A Picture of Things to Come
Many years went by, and Joshua became an old man. When he knew that death was drawing near, he summoned the leaders of Israel to hear his last words. He called for all the elders, chiefs, judges, and officers to assemble at Shechem, a town in the center of the land and close to Joshua’s home.
In his farewell speech, he started off by giving them a message from the Lord. The Lord reminded them where the nation of Israel came from. Their fathers before the time of Abraham lived east of the Euphrates River and worshiped idols. But God chose to bless Abraham and his descendants. The favor He showed them was completely unmerited—that is, they did nothing to deserve it. God’s unmerited favor is known as grace. It was by grace alone that God called Abraham out of a pagan family in a pagan country and led him to the land of Canaan. There he blessed Abraham by giving him a son Isaac, and to Isaac He gave the sons Jacob and Esau.
Although Jacob and his family went down into Egypt, God did not forsake them. Years later, He sent Moses to deliver them from slavery under the heel of Pharaoh. Then the nation went from victory to victory. After God parted the Red Sea so that Israel could go across on dry ground, He brought the waters together again over the heads of Pharaoh’s pursuing host, and they drowned. On the threshold of Canaan, God enabled Israel to destroy two Amorite kings on the east side of Jordan. He rejected Balaam’s attempt to curse Israel, and He made the men of Jericho powerless to resist Israel. He sent a hornet to drive out all the Canaanites on the other side of Jordan. By "hornet," He probably meant that He Himself put fear in their hearts, so that they fled from before Israel’s warriors. Finally, He gave Israel a land with many good things already in place—cities, vineyards, olive groves—so that they need not wait for a comfortable life.
What an impressive list of good things God had done for Israel! He wanted them to remember His blessings before Joshua presented them with a question.
Suddenly, Joshua stopped speaking for God and began speaking for himself. He told them they had a choice. Either they could turn to gods who never did anything for them, or they could follow the God who gave them everything. He said that he and his house would serve God. His strong affirmation of loyalty to God is a model for us all. But whom would the whole nation serve?
All the assembled leaders answered with a firmness equal to Joshua’s. Without hesitation and without argument among themselves, they declared their gratefulness for all God had done, and they promised to serve Him faithfully.
But Joshua knew their hearts. He knew that it had been easier for Israel to follow God in a time of war than in a time of peace. In war, they knew they could not overcome a strong foe without His help. But in peace, many felt that they did not need God anymore. Some had grown indifferent to God. Some had even begun to worship idols.
Therefore, Joshua rejected their promise to serve God. He said that their service would fall short of being whole-hearted. Besides paying tribute to God, they would try to honor other gods at the same time. But, as Joshua said, God is a jealous God. He would not tolerate being treated as one god out of many. If they denied Him full devotion, He would turn against them and bring upon them great calamities.
After hearing Joshua’s warning that God is a jealous God, the people responded that they would indeed serve God only. To help them keep their promise, Joshua set up a great stone as witness to their words. He placed it under an oak tree by the tabernacle of the Lord, so that the people would see it when they came to worship the Lord and would remember their promise. Joshua also placed their words in a book, doubtless in the very book now known as the Book of Joshua.
Not long afterward, Joshua died at the advanced age of 110. For as long as he lived, the whole nation served God. He was a faithful leader until the end. His fears in years past that he could never measure up to Moses proved to be unfounded. But he always had good success not because of his own abilities, but because he carefully did all that the Lord commanded him to do, and because he always, with a few lapses, leaned on the Lord’s help.
Joshua's sad warning that members of his nation, supposedly God's people, would fall away from their loyalty to God is a message directed to us as well as to his hearers long ago. Scripture is full of gloomy foreshadowings of widespread apostasy among professing believers in the days before Christ's return.
To prove that the church must go into spiritual decline before the Rapture, we could bring to our defense many passages in the New Testament. But here we will be content to consider one decisive passage. Consider what Paul says in Second Timothy (2 Tim. 3:1). The majority view fifty years ago was that Paul is referring especially to our own time. But the popular interpretation today is that the intended compass of the phrase "last days" takes in the whole Church Age, from Pentecost to the return of Christ. What Paul supposedly means is that the Church Age, which had recently begun, would bring times of great peril for believers.
Instead of bringing forth all the arguments against this recent distortion of Paul's meaning, we will simply point out that Paul himself lived in the Church Age. Yet, in referring to the Last Days, he uses a verb in the future tense. "Perilous times shall come." And he maintains the same tense throughout his discussion of the Last Days. He obviously thought that the Last Days had not yet arrived, but would arrive in the future.
The context leaves no doubt that Paul placed the Last Days at the end of the Church Age. Notice what he says a few verses later (2 Tim. 3:13). Paul evidently believed that conditions during church history would slide ever deeper into corruption, as more and more people came under the influence of unscrupulous deceivers. Such men, called "evil men and seducers [literally, 'impostors']," would "wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." A more exact translation clarifies the prediction. Paul in fact says that such men would "advance to the worst, deceiving and being deceived." He foresaw a day when the very worst self-deceivers and deceivers of others would control multitudes in the church. Publicly, such men would be convincing replicas of real Bible Christians, but privately, they would wallow in the depths of abomination. Paul gives no hint that better leaders would follow the worst. The only trend he foresaw was downward. Thus, the worst must emerge at the very end of church history. We infer that Paul views the end of church history as the "last days" of special peril.
In the next chapter of 2 Timothy, Paul gives an expanded picture of the time when the very worst deceivers would arise (2 Tim. 4:3-4). In this graphic description of the poisonous teaching that would plague the church of the Last Days, Paul places the blame where it belongs. False teachers would succeed in becoming influential only because the church would warmly embrace them. Churchgoers would "heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears." Those who would be intolerant of sound doctrine are compared to dogs. Like dogs, they would follow anyone, regardless of his character, who stoops to scratch them behind the ears. And like dogs, they would turn their ears to hear whatever is pleasant. We can carry the analogy a bit further. They would be doglike also in not being fussy about what they eat. They would chew with pleasure on any teaching that gratifies carnal appetites.
After warning of perilous times in the Last Days, Paul provides a list of traits that would then be characteristic of religious people (2 Tim. 3:2-5). We find no reference here to murder, rape, or any other high felony, because Paul is speaking about people in general. He is describing not the criminal minority, but the respectable majority—not the atypical, but the average. Ordinary people in ordinary churches would be egotistical ("lovers of their own selves," "boasters," "proud," "heady," "highminded"), irreverent ("blasphemers"), materialistic ("covetous" is, literally, "lovers of money"), and hedonistic ("unholy," "incontinent," "lovers of pleasures"). They would enjoy few loving relationships, for they would be "disobedient to parents" and "without natural affection." Yet they would readily make enemies, for they would be "unthankful," "trucebreakers," and "traitors." And they would treat their enemies ruthlessly, for they would be "fierce" and "false accusers." Being "despisers of those that are good," they would persecute the righteous. Despite this load of wickedness weighing on their souls, they would pretend to be Christians ("having a form of godliness"). But, as Paul observes, they would know nothing of real Christianity. They would be guilty of "denying the power thereof." The true sense of the word translated "denying" is closer to "rejecting." That is, they would reject the power of God to change their lives. Instead of aspiring to holiness through divine grace, they would prefer to remain in their filthiness.
The admonition to the sincere believer in the Last Days is, "From such turn away." Comfort, reputation, and every other human consideration might urge him to continue in fellowship with hypocrites, but to maintain fellowship with God, and to defend his family from attacks that would spoil their faith, he must make the break. He must turn away. But where should he go? He must attach himself to a band of genuine believers, however small it may be. Having placed himself in a good church, he must work diligently to keep it a good church. He must do his part to weed out corruption and compromise as soon as they appear.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.