Fear the Lord – Reverence him as the sole object of your religious worship.
Serve him – Perform his will by obeying his commands.
In sincerity – Having your whole heart engaged in his worship.
And in truth – According to the directions he has given you in his infallible word.
Put away the gods, etc. – From this exhortation of Joshua we learn of what sort the gods were, to the worship of whom these Israelites were still attached.
1. Those which their fathers worshipped on the other side of the flood: i.e., the gods of the Chaldeans, fire, light, the sun.
2. Those of the Egyptians, Apis, Anubis, the ape, serpents, vegetables, etc.
3. Those of the Canaanites, Moabites, etc., Baal-peor or Priapus, Astarte or Venus, etc., etc.
All these he refers to in this and the following verse. See at the conclusion of Jos_24:33 (note). How astonishing is this, that, after all God had done for them, and all the miracles they had seen, there should still be found among them both idols and idolaters! That it was so we have the fullest evidence, both here and in Jos_24:23; Amo_5:26; and in Act_7:41. But what excuse can be made for such stupid, not to say brutish, blindness? Probably they thought they could the better represent the Divine nature by using symbols and images, and perhaps they professed to worship God through the medium of these. At least this is what has been alleged in behalf of a gross class of Christians who are notorious for image worship. But on such conduct God will never look with any allowance, where he has given his word and testimony.
Keil and Delitzsch
These overwhelming manifestations of grace on the part of the Lord laid Israel under obligations to serve the Lord with gratitude and sincerity. “Now therefore fear the Lord (יְראוּ for יִרְאוּ, pointed like a verb הל, as in 1Sa_12:24; Psa_34:10), and serve Him in sincerity and in truth,” i.e., without hypocrisy, or the show of piety, in simplicity and truth of heart (vid., Jdg_9:16, Jdg_9:19). “Put away the gods (Elohim = the strange gods in Jos_24:23) which your fathers served on the other side of the Euphrates and in Egypt.” This appeal does not presuppose any gross idolatry on the part of the existing generation, which would have been at variance with the rest of the book, in which Israel is represented as only serving Jehovah during the lifetime of Joshua. If the people had been in possession of idols, they would have given them up to Joshua to be destroyed, as they promised to comply with his demand (Jos_24:16.). But even if the Israelites were not addicted to gross idolatry in the worship of idols, they were not altogether free from idolatry either in Egypt or in the desert. As their fathers were possessed of teraphim in Mesopotamia (see at Jos_24:2), so the Israelites had not kept themselves entirely free from heathen and idolatrous ways, more especially the demon-worship of Egypt (comp. Lev_17:7 with Eze_20:7., Jos_23:3, Jos_23:8, and Amo_5:26); and even in the time of Joshua their worship of Jehovah may have been corrupted by idolatrous elements. This admixture of the pure and genuine worship of Jehovah with idolatrous or heathen elements, which is condemned in Lev_17:7 as the worship of Seirim, and by Ezekiel (l. c.) as the idolatrous worship of the people in Egypt, had its roots in the corruption of the natural heart, through which it is at all times led to make to itself idols of mammon, worldly lusts, and other impure thoughts and desires, to which it cleaves, without being able to tear itself entirely away from them. This more refined idolatry might degenerate in the case of many persons into the grosser worship of idols, so that Joshua had ample ground for admonishing the people to put away the strange gods, and serve the Lord.
Jos_24:14. And now fear Jehovah(cf. Psa_2:11; Psa_5:8; especially Pro_1:7; Job_28:28) and serve him (עִבדוּ אֹתוֹ, LXX.; λατρεν́σατε, comp. Rom_1:25) in sincerity and in truth (בְּתֽמִים וּבֶאָמֶת, cf. Jdg_9:16; Jdg_9:19, and on בְּתָמִים, in the N. T. εἰλικρίνεια, 1Co_5:8; 2Co_1:12; 2Co_2:17), and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the river and in Egypt (comp. Lev_17:7; Amo_5:26; as well as Eze_20:7 ff; Eze_23:3; Eze_23:8), and serve Jehovah.
Sincerity and truth. These words, rendered by the LXX en euyuthti kai endikaiosunh , are not the precise equivalent of those so translated in other passages in the Bible, nor is St. Paul, in 1Co_5:8, quoting this passage. The word translated sincerity is rather to be rendered perfection, or perfectness. The Hebrew word signifying truth is derived from the idea of stability, as that which can stand the rude shocks of inquiry.
Vers. 14, 15. A rightful choice urged.
The most solemn engagement we can make is to bind ourselves to be the servants of Jehovah. Such a bond not even death dissolves, it is entered into for eternity. There are periods, however, when it becomes us to ponder the meaning of the covenant, and to renew our protestations of fidelity. To consider the exhortation of Joshua here recorded will benefit alike the young convert and the aged believer, and may lead to a decision those “halting between two opinions.
I AN APPEAL FOR HEARTY RE-DEDICATION TO THE SERVICE OF GOD.
(1) Its necessity arises from the proneness of man to settle down upon his lees, neglecting the watchfulness observed on his first profession of religion. Enthusiasm cools; men sleep and tares are sown among the wheat; the Christian athlete rests content with the laurels already gained; the warrior, having defeated the enemy, allows him time to gather his forces for another battle. The temple was beautifully cleansed, but inattention has allowed it to grow filthy, and it needs a thorough renovation.
(2) Its leading motive is gratitude for Divine goodness in the past. How skilfully Joshua, in the name of Jehovah, enumerates the chief national events wherein His mercy had been conspicuous. Brethren, review the past! Your mercies have been numberless, like the drops of the river flowing by your side. If you can tell the stars, then may you catalogue the blessings you have received. The retrospect teaches the character of your God, and may inspire you with hope for the future. Reverence the Almighty, and your highest expectations will not be disappointed but far surpassed.
(3) Its method prescribes severance from idolatry and a sincere determination to follow the Lord fully. Self examination will reveal many sins still cherished in the heart, like the gods which Israel had allowed to remain in the comp. It were well for us, like David, to go in and sit before the Lord. (2Sa_7:18) In the presence of Him who has leaded us with benefits temporal and spiritual, our vision will be clarified, and we shall be filled with an earnest desire to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” All avowals of a change of heart are to be distrusted which are unaccompanied by evident renunciation of evil habits. The outward act not only affords an index of the inward feeling, but also materially contributes to its strength.
II AN ALTERNATIVE PRESENTED. Notwithstanding all that had been done for the Israelites, some of them might deem it “evil,” unpleasant, irksome, laborious to serve the Lord. Hence the option of forsaking Him, and bowing before the gods whom their fancy should select. The alternative suggests that, in the opinion of the speaker,
(1) some kind of service is inevitable. Without acknowledging some superior powers, the Israelites could not remain. Absolutely free and independent man cannot be, though his idol may assume any form or character. In every breast there is some predominating principle or passion, be it piety, morality, intellectualism, aestheticism, or love of selfish pleasure.
(2) The freedom of the will is seen in the power of choice. Choose man must; but he can choose what seems best to him. God has a right to demand our homage; but He is content to let us decide for ourselves the equity of His claims. He appeals to the judgment and the conscience. He makes His people “willing in the day of His power,” not by enchaining their wills and constraining obedience, but by appropriate motives and inducements, leading them to consider it their glory to lay themselves at His feet “Who then is willing to consecrate this service this day unto the Lord?”. (1Ch_29:5) Freedom of choice is too frequently a beautiful and dangerous gift, which, like a sword in the hands of a child, injures its possessor. Yet we are unable to divest ourselves of the responsibility that attaches to free agency. Some plan of life is ruling us, even if it be a resolve to live aimlessly. We may deliberately weigh our decision, bringing to bear upon our comparison of conflicting claims all the strength of our moral nature and power of discernment, or we may refuse to face the points at issue, and let our judgment go by default, imagining that we shall thus escape the onus of a formal determination; but in the latter case, no less than in the former, we have made our choice, and are serving some master, though we recognise it not. The alternative indicates
(3) that neutrality and compromise are each impossible. If God be not the object of adoration, then any occupant of the throne must be considered as God”s enemy. Multitudes think that if they are not found openly opposing religion there is naught to be complained of in their attitude and conduct. Herein they are terribly at fault. “He that is not with Me is against Me.” Those who advance not to the help of the Lord are treated as His foes. (cf. Jud_1:21:8 and 1Sa_11:7) Nor will God accept a divided allegiance. Dagon must fall from his pedestal when the ark of God”s presence enters the chamber of the heart. How could the Israelites be true at once to Jehovah and to idols? “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Religion modifies the character of every action, transforming it into an offering laid upon the altar to the glory of God. All that we have and are we send to the Royal Mint, and receive it back, stamped with the Sovereign”s image, and fashioned according to His desire.
