Jos_24:21-27. And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the Lord. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves, that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel. And the people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said unto all the people. Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the Lord which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.
THE pious servants of God may be disabled through age and infirmities from continuing their personal exertions, but they never will relax their zeal in the service of their Divine Master; and what they want in effective labours, they will endeavour to supply by stimulating and confirming the zeal of others. Moses, at an advanced age, renewed with Israel in the land of Moab the covenant which he had forty years before made with them in Horeb [Note: Deu_29:1.]: and Joshua in like manner, now that he was “waxed old and stricken in age,” and was speedily “going the way of all the earth,” convened all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, for the purpose of engaging them once more to give themselves up to God in a perpetual covenant; that so the good effects of his influence might remain, when he should have ceased to move them by his authority and example.
Consider the covenant which he made with them—
The covenant itself was, that they should serve the Lord—
[Not contented with requiring this of them in general terms, he specified the manner in which they must serve the Lord. They must serve him sincerely. It was not sufficient for them to call themselves his people, and to observe his ordinances with hypocritical exactness: their hearts must be fixed upon him; their delight must be to do his will; they must have no secret reserves of unmortified corruption; but must serve the Lord “in sincerity and truth [Note: ver. 14.].”
They must also serve him resolutely. It might “seem evil to them to serve the Lord,” yea, it might be accounted so by the whole nation; but they must be inflexible in their purpose, and determinately say with him, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord [Note: ver. 15.].”
They must also serve him exclusively. The admonition in the 19th verse is variously interpreted. Some think it was an objection in the mouth of an adversary, to deter persons from the Lord’s service: others think it was a strong statement of the difficulties attending the Lord’s service, suggested by Joshua for the purpose of stirring up the Israelites to more fixedness of purpose, and greater energy in their exertions. But we apprehend that the whole context determines the passage to a very different meaning. There were still among them some idols, which, though they did not worship, they valued and were averse to part with: and Joshua saw, that, if these were retained, the people would in time relapse into idolatry: he warned them therefore of the impossibility of their serving God acceptably whilst they retained these; and assured them, that God would never forgive them, if they did not put away the things which were sure to prove to them an occasion of falling. The following warning in the 20th verse, and the exhortation in the 23d, shew most satisfactorily, that this is the true meaning of the passage we refer to. God must be served alone: his glory will he not give to another: he is a “holy” God, that will tolerate no secret lust; and a “jealous God, that will endure no rival in our hearts, or in our hands.”]
Having stated to them the terms of the covenant, he calls them to ratify and confirm it—
[Covenants are usually signed by the parties themselves, and then attested by others, as witnesses. Thus on this occasion he calls the Israelites to confirm and ratify this covenant by their own express consent, which they give in terms no less plain than if they had annexed to the covenant their own name and seal. The manner in which they do this is peculiarly worthy of observation: they first express their utter abhorrence of the very idea of departing from God [Note: ver. 16.]: and then, assigning their obligations to Jehovah as a reason for their determination, they declare their fixed purpose to serve him, and him only [Note: ver. 17, 18.]. Upon Joshua’s expressing the jealousy which he entertained respecting them on account of their backwardness to cast away their idols, they renewed their declarations with increased energy [Note: ver. 21.]. Then, when reminded that they will be witnesses against themselves, if ever they should turn aside from God, they voluntarily engage to be witnesses, and thereby affix, as it were, to the covenant their signature and seal [Note: ver. 22.]: and lastly, on being required to give evidence of the sincerity of their professions, they renew their protestations with more strength and energy than ever [Note: ver. 23, 24.].
Joshua now calls other witnesses. He wrote their words upon the very copy of the law which Moses had deposited in the ark, that that might remain an everlasting witness against them: and then he “took a large stone, and set it up there under an oak, that that also might be a witness against them,” if ever they should depart from God: thus taking care, that, the covenant being fully attested, they might be convicted, and condemned, and be for ever without excuse before God and man, if they should ever forget and deny their God [Note: ver. 26, 27.].]
The zeal which Joshua shewed on this occasion will be approved by all: we may hope therefore to perform an acceptable service to you, whilst, with an eye to that covenant, we,
Propose the same to you—
The duty of serving the Lord our God will be denied by none; and least of all by those who know the obligations which they owe to him for redeeming them from death by the blood of his only-begotten Son — — — But we beg leave to retrace, with application to yourselves,
The engagements you have entered into—
[You are bound to serve the Lord your God, sincerely, resolutely, exclusively.
There must be no dissimulation in this matter: you must have “truth in your inward parts:” to “call him ‘Lord, Lord,’ will be of no use, if you do not the things which he says.” His word must be the rule, his will the reason, his glory the end of your obedience — — —
You will find that many will account the service of God an “evil” thing; odious in itself, injurious to society, and contemptible in all who addict themselves to it. You will find also that the great mass of nominal Christians are alienated from the life of God, as much as ever the Jews of old were. For the truth of this we appeal to the lives of all around us. Yet you must “not follow a multitude to do evil,” or forbear to walk in the narrow path of life, even though the whole world should urge you to accompany them in the broad road that leadeth to destruction. Nay; you must not only be steadfast yourselves, but must exert all your influence to animate and encourage others: you must adopt the noble resolution of Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
You must be on your guard too against harbouring any “idol in your heart [Note: Eze_14:3-4.].” Sensuality, or covetousness, or any other unmortified lust, will provoke God to jealousy, as much as gods of wood and stone: and if any one sin be willingly retained, any one service wilfully neglected, or any sacrifice deliberately withheld, we must say with Joshua, “The Lord will not forgive your transgression and your sin:” “an eye, or a hand or foot, retained in opposition to his command, will cause the whole body, and soul too, to be cast into hell:” he only that will “lose his life for Christ’s sake, shall find it unto life eternal” — — —]
The witnesses that will attest your violation of them—
[You must be “witnesses against yourselves:” your own consciences will testify, if, when you are convinced that it is your duty to serve the Lord, you continue to neglect him. Well are we assured that we have even now within your own bosoms a witness to the truth of all that we affirm — — —
But there will be other witnesses against you. The word that we speak, the same will testify against you in the last day: for it is written “in the book of God’s remembrance,” and reserved in the sanctuary to be brought forth as the evidence of God’s righteousness and the ground of his procedure. I may add too, The very walls wherein we are assembled will testify against you: to use the strong language of our text, “they have heard all the words that have been spoken to you,” the faithful declarations, the earnest entreaties, the rich encouragements: yes, “the stones out of the wall will cry out against you [Note: Hab_2:11.],” if you continue to violate your baptismal engagements, and indulge an indifference to all the subjects of your prayers. Times without number have you prayed, that you might “live a righteous, sober, and a godly life, to the glory of God’s holy name;” and yet, many of you at least, have either never set yourselves in earnest so to live, or have carelessly declined from the ways of God, and forgotten the vows that are upon you. Finally, God himself also will be “a swift witness against you.” Yes, “he searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins, and will give to every man according to his works.”]
[“Choose ye now whom ye will serve.” To unite God and Mammon is impossible: “if Baal be God, serve him: but if the Lord be God, then serve him” — — —]