JOSHUA 23 THE CALL TO COVENANT OBEDIENCE
1:1-2 The Summons
The Israelites had enjoyed a time of rest from war. We are not given a specific amount of elapsed time, just that it was a long time.
Joshua was old and about to die.
He summoned all the leaders of Israel to give a farewell speech of instructions. God did not select a successor to Joshua, as he did when Moses died. Joshua 24:31 seems to indicate that elders provided leadership after his death. Then, God raised up judges to lead them.
The true spiritual leader wants his labor to have lasting effect. It is not about pride, hoping no one is good enough to follow your footsteps. Rather, he wants the people to continue in the Lord. Moses gave such a speech in Deuteronomy, Jesus gave instructions both before and after his death, and Peter gave a message in anticipation of death in 2 Peter 1:12-15.
1:3-5 The Lord Provided The Land For Israel
Joshua first recounts what God has done for Israel. This is the same method God used in Genesis 19, when he made the covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. He first recounted how he had brought them out of Egypt, then told them they would be his treasured possession if they kept his covenant. It is also the prologue to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. He said “I am the Lord our God who brought you out of Egypt” before he gave the commandments.
Here Joshua reminds them that God fought for them as he promised, gave them an inheritance in the land, and drove out the nations that were there. God is the initiator of relationship.
1:6-11 Keep The Covenant
After reminding them of what God has done for them, Joshua admonishes them on several points.
First, he said to be strong to obey the law and to obey it completely. This is the same thing the Lord told Joshua to do when he took over for Moses. See Joshua 1:7. They were supposed to obey the law completely and walk the straight and narrow, not turning to the right or the left. This is the same instruction Moses gave in Deuteronomy 5:32.
They were not to mix with the Canaanites or have anything to do with the Canaanite gods. Rather, they were to cling to the Lord. They were to love the Lord. These are strong words and a demand for full commitment. The Lord wanted all their devotion and dependence.
1:12-16 The Consequence of Breaking the Covenant
Although the Lord had done great things for them and had called them into covenant, he also set before them the consequences of breaking his covenant. They would breach the covenant by having relations with the Canaanites, including inter-marriage.
This, to me, gives a big emphasis to 2 Corinthians 6:14, which says “do not be yoked to unbelievers”. This is a continuation of the same principle. God knows that relationships can pull us away from him, whether it is a business partner, spouse, date, or friend. He is telling us here that our relationship to him has to be more important than those relationships in that our intimate relationships must help us cling to God, not detract us from it.
So, the Lord tells them to avoid conflicting relationships with these other nations. If they do, he will drive them out and protect Israel. If, however, Israel itself breaches this part of the covenant and develops relationships with the other nations, God will not drive those nations out. The result will be that the nations will become a problem for them. They will lead Israel astray and destroy it. They will actually be driven from the land and the Lord will not prevent it. Possession of the land was conditioned on obedience to the covenant. Israel could cling to God or cling to its pagan neighbors.
The Book of Judges, chapter 1, shows us that the tribes did not drive out the Canaanites from their allotments. The generation after Joshua did not cling to the Lord, worshipped idols, and God gave them over in defeat to the Mesopotamians. It is a little like Romans 1:24-25, where it says God gave them over to their sinful desires as the worshipped created things rather than the creator.
This is summarized in Psalm 106:34-41. Read it.
We also know, from our study of Isaiah, that God later gave them over to the Babylonians. He also let them be conquered by the Romans in 70 A.D.
So, we see that the covenant of the land was conditioned on obedience. We have a better covenant as New Testament believers. Jeremiah conveyed the promise of a better covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34. He said “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying ‘know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Hebrews 7:22 spells out the superiority of the new covenant. “This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. Read chapters 7 through 9 to get a full explanation of this concept.
We have only one more chapter of Joshua left to study. Then we will take up a New Testament book.