Conquering the Land
“Joshua’s Farwell Address”
This morning we come to the last chapter in our series in the book of Joshua. For the last seventeen weeks we have journeyed through the book of Joshua as we saw the new generation conquered the armies of Canaan, receive their allotted land as God inheritance, and settle down to enjoy the land that flows with milk and honey. Joshua, as the leader of the Lord’s army, has been a faithful witness to God’s Word consistently calling the Lord’s people to absolute dependency on God’s grace, protection, and provisions. Two weeks ago, we saw Joshua issue a call of faithfulness to the two and a half tribes before they returned to their land east of the Jordan River in chapter twenty-two. And last week we saw Joshua address a similar call to the nine and a half tribes that inhabited the land west of the Jordan River to the Great Sea in chapter twenty-three. This morning we come to chapter twenty-four as Joshua at one hundred and ten years old calls together all the tribes for his farewell address. Chapter twenty-four begins by telling us, Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. (24.1)
Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. Shechem was a special place. You might remember Shechem was where Joshua gathered the people together to make a covenant to the Lord after their victory over Ai in chapter eight.
Shechem stood at the geographic center of the Promised Land between Mount Ebal, which means “curses,” and Mount Gerizim, which means “blessings.” Shechem was situated in the valley in between the two mountains forming walls on both sides. “The contour of the land resulted in a natural amphitheater, the acoustics of which were so good that the human voice carried to exceptional distances.” (Pink)
Joshua did not reassemble the people back to this valley for a visit down memory lane. He reassembled them here at Shechem to renew their covenant vows to the Lord. I want you to see the biblical imaginary that verse one exposes to us. The text reads, “Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.”
Joshua’s Farewell Address
So, Joshua is an old man, one hundred and ten years old, and he knows that he only has a short time until he passes away. (23.14) He calls for all the tribes of Israel to assemble in the valley between the mountains of curses and blessings, symbolizing the two-edged sword of the Word of God, to renew their covenant with the Lord. Shechem was a special place of calling and commitment. Therefore, after everyone was assembled in the valley of Shechem Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel” (24.2a) Brothers and sisters, humanity builds capitals, coliseums, and cathedrals to conduct their solemn assembles but the Lord uses His general and special revelation to call His people to repentance and renewal. Shechem surrounded on both sides by the mountains of curses and blessing symbolized how God uses nature as a means to manifest His promise to bring blessings or judgment. But when Joshua begins to speak, he proclaims God’s special revelation God’s Holy Word that has the power to lead people to repentance and renewal. Joshua begins his farewell address in ancient covenantal fashion by first issuing words of remembrance in verses two through thirteen, then he issues words of renewal in verses fourteen through twenty-four, and finally Joshua issues words of ratification in verses twenty-five through twenty-eight.
Joshua begins the first section of his message by reminding the people of their covenant history. In verses two through thirteen Joshua reminds the people of four definitive periods of covenantal history. In verses two through four Joshua reminds them of God’s sovereign election of Abraham calling him out of the idol worship of his ancestors to become the patriarch of Israel. “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him through all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. (24.2-3)
In verse five through seven Joshua reminds them of God’s divine redemption that delivered the children of Israel out of bondage and slavery in Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt by what I did in its midst; and afterward I brought you out. I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and Egypt pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. (24.5-6)
In verses eight through ten Joshua reminds them of God’s providentially protection as the first generation wandered in the desert. Then I brought you into the land of the Amorites who lived beyond the Jordan, and they fought with you; and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land when I destroyed them before you. (24.8)
And in verses eleven through thirteen Joshua reminds them of the reception of the Lord’s promised inheritance of the land. The land that the Lord gave them on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built, and you have lived in them; you are eating of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant. (24.13)
Joshua stands in valley of Shechem, he reminds God’s people of God’s sovereign election of Abraham, His divine redemption from Egypt, His providential protection in the wilderness, and His promised inheritance of the Promise Land. Sovereign election, divine redemption, providential protection, and promised inheritance. In many ways Joshua’s opening words of his farewell address is a condensed theological thesis where God sovereignly elects and redeems us out of our pagan past and our bondage of sin and providentially protects us through the tests, trials, and temptations of this world until we receive our promised inheritance through Christ to live in a land which we have not labored and cities which we did not build. God’s sovereign election, divine redemption, providential protection, and promised inheritance. What a way to start a sermon!
