Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Joshua's Farewell and Death - Joshua 23-24
After the division of the land among the tribes, Joshua had withdrawn to Timnath-serah, on the mountains of Ephraim (Jos 19:50), to spend the last days of his life there in the quiet enjoyment of his own inheritance. But when the time of his departure from the earth was drawing near, remembering the call which he had received from the Lord (Jos 1:6-8), he felt constrained to gather the people together once more in the persons of their representatives, to warn them most earnestly of the dangers of apostasy from the Lord, and point out the evils that would follow (Josh 23); and then after that, in a solemn assembly of the nation at Shechem, to review the abundant mercies which the Lord had conferred upon Israel from the calling of Abraham to that day, that he might call upon them to remain stedfast and faithful in the worship of their God, and then solemnly renew the covenant with the Lord.
(Note: "The pious solicitude of Joshua furnishes an example worthy of imitation by all who have the charge of others. For just as a father would not be regarded as sufficiently careful it he merely thought of the interests of his children up to the time of his own death, and did not extend his thoughtfulness on their behalf still further, and as far as was in his power endeavour to provide for their welfare when he himself should be dead; so good rulers ought to look forward that they may not only leave behind them a well-organized state, but may also strengthen and secure its existence for a long time to come." - Calvin (with special reference to Pe2 1:13-15).)
Exhortation to the Tribes of Israel to Remain Faithful to their Calling. - Jos 23:1, Jos 23:2. The introduction to the discourse which follows is attached in its first part to Jos 22:3-4, and thus also to Jos 21:43-44, whilst in the second part it points back to Jos 13:1. The Lord had given the people rest from all their enemies round about, after the land had been subdued and divided by lot (Jos 21:43-44). Joshua was already an old man at the termination of the war (Jos 13:1); but since then he had advanced still further in age, so that he may have noticed the signs of the near approach of death. He therefore called together the representatives of the people, either to Timnath-serah where he dwelt (Jos 19:50), or to Shiloh to the tabernacle, the central sanctuary of the whole nation, as the most suitable place for his purpose. "All Israel" is still further defined by the apposition, "its elders, and its heads, and its judges, and its officers." This is not to be understood, however, as referring to four different classes of rulers; but the term elders is the general term used to denote all the representatives of the people, who were divided into heads, judges, and officers. And the heads, again, were those who stood at the head of the tribes, families, and fathers' houses, and out of whose number the most suitable persons were chosen as judges and officers (Deu 1:15; see my Bibl. Arch. ii. 143). Joshua's address to the elders of all Israel consists of two parts, which run parallel to one another so far as the contents are concerned, Jos 23:2-13 and Jos 23:14-16. In both parts Joshua commences with a reference to his age and his approaching death, in consequence of which he felt constrained to remind the people once more of all the great things that the Lord had done for them, and to warn them against falling away from their gracious covenant God. Just as Joshua, in this the last act of his life, was merely treading in the footsteps of Moses, who had concluded his life with the fullest exhortations to the people to be faithful to the Lord (Deu 1:30), so his address consists entirely of reminiscences from the Pentateuch, more especially from Deuteronomy as he had nothing fresh to announce to the people, but could only impress the old truth upon their minds once more.
Joshua commenced his address by reminding them of the greatest manifestations of grace which they had received from the Lord, namely, by referring to what the Lord had done to all these nations (the Canaanites) before them, when He fought for Israel, as Moses had promised them (Deu 1:30 and Deu 3:22).
"Before you," sc., smiting and driving them away.
He (Joshua) had now divided by lot among the tribes of Israel as their inheritance these still remaining (Canaanitish) nations, as the Lord had commanded (Jos 13:6-7), "from Jordan and further all the nations, which I have exterminated (i.e., which Joshua had destroyed when Canaan was taken), and the great sea (for 'to the great sea') in the west." The breadth of the land of Canaan is here given in a peculiar manner, the terminus a quo being mentioned in the first clause, and the terminus ad quem (though without the preposition עד) in the second; and through the parallelism which exists between the clauses, each clause is left to be completed from the other. So that the whole sentence would read thus: "All these nations which remain ... from Jordan to the great sea, also all the nations which I have cut off from Jordan, and to the great sea westward."
For the Lord would drive all these still remaining nations before the Israelites, and cut them off, and give the Israelites their land for a possession, as He had promised (Jos 13:6; cf. Exo 23:23.). הדף, as in Deu 6:19; Deu 9:4; and the form יהדּפם, with Chateph-kametz, on account of the weakness of the ה, as in Num 35:20. ירשׁתּם, as in Jos 1:15.
Only let them be strong, i.e., be brave, to keep the law of Moses without fail (cf. Jos 1:7), to enter into no fellowship with these remaining nations (בּוא, to enter into close intimacy with a person; see Jos 23:12), and not to pay reverence to their gods in any way, but to adhere stedfastly to the Lord their God as they had hitherto done. To make mention of the names of the idols (Exo 23:13), to swear by them, to serve them (by sacrifices), and to bow down to them (to invoke them in prayer), are the four outward forms of divine worship (see Deu 6:13; Deu 10:20). The concluding words, "as ye have done unto this day," which express a reason for persevering in the attachment they had hitherto shown to Jehovah, "do not affirm that the Israelites had hitherto done all these things fully and perfectly; for who does not know how few mortals there are who devote themselves to God with all the piety and love which He justly demands? But because the nation as a whole had kept the laws delivered to them by Moses, during the time that the government had been in the hands of Joshua, the sins of individual men were left out of sight on this occasion" (Masius).
For this reason the Lord had driven out great and strong nations before the Israelites, so that no one was able to stand before them. The first hemistich points to the fulfilment of Deu 4:38; Deu 7:1; Deu 9:1; Deu 11:23; the second to that of Deu 7:24; Deu 11:25. ואתּם is placed at the beginning absolutely. - In Jos 23:10, the blessing of fidelity to the law which Israel had hitherto experienced, is described, as in Deu 32:30, upon the basis of the promise in Lev 26:7-8, and Deu 28:7, and in Jos 23:10 the thought of Jos 23:3 is repeated. To this there is attached, in Jos 23:11-13, the admonition to take heed for the sake of their souls (cf. Deu 4:15), to love the Lord their God (on the love of God as the sum of the fulfilment of the law, see Deu 6:5; Deu 10:12; Deu 11:13). For if they turned, i.e., gave up the faithfulness they had hitherto displayed towards Jehovah, and attached themselves to the remnant of these nations, made marriages with them, and entered into fellowship with them, which the Lord had expressly forbidden (Exo 34:12-15; Deu 7:3), let them know that the Lord their God would not cut off these nations before them any more, but that they would be a snare and destruction to them. This threat is founded upon such passages of the law as Exo 23:33; Deu 7:16, and more especially Num 33:55. The figure of a trap, which is employed here (see Exo 10:7), is still further strengthened by פּח, a snare (cf. Isa 8:14-15). Shotet, a whip or scourge, an emphatic form of the word derived from the poel of שׁוּט, only occurs here. "Scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes" (see Num 33:55). Joshua crowds his figures together to depict the misery and oppression which would be sure to result from fellowship with the Canaanites, because, from his knowledge of the fickleness of the people, and the wickedness of the human heart in its natural state, he could foresee that the apostasy of the nation from the Lord, which Moses had foretold, would take place but too quickly; as it actually did, according to Jdg 2:3., in the very next generation. The words "until ye perish," etc., resume the threat held out by Moses in Deu 11:17 (cf. Josh Deu 28:21.).
In the second part of his address, Joshua sums up briefly and concisely the leading thoughts of the first part, giving greater prominence, however, to the curse which would follow apostasy from the Lord.
Now that Joshua was going the way of all the earth (all the inhabitants of the earth), i.e., going to die (Kg1 2:2), the Israelites knew with all the heart and all the soul, i.e., were fully convinced, that of all the good words (gracious promises) of God not one had failed, but all had come to pass (vid., Jos 21:45). But it was just as certain that the Lord would bring upon them every evil word that He spake through Moses (Lev 26:14-33; Deut 28:15-68, and Deu 29:14-28), if they transgressed His covenant. "The evil word" is the curse of rejection (Deu 30:1, Deu 30:15). "Until He have destroyed:" see Deu 7:24, and Deu 28:48. The other words as in Jos 23:13. If they went after other gods and served them, the wrath of the Lord would burn against them, and they would be quickly destroyed from the good land which He had given them (vid., Deu 11:17).