III A FIXED RESOLVE. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua set a noble example, which powerfully affected his followers. The expressed determination of a pastor, a teacher, a parent may produce widespread beneficial results upon those under their charge. Joshua showed himself fit to lead men. He did not wait to see what the majority of the people would approve before he committed himself to a particular course of action; but boldly stated his intention to cleave with full purpose of heart unto the Lord. The Ephraimites, slow to come to the rescue in the hour of danger, but swift to claim a place of honour when a victory has been won, (Jud_1:12:1, 2) have found many imitators in every age. Men who wait to see in which direction the current of popular feeling is setting ere they risk their reputation or their safety by taking a decided step. We may dislike isolation, but are not alone if the Father is with us. Joshua”s resolve was never regretted. What man has ever been sorry that he became a follower of Christ? Even backsliders confess that they were never happier than when they attended to the commandments of the Lord. True religion furnishes its votaries with self-evidential proofs of its Divine authority in the peace of mind and satisfaction of conscience which they experience. To enjoy the favour of God is felt to be worth more than any earthly friendship or worldly gain.
CONCLUSION. This theme is suitable for the beginning of a year, when untrodden paths invite you to choose a method of travel. Or perhaps some crisis is occurring in your life, when you are entering upon a fresh sphere of employment. Use it as a time to commence a period of devotion to God”s service. Young people, decide which is the more honourable, to serve God or the world. Do not spend the finest of your days in a manner which will hereafter pierce you with remorse. A.
The call to God”s service.
I THE CALL.
(1) It is a direct appeal. Religion is practical, and preaching must be practical. We must not be satisfied with the exposition of truth. We must aim at persuasion such as shall affect the conduct of men. For this purpose there is room for direct exhortation. Men are ready to admit the truth of propositions which lie outside the sphere of their own experience. The difficult matter is to translate these into principles of conduct and to apply them to individual lives. The Bible is sent for this ultimate purpose. As a message from God the Word of God is not merely a revelation of truth; it is supremely a call from the Father to His children. God is now calling directly to us by the undying voice of Scripture, by providence, by His Spirit in our consciences. (Rev_22:17)
(2) The call is based on a review of past experience. After this review Joshua says, Now, therefore, fear the Lord,” etc. God”s goodness to us in the past is a great motive to incline us to serve Him
(a) because it lays us under a great obligation to Him, (1Co_6:20) and
(b) because it reveals His character as that of a Master worthy of devotion and delightful to serve.
(3) The call is urged with the last words of dying man. Joshua is old and about to die. At such a time an address would naturally be characterised by supreme earnestness. What is then urged would be felt by the speaker to be of first importance. Mere conventionalism, objects of passing political expediency, trifles and crotchets sink out of view. The dying message of the old leader must concern the highest welfare of the people. With all the force of these circumstances Joshua selects the need to fear and serve God for His one urgent exhortation. Surely this fact should lead us all to put it before ourselves as a question of first importance, taking precedence of all considerations of worldly pleasure and interest.
II THE OBJECT OF THE CALL.
(1) The end to be aimed at is to “fear and serve the Lord.” The fear characterises the spirit of internal devotion, the service covers the obedience of active work. The fear precedes the service; because we cannot rightly serve God with our hands till we are devoted to Him in our hearts. The fear of God here required is not the abject terror which the slave feels for the tyrant, but reverence, awe, worship, the dread of displeasing, and the humble submission of our souls. This must be found in all true devotion. Yet it is most prominent in the stern Hebrew faith. (Psa_2:11) For the Christian, love is the leading motive, though this love must be an awed and reverent affection. After the fear, then, must follow the service; for God will not be satisfied with passive veneration, He requires active obedience.
(2) The essential characteristic of the fear and service here noted is sincerity. There is always danger of worship becoming unconsciously formal even when it is not knowingly hypocritical; because pure worship involves the highest effort of spirituality, great abstraction from sense, and a purity of thought which is very foreign to the habits of sinful beings. (2Ti_3:5) Yet God abhors unreal devotion, (Isa_29:13) and can only be worshipped at all when He is served spiritually. (Joh_4:24)
(3) The necessary condition of this fear and service is a departure from all things inconsistent with it. The people must give up all lingering habits of idolatry. We must repent and forsake our old sins. We cannot retain devotion to the world and to sin whilst we devote ourselves to God. No man can serve two masters. Therefore choose. W.F.A.
Vers. 14, 15. The great appeal.
From the trembling lips of one within a step of death comes the appeal which through all the centuries since has pierced and moved and won the hearts of men. Often urged, it is not always represented accurately. Elijah may address a more degenerate generation with a challenge to serve God or to serve Baal, insisting on this as if the chances of either alternative being adopted were even. Joshua does not say, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve God or another,” but bids them serve God, urging His claims. In the event of their being unwilling to yield to these claims, he urges with some irony, that shows the keenness of moral energy still in Him, that in that case they should choose amongst the deities whose feebleness they had witnessed the one least helpless. There are several things here worthy of notice. Observe, first, an assumption underlying this appeal, viz.:
I SOME PLAN OF LIFE SHOULD BE SOBERLY THOUGHT OUT AND FOLLOWED WITH DECISION. Our “miscellaneous impulses” always prove a poor guide. There can be neither progress, peace, strength, nor usefulness if life is desultory. We cannot employ anything to good advantage, much less life, unless we know its nature, what it is made for, what can be done with it, its resources and its proper ends. The first question of the “Shorter Catechism,” “What is the chief end of man?” stands as the first question of the catechism of life. Until we form some aim and keep to it, tomorrow will be always moving in a different direction from today, will lose what today has won. An aim permits life to be cumulative, always gathering richer force, fuller joys always completing and rounding off its conquests. Joshua here assumes that a plan of life is essential to the proper pursuit of it, and on this assumption his appeal is based. Take note of this, for a planless is a powerless life. Observe
II HE CLAIMS THEIR LIFE FOR GOD. Now, therefore, serve Him.” He does not timorously present any alternative. There is no reasonable alternative to this. One plan, and only one, of life should be entertained by a serious nature. The only wise and only rational plan of life is the service of God. A multitude of reasons concur to commend it.
(1) Conscience requires it, as the only right course. Serving God, every law will be kept, every duty done, every claim met, every wrong avoided. Conscience points like a compass needle to the throne of God, and its every suggestion is in one form or other a suggestion to do His bidding. It is a solemn fact that the holiest and the deepest instinct of our nature bids us serve God.
(2) Gratitude requires it. God had delivered them, led them, helped them, enriched them; given them liberty, victory, home. In addition to these national blessings, He had to each individual given life, faculty, joys, home loves, duties that dignified, comforts that gladdened life. The instinct of gratitude is to ask, What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits? We have still larger benefits a Saviour, a home above. Gratitude should constrain us to serve God.
(3) Wisdom should constrain us to serve Him. Serve self and server and served are both ruined. Serve God and God is pleased, and we are safe. Service of God developes all our higher faculties; is the only state in which we are safe; is the course in which we are useful. Growth, safety, usefulness, what can compare with them? Pitiable is the state of those who do not serve. They do not live in any proper sense of the word. Therefore Joshua urges on them to serve their redeeming God. And the grounds which suited them 4, 000 years ago are all intensely valid today. Consider this claim, and if disposed to dispute it, consider next
II THE CHALLENGE HE GIVES TO THOSE UNWILLING TO SERVE GOD. “If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose ye whom ye will serve; the gods whom your fathers served, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land ye dwell.” Thus he presents them with the discredited deities around them, and bids them choose. Will they choose the gods that Abraham forsook forsook because power. less to help, degrading in their influence? by forsaking whom he found all his grandeur, all his blessedness, all his reward? or will they take the gods of the Amorites whose powerlessness to protect their servants had been just witnessed, who betrayed those who trusted in them? With what force does the mere form in which he urges his challenge deter men from it! Would that all who reject the Saviour would realise what they are about! If it seems not good to you to serve Christ, whom will ye serve? The gods your fathers left? The gods whose powerlessness to bless men is manifest around you? Such a goddess as Pleasure, which fools think the best to worship, which fritters away all strength of soul, destroys conscience, and heart, and intellect, and body alike would you choose that? or Money, coyest of all deities? whom he that seeketh rarely findeth, and he that findeth never finds so rich as he had hoped? who seems to be a god that can give everything, but it is found to be unable to give any one of the things most desired by us? Or Power, the deity sought by the ambitious, who never permits any one to say, “He is mine” in anything like the degree he had hoped, and even when possessed is found to be insipid as the insignificance from which men fled? Is it Indulgence ? the deity that degrades men? or Self will, the deity that destroys them? Choose which. There ought to be no trifling. We must serve some God. Who is to be the source of all you hope for if you put away the Saviour of Calvary? To use the experience of others is the part of a wise man; to buy experience dearly for yourself is the part of a foolish man. There is none amongst all the deities that clamour for your service which the wise and the good have not forsaken, or the foolish and the worldly have not repented of cleaving to. Betake not yourself to such, but serve the Lord. G.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE Vers. 14-16. The grand choice.
