Joshua’s final address to God’s people1
Introduction: Chapter 24 marks the conclusion of the book of Joshua. This chapter includes Joshua’s farewell address to the entire nation. It also includes his death and the death of the High Priest, Eleazar. From this chapter, God reveals seven lessons on being holy for His use.
First, in his final address to the Jews, Joshua revealed that God called Abraham at a time in his life when he was serving other gods. From this, God reveals that He also called you to service at a time when you were a sinner. Second, also in his final address, Joshua recounted God’s faithfulness in multiplying Abraham’s descendants into a great nation. From this, God reveals that He can make you one of His adopted children through the blood of Christ. Third, Joshua celebrated God’s faithfulness in freeing the Jews from bondage. From this, God reveals that He can free you from any bondage. Fourth, Joshua also celebrated God’s faithfulness in defeating the enemies of the Jews and providing them with fertile lands to raise their crops. From this, God reveals that He can protect you and provide for you when you turn to Him in faith. Fifth, Joshua advised the Jews that God created the Jewish nation to be holy for His use and fellowship. From this, God reveals that He also called you to be holy for His use and for His fellowship. Sixth, Joshua warned the people that their efforts to be holy would fail because of their sinful nature. From this, God reveals that all mankind has fallen short due to sin. Only through faith in Christ can believers be made holy to be in God’s presence. Finally, from the recounting of the burials of Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar, three men of great faith, God reveals that you should live by their examples. He wants you to serve Him as holy examples to be a light to others in need.
God called Abraham when he served other gods. Joshua’s farewell address resumes with an address to all the people, not just the elders as he did in the prior chapter (Josh. 23:2). To give hope to those who were far from God, he reveals that God called Abraham to service at a time when he was a sinner serving pagan gods: “1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God. 2 Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.”’’ (Josh. 24:1-2). The gathering of all the tribes together where they “presented themselves before God” suggests that this was a “covenant ceremony.” (Dt. 29:9). Joshua picked Shechem for the covenant ceremony because Abraham built his altar there upon arriving in the Promised Land. Jacob also purchased land there from the Shechemites (Gen. 33:18-20). (Marten Woudstra, the New International Commentary on the Old Testament, the Book of Joshua, (Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 1981) p. 340). Just as God called Abraham when he was still a sinner to serve Him, Joshua called upon the Jews to leave their prior sins behind and renew their covenant. The Bible records this ceremony as an example for believers.
Raphael (1483-1520) Joshua Addresses the Israelites in Shechem (drawing 1517)2
Joshua’s farewell address3
Jesus called you to service when you were still a sinner. God called Abraham from the land of Ur to give up his pagan lifestyle for an even better life in the Promised Land: “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;’” (Gen. 12:1; Acts 7:3). It took faith for Abraham to obey God’s call in his life: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8). Christ loved you and called you while you were still in rebellion toward Him: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Ro. 5:6). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro. 5:8). Are you willing to leave your sins behind to respond to His calling?
God’s faithfulness in multiplying Abraham’s descendants. Joshua further revealed that God provided His faithfulness to Abraham by multiplying his descendants into a great nation: “3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him through all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.” (Josh. 24:3). The Jews had no reason to lack faith in God’s promises. God had proved Himself faithful to multiple the descendants of Abraham: “‘The LORD your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day like the stars of heaven in number.” (Dt. 1:10). Approximately 400 years earlier, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be like either the sands of the Earth or the stars visible in the sky. ‘“Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” (Gen. 15:5). ‘“Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.”’ (Gen. 22:17). The Jews left Israel to live in Egypt as a nation of a mere 70 people (Gen. 46:27). They spent approximately 400 years in captivity (Gen. 15:13- “400”; Ex. 12:40-“430”). After spending two years in the wilderness, God told Moses to assemble and count the men of fighting age who would invade the Promised Land (Nu. 1:1). At that time, the men of fighting age totaled 603,550 (Nu. 1:46). The actual population including women and children would have exceeded one million persons. This shows that God is faithful to keep His Word. When was the last time you reflected on all God’s blessings in your life?
Jesus can make you an adopted child of God. Through your faith in Jesus, you have been grafted into God’s Covenant as one of His “adopted children.” (Eph. 1:5; Ro. 8:14, 16; 9:8, 26; Acts 2:39). Like Abraham, God also promises to be faithful to you. He will bless and multiply you when you are faithful to Him (Lev. 26:9-10). These blessings include, but are not limited to, the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Through faith and obedience, have you given God many reasons to bless and multiply your endeavors?
