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Famous Last Words Joshua 23

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Famous Last Words

Joshua 23:1-16

Stephen Caswell © 1999

Famous Last Words

Leaders Summits

In recent years the word summit has been used a lot. Leaders meet together to work out trade agreements, peace treaties and regulations on pollution control. In the last decade, there has been a lot of pressure placed upon Sudaam Hussein to conform to international standards. Committees are working together to remove his weapons of mass destruction. If Sudaam conforms to these agreements, the trade embargos which affect grain, food and medical supplies will be lifted. If he doesn’t conform then they remain in place and disciplinary action proceeds also. This in fact happened at the beginning of the year.


This morning we saw how Joshua dismissed the 2 1/2 tribes from Transjordan with honour. The conquest proper had been completed, now the tribes had to fully possess their own inheritance. A long time after this Joshua called the leaders of the nation together. He wanted to encourage them to possess their land entirely. In chapter 23 Joshua addresses the leaders of Israel, whilst in chapter 24 he addresses the whole nation and renews the covenant.  

The Leaders Conference

Joshua 23:1-2 Now it came to pass, a long time after the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua was old, advanced in age. And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them: “I am old, advanced in age.

a. The Place

We are not told where this meeting took place. It was probably at Shiloh where the tabernacle had been set up. This was the place where Joshua divided the inheritance by lot to the 7 tribes. This was where he had dismissed the 2 1/2 tribes from Transjordan with blessing. However we cannot be certain and it doesn’t really matter. However the meeting in chapter 24 took place at Shechem.

b. The People

This conference was attended by people from all over Israel. They are described as elders, heads, judges and officers. These were the leaders of the nation. They had responsibility to govern the people. They set an example for the people to follow. They administered justice and represented the people at this conference. This was a conference of the nations leaders.


c. The Purpose


Why did Joshua summon all of Israel’s leaders together now? The answer is given in verses 1 and 2, he was old and advanced in age. He was about 110 years old and didn’t expect to live much longer. Verse 14 says that he was going the way of all the earth. All men die sooner or later. Joshua expected to die and wanted to give a farewell address to the people. A man’s last words are often very important. Joshua had a solemn address to give before he died.

d. The Procedure

Joshua’s address had one main theme, God’s continuing faithfulness. God's name is mentioned 21 times. God required faithfulness from Israel too. The address was given in 3 rounds. Each round recalled God’s promises fulfilled in the past and available for the future. Then Joshua issued a command to obey, followed by a warning for disobedience.  

I The First Round

a. Promises Kept

Joshua 23:3-4  ”You have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the LORD your God is He who has fought for you. “See, I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, as far as the Great Sea westward.

1. God Fought For Israel

This is a recurring theme in Joshua. The Lord fought for His people. Joshua reminded them that they had seen this. He promised that He would protect them from Pharoah in Exodus 14:14. And in Deuteronomy there are a number of references where God promised to fight for Israel. Deuteronomy 1:28-30 ‘Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, ”The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.“ ‘ ”Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified, or afraid of them. ‘The LORD your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes,  Joshua was a great general and his strategies were good. But he rightly recognised that the Lord had caused them to be victorious. The one time that God did not fight for them at Ai, they were beaten.

2. Joshua Divided The Land

Joshua started with the same verb see. I have divided the land by lot of these remaining nations. Joshua reminded them, not only had they conquered strong nations, he had divided their land as an inheritance to Israel. Joshua 1:6  “Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. God told Joshua this when He commissioned him. Another promise of God had been fulfilled. Joshua divided the land just as God had said.

b. Promises To Be Claimed

Joshua 23:5 ”And the LORD your God will expel them from before you and drive them out of your sight. So you shall possess their land, as the LORD your God promised you.

1. God Will Expel Them And Drive Them Out. So You Shall Possess Their Land.

Joshua now focussed on the job at hand. God had helped Israel in the past to defeat their enemies. He would also help them in the future. They could totally possess the land. With God’s help they would drive out the remnant of nations. They had God’s promise of this.

But Joshua also speaks of Israel’s involvement in this. God would drive them out only as they possessed the land. Israel must continue to fight till the last enemy soldier was beaten. God’s promise of total victory involved them being faithful too. They mustn’t stop fighting yet. There was still work to be done.

c. Command To Obey

Joshua 23:6 “Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, 

1. Keep And Do All Of The Law


This verse starts with therefore. Because God had blessed them giving them possession of the land they should fear Him. So Joshua commanded them to observe all the law of Moses. They were not to deviate from it in the slightest. Courage and obedience were the graces that led to the successful conquest of Canaan in the first place. They must continue in the same way. The law would keep them faithful to God. He would in turn bless them and give them good success. This formula had worked very well up until now. In fact God gave Joshua this same command in Joshua 1:7. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. Joshua gave it to them.

