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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 23

Verse 1

Here we have a narrative of the solemn protestation which Joshua used towards the time of his death, that he might leave the pure worship of God surviving him. But although the peace and quiet which the Israelites obtained among the nations of Canaan is described as an excellent blessing from God, it is necessary to keep in mind what I formerly taught, that it was owing to their cowardice that they dwelt among their enemies, whom it would not have been difficult to rout and destroy. But thanks are justly rendered to God for his goodness in pardoning their ingratitude.

The pious solicitude of Joshua is here also 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, (2 Peter 1:15) (189) that he will endeavor after he has departed out of the world to keep the Church in remembrance of his admonitions, and able to derive benefit from them.

From its being said that he invited all Israel, and its being immediately after added that he invited their elders, and heads, and judges, and prefects, I understand the meaning to be that all were indeed permitted to come, but that the summons was addressed specially to the heads and prefects. And thus the last clause appears to me to be explanatory of the former. And, indeed, it is not at all credible that the whole people were invited; for no such meeting could possibly take place. The sense, therefore, in which the people were invited was simply this, that the elders, judges, and others were commanded to come, and might bring as many persons as were disposed to come along with them.

The speech of Joshua, as quoted, is double; but it appears to me that the historian first, as is often done, gives a brief summary of the whole speech, and then follows it out more in detail, introducing the particulars which he had omitted. (190) In the one which is first given, Joshua briefly animates the people, and exhorts them to sure confidence in the continued and unwearying grace of God. For, seeing they had experienced that God is true in all things, they could have no doubt for the future, that they might safely hope for the same success in vanquishing and destroying the enemy. The partition also by which he had distributed the remainder of the land, he set before them as an earnest or pledge of their undoubted fruition, because it was not at random but by the order of God he had marked out the seat, and fixed the boundaries of each tribe.

(189) The original text had the reference to 2 Peter 1:25, an obvious typesetting error. — fj.

(190) According to this view, the details given in Joshua 23:0 and Joshua 24:0 refer only to one meeting. It may be so, but certainly the impression produced by a simple perusal of the chapters is, that they refer to two distinct meetings, between which some interval of time must have elapsed. It is only by means of labored criticism, accompanied with a degree of straining, that some expositors have arrived at a different conclusion. But why should it be deemed necessary to employ criticism for such a purpose? There is surely no antecedent improbability that Joshua, after all the turmoil’s of war were over, should have more than once come forth from his retirement, and called the heads of the people, or even the whole body of them together to receive his counsels, when he felt that the time of his departure was at hand. Observe, moreover, that each meeting is ushered in by its own appropriate preamble, and has its own special business. In the one, Joshua speaks in his own name, and delivers his own message; in the other, all the tribes are regularly assembled, and are said to have “presented themselves before God,” because, although Joshua was still to be the speaker, he was no longer to speak in his own name, but with the authority of a divine messenger, and in the very terms which had been put into his mouth. Accordingly, the very first words he utters are, “Thus said the Lord God of Israel.” The message thus formally and solemnly announced in Joshua 24:2, is continued verbatim and without interruption to the end of Joshua 24:13. — Ed.

Verse 6

6. Be you therefore very courageous, etc He now shows them the mode of conquering, — not to indulge gross security, as too often happens, as a substitute for genuine confidence. He affirms that God will be propitious to them, and promises that whatever they attempt will turn out prosperously, provided they are steadfast in obeying the Law. However confidently hypocrites may contemn and deride God, they would wish, however, to have him astricted to them; nay, they often, with no small pomposity, boast of his promises. But true faith, while it reclines upon God, keeps those who possess it in his fear. In short, those who would find God must seek him sincerely, and if we desire to be regarded by him, we must beware of turning our backs upon him. The expression, Be you very courageous, as has elsewhere been said, denotes serious study, because in the great weakness of our nature no man will set about the thorough observance of the Law, if he does not exert himself above his strength. Attention ought also to be paid to the definition of true obedience which is here repeated from Moses, (Deuteronomy 5:32) and said to consist in not turning either to the right hand or the left.

Verse 7

7. That you come not among these nations, etc He distinctly admonishes them that it will be impossible rightly to discharge their duty if they be not carefully on their guard against all sources of corruption. This it was very necessary to enforce upon them. For they were surrounded on all sides by the snares of Satan, and we know how great their proneness to superstition was, or rather how headlong their eagerness for it. First, then, he warns them that intimate intercourse with the nations may involve them in fellowship in crime; for the term mingling used in this passage is equivalent to what is termed by St. Paul, being yoked. (2 Corinthians 6:14) In short, he first removes the incitements or allurements to idolatry, and then declares his detestation of idolatry itself. It is to be observed, however, that he does not expressly mention either bending of the knee, or sacrifices, or other rites, but designates all perverse modes of worship by the terms naming them and swearing by them. Whence we infer that God is defrauded of his honor when ever any particle, however small, of all the things which he claims for himself is transferred to idols. He accordingly concludes that they are to adhere to God alone; in other words, they are to be bound to him out and out.

