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JOSHUA’S FAREWELL TO ALL ISRAEL

Joshua 23:1-24:33
Key Verse: 24:15

The last words of a person are significant. In the Bible there are the last words of Moses, David, Solomon, St. Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ. They are the words of blessing, exhortation, or solemn command. However, the last words of Joshua are unique in that he directly challenged his people to make a choice between the LORD and other gods. Choices make one’s life clear and directed. It makes one’s inner person strong and confident. In this study we can think about who the LORD is so that each of us may be able to newly make a choice to serve the LORD.

First, the LORD is the God of promise (23:1-15). When Joshua was old and well advanced in years and the nation was in rest, he summoned all Israel – their elders, leaders, judges and officials – to speak to them. He told them that they had seen everything the LORD had done to all the nations for their sake. He made it clear that it was the LORD their God who fought for them. When the LORD fought for them, victory was theirs. And he believed that the LORD would continue to give them victories according to his promise. Look at verse 5, “The LORD your God himself will drive them out of your way. He will push them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the LORD your God promised.”

Again, Joshua reminded them of what the LORD did: “The LORD has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you” (9) At that time the military power of Israel amounted to almost nothing without any chariots and horses. With their own might, they could not drive out even one powerful nation. But the LORD had driven out great and powerful nations before them. With the LORD’s fighting, they could even defeat armies as numerous as the sand on the seashore and that had large numbers of horses and chariots. No king was able to stand before them. Joshua wanted to make clear that victory is not just a story of the past but one of the present and the future because it is God’s promise. He said, “One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised.”

But Joshua was not just optimistic about their future. As he was about to leave the world, he tells the Israelites, who were like his own children, the truth. Look at verses 14-16. “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. But just as every good promise of the LORD your God has come true, so the LORD will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.” Good promises are pleasant to hear. But it is painful to hear of the LORD’s anger burning and people’s perishing from the good land. Yet this has been true in God’s history. The book of Joshua is in a sense the book of God’s promise fulfilled, as the Israelites conquered the Promised Land. Every good promise of the LORD their God was fulfilled. They had been slaves in Egypt. At that time entering and conquering the land of God’s promise was like a dream. But it came true. However, at his departure Joshua worried that God’s painful promise of their perishing from the good land would be also fulfilled because the LORD God keeps all his promises. In the history of Israel, David’s kingdom was a glorious time when people could live in prosperity, righteousness and peace. Yet, the painful promise of destruction also came true when they were taken to Babylon as the result of violating the covenant of the LORD. In the foreign land they expressed their sorrow and pain: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Ps 137:1).

In light of this, God wants us to believe both good promises and painful promises. We have the promises of our Lord Jesus. Jesus once said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Mt 16:24-25). In history the promises concerning the Messiah Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection were fulfilled. The last promise to be fulfilled is Jesus’ second coming. While on earth Jesus promised again and again that he would come again in power and glory. When he comes again, he will come as the Judge to judge the living and the dead. The day of his coming will be the day of eternal salvation and victory for his people, but the day of eternal condemnation and destruction for those who did not put their faith and trust in him. People’s eternity is divided according to their response to him. When we believe this, we can be warned and all the more live a life of faith for his name’s sake, praying for perishing souls and preaching the gospel to the students in our campus.

Second, the LORD is the God of grace (24:1-15). Now Joshua gives his second farewell speech. He 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 said to all the people. This time he taught them the history of God beginning with Abraham. Look at verses 2-4. “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: ‘Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.” Here is the first record of who Abraham was and where and how he and his forefathers lived before God’s calling. Long ago they lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. They did not know the LORD. Abraham was beyond the grace of the LORD God. Then one day God called him saying, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Ge 12:1-3). This calling was beyond human understanding. Then although Abraham was old and his wife was barren, according to the promise God gave him a son Isaac after 25 years of his life of faith. To Isaac God gave Jacob and Esau, and to Jacob he gave twelve sons. Afterward because of worldwide famine Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. There they became a multitude in their slavery, keeping their identity as Hebrews.

After 430 years, God sent Moses and Aaron to deliver them from the bondage of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. He performed great signs until Pharaoh let them go. They came to the sea and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. The LORD put darkness between the Israelites and the Egyptians, so they could not attack the Israelites, although they were in front of them. Then the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land, while the sea covered all the Egyptian armies with their chariots and horses. Afterward they lived in the desert for forty years receiving God’s desert training due to their unbelief.

Next the LORD brought them to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. The Amorites fought against Israel, but God destroyed them and the Israelites took possession of their land. He protected the people from Balaam’s curse. Then they crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. God enabled them to conquer the cities one by one defeating thirty-one kings. The LORD said very clearly, “You did not do it with your own sword and bow. 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” (12b-13).

This part is a brief account of the wonderful grace of the LORD for Abraham and his descendants. For the past around 700 years many people and nations had come and gone. Yet, Abraham and his descendants were different. They remained in the history of God, experiencing his amazing grace. “Beyond the River,” “you did not do it with your own sword and bow,” “a land on which you did not soil,” “the cities you did not build,” and “vineyard and olive graves that you did not plant,” these descriptions show one-sided grace of the LORD. Who was Abraham? Who were they that they were treated this way? What is the reason for this outpoured grace? There can be no definite answer to this question. This only shows that the LORD is the God of grace.