Joshua”s words derive added force from the historic associations of the place in which he uttered them. Shechem was not only scene of great natural beauty, but one around which lingered memories peculiarly in harmony with the circumstances of the time. Here Abraham first pitched his tent and raised an altar, consecrating that spot to the living God a witness against the heathen abominations of the Canaanites who dwelt in the laud. Here, probably under the same oak, Jacob buried the “strange gods the teraphim and the amulets that some of his family had brought from Padanaram in token of his resolute renunciation of these sinful idolatries. What more fitting place could be found for a solemn appeal like this to the tribes to remain true to the God of their fathers? Besides which, Joshua”s venerable age, the blameless integrity of his character, and the renown of his exploits as their leader, gave such weight to his appeal that they would well deserve the threatened penalties if they failed to profit by it. Certain important principles of religious life are illustrated in this appeal
I THE SERVICE OF GOD IS A MATTER OF FREE PERSONAL CHOICE, “Choose you this day,” de. The simple alternative they were called on to decide was, either the service of the Lord Jehovah, or the service of the false gods of Egypt and of the Amorites. No middle course was open to them. There could be no compromise. It must be one thing or the other let them choose. And substantially the same alternative is before every man in every age. There is something to which he pays supreme homage, and it is either to the great invisible King, the only living and true God, or else to the idols, more or less base, of his own self will or of the vain world around him.
(1) It is the glory of our nature that we can make such a choice. God has so constituted us that this self determining power is one of our most essential prerogatives. And in His dealings with us he always respects the nature He has given. He never violates the law of its freedom. That were to destroy it. No man is compelled to serve Him, nor yet forbidden by any imperious necessity of his being or life to do so. Human nature knows nothing either of necessary evil or irresistible grace.
(2) This freedom of choice gives worth to every religious act. There would be no moral worth in anything we do without it. The basis of all personal responsibility, it is also the condition of all moral goodness and acceptable service. God would have nothing at our hands that is not voluntarily rendered. If we would serve Him at all, His service must be our free unfettered choice.
II IT IS A CHOICE DETERMINED BY RATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS. “If it seem evil,” etc. Joshua sets the alternative with perfect fairness before them that they may weigh the conflicting claims and judge accordingly. If these gods of the heathen are really nobler, better, more worthy of their gratitude and trust than the Lord Jehovah, then by all means let them follow them! But if the Lord be indeed God, if they owe to Him all that gives sanctity to their national character, and glory to their national history, then let them put these “strange gods” utterly and forever from them, and cleave to Him with an undivided heart. It is a deliberate judgment between contrary and wholly irreconcilable paths to which they are called. Religion is our “reasonable service”. (Rom_7:1) It is no blind act of self surrender. It involves the consent of all our powers the mind embracing divinely discovered truth, the heart yielding to gracious heavenly influence, the conscience recognising a supreme obligation, the will bowing to that higher will which is “holy and just and good.” No man is called to declare for God without sufficient reason.
III IT IS A CHOICE WHICH CERTAIN CRITICAL OCCASIONS MAKE TO BE SPECIALLY IMPERATIVE. “Choose you this day,” etc. “This day” above all other days because the motives to it are stronger today than ever; because the matter is one that it is neither right nor safe to defer to another day. While self consecration to the service of God is a perpetual obligation, there are seasons of life in which it is peculiarly urgent, when many voices combine with unwonted emphasis to say, “now is the accepted time,” etc.
(2) times of adversity,
(3) times of special religious privilege or awakening,
(4) times when new social relations are being formed, and new paths of life are opening.
IV IT IS A CHOICE ENCOURAGED BY NOBLE PERSONAL EXAMPLES. “As for me and my house,” etc. Here is an example
(1) of manly resolution,
(2) of the strength that can dare to stand alone,
(3) of family piety directed by paternal authority and influence.
Such an example has an inspiring effect above that of mere persuasive words. It quickens and strengthens every germ of better thought and feeling in the breasts of men. There is no stronger incentive to religious life than the observation of the exemplary forms it assumes in others. (1Co_4:15, 16 Php_3:17)
V IT IS A CHOICE THAT MUST LEAD TO APPROPRIATE PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS. “Now therefore put away,” etc. (ver. 23). The honesty of their purpose, the reality of their decision, could be shown in no other way. They only have living faith in God who are “careful to maintain good works”. W. (Tit_3:8 Jam_2:18)
15.And if it seem evil unto you, etc It seems here as if Joshua were paying little regard to what becomes an honest and right-hearted leader. If the people had forsaken God and gone after idols, it was his duty to inflict punishment on their impious and abominable revolt. But now, by giving them the option to serve God or not, just as they choose, he loosens the reins, and gives them license to rush audaciously into sin. What follows is still more absurd, when he tells them that they cannot serve the Lord, as if he were actually desirous of set purpose to impel them to shake off the yoke. But there is no doubt that his tongue was guided by the inspiration of the Spirit, in stirring up and disclosing their feelings. For when the Lord brings men under his authority, they are usually willing enough to profess zeal for piety, though they instantly fall away from it. Thus they build without a foundation. This happens because they neither distrust their own weakness so much as they ought, nor consider how difficult it is to bind themselves wholly to the Lord. There is need, therefore, of serious examination, lest we be carried aloft by some giddy movement, and so fail of success in our very first attempts. With this design, Joshua, by way of probation, emancipates the Jews, making them, as it were, their own masters, and free to choose what God they are willing to serve, not with the view of withdrawing them from the true religion, as they were already too much inclined to do, but to prevent them from making inconsiderate promises, which they would shortly after violate. For the real object of Joshua was, as we shall see, to renew and confirm the covenant which had already been made with God. Not without cause, therefore, does he give them freedom of choice, that they may not afterwards pretend to have been under compulsion, when they bound themselves by their own consent. Meanwhile, to impress them with a feeling of shame, he declares that he and his house will persevere in the worship of God.
Keil and Delitzsch
But as the true worship of the living God must have its roots in the heart, and spring from the heart, and therefore cannot be forced by prohibitions and commands, Joshua concluded by calling upon the representatives of the nation, in case they were not inclined (“if it seem evil unto you”) to serve Jehovah, to choose now this day the gods whom they would serve, whether the gods of their fathers in Mesopotamia, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land they were now dwelling, though he and his house would serve the Lord. There is no necessity to adduce any special proofs that this appeal was not intended to release them from the obligation to serve Jehovah, but rather contained the strongest admonition to remain faithful to the Lord.
Or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell. There is a reductio ad absurdum here. “Had ye served those gods ye would never have been here, nor would the Amorites have been driven out before you.” The reference to the gods of their fathers seems to be intended to suggest the idea of an era long since lost in the past, and thrown into the background by the splendid deliverances and wonders which Jehovah had wrought among them. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Or, Jehovah. Here speaks the sturdy old warrior, who had led them to victory in many a battle. He invites them, as Elijah did on another even more memorable occasion, to make their choice between the false worship and the true, between the present and the future, between the indulgence of their lusts and the approval of their conscience. But as for himself, his choice is already made. No desire to stand well with the children of Israel obscures the clearness of his vision. No temptations of this lower world pervert his sense of truth. The experience of a life spent in His service has convinced him that Jehovah is the true God. And from that conviction he does not intend to swerve. In days when faith is weak and compromise has become general, when the sense of duty is slight or the definitions of duty vague, it is well that the spirit of Joshua should be displayed among the leaders in Israel, and that there should be those who will take their stand boldly upon the declaration,” But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY Ver. 15. Choice and decision.
After exhorting the people to fear and serve the Lord, Joshua calls to them to consider the alternative of rejecting Him, and to make a decisive choice. It is well to be brought to a practical decision in full view of all the issues which face us. These may be clearly seen. Truth does not shun the light. Christianity can well bear comparison with all other systems of worship and modes of life.
I THE CALL TO CHOOSE.
(1) We are free to choose. Joshua is the leader of the people, yet he does not command submission to God, and forcibly compel it. He exhorts, but he leaves the choice open. God has left our wills free to choose or to reject Him. This liberty is essential to voluntary service the only service which is true and spiritual. God would not value forced devotion. The worth of devotion depends on its free willingness. Yet the freedom God accords is not release from obligation, but only exemption from compulsion. Is is still our duty to serve God.
