A long time has 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—for their elders and judges, heads and officers—and exhorts them before his death. The place of convocation is Shechem. There are two addresses, but they 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 you this day whom ye will 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: “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods.” (vs. 16-18). That the people answer as they do, could be expected. They would be guilty of the most brazen affrontery, should they have answered otherwise than they do. For Joshua has built up in favor of Jehovah an argument amazing in its power. And every word of what he said is true. The first discourse presents to the Israelites what Jehovah will do for them to bring them into full possession of the land. Joshua begins by reminding them that he is become old, but that they have seen all that Jehovah has done to all these nations before them, for he has fought for them. He remarks that he had divided by lot for them the remaining nations also, in the country lying between the Jordan on the east and the great sea on the west. The Lord their God shall expel these nations from before them, and drive them out of their sight, and they shall possess their land. And one man of them shall chase a thousand, for the Lord fighteth for them.
However, that will Jehovah do only in the way of their being very strong to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, of their loving the Lord their God. Should they forsake God, should they fractionize with the nations that remain among them, make mention of their gods and sware by them, the Lord, they may know for a certainty, will not drive out any of these nations from before them; but they shall be snares and traps unto them, and scourges in their sides, and thorns in their eyes until they perish from off this good land. The Lord will bring upon them all evil things, until they be destroyed.
The second discourse calls to mind, in powerful words, what Jehovah, since the time of the patriarchs, has already done for them. Joshua holds up before the people what the Lord has done for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Lord took Abraham from the other side of the Euphrates and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, multiplied his seed and gave him Isaac. To Isaac gave Jehovah Jacob and Esau, who received mount Seir for a possession. Jacob alone was to have Canaan for himself and his posterity. Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt is next touched upon, the chief incidents of which are enumerated, namely, the sending of Moses and Aaron, the infliction of the plagues upon Egypt, the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. Next, mention is made of the victory over the Amorites and the turning away of Balaam’s curse from Israel. Then Joshua touches upon the passage of the Jordan, capture of Jericho, and victory over the Canaanites. He concludes his historical review by again emphasizing the fact, that it was God who inspired the Canaanites, particularly Sihon and Og, with terror, and who has given the Israelites a rich and cultivated land. Thus Israel has, through God’s power without merit on their part, received a glorious land, a land which he has not worked with the sweat of his brow. Let them therefore forsake idolatry, so Joshua continues, and cleave to Jehovah alone.
The point to the argument of the first discourse is, that it will be to the people’s greatest advantage to cleave to Jehovah and that forsaking the Lord in favor of the gods of the heathen, they will certainly perish. For Jehovah is the living God among them. The deities of the heathen are vanity, the work of men’s hands, idols with mouths that speak not and eyes that see not.
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. It can be expected, therefore, that the people, if only out of solicitude for their own future well-being and from respect for Joshua their beloved and revered leader, reply as they do: “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 whom we passed: and the Lord drave out before us all the people. . .
So Joshua has his misgivings. He distrusts their enthusiasm and wonders whether there is true substance to their religious ardor. 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 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.”
“Ye cannot serve the Lord.”
A hard speech, apparently; a speech well suited to discourage faith and thus to drive men away from God and the church.
But this speech is entirely proper; it is calculated to chill zeal only if it be false and to cause the religious enthusiast to reflect. How Joshua’s method in preaching the gospel differs from your modern so-called winner of souls, who insists that it is the easiest thing to accept Christ and to serve the Lord.
(To be continued)