SUNSET ON MOUNT EPHRAIM
"After these things, JOSHUA son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of EPHRAIM, north of Mount Gaash." Joshua 24:29-30
Here is a glorious orb in the old world sinking peacefully to rest behind the pastoral hills of Ephraim.
Joshua was in every sense of the word a great character, a saintly hero--the man not only of his age, but of many ages. If his name does not shine so conspicuously amid the galaxy of patriarchs and ancient worthies, it is very much because, as has been said of him, "the man himself is eclipsed by the brilliancy of his deeds"--like the sun in a gorgeous western sky, when the pile of amber clouds--the golden linings and drapery with which he is surrounded--pale the luster of the great luminary.
His was a varied and chequered career. What strange and stirring memories must have floated before his mental vision as now he closed his eyes in the quiet valley of Timnath-serah! Thirty-eight years he had been in Egypt--familiar from his childhood with the tale of his brethren's bondage and oppression--his young soul stung to the quick by their sufferings, and doubtless burning with ardent enthusiasm to redress their wrongs. His fond longings had been realized. He had taken no inconspicuous part in that marvelous exodus--when, in one night, a million slaves burst their fetters. For forty years he shared their toils and dangers in the Sinai deserts, amid architecture grander and more imposing than the colossal forms of Egypt--"temples not made with hands." He had triumphantly crossed the Jordan--conquered the land which had gladdened the dying vision of Jacob and Joseph--and struck terror and awe into the Canaanitish nations. First in the south, and then in the north, the warrior tribes bowed before his whirlwind marches. For several years previous to his death he was allowed to see the covenant people reposing under the shelter of their vines and fig-trees--the "sword turned into the ploughshare."
Of his last hours we know nothing. There are no remarkable incidents or details mentioned, as in the closing scene of Jacob's life. We have no family partings--no prophetic benedictions. He himself, we have every reason to believe, was the writer of the book which bears his name; and after his own final entry, another sacred recorder appends the postscript--"After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash." Joshua 24:29-30
This is a brief obituary. It allows no scope for imagination to paint the scene of the dying hero. If ever one was worthy of military honors, it was he. The chivalry of Israel might well have gathered around his grave. His casket might have been covered with crowns of vanquished kings; even the savage warriors he had humbled, might not have refused to come and do homage to his valor. But his life is his noblest monument--His vast and varied achievements are his best eulogy. Let us gather, in thought, around that solitary tomb "on the north side of the hill of Gaash." We can read the epitaph of "the man of God" as well as of the warrior and the patriot--"He being dead yet speaks!"
Four elements of strength appear to stand out conspicuously in Joshua's character, and which distinguish him pre-eminently in the Old Testament as "the Warrior SAINT."
First, ZEAL FOR GOD'S HONOR. This seemed to have been his paramount aim and motive through life. We trace, through all the vicissitudes of his history, a beautiful and never-varying abnegation of self, and exaltation of his great Lord--stripping himself of all personal glory, and giving the glory to whom alone it is due.
Take some examples–
When, under the walls of Jericho, a warrior-form with "a sword drawn in his hand" stood "over against him." How does he receive the mysterious stranger? Flushed with previous successes, does he spurn the offered assistance, and haughtily disdain the thought of any other, human, angelic or divine, dividing with him the glory of new conquests? No! When he heard from those regal lips the announcement, "As captain of the Lord's host I am come!" the champion of Israel unlooses his shoes, in token of homage and deferential adoration. He bows his head in the dust, and, seeking no honor for himself, asks in simple faith the question, "What says my Lord unto his servant?" (Josh. 5:14).
Jericho and Ai have been conquered, and the key to the whole land is thus in the hands of the commander of the Israelite host. But before another sword is drawn, or martial bugle sounded, a religious convocation is appointed. The tones of the silver trumpets convene the whole army at the base of Mount Ebal; and, (in noble keeping with the monument erected after his first battle in Rephidim, with the inscription, "Jehovah-nissi, the Lord is my banner,") Joshua raises an altar of gratitude "to the Lord God of Israel." (Josh. 8:30.)
