Roughly 20 years had passed since the end of the seven years of war that Israel had fought with the Canaanites. The land had been apportioned out to the tribes, and the people of the Lord were now in the midst of enjoying His blessings. But Joshua, who was drawing near to the close of his earthly life, called together an assembly of the people and their leaders – probably convening at Shiloh, where the Tabernacle stood – and delivered an address that encouraged the people and their descendants to persevere in the true faith and worship of the Lord. The Covenant-God was Joshua’s text, as well as the sum and substance of his sermon. Not a word was spoken of himself. There was not a word to magnify his services – not even as an instrument in God’s hand. The theme of his preaching was what Jehovah had done, and what the people’s own experience knew to be true about their God’s grace towards them. Dearest Jesus! May it be our happiness to imitate this illustrious example! In our living hours, may we speak of You and Your righteousness alone! And in our dying hour, may our long experience sum up the whole account: Christ is all and in all! (Col. 3:11)
Joshua put the people in mind of the great things that God had done for them in his own days; and for the proof of these things, he appealed to their own eyes (verse 3): “You have seen all that the Lord your God has done!” Many great and mighty nations had just been driven out from one of the finest countries on the face of the earth, in order to make room for Israel. Although they held out against the Israelites with the greatest possible obstinacy, yet they were subdued before them; and this made the possessing of their land so much more illustrative of the power and goodness of the Lord.
Joshua also assured the people of God’s readiness to carry on and complete this glorious work, in due time. It was true that some of the Canaanites still remained in the land; and in some places, they were strong and daring. But this was not to be a disappointment to them, for God would expel the Canaanites to the very last man – provided, of course, that Israel pursued their advantages and carried on the war against them with vigor (verse 5). Joshua encouraged the people by telling them what little reason they had to be anxious over the comparably smaller numbers of their own forces (verse 10). “One man of you,” he said, “shall chase a thousand” – just as Jonathan did in 1 Samuel 14:1-16.
Hereupon Joshua most earnestly charged the people to adhere to their duty, and to go on and persevere in the good ways of the Lord – in which, they had set out so well. He exhorted them to be very courageous (verse 6). “God fighteth for you against your enemies,” he told them. Therefore, they were to behave themselves valiantly for Him. They were to firmly resolve to keep and do all that was written in the Book of the Law. He also exhorted the people to be very cautious, and to take heed of going astray; and they were especially warned (verse 7) to take heed of everything that led to idolatry – the sin to which they were the most greatly inclined; and to which, they would be the most tempted. They were not to develop friendships with idolaters, nor be present at any of their feasts or entertainments; for they could not build close relationships with such persons, nor live the same lifestyle as they did, without danger of infecting themselves. They were not to show the least respect to any idol, nor even make mention of the names of these false gods; rather, they were to endeavor to bury the remembrance of them in perpetual oblivion, so that the worship of them would never be revived. But not only were the people advised to shun and abhor idolatry, but they were also directed to be faithful to the true God (verse 8). If we wish to cling to the Lord and not forsake Him, we must “take heed” and always stand upon our guard; for many precious souls are lost and ruined through carelessness. Also, our relationship with Him must be governed by a principle of love – not by constraint or from a slavish fear, but by choice and with delight!
Joshua urged God’s faithfulness to the people as a reason why they should be faithful to Him (verse 14). He told them that he himself was about to pass on to heaven and leave them behind, but the Lord would never abandon them. He had promised them victory, rest, abundance, His presence among them, and more; and not one thing had failed of all that He had promised (chapter 21:45). And since God had been so true to them, did they have any reason whatsoever to be false to Him? The Apostle’s argument for perseverance (Heb. 10:23) is similar to what Joshua said here: “he is faithful that has promised!”
The aged leader of the people also gave them fair warning of the fatal consequences that would come upon them if they forsook the ways of the Lord. The steps of their apostacy would begin in their growing friendly with idolaters, the next step would be intermarrying with them, and the ultimate result would be serving these false gods and bowing down to them. The way of sin is downhill, and those who have fellowship with sinners cannot avoid having fellowship with sin. Moreover, idolatry is essentially a treacherous breach of promise (verse 16); for other sins are transgressions of the law which God has commanded, but idolatry is a transgression of the Covenant which He has made with us – and thus it is a breach of the relationship between God and His people, and a forfeiture of all the benefits of the Covenant. Lord, preserve us from becoming guilty of this sin!
Lord, keep our souls close to You, and restrain us by the sweet influences of Your Spirit, so that we may cling faithfully to You! Amen.
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illustration from a Bible card published in 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company