The Present Truth : December 31, 1896
“And about the time of forty years suffered He their manners in the wilderness.” Acts 13.18. In these few words the Apostle Paul in his discourse in the synagogue at Antioch disposed of the forty years’ wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness; and for the purpose of our present study we may pass it by nearly as hastily. Their manners were such that God literally “suffered” them. The record is one of murmurings and rebellion. “They believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation.” Psalm 78.22. “How oft did they provoke Him in the wilderness, and grieve Him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They remembered not His hand, nor the day when He delivered them from the enemy; how He had wrought His signs in Egypt, and His wonders in the field of Zoan.” Verses 40-43. Although for forty years they daily saw the works of God, they did not learn His ways; wherefore, says the Lord, “I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known My ways. So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest.” Hebrews 3.10, 11
An Inheritance of Faith
“So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” What does that teach us as to the nature of the inheritance to which God was leading His people? —Simply this, that it was an inheritance that could be possessed only by those who had faith—that faith alone could win it. Worldly, temporal possessions may be, and are, gained and held by men who disbelieve, and who even despise and blaspheme God. Indeed, unbelieving men have the most of this world’s goods. Many besides the writer of the seventy-third Psalm have been envious at the prosperity of the wicked; but such feeling of envy arises only when one looks at the things that are temporal, instead of at the things that are eternal. “The prosperity of fools shall destroy them.” God has chosen the poor of this world, “rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him.” James 2.5. That kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18.36), but is “a better country, that is, an heavenly,” for which the patriarchs looked. It was to this country that God promised to lead His people when He delivered them from Egypt. But only those who are “rich in faith can possess it
The time had come when God could carry out His purpose with His people. The faithless ones who had said that their little ones would die in the desert had perished, and now those same children, grown to manhood, and trusting the Lord, were about to enter the Promised Land. After the death of Moses, God said to Joshua: “Arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.” Joshua 1.2, 3
Crossing the Jordan
But the Jordan rolled between the Israelites and the land to which they were to go with all their flocks and little ones. The river was at its height, overflowing all its banks, and there were no bridges; but the same God who had brought His people through the Red Sea was still leading them, and He was as able as ever to do wonders. All the people took their places according to the Lord’s directions, the priests bearing the ark being about a thousand paces in advance of the host. Onward they marched toward the river, whose flood still kept on its way. To the very brink of the stream they came, yet the waters receded not an inch. But this people had learned to trust the Lord, and, as He had told them to go on, they hesitated not for an instant. Into the water they went, although they knew that it was so deep that it could not possibly be forded, and swift enough to carry them away. They had nothing to do with considering difficulties; their part was to obey the Lord and go forward, and His to make the way.
“And it came to pass, . . . as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, that the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan; and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people passed over right against Jericho. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.” Joshua 3.14-17
What a display of faith and trust in God! The bed of the Jordan was dry, it is true, for the people to pass over, but on the right hand was a wall of water, piling still higher and higher, with no visible support. Picture to yourself that mighty heap of water, apparently threatening to overwhelm the people, and you can better appreciate the faith of those who calmly passed over before it. All the time of the passage the priests stood calm and unmoved in the midst of the riverbed, and the people marched over without breaking ranks. There was no unseemly scramble to get over quickly, lest the waters should come down upon them; for “he that believeth shall not make haste.”
Free at Last
“At that time the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time.” “For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord; unto whom the Lord swore that He would not show them the land, which the Lord swore unto their fathers that He would give us, a land that flows with milk and honey. And their children, whom He raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised; because they had not circumcised them by the way. And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.” Joshua 5.2-9
In order to see the full force of this ceremony at this time we must recall the significance of circumcision, and must also know what is meant by “the reproach of Egypt.” Circumcision signified righteousness by faith (Romans 4.11); true circumcision, whose praise is not of men, but of God, is obedience to the law, through the Spirit (Romans 2.25-29); it is complete distrust of self, and confidence and rejoicing in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3.3. In the instance before us we see that God Himself commanded the people to be circumcised, a positive proof that He Himself accepted them as righteous. As with Abraham, so with them, their faith was counted to them for righteousness.
“Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.” Proverbs 14.34. Sin was “the reproach of Egypt,” and it was this that was rolled away from the children of Israel; for the true circumcision of the heart, which alone is all that God counts as circumcision, is “the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Colossians 2.11. “Thus saith the Lord God: In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up Mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up Mine hand unto them, saying, I am the Lord your God; . . . then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. But they rebelled against Me, and would not hearken unto Me; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt.” Ezekiel 20.58
It was because they would not forsake the idols of Egypt, that the men who left that country with Moses did not enter into the Promised Land. A people cannot at one and the same time be both free and in bondage. The bondage of Egypt—“the reproach of Egypt”—was not merely the physical labor which the people were forced to do without reward, but was the abominable idolatry of Egypt, into which they had fallen. It was from this that God would deliver His people, when He said to Pharaoh, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.”
