Joshua 17
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. WOMEN HAVE RIGHTS WHICH MEN COMMONLY DENY THEM. The justice of the Mosaic law and the just privileges accorded to women in the Jewish state stand out in favorable contrast with the almost universal injustice which marks the historic relations of men with women. In barbarous nations women are required to do the hardest manual labour. In semi-civilised nations they are kept in ignorance, idleness, and jealous seclusion. In more advanced nations they are hampered with needless social restrictions which prevent them from enjoying their fair privileges as human beings. This injustice may be traced to

(1) the superior brute force of men,

(2) the natural retiring nature of woman, and

(3) false sentiment which dishonours true modesty.

Chivalrous customs and domestic affection may soften the effects of injustice, but they do not remove the fact.

II. WOMEN SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO PROVE THEIR OWN RIGHTS AND CAPACITIES. Hitherto one half of the human race has taken upon itself to settle the position and destiny of the other half. Women have been treated as though men knew their rights and capacities better than these were known to themselves. It is at least just that women should be allowed some liberty of choice, some opportunity for proving their capacities to the world. If they then fail they take a lower position fairly. But it is most unreasonable to assert that they have not certain capacities, while men are jealously closing every channel through which they might prove the existence of those capacities by putting them into practice.

III. SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES REQUIRE JUSTICE TO WOMEN. This is required by the law (Numbers 27:8). It is still more fully required by Christianity. The spiritual privileges of the gospel are equally open to men and women. The elevation of women is one of the most beneficial fruits of the gospel (Matthew 26:13; Luke 10:38-42; Philippians 4:3).

IV. JUSTICE TO WOMEN DOES NOT IMPLY THE EQUALITY OF WOMEN WITH MEN. There must ever remain essential differences between the careers of men and women in many directions, owing to the essential differences of their physical and mental natures. Justice does not demand that all should receive the same privileges, and perform the same duties, but that there should be fairness in the distribution.

V. THE EXERCISE OF RIGHTS BY WOMEN CARRIES WITH IT THE OBLIGATION OF CORRESPONDING DUTIES. Duty corresponds to right. The extension of rights increases the obligation of duties. If women obtain larger privileges, in justice they will be called upon to undertake heavier responsibilities. Happily this was realised in Scripture history. The women of the Bible enjoying greater advantages than their neighbours are often distinguished by peculiarly noble conduct. Women are conspicuous for devotion and sacrifice among the early disciples of Christ (Luke 8:2, 8). Much of the best work of Christendom has been done by good women. There is large work in the Church for women now. - W.F.A.

This is rather a remarkable case. The family of Machir, one of the most warlike in Israel, had contributed more to the conquest of Gilead than any other, and there had been accordingly allotted to them a large share of it. It so happened that in one branch of the family there was not a single male among the children. Five women alone represented a warlike sire. They appeal to Moses, with an energy derived from their great ancestor, to prevent the passing of their property out of their hands. It is apparently the last cause which comes before Moses before his death. The great lawgiver takes occasion from it to make a general law applicable to all such cases. If there be a son left, then the son inherits; the daughter being supposed to find her provision in that of the husband she marries, and to be supported by her brother till she does so. But in the case of there being no brother, they were to inherit their father's land, and marry in their own tribe, so that the tribe might still retain its possessions intact, and all families have maintenance for their representatives, even though male issue should fail. It falls to Joshua to apply the principles Moses laid down, and accordingly he gives the five ladies "an inheritance amongst the sons" of Manasseh. We do not suggest that Moses legislated in the spirit of the advanced theorists on woman's rights; it would have been impossible for one so wise to legislate some thousands of years ahead of the general sentiments of mankind. But it is worth noting how ready Moses was to do justice by the weaker sex; and to pass a law, doubtless little to the mind of the rough men who would look enviously on women inheriting considerable estates. It raises the question how far Moses would have sanctioned the views of those who plead that men and women should stand on exactly equal platforms before the law. We can only briefly suggest the answer to this question. Every woman under the Mosaic legislation was more or less sufficiently provided for. The double portion of the firstborn was, by the usage of the East, assigned him chiefly that he might support his widowed mother and unmarried sisters. When marriage was universal, a temporary provision of this kind was all that was required. And where land was not wealth, but only the material out of which it could be gathered, we do not wonder at the law dividing the land (after the eldest son's double portion) equally among the other sons. Wherever, on the other hand, no sons were left, then the daughters divided equally the property between them, subject to the restriction that they should marry within their own tribe. We may venture to suggest that the spirit of these laws would, in the altered circumstances of our country, be altogether in favour of the equal distribution of property between sons and daughters. The patriarchal system that gave the widow and the unmarried daughters an established home in the old family house which the elder brother inherited, and made their maintenance a charge upon the double birthright, has passed away; and it is no longer the case that sisters share whatever an elder son inherits. Marriage is neither so early nor so universal now. And in the multiplicity of remunerative pursuits open to men in our land there is no longer any special reason for restricting the inheritance of the land to those able personally to work upon it. Thus woman has less protection if unprovided for, less certainty of the resource of marriage; and man less need for special provisions in his favour. In these altered circumstances it is probable that what Moses ruled for the daughters of Zelophehad he would have expanded into a larger rule, and would have required invariably the equal division of all property amongst sons and daughters alike. If we are right in urging this, a few conclusions of practical moment emerge from it.

I. Parents who, in their wills, make the shares of their sons much larger than those of their daughters, take a course which the spirit of Bible legislation forbids, and are guilty of grave injustice.

II. The laws of every country ought, with especial care, to protect the property of women, as being the weaker parties in disputes and the likeliest, therefore, to suffer.

III. A considerable improvement in the position of women would be ejected by the general adoption of such rules by parents and by states. Probably, if women in all directions found equal justice yielded them with men, the equality of legislative power and influence which some seek would be found superfluous. - G.

I. IT IS FOOLISH TO COMPLAIN OF OUR LOT UNTIL WE HAVE MADE THE BEST USE OF IT. The Ephraimites had not cleared their forest, yet they complained of the narrowness of their possession. We do not know the extent of our advantages till we try them. In murmuring at the privations of life we spoil the enjoyment of its blessings. Hardships which we ascribe to the arrangements of Providence may often be traced to our own indolence. The one talent is buried because it is not five. We have no excuse for complaints before we have made the full use of what we possess. This may be applied to

(1) abilities,

(2) opportunities of service,

(3) means of self improvement, and

(4) sources of enjoyment.

II. OUR LOT IN LIFE WILL IMPROVE AS IT IS USED WELL. Joshua showed to the complaining Ephraimites that if they cleared their forest and so recovered the waste land, their lot would thereby be doubled. The neglected inheritance runs to weeds and becomes worthless. The cultivated possession improves with cultivation. Exercise strengthens the weak. If we make a good use of what opportunities for service we now possess, these will develop new and better opportunities. If we use well what powers God has given us, these will grow more effective. The talent that is not neglected produces other talents.

III. GREAT CLAIMS SHOULD BE SUSTAINED BY GREAT ACHIEVEMENTS. The Ephraimites claim to be great, and therefore deserving of a great inheritance. Joshua replies, "If thou be a great people, then get thee up to the wood country and cut down for thyself there," etc. High rank should justify itself by high service, large wealth by large beneficence, titles of honour by deeds of sacrifice. Duty is proportionate to faculty. The more advantages we claim the more obligations shall we contract.

IV. THE BEST RIGHT TO A POSSESSION IS TO HAVE OBTAINED IT THROUGH THE EXERTION OF OUR OWN ENERGIES. Joshua bids the Ephraimites increase their lot, by the exercise of their valour in exterminating the Canaanites, and of their industry in felling the forest.

