by Walter A. Boyd, N. Ireland
LAST WORDS TO THE LEADERS – JOSHUA CHAPTER 23
LAST WORDS TO THE WHOLE NATION – JOSHUA CHAPTER 24
On many occasions, words spoken are just that: words, and nothing more. However, words spoken at the end of one’s life take on a real significance and stir our interest. During his one hundred and ten years, Joshua had spoken many words, but much of what he said had been disregarded by the nation. Now that he has come to the end of his life, unhindered and unembarrassed by advanced years, Joshua summons the leaders, and then later the whole nation, so that he might give them advice and godly counsel.
The manner in which Joshua imparts his counsel is most striking: it reveals his experience with God, his noble character and deep spiritual insight. He keeps himself very much in the background, even though he was present on many occasions when God dealt with Israel and could have added the weight of his own personal testimony of dealing with God; his words now at the end of life are all about what God did. The most reference he makes to himself is that he is “old and stricken in age” Josh.23.2, and by that he can be seen as a mortal man subject to all the frailties of human nature. However, though that be the case, he will ensure the people understand that, even in his old age and at the end of life, he “will serve the Lord” Josh.24.15. Claiming no weakness by age or frailty, he faces his own personal responsibility before God right to the end of life. May the same be true of each of us: to be possessed of a warm, vibrant devotion to our God right to the very end. Joshua’s closing days and last words, as recorded in these two chapters, are full of example and exhortation to others. There are no complaints that an earlier generation was better than the present one, no raking up of how the nation disappointed him by their failures; just encouragement and exhortation to remain true to their God, and warning for the future.
Like every effective leader of people, Joshua is concerned for what will happen when he has gone. Even though he has been out of active leadership for the past twenty years, he still has a love for the people of God and wants to see them prosper spiritually. He has not retired to the extent of not caring about the progress of those he once led. A true leader never loses his heart for the people of God; even as he nears the end of life his unselfish interest will still be in the progress of others. Joshua has learned by experience that national prosperity is inextricably linked to national piety. Having seen the wayward tendencies of the nation over the years of his leadership, firstly when he served as an assistant to Moses and then later as he led the people after Moses had gone, Joshua is going to warn them against departure from pleasing God and encourage them to follow the Lord devotedly. Had he known the words of the hymn he could have used it as a reflection of his heart’s thoughts for the people: ‘‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way’’. Peter had a similar exercise in writing his second epistle: “Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance” 2Pet.1.12,13. One of the responsibilities of leaders among the Lord’s people is to continually stir up the saints by bringing to their memory the truth that they have embraced and profess to hold. It is by the truth of God that saints are established and edified. This is exemplified in the farewell words of the Lord’s prayer for His disciples in the upper room: “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth” Jn.17.17.
Joshua speaks first to the elders of the nation and the heads of the twelve tribes, as recorded in Josh.23.1-16, and then to the whole nation, as recorded in Josh.24.1-28. When speaking to the whole nation, he not only challenges and counsels them; he also leads them in establishing a covenant before God by setting up a stone as a witness to the nation’s solemn promise to obey the words of Joshua by serving the Lord, Josh.24.24-27. As Joshua speaks to both the leaders and the nation, he uses many of the same expressions and words that Moses had used during his leadership. He reminds them of what God has done, and this aged leader who was marked by modesty all his years has not changed: he says very little of what he did. His focus is on what God has done and what the people should do; he concentrates on the love of God and the loyalty of the people.
As Joshua speaks to the leaders in Josh.23.6, he repeats the same concepts and uses the very words used by Moses to him when he took up the mantle of leadership, Josh.1.7. This presents two very simple but challenging lessons for leaders: firstly, the success of a leader’s tenure is seen in the extent to which he continues on the Scriptural path marked out by those of an earlier day who have gone before him; secondly, a leader cannot take others beyond his own experience with God. Joshua had kept faith with God, as instructed in the words of Moses, and now, at the end of life, he could present to the generation that followed him the same challenge to which he had risen throughout his life. Had Joshua not himself been “courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses” Josh.23.6, his words to these leaders would have rung hollow in their ears and had no challenge to elicit a response. The emptiness of his words would have been embarrassing and the leaders would have felt no urge to follow the example of the great man who had reached the end of his life. Similarly, those in leadership today should strive to follow ‘the Book’, so that others will not only hear their words but see their example. The moral weight and authority to influence the life of a younger generation for good lies in the accumulated obedience of a life lived for God.
