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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 23

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes



The main part of the second half of the Book of Joshua, dealing with the division of the land, ends with the appointment of the Levitical cities (chs. 13-21). The rest of the book deals with settlement in the land (chs. 22-24). There is much emphasis in these chapters on the importance of remaining faithful to God (Joshua 22:5; Joshua 22:16; Joshua 22:18-19; Joshua 22:25; Joshua 22:29; Joshua 22:31; Joshua 23:6; Joshua 23:8; Joshua 23:11; Joshua 24:14-16; Joshua 24:18; Joshua 24:21; Joshua 24:23-24). This emphasis grows out of the record of God’s faithfulness that Joshua 21:43-45 affirms.

"Each of the final three chapters describes a single event. At first glance, these events seem to be a random collection of leftovers: a dispute between the tribes about an altar, a farewell address, and another covenant ceremony. However, upon closer examination it becomes apparent that they all focus on a single matter, the proper worship of Israel’s God-how to offer it and what will happen if Israel does not do so." [Note: Hess, p. 287.]

Verses 1-13

1. A reminder of past blessings 23:1-13

Joshua reminded the Israelites of God’s faithfulness in fighting for them and giving them victory over their enemies, as He had promised, if they kept His covenant with them. Joshua urged the people to remain loyal and promised that God would then drive out the Canaanites that still remained in the land (Joshua 23:4-7; Joshua 23:12-13).

"Joshua passed on to Israel the secret of success and prosperity that the Lord had given him at the beginning of the Conquest [Joshua 1:6-7; Joshua 1:9; Joshua 1:18]. God’s promise [concerning occupation of the land] was not unconditional; Israel’s faithfulness was required." [Note: Madvig, p. 362.]

"To make mention of the names of the idols [Joshua 23:7] (Ex. xxiii. 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 [false] forms of divine worship." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 224.]

"For Israel, Yahweh claimed to fulfill all the functions for which other nations needed a multitude of gods. The problem was that Israel could never really come to believe the claim totally. She constantly sought the favors of the gods who had claimed to give fertility to the land long before Israel entered it or the gods who seemed at the moment to have military power." [Note: Butler, p. 255.]

The nation as a whole had been faithful to God during Joshua’s administration. Therefore he did not mention individual sins and failures here. Joshua, as Moses, called the people to love Yahweh as well as obey Him (Joshua 23:11). He also reminded his hearers of the dire consequences of failing to obey God out of love (Joshua 23:12-13).

"If Israel does not do her part, then God will not do his. Here is the danger of freedom. God seeks man’s free response of love. God does his part to deserve and receive such love. God does not force his attentions upon man. But the man who ignores God’s claims finds God’s punishment." [Note: Ibid., p. 256.]

Verses 1-16

B. Joshua’s farewell address to the Israelites ch. 23

Joshua had reached what he believed were the final days of his life. Before he died, he wished to address the whole nation, as Moses had done before his death (Deuteronomy 31). So he assembled all the leaders of the people from every tribe in Israel (Joshua 23:2).

Joshua’s experiences duplicated those of Moses in several particulars. Both men led the Israelites across a body of water. Both met God in a theophany. Both held out their staffs at a crucial time in battle. Both built altars to the Lord. Both gave farewell addresses to the Israelites that were similar in their contents.

"The content [of Joshua’s address here] . . . relates to that of a covenant renewal ceremony, but again in a distinctive manner. The liturgy of covenant renewal has become the sermon of a dying leader." [Note: Butler, p. 253.]

Compare the Book of Deuteronomy, which features Moses’ sermons just before he died. This address consists of two parts. The structure of the two parts is parallel, and the contents are similar.

"Unlike other narrative texts, this one has no specific setting in time or space. It simply connects to Joshua 13:1, when Joshua was old, and Joshua 21:44, when God had given rest. The setting thus marks Israel at the moment she had dreamed of from the Exodus onward (Exodus 33:14). But it also marks the crisis of leadership transition. The message which follows is at the same time one for prosperity, and also for crisis." [Note: Ibid., p. 254.]

Verses 14-16

2. A warning of possible future cursing 23:14-16

In this summary section Joshua concisely restated the main ideas previously expressed in more detail. His warning to the people was strong. God would be just as faithful in sending discipline on His people if they transgressed His covenant as He had been in sending blessing because they had been obedient in the past.

The initial success of the conquest had been due to God’s blessings on His obedient people. The complete extermination of the Canaanites and the Israelites’ full possession and enjoyment of the land would require the same obedience and blessing.

The motive for obedience should be gratitude. Our present obedience, loyalty, and love (Joshua 23:6; Joshua 23:8; Joshua 23:11) should spring naturally from appreciation for God’s faithfulness in the past and confidence in His promises for the future.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joshua 23". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/joshua-23.html. 2012.
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