Joshua 20-24 Chapter Study


As we come to ch. 20 – Israel has taken possession of the Promised Land.

To conquer the land, Joshua first cut the land in two from north to south.

Then he defeated the southern city-states before turning to the more numerous and powerful northern alliance.

It’s important we remember while Israel had defeated the main Canaanite city-states & rulers who had controlled the Promised Land, there were dozens upon dozens of lesser cities, towns & villages of Canaanites scattered across the land.

As each tribe of Israel was assigned to its territory, it would be up to the militias of each tribe to go against these Canaanites holdings & defeat them.

In fact, that was the command Joshua, under the direction of the Lord, had given to them.

For those who are new to our study of Joshua – this command to dispossess & wipe out the Canaanites might sound cruel & something hard to imagine God issuing.

While this reaction is understandable, it’s a reflection of a lack of historical perspective.

Nearly 500 years before the Conquest of Canaan, God told Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, that his descendants would return to take possession of the land when the judgment of the native people had become ripe. [Gen. 15:16]

Archaeology has now revealed just how abominably horrifying the moral practices of the Canaanites had become when Israel arrived on the border of their territory.

This was a society that was in its death throes.

Violence, cruelty, & injustice were the chief marks of the Canaanite culture.

The demonic had literally taken over & the victims were the weakest.

God used Israel as the instrument of His judgment on the Canaanites.

But He wanted them to understand that & to learn from it; that if a nation turns its back on His revelation & willfully shuns the moral light He gives, refusing to repent & turn from its wickedness, it too will know judgment.

Sadly, Israel forgot that lesson & tasted the very judgment she’d dealt the Canaanites.

Outline of Joshua

I. Crossing the River Chs. 1-5

II. Conquering the Enemy Chs. 6-12

III. Claiming the Inheritance Chs. 13-24

A. The Tribal Territory Assigned Chs. 13-19

B. The Special Cities Appointed Chs. 20-21

1. The cities of refuge Ch. 20

1 The Lord also spoke to Joshua, saying, 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Appoint for yourselves cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, 3 that the slayer who kills a person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there; and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.

Justice was a major issue under the covenant Israel had with God.

As we read on later in the prophets, God takes the nation to task because they had perverted the administration of justice in the courts of the land.

The rich & powerful were given favors while the poor & needy were exploited.

This was one of the sins the prophets railed against – expressing God’s righteous indignation.

Proverbs 17:15 says –

He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just,

Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.

Why was God so worked up about this?  Why would injustice be such a hot-button with Him?

The answer is because as His people, they were to be LIKE HIM & He is a holy God who IS JUST.

Justice was to be one of their pre-eminent moral traits.

It was like a thermometer reflecting the temperature of their relationship with God.

If their hearts were in tune with Him then justice would govern their decisions.

If they weren’t, then injustice would twist their judgments.

As we look at the history of the world, we can see that God not only demanded that Israel be just in her administration of justice, but that He handles all nations by that criteria.

Not all people have been blessed with the special revelation of God’s Word in the Scriptures.

But as Paul makes clear in the opening chapters of Romans, all nations have a God-consciousness & His moral law is written on the heart of man.

Though the image of God in man has been marred by the Fall, it isn’t completely obliterated, & the inner moral compass still informs his conscience, his inner sense of right & wrong so that no one is without excuse.

The oft-repeated lesson of history is that when a civilization honors the inner sense of justice, it prospers & people enjoy a growing standard of living.

But as wealth & power increase, corruption sets in.

Over time, that civilization rots from within & arrives at a place where it stubbornly defies its moral compass.

Injustice becomes the norm – & judgment inevitably comes in the death of that civilization, often at the hands of a conqueror.

Because God was so zealous to instill a sense of justice in the moral & social life of Israel, He provided for a place of refuge for those who had accidentally killed someone – what is technically known as “man-slaughter.”

You see, every family in Israel had a designated-agent known as the “Goel” or “Avenger of Blood,” whose task it was to make sure if anyone in the family was killed, the murderer would be executed.

The Avenger of Blood was duty-bound to exact revenge.

But sometimes, that revenge wasn’t tempered by the caution of justice.

What if the death was an accident?

In the case of accidental death, there is no moral guilt of murder.

So capital punishment is not an appropriate sentence.

Therefore God established 6 cities throughout Israel were someone who’d accidentally killed someone could flee for refuge & safety from the Avenger of Blood.

4 And when he flees to one of those cities, and stands at the entrance of the gate of the city, and declares his case in the hearing of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city as one of them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them.

When the man-slayer came to the city, he was to state his case to the city leaders and they would make a preliminary decision on whether or not to grant him refuge.

5 Then if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not deliver the slayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unintentionally, but did not hate him beforehand.

There can be no indication of pre-meditation.

6 And he shall dwell in that city until he stands before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the one who is high priest in those days. Then the slayer may return and come to his own city and his own house, to the city from which he fled.’ ”

After the preliminary interview by the city leaders allowing the man-slayer refuge, there would be a full hearing with all the evidence brought forth in the case.

If the death was deemed a murder, he would be turned over to the Avenger of Blood then & there & executed.

If the death was judged accidental then the man would be permitted to stay & enjoy the safety of the city.

But his zone of safety was only within the confines of the city walls. 

If he ever strayed outside them – he could be nabbed & killed.

The only time he was free to leave the refuge of the city was at the death of the current high priest.

Then he was allowed to return to his home & live a normal life.

When we studied the cities of refuge in Numbers, we saw how they’re a type of Christ.

A moment ago, we saw how crucial justice is to God. Just as important to Him is love.

So how does God remain just with sinners who deserve judgment at the same time that His love yearns to bless them?

The cities of refuge show us how the 2 come together & are reconciled.

Before the death of the high priest, safety was within the confines of the city.

The city of refuge is a picture of the Law of God.

As long as one lived within it – there was safety.

But the moment you step outside its boundaries, you’re under judgment & subject to death.

After the death of the high priest, the refugee was free to leave with the promise of protection from judgment.

Jesus IS our High Priest, whose death frees us from bondage to the law of sin & death.

You see, the demands of God’s justice on our sin are satisfied by the sacrifice of Christ.

He took our judgment on Himself at the Cross so we might come out from under the guilt of sin & into the abundant blessings of God’s love.

As Romans 3:26 says, God is both “just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.”

In Hebrews 6:18, Christians are referred to as those who “have fled for refuge” in Christ.

7So they appointed Kedesh in Galilee, in the mountains of Naphtali, Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and Kirjath Arba (which is Hebron) in the mountains of Judah. 8And on the other side of the Jordan, by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness on the plain, from the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh. 9 These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwelt among them, that whoever killed a person accidentally might flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stood before the congregation.

3 cities were on the west and 3 on the east of the Jordan.

They were roughly equidistant & were accessed by well-maintained roads so that a healthy person could reach one of them from anywhere in the borders of Israel by a day’s journey.

2. The priestly cities Ch. 21

1 Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites came near to Eleazar the priest, to Joshua the son of Nun, and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the children of Israel. 2 And they spoke to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, “The Lord commanded through Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with their common-lands for our livestock.”

In Numbers 35 we find God telling Moses to give the Levites cities scattered throughout the land of Israel.

Not only were they to be given their own cities, but fields outside their walls upon which they would be allowed to graze their flocks and herds.

When we think of the priests of Israel, we tend to see them officiating at the tabernacle, & later at the temple.

But it was only a small subset of the priests who served at the tabernacle, which at this time was located at Shiloh.

The vast majority of priests, called “Levites” because they were the tribe of Levi, lived in towns located all throughout the nation.

Their task was to provide for the religious instruction & judicial needs of the nation.

Remember, there wasn’t a separate religious & civil law in Israel.

It was all one law & was administered by the Levites.

In vs. 3-40 we get a listing of the 48 Levitical cities, which included the 6 cities of refuge of ch. 20.

41 All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty-eight cities with their common-lands. 42 Every one of these cities had its common-land surrounding it; thus were all these cities.

The common-land around the cities was for the grazing of the Levite’s minimal flocks & herds.

Remember that it was only the priests serving at the tabernacle who partook of the people’s sacrifices made at the altar.

The Levites who lived in the Levitical cities didn’t partake of the sacrifices.

Their support came from the offerings the people made to them every third year in the Levitical tithe, and from the small flocks they kept for their personal use.

Unlike the other tribes, the Levites didn’t use their flocks & herds for 0commerical purposes; they were for personal use only.

And now we have a monumental statement . . .

43 So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.

At this moment, Israel had the potential of laying hold of the entire territory God had promised Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob; from the Border with Egypt, all the way to the Euphrates River.