In this opening section we are also reminded of the preeminence of God’s sovereign grace. In this opening section found in verses two through thirteen we discover that the first-person singular occurs in reference to God as the subject twenty-one times! Just look! The Lord declares, “I took your father Abraham from beyond the River.” (3a) “I led him through all the land of Canaan.” (3b) “I gave him Isaac.” (3c) “I gave Isaac Jacob.” (24.4a) “I gave Esau the hill country.” (4b) “I sent Moses and Aaron.” (5a) “I plagued Egypt.” (5b) “I brought you out of Egypt.” (6) “I brought you into the land of the Amorites.” “I gave them into your hand.” “I destroyed them before you.” (8) “I delivered you from Balaam’s hand.” (10) “I gave the citizens of Jericho, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Girgashite, the Hivite and the Jebusite into your hand.” (11) “I sent the hornet before you that drove out the two kings of the Amorites.” (12) “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built.” (13)
Brother and sisters, is this the way you look at your life? Do you consider God as the first-person singular that guides you through this life? Do you look at your life through the lens of God’s sovereign election, His divine redemption, His providential protection, and His promised inheritance. Maybe not but maybe we should. Joshua is telling Israel that all that has happened to them is because of God’s singular gracious commitment to them in Christ Jesus. The point is that if we really want to renew our covenant vows to the Lord, we need to give Him the glory for all things.
Joshua calls the people to renewal saying, “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (24.14-15) Those of us that come from the Calvinist camp don’t talk much about the topic of choice. But by not talking about personal choice, we often eliminate the dynamics of personal responsibility. So, allow me to share a little about choice from a biblical perspective.
Notice Joshua tells the people they must choose. Straddling the fence and wavering between two opinions is impossible. There is no such thing as neutrality when it comes to your relationship with God. Spiritual neutrality is a lie fabricated by the world. You cannot be neutral about God. Indecision is a decision! No response is a response!
You must choose for yourself. Your parents cannot make the choice for you. Your pastor, youth pastor, or your close friend cannot make the choice for you. Your spouse cannot make the choice for you and you cannot and should not make the choice as an attempt to appease anyone except the Lord Almighty. You must respond for yourself. You must to come to the point to say, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.” “Though none go with me I will follow. No turning back. No turning back.” Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (24.14-15)
So how did the people respond to Joshua’s call to choose? The people answered and said, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods.” (24.16) Well, that sounds pretty good. Most pastors, youth pastors, parents, and spouses would be content with that response. So, how did Joshua respond? Then Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. (24.19) Why would Joshua respond like that? I think Joshua is concerned that their confession was based on their own personal character and heritage instead of acknowledging God’s character and holiness. Brothers and sisters, God is jealous for His own glory and is not willing to cohabitate with a false god. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God. Therefore, Joshua doesn’t want some casual commitment. He is not looking for some quick affirmation or some emotional religious response. Joshua wanted to hear the people acknowledge their sinful tendency to compliancy and compromise instead of some boastful assertion of ability. Instead of saying, “far be it from us,” they should have said “we know that our God is holy and jealous therefore we will serve Him alone.”