(1) It is unworthy to look to personal favour to secure us a position in the world not earned by merit or work. Joshua belonged to the tribe of Ephraim, and the Ephraimites seem to have expected favours on this account, but in vain.

(2) It is weak to depend on the paternal interference of the State when our own industry should obtain our rights.

(3) It is wrong to wait idly for a providential interposition on our behalf. God will give us our inheritance, but we must conquer it and cultivate it. He helps us when we do our best, but never so as to justify our indolence. - W.F.A.

Joseph - i.e., Ephraim and Manasseh - wants a larger lot. He pleads his numbers, as giving him a right to more. There is, perhaps, in his discontent a modicum of justice. They were very numerous, and part of the land allotted them was that valley of Jezreel, which, though the richest part of Palestine, from its being good for cavalry, had been as yet retained by the enemy. There was, however, more of discontent than of hardship. One half of Manasseh had already had a large part of Gilead assigned them. The shares allotted to Ephraim and the other half were ample - in fact, probably double as large in proportion to their numbers as some of the adjoining tribes. But Ephraim, descended from Joseph, the saviour of Israel, the tribe of Joshua, its great captain, wanted to take the lead as the governing tribe. They feel, accordingly, that while their wants are met their dignity is not sufficiently endowed. "They are a great people," therefore Joshua should have allowed them a larger portion. It is not unusual for those conscious - legitimately or otherwise - of greatness to make somewhat loud complaints and large demands. But Joshua - the embodiment of justice - cannot be unfair, even when his own tribe solicit him. He meets their claim in a fine spirit. He admits their greatness, but argues otherwise from it. They are so many? Why, then, not clear the mountain of its forests and find thus an easy and unselfish enlargement? It is true the Canaanites hold Jezreel, and they are not yet in possession of the fertile plain. But Joshua argues that that is a reason for fighting their enemies with courage, and not for filching from their brethren, with meanness. "Thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they be strong," he says, with a fine, genial, bracing blending of irony and encouragement. We have thus a fine example of a question with two sides; a necessity with two ways of meeting it; a fact with two conclusions. "I am numerous. There are foes on my land," says Joseph; "therefore give me a slice off what has fallen to Judah." "Thou art numerous, and enemies are still on thy land," says Joshua; "therefore clear the mountain of its forests and the plains of thine enemies." The example of Manasseh and Ephraim here, and the reply of Joshua to them, has much in it suggestive. Observe first -

I. A LITTLE HEART SOMETIMES SPOILS GREAT POWERS. The complaint from which Ephraim was suffering was this: his heart was too little for his body; poor circulation of the vital elements. These tribes had plenty of power, plenty of stalwart men to clear the waste or to conquer their enemies; but they had not moral force to match. They were short of enterprise, resource, courage. What they could easily have won by work or war they prefer that others should give them. The breath they should have kept for conflict they waste in grumbling. They want to be the dominating tribe, without paying the price of lordship in daring and willingness to encounter difficulty and hardship. There are many Ephraims in the world who have it in their power to make for themselves any lot they like, who, instead of improving, merely lament their lot. Many keep troubling friends to do for them what it is quite within their power to do for themselves. Some are merely indolent - capable of work, but disinclined to do it. Some suffer from a feebleness which exists only in their imagination, but which prevents their working more than actual frailty would. Some are merely proud, and think they have a right to something more in the world than they have got. So some grumble for want of earthly comforts they are too dull to get for themselves. So some go about expecting to get by "interest" and "favour" what they would be wiser to seek by self reliance and energy. So some in the realm of religion go to God and complain they have not larger delights and richer usefulness and more power, when, as a matter of fact, all these things are within their reach if they would only put forth the powers they already have. This is a very general ailment. Few have the energy, the earnestness, the faith to do with their powers anything like the whole of what is possible to them. We are engines, built to work up to 30 lbs. pressure on the square inch, and we only work up to seven and a half. Seek not so much greater powers as the heart to use the powers you have. Observe secondly -

