When we say "the torah of Joshua" we do not mean to say that Joshua belongs to the Torah and therefore not to the Prophets. Quite simply, the "torah" of Joshua means the "instruction" of Joshua. We seek to answer, "What does Joshua teach?" Not that this answer will be exhaustive here, but we are going to see at least what the concluding chapters teach and therefore see some of the major themes of the book. As you will see later, the book of Joshua is put on a level with the Torah. After all, at the time it was the only book of the Prophets and so a collection that we call the Prophets did not yet exist. Therefore, in order to claim canonical status for itself it must appeal to the existing canon (which was the Torah). But this too reminds us of an important point. The Prophets are also "Scripture" (to use the title of the third section of the Hebrew canon, 'the Writings'). And the Prophets are unpacking the Torah, the instruction of Moses, in a new setting. Thus it is fitting that the conclusion of Joshua, like with the conclusion of the Torah and like the patriarchs before Moses, consists of farewells.
The farewells of Joshua 22-24:
1. TransJordan Tribes Go Home (22),
2. Joshua's Farewell Address to the Leadership of Israel (23),
3. Joshua's Farewell Address to the People of Israel (24) and Covenant Renewal. This chapter also includes the epilogue for the book in much the same style as epilogues in Genesis.
Joshua's farewell to the TransJordan Tribes rehearses many of the themes of the book – some of which were just mentioned as the conclusion to the previous section. First, Joshua says, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of YHWH commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you” (22:2). Second, Joshua says, “You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of YHWH your God” (22:3). (May the same be said of us). Third, Joshua says, “And now YHWH your God has given rest to your brothers, as He promised them. Therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of YHWH gave you on the other side of the Jordan” (22:4). Here is that theme of God giving the people of Israel “rest.” Here is also that theme “as He promised them.” Fourth, Joshua says, “Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the Torah that Moses the servant of YHWH commanded you, to love YHWH your God, and to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and to cling to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (22:5). Like with the first thing Joshua said, there is an emphasis here on “all.” Also note that the Shema of Deuteronomy is the subtext of the whole chapter.
The next sentence sums up this farewell saying, “So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents” (22:6). Thus the text itself is calling this farewell speech a farewell “blessing” – like those given by Jacob and Moses. The next verse repeats the idea that Joshua blessed them. Then we see that the blessing is not only his spoken prophetic blessing to them but also some of the spoils of war.
Things get rather suspenseful in the next few verses... “And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size” (22:10)... “And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them” (22:12).
There are a few things of note – first, the altar was disturbing because it was in the land of Canaan (this could be interpreted as a kind of territorial claim), and second, the altar was disturbing because it was “of imposing size.” Remember that the memorial altars where they would offer burnt offerings and peace offerings until God chose the place where He would dwell were not to have stairs (Exo 20:26) – they cannot be very high.
Moreover, the main concern here is that the TransJordan tribes have just built an altar to compete with the one at the tabernacle at Shiloh. Remember that memorial altars will be phased out for sacrifices and all sacrifices will be done at the place where God would choose. Until that place is chosen more permanently, that place was wherever the tabernacle would be – which was Shiloh for many years.
Also note that the perspective of the book is the perspective of those living in the land of Canaan. We have seen this all along in Scripture because even when Israel had not yet crossed the Jordan they were said to be “beyond the Jordan.” The authors of Scripture always take the perspective of being in the land to describe the TransJordan area as across the Jordan (even when they are not yet living in the land).
And one more observation before we continue, Joshua 22:12 calls the tribes living in the land of Canaan “the people of Israel” and says that “the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.” Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh are not included as part of Israel. The way all this is worded is to be as strong as possible that this could potentially be a huge problem. This is again written from the perspective of being in the land of Canaan. This perspective continues when we see Phinehas, the hero of Numbers, son of Eleazar the priest, and ten chiefs “one from each of the tribal families of Israel” (22:14) (again the text does not count Reuben, Gad, and half of Mansseh as a tribal family – the fourteen tribal families are now down to ten plus Phinehas for the Levites). And they come to the TransJordan tribes and say, “Thus says the whole congregation of YHWH” (22:16). So the TransJordan tribes are not included among the “whole congregation.”