Somewhere in the twilight of his life, when he imagined his end was drawing near, although he seems to have been spared for some years afterwards, we read, "And Joshua called for all Israel, and for their elders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers." And how does he address them? Is it the warrior's stirring appeal to arms and fresh conquests; or the man of political sagacity and worldly wisdom seeking to consolidate his kingdom by arts of statecraft? No! it is the burning desire of his nobler nature to have another opportunity of ascribing all the glory of past victories to Jehovah, and of securing for Him the willing homage and obedience of the nation. Hear the opening sentence--it is the key-note to the whole address--"You have seen all that the Lord your God has done unto all the nations because of you--for the Lord your God is He that has fought for you," (Josh. 23:2, 3).
How different from the tone of other oriental conquerors! How different from the promptings of human nature!--"By my own power and wisdom I have won these wars. By my own strength I have captured many lands, destroyed their kings, and carried off their treasures." (Isa. 10:13). The old hero convenes the aristocracy of the land--officers, elders, magistrates--to give them a farewell charge--and his first act is to tear every wreath from his own brow, and to cast these at the feet of his father's God! If he had given vent to the emotions of his heart in strains of sacred song, they would have been akin to those sung, in a future age, by the minstrel of the universal Church, as he reverted to this same bright epoch in their early history--"They did not get the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them--but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, because you had a favor unto them," (Psalm. 44:3).
A few years after this convocation at Shiloh, a final and still more impressive one took place at Shechem. The aged chief feels that the shadows are lengthening, that the silver cord must soon be loosed, the golden bowl soon broken. Might not he be well permitted to remain undisturbed in the peaceful seclusion of his inheritance, and leave the tribes with the faithful counsels he had already given them? What need of again invading his dignified repose? May not the entire consecration of his former years be pleaded as a valid reason for exemption from further public duty? No! the venerable father (for he WAS the father--the oldest man in all Israel,) feels that life to the last has its solemn responsibilities. He seems to have caught up the words and spirit of a future apostle, "Yes, I think it fit as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance, knowing that shortly I must put off this my body."
And forth he comes, with patriarchal bearing and silvered locks, from his dwelling in Mount Ephraim, to give the final exhortation--to bear the final witness for his God, before his lips are sealed forever. As he began, so he finishes--"The Lord our God, He it is that brought us up out of the land of Egypt." Oh, sweeter to him than the strains of sweetest earthly music must have been that parting burst from the assembled tribes that rang through the rugged gorge! It was the echo of his own life-thoughts. It seemed like the anointing for his own burial as he departed for the last time from the army, never to see them again--"The people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey!"
How stands it with us? Are God's glory and honor paramount? or are we content with seeking our own glory, our own projects of self-aggrandizement and worldly ambition; living for anything but the God who loved us, and the Savior who died for us? If the Israel of a succeeding age had taken heed to the words of their hero-leader, it would have saved them many a conflict, much bloodshed, humiliation, and disaster. Contrary to his dying advice, they did tamper with the neighboring idolatrous nations, and entered on forbidden fellowships. The purity of worship was corrupted, Jehovah was displeased, and vengeance followed. "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God," (Heb. 3:12). Faithful to Him, He will be faithful to you. His own promise will be verified in your experience as in that of Joshua, "Those who honor me, I will honor!"
A second feature in Joshua's character was his DEFERENCE TO GOD'S LAW.
We have just seen that, warrior as he was, he rejoiced in acknowledging his own subordination to a Greater than himself. Like every true and loyal soldier, he acted up to the orders of his superior. When, on the death of Moses, God invested him with the responsible post of commander-in-chief of the army of Israel, the first--the only injunction which, with reiterated emphasis, was laid upon him was this--"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." Joshua 1:6-8
It is a noble and interesting picture, to see the youthful soldier, yes--and when the ardor of youthful enthusiasm had passed away, and care was furrowing his brow, to see the aged warrior retiring amid the seclusion of his own tent, and poring over the sacred law transmitted to him by his great predecessor. If any could ever plead lack of time or of leisure, surely it would be this great man, who had the burden of thousands upon thousands on his shoulders; and whose whole life was one long warlike march--the sword scarcely ever sheathed, or the armor ungirded! But he was faithful to the great trust confided to him. His guiding principle was undeviating adherence to the Divine word and will.
