1 Kings iii. 24)—a type of the sword of the Spirit. One says, the living child is mine; and the other says it is hers; and Solomon's sword is going to divide the joints and marrow asunder, and the Word of God does the same. In the epistle to the Hebrews, we read that the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword; piercing even to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow. Now, it is a sharper sword than Joshua's. It is one that goes into the thoughts and intents of the heart—it is a two-edged sword. Well, it is a blessed thing, when making a stroke at an unbeliever, to let it come back on ourselves, and see that we are proof against the other side of it. There are parts which speak to Christians, which remind an unbeliever of his condition---it is a two-edged sword.
But, as I said before, it makes a great difference whether an act be done in the wilderness or in the land. In the book of Deuteronomy, God says, "When ye come to the land, recollect, ye shall do no more as ye have done, for ye are not yet come into the land." Everything, as they advance, has a new importance, and fresh responsibility for them. No one would have thought that Israel, who often in later times, lost two hundred thousand men in a battle, would think anything of a defeat in which six and thirty men were slain. See fifth verse. "And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide." Why did Joshua rend his clothes? Because there were six and thirty men slain; because the people who went out to battle were God's people, and God never intended His people to be defeated, even to six and thirty men. And Joshua falls on his face before God when six and thirty men fall, for there is something in that little handful of men. Joshua might have said, "Hitherto, we lost hundreds and thousands—it is nothing to the destruction in Egypt." But he takes note of six and thirty men slain. Suppose a man who was a blasphemer and a swearer, once a sinner, and known to all men as a sinner, and a great sinner; but he is brought out of Egypt, and passes over Jordan into the land, and becomes a saved man; and that some little expression escapes his lips which is not worthy of God. Suppose the enemy thus gets the victory over him; it is "six and thirty men." He may say, "What is that to what I used to do? Before, I used to be seen drunk, reeling down the streets, and no one will take notice of this! It is six and thirty men. We must not be content with the smallest defeat; it is the Name of God which is concerned. Joshua failed, till he cast himself upon his face. He had to learn yet what was the right thing to do when defeat came, to search it out in the presence of God, and to find out the cause. And if we are defeated, we must search it out. It is not the little word only; but even the little thought. Why, I remember when thoughts would dwell in my soul for days; that would give me pain to have in my mind for one moment now. Never qualify your defeat by what went before. If you do, you are forgetting what is due to the great Name of God.
"And Joshua said, 'Alas, O Lord God, wherefore hast Thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of Jordan.'" We know that the Red Sea typifies death and resurrection, and Jordan typifies the entering, practically into the power of death and resurrection; it is realizing the power in our own souls, realizing the enjoyment of it—-realizing that we are no longer brought out to be conquered by anything, even to six and thirty men, or by the slightest thing that is wrong; we ought to be more than conquerors; we should live above these things, where the temptation cannot reach us, in the highest, in communion with God.
If a man is hunted by a lion or a tiger, he may escape, or shoot it—he is a conqueror. But a man may be on the top of a place like Nelson's pillar yonder—he is safe there; he is above the danger, and it cannot reach him. And when a man is in communion with God, there is no fear of his being defeated by that which is below him. "Would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordon." I have no doubt this tells in many ways. It may be some have been brought into a condition, or circumstances, where they ran well for a time, and thought it was a blessed thing to give up the world, and think of nothing but the things of God; and yet when they go away from Christ, and get into the world, there is the thought, "Would to God I had been content, and dwelt on the other side of Jordan. I wish I had not gone on so far in the knowledge of the truth." The other side of Jordan was out of Egypt; but it was a negative position; but being in the promised land something more, there was constant acquiring. It was not only being out of Egypt; but it was every place where the sole of your feet shall tread, is yours. And there is a most blessed word here, where God says "When I drive out these enemies from before thee, I will not drive them out in one year, lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little, I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land" (Ex. xxiii. 29, 30). I am sure there are many Christians who would clear the whole field at once, and then the beasts would rise up against them. They take a step beyond their faith; they walk by sight, conformed to something else, instead of Christ, and the consequence is, when they have a great space around them, they are not able to occupy it, and the beasts of the field increase against them.
"O LORD, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies" (Joshua viii. 8). There are two things here. Lower down, it says, "Israel hath sinned." There is the collective loss, because of individual sin. Here Joshua takes the responsibility on himself when the whole of Israel had failed. Verse 9; "For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth; and what wilt Thou do unto Thy great Name." In the 14th of Numbers, there is a most beautiful expression, when God said He would cut off Israel. Israel had sinned, and God said He would cut them off, and make of Moses "a greater nation, and mightier than they." And Moses said unto the Lord, "Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for Thou broughtest up this people in Thy might from among them), and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land; for they have heard that, Thou, Lord, art among this people—that Thou, Lord, art seen face to face, and that Thy cloud standeth over them, and that Thou goest before them, by daytime in a pillar of cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now, if Thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of Thee, will speak, saying, 'Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which He swore unto them; therefore He hath slain them in the wilderness.'" When anything seems to bring dishonour on the Name of God, is the first thought that comes into your mind, "then the Egyptians will hear it?" And mark, in the case of Moses, the cutting off of Israel was to be his gain; but that was nothing to the man in the mount with God. The first thought is that the Egyptians will hear it. And suppose I am to get something that will bring me gain, but that the Egyptians will hear it. What is to be my first thought? My first thought should be, the Egyptians will hear it; they will say, "It was because the Lord was not able to keep him." Every fall the Christian gets, the Egyptians hear of it, and watch for it, and say, "God was not able to keep him." So Joshua says here, "Then the Canaanites, and all the inhabitants of the land, shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth, and what wilt Thou do unto Thy great Name."
"And the Lord said unto Joshua, 'Get thee up, wherefore liest thou upon thy face?" The first thing Joshua should have done was to have gone to God. Now, dear friends, God gives us His Word to search us, and He gives us His Spirit to lead us into the knowledge of Himself, and if we get a knowledge of God, and what His character is, we will have no difficulty in finding out what is contrary to God in us. I do not expect to find in this Book, a text for everything I want to do; but I do expect to find in this Book what the character of God is, and what is contrary to His mind and nature.
Now I have applied this little defeat at Ai to individual defeat. I want to say something about collective defeat. I want to ask all who are the Lord's here, "Has the thought ever risen to your minds, 'would God I had been content, and never came over Jordan'; I mean with regard to the knowledge of the truth as to our collective privileges and responsibilities, and the figure we have cut before the world? Is it nothing that we are scattered? Is this a question of six and thirty men, and we are not to mind it? Is the glory of God touched by what we are? Suppose a man was converted in some heathen country, and after reading in Romans, the wonderful truth of justification by faith, and finding in the 6th chapter, death and resurrection, and in the 8th, no separation from the love of Christ, and then going on and finding the responsibility which flows from his life in Christ, and from his not being able to be separated, from Christ, and then learning in Corinthians what the church was, supplied with everything needed, with gifts of all sorts, and great principles, by which they were to be guided in everything;—he goes on and reads in Ephesians how God had chosen him in Christ before the foundation of the world, and in every epistle, these wondrous truths are followed up by exhortations to love one another, to bear one another's burdens, to be kind and tenderhearted one to another, even as Christ was;—and then he comes to his family, and speaks about the glory of this wonderful thing—tells them he read in the Word of God there was such a thing as the church of the living God, and the members of it cared for each other as the hand for the foot, and that each member of it did his appointed office, so that the various gifts had their various positions, and were required to fill them;—and never thinking he would find anything else, he came to England, and on the Lord's-day he says, "I will go to where this whole Christian nation meets; and what a blessed thing it will be to go from that heathen country, where all is wickedness, and sin, and stealing, and lying, and cursing, and come to a place where this wonderful body works in harmony, and how they come and worship together, and realize the presence of Christ in their midst, and act in the power of a present Holy Ghost, and how unbelievers come in and confess that of a truth God was there;"—and he comes out and meets a person, and says, "Where shall I find the church of the living God?" "The what, sir?" "I want to find the church of the living God." Where would the man direct him? Ah! dear friends, anyone who has looked at what the church of God is, what its glory is, and sees what it has become,—a number of factions and systems, and men taking individual positions irrespective of what the church of God is, sometimes the expression has almost come to my lips, "Would God we had never come over Jordan." If I did, I trust the voice of God would always come, saying, "Up, wherefore liest thou on thy face."
Now, dear friends, we are not to be content with these things; it concerns the glory of God. The Canaanites hear, and laugh at us, "And what wilt Thou do unto Thy great Name?" We are too apt to recollect our individual walk and responsibility, to recollect our individual calling, and forget the collective one. It is Israel who have sinned. "What shall I do," says Joshua. And then God, as He always does, points out what to do, to search out, and the place to search out is where the thing is hidden. It may be hidden in my heart; I trust if it is, God will find it out. Israel would have been victorious but for the wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment. "Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them; for they have even taken of the accursed thing and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it among their own stuff; therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, because they were accursed; neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you." Now you see, dear friends, victory must always be had by the power of God resting upon us, and if there is not victory, but defeat, it is because there is something among us which hinders this victory, and because God cannot abide that which is evil. God says He cannot be with Israel any more except they destroy the accursed from among them. God cannot go before Israel when a Babylonish garment, or the wedge of gold was among them. I need not say that the Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold typify something of the world. It may be one thing to one, another thing to another; but if it is hidden, there must be defeat instead of victory. Let us take heed of the defeat of the six and thirty men. If we take care of the little things, the great things will take care of themselves. He that is faithful in little, is faithful in much; and he that is unjust in little, is unjust in great things. We must begin with the individual searching of the heart; but we are not to forget the collective.