Joshua’s Farewell to the Leaders (23:1–16)
1–5 In his last speech to the leaders of Israel, Joshua sums up the most important teachings given by both himself and Moses. God had kept His part of the covenant: He, through Joshua’s leadership, had given Canaan into Israel’s hands. Now, if the Israelites were to remain secure in the land, they had to fulfill their part of the covenant: to love the Lord and to obey Him. The Israelites’ faithfulness to God had been the key to their successful conquest of Canaan; it would also be the key to their taking possession of the areas still not under their control. God had given them rest from major battles (verse 1); but in order to secure that “rest,” they needed to drive out the Canaanites who remained. And as always, it would be God Himself who would drive them out (verse 5); He had fought for the Israelites from the beginning, and He would continue to do so (verses 3,10)—as long as they remained faithful. They must not fear; they must only obey.
6–8 In these verses, Joshua repeats words spoken earlier by both himself and Moses (see Exodus 23:23–24,31–33; 34:10–16; Deuteronomy 7:1–5; Joshua 1:6–9 and comments). The Book of the Law (verse 6) consisted of the major teachings of the book of Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 31:9,24–26; Joshua 1:8).
In verse 7, Joshua repeats the command prohibiting the Israelites from associating with the nations that remain—that is, the ungodly Canaanites. But Israel was encouraged to “associate with” non-Israelites (aliens) who believed in Israel’s God; they were commanded to love such aliens and treat them as Israelites (see Leviticus 19:33–34; 24:22; Numbers 15:1416). Israel was to exclude only ungodly nations that refused to repent. We must always remember that God raised up Israel to be a missionary nation, to give testimony to the world that Israel’s Lord was a loving and merciful God who was ready to bless anyone who turned to Him (Genesis 12:3; Romans 10:11–13).
9–11 So be very careful to love the LORD (verse 11). God had shown great love to Israel and was continuing to do so; therefore, the Israelites needed to show love to God (see Deuteronomy 6:4–5; Joshua 22:5 and comments). We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
12–13 Joshua (and Moses before him) knew that the greatest danger facing Israel was apostasy—the worshiping of false gods. And as had happened before(Numbers25:13), this temptation would come through association with ungodly nations—in particular, with the women of those nations. If Israel persisted in associating with such nations, God would no longer drive them out, and they would become snares and traps for the Israelites.68
14–16 Joshua reminded the Israelite leaders that God had been faithful in fulfilling His promises to Israel; not one of them had failed (see Joshua 21:45). But for that very reason, the Israelites should know that God would be equally faithful in fulfilling His threats—if Israel were to violate the covenant by serving other gods (verses 15–16). If the Israelites continued to keep God’s covenant, they would continue to receive His blessings (see Leviticus 26:313). But if the Israelites failed to keep His covenant, they would surely receive His punishments (see Leviticus 26:14–39).
Let us summarize Joshua’s speech. For Israel to continue to enjoy God’s blessings in the promised land, they needed to do three things. First, they needed to obey God’s word (verse 6). Second, they needed to separate themselves from ungodly influences (verse 7). And third, they needed to give themselves to their Lord in love—to love Him with their whole being (verse 11). We, too, must do these same three things if we are to continue to experience the blessings we have been given in Christ.
We usually think of Joshua as a great soldier. But in this chapter we also see him as a great shepherd. His overriding concern was that the Israelites not lose the blessings—the inheritance—they had received from God. The Apostles Paul and Peter had a similar concern (Acts 20:17–31; 1 Peter 5:1–4; 2 Peter 1:12–15). And that same concern should be foremost in the mind of every Christian leader today: namely, that those under them might be built up in the Lord—taught, exhorted, admonished—so that they remain faithful and do not lose their inheritance in Christ.