So, we see Joshua’s first final address in Joshua 23. He gives another one in chapter 24…
[24:1 ¶ And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges [note this additional mention of Judges], and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.]
What Joshua does from verse 2 to verse 13 is recall Israel’s history up to the present time – Joshua’s time. He starts in verse 2 with Terah and his ancestors. They worshiped idols. Verse 3 talks about Abraham. God took him out of his land and gave him a son. Verse 4 speaks of Isaac, Jacob, and Esau and the land that Esau was given. Jacob, on the other hand, God sent down to Egypt. When they were in the Egypt for a while, God sent Moses and Aaron and plagued Egypt and redeemed Israel out of there. We’re reminded of the peril they faced at the Red Sea when Egypt pursued them in verses 6 and 7. If you look at the end of verse 7 you see something very interesting. “Ye dwelt in the wilderness a long season.” We saw this with Moses as well. There just wasn’t much to say about that period of their existence as a nation. It was a big defeat for them because they refused to trust God. Then verse 8 reminds them how God destroyed Sihon and Og. Balak and Balaam in verse 9 tried to trip Israel up, but – verse 10 – God wouldn’t allow it. Verse 11 reminds them of the battle of Jericho and subsequent battles in the land of Canaan. Verse 12 – God sent hornets before them to help them defeat their enemies, just like he did with Sihon and Og. Israel didn’t do this with her “sword and their bow.” She did it with God’s help. And now – verse 13 – they’re living in a land filled with good things. Israel, look at your history. God has been good to you. What should be their reaction to God’s goodness? Verse 14…
[14 ¶ Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. 15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.]
It’s almost shocking that Joshua needs to admonish these folks to put away their false gods that they served back in Terah’s day and back in Egypt. They were still attracted to these silly idols. But these idols of the Egyptians, for example, God judged with the 10 Plagues. The Lord had overthrown the idols. And yet the Lord’s people were still clinging to them in some ways. Well, how do the people respond to this charge from Joshua? Verse 16…
[16 ¶ And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods; 17 For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed: 18 And the LORD drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the LORD; for he is our God.]
They get it right! That’s a good response. They speak the truth. Does that satisfy Joshua? Verse 19…
[19 ¶ And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.]
But I thought the Lord was full of forgiveness! He is. Verse 19 isn’t intended to say that he won’t forgive sins, even in the Old Testament. Verse 19 needs to be read in light of verse 20. In other words, God won’t overlook anyone’s sin. If Israel turns to strange gods, the Lord will not overlook their sins. But the people are adamant that they’ll serve God. Verse 21…
[21 And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD.
22 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him.
And they said, We are witnesses.
23 Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel.
24 And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.]
We’re going to serve the Lord. Alright, Joshua says, you’re witnesses that you made this promise. Yes, we’re witnesses. OK then, put away those gods and follow the Lord. And the people consent. So Joshua tries to make this permanent. Verse 25…
[25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. 27 And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us [just like the altar of the 2 ½ tribes was two chapters ago]; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God. 28 So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.]
So that’s Joshua’s last word to Israel. Then the chapter and book end with three burials or deaths. Verses 29-30 tell us about Joshua’s death and burial. Verse 32 records the burial of Joseph. And finally in verse 33 we have the death and burial of Eleazar the high priest.
Verse 31 summarizes things this way: “And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel.”
Next Up: Judges!
And that’s somewhat of a happy ending, but it’s not the end of the story. Turn a few pages forward to the 2nd chapter of the book of Judges. Judges 2:7. “And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel.” And now verse 10. “And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” And then we have the rest of the book of Judges. We’ll start studying that next week, Lord-willing.