When the charge is named, the text begins, “What is this breach of faith that you have committed...?” This is meant to call to mind what Achan had done by coveting and stealing from the treasury of YHWH. These tribes have gathered to make war against the TransJordan tribes because if those tribes have indeed breached faith then all of Israel is in danger from YHWH God and they need to be cut off from Israel and even cut off from among the living. Achan is mentioned by name at the end of the statement of charges. “Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity” (22:20). Several men of Israel died when they went up against Ai after Achan had done this and all of Achan's household died with him.
The speech recalls the sin at Peor (where Balaam had the Moabite women seduce the men of Israel into sexual immorality and idol worship) and God sending a plague on the nation because of it – this was the episode where Phinehas had become a hero in Israel.
The concern is that by these 2.5 tribes rebelling against God, that He would be angry with the other 11.5 tribes. “And if you too rebel against YHWH today then tomorrow He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel” (22:18b).
They continue, “But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into YHWH's land where YHWH's tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against YHWH or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of YHWH our God” (22:19). The TransJordan territories were never really wholly considered part of the “Promised Land” – here “YHWH's land.” But also here is the heart of the matter – they would be rebelling if they build an altar that competes with the tabernacle – the tabernacle is the only place to offer sacrifices.
In response, the 2.5 TransJordan tribes profess their faith in YHWH God. They tell Israel that “if it was in rebellion against YHWH, do not spare us today for building an altar to turn away from following YHWH. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may YHWH Himself take vengeance” (22:22c-23). Note that they are distinguishing between the first and second commandments – if we have broken the first then we have turned away from following YHWH, if we have broken the second, then we are offering worship in an unapproved fashion.
Then they tell the reason that they built the altar – it is an altar of witness. It not to be used for worship services but simply to stand as a reminder that the people on the other side of that natural boundary (the Jordan river) are also the people of YHWH who have an inheritance in YHWH. This answer “was good in their eyes” – the eyes of Phinehas and the ten chiefs.
Our text taught its first listeners that the people of God living on the other side of the Jordan River also serve the Lord in His tabernacle in that place God will choose. This reminded them that wherever they might go they need to return to the tabernacle to serve Him with their burnt offerings, sacrifices, and peace offerings. The report was taken back to the assembly at Shiloh and it “was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them” (22:33). This is actually a reminder of a fundamental Biblical principle of peacemaking – when you see something that appears to be a sin that breaks fellowship then you need to confront it and sometimes you will find out that your interpretation of what was going on was not correct.
Chapter 23 begins noting the same theme of rest as Chapter 22 had: “when YHWH had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies” (23:1).
The timing of the farewell of chapter 22 was “at that time” – in other words, at the time of the allotment of the land. When the land was allotted the timing was “Joshua was old and advanced in years.” He must have been at least around 85 (the age of Caleb at the time). Now the timing of chapter 23 is, “A long time afterward...and Joshua was old and well advanced in years” (23:1).
Abraham was 99 years old when he was called “old, advanced in years.” Abraham was “old, well advanced in years” when he told his servant to go find Isaac a wife. So Joshua is being presented as a new Abraham figure by using this language.
When Joshua died, as we are told in Joshua 24:29, he was 110 years old – this is to show him falling short of Moses who lived to be 120 (in other words, they are still waiting for The Prophet).
But now like Jacob and Moses, Joshua gives his farewell charge to Israel's leaders. “Joshua summoned all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers, and said to them...” (23:2).
The next verse conveys one major theme of Joshua: “And you have seen all that YHWH your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is YHWH your God who has fought for you” (23:3). Also, the text indicates there are still nations yet to conquer in the land as Joshua notes “those nations that remain” (23:4).
The next verse then giving us another major theme: “YHWH your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as YHWH your God promised you” (23:5). God is a Promise Keeper.
Then we hear the language reminiscent of earlier in the book and in Deuteronomy: “Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Torah of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 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, but you shall cling to YHWH your God just as you have done to this day” (23:6-8).
Joshua is reiterating the themes and promises fulfilled from the introduction. God had promised Joshua that no one would be able to stand against Joshua (1:5) and now Joshua says to Israel at the end of the book, “No man has been able to stand before you to this day” (23:9). So Joshua gives a speech very much in the flavor of Deuteronomy encouraging Israel to love YHWH your God, not make marriages or otherwise associate with the remnant of the nations remaining in the land, that if they do then they will be a snare and trap, whip and thorns, “until you perish from off this good ground that YHWH yoru God has given you” (23:13).
And again the conclusion of the allotment section is reiterated: “that not one word has failed of all the good things that YHWH your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (23:14). But this is put alongside the warning that just as all the good things God promised have been fulfilled so too all the evil things would be brought on them if they transgressed the covenant and serve other gods and bow down to them.
Chapter 24 begins a new farewell speech – or better yet, farewell sermon, “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.”
Joshua begins with Abraham and tells the story of Israel in order to build up to his famous challenge and declaration. Israel descended from Abraham and Nahor, the sons of Terah, who “lived beyond the Euphrates” … “and they served other gods” (24:2). Esau received their inheritance of the hill country of Seir but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.
Next Joshua turns to the plagues and the Exodus event. Then the battles on the other side of the Jordan (including with Balak, even mentioning Balaam and how he blessed Israel). Then the battles with the seven nations of Canaan are mentioned. And he mentions “the hornet” going before Israel into battle – picking up on Deuteronomy 7:20.
This history is their story to provide the foundation for the challenge: “Now therefore fear YHWH and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River [i.e. the Euphrates] and in Egypt, and serve YHWH. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve YHWH, 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 YHWH” (24:14-15).
Given the number of times that they threw away household idols in times past we would think that they would not have any of these “gods” to “put away.” But Joshua does not just mean the idols of stone and wood, but the idols of the heart.
The people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake YHWH to serve other gods” and they recount their history as the reason why and so they say, “Therefore we also will serve YHWH, for He is our God” (24:16-18). “But Joshua said to the people, 'You are not able to serve YHWH, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” The people protest and say that they will serve YHWH and so witness against themselves that they have chosen YHWH to serve Him. So Joshua says, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to YHWH, the God of Israel” (24:23).
This sermon results in a covenant renewal ceremony. “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Torah (instruction) of God” (24:25-26). At this point Scripture consisted of the Torah (Gen-Deut) and so this statement is claiming for the book of Joshua canonical status – that it too is one of the Scriptures (see the introduction of this post above).
The rest of the chapter ties up all of the major loose ends of the Torah and Joshua. We see in this epilogue the statement of death and burial for Joshua, as well as the burial of the bones of Joseph at Shechem in the land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem, which was the inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. (Remember that the tribe of Ephraim, Joseph's second son, inherited the blessing from Jacob). We also see in the epilogue, last but not least, the death and burial of Eleazar the priest within the hill country of Ephraim. One statement to further analyze in the epilogue is this: “Israel served YHWH all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that YHWH did for Israel” (24:31). This is clearly not written by Joshua himself, but Judges 2:7 depends on it, so it must have been written not long after the days of those elders. Judges 2:7 says, “And the people of Israel served YHWH all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that YHWH had done for Israel.”
The obvious similarities with Genesis and Deuteronomy are consciously demonstrating that Joshua belongs with the Torah as the word of God. The book's epilogue ties up the loose ends of Genesis and of the conquest of the land promised to the patriarchs in Genesis. A few major themes of Deuteronomy are rehearsed again in these farewells.