And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges…
It was at Shechem that Joshua's last meeting with the people took place. There was much to recommend that place. It lay a few miles to the north-west of Shiloh, and was not only distinguished as Abraham's first resting-place in the country, and the scene of the earliest of the promises given in it to him; but likewise as the place where, between Mount Ebal and Gerizim, the blessings and curses of the law had been read out soon after Joshua entered the land, and the solemn assent of the people given to them. And whereas it is said (ver. 26) that the great stone set up as a witness was "by the sanctuary of the Lord," this stone may have been placed at Shiloh after the meeting, because there it would be more fully in the observation of the people as they came up to the annual festivals (1 Samuel 1:7, 9).
1. In the record of Joshua's speech contained in the twenty-fourth chapter, he begins by rehearsing the history of the nation. He has an excellent reason for beginning with the revered name of Abraham, because Abraham had been conspicuous for that very grace, loyalty to Jehovah, which he is bent on impressing on them. We mark in this rehearsal the well-known features of the national history, as they were always represented; thy frank recognition of the supernatural, with no indication of myth or legend, with nothing of the mist or glamour in which the legend is commonly enveloped. And, seeing that God hath done all this for them, the inference was that He was entitled to their heartiest loyalty and obedience. Never was a good man more in earnest, or more thoroughly persuaded that all that made for a nation's welfare was involved in the course which he pressed upon them.
2. But Joshua did not urge this merely on the strength of his own conviction. He must enlist their reason on his side; and for this cause he now called on them deliberately to weigh the claims of other gods and the advantages of other modes of worship, and choose that which must be pronounced the best. There were four claimants to be considered —
(2) the Chaldaean gods worshipped by their ancestors;
(3) the gods of the Egyptians; and
(4) the gods of the Amorites among whom they dwelt.Make your choice between these, said Joshua, if you are dissatisfied With Jehovah. But could there be any reasonable choice between these gods and Jehovah? It is often useful, when we hesitate as to a course, to set down the various reasons for and against — it may be the reasons of our judgment against the reasons of our feelings; for often this course enables us to see how utterly the one outweighs the other. May it not be useful for us to do as Joshua urged Israel to do?
3. But Joshua is fully prepared to add example to precept. Whatever you do in this matter, my mind is made up, my course is clear — "as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah." He was happy in being able to associate his house with himself as sharing his convictions and his purpose. He owed this, in all likelihood, to his own firm and intrepid attitude throughout his life. His house saw how consistently and constantly he recognised the supreme claims of Jehovah. Not less clearly did they see how constantly he experienced the blessedness of his choice.
4. Convinced by his arguments, moved by his eloquence, and carried along by the magnetism of his example, the people respond with enthusiasm. But Joshua knew something of their fickle temper. He may have called to mind the extraordinary enthusiasm of their fathers when the tabernacle was in preparation; the singular readiness with which they had contributed their most valued treasures, and the grievous change they underwent after the return of the spies. Even an enthusiastic burst like this is not to be trusted. He must go deeper; he must try to induce them to think more earnestly of the matter, and not trust to the feeling of the moment.
5. Hence he draws a somewhat dark picture of Jehovah's character, lie dwells on those attributes which are least agreeable to the natural man — His holiness, His jealousy, and His inexorable opposition to sin. "Ye cannot serve the Lord," said Joshua; "take care how you undertake what is beyond your strength." Perhaps he wished to impress on them the need of Divine strength for so difficult a duty. Certainly he did not change their purpose, but only drew from them a more resolute expression.
6. And now Joshua comes to a point which had doubtless been in his mind all the time, but which he had been waiting for a favourable opportunity to bring forward. He had pledged the people to an absolute and unreserved service of God, and now he demands a practical proof of their sincerity. He knows quite well that they have "strange gods" among them. Minor forms of idolatry, minor recognitions of the gods of the Chaldaeans and the Egyptians and the Amorites, were prevalent even yet. What a weed sin is, and how it is for ever reappearing! And reappearing among ourselves too, in a different variety, but essentially the same. For what honest and earnest heart does not feel that there are idols and images among ourselves that interfere with God's claims and God's glory as much as the teraphim and the earrings of the Israelites did?
7. And now comes the closing and the clinching transaction of this meeting at Shechem. Joshua enters into a formal covenant with the people. When Joshua got the people bound by a transaction of this sort, he seemed to obtain a new guarantee for their fidelity; a new barrier was erected against their lapsing into idolatry. And yet it was but a temporary barrier against a flood which seemed ever to be gathering strength unseen, and preparing for another fierce discharge of its disastrous waters.
8. At the least, this meeting secured for Joshua a peaceful sunset, and enabled him to sing his "Nunc dimittis." The evil which he dreaded most was not at work as the current of life ebbed away from him; it was his great privilege to look round him and see his people faithful to their God. It does not appear that Joshua had any very comprehensive or far-reaching aims with reference to the moral training and development of the people. His idea of religion seems to have been a very simple loyalty to Jehovah, in opposition to the perversions of idolatry. For his absolute and supreme loyalty to his Lord he is entitled to our highest reverence, This loyalty is a rare virtue, in the sublime proportions in which it appeared in him. The very rareness, the eccentricity of the character, secures a respectful homage. And yet who can deny that it is the true representation of what every man should be who says, "I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth"?
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.