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<062301>JOSHUA 23:1-16 THE COUNCIL CALLED Inasmuch as the negotiations recorded in the preceding chapter were directed from Shiloh, it seems reasonable, in spite of the fact the exact location is not stated, to assume that the summons which called together the elders of Israel instructed them to meet there. Gilgal was the point at which the reproach of Egypt had been rolled away and the place at which were established the army headquarters from where the invasion of the land was conducted. Shechem was the center for national convocations; but Shiloh, where the tabernacle stood, was the seat of government in Joshua’s day ( Joshua 19:51).
There are noticeable differences between the events narrated in chapters and 24; the places of gathering apparently were not the same, nor were the audiences.
Joshua, first of all, called for Israel representatively in the nation’s leaders: elders, heads, judges, and officers. He sent for the entire parliament. The elders would be the successors to the seventy men chosen by Moses ( Exodus 18:13-26; 24:1-11), the forerunners of the Sanhedrin, eventually established at the time of the Maccabees. The name elder may have been a generic one for all, and the others may merely indicate the respective offices these filled in a declining gradation as suggested in Exodus 18:13-26, “Rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.”
At the time Israel was encamped around Sinai, Joshua, servant to Moses, was called “a young man” ( Exodus 33:11). About eighteen months later Israel reached Kadesh-barnea from where Joshua and others were sent to search the land of Canaan (Numbers 13). When the people listened to the evil report of the other ten men, and talked about returning to Egypt, “Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh... rent their clothes: And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey” ( Numbers 14:6-8).
From these particular statements, it is assumed that Caleb probably was senior to Joshua by several years.
In view of this deduction it is very interesting to contrast Joshua’s physical condition as reported in chapter 13 with that of Caleb stated in chapter 14. “Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years” ( Joshua 13:1). “Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite said unto him... I am this day fourscore and five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in” ( Joshua 14:6-11).
What made the great difference in the appearance of these two former spies of Israel? Why does the younger look older, and the older seem stronger? There is no doubt that God had promised to keep Caleb alive ( Joshua 14:10), but he was very much more than just alive. Could it be that the weight of responsibility, the burden of government, the duties of administration, had all so aged Joshua?
The Apostle Paul was called “a young man” at the time of Stephen’s death ( Acts 7:58), but in the year A.D. 64, he wrote to his friend Philemon and called himself “Paul the aged” ( Philemon 9). At the time he could not have been more than sixty years of age, but because of toil and suffering in his service, and because of solicitude and anxiety toward the churches of the saints, he possibly felt and looked as he described himself, “Paul the aged.” Suffering for the Lord, bearing responsibility in His service, pastoring the saints of God, supporting the testimony of Christ before the world, and patiently enduring the trials and the disappointments and disillusionments of life, all take their toll on both physical health and appearance. No doubt, there have been some who so expended their strength in the work of the Lord, they, humanly speaking, filled a grave prematurely. How many years had passed between the Lord’s statement in Joshua 13:1 and Joshua’s admission of the fact at the opening of chapter 23, we do not know; but definitely, age and his approaching decease prompted this heroic leader to call the elders of Israel to him at Shiloh.
Had this aged warrior wished to speak of himself to the august gathering, he could have employed the language of Samuel, who on a similar occasion said: “Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you. And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of any man’s hand” ( 1 Samuel 12:3-4).
The purposes of Joshua in calling this council at Shiloh in certain aspects correspond to the intentions of the aged Peter when he wrote to them of like precious faith: “Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover, I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” ( 2 Peter 1:12-15).
The time at which the summons was sent forth is most interesting: “And it came to pass a long time after that the LORD had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about.” It is gratifying that Joshua was permitted a period of rest, God-given rest. He had fought and won many battles; he had faced difficulties in the distribution of the territories, as he did in the previous chapter; he had arranged the execution of the guilty like Achan; he had smarted under defeat as well as exulted in victory; but, eventually, God gave his faithful servant rest, and with him the entire nation.
From the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is learned that this rest is the symbol of the believer’s present rest in Christ, not, of course, his rest in Heaven. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” ( Hebrews 4:6-9).
It is well, therefore, to examine the facts and features of this rest in Canaan in the light of New Testament Scripture.
That this rest of Israel in the land of Canaan was given divinely is distinctly stated ( Joshua 23:1), and that God instrumentally through Joshua guided the nation into it is also clearly obvious ( Hebrews 4:8).
