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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Joshua 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ joshua-8.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Joshua 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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THE CAPTURE OF AI.—
Fear not. Joshua was down cast at his former failure, and well he might. "Treacherous Israelites are to be dreaded more than malicious Canaanites" (Matthew Henry). Take all the people of wax with thee. Not, as has been before stated, because 3,000 men were too few to take the city, for the capture of Jericho was a far greater marvel than that of Ai with this number of men. The true reason is indicated by Calvin, and is indeed suggested by the words "Fear not, neither be thou dismayed." It was to reassure the people, whose hearts had "melted and become as water." Sometimes God calls upon His people for a display of faith, as when He led them through the Jordan, or commanded them to compass Jericho seven days. But in days of despondency He compassionates their weakness and permits them to rely upon visible means of support (see also below, verse 3). Matthew Henry thinks that a tacit rebuke is here administered to Joshua for sending so few men to Ai on the frowner occasion. He ought to have permitted all to have shared the toil and glory. I have given into thy hand. The work, let man do his best, is God's after all. The king. For the political condition of Palestine before the Israelitish invasion see Introduction. And his land. As in the case of the early Germanic peoples, there was a certain portion of their land in the neigbourhood attached to each city which was used for agricultural purposes (see Introduction; also Joshua 13:28, Joshua 14:4).
Only the spoil thereof. Ai was not solemnly devoted, like Jericho, though (see Deuteronomy 20:16, Deuteronomy 20:17) the Canaanitish people were. Behind it. Joshua was advancing from the southeast. The ambush (אֹרֵב literally, "a lier in wait," here a band of liers in wait, the word itself originally signifying to plait, weave, hence to design) was therefore (verse 12) on the opposite, or west side of the city. The question which has been raised whether God could rightly command a stratagem seems scarcely to require discussion.
Thirty thousand. In Joshua 8:12 we read 5,000, and this must be the true reading. Thirty thousand men could hardly have been posted, without detection, in the ravines around Ai, whereas we are informed by travellers that there would have been no difficulty in concealing 5,000 men there. See, however, the passage cited from Lieut. Conder's Report in the note on Joshua 7:2. The confused condition of the numbers in the present text of the Old Testament is a well known fact, and it is proved by the great discrepancies in this respect between the Books of Chronicles and those of Samuel and Kings. Some have thought (e.g; Haverniek, 'Introduction to the Old Testament,' II. Jos 1:15) that two bands were laid in ambush, one on the northwest and the other on the southwest. This is a possible, though not probable, solution of the difficulty (see below). Then we must suppose that the city was nearly surrounded, Joshua and the main body on the southeast, the larger detachment on the north (verse 13), and the smaller ambush on the west (see note on verse 13). Keil, in his earlier editions, supposed that Joshua assaulted Ai with 30,000 men, out of whom he chose 5,000 as an ambush. So also Hengstenberg's 'Geschichte des Reiches Gottes,' p. 219. But this only introduces a third contradiction, for we are told both in verses 1 and 3 that Joshua took with him "all the men of war." Keil has, however, abandoned that supposition, which is contrary to all the ancient versions, including the present text of the LXX. The Bishop of Lincoln suggests that 5,000 men may have been detached to reinforce the former detachment of 30,000. But to say nothing of the improbability of an ambush of 35,000 men remaining undetected (and they were specially instructed—see next verse—not to station themselves far from the city), we have the plain statement in verse 12 וַיָּשֶׂם אוֹתָם אוֹרֵב "he stationed (or had stationed) them as an ambush."
We will flee before them. A common expedient of a sagacious general when contending with undisciplined troops is a strong position. Many instances will occur to the student of history, and among others the celebrated feigned flight of William the Conqueror at Hastings. St. Augustine doubts whether this stratagem were lawful. Cajetan and the Jesuit commentators reply that it was so "quia mendacium non tam facile committitur factis, quam verbis" (Cornelius a Lapide).
For they will come. Literally, "and they will come." We have drawn. Literally, caused to pluck away (see note on Joshua 4:18). Luther translates well by reissen, and the LXX. by ἀποσπάσωμεν.
According to the commandment of the lord. The LXX. seems to have read כִדְבַר הַזֶה according to this word.
Between Bethel and Ai. (see above, Joshua 7:2).
And numbered the people. Or reviewed, or mustered. The word is frequently translated visited in Scripture. It then came to mean a visit for the sake of inspection. The elders of Israel. Joshua's council, alike of war and of peace. Before the people. Literally, in their sight (ford πρόσωπον, LXX), i.e; at their head.
And all the people, even the people of war that were with him. Literally, all the people, the war that were with him. Probably the word אִישׁ has been omitted by an early copyist. Implying, no doubt, that the non-warlike portion of the community had been left under a guard at Jericho (see also Joshua 8:1). On the north side. Joshua made a detour, and encamped on a hill on the other side of the wady. Now there was a valley. Literally, and the valley was. This valley, the Wady Mutyah (see Robinson 17. sec. 10, and note on verse 2, Joshua 7:1-26), is a remarkable feature of the country round Ai. Our version misses this sign of personal acquaintance with the locality on the part of the historian.
And he took about five thousand men (see above, Joshua 8:3). We must translate had taken. The repetition is quite in the manner of the Hebrew writers. This passage is of course, according to the Jehovist and Elohist theory, "quite irreconeilable" with the rest of the narrative. So we are told that this is a Jehovistic interpolation (Knobel). Of the city. The Masorites and LXX. prefer the reading Ai (i.e; עַי for עִיר), in the margin of our Bibles, to that in the text, which is followed by the Vulgate and Luther.
And when they had set. This may mean the leaders of the detachment of 30,000. Joshua does not appear to have been with them, for he is not mentioned till the latter part of the verse (see note on verse 3). Joshua went that night. Having made all his dispositions, he descended in the evening from his vantage ground on the hill into the plain, so as to invite attack in the morning, a stratagem which (see next verse) was completely successful. Some MSS; however, have וַיָּלֶן "and he rested," for וַיֵּלֶךְ"and he went" here. The valley. The word here is עֶמֶק not גָי as in verse 11. Therefore the narrow waterless ravine in which the troops in ambush were to lie hid is not meant here, but a wider valley. A consideration of this fact might do something to settle the much disputed question of the situation of Ai. The עֶמֶק though deep, as the name implies, was a valley large enough for cultivation or luxuriant vegetation (Job 39:10; Ps 65:14; So Psalms 2:1). Even a battle might be fought there (Job 39:21). Such a valley as that of Chamonix or Lauterbrunnen would answer to the description, and so would the passes of Glencoe and Killiecrankie.
