Passing the Torch - Part One
THEME: Joshua’s Charge
This week’s lessons recount Joshua’s charge to Israel’s leaders, which teaches us how we should respond to God in light of what he has done for us in the past, as well as what he promises to do in the future.
There’s always something poignant and stirring about the last words of great men, particularly when those words are in the form of a charge to their successors. In American history, we think of Washington’s farewell to the Continental Army, or General Douglas MacArthur’s final address to the U.S. Congress, when he concluded by describing himself as “an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-bye.”
We turn to the Bible for many stirring words of this nature. We think, for example, of Joseph’s final words at the very end of the book of Genesis. Joseph is old and dying. He’s speaking to his brothers and he says, “I am about to die, but God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God will surely come to your aid. And then you must carry my bones up from this place.” Or we think of Moses' final words that we have recorded at the very end of the book of Deuteronomy. Those last chapters contain what’s called “Moses’ Song,” and then Moses’ final blessing on the 12 tribes.
When we turn to the New Testament, we think of the Apostle Paul on his way to Jerusalem for the final time. He made a stop-over on the coast of Turkey, and sent for the elders at Ephesus, among whom he’d labored for two years. In his final address to them he said, "None of you among whom I’ve gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men, for I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Be on your guard. Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."
Well it's the same when we come to the end of the book of Joshua. Joshua was a great man and, as he came to the end of his life, he wanted to give a charge to the people. He wanted to say something they would remember and by which they could guide their actions in significant ways in the years that lay ahead.
As a point of fact, Joshua gives two farewell charges. The one is in chapter 24, when he gives a charge to all the people—that is, to the entire nation assembled at one great convocation at Shechem. But here in chapter 23, he gives a final farewell charge to the leaders of the people, who he called "the elders, leaders, judges, and officials of Israel." What a moving moment that must have been. Here are those who are the leaders of the nation, those who had put their heads and their hearts together in developing the strategies and effecting the campaigns that eventually brought the entire land under the control of the Jewish armies. Caleb and Phinehas, for example, would have been there, as well as all the others. These men who had been mere youths, fighting back in those days of the campaign, had now grown. They had families. They had risen to positions of power. What an occasion!
What is Joshua going to say to these people before he dies? What kind of a charge is he going to give them? Well, Joshua’s charge to the leaders falls into a number of parts. The first part, quite naturally, is a reminder of what God has done on their behalf. Joshua said,
I am old now and well advanced in years. You yourselves have seen everything
the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake. It was the Lord your
God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your
tribes all the land of the nations that remain, the nations I conquered between the
Jordan and the Great Sea in the west. The Lord your God himself will drive them
out of their way. He will push them out before you. And you will take possession of
their land as the Lord your God promised you (23:2-5).
There’s a lot involved in that remembrance. Joshua tells him to remember the promises, to remember the victories, to remember the division of the land according to the directions of God, and to remember that God is going to complete that conquest by the driving out of the nations that remain. Some of them still remained at this time; but Joshua looks ahead to what’s going to happen. And he sees it with the eye of faith, knowing that God is going to fulfil this in times to come.
- Why does Joshua want to give a charge to Israel’s leaders?
- What is the first part of Joshua’s charge? Why is this important?
If you could compose a final charge to give to your family or friends, what would you want them to know? How does this compare with the charges that our secular culture might want to pass on?