What was the purpose of Joshua’s farewell speech in chapter 23 of the book of Joshua?
In Joshua 23, we see that Joshua gathered all the people together, the entire nation of Israel, because he was very old, or as he said about himself, he was “about to go the way of all the earth,” which means that he was about to die. So, Joshua gathered the people and started to give them his farewell speech, which included important warnings to the people within the context of the covenant… That was Joshua’s goal when he gathered all of Israel. He wanted to remind them that they had to be loyal and obedient and devoted to the Lord within the context of the covenant. They were not to take for granted the victory the Lord had accomplished for them and live as if the Lord’s commands did not exist and worship other gods. That’s why these warnings were so important. Joshua was reminding the people about the covenant the Lord had cut with them.
What is the significance of the covenant warnings given in Joshua 23?
The significance of the covenant warnings given in Joshua 23:1-16 are directly related to us as Christians… I say that this is important to us, because many times we rely on the grace of the Lord in a way that makes us apathetic about obeying the Lord’s commands and requirements… In these warnings, Joshua reminded the people of their commitments to the Lord, the fundamental commitments and their applications. For example, they were not to worship other gods, not to build altars for other gods, not to mix, through marriage, with the gods of the other nations surrounding them. Simply put, they were to obey the law and the commands that the Lord had given them through Moses. The warnings presented by Joshua are covenantal warnings because they follow the general framework of biblical covenants. Covenants in the Bible have three main elements. The first element is divine benevolence where God reminds the people of his kindness, blessings and grace to them. The second element is the required human loyalty. Since the Lord has dealt bountifully with you and his grace overflowed for you, there is a human role, which is the role of loyalty, obedience, and faithfulness under the covenant. The third element is the consequences of the covenant. Obedience has its consequences — the blessings of the covenant. Disobedience and rebellion have their consequences, which are the curses of the covenant.
How does the book of Joshua emphasize the inclusion of “all Israel” in the Promised Land?
The book of Joshua emphasizes the inclusion of “all Israel,” complete unity in the Promised Land, in various ways. First, this expression, “all Israel,” is repeated many times in the book, either relating to conquering the land or distributing it. And it was very important that the people of Israel be unified in their behavior and in the events that happened, because through their unity the Lord’s victory was assured. So, the unity here was related to wars and their behavior before the Lord. But also, the unity is related to sin. When an Israelite sinned, the consequence was that all the people were affected somehow by this sin. For example, we read in Joshua 7:1:
But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel (Joshua 7:1).
Note here the explanation given by the Scriptures that “the people of Israel” broke faith in regard to the devoted things. Actually, the one who stole and broke faith was Achan son of Carmi, and he was mentioned by name. But it asserts here that the punishment of this sin and its consequences included all Israel — not only in the punishment, but in the sin itself. In the sight of the Lord, all of Israel cooperated in it. For that reason, the people of Israel broke faith, and the anger of the Lord burned against Israel. So, the union here is not only related to conquering and distributing the land, but also to the sinful behavior, in the sight of the Lord, that all Israel cooperated in… The issue also is related to the covenant, because all Israel had a role in their commitment to the covenant before the Lord. That’s why we read, for example, that Joshua gathered all Israel, gathered all the tribes of Israel in 23:2 and 24:1. He gathered all the people, all Israel, to renew the covenant with them before the Lord, and to remind them of the warnings related to the covenant that the Lord had made with them. So, the unity of Israel was part of proclaiming their loyalty to the Lord within the covenant. That is why it was very important that all the people be unified, whether in war, worship, or devotion to the Lord.
What are some ways that the theme of national inheritance in Joshua apply to Christians today?
The theme of national inheritance in the book of Joshua is an important topic and has many applications for us as Christians today, because the promise of the land was only partially fulfilled in the days of Joshua. That is, the land which the Lord promised Abraham was not geographically limited to the land of Canaan, as we see in the book of Joshua. We read in Romans 4:13: “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” Here Paul tells us that Abraham will inherit the world — the entire world! … And these promises are fulfilled to the Gentiles too, who aren’t the offspring of Abraham in the flesh, but receive these promises by faith in Christ, who is himself Abraham’s offspring. So, what Abraham received and what Israel received in the days of Joshua was a small picture of a greater, larger, and more complete land that God promised to Abraham, fulfilled in Christ, and will completely fulfill in Christ’s second coming. Eventually, when Christ comes back he won’t only reign in Canaan, but he will reign and inherit the whole earth — the new earth and the new heavens — and we will reign with Christ forever.
How should Christians interpret Old Testament commands for Israel to engage in divinely-sanctioned holy war?
Asking about how we as Christians should interpret Old Testament passages describing God’s command for Israel to engage in holy war is a very important question. In general, I can say that there are two types of commands in Scripture. There are general commands, which are for all people living in any time and place, such as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” etc. This type of command is repeated several times in the Old Testament and also repeated and mentioned in the New Testament. But the other type of command is specifically designed for certain people in a certain period of time. The passages in the Old Testament that talk about holy war are the other type of command. These commands are specific to a certain people to accomplish a specific goal in the history of redemption. The commands to launch wars against other peoples in the Old Testament were particular to Israel and were related to a certain period when God was leading the people, through Joshua, to conquer and settle in the land. These commands are not for all people whenever and wherever they are, because they aren’t mentioned anymore in either the Old or New Testament. There isn’t any other place where God commands his followers to launch this type of war against unbelievers. This doesn’t happen again in the Bible. Also, it’s important to know that Israel in the Old Testament was a kingdom under the direct authority and sovereignty of God. Israel was implementing God’s commands as his representative on earth. Through this role, Israel was executing God’s direct mission to launch a holy war against the Canaanites. So, such a mission was specific to the kingdom of Israel under God’s sovereignty during a specific period in the history of redemption.
