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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 23

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



How natural it is that this wonderful book should be concluded with the personal farewell of the great commander who had led Israel in all of the great battles that delivered the Promised Land to the children of Israel. This was the way in which Moses concluded his Five Books, and we are not surprised that Joshua elected to close his in the same manner.

Verses 1-3

“And it came to pass after many days, when Jehovah had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, and Joshua was old and well stricken in years; that Joshua called for all Israel and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and said unto them, I am old and well stricken in years: and ye have seen all that Jehovah your God hath done unto all those nations because of you; for Jehovah your God, he it is that fought for you.”

As a fitting prologue to what Joshua would say, these verses call attention to the displacement of the Canaanites in order for the Chosen People to possess the land. Appropriately, Joshua reminded them that it had not been the Israelites who had won all of those battles; it was the work of God. “He it is that fought for you!” How easy it is for men, or nations, to forget the special blessings of God which entered into their success and prosperity. The later history of Israel proved that they needed this exhortation.

Verses 4-8

“Behold, I have allotted to you these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, even unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun. And Jehovah your God, he will thrust them out from before you, and drive them from out of your sight; and ye shall possess their land, as Jehovah your God spake unto you. Therefore be ye very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left; that ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow down yourselves to them; but cleave unto Jehovah your God, as ye have done unto this day.”

It is apparent at once that much of this address is composed of “reminiscences from the Pentateuch, especially from the Book of Deuteronomy.”(F1) The chief burden of Joshua’s thoughts is the faithfulness of Israel. During the closing years of Joshua’s life, he became increasingly aware, “of Israel’s growing complacency and their tendency to compromise with the heathen.”(F2) Some of the heathen had already been put to taskwork, thus becoming vassals to Israel, and that was a source of wealth that added new power to the temptation to allow the “nations” a place among God’s people.

The powerful exhortations of this farewell message came at a time when, “The Israelite takeover of Canaan was far from complete, but hostilities had pretty much ceased, and Joshua had grown old.”(F3)

Joshua 23:6 begins the list of the responsibility of Israel as follows:

(1) She had to keep the Law of Moses. Note that that law is written “in a book,” which is a clear and undeniable reference to the Pentateuch, i.e., the Five Books of Moses.

(2) She had to keep herself separate from the idolatrous Canaanites, and especially not to intermarry among them.

(3) She was required to be loyal to the Lord (Joshua 23:8).

(4) She had to love the Lord (Joshua 23:11).

These warnings were desperately needed by Israel, and, appearing here, in this final message of Joshua, “They provide an ominous foreshadowing of the period following the death of Joshua. Israel was actually threatened with virtual extinction (Joshua 23:15).”(F4) The reverses, that later came to Israel were not an indication of the Lord’s inability to help them, but, “They were judgments on the rebelliousness of his people.”(F5)

Verses 9-11

“For Jehovah hath driven out from before you great nations and strong: but as for you, no man hath stood before you unto this day. One man of you shall chase a thousand; for Jehovah your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he spake unto you. Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love Jehovah your God.”

Israel must not get the idea that their victories have resulted from their OWN ability. It is God alone who has delivered the enemy into Israel’s hands. Some later versions change the verbs here to past tense, “One of you chased a thousand… etc.” However, it is the future that is stressed here, showing that Israel need have no fear whatever of victory, provided only that they would be faithful to the Lord.

Verses 12-13

“Else if you do at all go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you; know for a certainty that Jehovah your God will no more drive these nations out of your sight; but they shall be a snare and a trap unto you, and a scourge in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which Jehovah your God hath given you.”

These verses indicate that the Promised Land was to belong to Israel only so long as the people were faithful to God. Failing in that faithfulness, God here, through Joshua, promised that Israel should “perish from off this good land.” People who believe that God gave Israel a permanent title to Palestine regardless of what Israel did are grossly mistaken. God actually did dispel Israel from Palestine, and despite the fact that a remnant returned from Babylon, that was only a temporary measure that was necessary until the Messiah should be born. After the birth of Christ Israel (in the secular sense) lost all further right to Palestine, nor do they have any such right today.

Blair pointed out that, “God’s continued help of Israel was contingent on Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant. Apostasy would mean the turning of all the good they had ever known into terrible evil.”(F6)

These terrible words are an exact blueprint of what really happened to Israel. They intermarried with the pagan populations they left remaining in the land. Next, they accepted the worship of those pagan gods; even a king named his son after Baal (1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39). In time, the true worship of God was abandoned altogether, and Israel degenerated into a condition exactly like that of the Canaanites they and displaced. In fact, Hosea (Hosea 12:7) denominates Israel as “a Canaanite.” The word in our version is “trafficker,” but the true meaning of it is “Canaanite!” (See Vol. 2 of my minor prophets commentary, pp. 198, 199.) The result was exactly what was prophesied here: “God REMOVED them from that good land.” Why? They deserved to he removed, no less than the shameful nations God had driven out before them!

Verses 14-16

“And, Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which Jehovah your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, not one thing failed thereof. And it shall come to pass, that as all the good things are come upon you of which Jehovah your God spake unto you, so will Jehovah bring upon you all the evll things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which Jehovah your God hath given you. When ye transgress the covenant of Jehovah your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods, and bow yourselves down to them; then will the anger of Jehovah be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given you.”

The terrible threats of these verses are based upon the words previously spoken by the Lord through Moses (Leviticus 26:14-33; Deuteronomy 28:15-68). It cannot be denied that Israel was repeatedly and effectively warned of the consequence of rebellion against Jehovah. The pity is that these warnings were totally ignored, and the plunge of Israel into idolatry was swift and compile.

Joshua, of course, foresaw the drift of Israel into open apostasy, and, therefore, he arranged a ceremony for the renewal of the covenant following this address to the leaders of Israel, a ceremony with all the qualities of the ancient suzerainty treaties prevalent in the mid-second millennium B.C. The preposterous notion that these final addresses of Joshua were the work of some seventh-century B. C. priest is RIDICULOUS. The knowledge of the exact form of these suzerainty treaties was lost for centuries, and there is no evidence whatever that the priests of Josiah’s time ever heard of it. The elaborate ceremony of the suzerainty treaty closes the Book of Joshua in the following chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 23". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/joshua-23.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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