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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 24". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ joshua-24.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 24". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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JOSHUA’S FINAL ADDRESS: HIS DEATH AND BURIAL
Joshua 24:1. To Shechem] This gathering was apparently held a few weeks or months after that named in the previous chapter. There was great appropriateness in the selection of Shechem. Here the covenant was first given to Abram (Genesis 12:6-7); in the immediate neighbourhood Jacob seems to have renewed it (Genesis 33:19-20), and under an oak at Shechem he had “put away the strange gods” of his family (Genesis 35:2-4), as Joshua now reminded the Israelites (Joshua 24:23); here, also, the covenant had been renewed after the fall of Ai (chap. Joshua 8:30-35). No place could be more fit than Shechem for Joshua’s parting words, in which the covenant was once more solemnly established with the people. All the tribes] The assembly named in chap. 23. was one of the elders only; this was a gathering once more to Ebal of all the men of Israel. They presented themselves before God] “It is possible, as some have supposed, that the tabernacle and the ark were brought hither from Shiloh on this occasion; but the phrase ‘before God’ (lit. ‘before Elohim’) does not necessarily imply this; nor does even the phrase ‘before the Lord’ (lit. ‘before Jehovah’) always do so (cf., e.g., Judges 11:11), though used sometimes with reference to the tabernacle, as in Joshua 18:6.” [Speaker’s Com.]
Joshua 24:2. On the other side of the flood] “Nâhâr,” here used with the article, would be better rendered “the river,” a term specially applied to the Euphrates, which is indicated. Dean Stanley points out that “the words so often occurring in Ezra, ‘beyond the river,’ and ‘on this side the river,’ though without the article, refer to the Euphrates.” They served other gods] It is not said whether or not Abram joined in this idolatry. Some think these elohim of Terah and Nahor to have been the same as the teraphim of Laban named in Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:34.
Joshua 24:11. The men of Jericho] “The phrase ba ‘ălay y’ rîcho is noteworthy. It means, apparently, the owners or burghers of Jericho (cf. Judges 9:6; 2 Samuel 21:12).” [Speaker’s Com.]
Joshua 24:12. And I sent the hornet before you] This is evidently a figurative expression for terror or fear. The meaning seems to be identical with that in Exodus 23:27 : “I will send my fear before thee,” a similar reference to hornets following in the succeeding verse in that place. The same association of the hornet and the terror of God is found in Deuteronomy 7:20-21.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 24:1-13
REVIEWING THE PAST
“This chapter brings before us another representative assembly—at Shechem this time, and not at Shiloh—in which Joshua renews the covenant between the people and God, as he had done nearly thirty years before in the same place (chap. Joshua 8:30-35). The former address of Joshua seems to have been delivered in the belief that he was soon to leave this world, and was prompted by his ardent desire for the purity of the people, who would, he knew, be sorely tempted away from God by the idolatrous population among them. This address, however, and the assembly at which it was delivered, were appointed by Divine direction, as we see by the phrase ‘before God,’ in Joshua 24:1, and by the formula, ‘Thus saith Jehovah, God of Israel,’ in Joshua 24:2. The former occasion was, so to speak, a private conference of Joshua with Israel. This occasion was an official conference, in which Joshua acted as the Divine legate.”—[Crosby.]
In the opening paragraph of this chapter we see the following things:—
I. Men called to remember their lowly origin. The forefathers of these Israelites were idolaters (Joshua 24:3). Joshua bade them remember that. He bade them remember it by the word of the Lord. The people had been exterminating idolaters. They had entered into the inheritance of idolaters. Yet, but for the grace of God, these Israelites had been idolaters also. Terah was an idolater, and perhaps Abraham also. In effect, Joshua says to these Israelites, as Isaiah seven centuries later said to their children, “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.”
1. A great people should remember that they were not always great. Somewhere in the distance backward, things were very lowly with every nation, and with every family.
2. A religious people should remember that they were not always religious. A religious nation should remember it collectively. The men of such a nation should remember it individually. Paul drew a dreadful picture of men who could not inherit the kingdom of God, and then said to the Corinthians, “And such were some of you.”
3. A great or a religious man should be humble in view of his origin. The “bar-sinister” on the escutcheon should also be taken into the account. Water will not rise beyond the level of its source. In outward things, men may rise far above their origin; but a wise man will say to his spirit, “There are possibilities of weakness and sin in my nature as bad as that worst place Lack there in the past; and let my circumstances rise as they may, my pride shall rise no higher than the poor low level of my own or my fathers’ shame. What has been may be again.”
II. Men told to consider God’s more quiet providences.
1. In raising up the chief of their national predecessors. Israel had been blessed by God with men of power (Joshua 24:4-5). Humanly, they were what they were through their leaders. God had given them an ancestor in Abraham to shew the power of obedience and faith. God had given them “a plain man” of meditative mood, and had shewn in Isaac that even such a mind, if pious, might occupy a conspicuous place in a nation’s history. God had given to them Jacob, a man of great industry and power to accumulate wealth; and then, as the getting of the wealth had been associated with Jacob’s sin, sweeping all of it away, and leaving the man to die a dependant in Egypt, God had shewn that through an ardent religious faith there may come to posterity a nobler legacy than riches could ever bestow. God had given to them Moses, through whom He had founded civil liberty, and also Aaron, through whom He had established spiritual worship. A man can be nothing without a nation; a nation can be nothing without leaders; leaders can be nothing without God to raise them up and to cause them to be strong. In the battles of Homer and Virgil, it is the leaders who are made to do all the effective fighting. That is a true picture of life in one sense, and in another sense it is very untrue. No nation can come to the greatness of many triumphs where the people do not bear the brunt of the battle; but then, no people ever did strive on to continuous victory, to whom God had not given strong leaders to guide and control their energy. The people are the force; true leaders are its right application. In these gifts of leading men to a nation, we see what have been termed God’s more quiet providences. They, also, are a gift of power. Here we see nothing of force as symbolised in the strong wind, the thunder, and the earthquake; but rather of force as seen in the dew, the air, the light, and the still small voices of nature. In some gifts God displays power; in others He prepares power. Such a preparation and treasuring of power is in God’s gift of real men to form the mind of a nation.
2. In choosing or rejecting the families which composed their nation. “And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau.” Yet Jacob alone became the father of Israel, and Esau was portioned off with Mount Seir. If Esau’s family had blended with that of Jacob, probably Israel would never have had even the measure of religious life which it eventually possessed. At so early a stage in the national history, the more open and reckless character of Esau, with his lack of reverence for the godly traditions of his fathers, could not but have exercised a bad influence. In matters like these we can see but little; we can see but little more than this, God makes of whom He will the nation and the people whom He would call His own.
III. Men asked to reflect on God’s mighty triumphs.
1. In delivering them from bondage. “I have brought your fathers out of Egypt.” God loves to deliver men from the toil of bondage; from the shame and pain of bondage; from the social wrongs of bondage.
2. In the overthrow of powerful enemies. The Egyptians, by the miracle at the Red Sea (Joshua 24:6-7). The Amorites, by ordinary warfare and the supernatural imposition of fear (Joshua 24:8; Joshua 24:12). Balak and Balaam, by wonderful and various instruments: now a voice, and then a vision; here an angel, there an ass (Joshua 24:9-10). The tribes of the assembled Canaanites, by the overthrow of the walls of Jericho. God had done great things for the people, whereof Joshua would see them glad. God would have us to sing of His triumphs for us, in order that the joy of the Lord may be our strength for yet more triumphs.
IV. Men bidden to contemplate God’s gracious gifts (Joshua 24:13). They had a land for almost no labour, cities without building, and vineyards and oliveyards which others had planted.
1. No man is so poor but he has some of God’s gifts on which his eye may rest every day.
2. The gifts which a man has in sight are the fruit of many other gifts of God which are no longer visible. Our daily bread is with us, but not the rain and the genial influences of light and heat by which God produced the harvest. Raiment is ours, but a thousand good and too often forgotten things lie unseen behind every garment which we wear. It is so with health, with capital, and with the social possessions in a man’s household. There is a crown laid up in heaven, but it is because of the cross on Calvary. There is a good hope of eternal life, and that, too, is “through grace” which was long poured out, ere such hope entered into the heart by which it is cherished.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 24:1.—THE ASSEMBLY AT SHECHEM.
Calvin and a few others have thought that this meeting at Shechem was part of the same gathering as that of which we have a record in the preceding chapter. On this the English editor of Calvin remarks: “It may be that the two chapters refer only to one meeting; but certainly the impression produced by a simple perusal of them is, that they refer to two distinct meetings, between which some interval of time must have elapsed. It is only by means of laboured criticism, accompanied with a degree of straining, that some expositors have arrived at a different conclusion. But why should it be deemed necessary to employ criticism for such a purpose? There is surely no antecedent improbability that Joshua, after all the turmoils of war were over, should have more than once come forth from his retirement and called the heads of the people, or even the whole body of them, together, to receive his counsels, when he felt that the time of his departure was at hand. Observe, moreover, that each meeting is ushered in by its own appropriate preamble, and has its own special business. In the one, Joshua speaks in his own name, and delivers his own message; in the other, all the tribes are regularly assembled, and are said to have ‘presented themselves before God,’ because, although Joshua was still to be the speaker, he was no longer to speak in his own name, but with the authority of a divine messenger, and in the very terms which had been put into his mouth. Accordingly, the first words he utters are, ‘Thus saith the Lord God of Israel.’ The message thus formally and solemnly announced in chap. Joshua 24:2, is continued verbatim and without interruption to the end of Joshua 24:13.”
Joshua 24:2-3.—THE GOD OF ABRAHAM.
In these verses, which speak of God’s dealings with Abraham, three things may be noticed:
I. The memory of the Lord.
1. The Lord remembers who our fathers were. Terah is spoken of as the father of Abraham and Nachor, and Abraham as the father of Israel. God remembers our early training, with all its faults, and with all its advantages.
2. The Lord remembers where our fathers dwelt. “From the other side of the flood.” He not only knows what our home was but what our country was.
3. The Lord remembers what our fathers worshipped. “They served other gods.”
II. The grace of the Lord. “I took your father Abraham.”
1. This was the choice of one possibly an idolater. However that may have been, God chose the child of an idolater, out of whom to raise up to Himself a separated nation and a peculiar people. God loves to give us examples of what His grace can do with men at their worst.
2. The man so graciously chosen was most patiently led. “I led him throughout all the land of Canaan.”
III. The goodness of the Lord. “And multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.” Whom God calls, them He also leads; and whom He thus leads about from place to place, He neither forsakes nor forgets. He bestows upon them precious gifts. When He gathers them home to Himself, He perpetuates their name on earth in their children. God shews Himself interested, not only in good men, but in their children; He thinks of them as the descendants of those who lovingly obeyed His call.
Joshua 24:4-7.—THE MYSTERIES OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE
I. God not only provides for His people, but prevents by His goodness those who might hinder them. “I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it.”
II. God not seldom provides for His people by taking from them all which they possess. “Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.” (Cf. pp. 289, 290.)
III. God who provides for His people loss and captivity, provides for them, also, a way back into liberty. “I sent Moses also, and Aaron … I plagued Egypt … I brought your fathers out of Egypt,” etc.
