Bible Commentaries
Joshua 24

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1

The Book of Joshua closes with a solemn ceremony led by Joshua in which Israel again ratified the covenant with Jehovah their God, their true King and deliverer.

During the last two or three decades there has been a great breakthrough in understanding a feature of the Pentateuch and of Joshua that had never been known until very recently, and this new knowledge has made practically all of the comments that one may still read in many commentaries absolutely out-of-date and incorrect.


Rather than taking time to refute the allegations of critical scholars on a verse-by-verse basis, we here cite a number of declarations applied by various critics to various verses, paragraphs, or even chapters in Joshua, which are no longer acceptable:

"The book appears to be a medley of contradictory narratives, most of which are unhistorical.[1] There were a number of editors of Joshua.[2] The last several verses were probably added by the final editor.[3] This is the address as "E" thought of it.[4]; Joshua 24:17-18, the people's response is a performed liturgical unit (later than Joshua, of course).[5] We have recognized Josiah's reign (about 621 B.C.) as the most probable setting for the first edition of Joshua (Deuteronomy 1)."[6] Etc., etc., etc.

The AUTHENTICITY of Joshua as an historical and genuine narrative given by Joshua himself within the very shadow of the days of Moses is today, by conservative scholars, accepted as virtually CERTIFIED and PROVED by the archeological discoveries a few years ago of many records of the old Hittite Empire regarding their relations with their vassal states, dated by George E. Mendenhall in the mid-second pre-Christian millennium (1450-1200 B.C.). Of very great significance are copies of the old suzerainty-treaties, summarizing the covenant obligations imposed upon vassals by the Hittite King. The form of those old covenants is followed closely both in Deuteronomy and here in the Book of Joshua, and this positively identifies both the Pentateuch and Joshua as having been written in that early period. There are no examples of that particular form of suzerainty-covenant treaty documents after the year 1000 B.C.[7] The major critical thesis that seventh-century B.C. priests "produced" large sections of these early books is DISPROVED by this. The very knowledge of that old form was lost for millenniums following 1000 B.C., and only in the last two or three decades has been "discovered." Yet, right here it is in Joshua!

Thus, as Kline said of Deuteronomy, we may also say of Joshua:

"The plain claims of Deuteronomy itself to be the farewell ceremonial addresses of Moses himself to the children of Israel in the plains of Moab are accepted by current orthodox Christian scholarship."[8]

Blair referred to this new information as, "One of the most important landmarks in recent study of the O.T."[9] It is based upon the publication of George Mendenhall's Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East, published in the Biblical Archeologist in 1954.

Of course, there is no point in alleging that Joshua reported his own burial. Nor, is it in any way appropriate to refer to that account as the work of some "editor." That some INSPIRED MAN added the account is certain, but there is no need to call that unknown person an "editor," implying that he wrote the whole book, or revised it! Sir Isaac Newton in all probably was correct in his supposition that it was the prophet Samuel who added the record of the deaths of Moses and of Joshua, saying that, "Samuel had leisure in the reign of Saul, to put them into the form of the Books of Moses and of Joshua now extant."[10]

Many very reputable and learned men are accepting this new understanding that gives so much assurance of the historicity, accuracy, and authenticity of these Biblical books. Woudstra cited the following:

"Commentators who have applied this scheme to their interpretation of Joshua 24 include: J. J. De Vault, John Rea, C. F. Pfeiffer, E. F. Harrison, (editors), Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago, 1962), C. Vonk, P. C. Craigie (his Deuteronomy is structured entirely around the covenant-treaty pattern)."[11]

To the above list, we may also add Merrill F. Unger, Hugh J. Blair, and others.

It is also significant that practically all recent liberal scholars admit the existence of these ancient covenant-treaty forms, and describe them somewhat fully, yet cling in some instances to the very theories which are denied by this information. In fact, we are indebted to Morton for this good description of an ancient suzerainty-treaty:

Six elements are typically found in the Hittite treaty texts. Listed with each element are corresponding references from this chapter:

1. Identification of the Great King and author of the covenant (Joshua 24:2; Exodus 20:1-2).

2. Enumeration of the gracious acts of the King, obligating the vassal to loyalty (Joshua 24:2-13; Exodus 20:2).

3. Covenant obligations of the vassal, typically demanding absolute loyalty and expressly prohibiting official relationships with foreign powers (Joshua 24:14,23; Exodus 20:3).

4. Instructions for depositing the document in the sanctuary for regular public reading (Joshua 24:25,26; Deuteronomy 31:9-13).

5. Deities of covenanting parties invoked as witnesses (Joshua 24:22); in monotheistic Israel, an adaptation was required (Isaiah 1:2; Micah 6:1-2).

6. Blessings accompanying fidelity; curses resulting from violation (Joshua 24:20; 8:34; Deuteronomy 27-28).[12]

Another very important element that should be included in this summary is the provision for renewing the covenant from time to time. This has been called "the Dynastic Requirement." We shall notice it below.

Again from Morton, "From this summary, it appears that Joshua 24 bears a clear relation to the covenant forms of Near Eastern ancient treaties."[13] Morton indeed conceded that this indicates "the unity and antiquity of the core traditions on which the Shechem covenant was based," but, in our view it goes much further than that. It indicates the ANTIQUITY and UNITY of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua.

"And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith Jehovah the God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt of old time beyond the River, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor: and they served other gods. And I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac."

The mention here of all the judges and officers of the people stresses the strict formality of this solemn ceremony. Joshua 23 and Joshua 24 both feature an address by Joshua; and on that basis, critics rush to the conclusion that they are separate accounts of the same event; "But Joshua 23 is Joshua's informal address to the leaders of the people, and Joshua 24 is a formal, public renewal of the covenant."[14] Thus, the last public action of Joshua was that of leading his people in a formal and ceremonial renewal of the covenant at Shechem.

"To Shechem ..." (Joshua 24:1). Some scholars marvel that this ceremony was held at Shechem, instead of Shiloh where the tabernacle was located, apparently forgetting that the Tabernacle was a moveable thing. The simple and obvious truth is that it was moved down there to Shechem for this very occasion; the fact of its not being specifically mentioned is of no importance. The Tabernacle must have rested at a hundred different places in the history of Israel, and yet there is hardly any information given in the Bible concerning the actual making of such moves, an exception being the removal of it to Jerusalem in David's new cart! How do we know the Tabernacle with its ark of the covenant and all the other sacred furniture was at Shechem? The words, "before God" in Joshua 24:1 prove this. A hundred places in Exodus and Leviticus make it evident that when a worshipper came before God with a sacrifice, it was at the Tabernacle! The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) knew this, but in the year 255 B.C., when the Septuagint (LXX) was done, the "one place only" theory was widely accepted. So, in order to conform to that, they simply moved the location of this covenant renewal ceremony to Shiloh (Joshua 24:1,25 in the LXX), where of course, the Tabernacle rested until they moved it down to Shechem for this ceremony. Scholars reject the Shiloh location for this ceremony. The great probability of the Tabernacle's being moved to Shechem for the event described here clears up everything. The clause, "They presented themselves before God," simply cannot be understood in any other way. As Boling pointed out, "Before God implies the presence of the ark."[15] The deduction by Plummer regarding this question is simply that, "The Tabernacle was no doubt moved on that great occasion to Shechem."[16]

Woudstra pointed out that some do not think "before God" necessarily refers to the Ark or the Tabernacle; but, "The expression is sufficiently accounted for by Shechem's sacred associations going back to patriarchal times."[17] Such associations, of course, were very important, and we shall notice these under the article "Shechem," below, but we cannot accept the statement of Jacob after the dream at Bethel that, "Surely God is in this place," as any proof whatever that God had taken up PERMANENT residence in Shechem!


Another great renewal of the covenant ceremony had already been conducted there, as we read in Joshua 8. The place was rich in the history of the patriarchs. It was the scene of God's first covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:6-7). Abraham built an altar here, the first built in Canaan, on his way from Haran, after the death of Terah. Jacob is supposed to have come here on his flight from Esau. It was here, in all probability that Jacob commanded his family to bury their idols. Jacob chose this as his residence and remained there until the rape of Dinah and the terrible vengeance against the citizens of that place by Simeon and Levi. It was a Levitical city, and one of the cities of Refuge. Jacob bought a field for a tomb here, and Joseph's bones were buried there. "Shechem was a locality calculated to inspire the Israelites with the deepest feelings."[18] (See further information on Shechem in Joshua 21.)

"Beyond the River ..." This is a reference to the Euphrates.

