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<062401>JOSHUA 24:1-33 SHECHEM Three geographic points were of vital importance to Israel during their early years in the Land of Promise: Gilgal, Shiloh, and Shechem. Gilgal was the military headquarters of the invasion; Shiloh, the religious center of the people; and Shechem, the political cradle of the nation. These might illustrate different periods in the life of a Christian, periods not altogether consecutive, for what these represent may transpire also concurrently.
They illustrate the stages of spiritual preparation, revitalized devotion, and progressive consolidation.
GILGAL: This military bridgehead where Israel raised the memorial of twelve stones was near Jericho. It was not only used as a headquarters by Joshua in the early days; it became a center of administration some years later, and was thus used by Samuel. We read, “He went forth from year to year in a circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all these places” ( 1 Samuel 7:16).
During the Israelitish invasion of the land, Gilgal was the place to which Joshua frequently returned to reorganize his forces, to replenish his supplies, and to strengthen his men. This place may illustrate for us the many privileges and experiences of the child of God in the heavenly places. “God,... even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,...And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” ( Ephesians 2:4-6).
Israel had entered into her promised possessions by descending into and ascending out of Jordan; Gilgal, therefore, figuratively speaking, was the place of resurrection, illustrating the present spiritual position of the believer as risen with Christ and seated in heavenly places.
Gilgal was not only the place of resurrection, it was also the place of responsibility. The enemy was near, and any apparent failure of his strength was only temporary ( Joshua 5:1). He soon mobilized his military strength and presented a united resistance to Israel ( Joshua 11:1-5).
The Christian faces an array of invisible offensive powers. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” ( Ephesians 6:12).
The reproach of Egypt was rolled away at Gilgal for it was to the nation a place of recovery. There Israel accepted again the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision. This act was by the law of God ( Genesis 17:10-14; Leviticus 12:3). It became a rite so distinctive of Israel that their oppressors tried to prevent its observance. There is a reference in the writings of the Maccabees to this wickedness of Antiochus Epiphanes, who decreed that every one in his realm should forsake his former laws, as these were keeping the people apart and from acting as one. He forbade the Jews the right to offer burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and drink offerings, in the temple. He decreed that they should profane the Sabbath and feast days, and that they should also leave their children uncircumcised. It may have been that the Egyptians did likewise, and that this humiliation was rolled away on a national basis at Gilgal.
During the years in the wilderness, circumcision, for one cause or another had not been practiced; it was, therefore, necessary in order to claim the promises and presence of God in a fuller measure to comply with His law. “Joshua made him sharp knives and circumcised the children of Israel.”
Some, considering the highly spiritual and typical significance of circumcision ( Deuteronomy 10:16; Romans 2:27), make the burying of these knives the symbolic cause of the spiritual decline and lawlessness recorded in the Book of Judges.
SHILOH: How deeply emotions are stirred by the very mention of the name Shiloh! This city situated east of the main road from Jerusalem to Bethel, and about nine miles north of Bethel, was the place chosen for the sanctuary. The religious life of the people revolved around this center all during the years of occupation, and throughout the days of the Judges. It was there that Israel replenished their spiritual strength, and, so it seems, it was there that they eventually lost it.
Since the sanctuary was at Shiloh, God’s people resorted there to enjoy His presence; the godly Elkanah “went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh” ( 1 Samuel 1:3).
Furthermore, in the early days of national life with its difficulties, it was there that Israel sought the mind of the Lord (Joshua 22). As has been suggested, it may have been at Shiloh that Joshua addressed the elders, heads, judges, and officers of the nation as he anticipated his departure from them ( Joshua 23:1).
Apparently the ark was taken there shortly after the occupation of the land by Israel, and it remained there until it was carried into the camp of Israel from whence it was captured by the Philistines. Eli’s wicked sons lived at Shiloh and by their deeds profaned the place where the Lord had put His name.
