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III. JOSHUA’S LAST ACTS AND DEATH CHS. 22-24
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.]
1. Preamble 24:1
Shechem was a strategic location for this important ceremony. Joshua called on the Israelites to renew formally their commitment to the Mosaic Covenant at the site that was very motivating to them to do so.
"If you were to put Plymouth Rock and Yorktown and Lexington and Independence Hall together, you would not have what Shechem is to Israel." [Note: Clarence Macartney, The Greatest Texts of the Bible, pp. 74-75.]
At Shechem, God had first appeared to Abraham when he had entered the land and promised to give him the land of Canaan. In response to that promise Abraham built his first altar to Yahweh in the land there (Genesis 12:7). Jacob buried his idols at Shechem after returning to the Promised Land from Paddan-aram. He made this his home and built an altar to Yahweh there (Genesis 33:18-20), and later God moved him to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-4) where he built another altar.
"As Jacob selected Shechem for the sanctification of his house, because this place was already consecrated by Abraham as a sanctuary of God, so Joshua chose the same place for the renewal of the covenant, because this act involved a practical renunciation on the part of Israel of all idolatry." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, pp. 226-27.]
At Shechem the same generation of Israelites that Joshua now addressed had pledged itself to the Mosaic Covenant shortly after it had entered the land (Joshua 8:30-35). They had also built an altar there.
"For the Christian, regular presentation before God in worship is an essential feature of a life of faith (Hebrews 10:25)." [Note: Hess, p. 300.]
C. Israel’s second renewal of the covenant 24:1-28
"Joshua did not merely settle for a series of public admonitions in order to guide Israel after his death. The twenty-fourth chapter describes a formal covenant renewal enacted at the site of Shechem for the purpose of getting a binding commitment on the part of the people of Israel to the written Word of God." [Note: Davis and Whitcomb, pp. 87-88.]
The structure of this covenant renewal speech is similar to the typical Hittite suzerainty treaty. It includes a preamble (Joshua 24:1-2 a), historical prologue (Joshua 24:2-13), stipulations for the vassals with the consequences of disobedience (Joshua 24:14-24), and the writing of the agreement (Joshua 24:25-28).
"Joshua 24 completes the book by giving the theological definition of the people of God. Here we suddenly find highly loaded theological language, defining God and the God-man relationship. This makes the chapter one of the most important chapters in the OT for biblical theologians." [Note: Butler, p. 278.]
2. Historical prologue 24:2-13
Joshua introduced what follows as the words of Yahweh, Israel’s God (Joshua 24:2). Then he reviewed God’s great acts on behalf of His people, going back to the call of Abraham in Mesopotamia.
The "River" (Joshua 24:2) is the Euphrates. Abraham’s family members were idolaters in Mesopotamia, and we may safely assume that Abraham was too. God’s call of Abraham was pure grace; there was nothing in Abraham that resulted in God choosing him for special blessing. Joshua probably mentioned Nahor because Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel descended from him. Two of the nations that had come from Abraham were Israel and Edom (Joshua 24:4).
The Exodus was a second great proof of God’s grace to Israel (Joshua 24:5-7). The provision of Moses and Aaron, as well as the sending of the plagues, were special gifts then. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and her preservation in the wilderness were also highlights of God’s faithfulness during this period of Israel’s history.
God’s third great act for Israel was the Israelites’ victory over the Amorites east of the Jordan (Joshua 24:8-10). God also frustrated Moab’s hostility by turning Balaam’s oracles into blessings.
The fourth divine provision was the crossing of the Jordan River and the consequent victory over the Canaanites (Joshua 24:11-13). God routed Israel’s enemies for her by using various hornet-like terrors (Joshua 24:12; cf. Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20).
In this section of verses (Joshua 24:2-13), God said 17 times "I" did such and such for you. The emphasis is clearly on God’s great acts for Israel.