We are not told the location of Joshua’s meeting with the leaders; being an old man likely it was in the vicinity of his home. The later meeting with the whole nation took place at Shechem, Josh.24.1, which was a location filled with memories for the observant Israelite. It was there that Abraham was given the promise of the Land, Gen.12.6,7; Shechem was where Jacob erected the first altar and sanctified his house after his return and reconciliation to Esau, Gen.33.18-20; 35.1-5. Just as there was an oak tree connected with Shechem in the life of Jacob, Gen.35.4, there is an oak tree associated with Joshua at Shechem, Josh.24.26. The bones of Joseph were buried at Shechem after they had been brought out of Egypt by the liberated slaves, Josh.24.32. Shechem was one of those places that seemed to mark many epochs in the life of the nation: the promise of the land, the power of redemption, the purity of sanctification, and now in Joshua chapter 24 the prosperity of the nation. Shechem was marked by the mercy and blessing of God toward His people, and Joshua wants to impress that fact upon their hearts as he directs their memories to God’s goodness and their hearts towards His faithfulness. As they recall the goodness of God Who had showered them with abundant and varied blessings, it will be the wellspring of motivation and action from which will flow their obedience. The apostle uses the same tactic in Rom.12.1,2 as he calls us to obedience and devotion: “I beseech you therefore, brethren by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
LAST WORDS TO THE LEADERS – JOSHUA CHAPTER 23
The Recollections of Experience – Josh.23.3,14
Joshua’s recollections are stated three times in chapter 23: vv.3-8, vv.9-13 and vv.14-16. In each case he recounts the faithfulness of God and reminds the leaders that they should remain faithful to their God by serving and obeying Him. These men whom Joshua has called together have had the immense privilege of seeing God at work in their own lifetimes: “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” v.3. They have experienced His power and provision in driving out their enemies and His covenant faithfulness and guidance in providing a new land for them after the years of wilderness wandering. It is undeniable that as they look back over their years under the leadership of Joshua, theirs has been a happy portion. Yet Joshua could see the danger in the prosperity they enjoyed: luxury, indolence and worldliness might encroach and rob them of the blessing derived from pleasing God.
Joshua has advice to give them for the future, but for that advice to gain traction in their minds he realises that he must point them to what God has already done for them. Since God has done great things over years past, He can do the same in years to come, after Joshua has gone. There is never a word from him about what he himself had done as their leader: Joshua directs the gaze of the leaders to their God alone. There is no boasting from this man. There is no feeling that he is indispensable to the work of God. He has no reluctance to leave what God had called him to do all those years earlier. Joshua knows and appreciates that his work is finished, and his time is over. His only concern now is that the people of Israel will maintain their trust in the Lord and honour His name among their heathen neighbours.
Being the wise man that he is, Joshua speaks first to the leaders. If there is to be blessing and united obedience, the leaders must acquiesce in the words of Joshua. Had Joshua gone over their heads and spoken first to the nation there likely would have been some to take offence. If we could learn that lesson today in our approach to assembly matters, many a heartache would be avoided. Give those with responsibility their place, recognise them and bring them into your confidence and plans before you speak to the saints in general.
In v.14, Joshua enlarges on his explanation of the goodness of God and reminds the people that “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.” God had not only fulfilled His promise in dealing with their enemies, He had kept His promise of “good things” to Israel. Not even one thing that He had promised failed. Let us remember that when God gives us a promise in His Word, it will be fulfilled exactly as He says, and not in some vague or general sense. It might not be fulfilled at the time we expect or in the way we desire, but He will fulfil His promise completely. His words through Malachi the prophet assure us: “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” Mal.3.6.
