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Deeper Commentary


Jos 23:1 It happened after many days, when Yahweh had given rest to Israel from their enemies all around and Joshua was old and well advanced in years-
Joshua didn’t give the people rest (Heb. 4:8); although he potentially enabled it (Josh. 22:4). He failed to fulfil the potential of Josh. 1:13-15- that he would lead the people to “rest”. The Messianic Kingdom could, perhaps, have come through Joshua-Jesus; but Israel would not. And so his work was rescheduled and reapplied to the Lord Jesus, who does give "rest" to the true people of God (Heb. 4:8). See on Josh. 21:43,44; 23:4; 24:14,23.

Jos 23:2 that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, their heads, their judges and for their officers and said to them, I am old and well advanced in years-
He invited "all Israel", but it seems from :4 that only those west of Jordan came. Already the unwisdom of settlement to the east of Jordan was apparent. They put secular advantage before spiritual fellowship, and suffered for it.

Jos 23:3 You have seen all that Yahweh your God has done to all these nations because of you; for it is Yahweh your God who has fought for you-
Nehemiah 9:26 specifically states that after entering the land, they "were disobedient and rebelled against You".  Given the very quick descent into idolatry we read of in Judges, it is clear that Yahweh fought for Israel because of Joshua's faith and His loving grace towards them- and not because of their spirituality.

Jos 23:4 Behold, I have allotted to you these nations that remain to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, even to the great sea toward the going down of the sun-
The Lord Jesus may allude here in saying that He has appointed unto us a Kingdom (LK. 22:29). Joshua enabled the Kingdom, overcame all obstacles to it, and appointed it to Israel. But he couldn't drag them in to possess it and experience it, and neither will the Lord Jesus do. Joshua seems here to be addressing the western tribes- for he speaks of inheritance from the Jordan to the Mediterranean.  See on :2.

Jos 23:5 Yahweh your God will thrust them out from before you, and drive them from out of your sight. You shall possess their land, as Yahweh your God spoke to you-
"Drive out" is s.w. "possess". We must note the difference between the  Canaanite peoples and their kings being "struck" and their land "taken" by Joshua-Jesus; and the people of Israel permanently taking possession. This is the difference between the Lord's victory on the cross, and our taking possession of the Kingdom. Even though that possession has been "given" to us. The word used for "possession" is literally 'an inheritance'. The allusion is to the people, like us, being the seed of Abraham. The Kingdom was and is our possession, our inheritance- if we walk in the steps of Abraham. But it is one thing to be the seed of Abraham, another to take possession of the inheritance; and Israel generally did not take possession of all the land (Josh. 11:23 13:1; 16:10; 18:3; 23:4). The language of inheritance / possession is applied to us in the New Testament (Eph. 1:11,14; Col. 3:24; Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Pet. 1:4 etc.). Israel were promised: "You shall possess it" (Dt. 30:5; 33:23). This was more of a command than a prophecy, for sadly they were "given" the land but did not "possess" it. They were constantly encouraged in the wilderness that they were on the path to possessing the land (Dt. 30:16,18; 31:3,13; 32:47), but when they got there they didn't possess it fully.

Jos 23:6 Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that you not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left-
See on Josh. 1:7,8. Because God gave them the land of Canaan, a land for which they did not labour, didn't do any 'work' to receive, but were given because "You did a favour unto them" (Ps. 44:3)- therefore they were to keep the law (Dt. 26:15,16; 29:8,9; Josh. 23:5,6). David said that he loved keeping the law because God's testimony to him was so miraculous (Ps. 119:129 Heb.). There is an awesomeness to God's grace in all this. Hence the paradox of Ex. 20:20: "Fear not... that the fear of God may be before your faces". We are not to fear Him, for such perfect love casts out fear... yet it is exactly because of the wonder of all this that we live life in some fear / awe of misusing and abusing that grace.

As Joshua had been told to be strong and of good courage in order to take the land, so he had to tell others (Josh. 10:25). As God charged him to be courageous and obedient to the book of the Law, so Joshua on his deathbed charged his people (Josh. 1:7,8 cp. 23:6). Joshua had faithfully followed, and now he became the leader who was to be faithfully followed.

Jos 23:7 that you not mingle with these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow down yourselves to them-
Yahweh repeatedly forbad His people to mention the name of other gods. In the Ancient Near East, all conflict between peoples and nations was seen as conflict between gods. The role of prophets or priests on either side was to bring curses upon the other gods. And so they repeated the names of the other gods in incantations supposed to bring curses upon those gods. This however is forbidden to God's people. They instead were to focus upon the Name of their God Yahweh. And we see in this a pattern for ourselves; to focus upon the ultimate truth and truths of the one true God, and not be caught up in wishing cursing upon  those who believe otherwise. To focus upon the positive, which is the source of all victory, rather than going on the defensive against other views by cursing them.

'Don’t even make mention of their gods' is alluded to in Eph. 5:3; Paul understands idolatry in our age as referring to the perversions and pleasures of the world around us.

Josh. 23:7 made a concession regarding the nations left in the land. The ideal standard was to destroy them. But the concession was made that they should not socialize with them or worship their gods. But inevitably they did mix with those nations and learned their religions. Likewise the early Jewish Christians were allowed to keep the Mosaic law (in concessions to human weakness like that of Acts 15), but this really implied a lack of faith in Christ's sacrifice, with the result that many of them seem to have drifted back to Judaism. Concessions to human weakness [we think of God allowing them to have a human king and a temple, which were not His will, and His permission for the eastern tribes to settle far from His sanctuary] are made because God wants by all means to continue relationship with us; but they actually make the path to relationship with Him more difficult.

Jos 23:8 but hold fast to Yahweh your God, as you have done to this day-
We wonder whether this was really true. "Hold fast" is the word for "cleave" used of marriage (Gen. 2:24). Israel's faithfulness to God's covenant is likened to marital faithfulness. Their associations with other gods were therefore adultery. It rather seems that Joshua's faith had led to blessing for the people. For they very soon turned after the gods of the land. I would consider the book of Joshua to have largely been written by Joshua, under Divine inspiration, although edited [again under Divine inspiration] for the exiles. And the book of Judges likewise. For the exiles too were set to reestablish God's Kingdom in the land and to inherit it again as the Israelites first did. The phrase "to this day" occurs several times in Joshua / Judges, and appears to have different points of historical reference (Josh. 4:9; 5:9; 6:25; 7:26; 8:28,29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 14:14; 15:63; 16:10; 22:3; 23:8,9; Jud. 1:26; 6:24; 10:4; 15:19; 18:12). I would explain this by saying that the book was edited a number of times and the remains of those edits remain in the text. For God's word is living and made relevant by Him to every generation.

Jos 23:9 For Yahweh has driven great and strong nations out from before you. But as for you, no man has stood before you to this day-
And yet even at this time, Israel felt the nations to be too strong for them (Jud. 1:1); despite every evidence that they would win if they tried to fight them. Likewise the Lord Jesus, the greater Joshua, has won every victory, and therefore anything that appears an obstacle between us and possession of the Kingdom is going to soon crumble. If we fight it. But like Israel, we tend to not even seriously try.

Jos 23:10 One man of you shall chase a thousand; for it is Yahweh your God who fights for you, as He spoke to you-
Joshua is recalling the reversal at Ai, when Israel had been chased by their enemies for disobedience to the covenant. And likewise he recalls how it was God who had fought for Israel during the multiple victories against the Canaanites.

Samson is to be read as a symbol of Israel: "Be therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses... that you come not among these nations, these that remain among you (true in Samson's time)...but cleave unto the Lord your God... no man has been able to stand before you (this was Samson)... one man of you shall chase a thousand (cp. Jud. 15:16): for the Lord your God, He it is that fights for you (this was exactly true of Samson in Jud. 15:18)... take good heed unto yourselves... else if you do at all go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and make marriages with them (as Samson did), and go in unto them, and they to you (cp. Jud. 15:1; 16:, where Samson went in to the Philistine women): know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you (cp. 16:20); but they shall be snares and traps unto you (Delilah!)... and thorns in your eyes, until you perish" (Josh. 23:6-13). This passage would associate Samson's God-given strength and victory over the Philistines with his obedience to God's word.

