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FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
Chapter 22 The Transjordan Contingents Return Home - The Memorial Altar.
The initial war with the Canaanites being over, Joshua called to him the warriors from the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, who had came over Jordan with him to assist in the various battles. He commended them for their obedience to Moses, to himself, and to God. Then he bade them return home with his blessing on them, and gave them careful instructions about keeping to the right ways and to the rightful worship of God.
At this they returned to their country. But when they came to the border they set up a memorial altar by the River Jordan. When the rest of the children of Israel heard of this, it gave them great cause for alarm, for they feared that the Transjordanian tribes were going to turn from the pure worship of God at the central sanctuary. So they sent a deputation of princes to them, along with Phinehas, the son of Eliezer, the high priest, to enquire into what was happening, accompanying it with a rebuke. But when they received a satisfactory explanation for what had happened, they returned and reported back to the children of Israel, and in consequence al were satisfied with the situation.
22.1-3 ‘Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of YHWH commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you. You have not left your brothers these many days to this day but have kept the charge of the commandment of YHWH your God.” ’
Joshua now called together the Transjordanian contingent and commended them for their faithfulness. He declared that they had been faithful in their duty, had fully obeyed their commander and had not sought to desert or to avoid battle. They had been true soldiers of God, and that even though it had involved hardship and separation from their families and loved ones for well over five years. But now the groundwork had been done it was time for them to return home.
‘All that Moses commanded you.’ See Deuteronomy 3.18-20. It was the commandment of Moses, of Joshua (1.12-18) and of God. ‘You have kept’ is strictly ‘you shall keep’. Joshua is thinking of the command he had given them. For ‘keep the charge of’ see Leviticus 8.35; 18.30; Deuteronomy 11.1. ‘The commandment’ is a characteristic expression of Moses (Deuteronomy 17.20 compare 5.29) which Joshua takes up here and verse 5.
22.4 “And now YHWH your God has given rest to your brothers, as he said to them. Now therefore turn you, and get you to your tents, to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of YHWH gave you, Beyond Jordan.”
Now YHWH with their help had given rest to their brothers. They were settling in the land and beginning to sow and to plant. ‘Turn you.’ They could now leave their brothers and return home. See Deuteronomy 1.7, 40; 2.3; 16.7. ‘Get you to your tents.’ A phrase from the past which meant ‘go home’, whether to tents or houses (compare 22.8; Deuteronomy 16.7; possibly Judges 7.8; 1 Kings 12.16). ‘The land of your possession.’ A reminder that God had already given them their reward.
22.5 ‘Only take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of YHWH commanded you, to love YHWH your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave to him, and to serve him with all your heart, and with all your soul.’
Joshua now charged them with the necessity for diligent obedience to the covenant of YHWH (Deuteronomy 4.9). They had ‘to love -- to walk -- to keep -- to cleave -- to serve’. A right response of heart, obedient steps, meditation on His word, holding tightly to Him and doing His will. Compare Deuteronomy 10.12 ‘to fear -- to walk -- to love -- to serve.’ Deuteronomy 11.22 ‘to love -- to walk -- to cleave’. Deuteronomy 13.4 ‘walk -- fear -- keep -- obey -- serve -- cleave’. Deuteronomy 19.9 ‘keep all his commandment to do it, -- to love YHWH your God -- to walk ever in His ways’. Thus Joshua was repeating and enlarging on the words he had heard from Moses.
Covenant love for God was central to the faith of Israel (Deuteronomy 6.5). Their thought and worship must be focused on Him. But their especially distinctive idea was that of walking in His ways, in morality and obedience to His Law. They knew that God cared how they lived towards their fellow man because it was a part of the essential covenant. And it was one way by which they revealed their covenant love for Him, by keeping in their hearts and in their minds His commandments. To ‘cleave to Him’ was a warning against being led astray by the gods of the nations. To ‘serve Him’ summed up the whole covenant, especially in worship. Thus Joshua was urging them to be faithful to the tribal covenant that bound the tribes together and to their responsibilities with regard to worship at the central sanctuary at present at Shiloh. This was especially important in view of their distance from it.
22.6 ‘So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away, and they went to their tents.’
To bless was to wish God’s power and favour on them. But the idea here would also seem to include the spoils that they shared as a result of the conquests. Then they retired to their tents to prepare for their journey (compare Judges 7.8 and contrast verse 4 above). Alternately ‘went to their tents’ may be a typical summary statement preparing for more detail which was to follow, thus meaning ‘returned to their dwellings’. Such summary statements helped the listener to prepare for what as coming. Repetition was a recognised factor in ancient literature.
22.7-8 ‘Now to the one half tribe of Manasseh Moses had given inheritance in Bashan, but to the other half gave Joshua an inheritance among their brothers in Beyond Jordan westward. And when Joshua sent them away to their tents, he blessed them, and spoke to them, saying, “Return with much wealth to your tents and with a great deal of cattle, with silver, and with gold, and with bronze, and with iron, and with a great deal of clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.’
Verse 7a is really a parenthesis reminding the listeners of the twofold nature of Manasseh. In view of the strange nature of the split tribe a reminder was required when the account was read in instalments. Then verse 6 continues in 7b, for all the Transjordanian tribes would share the spoil. The spoils were defined first in terms of cattle, the most important of all to such people, then in terms of valuable metals, and finally in terms of clothing.
‘Return -- to your tents.’ Here the phrase unquestionably means ‘return home’. Many would, of course, live in tents, but many others would return to their dwellings in towns and cities.
‘Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.’ This means that the men returning home should share the spoils which they had received with their fellow tribespeople who had remained in Transjordan to settle into the land, the older men and the families. It is unlikely that we are to see it as telling the half tribe of Manasseh to share their spoil with Reuben and Gad, or with the other half of the tribe, for no reason is given as to why the half tribe should be treated as distributors. On the other hand we do expect all the Transjordanian tribes to receive spoil, and the comment about Manasseh reads like a parenthesis.
22.9 ‘And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession, of which they were possessed according to the commandment of YHWH by the hand of Moses.’
So, no doubt with great joy and expectation, the three Transjordan contingents returned to their homes in Transjordan. Here ‘the land of Gilead’ indicated loosely the whole area controlled by the three tribes. Gilead was split into two parts by the great trench of the Jabbok, one half had been ruled by Sihon the other by Og. The name Gilead is used in various ways. Sometimes it refers to the section possessed by Reuben known as ‘half Gilead’ (12.2, 5; Numbers 32.1, 29), at other times to the northern section (17.1, 5; Deuteronomy 2.36; 3.15-16), and often to the whole area between the Yarmuk, south east of the Sea of Chinneroth (Galilee), and the Arnon (1 Kings 4.19; 2 Kings 10.33), The whole area is often described as ‘all Gilead’ (Deuteronomy 3.10; 2 Kings 10.33).
We do not know exactly when this was, but must presume it was not long after 11.23. These three tribes would have little need to be directly involved in the activities of the individual tribes, nor in the distribution of the land. Their allotments had been given to them by Moses (13.8-31). But their presence would be required while the initial bridgehead was being established.
This ties in with the fact that it was seemingly while the tribes were gathered at Shiloh, which must therefore come after chapter 14.6 when they were still at their base camp at Gilgal. Thus they witnessed the initial movement of Judah to take the hill country under Joshua’s overall command, and the movement of Ephraim and Manasseh to establish themselves in the hill country of Ephraim. Until that was done there was no bridgehead. So it was probably around the time of 18.1 when the official establishment of the camp at Shiloh took place, and it was made the central sanctuary. Such a movement from Gilgal to Shiloh would anyway make Transjordan more vulnerable to outside attack. While they were encamped at Gilgal it was a reminder to enemies across the Jordan that any indication of hostile intent could immediately be met by force.
‘Of which they were possessed according to the commandment of YHWH by the hand of Moses.’ It is again stressed that their settlement Beyond Jordan eastward was at the behest of YHWH (Numbers 32.1), for there was a strong feeling among many that it was ‘outside the land of the possession of YHWH’ (verse 19).
22.10 ‘And when they came to the region about Jordan, that is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to look to.’
This building of a memorial altar, in the land of Canaan west of Jordan, was imitated by Gideon later (Judges 6.24). The intention of it was in order that it might be a reminder that the Transjordan tribes were one with those in the land of Canaan and shared in the tribal covenant. It was a gesture of praise to God and of unity with their brother tribes. In a sense this was their possession in Canaan. As they looked at it across the Jordan it would be a reminder that they were one people in the covenant, sharing God’s land.
‘The region about Jordan.’ Or more literally ‘the circles (geliloth) of Jordan’, thus a specifically recognised district, possibly based on the circular twisting of the river like a serpent at this point. Possibly by building the altar in a place where the Jordan wound round it on three sides they saw it as on joint territory. Compare Genesis 13.10 where the southern part of the Jordan Rift valley is called ‘the circuit (kikkar) of Jordan’.
‘A great altar to see to.’ The altar was large so that it could be seen at some distance, and is purpose was so that it could be looked at from Transjordan. It was built on the pattern of the altar in the Tabernacle (verse 28).
22.11 ‘And the children of Israel heard it said, “See, the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, have built an altar before (at the frontier of) the land of Canaan in the circles of Jordan on the side that belongs to the children of Israel.’
Word about the building of the great altar quickly spread and reached the authorities. The resulting anger would not be because of where it was built but because of its presumed purpose, although in fact where it was built tended to indicate that it was not for ritual use, otherwise it would have been built on the eastern side.
22.12 ‘And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh to be ready to go up to war against them.’
The gathering at Shiloh indicated a summons by the authorities from the central sanctuary for Israel to gather with their arms so that they were ready to act swiftly if it was necessary. The provisions of Deuteronomy 13.12-18, which dealt with the action to be taken when there were suspicions of idolatry, were then correctly carried into force, consisting of a thorough investigation to determine the truth of the matter.
22.13-14 ‘And the children of Israel, sent to the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, and with him ten princes, one prince of a father’s house for each of the tribes of Israel, and they were every one of them head of their father’s houses among the families (thousands) of Israel.’
The deputation sent into the land of Gilead to confront the supposed rebels was a powerful one. Eleazar’s own son, Phinehas, who had already proved himself in dealing firmly with idolatry at Peor (Numbers 25.7; Psalm 106.28-31), was a very suitable choice, and was there to represent his father. He could be depended on to act firmly. With him was one prince from each of the tribes settling in the land of Canaan. ‘Prince of a father’s house’ may well have been a title depicting a certain status. They were important men. Indeed this is then made clear in the description of what they were, rulers over sub-clans of their tribe.
22.15-16 ‘And they came to the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them, saying, “Thus says the whole congregation of YHWH, ‘What trespass is this that you have committed against the God of Israel to turn this day from following YHWH, in that you have built yourselves an altar to rebel this day against YHWH?’ ” ’
Note that the congregation of Israel has become ‘the congregation of YHWH’. The approach was in the name of YHWH because the alleged offence was a religious one. We can compare how the phrase was applied to the sin of Peor (Numbers 31.16). Their view was that the building of the altar was in order to rival the central sanctuary, and set up a rival place for worship. It was rebellion against YHWH Himself, the God of Israel. The point was that it was not in a place in which YHWH had ‘recorded His name’ (Exodus 20.24), for there such an altar would have been permissible.
‘The congregation of YHWH’ is among other things the worshipping community at the Tabernacle (Deuteronomy 21.1, 2, 3, 8. See also Numbers 16.3; 20.4; 27.17).
22.17-18 “Is the iniquity of Peor too small for us, from which we have not cleansed ourselves to this day, although there came a plague on the congregation of YHWH, that you must turn away this day from following YHWH? And it will be, seeing you rebel today against YHWH, that tomorrow he will be filled with wrath against the whole congregation of Israel.”
Israel ever remembered the sin of worshipping Baal-peor (the lord of Peor), which was probably another name for Chemosh, the national god of Moab, as a consequence of the seducement of the daughters of Moab (Numbers 25.1-3). It was a stain never completely removed, even though a plague from YHWH had followed (Numbers 25.8-9) which was only stayed by the action of the same Phinehas as is mentioned here (Numbers 25.6-8, 11). Now they were afraid that the action of the Transjordan tribes would bring a similar plague on them all.
22.19 “However, if the land of your possession seems to you unclean, then pass you over to the land of the possession of YHWH, in which YHWH’s Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) abides, and take possession among us. But do not rebel against YHWH, nor rebel against us, in building yourselves an altar besides the altar of YHWH our God.”
It was probably the fact that the altar had been built on the side of the Jordan belonging to the land of Canaan that gave them the impression that the Transjordan tribes had done this because they thought that their own land was unclean, that is, not totally separated to YHWH, and not hallowed by YHWH’s presence. It was not ‘His land’. If that was their view (and it was probably the view of many of the Israelites who lived in Canaan) then they had only to come across the Jordan and allotment would be given to them so that they could live in the land that belonged to YHWH, where YHWH had His dwellingplace. But let them not rebel by building a false altar.
It was clear that they saw this altar as not one that YHWH had caused to be built by revelation, it was not in a place where YHWH had recorded His name. Thus it was a sacrilegious altar. The main altar of YHWH was that which accompanied the Tabernacle at the central sanctuary. Others could be built where YHWH revealed Himself and commanded it. These came within the definition of ‘the altar of YHWH our God’. But not this one where there was no suggestion of YHWH having spoken.
Note the stress on rebellion. They were rebelling against God because they were disobeying His command about building altars where He had not given a revelation, and they were rebelling against their brothers because they were setting up a rival altar to that of the central sanctuary and thus breaching the covenant unity.
22.20 “ Did not Achan the son of Zerah, commit a trespass in the devoted thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.”
The Israelites now cited a second case, the case of Achan (chapter 7). There too there had been disobedience to God in relation to a religious matter, and as a result many had suffered and Israel had been defeated. The man had not suffered alone but had brought suffering on many.
An alternative translation more in line with Hebrew usage might be ‘wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel, though he was but one man. Did he not perish in his iniquity?’
22.21 ‘Then the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, answered, and spoke to the heads of the sub-tribes (thousands) of Israel, “God, the God YHWH, God, the God YHWH, he knows, and Israel, he will know, if it be in rebellion, or if in trespass against YHWH, (do not save us this day), that we have built ourselves an altar to turn away from following YHWH, or if to offer on it burnt offering or meal offering, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, let YHWH himself require it.” ’
We should probably translate ‘El Elohim YHWH’ as ‘God, the God YHWH’ emphasising His uniqueness or as ‘God of the elohim (angels), YHWH’ stressing His greatness rather than as ‘the God of gods, YHWH’. Either way the stress is on the fact that He knows men’s minds and therefore knows that their own particular thoughts with regard to the matter are innocent. The repetition of the name stressed the intensity of their feeling. This was the land of El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, and here Israel claimed it for YHWH their God as the true El.
On the other hand Israel yet awaits that knowledge in the future. They have yet to learn the truth. But they will know. And what will they know? Whether they have built the altar in rebellion and disobedience to God’s Law in order to offer offerings and sacrifices on it, thus being seen as turning away from following YHWH, or not. Note the acceptance of the idea that to build an altar other than at the revelation of YHWH, in order to offer sacrifices on it, was rebellion and disobedience. Israel could not set up altars at will like the Canaanites did. Only altars in places where God had recorded His name (patently revealed Himself) were acceptable, and especially that at the central sanctuary.
Their words were doubly emphasised by expostulations - ‘do not save us this day!’ and ‘let YHWH Himself require it!’ This reveals their agitation and calls on their listeners to recognise the genuineness of their declaration by their act of calling on YHWH to punish them if they were lying.
Note again the use of eleph for sub-tribes, which could also be translated ‘thousands’. The basic idea behind ‘a thousand’ at this early date is that of a subgroup rather than a specific number. Note also the different offerings mentioned, burnt offerings, meal offerings and sacrifices of peace offerings.
22.24-25 “And if we have not rather done this out of deep concern and with a purpose, saying, ‘In time to come your children might speak to our children, saying, “What have you to do with YHWH, the God of Israel? For YHWH has made Jordan a border between us and you, you children of Reuben, and you children of Gad. You have no portion in YHWH.” So will your children make our children cease from fearing YHWH.’ ”
The Transjordan tribes clearly saw the altar as a symbol of their right to a presence in the land of promise. Their altar being there, as it were, represented them. Thus in the future they would not be able to be told that they had no part in the land or in YHWH, for they now had their part within the border. Previously their rights had been preserved because their contingents were in the land fighting on behalf of YHWH, but now that they were leaving they felt that they must leave behind some presence in the land as a symbol of their right to a place in the covenant.
This brings out how deep an issue their settlement outside the boundaries of the land as promised had become to some in Israel. There are always those who cannot cope with change. It helps to explain why in Joshua we constantly find the emphasis on the fact that their settlement there was under command from YHWH, was their inheritance from Him, and was in accordance with the words of Moses (1.14-15; 12.6; 13.8, 15, 24, 29, 32; 18.7). It was also seen as confirmed by the fact that they had Levites, whose inheritance was YHWH, living among them, which is specifically brought out by contrasting the inheritance in Transjordan with the inheritance of the Levites three times to bring out its genuineness (13.14, 33; 14.3).
So the purpose of the altar, rather than being with the intention of breaking the tribal covenant, was in fact in order to ensure its continuation and to guarantee that they would not be excluded from it.
‘Out of deep concern.’ Consider the same word in Proverbs 12.25; Ezekiel 4.16; 12.18-19. ‘In time to come’ is literally ‘tomorrow’ (see also verses 27, 28; 4.6, 21; Exodus 13.14; (Deuteronomy 6.20). ‘A border between us and you.’ Some Israelites would see this as emphasised by the importance YHWH Himself placed on the crossing of the Jordan (chapters 3 and 4), forgetting that representatives of the Transjordan tribes had crossed over with them (1.14; 4.12) and had placed the memorial stones (4.4).
22.26-27 ‘Therefore we said, “Let us now build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, But it shall be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we might do the service of YHWH before him, with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings, that your children may not say to our children in time to come, ‘You have no part in YHWH’.” ’
The purpose of the altar is clearly stated. It was not for use but as a witness that they too were the true people of God with rights of inheritance given by YHWH. Thus would they be able to join in the tribal gathering at the central sanctuary for worship and sacrifice without fear of being turned away. This all brings out how deeply they had had burned within them the centrality of the central sanctuary to the covenant and to their part in YHWH. At this time the true faith of YHWH was held with fervour.
‘Let us now build us an altar.’ Literally ‘Let us now do (what is necessary to prevent this) in building us an altar’.
‘Burnt offerings -- sacrifices -- peace offerings’, compare verse 23. They were well aware of the different types of sacrifices to be offered to YHWH.
22.28 ‘Therefore we said, “It shall be when they say so to us, or to our generations in time to come, that we shall say, ‘See the pattern of the altar of YHWH, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice. But it is a witness between us and you’.” ’
Thus the presence of the altar, and the fact that it was patterned on the altar in the Tabernacle, which they could not have known had they not have been members of the covenant, would be evidence in the future of their part in YHWH and would act as a witness of their religious rights. The fact that it was not used for burnt offerings or sacrifice would in fact emphasise that it was a symbol.
22.29 “God forbid that we should rebel against YHWH, and turn away this day from following YHWH, to build an offering for burnt offering, for meal offering, or for sacrifice, besides the altar of YHWH our God which is before his Dwellingplace (Tabernacle).”
The Transjordan tribes then swore through their representatives to be faithful to the command only to offer sacrifices at the Altar of YHWH ‘before His Dwellingplace’ (the Tabernacle). (This would not, of course, exclude offering sacrifices on altars exclusively set up at YHWH’s command on the basis of Exodus 20.24). Note the threefold repetition of the Name YHWH, putting YHWH at the centre of their thoughts.
22.30 ‘And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation, even the heads of the families (thousands) of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, spoke, it pleased them well.’
Phinehas and the princes considered the words spoken by the Transjordan tribal representatives and were satisfied as to their rightness and their genuineness as is demonstrated by the fact that ‘it pleased them well’. Now they knew for certain the commitment of the Transjordan tribes to the tribal covenant. p> Because Phinehas was acting as his father’s representative, and in his father’s name, he is called ‘the priest’. It seems probable that at his great age Eleazar was in fact unable to make the journey, and it may indeed be that this also prevented him from functioning at the Tabernacle so that Phinehas had been appointed to act for him there as well. Such deputation of authority is assumed in Exodus 28 where not only Aaron is set apart but also his sons, and was, of course, necessary in case of infirmity or indisposition.
22.31 ‘And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, said to the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the children of Manasseh, “This day we know that YHWH is among us, because you have not committed this trespass against YHWH. Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of YHWH.” ’
The official verdict was given. The Transjordan tribes were not guilty of what they had been accused of. They had done nothing contrary to the Law. The great relief that was felt comes out in the final comment. There would be no punishment on Israel from YHWH as a result of this behaviour. They had been ‘delivered’ from such by the facts. Not the threefold repetition of YHWH which parallels the threefold usage by the Transjordanians, bringing home the importance that they too laid on being pleasing to Him.
‘The son of Eleazar the priest.’ In giving the official verdict, which was probably recorded in writing, Phinehas’ position was made clear. He was acting as his father’s representative and in his name.
‘Among us.’ See Leviticus 26.11-12, ‘I will set my Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) among you and not abhor you, and I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you will be my people.’ The sense of God’s presence among them, and of His love and severity against sin, was very real.
22.32 ‘And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the princes, returned from the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad, out of the land of Gilead, to the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel and brought them word again.’
Phinehas and the princes now returned to the waiting children of Israel, who were no doubt on a war footing, with the good news. Phinehas’ official title is repeated as a result of its use in the previous verse.
‘From the children of Reuben, and from the children of Gad.’ The lack of mention of the half tribe of Manasseh is at first surprising, yet the fact that it happens again twice more is against any idea that it dropped out accidentally. The probable explanation is that the meeting had taken place in Reuben/Gaddite territory, and that the representatives of Manasseh had already returned home. This would explain the use here. Then we can only assume that this then carried on into the next verses because they were still prominent in the mind.
It also suggests that the main feelings had been against these two tribes, with the influence of the western Manassites speaking on behalf of their eastern brothers and excluding them from suspicion. The latter would, however, have wanted a part in the discussions. (It is, however, quite common in Scripture for a part to be taken as representing the whole. Compare how ‘Moab’ represents three tribes or nations (Judges 3.28-30 with 3.13), and how Midian/the Midianites (Judges 8.28; 6.1-2; 7.16) represents three tribes or nations (6.3). But it is more unusual here).
22.33 ‘And the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not speak any more of going up against them to war, to destroy the land in which the children of Reuben and the children of Gad dwelt.’
This seems to confirm that the warlike plans had centred on attacking Reuben and Gad, with the western Manassites speaking up on behalf of their brothers and guaranteeing their behaviour and intentions. Now they gave up their plans for attacking Reuben and Gad.
So they gave thanks and praise to God. ‘They blessed God.’ A rare idea in the Old Testament (but see Psalm 66.20; 68.26) for usually it is YHWH Who is blessed, or YHWH incorporated with God, and this is also the first use of ‘God’ by itself in this passage. The sudden change to ‘God’ must have some significance. It is clear that the writer felt that the name of YHWH was unsuitable here. It possibly brings out the solemnity of the situation, and the awful dread that they had felt about the seeming situation, a covenant betrayal. The theoretical circumstance that had brought the visit about had not been had not been of YHWH. It had been an idea outside the covenant. Thus the less intimate use of ‘God’.
23.34 ‘And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, called the altar (‘Ed’), for ‘it is a witness between us that YHWH is God’.’
The actual name is not in the Massoretic Text. However it is found in some Hebrew manuscripts and in the Peshitta (the Syriac version). We could translate ‘named the altar’ (as LXX) but the explanatory phrase following it anticipates a name having been given. Thus the name Ed, meaning witness, is possibly to be inserted although it was not in the text used for the LXX which has ‘And Joshua gave a name to the altar of the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and said, It is a testimony in the midst of them, that the Lord is their God.’
Whichever is correct it is clear that the altar was given a name that indicated that it was a witness between His people on the east of Jordan, and those on the west, that they recognised YHWH as their only God.
Chapter 23 Joshua’s Speech to the Nation.
Joshua grew old and called the people together to give an address to the nation. This was possibly at the central sanctuary when Israel gathered together, or it may have been at Shechem (compare 8.30-35). He did not know how long he had to go and he wanted to pass on his final words in case he died before the next gathering. No doubt as he grew older he gave many such addresses. This was one selected to give the gist of what he said in them.
In his address to them he observed what God had done for them, and would do, and exhorted them to keep the commandments of God, and cleave to Him, and not to mix with the Canaanites, and join with them in their idolatrous practises. If they clove to God, he said, it would be well with them. But should they join with the Canaanites, and depart from YHWH, Who had so faithfully and in such a timely way performed every good thing He had promised them, they might expect many evils and calamities. Utter ruin and destruction would fall on them.
23.1-2 ‘And so it was after many days, when YHWH had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, and Joshua was old and well stricken with years, that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them, “I am old and well stricken with years.” ’
Clearly after much effort, all the tribes of Israel had found somewhere to settle. Some were well established and flourishing, others like Dan were finding things more difficult and had had to settle in hill country because the enemy would not allow them on lower ground. There life would be hard, water would be short and the land would be rugged and unyielding to the plough. But at least they were at rest. They were established in the land without fear of being driven out, and the next phase lay ahead, the gradual subjection and driving out of the Canaanites.
The phraseology is taken from elsewhere. ‘After many days -- given rest -- enemies round about’. For these expressions see 21.44; 22.3, 4; Deuteronomy 12.10.
But Joshua was aware that he was very old and that he had not long to go. And he wanted to enthuse them as much as possible for the task that lay ahead. And so, possibly when the tribes gathered at the central sanctuary, he called their leaders together for a speech to the nation which he knew might well be his last (although it probably was not).
‘All Israel’ is immediately defined as their leaders, ‘their elders, their heads, their judges, and their officers’. The ‘elders’ were those in authority as a result of their distinguished background or the talents that they had revealed, from ‘the seventy’ who were over all Israel, down to the general councils at various levels. These would be largely composed of ‘the elders’, who would be mainly, but not solely, the older men who had learned wisdom, and could give guidance to the rulers. The ‘heads’ would be the princes and suchlike, those who were seen as having more specific authority as rulers from aristocratic families, the ‘judges’ were those who passed judgment according to the Law, and the ‘officers’ were those responsible for administration or for military matters and leading in time of war. In essence the titles were intended to cover all in authority.
As the one who had led them for so long he was conscious that they looked to him, but he wanted to direct their thoughts beyond himself. They must not stand still but go forward. And so he drew attention to his age and then pointed ahead to the future.
23.3 “And you have seen all that YHWH your God has done to all these nations because of you, for YHWH your God, he it is who has fought for you.”
Joshua then pointed back to the past, to the whole Canaanite campaign, to all their victories and all their successes which had resulted in their being where they were. They had seen them and they knew all that had happened And he pointed out that it was all due to YHWH Who had fought for them.
23.4 “See, I have allotted to you these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from Jordan, with all the nations I have cut off, even unto the Great Sea westward (toward the going down of the sun).”
Joshua was quite clear on the fact that not all Canaan was subdued. His mind was still clear and sharp. Many had been cut off and driven out, but by no means all. Some still remained. But the whole land had been allotted to the tribes, and it was now up to them to claim their inheritance, from Jordan to the Mediterranean coast.
23.5 “And YHWH your God, he will thrust them out from before you, and drive them from out of your sight. And you will possess their land, as YHWH your God spoke to you.”
They could be sure of success because YHWH their God was with them. It was He Who would thrust them out, and drive them from their sight. Through faith in Him and obedience to the covenant they would find success, and it was only if they had faith and were obedient that they could they expect YHWH to work for them. The result would then be that they would possess the whole land, as YHWH had promised. For these words compare 1.15; 3.10; Deuteronomy 6.19; 9.4.
23.6 “Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that you turn not aside from it, to the right hand or to the left.”
But this was the condition, obedience to the law of Moses. It was to be strictly followed. They must be strong and have courage, and ensure that that they did not deviate from it one way or another, neither to the right hand or to the left (see 1.7 and Deuteronomy 1.6-8. Joshua was steeped in Moses’ teaching in Deuteronomy).
23.7 “That you come not among these nations, those who remain among you, nor make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, nor serve them, nor bow yourselves down to them.”
This was the negative side. They must avoid contact and fraternisation with these nations, they must totally reject them and have nothing to do with their gods (Deuteronomy 4.15, 19), neither naming them (Exodus 23.13), nor swearing by them, nor bowing down to them (Deuteronomy 5.9). It was here that they would later fail, for they would allow the Canaanites to remain, then they would be tempted by what they were told these gods could do for them. And when things went wrong, and rain was sparse, and YHWH seemed far away, it would be easy to make use of local knowledge, and of the gods of the land, looking to them to do for them what YHWH seemed to have failed to do. And it would all be down to having failed to drive the Canaanites out.
23.8 “But cleave to YHWH your God, as you have done to this day.”
Up to this time they had been faithful. They had driven out the Canaanites. They had spurned their gods. They had been faithful to the tribal covenant, and gathered regularly at the central sanctuary as required by the Law. They had not settled down and fraternised with those around them. For their leaders (the elders that outlived Joshua - Judges 2.7) had kept them faithful. This they must continue to do.
23.9 “For YHWH has driven out before you great nations and strong, and as for you, no man has stood before you to this day.”
Let the past teach them the lesson. They had defeated great and strong nations, and driven them out. No one had been able to prevent them from settling down. This was a slightly optimistic viewpoint. It is certain that they had not achieved all that they had hoped for or attempted. But from a general point of view what they had done had met with success, and they were at present at rest and settled reasonably comfortably in the land. And they were not subservient to any.
23.10 ‘One man of you will chase a thousand, for YHWH your God, he it is who fights for you, as he spoke to you.’
This picturesque phrase cited from Deuteronomy 32.30 means simply that because YHWH was with them only one of them would be needed to fight a whole battle unit (a ‘thousand’, an eleph). That was because YHWH would be there with him fighting for him (compare Deuteronomy 1.30). It was the language of exaggeration to bring home a point (compare Leviticus 26.8). It indicated that when they had YHWH with them every man was worth a battle unit, and certainly Samson for one achieved it (Judges 15.8, 15; 16.30. Compare also 1 Samuel 14.12-17).
23.11 ‘Take good heed therefore to yourselves, that you love YHWH your God.’
Now they must ensure that they continued to love YHWH their God. The thought of loving God was central to the teaching of Moses (Deuteronomy 6.4-6), and it would be revealed in the keeping of His commandments (Deuteronomy 5.10; Joshua 22.5), in walking in His ways (Deuteronomy 10.12; 11.22; 19.9; Joshua 22.5), in serving Him with heart and soul (Deuteronomy 10.12), and in cleaving only to Him (Deuteronomy 11.22; 30.20; Joshua 22.5). It would result in keeping His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments (11.1; 30.16). It was to be a love that was total, given with heart, and soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6.5; 11.13; 13.3; 30.6; Joshua 22.5). It was in the final analysis the result of God ‘circumcising the heart’ (Deuteronomy 30.6), which meant working a transforming experience within. As Jesus later said, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’ (John 14.15).
