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BY ALEXADER GARDIER MERCER, D.D.
JOSHUA XXni. AD XXIV.
These chapters — the dying words of the great captain
Joshua — consist mainly of one great appeal to the He-
brew nation to stand aloof from the other inhabitants of
Canaan. The first thing that strikes us in the career of
Joshua is the singular, stern, even merciless treatment of
the Canaanites by the conquering Hebrews, — a treat-
ment, too, not springing from the mere impulses of war
and vengeance, but exacted of them by their leaders un-
der the solemn command of their God.
Properly to vindicate this, we must remember that it
was only a part of a great policy, — of one aim to make
the nation which alone had right views of God a sepa-
rate nation, that they might be kept pure from idolatrous
contamination and educated in religion with an ultimate
regard to the enlightenment, not of themselves only,
but of the whole earth. The necessity of separation in
order to do this no one in our day can adequately under-
stand ; for no one now can realize the fascinating power
of the idolatry and rites of the nations, and of the fact
that all the earth was one way, and a mere handful of
people the other. It was literally impossible to resist it.
Such is the sympathy and the social nature of man for
78 BIBLE CHARACTERS.
good or for evil, that there was no mode of beginning or
carrying on the existence of a few higher people save by
a merciless separation from a whole world of the lower.
They must in all ways make a solitude around them, as
of an island cut off from the main land of the world's
corruption. And this principle of separation is foUnd
through all religious history, and exists until this moment
in all monkish and ascetic associations. But what was
good as God used it — namely, as a fencing in of the ten-
der plant during the first rude ages — became a curse after
the truth was strong enough to defend itself ; and so,
when the strong Lord of Truth came, his message was :
** o longer separate ; break down all walls of partition ;
plant not the wheat by itself, but suffer tares and wheat
to grow together until harvest.**
The Jewish policy was defensive; the Christian policy
is aggressive. In the first era the truth said : " I am
weak ; save me by separating me." In the second era
the truth said: '* I am strong; sow me as wide as you
please on the field of the world." And, believe me, the
Christianity of every age and of every individual will find
an infallible test of its strength or its weakness in the bent,
the pressure, the necessity to diffuse itself, to give itself
even as widely as the sides of the earth extend, — even
to '* Greenland's icy mountains, to India's coral strand."
It gets up into the high mountains ; it cries aloud over
deserts ; it says : *' Behold me ! "
But the separation of which I speak was a necessity at I
this period, and it was brought about in a wonderful
manner. The Hebrews were taken into a wilderness,
solitary and separate, and kept there forty years. They
then crossed the Jordan, and a land was given them, but
on the significant and terrible condition that it should
be for the Hebrews alone. ay, the land itself was
chosen with this very idea of separation, — its old inhabi-
tants stripped away or utterly crushed. For as to the
rest of the world, the. great outlying nations, it was a
sheltered nook, — sheltered on all sides and removed by
sea, by mountain ranges, by wide deserts, so that the
country seemed created to give to this singular tribe
solitude as of an eagle's nest on the top of the crags.
But this was only the beginning. This geographical
separation would not last long unless it was accompanied
by a moral separation. So through the whole scope of
their peculiar and terrible experience in the wilderness
and afterward, — in all their opinions, laws, usages, — we
see the attempt made to separate their souls also. If
any person would understand the Mosaic system, he
must always remember that this is the great aim,
explaining much that is strange, and indicating much
that otherwise would be, to say the least, of very doubt-
ful propriety. So the Hebrew was meant to be physi-
cally and spiritually separated ; and though the result of
the effort as to the higher religious heart of the Jew fell
far below the intention, yet it was so far successful as to
the general character, that the Jewish soul, even of
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to-day, and even where it has lost all the higher traits of
holy separation, is yet a peculiar and solitary soul, and a
lasting wonder in the earth.
ow it is very obvious that such a conception as this,
carried out on a national scale, is the most singular thing
in history. To be sure, sects, a handful of men acting
for something of the same aim and instinct, have with-
drawn themselves; all the old religions, especially the
Eastern down to Mohammed, have to a degree peculiar-
ized and separated themselves; but all these cases are
but as a shadow of the separation of the Jew, — ^an
isolation so marked that we seem to hear in it the very
voice of God. The thing was done so sharply, power-
fully, comprehensively (from the circumcision of the
body up to the circumcision of the whole nature), that if
we knew nothing of a divine hand concerned in it, the
result might lead us to argue its presence, just as, from
the vast mountain ranges thrown up on the earth's sur-
face, we argue the presence of mightier powers acting in
the primitive earth.
ow to any one who asks if all this were wise, I an-
swer that it was a necessity, and therefore wise, but that
of course it ceased to be wise when the necessity ceased.
