Joshua’s farewell address constitutes a faithful old soldier’s final words to the nation of Israel before his death. It has been called, “Joshua’s last will and testament.” It was important for God’s people to pay attention to those final words of their spiritual leader because the exhortations therein contained what is most essential to life. It will also be helpful for us to notice the challenge he gave them on that occasion. Notice how Josh. 23:1 sets the stage for what was to follow: “And it came to pass a long time after the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age.”
Since he was now more than 100 years of age, Joshua realized that it was time for him to go “the way of all the earth” (Josh. 23:14). Let it be remembered that death is a great equalizer because it is inevitable, certain, and common to the human race (Heb. 9:27). Like it would be with any great leader, however, Joshua’s main concern was with the people of God and what was going to happen to them in the future. In order to address his concerns, evidently two meetings were called– the first one was more for the elders and leaders of the nation (Josh. 23:2-16), while the second one involved “all the people” (Josh. 24:1-28). In these two meetings, Joshua expressed his concerns, he issued a challenge, and he reminded them of what God had done for Israel in the past.
As his generation was slowly dying off, Joshua understood that a new generation was arising that hadn’t personally witnessed all the miracles and wonders that God had done in their midst. That’s why he wanted to remind them of the God they served and make sure that they had an appreciation for their glorious heritage! Why is this a significant circumstance for us to understand and appreciate? Well, in a lot of ways the Lord’s church is heading into new territory and a “changing of the guard” is slowing taking place. Some of our older, veteran preachers are slowing down or “retiring” (due to old age or death), and this necessitates that a new generation rise up and take their place. That is how it must be and always has been, but certainly, it is not a responsibility to be taken lightly!
Yes, there is a need for exhortation, and even some warning, along these lines today. Let’s take a look at Joshua’s farewell address in order to see some of the principles that he emphasized:
Joshua did not want Israel to start taking the law of God for granted, so he gave them this exhortation in Josh. 23:6, “Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left.” I am convinced that complacency is one of the most common and damaging sins there is among the people of God. Surely it begins with a disrespectful attitude toward the word of God! After all, when the commands of God no longer have a sense of urgency to us, faithfulness is not going to be a priority in our lives. Furthermore, when the warnings of Scripture concerning the judgment day and “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46) no longer move and motivate us to live right, we obviously have a problem with complacency and indifference.
It is explained in Josh. 17:13-14 that Israel did not completely drive out the Canaanites, and guess what? They were pretty much content with that arrangement because they made slaves of the remaining Canaanites and had them under their control. Unfortunately, the day came when the Canaanites grew in strength again and the Israelites became their slaves instead of the other way around. Brethren, there is a great lesson here for the church– “partial conquest” of the world simply does not work! We may think that we can bring a little bit of denominationalism into the church and keep things under control, but the spirit of the world and true Christianity cannot coexist peaceably. That leads to the next point . . .
Having considered Josh. 23:6, let’s now look at verse 7: “That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them.” A spirit of compromise is the very opposite of what is stated here, and yet, there came a day when Israel was guilty of this very thing! It is explained in Judges 3:5-7, “And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgot the Lord their God, and served Baalim and the groves.”
Certainly we need to take this to heart as the church and see the danger of compromise! We may think that a “little compromise” with the truth isn’t going to have a lasting impact upon the church, but one compromise always leads to another . . . and to another . . . and to another . . . until the floodgates of error are completely opened. It has been said that “compromise is simply changing the question to fit the answer,” but we need to keep our eye on the real issue and remind ourselves of what is at stake. If we care about the truth, the church, and purity of doctrine and worship, we must not allow Satan to confuse the issue by talking us into going “beyond the things which are written” (1 Cor. 4:6- ASV).
The next verse says (Josh. 23:8): “But cleave unto the Lord your God, as ye have done unto this day.” Such a simple exhortation, and yet, one that is so vital and necessary! The word “cleave” means to adhere, to cling to, or stick fast– this is the idea of faithfulness that is the result of real commitment and devotion to the Lord. Joshua knew that without this commitment Israel would not remain faithful, so he challenged them with these rousing words in Josh. 24:15, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
If we in the church today are not fully committed to serving Christ, as we do our best to maintain purity of doctrine and life (1 Tim. 4:16), we are destined to falter along the way. After Joshua’s death, that’s exactly what happened to Israel: “And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). It is also stated in Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” It is sad when old soldiers of the cross pass from the scenes of this earthly life, but it would be sadder still if those who are left behind failed to pick up the “mantle.”
When H.C. Harper died in 1936, Homer Gay wrote a beautiful tribute that contained the following, “Brother Harper: In this world it is December 2, and I just received the word this morning that yesterday you left this world to go on to your long sought reward. I am thinking of when I met you for the first time– about 20 years ago, and of how you helped and encouraged me, and recommended me to the brethren for meetings . . . Though one by one our ranks have been thinned, still our cause (the cause of the Lord which you loved dearer than you did your own life) is growing. And for every brave soldier who has fallen in the battle a score of young, stalwart, brave men have risen up to grab the flagpole before it fell, and the bloodstained banner still floats in the air. And now, our eyes filled with unbidden tears, as we say good-bye, but I am glad that after all of your troubles and sorrows here, at last, you have reached HOME.”
Brethren, let’s be committed in our generation to holding up the banner of the cross and make sure that it is ever floating in the air!
Article by: Billy D. Dickinson