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1. All Israel - Namely, their representatives. Shechem - To the city of Shechem, a place convenient for the purpose, not only because it was a Levitical city, and a city of refuge, and a place near Joshua's city, but especially for the two main ends for which he summoned them thither.
1. For the solemn burial of the bones of Joseph, and the rest of the patriarchs, for which this place was designed.
2. For the solemn renewing of their covenant with God; which in this place was first made between God and Abraham, Gen. xii, 6, 7, and afterwards renewed by the Israelites at their first entrance into the land of Canaan, between the two mountains of Ebal and Gerizzim, chap. viii, 30, &c. which were very near Shechem: and therefore this place was most proper, both to remind them of their former obligations to God, and to engage them to a farther ratification of them. Before God - As in God's presence, to hear what Joshua was to speak to them in God's name, and to receive God's commands from his mouth. He had taken a solemn farewell before: but as God renewed his strength, he desired to improve it for their good. We must never think our work for God done, 'till our life is done.
2. The people - To the elders, by whom it was to be imparted to all the rest, and to as many of the people as came thither. He spake to them in God's name, and as from him, in the language of a prophet, Thus saith the Lord. Jehovah, the great God, and the God of Israel, whom you are peculiarly engaged to hear. The flood - Or, the river, namely, Euphrates, so called by way of eminency. They served - That is, Both Abraham and Nahor were no less idolaters than the rest of mankind. This is said to prevent their vain boasting in their worthy ancestors, and to assure them that whatsoever good was in, or had been done by their progenitors, was wholly from God's free grace, and not for their own merit or righteousness.
3. I took - I snatched him out of that idolatrous place, and took him into acquaintance and covenant with myself, which was the highest honour and happiness he was capable of. And led - That is I brought him after his father's death into Canaan, Gen. xii, 1, and I conducted and preserved him in all his travels through the several parts of Canaan. And multiplied - That is, gave him a numerous posterity, not only by Hagar and Keturah, but even by Sarah and by Isaac. Gave Isaac - By my special power and grace to be heir of my covenant, and all my promises, and the seed in or by which all the nations were to be blessed.
4. Mount Seir - That he might leave Canaan entire to his brother Jacob and his posterity, Gen. xxxvi, 7, 8. Into Egypt - Where they long lived in grievous bondage; which God having delivered us from, I shall now pass it over. 7. Your eyes - He speaketh this to the elders, ver. 1, who were so, not only by power and dignity, but many of them by age; and there being now not sixty years past since those Egyptian plagues, it is very probable that a considerable number of those present, had seen those things in Egypt, and being not twenty years old, were exempted from that dreadful sentence passed upon all who were older, Num. xiv, 29.
9. Balak warred - Balak warred, tho' not by open force, yet by crafty counsel and warlike stratagems, by wicked devices.
10. Unto Balaam - Who hereby appears to have desired of God leave to curse Israel; and therefore it is not strange, that God who permitted him simply to go, was highly angry with him for going with so wicked an intent, Num. xxii, 20, 22, 32. Delivered you - That is, from Balak's malicious design against you.
11. Deliver them - Namely, successively; for in these few words he seems to comprise all their wars, which being so fresh in their memory, he thought it needless particularly to mention.
12. Sent the hornet - When they were actually engaged in battle with the Canaanites. These dreadful swarms which first appeared in their war with Sihon and Og, tormented them with their stings and terrified them with their noise, so that they became an easy prey to Israel. God had promised to do this for them, Exod. xxiii, 27, 28, and here Joshua observes the fulfilling the promise.
14. The gods - Whereby it appears, that although Joshua had doubtless prevented and purged out all public idolatry, yet there were some of them who practiced it in their private houses and retirements. Your fathers - Terah, and Nahor, and Abraham, as ver. 2, and other of your ancestors. In Egypt - See Ezek xxiii, 3, 8, 19, 21, 27. Under these particulars, no doubt he comprehends all other false gods, which were served by the nations amongst whom they were, but only mentions these, as the idols which they were in more danger of worshipping than those in Canaan; partly because those of Canaan had been now lately and palpably disgraced by their inability to preserve their worshippers from total ruin; and partly, because the other idols came recommended to them by the venerable name of antiquity, and the custom of their forefathers.
15. Seem evil - Unjust, unreasonable or inconvenient. Choose ye - Not that he leaves them to their liberty, whether they would serve God or idols; for Joshua had no such power himself, nor could give it to any other; and both he and they were obliged by the law of Moses, to give their worship to God only, and to forbear all idolatry in themselves, and severely to punish it in others; but it is a powerful insinuation, whereby he both implies, that the worship of God is so highly reasonable, necessary and beneficial; and the service of idols so absurd, and vain, and pernicious, that if it were left free for all men to take their choice, every man in his right wits must needs chuse the service of God, before that of idols; and provokes them to bind themselves faster to God by their own choice. He will - But know this, if you should all be so base and brutish, as to prefer senseless and impotent idols, before the true and living God, it is my firm purpose, that I will, and my children, and servants (as far as I can influence them) shall be constant and faithful to the Lord. And that, whatever others do. They that resolve to serve God, must not start at being singular in it. They that are bound for heaven must be willing to swim against the stream, and must do, not as most do, but as the best do.
