Joshua 1 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

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(Read all of Joshua 1)
Joshua commissioned by Jehovah

Let us apply ourselves now to the study of this book.

The first chapter shews us Joshua placed in service by Jehovah who commands him to go over Jordan into the land which He had given to the children of Israel.

Let us pause a moment over this immediate commission from Jehovah. Moses here holds the place, not of the living mediator, but of the written word. All that he commanded, being from God, was evidently the word of God for Israel. Joshua is the energy which brings them into possession of the promises.

The condition attached to the actual possession of the land

First of all, we have the principle on which possession is taken; not in the simple exercise of divine power, as that which will take place at the end, but in the energy of the Spirit and in connection with the responsibility of man. The boundaries of the promised land are given; but the knowledge of the boundaries assigned by God was not enough: God had defined them very accurately; but a condition was attached to their possession. "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that I have given unto you." They must go there, overcome the obstacles with the help and by the power of God, and take actual possession. Without that they could not possess it; and, in fact, this is what happened. They never took possession of all the land which God had given. Nevertheless, to faith the promise was sure: "There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life." The power of the Spirit of God, of Christ by His Spirit (the true energy of the believer), is all-sufficient. For it is, in fact, the power of Christ Himself, who has almighty power. At the same time, the promise of never being left nor forsaken (Deut. 31: 6, 8) is maintained in all its force. This is what may be reckoned upon in the Lord's service—such a power of His presence that none shall be able to stand before His servant, a power which will never forsake him. With this full encouragement, he who walks by the Spirit is called upon to be strong and of a good courage.

The courage of faith necessary to take heed to God's Word

After this comes Jehovah's exhortation, in verse 7, "Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law which Moses, my servant (the title always given him here), commanded thee." Spiritual strength and energy, the courage of faith, are necessary, in order that the heart may be bold enough to obey, may be free from the influences, the fears, and the motives which act upon the natural man, and tend to turn believers aside from the path of obedience, and that they may take heed unto the word of God.

The walk set before God's people in His word

There is nothing so unreasonable in the world as the walk set before us in the word—nothing which so exposes us to the hatred of its prince. If, then, God be not with us, there is nothing so foolish, so mad; if He be with us, nothing so wise. If we have not the strength of His presence, we dare not take heed to His word; and, in that case, we must beware of going out to war. But having the courage, which the almighty power of God inspires by His promise, we may lay hold of the good and precious word of our God: its severest precepts are only wisdom to detect the flesh, and instruction how to mortify it, so that it may neither blind nor shackle us.

The road to victory and repose

The most difficult path, that which leads to the sharpest conflict, is but the road to victory and repose, causing us to increase in the knowledge of God. It is the road in which we are in communion with God, with Him who is the source of all joy; it is the earnest and the foretaste of eternal and infinite happiness.

If only this word from God, Jehovah, is heard—"Turn not from it, to the right hand nor to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest"—what joy for him who, through grace, comes forward to do the work of God!

The two great principles of spiritual life and activity

The Lord then exhorts him to the diligent study of this book of the law: "For then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." Here, then, are the two great principles of spiritual life and activity: 1st, the assured presence of the almighty power of God, so that nothing can stand before His servant; 2nd, the reception of His word, submission to His word, diligent study of His word, taking it as an absolute guide; and having courage to do so, because of the promise and exhortation of God.

Jesus' path and the revelation of it

In short, the Spirit and the word are all in all for spiritual life. Furnished with this power faith goes forward, strengthened by the encouraging word of our God. God has a way in the world where Satan cannot touch us. This is the path where Jesus walked. Satan is the prince of this world; but there is a divine path through it, but no other, and there God's power is. The word is the revelation of it. So the Lord bound the strong man. He acted by the power of the Spirit, and used the word. The Spirit and the word cannot be separated without falling into fanaticism on the one hand, or into rationalism on the other—without putting oneself outside the place of dependence upon God, and of His guidance. Mere reason would become the master of some; imagination, of others.

Satan's influence when reason is destitute of guidance

Moreover, there is nothing more imaginative than reason, when destitute of guidance! In result, the enemy of souls would take possession of both. We should have man under Satan's influence, in the place of God. Miserable exchange! for which the unbeliever is consoled by flattering himself that there is nothing beyond his reach, because he reduces everything to the limits of his own mind. Nothing appears to me more pitiful than this unbelief, which pretends that there is nothing in the moral and intellectual sphere beyond the thoughts of man, and which denies man's capacity to receive light from a more exalted mind—the only thing that raises man above himself, while at the same time rendering him morally excellent, by making him humble through the sense of superiority in another.

Blessed be God, that some are to be found who have profited by the grace which has communicated to man of His perfect wisdom! Even though the imperfect vessel which received it may have a little impaired its features and its perfection, they have nevertheless profited by it so as to take their true place. Happy place, before the presence of Him whom to know is infinite and everlasting joy!

