6.And Joshua rent his clothes, etc Although it was easy to throw the blame of the overthrow or disgrace which had been sustained on others, and it was by no means becoming in a courageous leader to be so much cast down by the loss of thirty men, especially when by increasing his force a hundred-fold it would not have been difficult to drive back the enemy now weary with their exertions, it was not, however, without cause that Joshua felt the deepest sorrow, and gave way to feelings bordering on despair. The thought that the events of war are doubtful — a thought which sustains and reanimates the defeated — could not be entertained by him, because God had promised that they would always be victorious. Therefore when the success did not correspond to his hopes, the only conclusion he could draw was, that they had fought unsuccessfully merely because they had been deprived of the promised assistance of God.
Accordingly, both he and the elders not only gave themselves up to sorrow and sadness, but engage in solemn mourning, as used in the most calamitous circumstances, by tearing their garments and throwing dust on their heads. That mode of expressing grief was used also by the heathen, but was specially appropriate in the pious worshippers of God in suppliantly deprecating his wrath. The rending of the garments and other accompanying acts contained a profession of repentance, as may also be inferred from the annexed prayer, which, however, is of a mixed nature, dictated partly by faith and the pure spirit of piety, and partly by excessive perturbation. In turning straightway to God and acknowledging that in his hand, by which the wound was inflicted, the cure was prepared, they are influenced by faith; but their excessive grief is evidently carried beyond all proper bounds. Hence the freedom with which they expostulate, and hence the preposterous wish, Would God we had remained in the desert! (70)
It is not a new thing, however, for pious minds, when they aspire to seek God with holy zeal, to obscure the light of faith by the vehemence and impetuosity of their affections. And in this way all prayers would be vitiated did not the Lord in his boundless indulgence pardon them, and wiping away all their stains receive them as if they were pure. And yet while in thus freely expostulating, they cast their cares upon God, though this blunt simplicity needs pardon, it is far more acceptable than the feigned modesty of hypocrites, who, while carefully restraining themselves to prevent any confident expression from escaping their lips, inwardly swell and almost burst with contumacy.
Joshua oversteps the bounds of moderation when he challenges God for having brought the people out of the desert; but he proceeds to much greater intemperance when, in opposition to the divine promise and decree, he utters the turbulent wish, Would that we had never come out of the desert! That was to abrogate the divine covenant altogether. But as his object was to maintain and assert the divine glory, the vehemence which otherwise might have justly provoked God was excused.
We are hence taught that saints, while they aim at the right mark, often stumble and fall, and that this sometimes happens even in their prayers, in which purity of faith and affections framed to obedience ought to be especially manifested. That Joshua felt particularly concerned for the divine glory, is apparent from the next verse, where he undertakes the maintenance of it, which had been in a manner assigned to him. What shall I say, he asks, when it will be objected that the people turned their backs? And he justly complains that he is left without an answer, as God had made him the witness and herald of his favor, whence there was ground to hope for an uninterrupted series of victories. Accordingly, after having in the loftiest terms extolled the divine omnipotence in fulfillment of the office committed to him, it had now become necessary for him, from the adverse course of events, to remain ignominiously silent. We thus see that nothing vexes him more than the disgrace brought upon his calling. He is not concerned for his own reputation, but fears lest the truth of God might be endangered in the eyes of the world. (71) In short, as it was only by the order of God that he had brought the people into the land of Canaan, he now in adversity calls upon him as author and avenger, just as if he had said, Since thou has brought me into these straits, and I am in danger of seeming to be a deceiver, it is for thee to interfere and supply me with the means of defense.