“And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.”
He was an old man now of one hundred and ten. He was about to die, and he knew it. But it did not matter, for he had lived a rich and full life. His name was Joshua, the son of Nun. He had been born into Egyptian slavery, c. 1500 BC. However, his godly parents, from the tribe of Ephraim, believed that one day the Lord would deliver His people as He had promised. So they named their child Hoshea (Oshea) “salvation” (Num. 13:8; Deut. 32:44).
The child grew to be a young warrior of exceptional courage and leadership ability, which was recognized by Moses. Two months after Israel’s exodus, c. 1446 BC, Joshua was honored to be appointed Moses’ commander. The selection was a good one ,for Joshua successfully repulsed an Amalekite attack (Ex. 17:9).
To honor the man and the mission, Moses changed the commander’s name to Jehoshua, “Jehovah’s salvation” (Num. 13:16; 1 Chron. 7:27), which in Greek is “Jesus”. (Acts 7:45; Heb. 4:8). Joshua remained close to Moses. He was with Moses on Sinai (Ex. 24:13; 32:17) and he stood guard over both his tent (Ex. 33:11), and his position (Num. 11:28).
In 1445 BC, when Moses sent out spies to report on the land of Palestine, Joshua, along with Caleb, opposed the majority report, insisting that faith in God could lead the way to the conquest of Canaan. He was almost stoned for excessive optimism. (Num. 14:7-10) The Lord honored such faith (Num. 33:12). Joshua and Caleb were assured that they would enter into the Land of Promise, while the rest of their generation died in the wilderness. (Num. 13:30; 14:24; 26:65)
Forty years later, in the spring of 1406 BC, while Israel camped East of the Jordan, God Himself designated Joshua as the successor of Moses. (Num. 27:18) Moses was going to be taken home to heaven. In preparation, Moses did several things.
Moses charged Joshua to be faithful (Num. 27:23; Deut. 31:23)
Moses committed to Joshua the “Song of Admonition” and other writings (Deut. 32:44; Ex. 17:14).
Moses counseled Joshua on procedures (Num. 32:28; 34:17)
Moses encouraged him (Deut. 3:21; 31:3,7)
After Moses was through, the Lord had something to say. He warned Joshua of the apostasy of the people (Deut. 31:14), but promised that the conquest of Canaan would be complete (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:8; 3:28).
Soon afterwards, Moses died, and Joshua, now in his nineties, was in charge. But he was not idle.
Nowhere in the Bible has God ever retired any of His servants.
God had many deeds He wanted Joshua to accomplish, not the least of which was to lead Israel to victory after victory beginning with the city of Jericho. After having the spies report (Josh. 2:1, 23, 24), the great campaign for Canaan began as the Jordan was finally crossed. (Josh. 3:1) The city did fall according to divine direction. (Josh. 5:13-6:17).
The next city to be taken was Ai. But suddenly there was a military set back. The reason became plain through prayer (Josh. 7:6-9,19,25): there was sin in the camp. A man named Achan was exposed to be the source of spiritual failure, resulting in a tactical defeat for the Jews. Measures were taken to correct the situation (8:2, 29 cf. 10:24-27; 40-47) so that more victories soon followed.
When central Palestine was finally subdued, Joshua personally wrote the Law of Moses on some stones at Ebal, and then proclaimed the Law to the nation of Israel. (Josh. 8:30-35). In just six years (Josh. 14:10) Joshua took the whole land “leaving nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses”. (Josh 11:15,23)
The years passed quickly, until finally death began its approach upon Joshua. There was one last great public service the great leader wanted to do before he died. To accomplish his objective, Joshua summoned the leaders of the land to Shechem. Shechem is a place famous in Jewish history.
Here Abraham settled on his first coming into the land of Canaan. (Gen. 12:6,7).
Here the patriarchs were buried (Acts 7:16).
Here, in Shechem, Joshua would review the history of Israel, invite the people to renew their personal commitment to the Lord, and record for posterity the proceedings of the day.
And here, in Shechem, would Joshua depart to be re-united with Moses in heaven.
In the review of the history of Israel, Joshua reminded the people of the goodness and greatness of God. The Lord had been good in bringing chosen people out of idolatry beginning with Abraham. Prior to his conversion, Abraham was nothing less than a devil worshipper. (Josh. 24:2) Like so many of his fellow citizens, Abraham believed in a multitude of gods.
The Chaldeans as a people, paid homage to fire, light, and the sun. The Egyptians showed respect to the apes, snakes, vegetables, cats, and crocodiles. Anywhere and everywhere the creature was worshipped, because the Creator was unknown on a personal basis. Is it any wonder that God once wiped out all of humanity except for eight souls by a flood? But after the flood, and after the call of Abraham, God made a covenant to preserve a special people unto Himself. According to sovereign grace, the Lord gave to Isaac and Jacob, and even Esau specific promises—all of which He kept.
The years continued to pass by, and the nation grew to be as numerous as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky. There were many hard years, for the Jews reflected in having to spend over 400 years in slavery in Egypt. But then miracle began to follow miracle, as God brought His people out of Egypt with the strong command, “Let my people go!”
Ten times Pharaoh said he would let the Jews leave Egypt, and ten times he broke his word. In the end, Pharaoh gathered his army to compel the Jews to return to bondage. What a terrifying experience that was, for the Jews thought that they had finally escaped his authority. There they were in the desert. Mountains on both sides, a body of water before them, and now the army of Pharaoh behind them. The thunderous roar of the chariot wheels could be heard approaching.
As one body, the Jews cried out to God, and the Lord moved to defend His people. He caused sudden darkness to come between the Egyptians and the Jews, and allowed the Hebrew people to escape on dryland. Then, in the confusion of the darkness, the waters of the Red Sea were allowed to cascade upon Pharaoh and his army, drowning the ruler and his army.
But the miracles were not over as God provided for the people during their desert journeys. Their clothes never wore out nor did their shoes. There was food to eat despite a spirit of ingratitude which developed. When the time came to enter into the spiritual inheritance, once more the Lord was gracious.
He protected the people from demonic oppression, reflected in the plan of Balak the son of Zippor, King of Moab, who warred against Israel. Then, to drive out the heathen nations of Canaan, the Lord sent hornets before them. This could refer to a literal plague of hornets, or to unusual fear.
And there was more. Grace gift followed upon grace gift as the Lord gave to Israel (Josh. 24:13): land for which they did not labor, cities which they did not build, and vineyards which they did not plant.
Now, in light of all that God had done, Joshua wanted Israel to do several things. Fear the Lord. Serve Him in sincerity (an attitude of the heart). Serve Him in truth (according to doctrine). Put away all false gods. Choose to serve the Lord.
It is instructive to note that four commands were followed by a request. The Bible teaches ministers to exhort others in righteousness with all authority, and also to entreat them. All of this means that there are some things which are non-negotiable, but there are other things which can only be appealed to on the basis of exhortation. God must be feared and honored in sincerity, as true doctrine is preserved, and falsehood is denounced. However, the heart must also be willing to honor the Lord in order for there to be true fellowship. There is to be a choice to serve the Lord.
When the people of Israel heard the four commands, and the one request, the Bible says that they answered and said, “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods.” God forbid indeed that the Lord should be forsaken, but it does happen. And it always happens by degrees, as delight is found in other gods.
There is the god of pleasure. This god, like all false gods changes shapes. For one person he is shaped like a TV; for another a plane, a rifle, a car, a boat, a fishing rod, a golf club, a book, a bed, or an easy chair. Not that any of these things are wrong in and of themselves—just like there is nothing wrong with the sun, or cats, or crocodiles—unless they are loved more than the Lord. But mark it down, when these items keep us from coming into the presence of the Lord, they are gods unto themselves.
Then there is the god of expediency. “It is not expedient to worship the Lord today,” says this god. It is not expedient to read the Bible, to witness, to pray. Another day, another time perhaps, but not today. And in this manner the soul forgets that it once said, “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord.”
Knowing how unstable the people were, Joshua did not hesitate to remind them of their fickleness, nor to warn them of the public vow they were making (Josh. 24:19, 20).
“And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot forsake the Lord; for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he had done you good.”
However, the people were not discouraged. In this one brief shining moment they really did want to make a strong resolution to be good, and to do good to God. “And the people said unto Joshua, Nay, but we will serve the Lord.”
I could wish that the spirit of the church in the wilderness would be our spirit today. Let the Church say, “Nay, but we will serve the Lord. We may not have much, but we have each other, and we have the Lord. We have memories of His mercy, and promises of His goodness.”
To confirm the testimony of the heart, a pile of stones were gathered. While the people watched and listened, Joshua made a covenant for the people by writing the words in the Book of the Law of God. Perhaps that set of stones with the Law of God, written by the hand of Joshua, and confirmed by the children of Israel will be found someday by the spade of the archaeologist.
Whether or not it is found does not matter; what took place so long ago was instructive for many generations to come, including our own. Therefore, consider some of the spiritual lessons of this portion of Scripture.
The church needs structure. (Josh. 24:1) It needs people who will lead, and it also needs people who will follow. When Joshua called, the people came, and they received a blessing.
The church must never forget its heritage. (Josh. 24:2-13) The spiritual history of the church cannot be over-emphasized for, “Nothing moves the heart, and therefore the will, like recollections of the grace of God in hours of need, like the guidance of victories, and the patience of God in periods of weakness and temptation” (A. W. Pink).
The claim of God upon our lives is rooted in His mercies and goodness. If God has not done well by us, then there may be reason to resist Him. But the goodness of God is designed to lead us to repentance.
One way that God is good is by concealing our sins. Most of us never have our true sins exposed. Sometimes we are asked to suffer for things we did not do—and we get very upset when we are falsely accused. But oh the mercy of God to hide our darkest deeds.
Now the love of God which covers a multitude of sins is not to be misinterpreted as a license to sin; rather God is giving us another opportunity to repent.
Regardless of whether or not others may serve the Lord, Joshua was determined to be found faithful. Not long after this event, Joshua died. His final resolution of life was this: as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
I do not know if you make New Year’s resolutions or not. Perhaps we should make a resolution not to make any resolutions unless the resolution is rooted in a principle of righteousness. Long ago, an assembly of the church resolved to do right before God.
“We will serve the Lord”, the people said, “for He is our God” (24:18). “We will serve the Lord”, they repeated (24:21). And yet a third time a holy shout was sent forth, “The Lord our God will we serve, and His voice will we obey.” Then the people departed, every man unto his inheritance. If it is the desire of your heart to resolve to serve the Lord then take time to say, “Lord, I will serve you. You are my God. Lord, as for me and my house, we will serve you. Lord, it is your voice I will obey”. Then go and enjoy your spiritual inheritance.