Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Joshua 23

Joshua 23: Joshua’s Farewell to the Leaders

Synopsis

This passage is a speech that Joshua gives to the Israelite elders, near the end of his life. Since he knows that he’ll be passing on, soon, he wants to encourage them to continue following the LORD. (Moses’ farewell speech took up the whole book of Deuteronomy, whereas Joshua’s just takes up one chapter.)

He starts out by reminding them that the LORD has fought for them, so far, and that He will continue to do so:

You yourselves have seen everything the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the LORD your God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Great Sea in the west. The LORD your God himself will drive them out of your way. He will push them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the LORD your God promised you. (verses 3–5)

I find that little aside—“the nations I conquered”—very interesting. Obviously, in the context, Joshua is not trying to take credit for something that the LORD has done; could it be that he is trying to shame the Israelites? “I’ve done so much, and you haven’t finished the job you were supposed to do,” type of thing?

He then reminds them to obey the laws that were handed down from the LORD to Moses, “without turning aside to the right or to the left” (verse 6). They are not to associate with the nations still left in the Promised Land, nor to bow down to or serve their gods.

Then, on a related note, he reminds them that God has driven out nations from the Promised Land that were bigger than the Israelite nation, so they should be careful to love Him. They should also not ally themselves with the peoples of the nations still remaining in the Promised Land. If they do—and intermarry with them—two things will happen: 1) God will no longer drive these nations out; 2) Their relationships with these nations will become “snares and traps” (verse 13) for the Israelites, and they will perish from the land.

And Joshua’s last words (from this speech):

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. But just as every good promise of the LORD your God has come true, so the LORD will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.” (verses 14–16)

Thoughts

One thing I find interesting from this speech is that Joshua reminds the Israelites that God has driven out larger and more powerful nations than them, and that therefore, they should love Him. He doesn’t say that they should obey Him—although that is stated elsewhere—but that they should love Him. Which is, after all, the greatest commandment. And what is the opposite of loving Him? Allying themselves with other nations. That may seem strange; the opposite of loving Him should be not loving Him, or something. But by allying themselves with other nations, they are, in effect, discarding Him, and trusting in their alliances instead of trusting in their God.

Regarding the last part of Joshua’s speech, I’ve mentioned it numerous times before, but the LORD was very clear, when He made His covenant with the Israelites: He will be with them if they follow Him, and if they stop following Him, He will not be with them. Later on in the Israelites’ history, they’re going to forget this little caveat, and start thinking that they’re His people, no matter what. And when prophets start warning them that the LORD is going to punish them for their sin, they’re not going to believe the prophets—“God would never punish us! We’re His chosen people!”

I’m sure there’s a lesson there for modern-day Christians, too, but the specifics of it are eluding me.
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