(2) We cannot serve God without voluntarily choosing Him for our Master. This is a consequence of our liberty. We shall never come to be truly Christian by accident, or by the unconscious influence of a Christian atmosphere. Religion depends on a decisive action of the will. This need not be so sudden and pronounced as to take the dramatic form it assumes in the narrative before us, and in some cases of sudden conversion. But the fact must be proved by a consequent decisive course of life.
(3) Indecision is a fatal error. We may not choose the evil, yet we practically abandon ourselves to it while we refrain from choosing the good. In ordinary life indecision is a sure cause of failure; so it is in religion. Though we may doubt many points of doctrine, if only we know enough for choice we must not hesitate in the region of practice.
(4) There is no reason for delay. Joshua called for immediate decision. This is most safe, most easy, and secures the longest life of service. (Heb_3:7)
II THE ALTERNATIVES OF CHOICE.
(1) Joshua anticipated the position of those to whom it might “seem evil to serve the Lord.” This might arise
(a) from misunderstanding the character of God”s service,
(b) from fear of the inevitable sacrifices and toils which it involves, or
(c) from lingering affection for the evil things which must be abandoned on entering upon it.
(2) Joshua challenged the people to choose whom they would serve if they rejected the Lord. It is well not only to defend the truth, but to show the difficulties which must be faced if this is rejected. We should look at our prospect all round. It is not fair to object to the difficulties of Christianity until we have weighed well the consequence of any other course of life. We must have some God. Israel must choose if not for Jehovah, then for the gods of their fathers or the gods of their neighbours. There is irony in Joshua”s way of setting out the alternatives. Either the people must go back to the past, deliverance from which they are now rejoicing at, or they must accept the worship of those gods whom they have defied and defeated in the overthrow of their enemies. If we have not God we must follow the world, Satan our evil past, or the worst foes of our present welfare.
III THE EXAMPLE OF DECISION FOR GOD. Joshua chooses independently of the popular choice. He is not swayed by the opinion of the multitude. Rather he would guide it by example. It is weak to refuse to choose till we see how the world will choose. Truth and right are not affected by numbers. Every man must make the great choice for himself.
(1) Joshua first chose for himself. We must be decided before we can influence others aright. Yet let us beware lest in saving others we ourselves become castaways. (1Co_9:27)
(2) Joshua also chose for his house. We should seek to bring strangers to the right way, but our first duty is with our own household. It is a good sign when a man is able to speak for the decision of his house. W.F.A.
16.And the people answered and said, etc Here we see he had no reason to repent of the option given, when the people, not swearing in the words of another, nor obsequiously submitting to extraneous dictation, declare that it would be an impious thing to revolt from God. And thus it tends, in no small degree, to confirm the covenant, when the people voluntarily lay the law upon themselves. The substance of the answer is, that since the Lord has, by a wonderful redemption, purchased them for himself as a peculiar people, has constantly lent them his aid, and shown that he is among them as their God, it would be detestable ingratitude to reject him and revolt to other gods.
God forbid that we should forsake the Lord – That they were now sincere cannot be reasonably doubted, for they served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and the elders that outlived him, Jos_24:31; but afterwards they turned aside, and did serve other gods. “It is ordinary,” says Mr. Trapp, “for the many-headed multitude to turn with the stream – to be of the same religion with their superiors: thus at Rome, in Diocletian’s time, they were pagans; in Constantine’s Christians; in Constantius’s, Arians; in Julian’s apostates, and in Jovinian’s, Christians again! And all this within less than the age of a man. It is, therefore, a good thing that the heart be established with grace.”
And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord. There could be no doubt of the sincerity of the people at that.moment. The only doubt is that afterwards expressed by Joshua, whether the feeling were likely to be permanent. The best test of sincerity is not always the open hostility of foes, for this very often braces up the energies to combat, while at the same time it makes the path of duty clear. Still less is it the hour of triumph over our foes, for then there is no temptation to rebel. The real test of our faithfulness to God is in most cases our power to continue steadfastly in one course of conduct when the excitement of conflict is removed, and the enemies with which we have to contend are the insidious allurements of ease or custom amid the common place duties of life. Thus the Israelites who, amid many murmurings and backslidings, kept faithful to the guidance of Moses in the wilderness, and who followed with unwavering fidelity the banner of Joshua in Palestine, succumbed fatally to the temptations of a life of peace and quietness after his death. So too often does the young Christian, who sets out on his heavenward path with earnest desires and high aspirations, who resists successfully the temptations of youth to unbelief or open immorality, fall a victim to the more insidious snares of compromise with a corrupt society, and instead of maintaining a perpetual warfare with the world, rejecting its principles and despising its precepts, sinks down into a life of ignoble ease and self indulgence, in the place of a life of devotion to the service of God. He does not east off God”s service, he does not reject Him openly, but mixes up insensibly with His worship the worship of idols which He hates. Such persons halt between two opinions, they strive to serve two masters, and the end, like that of Israel, is open apostasy and ruin. For “God forbid” see Jos_22:29.
HOMILIES BY R. GLOVER Vers. 16-31. A great decision.
One of the beautiful things about Scripture is the fine endings of all courses in which God has been leader. This book is no exception. The last view we have of Israel shows them entering into a solemn covenant with God, and one which, speaking roundly, all who made it kept. They respond grandly to Joshua”s challenge. “God forbid that we should serve other gods.” And even when reminded of the difficulty of serving Him, their purpose remains unshaken. In this great decision there are many things worth noting.
I HE WHO LEADS MEN RIGHTLY WILL NEVER LACK FOLLOWERS, Some say, Go, and men go not. But when they say, “Come with us,” they find men responsive. Advice that costs nothing is futile, but example that costs much constrains. Joshua leads grandly, because he moves before the people. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It is strange the contagiousness of faith and goodness; the force of unconscious influence. The courage of another wakes courage; the honour of another wakes honour. The faith of others is itself “evidence of the things unseen.” A man like Joshua is a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, that “marshals men the way that they were going.” However arduous the calling to which you summon men, if you can say, “As for me, I will serve,” you will always be answered by some, We will serve the Lord.” Despair not of holy and saving influences. Every one marching on the Divine way of duty, mercy, faith will have more followers than he dared to hope for. It is the grandest illustration of the influence of man on man that we can guide men even to heaven itself by the constraint of a good example. Note this, the good leader has always good followers. See a beautiful treatment of this subject in Horace Bushnell”s sermon on “Unconscious Influence. Secondly observe
II A GREAT DECISION SHOULD BE SOLEMNLY AND FORMALLY MADE. He leads them to make a formal covenant with God. He constrains them at once to give up their idols, and in the spot where Jacob had buried the idols which his family had brought with them from Padanaram he buries them; and he sets up a pillar as a memorial. These several things all tend to fortify and consolidate the resolution to which they had come. Sometimes we make a great decision, but fail to keep it through some neglect to fortify it with special solemnities. One great object of the sacraments ordained by the Saviour, unquestionably, was to give to religious decisions this solemn and formal character. They were meant to bring vague feelings to a point; to detach utterly from the world; to attach strongly to the Saviour. If we mean to serve Christ, the idols should be brought out and buried, and the covenant rites of God entered into. There should be openness, for without confession we remain constantly amid entanglements. There should be thoroughness, for a great change is often more easily made than a gradual one. There should be the sacramental covenant and vows that we may have at once the strength and the constraint which come with the feeling that we belong to God. As here the determination was avowed carried out thoroughly solemnised in a covenant so ours should be. Men do not know what they lose by a secret and uncovenanted sanctity. When we are secret disciples there is a perpetual danger of the secresy destroying the discipleship. We lose the protection of a definite position, the power that lies in fellowship, and much of the usefulness which our goodness might carry if it were not counteracted by our reserve. If you are deciding to serve God, let your decision be thorough, open, sacramental. Observe lastly
III THE GRAND RESULTS OF THIS GREAT DECISION. Sometimes good resolves are badly kept. They are like “grass on the house tops, which withereth afore it groweth up.” Whether they are well kept or not depends largely on whether they are well made. Generally it will be found where they are broken that there was some defective part: sin not wholly left; the surrender to God not absolutely made. Here the great decision is worthily and thoroughly made, and the grandest results flow from it.
