Joshua 23
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics


(1) Personal devotion. God seeks the devotion of our hearts. It is inward and spiritual, and not merely a fact of visible conduct. It implies drawing near to God in prayer, walking with God, delighting in Him, seeking to be like Him, aiming at pleasing Him.

(2) Active obedience. Joshua exhorts the people to "be very courageous," "to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses." Devotion of heart is a mockery unless it leads to obedience in conduct. We must cleave to God in action as well as in feeling.

(3) Purity. The people are exhorted to avoid the contamination of heathen society and the sin of idolatry. Anything that takes the place of God in our heart is an idol. All sinful pleasures and worldly interests that are not consistent with pure devotion to God separate us from Him and vitiate our service. God cannot accept our sacrifices while we approach Him with sinful affections (Isaiah 1:18).

II. THE DANGER. Joshua saw that there was a danger that the people should cease to "cleave unto the Lord." This arose from various causes:

(1) Prosperity. It was now "a long time after that the Lord had given rest unto Israel." In times of prosperity we are often off our guard, and become indolent, and hence are in danger.

(2) Bad example. The Canaanites who remained in the land would be a source of temptation to idolatry and immorality. We need to be especially careful if we are surrounded by those who live worldly and unholy lives. The influence of an ever present example is insidious and powerful.

(3) The inherent difficulty of duty. The people were exhorted not to turn aside to the right hand or to the left. The path of duty is narrow (Matthew 7:18, 14). There are many wrong ways, but only one right way.

(4) The loss of an old leader. Joshua was about to die. He feared for the people after his guiding hand was removed. When trusted leaders are called away the Church is thrown back on the individual responsibility of its members to preserve its fidelity.

III. THE MOTIVES FOR OVERCOMING THE DANGER AND FULFILLING THE DUTY. The great source of devotion is love to God. Joshua says, "Take good heed, therefore, unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God." We cannot cleave to the Lord out of a mere sense of duty. We must feel attracted by the influence of His love to us, rousing our love to Him (Hosea 11:4). This influence will be realised as we reflect upon the goodness of God in the past. Joshua appeals to the experience of the people and theft memory of God's great goodness and powerful help. We have not only the providential grace of God to reflect upon, but also the wonderful love He has revealed in the sacrifice of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14). If we have been at all faithful in the past, the thought of this fact should stimulate us to maintain our fidelity. Joshua says, "Cleave unto the Lord your God as ye have done unto this day." Past devotion is no security against future unfaithfulness. But it is a motive to fidelity, because, failing this, the fruits of the labour and sacrifice of the past will be lost; because the habits of the past will make it easier to be true in the future - the greater difficulties being overcome, it would be foolish to yield before the lesser; and because the experience of the blessings which accompany fidelity should make us see that our joy and peace are in "cleaving unto the Lord." - W. F. A.


(1) The people of God are few and weak in comparison with the host of theft enemies. This was the case with the Jews. It is so in the comparison of the Church with the great godless and heathen world. It is true of our own spiritual resources and the dangers which beset our inner life. The comparison is as one to a thousand.

(2) It is a Divine law that success shall not turn on questions of numbers and visible strength. God is not always "on the side of the big battalions." Even in material warfare there are possible "accidents" and "mistakes" which vitiate arguments drawn from statistics. In spiritual warfare visible superiority counts for very little. Paul the tent maker was stronger than the Sanhedrim. The monk Luther was victorious over the Pope and the whole Roman hierarchy. Nothing could have looked feebler than Christianity when it appeared in the upper room at Jerusalem; yet in three centuries it conquered the Roman Empire, and it is now the most powerful factor in the life of the foremost races of mankind.

(3) God assures victory to His people. The victory is not only possible in spite of apparent weakness; it is certain. It is promised by God. Anticipations are constantly seen, as in the successes of Israel, the triumphs of Christianity, the victory of the Christian over his old sins, etc. Therefore let us see that we are on the side of right and truth and God, and then let us be trustful and hopeful.

