Joshua 23 and 24 – Joshua’s Farewell Discourse – Part 1

The final two chapters contain Joshua’s farewell discourses to the Israelites and their leaders.
  • “The fact that Joshua gave such speeches to the nation places him on a level with Moses as God’s anointed leader over the nation…” – David Howard.
  • The concern expressed in Joshua 1 about Joshua’s leadership, is again, put to rest.
  • Israel saw Joshua as appointed by God. 

Time Frame:
Speculatively, James Boice suggests this discourse took place many years after chapter 22.
  • Joshua was about 40 when he came out of Egypt (“according to Josephus” – Boice).
  • He spent 40 years wandering.
  • He spent about 7 years in the Conquest.
  • This puts his age at the end of the Conquest (chapter 22) at about 87.
  • Assuming his farewell discourse was given before he died, at 110 (24:29), that puts the events of chapters 23 and 24 twenty+ years after chapter 22. 

The main point here is that much time had probably passed.
  • New habits and patterns of behavior were beginning to take hold.
  • The powerful working of God in the Conquest was in the past.
  • The highs and lows of Conquest had given way to the cumbersome routine of life.
  • Problems were beginning to present themselves (as we will see in the speeches). 

In this context, Joshua gave his final words in chapters 23 and 24.
  • He issued challenges and warnings.
  • He looked to the past and to the future.
  • He condemned idols and praised Yahweh. 

Where We Are Going:
Instead of verse-by-verse, we will tackle these two chapters thematically.
  • (1) The Conquest is the Lord’s
  • (2) Exhortation to Remain Faithful
  • (3) Consequences for Unfaithfulness
  • (4) Work of God in History
  • (5) Covenant Renewal
  • (6) Depravity of Israel
  • (7) God’s Covenant Faithfulness


Joshua 23:3 (ESV) — 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.
Joshua 23:9 (ESV) — 9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day.
Joshua 23:10 (ESV) — 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you.

Joshua emphasizes that the Conquest itself is evidence of God’s working on Israel’s behalf.
  • The reasons he gives seem to be grounded on the strong nation vs. the nation of slaves motif.
  • How is it a nation of oppressed slaves – not warriors – could have taken the Promised Land?
  • How is it that a nation of slaves could have defeated the “strong nations” of all the “ites”?
  • How is it that Canaanite warriors are unable to “stand before you this day”?
  • How is it that one Israelite “puts to flight a thousand” Canaanites?
  • The answer, of course, is “the Lord your God has done” (vs. 3). 

Promise Fulfillment:
Joshua also emphasizes the reason why God would do such a thing.
  • God was doing “just as he promised you” (vs. 10, vs. 15).
  • God was fulfilling a promise made to Moses and later, Joshua.
  • This promise was made at Sinai – Exodus 23:20-33. 

And there are a million other reasons in the grand scheme of His redemptive history to deliver the Promise Land!

Not God Alone:
Joshua didn’t mean that the Conquest would be won unconditionally because God is going to take care of everything.
  • He is not saying we are good because “it is in the Lord’s hands”.
  • The Israelites had to take it.
  • They had to fight.
  • They had to strategize.
  • They had to use discernment.
  • They had to make wise choices.
  • They had to be obedient. 

Had they continually failed on these fronts, they – their generation – would not have inherited the Promise Land.
  • This also means, of course, that they could lose the Promised Land.
  • And this leads us to the second theme.


Joshua 23:6-8 (ESV) — 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.
Joshua 23:11 (ESV) — 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.

In love, Joshua exhorts the Israelites to remain faithful to God.
  • Their temptations are plentiful – idolatry and intermarriage. 

The faithfulness he is speaking of is obedience to the Sinai Covenant.
  • Though certainly, they were to trust in Yahweh in a salvific sense as well.
  • Sinai was the conditional covenant that Israel swore itself to uphold to receive blessings – people, nation, land – from God.
  • To receive these blessings instead of curses required obedience. 

Covenant at Sinai – Background:
The Sinai Covenant began as follows:
  • Exodus 19:3–6 (ESV) — 3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 

After the terms of the Sinai Covenant were pronounced to Israel, they responded:
  • Exodus 24:3 (ESV) — 3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
  • All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.
  • The Sinai Covenant was sealed between Yahweh and Israel. 

The Sinai Covenant had to be fulfilled – perfectly.
  • God had to remain faithful – and He did.
  • The people of Israel had to remain faithful – and they didn’t. 

