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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 23

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 23 Joshua’s Speech to the Nation.

Joshua grew old and, possibly at the central sanctuary when Israel gathered together, or at Shechem, called the people together to give an address to the nation. He did not know how long he had to go and he wanted to pass on his final words in case he died before the next gathering. No doubt as he grew older he gave many such addresses. This was one selected to give the gist of what he said in them.

In his address to them he observed what God had done for them, and would do, and exhorted them to keep the commandments of God, and cleave to Him, and not to mix with the Canaanites, and join with them in their idolatrous practises. Then, he said, it would be well with them. But should they join with the Canaanites, and depart from YHWH, Who had so faithfully and in such a timely way performed every good thing He had promised them, they might expect many evils and calamities, and utter ruin and destruction, to fall on them.


Verse 1-2

Chapter 23 Joshua’s Speech to the Nation.

Joshua grew old and, possibly at the central sanctuary when Israel gathered together, or at Shechem, called the people together to give an address to the nation. He did not know how long he had to go and he wanted to pass on his final words in case he died before the next gathering. No doubt as he grew older he gave many such addresses. This was one selected to give the gist of what he said in them.

In his address to them he observed what God had done for them, and would do, and exhorted them to keep the commandments of God, and cleave to Him, and not to mix with the Canaanites, and join with them in their idolatrous practises. Then, he said, it would be well with them. But should they join with the Canaanites, and depart from YHWH, Who had so faithfully and in such a timely way performed every good thing He had promised them, they might expect many evils and calamities, and utter ruin and destruction, to fall on them.

Joshua 23:1-2

And so it was after many days, when YHWH had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, and Joshua was old and well stricken with years, that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them, “I am old and well stricken with years.” ’

Clearly after much effort all the tribes of Israel had found somewhere to settle. Some were well established, others like Dan were finding things more difficult and had had to settle in hill country because the enemy would not allow them on lower ground. There life would be hard, water would be short and the land would be rugged and unyielding to the plough.

But at least they were at rest. They were established in the land without fear of being driven out, and the next phase lay ahead, the gradual subjection and driving out of the Canaanites.

The phraseology is taken from elsewhere. ‘After many days -- given rest -- enemies round about’. For these expressions see Joshua 21:44; Joshua 22:3-4; Deuteronomy 12:10.

But Joshua was aware that he was very old and that he had not long to go. And he wanted to enthuse them as much as possible for the task that lay ahead. And so, possibly when the tribes gathered at the central sanctuary, he called their leaders together for a speech to the nation which he knew might well be his last (although it probably was not).

“All Israel” is immediately defined as their leaders, ‘their elders, their heads, their judges, and their officers’. The elders were those in authority as a result of their distinguished background or the talents that they had revealed, from ‘the seventy’ who were over all Israel, down to the general councils at various levels. These would be largely composed of ‘the elders’, who would be mainly, but not solely, the older men who had learned wisdom, who would give guidance to the rulers. The heads would be the princes and suchlike, those who were seen as having more specific authority as rulers from aristocratic families, the judges were those who passed judgment according to the Law, and the officers were those responsible for administration or for military matters and leading in time of war. In essence the titles were intended to cover all in authority.

As the one who had led them for so long he was conscious that they looked to him, but he wanted to direct their thoughts beyond himself. They must not stand still but go forward. So he drew attention to his age and then pointed ahead to the future.


Verse 3

And you have seen all that YHWH your God has done to all these nations because of you, for YHWH your God, he it is who has fought for you.”

Joshua then points back to the past, to all their victories and all their successes that have resulted in their being where they were. They have seen them and they know. And he points out that it was all due to YHWH Who had fought for them.


Verse 4

See, I have allotted to you these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from Jordan, with all the nations I have cut off, even unto the Great Sea westward (toward the going down of the sun).”

Joshua was quite clear on the fact that not all Canaan was subdued. His mind was still clear and sharp. Many had been cut off and driven out, but by no means all. But they had all been allotted to the tribes, and it was now up to the tribes to claim their inheritance, from Jordan to the Mediterranean coast.


Verse 5

And YHWH your God, he will thrust them out from before you, and drive them from out of your sight. And you will possess their land, as YHWH your God spoke to you.”

They could be sure of success because YHWH their God was with them. It was He Who would thrust them out, and drive them from their sight. Through faith in Him and obedience to the covenant they would find success, and it was only if they had faith and were obedient that they could they expect YHWH to work for them. And the result would be that they would possess the whole land, as YHWH had promised. For these words compare Joshua 1:15; Joshua 3:10; Deuteronomy 6:19; Deuteronomy 9:4.


