Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak that was near the sanctuary of the LORD.
I. THE TERMS OF THE COVENANT. It was to bind the people to their promise to renounce the old life of sin and idolatry, and to enter upon and remain in the true service of God. Nations are proud of protecting treaties, constitutional pledges, charters of liberty, etc. No nation ever took a more important covenant than this. The chief question for all of us is whether we will live for the world or for God. The gospel brings to us a new covenant. The promises are greater, the terms are more light. Yet we must choose and resolve and yield ourselves in submission to it if we would enjoy the advantages its offers. This covenant has two sides. God pledges His blessings, but we must pledge our devotion. His is the infinitely greater part. Yet if we fail in ours God's promises of blessing no longer apply.
II. THE OBJECTS OF THE COVENANT,
(1) It was to preserve the memory of the pledge. Men make resolutions in moments of exaltation which they are apt to forget when the feelings which gave rise to them have subsided. Yet it is just then that they are most necessary. They are not needed when they are freely made, because the impulse to resolve would carry out the action without the resolution. Their real value is for those seasons of trial and service when the lack of a strong spontaneous impulse makes it necessary to fall back on some fixed principle.
(2) It was to secure the execution of the pledge. It is easy to promise. The difficulty lies in the performance. God is only mocked with the devotion of the sanctuary which is not followed by the service of the daily life. Hence we need to preserve and carry the high impulses of worship into the work of the world. Many men live two lives, and the life of the Sunday has no bearing on that of the week day. We should use all means to bring religion into life.
III. THE FORM OF THE COVENANT.
(1) There was an appeal to memory. The people were to be witnesses against themselves. We should treasure in the memory and often call to mind the thoughts of our seasons of spiritual elevation.
(2) There was a written record. Writing remains unchanged with the varying moods of men. It may he well to write our higher thoughts and deeper resolves for our own subsequent private meditation. The New Testament is a written covenant.
(3) There was a memorial stone. This would be always visible. So the covenant would be often called to mind. We often need to have our memories refreshed and our thoughts called back to the great practical truths of Christianity. Hence the utility of preaching not only new ideas, but truths that all of us know, and yet that all need to be reminded of, and to have often brought before us for practical application. The stone would not lose its value as it became old and familiar. Truth does not grow feeble with age, nor is it the less important because it is the more familiar. - W.F.A.
Joshua... took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.
Solemnity of occasion. Joshua, dying, calls upon the nation to "choose whom you will serve." Here we have —
1. A wise effort to impress and perpetuate religious resolutions.
2. A fine impersonation of material nature.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF RELIGIOUS RESOLUTIONS. They are worthy of perpetual remembrance. The world has monuments of earthquakes, wars, deaths; but how few of devout resolutions!
II. THE HIGHEST USE OF MATERIAL OBJECTS. Without actually setting up material objects, nature might be appropriated in her different manifestations as types of God's character, and as mementos of events in the religious history of an individual or a family.
III. THE MOST SOLEMN ASPECTS OF NATURE. Who dares to say that nature cannot hear or speak? Who shall say, at the last, what nature, after her long silence, shall reveal? Take heed what you do and say: stones may hear without a Joshua's invocation.
We can easily conceive the association of thought with which Joshua and Israel contemplated the stone which they set up in Shechem. However rough it might be and shapeless, it had for them a solemn character; it had something approaching to personality and the power of testimony. "It," said Joshua, "hath heard all the words of the Lord which He spake unto us"; not, of course, literally, but in the minds and recollections of those who regarded it as a pledge and token of the vow and covenant made betwixt them and God. And we may well conceive that such a silent, unchangeable witness retained for years, and perhaps for generations, its effect on the people of Israel, even in their downward course which, we too well know, shortly followed. To it the servants of God, struggling against the idolatry and pollution of their age, would bring their little ones, and teach them the words which it heard, and of which it was a testimony, and repeat each for himself their dying captain's confession, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Many a tender hand, laid on its cool surface, may have throbbed with generous emotion and holy zeal; many a thoughtful youth and maiden of Israel may have heard from it a sermon, which issued in holy endurance and heroic resolve. And we, have not we too set up our stone of testimony? have not these walls, dead materials gathered from the slime of the earth and the bosom of the rock, within these few days assumed for us a solemnity of which, in the laws of our thought, they can never be divested? Have they not heard all the words which the Lord our God hath spoken to us, and all that we have spoken to Him? Have we not begun a new course, entered on a fresh iteration of our covenant with God, of which these stones are a witness, a silent but ineffaceable witness — a witness through the ages of time — a witness at the solemn day of judgment? If this pillar of testimony, set up in the midst of our homes, raised with so much self-denying effort, inaugurated with so many tears of joy, is to witness only cold hearts and feeble hands, and formal Sundays, and ungodly weeks, oh shame unto us henceforward — nay, woe unto us, for God will look upon it and judge; and as we have received, so will He at last require of us. These latter words — as a note of passage — lead me on to speak of not only the similarity, but the difference also, between Joshua's stone of witness and ours. I deeply feel that this your church is, as the stone in Shechem was, a witness between you and God. But it is so in a far more solemn sense, in far wider and deeper meaning, than that could ever be. That stone was a mere passive witness; by standing where it did, it gave a permanence to the fact of the covenant there made. It was merely, as our Nelson's pillar or our Wellington statues, a memorial. And this our church is likewise; a memorial of His great mercies and of our feeble gratitude; a memorial that a Christian congregation has in it anew entered into covenant with Him. But it is also far more than this. It is an active witness between you and God. The sermons which it preaches are not merely those which associations of thought might suggest; they are active, positive, spoken declarations of God's will, ever renewed and energising. Its testimony is not only that of a memorial of the past; it is an ever-welling fountain of Divine knowledge, telling of Christ and His salvation. Thus considered, then, what is the use, what is the office, of this our Church? Briefly (but how much is contained in these words) to provide those who dwell in this thickly-peopled neighbourhood with the public means of grace. Undoubtedly, the first means of grace are, prayer and praise. But there are others, standing in the very first rank of importance, viz., the Word and the Sacraments. Nor should I omit, in speaking of our new church as a witness for God, the important testimony which is borne by every church in the succession of her services throughout the Christian year. Here you will each year accompany our blessed Lord "from His poor cradle to His bitter cross"; here you will witness His burial, and His glorious resurrection and ascension, and the fulfilment of the promise of the Father in the descent of the Spirit, and will adore with holy joy on that crowning festival of Trinity the whole Three Persons in the One Godhead, covenanted in the work of our salvation. Such are some few of the blessings which you may expect from your church; such some few of the testimonies which it will lift up among you for God and His work. Can I pass on without a word of exhortation to you that you thwart not such blessings — that you let not such testimonies be given against yourselves? Oh, love your church! Throng its aisles from week to week, as to-day.
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