Covenant of Grace:
The need for fulfillment would be where Sinai and Grace would come together in Jesus Christ!
  • Galatians 3:11 & 13–14 (ESV) — 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” AND 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
  • Galatians 3:16–17 (ESV) — 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.

So Sinai is not the Covenant of Grace made with Abraham.
  • They are separate covenants. 

As we saw in Galatians, the covenant with Abraham involved the following:
  • Trust = righteousness
  • The promised seed – Jesus Christ 

Importantly, the Covenant of Grace was always, unconditionally, in action regardless of Israel’s failure or success with Sinai.
  • It certainly intersected with Sinai but was not Sinai. 

  • Abram was called righteous before Sinai.
  • The promised seed was before Sinai.
  • Israel was redeemed and delivered from Egypt before Sinai.
  • Rahab was redeemed – she was not part of Sinai.
  • Achan was condemned to die for disobedience, but this does not necessarily mean he wasn’t a member of the Covenant of Grace.
    • One could fail at Sinai and be counted as righteous. 

Finally, the very fact that Israel was God’s elect was an act of Grace.
  • Deuteronomy 10:15 (ESV) — 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.
  • Deuteronomy 14:2 (ESV) — 2 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.


Joshua 23:12–13 (ESV) — 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.
Joshua 23:15–16 (ESV) — 15 But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.”

What will become of Israel if they are unfaithful?

Joshua doesn’t hesitate to point out the consequences of unfaithfulness.
  • God will no longer drive out” the Canaanites (vs. 12)
  • The Canaanites will become “a snare and a trap” (vs. 13)
  • They will become “a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes” (vs. 13)
  • Ultimately, at the hands of the Canaanites, Israel will “perish from off” the Promised Land (vs. 13)
  • God will “bring upon you all the evil things” (vs. 15)
  • God will destroy you “from off this good land” (vs. 15)
  • The “anger of the Lord will be kindled against you” (vs. 16)
  • You “shall perish quickly from off the good land” (vs. 16) 

If Israel decides to “cling to the remnant of these nations” (vs. 12) they will be destroyed.
  • Like the Canaanites themselves, they will be devoted to destruction.
  • God’s wrath and holiness are not ethnically or religiously based. 

The clinging to the Canaanites contrasts starkly with Joshua’s exhortation to cling to God.
  • To the Western tribes – “you shall cling to the Lord your God” (vs. 8)
  • To the Eastern tribes – “cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (22:5) 

We saw in Joshua 22 that “cling” carried with it the idea of being covenant faithful.
  • The Greek translation in the LXX used a word for “cling” that carried with it sexual implications.
  • Israel is to metaphorically cling to God the way a man and woman become one.
  • This is a profoundly intimate faithfulness.
  • An intimate faithfulness that finds fulfillment in our Union with Christ

So to marry the Canaanites and worship their Gods was a deeply offensive form of spiritual adultery.
  • The Israelites were to sanctify themselves and remain faithful to Yahweh – or else.

The threat of spiritual adultery is very real because, “of the remnant of these nations remaining among you” (vs. 12).

David Howard frames the problem as follows:
  • Joshua speaks both about a people that the “Israelites did not drive out and of land that yet remained to be conquered (see 13:2–6, 13; 15:63; 16:10; 17:11–12; 19:47). Such texts lay the foundation for the Book of Judges. The Israelites did not fulfill their mandate in its entirety, so the seeds of their corruption were in place from the beginning in the form of peoples and nations who remained living among them” – David Howard. 

This is one more reason why the “rest” they obtained was fleeting – to be ultimately fulfilled in Christ.
  • God gave them the Promised Land and rest, and the Israelites perhaps rested too easy.
  • They didn’t finish the job.
  • They didn’t “finish the race” to use Paul’s words. 

Maybe they figured that “it is in the Lord’s hands”.
  • But sanctification was, and is now, a work of God and of the elect.
  • It is not a one-way street.
  • Sadly, they fought to take the Promised Land.
  • But, they didn’t fight to keep the rest! 

The Unraveling:
In Judges, Judah rose up and had some success in driving out the Canaanites (1:1-26).
  • But ultimately, Israel failed.
  • Judges 1:27-36 is a devastating list of Israelite failure, tribe by tribe, to separate from the Canaanites.
  • And as Joshua warned, everything became unraveled. 

Judges 2:11–15 (ESV) — 11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.

Do Joshua’s words to the Israelites about the Canaanites create a principal for Christian living?
  • Are we to sanctify ourselves by separating from those around us?