Joshua 23
Pulpit Commentary
And it came to pass a long time after that the LORD had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age.
Verse 1. - Waxed old and stricken in age. Literally, was old, advanced in days (see Joshua 13:1). But this refers to a more advanced age still, when the patriarch felt his powers failing him, and desired, as far as his influence went, to preserve the Israelites in the path in which they had walked since their entrance into Canaan. Calvin has some good remarks on the "pious solicitude" shown by the aged warrior for those whom he had led in time of war and guided in time of peace. He seems to have sent for the chief men in Israel to his home at Timnath-Serah, where apparently he had led a retired and peaceful life, only coming forward to direct the affairs of the nation when necessity required. His address is simple and practical. He reminds them that they will soon lose the benefit of his experience and authority, and of the work that he had done, under God's direction, in settling them in the land. Then he proceeds to urge strict obedience to the law of God, reminding them that victory is assured to them, if they will but be true to themselves and their calling as the servants of God, but that as certainly as they neglect to do so, wrath and misery will be their portion. He emphasizes his words by reminding them how amply God had fulfilled his promise, and concludes with a picture of the evil which will befall them if they rebel against God.
And Joshua called for all Israel, and for their elders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and said unto them, I am old and stricken in age:
Verse 2. - All Israel. By their representatives, as subsequently mentioned. For their officers (see Joshua 1:10). In the original the pronoun is in the singular throughout (see note on Joshua 6:25). And said unto them. This speech is not, as Calvin, Maurer, and others have suggested, the same as that in ch. 24. (see notes there). Maurer believed that he was the first to entertain this idea, but he has been anticipated by Calvin. It consists largely of quotations from Deuteronomy.
And ye have seen all that the LORD your God hath done unto all these nations because of you; for the LORD your God is he that hath fought for you.
Verse 3. - Because of you. Literally, before you.
Behold, I have divided unto you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, even unto the great sea westward.
Verse 4. - Divided unto you by lot. Literally, caused to fall, the lot being of necessity understood. These nations that remain. Israel had therefore not driven them out. This, however, need not of necessity be imputed to them as a sin. For, as we have seen, the conquest was to be gradual. No doubt there was enough to be done in consolidating the conquests already made, in settling the tribes in their possessions, to occupy all the days of Joshua, and even possibly a longer period. At least we may he sure that, as long as Joshua lived, the heathen settlements were kept distinct from the Israelitish community, that intermarriages were not allowed, nor rights of citizenship granted to any but the Gibeonites. Cut off. Joshua's speech here exactly agrees with the statements in Joshua 6:21; Joshua 8:26; Joshua 10:28-41; Joshua 11:11, 14, 21. Here at least, if Joshua's speech and the history were taken from two different sources, neither of them precisely accurate, the first postulate of the destructive criticism, we might have expected some slight discrepancy. But Joshua uses a word which implies total extermination, a feature, be it observed, of the campaigns of Moses and Joshua only, and not of the later Israelitish history. Westward. Literally, the going down of the sun.
And the LORD your God, he shall expel them from before you, and drive them from out of your sight; and ye shall possess their land, as the LORD your God hath promised unto you.
Verse 5. - And the Lord your God, he shall expel them. Or, Jehovah your God, He shall thrust them out. Joshua here uses the unusual word found in Deuteronomy 6:19; Deuteronomy 9:4, another instance of quotation from Deuteronomy. The word occurs in the sense of thrust in Numbers 35:20, 22. From out of your sight. Rather, from before you.
Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left;
Verse 6. - Be ye therefore very courageous. The original is stronger, Be ye exceedingly courageous (see note on Joshua 1:6). That is written in the book of the law of Moses. A yet more distinct intimation that the words of Moses had been collected into a book at this early period, and that it was known as the Book of the Law of Moses. It seems incredible that such a book should have been invented at a time when the precepts it contained were lightly regarded, and should have been represented as the proper standard of conduct when every one knew that it could never have been anything of the kind.
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:
Verse 7. - That ye come not among these nations (see note on ver. 4). We can here perceive that the Israelites, though living among these nations, held no intercourse with them. Neither make mention of the name of their gods. Cf. Psalm 16:4, which however is not a verbal quotation of this passage. The LXX. here has, καὶ τὰ ὀνόματα τῶν θεῶν αὐτῶν οὐκ ὀνομασθήσεται ἐν ὐμῖν; the Vulgate simply, "ne juretis in nomine deorum earum." The Hebrew has the signification

(1) to bring to remembrance,

(2) to praise or celebrate.

The former is the better idea here, "let them not be named among you, as becometh saints," let them be quite forgotten, as though they had never been heard of; and this not with a purely theological, but with an ethical purpose, since "fornication and all uncleanness and greediness" (πλεουεξία; see Ephesians 5:3) were the first principles of their rites (see Introduction). Nor cause to swear by them. These words are found in connection with what follows in Deuteronomy 10:20. So with "serve" and "bow down" (see Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 8:19, etc.). Here again we have Joshua quoting Deuteronomy as the book of the Law of Moses. According to the "Deuteronomist" theory, the quotation is an audacious fiction, manufactured by the person who was at that moment forging the book from which he pretended to quote.
But cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day.
Verse 8. - But cleave unto the Lord your God. Or, ye shall cleave unto Jehovah your God. The phrase denotes the intimate union between God and the soul (see above, and Genesis 2:24).
For the LORD hath driven out from before you great nations and strong: but as for you, no man hath been able to stand before you unto this day.
Verse 9. - For the Lord your God hath driven out. So the Masora and the LXX. The Vulgate and the margin of our version translate by the future. So Luther also. The next verse is undeniably future. An appeal to their experience, which did not fail (see Joshua 24:31) to be effective as long as the memory of these things was fresh in their minds. So in the Prayer Book of the Church of England we find the appeal, "O God, we have heard with our ears, and our fathers have declared unto us, the noble works that thou didst in their days, and in the old time before them." And the passage (Psalm 44:1-3), from which the idea of this petition is taken, is an allusion to this speech of Joshua. And we often, in times of faintheartedness or sloth, need to be thus reminded of the moral and spiritual victories of the true Israel, under the true Joshua the Saviour, over the enemies with whom we are forbidden to make a compromise.
One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you.
Verse 10. - One man of you shall chase a thousand. A quotation from the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:30).
Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God.
Verse 11. - Take good heed to yourselves. This is quoted from Deuteronomy 4:15, word for word. The Hebrew is, take heed exceedingly to your souls; but the meaning is either "as you value your lives" (Gesenius), or "with all your soul" (Keil). The former appears preferable. A third interpretation, however, "guard your souls diligently," is suggested by a comparison of Deuteronomy 4:9, 15.
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:
Verse 12. - Go back. Literally, return. Cleave. A word (see ver. 8) signifying close and intimate relationship. And the intimacy of the relationship is indicated, as in ver. 8, by the use of the preposition בְּ. Make marriages with them. No closer or more intimate relationship is possible than this. Nothing, therefore, would be more certain to draw the Israelites away from their allegiance to God, and to seduce them and their children into the false and corrupt worship of the nations around them. "Unde deprecor vos qui fidelis estis, ut ita vitam vestram et conversationem servetis, ne in aliquo vel ipsi scandalum patiamini vel aliis scandalum faciatis; sit in vobis summi studii, summaeque cautelae, ne quis in hanc sanctam congregationem vestram pollutus introeat" (Orig., Hom. 21 on Joshua). Go in unto them. Rather, go among them. Spoken of the familiar intercourse of friendship. It is equivalent to our words "associate with them."
Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you.
Verse 13. - Snares and traps. Perhaps, rather, nets and snares. The LXX., where our translation has snare, has παγίς, and for traps has incorrectly σκάνδαλα. The snare or pach was evidently (Amos 3:5) laid upon the earth; but there is no evidence for Gesenius' idea that the mokesh which follows, there as here, means the stick of the trap, which when displaced involved the bird in the net. As the primary signification of this latter word, which is akin to קֶשֶׁת a bow, seems to mean something curved, it is probably a noose or springe. And the word and its cognates are used of involving, or catching, people by its use. Furst's Lexicon confirms this view, which has been independently arrived at. Scourges. The Hebrew word is in the singular. It is translated ἥλους, nails, in the LXX., and offendiculum in the Vulgate. In your sides. Rather, on your sides. The words here are very similar to those in Numbers 33:55. Moses, however, does but use two of the similes of which here we have four. He has, moreover, a different word (שִׂכִּים) for thorns, and the word here translated thorns is there substituted for scourges; "thorns in your sides." Joshua crowds together his similes "to describe the shame, and trouble, and oppression which they would bring upon themselves by joining in the idolatry of the Canaanites" (Keil). The Lord your God. Here, as elsewhere in this and many other passages, we have in the original, Jehovah your God. It is important to remember that the sacred writer is calling the God of Israel by His own proper name, that by which He was distinguished from the gods of the nations round about.
And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and 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 spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.
Verse 14. - And not one thing hath failed thereof. This is a good instance of the habit of repetition so common to Hebrew writers. It is to be remembered that they had no italics, no stops, and, owing to the want of copiousness in their language, a great want generally of the means possessed in more modern languages of emphasizing their words. They, therefore, had recourse to what is still a favourite rhetorical artifice, the practice of repetition.
Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you.
Verse 15. - All good things. Literally, all the good word. That is to say, the prophecies of good had been fulfilled. Joshua uses this as an argument that the evil also will not fail to follow, if Israel provoke God to inflict it. But the memory of these words, and of the great deeds of Jehovah, faded quickly from their minds. And then, like the people of the earth before the flood, like the men of Sodom before it was destroyed, and like many other people since, they turned a deaf ear to the prophecies of evil which faithful souls foresaw and foretold. The warnings of the prophets are but a variation upon the predictions of Moses in Leviticus 26:14-33; Deuteronomy 28:15-68; Deuteronomy 29:14-28, and of Joshua, here addressed to a generation who had brought some of the predicted evil upon themselves, and would not see that by refusing to listen, they would bring upon themselves yet more. How terribly have these predictions been fulfilled! First, the Babylonish captivity; then the disorders and anarchy in a territory which the Jewish people inhabited, but which they were not strong enough to rule; then the siege of and destruction of Jerusalem under Titus with its accompanying horrors. Then the dispersion of the Jews among all the nations, the barbarous and inhuman persecutions they met with in the Middle Ages from priest and monarch alike: the Inquisition in Spain, the contempt and hatred which continued to be felt for them among more enlightened nations, as evidenced in Marlowe's 'Jew of Malta,' and Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice,' in the days of our own Queen Elizabeth. Only in our own age has a brighter day begun to dawn on them, and three thousand years of oppression, relieved only by the brief glories of David and his dynasty, are beginning to be compensated by a share in the world's rewards and honours. All evil things. Literally, all the evil word; or thing; every evil thing, that is, which had been foretold.
When ye have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you.
Verse 16. - Transgressed. The English is the precise equivalent of the Hebrew, which signifies to "pass over," with the idea of going beyond bounds which had previously been prescribed in the covenant between God and His people. Other gods. See ver. 7. Here again we have the usual repetition for the sake of emphasis. Ye shall perish quickly. A verbally accurate quotation of Deuteronomy 11:17. The original is even more emphatic - with haste.

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