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There have been various conjectures as to what Joshua wrote in the Book of the Law of God. Some assume that he added the book that bears his name to those already prepared by Moses, and that the Book of Joshua forms a necessary link between the Pentateuch and the historical books of the Old Testament. In one sense at least, it is the complement to the Pentateuch, for it demonstrates the power of God to bring the children of Israel into the land as He had promised when He brought them out of Egypt. This Book of Joshua received divine endorsement through the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. There is in that epistle a direct reference to Joshua himself ( Joshua 4:8), and another to the history recorded in his writings ( Joshua 11:30-31).
It seems logical that Joshua be considered the author of this work. Many military leaders and many governors have sketched for future generations the events and details of battles in which they had directed the main movements. Nevertheless, there is some reasonable doubt as to his writing the entire book on the occasion referred to in this the last chapter. The amassing of all the details, the organizing of the material, and the compilation would require much more time. It could have been commenced at Shechem and completed after Joshua reached his home.
Because of his character and service, Moses, the servant of the Lord, earned for himself the distinctive title, “Moses the man of God” (Psalm 90). Joshua in like manner seems to have earned the appellation, “the servant of the LORD” ( Joshua 24:29; Judges 2:8). Both of these remarkable men had lived a God-centered life. In fact, the Lord was the circumference as well as the center; He controlled the entire area of daily experiences. In language similar to that of the Apostle Paul, both of them could have said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am a follower of the Lord.”
Obviously, the closing two paragraphs of the book were not written by the hero. Who appended the account of Joshua’s death and burial we do not know, but they seem a necessary close to the work.
In his death he was ten years younger than his predecessor, Moses; but of Moses at the time of his death it is written, “His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated” ( Deuteronomy 34:7). But of Joshua it is recorded, “Joshua waxed old and stricken in age” ( Joshua 23:1). Whether the Lord preserves a man in a miraculous way, as in the case of Moses, until his service is completed; or whether He allows nature to take its course, as in the case of Joshua, is entirely within His own wisdom and power. May we learn to say, as suggested by James, “Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” ( James 4:15).
It was a sad day when the nation gathered to honor and bury their great warrior governor. They gathered in the city which he had asked and which they had given him according to the word of the Lord ( Joshua 19:50).
We have noticed the influence that Joshua had wielded during his lifetime; it is gratifying to notice also that the beneficial influence remained upon that generation. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit... that they may rest from their labors.” “Surely... the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.” That Joshua should have been honored by the nation, and that the people he had taught, and before whom he had been such an example, should have walked in the ways of the Lord, all will agree. But do all practice this proper attitude? There are leaders among the congregations of the saints today. Do we revere their name, and do we emulate their exemplary lives?
The writer to the Hebrews admonishes to remember the leaders of the past as well as those of the present: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” ( Hebrews 13:7 and 17).
Two other burials are mentioned here: that of Joseph and that of Eleazar.
Joseph died in Egypt, but under oath the children of Israel arranged to carry his bones with them when they left Egypt. Joseph did not want to remain in a permanent grave until his people had a permanent rest in the land of promise. His final resting place was in the area where his father Jacob had bought a property from Shechem’s father for an hundred pieces of money ( Genesis 33:19-20), and where Jacob built an altar after his return to the land from Haran.
It is assumed by many that the bones of Joseph were buried much earlier than the time covered by this chapter, probably at the time of the renewing of the covenant mentioned in Genesis 8:30-35. They were laid to rest near to the place where his grandfather Abraham first entered the land, and where he built his first altar, and where God appeared to him — the place of Shechem and Moreh.
The other burial mentioned is that of the high priest Eleazar. He had succeeded to the office on the death of his father Aaron, and had been very closely associated with Joshua during the conquest of the land and the administration of the tribes. In fact, he had conducted the inaugural ceremony for Joshua. Furthermore, he had assisted Joshua in the division of the land among the tribes. Scripture is silent as to the time of his death.
The account of the burial of these three wonderful leaders forms a very befitting close to this Book of Joshua. One by one they had served their generation and had fallen asleep, but their very names direct the attention to the One who remains forever. The name Joshua means “Jehovah is salvation”; Joseph, “Jehovah may add”; Eleazar, “God is help.” History is ever in the making; times change as do conditions and people. Amidst all that is mutable, how stabilizing and strengthening to know that there is One who never changes, and to hear His own word, “I Jehovah change not” ( Malachi 3:6), and the New Testament revelation, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” ( Hebrews 13:8).