Verse 6

Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that you turn not aside from it, to the right hand or to the left.”

Here was the condition, obedience to the law of Moses. It was to be strictly followed. They must be strong and have courage so that they do not deviate from it one way or another (see Joshua 1:7 and Deuteronomy 1:6-8. Joshua was steeped in Moses’ teaching in Deuteronomy).


Verse 7

That you come not among these nations, those who remain among you, nor make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, nor serve them, nor bow yourselves down to them.”

This was the negative side. They must avoid contact and fraternisation with these nations, they must totally reject them and have nothing to do with their gods (Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 4:19), neither naming them (Exodus 23:13), nor swearing by them, nor bowing down to them (Deuteronomy 5:9). It was here that they would later fail, for they would allow the Canaanites to remain, then they would be tempted by what they were told these gods could do for them. And when things went wrong, and rain was sparse, and YHWH seemed far away, it would be easy to make use of local knowledge, and of the gods of the land, looking to them to do for them what YHWH seemed to have failed to do.


Verse 8

But cleave to YHWH your God, as you have done to this day.”

Up to this time they had been faithful. They had driven out the Canaanites. They had spurned their gods. They had been faithful to the tribal covenant, and gathered at the central sanctuary as required by the Law. They had not settled down and fraternised with those around them. For their leaders (the elders that outlived Joshua - Judges 2:7) had kept them faithful. This they must continue to do.


Verse 9

For YHWH has driven out before you great nations and strong, and as for you, no man has stood before you to this day.”

Let the past teach them the lesson. They have defeated great and strong nations, and driven them out. No one has been able to prevent them from settling down. This was a slightly optimistic viewpoint. It is certain that they had not achieved all that they had hoped for or attempted. But from a general point of view what they had done had met with success, and they were at present at rest and settled reasonably comfortably in the land. And they were not subservient to any.


Verse 10

One man of you will chase a thousand, for YHWH your God, he it is who fights for you, as he spoke to you.’

This picturesque phrase cited from Deuteronomy 32:30 means simply that only one of them would be needed to fight a battle unit (a ‘thousand’, an eleph), because YHWH would be there with him fighting for him (compare Deuteronomy 1:30). It is the language of exaggeration to bring home a point (compare Leviticus 26:8), saying that when they had YHWH with them every man was worth a battle unit, although Samson for one achieved it (Judges 15:8; Judges 15:15; Judges 16:30. Compare also 1 Samuel 14:12-17).


Verse 11

Take good heed therefore to yourselves, that you love YHWH your God.’

The thought of loving God was central to the teaching of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:4-6), and revealed in the keeping of His commandments (Deuteronomy 5:10; Joshua 22:5), in walking in His ways (Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 19:9; Joshua 22:5), in serving Him with heart and soul (Deuteronomy 10:12), and in cleaving only to Him (Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 30:20; Joshua 22:5). It would result in keeping His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments (Deuteronomy 11:1; Deuteronomy 30:16). It was to be a love that was total, with heart, and soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 11:13; Deuteronomy 13:3; Deuteronomy 30:6; Joshua 22:5). It was in the final analysis the result of God ‘circumcising the heart’ (Deuteronomy 30:6), which means working a transforming experience within. As Jesus said, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’ (John 14:15).

This was a robust love, a love resulting from gratitude and a sense of relationship with God through covenant, and an awareness of His love (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 10:15), a love which resulted in action. There was nothing sentimental about it, it affected every part of life.


Verse 12-13

Or else if you in any way go back, and cleave to the remnant of these nations, those who remain among you, and make marriages with them, and go in to them, and they to you, know for a certainty that YHWH your God will no more drive out these nations from before you, but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a scourge in your sides, and a thorn in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land, which YHWH your God has given you.”

This was the alternative, to love the ways of Canaan, to intermarry with them, to trade with them, which would result in the destruction of their morality and of their faith. This was no idle threat. The Canaanites were a degraded people whose perversions and sexual excesses were a byword. To associate with them would finally result in becoming like them. Thus when we read that ‘they subjected them to tribute (or put them to taskwork) but did not drive them out’ (Joshua 16:10; Joshua 17:13; Judges 1:28-30; Judges 1:32) our hearts grow cold, for we know that it is the beginning of their downfall. And we are not surprised at what follows. Indeed the only thing that surprises us is that God did not desert them completely.

“Cleave to the remnant of those nations, those who remain among you.” The phrase stresses that the speaker is aware of the way they have decimated the Canaanites in their various battles (‘the remnant of those nations’), but warns that he is aware of how dangerous such a remnant can be when they are as sinful as the Canaanites. It was not enough to win the battles, they must win the war, and that involved a total driving out of the Canaanites. They were not fit to be lived among. See Exodus 34:12-15.

