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Joshua - Chapter 23
The period of time which had elapsed between the departure of the two and a half tribes to their trans-Jordanic homes and the end of Joshua’s life cannot be exactly determined. Commentators have figured the time of Israel’s conquest of Canaan to have taken some five to seven years. Calculating Joshua’s age to have been eighty to eighty-five then, in comparison with his contemporary, Caleb, and noting that Joshua died at age 110 (Joshua 24:29), the period would be twenty-five to thirty years. The Scriptures simply say it was a long time.
During this time Israel had enjoyed peace; there was no further war ;with the Canaanite tribes during Joshua’s lifetime. At this time Joshua called for a gathering of the chief men of Israel to come to him. These included elders, heads, judges, and other officers. When they had gathered their aged leader called their attention to the fact that he had grown very old among them. Now he wished to call to their remembrance the great campaigns which they had waged together and won by the power of the Lord. It was mainly, it seems, to emphasize how it was they had come into possession of the land.
It was an evident fact, easily seen even then, that the land had passed from Canaanite possession to Israelite inheritance. It was theirs because the Lord had given it to them. He had fought the battles for them and had given them victories, miraculous, and against over-whelming odds. They must not forget this fact or fail to acknowledge it. Joshua repeated to the gathering the promise of the Lord, that He has given them all the land from the Jordan to the great (Mediterranean) sea. Already they had allowed the Philistines to infest the coastlands, yet God had promised to expel them all from before them. He would drive them out of Israel’s sight, so that they would possess their land as the Lord God had promised. They needed always to remember it, (Numbers 33:53).
Admonition, vs. 6-11.
After the reminder that the Lord is the One who gave them their land, Joshua proceeds to admonish them how they may continue to maintain the Lord’s pleasure and blessing on them. He begins with a challenge from his own earlier career (see Joshua 1:6-9). That challenge is centered around knowledge of and obedience to the law of Moses as the Lord gave it to him. They are under no circumstances to turn away from it. Verse seven may be a kind of reproof of the Israelites, in that they have allowed some of the pagan people to remain among them. These will be a source of temptation to them, but they are not even to mention the name of one of these false gods, and certainly not to swear by them, to serve or worship them in any way.
On the contrary Israel is to be toward the Lord God in every respect as they were not to be toward Canaan’s gods. They are to cleave, or cling tightly, to Him. And here, in verse 8, Joshua also commends the people as having stayed close to the Lord to that very time. Again he emphasizes that the Lord is He who has driven out these great and strong nations of Canaan and given the land to them, so that there was then none who could stand before Israel.
God had put in the Canaanites so great a dread of Israel that one Israelite could chase a thousand, because the Lord fought for them. Israel is to take great care that they have genuine love for the Lord.
Warning, vs. 12-13
What Joshua is telling the Israelites at this time is a short reiteration of what Moses told them in his long farewells in the Book of Deuteronomy. If Israel should fail to cling to the Lord and should instead cling to the pagan people in the land and their gods all would be lost. They are especially warned against falling in love with the Canaanites and entering marriage relationships with them. This would be a most dangerous thing, for it would entice them to forsake the true God to please the wife of husband worshipper of the false gods. God expected His people to marry among their own people, (2 Corinthians 6:14).
The result of this will not be a mere threat on God’s part, but will be an absolute certainty. It will abrogate the Lord’s promise to drive out the nations before them. If the people begin to live like the pagan Canaanites, then the Lord will leave these people to whom they have turned among them. These will then be the source of much irritation and frustration, ultimately bring upon them much heartache and sorrow. They and their false ways of worship will ensnare, trap, and whip the people of Israel, and they will be destroyed and driven from the land. The land of milk and honey would expel them as it had the wicked Canaanites before them.
Farewell, vs. 14-16
Joshua reminds the elders and others in the gathering that the curse of sin operates even in the great, such as he. All must at last come to the time of death, for the law of sin and death reigns until the Lord returns to change it. Joshua knows, and he wants all Israel’s leaders to acknowledge, that the Lord has not failed in anything He had promised to do for Israel.
Out of the honesty of their hearts every one of them know that this was true. As long as they remembered this their conviction would serve as a deterrent to the people under them that they remain faithful to the law of the Lord. Thus they would continue to enjoy all these good promises of the Lord.
But Joshua reminds them of the contrary side also, as he bids them a farewell. As surely as God has blessed them for obedience, He will as surely punish them for disobedience, and they will be destroyed off their good land He has given them. Once more Joshua emphasizes to Israel’s leaders that any transgression of the covenant they had accepted from the Lord would bring God’s anger upon them and cause them to lose their land.
The most apt transgression on their part is to turn to the false gods, with their popular and enticing rituals, feasts, etc. This would lead to their conversion to the worship and service of pagan gods. Then God’s anger would be hotly kindled, and He would no longer be obligated to keep the promise to drive out their enemies. Then the enemy would repossess the land from Israel.
Several lessons may be applied from this address of Joshua to present conditions and circumstances: 1) it is good to be reminded regularly of the wonderful blessings and great victories the Lord has wrought in our lives; 2) God’s people need to be both chided for looseness in their Christian walk and commended for that which is right in their walk; 3) to delve into the sins of the world is always to become polluted with them and to fall under the chastisement of the Lord; 4) death is certain for all, and all should be able to leave behind example and admonition to his successors that they may continue in the Lord’s way.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Joshua 23". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany