Joshua 24 is the final chapter of the history of Israel’s conquest and possession of the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership. But it’s more than a story of human conquest; it’s a story of God’s faithfulness to his Word to his people. I think it’s important to do a quick recap of the entire book here before we dive into this final chapter.
Chapters 1 – 5 describe the preparation of Israel for the impending wars that will take place before Israel can settle in the land. God commissions Joshua to lead and Joshua commissions Israel to follow (ch.1). Joshua sends two spies into Jericho and they are helped by a prostitute named Rahab whom one commentator referred to as a harlot with a heart of gold (ch. 2). Israel crosses the Jordan River during flood season (a throwback to the crossing of the Red Sea in the book of Exodus), they set up a memorial to remember the miracle and their enemies’ hearts melt like butter (ch. 3 – 5:1). The final preparation before heading into battle is the grotesque circumcision of all the men in Israel (symbolizing that they are set apart before the Lord), and then we have the first Passover celebration in the Promised Land remembering the Lord’s salvation in the Exodus and finally Joshua encounters the commander of the Lord’s army who reminds him that the battle belongs to the Lord (ch. 5). So chapters 1 – 5 are all about God preparing us to enter into the fight; God prepares us to fight against our enemies.
Chapters 6 – 12 are a historical recounting of the conquest of the Promised Land. Jericho falls down flat (ch. 6). Israel gets defeated at Ai because of Achan’s sin (ch. 7). Israel makes an awesome comeback win and defeats Ai after repenting of Achan’s sin (ch. 8). The Gibeonites deceive Israel to keep themselves alive and Israel gains servers in the temple (ch. 9). Five Amorite kings band together and wage war against Israel and their newfound Gibeonite friends and God makes the sun stand still and rains down hailstones upon Israel’s enemies for a powerful defeat (ch. 10). The conquest continues at a rapid rate as the southern part of the Promised Land and the northern part of the Promised Land are conquered (ch. 11). Finally we see a summary of the land that was conquered on the Eastside by Moses and the land that was conquered on the Westside by Joshua which reminds us that celebrating past wins is how we trust God with the future (ch. 12). So chapters 6 – 12 are all about God’s provision in the fight against our enemies; God provides us with the strength and the instructions to fight our enemies.
Chapters 13 – 21 are a detailed description of the inherited deeds to the Promised Land. There’s still land to be conquered in the future but nevertheless all twelve tribes receive their inheritance; the two and a half tribes are allotted their inheritance on the Eastside and the nine and a half tribes are allotted their inheritance on the Westside (chs. 13 – 14:5). Caleb chases out some giants and takes possession of his land at the age of eighty-five years old (ch. 14:6 – 15). The rest of the Promised Land is allotted to the remaining Westside tribes (chs. 15 – 19). Finally, refugee cities for manslayers and ministry centers for the Levitical priests are set up and distributed throughout the land (chs. 20 – 21). So chapters 13 – 21 are all about God’s promises being fulfilled; God is faithful, his promises are true and we can trust him completely.
And now in the final three chapters of this book we see Joshua preaching a series of three farewell sermons to the nation of Israel as they disperse throughout the land. In chapter 22 he sends the two and a half tribes back over to the east side of the Jordan River with a command to obey God, love God, walk in God’s ways, keep his commands, cling to him and serve him with all their heart (22:1 – 9). The Eastside tribes set up an altar of witness so that all Israel would know that they serve the Lord and the result is that an all out war nearly erupts because the Westside tribes judged the Eastside tribes’ motivation prematurely (22:10 – 29). But once a careful hearing was had, the Westside tribes realized that things were not as they seemed and unity was restored (22:30 – 34). Then in chapter 23 Joshua preaches his second farewell sermon that was full of reminders, promises, conditions, commands and warnings.
In all of this we have the privilege of looking back on the history of Israel and her failure to listen to Joshua’s farewell sermons. But we can also look back and see the redemptive storyline of the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus as the reminder of the hope that we have, the promise of assurance that we have, the condition and command of obedience that we are called to and the careful warning of wandering away that we must always remember.
