For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

23:1.  “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.”

The “long time” emphasizes that Joshua had had many years to enjoy the fruits of his seven-year campaign that had left the Canaanites subdued, and their inheritance made available to Israel; but he was, after all, only a man, and like all men, must die.  It is very different with “the man Christ Jesus” whom he typifies.  He lives in “the power of an endless life,” Heb 7:16, to enjoy for ever the results of “the travail of his soul,” that mighty victory won at Calvary that has left the foe defeated, and has secured an eternal inheritance for His own.

23:2.  “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:”

Whatever other lessons may be involved in Joshua’s summoning all Israel, and their elders, heads, judges, and officers, one is clear: every believer is responsible as an individual.  As Achan’s disobedience brought death to thirty-six other Israelites, so does the conduct of each believer, from the youngest to the oldest, have an effect for good or ill upon the local assembly, and therefore, on the Church world-wide.  It behooves each one of us to walk in obedience before God.

23:3.  “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.”

Joshua might well have reminded them of his own exploits, but true servant that he was, he ascribed all the glory to God, realizing that it was Divine grace alone that had bestowed upon him the honor and privilege of leading God’s people into the land.  It would be well for each of us as we seek to exercise the gift God has given, to remember that we are the recipients of the same grace, and have nothing to boast of in ourselves.  The gift given us could have been given to another, as could also the task God has assigned each one of us.  Were we more conscious of what a privilege it is to be permitted to serve, God’s work would be better done.  When tempted to envy another’s gift, to despise the task allotted us, to view God’s work as drudgery, we should remember that the recompense of faithful service is an imperishable crown, in regard to which we are exhorted, “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown,” Re 3:11.  When tempted to despise the task God has given us, we ought to remember that amongst the exploits of David’s mighty men there is recorded, for our encouragement, the fact that Shammah simply stood in the midst of a patch of lentils, defending it from the Philistines, and slaying them, and because he did “the Lord wrought a great victory,” 2 Sa 23:11-12.  It is significant that very frequently in Scripture, food is used symbolically of the written Word, so that Shammah’s defence of that lentil patch translates into encouragement to us to hold fast the teaching of the written Word, and to allow nothing to diminish its value to us.  Every believer has been given at least one spiritual gift, and is responsible to use that gift for the upbuilding of Christ’s Church.  No gift is to be considered inferior.

As they were to look back and remember all that God had done for them, so are we to look back to Calvary and survey a greater deliverance, a mightier victory, for there we see ourselves delivered from death, as Christ by dying in our stead “spoiled principalities and powers making a shew of them openly, triumphing over them,” Col 2:15.  The Lord fights for us as He did for Israel, and because He does, Paul reminds us that “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us,” Ro 8:37. 

23:4.  “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.”

The reference to their inheritance having been divided unto them by lot, reminds us that God has also assigned each one of us his “lot” in life, perfect love and perfect wisdom having combined in the appointment of that lot.  That should encourage us to accept with thankfulness what God has assigned us, and as each tribe was to enjoy its literal lot, so are we to enjoy, and use for God’s glory, the circumstances He has ordained for each one of us.

The Canaanites hadn’t been exterminated during the seven- year campaign under Joshua, but had been left for gradual expulsion, so that the land wouldn’t become desolate, and so that the wild beasts wouldn’t multiply against Israel, see Ex 23:29-30, but the warning had also been given that if Israel didn’t expel the Canaanites, those allowed to remain would be “pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell,” Nu 33:55.  And sadly, we turn to Jg 2:21-23, and read that the disobedience of the people in the days of the Judges had so provoked the Lord to anger that He declared “I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: that through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.  Therefore the Lord left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered he them into the hand of Joshua.”

As has been noted in earlier studies, the evils represented by those nations include the lusts of the old nature, and it is folly to refuse to admit that the blight upon the professing church today is because we, like Israel, have failed to “drive out” the enemy, so that they have become pricks in our eyes, and thorns in our sides, and have cut us off from blessing.  One of the most powerful of our foes is the old nature within us.