See how the Law of God is honored in that sublime convocation we have already referred to, at Mount Ebal and Gerizim. One portion of the tribes--the chiefs, the judges, the officers, the elders--stood on the one mountain, and another portion on the other; while the sacred ark, guarded by the priests, was in the valley beneath. It was the Word of God that awoke those silent echoes! "And Joshua read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law," (Josh. 8:34). The six tribes on dark and gloomy Ebal, thundered out its curses; and back from the greener slopes of Gerizim, from the corresponding number of tribes, were echoed the blessings; while from the crowded ranks that thronged both hills, there followed the loud "AMEN!"--the solemn national subscription to each blessing and curse of that precious Word. To crown and perpetuate all--on that commemorative "altar of whole stones" which Joshua reared on Mount Ebal, a copy of the law of Moses was written or engraved by his own hand, in presence of the assenting multitude.
This convocation of the tribes took place while yet they were engaged in the strife of conquest--a solemn breathing time amid the din and dust of battle. But when "the land had rest from war," and Joshua was drawing near the close of his eventful life, so far from his love and veneration for that law suffering any diminishing, he seems to rejoice in it still, "as one that finds great spoil." While he could say, in reverting to the past, "Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage," it seems no less to be his experience when old and grey-headed, "Your testimonies are my delight and my counselors."
On that same occasion to which reference has already been made, when in the decline of years the aged chieftain gathered together the tribes from their different inheritances, still does he revert to the same theme. He tells them as the secret of his own success, and he would urge it upon them as the secret of theirs, "Be therefore very courageous, to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses; that you turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left," (Josh. 23:6).
And again, as he had done years before at Ebal, he took means alike to perpetuate his own sacred counsel and the vow of the people. He transcribed the account of the whole transaction into the copy of the book of the law which was kept in the ark; and then a huge stone was set up under a terebinth, as a silent attestation to the oath of the tribes. "And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord which he spoke unto us--it shall therefore be a witness unto you, lest you deny your God," (Josh. 24:27). What a lesson for us! He had but a fragment of that divine law--the books of Moses (the Pentateuch and the book of Job) were all his Bible. Yet see how he makes it "the man of his counsel"--pleads earnestly with the people to take heed to its sacred utterances, and to regulate their lives by its lofty requirements!
Amid the duties and difficulties, the cares and perplexities of life, how many a pang and tear would it save us, if we went with chastened and inquiring spirits to these sacred oracles? How many trials would be mitigated--how many sorrows soothed, and temptations avoided--if we preceded every step in life with the inquiry, "What says the Scripture?" How few, it is to be feared, make (as they should do) the Bible a final court of appeal--an arbiter for the settlement of all the vexed questions in the solemn assembly of the soul. God keep us from that saddest phase and dogma of modern infidelity, the Sacred Volume classed among the worn and outdated books of the past! God keep us from regarding His lively oracles with only that misnamed "veneration" which the antiquary bestows on some piece of mediaeval armor--a relic and memorial of bygone days, but unsuitable for an age which has superseded the cruder views of these old "chroniclers," and inaugurated a new era of religious development. Vain dreamers! "Forever, O God, your word is settled in heaven." "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." "The word of the Lord is tried." "Your word is very sure, therefore your servant loves it."
What a crowd of witnesses could be summoned to give personal evidence of its preciousness and value. How many aching heads would raise themselves from their pillows and tell of their obligations to its soothing messages of love and power! How many death-beds could send their occupants with pallid lips to tell of the staff which upheld them in the dark valley! How many, in the hour of bereavement, could lay their finger on the promise that first dried the tear from their eye, and brought back the smile to their saddened countenances! How many voyagers in life's tempestuous ocean, now landed on the heavenly shore, would be ready to hush their golden harps and descend to earth with the testimony, that this was the blessed beacon-light which enabled them to avoid the treacherous reefs, and guided them to their desired haven!
Ah, Philosophy! you have never yet, as this Book, taught a man how to die! Reason! with your flickering torch, you have never yet guided to such sublime mysteries, such comforting truths as these! Science! you have penetrated the arcade of nature, sunk your shafts into earth's recesses, unburied its stores, counted its strata, measured the height of its massive pillars, down to the very pedestals of primitive granite. You have tracked the lightning, traced the path of the tornado, uncurtained the distant planet, foretold the coming of the comet, and the return of the eclipse. But you have never been able to gauge the depths of man's soul; or to answer the question, "What must I do to be saved?"