Consciousness of the will of God and strength for action

There is yet an important practical rule to be recognised in these words, "Have not I commanded thee?" (chap. 1: 9). If we are not conscious that we are doing the will of God—if, before we begin to act, we have not assured ourselves of this in His presence, we shall have no courage in performing it. Perhaps indeed what we are doing is the will of God; but, not being conscious of this, we act with hesitation, without confidence, without joy; we are repulsed by the smallest opposition, whilst, when we are assured of doing His will, and that He has said, "Have not I commanded thee?" nothing, through grace, can alarm us.

Nevertheless I add one word, or rather I call the reader's attention to what God says; for although the command of God inspires us with a courage which we could not have had without it, yet no revelation is by itself strength for action. But God adds, "Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed, for Jehovah thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."

Paul's weakness and strength

We have in the New Testament a striking exemplification of this principle: Paul was caught up to the third heaven, where he heard things which it is not lawful for man to utter. Was this his strength in conflict? Doubtless it inwardly gave his views a scope which reacted upon his whole work; but this was not his strength for the work. On the contrary, it tended to feed the false confidence of the flesh; at least the flesh would have used it for self-exaltation.

Such revelations rendered humiliation needful, and drew from God, not fresh favours (though all was favour), but, that which humbled the apostle, and rendered him weak and contemptible as to the flesh [1]. Being then weak, strength is given him in another way: not in the use or in the consciousness of revelations, that would have made him weak, by ministering to the exaltation of the flesh, but, in the grace and strength of Christ, which were made perfect in this infirmity. There lay his only strength; and he gloried in this infirmity, in which the power of Christ was perfected in him, which gave occasion for the manifestation of this power; and which, in proving that Paul was weak, proved that Christ Himself was in the work with Paul. We always need immediate strength from Christ, when acting on the part of Christ—strength which is made perfect in weakness, to do His work—abiding strength, for without Him we can do nothing. Let us remember this truth.

"On this side of Jordan," and the Land

I add but one word on the end of the chapter. There are Christians (I cannot say approved of God) who take their place on thus side of Jordan—that is to say, on this side of the power of death and resurrection, applied to the soul by the Spirit of God. The place in which they settle is not Egypt; it is beyond the Red Sea, it is within the limits of Israel's possessions outside Egypt and this side the Euphrates, river of Babylon. But it is not Canaan. It is a land they have chosen for their cattle and their possessions; they establish their children and their wives there. It is not Joshua who conquered that land it is not the place of testimony to the power of the Spirit of God—that Canaan which is beyond Jordan.

However, although the children and their families might be placed there, yet the men of war must, whether they will or no, take part in the conflicts of the children of God, who seek no rest except where the power of God is found—that is to say, in Canaan, in the heavenly places, all enemies being driven out. And indeed when the sin of Israel, and their consequent weakness, exposed the people to the successful attacks of their enemies, of the enemies of God, this country was the first that fell into their hands. "Know ye that Ramoth Gilead is ours?" leads to no blessing to the people when sorrowful on account of its loss. For the time all was well; that is, as long as Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh remained under the authority of Joshua, and through him the power of God conducted the people. They too say to Joshua that which God had said, "Be strong and of a good courage.

The impossibility of reconciling "that which is spitirual" and what is carnal

How often among the children of God some principle or line of conduct is brought in, that is inferior in nature to the excellence of that work which is going on in the purpose of God; but which, as long as the power of God is working according to this purpose, does not disengage itself, so to say, from the work, so as to assume any prominence, and produce uneasiness and sorrow! But when this divine stream becomes shallow in consequence of man's unfaithfulness, then bitter fruits appear; spiritual declensions, weakness, heart-burnings, divisions, and direct subjection to the evil power, flowing from the impossibility of reconciling that which is spiritual with that which is carnal, and of maintaining a spiritual testimony while conforming to the ways of the world.

But this testimony belongs to the other side of Jordan. The two tribes and a half may follow this course if they will, but we cannot come out of Canaan to join them. Alas! these beautiful meadows, well suited to feed their flocks, have found but too many Lots, and tribes of Israel, to settle in them to their loss. The shoals that are met with in our christian voyage may perhaps be safely crossed at high tide; but at low tide skilful pilotage is needed to avoid them, and to float always in the full current of the grace of God in the channel it has made for itself. But there is a sure and stedfast pilot; and we are safe if we are content to follow Him. God has given us what we need for this. Perhaps we must be satisfied with a very little boat: the unerring pilot will be in it.

At the first Moses was not pleased with the proposal of the two tribes and a half. The thing was permitted certainly. But in general the first thoughts of faith are the best; they only contemplate the promises, the full effect of the promises and the thoughts of God. After thoughts are not in connection with that.

[1] Idle curiosity inquires what this thorn in the flesh could be. It matters little to us what it was. There might be a different thorn for each case in which God saw fit to send one. It would be always something suited to humble him who needed it. It is enough for our spiritual instruction to know by the word, that as to Paul it was an infirmity which tended to make him personally contemptible in his preaching (see Gal. 4: 14; 2 Cor. 10: 10). The object of God, in such a trial, as meeting the danger, is so evident to every spiritual mind, that it were useless to dwell upon it.