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The Tree of Life:


"The Love of the Neighbor"

Bible critics are generally agreed that the placing of the book of Joshua as the first of the "Former Prophets" in the Old Testament canon is arbitrary and artificial. The external evidence upholds their contention that the Hexateuch, and not the Pentateuch, is the first division of the Scriptures. There is no mention of any prophet in the book of Joshua, and its content and literary structure connect it rather with the books of the law, describing "the final stage in the history of the Origines of the Hebrew nation." The internal evidence, however, clearly shows the hand of Providence in classifying the book as the first of the prophets.

The primary meaning of the word "prophet" is one who "speaks for" God. The common use of the word for one who foretells events is secondary. Joshua was a military commander, but his leadership spoke the word of God for action, and through action. The very first verse of prophecy commissioned him to speak the word of command as given from the Lord. And Joshua commanded the officers and the people throughout the campaign that followed as instructed by the Lord. Joshua spoke for God.

This opens the role of the prophet in translating "the law" in theory into the law in practice to establish equal rights for all men, or save the state. "Joshua" means the same as "Jesus," namely, "He shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). What is required of us to do justly by our neighbor is a vexed question, a never-ending discussion of conflicting interests and circumstances with perpetual variation, to make our adjustments for the common weal. Therefore, perpetual warfare is the order of the day. "The former prophets" teach us the underlying principles by which our judgments should be formed in our daily efforts to set up a new order in society. What needs to be done is simple and easy at first, but becomes more complex and difficult as we approach the heart of life’s problems. "Self-examination discovers little when it is restricted to actions; more, when it extends to thoughts and intentions; and all, when it scrutinizes what the man considers or does not consider to be sins. For a man does whatever he makes allowable in himself" (Doctrine of Charity #5).

Courage Indispensable to Life

Chapter 1. The curtain now rises upon scenes that portray the conquest of the inner part of our lost inheritance—the conquest of the inordinate love of self and the world that has alienated us from God and man, and turned the world into a bedlam. We stand on the threshold of life’s battlefield. Ours is the promise, "Every place that the sole of your feet shall tread upon, that have I given you, as I said unto Moses." The Lord guarantees the restoration of heaven upon earth wherever we stand firm for the right as He gives us to see it. "The strait and narrow way" lies right ahead. We must not turn from it either to the right or to the left. The enemy will contest our right of way to the bitter end. We may suffer defeat for lack of courage, but live to learn, and to fight better. The prospect is inspiring, and is attainable. Are we equal to it? "With God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). "Only be strong and of a good courage."

Preliminary Survey

2. The campaign opened with a reconnaissance. Joshua sent spies into the land to discover the strength and the weakness of the enemy’s position. In Christian warfare we must look first for good wherever it may be found, to protect and to save it. "God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). This outlook explains the meaning of the scarlet thread in the window of Rahab’s house on the wall of Jericho. Rahab, the harlot, represents all there is of the church, or religion, on the eve of regeneration. We are weak, fallen mortals. The only thing we have to boast of is a secret joy in the teachings of religion with their promise of redemption. Rahab hid the spies on the roof of her house. The Lord wills that every man should receive heaven in his own way, no matter howsoever far he may have fallen from grace. Otherwise, heaven would not be heaven to him. His individuality is inviolable. He shall decide for himself what is evil, and how he intends to deal with it. He also shall freely conclude that the will, the understanding, and the power to do good are from the Lord alone.

Reverence for the Word

3. As soon as the resolution to serve and not to be served is formed, we face the current thought of the world both within and without, which is decidedly anti-religious. "I have given them thy word: and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (John 17:14, 15). The river Jordan in flood presented an insurmountable barrier to the invaders, and afforded protection to the enemy within. This represents one of the first or most obvious obstructions to the unworldly. How can we live in the world, and hold our own against the prevailing licentious thought of the world in its mad rush for wealth, or power, or pleasure, that is, at the specific point where the world’s thought touches our particular tastes and interests? Unruly thoughts on the rampage conceal much that is worse in the background. The tumultuous stream of thought, however, can be cut off at any moment, when we humbly and reverently approach the Lord in his Word with a sincere desire to learn his will, and do it. The people followed the ark at a respectful distance, and the moment the feet of the priests bearing it touched the waters, they were cut off, and the way opened into the promised land.