Jos 23:11 Take good heed therefore to yourselves, that you love Yahweh your God-
Yahweh was to be loved with all the heart, soul and mind (Dt. 6:5). This is understood by Joshua as meaning that those who loved Yahweh would not "mix with" and intermarry with the nations and accept their gods (Josh. 23:11,12,16). "Love" for God was not therefore a feeling; Joshua said that they must "take good heed therefore to yourselves, that you love Yahweh" (Josh. 23:11). This is the love of conscious direction of the mind, the love which is a choice rather than an emotion.    

Jos 23:12 But if you do at all mix with and hold fast to the remnant of these nations, even these who remain among you, and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you-
In this context of marriage out of the Faith, we read that God will destroy "him that hates Him" (Dt. 7:2-11), and repay him to his face. On the other hand, not marrying Gentiles was part of loving God (Josh. 23:11,12). Joshua's warning that those who married the surrounding tribes would find them "a snare and a trap for you... thorns in your eyes" (Josh. 23:12,13 RSV) was fulfilled in Samson being tied up and blinded by Delilah; and yet it also had an element of fulfillment with his first wife. The similarity is such as to suggest that Samson's marriage out of the Truth was definitely wrong because it was a fulfillment of the words of Josh. 23. But God worked through it, so eager is He to work with less than ideal choices of His children.

Jos 23:13 know for a certainty that Yahweh your God will no longer drive these nations from out of your sight; but they shall be a snare and a trap to you, a scourge in your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which Yahweh your God has given you-
This is explicit that it was because of marriage out of the faith that Israel lost their inheritance in the Kingdom, and the Gentile nations there remained a thorn in their eyes. Because of the seriousness of it, the prohibitions against intermarriage are often accompanied with an unmistakable threat of judgment: "The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this" (Mal. 2:11); "destroy them... (the Lord) will not be slack...he will repay him to his face" (Dt. 7:2,10); "know for a certainty... that God will expel you from the land" if you intermarry (Josh. 23:12,13); "him shall God destroy" (2 Co. 6:14-16 cp. 1 Cor. 3:13). If we deny our covenant with God by marrying into the world, we have effectively cut ourselves off from Him.   

We are to be renewed in knowledge, finding full assurance of our salvation in understanding (Col. 2:2; 3:10). The Hebrew word for “understanding” is also that for “certainty”- e.g. Josh. 23:13 “Know for a certainty…” [s.w. “understanding”]. To understand is to be sure, in God’s language. Understanding, "being filled with the knowledge of his will", does have a place in determining our daily walk in Christ. What and how we understand, and thereby what we believe, does therefore matter.

Jos 23:14 Behold, today I am going the way of all the earth. You know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which Yahweh your God spoke concerning you. All have happened to you, not one thing has failed of it-
Literally, 'not a word from all the good word'. Every word of promise concerning every town, field, cattle drive and suburb didn't fail. God's prophecies do not fail of themselves; it is human weakness which fails to realize the prophetic potential. Indeed as concluded in Josh. 24:18 "Yahweh drove out from before us all the peoples". But Israel failed to make good on that, for they didn't drive out all the peoples. This all speaks of the tragic wasted potential which there is in all that the Lord Jesus achieved. He won the victories over every aspect of sin, every obstacle between us and possessing the Kingdom. But we are slow and lazy to believe and act upon that. See on Josh. 24:15.

Jos 23:15 It shall happen that as all the good things have come on you of which Yahweh your God spoke to you, so Yahweh will bring on you all the evil things until He has destroyed you from off this good land which Yahweh your God has given you-
Joshua alludes to how they had read the blessings and cursings at mount Ebal. As it happened, Israel did worship other gods consistently. And yet it took centuries before God removed them from the land. His patient grace was wonderful. Likewise the experience of "good things" was by God's grace, giving the rewards for obedience to those who were disobedient. Much of it was achieved by Joshua, and this, it seems, was counted to the people.

Jos 23:16 if you disobey the covenant of Yahweh your God which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down yourselves to them. Then the anger of Yahweh will be kindled against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given to you-
Joshua is making the same point time and again. He obviously sensed the tendency towards idolatry, which makes the apparent zeal of the western tribes to destroy the eastern tribes in Josh. 22 so deeply hypocritical.