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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Joshua 23

Verse 1


‘And it came to pass a long time after that the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age.’

Joshua 23:1

At the death of Moses a sudden gleam of heaven, as it were, came over the elder Church. The law seemed for a while suspended as regards its threats and punishments; all was privilege on the one side, all was obedience on the other. Joshua led the people forward, conquering and to conquer; he led them into rest and prosperity. His history is made up of two parts: triumph and peace. Such a blessed season never returned to the Church of Israel till that Church was made glorious by the coming of the Sun of Righteousness, and was brought forth out of the shadows and dreariness of the law into the fulness of grace and truth.

I. First, as is very obvious, Joshua is a type of our Lord Jesus Christ as regards his name, for Joshua is in Hebrew what Jesus is in Greek.

II. Joshua is a type of Christ in an act of grace which he exercised, and that to his enemy Rahab.—Why have we at once a sinful woman spared and admitted into covenant on her faith, nay privileged in the event to become the ancestress of our Lord, except that in Joshua the reign of the Saviour is typified, and that the pardon of a sinner is its most appropriate attendant?

III. As Joshua answers to our Lord in his name and in his clemency, so, too, does he in his mode of appointment.—Moses chose Joshua, who had no claim or title to be chosen; he consecrated him, not in a legal, but in a Gospel, way; he prefigured in him the ministers of Christ and soldiers of His Church. Joshua was chosen, not by the will of men, but by the will of God.

IV. In a special way God’s choice ended in Joshua.—He did not receive it by inheritance, nor are heirs mentioned to whom he left it. He who divided the land by lot, who gave to each his portion to enjoy, is allotted in the sacred history neither wife, nor children, nor choice possession. In this he was the type of the Lord Himself, who, ‘though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich.’

V. We read of no lamentation of friends, no special honours being paid to Joshua, at his death.—He was buried neither by his sons nor by the assembled people, as if to teach us to raise up our hearts to Him for whom no mourning was to be made, for He was the living among the dead; and though for a while He laid Himself down in the grave, He did it that, there lying, He might quicken the dead by His touch, that so first He and then they all might rise again and live for ever.

VI. Joshua did not accomplish all the work that was to be done, but left a remnant to those who came after him.—And so in like manner Christ has done the whole work of redemption for us, and yet it is no contradiction to say that something remains for us to do: we have to take the redemption offered to us, and that taking involves a work. He has suffered and conquered, and those who become partakers in Him undergo in their own persons the shadow and likeness of that great victory. We advance by yielding; we rise by falling; we conquer by suffering; we persuade by silence; we become rich by bountifulness; we gain comfort through mourning; we earn glory by penitence and prayer.


(1) ‘Joshua was essentially the soldier, and as such was just the man raised up by God for his age. His obedience to God was a soldier-like obedience. Such was his energy, his power to inspire others, his very piety. Teachers will find the best illustrations, for the character and work of Joshua, in such generals as Havelock or Gordon. What is remarkable in him is that he was wholly free from personal ambition, or any thought of self-aggrandisement. “His whole heart was in the highest degree patriotic, under a system which required patriotism to take the form of religious obedience.” Note Joshua’s power of decision, and promptitude. “He was a valiant without temerity, and active without precipitation.” “His piety was gentle, his faith was impregnable, and his confidence in God unshaken.” ’

(2) ‘After forty years of wandering, seven years of war, and eighteen years of peace, Joshua, now 110 years old, stands as straight and as firm as an oak tree, and never stammers or mumbles his message. Talk about growing old and useless! Some men grow old like bread; they get stale. Others grow old like wine, richer and stronger.’

(3) ‘The final farewell of Joshua, the manifest dignity and serenity of saintly ripeness, the vigour of his exhortations, and the assurance of his faith, are worthy of devout study. This his last service is his best service. He had been faithful as a spy, as the helper of Moses, as a warrior and leader, and as a divider of the land among the tribes. But here he seeks to lead them into covenant with God, that they may through faith and obedience be enabled to keep all they had conquered.’

Verses 11-15


‘Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God,’ etc.

Joshua 23:11-15

I. In this speech Joshua once more pressed upon the people their true character as the chosen people of the Lord God.—He is able now to appeal to facts in evidence of the truth which had once been matters of faith; he is able now to point to what God has done, to call the people themselves to witness that all the promises of God have come to pass, and that not one good thing hath failed of all those which the Lord their God had promised them.

II. Joshua found in his old age nothing to retract of what he had said in former times concerning God and the people, and the relation of the one to the other.—He next implores the people to guard against backsliding. He says: Go on as you have begun, and God will bless you; your shame, and misery, and damnation will be if you turn back from following the Lord.