And while the tribes moved to their respective territories & settled into their regions, the fact is, they didn’t expand to their God-ordained limits.

In other words, the land became legally & potentially theirs, but they didn’t make it actually theirs by settling throughout it.

Yes, v. 43 says they “took possession of it and dwelt in it”–but the record of their settlement makes it clear where they lived was in the center of the land, not along the borders.

They dwelt in the areas that were easy & safe to possess, no those that were a bit riskier because of the cost it would take to make them their own.

Hang on to that idea; we’ll come back to it in a moment.

44 The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.

I don’t know what impact these words have on you – but I’m awed by them!

God kept every promise He made to Israel in the Conquest of Canaan –


Those big, bad-boy giants, with their chariots, horses, & metal weapons, were all defeated.

And God had worked providentially to weaken the great empires that bordered Israel so none of them would be in a position to rise up & attack the fledgling nation while she settled into her territory.

Oh – be sure this was exactly the time when an empire like Egypt, the Hittites, or the Babylonians would love to sweep in with their armies & pluck the ripe jewel that was the land of Israel. 

Don’t forget that the highways that connect 3 continents pass through this region, & in the ancient world, the one who controlled the highways controlled trade & commerce, so wealth & power.

Everyone wanted control of Israel;

It’s why the Canaanites had moved in. 

It’s why Egypt kept attacking.

Why the Hittites came.

Why the Assyrians conquered.

Why the Babylonians came.

Why Alexander the Great& the Greeks took it.

And why the Romans wanted it.

But at this time, no one was in a position to attack Israel.

They were all suffering from their own internal problems & were too weak to stage an invasion.

V. 44 explains the what & where of their troubles –

The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers.

While God had revealed Himself specifically to Israel & invited them into covenant relationship with Him, that didn’t mean He was limited just to the borders of Israel.

He was still God of all the Earth & was at work on the global stage to prepare things for His people.

While they looked to Him in faith & sought to follow Him obediently, He was at work behind the scenes & in distant fields making sure that they prevailed & prospered.

As the story shows – God’s blessing didn’t come to His people without struggle – but it did come without defeat.

What was true for them is even MORE true for us because of Christ.

The covenant He offers us is greater than the one God offered Israel, as Hebrews 8:6 says.

Listen; this is an important truth - God’s blessing doesn’t come to His people without struggle – but it does come without defeat – as we look to Him in faith.


1) More territory for us.

2) Opposition, can’t stand.

3) V. 45 – May this be the epitaph that will be written over our lives!  The key – find out what promises God has made – then go forth boldly and take possession of them.]

C. The Eastern Tribes Return Home Ch. 22

1 Then Joshua called the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them: “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you. 3 You have not left your brethren these many days, up to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God. 4 And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brethren, as He promised them; now therefore, return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan.

You remember that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, & half of Manasseh had settled down in territory east of the Jordan.

Moses had made them swear that when the time came for the other tribes to cross the river and conquer Canaan, they would send their fighting men along.

They had, & now that the main military campaigns are over, it’s time for them to return to their homes.

But Joshua has a concern.  It has to do with the natural barrier the Jordan River places between the western & eastern tribes.  So he says . . .

5 But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Josh was concerned that with the passage of time, the eastern tribes would forget their connection to the western tribes & their co-destiny under the covenant with God.

He issues this solemn reminder to not forget who & what they were – the people of God who are duty-bound to walk in His ways.

6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents. 7 Now to half the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan, but to the other half of it Joshua gave a possession among their brethren on this side of the Jordan, westward. And indeed, when Joshua sent them away to their tents, he blessed them, 8 and spoke to them, saying, “Return with much riches to your tents, with very much livestock, with silver, with gold, with bronze, with iron, and with very much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.” 9 So the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, which they had obtained according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses. 10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan—a great, impressive altar. 11 Now the children of Israel heard someone say, “Behold, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan—on the children of Israel’s side.” 12 And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them.

Already there’s trouble brewing between the eastern & western tribes.

It seems Josh’s fears have proven well-founded. Let’s read on & see what happens.

