Wednesday, May 30, 2018


The closing two chapters of the book of Joshua is a farewell. Chapter 23 opens by telling us that the initial conquest of the land was over, and that the Lord had at last given the people rest within the land that had been promised to their patriarch Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

This first verse then follows by informing us that Joshua was an old man—“well advanced in years,” as Joshua himself put it. He was saying “Goodbye.”

Like an old grandfather with his children gathered around him and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren kneeling on the floor or sitting in his lap, Joshua reconstructs not only his own history, but even the history of their people.

“You yourselves have seen what the Lord God had done for you,” he begins. “You have seen how he has fought for you and has given you the land, just has he had promised.”

The old man Joshua continues by telling of the present situation in the land. Many of the nations had been driven off the land, but others yet remained. We already know of the Gibeonites. They were still in their own homeland, but they had made terms of peace with the Israelites. However, there were yet other nations in the land who had chosen to continue in their opposition to God, but who had not as yet been defeated by the Israelites.

Joshua continues, “The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you” (Joshua 23:5 ESV). It was a promise, but it was a promise that had a condition attached to it: 

Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. (Joshua 23:6-8 ESV) 

The Difference Between Jericho and Ai

Indeed, it had been the experience of the Israelites even before this time that the conquest of the land did not come automatically. They had already seen that their success in the operation was dependent upon their obedience to the Lord,

After the initial encounter that the Israelites had in the land, when they went against the city of Jericho, the second battle would be that of the city of Ai. At Jericho, the hometown of Rahab, the Israelites saw astounding success as the Lord caused the walls of the city simply to collapse. The effect of this was that the city was almost given to the Israelites as a gift.

But the plunder of the city was not to be a gift to the people of Israel. God had instructed the people that they should take nothing for themselves. All the articles of silver and gold and bronze were to be devoted to the Lord. It was all to go into the treasury of the Lord. But for the people themselves, the city was under a ban (Joshua 6:17-19). 

The Sin of Achan and the Defeat at Ai

For the most part, the people of Israel were obedient to this condition and took nothing for themselves. There was one man however, a man by the name of Achan, who was enticed to take some of the items made of silver that he found, and to hide them in his tent. “Surely no one will ever know,” he must have thought.

God knew however, and the interesting thing is that God did not look on this disobedience as the fault of one man only, but he put the guilt on the entire nation of Israel. The seventh chapter of Joshua opens with the words, “The people of Israel broke faith in regard to the things under the ban.”

Ai was the city that was next on the agenda of Joshua. After the experience at Jericho, no one expected defeating this city to be difficult. They had seen what the Lord could do.

Joshua sent some men to make a reconnaissance of the city in order to see what could be the strategy for taking it. It was a walled city like Jericho, but the men saw that it did not nearly approach the size and fortitude of Jericho.

“Don’t send up the entire army,” they reported back to Joshua. “Two or three thousand soldiers should do.”

But when the men attacked the city, the defenders in Ai sent them fleeing. Also, thirty-six Israelites were killed—their first war casualties. 

The Captain Complains

Joshua took this defeat very hard; in fact, he became despondent. He fell on his face before the ark of the Lord and cried out, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all?  Was it only to be given into the hands of the Amorites so that they can destroy us?”

The leader of the nation actually contemplated returning back across the Jordan where they had seen more success, but that solution also seemed hopeless to him.

He moaned to God, “O Lord, what can I say? If we turn our backs before their enemies and retreat, surely the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it. Then they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth! And what will you do for your great name?”

God reprimanded Joshua for his defeatist attitude: “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned! They have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them. They have taken some of things under the ban. They have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings!”

God continued by telling Joshua in no uncertain terms that he, the Lord, could no longer continue with Israel unless these items were taken away from the disobedient individual and he be punished. In fact, that one was to be burned with fire along with all that he possessed, “Because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.” (Joshua 7:7-15) 

A New Beginning

The lesson was a difficult one, but Joshua followed through. He took the steps given to him by God to find and to punish the guilty one. Joshua then built an altar to the Lord as it was prescribed in the book of the Law, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.”

In effect, Joshua did what he could to make a new beginning with God. He offered up burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. After that, he wrote on the stones a copy of the Law on the stones which God had given to Moses, then read all of these words to the people—words of blessings as well as the curses that would come because of disobedience (Joshua 8:30-35).

After that experience, the conquest of the land continued. We are told of no more problems or setbacks, but that does not necessarily mean there were none. However, it seems that the lessons learned at Ai had largely been heeded. Under the leadership of Joshua, the entire campaign was one of success. 

God Gives Joshua Some News

In chapter 13 of the book that carries his name, we learn that Joshua had by that time grown old. In fact, in case Joshua may have had any unrealistic thoughts about his youthfulness, God told him plainly, “You are old and advanced in years.” It was perhaps something that the leader of the nation did not exactly like to hear.

But Joshua apparently did some thinking about what the Lord had told him, because as we have already seen, in opening of chapter 23, Joshua addresses the elders and heads of the nation of Israel, also its judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years.”

