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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 23

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Joshua 23:0


Joshua's Farewell AddressJoshua's Farewell AddressJoshua's Farewell AdmonitionsJoshua's Farewell AddressJoshua Sums Up His Work
Joshua 23:1-13Joshua 23:1-13Joshua 23:1-13Joshua 23:1-13Joshua 23:1-5
Rules of Conduct When Living Among Foreigners
Joshua 23:6-11
Joshua 23:12-13
Joshua 23:14-16Joshua 23:14-16Joshua 23:14-16Joshua 23:14-16Joshua 23:14
Joshua 23:15
Joshua 23:16

READING CYCLE THREE (from “A Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-13

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 23:1-13 1Now it came about after many days, when the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years, 2that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers, and said to them, “I am old, advanced in years. 3And you have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the LORD your God is He who has been fighting for you. 4See, I have apportioned to you these nations which remain as an inheritance for your tribes, with all the nations which I have cut off, from the Jordan even to the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun. 5The LORD your God, He will thrust them out from before you and drive them from before you; and you will possess their land, just as the LORD your God promised you. 6Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, 7 so that you will not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or mention the name of their gods, or make anyone swear by them, or serve them, or bow down to them. 8But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day. 9For the LORD has driven out great and strong nations from before you; and as for you, no man has stood before you to this day. 10One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you. 11So take diligent heed to yourselves to love the LORD your God. 12For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know with certainty that the LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you.”

Joshua 23:1 “after many days” Although it seems the conquest of Canaan happened very rapidly, in reality it took a long time. The Canaanites were not easily or totally defeated (cf. Judges 1:0). The delay in the last seven tribes' land allotment is one evidence of the protracted timeframe.

“when the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies” This is an idiomatic statement. It is a recurrent theme (cf. Deuteronomy 12:10; Deuteronomy 25:19; 2 Samuel 7:1, 2 Samuel 7:11; 2 Chronicles 14:7). It probably means there was no current national military campaign in progress (cf. Joshua 21:44). It did not apply to the individual tribes possessing their own allotted territories. The phrase has connotations of

1. no war

2. security from invasion

3. peace

Joshua 23:2 “Joshua called” Chapter 23 seems to have been a private meeting with the tribal representatives, while chapter 24 is a more public meeting calling for a public decision.

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV“elders. . .heads. . .judges. . .officers” NJB“elders. . .leaders. . .judges. . .officials” JPSOA“elders. . .commanders. . .magistrates”

The exact function of each of these groups is uncertain (cf. Deuteronomy 1:15-16; Joshua 8:33) but there was a distinct division of leadership on a tribal level. See fuller note at Joshua 24:1.

Joshua 23:3 “the LORD your God” This is a technical phrase for the Covenant relationship. It is used extensively in Deuteronomy and Joshua. See Special Topic: Names for Deity.

“to all these nations . . . which remain” It seems that Joshua defeated the military resistance of the Canaanites, but each tribe had to finish the conquest in its own inheritance (compare 11:23-24; Joshua 23:5 with 13:1-4; 15:63; 23:5 and Judges 2:21, Judges 2:23).

“He who has been fighting for you” This same truth is repeated in Joshua 23:5, Joshua 23:9, and 10. God as warrior is a common theme of the Pentateuch (e.g., Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 3:22; Deuteronomy 20:4; Exodus 14:14) and Joshua (e.g., Joshua 4:13-15; Joshua 10:14, Joshua 10:42). Notice, however, the previous phrase which emphasized the necessary cooperation of Israel (“because of you”).

Joshua 23:4 “See” This term (BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal IMPERATIVE) is often used by YHWH in Deuteronomy. It helps the people recognize what He had done (cf. Exodus 31:2; Deuteronomy 1:8, Deuteronomy 1:21; Deuteronomy 2:24, Deuteronomy 2:31; Deuteronomy 11:26; Deuteronomy 30:15; Deuteronomy 32:39). Here it is used by Joshua for the elders to recognize his advanced age and the beginning of a new period in Israel's history in the Promised Land.

Joshua 23:5 “He will thrust them out from before you” The VERB (BDB 213, KB 239, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Deuteronomy 6:19; Deuteronomy 9:4) is SINGULAR in form, but with a PLURAL suffix. This seems to imply YHWH's agency through Israel's instrumentality (divine will and human free will).

“just as the LORD your God promised you” This is a recurrent theme.

Joshua 23:6-8 There is a series of things Israel should do to maintain her relationship with YHWH.

1. “be very firm,” Joshua 23:6, BDB 304, KB 302, Qal PERFECT, cf. Joshua 1:6, Joshua 1:7, Joshua 1:9, Joshua 1:18; Joshua 10:25; Joshua 23:6; Deuteronomy 31:6, Deuteronomy 31:7, Deuteronomy 31:23

2. “to keep,” Joshua 23:6, BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT, cf. Deuteronomy 4:6; Deuteronomy 29:9

3. “to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses,” Joshua 23:6, BDB 793, KB 889, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT, cf. Joshua 1:7; Numbers 15:39; Deuteronomy 16:12; Deuteronomy 30:8

4. “you may not turn aside from it,” Joshua 23:6, BDB 693, KB 747, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT, e.g., using two synonymous VERBS, Joshua 1:7; Exodus 32:8; Deuteronomy 2:27; Deuteronomy 5:32; Deuteronomy 9:12; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 17:17, Deuteronomy 17:20; Deuteronomy 28:14; 1 Samuel 12:20

5. “you will not associate with these nations,” Joshua 23:7, BDB 97, KB 112, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

a. “do not mention the name of their gods,” cf. Exodus 23:13

b. “do not make anyone swear by them”

c. “do not serve them,” cf. Exodus 20:5; Exodus 23:33

d. “do not bow down to them,” cf. Judges 2:19

6. “you are to cling to the LORD,” Joshua 23:8, BDB 179, KB 209, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Joshua 22:5; Deuteronomy 10:20; Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 13:4; Deuteronomy 30:20; 2 Kings 18:6. This is the same VERB used to describe Adam and Eve's relationship (cf. Genesis 2:24).