Excavations by archaeologists at the site of Shiloh sustain the contention that at the time the Philistines captured the ark, they destroyed the city and the sanctuary. Such evidence explains why the ark, when returned to Israel, was not set up at Shiloh. This destruction of Shiloh, while probably carried out by the Philistines, was the disciplinary act of God because of the sin and declension of His people. Of this the Psalmist wrote centuries later, “When God heard this, he was wroth and greatly abhorred Israel:
The Word of the Lord through.Jeremiah recalled the spiritual departure which characterized Israel in the early days of Samuel, the weakness of Eli, the gross sins of his sons, and the consequent judgment of God upon the nation at large and upon the place of the ark and the tabernacle, Shiloh.
Shiloh was indeed the spiritual pivot of national life. God’s grace, guidance, and power had all been manifested there. The devout of the people had made pilgrimages to the sacred city, and their leaders had received indications of divine purposes at the sanctuary within its area; but, alas, there had been at Shiloh so great a departure from God, that seven centuries later, it was remembered and used to warn God’s apostate people.
Similar spiritual conditions, with the corresponding punishment, have been seen in the lives of more than one professed believer. Where grace has been abundantly bestowed, responsibility is increased; where this responsibility is not assumed in all humility, where indolence and neglect result in a conformity to the things of this present evil age, nothing can be expected but acts of divine displeasure.
SHECHEM: This ancient city was situated on the floor of a valley near its entrance, Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal forming the respective walls.
Shechem was not only the geographic center of Canaan; it was in some respects the moral heart of the nation. It was at this city that Abraham built the first altar to the Lord within the land, and it was here that God appeared to him, and promised, “Unto thy seed will I give this land” ( Genesis 12:7).
His two sons, Simeon and Levi, displayed their subtlety and cruelty here, acts which forced him to withdraw in shame and fear from the area.
Not only had the two great patriarchs of the nation been there but the nation itself had previously visited this vicinity. Joshua, after final victory at Ai and in compliance with the prediction of Moses, in faith called the nation together. As they stood, six tribes on Mount Gerizim and six tribes on Mount Ebal, he raised a cairn of stones, upon the plaster of which he wrote the law. Moreover, he read to the nation the curses and the blessings of the law to which the nation replied, “Amen.” In that manner he renewed the covenant of God with Israel.
It may have been that the gathering together of the representatives of the nation at Shiloh was a regular administrative council and that he took that occasion to address himself to the national leaders; but the mighty convocation gathered before God at Shechem was extraordinary. Thirty years before, the same people had gathered in the same place in order to renew their covenant with God; they now gather to say farewell to the talented and noble leader, and to listen to his last words of encouragement and admonition.
A mental picture of Joshua addressing the tribes of Israel positioned on the slopes of Gerizim and Ebal suggests similar scenes. One is reminded thereby of aged and grieved Samuel, disappointed by the behavior of his own sons, and displeased by the desires of Israel for a king, standing among the elders of the nation praying to the Lord on their behalf, and repeating in their hearing the divine message of God to them ( 1 Samuel 8:1-10).
A New Testament scene in like manner comes to mind. Peter, an aged apostle, sitting in a room away in the city of Babylon, dictating a letter to the churches of the saints, passes on to their younger leaders the commission which he had himself received from the Lord: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof” ( 1 Peter 5).
Joshua was a soldier and an administrator; Samuel a judge and a prophet; and Peter a servant and an apostle of the Lord Jesus; but all had one burden in common: the welfare of the people of God. In Joshua’s case the opposing influence was mostly external; in Samuel’s case, it was mostly internal; but, in the case of Peter the adverse influences were both external and internal.
The voice of Joshua that resounded throughout the valley and over the slopes of Gerizim and Ebal was not the last to be heard in the great amphitheater. Jotham stood on the top of Gerizim and told his parable to the men of Shechem. His attitude was one of defiance and fear, for we read, “And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother” ( Judges 9:21).
In the case of Joshua at Shechem there is dependence upon God, not defiance; there is quietness, not fear; there is authority, not weakness; there is clear instruction, not parabolism. With authority “Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem... they presented themselves before God” ( Joshua 24:1).