When the king of Ai saw it. The particle כְ here employed signifies immediate action. At a time appointed. Or, at the signal. Keil, following Luther, would prefer at the place appointed, which seems to agree best with what follows. Some copies of the LXX. have ἐπ εὐθείας. Before the plain. Literally, before, or in sight of; i.e; in the direction of the Arabah (see above, Joshua 3:16).
Made as though they were beaten. "Joshua conquered by yielding. So our Lord Jesus Christ, when He bowed His head and gave up the ghost, seemed as if death had triumphed over Him; but in His resurrection He rallied again, and gave the powers of darkness a total defeat" (Matthew Henry). By the way of the wilderness. Northwestward, in the direction of the wilderness of Bethel (Joshua 16:1)
Were called together. So the Masorites. Perhaps it would be better to translate, raised a cry ("at illi vociferantes." Vulgate. "Da schrie das ganze Volk." Luther). This gives us the scene in all its picturesque detail. We hear the exultant shout of the men of Ai, as they thought the victory won. The LXX. appear to have read חָזַק for זָעַק for they translate ἐνίσχυσε. The city. The Masorites correct here again into "Ai." But the LXX. and Vulgate render as the English translation.
Or Bethel. These words are not in the LXX; and they may possibly have been a marginal gloss, for the intervention of the people of Bethel in this battle is very unintelligible. See note on Joshua 7:2. On the other hand, it is quite possible that the difficulty involved in their retention may have caused their omission from the LXX; and it may perhaps be thought possible that, on the capture of Ai, the Bethelites returned with all speed to their city, and that Joshua postponed its capture in consequence of the formidable confederacy (Joshua 9:1, Joshua 9:2), which his success had called into existence, or, perhaps, by a desire to signalise at once the victory at Ai by the ceremony (verses 30-35) at Gerizim. We read in Joshua 12:16 that Bethel was taken. In Judges 1:22 we read that it was not (see note on Joshua 12:16).
The spear. כִידוֹן, a kind of long and slender lance, probably, like those of our lancers, with a flag attached. It is thus described by Kimchi. Jahn, in his 'Archesologia Biblica,' takes this view. But the Vulgate here, followed apparently by Grotius and Masius, suppose it to be a shield, though the LXX. render by γαῖσος. In 1 Samuel 17:6 the LXX. render by ἄσπις, and our version by target. It is to be distinguished from the lighter חנית or flexible javelin (see, for instance, 1 Samuel 13:22, 1 Samuel 18:10, which was thrown at the adversary, whereas the כִידוֹן was used to transfix him in close combat.
And they had no power. Literally, no hands. Our version here follows the Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldee versions. The LXX. and Vulgate render no direction in which to fly. But in this case לָהֶם would seem preferable to בָהֶם. The Vulgate translates the last clause of the verse, "Praesertim cum hi, qui simulaverint fugam … fortissime restitissent." They could not flee back to the city, for it was in flames. They could not advance northward, because the Israelites had faced about and were coming to meet them. To flee in any other direction would be to cut off the last hope of saving the city. For יָד in the sense of side or direction, however, see Exodus 2:5; Deuteronomy 2:37, and especially the dual, as here, in Genesis 34:21; Isaiah 33:21.
So that they let none of them remain or escape. Literally, until there remained to them neither remainder nor fugitive.
In the wilderness. The LXX. must have read בַמּוֹרָד in the going down, or descent. Returned unto Ai and smote it. According to God's command, the defenceless inhabitants must share the fate of the army (see Deuteronomy 20:17).
All the men of Ai. Clearly all the population, as the context shows.
Utterly destroyed. Hebrew, הֶחֶרִים (see note on Joshua 6:17).
Only the cattle (see Joshua 8:2).
And Joshua burnt Ai. He continued the work of destruction which the ambush had begun, until the city was entirely destroyed. The word in verse 19 (שׂרף) has rather the sense of kindling a fire; the word here (יצת( ereh d), more the sense of destruction by fire. A heap forever. טֵל־עוֹלָם a heap of eternity; i.e; a heap forever, at least up to the time of our writer. But the Ai mentioned in Ezra 2:28 may have been a city built, not on precisely the same spot, but near enough to it to take its name. And if Ai signifies ruins, and Dean Stanley be right in regarding it as referring to ruins in the days of the Philistines, the name would be particularly suitable to this particular city. Travellers have identified the place with Tel-el. Hajar, immediately to the south of the Wady Mutyah. But see note on Ezra 7:2 for Robinson's conclusion, which is confirmed by Canon Tristram, from the belief that Tel-el-Hajar does not answer to the description of Ai in the Scripture narrative. Hanged on a tree. Literally, "on the tree." Perhaps after his death, But see Genesis 40:22; Deuteronomy 21:22. Until eventide. We find here a remarkable coincidence with the precept in Deuteronomy 21:23. The fact that no notice is here taken of that passage is conclusive against its having been inserted with a view to that precept in later times, and this affords a strong presumption against the Elohist and Jehovist theory. Heap. Here גַּל, an expression usually applied to a heap of stones, a cairn, though not always in precisely this sense (see Jeremiah 9:10).
Renewed effort after disaster.
The Christian warfare, whether from an individual or from a general point of view, is no record of invariable success. The career of each Christian, as of the Christian Church, is a chequered course. It has its periods of triumph and its moments of disaster. We learn here many valuable lessons as to our conduct under adverse circumstances.
I. WE ARE NOT TO INDULGE DESPONDENCY.
(1) In consequence of evil allowed to lurk within you, you have had a grievous fall. Your duty is plain: to examine carefully into yourself, with God's help, to detect the hidden evil, and to cast it out. This done, your next duty is to renew the strife. He who is cast down by failure so much as to give up all effort, is lost. The only way to inherit the land of promise is to continue the strife ceaselessly until every one of God's enemies be destroyed. To Joshua, a catastrophe like that of Ai only occurs once. In the case of most ordinary Christians it occurs many times. But the same course is necessary, how many times soever it befalls us. Stone Achan with stones till he die; then "Fear not, neither be dismayed:" "Arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given it into thy hand."
(2) The history of the Church is the same as that of the individual Its conflict is more prolonged, mare mysterious, and more complete. Therefore it has many Achans, its failures like those of Ai are more numerous, and its need of such encouragement as is here given far greater. Whatever the strife may be, its failures are due to the sins, sometimes unsuspected and undetected, though open, of the Achans of the flock. Many a generation of Christians has failed in their strife against evil, because they have not sought enlightenment from God, and so have called good evil and evil good, have put darkness for light, and light for darkness. After a failure they have not cast lots for the offender, and often they have given up the fight. But the fight must never be given up. Whatever is recognised as not of God must be contended against to the last. If success seems to have deserted us, let us look out for our Achan; try and find out the reasons for our failure. Somewhere or other, if we are sincere in the search, we shall find the hidden evil that paralyses our efforts. Our first task must be to cast it out; our next to renew the conflict with greater energy and mere precautions. No amount of failure ought to daunt us. If still success does not crown our efforts, let us seek for new Achans, and immolate them to the justice of God. But our duty is still to persevere, still to arise up against Ai, and never to cease our efforts until it, and the king thereof, and all the souls that are therein, are involved in one common ruin.
II. WE MUST GIVE HONOUR WHERE HONOUR IS DUE. Some successes are entirely God's doing. Man may not claim credit or in any way seek profit by them. Others are due to man's individual energy and courage—God, of course, working with him, and prospering his efforts. For these he may lawfully enjoy the credit, and be "held in reputation," provided he is careful "not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith." So the spoil of Jericho, which God put into the hands of the Israelites, was devoted to Him. Achan, in seizing it for himself, was robbing God of His right. But the spoil of Ai, which God permitted the Israelites to take by their own exertions, was given into their hands. "God is not unrighteous that he should forget your works and labours of love." He or she has a right to be "beloved" who has "laboured much in the Lord."
III. YET MAN MAY NOT CLAIM UNDUE CREDIT FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE. Nothing can be done without God's help. Our greatest successes are the result of talents entrusted us by God. "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" asks the apostle. Therefore "Not unto us, but unto God's name be the praise." The greatest saint must therefore preserve the grace of humility. While he joyfully employs the influence and authority his faith and patience have won for him in God's cause, he must never forget who it was that enabled him to do what he has done; that if he has been "working out," either his "own salvation," or any blessed works for the salvation of others, it was through God who was working in him. Joshua could not take Ai, had not God given it into his hand. Therefore whatever we have done, we are still unprofitable servants. We have done no more than our duty. "Let us not be high minded, but fear."
IV. WE MUST ASSAIL OUR ENEMIES INDIRECTLY AS WELL AS DIRECTLY. Joshua employs stratagem as well as force against Ai. It is to be feared that Christian Churches need no exhortations to this course. Many have been the stratagems and devices of various religious bodies to gain their ends, which have brought not success but disgrace upon the cause. Yet we may remember that it is not therefore necessary to rush to the opposite extreme, and imagine that nothing but violent denunciation and open force are the methods to be employed. There is a wisdom of the serpent which may be lawfully employed in God's cause. The man who is not won by argument may be won by persuasion. The mind that is repelled by vigorous denunciation may be open to satire or raillery. We may frequently gain over antagonists by appearing to yield to them. Sometimes it is even the best way to remove an abuse by allowing it to have full course, and work out its own evil results, and then turning round and pointing out its true character. But stratagems of the character of pious frauds, stratagems which do violence to the Christian's character for truth and honesty, deliberate concealment of aims which should be avowed, compromises with error for the ultimate advantage of truth—these are predestined to fail. If they gain their immediate object, they will most certainly in the end be detrimental to God's cause.
HOMILIES BY R. GLOVER
On trying again.
A Jewish proverb says there are three men who get no pity—an unsecured creditor, a henpecked husband, and a man that does not try again. This faculty of trying again is one of the qualities of noble natures. Napoleon at once blamed and praised the English for never knowing when they were beaten. Here Joshua exhibits the same kind of quality. He gathers from his defeat humility, purity, prudence, but never thinks of gathering from it despair. If they have been defeated before this once, they must try again with purer hands and in stronger force. And, trying again thus, they succeed grandly. Let me say a little on "trying again." In the spiritual as in the carnal warfare—indeed, in all parts of our manifold life—we need to learn this lesson. I therefore ask you to consider one or two reasons why we should always try again.
