Joshua had probably thought that he had taken his last farewell of his people in the solemn charge that he had given them in the last chapter. But when God graciously continued his life longer than he had expected, he was desirous to use it once more for the good of Israel. We must never think our work for God is done, until our life is done. If he lengthens our days beyond what we expected (like those of Joshua), it is because He has some further service for us to still do. He who aims at the same mind which was in Christ Jesus will glory in bearing the last testimony to his Savior’s goodness.
The place appointed for this meeting was Shechem – not only because the natural features of the place made it an excellent location to accommodate a large crowd, but also because it was the place where Abraham (the first trustee of God’s Covenant with His people) sojourned when he came to Canaan. This was the place where God had appeared to him in Genesis 12:6-7; and near to it stood the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal, where the people had sealed their Covenant with God when they had first entered Canaan (chapter 8:30). It was fitting, then, that the renewal of this Covenant should be made in the same spot. This place of Shechem would help them recall the promises which God had made to their forefathers, and the promises which they themselves had made to God.
Joshua’s sermon consisted of doctrine and application. The doctrinal part was a history of the great things God had done for His people and their forefathers before them. He had brought Abraham out of an idolatrous lifestyle in Ur of the Chaldees; and he had brought him to Canaan, where He gave him the child of promise – Isaac. The Lord gave Isaac’s son Esau an inheritance in Mount Seir, so that the whole land of Canaan would be reserved for Esau’s brother, Jacob. Jacob’s family went down into Egypt for a time; but at last, the Lord delivered them from slavery in that nation, and rescued them from Pharaoh’s tyrannical hands in a miraculous way. The Lord protected these people whom He had thus delivered, as they dwelt in the wilderness “for a long season.” At length, however, the Lord gave them the land of the Amorites on the eastern side of the Jordan River, and He preserved them from the evil plans of Balak and Balaam. And He ultimately brought them safely and triumphantly into the land of Canaan, and the people of the land were delivered into their hands – not by any power or strength of their own, for it was the Lord’s hornets that tormented the Canaanites so badly that they became a very easy prey to Israel.
The whole point of this brief history recap was to exhort the Israelites to fear and serve the Lord – both as a token of their gratitude for all these former mercies, and also in order that these mercies might be continued toward them. Joshua made these mercies the ground of an affectionate appeal to the people to maintain an unimpaired loyal obedience to the Lord’s holy commands. In consideration of these things, the people were encouraged to fear the Lord, to cause their outward lifestyle and actions to match this principle, and to put away all the false gods that they were so much in danger of worshiping.
Never was any treaty brought to a more satisfactory result than this one was! Joshua’s manner of dealing showed that he was very much in earnest with them. He desired them to make a conscious choice of the subject of their devoted service and worship – not that it was a matter of indifference as to whether they served God or not, or that they had the liberty to refuse His service; but rather because it would be a greater influence upon them to persevere in the true worship of the true God if they themselves embraced it, without being compelled to do so by their leader. “Choose you whom you will serve,” he said. And he sets a good example for their choice in this matter by an open declaration of his own resolution: “As for me and my house” – no matter what you do – “we will serve the Lord!” It is essential that the service of God’s people is performed with a willing mind, for love is the only genuine principle from which all acceptable service of God can spring. The people concurred with Joshua in his resolution, being influenced by the example of such a great leader who had been such a great blessing to them. “We also will serve the Lord,” they said. And they gave very substantial reasons for their choice, to show that they did not make it purely in compliance to Joshua; but rather from a full conviction of the reasonableness and rightness of it. The service of God thus being the people’s deliberate choice, Joshua bound them to it by a solemn covenant (verse 25). He put this covenant in writing, and it was included in the words of inspired Scripture; and he also set up a great stone as a memorial of this covenant.
We read in this chapter how the last earthly remains of Joseph’s body were laid to rest in Shechem, which was in the inheritance of the descendants of Joseph’s son, Ephraim. The end of this book also concludes with the death and burial of Joshua and Eleazar the high priest, who probably died around the same time. These greatly useful men served their generation according to the will of God, but they fell asleep and saw corruption – one after the other. However, Jesus spent and ended His life on earth more effectually than either Joshua, Joseph, or Eleazar; and He rose from the dead, and saw no corruption! (Ps. 16:10) And all His redeemed people shall inherit the Kingdom which He has prepared for them from the foundation of the world!
Lord, we pray for grace to put away all idols that are in our heart. Help us to resolve that no matter what anyone else does, we and our household will indeed serve You! Amen.
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illustration from a Bible card published in 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company