Oh, that Israel had remained submissive to divine authority, and receptive to the Word of God! This they were throughout the period of the elders that overlived Joshua ( Joshua 24:31); but lawlessness and idolatry invaded their hearts. We read, consequently, “There was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” ( Judges 17:6; 21:25).
Hope for a theocracy in the nation vanished with the up-surging disregard of authority and the disrespect of divine revelation.
The Church of God might well learn from the sad history recorded in the Book of Judges. Departure resulted in discipline; reprobation in partial recovery. In spite of the deterrents placed in the way, the decline was progressive until Eli’s daughter-in-law exclaimed, “The glory is departed from Israel!” The Lord apparently withdrew His presence and allowed His people to suffer the consequence of their own folly. In this Laodicean period of the Church’s history when the Lord seems to be on the outside, on the outside appealing to the individual, oh, that wills might be brought into subjection to divinely constituted authority, and hearts made receptive to the Scriptures of Truth!
There is a belief among some Christians that the gifts of the apostles and prophets have forever passed away, and that these gifts have no important influence upon the Church of God today. True, the persons who were the embodiments of those gifts have gone home to Glory and, unlike the other three public gifts — the evangelist, the pastor, and the teacher — these were not transferable from one generation to another. When a great evangelist dies, God raises up another; when a pastor or teacher passes away, these gifts are entrusted to other persons. This was not so with the two important gifts, the apostle and the prophet. These men in the early Church were fitted for a special ministry, and when that ministry was fulfilled, they were removed and not replaced. Undoubtedly, there is a succession of evangelists, pastors, and teachers; certainly not of apostles and prophets.
While this is true, we must maintain a proper and scriptural perspective.
The apostles themselves have passed to their eternal reward, but we have their authoritative writings. In these writings we still hear the apostles speaking with a power which was invested in them exclusively. No man today possesses the authority of, say, the Apostle Paul. Only such an one could write to the church of God at Corinth and say, “What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod [a scepter of authority], or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” ( 1 Corinthians 4:21).
In contrast to the temporary investment of the persons, the sacred Writings given by inspiration through them possess a permanent authority. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” ( 2 Peter 1:21).
There are four important verbs used in apostolic writings which emphasize the divine authority of the New Testament Scriptures. These are: “to command,” “to charge,” “to ordain,” and “to will.” There, no doubt, are others, but these will suffice for our present consideration. These verbs do not all possess the same force and power: in fact, their power seems to decrease in the order in which they have been listed. “To command” is to demand obedience. This verb is used in connection with the words of Christ and with the words of His apostles. Both Paul and Peter use it.
Paul’s commands are given in connection with domestic affairs ( Corinthians 7:10); public ministry ( 1 Corinthians 14:37); church fellowship ( Colossians 4:10); and personal holiness and behavior ( Thessalonians 4:2). Peter uses it in relation to the entire ministry of all the apostles ( 2 Peter 3:2).
The attitude of lawlessness so prevalent in the world frequently infiltrates the congregations of the Lord’s people. Such a spirit resents authority and refuses all commands. While the verb “to charge” is weaker than the previous one, nevertheless, it imposes responsibility. Paul not only did this himself, but he authorized Timothy to do likewise. Paul charged the elders at Thessalonica to read his epistle to the entire church ( 1 Thessalonians 5:27). He charged Timothy to observe the instruction concerning the qualifications of elders ( 1 Timothy 5:21); to keep the divine command relative to moral standards ( 1 Timothy 6:13-14); and to perform the ministry that he had received from the Lord ( 2 Timothy 4:1). “To ordain” suggests the making of an appointment or arrangement with some authority. The idea of ordaining or appointing was used by the Lord, by His apostles, and by certain apostolic delegates. Paul used this verb in regard to marital relationships ( 1 Corinthians 7:17), certain abuses existing within the church at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 11:34), and overseers ( Titus 1:5). It was also used by Paul and Barnabas at Galatia ( Acts 14:23), and by the elders and apostles at Jerusalem in connection with Christian liberty ( Acts 16:4).
The last verb suggested, “to will,” while being the weakest of the four, expresses the idea of a preference made by conviction. Paul thus uses the word asserting that the males should pray publicly ( 1 Timothy 2:8); that younger women should marry ( 1 Timothy 5:14); and that believers should maintain good works ( Titus 3:8).
Jesus marveled at the humility of the Roman centurion who said, “I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” ( Luke 7:8).
While possessing authority to command others, he himself was under superior authority. In reading the New Testament, we must ever remember that while the apostles with authority commanded, charged, ordained, and willed, they were under the supreme authority of Christ. As the authority of the Roman centurion, an officer over one hundred men, was only the expression of the authority of his general; even so, divine authority expressed in the writings of these holy men is but the transmission through them of the absolute authority of the risen Christ and Lord, the supreme authority to be obeyed.
JOSHUA’S REVIEW OF ISRAEL’S HISTORY We are not much concerned with the actual mechanics of this meeting at Shechem. Whether Joshua was able to make himself heard, or whether he relayed his message to each tribe through an elder, is not important for our purpose. The acoustics of the valley are reputedly good, and it is wonderful what the human voice accomplishes under favorable circumstances.
Benjamin Franklin asserts that on one occasion, with ease and comfort, he listened to George Whitefield preach in the open air to an estimated crowd of twenty thousand persons.
Our primary concern is with the speaker himself. His first words are very important, for they indicate the actual source of the message. We allude frequently to this chapter as being Joshua’s valedictory speech, but literally this was a direct word from God. “Joshua said unto the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel.” This great national leader was only a mouthpiece for God.
One recalls the timidity of Joshua’s predecessor, Moses, and his acknowledgment of inability to speak in public: “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the LORD said unto him. Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” ( Exodus 4:10-12).
Forty years before, Moses had learned how ineffective were his persuasive powers. He no doubt recalled the challenge of his fellow Hebrew, “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?” ( Exodus 2:14). Moses had learned the futility of human endeavor exerted without divine sanction.
How gracious the Lord was with His servant! He, first of all, assured him that all the functions and capabilities of the human senses: speech, sight, and hearing, were fully known to Him, their Creator. He was not, therefore, assigning to Moses an unreasonable task. In second place, He allayed the fears which beset Moses’ heart, stating, “I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” Joshua in all probability did not have such an experience of fear and timidity. From the opening words of his speech we learn he knew that God was merely using him as a mouthpiece to accomplish His own purpose.
Although probably forty-five years of age, Jeremiah lamented his limitations and inexperience.
In the case of Moses the ability apparently already existed, but required stirring. Moses was encouraged to use what God had already given him. In the case of Jeremiah the Lord put forth his hand, and touched his mouth, and said, “Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth” ( Jeremiah 1:9).
Here a divine impartation seems to be implied. Similar language is used in connection with Daniel, who had gone through such an experience that his mouth was closed, his lips sealed. Daniel records, “Behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spake” ( Daniel 10:16).
Whether in the servant of the Lord it is as in the case of Moses, the sanctification of some latent ability; or, as in the case of Jeremiah, the endowment of special powers; or, as in the case of Daniel, the recovery of lost capabilities; one and all must result from divine intervention and imposition. It was only when so fitted that a prophet could write, “Thus saith the LORD.” Furthermore, it was only after such an experience from the Lord that the Apostle Paul could write, “I command, yet not I, but the Lord” ( 1 Corinthians 7:10). If it were necessary that these holy men of old needed the divine touch upon their lips and personalities, how much greater is the requirement today! “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” ( 1 Peter 4:11). The Old Testament Scriptures are called the oracles of God ( Acts 7:38; Romans 3:2), and without doubt the New Testament may thus be described; it is referred to as a sacred writing ( 2 Peter 3:16). Men who profess to be servants of Christ today must speak in perfect accord with what has already been written in that which is acknowledged as “the oracles of God.” There is an imperative need in the Church for men who like Joshua can face the congregation of the Lord and solemnly assert, “Thus saith the Lord GOD.” Joshua, like many of the great orators of Israel, began his speech with a review of national history: Israel’s divine call, preservation, establishment, and hope.
Moses reviewed their history as he anticipated their entrance into the land of promise, and he did so to impress upon them the grace of God that had elevated them from a very lowly origin (Deuteronomy 26). Here Joshua follows this usual method, but does so to manifest God’s determined intention to firmly implant Israel as a nation in Canaan. The Psalmist in like manner examines the details of national history for the proof of divine immutability in the fulfilling of the covenants made by God to His people (Psalm 78). In the days of Nehemiah a great and holy convocation met for the reading of the law and for prayer. At that time the entire history of the nation was considered from its beginning to demonstrate the mercy of God. Israel had declined and had departed from the Lord and because of this spiritual and moral defection had endured His discipline. As a nation His people were obliged to confess, “Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God” ( Nehemiah 9:31).
It would be difficult to think of the history of Israel without recalling Stephen’s brilliant address before the Sanhedrin, an address through which the accused became the judge, and the judges became the accused. Stephen surveyed the different stages of the national story from its earliest days to indicate the rebellious spirit against the Lord that had always characterized Israel, a rebellion that had reached its climax in the rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah (Acts 7). What tremendous lessons may be learned from history: lessons of God’s faithfulness, lessons of man’s complete failure!
The many activities of the Lord since the beginning of His dealings with Israel are here set down in order. Such clauses as the following prove the power of God to accomplish what He had intended: “I took,” “I gave,” “I sent,” “I brought,” “I have brought,” “I have done,” and “I destroyed.”
When Pharaoh and his taskmasters increased the burdens of the Israelites and made them serve under greater rigor, God made promise to His people saying, “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out,” “I will rid you out,” “I will redeem you,” “I will take you to me,” “I will be with you,” “I will bring you in” ( Exodus 6:6-8). God is not using here the simple future of our grammar; these promises are predetermined by the sovereign fiat of God. Through Joshua God is asserting that what He purposed to do for the nation, He has done. Israel now possessed the land of Canaan, not because of their own strength, nor because of wise leadership. The Lord claims the credit of the mighty accomplishment for Himself. “I brought you into the land of the Amorite,... I gave them into your hands.... I destroyed them before you.”
A contrast is seen between the words of Jethro to Moses and those of the Apostle Paul. Said Jethro, “Thou art not able to perform it thyself alone” ( Exodus 18:18). The Apostle wrote of Abraham’s attitude toward the Lord, that he was fully persuaded “what he [God] had promised, he was able also to perform” ( Romans 4:21). All this illustrates what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Philippians, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you [ten years previously] will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” ( Philippians 1:6).
The purpose of God in directing their minds to their ancestor Abraham, whom He had called from a land of idolatry, was to remind them of His abhorrence of this wickedness, and that, in the separation of their forefathers from such an environment and from such a practice, they were to consider themselves separate from it as well. “Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood [beyond the river Euphrates]... and they served other gods.” They who thus sat in darkness saw a great light. Stephen says, “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran” ( Acts 7:2).
The conversion of Abraham from polytheism to monotheism was complete.
During his pilgrimage between these two cities, God led him through a land in which he was a stranger, and gave him Isaac. And to Isaac, God gave Jacob, and multiplied his seed. Thus the foundation of the nation was laid in God’s calling of Abraham, and in His gift of Isaac and Jacob. There was nothing here that happened by chance; all was according to the sovereign will of God.
God plagued Egypt through the hands of Moses and Aaron. Here again the Lord reminds His people of His disdain for the gods of the heathen; these are the evidence of departure from Himself. “Professing themselves to be wise, they [men] became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” ( Romans 1:22-23).
Part of Moses’ message in regard to the Passover was, “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD” ( Exodus 12:12).
The objects venerated by Israel’s oppressors fell under the judgment of God; He destroyed them one by one. Since idolatry was a snare into which Israel might fall, she would not be seduced without warning; she would know God’s concept of this grave sin, and his hateful judgment upon it.
The last word of the speaker in this connection refers to the overthrow of the idolaters, and possibly their deified king, Pharaoh. “When they [Israel] cried unto the LORD, He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them, and covered them; and your eyes have seen what I have done in Egypt” ( Joshua 24:7).
Almost every object was considered the habitation of some spirit; consequently, reptiles, insects, animals, birds, and humans became deities in the life of the Egyptians. They considered many of their pharaohs as the incarnation of one of their favorite gods. “Upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments” ( Numbers 33:4).
The many years spent in the wilderness are passed over in silence. The Lord is not narrating the events of human failure, “the provocation in the wilderness.” He, rather, is stating His own glorious exploits. In Hebrews chapter 11 much of the sin and failure in the lives of the heroes of faith is eliminated in order to magnify the grace of God in responding to their confidence in Him; but here the deletions are to demonstrate the mighty power of God in the important events of history.
The next reminiscence is that of the defeat of the Amorites and the experience with Balak, king of Moab, and Balaam. What is recorded in the Book of Numbers, chapters 22 to 24, might not be considered as war by some. But God declares, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and warred against Israel.” There are different methods of conducting a war. We are well acquainted with the expression “the cold war,” which in reality is a war on the nerves of the opponent rather than against his military force. Balak’s strategy was the use of divination by means of demon power. In the law, God insisted, “There shall not be found among you any one... that useth divinations, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer” ( Deuteronomy 18:10-11).
The closing part of Joshua’s review of their past treats the crossing into the land of promise and the resistance they encountered at that time. The entire confederacy of seven nations is mentioned, not only to remind them of the forces of opposition they had faced, but to prove again that not with their own accoutrements had they gotten the victory. How true the assertion of Joshua at his earlier meeting with the representatives of the people, “Ye have seen all that the LORD your God hath done unto all these nations because of you; for the LORD your God is he that hath fought for you” ( Joshua 23:3).
What an encouragement for the Christian! A great array of enemies would hinder him in the enjoyment of his inheritance in Christ. There are principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness, and spiritual wickedness ( Ephesians 6:12) to hamper his progress. Israel armed herself with obedience and faith and followed the instructions of the Lord: with the result that God delivered these enemies in Canaan into her hand: she relied upon the power of God’s might, not upon her army and strategy.
In the struggle against opposing powers in heavenly places, those powers would rob the Christian of his spiritual possessions. May he, yea all of us, be strong in the power of God’s might, and put on the armor He has graciously provided, every whit of which speaks of our blessed Lord Jesus, Christ-imputed and Christ-imparted. Let us ever remember that we have an adversary the devil as a roaring lion walking about seeking whom he may devour. We are enjoined to resist him steadfastly ( 1 Peter 5:8-9), and if we do, God affirms, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” ( James 4:7).
The hornets to which Joshua refers were one of the means the Lord employed in this fierce combat against the Canaanites. There are different viewpoints in regard to these. Some Bible students believe that the hornets may have been literal plagues of stinging creatures, of which there seem to be different species in Palestine. It is believed that these scourges infested certain areas and attacked the Canaanites. If we are to accept them as literal, then we must also believe that the Lord wrought a miracle in protecting the people of Israel from similar attacks.
There are other Bible students, equally careful in their exegesis, who believe that the reference here and in Exodus 23:28 and Deuteronomy 7:20, is to figurative hornets; that the Lord is referring metaphorically to the stinging terrors which gripped the Canaanites as they watched the advance of the children of Israel into their territories. The promise of the Lord in the Exodus passage would rather substantiate this contention: “I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come,... I will send hornets before thee.”
God fulfilled His prediction. He drove out the Canaanite. Whether by literal hornets or merely figurative ones is not too important; His was the victory.
The final statement in this immediate context suggests to the reader the words of Jeremiah: “Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth” ( Jeremiah 9:23-24).
Israel could not boast of her prowess; she could not correctly speak of her conquest of the land; but she could glory in her God who gave her richly all these things to enjoy: a beautiful country, established cities, and fruitbearing vines and olive trees which they had never cultivated.
JOSHUA’S EXHORTATION The Apostle Paul generally in the first part of his epistles teaches doctrine, and, then, in the second part exhorts to corresponding duties. He first gives the reason for Christian conduct, and then logically insists upon commendable behavior. There is something similar here, not that Joshua was teaching doctrine, but he was reviewing the grace and goodness of God throughout their past in order to appeal to the hearts of the people for an attitude of holiness, fear, and love toward God.
Nothing moves the heart, and therefore the will, like recollections of the grace of God in hours of need, like the guidance of the Lord in difficulties, the power of God in victories, and the patience of God in periods of weakness and temptation. These in themselves are sufficient to produce a response to the claims of God upon us.
The Spirit of God makes an entreaty to the saints at Rome, and, of course, likewise to us. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” ( Romans 12:1).
This appeal rests upon the tracings of the mercies of God in the earlier chapters. In these it is demonstrated how patiently and mercifully God deals with man who has come short of glorifying Him, and how He so changes this unregenerate man and eventually glorifies him. Man, who fails, because of his depravity, to glorify God, by God in His mercy is ultimately glorified. What tender mercies! Well might the Spirit, on the ground of the grace that justifies and glorifies, appeal for unreserved devotion and sacrificial living for the Lord. Through Joshua the Lord in like manner entreats Israel on the ground of His wonderful accomplishments and benevolence.
The appeal of Joshua was primarily against idolatry. Obviously he had reason to fear further and deeper defection. Among them there were some who venerated the gods which Abraham once served on the other side of the Euphrates, some who still worshipped the gods of the Egyptians, and some who seemed very susceptible to the worship of the gods of the Canaanites. The leaven of pagan idolatry was already at work.
One cannot think of this appeal by Joshua without recalling the earnest pleadings of Elijah some centuries later: “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him.... And the people answered him not a word” ( Kings 18:21).
It was only after the dramatic proof that Baal was nonexistent, and that the Lord was indeed the living and true God, that the people fell on their faces, and said, “The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God” ( 1 Kings 18:21-39).
Until the seventy years’ captivity in Babylon, the inclination on the part of Israel, and of Judah as well, was toward idolatry. Since then the house has been swept and garnished, but in the future days of the antichrist, this evil will return with sevenfold intensity, and the last state will be worse than the first ( Matthew 12:43-45). Thank God, the day will come when under the benign rule of the true Messiah, Ephraim shall say, “What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him” ( Hosea 14:8).
The aged Apostle John knew the tendencies of the human heart to depart from the living God. He closes his first epistle with the exhortation, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” There is not the danger of a Christian indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God falling into the wicked practices of heathen worship; but there is the danger of his esteeming altogether too highly some much-liked object, and allowing it a place in his affections which the Lord asks for Himself alone. As Israel was admonished to put away all strange gods, and to fear and serve the Lord alone, so the Christian is responsible to rid from his heart all carnal idolatrous love; to keep himself from idols ( 1 John 5:21), and to keep himself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life (Jude 21).
With the background of a national weakness and a propensity toward idolatry, Joshua avers his own determination. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood [beyond the Euphrates], or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” ( Joshua 24:15).
These were words of knowledge and wisdom. Joshua knew the futility and degeneracy of idolatry, and, furthermore, he knew the reality and supremacy of God. Observation and experience fully equipped him to so challenge the nation. Idolatry was obnoxious to him, but God was very personal and true.
That the whole nation felt the impact of these words is obvious in their reply. They were also to feel the force of other charges by Joshua before they were finally dismissed. To this challenge based upon the reality of God, “The people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods;... therefore will we also serve the LORD; for he is our God” (verses 16-18).
How little they knew of the wickedness of their own hearts! They would be influenced for good throughout their own generation by the example and power of Joshua. Consequently we read, “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that over-lived Joshua” (verse 31).
Notwithstanding, we read of a sad change: “And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” ( Judges 2:10).
How miserably that first generation had failed! Had they served the Lord, had they obeyed the command of Moses, such dreadful ignorance would not have prevailed. Before Israel had crossed the frontier of Canaan Moses had said, “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;... The LORD said... Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children” ( Deuteronomy 4:9-10).
Joshua received their reply, but such was his knowledge of this insidious evil that he declared the infinite holiness of God and the sure and dire consequence of their sin. God would not forgive “the great transgression,” as David called idolatry. To indulge further in this evil would only result in the severest possible divine punishment. For presumptuous sin there would be no remedy.
This solemn assertion of divine holiness might well be thoughtfully considered. “The LORD... he is an holy God; he is a jealous God” (verse 19).
The Apostle Peter made an impressive appeal to the strangers of the dispersion, and, of course, makes it also to us: “As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [mode of living]; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” ( 1 Peter 1:15-17).
The second reply of the people reveals how vain they were in themselves and, at the same time, how ignorant they were of the true character of God. The words of the Decalogue had not deeply impressed them. “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” ( Exodus 20:5).
The words of Joshua on this occasion remind one of the words of Paul to the Corinthians as he draws lessons from the behavior of Israel in the wilderness. He describes how many of them fell under the disciplinary hand of God because of sin, and asserts, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples,” and then gives the word of warning, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” That is, let him be careful lest he too fall under divine discipline. The congregation gathered before Joshua thought that it stood well, but their leader knew them thoroughly, and for them he feared lest eventually they too would fall under punitive measures by the Lord.
There had been a time in the life of their forefather Jacob when he said unto his household, “Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: And let us arise, and go up to Bethel: and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem” ( Genesis 35:2-4).
On this occasion his descendants did not follow the example of Jacob.
There was no such practical response to the appeals, warnings, and admonitions of Joshua. He therefore took them at their word, and made a covenant that day. Alas for their self-confidence! It has been pointed out that Joshua actually made a covenant for the people rather than with the people. What he wrote in the Book of the Law is not certain, but one might assume that he recorded the proceedings of the day: the instructions, entreaties, and warnings, as well as the bold answers of the people.
Moreover, he set up a stone as a witness of all the transactions of the convocation.
This means of preserving the evidence of an agreement was very common in patriarchal times. Jacob used a heap of stones to mark the arrangement between himself and his uncle Laban ( Genesis 31:43-55). We have noticed in chapter 22 that the tribes of Reuben and Gad erected an altar as a witness between themselves and the other tribes. Here Joshua uses a great stone as the evidence of the promise of Israel to God.
It is rather interesting to notice that the first time we see Joshua in service with Moses was during the battle with Amalek. At the close of the conflict we read, “And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi” ( Exodus 17:14-15).
Throughout the life and service of Joshua the influence of Moses may be traced. Typically there are some contrasts. Moses represents the law which cannot give the believer that liberty in Christ that is his through faith; Joshua typifies our Lord Jesus in whom we are seated in heavenly places and through whom we enter into our inheritance. Notwithstanding, as historical characters, we see how the elder influenced the younger. Joshua, like his worthy predecessor, was a very humble man; he sought little for himself; he was a faithful man and executed the will of God as he understood it; and he trusted the Lord implicitly. Furthermore, like Moses, he kept records, and made covenants, and used means to permanently fix these in the minds of the people. It would seem that God fits a younger man through association with an older one. This is seen in the case of Timothy. The Apostle Paul wrote to him saying, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” ( 2 Timothy 1:13). “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them” ( 2 Timothy 3:14).
The work for which Joshua was so well trained and equipped, the service which he endeavored to do in faithfulness for God, had come to an end. “So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his own inheritance.”