We have here an account of the deep concern Joshua was in upon this sad occasion. He, as a public person, interested himself more than any other in this public loss, and is therein an example to princes and great men, and teaches them to lay much to heart the calamities that befal their people: he is also a type of Christ, to whom the blood of his subjects is precious, Ps. 72:14. Observe,
I. How he grieved: He rent his clothes (Josh. 7:6), in token of great sorrow for this public disaster, and especially a dread of God’s displeasure, which was certainly the cause of it. Had it been but the common chance of war (as we are too apt to express it), it would not have become a general to droop thus under it; but, when God was angry, it was his duty and honour to feel thus. One of the bravest soldiers that ever was owned that his flesh trembled for fear of God, Ps. 119:120. As one humbling himself under the mighty had of God, he fell to the earth upon his face, not thinking it any disparagement to him to lie thus low before the great God, to whom he directed this token of reverence, by keeping his eye towards the ark of the Lord. The elders of Israel, being interested in the cause and influenced by his example, prostrated themselves with him, and, in token of deep humiliation, put dust upon their heads, not only as mourners, but as penitents; not doubting but it was for some sin or other that God did thus contend with them (though they knew not what it was), they humbled themselves before God, and thus deprecated the progress of his wrath. This they continued until even-tide, to show that it was not the result of a sudden feeling, but proceeded from a deep conviction of their misery and danger if God were any way provoked to depart from them. Joshua did not fall foul upon his spies for their misinformation concerning the strength of the enemy, nor upon the soldiers for their cowardice, though perhaps both were blameworthy, but his eye is up to God; for is there any evil in the camp and he has not done it? His eye is upon God as displeased, and that troubles him.
II. How he prayed, or pleaded rather, humbly expostulating the case with God, not sullen, as David when the Lord had made a breach upon Uzzah, but much affected; his spirit seemed to be somewhat ruffled and discomposed, yet not so as to be put out of frame for prayer; but, by giving vent to his trouble in a humble address to God, he keeps his temper and it ends well. 1. Now he wishes they had all taken up with the lot of the two tribes on the other side Jordan, Josh. 7:7. He thinks it would have been better to have staid there and been cut short than come hither to be cut off. This savours too much of discontent and distrust of God, and cannot be justified, though the surprise and disappointment to one deeply concerned for the public interest may in part excuse it. Those words, wherefore hast thou brought us over Jordan to destroy us? are too like what the murmurers often said (Exod. 14:11, 12; 16:3; 17:3; Num. 14:2, 3); but he that searches the heart knew they came from another spirit, and therefore was not extreme to mark what he said amiss. Had Joshua considered that this disorder which their affairs were put into no doubt proceeded from something amiss, which yet might easily be redressed, and all set to rights again (as often in his predecessor’s time), he would not have spoken of it as a thing taken for granted that they were delivered into the hands of the Amorites to be destroyed. God knows what he does, though we do not; but this we may be sure of, he never did nor ever will do us any wrong. 2. He speaks as one quite at a loss concerning the meaning of this event (Josh. 7:8): “What shall I say, what construction can I put upon it, when Israel, thy own people, for whom thou hast lately done such great things and to whom thou hast promised the full possession of this land, when they turn their backs before their enemies” (their necks, so the word is), “when they not only flee before them, but fall before them, and become a prey to them? What shall we think of the divine power? Isa. the Lord’s arm shortened? Of the divine promise? Isa. his word yea and nay? Of what God has done for us? Shall this be all undone again and prove in vain?” Note, The methods of Providence are often intricate and perplexing, and such as the wisest and best of men know not what to say to; but they shall know hereafter, John 13:7. 3. He pleads the danger Israel was now in of being ruined. He gives up all for lost: “The Canaanites will environ us round, concluding that now our defence having departed, and the scales being turned in their favour, we shall soon be as contemptible as ever we were formidable, and they will cut off our name from the earth,” Josh. 7:9. Thus even good men, when things go against them a little, are too apt to fear the worst, and make harder conclusions than there is reason for. But his comes in here as a plea: “Lord, let not Israel’s name, which has been so dear to thee and so great in the world, be cut off.” 4. He pleads the reproach that would be cast on God, and that if Israel were ruined his glory would suffer by it. They will cut off our name, says he, yet, as if he had corrected himself for insisting upon that, it is no great matter (thinks he) what becomes of our little name (the cutting off of that will be a small loss), but what wilt thou do for thy great name? this he looks upon and laments as the great aggravation of the calamity. He feared it would reflect on God, his wisdom and power, his goodness and faithfulness; what would the Egyptians say? Note, Nothing is more grievous to a gracious soul than dishonour done to God’s name. This also he insists upon as a plea for the preventing of his fears and for a return of God’s favour; it is the only word in all his address that has any encouragement in it, and he concludes with it, leaving it to this issue, Father, glorify thy name. The name of God is a great name, above every name; and, whatever happens, we ought to believe that he will, and pray that he would, work for his own name, that this may not be polluted. This should be our concern more than any thing else. On this we must fix our eye as the end of all our desires, and from this we must fetch our encouragement as the foundation of all our hopes. We cannot urge a better plea than this, Lord, What wilt thou do for thy great name? Let God in all be glorified, and then welcome his whole will.