"Your fathers ... served other gods." Both Terah (Abraham's father) and Nahor, his uncle, were idolaters, but it is NOT stated that Abraham was an idolater. There is no reason to doubt the Jewish tradition that, "Abraham, while in Ur of the Chaldees was persecuted for his abhorrence of idolatry, and hence, was called away by God from his native land."[19] Throughout Israel's history, there remained for many years a preference by some of them for idolatry. It will be remembered that Laban's household gods were stolen by Rachel, and right here in this chapter, (Joshua 24:14), Joshua pleaded with the people to, "Put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River."

Blair pointed out that here in Joshua 24:1, we have the identification of the Maker of the Covenant in the preamble. "This is the regular pattern of the suzerainty-treaty covenants."[20] One of the features of that ancient form of covenant, "was the necessity for its renewal from time to time, and that is exactly what we have here at Shechem."[21]

Verse 4

"And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; and Jacob and his children went down into Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to that which I did in the midst thereof: and afterward I brought you out. And I brought your fathers out of Egypt: and ye came unto the sea; and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers with chariots and with horsemen unto the Red Sea. And when they cried out unto Jehovah, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them, and covered them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt: and ye dwelt in the wilderness many days."

True to the ancient form, there appears in these lines a recapitulation of the many gracious actions of the Great King on behalf of his Israelite vassals.

Notice that there is a PRESUMPTION on the part of Joshua here that his audience were in possession of accurate and trustworthy records of all that he mentioned, "rendering it unnecessary to enter into detail."[22] The probability that all of the previous books of the O.T. were written and in existence at the time of this address by Joshua is of a degree that approaches CERTAINTY.

Verse 8

"And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, that dwelt beyond the Jordan: and they fought with you; and I gave them into your hand, and ye possessed their land; and I destroyed them from before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab arose and fought against Israel: and he sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you; but I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he blessed you still: so I delivered you out of his hand. And ye went over the Jordan, and came unto Jericho: and the men of Jericho fought against you, the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Gergashite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite; and I delivered them into your hand. And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; not with thy sword, nor with thy bow. And I gave you a land whereon thou hadst not labored, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell therein; of vineyards and olive yards which ye planted not do ye eat."

Holmes stated that, "`Fought against Israel' (Joshua 24:9) should be omitted, because Balak did not join battle with Israel."[23] Such an opinion overlooks the near identity between Moab and Midian at that time in history. Numbers 31:8 reveals that five kings of Midian were slain, as well as Balaam, the implication that Balaam also "fought against Israel," despite there being no verse that states that he declared war on Israel. Balak as an ally of Midian also "fought against Israel," as revealed here; and he suffered the same fate as the other enemies of Israel. Besides all that, Balak's hiring of Balaam to curse Israel was an act of war by any standard whatever. Therefore, the statement here that "he warred against Israel" stands. It is the truth! Even the declarations in Deuteronomy 2:9 and Judges 11:25 to the effect that no battle took place cannot deny the state of war that existed between Balak and Israel. Critics try to make some big deal out of this but without any success. There are no contradictions here. As Plummer put it, "There is not the slightest shadow of difference between the view of Balaam (and his sponsor Balak) presented to us in this short paragraph and that in which he appears to us in the more expanded narrative of Moses."[24]

"Joshua 24:11-13, above, are a summary of Joshua 1-12; it was God who gave you the victory, not your sword, or your bow."[25]

"The hornet ..." (Joshua 24:12). "There is no unanimity among scholars as to what this means ... Some think it does not refer to insects, but to irrational fear and panic."[26] In our view, such views are not contradictory; there were doubtless examples of both: (1) actual hornets who drove the soldiers half-mad, and (2) inordinate and fearful panic which immobilized and destroyed them. As Woudstra said, "Great fear experienced by the nations of Canaan is not absent from the book (Joshua 2:9; 5:1)."[27] Whichever is meant, or even if both are meant, "The intention is plainly to emphasize that Jehovah's agency was the effective factor in Israel's victories, and not Israel's sword or bow."[28]

Verse 14

"Now therefore fear Jehovah, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt; and serve ye Jehovah. And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose ye this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah."

These two verses place the decision squarely up to Israel. They must choose between serving the pagan gods of their early ancestors which the patriarchs (some of them) worshipped beyond the Euphrates River, or the gods of the Amorites whom Jehovah had driven out of their land to provide an inheritance for Israel, or they must choose Jehovah.

"The gods of the Amorites in whose land ye dwell ..." (Joshua 24:15). What a "reductio ad absurdum" this is! He seems to say, "If you had served those gods, you would not be here, nor would the Amorites have been driven out before you."[29] We also offer in this connection the inspiring words of Plummer:

"Joshua invites the people as Elijah did on an even more memorable occasion, to make their choice between the false worship and the true, between the present and the future, between the indulgence of their lusts and the approval of their conscience ... No desire to stand well in the eyes Israel, no temptation of this lower world to pervert his sense of truth deters him. The experience of a life of service to Jehovah have convinced him that Jehovah is the true and only God, and from that conviction, the venerable warrior does not intend to swerve"[30]

What is taught in these two verses is absolute loyalty to the sovereign Lord, involving, of course, the putting away of all false gods. Morton pointed out that this corresponds exactly to the ancient form of the old suzerainty treaties, in that, "The historical prologue is followed by a statement of covenant obligations."[31]

Verse 16

"And the people answered and said, Far be it from us that we should forsake Jehovah, to serve other gods; for Jehovah is our God, he it is that brought us and our children up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the peoples through the midst of whom we passed; and Jehovah drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites that dwelt in the land: therefore we will serve Jehovah; for he is our God."

This response on the part of the people appears at first sight to be adequate, but Joshua's words a moment later indicate that their oath of loyalty was "too glib,"[32] and was made without proper respect for the solemnity of it and for the seriousness of the obligations incurred. Sometimes, people become Christians without fully realizing the binding and irrevocable nature of the obligations incurred in the acceptance of the yoke of Christ and in the ensuing hostility of the world. There is perhaps in these verses also a recognition of the ability of the Amorites in the words, "even the Amorites," who were clearly the most magnificent of all the ancient Canaanites.

Verse 19

"And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve Jehovah; for he is a holy God; he will not forgive your transgression nor your sins. If ye forsake Jehovah and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you evil, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve Jehovah. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you Jehovah to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. Now therefore put away, said he, the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto Jehovah, the God of Israel. And the people said unto Joshua, Jehovah our God will we serve, and unto his voice will we hearken. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of Jehovah. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold this stone shall be a witness against us; for it hath heard all the words of Jehovah which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness against you, lest ye deny your God. So Joshua sent the people away, every man unto his inheritance."

"He will not forgive your transgression nor your sins ..." Harsh as this may sound, there was no forgiveness of sins in any absolute sense under the Mosaic Law. Although, the particular sin that God here said He would not forgive was identified as the "worship of other gods," yet, in its larger dimensions, it applied to any breaking of the covenant. As Sizoo said, "`He will not forgive your transgressions' refers specifically to the worship of foreign gods and more generally to any wrongdoing, for to transgress any commandment of God is to violate the covenant."[33] Nowhere else in the history of the whole world is there any such thing as the forgiveness of sins except that which is available through the Lord Jesus Christ. This passage categorically denies that there was to be any forgiveness of sins under the Mosaic Law. As a matter of fact, Jeremiah made forgiveness of sins to be the unique element of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Joshua 24:20 is a reference to the curses and blessings that characterized the ancient suzerainty-covenant treaties. Thus, we continue to find in almost every verse evidence that this renewal ceremony strictly followed the ancient pattern.

"He (God) will turn and do you evil ..." (Joshua 24:20). This reference to God's turning does not at all conflict with other statements in the Bible, such as, "I Jehovah change not" (Malachi 3:6), or, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation nor shadow that is cast by turning" (James 1:17). What is meant of course, is that the conduct of men, in becoming wicked, can change their relation to God, and that change is here called God's turning. We follow the same kind of idiom in referring to the sun's going down. It is not the sun's going down that is denoted but the earth's changing its position with reference to the sun. So when we think of God's turning to punish men, it is NOT God who changed but the sinners who deserve the punishment. Woudstra pointed out that these two ideas: (1) God's changelessness and (2) His `turning' "sometimes occur in one and the same chapter (1 Samuel 15:11,29)."[34]

Here again in Joshua 24:23 we find evidence that the children of Israel still indulged a secret reverence and respect for heathen gods, actually having some of these idols in their possession at the time of these glib assertions of their loyalty to Jehovah. Keil and others have supposed that Joshua here spoke of the inward, mental retention of such idols, but we cannot accept that. As Plummer said, "There can be little doubt that, although Israel dared not openly worship strange gods, yet [~teraphim] and other images were retained by them, and if not worshipped, were nevertheless accorded a respect and veneration that could in the future lead them into apostasy."[35] And, of course, that is exactly what did happen later.

