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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 1

 

 

Verse 1

1.Now, after, etc Here, first, we see the steadfastness of God in watching over his people, and providing for their safety. The sanction given to Joshua’s appointment, as new leader by a renewed commission, (13) was intended to indicate the continuance of his favor, and prevent the people from thinking themselves forsaken in consequence of the death of Moses. Joshua, indeed, had already been chosen to rule the people; and not only invested with the office, but also endowed with spiritual gifts. But as the most valiant, however well provided, are apt to halt or waver when the period for action arrives, the exhortation to Joshua to make ready forthwith for the expedition was by no means superfluous. Still, however, the call thus formally given was not so much on his own account, as to inspire the people with full confidence in following a leader whom they saw advancing step by step in the path divinely marked out for him. (14)


Verse 2

2.Moses my servant, etc A twofold meaning may be extracted — the one, since Moses is dead, the whole burden has now devolved upon thee, take the place of him to whom thou has been appointed successor; the other, although Moses is dead, do not desist, but go forward. I prefer the former, as containing the inference that he should, by right of succession, take up the office which Moses had left vacant. (15) The epithet or surname of servant applied to Moses, has respect to his government of the people and his exploits; for it ought to be accommodated to actual circumstances. (16) The allusion here is not to the Law but to the leadership, which had passed to Joshua by the decease of Moses, and God thus acknowledges his servant, not so much with the view of praising him, as of strengthening the authority of Joshua, who had been substituted in his place. And as the people might not have acquiesced sufficiently in a bare command, he promises, while ordering them to pass the Jordan, to give them peaceable possession of the whole country, and of every spot of it on which they should plant their foot. For as nothing tends more than distrust to make us sluggish and useless, so when God holds forth a happy issue, confidence inspires us with rigor for any attempt.

It may be added, that he does now begin for the first time to give them good hopes, by making a promise of which they had not previously heard, but recalls to their remembrance what Moses had formerly testified. He says, therefore, that the time had now come for exhibiting and performing that which he had promised to Moses. Should any one object that the same thing had been said to Abraham long before Moses was born, nay, that the perpetual covenant deposited with Abraham included everything which was heard by Moses four hundred years after; (17) I answer, that here no notice is taken of the ancient promise which was everywhere known and celebrated, and that Moses is produced as a witness whose memory was more recent, and by whose death the confidence of the people might have been shaken, had not God declared that the accomplishment of all which he had said was at hand.


Verse 4

4.From the wilderness and this Lebanon, etc How the truth and fulfillment of this promise surmounted all the obstacles interposed by the wickedness of the people, though they did not obtain immediate possession of the whole territory, I have explained in the Argument. For although God had unfolded the inestimable treasures of his beneficence by constituting them lords of the country, it did not follow that their misconduct was not to be chastised. Nay, there behooved to be a fulfillment of the threatening which Moses had denounced, viz., that if the nations doomed to destruction were not destroyed, they would prove thorns and stings in their eyes and sides. But as the promise was by no means broken or rendered void by the delay of forty years, during which they were led wandering through the desert, so the entire possession, though long suspended, proved the faithfulness of the decree by which it had been adjudged.

The people had it in their power to obtain possession of the prescribed boundaries in due time; they declined to do so. For this they deserved to have been expelled altogether. (18) But the divine indulgence granted them an extent of territory sufficient for their commodious habitation; and although it had been foretold that, in just punishment, the residue of the nations whom they spared would prove pernicious to them, still, they suffered no molestation, unless when they provoked the Divine anger by their perfidy and almost continual defection: for as often as their affairs became prosperous, they turned aside to wantonness. Still, owing to the wonderful goodness of God, when oppressed by the violence of the enemy, and, as it were, thrust down to the grave, they continued to live in death; and not only so, but every now and then deliverers arose, and, contrary to all hope, retrieved them from ruin. (19)

The Great Sea means the Mediterranean, and to it the land of the Hittites forms the opposite boundary; in the same way Lebanon is opposed to the Euphrates; but it must be observed that under Lebanon the desert is comprehended, as appears from another passage. (20)


Verse 5

5.There shall not any man, etc As a contest was about to be waged with numerous and warlike enemies, it was necessary thus to inspire Joshua with special confidence. But for this, the promise of delivering over the land which God had given, would ever and anon have become darkened; for how vast the enterprise to overthrow so many nations! This objection therefore is removed. And the better to free him from all doubt, he is reminded of the victories of Moses, by which God had made it manifest that nothing was easier for him than utterly to discomfit any host however great and powerful. Joshua, therefore, is ordered to behold in the assistance given to Moses the future issue of the wars which he was to undertake under the same guidance and protection. For the series of favors is continued without interruption to the successor.