Joshua says that which they know in all their hearts and souls. This was not mere head knowledge: they had experienced God’s power and goodness and knew deep in their innermost beings that it was God Who had worked for them. Very often when doubts assail, we can say with conviction that we know in our soul that God has been good in the past: spiritual convictions have been forged in the trials of life and will stand us in good stead for days to come.
The Responsibility of Experience – Josh.23.6-8
By reminding the elders that they have had experience with God in their lives, Joshua is creating that sense of responsibility that comes with privilege. The greater the blessing, the greater the responsibility in how we handle that blessing. Just as God has been faithful to His covenant with the nation in bringing them into a good land, so too the nation should reciprocate by their faithfulness to God as they conduct their affairs in the land.
By using the word “therefore” v.6, Joshua is pointing to the close connection between blessings received and obedience required. Because of what God has done for the nation, Joshua expects that they show implicit obedience to His Word: “keep and …. do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses” v.6. That obedience will demand courage: “Be ye … very courageous”; and should display completeness: “all that is written in the book of the law of Moses”. Notice the two verbs used, “keep” and “do”: it would be impossible to keep the Law of Moses without doing it. An obedient life is not a passive life! The opposition to obedience comes in many and varied forms. The enemy, Satan, will use the world around us and the flesh within us to thwart our strongest desires to obey the Lord. Only by determined obedience can a fall and disappointment be avoided. Courage is all the more necessary if we are going to obey everything that God tells us. Partial obedience is often easy and becomes a salve to the conscience by saying, “Well, at least I obeyed as far as I could”. God demands complete obedience and that requires spiritual courage and strength.
To chart a straight path in obedience, so that we do not “turn … to the right hand or to the left” Josh.23.6, requires a personal determination that is the product of spiritual commitment. We should have no other goal than to obey the Lord completely, for it is impossible to follow the Lord and have our affections on the things of the world around us.
Because of what God had done in driving out their enemies before them, He expected His people to adopt His attitude to the enemy: avoid them; do not fraternise with them; do not mention the names of their heathen gods; do not swear by their gods; do not serve their gods; do not worship their gods. The defeated and useless idols of the world should hold no influence over, or interest for, the people of God. God has defeated them: we should stay away from them. God had “fought for” His people, v.3, to bring them into blessing; therefore, they should fight the enemy and possess the land for God. Godliness is incompatible with the world and is essential for spiritual progress.
The only way to ensure that their obedience to God and separation from the enemy are complete is to be totally consecrated to God: “But cleave unto the Lord your God” Josh.23.8. God has been loyal to them and they should return that by being loyal to Him. James issues a warning that would have found agreement in Joshua’s heart had he heard it: “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” Jms.4.4. There is no ‘half-way house’ for James. It is one or the other: God or the world. May it be so for us!
As Joshua continues to speak to the leaders, he explains how they can maintain their loyalty to the Lord. He says in v.11, “Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God.” Joshua’s threefold statement of God’s faithfulness brings with it a threefold demand for Israel’s loyalty to God: “keep and … do” v.6; “cleave” v.8; “love” v.11.
When our love for the Lord begins to wane, it will lessen our will to “keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law” and will cause us to wander from, rather than “cleave” unto the Lord. To maintain our loyalty to the Lord requires self-examination: “take good heed … unto yourselves”. Joshua means: ‘Watch yourself carefully.’ I have no responsibility for another believer’s loyalty to the Lord, but I have complete responsibility for my own loyalty. Teaching on separation from the world is one of many neglected subjects on today’s platforms. We are so prone to accommodating the world and lowering our standards to match those around us. To do that is to deny the Lord. Joshua’s words show that love for the Lord is of primary importance; if it can be kept warm and vibrant the life of God’s people will prosper. In the series of messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the first mark of declension is highlighted to Ephesus when the Divine diagnosis was that they had left their first love. So, too, in our day, every spiritual ill and problem can be traced to the same beginning: leaving our love for Christ. The worldliness of Pergamos, the idolatry of Thyatira, the deadness of Sardis and the lukewarmth of Laodicea all could be traced back to the failure in Ephesus to maintain their love for Christ. If abandoned love (Ephesus) is not corrected, the result will be worldliness (Pergamos). If worldliness is not corrected, the result will be idolatry (Thyatira). If idolatry is not corrected, the result will be deadness (Sardis). If deadness is not corrected, the result will be lukewarmth (Laodicea).