"The book of the law of God ..." (Joshua 24:26). If this is not the O.T., particularly the Five Books of Moses and the Book of Joshua, then what is it? The commentators seem to have trouble with this "Book of the Law of God," but, just as the ancient covenant-treaty of the Hittites required a document to record the terms of the covenant to be prepared and deposited in a safe place, the same thing, exactly, occurred here. The simple meaning here is that the Book of Moses (commonly called the five books) was supplemented by this book we are studying, containing especially this final solemn ratification of the covenant and renewal of the covenant status of Israel.

"Under the oak that was by the sanctuary of Jehovah ..." (Joshua 24:26). The efforts of some to translate "in" instead of "by" in this verse derive from their desire to get an oak tree into the tabernacle, which is the "sanctuary of Jehovah" mentioned here. If we had needed any proof that the tabernacle had indeed been moved to Shechem for this ratification ceremony, here it is. Of course, Keil denied that the word rendered "by" or "near" in this verse could ever mean "near." But Plummer's comment on that should enlighten us:

"It is difficult to see how Keil could have denied this with so many passages against him, as in Joshua 5:13; 1 Samuel 29:1; Ezekiel 10:15, etc. He wishes to avoid the idea of the sanctuary being in Shechem!"[36]

What can the critics do with "the Book of the Law of God" mentioned in this paragraph? Well, here is the way Holmes handled it:

"If there had been such a book of the law there would have been no necessity to erect a stone for a witness; the book would have been a much better one."[37]

The new light now available regarding the type of covenant-treaty in view here shows that the ancient Hittite kings (about 1400 B.C.) had no trouble at all getting their covenants written down in a book, and the Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 B.C.) was written and even engraved on stone. So, what kind of blindness is it that can deny what Joshua plainly declared here?

Verse 29

"And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Jehovah, died, being a hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnath-Serah, which is in the hill-country of Ephraim, on the north of the mountain of Gaash. And Israel served Jehovah all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, and had known all the work of Jehovah, that he had wrought for Israel."

And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in the parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money: and they became the inheritance of the children of Joseph. And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him in the hill of Phinehas his son, which was given him in the hill-country of Ephraim.

"Joshua ...the servant of Jehovah ..." (Joshua 24:29). The title, "Servant of Jehovah" is used of Moses frequently in the Book of Joshua, as in Joshua 1:1,2,13; 8:31,33; 9:24; 11:12,15; 12:6; 13:8; 14:7; 18:7; 22:2,4,5. But this is the very first time the title is given to Joshua. Boling believed this was due to the tremendous importance of the covenant-relationship in which Joshua here stood in the place once occupied by Moses. "In other words, it was not as warfare-genius but as covenant-negotiator that Joshua bore, like Moses, the title of Servant of Jehovah."[38]

Of course, this new title which appears for Joshua here has been made the basis of all kinds of wild and irresponsible assertions to the effect that this whole paragraph is an interpolation inserted long afterward when Joshua, along with others, had been raised to the level of National Saints! Again from Plummer:

"This is a fair specimen of the inventive criticism which has found favor among modern critics in which a large amount of imagination is made to supply the want of even the tiniest fact. There never was such a period when Israel would have given any more honor to Joshua and Moses than they would have given at the hour of their death."[39]

Note that Joshua was buried "in his own inheritance," giving us a contrast with the burial of the patriarchs who had to be buried in places bought from strangers. Joshua was not buried in a strange land, but on his own property! Woudstra has identified Timnath-Serah as the modern Khirbet Tibneh, about 12 miles northeast of Lydda.[40]

Joshua 24:31 shows that during Joshua's lifetime and in the lifetimes of those who were his contemporaries, Israel remained true to the Lord. However, the occupation of Canaan was never a complete success, and soon after Joshua's death, the inevitable tendency of Israel to apostasy asserted itself more vigorously than ever. Yet it is gloriously refreshing to find in this one great hero, Joshua, that he did indeed serve the Lord with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Nothing could show more clearly the respect and honor in which Israel held the name of Joseph than the scrupulous manner in which they respected his dying wish and their obedience of his commandments respecting the disposal of his bones. "This is another link in the chain of evidence which serves to establish the early date and authenticity of this book."[41]

The additions to this chapter that are found in the Septuagint (LXX) should be rejected. As Plummer said, their mention of Astarte and Ashteroth as separate deities is alone enough to discredit it."[42]

The death and burial of Eleazar saw the transfer of the High Priesthood to his son Phinehas. Thus, just as the death of Aaron and Moses closed Deuteronomy, so the death of Eleazar and Joshua closed this book.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 24". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.