God’s faithfulness in freeing the Jews from bondage. Although the Jews entered into a period of bondage, God again proved Himself faithful by freeing the Jews from their captivity: “4 To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau, and to Esau I gave Mount Seir to possess it; but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. 5 Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt by what I did in its midst; and afterward I brought you out. 6 I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and Egypt pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 But when they cried out to the Lord, He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them and covered them; and your own eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness for a long time.” (Josh. 24:4-7). God freed the Jews from Pharaoh’s bondage though the ten plagues (Ex. 7:6-11:10). He then crushed Pharaoh’s army to show His power and sovereignty to free any who remained in bondage to the ruler of this world (Ex. 13:7-15:21). “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor. 10:11). Thus, God’s acts were meant to give hope to any person trapped in bondage to the devil.
God was faithful to defeat the Jews’ enemies. After the Jews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, God again proved Himself faithful by defeating the kings of Jordan and the seven nations within the Promised Land: “8 Then I brought you into the land of the Amorites who lived beyond the Jordan, and they fought with you; and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land when I destroyed them before you. 9 Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel, and he sent and summoned Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. 10 But I was not willing to listen to Balaam. So he had to bless you, and I delivered you from his hand. 11 You crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho; and the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Girgashite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Thus I gave them into your hand. 12 Then I sent the hornet before you and it drove out the two kings of the Amorites from before you, but not by your sword or your bow.” (Josh. 24:8-12). Before the Jews invaded the Promised Land, God protected the Jews from Balak’s attempt to curse them (Nu. 22-24). He then defeated three Jordanian kings that rose up to try to defeat the Jews. These included: (1) the Amorite King Sihon (Nu. 21:23-31; Dt. 2:24-37); (2) the Amorite King Og (Nu. 21:32-35); and (3) the Midianites (Nu. 31:7-11). Here and previously, Joshua identified six nations within Israel that God defeated: “(1) the Hittite, (2) the Amorite and (3) the Canaanite, (4) the Perizzite, (5) the Hivite and (6) the Jebusite.” (Josh. 12:8). In the Bible, six is the number of mankind. The six nations symbolized the nations of mankind. When the Jews were obedient, God showed his faithfulness in fulfilling his prior promise to defeat these nations: “Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out (1) the Amorite before you, and (2) the Canaanite, (3) the Hittite, (4) the Perizzite, (5) the Hivite and (6) the Jebusite.” (Ex. 34:11). “But you shall utterly destroy them, (1) the Hittite and (2) the Amorite, (3) the Canaanite and (4) the Perizzite, (5) the Hivite and (6) the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you,” (Dt. 20:17). This symbolized the judgment of mankind. None deserve God’s mercy and grace. He did not want to judge them. But He told Abraham that their sins would be ripe for judgment after the Jews spent 400 years in oppression (Gen. 15:13-16). He also does not want any to perish today (2 Pet. 3:9). But He will one day judge all unsaved sinners. It is the job of every believer to warn the unsaved of His coming judgment.
Out of grace, God was faithful in providing the Jews with a land. After defeating the Jews’ enemies, God again proved Himself to be faithful by providing the Jews with fertile lands that they played no role in preparing: “13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built, and you have lived in them; you are eating of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’” (Josh. 24:13). The Jews did nothing to deserve to live in the Promised Land. He only spared the Jews from the punishment that they deserved because doing so would have profaned His holy name: “But they rebelled against Me and were not willing to listen to Me; they did not cast away the detestable things of their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made Myself known to them by bringing them out of the land of Egypt.” (Ez. 20:8-9).
Out of grace, Jesus also offers you an unearned inheritance in the Promised Land. Like the Jews, your deliverance to the Promised Land is unearned. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9). Like the Jews, He has provided a dwelling place in the eternal Promised Land (Jo. 14:2). Are you praising Jesus for your unearned inheritance? Are you sharing the good news with others? (Matt. 28:16-20).
Joshua’s command for the Jews to be holy for God’s use. After recounting God’s faithfulness in creating and providing for the Jewish nation, Joshua called upon Israel to renew its covenant with God. He revealed that God created the Jewish nation to be holy for His use and fellowship. Joshua led by example by dedicating his own family to be holy for God’s use: “14 ‘Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ 16 The people answered and said, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for the Lord our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and who did these great signs in our sight and preserved us through all the way in which we went and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed. 18 The Lord drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites who lived in the land. We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.” (Josh. 24:14-18). God delivered the Jews and gave them the Ten Commandments and the Promised Land because He wanted them to be Holy for His use: “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44; 20:26; Ex. 19:6). He wanted them to stay holy by fearing God (Josh. 24:14). But he also want them to be holy out of love toward Him: “Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” (Dt. 10:12). He expected the Jews to be holy so that they would be a light to the rest of the world (Is. 49:6; 60:3). These lessons also apply to believers today who seek to lead a life pleasing toward God.
Raise your family to serve God4
Be holy and serve God by being a light to others. The requirement that believers be set apart and holy for God’s use is repeated in the New Testament: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:14-16). Part of “pure and undefiled religion” is being “undefiled before God.” (Jam. 1:27). Through moral conduct based upon His Law and genuine love, you can become a light to others (Dt. 4:5-6). “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;” (Matt. 5:14). Conversely, you dishonor God and repel others when you break His Law (Ro. 2:23-24). Are you a light to others based upon your conduct and your love for Jesus?
Joshua’s warning that the Jews would break God’s covenant. Although the people were called to be holy, their sinful nature passed down from Adam and Eve would thwart their best intentions to be holy: “19 Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression 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 He has done good to you.’ 21 The people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the Lord.’ 22 Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the Lord, to serve Him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ 23 ‘Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ 24 The people said to Joshua, ‘We will serve the Lord our God and we will obey His voice.’ 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in 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 oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be for a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us; thus it shall be for a witness against you, so that you do not deny your God.’ 28 Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to his inheritance.” (Josh. 24:19-28). As part of the covenant ceremony, the Jews twice made a vow to obey God’s covenant (Josh. 24:16-17, 24). The Jews also twice made a vow to obey God’s Law at Mount Horeb: “All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do!’ And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.” (Ex. 19:8). “[A]nd all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!”’ (Ex. 24:3, 7). Yet, despite their best intentions, they repeatedly broke His Law. No person can implement the Ten Commandments or any other part of God’s Law without breaking it at some point. There is nothing that believers can do on their own to be righteous: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Ro. 3:23; Ecc. 7:20; Ps. 143:2; Job 4:17; 14:4). As if to prove God’s point, Abimelech would later execute 70 of his brothers on the same rock that Joshua used for the covenant renewal as part of a coup to seize power following Gideon’s reign (Jdgs. 9:5-6).
Jesus is the only cure for your eternal curse. The cost or “wages” of this sin is death (Ro. 6:23). Thus, every person without a means of atonement bears the curse of eternal death (Gal. 3:10; Dt. 27:26; Jer. 11:3). Faith in Jesus is the only means for a person to be saved from eternal death (Gal. 2:16; 3:11; 5:18; Jo. 3:16; 10:9; 11:25; 14:6; Ro. 7:6; 8:3). If you think that you can be righteous by being a good person, then Jesus’ death served no purpose: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Gal. 2:21). If you are grateful for what Jesus did for you, what are you doing with your life to thank Him? (Ro. 12:1).
Jesus will forgive and forget your sins when you repent. Joshua’s brief history of the Jews’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is remarkable because it includes none of the Jews’ many failures. This foreshadowed God’s promise to forgive and forget our sins. Through faith in Jesus, He is faithful to forgive your sins when you repent (1 Jo. 1:9). Moreover, He promises to forget your sins in heaven (Is. 43:25; Heb. 8:12; 10:17). There is also no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro. 8:1). If you are still carrying your old sins, your self-condemnation is not from God but from the devil. Are you still using your old sins as an excuse not to serve Him?
Confess your faith publically. Even though you will inevitably sin, believers are also called upon to confess their faith publicly (Matt. 10:32; Lk. 12:8; Ro. 10:9). Your confession of faith will plant His Holy seed in others. Your life witness may also help those seeds to grow. Are you confessing your faith and living as a witness to others?
The death and burial of Joshua. After concluding his farewell address, Joshua died. As a great leader for God, he inspired the nation of Israel to serve God while he lived: “29 It came about after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, on the north of Mount Gaash. 31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel.” (Josh. 24:29-31). Like Joseph, Joshua lived to be 110 (Gen. 50:26; Josh. 24:29; Jgs. 2:8). In ancient Egypt, 110 was considered to be the ideal life span. Joshua was a sinner. But God selected him as Moses’ successor because, like Moses, he was a good shepherd over God’s flock (Nu. 27:17). A shepherd cares about each member of the flock. He uses his staff to protect and to discipline those in the flock that stray away (Ps. 23:4). Because he was Spirit-filled, he also stayed faithful to God. He patiently waited for Moses at Mount Horeb when others gave up hope of his return. He did not participate in the building or worship of the golden calf (Ex. 32:17). He also patiently waited outside the Tabernacle tent for God to return after He stated that He would not stay because of the people’s sins (Ex. 33:11). He helped defeat the Amalekites in battle (Ex. 17:8-13). He and Caleb were also God’s only witnesses who tried to encourage the fearful people to have faith that they could conquer the giants in the Promised Land (Nu. 14:9). Because the Jews would not listen, they would spend 38 years wandering in the desert (Nu. 14:34; Dt. 2:14; Heb. 3:19; Ps. 95:7-11). Only Joshua and Celeb were allowed to enter because of their faith (Nu. 14:24, 30). Through faith, he also led the Jews to seize their inheritance in the Promised Land. Hoshea, his original name, meant “deliverance.” He was the son of Nun, which means “fish.” (Nu. 13:8). A fish is also a symbol used for Christ. Moses later renamed him as “Joshua,” which means “the Lord is deliverance.” (Nu. 13:16). His name prefigures Jesus. When Joshua was written in Aramaic (the language of Jesus), it was translated as “Yehoshua.” “Yeshua,” the Hebrew name for Christ, is a shortened version of this word. Joshua, like Jesus, knew that God would deliver the Promised Land to them (Ps. 18:2; 68:20). It was Joshua’s faith and his obedience that inspired the entire nation to serve God while he lived (Josh. 24:31). His burial within the land of Ephraim meant that he was placed at rest within the land of his own tribe (Josh. 24:30). Like Joshua, is your life an example of faith for others?
The burial of Joseph. After celebrating Joshua’s life, the book includes a record of Joseph’s burial in Shechem: “32 Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons.” (Josh. 24:32). The burial site in Shechem was most likely chosen because Jacob bought a plot of land there (Gen. 33:19). Like Joshua, his burial at Shechem meant that he would find rest in his homeland. Through faith, Joseph asked that his bones not be buried in Egypt because he believed in God’s promise that He had given the Jews the Promised Land (Gen. 50:24-26). Approximately four hundred years later, Moses fulfilled Joseph’s request by having his coffin carried to the Promised Land (Ex. 13:19). Normally, it would be a dishonor not to bury a body. His request not to have his body buried was an act of faith (Heb. 11:22). Like Joshua, Joseph’s faith helped save the Jews and turn them into a mighty nation. He never doubted God when he was sold into slavery (Gen. 37:18-36). He also never doubted God when he was thrown into jail based upon false charges (Gen. 39:20). Like Joseph, are you an example of faith to others when all seems lost?
The death of Joshua5
The death and burial of Eleazar. Finally, the book concludes with the death and the burial of the High Priest Eleazar: “33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him at Gibeah of Phinehas his son, which was given him in the hill country of Ephraim.” (Josh. 24:33). By burying him at Gibeah in the hill country of Ephraim, he was also placed at rest in his home city. Led by the Spirit, he helped apportion the Promised Land between the tribes (Nu. 34:17-18; 29). Eleazar quietly did God’s will without drawing attention to himself. Like Eleazar, God is looking for believers to help others find their spiritual inheritance. Like Eleazar, are you quietly working to advance God’s kingdom?
Jesus escaped the corruption of the grave. Joseph, Joshua, and Eleazar were all role models because of their faith. Yet, unlike Jesus, their righteousness was not enough to save them from the corruption of death: “The most useful men, having served their generation, according to the will of God, one after another, fall asleep and see corruption. But Jesus, having spent and ended his life on earth more effectually than either Joshua or Joseph, rose from the dead, and saw no corruption.” (Matthew Henry on Joshua 24).6 However noble a leader may be, believers must never put their faith in them. Only Jesus can allow you to escape corruption and give you rest in the eternal Promised Land.