So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.
"That day" was a very notable day in the annals of the children of Israel; its transactions might well be recorded in the volume of the book and engraven on the monumental stone. All the favours which God had promised to their fathers while yet they languished in bondage in Egypt had been now fulfilled; the promised land was theirs. God had given them rest in all their borders. In the meantime their captain, who had so often led them to victory, waxed helpless and old; he felt that there gathered around him the mists and crept over him the shadow of the coming change. He summoned the tribes of Israel, therefore, to meet him in Shechem; and they muster largely, for they feel it to be a great day, and suspect they are about to listen to their leader's parting charge. He recounts God's providential dealings with them, and seeks by the memory of the past to inspire their vows of fidelity and allegiance. The warrior heart is still in the old man eloquent, but he wars not now against advancing hosts, but against rebellious minds. There is yet fire in his battle-cry, but it summons to self-conquest. There is glory yet upon his brow, but it is not the lustre of his former achievements, but the radiance of the nearing heaven already gathering to crown its hero. He has often led the people to victory; he will confirm them in piety now, that he may but briefly precede them into the recompense of the reward. He knew full well that their only danger sprang from themselves, that there was no danger to them, if they were but obedient and faithful, from the shock even of an embattled world; and with earnest love to God, and with deep knowledge of the human heart, he delivers his final and his impressive appeal. He warns them to count the cost, in order that there may be a more solemn and decided consecration of themselves to God. Then, receiving their reiterated vows, he makes a covenant with them, and stamps it with a sacramental and with an authoritative value, and sets it up for a statute and for an ordinance in Shechem. This seems to have been the last public act of his life, and then, weary for the rest of which Canaan was but the significant shadow, he went serenely into heaven. First, as to the nature of this covenant. I need not remind you that the Israelites were the chosen people of God — chosen to be the recipients of His bounty — chosen to be the witnesses of His unity — chosen to enter solemn protests against the abominable idolatries of the nations around. For the fulfilment of these ends Jehovah had interposed for His Israel in many signal deliverances and blessings. They were not a people, and tie had given them a great name; lie had broken for them the yoke of the oppressor; He had made them heir to an inheritance which they knew not, neither did their fathers know; He made the ocean a pavement for them, the heavens a storehouse, and the rock a fountain of waters; He had successively overthrown all their enemies in their sight, and by many a convincing illustration had stamped the seal of faithfulness upon every promise He had made. And yet they had very frequently rebelled. When trials came they turned recreant from faith and hope; when they were summoned to hazardous duty they shrank, like cowards, from its discharge; and they even formed unholy leagues with the people whom they were sent to overthrow, and adopted their idolatries with an enthusiasm the more reckless because of its perversion from a purer faith and worship. There was need, therefore, that they should be reminded of their duty, and that they should be urged, by all the solemnity of statute and of ordinance, to give themselves afresh unto God. Are not their circumstances yours? The burden of the summons which Joshua made unto the people was that they should serve the Lord. This was also the essence of the covenant, that they should serve the Lord. And, allowing for the differences of mission and local circumstances, there is an identity in the covenant which I want to make with you to-day. I just mention two points. In the first place, then, Joshua could not have served the Lord if he had neglected the Divinely-appointed institution of sacrifice. Although the Mosaic and the Christian economy differ in many things, they are alike in this, that the foundation of each of them is a recognition of sin. The only other part of the covenant which it is necessary for me to bring before you is that Joshua could not have served the Lord, nor any Israelite in the camp, if he had not strictly obeyed the ten commandments of the law. The great principles of morality are the same in every age, and these precepts of the former time, with a new spirit put into them by the exposition of Jesus on the mount, are binding on our consciences to-day. In entire union with Christ I have obtained power to obey — that is the first thing. We cannot obey until we have got a new heart put into us; we have no strength in human nature's old heart to obey the commandments of God; but having by our union with Christ obtained power to obey, that obedience should be sincerely and heartily rendered. A sincere seeker after the will of God will not choose among the commandments, will not obey them just so far as they chime in with corrupt desire and contravene no darling and yet vicious inclination of the soul; he will seek to obey them in the universality of their behests, in the breadth and grandeur of their deep design. I do not think it necessary to go further. If these points of the covenant are granted me, that is all I ask. Come to Christ, and keep His law, and you will be Christians fit for earth, and Christians fit for heaven. I cannot at large mention the arguments by which this covenant was commended. I rather, therefore, prefer to confine my thoughts to the faculty to which the minister makes his appeal. Joshua evidently regarded every man among the Israelites around him as invested with the royal attribute of personal freedom. Beneath each kindling eye and swarthy brow he sees an active reason and a manly soul. He speaks not to those who are of necessity impelled — who are circumscribed by a despotism of surroundings — from whose shackles there is no liberation; he speaks to men, to freemen, to freemen with power to choose the right — with power to prefer the wrong: "Choose you this day." You can choose your service. Oh! I would remind you of the many blessings which God has heaped upon you from the beginning — how your life has sparkled in the light of His loving-kindness. It was He who kindled for you all the endearments of affection and lit up all the joyfulness of home; it was He that warded off peril and environed you with the restraints that have preserved you from the grosser vices and inspired you with the impulse of every good desire. His Son died to redeem you, and fives to intercede that the benefits of His redemption may be yours. His Spirit fans the faint impression and kindles the holy desire, and takes of the precious things of Christ — those precious, those holy motives, and inspiring hopes — and shows them unto you. There is not a temporal mercy, there is not an intellectual enjoyment, there is not a spiritual mercy, for which you are not indebted to Him. And even now He comes, not forcing you to love Him, but inviting, entreating, imploring, adjuring, "My son, My daughter, give Me thy heart."
(W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.