The Results Expected – Josh.23.10-16
Joshua is careful to remind these leaders that there are consequences to their actions, either positive or negative. Those consequences play out in two different ways: there will be consequences both now, in time, and in eternity. We are all accountable to the Lord Who saved us for the life we live and the decisions we make after salvation. All of us must give account of our service in a day to come.
The Results of Obedience
The consequence of obedience is to have continuing power over the enemy: “One man of you shall chase a thousand” v.10. The enemy that has been defeated at the cross will be put to flight by the believer who maintains his separation from the world and consecration to God. Perhaps this solves the mystery of our weakness against the threefold enemy: the world, the flesh and the devil. When we fall in defeat to the enemy, we can be sure that there has been a prior lack of obedience that robbed the soul of the spiritual vigour and strength needed to engage in warfare. When we experience defeat in the Christian life and feel discouraged by that failure, rather than wallow in the valley of despair, we ought to look back and trace where love for Christ was diluted, reignite our love and passion for the Lord and His Word, and start again. Confession and repentance bring forgiveness and cleansing, as promised by His Word: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1Jn.1.9. How can I identify that occasion of reduced love and passion? You will find it right next door to disobedience! I cannot profess to love the Lord and refuse to do what He says. Decreased love and loyalty to the Lord are manifested by disobedience to His Word: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” 1Jn.5.3,4.
The Results of Disobedience
The warnings in Josh.23.13-16 are clear and certain, as prefaced by the words “know for a certainty” v.13. The consequences of disobedience are plainly stated by Joshua: defeat, discomfort and disgrace. “Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to 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” vv.12,13.
Defeat will be seen as they lose the power to conquer their enemy. All their efforts at securing the land will be in vain. Accompanying that weakness will be the discomfort of being in close proximity to the enemy who will be like a scourge in their sides: like a whip that tears the flesh. Added to that defeat and discomfort will be the disgrace of perishing from off the good land that they have been given. These very things were experienced by the generation after Joshua because of their disobedience, as explained in Judg.2.2,3: “And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed My voice: why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.”
Does the apostle not echo similar truth to the saints in Corinth: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” 1Cor.11.30? There are consequences to deliberate, unconfessed sin in the life of a believer.
Joshua was faithful in his delivery of the message from the Lord: “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” Josh.24.20. There are two stages in the life of a servant of the Lord when he is particularly vulnerable to the desire for popularity, and by it prone to ‘water down’ his message: at the start of his service, when he is young and untested, and at the end of his life of service, when he is being moved out of the limelight by age or failing health. At the early stage he is vulnerable to seeking to gain popularity and at the latter stage he is vulnerable to seeking to retain popularity. Joshua was not such a man: his desire to serve God faithfully was the over-riding concern of his life, even if that meant delivering a message that might be unpalatable to some of the people.
LAST WORDS TO THE WHOLE NATION – JOSHUA CHAPTER 24
In chapter 23, when Joshua was addressing the leaders, he took them immediately to what God had done and would yet do for them. However, when addressing the whole nation, in chapter 24, Joshua prefaces his message by a solemn reminder that he is speaking on behalf of God: “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel” Josh.24.2. It would be expected that when speaking to spiritually mature leaders he would not have to remind them of the authority behind his words. However, when speaking to the whole nation, which would include the young and those not fully receptive to his message, he needs to remind them that the words they are hearing are the words of God. So, too, there is a need in our day to remind those to whom we speak in ministry that the Book from which we read is the infallible Word of God. That is one reason why it is preferable to carry an actual Bible into the platform, so that all can see the source of the message. Electronic devices have their place in life, but on the platform it is better to have nothing but a volume that is clearly seen to be the Holy Scriptures, so that it is obvious to the audience what is being read. It is also good to be certain that we have the Lord’s message for the occasion, so that we can say with conviction, “Thus saith the Lord God”. Joshua was not giving his own ideas or advice to the nation: this was what God had told him to deliver.