This was a robust love, a love resulting from gratitude and a sense of relationship with God through covenant, and an awareness of His love (Deuteronomy 7.7-8, 13; 10.15), a love which resulted in action. There was nothing sentimental about it, it affected every part of life.
23.12-13 “Or else if you in any way go back, and cleave to the remnant of these nations, those who remain among you, and make marriages with them, and go in to them, and they to you, know for a certainty that YHWH your God will no more drive out these nations from before you, but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a scourge in your sides, and a thorn in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land, which YHWH your God has given you.”
They must beware of the alternative, which was to love the ways of Canaan, to intermarry with them, to trade with them, which would result in the destruction of their morality and of their faith. This was no idle threat. The Canaanites were a degraded people whose perversions and sexual excesses were a byword. To associate with them would finally result in becoming like them. Thus when we read that ‘they subjected them to tribute (or put them to taskwork) but did not drive them out’ (16.10; 17.13; Judges 1.28, 29, 30, 32) our hearts grow cold, for we know that it is the beginning of their downfall. And we are not surprised at what followed. Indeed the only thing that surprises us is that God did not desert them completely.
‘Lest you cleave to the remnant of those nations, those who remain among you.’ The phrase stresses that the speaker is aware of the way they have decimated the Canaanites in their various battles (‘the remnant of those nations’), but warns that he is aware of how dangerous such a remnant can be when they are as sinful as the Canaanites. It was not enough to win the battles, they must win the war, and that involved a total driving out of the Canaanites. They were not fit to be lived among. See Exodus 34.12-15.
‘And make marriages with them.’ Compare Exodus 34.16; Deuteronomy 7.3-4. See also Numbers 25.1-2; 1 Kings 11.1-8 for practical examples.
‘And go in to them, and they to you.’ This indicated sharing companionship and relationship with them both in daily life and in trade. The result would be that they learned their ways and listened to their advice, which was something that would destroy them. How often would a Canaanite point out that if only they paid heed to Baal and made some kind of offering to him, their lands would be more fruitful and the rain would be more plentiful, for he was the god of rain and of the land. In times of drought that would seem an attractive option and it would lead into the degradations of Baalism.
‘Know for a certainty that YHWH your God will no more drive out these nations from before you, but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a scourge in your sides, and a thorn in your eyes,.’ This vivid description pictures accurately what the Canaanites would become to them with their sophisticated ways and their perverted immorality, and the moment that Israel began to compromise with them they would seal their own doom. God would no longer be active on their behalf. His promises depended on cooperation. On the other hand, in the last analysis, God would fulfil His promises, for in the end they depended on His grace and not man’s deserving, and it would be by bringing about cooperation, but if they were unfaithful now that would be in the distant future and would involve a hard road.
They would become ‘a snare and a trap’, and sadly Israel would walk into it as Samson walked in to Delilah. It is a reminder that when it comes to morality compromise is fatal. That is why Paul said to Timothy, ‘flee youthful desires’ (2 Timothy 2.22). Do not stand and fight them, run!
‘And a scourge in your sides, and a thorn in your eyes .’ These vivid pictures are mainly taken from Exodus 23.33; 34.12; Deuteronomy 7.16; Numbers 33.55. It is clear that Joshua knew the Law well. The word for ‘scourge’ is used uniquely here and its meaning is uncertain, but it was clearly something unpleasant and is related to a word for whip (1 Kings 12.11, 14). LXX ‘nails in your heels’ is probably a guess. ‘A thorn in your eyes.’ Something pointed which pierces and therefore a thorn (Job 5.5; Proverbs 22.5), or possibly a hook or barb (Amos 4.2). But the idea is clear, they will cause grief and anguish.
‘Until you perish from off this good land, which YHWH your God has given you.’ It was the Canaanites who should have perished off ‘this good land’ (Deuteronomy 7.20) but if Israel failed to obey God’s Law they would bring the curse on themselves (Deuteronomy 28.20, 22). They were only sacrosanct because they were His people, and they must show it by their lives.
23.14 “And, 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 YHWH your God has spoken concerning you. All have come about for you. Not one thing has failed of them.”
This was not to say that he was about to die that day, but that he was aware of his age and aware that it could not long be delayed. Like all men he must die. (‘This day’ connects with ‘behold’).
He called them to admit that in their heart of hearts they knew that God had been faithful to them and had fulfilled His promises. Here they were, established in a good land and with a good future before them as long as they remained true to Him, and it had all been due to Him.
23.15 “And it shall come about that as all the good things have come on you which YHWH has promised, so shall YHWH bring on you all evil things until he has destroyed you from off this good land which the YHWH your God has given you.”
This was the other side of His promise. Just as He had fulfilled His promise in bringing good things on them, so He would fulfil His promise to bring evil things on them if they failed to obey Him and learned the ways of the Canaanites. They had received the land because they were His people and the Canaanites were evil, but if they turned to the ways of the Canaanites they too would perish from the land. The ‘evil things’ are described in Deuteronomy 28.15-68, and they make dreadful reading. To be favoured is to render oneself liable to the greater punishment. Israel’s later history underlines the truth of these words.
23.16. “When you transgress the covenant of YHWH your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods, and bow down yourselves to them, then the anger of YHWH will be kindled against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which he has given you.”
All would outwardly depend on obedience to His covenant. In that covenant they had bound themselves to Him as their Supreme Sovereign, and had sworn to love and serve Him and to obey His commandments. They had agreed only to offer sacrifices at the central sanctuary, or at places where God was pleased to record His name and reveal Himself, and to gather at the covenant festivals to worship Him. They had sworn to abjure idolatry and the ways of the Canaanites. But if they turned aside from this and sought and served other gods, then they would have broken their covenant vows, and YHWH’s just anger would be roused and He would bring judgment on them. The covenant would lose its effect. They would be removed from the land.
Thus were covenant love and covenant obedience bound closely together. In the end God’s promises to Abraham were unconditional. He would bring about their fulfilment. But delay was possible through disobedience, and during that process those who fell short would suffer the due reward for their disobedience. Yet as we see later in Judges, His wrath was tempered with mercy. If they repented then He would again act for them and deliver them from the position in which they had placed themselves.
Chapter 24 The Great Covenant Ceremony.
The book closes with an account of a great covenant ceremony at Shechem. The chapter begins with an account of the gathering of the tribes by Joshua. There Joshua again addresses the people, rehearses to them the many great and good things YHWH has done for them, from the time of their ancestor Abraham to that day, and then exhorts them to fear and serve YHWH, and reject idols. Then he lays before them the stark choice as to whether they will serve the true God, or the gods of the Canaanites. When they opt for the former, he advises them to abide by their choice, and finalises a covenant with them to that purpose. Then he sends them away and the chapter concludes with an account of the death and burial of Joshua and Eleazar, and of the interment of the bones of Joseph.
24.1 ‘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.’
Shechem was the place where Joshua had previously written the words of the covenant on stones (8.32) and had built an altar in accordance with Exodus 20.24-25, establishing a sanctuary there in response to God’s revelation through Moses (Deuteronomy 27.5), in a great covenant ceremony. It was also the place of which Moses had declared that such a covenant ceremony should take place on entering the land (Deuteronomy 27.2-8). It was therefore logical that for this great covenant renewal Joshua should once again gather the people at Shechem on Mount Ebal where they could again see those stones that bore witness to the words of the covenant and were a reminder of their first successful entry into the land. Shechem lay in the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.
