Farewell Discourses of Moses, Joshua, Jesus, and Paul
There are many famous farewell discourses by great men in the Bible. Those that stand out as instructional for us include Moses in Deuteronomy, Joshua in Joshua 23-24, David in 1 Chron.28-29, Jesus in John 14-16, and Paul in 2 Timothy. Each of these great farewells are similar in structure. The speaker announces his imminent death, directs his audience to remember all that God has done for them, commands them to be obedient to God’s Word, warns them of coming dangers after the speaker dies, and entreats them to love the Lord their God with all their heart. These are the last words of men who have invested their lives teaching and ministering to many disciples, and at the end are “passing the baton” to faithful people who will continue the ministry to God’s people.
Moses in Deuteronomy
At the ripe old age of 120 years, Moses has led the people of Israel to the east bank of the Jordan River where they are preparing to go in to possess the “promised land”. God has made it known to Moses that he will not be able to go in with them, but will soon pass away. Therefore, Moses took his last opportunity to address the nation with a series of sermons designed to remind them of all God had done for them and expected of them. This was the second generation of Hebrews since leaving Egypt, and Moses desired to restate their history, remake the covenant God made with their parents at Sinai, and warn them about the dangers of idolatry.
There are several words and phrases that are emphasized and repeated in Moses’ farewell address. “Remember” is a key word as Moses reminded them of all that God had done for them in the last 40 years. They would remember how God intervened repeatedly on their behalf. God did ten mighty acts or miracles against Egypt so that Pharaoh would release them from slavery, then when they were trapped at the Red Sea, God parted it so they could cross over. In the barren wilderness, God provided food and water for 40 years. He protected them against attacking enemies. God made a covenant with them at Sinai, where He gave them His Law, and made a series of promises to them conditioned on them keeping His Law. After repeating the 10 Commandments and all the rest of the Law for this new generation, Moses gave special emphasis to the first command—You shall have no other gods before Me. He repeated the 10 Commandments in chapter 5, then added in chapter 6 the emphasis on the first command by stating it in a different way in v.4, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is God alone! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Remembering this was so important that they were told to do whatever was necessary to remember even if it meant to put it on their hand or around their head or write it on their doorposts. Loving the Lord was the command that Jesus said in Matt.22:37 was the most important command because if you kept it, all the other commands would fall into place.
After telling his audience to be strong and courageous because the Lord would go ahead of them to give them the victory, Moses gave them a stern warning in Deut.28. This sermon was more of a prophetic history of the future of Israel. It detailed the great coming dangers of idolatry, and how God would discipline their descendants for breaking that first commandment. You can imagine the pain Moses felt as he delivered the warning of coming judgment, and he begged them not to go astray, but to love the Lord with all their heart.
Deuteronomy 30:9-20 is Moses’ most famous challenge to Israel, “The Lord your God will rejoice over you for good, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, for this command is not too difficult…See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God.” After giving this great speech, God spoke privately to Moses in the Tabernacle. He told him he would soon die, and in Deut.31:16-18, God gave a sobering revelation concerning the future of Israel. They would be unfaithful and break the covenant, and then receive the full measure of God’s discipline. You can imagine how urgent Moses’ last words were to the people after that. He had invested his life in them, and could only say, “Take to your heart all the words with which I warned you today.”
Moses had passed the leadership of Israel off to Joshua, and he had the privilege to lead them into the land of Canaan to possess it. God had held back the rushing waters of the Jordan River in flood stage so that the entire nation of Israel could cross over on dry ground. Then God had caused the walls of Jericho to come down, and He had given the city to them. God went before them and won a series of battles over the Canaanites for them using Joshua to perform some impressive miracles. After about seven years of war, the land was in Israel’s possession as a gift from God. A few years later, at the age of 110, Joshua was told by God that he would pass away soon. In Joshua 24, He made his farewell address to the people and leaders of Israel at Shechem. Joshua had three primary concerns to speak to the people about: 1.Remember God’s mighty acts done for them, 2. Beware of a continuing problem with idolatry, and 3. God demands that they renounce all idols and serve God exclusively.
In Joshua 24:2, we realize that although they will be hearing Joshua’s voice, it will be the words of God in authority. Joshua began by saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel”. In verses 2-13, Joshua repeatedly uses the pronoun “I” to review what God did in the history of Israel. God intervened many times, and if He had not, there would be no Israel. There is a shift in the speaker in verse 14 to Joshua himself as he adds a challenge to his audience. Based on all the blessings that God had given them, surely there should be a powerful feeling of gratitude. Joshua capitalized on all the implications of God’s powerful message by giving them an all important challenge in verse 15—“Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Don’t miss that to Joshua, you have to make a choice, and you have to serve somebody. Most people think they can just keep their options open, and go with the flow, but Joshua leaves no doubt that you either serve the one true God, or something else that rivals God which equals idolatry. Some people mistakenly view idolatry like one of the old movies where people are dancing around in front of weird statues, but it is anything that takes the place of God. In Colossians 3:5, Paul says that greed amounts to idolatry, and we all know that America’s favorite idolatry is materialism. An important question then is “What power is behind idolatry, and why is it so appealing?” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:20, and Moses says in Deut.32:17 that behind every idol are demons. Therefore you do have to serve somebody, and if you won’t serve God then you are unknowingly serving His adversary.
This challenge in Joshua 24:15 to make a choice and commit themselves fully to God, is Joshua’s “line in the sand”. Remember the dramatic scene in the Alamo in 1836 when Travis drew the line in the sand with his sword, and challenged the Texans to commit themselves to stay and fight by stepping over the line with him? That was a life or death decision, and so is Joshua’s challenge. It is one or the other, and there are no other choices available. Joshua would soon die, so the question for Israel was, “Will the exclusive devotion to God typified by Moses and Joshua continue into the next generation?”
In Joshua 24:19, we have the reasons this choice is so difficult, and why so many have failed. First, God is perfectly holy and expects the same from us—that is our high standard, the holiness of God. Secondly, God is jealous. Jealousy is frowned on in humans, but God’s jealousy means He demands our exclusive devotion, and will not share it. He has what you might call an intolerant demand for exclusivity in our relationship with Him. Lastly, we are sinners, and God can’t just overlook sin. Joshua finishes his farewell speech by commanding them to confirm their commitment two ways. They are to “put away the foreign gods (idols), and yield or surrender their hearts completely.”
Paul’s Farewell to Timothy
At the end of his ministry, as a prisoner in Rome awaiting execution, Paul wrote a farewell letter to his close disciple Timothy, which made it into our Bible and is known as 2 Timothy. Just like Moses and Joshua, Paul gave a review of all the blessings of God in chapter one. “God who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling…and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality through the gospel.” If we ever forget what God has done for us we tend to slip away into conforming to the rest of the world, so it is a wonderful thing to constantly REMEMBER. By dwelling on how God has blessed us, Paul says he is willing to suffer and even die because, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” Then knowing the ever present influence of the evil one, Paul told Timothy to “Guard through the Holy Spirit the treasure (the gospel) which has been entrusted to you.” In his concluding chapter, Paul charged him to preach the word of God, and always be ready to instruct the disciples as well as admonish when necessary, because they will “want their ears tickled”, meaning they may turn away from the truth to self serving doctrine. Paul finished well and prepared his disciples to teach the next generation.