3. Covenant stipulations 24:14-24
On the basis of God’s great acts for them (Joshua 24:14), Joshua appealed to the Israelites to commit themselves to Him anew (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Though Israel was not as guilty of idolatry at this stage in her history as she was later, this sin existed in the nation to some degree (cf. Leviticus 17:7).
Joshua’s offer to choose the God or gods they would serve (Joshua 24:15) was not, of course, an encouragement to consider the idols as an equally acceptable option. It was simply an oratorical device (i.e., polarization) to help the Israelites distinguish their choices and to make the right alternative more obvious. As a true leader, Joshua announced his commitment, and in so doing encouraged the people to follow his example.
"So we find throughout the entire book of Joshua an emphasis on choice-choice that makes a tremendous difference in history, for individuals, for groups, for future generations." [Note: Schaeffer, p. 213.]
The people responded by committing themselves to Yahweh (Joshua 24:16-18). They would join Joshua in serving the Lord. Joshua did not want the people to make a superficial decision, however.
"The great need of most Christians is to learn that in themselves they simply cannot be the people God wants them to be." [Note: Jacobsen, p. 114.]
Therefore Joshua reminded them of the difficulties involved in following the Lord (Joshua 24:19-20). They would "not be able to serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:19) in their own strength simply by determining to do so (cf. Exodus 19:8). They had to remember that their God was holy and jealous (i.e., allowing no rival god in His peoples’ affections). He would "not forgive your transgressions or your sins" (Joshua 24:19).
"When does God not spare (forgive)? (1) When transgression and sin is wilfully [sic] committed, and when (2) forgiveness would, as He foresees, lead to no amendment." [Note: J. P. Lange, ed., Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 2:187.]
The people confirmed their earlier decision (Joshua 24:21), and Joshua reminded them that they were witnesses against themselves in the renewal of this covenant (Joshua 24:22). They would condemn themselves by their own testimony if they forsook the Lord.
Joshua then repeated his command to put away all idols, physical and mental, and to turn their hearts to follow Yahweh exclusively (Joshua 24:23). Again the Israelites committed themselves to follow the Lord faithfully (Joshua 24:24).
As Israel’s history proceeded, the Israelites proved unfaithful to their promise to serve and obey the Lord wholeheartedly, as the following books of the Old Testament document. The Israelites should have learned from their past failure to follow the Lord faithfully. Their fathers had made the same promises when God gave them the Mosaic Law (Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7), but they had proved unfaithful at Mt. Sinai and in the wilderness.
4. Provisions for the preservation of the covenant 24:25-28
The covenant that Joshua made with the people on this day was not a new one but a renewal of the Mosaic Covenant made for the first time at Mt. Sinai (Joshua 24:25). The Israelites renewed this covenant from time to time after God first gave it (cf. Joshua 8:30-35). The "statute" Joshua made was the written commitment of the people to obey the Law (Joshua 24:26). The "ordinance" (right) was the record of the blessings Israel would enjoy as the fruits of her obedience.
The "book of the law of God" (Joshua 24:26) appears to have been the document in which Joshua wrote the record of this renewal of the covenant. He evidently placed it with the written covenant itself. The "large stone" (Joshua 24:26) he erected became a permanent memorial of the renewal of the covenant undertaken this day (cf. Genesis 28:18; Deuteronomy 27:2). Joshua set the stone up under the oak that was the same tree as, or one that represented, the oak under which Abraham had built his altar and worshipped Yahweh. Jacob had buried his idols under an oak tree in Shechem, perhaps the same one (Genesis 12:6-7; Genesis 35:2-4). "The sanctuary" (Joshua 24:26) was this holy place, not the tabernacle that was then at Shiloh.
The stone had not literally heard all that had taken place that day (Joshua 24:27), but it would remain in the same place from then on as a silent witness to the proceedings. Joshua here rhetorically ascribed human characteristics to the stone (i.e., personification) to reinforce the seriousness of the commitment the Israelites had made to Yahweh. He then dismissed the nation (Joshua 24:28).