IV. The liberty which God provides for His people may be only the liberty of a wilderness, but, even there, His hand effectually sustains them. “Ye dwelt in the wilderness a long season.” He can look even upon our desolate places, and say, “The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose” (cf. Isaiah 41:17-19).
Joshua 24:3-5.—THE GODLY MAN’S SILENCE ABOUT HIMSELF.
Joshua, speaking hero for God, recounts the names of all his great predecessors, but says nothing whatever of his own. The Lord, speaking through His servant, has somewhat to say of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Moses, and of Aaron, but nothing of Joshua. God’s way is not for any man to extol himself.
Joshua 24:7.—MAN’S POOR PRAYER, AND GOD’S GREAT ANSWER.
I. Ignorant prayers graciously answered. “They cried unto the Lord.” From the history in Exodus this prayer was evidently little more than the prayer of fear. It was an outcry in extremity (Exodus 14:10). It was the prayer of people who knew little of God.
II. Protection from danger by miraculous hiding. “He put darkness between you and the Egyptians.” God’s way of defence is sometimes by openly confronting His people’s enemies, and sometimes by concealing His people. Elijah was bidden to hide by the brook Cherith.
III. Relentless enemies suddenly destroyed. “He brought the sea upon them, and covered them.” Many plagues and warnings had failed to stay the Egyptians in their determination to oppress the Israelites. The unheeded reproofs of God are as so many milestones on the way to destruction, and the last is generally passed even more heedlessly and quickly than the first. God seldom advertises His last reproof as the last. The end comes suddenly (cf. Proverbs 29:1). It is “a covering” of the offender by inrushing waters.
IV. A barren wilderness yielding abundance. “Ye dwelt in the wilderness a long season.” When God saves a man, His purpose is to bless that man. The man may defeat that purpose by his sins, but blessing was intended nevertheless. God hears prayer in order that men may often pray again. God delivers in order to keep. He whom God would keep will find enough for a long season, even in a wilderness.
Joshua 24:9-10.—GOD’S RULE OVER THE SPIRITS OF MEN.
“The turning of Balaam’s tongue to bless Israel, when he intended to curse them, is often mentioned as an instance of the Divine power put forth in Israel’s favour, as remarkable as any other, because in it God proved His dominion over the powers of darkness and over the spirits of men.”—[M. Henry.]
Joshua 24:12.—THE HORNETS AND THE AMORITES.
“The words, ‘I sent hornets before you, and thou didst drive out (the Canaanites and) the two kings of the Amorites, not by thy sword nor by thy how,’ point out the Divine promise: ‘I will send hornets before thee, that they may drive out before thee the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites’ (Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20), as now fulfilled, and must be explained in agreement with those passages. Tsir‘âh is the hornet, the largest specimen of wasp. The article denotes a species, namely, the hornets, as a peculiar species of animals. Most of the earlier expositors understood these words in their literal signification; and Bochart, whose extensive reading is well known, has cited from Pliny, Justin, and Aelian, various accounts of the ancients, which tell of whole tribes that were driven from their possessions by frogs, mice, wasps, and other small animals. But the arguments by which Rosenmüller still defends the literal interpretation of the verse before us are not convincing. The decision of this point does not depend upon the question whether hornets could become a plague sufficiently fearful to compel a whole population to leave their abodes, nor, on the other hand, upon the absence of any account of the Canaanites having been thus expelled by hornets (for we willingly grant that the Old Testament does not contain a record of every single event), but upon the question whether we are at liberty to refer these words to a particular plague with which God afflicted the Canaanites. This must have been the case if we are to take the words literally; for we cannot possibly suppose, as C. a Lapide does, that God always sent hornets before the Israelites on both sides of the Jordan, which so plagued the Amorites and Canaanites, that ‘the Hebrews, who followed, easily slew them with their swords and defeated them with their arrows.’ So universal a plague would certainly have been recorded in the history of the conquest of Canaan. But to refer the words to one single plague would be opposed to the context, not only in the passage before us, but also in Exodus 23:28, and Deuteronomy 7:20. In these two passages the hornets are described as the means by which God would drive out before Israel, not only one Canaanitish tribe in particular, but all the Canaanites; for the three tribes, the Hivites, Hittites, and Canaanites, stand for the whole. And, according to the verse before us, not merely the seven tribes of Canaan on this side of the Jordan, but the two kings of the Amorites on the other side, were driven out by hornets. A figurative interpretation is therefore evidently necessary, and the only one which is admissible.”—[Keil.]
“NOT WITH THY SWORD, NOR WITH THY BOW.” The sword may be man’s, but God nerves the arm which wields it. The bow may be in human hands, but God guides the arrow. God is both the courage of the pursuing conqueror, and the terror of the fleeing foe. Thus, the battle is ever the Lord’s. (Cf. Psalms 44:3.)
Joshua 24:14. Now therefore fear the Lord] “The marvellous history so clearly and succinctly recounted was the natural preface for the exhortation which here begins.” [Crosby.] Put away the gods which your fathers served] That is, Put away all gods made by men. Probably Joshua did not allude to exactly the same kind of gods as those worshipped by Terah, as Crosby suggests, who thinks that the Israelites may have kept some of the actual teraphim, named in Genesis 31:34, as heirlooms among their families. His other suggestion, that some of the idols of the subdued Canaanites had been preserved as curiosities, and were in danger of being presently regarded with reverence, is far more natural and likely. We cannot actually decide whether Joshua alluded to gods cherished “in heart,” or to images preserved in the tents of the people. It should not, however, be forgotten that even in the wilderness the Israelites are said to have shown manifest tendencies to idolatry (cf. Exodus 32:0; Amos 5:25-26; Acts 7:39-43), as numbers of them had previously done in Egypt (Ezekiel 20:6-24).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 24:14-18
Every man needs a god. The consciousness of this need is not to be lightly shaken off. A man’s god is his individual choice, and tells us, not merely what he does worship, but what he would worship. Thus every man’s religion is an expression of the desires of his own soul. The chosen religion of a human heart is a confession, in all the details of its faith and worship, of that heart’s yearnings. The particular god whom we may choose is the delineation of our own conclusions about what is most desirable and most important in life. A man may alter his views of his god, and to that extent he alters his confession. A man may give up one god and choose another. Thus Jehovah called aloud to His people, through Jeremiah: “Pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit.”
In Joshua’s appeal to the Israelites to choose Jehovah for their God, and in their response, we have the following points for consideration:—
I. The choice of God for our God is a matter of liberty, and not of compulsion. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” After bringing the Israelites into this good land with a high hand and an outstretched arm, God speaks to them through the man whom He had raised up to lead them to so many victories, and gives them absolute freedom of choice. All this was in a solemn meeting, convened before God for this very purpose. The Lord gives us all equal liberty under the gospel. He will have no service which is not of the heart’s own choosing.
1. Think of the choice of gods in the light of conscience. What says our sense of right? If it “seem evil” to a man to serve the Lord, the verdict of conscience should have weight. The word of God comes to us full of conscious purity. Whether it speaks to us in the Old Testament, or in the New, or in the person of Jesus Christ, it seems ever full of the feeling, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?”
2. Think of the choice of gods in the light of reason. What says the mind on this great question? Men are to weigh the evidences; they are to consider how things “seem” on either hand, and then choose. The Bible never plays the ecclesiastic with us. It never says, “Do not read for yourself; do not think for yourself; submit yourself to the authority of the Church.” On the contrary, the Scriptures bid every man to see for himself, to think for himself, to decide for himself. When the blind come to Christ, be the blindness physical or religious, He ever loves to begin with them by opening their eyes. God never shrinks from the enquiry of the intelligence which He has created in us. Whoever else may be nervous before the intense questionings of man’s investigation, the voice of the Bible betrays no trembling.
3. Think of the choice of gods in the light of love. What answer does the heart make on this matter? This is a far more important item in our decision than the verdict of the understanding. After all, it is “with the heart man believeth.” If the heart be set on pleasure, the mind will decide against Christ’s self-denial. If the heart be ambitious, it will ignore the Saviour’s meekness and lowliness. If the heart be selfish, it will conclude that the self-sacrifice of the cross has “no form nor comeliness” sufficient to make it desirable.
4. Think of the choice of gods in the light of example. What says our neighbour? What say our best neighbours? What do the greatest benefactors of their fellow-men say? If men who by their own merits have risen to a chief place among their fellows, if the Joshuas of history are found crying, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” that should have some weight in our decision. Good citizens have sometimes been found with little religion; but, if history be fairly read, the best helpers of men are found on the side of the Bible.
Thus, the word of God appeals to the whole of a man’s being, and to all life. Conscience, reason, love, or history, it matters not which is consulted; and if all are consulted, so much the better. They who thus enquire will be among the first to cry, “This God is our God for ever and ever.”
II. Seeing that God is what He is, the very liberty which God gives becomes a compulsion.
1. The works of God for men are an unmistakable manifestation of His deep love. The Israelites could not but have felt the reality of Divine love, as displayed in the mighty works of which they had just been reminded. God had done great things for them; they might well feel glad, even in thinking on His mighty acts. God has done for us all, in Christ, far more than He did for these Israelites. His very deeds for us are such a revelation of His heart as might well compel us to choose Him for ever. Emerson has written, in half a dozen subtle lines, this:
“Nature centres into balls;
And her proud ephemerals,
Fast to surface and outside,
Scan the profile of the sphere;
Knew they what that signified,
A new genesis were here.”
So it is. Nature is all rolled into balls. The earth is a ball. The sun is a ball. The moon and stars are balls. And we, proud, ephemeral creatures, stuck fast to the outside of one of the balls, which we call earth, scan the profile of this ball, or of one of those other balls up in the heavens, and know almost nothing of what we so readily conclude we have seen.
“Knew we what that signified,
A new genesis were here.”
The very fulness of wisdom and power and love displayed in the creation of a single world, could we understand all, might perhaps be well-nigh enough to generate us into new creatures towards the Creator. But in Jesus Christ we look upon the profile of God Himself; and every feature in the life of the Saviour tells of the love of God.
2. With all this fulness of love, God leaves every man his liberty. He says, “Choose whom ye will serve.” Love and liberty, together, tend to hold the heart as nothing else can. Force forges no links so stout as those of freedom. Might has no ties so matchlessly strong as those of love. God loves as no mother ever did love, and then asks if we choose to leave Him? The very question might well bring us into a life-long bondage. Mahomet said: “Paradise is under the shadow of swords.” So it may be, as to our poor little political man-made heavens. Men, in their earthly kingdoms, can only keep up any semblance of heaven by holding over their petty paradises the sign of blood and pain and death. Peace, born of the blades of war; that is the peace which communities of men manage to get into. Sword-made heavens are ours here; sword-made, and sword-kept. So far the Gospel according to Mahomet—“Paradise is under the shadow of swords.” No one is much tempted to sing, “And must I leave thee, paradise?” about that kind of thing. Then God shews us His way of making paradise He shews us power enough to crush, easily, all opposition to His will. He leads His people up from bondage with a strong hand, and with a tender heart. The sea is nothing to Him; the wilderness is nothing; Jordan is nothing; fortified cities are nothing. God leads His people where He will; He keeps them as the apple of His eye. He does this year after year; and then, as their great earthly leader is about to die, God musters the hosts for whom He has so long and so blessedly cared, and says, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” There is only one thing to say before love like that: “God forbid that we should forsake Jehovah to serve other gods.” Before a similar experience of mercy and love, and in answer to the Saviour’s similar question, Peter, of necessity, similarly answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
III. He who thinks fairly on God’s claims finds the compulsion to choose and serve God irresistible. Brought face to face with what God had done for them, and thinking on the gracious way in which God appealed to them, the people could only declare themselves on the Lord’s side. He who will only think of God, and keep thinking, must follow God.