II. TRUE KINDNESS OFTEN DECLINES TO DO FOR MEN WHAT THEY CAN DO FOR THEMSELVES. When Ephraim has the power to win as much land as he needs, it is better that he be set to win it for himself. Men can rarely keep well any more than they can win bravely. To give Ephraim what he wants would be only to increase his indolence, his arrogance, and his weakness. To set Ephraim to get what he wants by his own prowess, increases his enterprise, his brotherliness, his courage, his diligence, his self respect. We learn best what we learn ourselves. We profit most by our own experience. It is no kindness to grant the requests of indolence and greed. The true kindness is Joshua's - to point out how much is within the reach of the aspiring, and set them to conquer it for themselves. Lastly observe -

III. GREATNESS SHOULD DWELL UPON ITS DUTIES RATHER THAN ON ITS CLAIMS. "I am a great people... give me," is the tone which a great multitude, besides Ephraim, assume. "I am a great people... therefore ought to work and fight," is the tone they ought to use. True greatness speaks in the latter, bastard greatness in the former tone. Sometimes it is an aristocracy that declares itself to be the most important class in a country, and with something of Ephraim's pitiable lament presents its claims for more consideration and influence. Sometimes a priestly order will, on the score of its greatness and importance, claim more authority than the people are disposed to grant it. Sometimes an ignorant class, puffed up with ambition, will desire more power than it has got. It is well to remember greatness is not given us to constitute a claim on others' services, but as a power to serve them and ourselves together. He is greatest who is servant of all, and he is chief who ministers to all. If you and Ephraim are so great and worthy, use your greatness and power for the good of yourselves and others, and none will grudge you what in this way you win. - G.

Let us make some further observations on the division of the land of Canaan among the tribes of Israel. The descendants of Joseph receive but a small lot. They complain bitterly of this, saying, "We are a great people." Joshua replies that, just because they are a great people, they may be contented with the share assigned them, for they will have the opportunity of perpetually extending their borders. "The mountain shall be thine; for thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots and though they be strong" (ver. 18). In this passage of their history there is a beautiful SYMBOL OF THE POSITION OF THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD. Manasseh and Ephraim have no assured possession. In order to retain what they have and to acquire sufficient territory, they must be ever fighting. Ever fresh conquests are the necessary conditions of their retaining that which they already possess. If they do not strengthen their position and enlarge their borders, they will be at once invaded by their enemies. Such is the position of the Church in the world.

(1) For the Church too, conquest is the condition of security. Pressed on every hand by a hostile world, it must be ever in an attitude of active self defence: it must ever have in its hand the sword of the Spirit. As soon as it falls asleep, in a supposed peaceful security, it finds itself assailed, and the enemy is in its midst before it is aware. Nothing is more easy, nothing of more frequent occurrence, than this intrusion of the world into the Church. Therefore the Church is bound to be ever armed with all the panoply of God, and ready for the fight. "We wrestle not," says the apostle, "against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12). This defensive warfare is also in a manner aggressive; forevery new generation born within the outward precincts of the Church needs to be won afresh for Jesus Christ. No one is born a Christian, though it may be a great advantage to be born in a land of historic Christianity. It is necessary, therefore, constantly to reconquer from the world and from the merely natural life, the posterity of Christians. In this primary sense the Church cannot hold its own without ever fresh conquests.

(2) Nor is this enough. Antichrist, under the form of paganism, or of simple infidelity, is still a formidable power on every hand. He who said to His disciples, "Go and teach all nations," opened before them a limitless field of conquest. The mission of the Christian Church is the fulfilment of the command of Joshua to Ephraim and Manasseh: "Thou art a great people and hast great power; get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the giants" (ver. 15). The might which is in the Church, though invisible, is greater than that of the giants of antichrist, for it is the strength of Him who said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). - E. DE P.

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