This ceremony was very important to the Israelites because in it the whole nation reaffirmed its commitment to Yahweh as her God and to His covenant as her law. Israel prepared to begin another phase of her national existence without a God-appointed leader such as Moses and Joshua had been. It was important that she remember the faithfulness of her God and rededicate herself to exclusive allegiance to Him. Each tribe was to proceed now to exterminate the Canaanites in its area trusting in Yahweh and obeying His covenant. God would raise up local leaders (judges) as He saw the need for these to provide special leadership in difficult situations. Committed as the Israelites were to their God at this time there was no reason they should fail to possess and experience all God had promised them in the years ahead.
D. The death and burial of Joshua and Eleazar 24:29-33
These final verses record the end of Joshua’s life and ministry that terminated an important and successful era in Israel’s history. Israel’s success continued as long as the elders who had served Israel contemporaneously with Joshua lived (Joshua 24:31).
Joshua died shortly after the renewal of the covenant just described (Joshua 24:1-28). He was 110 years old (Joshua 24:29), the same age as Joseph when he died (Genesis 50:26). Joshua evidently died about 1366 B.C. [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., p. 147.] God greatly used Joshua as He had used Joseph in delivering His people. God recorded no moral blemish on the lives of either of these two remarkable men in Scripture.
"Perhaps the outstanding characteristic of the man Joshua was his unqualified courage. . . . The real success of Joshua, however, probably lies in the fact that he was a Spirit-filled man (Numbers 27:18; cf. Deuteronomy 34:9)." [Note: Davis and Whitcomb, p. 25.]
"Joshua’s epitaph was not written on a marble gravestone. It was written in the lives of the leaders he influenced and the people he led. They served Yahweh. Here is the theological climax to the theme introduced in Joshua 22:5 and repeated like a chorus in Joshua 23:7; Joshua 23:16; Joshua 24:14-16; Joshua 24:18-22; Joshua 24:24. Ironically, the minister of Moses brought the people to obey Yahweh, while Moses saw only the perpetual murmuring and rebellion of the people (cf. Deuteronomy 31:27). Even Moses had to die outside the Land of Promise." [Note: Butler, p. 283.]
Evidently the writer included the record of the burial of Joseph’s bones here (Joshua 24:32) because the Book of Joshua is a remarkable testimony to the faithfulness of God. Joseph had counted on God’s faithfulness in bringing the Israelites into the land and had asked that when that took place his descendants would lay his bones to rest there. The event may have taken place earlier when Joseph’s descendants received Shechem as their inheritance. This burial fulfilled the promise Joseph’s heirs had made to him before he died, that they would bury him in Canaan (Genesis 50:25). God now rewarded his faith.
Eleazar’s death and burial were also significant because, as Israel’s high priest and co-leader with Joshua during this period of history, Eleazar was a very important person. As Israel’s high priest he was more important than the brief references to his ministry might suggest.
"Three burials-it seems a strange way to end the Book of Joshua! But these three peaceful graves testify to the faithfulness of God, for Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar once lived in a foreign nation where they were the recipients of God’s promise to take His people back to Canaan. Now all three were at rest within the borders of the Promised Land. God kept His word to Joshua, Joseph, Eleazar-and to all Israel. And by this we are encouraged to count on the unfailing faithfulness of God." [Note: Campbell, No Time . . ., p. 142.]
Thus the times of Joshua came to a close. This period of Israel’s history was its greatest so far. The people had followed the Lord more faithfully than their fathers, though not completely faithfully. Consequently they experienced God’s blessing more greatly than the previous generation and many generations that followed theirs did.
"After Joshua, the history of Israel goes downhill [until David]. Joshua 24 thus marks the high point of Israel’s history, the full realization of her identity as people of God." [Note: Butler, p. 269.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Joshua 24". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany