The Book of Joshua

35. Joshua's Last Words.

Joshua 23.

"Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of." — 2 Tim. 3:14.

Like all last words addressed by the noblest of God's servants to those who have the battle on earth still to fight, Joshua's are tinged with sadness. The great warrior, who for some time past had been feeble in body, was "going the way of all the earth," and feeling this, he gathered Israel around him — elders, heads, judges, and officers — so that, once for all, he might pour out afresh in their ears his fervent words. As has been already recorded (Joshua 13), the Lord had said to Joshua, "Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remains yet very much land to be possessed"; the work was yet incomplete, and the leader's might was decaying. With lengths and breadths of Canaan still untrodden by the people, and himself about to leave them, he commended Israel to their ever-abiding Strength — to Jehovah, who is ever the same, and whose years do not fail. "I am old and stricken in age," said he, "and ye have seen all that the Lord your God has done for you; for the Lord your God is He that has fought for you … the Lord your God, He shall expel … as the Lord your God has promised unto you. … Cleave unto the Lord your God… The Lord your God is He it is that fights for you." In like manner it was that the apostle Paul, in the prospect of his departure, commended the saints he loved to God, and to the word of His grace (Acts 20).

"I have divided unto you by lot these nations that remain," said Joshua. "These nations" were the chief anxiety of his heart. The land needed cultivating which had belonged to those nations he had cut off; but, for Israel's very preservation, the nations that remained called for fresh determination in war. Either they must be expelled and driven out of sight, and their land possessed, or Israel would forfeit liberty, and maybe life, through them. The true warrior spirit burned in Joshua in his old age, even as in his days of strength. Old age turns usually rather to past victories than to victories to be won, but the zeal of his first energy still inflamed Joshua's soul. To inherit, Israel had, as at the first, to disinherit the Canaanite; to possess, they had still to drive out the nations. There was no middle course; go on they must in their first energy, or fail altogether. Though in possession in Canaan, they were precisely in the same position for success as at their first entrance into the land. And this he enforced upon them with all his zeal.

Because of this they were to be, as at the first, very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law, even as they had been exhorted when possessing nothing. Established though they were in the land, they were to have that courage which turns not aside from the word of God to the right hand or to the left, even as they had been exhorted before the wars in Canaan commenced. How hard it is for the believer to lay hold of the fact that always and at all times, solely in obedience to God's word can he conquer! How difficult for him it is to practise daily unwavering dependence on God! And in no stage of his career is this more difficult than when he has attained a position, when, like Israel, he has reached to a great point of success. The young Christian soldier, with all to win before his soul, feels that God must be his strength, or that failure is inevitable; while he who has many victories to recount is in danger of saying with Samson, "I will go out as at other times and shake myself." Further, when a child of God begins his active Christian life, the world is the world to him, the dividing lines are clear and distinct. in his soul; but, after his Christianity is acknowledged (as in our day it so often is), there is the great danger of allowing the amiability of the world to become a snare to him, and of his falling into an alliance with it.

The nations that remained among Israel (ver. 7), weary of constant opposition, had accepted the fact of conquest, and thus were more dangerous to Israel's prosperity than they had been in their days of open war. The smile of the world is more deadly than its frown. Its right hand, outstretched in fellowship, is more fatal to Christian prosperity than its right hand outstretched with the sword. "The friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4). For Israel to "cleave unto the Lord (their) God," and also "to cleave unto these nations that remained" among them was an impossibility. No new path of prosperity and success could open before them, for there was but the one for them, the only path of success for God's people — obedience to His word. It is a delusion and a snare to think the world has changed because Christianity is tolerated, or to suppose that the word of God is of different application to the Christian after years of hardship for Christ from what it was on that first day when the Lord called him to be a soldier. And in view of the present-day spirit of trifling with infidelity, and of feebleness in decision to obey the Scriptures, these last words of Joshua should be laid to heart.

The path of prosperity and that of destruction for Israel were laid down clearly — the old rugged path, trodden on their entrance into the land; the new and tempting one of ease and of alliance with the nations, now that the land was conquered. "If ye do in anywise go back," by cleaving to the nations that remained, then Israel's case was desperate. "Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you." Most terrible words, and most terribly fulfilled. Israel went back, abandoned the true place of separation to God from the heathen, made marriages with them, and worshipped their gods; then His strength forsook them, and Israel became the miserable slaves of the peoples they had once conquered. Alas! what backsliding does the Christian witness! How many have gone back from those truths of justification by faith for which their forefathers willingly died, and thus find themselves the prey of the very superstitions their forefathers vanquished! The nations that remain lift up their heads, infidelity arises in giant-like strength, and binds "in affliction and iron" hundreds of souls. "We wrestle … against principalities, against powers, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places," says the Scripture. Incessant conflict, with all that is not of Christ, is our only safety. Alas! for such Christians, nominal or real, who make alliance with infidelity and superstition, or who neglect the plain precepts of the word of God!

The path of prosperity and that of destruction are, we say, laid down clearly. The good shall not fail; neither shall the evil. Israel knew in all their hearts, and in all their souls, that not one good thing the Lord had promised had failed; they were warned also that not one word of the Lord concerning evil would fall to the ground. Did they serve other gods, they would arouse Jehovah's anger, and perish "quickly from off the good land which He had given unto them."

It is true that in God's dealings with His individual children He will surely bring each one safe to His home above, but none the less is it true that what a man sows he shall reap. It is well to be silent as to individuals; but, in the histories of communities and of God's people at large, we see His dealings according to corporate responsibility. The evils, allowed in their midst, become at last scourges in their sides and thorns in their eyes, and the good things, which once they richly enjoyed, perish from among them. Alas! we see the very people, who once were so joyful in God, lamenting their lack of peace and prosperity!