Joshua’s Farewell – Joshua 23–24
Read the Passage: Joshua 23-24
Joshua’s Address (23:1–16)
The final two chapters of the book of Joshua contain Joshua’s farewell speeches to Israel, as well as an account of Joshua’s own death. Joshua 23 contains an address by Joshua to the elders, heads, judges, and officers (cf. Josh. 23:2), while Joshua 24 contains Joshua’s last words to the gathered nation of Israel. Structurally, Joshua’s addresses in each of these chapters contain the same three sections: reflection on God’s faithfulness (cf. Josh. 23:2–5; 24:1–13), exhortation to holiness (cf. 23:6–11; 24:14–18), and admonition about apostasy (cf. Josh. 23:12–16; 24:19–28). Note that in Josh. 23:1–2 we are told two times that Joshua was old. We later learn that Joshua was 110 years old at the time of his passing (cf. Josh. 24:29). This means that roughly twenty years had passed since Israel had crossed over the Jordan River and entered into the Promised Land.
Back in Joshua 1:1–10, when the Lord inaugurated Joshua as Moses’ successor, God told Joshua to “be strong and of good courage” (Josh. 1:6) and exhorted him to focus on the Word of God (cf. Josh. 1:8). Here, at Josh. 23:6, some twenty years later, Joshua gave the exact same exhortation to the leaders of Israel, saying, “Be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses.” Like many who have walked with God over time, Joshua had learned that the secret to spiritual growth and human flourishing is knowledge of and obedience to the Bible. Interestingly, however, in this address Joshua revealed that he knew that the Israelites would not remain faithful to God, which would result in the nation being cast out of the land (cf. Josh. 23:15–16). This event would occur some 800 years in the future, during the Babylonian exile.
Joshua’s Covenant (24:1–28)
Josh 24:1–13 contains Joshua’s address to the gathered nation. In reflecting upon God’s faithfulness in this passage, Joshua essentially summarized the work of God among God’s people that is recorded between Genesis 11 and Joshua 22. Highlights in this historical survey include: Abraham’s flight from Persia (cf. Josh. 24:1–4), Israel’s residence in and exodus from Egypt (cf. Josh. 24:5–10), and the Jews’ entry into the Promised Land (cf. Josh 24:11–13). The regular themes in Joshua’s review of history are God’s sovereignty in history and God’s faithfulness to His people. The obvious application is that if God has been sovereignly directing history in the past, and has been faithful to His people, so will God superintend all things and provide for Israel in the future. Note that Joshua explicitly mentions that God brought Abraham from idolatry into a relationship with Himself.
One of the most well-known passages in the book of Joshua, if not in the entire Bible, is Josh. 24:13–15. In this exhortation to holiness Joshua famously challenged the people, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15). Essentially, Joshua was encouraging the people to avoid hypocrisy—that is, he exhorts the people to fully follow God if He is God, or to clearly reject God if they are convinced that there are better gods to follow. Interestingly, after the people express their intent and desire to follow God, Joshua declares, “You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God” (Josh. 24:19). It seems Joshua’s intent here is not to say that the nation cannot follow God; rather, he is likely emphasizing the need of the people’s justification, which would only come through faith in the Promised Messiah. In this passage, then, Joshua is pointing toward Christ.
Joshua’s Death (24:29–33)
As we noted at the beginning of our study of this book, Joshua 24:29–33 records the death of Joshua. In this passage we learn several pieces of information. First, as was noted earlier, we learn that Joshua was 110 years old when he passed away, and that he was buried within his own territory within the Promised Land. This was in roughly 1383 BC. Second, we learn that the then contemporary generation of Israel was faithful to the covenant they had made with the Lord at Josh. 24:25. Unfortunately, however, successive generations would not follow God, as was predicted by Joshua himself. Note that the book of Judges is largely a record of Israel’s apostasy in the generations following Joshua. Third, we learn that the bones of Joseph were buried at Shechem. This fulfilled a promise made the Israelites many centuries earlier at Gen. 50:25.
- Why is it important to reflect upon God’s past blessings to us? How often do you purposefully reflect upon God’s past blessing to you?
- Why did God give the Promised Land to the people piece-by-piece over several decades? Wouldn’t it have been easier to possess it all at once (cf. Deut. 7:22)?
- Why is Joshua confident that the people will not obey the Lord? Why does Joshua declare, “You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God” (Josh. 24:19)?
- Why do you think Joshua emphasizes the fact that God sovereignly brought Abraham from idolatry into a relationship with Himself?
- Why was it important for the Israelites to bury the bones of Joseph in the Promised Land? Why didn’t God raise up another leader after Joshua?