Verse 9

9. For the Lord has driven out from before you, etc He intimates that so long as they do not themselves change, there will certainly be no change on the part of God. Therefore he asserts that, provided they conciliate the favor of God, they shall have an uninterrupted course of victory. At length he again exhorts them, as they value their life and safety, to be careful in maintaining love to God. From this source all true obedience springs; for if we do not cling to him with free and ardent affection, we shall study in vain to frame our lives in accordance with the external form of the Law.

Verse 12

12. Else if you do in any wise go back, etc According to the usual method observed in the Law, he adds threatening, in order that if they are not sufficiently allured by the divine goodness, they may be aroused by fear to the performance of their duty. It is, indeed, disgraceful for men, when God graciously condescends to invite them, not at once to run forward and meet the invitation by prompt and alert obedience; but such is the lethargy of the flesh, that it always requires to be stimulated by threats. Joshua, therefore, adopts the usual method of the Law, while he reminds the Israelites of the terrors of the Lord, provided they do not of their own accord embrace his offered favor. Moreover, it is not once only that, he sets before them the denunciation that the nations of Canaan will be scourges to their sides and thorns in their eyes if they become familiar with them. First, inasmuch as God had consecrated the land to himself, he wished it to be purged of all impurities; and secondly, inasmuch as he saw how prone the people were to be corrupted by bad example, he wished also to provide a remedy for this evil. Then, while on the one hand the people counted it as nothing that the land should be contaminated by impious superstitions, and that idols should be worshipped in it instead of the true God, and on the other hand, eagerly contracted contagion from their vices, it was only a just punishment of this gross contempt that they should experience molestation and hostility from those whom they had improperly (191) spared.

That the threatening which both Moses and Joshua thus denounced were openly accomplished, is but too plain from the Book of Judges. And yet this promulgation of the divine vengeance was not altogether useless; for after Joshua was dead, they became courageous enough to engage in war. Their ardor, however, proved evanescent, (192) and they shortly after were initiated in nefarious Gentile rites. Hence, we perceive in the human mind an intemperate longing for perverse worship, a longing which no curbs are able to restrain.

It is now proper to consider how far this doctrine is applicable to us. It is true a special command was given to the ancient people to destroy the nations of Canaan, and keep aloof from all profane defilement’s. To us, in the present day, no certain region marks out our precise boundaries; nor are we armed with the sword to slay all the ungodly; we have only to beware of allowing ourselves to become involved in fellowship with wickedness, by not keeping at a sufficient distance from it. For it is almost impossible, if we mingle with it, spontaneously to avoid receiving some spot or blemish. But this point having been elsewhere expounded, I now merely advert to it in passing.

(191) Latin, “ Male.” French, “ A tort et contre leur devoir;” “Wrongfully and contrary to their duty.” — Ed.

(192) Latin, “ Verum evanidus fuit fervor ille.” French, “ Mais c’a este un feu de paille comme on dit: car leur ardeur n’a gueres dure;” “But it was a fire of straw, as it is called; for their ardor was not durable.” — Ed.

Verse 14

14. And, behold, this day I am going, etc As it has been appointed unto all men once to die, (Hebrews 9:27) Joshua says that in regard to himself the common end of all is at hand, inasmuch as he, too, was born mortal. These expressions are evidently adapted to console the people, and prevent them from feeling immoderate grief at the bereavement when he should be taken from them. For there cannot be a doubt that his loss filled the people with the deepest regret, when they saw themselves reduced, as it were, to a mutilated trunk, by being deprived of their head. He therefore admonishes them, that since the race of life is ended by having reached the goal, they were not to ask that his condition should be different from that of the whole human race. Meanwhile he does not intimate that the form of dying is the same in all, because the believers of heavenly doctrine are distinguished from unbelievers by an incorruptible seed, not allowing them in like manner to perish, but only adverts to that which is common, namely, departure from the world after the course of life is ended. The substance of his whole address amounts to this, that as God had proved himself true by his favors and the fulfillment of his promises, so his threatening would not be empty or vain, and he would certainly avenge the profanation of his worship by their final destruction. (193)

(193) Latin, “ Ultimo eorum interitu.” French, “ En les destruisant a toute rigeur;” “By destroying them in all rigor,” (without mercy.) — Ed.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 23". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.