I. Because NO FAILURE IS ALTOGETHER LOSS, AND ESPECIALLY NO FAILURE OF FIRST EFFORTS. If you ask why a first effort is so often a failure, you will find one great reason is, that in it we are trying to learn too many things at once. If it is a first effort to make a toy for a child, how many things are to be learned while making it; the qualities of the material with which we work, the use of our tools, an eye for form and size, the way to combine effectively the various parts. Now, if in the making of it we had only to learn one thing instead of four, we might manage; but to learn simultaneously all of them is beyond our power, and so we fail. But the failure does not mean total loss of time and material; for though we have not learned all we need in order to effect our object, we may have learned half, and learning the other half the second trial we then succeed. So here; there were some things Joshua and Israel had to learn: e.g; not to despise an enemy; to conquer brave foes as well as timorous ones; not to act on the suggestion even of the wisest captains without first inquiring of God; that victory without purity was impossible. Here, elate with their success at Jericho, Joshua does not ask the counsel of God, which would have forbidden movement till the stain of Achan was removed, and sends only a "few thousands" to perform a task for which a much stronger force was requisite. And God mercifully lets him make a failure on a scale easily retrieved, and so prevents a failure through similar mistakes, which, from its magnitude might have been irretrievable. In almost every case of failure, the great cause of it is that there were some things the learning of which was essential but had not been attained. We had not the measure of the obstacles to be overcome—a knowledge of our own weakness, an acquaintance with the methods by which the result desired could be alone effected. And the art of life consists very much simply in turning such failures to good account. It is all but impossible to avoid making them. A child cannot learn to walk without some fails; and we are but children of a larger growth, who learn through improving our failures. And the wisest man is not he who makes fewest failures, but he who turns the failures that he makes to best account, addresses himself to learn their lessons. A failure is a schoolmaster, who can teach the art of succeeding better than any one else can do it. Do not yield, then, because you fail once, or even many times. Failures are never entirely losses. Secondly, observe—
II. THOSE WHO USE WELL THEIR FAILURES FIND THEM FOLLOWED BY GRAND SUCCESS. Joshua, learning from the first failure to hallow the people, to consult God, to take His way, to send a larger force, when he tried again took Ai without the slightest difficulty. Moses failed on his first attempt to raise Israel against their oppressors. He was going to do it in the strength of his youthful enthusiasm, and expected to find they would hail him as a judge and a deliverer. He failed, was rejected of Israel, and had to become a fugitive from Pharaoh. But in his second effort, going at God's command, in His way and with His backing, he succeeded in the grand emancipation. Israel failed in its first attempt to enter the promised land through their fear and faithlessness; repairing these faults, their second was successful The disciples failed to cast out the devil from the child; learning the need of deeper sympathy (prayer and fasting), their next efforts were crowned with complete success. Mark broke down in his first missionary effort, leaving Paul and Silas to pursue it alone. But prayer and gracious shame so retrieved the failure that he was Paul's truest comrade in the pains and dangers of his last imprisonment. Peter failed in his first effort to confess his Master among his foes; but learning lowliness and prayer from failure, he lived to retrieve it grandly. It is so in all departments of life. Alfred the Great and Bruce, for instance, both learned the art of victory from the experience of defeat. Great inventors have rarely hit on their great secrets the first time they have attempted to achieve their purpose, The story of almost all great inventions has been failure well improved. The first efforts of poets do not always give the promise of their later powers. So is it in all directions of Christian life. If in your effort to confess Christ you fail, try again, and success will come with the greater earnestness and humility of your second effort. If you make a resolution and break it, try again with more of prayer, and the second effort will succeed. If you make some effort to do good, but your "'prentice hand" bungles, and shame covers you, the next effort you make on a smaller scale, perhaps more wisely, modestly, and earnestly, will be a blessed success. And if it is not one but many efforts have failed, and life itself seems one long mishap and unsuccessful effort still, do not despair.
"Deem not the irrevocable past
As wholly wasted, wholly vain;
For, rising on its wrecks, at last
To nobler greatness we attain."
Longfellow's 'Ladder of St. Augustine.'
Therefore let us always "try again."—G.
The fruits of victory.
"Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord.… And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses … And he read all the words of the law." There is always danger in the moment after victory. We remember how Hannibal lost, amid the enervating luxuries of Capua, the fruit of the battle of Cannae. The most seductive Capua to the people of God is spiritual pride, which seeks to take to itself the glory which belongs to God alone. Woe to those who sleep upon the laurels of spiritual success, or who are intoxicated with self complacency. "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). Joshua shows us by his example how the people of God should conduct themselves after a victory.
I. HE GIVES ALL THE GLORY TO GOD. He builds an altar to offer thereon a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Let us do the same, and render, as he did, all glory to God.
II. HE SUMMONED THE PEOPLE TO A YET STRICTER OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE LAW by placing it afresh before their eyes. He knows well that never are men more prone to forget the sacred obligation of obedience than in the hour of religious success. Without obedience sacrifice is but external and vain. The true sacrifice is that of the will. Let every new blessing, every fresh victory only bring our mind and heart into more complete subjection to the will of God!
THE COPY OF THE LAW.—
Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal. This passage has been pronounced to be an interpolation by Meyer, De Wette, Maurer, Rosenmuller, Knobel, and others. The LXX. does not introduce it here, but after Joshua 9:2. For other authorities see below. It is very easy to see why its genuineness has been disputed. The Book of Joshua has many marks of having been written not so very long after the events described in it. But it has been a favourite opinion with the school which disputes the authenticity of the books of the Bible, that Deuteronomy was a late revision by Ezra of the law of Moses, though this (see Introduction) has lately been discarded for another hypothesis. But we have, if the present passage be genuine, a distinct proof that the Book of Joshua was written after the Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is here quoted as the "book of the law of Moses" (cf. Deuteronomy 31:9, Deuteronomy 31:24, Deuteronomy 31:26). The grounds on which the genuine. ness of the passage has been denied are these: First, the passage begins with אָז followed by an imperfect, or future, as does the interpolated passage in Deuteronomy 4:41-43. This is Maurer's theory. But in this case we must reject every passage which begins thus, and certainly we should do so on grounds which, to say the least, are very slender. Next, we are told that Joshua could not have ventured to trust himself so far in the heart of a hostile country. But why not? Gerizim was not more than twenty miles from Ai. The Canaanites, we are told, were panic stricken at Joshua's success. The Gibeonites were not disposed to offer any hindrance to his progress; on the contrary, they hastened to form an alliance with him. And these solemn religious rites, performed by a people so clearly under the protection of the Most High, were more likely to increase than lessen the awe felt by the surrounding tribes. The only difficulty is that the women and children (v. 35) are expressly said to have gone thither also, and it seems improbable that they, whom we have supposed to have been left under a guard at Gilgal, should have been brought so far while the country was as yet unsubdued. And the difficulty is increased by finding Joshua again at Gilgal in Joshua 9:6. But there is the hypothesis that this was another Gilgal to fall back upon, and this (see note on the passage just mentioned) is an extremely probable one. The suggestion of many commentators, that the passage has been transposed, is of course possible. We can only leave the difficulty unsolved, as one which a fuller knowledge of the facts, could we obtain it, would clear up at once. But we may be sure that if the passage were an interpolation, some explanation would have been given of the circumstances which seem to us so perplexing. And on the other hand we must remember that, as has been already contended, the notion that the whole camp of Israel performed this journey at a time when stupefaction had seized upon the Canaanitish tribes, though involving some amount of impossibility, is by no means impossible. (See also note on verse 33). A number of extraordinary interpretations of this passage have been given. A favourite Rabbinical interpretation (see note on next verse) was that this altar was erected on the very day on which the Israelites crossed the Jordan. This was of course a physical impossibility. Josephus, on the contrary, supposes that five years elapsed before its erection, while Rabbi Israel, in the Jerusalem Talmud, thinks that it was deferred until after the expiration of fourteen years, and after the land had been divided. So Masius in loc. In Mount Ebal. Between it and Gerizim stood the city of Shechem, or Sychar, as it is called in St. John 4:1-54. Gerizim was close to this city, as Judges 9:6, Judges 9:7 and St. John 4:20 testify, as well as Deuteronomy 11:30, compared with Genesis 12:6. Dr. Maclear, in the 'Cambridge Bible for Schools,' suggests that the Israelites took this opportunity of interring the bones of Joseph (Genesis 1:25, Genesis 1:26) in the piece of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor (Genesis 33:19). (See Exodus 13:19).
As Moses the servant of the Lord commanded (see Exodus 20:25; Deuteronomy 27:4, Deuteronomy 27:5). Here, and in Joshua 8:33, we find the writer making an extract from the Book of Deuteronomy. As has been before said, the natural explanation is that the Book of Joshua was written after the Book of Deuteronomy, and that the Book of Deuteronomy was written by Moses, or how could Joshua have carried out instructions which had never been given? The Elohist, Jehovist, and Denteronomist theory supposes the compiler of the Book of Joshua to have done his work in so perfunctory a fashion, that it is quite possible for critics living at a distance of three thousand years and more to detect the various fragments of which his mosaic is constructed. He is so void of common sense as to have inserted this narrative in a place so obviously unsuitable that it involves a palpable contradiction to probability and common sense, and this when he could have placed it in a dozen other parts of the book where no such improbability would be involved. Yet, in spite of the incredible carelessness with which he put his materials together, we are required to believe that "the Deuteronomist" had the foresight to insert the fulfilment of the command of Moses which he had invented in Deuteronomy 11:26-30, Deuteronomy 27:1-26; and that in so doing he abbreviated the narrative so as to leave out many details of his own invention. Now, under the supposition of a later fabrication of supplementary observances to be imposed upon the children of Israel, it is hardly probable that the account of the plaster with which the stones were to be plastered, and the enumeration of the tribes and the curses, would be omitted, since by the hypothesis the object of the Deuteronomist was to secure implicit obedience to the sacerdotal enactments he was inventing. But on the hypothesis of the genuineness of both writings everything fits in naturally enough. An altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron. As though to intimate (see Exodus 20:25) that all should be natural and spontaneous in the worship of God, and that as little of human devising should be introduced as possible. The altar must be raised by man, but the principles of the worship must not be devised by him. This interpretation, however, is rejected by Calvin, who thinks that all that was meant was to preclude the perpetual existence of the altar (though how the substitution of whole for hewn stones could effect this is not apparent); and Keil and Bahr,who think that the altar ought (Exodus 20:24) properly to be of earth, since sacrifice is rendered necessary by man's earthly or carnal nature, and that unhewn stone is the only substitute for earth which is allowed. But surely man's handiwork is the offspring of his unregenerate nature, and therefore may, from this point of view, be rightly employed in sacrifice. Hengstenberg thinks that the reason of the command was that, since only one place of worship was permitted for all Israel, an altar had sometimes to be hastily thrown up. But when we consider the symbolic character of the Mosaic worship, we are compelled to reject this interpretation as unsatisfactory. Benjamin of Tudela (see Drusius in loc) appears to have supposed that these stones were those which had been taken out of Jordan. Masius devotes considerable space to the refutation of this opinion (see also note on last verse). And they offered thereon. Delitzsch remarks on the inversion of the order here, as compared with Deuteronomy 27:1-26. But this is obviously the true order. The worship would naturally precede the ceremony rather than follow it.
And he wrote there upon the stones; i.e; upon the plaster, as we read in Deuteronomy 27:2, Deuteronomy 27:4. "The wall destined to receive the picture," and it was just the same with inscriptions—was covered with a coating of lime and gypsum plaster. The outline was then sketched with red chalk, and afterwards corrected and filled in with black. Thomson says that he has seen writings in plaster which could not have been less than two thousand years old. This passage shows that our author had Deuteronomy 28:2, Deuteronomy 28:3 in his mind. The stones of the altar, which alone have been mentioned, are clearly not meant here, but the erection of plastered stone on which the law was to be written. A copy of the law of Moses, "Deuteronomium legis," Vulgate. So also LXX. Not the whole law, nor yet the Book of Deuteronomy, for time would not permit,but the decalogue, as the word מִשְׁנֶה duplicate, from whence the word Mishna comes, signifies. It is to be observed that the word is definite, the copy, not a copy, of the law. This (Deuteronomy 5:22) was what was written on the two tables of stone, which (Exodus 24:12, Exodus 31:18) God gave to Moses. Yet it is possible that, as some commentaters suggest, and as verse 34 may be held to imply, what is meant is the curses and blessings mentioned in Deuteronomy 27:1-26, and Deuteronomy 28:1-68. The formal setting up of this memorial was intended to remind the Israelites, by a perpetual standing witness, of the conditions on which they held the land of Canaan. And it is to be observed that the moral, rather than the positive, precepts of the law were thus solemnly enjoined on them, since neglect of the moral law of God is the invariable source of national degradation and decay. Which he wrote. Namely, Joshua.
