Joshua’s Final Exhortation
Taught October 29, 2023
Table of Contents
Watch & Listen
Our lesson this week is the first lesson in the last unit of lessons for this quarter which is titled – Lessons and Warnings. This week’s lesson covers a passage of scripture that I have referenced quite a bit in recent weeks due to Israel’s disobedience. In our lesson this week, we are going to take a look at Joshua’s final exhortation to Israel to follow and serve the Lord.
Joshua’s Words of Encouragement
The Lord promised Joshua that nobody would be able to stand before him in his conquest of the Promised Land and God held true to what He promised. As we have seen in recent lessons, Joshua and Israel “took the whole land” according to all that the Lord had said to Moses (Josh. 11:23).
Now, some may point to some scripture that we have seen recently where Israel disregarded the judges that God raised up and that there were adversaries present in the land. Let us recall that it was stated in scripture that the Lord said because of Israel’s wickedness, “I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died (Judg. 2:21).”
So, some may suggest that Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was left incomplete because those adversaries still remained. What we should understand is that when Joshua completed his conquest, Israel possessed enough of the Promised Land to where they essentially had rule over the land. As scripture stated, Joshua defeated several kings and the land “rested from war” (Josh. 11:23). God kept His promise and Joshua successfully completed his assignment from the Lord.
Fear the Lord
Why was Joshua successful? Joshua was successful because he lived by faith – he was obedient to God’s word. Joshua desired for Israel to enjoy the same success and so he desired to impart his wealth of wisdom to others.
So, our lesson this week opens with Joshua gathering together all the tribes to Shechem (v.1). Shechem was and is a place with much history for Israel; Jacob’s well and Joseph’s tomb was located in Shechem. Shechem would later serve as the capital of Israel during the divided kingdom years. Eventually, Shechem would lose its prominence when the kings moved the capital to Samaria, built a temple there, and worshiped idols.
In scripture that our Sunday School book skips, you can see where Joshua recounted Israel’s history; we have to remember that a lot of this history Joshua was able to give a firsthand report on. Joshua witnessed all that happened in Egypt with the plagues and he was there to see the parting of the Red Sea. Joshua lived during the 40 years when Israel wandered in the wilderness; he had a great testimony for anyone that wanted to learn of and know the Lord.
After recounting Israel’s history and sharing his testimony, Joshua said to the children of Israel, “fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord (v.14)!”
There is much that could be broken down from this statement. First, he tells the children of Israel to “fear the Lord”. What does it mean to fear the Lord – to be a God fearing people? Those that fear the Lord respect His power and His authority; we know what God can and will do to the disobedient. Because we know what God will do to those that are disobedient, we move in obedience so that we are not punished.
Joshua, again, could tell the children of Israel to fear the Lord because he saw how God punished those that worshiped the calf of gold at Mount Sinai. Joshua could testify of the punishment of wandering in the wilderness for forty years because ten spies had persuaded all of Israel to reject the Promised Land. Joshua could testify about how those that rebelled with Kohath and Dathan against Moses – God – were buried alive and consumed by fire (Num. 16:25-35).
Joshua did not want Israel to be destroyed and so he encouraged the children of Israel to fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth. We would think that being sincere and true is the same thing but the distinction is that sincerity is pure and honest. So, Joshua was putting emphasis on serving the Lord and not backsliding in faith.
Keep the vow
Joshua said to the people, “if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (v.15).”
Joshua had made it very clear to the people that fearing God and serving Him would lead to them enjoying success and being blessed. Whereas, if the children of Israel chose to do as their fathers by serving idols as they did in Egypt or when some wandered in the wilderness, they would fall into failure. Let us remember the lesson we have learned throughout this quarter: obedience to God’s instructions equals prosperity whereas disobedience leads to great suffering.
So, the people responded to Joshua that it would not make sense for them to forsake the Lord after all that God had done for them; so, they said they would serve the Lord (vss.16-18). Now, Joshua had seen this story before as the children of Israel, at Mount Sinai, had said the same thing when God made the covenant with Israel (Ex. 19:7-9). As I mentioned earlier, the children of Israel, within forty days of the covenant, broke it by worshiping the calf of gold.
With this in mind, Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins (v.19).” Was Joshua being pessimistic or lacking faith in the people? I don’t think so. I believe Joshua wanted the people to understand exactly what they were saying! You see, their fathers didn’t understand what they were saying when it came to the covenant at Mount Sinai, and essentially the people were now making another covenant with God at Shechem.
Joshua says to the people, “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good (v.20).” So, again, Joshua is making it very plain and clear to the people that if you’re going to choose to serve the Lord, then you better live in obedience to His instructions.
Honestly, Joshua was kind of giving them an out, if you stop to think about it. You see, when you make a vow to the Lord, you have to keep that vow. As the Ecclesiaste states, “When you make vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed — better not to vow than to vow and not pay (Eccl. 5:4-5).” So, Joshua was telling the people that it would be better for them to not make a vow with God so that they did not break any vows.
Live by faith in obedience
I still don’t believe that the children of Israel understood Joshua’s point. I say this because they adamantly said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord (v.21)!” I believe their words were in the right place, but it would be a different thing to live in a manner to keep their vow with God in their hearts.
So, because the people were adamant, Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord for yourselves, to serve Him.” This was essentially Joshua asking them, again, are you sure you want to do this? And the people, again, said to Joshua, “We are witnesses (v.22)!”
So, Joshua then said to them, “Put away foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel (v.23)” See, the people were apparently already holding on to accursed things which were going against God. So, Joshua had every right to say to the people, “you cannot serve God”.
The people, in order to serve God, would need to make some corrections so that they could keep the covenant as God would expect for them to do. The people, again, said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!” So, the people remain adamant that they would live by faith. Saying and doing, again, are two different things which is something that we must also understand.
You see, there are many people who say with their mouth that they believe in God, but what does their heart say? For all of us today who have confessed our faith by mouth, must learn to confess in our hearts our faith in the Lord. You see, we have made a vow and a covenant with the Lord that we must be faithful to not break. To do this, we must put away all that is wicked and would draw us away from the Lord so that we can live by faith (obedience).