Notice too that Joshua spoke “unto all the people” Josh.24.2. There is a need to teach children in a setting such as a Sunday school or a Children’s Meeting, where the truth can be broken down so that they can digest it. However, when it comes to the ministry of God’s Word the Scriptural pattern is always “unto all the people”. The lessons Joshua outlines in these chapters were wholesome instructions for people of every stage of life. We never should tire of hearing what God has done for us and what He will yet do with us. In a similar way to Joshua, the apostle Paul spoke to the elders from the assembly in Ephesus in Acts chapter 20, which corresponds to Joshua chapter 23, and he also wrote an epistle to the whole assembly at Ephesus, which corresponds to Joshua chapter 24.
The Recollections of History
Joshua’s message from the Lord takes the people back to days beyond the formation of the nation, when Terah and Abram left Ur of the Chaldees. Terah was included in Joshua’s message to remind them of the spiritual condition of their forefathers at the commencement of God’s dealing with the nation. It is important to remember that, no matter for how many generations among the Lord’s people we can trace our family history, we all go back to those who were the subjects of the gracious dealings of God.
Now follows a potted history of God’s dealings with their fathers that encompasses their beginnings in the land of Canaan, their bondage and deliverance from Egypt and their re-entry to the Land and its possession. God reminds them of His power and provision for them: “I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat” Josh.24.13. There should be no doubt in the minds of Joshua’s audience that everything they have and enjoy has been given graciously by God. The apostle Paul never lost sight of that same truth: “by the grace of God I am what I am” 1Cor.15.10. This ought to provoke a sense of indebtedness and devotion to God.
The Responsibilities by History
Due regard to the history of multiplied and unmerited mercies from the hand of their God meant that their plain duty was to “fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which [their] fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve … the Lord” Josh.24.14. There are three principles here that are vital to spiritual success: fear the Lord; serve the Lord; forsake false gods. If, as Joshua feared, there were some among them who still clung to idolatrous practices in secret, they must put away their false gods and worship and serve only Jehovah, Who had done such wonders for them. No alternative existed; either they turn to the true God, Who had blessed them so abundantly, or they serve their false gods, Josh.24.15. He closes his appeal by declaring his own inalienable choice as one who was now at the end of his life and had never swerved in his loyalty to God: “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” v.15.
If any in Israel were to continue in the sin of idolatry, they would be without excuse. They had heard the reminder of what God had done; they had heard the example given by His servant Joshua, so that failure to comply with God’s instruction was to sin in a high-handed way against the light. Their history, as does ours, brought responsibilities towards God. The apostle knew the value of exposition and example when he said to Timothy: “The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” 2Tim.2.2, and “Be thou an example [‘model’ J.N.D.] of the believers” 1Tim.4.12.
Joshua’s challenge in Josh.24.15 is very sobering: “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.” To Joshua, the service of the Lord and the service of Satan both involve a definite choice. It was not a case of not serving the Lord and just drifting along in a vacuum. If they do not choose to serve the Lord, then they must choose whom they will serve, and the options are limited. They can either serve the false gods that their fathers served in days past, or they can serve the false gods of the people among whom they presently live, the Amorites. Their answer is instantaneous: ‘we cannot serve the gods of our fathers, for the Lord delivered us from them and their bondage in the land of Egypt; nor can we serve the gods of the Amorites for God has defeated them and driven them out of our present land’ Josh.24.16,17. Could we understand this in our day? We cannot go back and serve the gods of our pre-conversion days, from whom we have been delivered by redemption; nor can we serve the gods of the present world, who have been defeated by Divine power. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” 1Jn.5.21.
