And it came to pass a long time after that the LORD had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age.
And Joshua called for all Israel and for their eiders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and, for their officers, and said unto them, I am old and stricken in age. . . .
And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.
To Joshua came the privilege for which Moses had longed and had never received. He finished his work of bringing the children of Israel into the promised land of Canaan, and thereafter he was allowed the opportunity of sharing the blessings and rest of the land himself. Even as Caleb received a special inheritance for his faithfulness to the Lord, so did also Joshua. He was permitted to choose an inheritance within the allotted portion of the tribe of Ephraim. He chose for himself Timnathserah. In this was reflected the strength and courage that still remained with Joshua even in his old age. This was not a city which had been merely captured from the Canaanites and was ready to be inhabited. This was a city which he had to build himself and make a fit place for habitation. By his choice Joshua showed his willingness to labor in the land which had been given them, and he gave an example which all Israel could well take and emulate.
Years passed by and Israel lived at peace in their newly acquired inheritance. Those must have been among the most blessed years that the nation of Israel ever experienced. The generation which entered the land was one which had passed through unusual hardships through the forty years of wandering in the wilderness and this had worked to give them spiritual strength and stability. Through those years they had come to see the folly of their parents who had so often murmured and rebelled against the way of the Lord. Through these years the elders of the people also had learned to take up the duties and responsibilities of leadership in the place of men like Joshua and Moses. Busy with the responsibilities of building their homes and laying out their fields, the Israelites were left with little opportunity of the leisure which is so often the cause of sin. These were the years during which Israel felt the full gratitude for the blessings which they had received from the Lord, and it was expressed in the faithfulness of their worship.
For Joshua especially these were surely years of richest blessing. His joy was always in the faithfulness of the people. As he saw the people settling in the land of Canaan and worshipping Jehovah their God, he could not but feel fully satisfied. But already at the entering of the land of Canaan Joshua was well advanced in years. He and Caleb were the oldest men in the nation and the only ones who remained of the preceding generation. Thus the time soon came when he felt that he could not live much longer. It is quite possible that Jehovah spoke to him too, telling him this. Feeling the responsibility of a leader to his followers, like that of a father to his children, he summoned before him all of the leaders of the people. To them he would speak his final words of spiritual admonition.
The final instructions of Joshua were given to the leaders of Israel at two different meetings. We are not told the location of the first, only that it was attended by the elders, heads, judges and officers of Israel. Without hesitation Joshua told them that he was old and about to die. There was no hint of sadness, remorse, or desire for sympathy. He was merely informing them of what was bound to be of importance to the nation. The departing instruction with which he wished to have them was this, “Ye have seen all that the LORD your God hath done unto all these nations because of you; for the LORD your God is he that hath fought for you . . . Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside there from to the right hand or to the left; that ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them: but cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day.” Although this generation had never perpetrated any of those idolatrous practices which had been performed by their fathers, there was no question in Joshua’s mind but that the potentiality and inclination toward such sins still remained. Nothing could be more dangerous than refusing to recognize the possibility of falling into such sin. As long as Israel would flee from these sins, (God would be with them to bless them and make them strong, “One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised.” But even more emphatical Joshua was in his warning, “If ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you: know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you.”
The second meeting Joshua called found much the same danger resting upon his heart. Again the elders, heads, judges, and officers of Israel were there, and it seems likely many of the common people were also. The meeting was called at Shechem, a place of particular historical importance. It was here that Abraham had first come upon entering Canaan to receive the covenant promises of His God and to build an altar for worship. It was here also to which Jacob had returned when coming from Padanaram to purge his household of all the idolatry that had been carried with them from Laban’s home. Finally it was here that they had sworn covenant together before God from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim upon their entrance into this their inheritance. It was a place well suited at which Joshua could give his final parting instructions to the people.
As Joshua began to speak, there were two points he wished to impress upon Israel. He started by saying, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.” There were several reasons he had for pointing that out. Israel being a chosen nation as it was, there was always the danger of their beginning to think that they were chosen because of some special virtue on their part, as though they were somehow immune to sin. Joshua wanted them to understand that their fathers before them were sinners and there was nothing in their race that made them especially virtuous. The fact that they constituted a chosen nation was purely the grace of God.
Continuing from there, Joshua went on to point out how completely their nation’s history was guided by this grace, in the calling of Abraham from Ur, in the journey of Jacob to Egypt, in the sending of Moses and Aaron to lead tie children of Israel forth from Egypt again, and in the repeated victories Israel gained as they returned unto Canaan. It was so completely evident that all was the working of the grace of God. It was as God said, “I have given you a land for which ye did not labor, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards, and olive yards which ye planted not do ye eat.” Israel as a nation with all of its blessings was a product purely of divine grace. This fact was the heart of Joshua’s argument.
From that Joshua advanced quickly to his conclusion. “Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers 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 people were shocked at his suggestion. How could they ever think it evil to serve Jehovah so as to begin choosing for themselves between the gods of the heathen? Forcefully they answered, “God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods; for the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed: and the LORD drove out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the LORD; for he is our God.”
But Joshua knew of what he had spoken. He told them, “Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions 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.” There was still evil in that nation and it was sure to come out. Sins would be committed which would have to be punished. Only a remnant would escape and even that would be purely according to God’s elective grace.
But the people did not understand. Confidently they answered, “Nay; but we will serve the LORD.”
Thus it was that Joshua made a covenant with the people that day at Shechem. There under the oak where Abraham had built his altar and Jacob had buried his teraphim, Joshua wrote the words of the people in a book and set up a great stone before them. To the people he said, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.” With that Joshua gave to the people his final blessing and farewell, and shortly thereafter he died.
The life of Joshua was a life of one particularly blessed. To him was given the privilege of bringing to completion the work that Moses had begun. Through him Israel was brought into its typical rest. He was a type and picture of his namesake who was to come, even Jesus.