Joshua begins by acknowledging his old age and later states that he is about to die. He reminds them of what had been accomplished in his lifetime (namely, the dividing of the land and the conquering of much of it). But, there was still work to be done, so he says:
"Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, and lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, but you shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day. For the LORD has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you. Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God. Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations--these that remain among you--and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you. 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 have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed. Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the LORD your God promised you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the LORD your God has given you. When you have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you" (Josh. 23:6-16).
Although the nation was in great shape overall at the moment, that would all change if they decide, in the future, to abandon God's ways. They needed to be full of courage and conviction or else they would drift into many problems (such is true for us today as well!). Sadly, as the rest of the Old Testament records, Israel lacked long-term fidelity to the Lord. The problems Joshua warned of soon became a reality. The initial cause of their apostasy is related to their incomplete obedience in destroying all the Canaanites from the land. Why didn't they completely annihilate the Canaanites as instructed? The answer seems to be that once they possessed enough land to accommodate their people that they stopped putting forth the necessary effort to do all that God had required of them. They possessed the same attitude that many Christians seem to display today; that is, a willingness to do just enough to suit themselves. The Canaanites who were allowed to live grew in number and influence over the Israelites as decades and centuries passed. God was with Israel now and nothing could stop them, but tragically it wouldn't always be that way.
Joshua begins the final chapter with a brief overview of the history of the Hebrews:
"Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, 'Thus says the LORD God of Israel: "Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abrham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. Also I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to what I did among them. Afterward I brought you out. Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. So they cried out to the LORD; and He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, brought the sea upon them, and covered them. And your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. Then you dwelt in the wilderness a long time. And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and they fought with you. But I gave them into your hand, that you might possess their land, and I destroyed them from before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose to make war against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you. So I delivered you out of his hand. Then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you--also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand. I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow. I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant" (Josh. 24:1-13).
What purpose does recounting their history serve? It reminds the old and teaches the young about their past and how God has always been there for them! The message of their history is unambiguous: God is faithful and will bless you if you obey Him! He will bless you in ways you do not deserve; He will give you success which you cannot fathom. Christians must take this message to heart today for Almighty God has not changed! Joshua concludes this rehearsal of their history by making the following appeal - "Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD'" (24:14,15).
He calls the nation to continued faithful action and declares the choice he and his family had made. If one desired to foolishly serve false gods, he would be allowed to do so, but that was not Joshua's choice.
"So the people answered and said: 'Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God'" (24:16-18).
Joshua's words are both true and persuasive. It makes no sense to forsake the true and living God for dead, powerless idols. Yet, that is precisely what they would do in time! This should cause us to pause and really reflect upon the direction of our own lives (cf. II Cor. 13:5). For example, when one gets married, he is dedicated to his wife until death parts them. But, how many marriages end prematurely in divorce? That was not the initial plan, but as time passes, often things change and what was once a solid commitment becomes weak and viewed in a different light. Such can also happen to one's spiritual walk if he is not very careful to continually evaluate and come back to God's standard! Over time it is easy to drift into beliefs and practices that one would strongly object to at some point in the past. Don't let what happened to Israel happen to you, friends! "We must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away" (Heb. 2:1). Joshua tried to warn them, and these people did remain faithful in the short-term. But, they failed to properly educate the next generation (cf. Jud. 2:10)!
"But Joshua said to the people, 'You cannot serve the LORD; for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.' And the people said to Joshua, 'No, but we will serve the LORD!'" (Josh. 24:19-21). This section is a bit confusing on the surface. Why does Joshua say that Israel cannot serve God and that He will not forgive their sins? Contextually, it would seem he is trying to say that their religion must be more than lip-service (which is where they were at currently to some extent)! If you're only partially committed to God, you cannot serve Him properly and this will anger Him and He will not be gracious toward you. The people here reiterate a second time a pledge of loyalty (cf. 24:16,22).
"So Joshua said to the people, 'You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him.' And they said, 'We are witnesses!' 'Now therefore,' he said, 'put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.' And the people said to Joshua, 'The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!' So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem" (24:22-25).
They needed to be fully committed to the LORD. It is mind-boggling that they still had some traces of idolatry in their lives even after all that God had done for them in conquering Canaan, but such was the case.
"Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel" (24:31). The people were faithful for a while, but it would not last as the book of Judges details. Joshua and the other leaders were strong, but there was a failure to properly train the children. Let me close with a powerful quote from Adam Clarke:
"Thus nearly all the persons who had witnessed the miracles of God in the wilderness were gathered to their fathers; and their descendants left in possession of the great inheritance, with the law of God in their hands, and the bright example of their illustrious ancestors before their eyes. It must be added that they possessed every advantage necessary to make them a great, a wise, and a holy people. How they used, or rather how they abused, these advantages, their subsequent history, given in the sacred books, amply testifies."
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.