The Recognition of History
Joshua’s recounting of their history evoked a response, which was given in very convincing words: “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods … therefore will we also serve the Lord; for He is our God” Josh.24.16,18. It sounded so genuine that all but the most discerning would have been fooled by their immediate profession of devotion. Why did Joshua proceed in the following verses to challenge the genuineness of their profession? Very likely there was one word that caused alarm for Joshua: “also” Josh.24.18. Perhaps Joshua detected theirs was nothing stronger than a copy of his profession: ‘Joshua says he will serve the Lord, then so will we’. Joshua knew that devotion cannot be mimicked; it is intensely personal. If my devotion is a copy of someone else’s it will not last. Thus, there is the need for spiritual discernment, to be sure that a profession of discipleship is not just an emotional response to a stirring message of what God has done or just a profession because of what others have professed. Every believer must have personal dealings with God if they are to serve Him in a lasting way.
The people responded quickly to the exhortations of Joshua, and for Joshua they responded too quickly. Many a preacher would have ended the meeting at that point and claimed a great revival! However, Joshua is going to investigate the depth of their devotion by saying: “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” Josh.24.19. Joshua is saying that they cannot serve a holy God without forthright confession of sins beforehand. Today, many a fellow-worker would have frowned at Joshua’s insistence upon the exposure of their sin and repentance of it, but Joshua is too concerned for their spiritual welfare to let this pass and be nothing more than a sham: he wants genuineness in the people. Could we as gospel preachers and teachers of the Word learn from Joshua: do not rush to congratulate the first profession to follow the Lord; carefully but thoughtfully investigate its depth and sincerity. In fact, Joshua insists in his examination of their genuineness yet another time when he says, in v.23, “Put away … the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.” Whether there was any removal of idolatrous practices we are not told, but it is clear that Joshua did all in his power to hold the people to their profession and to ensure they were genuine.
The Recording of History
After the third affirmation of devotion and desire to serve the Lord, Joshua then “made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem” Josh.24.25; that means he produced a record in writing of their solemn vow, and that this was done in Shechem is most significant. As pointed out earlier, Shechem was a place often associated with events of deep personal or national significance; here was yet another significant event in the history of the nation.
Why did Joshua record this event in writing? There can be no doubt that he would have gone back in mind to his early days under the leadership of Moses, when Amalek was “discomfited” and “the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua’” Ex.17.14. God instructed Moses to record and rehearse the details of how He had wrought the victory against Amalek, and the value of doing that had not been lost on Joshua. Now an old man, he could recall the effect that recording and rehearsal had in forming his own spiritual convictions. At the end of his life of service he understood the need to engrave this event at Shechem upon the hearts and souls of all the people, and what better way to meet this need than by doing what had been done for him as a young man? This shows the value of having early experiences alongside older believers when we are young. It also demonstrates the value of having the Word of God ‘rehearsed in our ears’, for by it convictions are formed that last a lifetime. The word “rehearse” that was used to Moses in Ex.17.14 is most interesting: it means ‘to drum it in’. Keep ‘drumming’ the Word of God into the ears of younger believers; it will eventually stick!
Joshua then “took a great stone and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord” Josh.24.26. This had long been the means of preserving the details of an agreement or covenant. Jacob had done it in Genesis chapter 31; the tribes of Reuben and Gad had done it in Joshua chapter 22. Joshua’s service closed as it began: recording the goodness of God, rehearsing the goodness of God and recognising it by erecting a stone of remembrance (compare Ex.17.14,15 and Josh.24.25,26). In a very real sense, the lives of Moses and Joshua are mirrored in the lives of Paul and Timothy, who was told to “continue … in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them” 2Tim.3.14.
How pleasant that Scripture records that the last words of Joshua were spoken when he was in close proximity to “the sanctuary of the Lord”, and in fellowship with the Lord’s people. It is sad that some great men have found themselves at the end of their lives ‘out of sorts’ with their brethren; it would be good to be like Joshua, enjoying the respect and fellowship of the Lord’s people right to the end. A leader who is faithful to his God will be found at the “sanctuary of the Lord”, even in his closing days. Like the Psalmist, Joshua could say, “Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth” Ps.26.8; “One thing have I desired of the Lord, That will I seek after; That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple” Ps.27.4.