1. Here is the compulsion of admiration. The people dwelt on Jehovah’s works as though they would say, “Who is a god like unto our God?”
2. Here is the compulsion of gratitude. God had done so much for them, that they felt they were not their own. Really reflecting on the love and grace of Jehovah, they acknowledged themselves drawn irresistibly to Him. Mr. Cooke, in his recent lectures in Boston, has thus retold an ancient classical story: “When Ulysses sailed past the isle of the Sirens, who had the power of charming by their songs all who listened to them, he heard the sorcerers’ music on the shore, and, to prevent himself and crew from landing, he filled their ears with wax, and bound himself to the mast with knotted thongs. Thus, according to the subtile Grecian story, he passed safely the fatal strand. But when Orpheus, in search of the Golden Fleece, went by this island, he—being, as you remember, a great musician—set up better music than that of the Sirens, enchanted his crew with a melody superior to the alluring song of the sea nymphs, and so, without needing to fill the Argonauts’ ears with wax, or to bind himself to the mast with knotted thongs, he passed the sorcerous shore not only safely, but with disdain.” God does not keep us from hearing all that can be said of other gods, which are no gods; God does not bind us by force, so that we cannot seek and follow them; He does but make “better music,” and ask us to choose for ourselves. If men do not choose to serve Him, it is because they have closed their eyes to His wonderful works, and stopped their ears against His gracious words.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 24:14-15.—THE PLEADINGS OF HOLY LOVE.
I. Joshua’s recognition of every man’s spiritual liberty. He saw that every man could choose, would choose, and must choose for himself.
1. Men compelled to serve, would be only slaves, and God seeks sons.
2. Men compelled to serve, would render only the obedience of the hands, and God is satisfied with nothing less than the love of the heart.
3. Men compelled to serve, would be utterly miserable, and God’s great desire is to make them supremely happy.
II. Joshua’s urgency to bring every man into subjection to God.
1. The absence of force is no sign of want of love. He who ignores force does not necessarily undervalue persuasion. He who refuses to coerce is in a better position to persuade.
2. All religious persecution has been a mistake from the beginning. Even the days before “the dark ages” were far too bright to suffer an error like this. By His example, God has said from the beginning: “Put up thy sword into its sheath;” “My kingdom is not of this world.” All the time spiritual liberty is inherent and essential, “religious persecution” is a solecism of speech, and a contradiction of human life. The whole thing is self-condemned, even before we come in sight of the principles of Christianity.
III. Joshua’s qualifications for pleading with his fellow-men. We have in these words—
1. The appeal of a man having much knowledge of the human heart. Joshua saw that the people were faithful and earnest now. He would make them still stronger in all that was good. He knew how fickle men are. He also knew that men were open to abiding impressions from the appeals of truth and manliness.
2. The appeal of a man with deep and firm convictions about God. He was convinced of God’s claims; of God’s supreme and incomparable glory; that the highest interests both of individual men and of the nation lay in serving Him.
3. The appeal of a man with much personal fitness for the work. Joshua’s advanced age; his large experience in God’s service; his high authority with the people; his choice of the time; the tact and wisdom of his words.
4. The appeal of a man whose own life was a noble example. Joshua had been remarkably true to God all his life long. He had been “faithful among the faithless,” even when Moses and Aaron had more or less gone astray. Joshua was equally resolved to be faithful to the last. Let others choose as they might, he and his would serve the Lord to the end. The plea of the aged man’s words was noble; the plea from his beautiful life was nobler still.
Joshua 24:14.—THE OBLIGATIONS ARISING FROM GOD’S GOODNESS.
I. God’s works for men should impose fear. “Now therefore fear the Lord.”
II. God’s works for men should provoke service. “And serve Him.”
III. God’s works for men should induce realness. “Serve Him in sincerity and in truth.”
IV. God’s works for men should lead to sanctification. “Put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt.”
Joshua 24:15, last clause.—PERSONAL DECISION FOR GOD.
I. Joshua decided for himself, even though he should be left by himself. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Whatever help and encouragement may be derived from fellowship with others in things general, there are great aspects of life in which the soul is isolated and alone.
1. The individuality of the soul’s want. All our spiritual bread is eaten in secret.
2. The solitude of the soul’s life. “The heart knoweth its own bitterness.” There are other things, also, with which “a stranger doth not intermeddle.”
3. The loneliness of the soul in death. Not only in some places in life, but at the end of life, men stand where their fellows cannot reach them. “We must die alone.” It is well that we should choose for our God one on whom we can rely when we are placed where no one of our fellows can reach us. Joshua felt so confident in Jehovah, that, let others do as they might, he would serve the Lord. His household were of the same mind with himself. It is not necessary to think that Joshua really decided for his house, as some suggest, excepting to determine that no other gods should be worshipped in the place where his authority imposed upon him so much of responsibility.
II. Joshua decided for God after a long trial of God. He had tasted and handled and felt, for many years, the joy of the great name which he here commended to others. There had been in his experience—
1. Trials in heavy responsibilities. Such burdens his position had put upon him daily.
2. Trials in great emergencies. As, for instance, in the crossing of the Jordan and the overthrow of Jericho.
3. Trials in great battles in the open field. Such were the conflicts at Beth-horon and the waters of Merom.
4. Trials in painful defeats. He could remember how God failed him not at Ai. Besides all this, there were the
(5.) Trials of his own spiritual life. These, amidst such great daily cares and temptations, could hardly have been small. Joshua looked back on what God had been to him in all this, and said, “I will serve the Lord.”
III. What Joshua decided individually, that he avowed openly.
1. The servant of God can afford to confess God. This is a name that brings much glory, and no real shame.
2. The confession of the faithful man tends to strengthen faithfulness still more. To confess God is to stand openly committed to serve God, and the very decision gives strength. Cæsar meditating at the Rubicon was Cæsar in his weakness; after the words, “the die is cast,” he seemed almost another man.
3. To confess our love to God is due, not only to ourselves, but to others. They too may be made strong by our firmness. What Joshua so firmly says, the people, at once, firmly echo.
4. To confess ourselves on the Lord’s side is due, most of all, to the Lord Himself. He by whom we are all that we are, may well be acknowledged, even though we should have to stand quite by ourselves. As Henry well says, “Those that are bound for heaven must be willing to swim against the stream, and must not do as the most do, but as the best do.”
Joshua 24:15.—“I WILL SERVE THE LORD.”
“ ‘As for me and my house,’ said Joshua, ‘we will serve the Lord;’ and doubtless he would have said, ‘If my house will not, still, as for me, I will.’
“In response to Joshua’s appeal, say ye after this fashion:—
I. Some of my friends have made up their minds for wealth; I will serve God, and live for Him.
II. Some of my friends have gone in for pleasure; as for me, I will serve God, and live for Him. The paraphrase which Doddridge wrote on his family motto—’While we live, let us live’—shall be my motto:
“ ‘Live while you live, the epicure would say,
And seize the pleasures of the present day.
Live while you live, the sacred preacher cries,
And give to God each moment as it flies.
Lord, in my view let both united be;
I live in pleasure when I live in Thee.’
III. Some of my friends have gone in for doubt; as for me, I will serve the Lord.
“In doing this, I shall be in good company, in fellowship with the greatest and best of all ages.
“This is a resolution which will stand trial by fire.
“The resolution thus to serve God will stand the test of conscience.
“The resolve to serve God will stand the test of a deathbed. Wealth will not. Earthly dignities and honours will not. Pleasure will not. Unbelief will not.
“The service of God through Christ will stand the test of the judgment-day.
“Come then, young and old, let us enrol ourselves on the Lord’s side.”—[Dr. Kennedy.]
“It is not enough to have made a good beginning, but he who perseveres to the end shall be saved. (Matthew 24:13.)
“God can put up with no mixed religion; with Him it is ‘all mine, or let it alone altogether.’ (Matthew 4:10.)”—[Osiander.]
Joshua 24:15.—THE TWO SERVICES.
I. “The service of sin is essentially wrong, and the service of God is essentially right.
II. “The service of sin is essentially degrading, and the service of God is essentially exalting.
III. “The service of sin is essentially painful, and the service of God is essentially happy.
IV. “The service of sin is essentially destructive, and the service of God is essentially saving.”—[James Parsons.]
MAN’S POWER OF CHOOSING EVIL
“That men would be better than they are if they always chose good instead of evil, is evident. But that they would be better, or indeed, could have a rational existence, if they had not the power of choosing evil instead of good, is the most foolish and presumptuous of fancies.”—[Sterling.]
Joshua 24:16-18.—GOOD WORDS RIGHTLY SPOKEN.
I. The influence of good words spoken in a right way.
II. The influence of good words spoken at a fit time.
III. The influence of one man’s confession upon others.
Joshua 24:16-18.—FORSAKING THE LORD GOD.
I. Devout horror at the thought of forsaking God.
1. The recoil of loving hearts from the suggestion of apostasy. “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord.”
2. The contempt of the truly pious for idolatry. “That we should forsake Jehovah to serve other gods.”
II. Holy admiration of God.
1. It is one thing to resolve not to forsake God, and another to adore and love Him.
2. Where God is sincerely loved, His tender mercies are gratefully remembered.
3. They who love God much, so far from. fearing His power, make it their delight and confidence. “Therefore will we also serve the Lord.”
4. They who love and serve God sincerely, ever find a possession in God. “For He is our God.”
Joshua 24:19. Ye cannot serve Jehovah] Joshua here bids the people count the cost of the decision expressed in Joshua 24:16. They could not serve Jehovah in the indifferent spirit of idolatry; for He was altogether unlike the gods which were no gods, and which therefore could not punish faithlessness. Jehovah was both holy and jealous, and Joshua would have the people weigh carefully their words of fealty. The idol gods which were no gods might be served godlessly, but Jehovah God must be worshipped with the whole heart by all who professed to be His servants.
Joshua 24:21. Nay, but we will serve Jehovah] This second answer of the people shows that they understood Joshua’s words in the sense of the foregoing remarks. Though it was so difficult and so fearful a thing to follow Jehovah, yet Him only would they nerve, a determination which is once more expressed in the verse that follows.
Joshua 24:22. Put away the strange gods] Cf. on verse14. The reiteration here seems to favour the idea that some of the people had idols actually in their possession.
Joshua 24:25. Joshua made a covenant] Lit., “cut a covenant,” from Kârath, “to cut,” “to cut off.” “Kârath b’rîth, to make a covenant, so used from slaying and dividing the victims, as was customary in making a covenant (cf. Genesis 15:18; Jeremiah 34:8; Jeremiah 34:18).” [Gesen.]