19. Ye cannot - He speaks not of an absolute impossibility, (for then both his resolution to serve God himself, and his exhortation to them had been vain) but of a moral impossibility, or a very great difficulty, which he alledgeth not to discourage them from God's service, but to make them more considerate in obliging themselves; and more resolved in answering their obligations. The meaning is, God's service is not, as you seem to fancy, a slight and easy thing, but it is a work of great difficulty, and requires great care, and courage and resolution; and when I consider the infinite purity of God, that he will not be mocked or abused; and withal your proneness to superstition and idolatry, even during the life of Moses, and in some of you, while I live, and while the obligations which God had laid upon you in this land, are fresh in remembrance; I cannot but fear that after my decease you will think the service of God burdensome, and therefore will cast it off and revolt from him, if you do not carefully avoid all occasions of idolatry. A jealous God - In the Hebrew, He is the holy Gods, holy Father, holy Son, holy Spirit. He will not endure a partner in his worship; you can not serve him and idols together. Will not forgive - If you who own yourselves his people and servants, shall wilfully transgress his laws, he will not let this go unpunished in you, as he doth in other nations; therefore consider what you do, when you take the Lord for your God; weigh your advantages and inconveniences together; for as if you be sincere and faithful in God's service, you will have admirable benefits by it; so if you be false to your professions, and forsake him whom you have so solemnly avouched to be your God, he will deal more severely with you than with any people in the world.
20. Will turn - That is, he will alter his course and the manner of his dealing with you, and will be as severe as ever he was kind and gracious. He will repent of his former kindnesses, and his goodness abused will be turned into fury.
21. The Lord - Namely, him only, and not strange gods.
22. Against yourselves - This solemn profession will be a swift witness against you, if hereafter you apostatize from God.
23. Strange gods - Those idols which you either brought out of Egypt, or have taken in Canaan, which some of you keep contrary to God's command, whether for the preciousness of the matter, or rather for some secret inclination to superstition and idolatry.
25. A statute - He set or established that covenant with them, that is, the people, for a statute or an ordinance, to bind themselves and their posterity unto God forever.
26. These words - That is, this covenant or agreement of the people with the Lord. In the book - That is, in the volume which was kept in the ark, Deut. xxxi, 9, 26, whence it was taken and put into this book of Joshua: this he did for the perpetual remembrance of this great and solemn action, to lay the greater obligation upon the people to be true to their engagement; and as a witness for God, against the people, if afterward he punished them for their defection from God, to whom they had so solemnly and freely obliged themselves. Set it up - As a witness and monument of this great transaction, according to the custom of those ancient times. Possibly this agreement was written upon this stone, as was then usual. By the sanctuary - That is, near the place where the ark and tabernacle then were; for tho' they were forbidden to plant a grove of trees near unto the altar, as the Gentiles did, yet they might for a time set up an altar, or the ark, near a great tree which had been planted there before.
27. It hath heard - It shall be as sure a witness against you, as if it had heard. This is a common figure, whereby the sense of hearing is often ascribed to the heavens and the earth, and other senseless creatures.
32. The bones of Joseph - Joseph died two hundred years before in Egypt, but gave commandment concerning his bones, that they should not rest in a grave, 'till Israel rested in the land of promise. Now therefore they were deposited in that piece of ground, which his father gave him near Shechem. One reason why Joshua called all Israel to Shechem, might be to attend Joseph's bones to the grave. So that he now delivered as it were both Joseph's funeral sermon, and his own farewell sermon. And if it was in the last year of his life, the occasion might well remind him, of his own death now at hand. For he was just of the same age with his illustrious ancestor, who died being one hundred and ten years old, Gen. i, 26.
33. Given him - By special favour, and for his better conveniency in attending upon the ark, which then was, and for a long time was to be in Shiloh, near this place: whereas the cities which were given to the priests, were in Judah. Benjamin, and Simeon, which were remote from Shiloh, tho' near the place where the ark was to have its settled abode, namely, at Jerusalem. It is probable Eleazar died about the same time with Joshua, as Aaron did in the same year with Moses. While Joshua lived, religion was kept up, under his care and influence, but after he and his contemporaries were gone, it swiftly went to decay. How well is it for the gospel church, that Christ, our Joshua, is still with it by his Spirit, and will be always, even to the end of the world?
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