March 17 Reading: Joshua 22-24 Commentary
Below is our Joshua 22-24 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.
“…If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
Joshua 22 – A Return to Their Home
Now that the land was at rest, it was time for the armies or Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return to their inherited homeland on the east side of the Jordan. They agreed to settle that land in exchange for their military support in helping the rest of the tribes conquer the land on the west side of the Jordan (see Num. 32). With that task complete, they could return home.
Joshua blessed them saying, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you. You have not left your brethren these many days, up to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God…now therefore, return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession…” (vv. 2-4).
And they did not go back empty handed. We read they returned with their share of the spoil from all the battles. That included much livestock, gold, silver, bronze, iron and many clothes (v. 8).
But before they left, Joshua also issued them a challenge. He said, “But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (v. 5).
An Altar Misunderstanding?
On their journey home, the armies of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to cross the Jordan River. Before doing so, they built a large altar on the west side of the Jordan (v. 10).
The rest of Israel heard about it and were not happy. The anger was so great, they made preparations to go to war against these three tribes (v. 12). But before doing so, they sent Phinehas (the son of Eleazar the priest) and 10 high-ranking officials (one from each western tribe) to confirm the meaning of this altar (vv. 13-14)
What would make them so upset that they would go to war against their brethren? The contingent of representatives believed that the three eastern tribes were setting up an altar for their own sacrifices (v. 16). They point out “the iniquity of Peor” and the sin of Achan (v. 20) as situations that led to the Lord’s anger breaking out among the people (v. 18). Rebellion against the Lord was not a situation they wanted to risk. That was worth fight even your brethren for.
The Tribes Explanation
The response of the three eastern tribes was exactly what Phinehas needed to hear. They told him and the rest of the delegation,
“…in fact we have done it for fear, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your descendants may speak to our descendants, saying, ‘What have you to do with the Lord God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a border between you and us, you children of Reuben and children of Gad. You have no part in the Lord.’ So your descendants would make our descendants cease fearing the Lord.” (vv. 22-25)
So the altar was not for sacrifices (v. 26). It served as a witness between the tribes. They worried that in time, the tribes west of the Jordan might forget the tribes east of the Jordan still had a part in the Lord (v. 27). It was not a sign of rebellion as the western tribes had believed (v. 29). Rather, the altar would serve as a memorial of the relationship between the tribes for generations to come.
This explanation pleased Phinehas and the other representatives (v. 31). They returned home and reported to the rest of the people, who themselves were pleased to hear the result of the discussion (v. 33). So there was no more talk of going to war against them.
The three eastern tribes gave the altar a name – “Witness” – saying “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God” (v. 34).
Joshua 23 – Joshua Says Goodbye
God gave Israel rest from all their enemies on all sides (v. 1). Joshua’s leadership had a lot to do with this. He stayed true to the Lord and did not divert from his mission.
Now, he’s old and knows his time is short. So he gave one last message to the people. And once again his message points to the Lord.
He reminds the people that it was indeed God who had fought for them and driven out the enemy (v. 3, 9-10). It was God who allowed them to be granted an inheritance of land in the new region (v. 4). God also would help them keep the land going forward (v. 5).
But did they have a role to play? Absolutely! Joshua instructs them to do these things:
1. Hold firm (cling) to the Lord and obey the book of the law (v. 6, 8).
2. Avoid association with the pagan people groups (v. 7).
3. Refrain from mentioning their gods or serving them (v. 7).
4. Do not intermarry with the other nations (for they would become a snare to Israel) (v. 12).
God has been so good to Israel. Joshua knew this and points it out to the people one last time saying, “And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed” (v. 14).
Joshua 24 – Joshua’s Final Challenge
The book of Joshua closes with the people renewing the covenant again. Joshua gathered the leaders and important figures together at Shechem and they presented themselves before God (v. 1). The location wasn’t a coincidence. Shechem had a history of religious significance for Joshua (see Josh. 8:30-35) and going all the way back to Abraham (see Gen. 12:6).
Joshua has one last address to the people before he dies. But it’s really God speaking through Joshua at least at the beginning of the narrative as Joshua says, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel…” (v. 2). So God recounts Israel’s past, starting with His call of Abraham (v. 2). God mentions how He was with Isaac, Jacob and Esau and how He went with Jacob down into Egypt (vv. 3-4).
Beginning with Moses and Aaron (v. 5), God reviews the Red Sea experience (v. 6-7) and the wilderness journey, including deliverance from Balak and Balaam (vv. 8-10). God discusses Israel’s crossing of the Jordan and conquest of the land and people noting, “…I delivered them into your hand” (v. 11). He concludes by saying, “I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.” (v. 13)
So what is the next move for Israel in light of all that God did for them? Joshua begins to lay that out in verse 14.
Choose You This Day
In his most passionate words yet, Joshua declares:
“Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of 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.” (vv. 14-15)
Did the people buy into that? It would seem so. In verse 16 they respond by saying, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 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, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed….We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.” (vv. 16-17)
After another warning from Joshua, the people insist they will serve the Lord (v. 21). Joshua takes their word for it declaring, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord for yourselves, to serve the Him” (v. 22).
Joshua proceeded to make a covenant with the people (v. 25). And he wrote the words in the Book of the Law. Finally, he set up a stone marker as a remembrance of the event “under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord” (v. 26).
Deaths and Burials
Joshua died at 110 years of age (v. 29). They buried him within the border of the land he inherited, Timnath Serah (v. 30).
We also read that Eleazar the priest died and was buried in land belonging to his son Phinehas (v. 33).
Finally, there is a brief account of the bones of Joseph being buried “in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph” (v. 32). This fulfilled Joseph’s request from hundreds of years earlier while he lived in Egypt (Gen. 50:24-25).
So what was Joshua’s legacy? Certainly he was a mighty warrior and a great leader. God used him to bring the people into the land and push them to possess it.
We are told that the people “…served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the Lord which He had done for Israel” (v. 31). So, one couldn’t ask for much more than that. His faith in God impacted the people in a way that carried forward for years.
However, it does seem like there was a leadership void. After he died, no one stepped in to lead the people, at least, not that we are aware of. Moses mentored Joshua to take over after Moses’ death. But we do not see Joshua doing the same with any one person.
In the next book (Judges), we will see the leadership void play out after all the people from Joshua’s generation who knew him and worshipped the Lord die off. Israel will lapse back into sin and not serve the Lord. The promises of Joshua 24 go by the wayside within one generation.
It really shows us the importance of teaching and mentoring those who are younger so they can be next generation of leaders.
Questions to Consider:
How are you impacting the next generation? Who was a mentor to you when you were younger and how did they impact your life?
Joshua gives an impassioned speech encouraging Israel to serve the Lord once he’s gone. He knows that’s the only path forward in which they will prosper. We are told they did in the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua. Will you serve the Lord the rest of your life or turn from him at some point?
What other points would you want to know about in our Joshua 22-24 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.