What follows is to the same effect, though it is more fully expressed by the words, I will not fail thee, etc Hence the Apostle, (Hebrews 13:5,) when wishing to draw off believers from avarice, makes an application of these words for the purpose of calming down all anxieties, and suppressing all excessive fears. And in fact, the distrust which arises from anxiety kindles in us such tumultuous feelings that on the least appearance of danger, we turmoil and miserably torment ourselves until we feel assured that God both will be with us and more than suffice for our protection. And, indeed, while he prescribes no other cure for our timidity, he reminds us that we ought to be satisfied with his present aid.


Verse 6

6.Be strong, etc An exhortation to fortitude is added, and indeed repeated, that it may make the deeper impression. At the same time the promise is introduced in different words, in which Joshua is assured of his divine call, that he might have no hesitation in undertaking the office which had been divinely committed to him, nor begin to waver midway on being obliged to contend with obstacles. It would not have been enough for him diligently to begirt himself at the outset without being well prepared to persevere in the struggle.

Although it is the property of faith to animate us to strenuous exertion, in the same way as unbelief manifests itself by cowardice or cessation of effort, still we may infer from this passage, that bare promises are not sufficiently energetic without the additional stimulus of exhortation. For if Joshua, who was always remarkable for alacrity, required to be incited to the performance of duty, how much more necessary must it be that we who labor under so much sluggishness should be spurred forward.

We may add, that not once only or by one single expression are strength and constancy required of Joshua, but he is confirmed repeatedly and in various terms, because he was to be engaged in many and various contests. He is told to be of strong and invincible courage. Although these two epithets make it obvious that God was giving commandment concerning a most serious matter, still not contented with this reduplication, he immediately after repeats the sentence, and even amplifies it by the addition of the adverb very.

From this passage, therefore, let us learn that we can never be fit for executing difficult and arduous matters unless we exert our utmost endeavors, both because our abilities are weak, and Satan rudely assails us, and there is nothing we are more inclined to than to relax our efforts. (21) But, as many exert their strength to no purpose in making erroneous or desultory attempts, it is added as a true source of fortitude that Joshua shall make it his constant study to observe the Law. By this we are taught that the only way in which we can become truly invincible is by striving to yield a faithful obedience to God. Otherwise it were better to lie indolent, and effeminate than to be hurried on by headlong audacity.

Moreover, God would not only have his servant to be strong in keeping the Law, but enjoins him to contend manfully, so as not to faint under the burden of his laborious office. But as he might become involved in doubt as to the mode of disentangling himself in matters of perplexity, or as to the course which he ought to adopt, he refers him to the teaching of the Law, because by following it as a guide he will be sufficiently fitted for all things. He says, You shall act prudently in all things, provided you make the Law your master; although the Hebrew word שכל, means to act not only prudently but successfully, because temerity usually pays the penalty of failure.

Be this as it may, by submitting entirely to the teaching of the Law he is more surely animated to hope for divine assistance. For it is of great consequence, when our fears are excited by impending dangers, to feel assured that we have the approbation of God in whatever we do, inasmuch as we have no other object in view than to obey his commands. Moreover, as it would not be enough to obey God in any kind of way, (22) Joshua is exhorted to practice a modesty and sobriety which may keep him within the bounds of a simple obedience.

Many, while possessed of right intention, sometimes imagine themselves to be wiser than they ought, and hence either overlook many things through carelessness, or mix up their own counsels with the divine commands. The general prohibition, therefore, contained in the Law, forbidding all men to add to it or detract from it, God now specially enforces on Joshua. For if private individuals in forming their plan of life behoove to submit themselves to God, much more necessary must this be for those who hold rule among the people. But if this great man needed this curb of modesty that he might not overstep his limits, how intolerable the audacity if we, who fall so far short of him, arrogate to ourselves greater license? More especially, however, did God prescribe the rule of his servant, in order that those who excel in honor might know that they are as much bound to obey it as the meanest of the people.


