STAY FAITHFUL IF YOU WANT TO ENJOY GOD’S PROMISED BLESSINGS
David Howard: The final two chapters of the book contain Joshua’s two farewell speeches to the entire nation, delivered at the end of his life. Both were given in the pastoral, hortatory style found in Moses’ speeches in Deuteronomy, also delivered at the end of his life. The fact that Joshua gave such speeches to the nation places him on a level with Moses as God’s anointed leader over the nation, and it reinforces again the picture presented many times in the book: Joshua was the worthy successor to Moses.
Significant differences exist between the two that must be taken into account.
(1) The first speech is very pastoral, urging Israel to keep the law and to follow the Lord and warning it against turning away from him; as such, it is oriented to the future in significant ways. The second speech, while doing much of the same thing, reviews the past record of God’s faithfulness to Israel in a much more systematic way.
(2) The first speech was apparently delivered to the leaders of Israel (see v. 2), while the second appears to have been to all the nation (24:1–2).
(3) The first speech apparently was delivered at Shiloh, which had been the Israelites’ religious center for some time (see 18:1,8–10; 19:51; 21:1), while the next was delivered at Shechem (24:1).
(4) The first is less formal than the second, since it consists entirely of Joshua’s words of exhortation and admonition to his audience, while the second is followed by the people’s response and by a covenant renewal ceremony.
Robert Hubbard: Indeed, the inclusion of similar farewell speeches at key junctures is a unique literary feature of the DH (e.g., Deuteronomy; 1 Sam. 12; 1 Kings 2:1–9; cf. 1 Kings 8:1–2, 12–53). Like those speeches, Joshua’s oration reviews the “good things” Yahweh has done in the past and urges Israel to firm, unswerving loyalty to him in the future. He warns Israel that if they fail to do so, they run the risk of losing the land so long awaited. The speech marks one of those dramatic moments when a landmark biblical narrative pauses at crucial turning points in history to voice major biblical themes and to connect them to Israel’s larger story. . .
Within the text there certainly is “a clear escalation in the severity of the rhetoric,” as Nelson observes. The first exhortation simply urges Israel to stay away from the nations and their gods (vv. 6–8), while the second actually warns of potential disaster (vv. 12–13). The final warning (vv. 14–16) turns up the rhetorical heat even higher: If Israel disobeys, Joshua stresses, their future will be as “bad” as the past was “good.” In short, Joshua’s message prepares Israel for a future without a designated successor, an era fraught with new possibilities or new disasters, all contingent on Israel’s fateful choice. . .
The genre of farewell speech implies two important things.
- (1) It assumes that older people have crucial things to teach younger ones.
- (2) The genre of farewell speech reminds readers that God’s plan outlives all of us. It was in full swing long before we were born and will remain so long after we are gone.
Five characteristics of such farewell speeches:
- Speaker is responsible leader of God’s people
- Occasion of speech is approaching death of leader
- Speeches prepare people for life without the leader
- Except in Joshua 23, the speeches serve to legitimize a new leader
- Speeches use past history to give authority to new calls for obedience in present and in future.
Kenneth Gangel: One of the most important concepts in this book is reiterated by Joshua in this speech: godly living is not accomplished by winning a single skirmish but by enlisting for lifelong service. For Joshua and Israel, the clashing of swords had stopped, but the need for a faithful, diligent commitment was greater than ever.
- (:1-5) Joshua realized when he came to the end of his years that all the victories he had won belonged to the God who had fought those battles for him.
- (:6-11) Israel faced a great threat in Canaan. All the forces of pagan culture around them tried to force their attention away from God, who had delivered them from Egypt and given them this land.
- (:12-16) Everything that happened to Israel and Canaan demonstrated that God’s blessing falls on people who are willing to devote themselves to his cause. God’s judgment awaits people who participate in the pagan behavior around them.
Gordon Matties: The book of Joshua closes with three covenant-related episodes (23:1-16; 24:1-24; 24:25-28), followed by a final summary recounting Joshua’s death, Israel’s faithfulness, and the burial of Joseph’s bones (24:29-33). The last two chapters, and especially chapter 23, are full of Deuteronomic themes and language that emphasize promise and fulfillment, obedient faithfulness, other gods, and the dangers of covenant disloyalty. The most significant word in the section is the verb “to serve,” which occurs eighteen times in chapters 23-24 (and before this only in 22:5 and 27 in the sending of the Transjordan tribes; a non-theological use only in 16:10). Much is said about what God has done for Israel. Above all, as God has been faithful to Israel, so Israel does well to be faithful to God.
Van Parunak: General principles
- Pervasiveness of the curse; even servants of the Lord must die.
- Value of experience, cf. role of elders. You have the most to say worth hearing right at the end. Contrast the emphasis in our society on inaugural lectures and speeches, to reassure people that they chose the right leader!
- The sense of responsibility that these men have for their people; desire to enable the people to carry on after their departure.
The nation stands at a crossroads. Will they continue to serve the Lord and battle effectively against sin? Or will they yield, and suffer his judgment? There is no third option, no way of ease. This life is one either of battle, or of defeat. May God give us courage to choose the way of struggle and blessing, not the way of defeat and death.
I. (:1-13) VICTORY AND POSSESSION OF THE LAND TIED TO FAITHFUL OBEDIENCE
(:1-2) Last Words of a Godly Leader
“Now it came about after many days, when the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years, 2 that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers, and said to them, ‘I am old, advanced in years.’”
- Think of all of God’s goodness and faithfulness that Joshua had experienced
- Think of what it had cost Joshua to walk by faith and set an example for others
- Think of all the wisdom that Joshua wanted to impart in this leadership transition
David Howard: Because of this passage of time, because the land now had rest, and because Joshua was old and his end was near, it was now appropriate for him to look back to remind the people of God’s faithfulness and to look ahead, exhorting and warning them about the future. . .
The farewell speeches, as they are presented in chaps. 23 and 24, appear to have come at the end of Joshua’s life. Indeed, in 23:14, Joshua stated that he was about to go “the way of all the earth today,” indicating that his death was fairly close at hand. He was 110 years old when he died (24:29), and, if he was anywhere near Caleb’s age of eighty-five when the land was distributed (see 14:10), then his farewell speeches would have come about twenty-five years after the main events in the book.
Helene Dallaire: While some scholars envision the entire community of Israel gathered before Joshua, others see only the leaders standing in his presence. The latter scenario seems more likely for logistical reasons. It would have been practically impossible to have all the Israelites from every region of the land come before the leader, presumably in his home town of Timnath Serah or at Shiloh.
Peter Wallace: He speaks to a generation of elders that has seen with their eyes the great works of the LORD:
- They were born in Egypt or the wilderness – and now they are old.
- They grew up in the wilderness – watching the rebellion of their fathers.
- They spent their manhood following Joshua – seeing God’s faithfulness to Joshua – watching Joshua be strong and courageous, so that Joshua might cause Israel to inherit the land.
Joshua here speaks to the elders and judges. Why the elders and judges? Because now they are the ones who must lead. There is something of a leadership transition here. As Moses had appointed Joshua, now Joshua is handing over the mantle, but this time not to one man, but to the ordinary rulers of the people. In a similar manner, Jesus will appoint the apostles, who will hand over their mantle, not to one, but to all the elders of the church. And Joshua reminds the elders of their motivation for faithful leadership: The basic motivation for faithful leadership is to remember that the LORD will do what he has promised (v5).
A. (:3-8) First Cycle of Remembrance and Exhortation
- (:3-5) Remembrance of All God Has Done and Promises to Do
a. (:3) Remember God’s Victories in Warfare
“And you have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the LORD your God is He who has been fighting for you.”