(1) They keep the covenant they enter into with God. From the 31st verse we might conclude what from Jud_1:2:7, 10 we learnt explicitly, that all that generation which made the covenant kept it. We are called to resolve on what seem impossibilities: to deny self; to walk with God; to follow the Saviour”s leading. But when the great resolve is well made, the very making of it ensures the keeping of it. “Well begun is half done.” Each step well taken developes strength to take the next. Each good deed done imparts the power to do one still better. God supplies the grace on which men depend. His smile heartens; His providence helps them. Be not afraid to enter into covenant with God. Perhaps none ever finally fall away from a great decision, thoroughly and religiously made.
(2) They have a period of freedom from assault in which to complete their occupation of the land. This period has been computed to be thirty-two years (Smith”s “Dict. Bible,” art. Chronology). Godliness is not detrimental, but profitable for all things. A nation devout is a nation sober, united, strong; one left unattacked, or easily resisting an attack. It was of great moment that they should settle down, become accustomed to possession, multiply in strength, secure whatever of the inheritance was still in the enemy”s hands. And, following God,. they enjoy the favour of God, and find just the period of rest which they require. Is there not something here to which the experiences of individual men finish many a parallel? Your earthly welfare will not be wrecked by your Christian action. Your honesty will promote, it will not prevent success. No lie and no dishonour is necessary for getting on in life, only the weak and foolish think so. It is not the grasping that inherit the earth, but the meek. It is wisdom, not greed, that has “in her right hand length of days and in her left hand riches and honour.” It is one of God”s “open secrets” that the shortest way to the enjoyment of anything we desire is simply deserving it. Enter into covenant with God, and keep His covenant, and “thou shalt dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. G.
For the Lord our God. Rather, for Jehovah our God (see note on ver. 2). The Israelites, we may observe, were no sceptics, nor ever became such. Their sin was not open rebellion, but the attempt to engraft upon God”s service conduct incompatible with it, which led in practice to the same result a final antagonism to God. But they believed in Jehovah; they had no doubt of the miracles He had worked, nor of the fact that His protecting hand had delivered them from all their perils, and had achieved for them all their victories. Nor do we find, amid all their sins, that they ever committed themselves to a formal denial of His existence and authority. To this, in the worst times, the prophets appeal, and though Israelitish obstinacy contested their conclusions, it never disputed their premises. Did those great signs. Here the people, in their answer, imply the circumstances which Joshua had omitted. This remark presupposes the miraculous passage of the Red Sea and the Jordan, and the other great miracles recorded in the books of Moses and Joshua. And among all the people through whom we passed. The Hebrew is stronger, “through the midst of whom.” As the destruction of the Amorites is mentioned afterwards, this must refer to the safe passage of the Israelites, not only among the wandering bands of Ishmaelites in the wilderness, but along the borders of king Arad the Canaanite, of Edom, and of Moab. (Num_20:25) This close, yet incidental, agreement on the part of the writers of two separate books serves to establish the trustworthiness of the writers.
Keil and Delitzsch
The people responded to this appeal by declaring, with an expression of horror at idolatry, their hearty resolution to serve the Lord, who was their God, and had shown them such great mercies. The words, “that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” call to mind the words appended to the first commandment (Exo_20:2; Deu_5:6), which they hereby promise to observe. With the clause which follows, “who did those great signs in our sight,” etc., they declare their assent to all that Joshua had called to their mind in Jos_24:3-13. “We also” (Jos_24:18), as well as thou and thy house (Jos_24:15).
Therefore will we also serve the Lord. There is an ambiguity in our version which does not exist in the Hebrew. There is no “therefore,” which only serves to obscure the sense, and which is borrowed from the Vulgate. The LXX, which has alla kai , gives the true sense. After the enumeration of the great things God Jehovah has done for them, the Israelites break off, and, referring to the declaration of Joshua in ver. 15, “but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah,” reply, “we too will serve Jehovah, for He is our God.”
19.And Joshua said unto the people, etc Here Joshua seems to act altogether absurdly in crushing the prompt and alert zeal of the people, by suggesting ground of alarm. For to what end does he insist that they cannot serve the Lord, unless it be to make them, from a sense of their utter powerlessness, to give themselves up to despair, and thus necessarily become estranged from the fear of God. It was necessary, however, to employ this harsh mode of obtestation, in order to rouse a sluggish people, rendered more lethargic by security. And we see that the expedient did not fail to obtain, at least, a momentary success. For they neither despond nor become more slothful, but, surmounting the obstacle, answer intrepidly that they will be constant in the performance of duty.
In short, Joshua does not deter them from serving God, but only explains how refractory and disobedient they are, in order that they may learn to change their temper. So Moses, in his song, (Deu_32:0) when he seems to make a divorce between God and the people, does nothing else than prick and whet them, that they may hasten to change for the better. Joshua, indeed, argues absolutely from the nature of God; but what he specially aims at is the perverse behavior and untamed obstinacy of the people. He declares that Jehovah is a holy and a jealous God. This, certainly, should not by any means prevent men from worshipping him; but it follows from it that impure, wicked, and profane despisers, who have no religion, provoke his anger, and can have no intercourse with him, for they will feel him to be implacable. And when it is said that he will not spare their wickedness, no general rule is laid down, but the discourse is directed, as often elsewhere, against their disobedient temper. It does not refer to faults in general, or to special faults, but is confined to gross denial of God, as the next verse demonstrates. The people, accordingly, answer the more readily, that they will serve the Lord.
Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is a holy God – If we are to take this literally, we cannot blame the Israelites for their defection from the worship of the true God; for if it was impossible for them to serve God, they could not but come short of his kingdom: but surely this was not the case. Instead of לא תוכלו lo thuchelu, ye Cannot serve, etc., some eminent critics read לא תכלו lo thechallu, ye shall not Cease to serve, etc. This is a very ingenious emendation, but there is not one MS. in all the collections of Kennicott and De Rossi to support it. However, it appears very possible that the first ו vau in תוכלו did not make a part of the word originally. If the common reading be preferred, the meaning of the place must be, “Ye cannot serve the Lord, for he is holy and jealous, unless ye put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the flood. For he is a jealous God, and will not give to nor divide his glory with any other. He is a holy God, and will not have his people defiled with the impure worship of the Gentiles.”
Keil and Delitzsch
But in order to place most vividly before the minds of the people to what it was that they bound themselves by this declaration, that they might not inconsiderately vow what they would not afterwards observe, Joshua adds, “Ye cannot serve Jehovah,” sc., in the state of mind in which ye are at present, or “by your own resolution only, and without the assistance of divine grace, without solid and serious conversion from all idols, and without true repentance and faith” (J. H. Michaelis). For Jehovah is “a holy God,” etc. Elohim, used to denote the Supreme Being (see at Gen_2:4), is construed with the predicate in the plural. On the holiness of God, see the exposition of Exo_19:6. On the expression “a jealous God,” see Exo_20:5; and on לְפֶשַׁע נָשָׂא, Exo_23:21. The only other place in which the form קַנֹּוא is used for קַנָּא is Nah_1:2. “If ye forsake the Lord and serve strange gods, He will turn (i.e., assume a different attitude towards you) and do you hurt, after He has done you good,” i.e., He will not spare you, in spite of the blessings which He has conferred upon you. חֵרַע is used to denote the judgments threatened in the law against transgressors.
Jos_24:19-20. Joshua still calls the people to notice how difficult it was to serve Jehovah, by showing that he was a holy God (הִֹים קְדשׁהים as 1Sa_17:26; אֱלהִֹים חַיִים, where also the adject. is in the plural; in respect to the sense, comp. Exo_19:6; Lev_21:6-8; 1Pe_2:9, as well as the numerous passages in Isaiah, where God is designated as the קְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, e.g., Isa_5:19; Isa_5:24; Isa 12:6; 30:11, 12; 41:14, 43, etc.), a jealous God (אֵל קַנּוֹא; Exo_20:5, אֵל קַנָּא; Nah_1:2, אֵל קַנּוֹא, as here), who will not forgive transgressions (פֶּשַׁע) and sins, “נָשָׂא, spoken of the forgiveness of sins, is commonly construed with acc. rei; less frequently with לְrei, besides this passage in Exo_23:21; Psa_25:18, with slight modification of meaning—to award forgiveness to sin” (Keil).