No, no--this antiquated volume is still the "Book of books," the oracle of oracles, the beacon of beacons; the poor man's treasury; the child's companion; the sick man's health; the dying man's life; shallows for the infant to walk in--depths for giant intellect to explore and adore! Philosophy, if she would but own it, is indebted here for the noblest of her maxims--Poetry for the loftiest of her themes. Painting has gathered here her noblest inspiration. Music has ransacked these golden stores for the grandest of her strains. And if there be life in the Church of Christ--if her ministers and missionaries are carrying the torch of salvation through the world--where is that torch lighted, but at these same undying altar-fires? When a philosophy, "falsely so called," shall become dominant, and seek, with its proud dogmas, to supersede this divine philosophy--when the old Bible of Joshua, and David, and Timothy, and Paul, is fastened and closed--the only morality and philosophy worth speaking of, will have perished from the earth. Dagon will have taken the place of God's ark--the world's funeral pile may be kindled!
Love your Bibles. As they are the souvenirs of your earliest childhood--the gift of a mother's love, or the pledge of a father's affection--so let them be your last and fondest treasures--the keepsakes and heirlooms which you are most desirous to transmit to your children's children.
A third feature in the character of Joshua was, DEPENDENCE ON GOD'S STRENGTH.
"Certainly I will be with you," was the guarantee with which he accepted his formidable responsibilities as leader of the many thousands of Israel. "As I have been with Moses, so will I be with you." "Have not I commanded you? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed--for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." These assurances seem to have rung their echoes in his ear from the moment he entered on his gigantic task. In the hour of disaster he casts himself humbled before the "Rock of his strength." He tempers and glorifies the hour of victory by ascribing all the praise to the same "God of Jeshurun."
On the occasion of the temporary repulse at Ai--when the chosen men of the army fled panic-stricken before the Canaanite warriors, "and the hearts of the people melted and became like water"--where do we find their leader? Is he (stung with the humiliation of defeat) venting his wrath against the demoralized army? deriding the vanquished with their cowardice? or, worse, in sullen remorse upbraiding his God for desertion at this crisis-hour? No, we see him prone on the earth, with dust on his head, and his garments torn, before the ark of the Lord. The men of Ai, flushed with victory, may, for anything he knows, be in hot pursuit down through their gorges to Gilgal. It matters not. He neither fears nor trusts to an arm of flesh. Nor is this a mere momentary burst of impassioned prayer. In that posture he and his elders continue until even-tide, jealous for the glory of his God, and acknowledging His hand alone in the discomfiture. Thus does the prostrate leader urge his sacred suit--"O Lord, what shall I say, when Israel turns their backs before their enemies? For the Canaanites, and all the inhabitants of the land, shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth--and what will you do unto your great name?"
Or turn to the brightest episode--the most picturesque and chivalrous chapter in all Joshua's history--his campaign against the Amorite kings, and subjugation of Southern Canaan.
The five kings of the south had become confederate against the Gibeonites. These latter, in their hour of imminent peril, resolved to seek the assistance of Joshua. Ambassadors from their helpless city appear one afternoon at the camp of Gilgal with the importunate request--"Slack not your hand from your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us." Joshua at once perceives the urgency of the crisis. It is his own cause fully more than that of the Gibeonites. He responds at once to the call of duty and danger. Nor need he hesitate. The God who nerved his arm has given him the assurance, "Fear them not--for I have delivered them into your hand; there shall not a man of them stand before you."
Not a moment, however, is to be lost. At the ordinary rate of marching, it will take three days to reach the beleaguered garrison. The tidings reach Joshua at eventide, and, before the sun has gone down on the heights of Jericho, the army is in motion, and by a rapid starlight march, early morning brings them face to face with their foe. The war-note sounds! the battle closes! and the five confederate armies--broken and scattered--flee headlong down the western passes of Benjamin; thence upwards by the heights of Beth-horon. Joshua is in hot pursuit. The victory cannot be complete unless advantage be taken of the panic. If they slacken their march, or if the shadows of evening fall before they have overtaken the fugitives, the broken ranks of the enemy may on the morrow be rallied, and another bloody struggle undo the triumph of today. What can he devise? One night and morning have worked marvels. Heroism could do no more--three days' march compressed into one--five powerful kings with disciplined troops humbled and beaten by a tribe of desert wanderers. Faint and weary as these brave heroes are, they would willingly yet struggle on for hours to finish their mission of death and victory. But they cannot fight against nature--they cannot contend with impossibilities.
