Joshua 23: Final instructions, pt 1

Joshua’s time on earth was coming to an end. After serving at Moses’ side for forty-plus years, leading Israel to conquer much of the promise land, and then providing general leadership for “a long time” (vs 1), Joshua knew that his life was nearly over, and so he gathered the people around him and started to give them some final instructions. The first group that he addressed was the leaders, and the instructions that he gave them were essential directives for the continued success of all Israel. What did he tell them?

Well, the first thing he told them was really a reminder: they had all seen the amazing things God had done. Even though none of his listeners had been around to see the deliverance from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, Mt. Sinai, etc., they had all seen more than their fair share of miracles! From the last of the manna and quail to the stopping of the Jordan River, from the crumbling of the walls of Jericho to the routing of the armies of the northern kingdoms, God had done amazing things before their very eyes. They had all seen His astounding power working on their behalf. And it was that demonstrated power which served as the basis of Joshua’s ongoing faith that God could and would finish driving out the peoples of the land so that Israel would ultimately take possession of it all.

Our faith is not blind. Joshua understood that. While, at first, it might require us taking a step out without knowing exactly what was going to happen (i.e., as the priests were called to do when Israel first crossed the Jordan in ch 3), subsequent steps will be taken with the knowledge that God met us when we did. And so each step of faith should become easier for us. Not only that, but we should be able to take increasingly large steps of faith. Joshua looked around at all the people that were still left to drive out and said, “God has done this so far; He will do the rest.” And we must do the same.

The second thing that Joshua told the leaders was a directive: “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is in the Book of the Law” (vs 6). At first, I will admit that this seems to be two distinct directives, but the truth was that Joshua was really outlining a causal relationship. The same causal relationship which had been identified back in Joshua 1: being truly strong is made possible only by unswerving obedience to the Lord.

Obedience is not an optional thing. We talk about all sorts of “strong” people, but true, ultimate strength is not found in the one who knows what they’re supposed to do and yet compromises when the going gets tough or the compromise suits them. If we want to be truly strong, then we must figure out where God is, where He’s going, what He expects of us, and then hold fast to Him all the way.

Joshua told the leaders that obedience to God wasn’t good enough. In verse 9-10, he reminded them that God did amazing things in their midst, and then in verse 11, he says, “So be very careful to love the Lord your God.” At first glance, it seems strange to tell someone to be very careful to love, but upon further consideration, it makes perfect sense. We’ve all heard of people who fall out of love with someone or something. Joshua instructed the leaders to be very careful so that they wouldn’t be distracted and/or enticed away by someone or something else. Staying in love requires no less, and it was essential that they did so.

Without love, our relationship with God is reduced to that of a slave to his master. The master tells the slave what to do, and the slave must do it. Without love, then, our obedience becomes a matter of obligation rather than the matter of desire which God intends for it to be. He doesn’t want us to obey and follow Him because we have to. He wants us to do so because we want to. Because He’s done so many amazing things for us. Because He is an awesome God. Yeah, we must be very careful to love the Lord.

Joshua gives them a warning: if you turn away from God and start compromising on the things He commanded you (namely, allying themselves with the neighbors and intermarrying with the Gentiles), they will be drawn away from God until they will find themselves in exactly the same boat that the Canaanites were.

We must never let down our guard. We must always be wary of anything which may pull us away from the Lord so that we don’t eventually find ourselves on the wrong side of His wrath.

And the last thing that Joshua told them was to count on both God’s promises and curses. You see, God had given them amazing promises, and to date, not one of them had failed. We saw that in ch 21, and Joshua reminded the leaders of it a long time later in vs 14. But in vss 15-16, Joshua reminded the leaders that the same God who made and kept promises had also given them warnings of what would happen if they failed to hold up their end of the covenant. And just as He had delivered on His promises, He could and would realize those warnings.

We must never assume that God won’t care or do anything if we wander away. Why? Two reasons: First, it’s hypocritical to embrace God’s promises without acknowledging His warnings. And second, it doesn’t make any sense to think that the same God who makes and keeps promises to those who obey can’t or won’t make and keep warnings to those who disobey.

So there you have it. Five things that Joshua told the leaders of Israel as he was preparing to hand over the reigns. Remember God’s promises and have commensurate faith. Be unswervingly obedient so that you may also be strong. Be very careful to love the Lord because of all the things He’s done for you. Guard yourself against compromises which will inevitably pull you away from God. And don’t forget that the same God who makes and keeps promises for the obedient makes and keeps warnings for the disobedient.

Now, take these things to heart.


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