“Always” and “never” are two words people should use judiciously. We rarely understand their implications or the demand they put on us. “I will always be here for you.” “I will never forget you.” Well, until I’m not or until I do. People too often fail to live up to the demands of these words.
Not so with God. When He says “always,” it means always, and when He says “never,” it means never. The last chapters of Joshua exemplify this clearly for us.
Joshua has reached his end. He is “old and advanced in years” (Joshua 23:10). He is on death’s doorstep and he cares about what will happen to the people when he is gone. So he calls Israel together and addresses them. He reminds them that God has always been faithful, always kept His promises. Joshua reminds them that God will always keep His covenant and never forsake them if they remain faithful to His Word. Joshua recounts how they never won a battle without God and always needed Him.
The people responded, as you would expect, with a promise they could not keep. They would always be obedient to God, always be faithful, and never abandon His ways for the false gods around them. But we know this was not the case. People’s promises die faster than the bodies that utter them. Time, mortality, and sinful human nature rendered Israel’s promise moot.
The people fell away after the fall of their leader. Israel had taken on a burden they could not bear—the burden of perpetual obedience in their own strength, the burden to follow God’s law in lockstep. Joshua’s leadership, no matter how great, was not enough to show them how to do this. Something more was needed, and that is the very point of this book (and the entire Old Testament). It all points forward to the One Man for whom always and never are not too great a burden.
Jesus said His yoke was easy and His burden was light, not like the Old Testament law. He did not do away with the law, but rather fulfilled its demands: perfect obedience, flawless sacrifice, and honoring God in every way. Jesus did what Joshua could not. He provided the way—He was the way—to permanent rest in a perfect Promised Land.
When we read of leaders like Joshua, we should see faint, distorted reflections of Jesus. Joshua points forward to the One who will always keep His promises, will never forsake His people, and will one day bring us home to the eternal Promised Land.
Written By Barnabas Piper