It is instructive to note that only two boundaries are mentioned, the Jordan and “the great sea westward (the Mediterranean),” i.e., the breadth of the land, though it is equally instructive to note that it wasn’t the whole breadth, for that ran from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean, see Dt 11:24.

In Scripture breadth speaks of the quality of life, as length does of duration of life.  The lesson here therefore, has to do with the quality of our lives, and significantly the boundary mentioned is the Jordan, the river that speaks of death.  The lesson couldn’t be clearer.  It is only as we are willing to die to the things of this world, that we will be able to live lives to God’s glory, and walk in the enjoyment of all that has been made ours through the Lord’s death.

Nor should we miss the meaning of the other boundary, for the sea is the Biblical symbol of earth’s rebellious, unconverted masses, see Isa 57:20.  We are not to live as men who belong to that world, but as those whose citizenship is in heaven, Php 3:20, our only concern with the great sea of humanity being to bring them the Gospel. 

It must be confessed, however, that we have been as delinquent in the one as in the other.  We have neither crucified the flesh, Ga 5:24, nor have we warned sinners of their need to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

The west speaks of the end of life, and of approach to God, for it is His will that the end of life should see men pass from earth into His presence to enjoy eternal blessing.  This reference to the western boundary of their inheritance therefore, is also to be seen as a warning to live our lives in view of that moment when we finish our earthly course, and pass into heaven where we must all stand at the judgment seat of Christ to render an account of our stewardship, 2 Co 5:10.

The fact that the nations are spoken of as though they had already been cut off, reminds us that even then God had in mind the day, still future, when the rebellious nations will be cut off, and an Israel, redeemed and obedient, will enjoy millennial Canaan, as the redeemed and obedient remnant of the nations out of the Tribulation will enjoy the rest of the milennial earth.  We who are the heirs of a better covenant will then be enjoying eternal spiritual blessings in heaven.

23:5.  “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.”

That this was not an unconditional promise is made clear by the verses which follow.  Scripture is unequivocal: God will not bless disobedience; and Israel’s history is the sorry record of blessing forfeited by rebellion.  That history has proved, sadly, to be but the prewritten history of the professing church, she being more culpable by reason of having Israel’s history to warn her against such folly.

It’s being emphasized that God Himself would expel the enemy is not to be understood as implying that the Israelites would have nothing to do with that work.  What is being taught is that God’s power would be made available to them as His instruments for the expulsion of the Canaanites, but they themselves must do the work.  They must take what God was setting before them, for they would possess only that upon which their feet trod, Jsh 1:3.  The same principle applies to the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged today as we wrestle against the principalities and powers mentioned in Ep 6:12.  We have but to be obedient to have that same Divine power made available to us, but we will have only as much blessing as we are willing to claim.

“... and drive them out of your sight” precludes any thought of Israel’s sparing any of the enemy, or of making any peace covenants with them.  The Canaanites were to be exterminated completely from the land, and the lesson God would teach us is that every activity of the flesh, which the Canaanites represent, is to be put out of our lives completely.  There can be no compromise between the flesh and the spirit.

“... and ye shall possess their land.”  In spite of the fact that Joshua had potentially subdued the whole land, the sad truth remains that Israel, by her disobedience, failed to live in the enjoyment of that work and promise.  She never fully possessed the land, nor will she until that soon coming day when, converted, and having learned through the Tribulation judgments, the folly of disobedience, she enters millennial Canaan to enjoy its blessings for a thousand years, those blessings to be superseded by the eternal blessings of the new earth, Re 21:1.

As has been noted already, however, that victory won by Joshua is but a figure of the greater victory won by the true Joshua at Calvary; and Israel’s failure to enter fully into the enjoyment of what was made available to them through Joshua’s work, simply foreshadows our own failure to enter fully into the enjoyment of all that has been made available to us through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“... as the Lord your God hath promised unto you.”  Israel’s disobedience has long delayed the fulfillment of that promise, but nothing, neither Israel’s rebellion nor ours, can hinder the eventual fulfillment of all God’s promises.