Buying a New Appliance

I don’t know about you but when I buy something new from the shop particularly something from the High - Fi shop I just can’t wait to try it out. I usually read the manual as fast as I can so that I can try out the new gismo. If I don’t do that I know that I could break something and then I would have to get it fixed. The manufacturer puts the instruction manual in the box so the consumer can get the most out of it and not have problems or breakages. The warranty is voided if you don't follow the makers instructions. When I brought my video player I had to use it to be able to set the clock and program the channels. Once its done I don’t need it again. But if a power failure comes I need to use it again, because I forget how it’s done. Well the same is true of the Christian life. We very easily forget how we should live and what we should do. So we need to continually refer to the Bible and check how we are going. We should follow the makers instructions.


d. Consequences For Disobedience

Joshua 23:6-8 ”Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, “and lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, ”but you shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day.

Now Joshua warns them of consequences of disobedience. They were to keep all the law:

1. Lest, they turn aside from it to the right or to the left.

2. Lest, they you go among these nations, who remain among you.

3. Lest, they turn to their pagan gods. Speak about, Swear by, Serve, Worship.

If Israel didn’t keep all the law they would turn aside and mix with the pagan nations left in the land. In turn they would learn of their gods, speak about them and eventually give their allegiance to them. There is a progression in the four prohibitions that Joshua gave. What started as talking about ended up in service and worship of these pagan deities. God could not bless Israel if they became wicked through paganism. So Joshua closed by commanding them to hold fast to the Lord as they had done up until then. The word hold fast in verse 8 is the same word translated cleave in Genesis 2:24, where it says a man shall cleave unto his wife. This speaks of commitment, faithfulness and permanence. They could not serve God and the pagan gods as well. It was either one or the other.


God made us for a purpose and knows how we work best. He has always kept His promises to help us when we obey. God has also promised a wonderful future for His people. But He requires us to be obedient. Are you obedient to God’s word? Does the Lord have first place in your life? Do you cling to Him? Or have you turned aside to the ways of the this wicked world? You cannot serve the Lord and this world as well. You either obey God or this world.

II. The Second Round


a. Promises Kept

Joshua 23:9 “For the LORD has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day.

a. The Lord Has Driven Out Great And Strong Nations

The Lord drove out strong nations before Israel. He promised that He would go before Israel to rout the enemy and that is just what He did. The nations in Canaan were mightier than Israel and greater in number. But God fought for Israel and that made all the difference. The giants and the walled cities were all overcome with God’s help. The people of Canaan were very able when it came to warfare. But God still gave Israel decisive victories. He caused the enemy to run before Israel. He made them afraid of her.

b. But As For You, No One Has Been Able To Stand Against You

This was the other side of the same coin. God drove out the nations before Israel, but no one could make Israel run. In fact none could even hold their ground and stand firm against her. God had kept the promise he made to Joshua in Joshua 1:5 ”No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. The only exception was Ai when Israel had disobeyed.

b. Promises To Be Claimed


Joshua 23:10  “One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you.

Joshua gave a promise for Israel that would help them complete the possession of Canaan. One man shall chase a thousand. The Lord will fight for you as in the past. One man plus God is a majority. Israel would be able to easily overcome the remnant if they took God at His word. Leviticus 26:7-8 You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you. God had promised them military superiority beforehand through Moses. Joshua was confirming this again. 

c. Command To Obey

Joshua 23:11-12  ”Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God. “Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations — these that remain among you — and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you,

Because of God’s past faithfulness, Israel was told to love the Lord their God. Their affections were to be reserved only to Him. Love is the right motive for God’s service. It keeps us from becoming cold and indifferent to spiritual things. This is the heart of the law as we observed this morning. If Israel didn’t guard their heart and remain faithful to the Lord they would wander after the pagan nations of Canaan. They would intermarry with them. They would no longer be a separate people for God. They would lose their distinctives and raise their children in a mixed family. They would in turn follow their gods. Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived learned this lesson the hard way. 


d. Consequences For Disobedience

Joshua 23:13   ”know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you.

Joshua closed this second round with a warning. This one is more sombre than the first. If Israel turned from God and embraced these pagan nations, the Lord would give them what they wanted. But this would carry its own punishment. You sow what you reap!

1. He Would Not Drive Them Out

If Israel mingled with these pagan nations and married them then the Lord would not drive them out. His promise was conditional upon Israel’s faithfulness to him. He would be faithful to fulfil His promises only if Israel was faithful to Him too.

2. They Would Become Snares And Traps To Israel.

If Israel mixed with these wicked nations they would bring problems upon themselves. Sin has its own punishment. God warned Moses of this at Mount Sinai. Exodus 23:32-33 “You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. ”They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.“ How can you play with fire without being burned. God’s people are called to holiness, so if they mix with sinful people they will be hurt by them. James 4:4

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

3. They Would Become Scourges In Their Sides And Thorns In Their Eyes

People often say, it doesn’t hurt to have close friends who are non believers. But there is always a price to pay. Usually our children are the ones who pay the price. Israel failed to obey God in this and they payed the price. Their children intermarried with the pagans. As a result they forsook the Lord and turned to idolatry. The Lord did not drive them out, but allowed the nations to grow strong and oppress Israel. He did this so that they would repent and come back to him. This cycle happened time and again in the Book of Judges.