Verse 8

8.This book of the Law, etc Assiduous meditation on the Law is also commanded; because, whenever it is intermitted, even for a short time, many errors readily creep in, and the memory becomes rusted, so that many, after ceasing from the continuous study of it, engage in practical business, as if they were mere ignorant tyros. God therefore enjoins his servant to make daily progress, and never cease, during the whole course of his life, to profit in the Law. Hence it follows that those who hold this study in disdain, are blinded by intolerable arrogance.

But why does he forbid him to allow the Law to depart from his mouth rather than from his eyes? Some interpreters understand that the mouth is here used by synecdoche forface; but this is frigid. I have no doubt that the word used is peculiarly applicable to a person who was bound to prosecute the study in question, not only for himself individually, but for the whole people placed under his rule. He is enjoined, therefore, to attend to the teaching of the Law, that in accordance with the office committed to him, he may bring forward what he has learned for the common benefit of the people. At the same time he is ordered to make his own docility a pattern of obedience to others. For many, by talking and discoursing, have the Law in their mouth, but are very bad keepers of it. Both things, therefore, are commanded, that by teaching others, he may make his own conduct and whole character conformable to the same rule.

What follows in the second clause of the verse shows, that, everything which profane men endeavor to accomplish in contempt of the word of God, must ultimately fail of success, and that however prosperous the commencement may sometimes seem to be, the issue will be disastrous; because prosperous results can be hoped for only from the divine favor, which is justly withheld from counsels rashly adopted, and from all arrogance of which contempt of God himself is the usual accompaniment. Let believers, therefore, in order that their affairs may turn out as they wish, conciliate the divine blessing alike by diligence in learning and by fidelity in obeying.

In the end of the verse, because the term used is ambiguous, as I have already observed, the sentence is repeated, or a second promise is added. The latter is the view I take. For it was most suitable, that after the promised success, Joshua should be reminded that men never act skillfully and regularly except in so far as they allow themselves to be ruled by the word of God. Accordingly, the prudence which believers learn from the word of God, is opposed to the confidence of those who deem their own sense sufficient to guide them aright. (23)


Verse 9

9.Have not I commanded, etc Although in Hebrew a simple affirmation is often made in the form of a question, and this phraseology is of very frequent occurrence, here, however, the question is emphatic, to give an attestation to what had previously been taught, while the Lord, by bringing his own authority distinctly forward, relieves his servant from care and hesitancy. He asks, Is it not I who have commanded thee? I too will be present with thee. Observe the emphasis: inasmuch as it is not lawful to resist his command. (24) This passage also teaches that nothing is more effectual to produce confidence than when trusting to the call and the command of God, and feeling fully assured of it in our own conscience, we follow whithersoever he is pleased to lead.


Verse 10

10.Then Joshua commanded (25) etc It may be doubted whether or not this proclamation was made after the spies were sent, and of course on their return. And certainly I think it not only probable, but I am fully convinced that it was only after their report furnished him with the knowledge he required, that he resolved to move his camp. It would have been preposterous haste to hurry on an unknown path, while he considered it expedient to be informed on many points before setting foot on a hostile territory. Nor is there anything novel in neglecting the order of time, and afterwards interweaving what had been omitted. The second chapter must therefore be regarded as a kind of interposed parenthesis, explaining to the reader more fully what had happened, when Joshua at length commanded the people to collect their vessels.

After all necessary matters had been ascertained, he saw it was high time to proceed, and issued a proclamation, ordering the people to make ready for the campaign. With the utmost confidence he declares that they will pass the Jordan after the lapse of three days: this he never would have ventured to do, without the suggestion of the Spirit. No one had attempted the ford, nor did there seem to be any hope that it could be done. (26) There was no means of crossing either by a bridge or by boats: and nothing could be easier for the enemy than to prevent the passage. The only thing, therefore, that remained was for God to transport them miraculously. This Joshua hoped for not at random, nor at his own hand, but as a matter which had been divinely revealed. The faith of the people also was conspicuous in the promptitude of their obedience: for, in the view of the great difficulties which presented themselves, they never would have complied so readily had they not cast their care upon God. It cannot be doubted that He inspired their minds with this alacrity, in order to remove all the obstacles which might delay the fulfillment of the promise.


Verse 12

12.And to the Reubenites, etc An inheritance had been granted them beyond the Jordan, on the condition that they should continue to perform military service with their brethren in expelling the nations of Canaan. Joshua therefore now exhorts them to fulfil their promise, to leave their wives, their children, and all their effects behind, to cross the Jordan, and not desist from carrying on the war till they had placed their brethren in peaceable possession. In urging them so to act, he employs two arguments, the one drawn from authority and the other from equity. He therefore reminds them of the command given them by Moses, from whose decision it was not lawful to deviate, since it was well known to all that he uttered nothing of himself, but only what God had dictated by his mouth. At the same time, without actually asserting, Joshua indirectly insinuates, that they are bound, by compact, inasmuch as they had engaged to act in this manner. (27) He next moves them by motives of equity, that there might be no inequality in the condition of those to whom the same inheritance had been destined in common. It would be very incongruous, he says, that your brethren should be incurring danger, or, at least, toiling in carrying on war, and that you should be enjoying all the comforts of a peaceful settlement.

When he orders them to precede or pass before, the meaning is, not that they were to be the first to enter into conflict with the enemy, and in all emergencies which might befall them, were to bear more than their own share of the burden; he only in this way urges them to move with alacrity, as it would have been a kind of tergiversation to keep in the rear and follow slowly in the track of others. The expression, pass before your brethren, therefore, does not mean to stand in the front of the battle, but simply to observe their ranks, and thereby give proof of ready zeal. For it is certain that as they were arranged in four divisions they advanced in the same order. As he calls them men of war, we may infer, as will elsewhere more clearly appear, that the aged, and others not robust, were permitted to remain at home in charge of the common welfare, or altogether relieved from public duty, if in any way disabled from performing it.


Verse 16

16.And they answered, etc They not only acquiesce, but freely admit and explicitly detail the obedience which they owe. Our obligations are duly discharged only when we perform them cheerfully, and not in sadness, as Paul expresses it. (2 Corinthians 9:7.) If it is objected that there is little modesty in their boast of having been obedient to Moses whom they had often contradicted, I answer, that though they did not always follow with becoming ardor, yet they were so much disposed to obey, that their moderation was not only tolerable, but worthy of the highest praise, when it is considered how proudly their fathers rebelled, and how perversely they endeavored to shake off a yoke divinely imposed upon them. For the persons who speak here were not those rebellious spirits of whom God complains (Psalms 95:8) that he was provoked by them, but persons who, subdued by the examples of punishment, had learned quietly to submit. (28)

Indeed, it is not so much to herald their own virtues as to extol the authority of Joshua, when they declare that they will regard him in the same light in which they regarded Moses. The groundwork of their confidence is at the same time expressed in their wish or prayer, that God may be present to assist his servant Joshua as he assisted his servant Moses. They intimate that they will be ready to war under the auspices of their new leader, because they are persuaded that he is armed with the power and hope that he will be victorious by the assistance of God, as they had learned by experience how wonderfully God assisted them by the hand of Moses. We may infer, moreover, that they actually felt this confidence, both because they call to mind their experiences of God’s favor to animate themselves, and because they regard Joshua as the successor of Moses in regard to prosperous results.

The epithet thy God (29) is not without weight, as it evidently points to a continued course of divine favor. The form of expression also is intermediate between the confidence of faith and prayer. (30) Accordingly, while they intimate that they cherish good hope in their minds, they at the same time have recourse to prayer, under a conviction of the arduousness of the work. Immediately after, when they of their own accord exhort him to constancy, they show that they are ready to follow and to imitate him in his confidence. Here, it is to be observed, that though Joshua was a model of courage, and animated all, both by deed and precept, he was in his turn stimulated onwards, that his own alacrity might be more effectual in arousing that of the people.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 1:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/joshua-1.html. 1840-57.

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