4. The stones taken from the bed of the river, and the stones placed where the feet of those who bore the ark stood, are a memorial of the experience. We may not forget the fact that the Word gives definition to this common introduction to the heavenly life. The first stand for the spiritual life makes good our profession of the Lord as our Savior. "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). "On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life." That fear is not a dread. The personal touch now established with the Savior engenders a fear of doing aught to displease Him, or prove unworthy of his confidence, or bring dishonor on the Christian name we bear. It is "the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). The waters of Jordan now represent the truths by which we are introduced into the heavenly life. Our confession of loyalty at the opening of the new life prepares us for all the trials that are to follow.

5. Circumcision, like baptism, implies a consecration to the purification of the inner life—"the circumcision of the heart" (Deuteronomy 30:6). The celebration of the Passover commemorates the deliverance from Egypt. The manna ceased and the people ate of the corn of the land for the first time. It means the first taste of "the bread of life." This is followed by Joshua’s vision of the angel with the drawn sword in his hand, "the Captain of the host of the Lord." We stand on holy ground. The life of religion has begun in earnest.

Selfishness is Indefensible

6. "Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel, none went out, and none came in." Joshua compassed the walls of the city once every day for six days, and seven times on the seventh day. It is an extraordinary procedure staged to tell us how the love of self is brought into subordination to the love of God. Continual and intensive self-examination in the light of the Word is necessary to see and to condemn the mean and unjustifiable ways in which self-interest resists interference. The love of self blinds man to every evil in himself, so that he cannot see himself as others see him, much less as God sees him. Everyone is queer, except self. We are not as other people are, and no one dare challenge it! When under fire we are always in the right! Not quite! We begin to see that the thoughts in defense of self-interest are untenable. We become conscious that there is nothing "more restless at heart, more frequently indignant, and more grievously angered than the love of self" (Divine Providence #250). To see this in relation to specific evils to which we are prone, to admit unreservedly that we are in the wrong, and call upon the Lord for help, places the Lord at the center and the love of self at the circumference for the time being. There is no fighting in this experience, only a cry of shame at the outrage of unrequited love as we capitulate, and surrender ourselves to the mercy of the Lord. Just as we are, without one plea, we take up life with the determination to use whatever gifts we possess in the disinterested service of our fellowmen. We are expected to be true to ourselves. "Rahab dwells in Israel to this day." But special privilege for self shall be anathema henceforth. The city of Jericho may never be rebuilt.

So Also Worldliness

7. To this we say Amen. Nevertheless, self-surrender is sometimes followed by an elation not altogether free from pride. Conceit is in evidence when we minimize the power of the enemy, or temporize with evil. The walled city of Ai represents our worldly interests on the defensive. The name of the city means "a heap of ruins," which is strikingly descriptive of mammon worship. "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Covetousness stole a march on us in youth before we knew the nature of it, and when now brought into the light, we learn to our dismay how strong a hold it has upon us, and how seriously it impairs our love of the neighbor. The Lord is present in all the processes of our analysis, and shows us just why we fail in temptation, when yet our intentions are the best. To meet the world again successfully our pride must be brought low, and greed rejected without pity. Achan, with his household and stolen goods, was stoned and burned in the valley of Achor.

8. The humiliation of our first defeat in meeting the love of the world within leads to the adoption of a new method of attack. In the picture Joshua drew the enemy from Ai by stratagem, and the ambush entered the undefended city, and set fire to it. Suppose we give our lust for gain a free rein in thought, and mark carefully the foolish extremes to which it leads us. Behold what we would do if we had unlimited means! The pleasures we would indulge in, if free from restraint! The evil is then in the open without defense. The heavenly influences behind, or within, are then at hand to condemn. The outstretched spear in the hand of Joshua is the symbol of the truth upheld in subordinating the love of the world to the love of the neighbor. The victory is the Lord’s. We give Him the thanks. Joshua built an altar in mount Ebal, and there wrote the law upon stones in the presence of the people. The knowledge of our responsibilities in life is one thing, the acknowledgment of them is quite another. "When there is charity, then there is acknowledgment, and then there is faith" (Arcana Coelestia #654). When we have seen the love of self and the love of the world in ourselves, and modified their power over us by a definite change of heart and life, we are ready to meet life’s responsibilities with an expectation of a steady gain in morale and self-respect.

An Old Habit Revived

9. A pause in the campaign afforded an opportunity to receive visitors. The Hivites, neighbors of Abraham, appeared as strangers from a great distance, and desired to enter into a covenant with Joshua, which was duly ratified.

