We now come to the closing period of Joshua's life recorded for us in Joshua (chs.23-24), after a life of conquest when he destroyed the enemies around them, and then divided the land for an inheritance in obedience to the Lord's command. Once this was done, he moved according to the will of God by setting up the Tabernacle in Shiloh according to Deuteronomy 16, where it must stand in the place "which the Lord shall choose to place his name there" (v.1). Even now in old age, thankfully, his desire to move for God and to motivate the people does not diminish. His last words to encourage Israel are pronounced as he seeks to see them steadfast in the faith. In chapter 23 we find in vv.1-10 the conquest that destroys the enemy, and in vv.11-16 the consequences of departure.
Defeated in the past (v.3)
As far as the great conquests were concerned Joshua rightly attributes these to the Lord as he recalls, "And ye have seen all that the Lord your God hath done unto all these nations because of you". We must never assume that we can overcome in our own strength that which opposes us; we are just as dependent upon the Lord today. When the enemy is brought before us in Ephesians 6, we are encouraged to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might" (v.10). This is the power that raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, and set Him at God's right hand, "Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion" (Eph 1.19-21). This same power is ours and it will always "cause us to triumph in Christ" (2 Cor 2.14).
Divided inheritance in the present (v.4)
The Israelites were not only victors, but were now the happy holders of the promised inheritance, enjoying the fruit of their obedience in wholly following the Lord. This reminds us that as believers we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ and we presently enjoy the fruit of His victory that has brought us into such riches in Him. Though much lies before us, let us hold fast to those blessings which we presently receive, and cause us to wonder at the riches that the Lord has bestowed.
Driven out in the future (v.5)
Though the people enjoy a present inheritance, Joshua is aware of the fact that there will always be those who have to be put down, and whom the Lord will expel from before them, for His promises will always be kept. We can be assured that whatever lies before us, and in whatever way the attacks may come, we will know what it is to be "kept by the power of God" (1 Pet 1.5). To be able to be overcomers Israel must be sure that they practise three things. First, they must have courage as to the Word (v.6), "to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses". What a lesson for us today! Would that when we read the Word or hear ministry it would have an effect upon us, so that, as those of a former day, we would "turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left". There must be no association with the world, nor seeking to follow its false religions.
Second, there must be the desire to cleave unto the Lord (v.8). Oh that the Lord would become everything to His own, that we would only seek Him and His ways as we move here until His coming. Finally, in v.11 there is a need for care as to love for the Lord. Love for God and Christ will be seen in the way we move according to His Word, for John 14.23 indicates that "If a man love me, he will keep my words". There is no point in boasting a love for the Lord if the Word of God is not performed in our lives. When Joshua sets forth the consequences of disobedience in vv.12-13, he teaches that disobedience in v.12 will only lead to defeat, discomfort, and disgrace. We cannot expect the blessing of God if we are not prepared to honour Him according to the Word of truth.
Culminating discourse (24.1-28)
The record of God's dealings (vv.14-15)
In ch.23 Israel is called together by Joshua and encouraged to be a separate people. In this chapter the gathering would be of God, and before God, to hear what the Lord has to say through His spokesman Joshua. There is a faithful unfolding of the Lord's dealings with the nation from its inception until the present time, where it is apparent that all they accomplished was in the power of God. As a result of the Lord's goodness to them they are asked to "serve him in sincerity and in truth" (v.14). There can be no room for the idolatry practised by their fathers (v.15). God must have complete allegiance with no compromise. It is against this background that the famous words of Joshua ring out: "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" (v.15). It is good to see an old man of 110 years still in control of his own house and family, knowing that the way he has served the Lord will continue with them. Would that all our children walked in the truth they have been taught.
The response of the people (vv.16-24)
Three times over in these verses the Israelites recognised the goodness of God in a fourfold way. His salvation (v.17) - "he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt". His manifestation (v.17) - "which did those great signs in our sight". His preservation (v.17) - "and preserved us in all the way wherein we went". The expulsion (v.18) - "of all the people, even the Amorites". They now respond that they would also, "serve the Lord; for he is our God" (v.18). This is repeated in v.21 and again in v.24 resulting in the "three times" mentioned above. In these statements we have a threefold cord when all has to be at the mouth of two or three witnesses. As far as those who stood before Joshua that day were concerned this was fulfilled, for "Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel" (v.31).
The removal of Joshua (vv.29-33)
How true it is that God buries His servants but carries on His work. The time has come for this worthy servant to finish his course and to be buried in the border of his inheritance; perhaps "in the border" for he will not fully realise this until the coming Kingdom when he will receive all from the hand of the Lord.
These verses close with two deaths and three burials. We have the death of the Pilgrim in Joshua (vv.29-30). Then we have the burial of the Patriarch in Joseph (v.32). It is interesting that though his bones were carried up from Egypt according to his desire, he was not buried until the land was in the possession of the nation. Finally, we have the death and burial of the Priest Eleazar and his burial in a hill (v.33). Is it not fitting that with such a high calling he is buried in a high place?
Both Joshua and Eleazar moved together as they led Israel into the Promised Land and saw the Lord give them victory over all that would have opposed them. We feel that it is not enough to go forth with military might - there must accompany it spiritual exercise and priestly activity before God if we are to be overcomers. May the Lord help us to be faithful to Him as we face the world, the flesh, and the devil.
To be continued.