This was, as that same chapter opening tells us was “A long time afterward, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies”

We do not know exactly how long the “long time afterwards” was in years. Common church tradition tells us that the total conquest up until the end of Joshua’s leadership took about seven years. However, it may have been several years longer than this. The time that Joshua led the people of Israel did not approach the time that Moses has led the people, but like Moses, the influence of Joshua on Israel was very great.

But even if the Lord had given them rest from all the surrounding enemies, it did not mean that there were no more lands to be possessed. Among all of these nations, it was only the people of Gibeon who sought terms of peace. Despite all that God had done, every other nation persisted in fighting what God meant to accomplish (Joshua 11:19). So it was that with these circumstances that Joshua begins his farewell address. 

What Joshua Wanted to Impart to the People

“I am old and advanced in years, and you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.”

Joshua reminds the people of the tribes that still remain, and of the promises of God that they would be able to drive them out. Nevertheless, as was true at Ai, there were conditions that the people needed to realize. Joshua continues: 

Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. (Joshua 23:6-8 ESV) 

Joshua remembered well the events involving Balaam and concerning the sin of Baal-Peor. The failure there was so great that it could not be erased from his memory. As the leader of the nation, his farewell speech must include stern warnings about compromising what God had given him to accomplish. 

Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you. (Joshua 23:11-13 ESV) 

Joshua actually has quite a lot that he wants to say. The tone of the speech is thoughtful and reminiscent as he recalls past events: 

And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed (Joshua 23:14 ESV). 

In this recalling past events, Joshua even reaches back into the history of his people to remind everyone from where they have come. Joshua quotes the word of the Lord to them when God told them: 

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many” (Joshua 24:2-3 ESV). 

The old man continues climbing through the history of their people by telling them of Isaac and Jacob and Esau. He speaks of the time of slavery in Egypt, and how God raised up Moses and Aaron to lead them out of that land. He tells of the plagues of Egypt, and of the crisis at the Red Sea and how God caused the entire Egyptian army to be engulfed by the waters. He recalls the forty years of experiences in the wilderness, and the battles they fought even before they entered the land of God’s promise. He mentions Balaam, and how God rescued them from that experience.

Joshua spoke of their history of how they finally were able to cross the Jordan and entered into the land. He again quotes the Lord when he tells of how God “sent the hornet” before the people as they came against nations, driving the nations before them and effectually giving the Israelites the inheritance of those nations. God told the Israelites: 

It was not by your sword or by your bow that the nations fled before you.  It was I who gave you the land, land for which you had not labored and cities that you had not built. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant. (Joshua 24:12-13) 

The entire speech is one of both remembering the blessings that God had given to the people, and of promises of future blessings. Dispersed in between the mentions of the blessings however, there are always admonitions and warnings. 

But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, if 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 be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.

Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. (Joshua 23:15-16; 24:14 ESV) 

Choose Whom You Will Serve

Joshua was doing the best that he could to convince the people of the importance of their firm dedication to God. The reason that Joshua was being so emphatic in his speech was because this was very likely the final time that he would be able to address the entire nation. At the time when he was giving this talk, the land had been divided into parcels and areas allotted to each of the tribes. The people were soon also to divide up into their respective tribes. They were all about to leave their camp near the center of the land, each to depart for their new home in the various areas of the country.

Joshua knew that they would all be outside of his influence in their lives. Like a father whose children would be soon leaving the home, or like a pastor who would soon be leaving his flock, Joshua knew that the people would have to make choices concerning their spiritual lives that they before perhaps had never needed to make. I think that Joshua was a bit uneasy about what some of the people may do. He seems to force them to make a choice: 

If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15 ESV) 

To this challenge, the people of course knew what the proper response should be: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods,” they replied to their leader.

After hearing all that the Lord had done for them in the past, they could not imagine abandoning him and worshipping the gods of the Amorites. “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Joshua was not so sure. He knew the people better than they knew themselves. He replied to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good” (Joshua 24:19-20 ESV).

Joshua did not accept their quick answer. It is easy to give an answer that you know is supposed to be the proper one and which is expected. It is like the answer a child would give if a parent asked him, “Will you ever disobey me again?”

What were the people supposed to say? They knew the proper response:

“No, no,” the people replied. “Surely we will serve the Lord.”

Having gotten a commitment that they would have had to think about deeply, Joshua gave them a stern warning, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.”

“We are witnesses,” they replied.

Our Own Confession

The Apostle Paul does much the same with his readers. He writes in Romans 10, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10 NAS).

Paul places much importance in a verbal confession of our belief in Jesus as our Lord. There is something about an audible confession that confirms our belief. Of course, this is not a guarantee that we remain faithful to God. Certainly we can see that the Israelites, even after such a firm confession, later once again descended into their ways of forsaking God. But a confession with our mouths is one of the ways that we can solidify our lives with Christ.

No matter what we do or how far we stray from God, our own words will come back to us. “I remember making that confession!”

I do not know what confession you may make, but for myself, I have set the course for my life. It is a course that I have sustained for many years, and one that will not change.
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

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