These Hivites represent a live interest in early childhood, long outgrown, but now necessary to our future growth. This interest lay in the stories in the Bible, and the simple lessons of life in them. That was a lost love even before we entered our teens. When that long-lost interest is revived the Bible appears to be entirely foreign to our modern life. It is still ancient history, even though we now have an inkling that it contains a deeper meaning. It is like old sacks, old wine bottles, old shoes, old garments, dry and moldy bread. It supplies nothing to feed or clothe the soul, or to stimulate new life. The Old Testament is altogether out of date. How could it be otherwise! The new birth has just taken place. We read the Word from a sense of duty, but it is beyond our understanding. And yet, here and there, we find passages with a message that warms the heart and clarifies the thought, serving to strengthen the newborn spirit of religion. When Joshua discovered that the Hivites were "neighbors," and not strangers, he made them hewers of wood and drawers of water for the altar of the Lord. The child-love of the Bible stories still holds its place in later life. The reading of the Bible whether we understand its deeper meaning or not is a valuable asset in the worship of the Lord, though of the humblest order. It contributes its quota to the warmth and cleanliness in the day’s work.

Living in the Light

10. This feeble start in the living worship of the Lord in his Word is immediately put to the test. The men of Gibeon (the home of the Hivites who had just made peace with Israel) called upon Joshua to save them from the King of Jerusalem, and other kings of the south, who gathered against them. Shall the heart abandon life’s venture in religion, because it looks idealistic, with little or nothing to substantiate it? That is the issue. There is little fighting in the conflict. Most of the arguments against our newfound faith fall flat, being wholly out of sympathy with, and therefore lacking understanding of our great quest. Hailstones killed more of the enemy than the sword. And the sun stood still at the command of Joshua. A wonderful light sustains us in facing the disapproval of the world when religion first grips the heart. "There was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel." The king of Jerusalem at the head of the enemy was defeated. The worship of the Lord in his Word is fixed in the heart. It is a far cry, however, to the capture of Jerusalem by David, and the building of the temple there. The contemplation of the significance of this future triumph is most reassuring. The social order will be altogether different many generations hence, thank God! We must be satisfied to take one step at a time.

11. The first test of the heart is simultaneously accompanied by a test of reason in support of it. The uprising in the north was a direct consequence of the conquest of the south. When the heart is set on the life of religion argument against it is of little avail. But when our convictions are called in question, we must meet argument with argument. Our convictions are not chiefly our theological beliefs, but religion in life. The world cares less today about a man’s creed, but takes seriously differences on vital questions. "The life of religion is to do good." We ought to have sound reasons for the course of action we now follow, or advocate—reasons drawn from the teachings of the Word of God. The enemy in the north was equipped with horses and chariots. Israel was commanded to hock these horses, and burn these chariots, to conquer the north country. The horse looks to its rider for direction, and responds to the slightest touch of the reins. Even so the understanding is subject to the will. We understand the law aright when a disinterested motive is in the saddle; but misunderstand it when self-interest holds the reins. A great primary issue is before us. Two sets of reasons pro and con are hard at it in the mind; one for self-indulgence, the other for the right. We must decide where we stand. Every decision for the right breaks the habit of interpreting the law to suit ourselves, and rejects the inferences that justify wrongdoing with augmented zeal. This is the practical significance of hocking the horses and burning the chariots. Have we the courage to put an end to evil thinking and planning, when squarely up against it in ourselves? Even to have lodged an indignant protest against it is not without its influence for good upon us. We enter into possession of another bit of heaven so far as our opposition and effort to control evil are sincere, and have at the same time taken out of us a little of that spirit inseparable from immaturity that knows all, and has nothing further to learn. After conquering the north Joshua cut off some of the Anakim, or giants, in the land.

12. We have gained a foothold in the kingdom of heaven. The commandments to love the Lord first and our neighbor as ourselves have place in our hearts and lives. We have reached the point where by sound processes of reasoning, we have dethroned certain false ideas that had a dominating influence over our actions. The kings smitten on both sides of the Jordan represent this initial spiritual progress.

Arranging the Home

13–19. It is a very common impression, however, that heaven is won as soon as the first objective is attained. People who have overcome a bad habit, and surrendered their lives to the Lord, are apt to rest on their oars. They have exhausted their energy in their first effort, and decide to take life easy. In the language of Scripture there remains much territory yet to be possessed, but "Joshua was old and stricken in years." The power to save is available, but the need scant. What has been gained, however, must be put in order. Settlement in the land followed. Two and a half tribes had already received their inheritance as fixed by lot before Moses died. The other nine and a half tribes took their portions by lot before Joshua died. The assignments were all made under the direction of the Lord. And so the Lord establishes heaven on earth again, coordinating the effort of each individual in relation to every other individual, so that all may act as a unit in the upbuilding of his kingdom on earth, as a basis for the heavens above. We rise or fall together. The foundation must be sure. "If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3).