Joshua 24:26. Under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. Heb., “under THE oak which was IN the sanctuary of Jehovah,” alluding, not to the tabernacle, but to the holy place of history which God had consecrated by appearing there to Abram (Genesis 12:6), and which Jacob had further made sacred by putting away the strange gods of his household (Genesis 35:4), including, most likely, the teraphim of Laban stolen by Rachel.
Joshua 24:27. It hath heard all the words] “Compare, for this bold figure, Habakkuk 2:11, and our Saviour’s own words, Luke 19:40.” [Crosby.]
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 24:19-28
GOD TRYING AND TAKING PLEDGES OF HIS PEOPLE’S LOVE
It should not be forgotten that in these further words of Joshua he is still to be regarded as the mouthpiece of Jehovah. While Joshua no longer speaks as in the person of the Lord, the meeting itself becomes more grave in every verse of the record; and so far from thinking of Jehovah, at this stage, as having in some measure withdrawn from the meeting, leaving it to be concluded by His servant, we are rather to think of God as so manifestly present in the increased solemnity of the words, that it is no longer necessary that His presence should be outwardly and formally asserted in the mere style of the address. While it might seem to us that Joshua is speaking, we are told, by the very form of the language, that it is Jehovah; when the increased solemnity of the meeting proclaims indisputably the continued voice of the Lord, it is no longer thought necessary to assure us formally that the words are far more than the mere words of Joshua. It is, verily, for the then present God of Israel that Joshua proceeds to say, “Ye cannot serve Jehovah.”
I. Here is a life-long service freely offered by men, and that service apparently discouraged by God. After noticing a superficial attempt to read, “Ye shall not cease to serve,” for “Ye cannot serve the Lord,” Dr. Clarke remarks: “If the common reading be preferred, the meaning of the place must be, ‘Ye cannot serve the Lord, for He is holy and jealous, unless ye put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the flood; for He is a jealous God, and will not give to nor divide His glory with any other.’ ” Undoubtedly the meaning includes this; with almost equal certainty it comprises far more than this. Joshua is not merely saying, You cannot serve Jehovah with other gods; he is also asserting, You cannot serve Jehovah at all in your own strength; or, You cannot serve Jehovah at all if you set about it in a thoughtless spirit. God Himself was uttering, through Joshua, for secret purposes of His own, these words of severe rebuff and painful discouragement. Here, then, were people wanting to come to God. The sincerity which they manifested by their subsequent life (cf. Joshua 24:31) was fully known to God when they made this earnest avowal of their choice. Yet here is the voice of the Lord saying, “Ye cannot serve me; my service is all too hard for your endeavours.” When a man comes to his fellow, feeling that his fellow can counsel and help him—trusting his wisdom, and pleading his direction—that is the kind of suppliant from whom a true man does not turn away. We had thought that this was the spirit of the Bible also. Does not God say, “I love them that love me, and they that seek me early shall find me”? Why, then, are these seekers repelled? Does not the Saviour cry in His earthly ministry, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”? Why, then, are these who come so earnestly turned away so severely? Does not Christ call to men out of heaven itself, saying, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him”? Why, then, are these who open their hearts to the Lord discouraged by words in which the Lord seems to turn utterly and hopelessly away? Why, when they had been told to choose gods, and had chosen Jehovah with irrepressible ardour, are they thus rejected? Payson remarked: “The man who wants me is the man I want;” in these words, God seems to turn from men just according to the fervour in which they seek His face. As has been pointed out by Dr. Kor, this is no exceptional instance. The “father of the faithful” is the man who is told to offer up his son in sacrifice; and earnest Moses is confronted by the fire and thunder of Sinai, till he exceedingly fears and quakes. David enthusiastically serves his God, and is forthwith driven to ask, “Why do the wicked prosper?” Elijah is faithful when, to him, all seem so faithless that he exclaims, “I only am left;” and yet he is seen fleeing here and there before what appears to be an adverse Providence, till he cries in very despair, “O Lord, take away my life; I am not better than my fathers.” This trial of earnestness is no less frequent in the New Testament than in the Old. The Saviour talks to the ardent Syrophœnician woman about dogs to whom it is not meet to give the children’s bread. To the eager Magdalene, who seeks to embrace Him, He calmly replies, “Touch me not.” The young lawyer whom Jesus loved was told to sell all that he had, and give it to the poor; and the scribe who proclaimed his desire to follow Christ everywhere was checked by the assurance that he was seeking to follow one who had “not where to lay His head.” Similarly, when Saul cried, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Jesus answered back, through Ananias, “I will shew him how great things he must suffer.” We look at all this, and there remains, among others, this one conclusion: Trial is no sign that God does not love us. Even the discouragements of men, which seem to come direct from heaven, are only another phase of Divine affection. Emerson says, “A lady with whom I was riding in the forest said to me that the woods always seemed to her to wait, as if the genii who inhabited them suspended their deeds until the wayfarer has passed onward, a thought which poetry has celebrated in the dance of the fairies, which breaks off on the approach of human feet.” When walking in the woods in earlier days, I have often felt the same. I have looked into the quiet shadow-arches made by masses of overhanging foliage, and have felt, in the intense stillness, as if everything were waiting till I had gone. The silence has seemed so unusual—a great suspense, rather than a normal condition. So when the silence of God seems emphasized in some great trial or discouragement, the believing man may have his fancies, which are more than fancies. He may say, “This is not the usual mind of God. He often breaks in upon this silence. Of that I am sure. I have heard His voice, and the tones are the tones of love. He is only waiting till I have passed. For the time, and for some reason, He knows it is best that I should not see Him, and that I should hear from Him no voice of encouragement whatever.” The silence is not the real mind of God. It is a Divine feint. It is as when Jesus “made as if He would go further,” and did not go. It is as when He said, “I go not up yet unto the feast,” but went very shortly after. God conceals His real movements, now in silence, now in actions which mislead, or now, as here, in words which seem full of rebuff, but which, no less for their seeming, He would have us read as an enticement.
II. Here are loving hearts discouraged by God, and yet clinging to God even more lovingly and persistently than before. “Nay; but we will serve the Lord.” Joshua was feigning to break them off from their choice, and they asserted their determination more ardently than ever. It is as though a mother should feign to shut the door against her little child, and he, refusing to read his mother’s heart thus, should become all the more earnest because the door seemed about to be closed, well knowing all the time that his little strength was no match for hers. God gives these contrary voices to provoke our zeal. He hides His heart, that we may the more anxiously search out His real feeling. He turns us back, that out of our alarm and resistance we may press forward indeed. He seems to shut the door against us, that in our zeal to re-open it we may quicken our own energies, and so attract the attention of those about us, that they may say, “That man is a Christian;” and thus, ere ever we are aware, God would have as find ourselves committed to His service before all men. The Saviour does but call the Gentile woman a dog, that she may both know and shew that she is a child, and that He may quicken her appetite for the children’s bread. Said Martin Luther’s wife to him on one occasion: “Doctor, how is it that while subject to the papacy we prayed so often and so earnestly, while now we pray with the utmost coldness, and very seldom?” Few of us can be good disciples of the Crucified when we ourselves have no cross. It is not so much of the Lord’s desire as of our own necessity that “through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom.” It is exactly when in the hearing of voices which cry, “Ye cannot serve God,” that we find our holiest firmness to reply, “Nay; but we will.”
III. Here is persistent love accepted by God, on the understanding that men offer their love to no other gods. “Now therefore put away the strange gods. Jehovah is a jealous God.”
1. The Lord is jealous for His own glory.
2. The Lord is jealous for the supremacy of truth.
3. The Lord is jealous for the good of the worshippers.
4. The Lord is jealous for beholders, whom the worshippers continually influence. When cherishing our idols of the heart, we shall do well to remember that all around us there are places where some of our fathers have put away gods that were false and strange. The oak of Jacob, at Shechem (Genesis 35:4), seemed in itself to admonish Jacob’s childen (Joshua 24:26).
IV. Here is accepted love recklessly witnessing against its own future inconstancy, and pledging itself to love and serve God for ever. “Ye are witnesses against yourselves.” “We are witnesses.” True love makes no provision for infidelity. It provides no way of retreat. It “burns the bridges” by which otherwise it might be tempted to go back.
1. Men who turn from God should remember that there are many voices witnessing against them, among which no voice speaks so loudly as their own.
2. When human voices seem to the back slider to hold their peace, the very stones nevertheless cry out against him (Joshua 24:27). Such witness would be borne by the stone now set up by Joshua 3:0. Those who really love God rather rejoice in such testimony than view it with fear. Love enters into solemn covenant; it delights to know that the covenant is recorded, and that the record is made in an enduring form. Even the witness of the imperishable stone is regarded with no disfavour.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 24:19.—“GOD DECLINING FIRST OFFERS OF SERVICE.”
“This procedure, on the part of God,” may arise from the following reasons:
I. “It sifts the true from the false seeker. The gospel comes into the world to be a touchstone of human nature—to be Ithuriel’s spear among men. There is enough in it to attract and convince every man who has a sense of spiritual need and a desire of spiritual deliverance, but it is presented in such a form as to try whether the soul really possesses this, and therefore we may have obstacles of various kinds at the very entrance. Bunyan’s Pliable and Christian at the Slough of Despond.…
II. “It leads the true seeker to examine himself more thoroughly. If a man is accepted, or thinks he is accepted, at once, he takes many things for granted which it would be well for him to enquire into. Very specially is this the case in regard to the nature of sin, and the light in which God regards it. Almost all the errors of our time, or of any time, have their root here, and it would be well for many to be sent back for reflection with the words of Joshua—‘He is an holy God, He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.’ Not that Joshua would lead them to doubt God’s mercy, but he would have them to see that it is a more difficult question than men in general fancy. The easy complacency with which some talk of pardon, and their assurance of it, springs more from dulness of conscience than strength of faith.…
III. “It binds a man to his profession by a stronger sense of consistency. There is a paper of obligations put into our hands to sign, and when we take the pen, we are bidden to read it over again and ponder it, that we may subscribe with clear consciousness of the contents. God will beguile no man into His service by false pretences. He stops us when we would rush into it thoughtlessly, tells us the nature of the work, what His own character gives Him a right to expect of us, and then, if we will still go forward, He can say, ‘Ye are witnesses against yourselves, that ye have chosen you the Lord to serve Him,’ and we are compelled to own, ‘We are witnesses.’ …
IV. “It educates us to a higher growth and greater capacity of happiness. When we see the wind shaking a young tree, and bending it to the very earth, it may seem to be retarding its rise, but it is furthering it. It is making it strike its roots deeper into the ground, that its stem may rise higher and stronger, till it can struggle with tempests, and spread its green leaves to a thousand summers.… In the intellectual world, a strong mind thrives on difficulties. There is no falser method of education than to make all smooth and easy, and remove every stone before the foot touches it.… ‘The kingdom of heaven,’ as Christ has declared, ‘suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force,’ that the man may prove himself the better soldier, and receive of God at last a brighter crown.”—[Dr. Ker.]
Joshua 24:19.—GOD’S HOLINESS, JEALOUSY, AND FORGIVENESS.