This freedom the people had at last obtained. God Himself declared that the bondage, the sin, the reproach of Egypt was rolled away from them. Then could it be sung, “Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.” Isaiah 26.2
The Victory of Faith
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.” Hebrews 11.30
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11.1
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” 2 Corinthians 10.4
The children of Israel were in the Promised Land, but yet to all appearances they were no more in possession than they were before. They still dwelt in tents, while the inhabitants of the land were entrenched in their cities, which were “walled up to heaven,” fully as strong as when the mere report of them caused the children of Israel to lose heart and turn back forty years before. But stonewalls and multitudes of armed men avail nothing when the battle is the Lord’s.
“Now the city of Jericho was straightly shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in.” Joshua 6.1. Jericho was the first city to be taken and the mode of operation which the Lord directed, was one calculated to test to the utmost the faith of the Israelites. All the people were to march round the city in perfect silence, with the exception that the priests who went ahead with the ark were to blow on their trumpets. “Joshua had commanded the people, saying, Ye shall not shout, nor make any noise with your voice, neither shall any noise proceed out of your mouth, until the day I bid you shout; then shall ye shout.” Joshua 6.10. As soon as they had completed this silent circuit of the city, they were to go into camp. The same thing was to be done for six successive days, and on the seventh day the circuit was to be made seven times.
Picture to yourself the situation. Tramp, tramp, the whole multitude went round the city, and then went into camp. Again and again they repeated this, with no apparent result. The walls stood as high and as grim as before; not a stone had fallen, not a bit of mortar had been loosened. Yet not one word of complaint was heard from one of the people.
We can well believe that for the first day or two the sight of that great host marching silently about the city filled the inhabitants with dread, more especially as they had previously been terrified by the reports of what God had done for those people. But as the march was repeated day after day, seemingly to no purpose, it would be most natural for the beleaguered ones to pick up courage, and regard the whole affair as a farce. Many would begin to mock, and to taunt the Israelites with their senseless methods. The history of warfare furnished no precedent for such a mode of proceeding to capture a city, and it would have been contrary to human nature if some of the people of the city had not openly ridiculed the marchers outside.
But not a single word of retort came from those ranks. Patiently the children of Israel bore whatever taunts may have been hurled at them. Not a voice was heard saying, “What is the use of all this?” “What kind of general is this man Joshua?” “Does he suppose that by our measured tread we can set the walls to vibrating so that they will fall down?” “What’s the use of tiring our legs and wearing out our shoes in this child’s parade?” “Well, I am tired of this fooling, and shall stay in my tent until we can do something worth the while.” Anyone who knows anything of human nature knows that these and similar expressions would freely be uttered under such circumstances by the most of people; and it would be remarkable if there were not open revolt against the proceedings. This would have been the case with the children of Israel forty years before; and the fact that they patiently and quietly marched around the city thirteen times, seemingly with no object, is proof of the most remarkable faith that the world has ever known. Think of an entire nation among which there was not one fault-finder, not one to utter a word of complaint when put to inconvenience which he could not understand, and which was apparently useless.
The seventh day was nearly gone, and the thirteenth round of the city was completed. Everything remained just as at the beginning of their march. Now came the last, the crowning test of faith. “And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the trumpets, Joshua said unto the people, Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city.” Joshua 6.16
Why should they shout? —Because the Lord had given them the city; they were to shout the victory. But what evidence was there that the victory was won? they could see no gain. Oh, faith is “the evidence of things not seen.” The victory was theirs, because God had granted it to them, and their faith claimed it at His word. Not a moment did they hesitate; their faith was perfect, and at the word of command a triumphant shout rose from that vast assembly. “And it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat.” Joshua 6.20
The promise to those people was the very same that God now extends to us; and all things recorded of them are for our learning. “They got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them” (Psalm 44), but the Lord’s right hand saved them. Even so will He grant unto us that we shall “be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us,” that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life. Luke 1.68-75. This deliverance is through Christ, who is now, as well as in the days of Joshua, the “Captain of the Lord’s host.” He says, “In the word ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16.33. “And ye are complete in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power.” Colossians ii. 10. Therefore “this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.” 1 John 5.4