13 Then the children of Israel sent Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest to the children of Reuben, to the children of Gad, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, 14 and with him ten rulers, one ruler each from the chief house of every tribe of Israel; and each one was the head of the house of his father among the divisions of Israel. 15 Then they came to the children of Reuben, to the children of Gad, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them, saying, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord: ‘What treachery is this that you have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the Lord, in that you have built for yourselves an altar, that you might rebel this day against the Lord? 17 Is the iniquity of Peor not enough for us, from which we are not cleansed till this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the Lord, 18 but that you must turn away this day from following the Lord? And it shall be, if you rebel today against the Lord, that tomorrow He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel.

The leaders of the western tribes rebuked the eastern tribes for building an altar – calling them to remember what had happened at Peor when the Israel had worshipped the gods of the Moabites & Ammonites.

God sent a plague into the camp that began killing the people & the men mention that fact that the effects of that plague were still in evidence in that day – so whatever the plague had been, it had left some kind of mark on those who’d been hit with it but had survived.

They continue. . .

19 Nevertheless, if the land of your possession is unclean, then cross over to the land of the possession of the Lord, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take possession among us; but do not rebel against the Lord, nor rebel against us, by building yourselves an altar besides the altar of the Lord our God.

They invite the eastern tribes to now join them in the west if they decide that land is better than their own.

But the real problem is made clear by the last half of v. 19 – they see the altar the eastern tribes have built as a RIVAL to the one at the tabernacle in Shiloh.

Finally they say . . .

20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.’ ”

Achan’s judgment was something they’d all witnessed.  And it wasn’t just himself that was judged – his entire family & all his belongings were burned.

One man’s sin had harmed many.

If that were the case with Achan, then how far-reaching would judgment extend for this heinous act of altar-building they’d done?

Pay careful attention to the reply -

21 Then the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh answered and said to the heads of the divisions of Israel: 22 “The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, He knows, and let Israel itself know—if it is in rebellion, or if in treachery against the Lord, do not save us this day. 23 If we have built ourselves an altar to turn from following the Lord, or if to offer on it burnt offerings or grain offerings, or if to offer peace offerings on it, let the Lord Himself require an account. 24 But in fact we have done it for fear, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your descendants may speak to our descendants, saying, “What have you to do with the Lord God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a border between you and us, you children of Reuben and children of Gad. You have no part in the Lord.” So your descendants would make our descendants cease fearing the Lord.’ 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now prepare to build ourselves an altar, not for burnt offering nor for sacrifice, 27 but that it may be a witness between you and us and our generations after us, that we may perform the service of the Lord before Him with our burnt offerings, with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your descendants may not say to our descendants in time to come, “You have no part in the Lord.” ’ 28 Therefore we said that it will be, when they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say, ‘Here is the replica of the altar of the Lord which our fathers made, though not for burnt offerings nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between you and us.’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn from following the Lord this day, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for grain offerings, or for sacrifices, besides the altar of the Lord our God which is before His tabernacle.”

This is pretty clear – the altar they built was not for sacrifice – but as a memorial; to inform future generations that the tribes on the east & west are part of the same spiritual covenant with God.

Distance may separate them, but not faith.

The eastern tribes wanted the western tribes to see those living in the east through that altar which was a replica of the Lord’s altar at Shiloh, & know they were all one.

Hang on to that idea.

30 Now when Phinehas the priest and the rulers of the congregation, the heads of the divisions of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 31 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, “This day we perceive that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord. Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.” 32 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the rulers, returned from the children of Reuben and the children of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 So the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God; they spoke no more of going against them in battle, to destroy the land where the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt. 34 The children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar, [Ayd] Witness, “For it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”

This chapter provides us with a marvelous lesson & an important warning as we seek to press into taking possession of all the Lord has for us.

The Lesson is this – None of us lays claim to our inheritance in Christ all by ourselves.

Growth into Spiritual Maturity is something God has designed & ordained would take place in the company of others who are like-minded.

As much as he might pose to the contrary, the Spiritual Lone Ranger is not mature – he’s an infant.

Each of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 is something that only manifests itself in the midst of relationships with others.

The Path to our Spiritual Promised Land is traveled in company with others.

Now – here’s the deal – our adversary knows that – so what do you suppose his tactic will be?

To divide us. To separate us & cause friction, tension, strife; all out warfare if he can.

Oh – we see him at work here – look at v. 11 . . .

11 Now the children of Israel heard someone say, “Behold, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan—on the children of Israel’s side.”

Did you catch that? “The children of Israel heard someone say . . .”

Who said it?  Where did this come from?  This is the way of gossip. 

Suddenly a damaging little piece of information about someone is floating around.

Where did it come from? Who’s the source? What right or authority do they have to make it known?

With this kind of gossip, you rarely find the culprit.

But all too often, those who hear it don’t care about the source.

They’re too worked up by the news. Too excited about the juicy morsel of dirt they’ve heard.

Notice what the report was – “The children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan—on the children of Israel’s side.”

Wait a minute – weren’t the eastern tribes as much “the children of Israel” as the western tribes?

Can you see what the enemy was trying to do? He was trying to fracture the people of God into warring camps.

He was at work sowing discord, strife, animosity, hatred, & even bloodshed.

Of a wise counsel, Proverbs 25:11 says that a word fitly spoken is like a beautiful piece of expensive jewelry.

Well, the devil knows that a false word, rightly timed & aimed, can bring utter ruin.

As James says, though the tongue is a tiny organ, it works great harm when it is inspired by the lies of the devil.  [James 3:5-8]

And therein is the Warning of this passage – Know with absolute certainty that the enemy will always & ever be at work sowing seeds of discord among God’s people.

Look at v. 12 -

12 And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them.

All it took was a charge of wrongdoing to get them riled.

They are ready to go to war – & they didn’t even know if the charge was true.

A church gossip kept sticking her nose into other people's business.

Several members wanted to confront her but feared her enough to maintain their silence.

She made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his pickup truck parked in front of the town's only bar one afternoon.

She told George and everyone else that anyone seeing his truck there would assume he was an alcoholic.

George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment then just walked away.

Later that evening, he parked his pickup in front of Sarah's house & left it there all night.

The western tribes just assumed the eastern tribes had built the altar in defiance of the Lord. And based on that assumption, they were ready to kill!

How important it is to find out the truth rather to live by our assumptions.

Cooler heads in Israel formed a diplomatic mission to go to the leaders of the eastern tribes and ask them what was going on.

But notice that they too have been adversely influenced by the assumption.

When they arrive, they accuse R, G & ½M of apostasy.

In 1669 the French writer Moliere said, “Here in Paris they hang a man first & try him afterward.”

That’s an inevitable effect of gossip.

It’s imperative we learn the lesson of this story – Satan will do his level best to divide the people of God & gossip is one of his primary tools to do it.

So – use this test before you utter a word about another:


T -- is it True?  You sure?

H -- is it Helpful?  Will it advance the work of the Spirit in the one you’re telling?

I -- is it Inspiring?  Will it cause the hearer to love the one talked about more?

N -- is it Necessary?  Does the person you’re telling really NEED to know?

K -- is it Kind? Would you want that thing said about you?

While the western tribes were moved by gossip that assumed disunity, the eastern tribes made a memorial altar so the western tribes would remember their unity!

The altar was a great symbol to choose because it would remind them all that what united them was their common faith in God, made real in their worship, which was made possible by sacrifice.

When you & I are tempted to be at odds with one another – we must remember the cross – where the God who loves us died so that we might be restored to fellowship with Him & one another.

The message of the cross is the message of love’s reconciliation.

How dare I ever allow anything to lessen the reality of God’s love & effect of reconciliation to poison my relationship with anyone?

D. The Entire Nation Admonished Chs. 23-24

1 Now it came to pass, a long time after the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua was old, advanced in age.

This is about 20 years after the conquest of Canaan.[1]

2 And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them: “I am old, advanced in age. 3 You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has fought for you. 4 See, I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, as far as the Great Sea westward. 5 And the Lord your God will expel them from before you and drive them out of your sight. So you shall possess their land, as the Lord your God promised you. 6 Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left,

These words sound very much like what God Himself has said of Joshua 20 years before when he first took charge of the nation.

Joshua has seen the Lord’s faithfulness & now has great confidence as he passes on the reins of leadership to the elders of the tribes to give them the same words God had given him.

That word was this – Courageously Obey God!

7 and lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, 8 but you shall hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day. 9 For the Lord has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. 10 One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you. 11 Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the Lord your God. 12 Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations—these that remain among you—and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you.

Joshua issues a strong warning here about compromising with the enemy.

14 “Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed. 15 Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the Lord your God promised you, so the Lord will bring upon you all harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the Lord your God has given you. 16 When you have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you.”

This is unassailable logic on Joshua’s part.

