Summary: Joshua reflects on the conquest of the land and the need for the people to be serious about being faithful to God
The land has been conquered. The people are beginning to settle into their new life in the promised land. Joshua is coming to the end of a long life. So he calls the people to come and hear his final words of encouragement and challenge. What he has to say is critical for their life together and, may I suggest, critical for our life together.
A Review of Covenant History
He calls together the whole nation, to remind them of all the things that God has done for them so far in their history. Listen to what he has to say.
The Surprising Grace of God
He begins by focusing on Abraham - the father of the nation. Notice his origins. His family worshipped other gods beyond the river Euphrates. Just like you and me, Abraham came from a culture that was basically pagan. Like many of us here today his family worshipped other gods. But God, in his grace took him out of all that and led him to a new land.
The Gradual Pace of God
You may have seen the cartoon you sometimes find in repair shops with people laughing their head off and saying "You want it when?" One of the frustrating things we humans find about God is the way he seems to take his own time to do what we'd like to see happen yesterday. I love the way our writer expresses this: "The Lord says 'I led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, 4and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.'" You can imagine Abraham at the end of his life looking at his family tree and thinking "One son! So much for the stars in the sky!"
But of course Joshua and his listeners know that God's promise has now come to fruition.
The Mystifying Ways of God
Still it wasn't all plain sailing was it? "4I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt." Do you ever ask yourself why it is that God's people seem to suffer while unbelievers seem to flourish? Esau gets to inherit his bit of land while Jacob and his offspring end up in slavery. It's a mystery isn't it? But notice that the Scriptures don't brush over the reality of life in a fallen world. Sometimes bad things happen to God's people and all we can do is to continue to trust God to keep his promises as he works out his plan his own way.
The Manifest Power of God
And that's just what God has done. He lists the ways his power has been shown in rescuing his people out of Egypt and bringing them to the promised land.
He called Moses and Aaron to lead the people. He sent plagues on the Egyptians. He saved them through the Red Sea. He showed his sovereign power by destroying the chariots of the Egyptians. He destroyed the Amorites on the other side of the Jordan. Then Jericho and the rest of the land.
Notice that in this long list of conquests, it's God who's done it all. He's driven out their enemies before them. "12I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you". Then he reminds them that they were in the wilderness a long time. Why? To remind them that he's protected and provided for them when they were unable to provide for themselves.
So why is he telling them all this? For two reasons. First he wants them to remember that it wasn't their own efforts that did all this. "13So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant." They haven't done it. The praise is entirely God's. There's no place for human pride in what we accomplish for the Lord. It's the Lord who brings the victory. It's the Lord who brings people to conversion. It's he who brings people to growth in their faith.
But secondly he wants to encourage them to keep going. They still have a big job to do to get rid of the pagan influences in the land. So he reminds them of what God has done so far so they'll persevere in following him alone.
The Demand for Covenant Commitment
And then comes the crunch. If this is your history, what are you going to do next? He says "14Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness."
A Logical Commitment
The "Now" says "if you think through what I just said it's only logical that you'll continue to serve the Lord." You occasionally hear people talk about 'blind faith'. It's as though to believe in God you have to give up your reason, your intelligence. But those are the thoughts of people who have denied their history; who no longer believe what's been passed down to us; who see the Scriptures, not as authoritative records of what's gone before, but as the wishful thinking of religious zealots who didn't know any better.