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The Distribution of the Land
WE have taken our first survey of the distribution of the land, and noticed several particulars of some consequence to ourselves; other particulars are now to be noticed. The inquiry will be, How far the distribution and the particulars associated with it are true to human nature as we know it. In answering this inquiry we shall soon see whether the Bible is an old book, in the sense of being obsolete and pointless, so far as the conditions and requirements of this day are concerned. The case is a very simple one. The land is to be divided among a given number of people. How they took the distribution or accepted the circumstances is an important inquiry.
We soon come upon a line that might have been written yesterday. It was not enough to have a great general distribution, but there must be some particular and singular allotment, to one person at least. She had a petition to offer; she offered it, and the supplication was answered. She asked through another a request from her father. Her father had received his portion, even Hebron and the region round about, and his daughter Achsah would have a little gift all her own. She would say, "Give me a blessing." That is vague. Not only would she have a benediction, but a portion quite a little one, but still a portion, belonging, as it were, to herself a jewel for her own neck, a ring for her own finger. Who does not like to have something particularly his own? It is well to have some general stake in the country, but to have a little private piece of land one little bubbling, singing, fountain; a corner quite one's own is not that the very joy of proprietorship? No doubt there is a general sense of wealth, so general indeed as to be of little particular service under the occasional pressure of necessity: but when the child has six inches of garden-land all its own at the back-door, there is, after all, a landlordly feeling in the young heart that finds frequent expression. Caleb's daughter would have" a field:" "she lighted off her ass; and Caleb said unto her, What wouldest thou?" She answered, "Give me a blessing." That she could have in a moment, but said she, Give me more, "give me also springs of water in addition to the south land." "And he gave her the upper springs, and the nether springs" ( Jos 15:18-19 ). To whom did she pray? To her father. Have we not a Father to whom we can pray for springs of water? Yes, we have such a Father, and from him we can have the upper springs and the nether springs. The river of God is full of water. It cannot be drained off. It sets a-going all the fountains of creation, and is more at the end than at the beginning the very fulness of God; a contradiction in words, but a grand reality in experience. The sun lights every lamp, and not a beam the less is his infinite glory. We therefore may have a special portion, a little all our own; yea, a double portion of the Spirit may be ours. Do not let us be content with the general blessing of the Church. That, indeed, is an infinite comfort. But that general blessing is a pledge of particular donations on the part of the Father of lights. Here we can pray without covetousness; here we can be ambitious without selfishness; here we can have great desires, and be enlarged in our generosity by their very operation in the heart. Let each say to the Father, Give me a field; give me a faculty; give me some dear, sweet consciousness of thy nearness and lovingness something that nobody else can have just as I have it; whisper one word to me that no one in all the universe but myself can hear, and that whisper shall be to me an inspiration, a comfort, a security, a pledge; not that others may not enjoy the same in their own way, but I want something mine own. To that prayer who can measure the reply, if spoken in faith and love and noble unselfishness?
Now another voice is heard. Joshua was not going the right way about the work, in the estimation of some people:
"And the children of Joseph spake unto Joshua, saying, Why hast thou given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto?" ( Jos 17:14 ).
"And Joshua answered them, If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for thee" ( Jos 17:15 ).
Joshua, continuing the high satiric strain, said:
"Thou art a great people, and hast great power: thou shalt not have one lot only: but the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut it down: and the outgoings of it shall be thine: for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong" ( Jos 17:17-18 ).
We come now to another set of circumstances. It appears that when all was done up to this point, a good deal still remained to be accomplished. We read of this in chapter Joshua 18:2-7 :
"And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance" ( Jos 18:2 ).
And has Joshua nothing in all this the great man himself, so quiet, so gentle? Caleb asked for his portion right boldly, but he asked as a heroic man should ask for difficulties. At eighty-five he wanted to prove that he was as young as he was at forty. Joshua might have taken that opportunity of saying, Caleb, I was with you in that matter of the espial of the land; if you want your portion now, I may as well have mine at the same time. Nothing of the kind. Joshua waited until the very last. So we read:
"When they had made an end of dividing the land for inheritance by their coasts, the children of Israel gave an inheritance to Joshua the son of Nun among them: according to the word of the Lord they gave him the city which he asked, even Timnath-serah in mount Ephraim: and he built the city, and dwelt therein" ( Jos 19:49-50 ).
