Joshua thought he had taken his last farewell of Israel in the solemn charge he gave them in the foregoing chapter, when he said, I go the way of all the earth; but God graciously continuing his life longer than expected, and renewing his strength, he was desirous to improve it for the good of Israel. He did not say, “I have taken my leave of them once, and let that serve;” but, having yet a longer space given him, he summons them together again, that he might try what more he could do to engage them for God. Note, We must never think our work for God done till our life is done; and, if he lengthen out our days beyond what we thought, we must conclude it is because he has some further service for us to do.
The assembly is the same with that in the foregoing chapter, the elders, heads, judges, and officers of Israel, Josh. 24:1. But it is here made somewhat more solemn than it was there.
I. The place appointed for their meeting is Shechem, not only because that lay nearer to Joshua than Shiloh, and therefore more convenient now that he was infirm and unfit for travelling, but because it was the place where Abraham, the first trustee of God’s covenant with this people, settled at his coming to Canaan, and where God appeared to him (Gen. 12:6, 7), and near which stood mounts Gerizim and Ebal, where the people had renewed their covenant with God at their first coming into Canaan, Josh. 8:30. Of the promises God had made to their fathers, and of the promises they themselves had made to God, this place might serve to put them in mind.
II. They presented themselves not only before Joshua, but before God, in this assembly, that is, they came together in a solemn religious manner, as into the special presence of God, and with an eye to his speaking to them by Joshua; and it is probable the service began with prayer. It is the conjecture of interpreters that upon this great occasion Joshua ordered the ark of God to be brought by the priests to Shechem, which, they say, was about ten miles from Shiloh, and to be set down in the place of their meeting, which is therefore called (Josh. 24:26) the sanctuary of the Lord, the presence of the ark making it so at that time; and this was done to grace the solemnity, and to strike an awe upon the people that attended. We have not now any such sensible tokens of the divine presence, but are to believe that where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name he is as really in the midst of them as God was where the ark was, and they are indeed presenting themselves before him.
III. Joshua spoke to them in God’s name, and as from him, in the language of a prophet (Josh. 24:2): “Thus saith the Lord, Jehovah, the great God, and the God of Israel, your God in covenant, whom therefore you are bound to hear and give heed to.” Note, The word of God is to be received by us as his, whoever is the messenger that brings it, whose greatness cannot add to it, nor his meanness diminish from it. His sermon consists of doctrine and application.
1. The doctrinal part is a history of the great things God had done for his people, and for their fathers before them. God by Joshua recounts the marvels of old: “I did so and so.” They must know and consider, not only that such and such things were done, but that God did them. It is a series of wonders that is here recorded, and perhaps many more were mentioned by Joshua, which for brevity’s sake are here omitted. See what God had wrought. (1.) He brought Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, Josh. 24:2, 3. He and his ancestors had served other gods there, for it was the country in which, though celebrated for learning, idolatry, as some think, had its rise; there the world by wisdom knew not God. Abraham, who afterwards was the friend of God and the great favourite of heaven, was bred up in idolatry, and lived long in it, till God by his grace snatched him as a brand out of that burning. Let them remember that rock out of which they were hewn, and not relapse into that sin from which their fathers by a miracle of free grace were delivered. “I took him,” says God, “else he had never come out of that sinful state.” Hence Abraham’s justification is made by the apostle an instance of God’s justifying the ungodly, Rom. 4:5. (2.) He brought him to Canaan, and built up his family, led him through the land to Shechem, where they now were, multiplied his seed by Ishmael, who begat twelve princes, but at last gave him Isaac the promised son, and in him multiplied his seed. When Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau, God provided an inheritance for Esau elsewhere in Mount Seir, that the land of Canaan might be reserved entire for the seed of Jacob, and the posterity of Esau might not pretend to a share in it. (3.) He delivered the seed of Jacob out of Egypt with a high hand (Josh. 24:5, 6), and rescued them out of the hands of Pharaoh and his host at the Red Sea, Josh. 24:6, 7. The same waters were the Israelites’ guard and the Egyptians’ grave, and this in answer to prayer; for, though we find in the story that they in that distress murmured against God (Exod. 14:11, 12), notice is here taken of their crying to God; he graciously accepted those that prayed to him, and overlooked the folly of those that quarrelled with him. (4.) He protected them in the wilderness, where they are here said, not to wander, but to dwell for a long season, Josh. 24:7. So wisely were all their motions directed, and so safely were they kept, that even there they had as certain a dwelling-place as if they had been in a walled city. (5.) He gave them the land of the Amorites, on the other side Jordan (Josh. 24:8), and there defeated the plot of Balak and Balaam against them, so that Balaam could not curse them as he desired, and therefore Balak durst not fight them as he designed, and as, because he designed it, he is here said to have done it. The turning of Balaam’s tongue to bless Israel, when he intended to curse them, is often mentioned as an instance of the divine power put forth in Israel’s favour as remarkable as any, because in it God proved (and does still, more than we are aware of) his dominion over the powers of darkness, and over the spirits of men. (6.) He brought them safely and triumphantly into Canaan, delivered the Canaanites into their hand (Josh. 24:11), sent hornets before them, when they were actually engaged in battle with the enemy, which with their stings tormented them and with their noise terrified them, so that they became a very easy prey to Israel. These dreadful swarms first appeared in their war with Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites, and afterwards in their other battles, Josh. 24:12. God had promised to do this for them, Exod. 23:27, 28. And here Joshua takes notice of the fulfilling of that promise. See Exod. 23:27, 28; Deut. 7:20. These hornets, it should seem, annoyed the enemy more than the artillery of Israel, and therefore he adds, not with thy sword nor bow. It was purely the Lord’s doing. Lastly, They were now in the peaceable possession of a good land, and lived comfortably upon the fruit of other people’s labours, Josh. 24:13.
2. The application of this history of God’s mercies to them is by way of exhortation to fear and serve God, in gratitude for his favour, and that it might be continued to them, Josh. 24:14. Now therefore, in consideration of all this, (1.) “Fear the Lord, the Lord and his goodness, Hos. 3:5. Reverence a God of such infinite power, fear to offend him and to forfeit his goodness, keep up an awe of his majesty, a deference to his authority, a dread of his displeasure, and a continual regard to his all-seeing eye upon you.” (2.) “Let your practice be consonant to this principle, and serve him both by the outward acts of religious worship and every instance of obedience in your whole conversation, and this in sincerity and truth, with a single eye and an upright heart, and inward impressions answerable to outward expressions.” This is the truth in the inward part, which God requires, Ps. 51:6. For what good will it do us to dissemble with a God that searches the heart? (3.) Put away the strange gods, both Chaldean and Egyptian idols, for those they were most in danger of revolting to. It should seem by this charge, which is repeated (Josh. 24:23), that there were some among them that privately kept in their closets the images or pictures of these dunghill-deities, which came to their hands from their ancestors, as heir-looms of their families, though, it may be, they did not worship them; these Joshua earnestly urges them to throw away: “Deface them, destroy them, lest you be tempted to serve them.” Jacob pressed his household to do this, and at this very place; for, when they gave him up the little images they had, he buried them under the oak which was by Shechem, Gen. 35:2, 4. Perhaps the oak mentioned here (Josh. 24:26) was the same oak, or another in the same place, which might be well called the oak of reformation, as there were idolatrous oaks.