And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord. Calvin thinks that Joshua said this to rouse the sluggish heart of the people to some sense of their duty. But this is quite contrary to the fact, for the heart of the people, as we have seen, (Jos 22) was not sluggish. As little can we accept the explanation of Michaelis, who paraphrases, “Ye will not be able, from merely human resolutions, to serve God.” Joshua was stating nothing but a plain fact, which his own higher conception of the law had taught him, that the law was too “holy, just, and good” for it to be possible that Israel should keep it. He had forebodings of coming failure, when he looked on one side at the law with its stern morality and rigorous provisions, and the undisciplined, untamed people that he saw around him. True and faithful to the last, he set before them the law in all its majesty and fulness, the nature of its requirements, and the unsuspected dangers that lay in their weak and wayward hearts. No doubt he had a dim presentiment of the truth, to teach which, to St. Paul, required a miracle and three years” wrestling in Arabia, that by the deeds of the law “shall no flesh be justified in God”s sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin”. (Rom_3:20) As yet the Spirit of God had barely begun to unveil the figure of the Deliverer who was to declare at once God”s righteousness and His forgiveness. Yet none the less did Joshua do his duty, and strove to brace up the Israelites to theirs, not by disguising the nature of the undertaking to which they were pledging themselves, but by causing them to be penetrated with a sense of its awfulness and of the solemn responsibilities which it entailed. St. Augustine thinks that Joshua detected in the Israelites already the signs of that self righteousness which St. Paul (Rom_10:3) blames, and that he wished to make them conscious of it. But this is hardly borne out by the narrative. He is a holy God. The pluralis excellentiae is used here in the case of the adjective as well as the substantive. This is to enhance the idea of the holiness which is an essential attribute of God. He is a Jealous God. The meaning is that God will not permit others to share the affections or rights which are His due alone. The word, which, as its root, “to be red,” shows, was first applied to human affections, is yet transferred to God, since we can but approximate to His attributes by ideas derived from human relations. Not that God stoops to the meanness and unreasonableness of human jealousy. His vindication of His rights is no other than reasonable in Him. “His glory” He not only “will not,” but cannot “give to another.” And therefore, as a jealous man does, yet without his infirmity, God refuses to allow another to share in what is due to Himself alone. The word, as well as the existence of the Mosaic covenant, has no doubt led the prophets to use, as they do on innumerable occasions, the figure of a husband and wife (Jer_2:2 Eze_23:25 Hos_2:2, Hos_2:13, Hos_2:16, Hos_2:19, Hos_2:20) in describing the relations ofGod to His Church, and approximate to His attitude towards His people by the illustration of an injured husband towards a faithless wife. (see also Exo_34:14 Deu_6:15) He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. (see Exo_23:21) There were many words used for “forgive” in Scripture: rpk avn and hls (see Pearson”s learned note in his “Treatise on the Creed,” Art. 10). The one here used signifies to remove or to bear the burden of guilt, corresponding to the word airw in the New Testament. The word here translated” transgressions” is not the same as in Jos_7:15, and the cognate word to the one rendered “transgressed” in Jos_7:11, is here rendered “sins.” It signifies a “breach of covenant,” while the word translated” sins” is the equivalent of the Greek amatia.
The difficulties of God”s service.
I THERE ARE DIFFICULTIES IN THE SERVICE OF GOD. All are freely invited to serve God; all may find ready access to God; there is no need for delay, all may come at once and without waiting to be worthy of Him; after coming through Christ, the yoke is easy and the burden light. Yet there are difficulties. Sin and self and the world must be sacrificed; God cannot be served with a divided heart, hence complete devotion must be attained; the service itself involves spiritual endeavours and tasks and battles, before which the strongest fail. It is impossible to serve God in our own strength. We can only serve Him aright because what is impossible with men is possible with God; i.e, we can only serve Him in His strength and through the inspiration of His Spirit.
II THE DIFFICULTIES IN THE SERVICE OF GOD ARISE FROM THE DISAGREEMENT BETWEEN OUR CHARACTER AND HIS. God does not willingly make His service hard; it would not be hard if we were not sinful. It is difficult while we have evil habits and affections lingering about us, and it is impossible so long as we cling to these voluntarily.
(1) God is holy, therefore He cannot accept service which is tainted with cherished sin (we must distinguish between cherished sin which makes acceptable service impossible, and resisted sin which hinders, but does not utterly prevent, such service).
(2) God is jealous, therefore He will not accept divided service. Israel must choose either the service of the Lord or the worship of the heathen gods. Both cannot be embraced. We must choose. So long as we give one-half of our heart to the world or to sin God will not accept the other half.
(3) God is, in some respects, unforgiving. He forgives the worst sins of the worst men on repentance; but whilst the least sin is cherished God cannot forgive it. No time will soften His resentment. Hence if we come to His service with evil knowingly in our hearts, He cannot overlook it and accept us.
III IT IS WELL TO CONSIDER THE DIFFICULTIES IN THE SERVICE OF GOD. Israel was too ready hastily to accept God”s service without considering all that it involved. If difficulties exist they must be faced. It is best to count the cost before making choice. (Luk_14:28) Those representations of the gospel which are confined to invitations and promises, and ignore the call to repentance and to sacrifice for Christ, are false and unjust. Christ would have the new disciple face the cross. (Luk_14:27) Such considerations should not deter us from the choice of God”s service. They should make us
(1) careful to compare both sides of the question till we see how immensely the obligations and advantages of religion outweigh the difficulties,
(2) humble and free from boasting and presumption, and
(3) wholly dependent on the help of Christ to make us worthy of His service, to give us strength to serve, and to make our service acceptable. W.F.A. (Php_4:18)
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE Vers. 19-21. A strict master.
Great as was Joshua”s anxiety that the Israelites should renew their covenant with the Almighty, he would not secure this end by concealing the rigorous nature of the service it involved. Instead of accepting immediately the people”s ready response (ver. 18) to his appeal, he proceeded to speak of Jehovah in stern, almost chilling, language. True religion is honest, does not gloss over the requirements which will be insisted on, nor seek to entrap men by fair, smooth promises of an easy rule. Jesus Christ spoke of the necessity of taking up the cross, of leaving home and friends, of enduring hatred, persecution, and trouble, so that none could afterwards complain of being deceived about the requirements and difficulties of discipleship. Men who undertake an enterprise with eyes open are the more likely to persevere; they have already afforded a proof that they are not to be daunted by the prospect of labour and hardship.
I THE CHARACTER OF GOD, AND THE KIND OF SERVICE HENCE EXPECTED.
1. He is holy, and consequently demands abstinence from sin. There is in Him entire rectitude of attribute, both in essence and in exercise. The seraphim cry, “Holy is the Lord of Hosts.” His vesture is spotless, and He expects His servants to attend Him in uniform unstained. (see Lev_19:2) Also note the incidents of Moses at the burning bush, Nadab and Abihu consumed for offering unhallowed fire, and the men of Beth shemesh constrained to exclaim, “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?” The sinlessness of Jesus proclaims Him Divine, and sometimes evokes the petition, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and condemns every act that is inconsistent with the relations in which we stand to Himself, to our fellow creatures, and the material world.
2. He is jealous, and therefore exacts whole-hearted allegiance. Annexed to the second commandment was a statement of Jehovah”s jealousy, which could not permit His glory to be paid to graven images. When the tables of the law were renewed it was expressly affirmed, “The Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” The word means, glowing with heat, hence the Almighty is compared to a “consuming fire” that subdues every work of man. Idolatry was the sin to which Israel was prone, and every prostration at the shrine of an idol was a derogation from the honour due to God, and excited His indignation. He is not content with an inferior share of affection, He must be loved and served with all our strength. “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.” The true disciple is ready to forsake all and follow Christ. The will of the Lord is for him law, his only inquiry being, “Lord, what writ Thou have me to do?
3. He is immutable, and requires unvarying fidelity. “If ye forsake the Lord, then He will do you hurt after that He hath done you good.” He rewards every man according to his doings, and visits transgression with punishment. The Israelites were fickle, moved like water by every passing breeze. God is not the son of man that He should repent. He cannot be false to His nature, and look with pleasure on offenders. Past obedience is no answer to the charge of present guilt. Each day brings its own need of sanctification. It is not possible, in God”s service, to work so hard one week as to enable us to spend the next in idleness, nor can we accumulate a store of good works to cover deficiencies in a time of sin. “It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
II THE PEOPLE”S DETERMINATION TO SERVE THIS EXACTING GOD.
1. Indicates a feeling that only such a Master is worthy of men”s service. Conscience testified that worship should not be offered to other than a perfect Being, and that such a Being could rightly claim these high prerogatives. The rock on which the vessel of mythology has been wrecked is the evil character assigned to its deities, proving them the offspring of human imagination in a debased state. The remembrance of the past, and hopes and fears respecting the future incited the Israelites to continue in their position as the Lord”s peculiar people. And have not we experienced that to be the happiest day when we have thought most of God, and most frequently lifted our hearts in prayer to Him for guidance and succour? If called to renounce ease or sinful practices, have we not been amply repaid in the consciousness that we have acted rightly, and are walking in the light of God”s countenance? To set upon the throne of our hearts one who would be content with meagre devotion and occasional conformity to righteousness might please for a while, but could not durably satisfy our moral aspirations.
