Letters and Manuscripts — Volume 14 (1899)


Ms 135, 1899

Joshua’s Last Words


September 20, 1899 [typed]

Portions of this manuscript are drawn from PP. +Note

For several years the children of Israel had been in possession of the land of Canaan. The wars of conquest ended, Joshua had withdrawn in the peaceful retirement of his home at Timnath-serah. “And it came to pass a long time after that the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua ... called for all Israel, and for their elders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers.” [Joshua 23:1, 2.] The Lord had impressed His faithful servant to do as Moses had done before him—to recapitulate the history of the people, and call to mind the terms which the Lord had made with them when He gave them His vineyard. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 1

Some years had passed since the people had settled in their possessions, and already could be seen cropping out the same evils that had heretofore brought judgments upon Israel. As Joshua felt the infirmities of age stealing upon him, he was filled with anxiety for the future of his people. It was with more than a father’s interest that he addressed them, as they gathered once more about him. “Ye have seen,” he said, “all that the Lord your God hath done unto all the nations because of you; for the Lord your God is he that hath fought for you.” [Verse 3.] Although the Canaanites had been subdued, they still possessed a considerable portion of the land promised to Israel, and Joshua exhorted his people not to settle down at ease, and forget the Lord’s commands to utterly dispossess these idolatrous nations. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 2

The people in general were slow to complete the work of driving out the heathen. The tribes had dispersed to their possessions, the army had disbanded, and it was looked upon as a difficult and doubtful undertaking to renew the war. But Joshua declared, “The Lord your God, he shall expel them from before you, and drive them from out your sight; and ye shall possess their land, as the Lord your God hath promised unto you. Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside to the right hand or to the left.” [Verses 5, 6.] 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 3

Joshua appealed to the people themselves as witnesses that, so far as they had complied with the conditions, God had faithfully fulfilled His promises to them. “Ye know in all your hearts, and in all your souls,” he said, “that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.” [Verse 14.] He declared to them that as the Lord had fulfilled His promises, so He would fulfill His threatenings. “It shall come to pass,” he said, “that as all good things are come upon you, which the Lord your God promised you; so shall the Lord bring upon you all evil things. ... When ye have transgressed the covenant of the Lord,” “then shall the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you.” [Verses 15, 16.] 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 4

Satan deceives many with the plausible theory that God’s love for His people is so great that He will excuse sin in them; he represents that while the threatenings of God’s Word are to serve a certain purpose in His moral government, they are never to be literally fulfilled. But in His dealings with His creatures, God has maintained the principles of righteousness by revealing sin in its true character—by demonstrating that its sure result is misery and death. The unconditional pardon of sin never has been and never will be. Such pardon would show the abandonment of the principles of righteousness which are the very foundation of the government of God. It would fill the unfallen universe with consternation. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 5

God has faithfully pointed out the results of sin, and if these warnings were not true, how could we be sure that His promises would be fulfilled? That so-called benevolence, which would set aside justice, is not benevolence, but weakness. God is the Life-giver. From the beginning, His laws were ordained to give life. But sin broke in upon the order that God had established, and discord followed. So long as sin exists, suffering and death are inevitable. It is only because the Redeemer has borne the curse of sin in our behalf that man can hope to escape, in his own person, its dire results. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 6

Once again, before his death, Joshua summoned the people before him. He knew that the infirmities of age were upon him, and that soon he must lay his responsibilities upon the representative men of the nation. Obedient to his summons, the tribes assembled at Shechem. No spot in the land possessed so many sacred associations. It carried their minds back to God’s covenant with Abraham and Jacob, and recalled also their own solemn vows upon their entrance to Canaan. Here were the mountains Ebal and Gerizim, the silent witnesses of those vows which now in the presence of their dying leader, they had assembled to renew. On every side were evidences of what God had wrought for them; how he had given them a land for which they did not labor, and cities which they built not, vineyards and oliveyards which they planted not. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 7

By Joshua’s direction the ark had been brought from Shiloh. The occasion was one of great solemnity, and this symbol of God’s presence would deepen the impression he wished to make upon the people. Earnestly and solemnly Joshua gave his last charge to those who would soon be left without his counsel. He reviewed once more the history of Israel, recounting the wonderful works of God, that all might have a sense of His love and mercy, and might serve Him “in sincerity and in truth.” [Joshua 24:14.] Briefly he mentioned the most important points of their history since leaving Egypt, reviving their faith by calling on them to remember that not one of God’s promises had failed. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 8

After presenting the goodness of God toward Israel, Joshua called upon the people, in the name of Jehovah, to choose whom they would serve. The worship of idols was still to some extent secretly practiced, and Joshua endeavored now to bring them to a decision that would banish this sin from Israel. “If it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah,” he said, “choose you this day whom ye will serve.” [Verse 15.] Joshua desired to lead them to serve God, not by compulsion, but willingly. Love to God is the very foundation of religion. To engage in His service merely from hope of reward or fear of punishment, would avail nothing. Open apostasy would not be more offensive to God than hypocrisy and mere formal worship. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 9

The aged leader urged the people to consider, in all its bearings, what he had set before them, and to decide if they really desired to live as did the degraded idolatrous nations around them. If it seemed evil to them to serve Jehovah, the Source of power, the Fountain of blessing, let them that day choose whom they would serve—“the gods which your fathers served,” from whom Abraham was called out, “or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell.” [Verse 15.] These last words were a keen rebuke to Israel. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 10

The gods of the Amorites had not been able to protect their worshipers. Because of their abominable and debasing sins, that wicked nation had been destroyed, and the good land which they once possessed had been given to God’s people. What folly for Israel to choose the deities for whose worship the Amorites had been destroyed! “As for me and my house,” said Joshua, “we will serve Jehovah.” [Verse 15.] The same holy zeal that inspired the leader’s heart was communicated to the people. His appeal called forth the unhesitating response, “God forbid that we should forsake Jehovah, to serve other gods.” [Verse 16.] 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 11

“Ye cannot serve the Lord,” Joshua said, “for he is a holy God; ... he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.” [Verse 19.] Before there could be any permanent reformation, the people must be led to feel their utter inability, in themselves, to render obedience to God. They had broken his law; it condemned them as transgressors, and it provided no way of escape. While they trusted in their own strength and righteousness, it was impossible for them to secure the pardon of their sins. They could not meet the claims of God’s perfect law, and it was in vain that they pledged themselves to serve God. It was only by faith in Christ that they could secure pardon of sin and receive strength to obey God’s law. They must cease to rely upon their own righteousness, they must turn from idolatry, and trust wholly in the merits of the promised Saviour if they would be accepted by God. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 12


Fragments on the Vineyard

God had planned for the arrangement of His people in the land of Canaan, and had they followed His directions, they would not have crowded into Jerusalem as they did. They would have taken possession of other territory because of the assurance that God was the possessor of all lands. Had they moved out by faith, had they advanced, as God designed they should advance, they would have covered the territory He proposed they should cover. But they did not see the need of spreading themselves abroad; and they began to depart from God by failing to take possession of the vineyard as God designed they should. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 13

The Lord planted His people in Canaan a goodly vine. He spared neither pains nor liberality in their behalf. If they had taken possession of the vineyard in accordance with God’s plans, their future history would have been very different from what it was. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 14

The Jewish people enjoyed privileges greater than those enjoyed by any other people. These blessings came to them as the children of God’s covenant. In return they were to render to God the fruit of His vineyard. Thus they were to be representatives of God’s kingdom. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 15

It was not the leaders and teachers alone who were to return to God His appointed revenue. When the Lord gave to the children of Israel the wonderful gift of the land of Canaan, it was to test their obedience, as Adam and Eve were tested in Eden. They were to cultivate Canaan for the Lord, and if they had complied with the conditions laid down, spiritual and temporal prosperity would have been theirs. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 16

When the Lord levelled the walls of Jericho without the assistance of human power, and gave the city to the Israelites, He desired to impress them that angels under the generalship of Christ were in the camp of Israel. Heaven’s army stood ready to take the children of Israel into the land of Canaan. This they would have done long before had Israel been obedient. The people need not have travelled for forty years through the wilderness had they [not] received the evil report of the faithless spies and rebelled against God. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 17


God, the great Householder, sent His messengers to receive the fruit of His vineyard. But those whom He designed should receive this fruit were treated as impostors. The husbandmen took the Lord’s servants, “and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another.” “Last of all he sent unto them his Son, saying, They will reverence my son.” [Matthew 21:35, 37.] Christ came from heaven in the form of humanity to do His Father’s work. He came to cultivate His vineyard in such a way as to produce the most fruit. 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 18

Jesus was the Sent of God. “Lo, I come,” He said, “to do thy will, O God.” [Hebrews 10:9.] But when He came, the husbandmen said, “This is the heir, come, let us kill him, and let us seize on the inheritance.” [Matthew 21:38.] “I am come in my Father’s name,” He said to the scribes and Pharisees, “and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father; there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” [John 5:43-47.] 14LtMs, Ms 135, 1899, par. 19