Joshua, at the head of the Beth-horon mountain-ridge, gazes along to his right on the undulating hills which now hide Gibeon from view. He sees the sun hanging over them in fiery luster, that blazing lamp which had looked down upon their fearful struggle during the long morning, until noonday heat, perhaps, compelled the weary warriors to pause for a breath under the shadow of the surrounding rocks. The enemy had more to contend with than the swords of the Israelites. As in a future campaign "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," so now the very elements of nature become confederate with Joshua, and wage vengeance on the foe. The terrific hailstorm--truly "the hail of God"--arrows from the Almighty's quiver--was driving in the faces of the broken chivalry of Canaan, and "the faint figure of the crescent moon visible above the hail-storm" rose over the green valley of Ajalon, down which the defeated legions were pouring in wild confusion.
Can He who makes the "fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind to fulfill His word"--can He who "appoints the moon for seasons, and the sun to know his going down"--can He not, if he please, arrest the movements of nature, even should it be to stay the orbs of heaven in their course? Can He not rein in these fiery coursers, put a drag on these burning chariot-wheels, as He did on those of Pharaoh in the depths of the sea? Can He not lengthen out this momentous day, and allow neither sun nor moon to stir from their places, until victory resound through the hosts of Israel?
So mused Joshua, as he stood in silent contemplation on these memorable heights. "On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel--'O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.' So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!" Joshua 10:12-14
We pause not to ask any curious questions as to how this miracle can be reconciled with the conditions of modern science, although we believe it can, without impairing the reality of the miracle. We advert to it at present as a beautiful testimony to Joshua's dependence on the omnipotence of God. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" was the inmost thought of his soul, when he ventured on the strange request. The two obedient orbs were arrested until the triumph was complete, and until they beheld, from their silent thrones, the five warlike kings mingling with the trophies of that bloody day.
And how terminates the record of this bright and brilliant campaign, the conqueror of ancient Canaan? We extract it from the book of Joshua (and remember, Joshua was himself the recorder of the fact and of the cause assigned for it)--"And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time, BECAUSE THE LORD GOD OF ISRAEL FOUGHT FOR ISRAEL." (Josh. 10:42.)
Would that, in our seasons of sorrow, and trial, and threatened bereavement, we could imitate the faith of this hero-saint. When some "sun," some orb of earthly joy is threatening to set in the darkness of death, can that same omnipotent One who said, "Sun, stand still upon Gibeon; and Moon, in the valley of Ajalon," can He not still, as of old, in answer to prayer, command these lights of our skies to "stand still," and forbid them "going down while it is yet day?" Why should we "limit the Holy One of Israel?" Is the Lord's hand shortened since the days of Joshua that it cannot save?
What a lesson, also, of dependence on Almighty strength in spiritual exigencies! And the beautiful and instructive example, in the case of Israel's leader, is, that his is no rash or feverish fanaticism--no blind fatalism--no unwarrantable trust in extraordinary or superhuman agency, so as to permit dispensing with human effort. There is the fine combination of entire dependence on God, with the conviction of human responsibility, as if each warlike movement depended on his own personal prowess. He had the firm persuasion that in himself he had no power against these giant walls or confederate multitudes. He went in "the strength of the Lord his God." But even after receiving the assurance of Divine aid, and the promise of victory, there was no relaxation of personal effort. Never did soldier go forth with a more firm resolve to do his duty. The assurance of triumph did not tempt him to defer his midnight march on Gibeon, or lessen his resolve to strike a sudden blow. It is said of him "he drew not back his hand when he stretched out his spear;" and yet, at the same time, no warrior of Scripture story bears about with him a more habitual recognition of the truth that "the shields of the earth belong only to God."