Helene Dallaire: With this declaration, Joshua places the burden on Israel for continuing to serve Yahweh faithfully, since their success in acquiring the land is due solely to his work and not to their own human efforts. The mention of God’s great and mighty deeds serves to deepen Israel’s identity as the people of God. “These nations” have failed to thwart the plans of Yahweh for Israel.
b. (:4) Remember God’s Blessings – the Apportioning of the Land
“See, I have apportioned to you these nations which remain as an inheritance for your tribes, with all the nations which I have cut off, from the Jordan even to the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun.”
Trent Butler: Israel serves a God who can give them all God has promised. Israel also lives in a historical condition in which Israel has not taken the initiative to drive out the enemies and possess the whole land. Joshua can no longer fight for the people of Israel and help them gain power over all the Promised Land. He has allotted the various enemies to the various tribes. Now it is time for Israelite action without Joshua. They must trust God and follow the Divine Warrior to complete their mission.
Helene Dallaire: The expression “Look!” (NIV “Remember”) is a wordplay with “you have seen” (v.3). Joshua addresses only the leaders of the western tribes in his statement regarding Israel’s inheritance—between the Jordan and the Great Sea—seemingly ignoring the leaders of the eastern tribes. His focus is on the occupation of Canaan by Israel.
Van Parunak: vv. 3-4 – What They Have Seen
Note his emphasis on their own experience of God’s goodness; cf. the reprise of this same theme in v.14, “ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls.” This exhortation is not misplaced, for it is the natural character of the sinful heart to forget God’s blessings and focus on our disappointments. Compare the murmurings in the wilderness. He emphasizes to them
1) the goodness of God, and
2) the fact that they themselves have witnessed it.
He calls out two details in particular, which ought to guard them against two errors to which the sinful heart is prone:
v.3 — What God has done.–Note the emphasis on God’s agency: “for the LORD your God [is] he that hath fought for you.” They have seen the result of supernatural work in the battles they have fought. Thus they must not yield to the sin of unbelief, asking, “Is God really among us?” This is how Israel tempted God, Exod 17:7; cf. 1 Cor. 10:9. If you will bow before the Lord, his spirit will show you that he has not forsaken you, but his victories are evident in your life. “You have seen.”
v.4 — What man has done.–Now we have just the opposite emphasis, on human agency. Joshua’s concern is not to steal glory from God; the previous verse shows that. Rather, he wants to emphasize to them that God is able to work through people, in spite of their natural weakness. Thus they must not yield to the sin of despair, being so overwhelmed with the sense of their own weakness that they give up. This was Moses’ sin in Exod 3:11; 4:1,10. We are earthen vessels, yet for all that, God is pleased to place his treasure in us, and we must not doubt what he can do through us. Again, “You have seen.” If you will just stop and consider, you will realize that God has worked through you.
This twofold theme is so important that Joshua will repeat it in v.9. Satan would have us believe that God has forsaken us and we are so sinful that we can do nothing. The result will be paralysis. But the truth of the matter is that God is with us, he has worked through us, and if we will just pause and think about things, we will realize ourselves that this is the case. “You have seen.” Don’t forget it.
c. (:5) Remember God’s Promises — Anticipation of Future Conquests
“And the LORD your God, He shall thrust them out from before you and drive them from before you; and you shall possess their land, just as the LORD your God promised you.”
Robert Hubbard: Playing two senses of the same root, Joshua avers that their destruction (yaraš hi.) will enable Israel to “possess” (yaraš hi.) their abandoned property just as he promised (Deut. 31:3).
Van Parunak: Application.–The reminder of the past guards against the sin of despair. The reminder of the future guards against the sin of carelessness. Knowledge that “we are labourers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:9) guards us against both worrying over the size of the obstacles we face (God will take care of those) and “leaving it all up to God” (he expects us to exert ourselves mightily for his cause). Compare Phil 2:12-13.
- (:6-8) Exhortation to Faithful Obedience
Van Parunak: Start from the end and work backward:
- The big objective (7b, 8) is faithfulness to the Lord. This is the first of the ten commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
- The greatest threat to our faithfulness to the Lord is “coming among these nations” that “remain” (7a). The friendship of the world is enmity with God (James 4:4), “He who walks in the counsel of the ungodly, will soon stand in the way of sinners, and sit in the seat of scorners” )TSK). Cf. Deut. 7:1-5.
