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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Joshua 23

Verses 1-5



Joshua 23:1. A long time after that the Lord had given rest] Probably the beginning of this period is to be reckoned from the time indicated in chap. Joshua 21:44, to the similar phrase of which the historian looks back. The “long time,” after the second division of the land, appears to have been about sixteen years (cf. on chap. Joshua 13:1).

Joshua 23:2. Called for all Israel and for, etc.] Omit “and.” The gathering was a representative one, and the four clauses which follow are meant to stand in explanation of the words “all Israel.” Joshua called all Israel, i.e., their elders, their heads, etc.

Joshua 23:3. Because of you] Heb., mipp’nçychem =from before you. It is not said that God slew the Canaanites because of the Israelites, but before their “faces,” i.e., before the Israelites in battle. The figurative meaning, on account of, though frequently admissible, would here obviously alter the sense of the passage. Calvin translates by in conspectu vestro, but Tremellius and Junius have propter vos. The same form in Joshua 23:5 is rendered, from before you, with which in both places, agree the LXX.



Almost everything about a man gets “old and stricken in age,” saving the desires of the godly towards God and godly things. The body decays, let it have been ever so vigorous. Appetites fail, one by one, till the choicest dainties and even necessary food no longer tempt. Beauty wanes and vanishes. The problems which have kept a mind active for half a century presently fail to command more than a passing thought. The love of pleasure and wickedness is no exception to the general rule. The things which once so seductively won and delighted the life that chose to revel in them, sooner or later, not only fail to please, but are found absolutely nauseous. Many other preachers than Solomon, whether publicly or only to themselves, eventually cry, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” It says something, at least, for the spiritual mind, that as long as other minds can watch it, it shews no sign of decay. When everything else gets stricken with many days, the love of the heart towards God and goodness is strong as ever. Nay, this is the time when it renews its youth. (Cf. Psalms 73:26.) Infidelity finds its strongest foe in the life most stricken with weakness. The roughest camping ground for unbelief is on the margin of the grave. It is there, more than anywhere else, that faith is unencumbered by doubt. It does us good to see this venerable servant of God so stricken without, and yet so strong within. The ruling desire of the failing veteran was to see idolatry banished, Israel holy and happy, and Jehovah glorified.

I. Here is an aged man diligently setting himself to complete the work of his life. Hoping that Israel would feel the appeal that came from one whose life had been given to them in so simple and thorough a manner, Joshua tried to say words that might make his past service an abiding help to his people.

1. Many useful lives are left to drift down to posterity as best they can. Our aged men are too prone to retire. Then, what they have done well through many years is apt to retire from the public mind also. A few broken words from an aged man with a great life behind him, are words which no one else can speak. Such a man should try and say them. They are very beautiful from such lips. Power goeth forth from them. Many lives are like nails well driven home, but unclenched. There are aged men just gone from us, and some among us now, whose broken words of weakness compel our faith and fervour as did none of the more eloquent utterances of their younger days.

2. A life which has been for others all through, can only end nobly as it continues for others to the last. Joshua did not call the elders to get them to aid him in perpetuating his own fame. Not a word falls from the dear old man which takes the slightest tinge of self-admiration or self-concern. The pain of the bodily effort was all for the people. Love for them and love for God was moving the aged man to this effort. It was not self-love. Joshua does not even impress us with the feeling that he was trying to prepare to die well. All that had been settled long ago. He was working with his last strength to try and get others to live well. A godly life has no room for selfishness even on the borders of the grave.

3. However nobly a life may continue and end, only one life is completethe life of Jesus Christ. Joshua was but the supplement of Moses. The purposes of Moses, like those of Job, were “broken off.” He died looking into the land which he failed to reach. And even Joshua had left many Canaanites still unconquered. There remained, still, very much land to be possessed. The best lives are only a segment. We are all only arcs, some longer and some shorter, in the circle of God’s plan. Only the life of Jesus represents a completed idea. Probably His were the only lips which ever tried to frame for their dying utterance the august words, “It is finished.” Paul said, “I have finished my course,” but he had no such fulness of meaning in his mind as He who declared, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.” The Lord, who was so separate from sinners in His life, is no less alone in His death.

II. An aged man hiding the work of a great life behind the greater work of God. “Ye have seen all that the Lord hath done … for the Lord your God is He that hath fought for you.” To the people, Joshua had seemed to have done much. They probably both honoured and loved him. It would have been easy for Joshua to have magnified his own work. Instead of this, and with a beautiful freedom from affectation in his humility, the veteran soldier treats himself as a mere subordinate, and extols God as the real leader of the army. John the Baptist was willing that his own light should wane before the greater brightness of the Rising Sun of Righteousness. Thus, also, Joshua conceals his own fame by bidding the people gaze on the incomparable glory of Jehovah.