Like Abraham we were also beyond the grace of the LORD God and his Son Jesus Christ. Paul described it this way in Ephesians 2:12,13, “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” The LORD has led us thus far in his hope through his Son Christ Jesus. We thank and praise for the LORD who is the God of grace.

In this grace of the LORD God now Joshua urges them to do one thing. Look at verses 14 and 15. “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” The grace of the LORD God is beyond human reason and understanding. But this command “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness” is reasonable and understandable because of the grace of the LORD. Life can be defined in many ways. However, we can say that life is determined by whom we serve. Life is a continuation of choice. There are many choices in life, but the most important choice is whom one serves. Some may say, “I will never be a servant; I am determined to be a master.” But in reality we are to serve, the LORD or the other gods (Ro 6:16). At this point Joshua did not command them further. He asked them to make a choice, himself making a personal choice to serve the LORD, saying, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

“Serve” is a big word. Joshua said in his farewell to Eastern tribes, “…be very careful to keep the commandment and the law…: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul” (22:5) In this farewell to all Israel he said, “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left…But you are to hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have now until now…be very careful to love the LORD your God” (23:6,8,11). Broadly speaking, serving the LORD includes all these. It also involves serving his purpose. Through the study of Joshua we should see how he served the LORD. Joshua 11:15 well shows this: “As the LORD commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses.” In order to compete God’s given mission, he even command the sun and moon to stop. Samuel said in 1 Samuel 12:23, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you…” When his people went astray and even leaders were corrupt, the prophet Micah said, “As for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might…” (Micah 3:8). Apostle Paul said in Acts 22:24, “…I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Our Lord Jesus said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus promised in John 12:26, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servants also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.” May each of us have a personal choice and clear direction to serve the LORD and his purpose because of his grace in this generation.

Third, the LORD is the God of holiness (24:16-33). Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods.” They acknowledged God’s grace upon them that the LORD their God had brought them out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and protected them on their entire journey and among all the nations through which they traveled, driving them out before them. They said, “We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.” At this, what did Joshua say? Did he say, “Amen, that’s great.” No, he said something unusual. Look at verse 19. “Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.’” It is likely that Joshua did not trust in what they said. Yet, he was leading them into a true and deeper commitment. Those who want to serve the LORD should know that he is not only a gracious God but also a holy God.

Of course Joshua experienced the holy God and the sinfulness of mankind time and again. Among the twelve explorers of the land of Canaan, ten made the whole community grumble against the LORD by spreading a bad report about the land and died of a plague before the LORD. (Num 14:36-37) Joshua saw his colleagues’ terrible death because of their unbelief. When Korah, Dothan and Abiram and 250 community leaders of Israel rebelled against Moses and Aaron, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all their possessions. (Num 16:31-32) At this still the whole Israelite community grumbled. Then wrath came out from the LORD and 14,700 died from a plague. (Num 16:41-49) It was a terrifying thing to experience with the holy God. When they came to Canaan, because of one Achan’s sin, the Israelites lost the battle with Ai. Then Joshua had to fell facedown before the LORD. In the LORD’s fierce anger Joshua let Achan and all his family members be stoned to death and burned and piled up along with all his belongings in a heap (Jo 7:24-26). The Israelites conquered the promised land according to God’s promise. But as for the Canaanites, it was God’s thorough judgment for their full corruption (Ge 15:16). It was unbearable to experience with the holy God. He never compromises his holiness.

The holy God wants his people to be holy (Lev 19:1). This is the reason Joshua said to all Israel in this passage, “Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them…if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your god has given you” (23:7,12,13). Jesus prayed for his disciples before leaving this world, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” Apostle Paul also said in Romans 12:2a, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The LORD is also a jealous God. He cannot bear with double-mindedness and spiritual adultery of his people. He wants the whole heart from us as he gave his whole self to us, not sparing even his own Son Jesus for us.

The people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the LORD.” Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.” Now Joshua accepted their choice. He told them to throw away the foreign gods that were among them and yield their hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel. At this the people responded, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.” On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD. He said to all the people, “See! This stone…will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.” Then Joshua sent the people away, each to his own inheritance. Each one must have been happy after making a choice to serve the LORD and yielding their hearts to the LORD.

Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel. We need to experience with our descendants the living work of God more and more. Joseph’s bones were buried at Shechem in the promised land about 600 years after his death according to his wish and direction (Ge 50:25-26; Ex 13:19). His hope came true. God is indeed the God of history and the future. He is in control over all people and nations.

In this farewell of Joshua we thought of who the LORD is: he is the God of promise, the God of grace and the God of holiness. He is the God of history and the future world is in his hand. May God accept our study of Joshua and bless each one of us make a choice to serve the LORD and do his purpose with the heart commitment, especially clearing the land of campuses through the preaching the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in this generation.

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