Now what’s happening in this final chapter of Joshua? Look at Joshua 24 with me…
1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. 4 And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5 And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out.
6 “‘ Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the seas come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8 Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9 Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 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 the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.29 After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died being 110 years old. 30 And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel. 32 As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. 33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.
In this final chapter we have Joshua preaching his final farewell sermon to the people of Israel. And in the first verse we read that Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God.
This is a wonderful picture that reminds us that when the people of God gather to hear a preacher they are not gathering to hear the words of a mere man, they are gathering to hear the Word of the Lord. A sermon is not merely a humanly constructed motivational speech. A sermon is the expounding and explanation of the very Word of God. And when God’s people gather together we gather to hear from Him as we present ourselves before him. So what does the Lord want to say to Israel through Joshua the preacher-man?
1: GOD IS OUR REDEEMER (VSS. 2 – 13)
Through Joshua, God reminds Israel of his redeeming promise throughout the ages. He literally walks Israel down memory lane. He opens the history books and he reminds them of his purpose in redemption. He reminds them that he is the one who called Abraham out of worshipping other gods as he called him to himself, showed him the land that would be his and gave him Isaac the son of promise (vss. 2 – 3). To Isaac, God gave two sons: Jacob the liar and Esau the hunter (Gen. 27:30). Esau received a portion of land as a result of his conflict with Jacob but Jacob went down to Egypt with his twelve sons (the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel) where they lived in slavery to the Egyptians (vs. 4).
But the story isn’t over. God’s people aren’t left to rot in their sin and their shame and their slavery to all things unholy. God sends a prophetic redeemer in the person of Moses with his assistant Aaron and through them God lays waste to their enemy oppressors; he brings his people out of slavery and he wipes out their enemies at the Red Sea (vss. 5 – 7). But there is a small stain of rebellion left in Israel after God’s miraculous intervention (Exod. 16). So he banishes Israel to wandering around in the wilderness for an entire generation as an act of discipline and sanctification (making them holy) before they enter into the Eastside portion of the Promised Land where God destroys their enemies in a massive demonstration of His power and provision (vss. 7 – 8).
But Israel’s time in the wilderness and the early chapter of conquest on the Eastside is not without its bumps in the road. Verses 9 – 10 remind us that Israel’s enemies were fiercely committed to discouraging Israel from their obedience; so much so, that one of their enemy kings sent a false prophet (Balaam on his talking donkey) to curse Israel but God didn’t listen to Balaam; instead God basically forced Balaam to bless his people, which teaches us (as Joshua says) that God delivered his people out of the false prophet’s influence and power (vss. 9 – 10).
Then finally, God, through Joshua’s preaching (vss. 11 – 13), reminds Israel that he is the one who gave them the victory over their enemies in the conquest of the Promised Land. He gave their enemies to them in defeat. He went before them like a swarm of hornets. He gave them cities to live in and vineyards for provision. All of this was not gained by their own strength; by their sword or their bow or their ability to build. All of this happened because of the miraculous, redeeming, provisionary power of the Lord. God is our redeeming promise keeper!
2: GOD COMMANDS OBEDIENCE (VSS. 14 – 18)
The command to obedience in these verses is established (founded) on the truths of the previous verses. In other words, obedience is commanded based upon the character of the one who is giving the command. God is not an overbearing father who is bent on our submission for his own pleasure or personal advancement. God is a loving Father who has redeemed his people from slavery to their enemies by his own free will. Nothing provoked God to do this work of redemption except his own predetermined plan and Promise. In other words, the God who has loved you unconditionally is the Father who calls you to unwavering obedience to his commands for your good and his glory.
This is what leads Joshua to command Israel to fear God, to serve him sincerely and to reject any false substitutes (vs. 14). And the famous command of verse 15 where Joshua instructs Israel to choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell is followed by a declaration where Joshua states that as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. In other words, the choice is yours. Serve the gods of slavery and abuse or serve the God of redemption. I know who I am choosing to serve. Who will you bow down to?
The reality as verse 15 clarifies is that if Israel chooses to serve any other so-called god then they are in effect saying that it’s evil to serve the God who has redeemed them and therefore they prove that they don’t love him who loved them first. Of course, Israel’s answer is exactly what we want to hear. They confirm their devotion to the Lord and their rejection of any other gods in light of the fact that God is their redeeming Father (vss. 16 – 18). Our Redeeming God has every right to command our obedience and our devotion.
3: GOD IS HOLY AND JEALOUS (VSS. 19 – 28)
It’s a good thing to commit our lives to obedience to our loving and redeeming Father. But this commitment is also a serious matter. Following the Lord in obedience is not a matter of joining a social club or aligning ourselves with a political party. Following the Lord is a matter of eternal importance that holds immediate consequences.
Joshua did not want to fail God’s people by calling for their obedience and settling for an emotional response so he pressed the matter further in verses 19 – 28. He ups the ante so to speak. He lays it on thick. He does everything possible to help Israel see that their devotion to the Lord must be more than a mere emotional decision or intellectual assent. Israel must experience the truth that the God who calls them to himself is a righteous and holy and faithful and redeeming and jealous God. God isn’t playing games here; therefore the people who claim to know him should not play spiritual games either.
So Joshua responds to Israel’s verbal proclamation of their devotion to the Lord by explaining that they are unable to serve the Lord the way the Lord calls them to; God is perfectly righteous and he will share his bride with no other lovers (vs. 19). If God catches his people in the arms of other lovers he will respond in justified anger and bring harm to them after doing so much good for them in the past (vs. 20). Upon hearing this, Israel responds by doubling down on their commitment, which leads Joshua to explain that their double-down proclamation will be a witness against them (just like a signed contract or a marriage covenant proving their vows) and now they must put away any foreign lovers and remain steadfastly and wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord (vss. 21 – 23).
At this point Israel commits to serving and obeying the Lord (vs. 24). So Joshua writes this covenant into the Book of the Law of God (like filing your marriage certificate with the state) where it becomes a binding agreement/contract between God and his people (24 – 26). And as a visual reminder Joshua sets up a rock of witness so that Israel may never forget all that the Lord has spoken to them and all that they have committed to; lest they ever begin to relate to their God like unfaithful lovers (vss. 26 – 27). With this final declaration, Joshua concludes his final sermon to the nation of Israel and he sends them to their homes in the Promised Land (vs. 28). We are left with this final picture of God as our holy and jealous father; God is perfect and he will share us with no other lovers.
4: GOD WORKS ON OUR BEHALF (VSS. 29 – 33)
When we go to work each day we can easily fall into the trap of believing that we are working for our own self-promotion and provision. We get paid a certain amount to work to advance the cause of our bank accounts, our livelihoods, our social status and our employer’s production. While all of these things may be somewhat true, they are secondary to the truth that we are called to work and to serve in our communities for the glory of God and the advancement of his name because he has worked on our behalf (for our good) throughout the ages and he will continue to do so until the end of this age.
These truths were certainly no less important for Israel as they entered into the Promised Land. The temptation to begin to believe that all of their hard work in conquering the Promised Land was for their own self-advancement and provision would be a very real threat. They could easily begin to look at all the hard work of their leaders and idolize them as examples to follow in their establishment of their earthly kingdom in the land. Again, while it is true that Israel was being established in the land and while it is true that this required hard work and faithful leadership from their human leaders, the main reason that all of this happened was to bring attention to their hard working God.
This is why someone in Israel’s history added this final note in the closing five verses of the book. In these verses we learn that Joshua died at the ripe old age of 110 years old after serving the Lord faithfully and that he was buried in the homeland that was given to him by the Lord (vss. 29 – 30). As a result of Joshua’s courageous leadership, Israel served the Lord faithfully (throughout Joshua’s generation) in light of God’s hard work on their behalf (vs. 31). And just in case future generations in Israel (living probably a good thousand years later under Babylonian rule) begin to lose hope that they will ever enter into the Promised Land again, the Lord reminds his people of other faithful leaders that he had provided for them such as Joseph and Jacob and Eleazar and Aaron and Phinehas (vss. 32 – 33).
While there are some details in these closing verses that would be fun to expound on, I think the main point of this closing section is to remind us that God has always worked through human leaders to provide a way of escape from our oppressors and to bring us into the fullness of his presence. God works on our behalf; he never stops working to bring us into the fullness of his presence.
As we conclude our time together in this chapter and therefore our study of this entire book, I want to remind us of what we’ve learned. From the broad recap of the entire book we learned that God prepares us to fight against our enemies, God provides us with the strength and the instructions to fight our enemies and God is faithful, his promises are true and we can trust him completely. Then from our study of this final chapter today we learned that God is a redeeming promise keeper, he has every right to command our obedience and devotion, he is perfect and he will not share us with other lovers and he never stops working to bring us into the fullness of his presence.
The question as always is: why does this matter? What good will all of this information serve? What difference will it make in our lives in this century?
We come to the Bible with our questions about real life issues. We struggle with loneliness. We get angry about politics. We fight the distance in our marriages. We long for deep and meaningful friendships. We get consumed with fear when we come face-to-face with sickness and disease. We long for the comfort of job security and we wish we had more influence with our employers. We obsess over our kids’ futures and we wish we could control their behavior. We long for someone to love us unconditionally and we medicate the pain of our losses with addictions that range from overeating to jabbing a vein. Long story short, regardless of what you walked in here with today, we all have our stories of pain, loss, fear and sin. And we all long for some kind of hope and some kind of peace and some kind of comfort that will not fade with the next onslaught of temporary circumstances.
And this is where the message of Joshua intersects with the message of the gospel. The reality is that all of the great leaders mentioned at the end of the book (Joshua, Joseph, Jacob, Eleazar, Aaron and Phinehas) are all dead. Their bones are in a grave somewhere. There is only one human leader in all of history that has a claim of victory over our worst enemies and his name is Jesus. If verse 31 reminds us of all the work that God did on behalf of Israel then the rest of Scripture is a reminder of all the work that Christ has done and will do on our behalf.
The questions we need to ask today are these: Am I willing to ask Jesus to prepare me for the fight against my enemies? Do I really desire to live in obedience to the Lord? What promises do I need to remember as motivation for my obedience? How am I placing my faith and my hope in the kingdoms of this earth? Where have the gods of politics, vocation and nation become my masters? Where have I traded the real hope of Heaven (the true Promised Land) for the false assurances of this world?
Jesus went before us and he defeated our enemies (Satan, sin and death) so that we can be prepared to fight against demonic oppression, sinful temptation and the curse of death through the power of the Spirit. The Spirit of the living God enables and empowers us to live in obedience to the commands of God’s Word as he leads us into the truth that sets us free to worship our Father in spirit and in truth. Jesus is the author and the perfecter of our faith; he created our faith and he enables our faith. He helps us to believe and to trust in him when life is spiraling out of control.
When Jesus says that he is our friend and that no one can snatch us out of his hand because our Father has given us to him, then we can rest in the assurance of our salvation instead of the false assurance of our works. God has provided redemption for us in the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus so that by his grace and through our faith in him we might come into his presence in obedient submission to his commands.
Jesus is not the kind of husband who demands our service while he runs around looking for different wives to satisfy his desires. Jesus gave himself as our sacrifice so that we can be whole-heartedly devoted to him as the only lover of our souls. And even when we recognize that we’ve played the harlot and that our hands are stained with sin, Jesus, our true Joshua, has always been at work and will always be working on our behalf to bring us into the fullness of the presence of our Father in Heaven which is our true Promised Land. This is the great hope that we have my friends!