II. THE SECRET OF VICTORY IS THE HELP OF GOD. Israel must be brave and faithful, and must labour and fight. Yet victory is not secured by these means alone. Joshua points to the true ground of assurance: "The Lord your God, He it is that fighteth for you." How does God fight for us?

(1) He fights for us in His providence.

(a) God so overrules events that they shall minister to the victory of His people; His complete government of all things renders it certain that no calamities or temptations can fall upon His people against His will, and He can regulate and temper those that He permits.

(b) God guides the thoughts and inner lives of men. Pharaoh the oppressor and Nebuchadnezzar were led by God to do His will, though unconsciously. Even the bitterest opponents of God's will cannot shake off this unseen control.

(2) God fights for us by innspiring us with strength to fight.

(a) He leads the mind to those thoughts which help us to resist evil and advocate truth and right with enthusiasm.

(b) He is the source of direct spiritual influences which strengthen the will in the determination to brave all for the right. - W.F.A.

We are called to love God. It is not enough that we discharge our duty to our neighbour; we have a distinct duty to God (Malachi 1:6), This duty is not fulfilled by the most scrupulous devotion to external service alone. God claims the affection of our hearts.


(1) It has all the qualities of genuine love.

(a) It is personal. We love God in loving goodness and all things Godlike; but the perfect love of God implies a personal relation between our soul and His. We love Him as our Father.

(b) It is seen in the delight we have in God, the attraction He is to us, our desire to be in His presence, and the greater brightness of our lives as we grow nearer to Him. True love finds its greatest joy in loving. The love which is merely benevolent, which wishes well without feeling delight, is cold and faint.

(c) It is proved by sacrifice. Love sacrifices itself to death, and prefers the person loved to its own joy. So our love to God must lead to self devotion and willingness to suffer loss for His sake.

(2) It has special features of its own. There are different kinds of love, determined by the different relations of men, as friends, brothers, parents and children, husbands and wives. Our relation to God is unlike any other relation, and the love which flows from this must have a peculiar character. God stands to us in the ideal of all relations, as the friend, the father, the husband of His people, and our love to God should be the perfection and ideal of all love. Still God needs no help from us; therefore the element of pity which characterises the love of the strong to the weak does not belong to this love. God is unseen and spiritual; therefore our love to Him does not naturally take the form of sensuous rapture, but rather that of calm and rational devotion. God is infinitely above us; therefore our love to Him must be inspired with reverence and humility. In its perfection it must become an all-absorbing devotion. Yet even then it will be characterised by strength and depth rather than by passion and visible emotion.

II. THE SOURCES OF LOVE TO GOD. We are to "take good heed " - an admonition which implies that it rests with us to cultivate our own love to God.

(1) Consider the grounds we have for loving God:

(a) In His love to us, seeing that He has loved us before seeking for our love, and has proved His love by His goodness in creation, providence, and redemption;

(b) in His nature, He attracts by the "beauty of holiness;" He is love; the more we know of God the more do we see of His goodness.

(2) Realise the presence of God. Love is strengthened by communion. Contemplation of God with faith in His personal presence will draw the soul near to Him, and deepen the feeling of affection to Him as a real being - "our Father" - and not as the mere abstraction of perfect attributes which is all that the name of God suggests to some men.

(3) Live in His spirit. As we love what God loves, as we grow like Him, as we approach Him in sympathy, we shall learn to love God.


(1) Obedience. We shall desire to serve and please Him, and shall do this more heartily than from fear, self interest, or a cold conviction of duty (Romans 13:10).

(2) Likeness to God. Love naturally assimilates by the influence of

(a) admiration and

(b) sympathy.

(3) Love to man. This is a direct fruit of love to God, because

(a) it pleases Him,

(b) it is Godlike,

(c) love to God must flow out in all forms of unselfishness and benevolence (1 John 4:20).

(4) The highest blessedness. Heaven consists in the enjoyment of God through love. He secures, on earth, peace and satisfaction to the deepest yearnings of the soul. - W.F.A.