And all Israel (see Joshua 23:2; Joshua 24:1, Joshua 24:2). The word כל is used very loosely in Hebrew (see Genesis 4:14). We need not, therefore, assume as a matter of course that the whole people, men, women, and children, were taken up to Shechem to behold this ceremony. It is quite possible that during all Joshua's marches and campaigns a large number of the people remained under guard at Gilgal (see Joshua 9:6), which remained the headquarters of the Israelites until the country was subdued. All that is here meant is that a very great number of the people were gathered together, and that every tribe, every age, and each sex were largely represented at this important ceremony. And officers. Shoterim (see Joshua 1:10). Half of them. Origen's explanation of the spiritual meaning of this passage is noteworthy, even though somewhat farfetched. He regards those of the tribes who stood on Mount Gerizim to bless, as the type of those who are led, not by fear of God's threatenings, but by a longing for God's promises and blessings; those who stood on Mount Ebal to curse, as the type of those who are driven by the fear of punishment to obey the will of God, and these finally attain salvation. The former, he adds, are the more noble of the two; but Jesus, who reads the hearts, gives each their proper station, and places some on Mount Ebal to curse, not that they themselves may receive the curse, but, by regarding the curse pronounced on sinners, may learn thereby how to escape it. Over against. אֶל־מוּל rather, "in the direction off" The command in Deuteronomy 27:12 is that they shall stand upon the two mountains. No doubt certain representatives of the tribes stood on the mountain, and the rest of the people at the foot of the mountain, on either side of the valley, "crowding the slopes," as Canon Tristram says. The valley is narrow here, and the voice in mountainous regions, where the air is rarer, carries far. Under special circumstances, such as frosty weather, the voices of men crying their wares have been distinctly heard across the Humber in our own country. And in mountain passes, as any one who has travelled in them may easily ascertain, conversations may be carried on from opposite sides of a valley or ravine without the slightest difficulty. In this particular place Canon Tristram tell us that when on Mount Gerizim he heard every word uttered by a man who was then driving his ass down Mount Ebal, and that afterwards two of his party recited the commandments antiphonally from the two sides of the valley without the least difficulty.
All the words of the law, the blessings and the curses. The form of this expression, combined with the words of the next verse, seems to include not only the special curses in Deuteronomy 27:1-26; but Deuteronomy 28:1-68, at least, and possibly Deuteronomy 29:1-29. and 30. as well.
That were conversant with them. Literally, who were going in the midst of them; i.e; the strangers who had attached themselves to them, either at their departure from Egypt, or since their conquest of Eastern Palestine.
The setting up the law.
The provision for the due observance of God's law was one of the most remarkable features of the invasion of Canaan by Joshua. Twice was the command given in Deuteronomy by Moses (Deuteronomy 11:29, 36, and Deuteronomy 27:2-13), and the spot fixed on beforehand, no doubt because of its central position in Palestine. We have already observed, in the notes on Deuteronomy 5:1-33; on the scrupulous care to fulfil the provisions of the law with which the invasion of Canaan was commenced. The present is an event of the same character. Joshua forbears to press further his warlike operations in the land, until he has pushed his way to the central point, and anticipated the conquest he is about to make by setting up there the law which was to be observed in it, when it had become the possession of the Israelites. The following considerations suggest themselves:
I. JOSHUA'S FAITH. Aa in the case of the circumcision, so here, obedience is superior to all earthly considerations. From a worldly point of view this march from Ai to Gerizim while the nations of Canaan are still unsubdued was a hazardous and foolish act. Modern philosophers would deride it; modern public opinion would condemn it. But it is just here that modern opinion requires correction by God's Word. When a thinker of the present day, not usually regarded as superstitious or fanatical, tolls us we have "forgotten God," it may be worth while to ask whether He is still a factor in the problem of life with statesmen, generals, and politicians. No doubt there is a superstitious way of carrying out the principle here indicated. So there was, as has already been pointed out, among the Israelites, when they took the ark to battle with them, fancying it could act as a talisman which could secure them from the consequences of their own sins. Yet we may venture to commend the scrupulous regard for God's commands shown by the Christian Indians in North America, who were willing voluntarily to forego the large take of fish—and they got their living by fishing—which offered itself to them on the Lord's day, rather than the conduct of the clergyman, who, seeing a glint of sunshine on a wet summer's day while he was preaching, led his flock into the harvest field, though it was Sunday, because, as he said, it was wrong to allow God's good gifts to be wasted. There may be much to be said on both sides. Yet it were well at least to allow that faith is superior to sight, and obedience to expediency. We may be assured that in all cases a strict obedience to God's precepts, and a sublime disregard of consequences when duty is involved, is the only path a sincere Christian can possibly follow. This is true whether
(2) commercial, or
(3) private interests are involved.
The nation which deliberately adopts a wrong policy, or refuses to carry out a right one, because it is its interest to do so, will most assuredly reap its reward. The commercial transaction which in its efforts after profit neglects the plain command of God shall in the end bring more harm than good. The man who habitually sets aside God's commands for his own private ends shall "reap his reward, whosoever he be."
II. CIRCUMCISION VERILY PROFITETH IF THOU KEEP THE LAW. Joshua here plainly shows the children of Israel that the formal renewal of the covenant which was made as soon as Jordan was crossed was of no avail in God's sight, unless the law were set up as the necessary consequence of that covenant. So we learn that it is of no use for us to be God's covenant people unless we have the law written in our hearts. For one of the first conditions of that covenant is that God shall give us His Spirit. Woe be to us if we grieve or quench Him. He gives us power to fulfil the law of God. To neglect to carry out that law is to resist Him and fight against Him. This entails upon us the same consequences as it did to Israel, first in the wilderness, and afterwards in Canaan—rejection from the high privileges they had inherited. After our admission into covenant with God there must be
(1) the engraving the law in our hearts by the study of its precepts, and
(2) the earnest endeavour to walk after the law thus set up in our midst.
III. THE LAW WAS READ. This public reading of the law was a feature of Jewish public solemnities when their faith had waxed cold, and it needed revival (see 2 Kings 23:2, 2 Kings 23:8; 2Ch 34:1-33 :80, 81; Nehemiah 8:1-8). It does not appear to have formed part of the ceremonies either of David or Solomon, or even of Hezekiah. Perhaps it would have been better if it had, although these ceremonies were pious and edifying. So we cannot agree with those who would remove from the Church of England Service that continual recitation of the Ten Commandments which was added to the Communion Service at the Reformation. We cannot tell how much this reading of the law has tended to keep alive in the nation an abhorrence of certain sins, has preserved among us a regard for God's holy day, for domestic purity and order, for honesty and truthfulness, which some other nations have lost. So the daily and weekly reading of the Scriptures, as a whole, is a feature of the Church system which we would not willingly see surrendered. And he who neglects the private reading of the law must expect the life of his soul to be deadened thereby.