2. Intimates a belief that God chiefly regards the sincere endeavours of His servants to please Him. The Israelites could point to Joshua”s own demand in ver. 14 Him in sincerity and in truth.” What is really displeasing to the Most High is wilful violation of His commandments, or hypocritical pretences of loyalty when the heart is estranged. These He visits with severest condemnation. Jehovah declared Himself in the same commandment both a “jealous” God, and one “showing mercy.” And though the disciples of Christ had often exhibited a spirit of worldlinesss, of impatience and unbelief, yet their Master looking on His little company at the Last Supper could even after their unseemly dispute concerning precedence, recognise what was good in them and say, “Ye are they who have continued with Me in My temptations.” He who knows all our works, (Rev_3:8) appreciates the humblest effort to keep His commandments.
3. Suggests an assurance that imperfections of service can be atoned for by confession, sacrifice, and intercession. Joshua”s assertion was quite true. Neither the Israelites nor any other nation could serve the Lord perfectly. Limitations of knowledge and frailties of temper produce at least temporary deviations from the path of obedience. But the people no doubt remembered the provision made in the law for sins of ignorance, the trespass offerings, the day of atonement “to cleanse them that they might be clean from all their sins before the Lord.” Nor were they unmindful of the prayers which had been heard on their behalf When Moses pleaded for them, and the gracious forgiveness that had often followed their national repentance. And what was dimly foreshadowed in the Levitical economy now blazes brightly for our instruction and comfort under the Christian dispensation. Jesus Christ hath by one offering perfected them that are sanctified. His perpetual priesthood is a guarantee for the final salvation of those who come unto God by Him. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” “Ye are complete in Him.
4. Leads us to anticipate a period of perfect service. However the goodness of God may pardon our faults and, beholding us in Christ, take note of the direction rather than of the success of our attempts, it is impossible for us to rest content with our present experience. The spirit cries out for entire emancipation from the thraldom of sin, and longs for the redemption of the body. When shall we be conformed to the image of Christ, and enjoy to the full what now we know only by brief moments of rapture and sudden hasty glimpses? This question is answered by the promise of a manifestation of the sons of God,” when, in unswerving obedience to His Father”s will, they shall realise truest liberty. You who so delight in Christian work as to wish you could spend all your time and energy therein, look to the years to come! “They serve Him day and night in His temple.” “His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face. A.
Jos_24:20. This jealousy of the holy God will show itself in this, that if they should forsake him and serve strange gods (אֱלחֵֹי נֵכָר, as Gen_35:4, while in Jos_24:16, as in Jos_23:16, we found א׳ אֲחֵרִים) he will turn (וְשָׁב) and do them harm and consume (כִּלָּה, finish, abolish) them, after that he has done them good, i.e., without any regard to the fact that he had done them good.
Then he will turn. There is no contradiction between this passage and Jam_1:17, any more than our expression, the sun is in the east or in the west, conflicts with science. St. James is speaking of God as He is in Himself, sublime in His unchangeableness and bountiful purposes towards mankind. Joshua and the prophets, speaking by way of accommodation to our imperfect modes of expression, speak of Him as He is in relation to us. In reality it is not He but we who change. He has no more altered His position than the sun, which, as we say, rises in the east and sets in the west. But as He is in eternal opposition to all that is false or evil, we, when we turn aside from what is good and true, must of necessity exchange His favour for His displeasure. Do you hurt. Literally, do evil to you. After that he hath done you good. This implies what has been before stated, that it is not God who is inconsistent but man, not God who has changed His mind, but man who has changed his.
Vers. 21-25. The covenant.
I THE TERMS OF THE COVENANT. It was to bind the people to their promise to renounce the old life of sin and idolatry, and to enter upon and remain in the true service of God. Nations are proud of protecting treaties, constitutional pledges, charters of liberty, etc. No nation ever took a more important covenant than this. The chief question for all of us is whether we will live for the world or for God. The gospel brings to us a new covenant. The promises are greater, the terms are more light. Yet we must choose and resolve and yield ourselves in submission to it if we would enjoy the advantages its offers. This covenant has two sides. God pledges His blessings, but we must pledge our devotion. His is the infinitely greater part. Yet if we fail in ours God”s promises of blessing no longer apply.
II THE OBJECTS OF THE COVENANT,
(1) It was to preserve the memory of the pledge. Men make resolutions in moments of exaltation which they are apt to forget when the feelings which gave rise to them have subsided. Yet it is just then that they are most necessary. They are not needed when they are freely made, because the impulse to resolve would carry out the action without the resolution. Their real value is for those seasons of trial and service when the lack of a strong spontaneous impulse makes it necessary to fall back on some fixed principle.
(2) It was to secure the execution of the pledge. It is easy to promise. The difficulty lies in the performance. God is only mocked with the devotion of the sanctuary which is not followed by the service of the daily life. Hence we need to preserve and carry the high impulses of worship into the work of the world. Many men live two lives, and the life of the Sunday has no bearing on that of the week day. We should use all means to bring religion into life.
III THE FORM OF THE COVENANT.
(1) There was an appeal to memory. The people were to be witnesses against themselves. We should treasure in the memory and often call to mind the thoughts of our seasons of spiritual elevation.
(2) There was a written record. Writing remains unchanged with the varying moods of men. It may he well to write our higher thoughts and deeper resolves for our own subsequent private meditation. The New Testament is a written covenant.
(3) There was a memorial stone. This would be always visible. So the covenant would be often called to mind. We often need to have our memories refreshed and our thoughts called back to the great practical truths of Christianity. Hence the utility of preaching not only new ideas, but truths that all of us know, and yet that all need to be reminded of, and to have often brought before us for practical application. The stone would not lose its value as it became old and familiar. Truth does not grow feeble with age, nor is it the less important because it is the more familiar. W.F.A.
22.And Joshua said unto the people, etc We now understand what the object was at which Joshua had hitherto aimed. It was not to terrify the people and make them fall away from their religion, but to make the obligation more sacred by their having of their own accord chosen his government, and betaken themselves to his guidance, that they might live under his protection. They acknowledge, therefore, that their own conscience will accuse them, and hold them guilty of perfidy, if they prove unfaithful. But although they were not insincere in declaring that they would be witnesses to their own condemnation, still how easily the remembrance of this promise faded away, is obvious from the Book of Judges. For when the more aged among them had died, they quickly turned aside to various superstitions. By this example we are taught how multifarious are the fallacies which occupy the senses of men, and how tortuous the recesses in which they hide their hypocrisy and folly, while they deceive themselves by vain confidence.
Keil and Delitzsch
Upon this repeated declaration Joshua says to them, “ye are witnesses against yourselves,” i.e., ye will condemn yourselves by this your own testimony if ye should now forsake the Lord, “for ye yourselves have chosen you Jehovah to serve Him;” whereupon they answer עֵדִים, “witnesses are we against ourselves,” signifying thereby, “we profess and ratify once more all that we have said” (Rosenmüller). Joshua then repeated his demand that they should put away the strange gods from within them, and incline their hearts (entirely) to Jehovah the God of Israel. בְּקִבְּכֶם אֲשֶׁר הַנֵּכָר אֱלֹהֵי might mean the foreign gods which are in the midst of you, i.e., among you, and imply the existence of idols, and the grosser forms of idolatrous worship in the nation; but בְּקֶרֶב also signifies “within,” or “in the heart,” in which case the words refer to idols of the heart. That the latter is the sense in which the words are to be understood is evident from the fact, that although the people expressed their willingness to renounce all idolatry, they did not bring any idols to Joshua to be destroyed, as was done in other similar cases, viz., Gen_35:4, and 1Sa_7:4. Even if the people had carried idols about with them in the desert, as the prophet Amos stated to his contemporaries (Amo_5:26; cf. Act_7:43), the grosser forms of idolatry had disappeared from Israel with the dying out of the generation that was condemned at Kadesh. The new generation, which had been received afresh into covenant with the Lord by the circumcision at Gilgal, and had set up this covenant at Ebal, and was now assembled around Joshua, the dying servant of God, to renew the covenant once more, had no idols of wood, stone, or metal, but only the “figments of false gods,” as Calvin calls them, the idols of the heart, which it was to put away, that it might give its heart entirely to the Lord, who is not content with divided affections, but requires the whole heart (Deu_6:5-6).
Ye are witnesses against yourselves. Joshua has not disguised from them the difficulty of the task they have undertaken. Like a true guide and father, he has placed the case fully and fairly before them, and they have made their choice. He reminds them that their own words so deliberately uttered will be forever witnesses against them, should they afterwards refuse to keep an engagement into which they entered with their eyes open. They do not in any way shrink from the responsibility, and by accepting the situation as it is placed before them, render it impossible henceforth to plead ignorance or surprise as an excuse for their disobedience. And it is well to observe, as has been remarked above, that such an excuse never was pleaded afterwards, that the obligation, though evaded, was never disavowed.