Much may be learned from the disposition of the tribes in the land, and the names of the places in each lot. It is significant of the interrelationship of those who belong to the Lord’s living church—the invisible church—in the world. It assumes the human form from the Divine Humanity of the Lord as men "put away the evil of their doings from before his eyes," and receive his Spirit in their hearts and lives.

At the center of the life of religion is the acknowledgment of the Lord as our Exemplar. The children of Israel set up the tabernacle at Shiloh in the territory of Ephraim. Shiloh means "peace." The tabernacle placed there represents the Lord operating in the hearts of his people to establish peace on earth through a new understanding of his Word (Ephraim), and faithful obedience to it. The enemy was still in the land, a thorn in the flesh. The subsequent story of perpetual warfare and captivity is our guide in the conflict that cannot stop short of complete homogeneity—a country without an enemy, a character free from sin, the Lord the heart and soul of all within the Holy City, and everything that defileth without its walls.

20, 21. The text again speaks of the cities of refuge, and the lot of the Levites. The Lord’s saving grace has an abiding place in the heart, yet we are far from perfect. We do and say things to the hurt of others in ignorance. When the Spirit convicts us of sin, we suffer. The Lord is our refuge. Open confession and an appeal for strength to face the light, and regain freedom, brings the help that avails for salvation. The Lord’s love enters into all human relationships to unify and strengthen the spiritual life in the church.

A United Front

22. An act, which threatened to break the unity of the tribes and lead to war, resulted in greater solidarity after an open explanation. The tribes beyond Jordan, returning to their home with Joshua’s blessing, built an altar before crossing the river. This was misinterpreted as a repudiation of the worship of the Lord in Shiloh. Contrariwise, it was intended to obliterate the thought of the Jordan as any barrier to the unity of the tribes. The altar was dedicated as a witness to it by all. Transjordania represents the outward plane of living, and Palestinia the inner plane. The outer life and the inner life must be at one. We may not appear different before men than we appear before God, or desire to appear before Him. The great objective in life is to become homogeneous, of one nature within and without. "Man is so formed from creation that interior thought should make one with exterior by correspondence. Every man has interior thought and exterior thought. They are distinct from each other. Thought implies will, for thought is from the will, since no man can think without will" (Heaven and Hell #499). This explains why one half of the tribe of Manasseh had a lot within and the other half without the land. Manasseh represents the new will, which must be one in both the inner and the outer life. "The will makes the man, and thought only so far as it proceeds from the will. Deeds or works proceed from both. The will, or love, is the man himself" (Heaven and Hell #474). The inner and the outer must serve the same Lord and God. The outside and inside of the cup and the platter must be clean in his sight. "He alone is a man who is interiorly what he wishes to seem to others to be. One’s own intelligence can establish the human form in externals only; but the Divine Providence establishes that form in the internals, and through these in the externals; and when it has been so established man does not merely appear to be a man, but he is a man" (Divine Providence #298).

23. The aged Joshua warns the people against commixture with the enemies in the land, or the worship of their gods. The first enthusiastic effort to do the Lord’s will has spent itself. The consciousness of the Lord’s saving grace in the experience is waning. The enemy is close at hand ready to take advantage of the first sign of weakness. Courage is needed to maintain our integrity. To fail now will incur greater degradation.

24. The repetition of the recent experiences of the tribes in the wilderness and their recent conquest of the land seems to be unnecessary and superfluous. But the recollection of past favors was made to soften the heart to accept Joshua’s last words of criticism and advice without resentment. "Now therefore put away the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel." The people promised obedience, and the solemn covenant was renewed. Children are often remiss and forgetful. The memory of what their parents have done for them is short and feeble. This is more marked in our appreciation of all that the Lord has done for us. It is only as we go over it again and again in the light of recent experience that we begin to understand, and are prepared to see what thankless creatures we are. We furtively worship other gods: it is time we did something about it. Joshua dies, and is buried in Timnath-serah in mount Ephraim. And Joseph’s bones are buried in Jacob’s lot in Shechem. The Spirit of the Lord in our first experiences of his saving grace lives beneath and within all our future undertakings. And the memory of previous experiences in which his guiding hand was present, in spite of our disposition to frustrate it, lives beneath and within all trials to trust in the Lord’s Providence. Together they contribute to a new and clearer understanding of God’s Word. Joshua and Joseph were both buried in Ephraim’s lot. Ephraim represents "the intellectual of the Church" (Apocalypse Explained #391, Arcana Coelestia #2709).


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