Whilst the words of the youthful sometimes claim our attention, none can forbear to give earnest heed to the advice of him whoso head is whitened with the snows of many winters. Respect is due to the aged, and never more so than when lessons taught them by a long and varied experience drop from their venerable lips. Let us bend our ears to listen to the counsel of Joshua, "old and stricken in age." The period at which it was delivered was one of peculiar interest. The honoured leader of the Israelites felt the time to be drawing near when he must pass away from the people whom he regarded as a father does his children. Knowing how soon they would be deprived of his presence and control, he assembled the people, as Moses had previously done, and like Samuel and David afterwards, and addressed them in words of solemn exhortation, which may be summarised in the language of the text, "Take good heed," etc. The purpose of most addresses is to strike a note of warning, to put men on the alert to guard against some danger. Our sleepy senses get so steeped in forgetfulness that there is constant need of the pealing alarm, "Take heed!"


(1) It directs attention to the centre and substance of religion. Our Saviour endorsed "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God" as "the first and great commandment." His condemnation of the Jews was expressed," I know you that ye have not the love of God in you." The first sin consisted in a turning away from God in consequence of the tempter's insinuation that want of love was the motive of the seemingly harsh prohibition. Hence the incarnation and crucifixion were the stupendous exhibition of Divine love intended to regain the love of man. Affection alone can secure ready and earnest and constant obedience "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." Love becomes "the fulfilling of the law." It is the mainspring of a godly life, the fountain whence flow streams of holy activity. Striking is it to observe how love is demanded and insisted on even under the old dispensation. The law giver knew that the sternest threats and severest penalties could not ensure compliance with the commands of the Almighty, unless love were enthroned in the heart as the ruling passion of the life. All the attributes of God require correspending recognition on the part of His creatures; and love as His chief, all-embracing excellence challenges our love in response, and we are guilty if we withhold it.

(2) It is highly necessary on account of man's nature and surroundings. He is engrossed by the senses and their gratifications, and is averse to what is spiritual. To worship God requires an effort of the mind, an abstraction from things carnal. The spirituality of the Divine nature was a source of difficulty to the Israelites. Even though they had seen the cloud, the fire, the Shechinah, they wanted to set up idols, visible images ever present. And as many of the miraculous elements had disappeared, there was the greater tendency to forgetfulness of Jehovah. Today men urge, "How can we love a Being whom we have never seen?" His laws appear in many instances stringent, and to obey is painful. Evidences of thoughtful, loving design seem rebutted by contrary appearances of disharmony and wrath. It is acknowledged to be difficult to hush the voice of passion, and to hear the "still small voice" that betokens the presence of God. The difficulty is increased by our surroundings. If Israel had been alone upon the earth, it might have maintained intact the worship of the true God. But, encircled by idolatrous tribes and abominable practices, there was constant liability to mix with the evil and catch its infection (see vers. 7, 8). Our position is strictly analogous. We are "in the world," and daily brought into contact with those who make self their aim and treat pure religion with contempt. Easily may the contagion spread. The smoke of the city obscures the heavens, and amidst its din the tones of the angels fall but faintly on the ear. If this applies to believers who know and serve God, how mighty the barriers that interpose between Him and His "prodigal" sons! What dire need of sounding aloud the caution that they may speedily "come to themselves," and return to their Father!

(3) History confirms the necessity of attending to the caution. Joshua well knew how frequently the Israelites had already become estranged from God. Many were the mementos of rebellion left in the wilderness, many the stones which bore the traces of their stumbling. Thus reasoning had its conclusions verified by experience. And which of us has not memorials of folly? If a pillar marked each scene where was displayed absence of regard for our Maker, how thronged with such tokens would be the route by which we have travelled. Call up the remembrance of the acts of childhood and youth and manhood. Each sin was a step upon the path of enmity against God, for it evinced a liking for that which is displeasing to Him. His mercy checked us from utter aberration. The warning of Joshua was proved necessary by the actual event. Standing on the mountain top, he thence surveyed both the past and the future. In spite of the special covenant recorded in the following chapter, the Israelites ceased to love the Lord, and lapsed into idolatry and licentiousness. Would that no similar case could be pointed to amongst those who have been professing Christians! Of how many may it be said, "Ye did run well"? Let history shed its beacon light athwart the waves, reminding us of the rocks, and bidding us remain in the calm open sea of the love of God.

(4) Consider the risk incurred in neglecting the advice of the text. Folly is in proportion to the hazard which neglect involves. Scripture wisely employs every legitimate motive to urge men to adopt its plans. Threats are mentioned as well as promises, and punishments as well as rewards. Joshua declared that the spurning of his counsel would result in the withdrawal of God's aid in battle (ver. 13), and in their visitation with all manner of evil until destruction ensued (vers. 15, 16). Who shall estimate the peril of encountering the wrath of God? Even with His smile resting upon us the trials of life are hard to bear, but what if we have departed from Him and trials partake of the nature of judgments? True, believers are "kept by the power of God." Nevertheless, declension may cause the serious inquiry whether we have been really classed with believers. Hence the hypothetical statements and warnings of Holy Writ. It is not wise to swim on the verge of a whirlpool. Nor need we try how close to the edge of the cliff we can walk, lest we fall and there be no overhanging bough of Providence to arrest our awful descent.

II. PRACTICAL METHODS OF CULTIVATING THE HOLY AFFECTION ENJOINED. A preliminary objection may be raised respecting the inoperativeness of a command relating to the affections. Give an order with regard to the physical powers and it can be obeyed; the intellect will answer a call; but love is a spontaneous product, of internal not external origin, and cannot rise at will. Such an objection overlooks the fact that affection can be influenced, if not absolutely forced, by fixing its attention upon an object, by noting the qualities in it deserving of esteem and regard. Point one man to another whom he sees casually, and no emotion is excited. But describe the man, picture him as a loving friend, generous, noble, and true, and there will be created a desire to know more of him, and acquaintance will ripen curiosity into love. Accordingly we recommend

(1) Frequent meditation upon the character of God. He is the embodiment of every perfection. He is life, light, and love. If, when we observe traits of goodness in our fellow creatures, our hearts go out to them in loving sympathy, what must be the fervency of affection produced by contemplating the fount of goodness as it resides in the Almighty. In men it is but a shallow stream, often dry when most we need it, subject to widest fluctuations and to all changes of temperature, but in God it is an exhaustless perennial flood of all-powerful holiness and benevolence. We cannot let our minds dwell too much on the measureless perfections of the Deity. Let us stand upon the mount with Moses while God passes by, revealing His glory in His excellent name. To shut out the world for a season, and ascend in contemplation to the glorious temple, "where dwells eternal love," will be like exchanging the murky atmosphere of the city for the pure, bracing, inspiring Alpine mountains. We shall return strengthened for work and warfare, less enchanted by the world's allurements. And yet does the Almighty seem far removed from our ken, and do we need an assurance that He is one whom doubting finite minds can think of with delight? He has provided us with a clear portrait of Himself, His only-begotten son, "the brightness of His glory," the lustre of Deity shaded, that our weak eyes may gaze uninjured, living amongst men, and displaying all the qualities that can command our highest, deepest reverence and love.

(2) A constant passing in review of favours bestowed. Joshua reminded the people that every promise had been fulfilled (vers. 14, 15). The Lord had vanquished the enemy (ver. 3), the land was partitioned, each tribe was enjoying its inheritance. If they adhered to God, memory would be prophetic. Surely gratitude would constrain them to yield loving service unto Him who had done and would do great things for them. And each has but to survey his present position, to let the eye light on many a proof of love Divine. Temporal prosperity, true-hearted friends, the delights of honest labour and rest, health and strength, knowledge and taste, for some of these or a hundred other blessings has every one to thank the author of "every good and perfect gift." Be it noted that mercies augment love, since they teach us plainly the goodness of the Giver. They are to us the revelation of His character, and it must needs be that when we are brought into personal contact with Him, made personally the recipients of His bounty, then we understand Him better, appreciate more the warmth of heavenly rays than when we hear the testimony of others, or behold the sunlight flashing upon them from the throne of God. But what shall we say of God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ as the Father of our spirits, the forgiving God, who by His spirit hath quickened us from the death of sin, and is fitting us for the enjoyment of His immediate presence? And when we call to mind His providential care exercised over us, and the seasons in which He prevented the billows from overwhelming us in despair, and the fires of temptation from scorching us, what joy must it be to comply with the precepts of the text, to "arise and seek Him whom the soul loveth."

(3) Watchfulness against sin. The "expulsive power of a new affection "is a two-edged sword that fights both for good and for evil. The tendency of sin is to blind the judgment, pervert the imagination, and to deaden spiritual emotion. If it were one and uniform we should know how to attack it, but it is insidious and wraps itself in disguises, and encroaches on every side, hence we must be ready to act on the defensive. Joshua cautioned the Israelites against mingling with the degraded inhabitants of the land (vers. 12, 13). This is an entanglement to many a youthful Christian. First, on speaking terms, then follows familiarity, and lastly, participation in the very practices condemned. Not all at once did he rush into flagrant transgression, but gradually walked into the snare, until the love of God was stifled in his breast. Bodily sight depends on the state of the health, and the eye of the soul is dimmed through the indulgence of fleshly lusts. A traitor is admitted into the camp, and the true friend is ousted from his seat of honour. Guard, then, against sin; say not, "it is a little one;" cherish not a viper in your bosom, it will mar your peace, pollute your dwelling, and leave a sting which no palliative shall be able to soothe. But if you are now repenting of sin, be assured of God's willingness to pardon, "believe in Him that raised up Jesus from the dead; who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification." Then say, "I love Him because He first loved me." - A.

With much in the detail of these chapters which is of interest, the final farewell of Joshua is worthy of our study in its entirety. The dignity and serenity of saintly ripeness, the vigour of his exhortations, and the assurance of his faith, are facts worthy of the study of every one of us. Consider a few features of this farewell, and observe -

I. HIS GRACES ENDURE TO THE END. Bodily vigour leaves even his stalwart frame. Nervous energy begins to flag even with him. The mind loses elasticity and keenness. But his graces thrive. He chose God in his youth; he clings to Him in his age. His faith expected much in his manhood; it still enthrones God as the fountain of all that blesses a man or a people. His hope was bright, and still continues bright. His love of his God and of his country warm his whole being at an age when the chill of wintry age seems as if it must lower all warmth of interest. The outward man perishes; the inward man has been renewed day by day. What a sight to animate us! No regrets lament the early choice. No declension stains the early purpose. The bitter words of the elder D'Israeli, "Youth is a mistake, manhood a struggle, old age a regret," are all of them contradicted here. They are too often true. They are so when the early choice is made by passion rather than by principle. But when we choose God, we go "from strength to strength until we appear before the Lord in Zion." The perseverance of the saints is beautifully illustrated in such a case as this. Let the faint hearted be of good cheer. Grace, however feeble, is a "living and incorruptible seed; a living and deathless seed;" and whatever its varying fortunes, it will persist until it reaches its great reward. Connected with this, yet worthy of separate mention, observe -

II. THE LONGER THE GOOD MAN'S EXPERIENCE, THE LARGER IS HIS SATISFACTION WITH HIS CHOICE. A short experience sometimes leaves good people in doubt whether their goodness will be worth its cost. Moses, when he had to flee to Midian, was very much tempted to repent of the zeal with which he had taken up the cause of his oppressed people in Egypt, In the Slough of Despond Christian was tempted to regret his setting out on pilgrimage. Joshua was tempted, when they refused the advice of Caleb and himself and talked of stoning them, to wish he had not unsettled the minds of the people by avowing his dissent from the conclusions of the majority of those sent out to spy the land. And often we drift into a mood the reverse of that of Agrippa, and are "almost persuaded" to cease to be Christians. But a longer experience always means a stronger sense of the wisdom of our choice. The earlier doubts of a Moses or a Joshua all fade away, and the aged saint is only thankful for his early choice. This should hearten us, and keep us from attaching too much weight to temporary depression, or even failures. When we choose God we choose "the good part" which shall not be taken away from us. Observe -

III. THE GOOD MAN'S LAST SERVICE IS HIS BEST SERVICE. He had done illustrious service throughout: as the faithful spy; as the faithful helper of Moses; as the heroic warrior; as the wise and upright divider of the land. But here he conquers not the arms of enemies, but the hearts of friends: infuses the energy to win not an earthly, but a heavenly kingdom: leads them into covenant with God: secures that deepening of conscience and strengthening of faith which will give them, in the degree in which it endures, the power to keep all that they had conquered. There is something characteristic of grace here. The last service may always be - and perhaps almost always is - the best. As it was said of Samson so, in a different sense, it may be said of the Saviour Himself and of all God's saints, "The dead he slew in his death were more than all they that he slew in his life." The progressive usefulness of the saintly life is a very marvellous feature of it. Rejoice and hope in it. Lastly observe -

IV. HOW FIT FOR IMMORTALITY THE OLD MAN STANDS. There may be a physical theory of another life which convinces some of the truth of the Christian doctrine of immortality; but the great argument for immortality lies in men's meetness for it. The Enochs and the Joshuas were in early ages - and such spirits are today - the great arguments of immortality. Such ripeness of spirit cannot be wasted by Him who gathers up the fragments even that nothing may be lost. For such power to serve and faculty for enjoyment men could not help feeling there must be some provision and some scope beyond the grave, The other world is hidden, but occasionally the entrance of a great soul brightens it. They, lifted up, draw our hearts and thoughts up after them. And when, like the men of Galilee, we stand gazing upwards after those who leave us, like them we see the angels, and receive the promise of a blessed heritage with those who have gone. The belief in immortality has existed ever since good men died; and while there are good men to love, the belief in a bright glory will survive. Joshua stood ready for heaven, proving the existence of a heaven by that readiness. Let us, like him, be fit for the other world as well as this, that, to the last, hope, propose, and usefulness may be rich and bright. - G.

There are those who deny God's threats of punishment the same validity which they ascribe to His promises of blessing. Joshua here ascribes equal certainty to both.

I. GOD MUST BE TRUE TO HIS THREATS. God desires to bless, and He can only punish reluctantly, since His nature is love. Hence it might appear that He would not be so true to His threats as to His promises. But, on the other hand, note : -

(1) To threaten without intending to execute would be deceitful; God is true and must be faithful to His word.

(2) It would be cruel; a merciful God would not terrify us with groundless alarms.

(3) It would be ineffectual; the emptiness of the threat would be ultimately discovered, and then the delusion would cease to be a terror and become a mockery.

(4) Punishment is ordained not to satisfy vengeance, but to establish justice and to vindicate and restore righteousness. It is a good sent for good ends, and to refrain from it would be a mark of weakness, not of mercy.


(1) They are conditional. The punishment does not always come because the conditions of the threat are altered. Repentance and faith in Christ are conditions on which God exercises mercy and refrains from executing His threat. The turning from evil is declared to be an alteration of circumstances which makes the threat no longer to apply (Ezekiel 33:19). The force of gravitation is not suspended when we arrest the motion of a falling body. The law is not frustrated by the counteraction of the gospel.

(2) Threats are often misunderstood. The Church has added monstrous physical horrors to the threats of the Bible, against which men revolt. It is not our interpretation of the threat, but God's meaning, that will be fulfilled.

(3) Threats apply to the future; because God is long suffering, men refuse to believe that He is just. The delay of punishment is no ground for disbelieving in the reality of it.

(4) Threats are unpleasant; many persons will not entertain unpleasant ideas. Yet a fact is not the less true because it does not please us.


(1) It is dangerous to neglect them. We do not improve our health by ignoring the opinion of a physician simply because this is unfavorable. If the Divine warnings are true, they are terribly true, and no soul should be at rest till it has found safety in Christ.

(2) It is foolish to despair. Why are these threats recorded in the Bible? Surely not simply to torture us! If they were inevitable it would be most merciful to conceal our doom from us till the last moment. But they are warnings. The very fact that they are recorded implies that the evil they describe may be avoided. The threat is true, but it is conditional. Therefore let us flee the danger by escaping to the refuge which God has provided (Romans 8:1). - W.F.A.

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