IV. THE LAW HAS CURSES AS WELL AS BLESSINGS. The sterner features of God's law are kept out of sight by many in these days. They talk of a God of love, but they forget that a God of love must, as such, punish sin, and therefore sinners, as long as they cling to their sin. It would be no love to leave sin unpunished, for that were to encourage men to commit it. And as sin, by its very nature, is the parent of misery, the God who does not punish sin is rather a God of hate than a God of love. No preaching of the blessings of the gospel is of any avail which systematically conceals the terrors of the gospel; which tries to exalt the love of God in Christ while studiously ignoring the vengeance which is pronounced against them who "obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." No reading of the law is of any avail, except Ebal be read from as well as Gerizim. Joshua read "all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law." So must the Christian minister rehearse faithfully to his flock all that is written in the book of the law of Christ.
V. THE ARK OF GOD WAS IN THE MIDST. That is, the reading of the law was no mere formal recitation. There was the altar, the offerings, and the sacrifices. It was a religious celebration. God's presence was recognised. The devotion of the heart was required. The whole celebration would have been a pretence had it not been carried on as in God's sight. So now, when God's Word is read in the congregation, it should not be a mere form. There should be the ardent desire to profit by it, the solemn reverence for the spoken word of the Most High. And when studied in private, it should not be a cold, critical, merely intellectual study. The warmth of devotion should be kindled. The reading should be distinctly a religious act. The presence of God, alike in the word He has given, and the heart He has renewed, should be recognised, and a mutual glow be derived from the contact. And this glow should be further inflamed by the simultaneous sacrifice of the thoughts and intentions of the heart to God.
HOMILIES BY R. GLOVER
The altar on Ebal, and the reading and recording of the law.
We come on this scene unexpectedly. War, with its stratagems, its carnage, its inversion of ancient order, was filling our mind. But suddenly, instead of the camp, there is the religious assembly; sacrifice instead of slaughter; instead of the destruction of heathen cities, the erection of monumental inscriptions of the law. The mustering of the whole people to learn and accept afresh God's great law. It was not a casual gathering, but one prescribed by Moses in 27th chapter of Deuteronomy; what tribes have to stand on the slopes of Gerizim, to respond to all the benedictions of the law, and what tribes are to stand on Ebal to respond to its curses, are all detailed. The ark in the valley between; an altar reared on one of the heights; the law, solemnly read, and greeted with the responses not of a congregation, but of a gathered nation; covenant sacrifices offered; the inscription on memorial stones of the leading precepts of the law—these all constitute a scene of utmost impressiveness. A nation accepting a solemn league and covenant, hallowing their conquest, taking formal possession of the country for their God, in the heart of the land hallowing a mountain for His throne—this is not an everyday occurrence, but one full of moral meaning. Consider some of its lessons.
I. SACRED RESTS SHOULD BE MIXED WITH ALL WORLDLY WORK. Not many would have gathered a nation at such a time for such a work. At most only the conquest of the middle of the land had been achieved. The kings of the south and the north were forming their leagues to crush the terrible invaders. A saint less heroic or a hero less saintly would have postponed all such solemn assemblies till the conquest was complete. But Joshua "sets the Lord alway before him;" and at the very outset he seeks to hallow their fighting and their victories. As in Gilgal, he tarried to observe the sacraments of the law, so here in Shechem he tarries to build an altar and rehearse the law. That time is not lost which we spend in calm communion with God. And in the degree in, which, like the occupations of these invaders, our dally work is absorbing and worldly, in that degree it is well to arrest our activities, and turn ear and eye and heart to God. In Israel's case, such a halt would tend to prevent the coarsening of their feelings in their bloody work; would put them in the position of executors of God's judgment; would help to make them abhor the sins of those they extirpated; would suggest that "they should be holy who carried the " sword "of God." Our daily tasks are not so absorbing nor so rough as theirs; but, like Israel, it will always be well that we should take time or make time to keep in Gilgal the ordinances, and take time or make it to learn in Shechem the law of God. "Prayer and meals stop no man's work." Israel went from Shechem with more unity, faith, and gravity—that is, with all its elements of strength invigorated. Keep your Sabbaths well. Have a sacred closet and enter it. Take time regularly to get calm and to listen to the voice of God. Joshua mixes sacred rest with worldly activity.
II. Observe secondly: WITH NEW POSSESSIONS, THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES SHOULD BE RECOGNISED. Is the centre of the land won, it is not theirs to do with as they like. There is a law whose blessings they should aspire to, whose curse they should avoid. Their new possessions are not theirs to do with what they like. Masters of the Canaanites, they are only servants before God. With all possession of wealth, and all consciousness of strength, there is apt to rise a certain degree of wilfulness and self assertion. Men think that wealth is a sort of holy orders, giving a power of absolution from every unpleasant duty. It is well whenever we have attained what we desired, or come into the enjoyment of any sort of wealth, that we should take the position of servants, and listen to God's law. Otherwise the mercies that should bind us closer to our God separate us from Him, and blessings which should leave us more free for gracious work secularise all our moods and motives. "The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul," but it is only helpful when in Shechem we listen to God's law. How much wiser would some have been if gaining wealth, or power, or whatever their hearts' desire, they had hallowed some spot like Shechem and distinctly realised their duty in connection with it—the blessings of discharging it, the curses of neglecting it; and then low at God's altar had hallowed all. Our own is not ours to do with as we please. Property has duties as well as rights, and all mercies should be hallowed by cherishing a lively sense of the responsibilities attendant on them. Have you gained a footing in any Canaan of your hopes? Build your altar and listen to God's law.
III. Observe: JOSHUA'S FIRST BUILDING IS AN ALTAR, NOT A FORTRESS. You would not have been surprised to find him taking Shechem and fortifying it, raising thus a central fortress in the land. But he builds not a fortress, but an altar; and raises not the storied monument of his victories, but a register of God's law. It is a striking and characteristic thing, this altar rearing in such circumstances. And yet the altar, by its inspiration, contributes more to the power of the people than any fortress could by its security. The soul is the seat of power, in the individual, the army, the nation; and Joshua takes the directest means to increase and perpetuate the nation's strength when he builds an altar, and links at once the old land and the new people to God. No people will lack country, safety, freedom, that rears altars to the living God. Let religion die out in any people and liberty will not very long survive. What we want for strength and joy in life is some great interest, a grave duty, a sublime hope. When Joshua raised this altar, and thereby quickened the religious life of the people, he was doing far more than if he had raised walls or gathered chariots. God is a nation's only fortress. To have Him in us is to be secure.
IV. Lastly observe: THE WISE MAN SEEKS TO MAKE RELIGION INTELLIGENT. The priestly instinct would have been satisfied with the sacraments of Gilgal; but Joshua adds instruction at Shechem. All the people, the aged, the children, warriors, and women, the true Israelite and the hangers on, have the entire law read to them; and to increase the intelligent knowledge of God's will, the law is painted like frescoes on tablets raised on the mountain. God wants intelligent service. Ignorance is the mother of superstition, not of devotion. "God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him not only in spirit"—that is—in sincerity; but in truth—that is, with intelligence, understanding Him—giving Him the sort of homage which is His due. To my judgment, there is a savour of sound Protestanism in this gathering at Shechem. The people taught, the law imparted to all This is a sort of prelude of the reign of the open Bible—a religion addressed to the minds and hearts and consciences of men, All true religion has its Shechem as well as its Gilgal, its teachings of truth and duty as well as its observance of the sacraments. We should all seek light; reverent, but still self respectful; too serious to "make believe," too truthful to shut our eyes. The higher our reason, the heartier will be our religion. Joshua taught the people the law, and when printing was impossible, published it on the frescoes of Gerizim. We only do well when we do our best to make "all the congregation of Israel, with the women and the little ones, and the strangers that are conversant among them," familiar with the law and the gospel of the grace of God.—G.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
Sacrifice and law.
This religious solemnity is a fulfilment of the command given by Moses in Deuteronomy 27:1-26. It is expressive of the fidelity of Joshua to the sacred traditions of the past, and his loyalty to the Divine order and the Divine authority. The time is appropriate for such public homage to be paid to the God of Israel. It is the "right hand of the Lord" that has done so valiantly in the recent victories; to Him be all the glory. The land has been taken possession of in His name; let it be consecrated henceforth to Him by this solemn act of worship. The solemnity consists of two parts—
(1) the building of an altar and offering of sacrifice,
(2) the inscription and proclamation of the law.
I. SACRIFICE. This was at once an acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God, and a renewal of the covenant by which the people and their inheritance were devoted to Him. There were two kinds of sacrifice, "burnt offerings" and "peace offerings." It is doubtful how far the distinction between these can, in this case, be clearly defined. But we at least discern in them a double element,
1. Eucharistic. There was thanksgiving for victories and deliverances thus far vouchsafed. Well might the hearts of the people rise to God with the smoke of their sacrifices, after such proofs as He had given them of His favour. Every fresh manifestation of Divine goodness demands a fresh ascription of praise; the providence that "redeems our life from destruction and crowns us with loving kindness" calls for daily acknowledgment. Gratitude is a perpetual obligation, because God's love is ever assuming some new phase of benediction. Let every stage in our career, every vantage ground gained, every difficulty surmounted, every peril passed, every victory won, be signalised by some new expression of personal devotion. To the devout spirit life will be a continual thank, offering, a ceaseless hymn of praise.
"If oh our daily course our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasure still of countless price
God will provide for sacrifice."
2. Propitiatory. These oft-repeated sacrifices kept the grand truth of atonement by expiation continually before the minds of the people. We need to keep it continually before our minds, inasmuch as we live by the mercy of God through the self immolation of a sinless victim. Every revelation of God is fitted to awaken the sense of our own sinfulness, and so prompts a constant reference, in penitence and faith, to the "Great Propitiation." Daily life should be a perpetual presentation in spirit before the mercy seat of the sacrifice of Him by whom we "receive the atonement? But such trust in the sacrifice of Christ is of no avail unless coupled with a personal surrender that draws its inspiration from His. The "burnt offering" and the "peace offering" must go together. "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price: therefore," etc. (1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Corinthians 6:20).
II. THE PROCLAMATION OF THE LAW. There was a peculiar fitness in this, inasmuch as the people had now gained a firm footing in the land which was to be the scene of their organised national life. They are made to understand the fundamental moral conditions of that life. Observe—
1. The supremacy of the law of God over all human law. The commonwealth of Israel was emphatically a theocracy. But every commonwealth is a theocracy in the sense that harmony with the Divine will is the secret of its order and prosperity. As righteousness alone "exalteth a nation," so the public assertion and vindication of God's law is essential to the well being of any land and people. Human law has enduring authority in proportion as it accords with the Divine (Proverbs 8:15, Proverbs 8:16).
2. The breadth of the law of God as embracing all relations of life, all classes and conditions of men. "The whole congregation of Israel" heard the law, with the "elders, officers, and judges," the "women, little ones, and strangers." All social relations, all official functions, all periods and conditions of life are amenable to this supreme authority, this impartial Judge.
3. The weal or woe of every man depends on his relation to the law of God. Here lies the alternative of blessing or cursing, life or death (Deuteronomy 30:19). What was read may have been only that summary of the law contained in Deuteronomy 27:1-26, and Deuteronomy 28:1-68. But of the whole law, in its essential principles, this is true: moral and practical harmony with it is the condition of blessedness.
4. Men are brought into their true relation to the law only by the gospel of Christ. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness," etc. (Romans 10:4). Faith in Him disdains the law of its terrors. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law," etc. (Galatians 3:13). In Him the blessing overcomes the curse, the voice of Gerizim prevails over that of Ebal, "mercy rejoieeth against judgment." Christ engraves the law not on tables of stone, but on the living hearts of men (Jeremiah 31:31, 84; Hebrews 8:1-19, Hebrews 8:12). In Him the law is not, as in Moses, literal, local, adapted to special circumstances and the moral needs of a particular people, but spiritual and universal. Not that Christianity has less to do in shaping the relative duties of human life, or enters less minutely into its details, but rather has so much to do with everything that, like the all-pervading atmosphere and the gladdened sunshine, it is the very vital air of every social problem, and the guiding light in the determination of every question between man and man.—W.