I. The relation of God’s holiness to His forgiveness. “For He is an holy God: He will not forgive.” He is too holy to forgive lightly. As surely as a man’s righteousness has its inalienable rights, so certainly a man’s sin has its just deserts, and the demerit of transgression cannot lightly be passed over without a corresponding depreciation in the value of rectitude and piety.
II. The relation of God’s jealousy to His forgiveness. “He is a jealous God: He will not forgive.” God is very jealous for His good name. He would ever keep it as “a strong tower,” into which the righteous know that they may run with safety. The name of a wicked ruler affords no security to his faithful subjects. Many kings have been a terror to good and a shelter to evil doers. For the sake of men, and of truth, God is too jealous of His name ever to let the wicked say: “We may sin as we like; we are certain to be forgiven.”
III. The influence of God’s forgiveness upon man’s religious service. “Ye cannot serve the Lord: He will not forgive.” The unforgiven have no heart to serve. “We are saved by hope.” “Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” “The joy of the Lord is our strength” for the service of the Lord. Who can labour for God, knowing that God holds him under condemnation!
THE NECESSITY OF PRESERVING HOLINESS
“Without holiness there can be no such heaven as the New Testament reveals. There may be scenery of surpassing grandeur—mountains, woods, rivers, and skies most charming; but they do not make a heaven, else a heaven might be found in Wales or Cumberland. There may be a capital full of palaces and temples; but they do not make a heaven, else a heaven might have been found in Delhi. There may be buildings of marble and precious stones; but they do not make a heaven, else a heaven might have been found in Rome or Venice. There may be health, and ease, and luxury, and festivities; but they do not make a heaven, else one would have been met with in Belshazzar’s halls. There may be education, philosophy, poetry, literature, art; but that will not make a heaven, else the Greeks would have had one in Athens, in the grove and in the porch. Holiness is that without which no heaven could exist.”—[Dr. Stoughton.]
THE LORD IMPRESSING HIS HOLINESS UPON THE MINDS OF THE ISRAELITES.
“In the Temple, even every ‘little’ ornament of the mighty structure that crowned the cliffs of Zion was ‘holy’ to the Lord. Not the great courts and inner shrines and pillared halls merely, but all. Not a carven pomegranate, not a bell, silver or golden, but was ‘holy.’ The table and its lamps, with flowers of silver light, tent and staves, fluttering curtain and ascending incense, altar and sacrifice, breastplate and ephod, mitre and gem-clasped girdle, wreathen chains and jewelled hangings—over all was inscribed HOLY, while within, in the innermost shrine, where God manifested Himself above the mercy-seat, was THE HOLIEST. Thus the utter holiness of that God with whom they had to do was by every detail impressed upon the heart and conscience of ancient Israel.”—[Grosart.]
Joshua 24:20.—FORSAKING GOD.
I. To forsake the true God is ever to serve strange gods.
II. To forsake God is to be forsaken by God.
III. To be forsaken by God is to be presently hurt and consumed by God.
Joshua 24:21.—THE INTERPRETING AND DETERMINING POWER OF A LOVING HEART.
I. Pious love instinctively interpreting the trying words of God. Joshua had said, “Ye cannot serve Jehovah.” The people immediately answered back, “Nay; but we will serve Jehovah.” They never for a moment understood that such service was absolutely impossible. Loving God indeed, their hearts read, even through the contrary words, the love that was in the heart of God.
II. Pious love firmly determining to adhere to God. Whether they could serve or not, they would. The heart that loves the holy and merciful God cannot take “No” for an answer. Love says: “If I perish, I will pray, if I get no reward, I will nevertheless serve.” And such love ever triumphs, when it pleads resolutely with God. However readily the wicked may spurn a loving heart away, the kingdom of heaven always “suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” “Love never faileth,” when it contends with God. Thus, the people who say, “We will serve,” are ever taken then and there into covenant.
Joshua 24:22-25.—ENTERING INTO COVENANT WITH GOD.
I. No reservation must be made in the direction of sin. Men must be prepared even to witness against themselves. They must come to enter into covenant with God with a mind which contemplates no excuse for sin.
II. Sin itself must be first put away. “Put away the strange gods which are among you.” God will enter into no covenant with those who deliberately cherish sin.
III. God Himself must be unhesitatingly and persistently chosen.
1. He must be chosen in the heart. “Incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.”
2. He must be chosen openly. The declaration was made by the people before each other.
3. He must be chosen with no faltering purpose. “The Lord our God will we serve.” Though the service be fairly stated as severe and difficult, there must be no hesitation.
4. He must be chosen with a submissive spirit. “And His voice will we obey.”
IV. The covenant thus made with God must be made through a mediator. The covenant is made with the mediator on behalf of the people. The covenant is recorded by the mediator for the joy of all who are faithful, and for a witness against all transgressors, Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, also makes record of every man’s utterance who says, “The Lord God will I serve.” The names of those who have truly confessed Jesus are written “in the Lamb’s book of life.”
V. The covenant is preliminary to rest in the life which now is, and for that also which is to come. When the covenant was made, then, and not till then, the people departed “every man unto his own inheritance.” No man can truly enter into rest, excepting through Jesus. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Till a man is at peace with God, he can have little real joy in his own inheritance. He only is wise, who, before setting himself to enjoy his earthly estate, accepts the invitation of Jesus: “Come unto me … I will give you rest.”
Joshua 24:22; Joshua 24:27.—GOD’S WITNESSES AGAINST THE SINNER.
I. The witness which a man bears against his own sin. “Ye are witnesses against yourselves.” “We are witnesses.” How many insincere worshippers are daily witnessing against themselves. In their attendance in God’s house. In the songs of the sanctuary. In the religious instruction which they impart, or cause to be imparted, to their children, etc. Surely the Judge may say again presently, “Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee, thou wicked servant!”
II. The witness borne against a sinful man by his fellows. Joshua was a witness of the people’s choice. Every man was a witness against every other. “We also are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses.” They are not mere spectators of our course, but testifiers (μάρτυρες). Like the martyrs and others spoken of in Hebrews 11:0, they bear witness to the blessedness of faith and faithful service; they testify, in like manner, against all who “refuse Him that speaketh.”
III. The witness borne against a sinful man by the ordinary records of life. “Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us, for it hath heard,” etc. Among the Israelites, this was an ordinary method of providing testimony. Not only this stone, set up by Joshua at Shechem, would bear witness against Israel’s unfaithfulness; other monuments, similarly erected, would bear their testimony also. There were the altars of Abraham (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:4), and Isaac (Genesis 26:25). There was the stone of Bethel, set up by Jacob (Genesis 28:18-22). There were the memorials erected by these Israelites themselves (chap. Joshua 4:4-9, Joshua 8:30-32, Joshua 22:10). These and other monuments had been raised by themselves and their fathers, and represented so much faith and fervour in bygone days. In any relapse into idolatry, or even carelessness, these memorials would testify against all backsliders. It is ever thus in our days also: every man’s past service for God and truth is an almost vocal remonstrance against his future worldliness. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Joshua 24:23.—JEHOVAH GOD, AND STRANGE GODS.
I. God and strange gods cannot be worshipped together.
II. Strange gods can be and are to be put away.
III. To worship no strange gods is not enough; he who would worship acceptably must incline his heart towards the true God.
Joshua 24:24.—THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL.
I. “God of His pleasure leaves us free to do wrong as well as right. Doubtless God could have created man without giving him liberty of will. He might have formed him merely capable of wishing to do what is right. There is nothing in the soul that shews this freedom to be a part of its nature. We can only believe that it is the will and pleasure of God to create us free from all necessity.
II. “Conscience urges and our hearts tell us that we have this free power of will. Our inner feelings continually tell us we are free agents. It is of no avail that we argue down our clearer convictions. Our convictions still tell us that we do wrong, that we are to blame when we do wrong, that we have the power of avoiding our faults. Nature within us utters this truth. All men understand this truth. From the cradle of the child to the study of the philosopher, this truth is everywhere uncontradicted. The race of man over all the earth believes itself free.
III. “Our daily life assures us that we have this power over our wills. The same consciousness that assures us we exist, with equal authority tells us that we are free. We may argue, and shuffle our words, we may deceive ourselves, but in actual life we still take this freedom for granted, and move our limbs in the belief that we move them at our own pleasure. Reason as we will, we are yet obliged to follow this persuasion that we are free. The belief that we have power over our wills, and the daily exercise of this power, are arguments so unanswerable that no man who is not in a dream can deny them. In all the common actions of life it is impossible for a man seriously to question his power to follow his right reason.
IV. Without freedom to do wrong there could be no virtue. Could we take away this free will from man, the whole of human life would be overthrown. If men are not free in what they do of good and evil, good is not good, and evil is not evil. If an un avoidable necessity oblige us to wish what we wish, human responsibility is gone; there is no more virtue or vice, praise or blame. There is no religion left upon earth.
V. “God is with us, helping us to use this power aright. When God made man free, He did not thereby leave him to himself. He gave him reason to be a light to him. He is Himself with him, to inspire him with goodness, to reprove him for his smallest faults, to lead him on by promises, to hold him back by threats, to melt him by His love. He forgives us, He avenges us, He waits for us. He bears with our neglect, and invites us even to the last. Our life is full of His grace.
“It were terrible to believe that, without any power of his own to do right, man is required by his Maker to attain a virtue quite beyond his reach. No, indeed! man suffers no evil but what he makes for himself. He is able to procure for himself the greatest blessings.
VI. “In this freedom of will God has given us a part of His own nature. By making man free, God has given him a strong feature of likeness to Himself. Man’s empire over his own will has in it something divine. Master of his own inner movements, he turns to whatever seems to him good. God gave to man a noble power when He made him capable of deserving praise and approbation. What is higher or grander than to deserve? It is the power of rising to a rank and order above our present state. By deserving, man improves and exalts himself, goes forward step by step, and wins his reward. What richer crown of ornament could God put upon His work?”—[Fenelon.]
Joshua 24:25.—THE COVENANT AT SHECHEM.
“Seven things are to be considered in this renewal of the covenant:—
I. “The dignity of the mediator. Take a view of his names, Hosea and Jehoshua. God will save: He will save. The first is like a promise; the second, the fulfilment of that promise. God will save some time or other: this is the very person by whom He will accomplish His promise. Take a view of Joshua’s life: his faith, courage, constancy, heroism, and success. A remarkable type of Christ. (See Hebrews 4:8.)
II. “The freedom of those who contracted. ‘Take away the gods which your fathers served beyond the flood, and in Egypt,’ etc. (Joshua 24:14). Consider the liberty of choice which every man has, and which God, in matters of religion, calls into action.
III. “The necessity of the choice. To be without religion is to be without happiness here, and without any title to the kingdom of God. To have a false religion is the broad road to perdition; and to have the true religion, and live agreeably to it, is the high road to heaven. Life is precarious, death is at the door; the Judge calls; much is to be done, and perhaps there is but little time to do it in. Choose: choose speedily and determinately.
IV. “The extent of the conditions. ‘Fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth and righteousness.’ Consider His being, His power, holiness, justice, etc. Religion itself consists of two parts.
1. Truth, (a) In opposition to the idolatry of the surrounding nations. (b) In reference to that revelation which God gave of Himself. (c) In reference to that peace and comfort which false religions may promise, but cannot give, and which the true religion communicates to all who properly embrace it.
2. Uprightness or integrity, in opposition to those abominable vices by which themselves and the neighbouring nations had been defiled. (a) The major part of men have one religion for youth, and another for old age. He who serves God with integrity serves Him with all his heart in every part of life. (b) Most men have a religion of times, places, and circumstances. Integrity takes in every time, every place, and every circumstance; God’s law ever being kept before the eyes, and His love in the heart, dictating purity and perfection to every thought, word, and work. (c) Many content themselves with abstaining from vice, and think themselves sure of the kingdom of God because they do not sin as others. But he who serves God in integrity, not only abstains from the act and appearance of evil, but steadily performs every moral good.
V. “The peril of the engagement. This covenant had in it the nature of an oath; for so much the phrase ‘before the Lord’ implies.… Joshua allows there is a great danger in making this covenant. ‘Ye cannot serve the Lord,’ etc. But this only supposes that nothing could be done right but by His Spirit, and in His strength. The energy of the Holy Spirit is equal to every requisition of God’s holy law, as far as it regards the moral conduct of a believer in Christ.
VI. “The solemnity of the acceptance. Not withstanding Joshua faithfully laid down the dreadful evils which those might expect who should abandon the Lord, yet the people entered solemnly into the covenant. ‘God forbid that we should forsake the Lord.’ ‘We will serve the Lord.’ They seemed to think that not to covenant in this case was to reject.
VII. “The nearness of the consequence. There were false gods among them, and these must be immediately put away (Joshua 24:23). The moment the convenant is made, that same moment the conditions of it come into force. He who makes this covenant with God should immediately break off from every evil design, companion, word, and work.”—[Dr. A. Clarke, from M. Saurin.]
“THE REPEATED PROFESSION OF THE PEOPLE THAT THEY WILL SERVE THE LORD.
I. “The profession in reference to its import.
II. “The profession in reference to the responsibilities which the people thus took upon them.
“It is easily said, I will serve the Lord and obey His voice; but actually to keep the promise when the world allures to its altars is another thing.
“Israel’s resolution to serve the Lord was wholly voluntary. So should it be also with us. There should be no compulsion.”—[Fay.]
Joshua 24:26-27.—“THE RELIGIOUS USE OF MEMORIALS.
“This action of Joshua seems a strange importance to be conferred on a piece of insensible matter, on a mere block of stone, unnoticed, perhaps, for a thousand years. ‘It hath heard,’ is an excessively strong figure; but it is quite in the Eastern style to give things the attributes of persons.
1. “How little it can be foreseen or conjectured to what use numberless things in the creation, apparently insignificant, are destined by Divine appointment to be applied. They may be entirely unnoticed while waiting that use, with no marks upon them to distinguish them from the most ordinary things of the same kind. The trees for Noah’s ark. The rod of Moses. The stones which were to be the tables of the Law, and which were to be written upon by the Almighty. The rams’ horns used at the siege of Jericho. The materials destined to the most awful use of all—THE CROSS. There is, as to most of us, now existing, somewhere, the very wood which will form our coffins. Some of us may have passed near the very trees, or the wood no longer in the state of trees. The material bears no mark what it is for; but God has on it His secret mark of its destination. If it were visible, what a reading we should have of inscriptions I—tomb inscriptions, seen beforehand!
2. “The sovereign Lord has some appointed use for everything in creation. The uses of an infinite number of things we shall never know; but He can have made nothing but for an use—to that it will come. What a view has He on all things as bearing His destination! What a stupendous prospective vision, if we may express it so, before His mind!
3. “Wise and good men can find for many things many uses, for instruction and piety, which do not occur to other men. If such a man, towards the close of life, could make out an account of the things that have served him to such a purpose, how many things, seeming not in themselves qualified to instruct him, would he have to recount as having been the occasions of his receiving instruction or salutary impressions!…
4. “The great leaders of Israel, Moses and Joshua, were solicitous to employ every expedient to secure an eternal remembrance of God in the people’s minds.… It was not enough that human and even angelie monitors should be speaking. They perceived how constantly the popular mind was withdrawing and escaping from under the impressive sense of an invisible Being; how easily the delusions of the surrounding idolatry stole on their senses and their imagination, to beguile their hearts and their very reason away; how imperfectly the grand scene of nature, of the creation, preserved, in any active force, the thought of the Creator; how apt to grow feeble and faint was their memory of even the miraculous events which themselves had beheld. Accordingly they marked places and times with monuments, built altars, raised heaps of stones, etc.
“Now can all this be turned to no good account for us? Have we less of this unhappy tendency to forget things which ought to stand conspicuous in our memory, relative to our concerns with God? What kind of memory have we, for example, of the mercies of God?
“We then, as much as the Israelites, need all manner of aids to revive the memory of them. Valuable advantage may be taken of particular circumstances, aiding us to recall them. ‘This stone shall be a witness to us.’ Everything that can be made a witness and remembrancer to us is worth being made so. We should not despise its assistance. The place where we were delivered from an accident should be a witness to us. The apartment where an oppressive sickness had brought its victim just to the gate of death; the place in which a person was saved from falling into some great sin; the house, book, letter, in or through which some important lesson of instruction was given at an opportune and critical moment: these, and similar things, should be memorials and witnesses to men.…
“A man should take like methods to remember his sins. A man may happen to meet, now sinking in age, a person who once remonstrated against his sinful ways; or he may pass by the grave of one who was once an associate in evil. Let him stand by it and reflect. Or, not to suppose heinous sins, there may be presented to a man various things which will remind him of a careless, irreligious season of his life; a Bible that he cared not to read; articles used for mere vain amusement and waste of time. Now, such monumental witnesses should suggest to a man to think of guilt, repentance, and pardon. He might fix his eyes on those objects while on his bended knees.
“There are men in whose memories are reposited times and places when and where they trembled under ‘the terrors of the Lord.’ …
“It is wise to seize upon all means of turning the past into lessons of solemn admonition; it is, as it were, bringing it back to be present, that we may have it over again. With the instructing, sanctifying influence of the Divine Spirit, we may thus pass again, in thought, over the scenes of our life, and reap certain benefit now, even in those where we reaped none then.”—[From John Foster’s Lectures.]
Joshua 24:30. Timnath-serah] For the site of this place, see note on chap. Joshua 19:50.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 24:29-31
THE CHARACTER AND INFLUENCE OF JOSHUA
Many of the noblest lives have an obscure origin and a lowly beginning. Joshua was born a slave. He was born about the time that Moses fled out of Egypt to Jethro. His name first occurs in the history when he was upwards of forty years of age (Exodus 17:9). Eminent or obscure, every life must come to an end. No amount of greatness can confer physical immortality, and no depth of obscurity is sufficient to hide from infirmity, disease, and death. The pages of the Bible are portioned out in sections; on a few of those pages we meet with the Dame of Noah; on a few, that of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, or some other prominent man; then, when we have passed its section, the particular name, for the most part, occurs no more. Only the name of the Eternal belongs to the Bible throughout. The noblest of men appear only for a time, and then pass away, to make room for others. The Bible is a portrait of human life, and this feature of brevity is also a part of the picture. At this point of the great Scripture story, the name of Joshua begins to give place to those of the succeeding Judges.
I. Joshua’s great life and character.
1. His life was full of trying events. Moses selected him to lead the Israelites to their first battle. He was chosen, as a strong and wise and good man, to fill one of the most important positions among his people, and from the time of that choice to this time of his death the events of the national life were severely testing the manhood of the man, the capacity of the warrior and the statesman, and the piety of the servant of the Lord. After the trial on the battle-field of Rephidim, Joshua was proved in the matter of patience. For nearly six weeks he seems to have waited in a mysterious solitude, while Moses was upon the mount with God (cf. Exodus 24:13; Exodus 32:17). During that period the patience of Aaron and Hur and the elders had failed; they turned to idolatry, and the people with them. Yet Joshua took no part in the sin of the people, and was even ignorant that the calf had been made, attributing the idolatrous shouts of the multitude to “a noise of war in the camp.” God had tried the bravery of the soldier; He would no less severely prove the faith and patience of the servant. After the trial in solitude, Joshua was tempted in company. Ten of the spies became so many tempters of the remaining two to murmuring and unbelief. The hosts of Israel joined in the temptation. The loud vox populi was urgent and almost unanimous against the silent vox Dei which Joshua heard by faith in his own heart. But Joshua and Caleb were firm; they rent their clothes, and remonstrated together against the rebellious multitude. After the death of Moses, the life of this great man was simply full of events calculated to tax his faith and patience to the utmost. Jordan, Jericho, Ai, Bethhoron, and Merom are but a few of the more prominent names representing, not only Joshua’s conflicts with great difficulties and strong enemies, but, probably, severe conflicts with himself. Every crisis in the history of the invasion, every battle field, every day in the long and arduous work of dividing the land, must have brought to Joshua strong temptations to, in some way, forget or dishonour God. Joshua’s life was a prolonged excitement in the midst of great events, and each event was a new ordeal.
2. His character was as great as his life was eventful. If every day dawned ushering in for Joshua, in his personal life, some new battle, every night seems to have brought him some fresh victory. No word of direct blame is recorded against him throughout his whole history. Only once—when the elders took of the victuals of the Gibeonites, “and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord,” and “Joshua made peace” with these deceivers—does there seem to be even a reflection upon his pious faithfulness to God. Among many other things in which this Joshua of the Old Testament seems to prefigure the greater JOSHUA of the New, so far as a sinful man could do so at all, his life beautifully points us to Him “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” Even the beautiful life of Moses is grievously darkened by two transgressions—his murder of the Egyptian, and his unfaithfulness at Meribah; but no similar cloud throws its shadows over the character of Joshua. For absence of self-seeking, and love of his people; for bravery beautified by tenderness; for a strength of will so powerful to control the multitude, and yet a will so docile before the known will and mind of God; for unquestioning obedience in the execution of Divine commands, naturally and severely trying to his humanity and kindness; for a calm and even mind amidst great daily provocations and inducements to go astray; for purity of thought and feeling; for self-continence in the hours of great victories, and in the months and years that followed them; for quiet and continuous zeal for God’s glory and his country’s good; for real greatness in its union with deep and true humility: for all these things, and others, taken as a combination dwelling in a single character, the world has known few lives so noble as this life, perhaps none nobler, excepting the all-transcending life of Christ. So far as the history of his life is recorded, there seems nothing in which Joshua is open to the blame of men, and nothing in which he becomes subject to the reproof of God.
II. Joshua’s honourable death and burial.
1. Just before his death we come to what appear to have been the intensest moments of his whole life. Nothing can be more earnest and beautiful than his appeal to the elders, recorded in chapter 23, and the wonderful mingling of dignity, intensity, and love shewn in this chapter, in his pleading with the people. The two addresses shew us conclusively, that Joshua’s “long time” of comparative rest in his old age (chap. Joshua 23:1) had in no way served to diminish, but rather to increase, his pious concern for himself and his people before God. The two addresses shew that, right up to the end, his life was a growth, not a decay. The death of such a man must of necessity be honourable and beautiful. Our life should be a growth as long as it lasts. There are too many who grow old and cold at the same time.
2. Joshua’s burial has a brief record, but one that befits his life (Joshua 24:29). There is about it nothing ostentatious—nothing pretentious. “They buried him,” says the historian. Who are meant by this word “they”? The quiet pronoun reads as though it might stand for half the nation: like Joshua himself, it says so little, and yet seems to represent so much. “They buried him in the border of his inheritance.” That inheritance itself was one of Joshua’s noblest tributes. This dead man had become great in winning so much, and greater still in taking so little. It was meet that the great dead conqueror should be buried in the borders of his own meagre inheritance. Joshua could have no nobler memorial than to be buried in the borders of that comparatively poor estate in Timnath-Serah. Many men defeat their own greatest victories by their manner of disposing of the spoil. To thousands of “Christians,” every new conquest and every fresh success in life means as much more estate for themselves as is possible, and as much from their neighbour’s as can be conveniently added to their own.
III. Joshua’s holy and abiding influence. “And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua.” Being dead, Joshua yet spake. His unselfish and holy life became an abiding power to hold all who had known him steadfast in the faith. The Hindoos have a beautiful epigram, which runs on this wise:
“Naked on parent’s knees, a new-born child
Thou sat’st and wept, while all around thee smiled:
So live, that sinking to thy last long sleep,
Thou then may’st smile, while all around thee weep.”
To Joshua himself, his end was, doubtless, peace; to all Israel, it must have been a season of deep and sincere sorrow. And yet, to the mighty host who had known this great man as their leader, these days of gloom and heaviness had a brightness that was slow to fade away. In the eloquent words of the late Bishop Wilberforce, “As on the dark sky, when some flashing meteor has swept across it with a path of fire, there remains still after that glory has departed, a lingering line of light; so was it with this mighty man, glorious in life, and leaving even after he was gone the record of his abundant faithfulness still to hold for a season heavenward the too wandering eyes of Israel.” Thus ever does a good and holy man outlive himself.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 24:29-30.—“SUNSET ON MOUNT EPHRAIM.”
“Here is a glorious orb in the old world sinking peacefully to rest behind the pastoral hills of Ephraim. Joshua was in every sense of the word a great character, a saintly hero,—the man not only of his age, but of many ages. If his name does not shine so conspicuously amid the galaxy of patriarchs and ancient worthies, it is very much because, as has been said of him, ‘the man himself is eclipsed by the brilliancy of his deeds:’ like the sun in a gorgeous western sky, when the pile of amber clouds—the golden linings and drapery with which he is surrounded—pale the lustre of the great luminary.
“Four elements of strength appear to stand out conspicuously in Joshua’s character, and which distinguish him pre-eminently in the Old Testament as ‘the warrior saint.’
I. Zeal for God’s honour. This seemed to have been his paramount aim and motive through life. Examples: It was so at the passage of the Jordan; in the interview with the Captain of the Lord’s host; in the rearing of the altar at Ebal; in the addresses at Shiloh and Shechem.
II. Deference to God’s law. Like every true and loyal soldier, he acted up to the orders of his superior: the reading of the Law at Ebal; the commemorative ‘altar of whole stones;’ the counsel offered in chap. Joshua 23:6, and the urgent words in chap. Joshua 24:27.… Amid the duties and difficulties, the cares and perplexities of life, how many a pang and tear would it save us if we went with chastened and inquiring spirits to these sacred oracles! This antiquated volume is still the ‘Book of books,’ the oracle of oracles, the beacon of beacons; the poor man’s treasury; the child’s companion; the sick man’s health; the dying man’s life; shallows for the infant to walk in, depths for giant intellect to explore and adore.
III. Dependence on God’s strength. ‘Certainly I will be with thee,’ was the guarantee with which he accepted his onerous responsibilities as leader of the many thousands of Israel. In this spirit Joshua cast himself upon God at the time of his defeat at Ai, and in the battle with the five kings of the South at Beth-horon—the Marathon of ancient Canaan.
IV. Trust in God’s faithfulness. When Joshua first undertook to lead the armies of Israel, this was the warrant and encouragement on which he set out: ‘I the Lord am with thee whithersoever thou goest.’ … When the land had been partitioned to the various tribes, Joshua records this emphatic attestation, ‘There failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel: all came to pass’ (chap. Joshua 21:45).… As surely as Joshua’s zeal and trust and fortitude crowned his arms with victory, so surely, if we, in the noble gospel sense, ‘quit us like men, and be strong,’ God will give us the rest He promises—the rest which remains for His people.”—[J. R. Mac Duff.]
JOSHUA’S HUMILITY AND SELF-FORGETFULNESS.
“Two things are very characteristic of Joshua’s great virtue of modesty:
1. His humility and unselfishness in regard to any possessions or advantages for himself or his family. He appropriated nothing forcibly as his own. No claim is put forward to any reward for his long and faithful service. No boastful allusion is made either to his courage or to his patience.
2. His remarkable forgetfulness of self in his most solemn concluding addresses to the assembled people. It is very striking to observe how his own credit is not accounted of at all. It is still, in fact, as if even now he were standing before Moses, as his minister and servant.”—[Dean Howson.]
THE EFFECT OF JOSHUA’S VICTORIES
“We who live in these later days can see that the whole history of man hung upon the issue of those battles in the plain of Jericho and on the hills of Beth-horon. What other conflicts have ever decided so much for humanity? Joshua stood on those fields of blood the very world-hero, bearing with him all its destinies. If Israel had been subdued by the Canaanites, if the separated seed had been mingled with the heathen, if it had learned their ways, if the worship of Moab and Chemosh and Moloch and Astarte had superseded the worship of Jehovah, how had all the grand designs of redemption been frustrated in their development! The cry of Joshua after the flight at Ai would have been the despairing utterance of the race of men: ‘And what wilt Thou do unto Thy great name?’ ”
“More almost in Joshua’s history than anywhere besides may the troubled soul—perplexed and harassed by the sight, on this sin-defiled earth, of wars, battles, slaughters, pestilences, earthquakes, miseries, and treasons—rest itself, though it be with the deep sob of a present broken-heartedness, in the conviction that God has a plan for this world; that in the end it does prevail; that the Baalim of heathen power must fall before Him, and that His kingdom shall stand for ever and ever in its truth and righteousness and love.”—[Bp. Wilberforce.]
JOSHUA A TYPE OF CHRIST
“In more various points, and with a closer similarity of outline than belongs, perhaps, to any other figure in the Old Testament, is Joshua the type of Christ. His very name begins the great intimation. Changed by Moses—doubtless at the mouth of the Lord—from Oshea, ‘welfare,’ to Jehoshua, or Jesus, ‘God the Saviour;’ it pointed him out as the figure in the earthly of the heavenly deliverer. Joshua is pre-eminently one of the people whom he delivers; he has worked with them in the brick-kilns of Egypt, he knows their hearts; in all their afflictions he has been afflicted.
“When Joshua has entered on his leadership, prophetic acts, full of typical significance, begin with a wonderful minuteness to repeat themselves. He, and not the great lawgiver, is to bring the people into Canaan: Moses must depart to secure his every word of promise being fulfilled to Israel, as the law must pass away and be fulfilled before the spiritual Israel could enter on that kingdom. At the river Jordan Joshua is shewn by God to Israel as their appointed leader; there God began to magnify him. As Jesus comes up from the river Jordan, the heavens open, the Holy Ghost descends, and the voice of God declares, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ From Jordan’s bed Joshua took twelve stones to be for evermore a witness to the people of their great deliverance; from His baptism in Jordan Jesus began to call His twelve apostles, the foundation stones of that church which witnesses to every generation of the redemption of the sons of Abraham by Christ. Twelve stones Joshua buried under the returning waters of Jordan; and over the first twelve Jesus let the stream of death flow as over others.…
“Before Joshua departed, he called to him on that mountain of Timnath-Serah, which he was about to leave, all the heads of the tribes, and with the chant of a prophetic voice set before them all the grand future, which, if they clave steadfastly to God, should certainly be theirs; and so before He ascended into the heavens did the great Captain of God’s spiritual army appoint to meet upon a mountain top in Galilee the heads of all the tribes into which His church should multiply; and there, looking with them over the far outstretched dominions of the earth, utter to them, Joshua-like, the words of wonder which rang for ever in their ears, ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth: go ye therefore, and evangelize all nations.’
“Yea, and yet again, after a higher sort than belongs to this present world, was Joshua but the type of Jesus. For it is He who, for each one who follows Him, the true High Priest, divides the cold waters of death, setting against their utmost flood, even when that Jordan overfloweth his banks, as he doth all the harvest time, the ark of the body which He took of us, and in which God dwelleth evermore; so making a way for His ransomed to pass over. It is He who hath gone before to prepare amongst the many mansions of His Father’s house the place which the golden lot marks out for us. It is He who hath trodden down all our enemies. It is He who hath built the golden city upon the ‘twelve foundation-stones which bear the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.’ It is He at whose trumpet sound, when the seven days of the great week are accomplished, the walls of Babylon shall fall. It is He who goeth forth conquering and to conquer, until all His enemies are put under His feet; and so the last type of this life of wonders shall be fulfilled, and the true Joshua, from the exceeding high mountain of His Timnath-Serah, shall look around Him on the tribes of God, and see them all at peace; the prayer-promise which was breathed in time fulfilled in eternity: ‘Father, I will that those whom Thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which I had with Thee before the world was.’ ”—[Bp. Wilberforce.]
Joshua 24:32. The bones of Joseph, etc.] “It does not follow from the position of this statement at the end of the book, that the bones were not buried till after the death of Joshua.” [Keil.] The statement, however, is inserted to show that the oath which their fathers had given to Joseph had not been forgotten or neglected by the Israelites. Moses, in his turn, had been mindful of the trust (Exodus 13:19).
Joshua 24:33. A hill that pertained to Phinehas] Heb.=“the hill of Phinehas,” or “Gibeah of Phinehas,” in the same manner as we afterwards hear of “Gibeah of Saul.” The word Gibeah is in the construct state. If a proper name, which seems unlikely, it should be read “Gibeath-Phinehas.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Joshua 24:29-33
THE SOLDIER, THE SERVANT, AND THE PRIEST
I. The faithful warrior. Joshua comes before us as the leader of the militant host of God. The first we see of him is on the battle-field at Rephidim. Throughout almost his whole life he is seen in connection with war. During the closing years of his life, though no longer fighting, we think of him as the conqueror at peace. As has been suggested, the lines from the “Ode to the Duke of Wellington” may be taken as not inaptly describing some of the strongly marked features of this great ancient captain’s life:—
“The man of long-enduring blood,
The statesman-warrior, moderate, resolute,
Whole in himself, a common good.
… The man of amplest influence,
Yet clearest of ambitious crime;
The greatest, yet with least pretence:
Great in council and great in war,
Foremost captain of his time,
Rich in saving common sense,
And, as the greatest only are,
In his simplicity subtime.
O good gray head which all men knew,
O voice from which their omens all men drew,
O iron nerve to true occasion true,
O fall’n at length that tower of strength
Which stood four-square to all the winds that blew!”—Tennyson.
Whatever else he may have been, in Joshua we have the man who, above all others in history, may be emphatically called “the soldier of God.” And the great warrior was faithful: Scripture has against him no complaint whatever.
II. The faithful son and servant. “And the bones of Joseph,” etc. What Joshua was in the field, that was Joseph in the family. Singularly enough, they both died at exactly the same age (cf. Genesis 1:26). As with Joshua, Joseph’s life, two hundred years before, was full of temptation. The dying words of Jacob fitly tell us, “The archers sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him.” But Joseph, no less than Joshua, was faithful: “His bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.” Scripture makes no complaint, either, against Joseph.
III. The faithful priest. “And Eleazar the son of Aaron died.” With a similar faithfulness Eleazar also appears to have served both his generation and his God. We do not know the exact time of either his birth or death.
These three blameless lives, resting here together at their close, in the records of Old Testament history, seem half to shadow forth the threefold work of the coming Saviour. Joseph is the faithful prophet, whose dreams foretell his life, and whose life begins both to foretell and to inaugurate the coming fulfilment of God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Eleazar is the faithful priest, whose very name—“the help of God,” or “one whom God helps”—is strangely akin to that of Joshua; while Joshua himself, as the ruler of the host of Israel, serves to conclude the number of the sacred trio which, whether intentionally or not, points with much suggestiveness to Jesus the Saviour, who is, in His own person, at once Prophet, Priest, and King.
OUTLINES AND COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Joshua 24:30.—THE GRAVES OF MOSES AND JOSHUA.
1. The grave of the one great man was perfectly well known, and accurately marked, while that of the other was altogether unknown. The monument has little to do with the man.
2. One man was buried by his fellows, the other by his God. Who shall say which was the more loved by God? God’s various treatment of His servants does not arise from His varying love, but from their differing wants. Probably the Israelites of the days of Moses could not have borne to know where Moses lay.
THE TOMB OF JOSHUA
“Lieut. Conder says of the tomb of Joshua: ‘This is certainly the most striking monument in the country, and strongly recommends itself to the mind as an authentic site. That it is the sepulchre of a man of distinction is manifest from the great number of lamp niches which cover the walls of the porch: they are over two hundred, arranged in vertical rows, and all smoke-blacked. One can well imagine the wild and picturesque appearance presented at any time when the votive lamps were all in place, and the blaze of light shone out of the wild hill-side, casting long shadows from the central columns. The present appearance of the porch is also very picturesque, with the dark shadows and bright light, and the trailing boughs which droop from above.’ The tomb is a square chamber, with five excavations on three of its sides, the central one forming a passage leading into a second chamber beyond. Here is a single cavity, with a niche for a lamp; and here, there is good reason to believe, is the resting-place of the warrior chief of Israel. It is curious that when so large a number of travellers come annually to Palestine, so few visit a spot of such transcendent interest.”—[S. S. Teacher.]
Joshua 24:31.—THE HOLY INFLUENCES OF A HOLY LIFE.
I. The fruits of a man’s life are of the same kind as the seed. “Israel served the Lord.” They did not serve the devil. They did not serve idols. They did not even serve themselves. Joshua served Jehovah—that was the seed; Israel, too, “served Jehovah”—that was the fruit. As the seed, so the harvest. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
II. The fruits of a life that is really holy are both abundant and abiding
1. “Israel served the Lord.” Not here and there an Israelite, but Israel generally. God’s fields yield better than many think they do.
2. “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days,” etc. Joshua’s influence was greatest on those who knew him best. “The elders” were so filled with his spirit, that, even when he was taken from them, they continued to lead the people Godward. Those who had seen most of Joshua became new centres of power to convey his pious spirit to others. The influence of many, for good, diminishes as others come near to them. That life must be blessed indeed that so holds all who are round about it in the service of God, that when the life itself is removed, they who have seen it continually perpetuate it in others.
III. The good fruits of a holy life are through a natural growth, but by the grace of God.
1. There is growth through processes that are natural. The effect of example. Men’s love of realness. The influence of a strong will, made strong by the sense of right, on men of less faith and fervour.
2. The great cause of growth is in the grace of God. The men were influenced, not merely by what Joshua was, but by “all the works of the Lord” which Joshua had done. Joshua’s holy life would have done little, but for the memory of God’s presence, as at Jordan, and Jericho, and Ai, and Beth-horon.
See how much human reasoning and human creeds are at the mercy of a good and God-honoured life. There must have been in Israel many men quite as able as those who in the following generation professed to doubt God, and turned to idols. The lives of men like Whitfield, the Wesleys, Henry Martyn, Bishop Patteson, or even the lives of pious soldiers like Col. Gardiner, Hedley Vicars, and Henry Havelock, are sufficient to upset the reasonings of hosts of men who, but for such lives, would presently say that Scripture “evidences” were not good enough to satisfy what they would then call their “intelligence.” There is no argument against goodness and unselfishness and love, such as were seen in Joshua.
Joshua 24:32.—THE HONOUR WHICH GOD PUTS UPON FAITH.
In order to gather the true force of its teaching, this verse must be read in its connection with the dying utterances of Joseph (Genesis 1:24-25). Taken in this connection, it suggests the following considerations:—
I. The faith of a man who had very little help from sight. When Joseph said, “God will surely bring you out of this land,” there was very little in the appearances of things to encourage his trust.
1. Faith that has once taken hold on the living God can bear very much thwarting in things which are visible. (a) Joseph had believed in God when a mere lad. His two dreams. These were told in such simple trust, that even his fond father was offended. His brethren saw that he believed, and they called him “this dreamer.” (b) But Joseph’s early faith had a severe shock. How about his trust in God when his brethren gathered to kill him? How did he feel about the truth of his dreams when he was in the pit? How did his faith hold out when he found himself sold now to the Ishmeelites, and now to the Egyptian captain, as a slave? How about his faith in the benefits of integrity, when for being true to himself, true to his master, and true to his God, he was cast into prison? What had become of his dreams, when for the space of two years, or, as some think, seven or eight, he lay in custody, burdened with his bondage, and troubled still more with conflicting thoughts? “Until the time that his word came, the word of the Lord tried him.” How could he believe this other promise, and give “commandment concerning his bones,” when there seemed so little prospect of its fulfilment? Just because, all his life long, God had been training His servant to trust, “not in the things which are seen, but in the things which are not seen.” Joseph had lived to see his dreams come true. His father and his brethren had bowed down to him, though it had often seemed that he could never look upon them again. God had trained His servant to trust, not because of appearances, but in spite of them.
2. True faith contemplates life and death with equal calmness. Joseph said, “I die;” and the knowledge of approaching death brought no trouble, and wrought no disturbance to his faith.
3. Faith reckons the promise of God to be of infinitely more value than earthly possessions. Joseph had said, “Ye shall carry up my bones from hence.” He shews us in that single commandment what he really thought of all his glory in Egypt. He had won his honours in Egypt. His grave would be revered there. His children, apparently, might look for good positions in the land for which their father had wrought so much. All this, compared with God’s promise of Canaan, was nothing to Joseph. He persisted in feeling only a stranger and a sojourner in the land, Nothing therein he “called is own.” His great heritage was in God’s covenant. “Carry up my bones,” said the dying man; Carry them up to the place where God will dwell with His people.
4. Firm faith in death is the outcome of a true heart in life. Joseph had been faithful, and held fast his integrity. Joseph had shewn a spirit of gracious forgiveness towards his brethren. This was the man who could trust God in death.
5. Such faith gathers something of its strength from the faithful who have gone before. The trust of dying Joseph was very like the trust of dying Jacob. Joseph’s father had preceded him in this very matter in which the son afterwards followed. The faith of the son reads almost like a reflection of the bright faith of the father (cf. Genesis 47:29-30; Genesis 48:21-22; Genesis 49:1; Genesis 49:24-25). We who believe now, owe much to the faith of those who believed before us. As is the faith of the fathers, so, at least sometimes, is the faith of the children.
II. The faith of a man who honoured God honoured by God. “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem.” In the very place where Jacob had bought ground of the children of Hamor, and where he had built an altar, calling it, “God, the God of Israel,” there did God enable Joseph’s descendants to lay their believing ancestor’s bones.
1. Our faith should rest, not in appearances, but in the living God. He endures well who endures “as seeing Him who is invisible.” And such faith God ever honours. The honour may be long in coming. It was two hundred years after Joseph had so believed, that God thus magnified his trust. But the recognition came at last. God’s “visions,” given to a believing soul, are all “for an appointed time.”
2. We should be more ready to look on the fulfilments of the Divine word than on what seem its failures. We know when God’s word does come to pass; we only think when we conclude it has failed. The promise of Canaan was given first to Abraham. But Stephen tells us, “God gave him none inheritance in it, no, no not so much as to set his foot on” (Acts 7:5). To Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, also, the promise may at times have seemed to have failed. Yet, here it is, all fulfilled. We know little about failures. We only see a little way. All time is God’s. What men hastily deem God’s failures to fulfil His promise, are often the very beginnings of its fulfilment. (a) It had been so in Joseph’s life. It was at the pit of Dothan that God began to fulfil Joseph’s dream that his father and brethren should render him obeisance. Precisely at the point where Joseph might have been tempted to say, “My dream has all come to nought,” there God began to fulfil the dream. It was by the prison that so “tried” Joseph, that God put His servant close to the throne of Pharaoh. Just where Joseph would be most cast down, God was lifting him up. Every step of his life which might tempt him to think of failure, was one more advance of God towards fulfilment. (b) It was no less so in Joseph’s death. The Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” could not arise till Joseph was gone. Then the oppression made way for the liberation. The “bitter bondage” was God’s pathway to full liberty. When we say, with Tennyson,
“What am I?
An infant crying in the night,
An infant crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry,”
we too often forget that the very night out of which we cry is necessary to the morning. God ever makes His darkness precede His light. Not the morning and evening, but “the evening and the morning were the first day;” and such has it been with all days since.
III. The honour which God puts upon the faith of the dead, an encouragement gladly noted by the faithful living. Believing chroniclers saw that their forefathers had believed not in vain, and so they wrote down here this record of the burial of Joseph’s bones. The believing love not only to say, “He that believeth shall not be confounded,” but presently to bear their testimony that such have not been confounded. To mark God’s fulfilment of His faithful word, strengthens our own faith; it strengthens, no less, the faith of others.
THE TIME OF THE BURIAL OF JOSEPH’S BONES.
“This burying of the bones of Joseph probably took place when the conquest of the land was completed, and each tribe had received its inheritance; for it is not likely that this was deferred till after the death of Joshua.”—[Dr. A. Clarke.]
Joshua 24:32.—THREE GENERATIONS OF HIGH PRIESTS.
“After the fathers shall come up the children; so, after the fathers do the children go down also to the grave. The men who had seen God’s mighty works in the wilderness gave place to men who would have to walk more by faith, and less by sight.
At the very close of these records of Joshua—one of the persons who most significantly, of all the Old Testament characters, prefigures the coming Christ—we have this statement, in a single and final verse, about three generations of high priests. Two of these generations had already passed away; the remaining one waited for a season to usher in yet other successors. These also, though by contrast tell us of Him who is a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec; who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.” “For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the law maketh the Son high priest, who is consecrated for evermore.”