“And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.” (Joshua 24:1)
Probably about thirty years after he took leadership of Israel, Joshua gathered the people to Shechem for his farewell address. Shechem was the place on Mount Ebal where they had built an altar and a monument of stones which were then plastered and the entire law engraved on it. It was also the place where they had assembled while Joshua read the law to them and pronounced the blessings and cursings in Joshua 8. As such it was especially fitted for what Joshua had to say.
“And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac. And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.
I sent Moses also and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to that which I did among them: and afterward I brought you out. And I brought your fathers out of Egypt: and ye came unto the sea; and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers with chariots and horsemen unto the Red sea. And when they cried unto the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them, and covered them; and your eyes have seen what I have done in Egypt: and ye dwelt in the wilderness a long season.
And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, which dwelt on the other side Jordan; and they fought with you: and I gave them into your hand, that ye might possess their land; and I destroyed them from before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and warred against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you: But I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he blessed you still: so I delivered you out of his hand.
And ye went over Jordan, and came unto Jericho: and the men of Jericho fought against you, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I delivered them into your hand. And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow. And 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.” (Joshua 24:2-13)
Speaking as the Oracle or mouthpiece for God, Joshua briefly summarized what God had one in each period of Israel’s history. He begins with Terah, in Ur of the Chaldees, across the Euphrates, and progresses through Abram and the Patriarchs until they went into Egypt. From there he proceeded to remind them of what God had done to deliver them from Egypt. He then reminded them of what they had experienced during the forty years in the wilderness, concluding with how God had given them victory over the inhabitants of Canaan during the last thirty years.
“Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.
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 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.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
Based on their experience, Joshua asked them to make a commitment. If they felt that serving God was worthwhile, they needed to put away completely any connection to those other religions and serve God completely with no reservations. If they felt they would be better off serving other gods, they needed to decide which ones and commit to worship them. As Jesus warned in Matthew 6:24, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” You cannot give your best with divided loyalties.
Joshua finished by stating that he and his family were committed to serving God, no matter what the others did. Until a leader is willing to make such a commitment, he should not expect others to do so.
“And the people answered and said, 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 through whom we passed: And the LORD drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the LORD; for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:16-18)
When the people considered what God had done for them, it seemed like a no brainer to them to say they chose the Lord. It would be pretty stupid to pass up such blessings. Unfortunately, wanting the benefits is not the same as being committed.
In our day, since no one in his right mind wants to go to hell, many join the church or ask the Lord for salvation solely for the purpose of avoiding it. They have no commitment to Christ, or to living for him.
“And Joshua said unto the people, 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.” (Joshua 24:19-20)
Joshua didn’t settle for the quick profession like preachers today often do. He warned them of what the commitment meant, that they would do what God had said and that failure to do so would cost them dearly. It’s a message that is missing in many churches today.
“And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD.
And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him.
And they said, We are witnesses.” (Joshua 24:21-22)
Only when he was sure they understood all the implications of their commitment did Joshua accept it as being real. He moved immediately to an action that would indicate their sincerity.
“Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel.
And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.” (Joshua 24:23-24)
If they were sincere they were to repent of their sin, literally to acknowledge it as wrong and quit doing it. Simply saying they are sorry is not enough. The people gladly acquiesced to the demand, insisting they were willing to do whatever God asked.
“So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.” (Joshua 24:25-27)
Convinced of their commitment, Joshua made a covenant, or agreement with the people that day. He set up a memorial as a reminder to them and those around them of their commitment to encourage them to keep it. His actions illustrate the role of baptism and church membership in the Christian life. It doesn’t save them, it memorializes their commitment to Christ.
“So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.” (Joshua 24:28)
Joshua 24:31 attests to the effectiveness of Joshua’s approach to getting a real commitment. “And 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.” They didn’t stop serving the Lord when Joshua was no longer around.