- Keeping the law of Moses (6) is God’s way of making them distinct from the people around them. Personal holiness can contribute to our spiritual health, as a kind of prophylaxis. If you speak differently, dress differently, act differently from the world, you are less likely to get sucked into their errors and idolatry.
a. (:6) Live by Biblical Convictions
“Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left,”
Helene Dallaire: This exhortation is crucial for the future of Israel. Joshua has witnessed on several occasions the vulnerability and failings of the Israelites. Thus far, his resolve has kept them proceeding forward, but what would transpire after his death without his steadfastness and tenacity to remain faithful to Yahweh?
b. (:7) Avoid Corruption and Idolatry
“in order that you may not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or mention the name of their gods, or make anyone swear by them, or serve them, or bow down to them.”
Robert Hubbard: Specifically, Joshua cites things to avoid: to associate or intermingle with (lit., “come with”) the remaining nations and to take an oath on the name of their gods or swear by them (v. 7). The former probably refers to day-to-day contacts that might tempt the Israelites to become like the Canaanites just to get along and, thus, to lose their unique identity. The latter specifies one common, ordinary transaction, the agreements two parties seal with an oath. To “take an oath” with a non-Israelite could require the Israelite party to speak the name of a god other than Yahweh aloud in public, tacitly accepting its power and authority. From that tacit recognition, it then becomes a small step to “worship” (NIV “serve”) other gods and “bow down” prostate before their images, a violation of the third commandment (Ex. 20:5; Deut. 5:9). To lie face down—to be completely prostrate on the ground—dramatically acts out a symbolic total surrender to and trust in the other god(s) rather than in Yahweh alone.
Kenneth Gangel: So the standard of godly living in the land was God’s Word, and the form was separation from sin and sinners. These verses do not indicate racial prejudice on God’s part. There is no attempt here to keep the purity of the race for other than spiritual reasons. In fact, God allowed for intermarriage when aliens chose to worship him. Again, Rahab is our best example. Spiritual intermingling was the problem and the danger. The people dared not mix their worship of Jehovah with the worship of other gods. They could not serve both. So Joshua warned the leaders of this danger.
Madvig: For the first time in Joshua, we find an explicit warning against intermingling with the native population whose immorality and degradation were closely tied to their religious practices. Because Israel replaced a people whose culture was far more advanced than their own, the temptation to worship the gods of the Canaanites must have been overwhelming. Yet if the Israelites were to adopt their wicked practices they too would be subject to punishment (Deut. 8:19-20). God does not show any partiality. Israel was to remain separate from the nations living in the land of Canaan.… “Invoke the names,” “swear,” “serve” and “bow down” are four expressions of worship that are specified here to show that no form of worship whatsoever must be accorded to these pagan deities.
Trent Butler: The major concern of Deuteronomy’s law is summarized. Israel’s identity hangs on her uniqueness. Whereas the nations serve many gods, she serves only one. To avoid all temptation from the nations’ gods, Israel must avoid all contact with the nations. Specifically, Israel is not to call to remembrance the names of their gods (Exod 23:13; Isa 26:13), that is, to praise them and to acknowledge their divine power. If the MT is correct, Israel is not to take oaths in the name of other gods (cf. Deut 6:13; 10:20), that is, to call upon other gods to guarantee the fulfillment of promises, for this is at the same time a recognition of the power of the god. . . Here is Yahweh’s claim to the absolute allegiance of the people, a claim totally unique in Israel’s environment, where all of the surrounding peoples worshiped many gods, even though the national god was seen as the chief god or the king of the gods.
c. (:8) Cling to the Lord
“But you are to cling to the LORD your God,
as you have done to this day.”
David Howard: Instead of following the Canaanites’ gods, the Israelites were to cling to their own God (v. 8). The word translated “hold fast” (dbq: also used in v. 12 and in 22:5) means “to cling tightly.” The root refers to the soldering process in Isa 41:7 (i.e., a process in which things are joined together inseparably). This word has a rich theological content, showing the extreme closeness that people were to have with their God. For example, Hezekiah, a good king par excellence in Judah, is commended in terms of his trusting and “holding fast” (dbq) to God (2 Kgs 18:5–6).
B. (:9-13) Second Cycle of Remembrance and Exhortation
- (:9-10) Remembrance of God’s Sufficiency in Granting Surprising Victories
a. (:9) Defeats Your Powerful Enemies
“For the LORD has driven out great and strong nations from before you; and as for you, no man has stood before you to this day.”
Helene Dallaire: To Yahweh only belongs the glory for driving out the great and powerful nations from before Israel (cf. Ex 23:28–31; 33:2; 34:11, 24; Lev 18:24; 20:23; Nu 32:21; 33:52, 55; Dt 4:38; 7:1, 22; 9:3–5; 11:23; 12:29; 18:12; 19:1; 33:27). Since God had initiated the conquest and participated in its fulfillment, how could Israel now attempt to become self-sufficient? Joshua’s message is clear: “There is no victory without Yahweh’s intervention.”
b. (:10) Fights for You
“One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you.”
- (:11-13) Exhortation to Exclusive Allegiance to the God of Israel
a. (:11) Love the Lord Your God
“So take diligent heed to yourselves to love the LORD your God.”
David Howard: At the heart of his speech (almost exactly midway through it), Joshua challenged the people to love the Lord their God, which was the heart of their duties as his people. Everything else—including the important exhortations to obey everything in the law (v. 6) and to avoid pagan entanglements— was a means to an end, which was that Israel should have a close and loving relationship with its God. This exhortation is rooted in Moses’ words in Deut 6:5: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” It is the substance of what Jesus called the first and greatest commandment (Matt 22:37 and parallels). The constant exhortations to Israel to be faithful to God were not given in a sterile or harshly demanding environment. Rather, they were issued in service of the larger principle that God wanted a loving relationship with his people: he promised to be with them (Josh 1:9), and in return he desired their loyalty and their love.
Robert Hubbard: But Joshua repeats a phrase heard earlier in the book to highlight what Israel saw because Yahweh fought for them. Just as he promised, they were so unstoppable (see 10:8; 21:44; Est. 9:2) that one solitary Israelite could rout a thousand Canaanites (vv. 9b–10)! That was Israel’s experience “to this day,” but for that invincibility under Yahweh to continue, Israel must “be very careful [šamar ni.] to love the LORD your God” (v. 11). The imperative is strong language—lit., “Protect yourselves!”—as if Joshua were sounding an urgent alarm concerning a terrible, imminent disaster.
Trent Butler: Such love is more than emotion, more than robotic obedience. It is total devotion and total desire and willingness to please the God you love by serving, not demanding.
b. (:12-13) Maintain Your Distinctiveness as God’s People
“For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they shall be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you.”
Peter Wallace: God’s justice is a poetic justice. If you want to live with the surrounding nations, then God will let you live with the surrounding nations! They are under his wrath and curse – so if you join them – then you will fall under his wrath and curse as well.
David Howard: If Israel chose to reject the Lord and cling instead to the nations remaining among them, then what God had already done and what he promised to continue to do for the Israelites—to drive out the nations before them (cf. vv. 5, 9)—he would no longer do (v. 13). Instead, the nations would become obstacles of the worst kind for the Israelites: they would be snares and traps to them (for earlier passages stating the same idea, see Exod 23:33; Deut 7:16; and especially Num 33:55). This prediction came true with a vengeance during the period of the judges (see Judg 2:14–15, 21–23; 3:1–6). The nations would become such obstacles to the Israelites that they would even cause them to lose the land itself, a land that was good, a land that had been God’s gift to his people. Rejecting God was such a serious offense that it would yield even such a drastic result. God’s standards would not be relaxed even for his own people.
