The Captain’s Last Sermon - Part One
THEME: Joshua’s Final Message to the People
This week’s lessons describe Joshua’s last address to the Israelites, which emphasizes their need to determine to choose each and every day to serve the Lord.
A number of years ago, when the Committee on Biblical Exposition was first getting underway, the organizers had a meeting at which they attempted to define what they meant by “expository preaching.” It wasn't such an easy thing to do. I was present for those discussions, and I can assure you it took a great deal of time as we began to wrestle together with the elements that we thought had to be present if preaching was to be what God really intended it to be. Expository preaching obviously involves a clear teaching of what the text of Scripture has to say. That in itself is difficult, but that’s not all of what’s involved. Such clear teaching has to be done in terms of the culture. It’s not enough just to say what a passage of Scripture must have meant in its own day; we have to see what it means for us today. And the first step is prior to the second.
But then in addition to all of that, preaching differs from a mere lecture in that it has as its chief end the changing of the lives of those who listen. In other words, it involves a change of motivation and behavior. At the very end when we came up with our definition, we said that biblical exposition is “communicating the meaning of a text or passage of Scripture in terms of contemporary culture, with the specific goal of helping people to understand and obey the truth of God.”
Now Joshua was not a preacher; he was a soldier and a great administrator. And yet, Joshua must have thought about the nature of preaching, because towards the end of his life this great general, whose campaigns and whose life we’ve been studying, became something of a preacher. I suppose the reason for this was his deep knowledge of human nature and his anticipation with some foreboding of what was likely to happen to the people after his departure, and perhaps also after the death of those who had lived with him through the great miracles and victories of the Canaanite campaign. He must have anticipated, that as he died and those who had lived with him through the battles died, the memory of God’s great acts would begin to fade from the minds of the people. And being surrounded by the pagan, Canaanite culture, and being sinful men and women, they would begin inevitably to drift away from the knowledge and service of the God of their fathers, who had done these great things.
Like a preacher, he wanted to remind and encourage them, because he wanted them to persevere on the path on which they had set out together as a nation. In the last three chapters of Joshua we have three sermons. The one that we have in chapter 22 was preached when the 2½ tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh were about to go off to the east across the Jordan River, to the land Moses had given them on the far side. He reminded them of the past, and he urged them to keep the covenant, the commandment, and the law that Moses, the servant of God, gave them.
The second sermon is in chapter 23. This is the sermon Joshua gave to the leaders of the people—that is, to those who were entrusted with carrying out the affairs of the nation after Joshua himself would be gone. And this sermon has the same outline, but with some additions.
Then in chapter 24, the final chapter of the book, we have a sermon that Joshua preached to the entire assembly of the people at Shechem, shortly before he died. Here he urged upon them the need to choose God and to serve Him faithfully in all the years to come. Verses 14 and 15 are the heart of this sermon, where Joshua says, "Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
- From the lesson, what are some reasons why Joshua wants to give this last address to the people? What theme sets this sermon apart from the other two he gave in earlier chapters?
- Review the definition of “expository preaching.” What are its main elements, and how does this compare with other types of preaching you may have heard before?
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