The wisdom of this amazing record was not in one thing,
separation, but in two things, separation and diffusion,
and each in its turn. " In the fulness of time," — that is,
when the highest and purest religious truth could have
any chance in the world, — the gates of Judaism wejn^
JOSHUA, 8 1
opened, and the very best of the spirit which was at the
bottom of Judaism, which had been nourished and made
ready through centuries, expanded itself to the world.
But those Jews who did not understand the secret aim of
their own institutions, which secret aim St. Paul calls a
mystery, — who thought that their religion was all a piece
of worldly favoritism, that they were the worldly pets of
divine Providence, — when they saw One appear who pro-
claimed that henceforth the true Jew, the real favorite of
God, was to be a man of the heart, — who proclaimed
that the sonship of God hereafter was to be equally open
to all, — who proclaimed, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates !"
that all men may come in in equal brotherhood, — when
they saw this they resisted with malignity, — resisted, and
so were finally pushed aside and scattered like chaff
through the earth.
Having thus attempted to vindicate the forcible sepa-
ration of the Jews during the ages of force, in view of
the ultimate purpose of peaceful reunion in better times,
I pass on to the leaders in these two movements.
The first Joshua (or Jesus) was the great captain in the
work of separation between the Jew and mankind, as the
second Joshua (Jesus) was the great captain in the work
of reunion between the Jew and mankind, " making both
Look at these two figures. How unlike ! The first a
man of affairs, a wise, decided ruler, especially a man of
war, putting into effect the high designs of Moses with
82 BIBLE CHARACTERS.
such promptitude, skill, and resistless force as to sweep
the nations before him, — going forth from the fording of
the Jordan, at every step conquering and to conquer,
blood staining every inch of his way. This was Joshua,
the terror of his enemies, the beloved and trusted prince
of his people, who died with his victorious work finished,
the whole land under his foot, ** from Jordan, even unto
the great sea westward/*
How unlike in all points, in character, in work, and in
destiny, to the man Christ Jesus, who spilt no blood but
his own ; who, though he himself wept with strong cry-
ing, yet caused no tears to others but of penitence and
hope, — the being of love, not of hate, — a Captain who led
only in the way of peace and reunion, but who perished
friendless, an outcast of the people.
o work, no characters, no results, could be more con-
trasted. Strange, then, that this military Joshua should
be one of the chosen and favorite foreshadowings of the
Christ ! See him, this armed hero, at the head of hosts,
of imperial character, in imperial command, whose aim
and thought and skill were of destruction, leading on,
fearless, deadly, merciless, crowned with blood and vic-
tory ! See him — and see this ! What is this ? A man
of sorrows, preaching meekness, righteousness, peace, in
a tone of unspeakable and tender depth pleading with
the world, pouring out His blood, crowned with thorns,
nailed in ignominy and defeat to the bitter cross.
Yet in one point they were alike. Both lived for a
will not their own, — the one as a servant, the other as a
Son. Joshua carried out his simple ideas, the plan of
God as he understood it, with that simplicity and entire-
ness of abandonment which is heroism. Our Christian
ideas of peace must not prevent our doing justice to his
noble character, or to that noble character, the religious
soldier, as he appears in Jewish, and still more strikingly
in Christian history. Joshua and the old Jewish soldiers,
the crusaders of mediaeval times, the Puritan Cromwell
and his Roundheads, however mistaken and fanatical,
and though they do violence to that pure Dove which
has flown into the bosom of humanity, are yet consecrated
by this, that according to their light they stood for God
and for the right.
•* What can alone ennoble fight ?
A noble cause !
Give that, and welcome war to brace his drums ! "
But no ; not welcome war, — never welcome, — only sub-
mitted to because of the sad and disgraceful necessities
of the world, and its selfish interests.
** The cause of truth and human weal,
O God above !
Transfer it from the sword's appeal
To peace and love."
Yes ; in place of the old banners and old leaders *' we
now see Jesus," and though I have said it I repeat that
the first Joshua was in his heart a blood-brother even
with Christ in this, — that both are of that noble army of
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martyrs who oflfer themselves in sacrifice in obedience to
God and for the safety of the people, — yet oh how
unspeakably higher, purer, the heroism which submits,
which offers its blood and will not take yours ! Other
heroisms have their work, but this is the noblest of all.
Yes ; though the contrast seemed so great at the hour
of Calvary between these two styles of conqueror, that
was only in appearance, — that was only because the
greater the power the more slowly it gets into action.
The reconciling power of Christ must have the whole
planet for its working-ground, and all the ages for its
working-time ; so great, so subtle, so lasting is this con-
All the high language of Christ, — his confidence that
God was with him, that God was strong, that the fact
would be as God willed, that God was Master in his
world, no matter how things looked, — "though the
heathen raged," — all this in its rudiments was in the soul
of the rude Joshua. He also had religion, — that is, his
his heart was allied and tied to God. He, in the face of
the black and swarming crowd, maintained his allegiance
to the right ; and so he was victor, conquestor ; and
he made a brutish land, noisome with idols, into the land
of God,— even as the great Conquestor has made, is mak-
ing, and will make this besotted earth of ours, in the face
of men and devils, into a divine earth, a kingdom of God.
Strip away all the wrappings, get at the one thing
which makes all God's men alike, — truly men, truly human,
truly divine, — what is it ? It is this familiarity with God,
confidence in him, consolation in his kindness, force in
his strength, and, as a necessary result, victory over self,
over the evil that is in the world.
I call attention to the farewell, dying words of Joshua.
He gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and
recounted the wonderful history of the Jews before him
and under him. He shows how magnificently God
had led them forward. It is a proud record of their
national glory, all springing from the favorable hand of
God. With such a record what a grand future was pos-
sible ! The contrary was also possible. And so he calls
them to choose whom they will serve. But there
was one vast condition, — that this God really should
be chosen and held to as their God ; and in the way
of this there was one vast difficulty. For this was
a righteous God, demanding righteousness, and severe
toward the faithless, so that it was no slight thing to be
the servant of such a God. All high things have corre-
sponding requirements. There were gods all round them
whom it would be easy to serve, — pleasant gods, who
seemed to exact nothing, but to meet fully all the low
desires of the heart, — gods, moreover, whom they could
see, and not some distant shadow.
Joshua knew the difficulties, and so before leaving
them he wanted them to come to some solemn and deep
and immovable decision. " Choose you this day whom
ye will serve." '* Choose ye," he said ; " but as for me
86 BIBLE CHARACTERS,
and my house, we will serve the Lord." "Fickle
multitudes, governed by fashion or ingratitude or self-in-
dulgence, may serve whom they will; but as for me,
I will serve the Lord,** — so speaks the true servant.
Moved, the people answer : ** God forbid that we
should forsake the Lord, to' serve other gods." But-
Joshua wisely wished them to count the cost deliberately
in this great moment ; so he concealed nothing, but
opened the whole deterring prospect and said : ** Ye can-
not serve the Lord : for he is an holy God ; he is a jealous
God, so that if ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange
gods, he will turn and do you hurt after that he hath
done you good." And the people said unto Joshua:
" ay, but we will serve the Lord." And Joshua said :
** Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen
you the Lord, to serve him." And they said : " We are
So he made a solemn covenant, and wrote these words
in the book of the law of God, and set up a great stone
under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.
Every thing was done, in short, to bind the heart
irrevocably: and not without effect, for it seems that
" Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and
all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and
which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had
done for Israel."
Therefore, be not discouraged. If you are no more like
to Christ than a rude and cruel Jewish warrior, — if nature
or circumstances have so shaped you that no church
meets your need, — God will meet it in some way. Be
something in your own fashion. Christianity is not
the narrow thing we make it. Paul said : " Whatsoever
things are true, honest, just, etc., think on these things."
Christ said : " He that is not against us is for us."
Courage, then ! and sweep away your prejudices. Wher-
ever you can catch the simple air of sonship to God,
or allegiance to any high thing, running through a life,
like the fine strain permeating what seems a chaos
of music, there in that fine silver thread the Spirit of God
is, and, believe me, it will in time bring that whole chaotic
mass into harmony.
Joshua, the national hero and prince, is the shadow ;
the poor and simple Galilean the substance. It is singu-
lar how little we have advanced. Every man is very
much as his ideal is ; to that he insensibly shapes himself.
What is ours ? The message I bring you is : Advance
your ideal. What is immortal, substantial, beautiful?
The things of the heart ; the rest but " wood, hay,
stubble/' " Choose the things which are excellent."
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