‘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 waxed old and stricken in age. And Joshua called for all Israel, and for their elders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and said unto them, I am old and stricken in age’ (Joshua 23.1-2).
Around 1375 BC Joshua proclaimed his ‘farewell’ address to all the elders and heads of the families of Israel. Speaking by divine inspiration the aged leader gave the people sixteen profound and heart-searching resolutions that stand to this day as monitors of the committed spiritual life. Although given in the form of exhortations, they are clearly intended to be embraced as personal resolutions or pledges by those who love and serve the Lord.
Down the centuries Christian believers have frequently emphasised the keeping of spiritual pledges (we may think of the seventy famous resolutions of Jonathan Edwards), and here are Joshua’s, the inspired forerunner of them all.
These resolutions are naturally subordinate to the Ten Commandments, the moral law of God, and to the graces of Galatians 5.22-23 – the fruit of the Spirit. They are the standards of holiness, while resolutions are our pledges of response.
1 Have Tenacious Courage
The first resolution is given in these words: ‘Be ye therefore very courageous’ (Joshua 23.6). However, we should be aware that a remarkable formula for courage is provided here, the Hebrew word for courage being different in meaning from the English word. ‘English’ courage comes from the Latin for heart, and refers to the ability to control your fears, pushing them aside and suppressing or quenching them. ‘English’ courage asks us to stifle natural fears.
The Hebrew word, however, is the verb to hold, or seize on, or to fix on something. It calls us to be tenacious and hold tightly on to what God has commanded us or given us. The Hebrew notion of courage in warfare is to so value your position, let us say, your defensive line, that you hold it at all costs. Or let us suppose you are called on to save a life at great danger to yourself. You will do it by clinging to your sympathy for the one about to die, and to your inner duty to save life.
The Hebrew form of courage is the act of holding on to a precious value or duty no matter what threatens you. Applied to Christian living today, this might be holding on to a truth or practice when people intimidate you, trying to shake your stand. They may jeer at your doctrines or your manner of worship, ridiculing you for not running with the tide of fashionable worldliness, but you hold firmly to what you believe is scriptural and right. It is precious to you. You stand, not by the heroic suppression of embarrassment or fear, but by focusing on the protection of deeply held convictions. That is the strength of ‘Hebrew’ courage. It protects the principle under attack.
Our first resolution must be to pray for and to exercise tenacity and loyalty in maintaining the standards and instructions God has given us, and never to relax that holy duty all the days of our life. It is a resolution that held Joshua (and Moses before him) through powerful attacks upon truth and conduct, whether from the world around, the flesh within, or the devil at large. The need of the hour, in times of rapid spiritual decline, is this kind of tenacious courage.
2 Don’t Look
The second resolution in Joshua’s address reads: ‘Turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left’ (Joshua 23.6). We may simplify it – ‘Don’t look!’ This is the first of a group of six resolutions about standing clear from the world and worldliness – a necessity in obedience to the Lord, dangerously neglected in our time.
The Israelites were surrounded by pagan nations and many were still in the land. The great fortress cities of the Canaanites had been defeated but there were smaller cities and pockets of occupation all around. The words ‘turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left’ suppose that the activities of Canaanite communities might prove interesting and attractive to the Israelites. They did many ‘fun’ things. They had eye-catching fashions. They possessed some very intriguing gods. They enjoyed ideas, fables and mythology unknown to that generation of Israelites. Perhaps they should explore their culture and adopt what they imagined were the harmless aspects. But the second resolution said – ‘Don’t look this way or that way. Don’t even look at those things which are contrary to what God has prescribed for you.’
Our resolution and pledge to the Lord is that of Job, ‘I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?’ I will not look at another person to lust; I will not look upon representations or images of wrong desire; I will not lust after self-exalting possessions or achievements; I will not be drawn by all that is in the world, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life.
There is a clear progression in these resolutions. Simple in expression they are sophisticated in application. ‘Don’t look’ is followed (in verse 7) by the resolution – ‘Don’t mix,’ and that is followed successively by ‘Don’t mention; don’t depend on; don’t serve, and don’t bow down to.’ Each step denotes a greater level of ensnarement. The first rung of the ladder of ensnarement is the stirrings of curiosity and desire, and our pledge must be, ‘Don’t look!’
3 Don’t Mix
The third resolution is – ‘Come not among these nations,’ or ‘Don’t mix!’ This meant they were not to marry pagans, or adopt their debased culture, or participate in their coarse things or sensual things. The same applies to Christians today. ‘Don’t mix,’ says the Scripture. Of course, we mix in the place of employment and of study; we associate with others, witness to all, befriend those around us, always being ready to help, assist or advise, but we never endorse or adopt the culture. We cannot share to any degree sensual or coarse things, activities and topics of conversation that are distinctively anti-moral and godless.
Yet today Christians who promote the new (and misnamed) ‘missional’ approach want to go to sleazy movies with worldlings, and engage in all kinds of compromises supposedly to commend themselves to them and build influence. ‘Don’t mix’ is designed to keep believers from fatal compromise and loss.
Our resolution and pledge to the Lord is – I will come out from among them and be separate, and will touch not the unclean thing; I will not be found in the bar or pub or the place of low talk in the club or at the dance where all is fleshly, exhibitionist and sensual. Nor will I assemble in the name of religion with truth-denying opponents of evangelical faith at compromised denominational events. These must surely be our resolutions, in line with Joshua and all the Word of God.
4 Don’t Mention
Joshua’s fourth resolution carries the avoidance of compromise even further: ‘Neither make mention of the name of their gods.’ Israelites were not to honour or approve those gods in any respect, because they were expressions of rejection of the one true God and an abomination in his sight. If Israelites foolishly named a child or a village after such a god, or in some other way caused people to be relaxed about a name that was an abomination, it would be a most harmful act against the cause of the Lord.
Society’s gods today are not idols of silver and gold but dazzling possessions, entertainers, and celebrities who promote godless, alternative morality. Christian people should not follow them, admire them, approve them or promote them in conversation or on social media. Don’t even make mention of their name, says Joshua, and admiration is in mind. It is not for us, as believers, to be promoting the instruments of godlessness, whose words and actions are deeply offensive to God. Our pledge to him is – I will not warm to the gods of this world, or approve or endorse them in any way.
5 Don’t Depend On
Joshua’s fifth resolution is never to ‘swear by’ false gods, which means never to be involved in an oath which acknowledges the reality or validity of such a god. It would be a form of dependence on that god to solemnise an oath, perhaps, used to provide security. There is to be no recognition or dependence at all.
Yet we know of professing Christians today who depend on the gods of this age to lift their mood and support their daily well-being. They allow their minds to need the rhythm of anti-God, anti-moral music and lyrics to stimulate their feelings. It is their sound-drug, their audio-amphetamine, that keeps them going; their ‘upper’, their happy pill. It is a modern equivalent of swearing by the name of a god, and it certainly draws the ‘user’ into the spirit of the world.
The believer’s resolution is: I will not depend for my well-being on worldly and ungodly sources of uplift and succour.
6 Don’t Help Wrong
The sixth resolution advanced by Joshua says of pagan gods – ‘Neither serve them,’ in other words, ‘Don’t help them.’ We gladly help other people, saved and unsaved, in any way we can, but we cannot aid and abet the world’s anti-Christian campaign. Some believers do.
In the UK, for example, we have Bible-believing churches that belong to and co-operate with denominations that have long been apostate. The heads of these denominations and the majority of people and churches within them do not believe in the authority and inerrancy of the Bible, or in the Gospel, or in the person and work of Christ, or in the need for personal conversion, yet believing churches continue to serve and assist these denominations.
True believers cannot co-operate with false teachers, nor can they work professionally with organisations whose purpose is to advance the agenda of spiritual and moral evil. It was the stewardship of Bible believers that for years supported theological seminaries that promoted false doctrine and brought down the main-line denominations to their present ruined condition.
Our resolution will surely be – I will not help wrongdoers, compromisers or heretics.
7 Don’t Bow Down
The seventh resolution is expressed in the words ‘nor bow yourselves unto them’ (Joshua 23.7). The words refer not only to worship, but to any submission to the authority of false religion, error or sin. Don’t accept the advice of worship leaders who promote compromised musical genres that belong to the world. Don’t yield to apostate denominational authorities as some do.
Look again at the progression of some of these resolutions – don’t look, don’t mix, don’t mention, don’t depend on, don’t swear by, don’t serve, and don’t bow down to or yield authority to them.
The apostle Paul echoes this in the New Testament, ‘I will not be brought under the power of any.’ We will certainly yield to the authority of a boss at work, or a father or mother at home, or any other proper authority, but we will not be brought under the spiritual authority of false worship music advocates or apostate teachers. This must be our unswerving pledge before the Lord.
8 Cling to the Lord
For the eighth resolution Joshua moves from negative to positive duties, the first of these being – ‘Cleave unto the Lord your God, as ye have done unto this day’ (Joshua 23.8).
The Hebrew verb translated cleave is adhere or cling. You might think this is similar to courage or tenacity, but cleave or cling applies here to God, and denotes an unbreakable bond to someone precious to you. This is like having union with a close relation, or even better, the union of the body to a limb.
No one would want to lose a leg or an arm, bodily parts being integral and precious to us, and the Lord is even more crucial to the believer. Our resolution must be to make sure that we are close to him, walking in his sight and conscious of his nearness.
My Saviour, we say, is not remote; nor is Heaven in the misty distance, but in my frequent thoughts. It is already part of me, it is mine; I possess it, I won’t let it go. God’s Word is daily in my hands, and my prayers constantly ascend. All these treasures and blessings are like arms and legs to me, and this is what it means to ‘cleave’ unto the Lord. My resolution is – I will stay close and dependent no matter what shall take place in my life.
9 Examine Yourself
The ninth resolution is to ‘Take good heed therefore unto yourselves’ (Joshua 23.11). Modern translations tend to run this into what follows – ‘that ye love the Lord your God’, but it is also a distinctive exhortation – take good care of your deportment and behaviour.
The Hebrew is literally – hedge it about, or protect or watch over it. Never take your eyes off your Christian performance. Daily reflection and scrutiny is vital. How have I thought today? How have I spoken today? What have I done today? Have I erred by omission of good deeds and duties? Have I honoured the Lord? We are to put a fence around our conduct, be aware of our shortcomings, and repent and pledge ourselves to advance. We undertake to examine ourselves daily.
10 Love the Lord
Joshua proceeds to the tenth resolution which is the second part of the sentence: ‘Take good heed therefore…that ye love the Lord your God.’ Have I loved him from the heart, thanked him, appreciated him, and reflected on his mercy and goodness? Have I thought of all his eternal attributes, and his mercies towards me?
If we love someone we listen to that person. We want to be with them, see them, speak of them, and we are loyal to them. Has this been the case with me before the Lord? In the loving of God the place of secret prayer is not a chore but a relief and a pleasure where trials and sorrows are eclipsed by a profound sense of safety under his mighty arm.
My pledge is: I will love my Lord every day that he gives me, with all my heart.
11 Fear the Lord
For the eleventh resolution we must go to chapter 24, verse 14: ‘Now therefore fear the Lord.’ When we see this word fear in the Bible we have a tendency to interpret it as respect or reverence, which is right, but we should not exclude the element of apprehensive fear. Even a born-again Christian must fear the Lord in some measure.
We should fear his indignation when we act the hypocrite, or when we are unkind and unreasonable to people around us, or when we are unforgiving. That is made clear in the Lord’s Prayer.
Equally, when we are dishonest, we should fear the Lord’s indignation. Some blessing will be removed from us, some joy, some peace. The Lord’s indignation will be shown even towards those he loves. So we must remember to fear the Lord, having reverence certainly, but also feeling a real fear of his frown, and this fear should intensify our suppression of sinful thoughts, acts and words.
My resolution is to fear the Lord; to fear offending the God of holiness and justice.
12 Serve the Lord
Joshua’s twelfth resolution is to serve the Lord (Joshua 24.14), literally – work for him. The Hebrew verb refers to toil. What do we do for the Lord? Of course, we have all the duties of maintaining life and family and contributing to the society we are part of, but what do we do for him and his cause? What is our avenue of Christian service, and how great is our engagement in witness and good works? The Israelites made a special response to this exhortation saying, ‘The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey’ (Joshua 24.24). Will this be our resolution also? Will we ask ourselves daily, what have I done for my Lord today?