“And make marriages with them.” Compare Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3-4. See also Numbers 25:1-2; 1 Kings 11:1-8 for practical examples.

“And go in to them, and they to you.” Sharing companionship and relationship both in daily life and in trade. The result would be that they learned their ways and listened to their advice, and that would destroy them. How often would a Canaanite point out that if only they paid heed to Baal and made some kind of offering to him, their lands would be more fruitful and the rain would be more plentiful, for he was the god of rain and of the land. In times of drought that would seem an attractive option and it would lead into the degradations of Baalism.

“Know for a certainty that YHWH your God will no more drive out these nations from before you, but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a scourge in your sides, and a thorn in your eyes,.” This vivid description pictures accurately what the Canaanites would become to them with their sophisticated ways and their perverted immorality, and the moment that Israel began to compromise with them they sealed their own doom. God would no longer be active on their behalf. His promises depended on cooperation. However in the last analysis God would fulfil His promises, for in the end they depended on His grace and not man’s deserving, and it would be by bringing about cooperation, but if they were unfaithful now that would be in the distant future.

“A snare and a trap”, and they walked into it as Samson walked in to Delilah. When it comes to morality compromise is fatal. That is why Paul said to Timothy, ‘flee youthful desires’ (2 Timothy 2:22). Do not stand and fight them, run!

These vivid pictures are mainly taken from Exodus 23:33; Exodus 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:16; Numbers 33:55. Joshua knew the Law well. The word for ‘scourge’ is used uniquely here and its meaning is uncertain, but it was clearly something unpleasant and is related to a word for whip (1 Kings 12:11; 1 Kings 12:14). LXX ‘nails in your heels’ is probably a guess. ‘A thorn in your eyes.’ Something pointed which pierces and therefore a thorn (Job 5:5; Proverbs 22:5), or possibly a hook or barb (Amos 4:2). But the idea is clear, they will cause grief and anguish.

“Until you perish from off this good land, which YHWH your God has given you.” It was the Canaanites who should perish off ‘this good land’ (Deuteronomy 7:20) but if Israel failed to obey God’s Law they would bring the curse on themselves (Deuteronomy 28:20; Deuteronomy 28:22). They were only sacrosanct because they were His people, and they must show it by their lives.


Verse 14

And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts, and in all your souls, that not one thing has failed of all the good things which YHWH your God has spoken concerning you. All have come about for you. Not one thing has failed of them.”

This was not to say that he was about to die that day, but that he was aware of his age and aware that it could not long be delayed. Like all men he must die. (‘This day’ connects with ‘behold’).

He called them to admit that in their heart of hearts they knew that God had been faithful to them and had fulfilled His promises. Here they were, established in a good land and with a good future before them as long as they remained true to Him.


Verse 15

And it shall come about that as all the good things have come on you which YHWH has promised, so shall YHWH bring on you all evil things until he has destroyed you from off this good land which the YHWH your God has given you.”

This was the other side of His promise. Just as He had fulfilled His promise in bringing good things on them, so He would fulfil His promise to bring evil things on them if they failed to obey Him and learned the ways of the Canaanites. They had received the land because they were His people and the Canaanites were evil, but if they turned to the ways of the Canaanites they too would perish from the land. The ‘evil things’ are described in Deuteronomy 28:15-68, and they make dreadful reading. To be favoured is to render oneself liable to the greater punishment.


Verse 16

“When you transgress the covenant of YHWH your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods, and bow down yourselves to them, then the anger of YHWH will be kindled against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which he has given you.”

All outwardly depends on obedience to His covenant. In that covenant they have bound themselves to Him as their Supreme Sovereign, and have sworn to love and serve Him and to obey His commandments. They have agreed only to offer sacrifices at the central sanctuary, or at places where God was pleased to record His name and reveal Himself, and to gather at the covenant festivals to worship Him. They have sworn to abjure idolatry and the ways of the Canaanites. But if they turn aside from this and seek and serve other gods, then they will have broken their covenant vows, and YHWH’s just anger will be roused and He will bring judgment on them. The covenant will lose its effect. They will be removed from the land.

Thus were covenant love and covenant obedience bound closely together. In the end God’s promises to Abraham were unconditional. He would bring about their fulfilment. But delay was possible through disobedience and during that process those who fell short would suffer the due reward for their disobedience. Yet as we see later in Judges, His wrath was tempered with mercy. If they repented then He would again act for them and deliver them from the position in which they had placed themselves.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 23:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/joshua-23.html. 2013.

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