4. Israel Would Perish From The Good Land God Had Given Them

God gave the land of Canaan to Israel because the people living there were wicked. If Israel followed their wicked example, they too would suffer God’s punishment. He would remove them from the land also. He enabled them to possess it. He could also remove them from it. This in fact happened when they were carried off into captivity. Moses had spoken of this too. Deuteronomy 28:63-64 ”And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known — wood and stone. This was a solemn warning that the Lord gave Israel. God blessed, He could also curse.

Love story of Jim and  Mary

The story is told of a young couple who were engaged to be married when the war broke out in 1939. This story probably happened a thousand times over during that time. Mary was a school teacher and Jim was in the Air Force. He was posted to England early in 1940. They had promised each other to write and remain faithful till Jim came home. Time rolled on and they wrote to each other at least three times a month. When Mary had the opportunity she would ring on the telephone. They carried each others picture with them where ever they went,  longing for the day that the war would finish and they could be reunited. They spoke to their friends and workmates all the time about their loved one. By doing these things they found that their love grew more each day even though they were apart. They kept their love alive and fresh by thinking about each other often. Mary longed for Jim’s return and their future lives together as man and wife.


God loves us and is so faithful to us. He helps us when we seek His grace. He is always with us. He guides us in decisions when we seek Him. But are you faithful to Him? Do you love the Lord more than all else? Do you tell others about Him? Or does He get second best? Do you chooses your friendships carefully? Do you guide your children in their friendships too?  There is a terrible price to pay for having ungodly friendships. 1 Corinthians 15:33  Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”  If you have embraced things or people that are harmful you will be hurt. God will allow it to bring you back to Himself.

III. The Third Round

In this final round Joshua summarises all he has said. He refers to God’s past faithfulness and then moves straight into the consequences for disobedience. Joshua grabs their attention by saying that he is going to die soon, this day. He wants them to pay attention to his words.


a. Promises Kept

Joshua 23:14  Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. 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.

Joshua reminds them by saying you know in your hearts not one thing failed of God’s promises. The Lord has been totally faithful to His promises that He gave to you. Everything has come to pass just like He said. Nothing has failed. Joshua emphasised this point because God had kept many promises to them. He had been faithful and they knew it. Joshua picks up on this same theme when He addressed all Israel a little later. After the land was divided the same statement was made. Joshua 21:45  Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.

b. Consequences For Disobedience

Joshua 23:15-16  “Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the LORD your God promised you, so the LORD will bring upon you all harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the LORD your God has given you. ”When you have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you.“”

Joshua does not give any direct commands like he did previously. He jumps straight into the consequences with the word therefore. He had commanded them to obey the law of Moses and Love the Lord their God. He had warned them not to mix with the pagan nations lest they follow them into idolatry. Now Joshua gave his strongest warning yet of the consequences of disobedience.

1. God Is Able To Deliver His Promises

He is the sovereign Lord. God has fulfilled every good word toward you so far. He can do all things. In the same way God brought blessing, He can bring trouble and curse upon you too. Joshua may be dying, but the Lord is ever living and able to fulfil his word for good or evil.

2. When You Have Transgressed The Covenant

Joshua is speaking prophetically here more than earlier. It is not maybe, but when you break God’s covenant and serve other god’s, He will destroy you in anger. The word transgress is the same word used when they crossed the Jordan River. After Israel crossed over from serving God to serving other gods, the Lord would judge. They were in fact betraying the Lord who brought them into the land. They were betraying His covenant. They had promised allegiance to the Lord, but would one day forsake him, or rather their descendants would. Joshua did all he could to relay how serious this matter was. There was no middle ground. They either served God and received blessing or served other gods and received cursing.   

Illustration Of Family Discipline

While I was growing up with my brother and sister, I knew it was better to obey than disobey. When we obeyed mum and dad things went well. We enjoyed our family times much more. When we disobeyed, we received discipline. Usually the stick. But that’s what we needed to help us to learn. Our actions always result in consequences, either good or bad. God disciplines His children for their own good. He does this because He loves them.


God is sovereign and able to fulfil His promises for good or evil. Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. God loves us and desires to bless. But He won’t condone our sin. What life are you sowing? One to the flesh, or one to the Spirit? You will reap what you sow.  


The commands Joshua gave apply to us today too.

1. We must obey God’s word and allow it to govern our lives.

2. We must cling to the Lord and love only Him.

If we do this He will bless our lives. But if we turn away from Him and embrace the ungodly people and practices of the world we will suffer the consequences. The Lord can certainly fulfil His word. What will you choose? The Lord or this world? You can’t have both!



Jude 24-25

 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Saviour, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.

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