III. Once more, looking forward to the future, Joshua declares that, in case of the Israelites going back from their high position as God’s people, God would punish them as severely as hitherto He had blessed them bounteously.—The possession of the land had been the reward of obedience; the loss of the same would be the punishment of disobedience.

All the points in Joshua’s speech might be applied by a Christian minister to a Christian congregation. Consider: (1) whether you are sufficiently alive to your high calling, and profession, and privileges; (2) whether you are guarding against backsliding in your religious course; (3) whether you think sufficiently of the danger of offending God, and of the awfulness of that judgment-seat before which the living and the dead must alike one day stand.

Bishop Harvey Goodwin.


(1) ‘Once having chosen, we cannot escape the results of our choice. Here, even for us, “an inevitable must” comes in. We are kings in the realm of choice; we are slaves in the realm of the results of our choice. We cannot escape the consequences of our decisions, any more than the Israelites could serve other gods, and yet receive the rewards of serving Jehovah.’

(2)‘Though the mills of God grind slowly,

Yet they grind exceeding small;

Though with patience He stands waiting,

With exactness grinds He all.’

So glorious and yet so solemn is the responsibility of choice. Joshua’s appeal rings across the centuries, and the urgency of its appeal to us is all the greater because our light is so much clearer than his. Life is a service; who shall be our master?’

(3) ‘Rev. David Sandeman, the devoted missionary to China, delighting, as he did, in vigorous exercise, one day in a walk with two companions, joined for a few minutes in the amusement of leaping over a stile. While his companions failed he cleared the stile so easily and gracefully as to draw forth the admiration of a dragoon who stood by. When about to walk on Mr. Sandeman turned to the soldier, got him into conversation, and spoke of the perils and honours of a life like his. Then, suddenly drawing himself up to his full height, he exclaimed, with deep feeling, “There is something far better yet. It is to be a soldier of Jesus Christ. Are you that?” The dragoon looked with wonder on the man of muscle and sinew, who could thus speak to his soul, and shook hands at parting deeply impressed and interested.’

Verse 14


‘Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.’

Joshua 23:14

Life is a book which can never be understood by reading one of its chapters. And those who have lived less years than Joshua have yet lived long enough to know, from actual experience and observation, that very few, when they look back upon a long course, ever regret what they once called their failures and their trials; while many regret, bitterly regret, many things which they once called their prosperity!

It is only with promised things that we have to do. It is ‘the good things which the Lord our God spake concerning us.’ Faith hath its province only within the promise. If you go out of a promise you may have a general hope, but it is not faith. Has any one distinctly promised thing not come to you? Have you ever yet earnestly prayed for any spiritual blessing, then waited for it, and that blessing has not come? And once more—if it hath not come, it may be only because its time has not yet arrived. It may be on the road now—for God promises what, not when.

Let us now look at some proofs of God’s exceeding faithfulness.

I. National blessings.—Our national blessings are very great. After all our doubts and fears ‘our land has yielded her increase.’ Bread is cheap. Wages are high. Work is abundant. A spirit of peace and contentment prevails.

II. Blessings in the Church.—In the midst of our distractions our Church has great tokens for good. We have not separated one from another: and our Church is whole. Every section of it is instinct with life and energy. The number of churches has grown with unprecedented rapidity over the land. All the means of grace are multiplied. The clergy are much more earnest; the communicants have greatly increased, and are increasing. Foreign missions were never so well supplied, either with money or with men. The great duty and privilege of intercession for missions has been recognised. And perhaps, above all the signs of good, such a spirit of evangelisation for the conversion of souls at home has been poured upon the Church as perhaps has had no parallel in the Church’s history.

III. Individual blessings.—One characteristic I am sure there has been in the history of God’s dealings with every one of us: we have been always in a system of beautiful balance: the joys and the sorrows, the encouragements and the disappointments, the trials and the strength, the need and the supply have been in a strange equipoise. The whole government of God has been compensatory. We all have our dark passages—our mysteries, our gnawing grief—known only to ourselves; and the heavy discipline of a Father’s hand. We could not quote Joshua’s words if we had not. All those to whom those words were spoken had experienced, most painfully, the trials of life. They had wandered in a desert for forty years. But the Presence had never left them; the manna and the water never ceased.

As life goes on, things which were matters of faith, in earlier years, are matters of fact and experience in later life; and we ought to be bolder and more trusting every year we live, if it were only for this—because theories have become realities; and we have proved what we once could only take upon trust—the faithfulness of God: so that this is our argument: ‘Thou hast been our succour; leave us not, neither forsake us, O God of our salvation.’

—Rev. James Vaughan.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Joshua 23". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.