The Captain’s Last Sermon - Part Two
THEME: Who God Is and Who We Are
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.
The point at which this sermon begins is with a reminder of what God had already done for the people in the past. Now that’s the pattern Joshua had used earlier in chapters 22 and 23. But here in chapter 24 we have the lengthiest rehearsal of all these great works of God on behalf of the people in past days. Joshua goes all the way back to Abraham, the father of the people, and even beyond Abraham, to Abraham’s father, Terah, and his grandfather, Nahor, when in those far distant days they worshipped other gods.
Joshua describes how God called Abraham and taught him the knowledge of the true God and then began to develop what had since become a great nation through him and his posterity. Then when they fell into slavery in Egypt, God sent Moses and Aaron, and kept the people during their years of wandering. After this, God eventually brought Israel to their own land and gave them victory in their conquest. In this rehearsal Joshua’s emphasis is upon remembering not only what God had done, but remembering that it was God who had done it.
I notice as I read this that he uses a very effective “homiletical technique,” as we would refer to one’s preaching style and approach. It would have been possible, of course, for Joshua to tell this in the third person, reminding the people of God’s past actions. But anybody who does much writing knows that the third person is less effective than a first person narration. Now Joshua couldn't say, "I did it," because he did not do it. But he quotes God as saying, "I did it." And so you find that in these few verses that rehearse the history of Israel, he uses that great pronoun, “I,” 16 times, and each time in reference to God. This long string of references to what God had done ends by saying, "So 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 vineyard and olive groves that you did not plant" (v. 13). The emphasis, you see, from beginning to end is on the fact that God had done it, and they were to remember that always.
I think of Rudyard Kipling’s great “Recessional,” written in the year 1897. In the judgment of many people, it is the best thing he ever wrote:
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
That's what Joshua was saying to the people. He was saying, “It is your God who has led you. It is Jehovah who has given you the land you now possess. Remember Him. Remember that what you are, you are because of Him and live your lives accordingly.”
I notice also as I read over this first portion of the sermon that it’s not only what God did—that is, the power and the character of God that Joshua brings forth for them to remember. But there is also an emphasis upon what they were before God began His work. Joshua speaks about it at the beginning of the sermon, in reference to Abraham, Terah, and Nahor. The Lord said through Joshua, “Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshipped other gods.”
I suppose there are many people, when they think of God’s beginning with Abraham, who think that what probably happened is that God somehow was up in heaven looking down to see if He could find someone in whom a little bit of good might be found, perhaps someone who had a little bit of faith, and who would immediately begin to follow after God. But what we’re told in this passage is that this was not the case. Rather, when God looked down from heaven, He did not see a man who had faith, who was yearning somehow after the true God. Instead He saw among this vast mass of humanity nothing but those who followed after idols, the foolish imaginations of their own hearts. And Abraham, Terah, and Nahor, were among them. They also worshipped other gods.
When we look at men and women, we think that there must be a lot of good in them because we want to think well of ourselves. But it is not true from God’s point of view. The Bible tells us how God views people apart from His supernatural work of regeneration. For example, Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" Genesis 6:5 says, "God saw that the thoughts and inclinations of his heart was only evil all the time." Or you think of what Paul writes in Romans 3, when he quotes from Psalm 14 and 55: "There is none righteous, no not one. There is none that doeth good. There is none that seeketh after God. They are together gone out of the way. They are together become unprofitable. There is none that doeth good, no, not one."
- Compared with the pattern of the sermons in Joshua 22 and 23, what does Joshua do differently in this last sermon?
- From the lesson, what “homiletical technique” does Joshua use, and why is it effective?
- What was Abraham before God called him? Why is that theologically significant?
Given God’s clear demonstrations of faithfulness to us in the past, why is forgetting his obvious work in our lives such a common temptation and sin?