1. To extol God is due to truth. (a) God had wonderfully and visibly interposed in times of Israel’s greatest difficulties. The dividing of the Jordan. The fall of the walls of Jericho. The hailstorm at Beth-horon, and the phenomenal staying of the sun and moon. (b) God had guided Joshua. The plans of battle had been from the Captain of the Lord’s host (chap. Joshua 5:13-15, Joshua 6:1-5). (c) God had encouraged Joshua in almost every battle where his own heart might have failed him. The gracious “fear not” of Jehovah was continually anticipating Joshua’s trembling and depression (chap. Joshua 3:7-8; Joshua 6:2; Joshua 8:1; Joshua 8:18; Joshua 10:8; Joshua 11:6). (d) When God had once withdrawn from His servant, then Joshua had been utterly defeated (chap. Joshua 7:1-12). (e) God had maintained, every day, Joshua’s health and strength. It would have been false to truth if Joshua had exalted himself. Every triumph of ours might be as truly traced to the help of the Lord.

2. To extol God is due to God. If His own “right hand and His holy arm hath gotten Him the victory,” shall a man rob God of the glory due unto His name? Let us rather imitate Joshua here, and sing with the pious Israelite of a later generation about these same triumphs: “In God we boast all the day long” (cf. Psalms 44:1-8).

3. To extol God is due to men. Those about us should not be drawn from God by our own personal vanity, but rather be led to God by our adoring praise. When the king passes by, he is but a mean citizen who tries to attract attention to himself.

4. To extol God is due to ourselves. The man who seeks to appropriate the glory due to Jehovah does but rob himself. He gains nothing, and loses all the joy of fealty and childhood.

III. An aged man reviewing God’s goodness in the past, and finding therein an assurance of God’s help in difficulties yet to come. “The Lord your God, He shall expel them from before you,” etc. Many years of experience had taught Joshua that he might unquestionably trust in Jehovah. Looking into the future of the Israelites, no doubt troubled his clear faith on that side of things which related to God. Of the people, Joshua had many doubts; of God, none whatever. He was far from assuming that Divine help had been given on his own account. He saw that hitherto Divine help had been given because of Divine love to the nation, and that if the people continued faithful, God would continue to bless them. The aged warrior felt that he was fast going the way of all the earth; he did not therefore think that victory must fail the people. He could no longer lead them to the battle; God would be as able and as willing to cause them to triumph notwithstanding. With such a life of prowess behind him, it is very beautiful that Joshua in no way considered himself essential to victory. The thought of his own absence did not so much as begin to obscure his faith in the sufficiency of God’s presence. The triumphs of the Church in our day have all been of the Lord. No individual servant of God is a necessity. True faith dwells altogether above men, resting only in God.



I. The Lord’s gift of rest in spite of great difficulties. The bondage in Egypt; the pursuing Egyptians, and the confronting sea; the swellings of Jordan; the enemies within the land itself: under Divine leading, and before Divine power, all these hindrances were as nothing. So far from preventing the gift of rest, they only exalted it. They became, as it were, the emphasis of the rest. Witness the after songs of peace which these conflicts only served to provoke. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

II. The Lord’s gift of rest, notwithstanding many sins. Sin in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in Canaan. Sin in the leaders of Israel, as by Moses and Aaron. Sin among the people: prominent sins, as at the return of the spies, as by Korah, Zimri, and Achan; secret and unrecorded sins. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

III. The Lord’s gift of rest unto Israel.

1. Rest given to the children of many promises. See the covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

2. Rest given to a people whom God sought to make a praise in the earth. The Lord was preparing them to sing, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.”

3. Rest given to the people of God as a witness against idolatry. The penalties of sin are to forfeit everything worth keeping, and to inherit only desolation and pain. The reward of serving God is to be made heirs of God.

4. Rest given to the people of God, but given only in instalments. All the enemies were not yet subdued; if Israel only kept the faith, they would be. If the people served Jehovah truly on earth, Canaan would be merely the portico to heaven. He who serves the Lord faithfully may always say, “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” The children of the King of kings ever have some estate in possession, and much in reversion.

IV. The Lord’s gift of rest to Israel the prediction and beginning of a higher rest to be offered to all the world. God began to teach the world in one place. Israel was only a concentrated view of mercy which God was ready to offer to all men. Canaan was never intended to be other than God’s preface to a Christian world. Local blessing stands here as a preamble to the epistle of God’s universal love. Canaan was God’s preparation for Calvary, and Israel did but make way for the fulness of the Gentiles. The rest of God was never meant to rest.


“The pious solicitude of Joshua is here set forth, for the imitation of all who are in authority. For as the father of a family will not be considered sufficiently provident if he thinks of his children only till the end of his own life, and does not extend his care farther, studying as much as in him lies to do them good even when he is dead; so good magistrates and rulers ought carefully to provide that the well-arranged condition of affairs, as they leave them, be confirmed and prolonged to a distant period. For this reason Peter writes (1 Peter 1:25), that he will endeavour after he has departed out of the world to keep the Church in remembrance of his admonitions, and able to derive benefit from them.”—[Calvin.]


I. Men may seem to hold the sword, but it is ever God who fights against the enemies of truth. The Israelites were simply instruments in the Divine chastisement of idolaters. This is continuously insisted on throughout the book. It is the same in many other instances. The overthrow of Tyre, Nineveh, Jerusalem, and other places, let the instruments vary as they may, is spoken of as God’s punishment of transgression. Thus also a godly man of the last generation said of his trials, “My sins are reappearing to me in the form of men.”