A wordplay in vv. 8 and 12 involves a contrast. In v. 8, Israel was to cling (dbq) to the Lord himself, and in v. 12, if Israel clung (dbq) instead to the nations, God would bring punishment.
Van Parunak: Application.–Note that the pain he promises will come from the Canaanites: “THEY shall be snares … traps … scourges … thorns.” Sometimes you are tempted into a mixed marriage by what you feel is overwhelming love. “We love each other so very, very much, this just has to be right. I’m not willing to give up my future happiness for an old-fashioned rule about not marrying unbelievers.” But the very person without whom you feel you can’t live, will become a source of deep pain and destruction to you. Don’t do it!
II. (:14-16) FAITHFULNESS OF GOD TO BOTH HIS BLESSINGS AND CURSINGS – WARNING AGAINST SPIRITUAL APOSTASY
A. (:14) Final Testimony: Faithfulness of God to His Blessings
- You Can Trust My Testimony
“Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth,”
Robert Hubbard: To close, Joshua sounds almost like a prophet voicing a dire warning of imminent danger (cf. Deut. 32). He returns to where he began—with his age (v. 14a). The syntax of verse 14 (lit., “Look, today I am going …”) and language (“way of all the earth”) betray an awareness that he could die any day now (so also David [1 Kings 2:2]). Rhetorically, he plays on their sympathy and appeals to their affection to persuade them to act on his words now. He also appeals to what they “know with all [their] heart and soul,” the same prepositional phrase Joshua invoked in exhorting the departing Transjordanian tribes (v. 14b; cf. 22:5; Deut. 11:13; 13:4). In other words, they know without a shadow of doubt from personal experience that what he is about to say is true. For emphasis, he sandwiches a positive claim between two parallel negative ones. . . Clearly, the point is that Yahweh has kept every promise made to Israel.
- You Can Trust God’s Promises
“and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.”
B. (:15-16) Final Warning: Faithfulness of God to His Cursings
- (:15) God Executes His Threatened Judgments –
Don’t Presume against God’s Goodness
“And it shall come about that just as all the good words which the LORD your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you.”
- (:16) God Takes Apostasy Seriously –
Don’t Stir Up God’s Anger
“When you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods, and bow down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.”
David Howard: Joshua’s logic as he concluded his speech was that, just as surely as the Lord’s promises had come true for Israel’s good, so also his swift and devastating punishment would come upon the Israelites if they violated the covenant. God’s anger would burn (rh) against his people, and, indeed, this did happen many times in Israel’s history. Whenever the Lord’s anger burned against his people, they suffered, usually at the hands of a foreign enemy. . .
Joshua promised Israel that they would perish from the good land in which they lived if they forsook the Lord (cf. also v. 13). The land belonged to God, and it was his to give and his to take away. This promise saw its dramatic fulfillment when Judah was carried into Babylonian captivity because of its repeated transgression of the covenant (2 Kings 25). In this way, too, God’s promises came to pass: if his people obeyed him, they enjoyed great blessing; but if they disobeyed him, they would suffer great calamity. God displayed remarkable patience, suffering through centuries of his people’s covenant violations and disobedience. He repeatedly sent foreign oppressors to punish and prophets to warn, until the time came when his patience reached an end, and he sent them into exile.
Helene Dallaire: Compromise and unfaithfulness will not go unpunished. They will provoke God to anger and jealousy; consequently, great disasters will come on Israel.
Trent Butler: Again, the cause of divine wrath centers on broken loyalties, serving other gods, worshiping them (cf. v 7). The warning of Deut 6:15; 7:4; 11:17; 29:24–27 (29:25–28) is pictured as historical reality in terms similar to Deut 31:16–18. Warning has become almost certain. The gods of the nations appear as an almost irresistable temptation for Israel. “The peoples of the land no longer threaten Israel by their military power but by their mere presence.” Hawk points out three marks of Israelite identity that rest in these brief verses: “ethnic separation, possession of land, and devotion to God through obedience to the Torah of Moses. They appear in such a way, however, as to highlight the tension between Yahweh’s faithfulness and Israel’s fickleness.”