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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 23

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch


Joshua's Farewell and Death - Joshua 23-24

After the division of the land among the tribes, Joshua had withdrawn to Timnath-serah, on the mountains of Ephraim (Joshua 19:50), to spend the last days of his life there in the quiet enjoyment of his own inheritance. But when the time of his departure from the earth was drawing near, remembering the call which he had received from the Lord (Joshua 1:6-8), he felt constrained to gather the people together once more in the persons of their representatives, to warn them most earnestly of the dangers of apostasy from the Lord, and point out the evils that would follow (Josh 23); and then after that, in a solemn assembly of the nation at Shechem, to review the abundant mercies which the Lord had conferred upon Israel from the calling of Abraham to that day, that he might call upon them to remain stedfast and faithful in the worship of their God, and then solemnly renew the covenant with the Lord.

(Note: “The pious solicitude of Joshua furnishes an example worthy of imitation by all who have the charge of others. For just as a father would not be regarded as sufficiently careful it he merely thought of the interests of his children up to the time of his own death, and did not extend his thoughtfulness on their behalf still further, and as far as was in his power endeavour to provide for their welfare when he himself should be dead; so good rulers ought to look forward that they may not only leave behind them a well-organized state, but may also strengthen and secure its existence for a long time to come.” - Calvin (with special reference to 2 Peter 1:13-15).)

Verse 1

Exhortation to the Tribes of Israel to Remain Faithful to their Calling. - Joshua 23:1, Joshua 23:2. The introduction to the discourse which follows is attached in its first part to Joshua 22:3-4, and thus also to Joshua 21:43-44, whilst in the second part it points back to Joshua 13:1. The Lord had given the people rest from all their enemies round about, after the land had been subdued and divided by lot (Joshua 21:43-44). Joshua was already an old man at the termination of the war (Joshua 13:1); but since then he had advanced still further in age, so that he may have noticed the signs of the near approach of death. He therefore called together the representatives of the people, either to Timnath-serah where he dwelt (Joshua 19:50), or to Shiloh to the tabernacle, the central sanctuary of the whole nation, as the most suitable place for his purpose. “ All Israel ” is still further defined by the apposition, “ its elders, and its heads, and its judges, and its officers.” This is not to be understood, however, as referring to four different classes of rulers; but the term elders is the general term used to denote all the representatives of the people, who were divided into heads, judges, and officers. And the heads, again, were those who stood at the head of the tribes, families, and fathers' houses, and out of whose number the most suitable persons were chosen as judges and officers (Deuteronomy 1:15; see my Bibl. Arch. ii. § 143). Joshua's address to the elders of all Israel consists of two parts, which run parallel to one another so far as the contents are concerned, Joshua 23:2-13 and Joshua 23:14-16. In both parts Joshua commences with a reference to his age and his approaching death, in consequence of which he felt constrained to remind the people once more of all the great things that the Lord had done for them, and to warn them against falling away from their gracious covenant God. Just as Joshua, in this the last act of his life, was merely treading in the footsteps of Moses, who had concluded his life with the fullest exhortations to the people to be faithful to the Lord (Deuteronomy 1:30), so his address consists entirely of reminiscences from the Pentateuch, more especially from Deuteronomy as he had nothing fresh to announce to the people, but could only impress the old truth upon their minds once more.

Verses 2-13

Joshua commenced his address by reminding them of the greatest manifestations of grace which they had received from the Lord, namely, by referring to what the Lord had done to all these nations (the Canaanites) before them, when He fought for Israel, as Moses had promised them (Deuteronomy 1:30 and Deuteronomy 3:22).

Joshua 23:3

Before you,” sc., smiting and driving them away.

Joshua 23:4

He (Joshua) had now divided by lot among the tribes of Israel as their inheritance these still remaining (Canaanitish) nations, as the Lord had commanded (Joshua 13:6-7), “ from Jordan and further all the nations, which I have exterminated (i.e., which Joshua had destroyed when Canaan was taken), and the great sea (for 'to the great sea') in the west.” The breadth of the land of Canaan is here given in a peculiar manner, the terminus a quo being mentioned in the first clause, and the terminus ad quem (though without the preposition עד ) in the second; and through the parallelism which exists between the clauses, each clause is left to be completed from the other. So that the whole sentence would read thus: “ All these nations which remain ... from Jordan to the great sea, also all the nations which I have cut off from Jordan, and to the great sea westward.”

Joshua 23:5

For the Lord would drive all these still remaining nations before the Israelites, and cut them off, and give the Israelites their land for a possession, as He had promised (Joshua 13:6; cf. Exodus 23:23.). הדף , as in Deuteronomy 6:19; Deuteronomy 9:4; and the form יהדּפם , with Chateph-kametz, on account of the weakness of the ה , as in Numbers 35:20. ירשׁתּם , as in Joshua 1:15.

Joshua 23:6-8

Only let them be strong, i.e., be brave, to keep the law of Moses without fail (cf. Joshua 1:7), to enter into no fellowship with these remaining nations ( בּוא , to enter into close intimacy with a person; see Joshua 23:12), and not to pay reverence to their gods in any way, but to adhere stedfastly to the Lord their God as they had hitherto done. To make mention of the names of the idols (Exodus 23:13), to swear by them, to serve them (by sacrifices), and to bow down to them (to invoke them in prayer), are the four outward forms of divine worship (see Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20). The concluding words, “ as ye have done unto this day,” which express a reason for persevering in the attachment they had hitherto shown to Jehovah, “do not affirm that the Israelites had hitherto done all these things fully and perfectly; for who does not know how few mortals there are who devote themselves to God with all the piety and love which He justly demands? But because the nation as a whole had kept the laws delivered to them by Moses, during the time that the government had been in the hands of Joshua, the sins of individual men were left out of sight on this occasion” ( Masius).

Joshua 23:9-13

For this reason the Lord had driven out great and strong nations before the Israelites, so that no one was able to stand before them. The first hemistich points to the fulfilment of Deuteronomy 4:38; Deuteronomy 7:1; Deuteronomy 9:1; Deuteronomy 11:23; the second to that of Deuteronomy 7:24; Deuteronomy 11:25. ואתּם is placed at the beginning absolutely. - In Joshua 23:10, the blessing of fidelity to the law which Israel had hitherto experienced, is described, as in Deuteronomy 32:30, upon the basis of the promise in Leviticus 26:7-8, and Deuteronomy 28:7, and in Joshua 23:10 the thought of Joshua 23:3 is repeated. To this there is attached, in Joshua 23:11-13, the admonition to take heed for the sake of their souls (cf. Deuteronomy 4:15), to love the Lord their God (on the love of God as the sum of the fulfilment of the law, see Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:13). For if they turned, i.e., gave up the faithfulness they had hitherto displayed towards Jehovah, and attached themselves to the remnant of these nations, made marriages with them, and entered into fellowship with them, which the Lord had expressly forbidden (Exodus 34:12-15; Deuteronomy 7:3), let them know that the Lord their God would not cut off these nations before them any more, but that they would be a snare and destruction to them. This threat is founded upon such passages of the law as Exodus 23:33; Deuteronomy 7:16, and more especially Numbers 33:55. The figure of a trap, which is employed here (see Exodus 10:7), is still further strengthened by פּח , a snare (cf. Isaiah 8:14-15). Shotet , a whip or scourge, an emphatic form of the word derived from the poel of שׁוּט , only occurs here. “ Scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes ” (see Numbers 33:55). Joshua crowds his figures together to depict the misery and oppression which would be sure to result from fellowship with the Canaanites, because, from his knowledge of the fickleness of the people, and the wickedness of the human heart in its natural state, he could foresee that the apostasy of the nation from the Lord, which Moses had foretold, would take place but too quickly; as it actually did, according to Judges 2:3., in the very next generation. The words “ until ye perish,” etc., resume the threat held out by Moses in Deuteronomy 11:17 (cf. Josh Deuteronomy 28:21.).

Verses 14-16

In the second part of his address, Joshua sums up briefly and concisely the leading thoughts of the first part, giving greater prominence, however, to the curse which would follow apostasy from the Lord.

Joshua 23:14-16

Now that Joshua was going the way of all the earth (all the inhabitants of the earth), i.e., going to die (1 Kings 2:2), the Israelites knew with all the heart and all the soul, i.e., were fully convinced, that of all the good words (gracious promises) of God not one had failed, but all had come to pass (vid., Joshua 21:45). But it was just as certain that the Lord would bring upon them every evil word that He spake through Moses (Lev 26:14-33; Deut 28:15-68, and Deuteronomy 29:14-28), if they transgressed His covenant. “ The evil word ” is the curse of rejection (Deuteronomy 30:1, Deuteronomy 30:15). “ Until He have destroyed: ” see Deuteronomy 7:24, and Deuteronomy 28:48. The other words as in Joshua 23:13. If they went after other gods and served them, the wrath of the Lord would burn against them, and they would be quickly destroyed from the good land which He had given them (vid., Deuteronomy 11:17).

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Joshua 23". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/joshua-23.html. 1854-1889.
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