Series: Joshua, By Rosie Moore.
As an old man, Joshua gave the leader’s of Israel final words of encouragement, instruction and warning. After twenty chapters describing Canaan’s conquest, there is something very poignant about Joshua’s farewell just before his death at a hundred-and-ten years old.
It marked the end of an era of eye-witnesses who had experienced God’s redemption from Egypt; his loving care in the wilderness, and the supernatural conquest of Jericho and the Promised Land. From then on, Israel would need to remember God’s faithfulness in the past. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Joshua’s godly leadership is implied in Joshua 24:31:
“Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel”.
For a leader, there can be no greater legacy. Joshua was a living example of the key message in his farewell: “Hold fast to the Lord your God” (Josh 23:8). “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve….But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24:15b).
When Joshua bade the Israelites farewell, he knew the nation’s weak spots. These are the same weak spots of God’s people in every generation, as relevant today as they were then. Please read Joshua 23 and 24 on your own as we look at three timeless applications.
- To God be the glory!
Consider how easy it would have been for Joshua to have focused on his impressive military career and shared anecdotes of his great battle victories. Leaders usually crave the adulation of adoring crowds.
But Joshua deflects all credit to the Lord, reminding the people that His power and faithfulness secured their inheritance. Lest they become proud and self-sufficient, Joshua confirms their utter dependence on the Lord to fight for them in the future. Repeatedly, Joshua rightly ascribes all glory to Him.
“And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you. 4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. …
“And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good thing that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).
As people who have put our faith in Jesus, the greater Joshua, can we ever rightly accuse God of being unfaithful to us? Can you think of a single promise addressed to his people, which has not been fulfilled in the person and work of Christ?
It is in the Lord Jesus that God affirms all His covenant promises and blessings (Eph 1:3). Without Christ, we cannot claim any of God’s promises or spiritual inheritance as our own. Paul describes Jesus as the ultimate promise keeper:
“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee (2 Cor 1:20).
And so, it is the privilege of every believer, and every Christian leader, to point people to the unmatched glory of Jesus, who came to redeem humanity by his life, death, resurrection and ascension. It is our duty and joy to make Him great and ourselves small. Only Jesus could serve the Lord fully and faithfully, which none of us can do (Josh 24:19-20).
Joshua makes an unequivocal statement to Israel, “And you shall possess the land, just as the Lord your God promised you!” (Josh 23:5). There is a note of victory and inevitability in this promise to Israel.
Likewise, believers today can have perfect assurance that we will inherit the new heavens and new earth if we trust in Jesus. It is our Promised Land and the heavenly country that God has promised us, “a city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:14-16, 10).
We have full confidence in our strong and courageous leader, who was obedient in our place, earned our righteousness and paid our penalty. And we have daily encouragement from His Spirit, who seals our inheritance, indwells us, and empowers us to live a holy life of obedience.
Joshua’s final words remind us to remain fully dependent on Christ and never take credit for our blessings or accomplishments. “So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (Joshua 23:13).
- Submit to Scripture.
Joshua urges the people to “be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left” (Josh 23:6-9).
This is the mirror image of God’s instruction to Joshua at his own commission as leader.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:7-8).
Obeying God’s Word has never been for the fainthearted, but it has always been the key to our distinctiveness and success as God’s people. Because all Scripture is God-breathed, it carries the full weight of God speaking. This means that if we disbelieve or disobey Scripture, we disobey God Himself and will never prosper. Keeping God’s Word is serious business.
Moreover, all God’s Word is important, not just the bits we like or the doctrines that harmonise with our culture’s beliefs. Turning to the left or the right may lead us into legalism or licentiousness, and Satan loves these two extremes.
As Christians, we have much more of God’s Word than the Law that Joshua had. We have the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament to instruct, convict, correct and train us in righteousness (1 Tim 3:14-17). In the Scriptures, we have everything needed to lead us to salvation and equip us for every good work in this world.
But how often are we tempted to dilute the Bible, to change or soften the message because people don’t like it, or it’s hard to obey?
Maybe it’s a parenting situation. The Bible tells you what the Lord wants you to do with your children, but it feels too difficult. Maybe it’s a difficult relationship or dishonest transaction. Maybe it’s hard to give when finances are tight. Maybe it’s the biblical command not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever, but you’re desperate to get married or close that business deal. Maybe it’s Christ’s command to forgive someone who mistreated you.
Maybe it’s standing on the Bible’s definition of sin, as some Church of England pastors in the UK have done, rather than submit to the world’s warped gender ideology which has swept through their denomination. Whatever our struggle, we will be tempted to ignore, dilute or pick and choose what we want to focus on in the Bible. But Joshua’s word to us today is an encouragement and a warning:
Don’t exchange truth for lies. Don’t say what the world wants you to say, or do what they want you to do, so they will like you better. Don’t second-guess, cherry-pick or explain away the Bible. God has given us the Bible as his Word to us. Be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in it.
The more I study the Bible, the more confidence I have in Scripture and the preaching of the Word as the means through which God works to change lives. There is no way that a person can know God apart from the Bible, because it reveals truths like our sinful nature, Christ’s work of redemption, and how to be reconciled with God through faith in Christ.
It also teaches us how to live wisely in God’s world as God intended. That’s why keeping God’s Word is the only way that we will flourish as his people.
Joshua’s words urge Christians to read the whole Bible for ourselves; meditate on it, memorise it and speak it out loud; use it to counsel ourselves and others who are struggling. Most of all, we must prove ourselves doers of the Word, not merely hearers who delude ourselves (Josh 1:8; James 1:22-25).
In our times, there is an urgent need for Christians to confirm the Bible as our ultimate authority. This will require courage and strength as social and political pressures mount. Like Israel, we will be tempted to make peace with the enemy.
- Don’t make peace with the enemy!
But compromise led to catastrophe for God’s people. Joshua instructed the people to remain holy and distinct from the pagan nations around them, especially regarding intermarriage and worship of their gods:
“…that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day….
11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you (Josh 23:7-9; 11-13).
Seeds of compromise were sown throughout the book of Joshua wherever Israel failed to fully dislodge the Canaanites, as God instructed. Out of fear, Israel chose to make peace with the pagan nations and assimilate with their culture and religions (Josh 15:63; 16:10; 17:11-13; Josh 17:16). To borrow Paul’s language, God’s people became “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor 6:14).
Compromise led to the devastation that Joshua warned about. Israel lost the good land and blessings that God had given them, and the book of Judges is a terrible record of what happened to future generations:
“And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies (Josh 2:10-14).
As Christians, we are not called to evict or destroy anybody, but we are still called to be holy and to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world and its values (James 1:27). Paul says, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Eph 5:11)
Charles Haddon Spurgeon echoed the warnings of Joshua when he spoke to Christians in the 19th century about compromise. Perhaps his words are relevant to the church today.
“I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.”
Heavenly Father, may I not love the world or the things in the world. If I love the world, your love is not in me. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of you but of the world. Help me to see that the world and its lusts are passing away, but the one who does your will abides forever (1 John 2:15-17). Lord, give me courage to obey Scripture even when it’s hard, and your grace to be holy and distinct from the world. In Jesus name, Amen.
Join us next week for our final devotion in Joshua, “As for me and my household…”