Joshua 23:9 “For the Lord has driven out great and strong nations before you” The VERB (BDB 439, KB 441, Hiphil IMPERFECT) is recurrent (e.g., Joshua 3:10; Joshua 13:6; Numbers 33:52, Numbers 33:55, used in the sense of “dispossess”).

YHWH's ownership of the land is symbolized in His victory over the Canaanites. Yes, Israel goes to battle, but it is the power and presence of YHWH that brings victory over vastly superior foes (cf. Deuteronomy 4:38; Deuteronomy 9:1; Deuteronomy 11:23).

Israel's lack of military success (i.e., they did not dispossess, cf. Joshua 13:13; Joshua 16:10; Joshua 17:13; Judges 1:29, Judges 1:30, Judges 1:31, Judges 1:32, Judges 1:33) was due to their lack of faith in YHWH's promises and their unwillingness to seize the moment! The unbelief of the ten original spies returns!

“no man has stood before you to this day” This is a metaphor for negated effective resistance (cf. Joshua 1:5; Joshua 10:8; Deuteronomy 7:24; Deuteronomy 11:25).

Joshua 23:10 “one of your men put to flight a thousand” This is hyperbolic expression of YHWH's victorious presence (cf. Leviticus 26:7-8; Deuteronomy 32:30). See Special Topic: Thousand (eleph).

Joshua 23:11 Loving YHWH is expressed by covenant obedience! Love is an action, not just a feeling. Believers must make a decisive and personal choice to obey God! This is a recurrent theme in Deuteronomy (e.g., Joshua 6:5; Joshua 10:12; Joshua 11:13).

Joshua 23:12 This is a list of the ways of not being faithful to the covenant.

1. “if you ever go back,” BDB 996, KB 1427, both the INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and Qal IMPERFECT from the same root for emphasis

2. “cling to the rest of these nations,” the same VERB used positively in Joshua 23:8 (Qal IMPERFECT, here Qal PERFECT)

3. “intermarry with them,” BDB 368, KB 364, Hithpael PERFECT, cf. Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 7:3

4. “associate with them and they with you,” BDB 97, KB 112, Qal PERFECT, cf. Joshua 23:7

Joshua 23:13 “know with certainty” This is an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a Qal IMPERFECT of the same root (BDB 393, KB 390) for emphasis.

This is a list of the consequences of disobedience to the covenant.

1. “The LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out”

2. They will be

a. “a snare” (used to catch birds, BDB 809 I, cf. Exodus 23:33; Exodus 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:16)

b. “a trap” (a trap set on the ground, BDB 430)

c. “a whip on your sides” (like an animal goad, BDB 1002)

d. “thorns in your eyes” (BDB 841, cf. Numbers 33:55; Judges 2:3)

3. “they will perish from this good land,” BDB 1, KB 2, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT, cf. Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 7:4

Verses 14-16

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): Joshua 23:14-16 14Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. 15It shall come about that just as all the good words which the LORD your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you. 16When you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.

Joshua 23:14 “I am going the way of all the earth” This is an idiom or euphemism for death (cf. 1 Kings 2:2).

“you know in all your hearts and in all your soul” The VERB (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal PERFECT) reinforced the Israelites' sense of YHWH's special presence and provisions, which have completely fulfilled all of His promises.

The parallel phrases “in all your hearts” and “in all your souls” are synonymous and refer to the entire person. Each Israelite knew for sure, completely, without doubt that YHWH was faithful to His word to them (cf. Joshua 21:45)! They must emulate this same faithfulness (i.e., Joshua 23:6-13). See Special Topic below.


“not one of them has failed” God's promises are sure and conditional (cf. Joshua 23:15; Joshua 21:45; 1 Kings 8:56).

Joshua 23:15 As God's promises of blessing are sure, so are God's warnings of the consequences of covenant disobedience (cf. Deuteronomy 4:23-31). As God destroyed the Canaanites (cf. Genesis 15:12-21), if Israel picks up their habits, He will destroy them (i.e., Assyrian and Babylonian exiles).

Joshua 23:16 “transgress” The VERB “transgress” (BDB 716, KB 778, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) means “to pass over.” When used of sin, it means “to pass over a known boundary”in this case, the Mosaic covenant.

“the anger of the LORD will burn against you” This VERB (BDB 354, KB 351, Qal PERFECT) is often used of YHWH's burning anger for covenant violations (cf. Joshua 7:1; Exodus 4:14; Exodus 22:24; Exodus 32:10; Numbers 11:1, Numbers 11:10, Numbers 11:33; Numbers 12:9; Numbers 22:22; Numbers 32:10, Numbers 32:13; Deuteronomy 6:15; Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 11:17; Deuteronomy 29:27; Deuteronomy 31:17; Judges 2:20; Judges 3:8; Judges 6:39; 2 Samuel 6:7). This is anthropomorphic language. Humans use human vocabulary to describe the actions and feelings of God. There is always only an analogous sense.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Joshua 23". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/joshua-23.html. 2021.
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