23.Now, therefore, put away the strange gods, etc How can it be that those who were lately such stern avengers of superstition, have themselves given admission to idols? Yet the words expressly enjoin that they are to put away strange gods from the midst of them. If we interpret that their own houses were still polluted by idols, we may see, as in a bright mirror, how complacently the greater part of mankind can indulge in vices which they prosecute with inexorable severity in others. But, as I do not think it probable that they dared, after the execution of Achan, to pollute themselves with manifest sacrilege, I am inclined to think that reference is made not to their practice but to their inclinations, and that they are told to put all ideas of false gods far away from them. For he had previously exhorted them in this same chapter to take away the gods whom their fathers had served beyond the river and in Egypt. But nobody will suppose that the idols of Chaldea were treasured up in their repositories, or that they had brought impure deities with them from Egypt, to be a cause of hostility between God and themselves. The meaning, therefore, simply is, that they are to renounce all idols, and clear themselves of all profanity, in order that they may purely worship God alone. This seems to be the purport of the clause, incline your heart unto the Lord, which may be taken as equivalent to, rest in him, and so give up your heart to the love of him, as to delight and be contented only with him.
Jos_24:23. Still another exhortation of Joshua, resting on that assent, to put away the strange gods (as Jos_24:20, אֱלהֵֹי נֵכָר) which were in the midst of them, and incline their heart to Jehovah, the God of Israel (as Jos_24:2). Keil, following the example of R. Levi ben Gerson, Augustine, and Calvin, takes בְּקִרְ בְּכֶם, figuratively = in your hearts, because the people, with all their willing ness to renounce idolatry, yet deliver to Joshua no images to be destroyed, as was done in the similar cases, Gen_35:4; 1Sa_7:4. He thinks further, that although the people, as Amos represents to his generation (Amo_5:26, comp. (Act_7:43), carried about with them idols in the wilderness, yet with the dying out of the generation condemned at Kadesh, gross idolatry would have disappeared from Israel. We may grant that so long as Joshua lived, Israel publicly served the true God, but hold it very probable that, as he might full well know, many a one in secret worshipped the idols which he now demanded that they should put away, using the same word (הָסירוּ) which Jacob had used before, and Samuel used after him. As regards the actual removal of the images, this may have followed, although we are not so informed. Finally, בְּקִרְבְּכֶם here certainly is used precisely as much in the proper sense as in Gen_35:2, בְּתֹכְכֶם, and 1Sa_7:8, מִתֹּכְכְם.
Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you. Keil and Delitzsch notice that the words translated “among you” have also the meaning, “within you,” and argue that Joshua is speaking of inward tendencies to idolatry. But this is very improbable. For
(1) the word is the same as we find translated in ver. 17, “through whom.” And
(2) the internal scrutiny which the law demanded was hardly so well understood at this early period as by diligent study it afterwards became. The plain provisions of the law demanded obedience. Comparatively little heed was given at first to inward feelings and tendencies. There can be little doubt that the meaning is precisely the same as in Gen_35:2, and that though the Israelites dare not openly worship strange gods, yet that teraphim and other images were, if not worshipped, yet preserved among them in such a way as to be likely to lead them into temptation. The history of Micah in Jud_1:17:5 is a proof of this, and it must be remembered that this history is out of its proper place. The zealous Phinehas (Jud_1:20:28) was then still alive, and the worship at Micah”s house had evidently been carried on for some time previous to the disgraceful outrage at Gibeah. The putting away the strange gods was to be the outward and visible sign, the inclining of the heart the inward and spiritual grace wrought within them by the mercy of God. For it is not denied that God desired their affections, and that those affections could scarcely be given while their heart went secretly after idols. It may be further remarked in support of this view that the Israelites are not exhorted to turn their heart from the false gods, but to put them away. It is a plain, positive precept, not a guide for the inner consciousness. On the other hand, the command to incline the heart to the Lord rests upon the simple ground of common gratitude. St. Augustine thinks that if any false gods were secretly in Israel at this time, they would have been met by a severer punishment than that accorded to Achan. Masius divini viri proceeds to argue that murders, thefts, and adulteries were worse sins than those of Achan, that it were not reasonable to suppose that Israel was free from such sins, and they were not punished like Achan”s. He forgets to urge
(1) that the condition of the children of Israel was very different in Achan”s time to that of the death of Joshua, and
(2) that Achan”s was a special act of disobedience to a very special enactment, considerations which would have materially strengthened his argument.
Keil and Delitzsch
On the repeated and decided declaration of the people, “the Lord our God will we serve, and to His voice will we hearken,” Joshua completed the covenant with them that day. This conclusion of a covenant was really a solemn renewal of the covenant made at Sinai, like that which took place under Moses in the steppes of Moab (Deu_29:1). “And set them a statute and right at Shechem,” sc., through the renewal of the covenant. These words recall Exo_15:25, where the guidance of Israel to bitter water, and the sweetening of that water by the means which the Lord pointed out to Moses, are described as setting a statute and right for Israel, and then explained by the promise, that if they would hearken to the voice of Jehovah, He would keep them from all the diseases of Egypt. And in accordance with this, by the renewal of the covenant at Shechem, there were set for Israel, a חֹק, i.e., a statute, which bound the people to a renewed and conscientious maintenance of the covenant, and a מִשְׁפָּט, or right, by virtue of which they might expect on this condition the fulfilment of all the covenant mercies of the Lord.
25.So Joshua made a covenant, etc This passage demonstrates the end for which the meeting had been called, namely, to bind the people more completely and more solemnly to God, by the renewal of the covenant. Therefore, in this agreement, Joshua acted as if he had been appointed on the part of God to receive in his name the homage and obedience promised by the people. It is accordingly added, exegetically, in the second clause, that he set before them precept and judgment. For the meaning is corrupted and wrested by some expositors, who explain it is referring to some new speech of Joshua, whereas it ought properly to be understood of the Law of Moses, as if it had been said that Joshua made no other paction than that they should remain steadfast in observing the Law, and that no other heads of the covenant were brought forward; they were only confirmed in that doctrine which they had formerly embraced and professed. In the same way, Malachi, to keep them under the yoke of God, demands nothing more than that they should remember the Law of Moses. (Mal_4:4)
Joshua made a covenant – Literally, Joshua cut the covenant, alluding to the sacrifice offered on the occasion.
And set then a statute and an ordinance – He made a solemn and public act of the whole, which was signed and witnessed by himself and the people, in the presence of Jehovah; and having done so, he wrote the words of the covenant in the book of the law of God, probably in some part of the skin constituting the great roll, on which the laws of God were written, and of which there were some blank columns to spare. Having done this, he took a great stone and set it up under an oak – that this might be עד ed or witness that, at such a time and place, this covenant was made, the terms of which might be found written in the book of the law, which was laid up beside the ark. See Deu_31:26.
Jos_24:25. Upon this, Joshua made a covenant with them that day, i.e., he renewed the covenant concluded on Sinai by God with Israel (Exo_19:20), in like manner as Moses had done (Deu_28:62) in the field of Moab. When it is said further concerning Joshua, that he set them a statute and an ordinance (or judgment) in Israel, these words are in allusion to Exo_15:25, where, in connection with the change (not by this, Keil) of the bitter water into sweet, God himself established for Israel a statute and right. Here, it was precisely through the renewal of the covenant that statute and right for the people were established and determined,—“what in matters of religion should be with Israel law and right” (Knobel).
So Joshua made a covenant. Literally, cut a covenant, a phrase common to the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin tongues, and derived from the custom of sacrifice, in which the victims were cut in pieces and offered to the deity invoked in ratification of the engagement. The word used for covenant, berith, is derived from another word having the same meaning. This appears more probable than the suggestion of some, that the berith is derived from the practice of ratifying an agreement by a social meal. And set them a statute and ordinance. Or, appointed them a statute and a judgment. The word translated “statute” is derived from the same root as our word hack, signifying to cut, and hence to engrave in indelible characters. The practice of engraving inscriptions, proclamations, and the like, on tablets was extremely common in the East. We have instances of it in the two tables of the law, and in the copy of the law engraven in stones on Mount Ebal. The Moabite stone is another instance. And the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian monarchs seem to have written much of their history in this way. (see note on Jos_8:32) The word rendered “ordinance” is far more frequently rendered “judgment” in our version, and seems to have the original signification of a thing set upright, as a pillar on a secure foundation. In Shechem (see note on ver. 1).