Joshua 23:1-2. A long time after the Lord had given rest unto Israel — That is, about fourteen years after the conquest of the country, and seven after the division of it among the tribes: see Joshua 11:23; Joshua 14:10. Joshua called — Either to his own city, or rather to Shiloh, the usual place of such assemblies, where his words, being uttered before the Lord, were likely to have the more effect upon them. All Israel — Not all the people in their own persons, but in their representatives, by their elders, heads, judges, and officers. Probably he took the opportunity of one of the three great feasts. You will not have me long to preach to you; therefore observe what I say, and lay it up for the time to come.
Joshua 23:3-4. And ye have seen — Or rather, Behold ye have seen; for so the particle ve, which we translate and, sometimes signifies, as Genesis 24:31. All that the Lord hath done because of you — For your good, that you might gain by their losses. I have divided unto you those nations that remain — That are not yet conquered. To be an inheritance — You shall certainly subdue them, and inherit their land, as you have done the rest, if you be not wanting to yourselves. With all the nations — That is, with the land of those nations, the people put for their land, as we have seen before; and as sometimes, on the contrary, the land is put for the people. The great sea — Where the Philistines, your most formidable adversaries, yet survive; but them also and their land I have given to you, and you shall undoubtedly destroy them, if you will proceed vigorously in your work.
Joshua 23:6. Be ye therefore very courageous — For it would require great courage and resolution to execute all the commands of Moses, and particularly that of expelling and destroying the residue of the Canaanites. The right hand or the left — That is, in one kind or other, by adding to the law, or diminishing from it. Which was the condition upon which God promised to continue them in the possession of the land. By this it is evident that the book of the law of Moses was extant in those days, and that the people read it.
Joshua 23:7. That ye come not among those nations — That ye avoid all familiar converse and contracts, but especially marriage, with them. Neither mention the name of their gods — To wit, unnecessarily and familiarly, lest the mention of them should lead to discourse about them, and so by degrees bring them to the approbation and worship of them. Nor cause to swear by them — Not to require or even admit a Gentile to swear by his god, as was usual, especially in leagues and contracts; for this would have been to suppose that these imaginary deities were conscious of men’s thoughts, and had power to punish those who were guilty of perjury. And the forbidding this was also to secure them against making leagues and covenants with the Gentiles, which they would not have considered as binding without an oath. It is to be lamented that, among Christians, the names of the heathen gods are so commonly used, especially in poems. Let those names, which have been set up in rivalship with God, be for ever loathed and lost. Nor bow — Neither give them any inward reverence, nor outward adoration. Here is an observable gradation, whereby he shows the progress which sin usually makes, and what need there is to look to the beginnings of it; forasmuch as a civil and common conversation with their persons was likely to bring them, and indeed did actually bring them, by insensible steps, to the worship of their gods. It is no wonder, therefore, if some things, not simply and in themselves evil, be forbidden by God, as here the naming of false gods is, because they are occasions and introductions to evil.
Joshua 23:8. But cleave to the Lord — By constant obedience, entire affection, faithful service, and worship of him alone. As ye have done to this day — To wit, since you came into Canaan; since which time the body of the people (for of them he speaks, not of every particular person) had behaved themselves much better than they did in the wilderness, and had not been guilty of any gross and general apostacy from God, or rebellion against him.
Joshua 23:9-10. No man hath been able, &c. — To wit, whom you have attacked; otherwise some of those people did yet remain unconquered. He fighteth — Impute not this therefore to your own valour, as you will be apt to do, but to God’s gracious and powerful assistance.
Joshua 23:11. Take good heed — Now it requires more watchfulness and diligence than it did in the wilderness, because your temptations are now stronger, from the examples and insinuations of your bad neighbours, the remainders of this wicked people; and from your own peace and prosperity; and the pride, security, forgetfulness of God, and luxury, which usually attend that condition.
Joshua 23:12-13. If ye in any wise go back — From God, and from his worship and service. They shall be snares and traps to you — By your converse with them, you will be drawn by degrees into their errors, and impieties, and brutish lusts. Thorns in your eyes — When they have seduced, and thereby weakened you, then they will molest and vex you, no less than a severe scourge doth a man’s sides which are lashed by it, or than a small thorn doth the eye when it is got within it. Till ye perish — They shall so persecute you, and fight against you with such success, that you shall be forced to quit your own land, and wander, you know not whither. Which must needs have been very terrible to them to think of, when they compared their present ease, and plenty, and safety, with the pains, and weariness, and hazards, and wants of their former wanderings.
Joshua 23:14. I am going the way of all the earth — That is, of all flesh, or of all men; the way which all men go; I am about to die, as all men must. To die is to go a journey, a journey to our long home. And Joshua himself, though he could so ill be spared, cannot be exempted from this common lot. He takes notice of it, that they might look on these as his dying words, and regard them accordingly. Ye know — That is, you know assuredly: your own experience puts it out of all question.
Joshua 23:15. Bring upon you all evil things — According to what Moses had predicted at large, Leviticus 26. and Deuteronomy 28. For God’s faithfulness is no less visible in fulfilling his threatenings than his promises. Indeed the accomplishment of his promises is a pledge that he will also fulfil his threatenings, both of them standing on the same ground, the truth of God.
Joshua 23:16. Ye shall perish quickly from off the good land — It would aggravate their misery in their destruction, that the land from which they perished was a good land, and a land which God himself had given them: and which therefore he would have secured to them, if they had not thrown themselves out of it. “Thus the goodness of the heavenly Canaan,” says Mr. Henry, “and the free and sure grant God has made of it, will aggravate the misery of those who shall for ever be shut out and perish from it. Nothing will make them see how wretched they are, so much so as to see how happy they might have been.”
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 23". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany