Joshua 23 – Joshua’s Farewell Address
A. The first exhortation: total obedience to the word of God.
1. (1-3) Joshua declares what the LORD has done.
Now it came to pass, a long time after the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua was old, advanced in age. And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them: “I am old, advanced in age. 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 fought for you.”
a. Joshua called for all Israel: Joshua, in his old age, gathers the leadership of Israel together to give them a farewell address, to communicate to them the things that are, to his heart, the most important for them to hear.
i. Joshua can’t, as a practical matter, speak to the whole nation, so he speaks to the leaders: elders, heads, judges, and officers. He can reach the entire nation by communicating well to the leaders.
b. 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 fought for you: Joshua begins his address by giving glory to God. It would have been easy for Joshua to focus on what he had done as a military leader, especially because it was impressive. But he is far more interested in glorifying God than talking about himself.
2. (4-5) Joshua describes the challenges that remain.
See, I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, as far as the Great Sea westward. And the LORD your God will expel them from before you and drive them out of your sight. So you shall possess their land, as the LORD your God promised you.
a. I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain: Under Joshua’s leadership, the army of Israel broke the back of the Canaanite military occupation. Now it remains for each individual tribe to fully possess what God has given them.
b. So you shall possess their land, as the LORD your God promised you: In the same way, God gives every believer an inheritance. We have been blessed… with every spiritual blessing…in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), and God has a definite part for us to play in coming to possess that inheritance.
3. (6) How Israel will succeed: by total obedience to the word of God.
Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left,
a. Therefore be very courageous: They need to be courageous, so they can be obedient. Following God and His word isn’t something for the faint of heart.
b. To keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: They must do all that is written in the Book. We tend to focus on the aspects of obedience that we like and skip over the parts that attract us less.
c. Lest you turn aside from it: They must not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, because Satan doesn’t care which extreme he pushes us towards. Either legalism or licentiousness among God’s people pleases Satan.
B. The second exhortation: don’t make peace with the enemy.
1. (7-8) Hold fast to the LORD.
And lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, but you shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day.
a. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods: Joshua tells Israel to not even make mention of these false gods of the Canaanites. Instead of learning about them, they should hold fast to the LORD their God.
b. You shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day: An old saying concerning criminal enterprises says something to the effect of, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer” but this is exactly what Christians are not to do. The normal Christian, by and large, is not called to become an expert in the cults or in heresy, but to become an expert in Jesus Christ – to hold fast to Him.
2. (9-13) Their abiding had been blessed, so if they fail to abide in the LORD, they will also depart from God’s blessing.
For the LORD has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you. Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God. Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations; these that remain among you; and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you.
a. For the LORD has driven out from before you great and strong nations: As Israel abided in the LORD, they saw God do great things through them. As they continued to abide, they would continue to see great things as God fights on their behalf.
b. Love the LORD your God: This is what they must be careful to do. They must, as Jude puts it, keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 1:21).
i. Continually loving the LORD takes diligence. There are many things both within us and outside of us to draw us away from that love.
ii. This call to love God is an appeal to the will. We must decide to love God, even if the feelings of love for Him don’t come immediately.
c. If indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations: Continuing in God’s love will mean that they keep themselves separate from the ungodly influences around them; they must keep themselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
d. They shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish: If they do not separate themselves from the ungodly influences around them, those influences will become to them instruments of torture, leading to their destruction.
i. What today is only an “innocent Canaanite” in our lives may become a torture and a snare tomorrow.
ii. “How often we see that the temptation we have pampered and encouraged and indulged in has become a scourge and a thorn in our side. The compromising Christian is not a happy man. Let the enemy remain in a Christian life, let him have one foothold, and he soon becomes a scourge.” (Redpath)
iii. These ungodly influences never advertise themselves as instruments of torture; they present themselves as wonderful things – but we must see past all this.
C. The warning: God’s faithfulness works both ways.
1. (14) Joshua asks each man to prove God’s faithfulness in his own heart.
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 the LORD your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed.
a. You know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed: Joshua requires that every man probe deep within, and see if there is ever a time in his life when he could rightly accuse God of unfaithfulness to him.
b. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed: If we think there could be such a legitimate accusation, it shows we are not well acquainted with the God we claim to know.
2. (15-16) As surely as God has been faithful to bless their obedience under Joshua, He will be faithful to curse their later disobedience.
Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the LORD your God promised you, so the LORD will bring upon you all harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the LORD your God has given you. When you have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you.
a. As all the good things have come upon you which the LORD your God promised you, so the LORD will bring upon you all harmful things: Joshua merely repeats the principle of blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience that was a specific part of Israel’s covenant with God (Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28). He emphasizes that God will be just as faithful to judge as He had been to bless.
b. So the LORD will bring upon you all harmful things: We relate to God under a different covenant, a new and better covenant (Hebrews 8:6-7), by which Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10-14).
i. Therefore, in Jesus we no longer can experience God’s “faithfulness to curse us” as Israel knew it. Yet we do experience God’s faithfulness to correct us as a loving Father (Hebrews 12:7), and we do experience a lack of appropriated blessing if we do not abide in Jesus.