As he grew even more certain of approaching death he felt the need to remind his people of that first great and significant event, and to renew what had been done there so that they would remember it once he was gone. So he called the people together once more and then summoned the leaders of the people, but this time it was not only to an address to the nation but to a solemn covenant ceremony. During it he would recount what YHWH had done for his people (verses 2-13). Then he would call on them to make a solemn response as to where their loyalties lay (verses 14-15), something which the people immediately did (verses 16-18), after which he would put his challenge the second time (verses 19-20) resulting in a second response, thus confirming the certainty of their promise. Joshua would then vocally accept their response, receiving their third and final confirmation, and write the covenant in a written record, and set up a memorial stone at the sanctuary he had previously established there. Thus was the covenant sealed.
We note that this gathering was not at Shiloh. There Eleazar or Phinehas would have been prominent. But this was a gathering re-enacting the earlier covenant ceremony at Shechem at the beginning (8.30-35) and it was to the great Servant of YHWH that they all looked. At that ceremony the Shechemites had been incorporated into Israel as worshippers of ‘the Lord of the Covenant’, as partly Habiru, and as being descended in part from the men of Jacob who had settled there to watch over Jacob’s land and had settled the city after its male inhabitants were slaughtered (Genesis 34). (Although Judges 9 reveals that much of their worship was tainted with Canaanite influence, and with the association of ‘the Lord of the Covenant’ with Baal. It was unfortunate that the word baal (= lord, master) was used of both YHWH and Baal, something which tended towards an unfortunate syncretism, compare Hosea 2.16).
‘Presented themselves.’ The word can mean ‘stationed for a certain purpose’. Compare Exodus 2.4; 9.13; 14.13; 19.17; Numbers 11.16.
24.2 ‘And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, ‘Your fathers dwelt in olden days beyond the River, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.’ ” ’
Joshua now began the preamble to the covenant, the declaring of the acts of YHWH on behalf of His people. He began with Terah the father of Abraham and his brother Nahor, pointing out that Terah and his family were worshippers of false gods. The River was the River Euphrates. Israel were ‘descended’ from Terah through Abraham, and from Nahor through Rebekah.
This worshipping of false gods by Abraham’s relatives is not mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament, but it is a clear assumption from Abraham’s call. He was called out from his family because of his new found faith in YHWH, probably garnered from reading the covenant records in the family archives which make up Genesis 1-11. There are other indications of their connection with false gods. Their connection was with the cities Ur and Haran, which were connected with Sin the moon god, (one of Terah’s sons was named after Haran); the name Sarai (princess) may connect with Sharratu, the consort of Sin; some have suggested that Milcah may connect with Malkatu, a title of Ishtar (Inanna) (see Genesis 11.27-32). Rachel stole her father’s ‘gods’ (teraphim) (Genesis 31.19). Jacob’s God was ‘the God of your father’ (Genesis 31.29), and the God of Abraham was probably distinguished from the god of Nahor, see Genesis 31.53.
24.3-4a “And I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac, and I gave to Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and I gave to Esau Mount Seir to possess it.”
Joshua continues in words of YHWH. The next statement was of what God gave to Abraham and his sons. He brought Abraham from beyond the Euphrates, from Mesopotamia, and into the promised land, who walked throughout it and, by faith, took possession of it, and He gave him Isaac the child of promise. Then He gave to Isaac, Jacob and Esau, and to Esau He gave Mount Seir. This last sums up God’s blessing to Esau. Joshua then goes on to deal with Jacob/Israel.
‘Multiplied his seed probably refers to the fact that his household grew rapidly so that he was able to put into the field three hundred and eighteen fighting men ‘born in his house’ (Genesis 14.14), although it may have in mind the birth of Ishmael and his many children, and the future multiplication of his actual descendants.
‘Mount Seir’ is the mountain range of the Arabah from south of the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqabah. See Genesis 32.3;36.8; Deuteronomy 2.4-5.
24.4b-5 “And Jacob and his children went down into Egypt, and I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt in accordance with the things which I did among them, and afterwards I brought you out.”
The migration to Egypt to escape famine was then described (see Genesis 46.3-7), followed by a description of YHWH’s deliverance from Egypt with great signs and wonders, which resulted in YHWH bringing them out. It is noteworthy that, apart from the deliverance, what happened in Egypt was not considered of importance. It was not a part of the divine plan of deliverance.
‘I sent Moses and Aaron’, the joint deliverers, with Moses to the fore (Exodus 3.10; 4.27-31; see also 1 Samuel 12.6,8).
24.6-7 “And I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers, with chariots and horsemen, to the Sea of Reeds, and when they cried to YHWH he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea on them, and covered them. And your eyes saw what I did in Egypt, and you dwelt in the wilderness many days.”
The scene was now passing to events that some of the elders among them had themselves experienced as children. YHWH declared how He had brought their fathers out of Egypt and had delivered them through the deliverance of the Sea of Reeds, and He reminds them of the wonders they themselves had seen in Egypt, the darkness he had brought to hide them from the Egyptians (Exodus 14.20), and how He had destroyed the Egyptians in the sea (see Exodus 14-15). Then they had dwelt in the wilderness many days, preserved by YHWH Who gave them their provisions from heaven.
‘I brought you out and I brought your fathers out.’ This is very telling. The first phrase emphasises that there are eyewitnesses still present among them while the second remembers them that they were but children at the time, whilst their fathers had all died in the wilderness because of their disobedience.
24.8 “And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who dwelt in Beyond Jordan, and they fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you possessed their land, and I destroyed them from before you.”
Now they were reminded of more recent events which all of them could remember, how God had enabled them to defeat the Amorites, who would not let them pass peacefully but had fought with them. And He had enabled them to possess their land (Numbers 21.21-24).
24.9-10 “Then Balak the son of Zippor, the king of Moab, arose, and fought against Israel, and he sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. But I would not listen to Balaam, therefore he blessed you still, so I delivered you out of his hand.”
Then the King of Moab had come against Israel to ‘fight’ with them (Numbers 22.11), but he had used different weapons. He called in Balaam, the son of Beor, a famous seer. Many would have considered him more of a threat than all the other armies put together. But even Balaam was subject to YHWH, and when he began to attempt a curse on Israel YHWH refused to listen to him (Deuteronomy 23.5) with the result that Balaam blessed Israel. (Note the implication that there was no god known to Balaam who could do anything about it). Thus were they delivered from the hand of Balaam and from the hand of Moab. Whether any actual fighting took place we were not told in Numbers, but there may well have been. However the gathering of his army by the King of Moab and the ‘assault’ through the activities of Balaam may well have been seen as ‘fighting’.
24.11 “And you went over Jordan, and came to Jericho, and the men of Jericho fought against you, the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Girgashite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, and I delivered them into your hand.”
Here he reminded them of the miraculous, never to be forgotten, passage over Jordan, and the enemies they had then faced, first ‘the lords of Jericho’, then the seven Canaanite nations regularly mentioned. But none had been able to resist Israel because YHWH had delivered them into their hand.
24.12 ‘And I sent the hornet before you, who drove them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites, not with your sword, nor with your bow.’
The ‘two kings of the Amorites’ may be specific, or the word ‘two’ may be used as meaning ‘a few’ as it often does. Compare the ‘two sticks’ of the widow of Zarepath (1 Kings 17.12). These were probably not Sihon and Og but two (or ‘a few’) kings whom they were called on to fight on the west side of the Jordan. We do not know which ones. (‘Amorites’ rather than ‘Canaanites’ is found throughout the speech - verses 15, 18). Perhaps there is in mind here some striking incident that the people would remember. The point is made that it was achieved without fighting. (LXX has twelve kings but that was probably to remove the seeming difficulty caused by assuming that the two kings were Og and Sihon when such use of numbers was forgotten. But there were a number of kings of the Amorites, and as mentioned above the Canaanites were called Amorites throughout the speech - 24.15, 18, with those Beyond Jordan eastward being specifically distinguished - verse 8).
Whether this was a literal attack of hornets on the leaders of an Amorite army that caused them to have to flee, possibly forcing them out of ambush when a hornets’ nest was disturbed, or an attack by insects on their chariot horses which panicked them and had a similar effect, or some other factor that accomplished the same, we will never know. But the reference to sword and bow is from Genesis 48.22. However, the point here is that Israel were more favoured for they did not need sword or bow.
The reference to hornets recalls Exodus 23.28; Deuteronomy 7.20. It does not mean that the hornets literally went in front of the Israelite army, but that God had prepared them to do this work beforehand. These two references probably have in mind the hornet of fear and anxiety (Exodus 23.27-28) caused by hearing stories of what YHWH had done for Israel, but Joshua here may well have associated them with a particular striking incident of help gained from swarms of insects. Some have connected sir‘ah (hornet) with Assyrian siru (serpent) and have associated it with the sacred serpent on the crown of Pharaoh, with the idea that a preceding Egyptian invasion had prepared the way for Israel’s successes, but this seems less likely. However the meaning of sir‘ah is not certain for it appears only in these contexts.
Some do see it as referring to the Og and Sihon, who are elsewhere called ‘two kings of the Amorites’ (2.10; 9.10; Deuteronomy 3.8; 4.47), recognising that they might have come into his mind as a result of his mention of Amorites, and that the emphasis here is on the hornet YHWH sent rather than on the kings, with YHWH seeing them as simply part of the whole campaign.
24.13 “And I gave you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them. From vineyards and oliveyards, which you did not plant, you eat.”
This was a reminder of the specific promises that it would be so (Deuteronomy 6.10-11). Land already prepared for sowing, cities already built, for living in, and vineyards and oliveyards already planted, for eating from.
So ends the preamble that describes what the Great Deliverer had done for them, and what He had given them. Now will follow his requirements as was normal in a suzerainty treaty of that time. As with the covenant given in Exodus 20 and the covenant given in Deuteronomy this speech was also in the form of a suzerainty treaty. It is noteworthy that the passage containing what we call the ten commandments (Exodus 20.1-17); The Book of Deuteronomy; and this passage here, are all more or less based on the pattern of Hittite suzerainty treaties, which began with the name and titles of the Suzerain, a preamble declaring what the Suzerain had done for the people (calling their conquest a deliverance), followed with details as to his requirements and the necessity for rejecting his enemies, with the writing down of the treaty to be read periodically, and often ending with blessings and cursings.
24.14 “Now therefore, fear YHWH, and serve him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and you serve YHWH.”
The requirements were simple and yet demanding. They were, firstly, that they should ‘fear YHWH’, recognise His greatness, His sovereignty and His power, and serve Him without pretence, but truly and honestly. This meant, of course, in accordance with the Law already given to them.
And secondly, that they should reject all rivals. It has already been mentioned that their fathers had worshipped other gods beyond the River, and now is added the fact of gods they had worshipped in Egypt. These were probably not the native gods of Egypt, for there is never any hint that they worshipped them, but gods commonly worshipped in Egypt by sojourners (also taken up by many Egyptians), on which for example had possibly been based the golden calves and the teraphim so often mentioned. We must remember that a good proportion of ‘the children of Israel’ were from a mixture of nations and would have worshipped a number of gods (Exodus 12.38), and it is clear that traces of that worship were still among them (compare Genesis 35.2).
So Joshua was now calling on them to renounce these ‘gods’ and serve YHWH only. Syncretism was always a huge danger, but it is noteworthy that at this stage there is no suggestion of their pandering to Canaanite gods, although Joshua was aware of the danger (verse 15). They had not yet begun to mix with the Canaanites and learn their ways, a remarkable indication of the authenticity of the speech (a later writer would not have been able to resist incorporating such an idea here).
24.15 “And if it seem evil to you to serve YHWH, choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served who were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve YHWH.”
Now that it was the future that was being challenged the gods of Canaan were introduced. Joshua challenged them as to whether they would serve their ancestors’ gods, or the gods of the Amorites (the Canaanites under another name), who had done nothing for them, or whether they would serve YHWH, Who had done so much for them. We can compare 1 Kings 18.21 for a similar challenge. It was an important challenge, and was no light choice. It was choosing between the God Who made righteous demands and expected a strict morality, and gods who made no moral demands and would introduce them to sexual perversions and lascivious living.
‘But as for me and my house, we will serve YHWH.’ Joshua had no doubt as to where he stood and became the first to make his declaration as an example to the remainder.
24.16-17 ‘And the people answered and said, “God forbid that we should forsake YHWH to serve other gods. For YHWH our God, he it is who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way in which we went, and among all the people through the midst of whom we passed.” ’
Note the implied reference to Exodus 20.2, ‘I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’ demonstrating that those words were rooted in their minds. They protested immediately their horror at the thought that they should forsake YHWH and serve anyone but Him. They had absorbed the words of Joshua and recognised the truth of what he had said about YHWH’s continued deliverance, and they acknowledged the wonders He had wrought, and the way He had preserved them on their journeys, both through ample provision and protection from their enemies. How then could they serve anyone else?
24.18 “And YHWH has driven out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites who dwelt in the land. Therefore we also will serve YHWH, for He is our God.”
They protested that they were too aware of the help that they had received from YHWH in establishing their present position in the land to turn away from Him. They had witnessed how He had enabled them to drive the Canaanites (Amorites) out from many places. Therefore YHWH was their God and they would serve no one else.
24.19-20 ‘And Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve YHWH, for he is a holy God, he is a jealous God, he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake YHWH and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after having done you good.” ’
But Joshua wanted no superficial reply. So he challenged them by pointing out the danger of making a covenant with YHWH. This was no God Who would stand by and do nothing. He was holy, set apart by the very nature of His being, unable and unwilling to put up with sin and disobedience. And He was a jealous God, unwilling to share worship with false gods who were no gods. Thus He would not overlook their sin and disobedience. If after swearing loyalty to Him they then pandered to foreign (i.e. having nothing to do with Israel) gods, He would bring evil on them and destroy them, even though He had previously done them good.
This was not, of course, a denial of the fact that He was a merciful God, but drew attention to the fact that sin without genuine repentance would reap its deserved reward. YHWH was not One Who could be mocked.
‘You cannot serve YHWH.’ This was a challenge to face up to their own weakness, revealed time and again in their past. It may contain within it the thought that they could not serve Him as He required because of the pagan influences they still allowed among them (verse 23). He wanted them to face up to the truth about themselves.
‘He is a holy God.’ The word for holy is in the plural, matching God (elohim). It is thus a plural of intensity. He is the sum of all that is holy. Isaiah 5.16 brings out something of its meaning. He is exalted as the great and righteous Judge and set apart by His total purity and goodness (compare Isaiah 57.15).
‘He is a jealous God.’ Not jealous in that He envies and feels sore about what others have and deserve, but aware of His own being and worthiness and unwilling to tolerate anything which puts on a pretence of sharing His uniqueness while being unable to do so. In other words He will not tolerate false gods. See Exodus 20.4; 34.14; Deuteronomy 4.24; 6.15; Nahum 1.2. The use of El (singular) stresses the plural of intensity in the previous phrase. He is El-Qanno’, the God of jealousy, the God so unique that He can have no rivals.
Faced clearly with the consequences of their choice the people replied that whatever Joshua said, they would serve YHWH. He was their God and they would serve and honour Him and Him alone.
24.22a ‘And Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves Yahweh serve him.”
This was now a solemnising of the solemn covenant. It was like asking response to the marriage vows, the important words that seal the covenant. Once repeated it would be impossible to withdraw. They had stated that they would serve YHWH and Him alone. Now he called on them to act as witnesses to their own declaration.
24.22b ‘And they said, “We are witnesses.”
Their response was a solemn avowal of what they had committed themselves to.
24.23 “Now therefore put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your hearts to YHWH, the God of Israel.”
The reply in verse 22b had been an interjection. Now Joshua continued with his exhortation. In the course of their lives, and in the course of receiving spoils from captured Canaanite cities, many Israelites had accumulated mascots and amulets and suchlike, including possibly images of Baal and Ashtoreth, in which they possibly placed much faith for protection and ‘luck’ without realising that it was derogatory to YHWH. Now he called on them to put them away (compare Genesis 35.2). The phrase ‘foreign gods’ was very significant. Such things were foreign to those who were His people, to those who worshipped YHWH. They had no place in Israel where YHWH was supreme and unique and sole divinity.
‘And incline your hearts to YHWH, the God of Israel.” All that they had looked to receive from their charms and amulets they must now look to Him to provide. Their response to Him and worship of Him must be total. Again there is the emphasis that Israel has no God but YHWH.
24.24 ‘And the people said to Joshua, “YHWH our God we will serve and his voice we will obey.” ’
This was their third response, making the response complete. All would recognise that three specifically signifies completeness. (This threeness was not accidental, it was deliberate). They thereby acknowledged YHWH as God alone, and their responsibility to obey Him fully.
24.25 ‘So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.’
It must be recognised as almost certain that burnt offerings and peace offerings were slain on the altar built in the place where YHWH had recorded His name (8.31 compare Exodus 20.24-25), in order to seal the covenant. The blood of the burnt offerings would be sprinkled on the altar, the peace offerings would provide the sacrificial meal (Exodus 24.5, 6, 11).
The solemn covenant ceremony was now over and Joshua was satisfied that he had at least started the people on the right way for when he was gone. His duty as the appointed Servant to YHWH would soon end in death, and now he could die satisfied that the future seemed secure. As Moses had done before him he had established the sacred way in which they must walk. It was no simple covenant renewal. It was a statute and an ordinance, binding for ever (compare Exodus 15.25b-26 and 1 Samuel 30.25, although the latter was not with YHWH).
24.26 ‘And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and he took a great stone and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of YHWH.’
The book of the Law of God is probably the same as the Book of the Law and the Book of the Law of Moses (8.31, 34 compare Exodus 24.4; Deuteronomy 31.9, 24). It would thus include at least Exodus 20-24 and the basic Deuteronomy. It was kept beside the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle (Deuteronomy 31.26). It is significant that Joshua recorded this solemn covenant in that book. He saw his covenant as part of the law of God. It demonstrates that it was the custom to record such covenants in writing, and we can compare how the main part of Genesis is made up of covenants set in their historical background, suggesting that they too had been so recorded.
‘And he took a great stone.’ Stones or pillars were regularly set up as memorials of covenants (compare Exodus 24.4; Genesis 28.18) and as a witness to the covenant. It is possible that he wrote the words of the covenant on the stone (compare 8.32; Deuteronomy 27.2-3).
‘Set it up there under an oak that was in (or ‘by’) the sanctuary of YHWH.’ Oaks were seen as having special significance. They were favourite trees under which to sit, presumably for shelter from the sun (1 Kings 13.14) or to bury the dead (Genesis 35.8; 1 Chronicles 10.12), possibly because they were landmarks (1 Samuel 10.3). Abram received a revelation under the oak of Moreh at Shechem (Gensis 12.6-7). Jacob buried the foreign gods of his household under an oak connected with Shechem (Genesis 35.4). But this oak was by (or even possibly ‘in’) the sanctuary of God. It is doubtful if it was Abram’s oak or Jacob’s oak or even the oak of Meonenim (‘the diviner’s oak’ - Judges 9.37), for the sanctuary of God was probably that established on Mount Ebal (8.30). It was simply a mark of where the stone was placed (it was not called on as a witness or referred to in any special way. It was only a marker).
24.27 ‘And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of YHWH which he spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.” ’
A stone for Jacob (Genesis 31.45) and a heap of stones for his brothers-in-law (Genesis 31.46) stood as a witness between Jacob and Laban, each stone seemingly representing a tribal leader. This stone therefore probably represented Israel. It had ‘heard’ all that was said and stood there as a witness to it and to Israel’s responsibility to keep the covenant. The idea that somehow stones had something to testify about (even though they never did) lies behind the words of Jesus in Luke 19.40.
24.28 ‘So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.’
The covenant having been confirmed and sealed Joshua sent the people home. The last phrase is significant. Each man had an inheritance to go back to. All could look to YHWH with gratitude for the land that they owned. Their entry into Canaan had been a huge success.
24.29 ‘And so it happened that after these things Joshua, the son of Nun, the Servant of YHWH, died, being a hundred and ten years old.’
Having accomplished his purpose, given by YHWH, of taking over from Moses and leading the people into the promised land, and then making it possible for each man to receive an inheritance in the land, Joshua died. He was given the title only specifically used by men of two people, Moses and Joshua. He was called ‘the Servant of YHWH’.
‘After these things.’ After what had been described in the book.
The age is approximate. Most ancient patriarchs who died were aged in round numbers. But one hundred and ten was the age of Joseph when he died (Genesis 50.22), and that in Egypt was considered to be the perfect length of life. In other words Joshua lived a full and complete life.
Moses died at one hundred and twenty. His life was split into approximately three periods of forty years. See Exodus 2.11; 7.7; Deuteronomy 29.5. As forty years represented a generation that really said that he had lived three full generations.
24.30 ‘And they buried him in the border of his inheritance, in Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, on the north of the mountain of Gaash.’
Joshua was buried in a burial place outside the city which was his inheritance, Timnath-serah (19.50). It is possibly Khirbet Tibneh, twenty seven kilometres (seventeen miles) south west of Shechem, which lies on the south side of a deep ravine, which must then be the mountain of Gaash. It was in the hill country of Ephraim. The Wadis of Gaash are mentioned in 2 Samuel 23.30 which would possibly be connected in some way with the mountain.
24.31 ‘And the children of Israel served YHWH all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work of YHWH, that he had wrought for Israel.’
This summary verse confirms that during the life of Joshua and his near contemporaries who had seen the great works of YHWH in Egypt and in the wilderness, the people remained faithful. The elders, who remembered the past, were the father figures in the tribes and sub-tribes, and they ruled well. They kept apart from the Canaanites and worshipped YHWH only, maintaining the covenant faithfully, attending at the feasts at the central sanctuary, and living by His Law under the guidance of the priests and Levites, although there were always going to be exceptions. Thus the book finishes with a declaration that Joshua left things in good order, and that things seemed well.
24.32 ‘And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, they buried in Shechem in the parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for a hundred pieces of silver, and they became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.’
The parcel of ground that Jacob had bought (Genesis 33.19) was still recognised as belonging to him, and was identifiable. This demonstrated that there were those alive, who were descended from members of the household of Jacob, who were still living there. This burial would have taken place many years earlier, but is mentioned here as a finalising of the deliverance record, demonstrating that the journey from Egypt was finally over. All was at rest.
‘The inheritance of the children of Joseph.’ Shechem was within the inheritance of Manasseh, the son of Joseph. But this suggests that in a special way the grave and the bones became the inheritance of the two tribes as the sons of Joseph. Joseph himself had requested that his bones be brought there (Genesis 50.25; Exodus 13.19), and now it was accomplished.
24.33 ‘And Eleazar, the son of Aaron, died, and they buried him in the hill of (or Gibeah of) Phinehas his son which was given to him in the hill country of Ephraim.’
Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ‘the priest’, also died. Thus the old generation was dying out. This man too had been looked to as one of the greats. The future lay in new hands, but they would not prove capable of sustaining it.
He was buried in the inheritance of his son Phinehas, given to him in the hill country of Ephraim. This was probably in Benjamin, for that was the part of the hill country of Ephraim in which rights to dwell in cities were allotted to the priests (21.17-18).
So the book ends with the burial of three men who had lived in Egypt but were buried in Canaan as God had promised Israel. One of them had declared long before his certainty that one day Israel would return to the land promised by God (Genesis 50.24-25). The lives of the other two had witnessed all the events described in Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, and they had lived to see downtrodden Israel at rest in the land of promise. It was a fitting end to this triumphant book.
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