II. Men may seem to win prowess, but in all true victories the battle is the Lord’s.

1. The Lord is He who really fights. “The Lord your God is He that hath fought.”

2. The Lord’s fighting is for His people. “He hath fought for you.”

3. The Lord’s fighting is for the truth, that through it many may become His people indeed.

III. Men may seek praise for themselves, or give glory to the Lord, but only he who honours God is really exalted. Joshua has come to far more exaltation through his humility than could ever have been possible through a foolish vanity. It is ever thus. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” If that is God’s word, it is also man’s resolute dogma. Many men are weak enough to be vain; no man will tolerate foolish conceit outside of his own heart. This history shews us that:

1. Temptations to self-glorying are numerous.

2. Inducements to praise God are more numerous.

3. To give glory sincerely to the Lord is to receive lasting honour from men.


I. The Lord’s work affording a glorious retrospect. What has been done, He has done. “Ye have seen all,” etc. (Joshua 23:3).

II. The Lord’s work the foundation of all that seems done by men. “I have not fought, but He.” “I have divided unto you, but I have done even that by the guidance of the Lord’s lot,” God had been both power and light.

III. The Lord’s work the only hope for the future.

1. In the casting out of enemies. “He shall expel them.”

2. In the possession of an undisturbed inheritance. “As the Lord your God hath promised you.”

Verses 6-10


Joshua 23:7. That ye come not among these nations] They were not to form with the Canaanites any civil or social alliances. The word rendered “come” indicates close and familiar intercourse. Neither make mention, etc.] “Four different expressions are used to describe idolatry.

(1.) Hiz’ kîr v’shçm elohim, to make mention of the name of their gods, in such a manner that he who mentions them gives himself up to them, approaches them with love, i.e., to mention them with admiration. Hiz’ kîr does not mean to praise, as is evident from Exodus 23:13; see also Psalms 20:8 (Joshua 23:7, E.V.), and Hengstenberg’s notes on that passage.

(2.) Lo thash’biu, not to cause to swear by the gods of the Canaanites. Swearing and causing to swear by a god were in ordinary life the most frequent evidence of belief in that god, and therefore the law was enforced, that the name of Jehovah was to be the only one by which they swore (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20).

(3.) ’Avad, to serve them, colors; and

(4.) hish’tach’veh, to worship, are distinguished from each other in this way: the former expresses rather the external worship by sacrifice; the latter, calling upon God from the heart. The two words are frequently connected together. They are so in the original passage, Exodus 20:5; see also Exodus 23:24; Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 8:19; Deuteronomy 30:17, etc.” [Keil.]



Joshua, who had so often personally led the Israelites to victory, here shews them how they may attain like triumphs after he is gone. The aged general, who is about to go the way of all the earth, tells out the secret of his many triumphs ere he departs. This secret of victory holds good on every field where men can be found fighting for truth and for God.
Taking Joshua’s words in the order given, the leading thoughts which they contain may be thus stated:

I. There can be no holiness without courage. “Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written.” Unless they were courageous they would fail both in keeping and in doing. Nor would an ordinary courage suffice; they must be very courageous.

1. Men need to be very courageous to constantly resist temptation. A little courage will do to keep some of the things that are written. Ordinary fortitude will do for easy occasions. There are multitudes who can keep ever so many things on Sunday, when in God’s house, and among God’s people; and yet, at other times, they utterly fail.

2. Men need to be very courageous to steadily confess their love to God. Some people treat confession as a thing to be attended to once in a lifetime. They confess their love to Christ when they join His Church, and then they seem to suppose that they have done with this matter of confession altogether. Some think confession a matter for the grand occasions of life. They admire the firmness which led Daniel to the lions’ den, and readily applaud the fidelity of the three Hebrews on the plain of Dura. They believe thoroughly in the heroism recorded in the history of the martyrs. And yet these same admirers of the martyrs fail to be faithful in the small matters of their own daily temptations. We are not to think such men hypocritical and dishonest. Probably many of them would have had courage enough for martyrdom themselves. The simple truth is this: for many temperaments, it needs a better courage to acknowledge Christ daily, than to die for Christ in martyrdom.

3. Men need to be very courageous to do the things of God with an even and a holy mind. Many persons are spasmodic in their zeal. At times they have all the boldness of Peter before the Sanhedrim; at other times they are as weak as Peter before the servants of the high priest. What God asks of us is a boldness which is calm enough to ignore parade and to forget shame.

4. Did men but see things as they are, it would need far more courage to sin than to be holy. These words do but address themselves to the common feeling of men. It is the transgressor who most needs to be very courageous. Holiness is man’s act of sheltering himself behind an arm which can never fail; sin is man’s act of fleeing before the scoff of his weak fellow to defy the Omnipotent.

II. There can be no cleaving to God without holiness. “Turn not aside … come not among these nations … but cleave unto the Lord your God.” A man cannot turn aside and at the same time cleave to God. No man can commune with his idols and also with Jehovah. It is said of some that “they feared the Lord and served their own gods;” that is possible, but it is not possible for any one to cleave to the Lord and serve his own gods. There is all the difference in the world between that “fearing” and this “cleaving.”

1. Every man may cleave to God. These are words addressed to all Israel. There was no man in the host who might not have this high honour and this perpetual joy. It is very marvellous to read in the Gospels of the Son of God, “And He took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town.” What a picture is that! It is omnipotence leading infirmity! It is perfect purity conducting embodied sin! It is God in His veiled glory, hand in hand with man in his manifest wretchedness! That is no exceptional representation of Divine condescension. Here are words which are addressed to a nation, and through that nation to a world in all its succeeding generations, and these words put before us all the possibility of this exalted union. They say to every man, You too may cleave unto the Lord your God.

2. No man can cleave unto God and also unto sin. When Jesus leads the blind, it is that they may be blind no longer. When God bids us cleave unto Himself, it is that we may let go all things which are not according to His will.

3. He who would cleave unto God well, should think much on God’s abundant mercy and help (Joshua 23:9). The faithful man always has a faithful God. Joshua was able to commend the people in their past relation to God (Joshua 23:8); that being so, it followed, as a matter of course, that he could speak with joy of God’s past relation to His people. He who has endeavoured faithfully to do his little things for God will never want occasion to sing, “The Lord hath done great things for me, whereof I am glad.” And then, God’s gracious past helps the faithful man’s future. “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore under the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.” A holy life ever becomes full of encouragements to holiness. It is sin that makes such facilities for sinning. The iniquity of a man’s heels “compasses him about;” the piety of a man compasses him about no less.

III. There can be no victory without cleaving to God. “One man of you shall chase a thousand; for the Lord your God, He it is that fighteth for you, as He hath promised you.” The help of God is for the man who cleaves to God. Without God, no man can prevail. His very victories become defeats. No matter how few or weak the foes, or what may be the field, he who fights without God must fail. With God one man may chase a thousand. Elisha led the army of the king of Syria whithersoever he would (2 Kings 6:8-23). Peter, with God’s angel to help, was more than the four quarternions of soldiers who sought to keep him. Paul and Silas, with their feet made fast in the stocks, sang till their bondage melted into liberty, and they presently found their oppressors turned into suppliants. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”



I. Every man should be acquainted with that which is written. The Bible claims the attention of every living man who has heard of it. Any man who wilfully neglects to make himself acquainted with it is entitled to small respect from his fellow-men.

1. The Scriptures are the greatest moral and social force that the world has ever known.

2. The influence of the Scriptures, while so mighty, has ever been for good.

3. The intrinsic character of the Scriptures is another claim on our attention which should not be resisted. For these and other reasons of a similar character, every one should at least acquaint himself thoroughly with the Bible. Some of the most notorious infidels of the last generation acknowledge that they had hardly read the Bible at all. A man’s self-respect has its claims, and this acquaintance with the Scriptures is a very important claim, even in this direction.

II. No man should act partially with that which is written. Men stand in an important relation to all that is written in the book. Many people deal with the Bible as they would with the multiplied dishes of a sumptuous dinner; they choose what they prefer, and leave the rest. They think themselves under no kind of obligation to take aught but what is agreeable.

1. Men choose promises, and leave the precepts.

2. Men choose among the precepts themselves.

3. Men choose as to the traits of the revealed character of God.

4. Men choose among Scripture doctrines. The Bible stands or falls as a whole. No man can pick and choose among the laws of his country. No man has liberty to leave some laws unkept, and to say: “I make an exception in the matter of theft, in the matter of impurity, or on the question of murder.” A man must be either a citizen or an outlaw. Law is binding all round. He who looks for law to keep himself and his family is a debtor to do the whole law of his country. So the things written in the book of the law of God are all obligatory. Heaven is very merciful to pardon sin, but not to permit determinate rebellion in anything. Heaven also says: “You must be outlaw or citizen.”

III. All men need courage before that which is written.

1. It needs courage to keep that which is written. Courage before scoffers. Courage as to conventional proprieties and customs. Courage under disappointments.

2. It needs courage to do that which is written. Courage to be faithful in times of great importance. Courage to be faithful in that which is least.

3. It needs courage to keep straight on. We are to turn neither to the right hand nor to the left. The things which are written ask for progress. They ask, also, for undeviating progress.

4. It needs most courage of all to reject that which is written. Men are only able to reject what is written by ceasing to think on the things with which the writings deal. Few people would be able to sin much and at the same time think carefully. A man who turns from God has need to make himself both blind and deaf to some things.


“Have no civil or social contracts with them (see Joshua 23:12), as these will infallibly lead to spiritual affinities, in consequence of which you will make honourable mention of the name of their gods, swear by them as the judges of your motives and actions, serve them in their abominable rites, and bow yourselves unto them as your creators and preservers; thus giving the whole worship of God to idols: and all this will follow from simply coming among them. He who walks in the counsel of the ungodly will soon stand in the way of sinners, and shortly sit in the seat of the scornful. ‘No man rises to the highest stages of iniquity but by degrees.’ Nero himself, under the instructions of Seneca was a promising youth.”—[A. Clarke, LL.D.]

“Bad men will be as the heathen were for the Israelites, a trap and a snare, and a scourge in the sides, and thorns in the eyes for those who live in intercourse with them.”—[Fay.]