Let the same beautiful combination be ours!--a simple dependence on the grace and strength of God--cherishing habitually the feeling that if a better Canaan ever be ours, "not unto us, not unto us," but unto God be the glory--and yet acting as if all depended on ourselves. The two are not incompatible. It will always be found that those who are the most earnest workers are those who exercise the most childlike trust in a higher strength. The oars are strong, but we must ply them if we would overcome the opposing current. The armor may be well made, but we must test it if we would gain the battle. "Prayer and pains," said the missionary Elliot, "can do anything;" and this was in spirit Joshua's motto and watchword. He who had boldness to tell sun and moon to "stand still" is the same we see lying prostrate for hours in prayer within the camp of Gilgal. His life is one of the many testimonies that it is the men of prayer who are men of power. The first time he is brought before our notice is as the young warrior fighting the veteran hosts of Amalek at Rephidim; but he looks up to the adjoining mount and beholds Moses with his hands uplifted in prayer--"Out of weakness he is made strong, waxes valiant in fight, and turns to flight the armies of the aliens."
This is a picture of every Christian still. He is the successful Joshua in the plain, because he looks with the eye of faith to the great pleading Intercessor on the true mount in heaven, whose hands never "grow heavy;" for "He faints not, neither is weary." "Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence. When I said, my foot slips; your mercy, O Lord, held me up." (Ps. 94:17, 18.)
Let us advert to one other element in Joshua's character. TRUST IN GOD'S FAITHFULNESS.
This was only the necessary companion and result of the preceding. Let us speak of it more in connection with the closing period of his life, when he came to take a retrospect of his past history.
When he first undertook to lead the armies of Israel, this was the warrant and encouragement on which he set out--"I the Lord am with you wherever you go." No promise could have been stronger or more unqualified. "There shall not any man be able to stand before you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so will I be with you. I will not fail you nor forsake you."
Have these repeated assertions been rigidly fulfilled? Has "He been faithful that promised?"
"Yes," says Joshua; "God has been true to His word. He has been better than His word!" When the land had been partitioned to the various tribes, he records this emphatic attestation, "There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel--all came to pass." (Josh. 21:45)
It is a beautiful picture to see this burning and shining light of the old skies nearing his glorious sunset!--this old warrior of Israel thus coming forth from the seclusion of his old age to bear witness to the faithfulness of a promising God! His public work is over--his sword is sheathed--his spear and shield are resting as proud trophies in his family halls at Timnath, never more to be taken down. But he appears once more as the great apostle of the covenant people, to pour upon them his benediction, and make a farewell acknowledgment of God's gracious and unchanging fidelity.
Though "old and stricken in years," he was yet strong in body as he was strong in faith; and able with his tongue to give glory to God. He seems to catch animation and power from the spectacle before him--the thousands of Israel, that loved him as a father, gathering at his call, and listening with bated breath to his last words. Imagine the scene! as with simple but noble eloquence, the patriarch warrior makes the appeal, "Choose this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!" The enthusiasm of the speaker seems to be communicated to his hearers! With tumultuous acclamation they make the united response, "And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods--therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God!" (Josh. 24:18)
We like to hear (there is always weight and authority) in the sayings of the aged. There are no words that come to us in our pulpits with such solemnity and interest as those spoken by the veteran warriors of the cross--patriarchs in Israel--whose shattered bark has braved many a storm, and whose brows are furrowed with life's deep and changing experiences. And if the man, moreover, has been conspicuous in the world--one of towering intellect, or brilliant genius, or illustrious deeds--with all the greater interest do we hang upon his lips.
Such was Joshua. Come--you mighty man of valor! you before whom "kings of armies did flee apace!" Come, tell us, in the evening of your life, what is your experience.
Hear it--"Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth--and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing has failed thereof," (Josh. 23:14).
If we (like Joshua) combine the power of faith with the power of earnest effort; if we use the two means which he seems specially to have used, (the word of God and prayer,) like him, we shall be able at our dying hour, to declare the faithfulness of the Lord, and to say, in the words of a future leader of Israel, who in no small degree inherited Joshua's spirit, "Come, hear, all you that fear God, and I will declare what he has done for my soul," (Ps. 66:16). As sure as Joshua's zeal and trust and fortitude crowned his arms with victory, so surely, if we, in the noble gospel sense, stand firm in the faith; and are men of courage and strength, God will give us His promised rest--the rest which remains for His people. Joshua's "good success" has in it a higher spiritual meaning and interpretation. It was written "for our admonition, on whom the ends of the world have come." And this is the burden of the spiritual promise, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life," (Rev. 2:10).
Let us learn, in conclusion, the same great, practical lesson we shall have so often to note in connection with these ancient worthies--the influence that a great and good man exercises on others. The influence of Joshua was felt for a whole generation. At the close of that last stirring appeal--(his farewell address)--the concluding words of the record, written by his own hand, were these, "So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance." It is a mere casual remark, a simple winding up of the story, and yet imagination loves to dwell on that "departure." We picture group upon group wending their way along highway and valley--some immersed in deep thought, others breaking forth in the votive soliloquy, "No, but we will serve the Lord"--others, as they reached their homes, pouring out their full hearts to their children, repeating the words of the saintly warrior. Yes, and in future ages, on their way to the feasts, as many passed by that stone under the Terebinth at Shechem, how would it recall the living voice of the hero, and enforce, in silent impressiveness, the terms of his covenant.
This we know at all events, that the fragrance of his good words and deeds survived his death. The writer, whoever he be, who records his departure and burial, adds the brief notice--it is the best funeral oration that could be pronounced over his grave–"Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the leaders who outlived him—those who had personally experienced all that the Lord had done for Israel." Joshua 24:31
Joshua was a great man, and his influence was therefore correspondingly great. But each one, however lowly be their sphere, may exercise a similar influence for good. They may erect their Shechem-stone, and their children's children may catch inspiration, from lips which death has long ago silenced! As the youth, plunged amid the temptations of a city life, opens his desk, his eye may light on a Shechem-stone--the last letter of a parent's affection, full of the yearnings of holy solicitude; or the Bible, with its fly-leaf blotted with a mother's love and tears. That mother may have been sleeping quietly for years under some yew-tree in a village church-yard hundreds of miles away; but her voice still speaks--the old tones, choked with tears, are heard, the hand that was used to be laid on his head in prayer as he knelt on her lap, knocks at his heart-door, and does not knock in vain!
Happy and honored are they who, like Joshua, can give a bold, outspoken testimony to the truth! Though he died amid the affections of a loving people, his was not an influence or an attachment purchased by any base or unworthy compromise of principle. There was no truckling to their weaknesses or foibles. It was the influence of a faithful as well as kind man. He was one of those "righteous" who are as "bold as a lion." One of his last utterances was a faithful warning--a warning off from that very rock on which thousands on thousands are at this day making shipwreck--a false and ungospel trust in the 'mere mercy of God'--a sinful and unwarrantable ignoring of God in his character of the Just, and Holy, and Righteous One! "Then Joshua said to the people, 'You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.'" Joshua 24:19-20
Did the people resent his manly straightforward declaration? No, they loved him too much--they trusted him too much, to take offence at these bold threatenings; their voices again rang through the gorge, "No, but we will serve the Lord."
Are we ready to go and do likewise? Are we ready, like the tribes of Israel, anew to subscribe our covenant, and to say with a more earnest resolve, that "whatever others do, as for us we will serve the Lord?" We may well take the life of this brave and good man as an outline--a model--for our imitation, in fighting "the good fight of faith, and laying hold of eternal life!" A life of calm trust and submission to the divine will brought with it a peaceful and tranquil departure. Hear how he speaks of death--"I am going the way of all the earth." He looks on the world he is soon about to leave--What does he see? A troop of pilgrims marching to one long home. "All the earth" one vast funeral crowd rushing into the grave! None had ever seen so many entering its portals as he. He had left Egypt with six hundred thousand--he had seen every one of them (save one solitary man, Caleb,) pass to that long home. He was now himself following--ready to enter the "house appointed for all living.'' But the same Warrior, who stood at his side before the walls of Jericho, is there, to make him "more than conqueror!"
And the same Lord, who upheld and sustained Joshua, will be with you! "Joshua-Jesus"--He who stands for your defense, amid life's temptations and trials, with the sword drawn in His hand--He who, when Moses, the type of the law, dies, brings His spiritual Israel to the true land of promise. Yes, and when you come, like this old hero-saint, to take farewell of all that is under the sun, when you come to take your stand by the dark river side, the voice of the true Joshua (like that of his illustrious forerunner,) will be heard saying, "Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passes over before you into Jordan!"