23:6.  “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.”

Joshua was given a similar command in 1:7, but it is interesting to note that the Hebrew word used there isn’t the same as the one used here.  To Joshua the command was literally be alert: be steadfastly minded; but here to Israel it is fasten upon: seize: bind: restrain: conquer.  In Joshua’s case the emphasis was upon the need of alertness to discern the Lord’s mind and will, and of steadfastness in doing that will; but here the emphasis is upon the need to lay hold of what has been made available.  This latter command applied also to Joshua, of course, and the former need of sensitivity to the Divine will applied also to Israel.  The two are not mutually exclusive, but complementary, and are as necessary today as then.  The lesson may be stated briefly: be alert to discern the Lord’s will, and let nothing hinder the doing of that will.

“... to the right hand or the left” is more than just a figure of speech, for as the right hand speaks of power so does the left hand speak of dependence or weakness.  This continues to emphasize the lesson just considered.  The warning relative to the right hand is against disobedience resulting from going beyond God’s will; that of the left hand, against a coming short of His will.  We are to beware not only of sins of commission, but also of sins of omission.

23:7.  “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:”

As noted already, among the foes represented by the Canaanites are the lusts of the flesh, so that God’s forbidding Israel to have any business with them translates into His command to us to have nothing to do with anything that is related to the old nature.  The enjoined separation was absolute, and specifically excluded even the mention of the names of the Canaanite gods.  We will miss the lesson, however, if we fail to realize that the counterparts of those gods are with us today, and are none the less real though intangible.  Some of them are money, education, pleasure, ease, etc., and any question as to the degree of worship offered them, not just by the men of the world, but by professed believers, is too apparent to be missed.  It is her adulation of these things that has brought the professing church to her present sorry state.

23:8.  “But cleave unto the Lord your God, as ye have done unto this day.”

Cleave conveys the thought of “clinging to by following closely,” and reminds us of Paul’s injunction to the Ephesian saints, “Be ye therefore followers of God,” Eph 5:1, and of his exhortation to the Corinthian believers, “... be ye followers of me,” 1 Co 4:16, that plea being made only because he followed Christ, as declared in 1 Co 11:1 “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”

Joshua could add the commendation “as ye have done unto this day,” but that happy state, anticipative of the obedience that marked the believers of the early Apostolic age, was of equally brief duration, for we read in Jg 2:10-12 “And also all that generation (Joshua’s) 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: and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers ... and followed other gods ....”

Those obedient elders of Joshua’s generation are types of the Apostles, and as it was with the one so also was it with the other.  The Apostolic age hadn’t ended before the evidences of departure began to manifest themselves, and as it was with Israel so has it been with the professing church: the apostasy has deepened, until no scripturally instructed man can fail to see that the anarchy which marked the end of the era of the Judges is but the OT foreshadowing of the anarchy that prevails in the professing church today.

23:9.  “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.”

They were reminded that it was the Lord, and not themselves, who had overcome the opposing nations, for though their hands had wielded the weapons, it was God Who had empowered them.  That same power is available to us today, but only as the Holy Spirit resides within us ungrieved and unquenched.  The counterpart of the great and strong nations who had fought against Israel, are the unseen, but none the less powerful spiritual foes that would attempt to keep us out of the enjoyment of all that Christ’s death has made available to us.  And as it was then so also is it today.  No foe can stand against the obedient believer.

23:10.  “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.”

This has been written as much for our encouragement as for theirs, for whether in that age or the present, God is not dependent on the number of instruments available: His power is the same whether put forth through one man or a thousand: note, for example, His use of Gideon’s three hundred, Jg 7.  It is folly to be looking to men, even to godly men, for help in our spiritual warfare.  Our eyes are to be upon God alone.  If He chooses to use others with us, well; but if He chooses to send any one of us alone, we are to be no less confident than if He gave us a thousand companions.  If He is with us it matters not who forsakes us or who confronts us.

23:11.  “Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the Lord your God.”

This declares the necessity of obedience, for it is the Lord Himself Who has declared, “If ye love me, keep my commandments .... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me .... If a man love me, he will keep my words .... He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings ....” Jn 14:15-24.

Our love for the Lord is declared, not by our words, but by our deeds.  Obedience alone measures love for Him, but since obedience is an imperative of the victorious Christian life, we learn that His power is available to us in direct proportion to the measure of our love for Him.  Small wonder, then, that so little of His power is manifest in our midst today.  He is made to share our love with a world that crucified Him, and that hates Him as much now as then.

23:12.  “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:”

23:13.  “Know for 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.”

As noted already, the Canaanites represent not only the evil spiritual forces arrayed against us, but also the lusts of the old nature still in us, so that this warning to Israel translates into warning to us not to indulge those lusts in any way.  The flesh is reckoned by God to have been crucified, Ga 5:24, and we are responsible to keep it in the place of death where He reckons it to be.  It is not to be permitted any activity in our lives.

With the passing of Joshua’s generation apostasy quickly set in, and God’s threat was executed.  He ceased to drive out the enemy, with the result that during the ensuing era of the Judges Israel was more often than not in bondage to the Canaanites and the Philistines, languishing under their tyranny when she might have been enjoying God’s blessing. 

When we indulge the lusts of the flesh we too make ourselves bondslaves of those lusts, with the result that our disobedience cuts us off from God’s power and blessing, and we too languish under a spiritual tyranny as great as that suffered by Israel literally long ago, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Ro 6:16.

“... but they shall be snares and traps unto you.”  These things are the symbols of bondage, and point, not only to what would result from Israel’s disobedience, but also from ours.  That the professing church is in such bondage today is painfully apparent.

“... and scourges in your sides.”  Scourging speaks of chastisement, so that the warning being given here is that chastisement, and not blessing, will be the lot of the disobedient believer.

“... and thorns in your eyes.”  Every Biblical reference to literal blindness points to a corresponding spiritual state during this present Church age; but it is to be noted that the threatened blindness wasn’t to be simply the gradual painless diminution of sight, but that which would be accompanied by a spiritual state corresponding to the physical pain caused by a thorn in the eye.  Nor should we fail to note that thorns are the Biblical symbol of sin, see, for example, Ge 3:18.  Pain and suffering, physical or emotional, or both, are the inevitable results of disobedience on the part of a believer.

The disobedience which destroys the ability to discern spiritual truth, results in there being added to deliberate sin, that committed unwittingly, so that our offenses are compounded, and the final result is that we experience suffering rather than peace and blessing.

“... until ye perish from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you.”  The Babylonian captivity was the ultimate result of their disobedience, and though spiritually blind eyes fail to discern it, the professing church lies today in a corresponding spiritual bondage, for Babylon represents the great harlot church that will be left on earth for judgment in the Tribulation, after the true Church has been caught up to heaven.  Only the spiritually blind fail to see that that evil system rules over God’s people today.  Even in the assemblies where the outward form is still preserved, the sad truth is that the power and the glory have departed.  The Babylonian rules.  Effective Gospel preaching has become a rare thing, and the true evangelist has all but disappeared from the scene.  It is the same also with teaching and shepherding.  True believers languish for lack of spiritual food and drink in the midst of a famine more terrible than any experienced by Israel literally.  Like the evangelist, those capable of expounding God’s Word for the instruction and upbuilding of God’s people have become a rare breed.  And as for men who have true shepherd hearts, men willing to give themselves to  the care and feeding of God’s sheep, who can find them?  Those assemblies fortunate enough to have such elders should never cease to thank God for them.

As Israel’s disobedience resulted in her being carried far from Canaan’s milk and honey, so has that of the professing church resulted in her being carried far from the spiritual equivalents.

23:14.  “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.”

Joshua, near the end of life’s journey, bore testimony to the faithfulness of God relative to all His promises to Israel, and he challenged them to deny it.  That challenge extends also to us, and surely the testimony of every honest heart must be to God’s faithfulness in spite of much unfaithfulness on our part.  While our failures are beyond number, there isn’t one point in which He has proved unfaithful in His care for us.  We must all acknowledge that He has done for us “exceeding abundantly above all that we could ask or think,” Eph 3:20.

23:15.  “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.”

God’s blessings to Israel were not unconditional, nor are they to us.  Their obedience was required, for an unchangeable principle is that God will not bless disobedience, and the reason is obvious: it would be to impugn His Own holiness, for it would be tantamount to condoning sin, something He will not do.

This, however, does not imply that their obedience was perfect.  Far from it.  The Biblical record bears eloquent testimony to their many failures; but that same record makes it clear that God distinguishes between the sins of the man in whose heart there is faith, and those of the man in whose heart that faith is lacking. 

But why should there be such distinction?  The believer’s sins - past, present, and future - have all been forgiven, those committed after conversion being attributed to the old man whom God reckons to have been crucified with Christ.  The sins of the believer are accidental, never deliberately practiced. 

In the case of the unbeliever none of his sins have been forgiven, and, lacking the new nature obtained only by the new birth, he sins deliberately, for that is the character of the only nature he has: the Adamic nature with which he was born, his crowning sin being that of refusal to accept God’s remedy, that is, to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.

It is to be noted, however, that even sin committed by the believer cuts off blessing, and brings chastisement, unless confessed, repented of, and forsaken.

Joshua and the majority of the men of his generation had faith in their hearts, so that in spite of their failures, they walked in the enjoyment of blessing.  The threatened judgment therefore would be executed against the faithless generation that would succeed them, of whom we read in Jgs 2:10-14 “... 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: and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers .... And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel ....”

As noted many times, Israel’s history is but the symbolic prewritten history of the professing church, the parallel being apparent to all but spiritually blind eyes.  The Lord Jesus Christ the Captain of our salvation fulfills the type of Joshua, while believers of the Apostolic age correspond to the men of Joshua’s generation, the succeeding generations of Christendom likewise corresponding to those which succeeded Joshua’s, and with the same evil results.  And as there was always within the professing but unbelieving mass of Israel a small believing remnant, so has it been in regard to professing but apostate Christendom.  That godly remnant in Israel did not escape the evils that fell upon the rebellious mass of the nation, nor has the believing remnant within the apostate church escaped the evils resulting from her rebellion, but in the case of Israel and the Church, those few believers have been supported by the faith which believes God’s assurance that death is but the doorway through which they pass into the enjoyment of eternal blessing.

23:16.  “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 you.”

The faithfulness of God in blessing their obedience was itself the guarantee that He would be equally faithful in visiting their disobedience with judgment.  That same principle applies no less today, and as the halcyon days of Joshua gave place to the turbulent era of the Judges, during which “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” so has it been in the experience of the professing church.  The early Apostolic age, which saw such blessing poured out on an obedient Church, has given place to centuries which are all too accurately portrayed in the years of the Judges, of strife and division, spiritual famine, disease, and anarchy, the idolatrous worship of money, pleasure, education, etc., the knowledge of God largely lost, and every man doing what is right in his own eyes.

The judgment that saw a disobedient Israel brought under the tyranny of Saul (type of the coming beast ruler), and delivered into the hands of the Philistines, is but a foreshadowing of that which is about to overtake an apostate church.  The hope of the true Church, the believing remnant in the midst of the apostate mass, is of the Lord’s return to the air to catch her up to heaven, from which she will return with Him as He fulfills the type of David and Solomon, whose reigns followed that of Saul, and returns to the earth to begin His glorious millennial reign. 

[Joshua 24]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough