Great leaders make preparations for the future of the ones they lead, even when they know they won’t be around much longer to provide personal guidance. Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy, tried to prepare the people for his departure by reviewing their law and history and exhorting them to faithfulness (which leads to blessings) and pleading with them to avoid disobedience (which leads to cursings). In a similar fashion, Joshua, in the final two chapters of the book bearing his name, prepares the nation for his departure from this life by recounting some of their history and the great success God had blessed them with in conquering the Promised Land of Canaan. He calls them to spiritual purity, pleading with them to avoid all entanglements with idolatry and immorality, even some that persisted to that day. Most of the text of these two chapters is straightforward dialogue–requiring little explanation–and Joshua’s words are a powerful end to our study of this book and worthy of our consideration. I will read many of the verses from the closing chapters and make only a few comments.
Joshua begins by acknowledging his old age and later states that he is about to die. He reminds them of what had been accomplished in his lifetime (namely, the dividing of the land and the conquering of much of it). But, there was still work to be done, so he says:
“Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, and lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, but you shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day. For the LORD has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you. Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God. Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations–these that remain among you–and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you. Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed. Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the LORD your God promised you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the LORD your God has given you. When you have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you” (Josh. 23:6-16).
Although the nation was in great shape overall at the moment, that would all change if they decide, in the future, to abandon God’s ways. They needed to be full of courage and conviction or else they would drift into many problems (such is true for us today as well!). Sadly, as the rest of the Old Testament records, Israel lacked long-term fidelity to the Lord. The problems Joshua warned of soon became a reality. The initial cause of their apostasy is related to their incomplete obedience in destroying all the Canaanites from the land. Why didn’t they completely annihilate the Canaanites as instructed? The answer seems to be that once they possessed enough land to accommodate their people that they stopped putting forth the necessary effort to do all that God had required of them. They possessed the same attitude that many Christians seem to display today; that is, a willingness to do just enough to suit themselves. The Canaanites who were allowed to live grew in number and influence over the Israelites as decades and centuries passed. God was with Israel now and nothing could stop them, but tragically it wouldn’t always be that way.