It seems after Joshua’s rebuke the people recognized their pretentious profession and once again responded to Joshua saying, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” (24.21) In some ways Joshua’s back and forth disclose with the people reminds me of a pastor leading a couple in exchanging their vows in a wedding renewal ceremony. “Will you? I will! Will You? I will! And after the last vow is made Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the Lord, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” “Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (24.22-23)Do you hear what Joshua is saying? He is telling the Israelites that if they truly desire to renew their covenant with the Lord then they must fully recognize that the root cause failing to honor the Lord is always idolatry. Joshua is explaining to them that they will not serve the Lord if they are serving foreign gods on the side. You cannot have two lovers! It’s like the pastor asking the groom and bride, “Will you forsake all others keeping yourself only to her/him as long as you both shall live?” Why does the pastor ask that question? It is only when we put away all others and incline our heart only to our spouse will we enjoy a meaningful relationship.So, it is with our relationship with the Lord. When we put away all others and incline our heart only to the Him then, and only then, we will enjoy a meaningful relationship with God.
But what does this mean for us today? Today we are not typically tempted to bow and worship at the foot of some shrine or statue. I would venture to say that none of us have ever worshiped a wooden idol, or burned incense to a golden calf, or swore allegiance to a false god. Then how does Joshua’s warning against idolatry apply to us? Brothers and sisters, we must understand that the root cause of our failure to honor the Lord is always found in our tendency to dethrone the Lord Almighty for the sake of something else. That’s twenty first century idol worship and it doesn’t require a physical statue or shrine. An idol can be your devotion to money, pleasure, ambition, leisure, possessions, or power. It works like this: to the extent that I believe that my allegiance to anything in this world can do more for me than God can, I am guilty of idolatry. To the extent that I believe that my allegiance to making money, enjoying pleasure, or obtaining possessions can do more for me than God, I am guilty of idol worship. Anytime our pursuits are driven or energized by the belief that something of this world can bring more fulfillment in my life than God, we are guilty of idolatry. Therefore, if you truly desire to renew your covenant with the Lord you must choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of materialism and self-indulgence, the gods of human philosophies and reasoning, or the gods of personal pleasure and gratification. Choose this day whom you will serve but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and we will obey His voice.” (24.24)
Upon hearing these words from the people verse twenty-five reads, “Joshua made a covenant with the people that day.” The verse literally reads, “Joshua cut the covenant with the people that day” alluding to the fact that a sacrifice was offered to the Lord. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God and set up a large stone as a witness to the covenant renewal that took place. (24.26-27) In ancient covenantal fashion Joshua ratifies the covenant by offering a sacrifice, writing the words of the covenant, and placing a memorial stone as a witness for future generations.
This episode of the Joshua’s farewell address concludes saying, “Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to their inheritance.” (24.28) This is the preacher’s pain. After pouring out your heart calling God’s people to repentance and renewal the preacher offers the benediction and dismisses the people to their own place with the prayerful hope that they will maintain their covenant vow to God and serve the Lord. I’m sure Joshua experienced that pastoral pain as the people left Shechem to return home. He wanted God’s best for them but he knew that God’s best comes to those who serve Him and Him alone.
It came about after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old. It is interesting that in Joshua’s eulogy he is called “the servant of the Lord.” This is the first time Joshua receives this title and it is only given at his death. What do we learn from the book of Joshua? All that Joshua ever wanted was to be the Lord’s servant. All the Joshua ever wanted for the congregation of Israel was for them to be the Lord’s servants without any hinderances or distractions and no idols.
This is all that any pastor wants for his congregation that each member would be servants of the Lord without any hinderances or distractions and no idols. It seems like such a basic pronouncement, Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died but in really it was the highest honor the Lord pronounce upon Joshua, the servant of the Lord. The Apostle told us, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (ICor.4.1) So many things to distract us. So many things to pursue. But when it comes down to it our highest pursuit should be to be servants of the Lord.
Joshua died and was buried in the land of his own inheritance. There seemed to have been no great funeral or national mourning for him. He simply wanted to be known as the servant of the Lord. Verse thirty-one tells us that “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua.” This was Joshua’s greatest legacy.
Brothers and sisters, let us pursue this type of Gospel legacy. Let us be known as servants of the Lord.