Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.XXIV.
(b) JOSHUA’S LAST CHARGE TO THE PEOPLE.
(1, 2) Joshua gathered all the tribes . . .—At the former address the rulers alone appear to have been present; on this occasion all Israel was gathered. And what is spoken is addressed to the people in the hearing of the rulers. In the speech that now follows Joshua briefly recapitulates the national history; he had not thought this necessary for the rulers. To them he had said, “Ye know;” but “the people” embraced many persons of but little thought and education, whom it was necessary to inform and remind and instruct, even as to the leading events of their national history. The simple lesson which Joshua’s words are intended to enforce is the duty of serving Jehovah, and serving Him alone. It is the first great lesson of the old covenant. “I am Jehovah, thy God; thou shalt have no other gods beside Me.” The ark of this covenant had brought them over Jordan into the promised land.
(2) Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood.—The flood, i.e., the river—probably Euphrates, though it may be Jordan, or both. Flood in our English Bible has been used for river in several places: e.g., Job 22:16, “whose foundation was overflown with a flood,” i.e., a river; Psalm 66:6, “He turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood (the river, i.e., Jordan) on foot;” Matthew 7:25; Matthew 7:27, “The rain descended, and the floods (i.e., the rivers) came.”
They served other gods.—They, i.e., Terah, Abraham, and Nachor.
And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.(3) The flood—i.e., the river, as in Joshua 24:2; and so also in Joshua 24:15.
Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and warred against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you:(9) Warred against Israel.—The sending for Balaam was a distinct act of hostility. Whether Balak himself ever led an army against Israel we are not informed. In the war with the Midianites, Balaam was slain; and there may have been Moabites allied and acting with the Midianites in the war in Numbers 31.
And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow.(12) The hornet.—There appears no reason for taking this word in any other than a literal sense. The possibility of what is recorded here has been abundantly illustrated by events reported in our own times.
The two kings of the Amorites.—Apparently, but not necessarily, Sihon and Og are intended. There were kings of the Amorites on both sides of Jordan.
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.(14) Fear the Lord.—It should be remembered throughout the whole of this passage that Lord stands for JEHOVAH, the covenant God of Israel.
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.(15) The Amorites.—Here used generically for the inhabitants of Canaan.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.—For Joshua himself the service of Jehovah on earth was nearly over. He pledges his “house” to the same service. What is known of his family? It is a singular fact that no descendant of the great conqueror, no member of his household, is named in the Bible. In the genealogies of Ephraim in 1 Chronicles 7, Joshua’s name is the last in his own line (Joshua 24:27 : “Non his son, Jehoshuah his son”). I cannot but regard the silence of Scripture under this head as profoundly significant. It is one more analogy between the Joshua of the Old Testament and his great Antitype in the Gospel: “whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6). The house of Joshua embraces all the faithful servants of the Lord.
And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods;(16) God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods.—The feelings of the people are naturally shocked by the bare mention of apostasy. They will not forsake Jehovah on any account. But their answer only betrayed their want of intelligence. They missed the point of Joshua’s argument, as may be seen by his reply.
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.(19) And Joshua said . . . Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is . . . jealous . . .—Jehovah will not consent to be served as one God among many: the very thing which Israel was doing at the moment, which they meant to do, and did do, with rare intervals, down to the Babylonish captivity, when the evil spirit of (literal) idolatry was expelled for evermore. Israel always maintained the worship of Jehovah (except in very evil times) as the national Deity, but did not abstain from the recognition and partial worship of other national deities of whom they were afraid, and whom they thought it necessary to propitiate. Therefore Joshua’s argument is perfectly intelligible, and was entirely necessary for those times.
And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD.(21) Nay; but we will serve the Lord.—Being brought to the point, no other answer was possible. If they must give up Jehovah or the idols, the idols must go first.
(22,23) Ye are witnesses . . . that ye have chosen you the Lord . . . Now therefore put away . . . the strange gods.—This was the practical conclusion to which Joshua desired that they should come. But we do not read that they did anything in obedience to these words. We read of no images being buried or burned, as in the days of Jacob by David (Genesis 35:4; 2Samuel 5:21). There is only a verbal promise: “The Lord our God will we serve, and His voice will we obey.”
So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.(25) So Joshua made a covenant—i.e., a covenant that idolatry should not be tolerated in Israel, or suffered to exist. We read of similar covenants in the reign of Asa (2Chronicles 15:12-13), in the reign of Joash, by Jehoiada (2Chronicles 23:16), and of Josiah (2Chronicles 34:31-32).
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.(26) And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God.—Primarily “these words” appear to refer to the transaction just recorded. But it must be observed that this is also the second signature among the sacred writers of the Old Testament. The first is that of Moses, in Deuteronomy 31:9 : “Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests,” &c. The next signature after Joshua’s is that of Samuel (1Samuel 10:25): “Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in the [not a] book, and laid it up before the Lord.” We have here a clue to the authorship of the Old Testament, and to the view of the writers who succeeded Moses in what they did. They did not look upon themselves as writers of distinct books, but as authorised to add their part to the book already written, to write what was assigned to them “in the book of the law of God.” The unity of Holy Scripture is thus seen to have been an essential feature of the Bible from the very first.
So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.(28-31) So Joshua let the people depart . . .—This passage is recited in Judges 2:6-9.
And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old.(29) An hundred and ten years old.—The mention in Joshua 24:31 of “elders that prolonged their days after Joshua” seems to suggest that Joshua’s death was comparatively an early death. Had he thought and laboured more for himself and less for Israel, he also might have prolonged his days. But, like his Antitype, he pleased not himself, and, like a good and faithful servant, he entered all the sooner into the joy of his Lord.
 Yet Brugsch states that the Egyptians “addressed to the host of the holy gods the prayer to preserve and lengthen life, if possible, to the most perfect old age of 110 years.” This may be a reminiscence of the life of Joseph, which reached this length (Genesis 50:26).
(32) The bones of Joseph, and also of his brethren, as appears by Acts 7:16. The precedent set by Joseph is exceedingly likely to have been followed.
And it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.—It may be that this fact helped to fix the position of Ephraim and Manasseh in the centre of the country.
And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him in a hill that pertained to Phinehas his son, which was given him in mount Ephraim.(33) And Eleazar the son of Aaron died.—“Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun,” were the Moses and Aaron of this period. It is fitting that the Book of Joshua should close with the death of Eleazar, who was Joshua’s appointed counsellor; for when Joshua was given as a shepherd to Israel, in answer to the prayer of Moses, Eleazar was also given to Joshua for a counsellor (Numbers 27:21). At Eleazar’s word he was to go out and come in, “both he and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.” It is rather singular that nothing but this has been recorded of Eleazar’s personal history. Everything stated about him in his lifetime is official. Not a word that he uttered has been preserved.
A hill. . . . given him in mount Ephraim.—The inheritance of Phinehas as a priest would lie within the tribe of Judah (Joshua 21:13, &c.) or Benjamin. This gift to Phinehas in Mount Ephraim, near the seat of government, seems to have been a special grant to him over and above his inheritance. But inasmuch as the tabernacle itself was at Shiloh, in Mount Ephraim, it was altogether suitable and natural that some place of abode should be assigned to the priests in that neighbourhood, where they were compelled to reside.
Although Phinehas himself was “zealous for his God,” he lived to see the tribe of Benjamin nearly exterminated from Israel for repeating the sin of the Canaanites. (See Judges 20:28.) We can hardly say that the people served Jehovah all the days of Phinehas. With Eleazar and Joshua the spirit of strict obedience to the law seems to have, in a great measure, passed away.