A very tender word is found in regard to some of the tribes. "Gad, and Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh, have received their inheritance beyond Jordan." Sweet words! " beyond Jordan." By a very legitimate accommodation these words may be applied to many a Christian. Some Christians have but little portion this side of the river; their lot is a small one; their riches could all be hidden in one hand; yet how bright they are! as radiant as a summer dawn, as songful as a wood in spring-time, when all the birds are swelling their feathery throats with song. Why? Because the refrain of their hymn is "beyond Jordan." The crown is on the other side of the river; the city lies beyond the stream; the great inheritance is at the other end of the valley of the shadow of death: they are "begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." So their citizenship being in heaven, they have learned in whatsoever state they are, therewith to be content. Blessed are they who are rich in faith; yea, blessed with sevenfold blessing they who can say that their souls are already in heaven, and the consciousness of the heavenly possession creates contempt for the vanities of time.
Looking at the whole matter practically, let us not forget that the land was given to be cultivated. This is not a mere matter of enjoyment. When Palestine was seized, it had to be brought under agricultural treatment, and men were to enjoy the fruit of their labour even in the Land of Promise. There was fighting to be done, there were trees to be cut down; the centre of the country was a great forest, and the foresters must go into it and bring down the timber and root out the old roots, and make flowers and fruits grow in the old forests of Palestine. Life is given to us to cultivate. We are not called upon to do merely the work if so it may be termed of appreciation and enjoyment; we are called to battle, to cultivation, to toil, to service, to disappointment, and to some fruition of our hope and love.
Nor must we forget that variety did not excite discontent. The lots were not all equal. Judah had twenty-nine cities and the villages thereof; Benjamin, fourteen cities with the villages; Joshua had Timnath-serah, in Mount Ephraim. So it is possible for us now to have variety of lot, and yet a sweet content of heart. The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called together his servants, and gave to one five talents, to another two, to another one representing talent and opportunity and capacity. The Lord must distribute as he pleases. The great lesson for us to learn is, that it is possible for us to have little, and yet not to want more; to be called to a great opportunity, and yet not to boast over those whose limitation is so obvious. This sweet content, this hallowed peace, can only be enjoyed in proportion as we abide in Christ, like living branches in a living vine. This miracle is not a trick of the human hand; it is the miracle of the Holy Ghost.
Eccentric Boundaries of the Tribes (Joshua 15-19). Thomson, in "The Land and the Book," writes: "The reason why the boundaries of the different tribes were so eccentric originally, and are now so difficult to follow, was that the 'lots' were not meted out according to geographical lines; but lands of certain cities lying more or less contiguous were assigned to each tribe. These cities were the capitals of small principalities or districts, just as Tibnin, and Hunin, and Bint-Jebail are now. The territory of one might extend far to the east of the city, that of the next to the west. It is now absolutely impossible to draw lines around the separate 'lots' with any degree of certainty. Their general positions with relation to each other, however, can be ascertained with sufficient exactness for all important purposes in the study of Biblical geography."
O thou who art the refuge of men, let us flee unto thee, assured that the door of thy mercy will not be closed against us. We have sung for a lifetime of Jesus as the refuge of the soul. We have found him to be a covert from the storm. We would abide in him, let come what may, strong in his strength, confident in the immutableness of his love. This is our daily thought and this our nightly rest: a very song in our mouth; a perpetual joy, like a singing angel hovering over the life, We turn and think of Christ, and behold our thought makes us glad. We muse about the Son of God in holy wonder, and as we muse the fire burns, and by its glow we know he is near who is the light of heaven. We would dwell upon the thought of his life; we would count his words as men count jewels; we would number them, and set them in order, and preserve them with all the eagerness of unutterable love, accounting each one necessary to the perfectness of the whole. Whilst we thus treasure thy Word, and find in it our true wealth, thou wilt not forsake us; thou wilt make us stronger, younger, happier, as we proceed in this faithful and delightful service. Reveal thy word to us day by day a new light, a new beauty, a new possibility; may it be unto our eyes as the dawn of heaven, and unto our ears as the music of the skies. According to our necessity may thy word present itself to us now a staff to lean upon, now a sword with which to fight, now a light that shall be as a lamp unto our feet, and now an unspeakable comfort, making even sorrow itself welcome, because sorrow brings the Saviour nearer. Thy word abideth for ever; thy word is patient like thyself, waiting for its opportunity, standing at the door of the attention and knocking and waiting until we be ready to hear what it has to say. It has waited for us many a year. When we hear it, we know it to be thy word, because there is an answering spirit in our own hearts which says, This is none other than God's word a very speech from the heart of the universe. We thank thee for all thy mercies. Though thou hast set us in a time of depression, yet do we see that the stars are all in their places. It is indeed night-time with many, by reason of difficulty, poverty, distress, and hardship; yet not one star has gone out, and the heavens look brighter sometimes than they ever did. Thou hast not forsaken thy people, nor left in desolation those that trust in thee. This is their confidence and their song; yea, it has become their boast and their sure refuge in time of difficulty. Even now thy mercies are more than we can number: even when winter has set in and all the flowers have hidden themselves, thy mercies are full and thy compassion is near and thy kindness is lovingkindness. Even in the midnight of the year we can sing praises unto our God and shake down the prison of our distress. Help us in all things to see thy hand, and to say, All is well. Enable us to prove our faith by the nobleness and clearness of our testimony. May we be enabled to say, Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him, and though the night be dark and dreary, it is but short at most, and the morning is already dawning on the higher hills. We commend one another to thy loving care; they are well kept whom thou dost keep; in their hearts shall be no unrest, but one continual radiant Sabbath-day; no lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast go up thereon, it shall not be found there; all holy thoughts shall dwell there, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away, like birds of the night, afraid of the sunshine, terrified by the day. We are found again at the Cross. We wait at the altar of the atonement wrought by him who is thy Son, our Saviour. His blood is our prayer, bis sacrifice our plea. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... the children of Israel gave an inheritance to Joshua the son of Nun among them." Jos 19:49
Joshua had rights of his own, and could have claimed such rights; but beyond rights which a man may claim are still more precious rights which are accorded to him by the conscience and generosity of the community. This is the very law of divine providence. The fact that we are born into the world is a fact which brings with it certain natural rights, in the absence of which we should hardly be men at all. But this is not the limit of the divine bounty. Beyond all that is merely legal and necessary there is a region of grace, of large and happy dowry, showing not only the bare justice, but the sweet mercy of the rule under which we live. In a social sense it is true that we might get more if we claimed less. Joshua lived a noble life amongst his people, and carried out his function of leadership with obvious justice and disinterestedness, and it is beautiful to observe how the people seem to have recognised this by their willing concession to him of an inheritance by their coasts. This should be true in all family life. Obedience is due to parents by an unwritten law, as well as by formal decree; but beyond obedience there lies the whole region of voluntary testimony and service. Blessed is he who gives his parent an inheritance in that wide region! The same thing should be true in commercial relations: there should be something more than a bond: where the bond is carried out loyally on both sides Duty will gracefully take upon itself any crown which Gratitude may be disposed to place upon its head. This should be also true ecclesiastically: men who have laboured in season and out of season for the good of others ought not to be forgotten in the time of audit and general winding up of life and service, but should have accorded to them all possible honour in view of a life unstained by sin, and crowded with acts of beneficence and sacrifice. The charm of some possessions lies in the spirit which dictated their ownership. It is a poor thing to have only those possessions which are bought and sold, and on which merely commercial lines are inscribed; such things, of course, every man must have; but the things which are written all over with love and thankfulness are infinitely more precious, and in an obvious sense are even more enduring. No man begrudged Joshua his city in mount Ephraim: every one felt that the city was due to the brave captain and obedient saint. It is well when our honours are doubled by the recognition of their desert by those who know us best. The Well-done of the Master constitutes the best part of heaven. To go into heaven even as a mere act of justice is to deprive the holy city of its most fascinating charm. It is because the city is given with the Well-done of its King that residence in it becomes the final and eternal joy of the soul.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 19". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany