As we looked at the second half of the book of Joshua in recent weeks, we saw the division of the land among the nine and one half tribes that didn’t receive an inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan. At the end of chapter 19, in verses 49-50, Joshua was given a special inheritance as Caleb had been.
In chapter 20 we saw the setting apart of six cities of refuge, as had been commanded by the Lord in Moses’ day (Num. 35:9-29 and Deut. 19:1-13). In chapter 21, the cities and fields that had been promised to the Levites were designated (Num. 35:1-8). There were 48 of them, including the six cities of refuge.
In chapter 22:1-9 Joshua dismissed the armies of Reuben, Gad and half Manasseh to return to their homes on the eastern side of the Jordan. They had fulfilled their pledge to fight for the land of Canaan even though they earlier had received their inheritance on the eastern side of the river. And so Joshua commended them for their efforts and admonished them to keep God’s law and to walk in his ways.
Joshua more or less “retired“ to his individual inheritance of land following the division of the land. But when he sensed that his death was near, he called Israel together to do two things; one, to warn them earnestly of the dangers of apostasy, chapter 23; and two, to renew the covenant once more, chapter 24.
In 23:1-2 we see Joshua calling Israel together. In verses 3-4 he reminds them of what God had done for them. Then in verse five Joshua proclaims what the Lord would do for them in the future, namely, drive out the remaining nations in the land. But, these blessings would not be automatic. As Joshua warns them in verses six and following, they must keep the Law of Moses (v. 6) and never ever turn to the pagan gods of the land (v. 7). They must hold fast to the Lord (v. 8) and love him (v. 11). In addition they must never intermarry with the people of the remaining nations (v. 12), because if they do, the Lord would not drive out the nations before them (v. 13). Finally Joshua warns Israel that just as all of God’s previous good promises have come to pass (v. 14), if they transgress the covenant of the Lord and bow down to other gods, the Lord also will bring to pass his promise to destroy them (vv. 15-16).
The sin that Joshua was trying to “head off at the pass” so to speak is called apostasy. Apostasy is the abandonment of one’s faith. It is the great danger of religious experience. Alan Redpath offers an analysis that of this chapter that suggests three terrible results of apostasy to be seen here; and I am indebted to for this analysis.
The first, and the most obvious, is defeat. Look at verse 13: “the Lord your God will not continue to drive out these nations before you.” Clearly, if Israel went apostate they would suffer defeat at the hands of the peoples they were supposed to be driving out.
A second result of apostasy is discomfort. Verse 13 continues, “they [that is the nations] will be a snare and a trap for you, a scourge on your sides, and thorns in your eyes.”
And third, apostasy brings disgrace. Look at verse 16: “If you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, . . . then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land that he has given you.”
I would add a fourth result, namely, death. Apostasy brings not just disgrace, but it ultimately leads to death. “You shall perish.” Joshua seems to have been thinking of physical death in Israel’s case; but for them as well as us, spiritual death is the final result.
But apostasy doesn’t have to occur. In addition to the three terrible results of apostasy, we also find in this chapter three safeguards against apostasy. The first is obedience. Verse six: “be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left.” Nothing works for the believer like obedience to the Word of God.
The second safeguard is separation. Verses seven and eight continue the statement of verse six: “so that;” that is, be obedient “so that you may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow yourselves down to them, but hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day.” Obedience to God will mean separation from sin. There is no other way.
The third safeguard is the most important of all: love God. Verse 11: “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” If we love God, we will be obedient to him; and if we are obedient, we will separate ourselves from sin and sinful activity.
In chapter 24 we find Joshua calling the people to Shechem for another renewal of the covenant (v. 1). In verses 2-13 Joshua rehearses the blessings that God had provided for the nation. He had called Abraham from his idolatrous background and brought him to the Promised Land (vv. 2-4); he miraculously delivered Israel from Egypt (vv. 5-7); he gave the land on the eastern side of the Jordan into the hands of Israel (vv. 8-10); and then he gave Canaan into their hands under Joshua (vv. 11-13).
This overwhelming manifestation of grace from the Lord laid Israel under obligation to serve the Lord with gratitude and sincerity. And so Joshua challenges them to show him that reverence and faithfulness; and then he demands that they choose whom they would serve (vv. 14-15). And they responded with enthusiasm that they would serve the Lord (vv. 16-18).
But then in verse 19 Joshua says an interesting thing: “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” That statement shocks us when we first read it. But the following verse clarifies the situation for us: “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm.” In other words, Joshua did not mean that salvation is an impossible task. Rather he wanted them to understand that the covenant was not something to be taken lightly. They had to give up all foreign deities in true repentance and faith, or they could not serve the Lord. Moreover, as verse 22 indicates, they would be witnesses against themselves if they went back on their vow.
“So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day” (v. 25). In effect, he renewed the Mosaic covenant with them. Then he set up a large stone as a memorial marker of the event (vv 26-27) and sent them back to their homes (v. 28).
In verses 29-33 we find the conclusion of the book. We are told that Joshua died at age 110 (v. 29), and they buried him in his own land (v. 30). We also are informed that the bones of Joseph that had been brought out of Egypt were buried as he had requested (Ex. 13:19) (v. 32). And finally, we are told that Eleazar, the son of Aaron, also died, bringing an era in Israel to an end.
I want to highlight only one thing regarding application in respect to this final chapter. Just as Israel had to make a wholehearted, complete commitment for their covenant with God to work for them, so we Christians must make a wholehearted, complete commitment to God in Christ for our faith to work for us. And it is quite clear here, as it is many places in Scripture, that when we believers exercise our freedom to rebel against God, we can (and sometimes do) break with him.
I respect Calvinistic theology, because so many brilliant people have embraced it. And a biblical argument can be made in favor of its doctrine of “unconditional election,” the idea that God decides who is saved and who is not. We have no choice in the matter whatsoever. Those who hold to this doctrine of unconditional election must also hold to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Some use the words, “once saved always saved.” But that is not what we see here.
Israel could choose to keep the law, love God, and avoid pagan gods; or they could choose not to do that. If they did the former they would be blessed; if they did the latter they would perish. Of course God wanted them, and wants us, to repent and choose to love and obey him. And then he wants us to demonstrate that choice in sanctified living. But if we refuse to do that, we can become apostate and lose our relationship with him.