As was said, some years have gone by since the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about. Joshua has waxed old and is stricken in age. If he is to address them before his passing, now is the time. So he calls for all the representatives of the people and exhorts them before his death. The place of convocation is Shechem. There are two addresses. The first discourse presents to the Israelites what Jehovah will do for them to bring them into full possession of the land. He will expel these nations before them and drive them out of their sight. But this He will do only in the way of their being very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses. The second discourse calls to mind, in powerful words, what Jehovah, since the time of the patriarchs, has already done for them. As was said, the point to the argument of the second discourse is plainly, that, should the people apostatize from Jehovah, they will be showing Him grossest ingratitude.
The two addresses form one whole and in this whole the climax is reached when Joshua declares: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose ye this day whom ye shall serve; whether the gods which your fathers have served that Were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The whole people with one consent reply, that they will not forsake Jehovah, to serve other gods. vss. 16-18.
But Joshua has his misgivings. Are they perhaps being carried away merely by the eloquence and the power of his argument as unaware of their natural and strong inclination towards idolatry and as unmindful of how holy, righteous and exacting God is?
Joshua has his doubts. So he says to them: “Ye cannot serve the Lord; for he is an holy God; He is an jealous God; He will not forgive, your transgression nor your sins if ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then He will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.” As was said, Joshua’s reply is proper: if is calculated to chill zeal only if it be false and to cause the religious enthusiast to reflect.
He is holy God, only, other, the absolute One, the inclusion of all perfection, wholly consecrated to Himself under the impulse of love of self, a jealous God, brooking, as the husband of His people, no division of affections on their part between Him and the idol and thus demanding that they love Him alone, love Him with all their soul, and with all their strength, and with all their mind. God can be satisfied with nothing less than perfect devotion. What hope is there then for the godless among this people—the godless, dead in their sins and thus without strength—if even the faithful must perish in their sins if they are to live in the things of the law through the doing of these things in perfect love. Yet, all insist that they will serve the Lord. And when Joshua tells them that they are witnesses against themselves that they have chosen them the Lord, to serve Him (vs. 22), they as unafraid reply, “We are witnesses”, and thus agree that, in the event they should apostatize, they would be obliged to condemn themselves and justify God in destroying them and this on the ground of their having chosen God and rejected the idol and through this doing having declared that God alone is good. But if they are so bent on serving God, what meaneth those idols in their midst, which many a one, we must assume, in secret, worships. “Now therefore”, he says to them, “put away the strange gods that are among you, and incline your hearts unto the Lord God of Israel.” Idolatry, it seems, has not disappeared from them, with the dying out of the generation condemned at Kadesh. Thus he has reasons for exhorting them to choose this day whom they will serve. But for the third time the people aver that they will serve the Lord and obey His voice. It must be assumed that several or perhaps many in this vast audience are sincere. The others, who are not, keep silence, or if they do come out for Jehovah, it is because among the older generation the sentiment in favor of Him is still too strong to be publicly opposed. But after the passing of Joshua and the elders that outlived him, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, they will forsake God and serve idols and expect God to condone their sins and continue blessing them. But God will not forgive their transgressions and their sins, Joshua tells them, but He will turn and do them hurt and consume them, the reprobated, devoid of the fear of God. Still Joshua uses every possible means to bind their oath upon all their hearts. First he makes a covenant with them that day i.e., he vows with them and they with him to be God’s people and to serve Him only and this with respect to the covenant that God had concluded with them at Sinai.
This covenant is Jehovah’s, and is to be defined as the relation between Jehovah and Israel in which He is their redeemer-God (typically) and they His redeemed people in duty bound to obey His voice and justly consumed by His wrath, if disobedient. Joshua’s making with them a covenant consists in his preaching to them Jehovah, His (typical) redemption, the obligation of His people to serve Him, further in his (Joshua’s) exhorting them to receive the covenant and to assume their obligation in it, which they also do through their vowing to serve the Lord, and finally in his writing his discourses in the book of the law of God. Through these acts Joshua makes with them a covenant, “and sets them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem,” what should be with them law and right, to wit, that they cleave unto their God and serve Him only.
Still Joshua is not satisfied that he has done all he can to make it most difficult for them to break their vow, and to deprive them of every excuse in the event they should deny God. So he takes a great stone and sets it up under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. This sanctuary was not the tabernacle, since this stood in Shiloh, but a sacred place that had been hallowed by the altar that Abraham and Jacob had formerly built there. Joshua finally explains the meaning of the stone. As the stone, so to say, has heard all the words which the Lord, through His servant Joshua, has just spoken to them, it is to witness against them in case they forsake God. And what a terrible witness that will be, how utterly condemnatory of their apostasy. For was not Jehovah the Lord their God, who had brought them out of Egypt in answer to their cry and who had given them a land for which they did not labor? Had it not been demonstrated to them over and over that to obey God is to live and prosper and achieve? On what conceivable grounds could it be evil to them to serve the Lord? Yet under the constraint of their carnal lusts they eventually will choose the idol. What an abominable thing depraved man is! How foolish, irrational, frightfully sinful, how unfair and dishonest! Joshua finally dismisses the people and every man returns to his inheritance. Not long thereafter Joshua died (vs. 29), one hundred and ten years old, and was buried in Mt. Ephraim. And now follows the notice, “And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel.” However strong their inclination toward idolatry, the people of Israel, in particular the new generation, was held to an outward show of religion from sheer dread of the living presence of the God-fearing Joshua. In his two discourses, Joshua stands before us as a great man and a great saint. He loved God. His loyalty to God’s cause was deep and abiding, his insight into God’s dealing with His people profound as also his knowledge of the deceitfulness of the human heart. He is a truly humble man. The victory that has overcome the world in Canaan, is the Lord’s. He knows and acknowledges it. Loving God, he would not have it otherwise. Being so disposed, he gives God al! the glory. God has fought for them, he tells them. It was He that has driven out from before them all the people, those great and strong nations. He makes no mention of his own merit, for he knows that he has none, being, as he is, but a sinful man, whose breath is in his nostrils, even now stricken in age, about to go the way of all the earth. It can be expected that Joshua, being the man that he is, has influence even with the younger generation, the new generation that will eventually apostatize. They admire his sterling qualities, his transparent honesty and dependability for fair dealing; are impressed by his moral courage and the power and the constancy of his faith and the genuineness of his zeal; and they suspect that he is capable of greatest indignation should they turn to their idols under his watchful eye. So, under the restraining influence of his presence among them, they follow the example that he sets them. They serve the Lord all the days of his life. They docilely walk beside their elders in the precepts of God.
Thus we see just what the significance is of this transaction at Shechem. For Joshua it has this significance that it is now on record that the apostasy that will set in after his death with its resultant chaos and conflicts are not chargeable to him as he all the days of his life moved in the steps of Moses and abided in the spirit of the law in the presence of his people and before his passing inspired the congregated heads of the nation to consecrate themselves anew to the service of their God. And for the new and faithless generation the transaction has this significance that there now exists a document that records words that the Lord has spoken through Joshua directly to this generation, words that set forth all the works of the Lord that He had done for Israel, his threats and promises and the covenant obligation and their vow to obey the Lord, thus words that will witness against them when they deny God and deprive them of excuse in the days of divine visitation. The great significance of this transaction is known precisely from this: that Joshua wrote these things, i.e., all which had happened there at Shechem, in the book of the law of God. With all that has taken place in Shechem now on record, no one in the future will be able to deny the fact of the transaction and thus destroy its usefulness and potency as a witness.
After Joshua, died Eleazar also, the son of Aaron. How long afterward cannot be determined. They buried him in Gibeah-phinehas, the city of his son, which had been given to the latter on Mt. Ephraim.