We have to keep in mind that God alone has the right to give and take life. He also has the right to use secondary causes to accomplish his purposes and execute his justice. Concerning these wars, God used Israel as a tool in his hand to accomplish his will towards these pagan peoples. These wars were condemnation against them and their behavior for worshiping other gods. So, through it, God was revealing his judgment against them… As I said, such commands were not repeated again to Israel. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob didn’t possess the land by launching wars against its inhabitants. And after returning back from the exile, Israel restored the land without waging a holy war like the one that took place during Joshua’s time. Such wars and commands are not to be repeated. They were specific to a certain period in history in the book of Joshua. And it’s crucial to interpret the text within the historical context in which these events took place.
How do we know that God’s call to destroy the Canaanites was not just a call for ethnic cleansing?
God doesn’t exhibit favoritism to the Israelites over the Canaanites. The evidence for this is Rahab the prostitute. She was one of the people of Canaan, but she received faith and acknowledged the God of Israel. As a result, she and her family were saved from the destruction. At the same time, Achan, the son of Carmi, who broke faith in regard to the devoted things, was a member of the covenant community, a member of the people of Israel, and eventually he received God’s just judgment for what he did. Throughout the history of Israel, we see how God punishes Israel many times for rebelling against and disobeying the Lord. So, they received various kinds of God’s punishments, either during the Assyrian or the Babylonian exiles.
How does the Book of Joshua emphasize God’s divine power to defeat his enemies?
The Lord achieved victory for Joshua and Israel by his authority and supernatural power. The expression that the Lord has “given the land,” or “handed the land,” is the same verb in Hebrew, and is repeated several times in the book of Joshua. The Lord is the one who has given the enemies into Joshua’s hand. He is the one who has given the land to Israel. This is repeated to assert that the Lord is almighty, the one who defeats the enemies… When the kings of the Amorites gathered against the men of Gibeon, and the men of Gibeon asked for Joshua’s help in facing these kings, we read in Joshua 10:11:
As they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword (Joshua 10:11).
The emphasis presented here is on the Lord’s authority. He revealed his authority through this event — he threw stones, hailstones, on the enemies, and more of them died due to the Lord’s direct interference than those who were killed by Israel’s swords… So, the victory here is absolutely a supernatural victory due to the direct interference of the Lord in the events. This teaches us a marvelous thing about our Almighty God who has the absolute power and authority over everything and all circumstances.
What are some ways that the theme of victorious conquest in Joshua applies to present-day Christians?
The theme of victorious conquest over the land of Canaan in the book of Joshua is very important to us as Christians today for several reasons. First, conquering the land was a fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham in the context of the covenant. God fulfilled these promises by his mighty hand through Joshua and the army of the people of Israel. But the other important thing for us as Christians is that, in the victory of Israel over the people of the land of Canaan, we see the faithfulness of God in fulfilling his covenant, and we see God’s hand going before Joshua and the army in triumphing and winning over the people. For us, this means an important thing, because, in Christ, we always walk in Christ’s triumphal procession. God leads us in this triumph. Just as Joshua led the people in their war against the Canaanites, who exemplified the ungodly on earth at that time, Christ did the same thing on the cross. He triumphed over his enemies — Satan and his followers — over evil and over sin. This gives us, his followers, the privilege to walk, always, in Christ’s triumphal procession.
Why did God command the destruction of the Canaanites in the book of Joshua?
The question of why God commanded Israel to destroy the people of Canaan in the book of Joshua can be summarized in the following points: War against Canaan was God’s judgment over these peoples because God told Abraham in the book of Genesis 15 that “the iniquity of the Amorites [was] not yet complete.” The “Amorites” is an expression used in the Old Testament for all the peoples who were living in Canaan, and here God was revealing his intention to judge these nations. Another important point is that it was to protect Israel from mixing with these nations and worshiping their idols. It was also to cleanse the land from which Israel would become the light to the nations. One more important point is that the command to destroy the Canaanites was only related to the nations within Canaan. Regarding the nations outside of Canaan, there are very clear instructions that Joshua should not fight against them, but rather offer them peace. We read about this, for example, in Deuteronomy 20… Another important point is that the wars against Canaan and the destruction of the Canaanites was not an authorization for jihad. This was not for all times and places. On the contrary, these were very specific commands related to a specific time during the history of redemption. We have to understand the role of these wars in the context of God’s revelation of the history of redemption, which reaches its climax in the person and work of Christ. This war played a role in preparing for the work of Christ in the unfolding of the history of redemption. So, it’s not a license to wage wars of total destruction against unbelievers for all times and locations. Also, these wars were not repeated, not afterward in the history of Israel or even before these wars. God never repeated his command for Israel to completely destroy certain people or certain nations. It was only for the days that Israel was to conquer the land and settle in it during Joshua’s time. The last point is that in this war — in the destruction of the Canaanites — the Canaanites were evil, so it was a small picture of God’s greatest judgment, which will be in the last days. God will execute his just judgment on all the people and nations that rejected salvation through Christ. So, this war was like a small picture or type of a more horrific war that God will accomplish over the evil angels and the evil people who rejected salvation through Christ.