Furthermore, from a careful reading of the valedictories of Joshua and the details of the subsequent history of the nation, it is seen that this rest was only temporary and conditional; there were several factors which could disturb it. In many parts of the land there still existed numbers of opposing, idolatrous Canaanites. Moreover, Phinehas himself was apprehensive of deep-rooted evils which could quickly develop and disrupt the peace of the nation. According to the Epistle of the Hebrews the most disquieting element did not lie in their enemies nor in their compatriots, but within themselves; “They... entered not in because of unbelief” ( Hebrews 4:6).
Christ is both the rest and the guide into rest for all in this present day. He offers rest to the sinner, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” ( Matthew 11:28).
He also offers rest to the saint, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” ( Matthew 11:29-30).
To the one He offers rest in conversion, and to the other He offers rest in consecration. Of the first, we read, “We which have believed do enter into rest” ( Hebrews 4:3); and, of the second, we read, “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” ( Hebrews 4:11).
While expositors differ in their interpretation of Hebrews chapter four, some claiming that the rest refers to a present experiential rest, and others that it refers to a full and final rest, a keeping of an eternal Sabbath, there is no question but that both aspects begin with conversion. The rest of the Christian in verse nine is called “a Sabbath of rest” in the Greek in order to identify it with God’s rest on the seventh day ( Genesis 2:2). Such a rest does not denote inactivity, but rather the completion of labor, a cessation from toil. It should be remembered that even God’s rest on that first Sabbath was broken by man’s sin; it cannot, therefore, picture an eternal rest. Disobedience on the part of a believer not only mars the tranquility of the soul but produces in its stead inward conflict and distress.
JOSHUA’S APPEAL The spirit in which Joshua addressed this council of national representatives and the text of his speech remind one of Paul’s discourse before the elders from Ephesus: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.... And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” ( Acts 20:28-32).
The rulers of the people whom Joshua soon expected to leave were certainly cast upon God. In his discourse, Joshua made some twelve references to the Lord in His dual distinction of Jehovah (LORD) and Elohim (God). Let us consider briefly these two names in order that we ascertain just what Joshua sought to emphasize in this farewell speech.
The name Jehovah is a derivative of the Hebrew verb “to be,” and implies that God is the “I Am,” He who always is, the absolutely existent One ( Exodus 3:14). It was the name by which God made Himself known especially to His ancient people. “And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD [Jehovah]: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.... Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD [Jehovah], and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD [Jehovah] your God, which bringeth you from under the burdens of the Egyptians” ( Exodus 6:2-7).
Eventually, this name was considered by the Jews as too sacred to express in the public reading of the Scriptures. The reader, consequently, on encountering this name, either substituted or remained silent.
The name Elohim is the plural form of the Hebrew word Eloah, meaning God. When it appears with a singular verb, it expresses not only greatness and supremacy but also triunity. Furthermore, in such a construction it emphasizes that God is one in the divine unity of a threefold distinction:
Joshua, conscious of an imminent, inevitable change, directed the attention of all those who ultimately would have to assume leadership to the Lord as the great “I Am” who fulfilled His covenants, and as God who performed all His works. These very names that he employed were in themselves reminders of divine grace and divine power.
In this important message, the aged speaker not only focuses the minds of his hearers upon the Lord their God, but he commends to them a consideration of God in His many activities on their behalf. He mentioned God’s actions in the past (verse 3); he predicted God’s actions in the future (verse 5); and he noticed God’s actions in the present (verses 9-11).
Joshua called upon these elders as witnesses of God’s grace to their nation throughout the past: “Ye have seen all that the Lord your God hath done unto all these nations because of you.” The words “because of you” cannot fail to arrest interest. Some might expect to read, “All that the Lord your God hath done unto these nations because of their wickedness.” Did the Lord not predict in His promise to Abraham a time when the iniquity of the Amorite would be filled ( Genesis 15:16)? Was not Israel’s presence in the land a proof of the fullness of the wickedness of the former inhabitants?
It surely was.
The command against the Canaanites was clear: “When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:... But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire” ( Deuteronomy 7:1-5).
Not only is there a proof of divine government over the nations ( Daniel 4:32), but also an evidence of divine patience and grace. He expelled from Canaan a people whose idolatrous iniquity was full, and re-peopled that land with Israel in her monotheistic testimony to Himself. It was because of Israel in that regard that the Lord had expelled the Canaanites. Joshua’s retrospect demonstrated both God’s government and God’s grace upon the nations.
As Joshua contemplated the future and the certain fulfillment of God’s promise, he reviewed in one verse his own service of many years. He did not indulge in self-eulogy, nor did he seek the praises of men. In his allusion to the dividing of the land, he spoke of “these nations that remain” and “the nations that I have cut off.” Apparently, the thought here is “even all the nations that I have cut off,” those that remained as well as those that had been exterminated. All alike were cut off and had no national status.
There were pockets of resistance, but all opposition on a national level had been overcome. Consequently, the entire land, whether occupied or otherwise, was a divine inheritance from the Lord. Their responsibility was to possess this inheritance in full accord with the promise of the Lord: “I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee. Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee” ( Exodus 23:31-33).
God would, little by little, expel, drive out, dispossess the enemies in order that they claim all territories as the fulfillment of His promise. Such was the future before them. What they had witnessed of the power of God in the past was sufficient to strengthen their faith for the future.
Since the past cannot be retrieved and the future cannot be revealed by man, the present is of paramount importance, for in it the mistakes of the past may be amended and the actions of the future be arranged. The greater part of Joshua’s speech had to do with the time then present. His appeal to the elders was to each in his particular capacity and position. It was as if, like Paul to Timothy, he were saying, “Take heed to thyself,.. For in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” ( 1 Timothy 4:16).
Personal faithfulness to the Word of God does not assure one of only individual preservation, but it wields a beneficial influence upon those committed to one’s care. Furthermore, an elder, in fact a Christian leader in any capacity, ought to be the living example of God’s Word. In his appeal to the elders before him, Joshua gave three forceful exhortations. The first was, “Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses” (verse 6).
The word courageous suggests more than bravery; it intimates that which makes one brave. The word in its various usages implies the confirmation of truth that produces strength of conviction. These elders were to derive strength by observing and performing all that was written in the law of Moses, what would be called the Pentateuch.
Courage is frequently thought of by some as the absence of fear in the presence of danger. By others it is looked upon as the act of bravery in spite of a sense of fear. In this exhortation courage is the manifestation of a strength derived from an adherence to the law of God. The divine Word when it is kept and obeyed builds a spiritual fortitude into character. The second imperative exhortation by Joshua is found in verse eight’ “But cleave unto the Lord your God, as ye have done unto this day.” The verb “to cleave” used here means to adhere, not to cling. There are times when in his weakness the believer cleaves, clings, to the Lord for support. Such is not the idea here as will be seen by taking notice of the alternative. In verse eight the elders are exhorted to cleave to the Lord; in verse twelve, they are warned of the consequences of cleaving to the remnants of the idolatrous nations about them.
The exhortation of Joshua embraced an appeal to the elders that they firmly attach themselves in willing practical obedience to the Lord, and that they detach themselves from the immoral and idolatrous peoples not yet expelled from the land.
The third exhortation appeals to the affections. “Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God” (verse 11). “Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you,...
The Lord demanded the supreme place in the hearts of His people, especially in the hearts of the elders among His people.
The bridegroom in the Song of Solomon ( Song of Solomon 8:6-7) asked that he might seal the heart of his bride against all intruders. The reason for his request was the character of his own love for her. He indicated that his love was as strong as death in that it overcame every obstacle to make its claims. His jealousy (the zeal of a husband for his wife) was as the grave in that it refused to relinquish what it once had possessed. Furthermore, he added, his love burned as a fire kindled by the flame of Jehovah; therefore, it was unquenchable.
To love the Lord with all the heart is to reciprocate. “We love him because he first loved us.” Such should be the character of our love that it will close the heart to every object unworthy of the Lord Jesus.
There seem to be at least four reasons, the first of which might be considered the snare of the enemy. “Turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left; that ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them” (verses 6-7).
Idolatry has been defined as the worshipping of a material image which is held to be the abode of a superhuman personality. The wisdom of this world asserts that idolatry was one of the stages through which religion passed in its evolution. The Word of God declares that idolatry with its resulting immorality is the evidence of man’s departure and decline from God. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” ( Romans 1:21-23).
God called Abraham from such idolatry. “Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood [the river] in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods” ( Joshua 24:2), Joshua told Israel. God called Abraham to Himself that he might become a testimony to the one and only true God. Such is the depravity of the human heart that it does become ensnared by heathenism. Throughout its early history, Israel was constantly falling into this evil. In fact, the nation was not finally cured from this tendency until the Babylonish captivity. Since then the Jews have resisted all encroachments of idolatry, their house has been swept and garnished ( Matthew 12:43-45), but when the Beast will set up his image in the future temple, most will bow and worship it ( Revelation 13:14-15); and the last state of the nation will be worse than the first.
Joshua realized that preservation from such evil lay only in obedience to God’s law: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” ( Exodus 20:3-5).
The Apostle John declared that God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. He closed his first epistle with a most emphatic affirmation to the effect that God, whom Christ has revealed, is the true God. He then exhorts the children in the faith to reject all superstition and all carnal opinion in regard to God; yea, and to reject everything and anything which may divert the heart and mind from God and His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. He ended that epistle with the terse admonition, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
The second reason Joshua gives for his insistence upon loyalty and love to God is seen in the propensities of human nature: “Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God. Else if ye do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you: Know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive out any of these nations” (verses 11-13).
There are some who feel that there is a constant struggle between a lower self and a higher self, and they become discouraged because that victory is seldom on the side of righteousness. It is difficult for man to face realistically his own moral state. Only occasionally in despair does he raise the question, “How can he be clean that is born of a woman?” ( Job 25:4). Or state honestly, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” ( Romans 7:18). There is in each an evil heart of unbelief that ever departs from the living God ( Hebrews 3:12). And the sooner man acknowledges that and admits his own weakness, the sooner is there hope of blessing and stability.
There is only one deterrent from this proneness to wander away from God, and that is occupation with God and His Word. The Psalmist realized this and wrote, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” ( <19B911> Psalm 119:11).
The child of God today must recognize that the Word of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” ( 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
It should also be remembered that these statements relative to the value and benefit of the Holy Scriptures were made in direct reference to the Old Testament; the New Testament canon had not yet been formed.
Joshua alluded to the faithfulness of God as another reason why they should love and serve Him. How could they possibly depart from Him and resort to the vain idols of the heathen remnants? Joshua declared, “Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof” (verse 14).
He made reference to the kindness of God in the next chapter as he addressed the entire nation. He reviewed some of these kind acts of the Lord which in His grace He had bestowed upon the tribes of Israel. His mercy spared them repeatedly from the punishment they deserved, and His grace lavished upon them the kindnesses that they did not merit. The words of 1 Corinthians 13:4 could be written over their entire history: “[Love] suffereth long, and is kind.”
His statement also emphasized the faithfulness of God. “Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord God spake concerning you.” “Great is Thy faithfulness,” wrote Jeremiah ( Lamentations 3:23); and David said, “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens, and Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds” ( Psalm 36:5).
God’s mercy and God’s faithfulness were in full evidence because of His power. “All are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.” What He had promised, He was able also to perform ( Romans 4:21). How could they possibly turn their backs upon God, and turn to gods who had eyes but could not see; ears, but they could not hear; and mouths, but they could not speak? Oh, the wickedness of the human heart!
How quickly man forgets! “And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord died,... 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 the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim” ( Judges 2:8-11).
Do we not read, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth”? ( Hebrews 12:6).
As Moses at the close of his life blessed Israel, he expressed himself thus in regard to God’s attitude toward the nation: “Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they all sat down at thy feet” ( Deuteronomy 33:3).
Earlier in his ministry he had told them, “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you” ( Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
Such was God’s love for Israel that He could not allow them to wander away from Himself. Centuries later than the point of their history now under consideration, He lamented over them, “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more.” There had been strong resistance against His disciplinary actions. Notwithstanding, He pled with the nation, saying, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” ( Isaiah 1:18).
Such, then, is God’s love for Israel that He will, even through discipline, draw her back to Himself: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon” ( Hosea 14:4-5).
How solemn were the words of Joshua to these elders! How gratifying to know that these elders who over-lived Joshua responded to these words of warning! Joshua charged the elders over the people; he encouraged them, counseled them, and admonished them, in order that not only they themselves might be preserved, but that through them the entire nation might be guarded from and sanctified in the presence of evil influences.