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There should not be any reason for believers to turn from God, but we do, frequently. In this final chapter we see Joshua warning the tribes of Israel, that if they turned back to the false gods they once had, or to the religion of the surrounding heathen pagans, God would be filled with wrath and destroy them. The same applies to Christians today, believers whose faith is so lax as to allow them to follow, or have sympathy with, heathen people and their beliefs. Take heed, for the Jews are still being persecuted 2000 years after Christ. And today we are being hounded and attacked not only for our faith in the Lord, but because we are sinful.

Verses 1-4

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

  2. And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.

  3. And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.

  4. And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.

The tribes were commanded to gather at Shechem, just north of Jerusalem, to hear what Joshua had to say. The various tribal elders and chiefs, etc., stood before him. As Joshua was dying, he might have whispered his words to a spokesman, or, God gave him strength to speak loudly. He opened by saying that what he had to talk to them about came directly from Jehovah.

He began by reminding them of their history, going back to the “other side of the flood”. That is, just after the Flood occurred. The history is very much shortened, giving just important points. The people quickly reverted to paganism, so God led Abraham out from his home, to travel through Canaan, and to have his own children who would not be corrupted by the family they left behind. From this came Isaac, who had Jacob and Esau. Esau was given Mount Seir (by the Dead Sea: Edom) by God, but Jacob travelled on to Egypt.

Verses 5-7
  1. I sent Moses also and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to that which I did among them: and afterward I brought you out.

  2. And I brought your fathers out of Egypt: and ye came unto the sea; and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers with chariots and horsemen unto the Red sea.

  3. And when they cried unto the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them, and covered them; and your eyes have seen what I have done in Egypt: and ye dwelt in the wilderness a long season.

Moses, accompanied by his brother, Aaron, was sent to Egypt from Moses’ precautionary exile, to warn Pharaoh of coming disasters, the plagues. The last one convinced Pharaoh (temporarily) to let the Hebrew slaves go free. So, they were brought out of Egypt, to reach the Red Sea. There, the Hebrews were chased by Pharaoh and his army. To protect them, God created a dark cloud and fiery column to separate the army from the Hebrews.

God led the people across the sea bed to the land opposite, but brought the sea crashing down on the army and Pharaoh, killing them. After this, the saved Hebrews travelled for forty years in the wilderness (because of their unbelief and sins). This is a reminder that sin can be short-lived but have a long-lasting effect. Some sin knowing they can repent... but is such repentance real? Or, just an insurance policy against God’s anger?

Verses 8-13

  1. And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, which dwelt on the other side Jordan; and they fought with you: and I gave them into your hand, that ye might possess their land; and I destroyed them from before you.

  2. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and warred against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you:

  3. But I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he blessed you still: so I delivered you out of his hand.

  4. And ye went over Jordan, and came unto Jericho: and the men of Jericho fought against you, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I delivered them into your hand.

  5. And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow.

  6. And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat.

The brief comments then came more up to date, to when the Hebrews/Israel wanted to travel north from the deserts, but the Amorites in the south-east refused them free passage. God caused the Israelites to battle against them and they won. God won, not Israel (“I gave them unto your hand”, “I destroyed them from before you”).

God, through Joshua, then said Balak, king of Moab, came to drive Moses and Hebrews out of the land, after the Amorite war, to try his hand at getting rid of them. He even called for Balaam, a prophet of the Mesopotamians, to curse the Israelites with a prophecy. The facts are interesting to repeat for us today, hence the following short notes.

The prophet lived in Pethor, Mesopotamia. The king told him that a mysterious people came from Egypt in huge numbers; he wanted Balaam to curse them, so they would be beaten or die. But, God also spoke to Balaam, and warned “thou shalt not curse the people, for they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:12). Next morning he told the envoys of the king to go, because God had commanded him to stay and not to curse the Israelites.

Balak tried a second time to get Balaam to come to him. Balaam’s reply was good (though forced) – he told them that even if the king gave him a palace full of gold and silver, he could not disobey Jehovah. God again spoke to Balaam, advising him to go with the envoys if they again came to him, but only to say what He, the Lord, gave him to say. So, next morning, Balaam saddled his ass and went with the high-ranking envoys. On the way the ass refused to move, because an angel from God stood in the way, wielding a sword. The ass simply walked into the field at the side of the road. The ass fell down, casting Balaam to the ground, making him angry enough to hit the animal with his stick.

Immediately, God caused the ass to miraculously speak. It asked Balaam why he hit him three times! More interestingly, Balaam answered, as though it is normal for an ass to speak, saying that if he had a sword he would have killed the ass. The ass reminded Balaam that he had worked for him for a long time – had he ever done anything like it before? Balaam admitted ‘No’.

Then, God allowed Balaam to see the angel, sword drawn; Balaam bowed his head and fell prostrate on his face to the ground. Balaam feared and told the angel he had not seen him until that moment, so he had sinned. He offered to go back home, but the angel forbad it, telling him to carry on and to only speak what he told Balaam to say. When he reached the lowest border of Moab, the king met him and asked why he had not come in the first place – surely he knew the king could endow him with honours?

Balaam told the king he had nothing of his own to say, but only the words of Jehovah. Next day the king sent presents of animals to him and told him to accompany him to the top of a mountain where a temple or grove devoted to Baal stood. He wanted Balaam to look down at some of the Israelites below. Still under God’s command, Balaam told the king to build seven altars, and to bring seven bullocks and seven rams, one for each altar. As the sacrifices were burning Balaam went higher up the mountain to ask God what he was to say to the king. He blessed Israel, shocking the king, who demanded to know why he had done it. But, instead, he told Balaam to neither curse nor bless Israel.

Balaam, in great danger from the king’s wrath, reminded the king he had agreed for him to only speak what Jehovah told him to say. The king anxiously told Balaam to try again, but on a different mountain – and took him to Peor, thinking that maybe the curse might come to him there. Again, Balaam gave the same instructions for seven altars, seven bullocks and seven rams. He then asked God for instructions, and did not “seek for enchantments” (an incantation of divination) but simply stood looking at the Israelites below. God’s spirit then spoke to him and he blessed Israel. The king clapped his hands together in anger. Furiously, he angrily said that Balaam had blessed Israel three times, instead of cursing them.

God withheld the king’s hand after Balaam reminded him he would only say what God gave him to say. So, both went to their homes. In real terms Balaam did not curse Israel only because God had warned him to give a blessing... it was not his inward desire! There is far more to this account, but what I have given is sufficient for now. Later, Balaam died by the sword (for full details see Numbers 22-24) in the time of Joshua. Sadly, though he did what God told him to do, he also committed sin against God and the people, and is ill-spoken of in the Bible. Jesus Himself said Balaam taught the king to put barriers up to the Israelites, and caused them to commit sexual sins and to eat foods given to idols, which led to a great plague against them.

Balaam is like so many today who both obey God at times and yet disobey Him in many other ways. But, God watches, and hears, and knows what is happening. One day He might take their lives or cause them to suffer great distress. It is a warning to us all, especially in days when so many want us cursed and dead.

God continued His reminder – the people left the east side and crossed the Jordan, kept safe by God. They fought so many nations, but God kept them safe and “delivered (the enemy) into (their) hand”. We then have an interesting statement by God – that He drove out the two Amorite kings with hornets. So, Israel won without using weapons of their own, proving again that victory was God’s not theirs.

To emphasise that God, not human beings, won, God told them they now occupied their lands though they did not work for them; they had ready-made cities they did not build, and vineyards and olive groves for food which they did not grow. Even today, every Christian must understand that no matter what they do or think, it is God Who gives them victory over enemies, homes to live in, and food to eat. Their careers are not their own and their achievements do not, either. Everything comes from God and belongs to Him. Do you really understand this? Then please show it.

Verses 14-18

  1. Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.

  2. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

  3. And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods;

  4. For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed:

  5. And the LORD drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the LORD; for he is our God.

Because everything they had was given by God, and owned by Him, the Israelites could not complain. Rather, they were to fear the Lord. Modern believers have a problem with this ‘fear’ and try to make it less than it is. But, the word, yare’, literally means fear, something terrible. It also means to pay reverence (probably because of fear of consequences)! Yet, if a believer truly obeys he need not fear. It is, then, a dual condition, where we fail to obey and God then comes to us in wrath. Therefore, says Joshua, because you know what God will do if you turn from Him, “serve him in sincerity and truth”. Cast out the false gods that you worshipped after the Flood and in Egypt and “serve ye the Lord”. This applies to every one of us today!

On the other hand, he continues, if you think serving God is harmful to you, then make your choice – between the one true God, or the false gods you grew up with! “Choose you this day whom you will serve”! This famous saying is still pertinent for us today, as so many believers wander regularly into forbidden territory. And even in their churches they prefer human traditions to godly beliefs and actions. So, serve the false gods of the Amorites if you wish to sin. Then came a more famous saying by Joshua: “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Be honest – who do YOU serve? If you say God, then where is your proof? Do others know the Lord is your God? Do you keep Him hidden when amongst unbelievers and colleagues? Do you mix your life – godliness plus falsity? My friends, I hear your words, but I cannot see your profession in action. (Yes, a few stand out as sincere, but most are a sorry spectacle).

The equally famous reply was “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods”. Of course they answered thus! A short while before they were ready to obliterate three whole tribes rather than suffer the wrath of the Lord! Yet, in a short time they began to worship the gods they said they would not deal with. And they continued to vacillate between falsity and truth over hundreds of years. God put an end to it in 70AD, and the struggles and terrible reactions to them ever since is down to just that one thing – the refusal of the Jews to obey the one true God. Their continuance in Judaism is the reason for their hardships, for they rejected the Messiah though He proved Himself to be God.

At the time of Joshua the people acknowledged what God had done for them, by bringing them out of bondage, and by showing them great miracles, and keeping them safe from warring enemies. The signs of God were so plain the people said they would serve the Lord, for “he is our God”.

But, just like us, Oh how fickle people can be. They had seen and had personally experienced the greatness of God, yet they soon turned back to the false gods they claimed not to want. Today, we see Christians turn to homosexuality, to friendship with a great demonic religion (Islam), and to the antics of green theology. Hence our current downfall and troubles.

Verses 19-28

  1. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.

  2. If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.

  3. And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD.

  4. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses.

  5. Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel.

  6. And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.

  7. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.

  8. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD.

  9. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.

  10. So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.

Joshua solemnly warned the tribes: ‘you CANNOT serve God (verse 19), Who is Holy and jealous (hates other gods), and he will Not forgive you IF you forsake Him (verse 20)!’ He identified these gods as “strange” because they were alien to God and truth, and ‘foreign’ (meaning ‘vanities’, useless and empty). Follow after the heathen, then, and you are finished. Today, this occurs when Christians allow themselves to allow heathen gods in their presence, or befriend heathens/pagans socially, though their false gods are anathema to God.

Even today, Christians do not fully understand what Joshua was saying. Very plainly, he warned that to go after these foreign gods in ANY way at all, is to antagonise the true Lord. God will “turn and do you hurt” for being so foolish. A modern way of saying it is ‘the Lord will break you and do you harm’. This is underlined by the next phrase: “(He will) consume you” (destroy them). If you do not believe God can and does do this, you are deluded. As Joshua said, the Lord did you immense good, so He is entitled to destroy you if you then go after false gods. God saved us, so imagine His wrath if Christians refuse to act as saved.

The people again reassured Joshua they would follow God. Joshua pointed out that what they said was their own witnesses. They now had to live according to their holy vow, to follow the Lord. They agreed: “We are witnesses”!

Joshua again commanded them to cast out the false gods they harboured in their homes and to lean heavily towards God. For us today this is a perfect and simple way to show our allegiance – throw away everything not of God and only do what God demands. If we do not, any harm in our lives comes down to our own fault. We witnessed to our salvation and then we revoked it by living sinfully. (There are holy exceptions; Job is one example).

Again the people agreed, and Joshua gave them a covenant to follow. Joshua then added his words to the book of the law. He ordered that a large stone should be erected not far from the Tabernacle, as a visible sign of the people’s promises. He told the people what the stone represented, and warned them again of turning back from truth and real worship. The people then left Shechem to return to their homes.

For us today, there is a stone of remembrance; it is our salvation. It stands eternally as our promise to obey God, and also stands against us if we sin.

Verses 29-33

  1. And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old.

  2. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathserah, which is in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash.

  3. And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel.

  4. And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.

  5. And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him in a hill that pertained to Phinehas his son, which was given him in mount Ephraim.

A short while later, Joshua died at age 110. The people buried him on the border of his chosen tract of land on Mount Ephraim. The tribes continued to observe their promises to serve the Lord, during the lifetimes of Joshua and the lifetimes of the elders who outlived him, who knew personally what God had done. This is poignant, for it implies they began to stray after these died.

The bones of Joseph had been dug up and carried through the deserts for forty years. And were buried at Shechem, in ground legally bought for 100 pieces of silver from the father of Shechem; so the parcel of land was owned by the family in perpetuity. Then, the son of Aaron, the high priest, Eleazar, died and was buried on a plot of land in Mount Ephraim owned by his priest-son, Phinehas.