13 Be sincere before God
Joshua’s thirteenth resolution is about sincerity: ‘Fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth’ (Joshua 24.14). The Hebrew word translated sincerity defines it perfectly; being derived from the verb to be entire. Sincerity in serving means serving him with your entire being, not just with part of your heart, while the rest also serves something else.
Sincerity equals all of us. ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon,’ says Christ. You cannot be married to two husbands or wives. You cannot serve the Lord and be devoted to possessions or the things of the world.
The very first component of armour to be donned by the believer (in Ephesians 6.14 ) is sincerity or truth. This resolution to be sincere calls for a close watch to be kept to avoid divided loyalty and hypocrisy.
By this resolution I pledge myself to be consistent and genuine before God, and wholly for him.
14 Put Away Wrong
The fourteenth resolution is – ‘Now therefore put away…the strange gods which are among you’ (Joshua 24.23). The New Testament equivalent is put to death, mortify, or put off the old, dirty garment. Put away every rising sin. The objective is not only about putting away worship-images, but any alternative to or substitute for God created by sinful man, including anything improper, unclean and wrong.
I heard of a minister who described how he had filled several hours by catching up on movies that included all manner of uncleanness and rottenness. Joshua would have said – put away the strange gods. You cannot be a consumer of most modern films without being polluted, infected, influenced, and affected in some way. If a film presents matters of legitimate interest such as historical events, or maintains a wholesome moral standard, the case might be different, but debased productions have no place in the life of the believer. Our resolution should be – put them away. Do not be involved in that which is unsavoury and polluting.
15 Train the Heart
Joshua’s fifteenth resolution is: ‘Incline your heart unto the Lord God’ (Joshua 24.23). The Hebrew word translated incline means stretch or bend your heart, which helps to bring the meaning into focus. The idea is seen in training a plant. If you wanted a climbing plant to run along a fence in a particular direction, or you wanted your vine to take a shape most favourable for catching the sun, you would bend and tie the stems to achieve your end.
Our character requires shaping and training also. Habits must be formed for regular devotions. The honouring of personal timetables promotes faithfulness to all our duties, obligations and promises. Self-denial in ‘small’ matters, such as unnecessary eating or minor self-indulgence, makes us strong when destructive temptations are launched at us. Great falls into pride, covetousness or sexual lust occur in stages, starting with concessions being made to lesser temptations. ‘He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much,’ said the Lord (Luke 16.10). We read that Hudson Taylor trained himself for missionary hardships by cutting down on food as a young man, and other measures also.
Our resolution and pledge as believers must surely be – I will incline, train, my heart to serve the Lord.
16 Obey the Lord
Obedience is the resolution enshrined in Joshua 24.23. As the Lord’s people, saved by grace, the moral law of God is to us the law of liberty, freely and voluntarily obeyed because we love him and are being prepared to be with him. We obey the Ten Commandments, and seek by the help of the Lord to manifest the traits of behaviour and character named as the ‘fruit of the Spirit’. We obey the voice of conscience when we are convicted of some rising sin, and by putting that word or thought or act to death. We obey the Word of God and all it requires of us in love and good works, and we honour faithfully our calling to serve the Lord in a true, believing congregation. With the Israelites of Joshua’s time we say with all our hearts – ‘His voice will we obey.’
The Resolutions of Joshua:
1. Have tenacious courage
2. Don’t look
3. Don’t mix
4. Don’t mention
5. Don’t depend on
6. Don’t help wrong
7. Don’t bow down
8. Cling to the Lord
9. Examine yourself
10. Love the Lord
11. Fear the Lord
12. Serve the Lord
13. Be sincere before God
14. Put away wrong
15. Train the heart
16. Obey the Lord
The form and flow of Joshua’s resolutions are amazing. For comprehensiveness in short compass they surely have no equal. Every conceivable aspect of obedience to God’s standards is covered. If we did not know it already, we would exclaim – this is nothing other than inspired literature!
Based on a Bible Study preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, 10th April 2019
From The Sword & Trowel 2020, issue 1