I. Cleave unto God because you have long done so already (Joshua 23:8).

1. The obligation arising from known liberty and possibility. All the past says that you may so cleave. The past says that you can cleave to God. It is no speculation. There is no excuse on the side of fear as to acceptance. There is no excuse in the direction of insufficient strength.

2. The obligation of continued necessity. All the old reasons for cleaving to Him are still in force. New reasons have been continually added.

3. The obligation of consistency. No man should lightly make his life into a series of grave contradictions.

4. The obligation of not hindering others. The past days of cleaving to God may have led others to God. Turning back would hinder them.

II. Cleave unto God because you have not cleaved to Him in vain (Joshua 23:9).

1. God has given His help irrespective of personal merit. “The Lord hath driven out from before you.” You who sinned so often in the wilderness. You who had an Achan among you. You who have been so slow to go up and possess the land.

2. God has helped notwithstanding mighty enemies. He hath driven out from before you “great nations and strong.”

3. God’s help has never yet, ailed you. “No man hath been able to stand before you unto this day.”

III. Cleave unto God because you will yet need God.

1. A man’s enemies may yet be against him as a thousand to one. No man can predict his future. No man knows the relation of others to him in the future.

2. God’s help is equal to any emergencies. If necessary, cleaving to Him, “one man shall chase a thousand.” We do not know the future; let it be enough that we know the power and love of God.

3. God’s help is promised. There is no question about the sufficiency of that help; neither is there any question about its being given to the man who cleaves unto the Lord. History guarantees the sufficiency of Divine power; the everlasting covenant, added to history, pledges the constancy of Divine love.

Verses 11-16


Joshua 23:11. Take good heed therefore unto yourselves] Marg., “unto your souls.” “Take heed with all your soul;” so Winer and Ges., quoted by Keil, who adds, The form is used “for the sake of emphasis, to denote that inward vigilance which comes from the soul.”

Joshua 23:12. Make marriages with them] The same sense is conveyed by the Heb. in Joshua 23:7.

Joshua 23:13. Snares … traps … scourges … thorns] cf. passages in margin. The threatenings have a kind of cumulative force. The energy of the warnings here is the measure of the pathos in the entreaty of Joshua 23:8-11.

Joshua 23:14. Behold, this day] A similar use of hayyom, “this day,” occurs in Deuteronomy 9:1, where the phrase is also employed to denote, not this day actually, but an early day or time.



Life, look upon it in what sphere we may, seems to have conflict for its inevitable condition. Sometimes life in one form preys upon life in another form. Everywhere, life has some foes that wait around it to work it harm—some influences by which it is ever being drawn unto death. There are also sustaining and restoring forces which are placed around life in every sphere. These verses present us with a picture of human life as it stands in contact with things that tend both to its preservation and destruction. Socially, nationally, and spiritually, human life is here shewn in possible contact with things which help it, and with things which destroy it.

I. The restraining power of love to God (Joshua 23:11). Love to God keeps men from “going back” to the influences which work death. The way of love to God is the way of life in God.

1. Love to God places a man higher in life than any other influence. He who lives in the love of God, lives far above all his fellows who want this love, let them dwell where they may. Love to God leads a man into a healthy region where life is ever strong, and where it takes on its noblest forms. The ideal of the ancient Romans was power. To them, to be mighty was to live. The ideal of the Greeks was beauty and wisdom. The Greek thought he lived most nobly when he dwelt amidst the most beautiful things which art could devise, and there talked philosophy. The modern English ideal seems to be riches. “Give me wealth,” says the Englishman; “it has a vast purchasing power over almost everything: to be rich is to live indeed.” The Bible ideal of life is love. Power may be pleasant, wisdom and beauty may be fascinating, and riches may help the soul, even within a few hours of death, to say, “Take thine ease; thou hast much goods laid up for many years;” yet life is not in these. A greater than these is love.

2. Love to God is life in a positive form, while mere obedience to God is hardly more than keeping from things which work death. Obedience submits to the voice which cries, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me;” Love responds, “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!” Before the proclamation, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” Obedience just refrains from sculpture; but Love rejoins, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.” Obedience declines to take the name of the Lord God in vain; Love exclaims, “The desire of our soul is to Thy name;” “There is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we may be saved.” Obedience refuses to break the Sabbath; Love says, “I call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord, honourable.” Thus it is with the whole of the law. Love is the very soul of the commandments: it is the life thereof. Kept in the letter, they are mere tables of stone—cold, frigid, and unseemly; kept in love, they are a living power, filled with the beauty of the love which animates them.

3. Love to God leads to God who is the source of life. Love of country, even in the traveller, presently turns his steps towards his native land. Love of father and mother quickens the steps of the schoolboy on his way towards home. The man who loves God will seek to come to God.

4. Love to God makes him who loves like God. The man who loves letters gets presently a literary look. The farmer gets an agricultural appearance. Family likeness may be sometimes partly owing to family love. So they who gaze admiringly on God are “changed into His image.” When inspired Jude would have his brethren be found separate from evil-doers, he said, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” So when Joshua would restrain his people from fellowship with idolaters, he says, similarly, “Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God.”

II. The destroying power of corrupt society (Joshua 23:12-13). If the Israelites entered into close intercourse with the wicked, the wicked would vex them with many forms of pain, and ultimately cause them to perish from off the good land which the Lord their God had given them.

1. Corrupt society is insidious in its attractions. It has “snares and traps.” True, it has also “scourges” for the sides, and “thorns” for the eyes; but as the significant order of the text, so is the ingenious cruelty of the process: the snares and traps are placed first, and not till the victim is secure come the scourges and the thorns. Corrupt men lead the pure away stealthily; they instinctively conceal their worst things, reveal their best, and thus draw their prey onward. The very virtues of the pure sometimes help in the work of destruction. “Charity thinketh no evil,” and the innocent man is tempted to say of his seducers, “These men have been unfairly spoken of; they are better than report stated.” Time, too, is on the side of decay.

2. Corrupt society has, for many, a fascinating influence. It plies them in their weakest places. It consults their peculiar appetites. In its various and bountiful cruelty it holds the cup of water to the thirsty, gives bread to the hungry, has wine for the intemperate, and a feast of fat things for the glutton. With its thousand influences of seductive battery it plies hard every gate of the senses.

3. Corrupt society is hard to escape from. Its “snares” draw very closely into fast knots, and its “traps” lock upon their prey as the jaws spring together.

4. Corrupt society works corruption, and death through corruption. In some forms of disease, the body seems mercifully to die first, and afterwards to decay. In other diseases corruption is a part of the process of dying. The latter is ever the dreadful form in which the soul goes down to its grave. Woful indeed is the cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Happy is he who can add, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Sometimes, even amid the wretchedness of this spiritual decay, a man flatters himself that he is still vigorous and healthy. The secret of the mistake may be found in the appropriately loathsome image of Burke, “Corruption breeds new forms of life.” There is in every realm of creation a life that worketh death, and such too is the life in which the corrupt mind finds enough to satisfy it that it is “not dead yet.”

III. The stimulating power of grateful recollections (Joshua 23:14).

1. The Israelites were to remember the good example of a faithful man. Joshua had led them in patience, and wisdom, and courage, and holiness. He was now going the way of all the earth; but he, being dead, might yet be found speaking helpfully.

2. They were to remember that God had fulfilled every good word of His promises. Not one promise had failed. They knew that in their own souls; they might know it also in their many possessions. God ever encourages His people by the faithfulness of some of their fellows, and always by His own faithfulness.

IV. The fatal power of Divine anger (Joshua 23:16). Before that, said Joshua, “Ye shall perish quickly.” As the beauty of God’s love, so is the terribleness of God’s anger.

1. The anger of God in no way reflects upon His holiness. All government supposes the punishment of evil-doers. Divine anger is not an impulsive passion, but the calm exercise of justice upon transgressors for the sake of all men.

2. The anger of God is not inconsistent with His mercy. There are instances in which righteousness demands anger. Thus it is said that “one of the late Dr. Spencer’s parishioners in Brooklyn met him hurriedly urging his way down the street one day; his lip was set, and there was something strange in that gray eye. ‘How are you to-day, doctor?’ asked the parishioner, pleasantly. He waked as from a dream, and replied soberly, ‘I am mad!’ It was a new word for a mild, true-hearted Christian; but he waited, and with a deep earnest voice went on, ‘I found a widow standing by her goods which were thrown into the street; she could not pay the month’s rent; the landlord turned her out; and one of her children is going to die; and that man is a member of the Church. I told her to take her things back again. I am on my way to see him.’ ” So mercy and anger dwelt together in the heart of Him who drove the traders out of the temple with a scourge of small cords, and wept over the city in its guilt and coming doom.

3. The anger of God is necessary to His mercy. If the anger could not be righteous, the mercy could not be real. If God’s anger towards the wicked were not right, He would be bound to pardon everybody. When pardon is compulsory, it is no longer mercy. If the idea of mercy is true, the possibility of anger must be true also. Mercy is a beautiful flower growing up from the very soil of righteous anger, and you cannot take away the ground in which the flower grows without removing the flower too. Mercy is a glorious picture, painted by the love of Christ upon the groundwork of justice in the punishment of sin, and he who destroys the canvas must not murmur when he finds that the picture has vanished.

4. The anger of God is real, and terrible in its results. When it is kindled against men, they quickly perish from off the good land where mercy loved to see them dwell. That is always the spirit of the Scripture representation.



Some persons regard love as entirely spontaneous. Admitting that a wrong affection may be held in check, they assume also that love cannot be created, and that it is free from the control of the will. If that were true, while it might be sinful to love wrong objects, it would no longer be sinful to fail to love right objects. This is not the teaching of the Bible: that not only says, ‘Love not the world;’ it also bids us love God with all our hearts, love one another, and further says to us, ‘Set your affections on things above.’ Any metaphysical difficulty in obeying these commands will ever disappear before practical and earnest piety. He who guards himself from all love that is wrong, will find little difficulty in obeying the Scripture admonition to love that which is right. This verse suggests the following considerations:—

I. Men are commanded to watch their affections. ‘Take good heed,’ etc.

II. Men are commanded to control their affections. They are to set them on right objects.

III. Men are commanded to set their affections upon God. ‘Love the Lord your God.’ These commands are given in view of the fact that God ever helps the man who sincerely seeks the way of righteousness.


Every healthy mind seeks other minds with which it can have fellowship. It is only the morbid disposition that cries often for ‘a lodge in some vast wilderness.’ Companions are a necessity. God’s word recognises the necessity, but bids us choose our associates carefully.

I. Wicked companions make a man satisfied with a heart of unbelief. It would be very difficult for any Israelite to worship idols, if every one around him worshipped God. It would be very hard work for any wicked man to continue an unbeliever in Jesus Christ now, if he were the only unbeliever. A man should sometimes ask himself, “How should I feel if I were the only unbeliever in my family?—in my town or parish?—in England?—in the world?” Robinson Crusoe’s lot provokes pity. This spiritual isolation would be far more pitiable, and far more unendurable. There are probably few, even of the boldest infidels, who could bear to be the only infidel in the world. Yet it is not difficult to think of a man as able to endure the thought of cleaving to Christ with a holy joy, even though every one else rejected Christ. Every unbelieving man is responsible for the countenance which his example is giving to others. The fellowship of holy men is a great power for good; the fellowship of the wicked is no less a power for evil.

II. Wicked companions make others partakers of their wickedness. Idolatrous Canaanites would make idolatrous Israelites.

1. There is the law of assimilation. Where life is the stronger force, it builds itself up into yet more strength by feeding on surrounding matter, and by making that a part of itself. But often disease and decay overcome life, and assimilate it to their condition. Infection and contagion are parts of the process of assimilation. So a man becomes like his companions, the weaker man succumbing to the stronger. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but the companion of fools shall be destroyed.” A man may say, “I do not believe that it will be so in my case.” But his belief does not matter; the operation of the law is no more affected by the man’s opinion of the law, than yeast is affected by a man’s faith or unbelief in its power to leaven the whole lump into which it is put. This law works on silently and slowly, but surely; and, like other laws, it takes small heed of a man’s opinion about its power. With fools, means like fools, whether a man believes it or not. With idolaters, means idolatry.

2. There is also to be taken into account the habit of imitation. Men everywhere practise it unconsciously. More than this; such imitators usually copy the worst features most strongly. “Paint me as I am, blotches and all,” said Oliver Cromwell to his artist. Thus, in unconscious imitation, men continually reproduce others, and, so far from omitting the blotches, they usually magnify them in the process.

3. The influence of food should not be forgotten in its bearing upon this subject. In a measure, a man’s physical nature is made by what he eats and drinks. Companions are the food of a man’s social nature, and, to some extent, here also, as the food so the man. In his book on “The Origin of Civilisation and the Primitive Condition of Mankind,” Sir John Lubbock gives several curious illustrations of the ludicrous beliefs which the natives of some countries have in respect to food. “The Malays at Singapore give a large price for the flesh of a tiger, not because they like it, but because they believe that the man who eats tiger acquires the sagacity as well as the courage of that animal.” Thus, too, the Dyaks of Borneo are said to shun the flesh of the deer, lest they should become timid; the Caribs reject the flesh of pigs and tortoises, that they may not have small eyes; and the Arabs ascribe the passionate and revengeful character of their countrymen to the use of camel’s flesh. It is further said that “the New Zealanders, after baptizing an infant, used to make it swallow pebbles, so that its heart might be hard and incapable of pity.” All this proceeds on the assumption that a man’s physical food affects his moral qualities, which, while true in some aspects, is absurd in the manner stated. A man’s moral food, however, will certainly affect his moral nature. He who socially feeds on idolatry will become an idolater. He who walks in the counsels of the ungodly will presently occupy the seat of the scorner, as one belonging to himself.

4. All history confirms the truth of these observations. Different nations are marked by distinct traits of character. The names of Greece and Rome represent literature. Turks are known as idle and cruel, Russians as ambitious and cruel, the Spanish as proud, the French as polite, and the Scotch as patriotic. One man in a nation has influenced another, some features have become predominant, and thus a distinctive character has been given to the world’s separated tribes and peoples. Thus, too, there have been distinctive ages: an age of painting, an age of letters, an age of religious persecution, and ages when these things were out of fashion, and something else was more popular. It is worth while, also, to note how many Calvinists have Calvinistic children, and how many Arminians find their offspring holding Arminian views. The children of Episcopalians attach themselves, for the most part, to the Church of their fathers; while in the families of Wesleyans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and the like, the sect also descends from the father to the child. Creeds are hereditary, not so much because of the character of the creed, but because a man becomes like those who are about him to form his character. With so much history to teach him, no man can afford to neglect the warning given in these verses. He who would not become an idolater must shun idolaters.

III. Wicked companions destroy all that remains of a man’s better feelings and desires.

1. Good things are neglected, and neglect works death. A limb unused would soon become useless. An unexercised faculty dies out. So it is in a man’s soul: “From him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

2. Men get used to evil things, and the evil things destroy the good. It is said that a prisoner who had been confined for many years in the Bastile, when liberated, cried like a child to be taken back again to the old solitude and darkness with which he had become familiar. Men may get used to strange things. The idolater presently finds his idolatry far more agreeable than the worship of God. A man may get used to no prayer, no Bible, no story of the cross, and no Saviour. It is terrible to think that it is possible to be “without hope and without God in the world,” and to be so reconciled to that dreadful condition as to wish for no alteration.

Joshua 23:14 a—THE WAY OF ALL THE EARTH.

I. Death in its certainty. This is a universal way. The exceptions of Enoch and Elijah do but lay emphasis on the rule.

II. Death in its variety. Death has many ministers and forms. It is met in various moods. It has vastly different issues.

III. Death in its conscious nearness. “This day I am going,” etc. That is to say, “I am going soon: I feel it.” The hour of departure is often known to be at hand.


I. The words of the Lord are good words. “All the good things which the Lord your God spake.”

II. The words of the Lord are wrought cut gradually. The war itself had taken several years. Many years had elapsed since the first promises were made to Abraham.

III. The words of the Lord are every one fulfilled. “Not one thing hath failed of all the good things.”

IV. The words of the Lord are fulfilled to the satisfying of the heart and soul. “Ye know in all your hearts,” etc. It is much to satisfy a man’s mind, and to prevent all occasion of actual complaint. It is far more to satisfy the heart. The heart in its sanguine hopefulness ever puts large meanings to words of promise. God meets our highest hopes. He not only silences objections; “He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.”


I. The certainty of Divine promises is to be taken as an assurance of the certainty of Divine threatenings. The argument is: “As all good things, so all evil things.”

1. Fidelity to words sometimes fails from want of power to fulfil words. Men promise to-day, and to-morrow their power to discharge their promise is taken from them by unforeseen circumstances. Men threaten, it may be quite righteously, but become unable to fulfil their threat. This cannot be so with God.

2. Fidelity to words sometimes fails because of short-sightedness in the use of words. Men use words of which they do not see all the meanings. This can never be so with God.

3. Fidelity to words sometimes fails from a conscientious change of mind. What Saul might have promised the high priest when he desired of him letters to Damascus, he might have felt it wicked to fulfil after that eventful journoy had been taken. God can never change His mind about the righteousness of either His threats or His promises.

4. Absolute fidelity to words is irrespective of the nature of the words. Man’s weakness, or short-sightedness, or his changed views, might afford him some excuse for not keeping his words; but, for all that, an unkept word is a broken word. It is no part of the question of fidelity that words be about “good things” or “evil things”—that they be promises or threatenings. Hence this same argument is sometimes used in an inverted form (cf. Jeremiah 31:28; Jeremiah 32:42). God may choose to pardon, if He will, just as any father might withdraw his word and forgive an offending child; but, as a rule, it is here asserted that as God is true to His promises of good things, so He is true in His promises of evil things.

II. The bearing of this truth on our religious faith and life.

1. No present prosperity should be taken as an essential earnest of permanent prosperity. God tries men with His good things to see how they will use them. If they are abused, He will take them away. The riches of Dives here, can give no security against the poverty of Dives hereafter. Purple and fine linen may be only for a time. Sumptuous fare to-day is no pledge that there may not be agony for a drop of water presently.

2. The dark side of the Bible is as true as the bright side. The faith of many people has in it real promises and empty threatenings, a real heaven and a fabulous hell, real redeemed and scarecrow lost, real angels and more than spectral fiends, a real Christ and a mythical devil. God Himself is held to be real on the side of mercy and gentleness and love, and unreal on the side of every sterner quality. If all this be so indeed, the half of the Bible that is untrue renders the half that is true too poor for either respect or hope.

3. Every fulfilled promise of God should become to us a warning. The good things in which He has faithfully kept His word should preach to us of the evil things in which He will also be true. These are very gentle lips which thus solemnly proclaim “wrath to come” against the ungodly. The very tenderness of the tones ought to have, to every unbelieving man, the solemn emphasis of truth. When a mother threatens a child sotto voce, while tears of love stream down her face, it is time for the child to repent. So when God sets mercy to preach wrath, and bids His “good things” assure the wicked of His “evil things,” it is time to believe indeed.

4. The measure of man’s hope should become, also, the measure of his fear. There are many who are not Christians who admire the faith and enthusiasm of the Church. The hymns of the Church are not seldom the admiration of many who make no claim whatever of belonging unto Christ. All the joy in which men legitimately hope for heaven as the home of the righteous is preaching the certainty of the sorrow which awaits the ungodly.


God was seeking to make the Israelites into a nation which should be separate from all the nations of the earth. He would fashion these children of Abraham into children of God. Mark the process. God assumes that His people will be faithful. He does not prove them before He blesses them. He treats them as a peculiar people already, in order to make them peculiar. He foresees their coming unfaithfulness, but He does not, even on that account, withhold His good gifts. He still gives the good land, with all its accompanying mercies, and does but warn His people that the gifts are conditional. In view of this spirit, the following thoughts may be expanded and illustrated:

I. God proposes to make men His children by treating them as His children.

II. God the Father gives to men abundantly in the present, that He may prepare them to enjoy the still more abundant mercy of the future.

III. To repudiate God’s fatherhood, and to ignore the purpose of His fatherly gifts, is to be cut off from the joys of childhood altogether.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Joshua 23". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.