If God had fulfilled every promise of blessing as the people obediently followed Him, then they must realize He would keep all the promises to judge them if they rebelled.

Chapter 24

1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.

There’s a bit of a difficulty in interpretation here.

Ch. 23 says Joshua gathered the leaders and spoke a kind of Farwell speech, then ch. 24 says he gathered the people for another.  Was this the same speech?

The way to understand this is that Ch. 23 was Joshua’s commissioning of the elders of the tribes as the new leaders of the nation – passing the torch to them.

Just as God had called him 2 decades before and called him to focus his leadership in courageously obeying the Law, Joshua does the same with them.

That was done at Shiloh, where the tabernacle was, and were the presence of God could sanction and ordain the leaders, just as He had done when Moses passed the torch to Joshua.

Ch. 24 takes place not at Shiloh, but at Shechem, which was where the people had gone to renew the covenant when the first entered the Promised Land.

You’ll remember that the Mts. Ebal & Gerizim were on either side of Shechem, and it was there they’d built and altar to the Lord.

Half the tribes stood on one Mt. declaring blessings on obedience while the other half stood on the other and announced curses on disobedience.

This was the perfect setting for Joshua to issue his final challenge to the nation.

2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. 4 To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5 Also I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to what I did among them. Afterward I brought you out. 6 ‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 So they cried out to the Lord; and He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, brought the sea upon them, and covered them. And your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. Then you dwelt in the wilderness a long time. 8 And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and they fought with you. But I gave them into your hand, that you might possess their land, and I destroyed them from before you. 9 Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose to make war against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 Then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you—also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand. 12 I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow. 13 I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’ 14 “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! 15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua rehearses their history then issues a challenge – in light of all God has done for them –they ought to give themselves to Him without reserve.

But they must chose!  A choice has to be made.

No one enters the covenant automatically.

No one is assumed to be in covenant with God just because He’s poured out massive blessing in him/her.

No – each person must make a volitional choice to embrace the covenant through personal faith.

After issuing the challenge to them – Joshua makes it clear what his choice is.

He and his will be devoted to God.

Even if all Israel decides to go off & worship some other deity – Joshua’s family will serve Yahweh.

16 So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for the Lord our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”

The people respond enmasse – they too will serve Yahweh.

Now, you would think this was cause Joshua to jump up and down with excitement & have them all start filling our decision cards.

His next words are a bit unexpected . . .

19 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.”

Joshua is saying – “Count the cost folks!  Realize what you’re saying, what you’re committing to.”

If you enter covenant with God – which you should, realize the full-terms because God will hold you to them.

21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord!” 22 So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord for yourselves, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses!” 23 “Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!”

As of yet, it seems there were still items among the possessions of Israel that harkened back to the days of their bondage in Egypt.

And this is what prompted his caution in vs. 19-20; he knew that some of the people still had little Egyptian idols, and others had picked up Canaanites idols during the War of Conquest.

If they were truly going to follow Yahweh, then they must put away the things that contradicted that commitment.

Let that settle in for a moment.

Is God and less jealous of us than He was of Israel?

Is He any less holy today than when Joshua spoke this 3500 years ago?

Are there physical objects among our possessions that stand for sin?

Are there representations of rebellion & evil that marked our days before Jesus saved us that linger on for sentimental reasons?

Put it away! Get rid of it. [Dennis Date’s Gohanzen]

25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26 Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.” 28 So Joshua let the people depart, each to his own inheritance. 29 Now it came to pass after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Serah, which is in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash. 31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the Lord which He had done for Israel.

Catch that – Joshua was a man who was truly anointed and faithful to God.

The real proof of that is that he didn’t just live & work for his own lifetime – but for the next as well.

He left good, godly men behind him to carry on the task of leadership.

That is the real test of effective leadership – that he/she leaves behind leaders who can carry on in the same or even in a better way.

32 The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph. 33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died. They buried him in a hill belonging to Phinehas his son, which was given to him in the mountains of Ephraim.

Not only did Joshua pass on, but so did the high priest Eleazar, the son of the 1st high priest, Aaron, Moses’ brother.

With the passing of Joshua and the elders who succeeded him, & Eleazar, a new generation of leaders arise who had not witnessed these things.

And it is with their arrival that things begin to slide backward into the period of the next OT book – Judges.

But our next study carries us to the NT & the Gospel of Luke.

[1] The Bible Knowledge Commentary