In the final chapters of the Book of Joshua, we find him giving final directions from God to the Israelites. The Promised Land was divvied up and each of the 12 tribes got a parcel of the land and the Levites got cities all over the area. Two-and-a-half tribes (Ruben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh) wanted the land to the east of the Jordan River — known as “Transjordan” — while the rest were west of the river or in “Cisjordan”. The two-and-a-half tribes built an altar near the river which offended the other tribes. What gives?
Also, here, Joshua gives his final challenge to the people — to choose today whom they will follow and serve — and he says a line that is quoted often. Which brings the question — whom will YOU follow and serve? Let’s dig in….
Joshua 22 – The Eastern Tribes Return Home
Then Joshua called together the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 2 He told them, “You have done as Moses, the servant of the Lord, commanded you, and you have obeyed every order I have given you. 3 During all this time you have not deserted the other tribes. You have been careful to obey the commands of the Lord your God right up to the present day. 4 And now the Lord your God has given the other tribes rest, as he promised them. So go back home to the land that Moses, the servant of the Lord, gave you as your possession on the east side of the Jordan River. 5 But be very careful to obey all the commands and the instructions that Moses gave to you. Love the Lord your God, walk in all his ways, obey his commands, hold firmly to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul.” 6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went home.
7 Moses had given the land of Bashan, east of the Jordan River, to the half-tribe of Manasseh. (The other half of the tribe was given land west of the Jordan.) As Joshua sent them away and blessed them, 8 he said to them, “Go back to your homes with the great wealth you have taken from your enemies—the vast herds of livestock, the silver, gold, bronze, and iron, and the large supply of clothing. Share the plunder with your relatives.”
9 So the men of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the rest of Israel at Shiloh in the land of Canaan. They started the journey back to their own land of Gilead, the territory that belonged to them according to the Lord’s command through Moses.
The Eastern Tribes Build an Altar
10 But while they were still in Canaan, and when they came to a place called Geliloth near the Jordan River, the men of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh stopped to build a large and imposing altar.
11 The rest of Israel heard that the people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had built an altar at Geliloth at the edge of the land of Canaan, on the west side of the Jordan River. 12 So the whole community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and prepared to go to war against them. 13 First, however, they sent a delegation led by Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to talk with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 In this delegation were ten leaders of Israel, one from each of the ten tribes, and each the head of his family within the clans of Israel.
15 When they arrived in the land of Gilead, they said to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 16 “The whole community of the Lord demands to know why you are betraying the God of Israel. How could you turn away from the Lord and build an altar for yourselves in rebellion against him? 17 Was our sin at Peor not enough? To this day we are not fully cleansed of it, even after the plague that struck the entire community of the Lord. 18 And yet today you are turning away from following the Lord. If you rebel against the Lord today, he will be angry with all of us tomorrow.
19 “If you need the altar because the land you possess is defiled, then join us in the Lord’s land, where the Tabernacle of the Lord is situated, and share our land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar other than the one true altar of the Lord our God. 20 Didn’t divine anger fall on the entire community of Israel when Achan, a member of the clan of Zerah, sinned by stealing the things set apart for the Lord? He was not the only one who died because of his sin.”
21 Then the people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “The Lord, the Mighty One, is God! The Lord, the Mighty One, is God! He knows the truth, and may Israel know it, too! We have not built the altar in treacherous rebellion against the Lord. If we have done so, do not spare our lives this day. 23 If we have built an altar for ourselves to turn away from the Lord or to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings, may the Lord himself punish us.
24 “The truth is, we have built this altar because we fear that in the future your descendants will say to ours, ‘What right do you have to worship the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has placed the Jordan River as a barrier between our people and you people of Reuben and Gad. You have no claim to the Lord.’ So your descendants may prevent our descendants from worshiping the Lord.
26 “So we decided to build the altar, not for burnt offerings or sacrifices, 27 but as a memorial. It will remind our descendants and your descendants that we, too, have the right to worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices, and peace offerings. Then your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no claim to the Lord.’
28 “If they say this, our descendants can reply, ‘Look at this copy of the Lord’s altar that our ancestors made. It is not for burnt offerings or sacrifices; it is a reminder of the relationship both of us have with the Lord.’ 29 Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord or turn away from him by building our own altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings, or sacrifices. Only the altar of the Lord our God that stands in front of the Tabernacle may be used for that purpose.”
30 When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of Israel—heard this from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, they were satisfied. 31 Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, replied to them, “Today we know the Lord is among us because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord as we thought. Instead, you have rescued Israel from being destroyed by the hand of the Lord.”
32 Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the other leaders left the tribes of Reuben and Gad in Gilead and returned to the land of Canaan to tell the Israelites what had happened. 33 And all the Israelites were satisfied and praised God and spoke no more of war against Reuben and Gad.
34 The people of Reuben and Gad named the altar “Witness,” for they said, “It is a witness between us and them that the Lord is our God, too.”Joshua 22 NLT
Joshua 23 – Joshua’s Final Words to Israel
The years passed, and the Lord had given the people of Israel rest from all their enemies. Joshua, who was now very old, 2 called together all the elders, leaders, judges, and officers of Israel. He said to them, “I am now a very old man. 3 You have seen everything the Lord your God has done for you during my lifetime. The Lord your God has fought for you against your enemies. 4 I have allotted to you as your homeland all the land of the nations yet unconquered, as well as the land of those we have already conquered—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 This land will be yours, for the Lord your God will himself drive out all the people living there now. You will take possession of their land, just as the Lord your God promised you.
6 “So be very careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or to the left. 7 Make sure you do not associate with the other people still remaining in the land. Do not even mention the names of their gods, much less swear by them or serve them or worship them. 8 Rather, cling tightly to the Lord your God as you have done until now.
9 “For the Lord has driven out great and powerful nations for you, and no one has yet been able to defeat you. 10 Each one of you will put to flight a thousand of the enemy, for the Lord your God fights for you, just as he has promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.
12 “But if you turn away from him and cling to the customs of the survivors of these nations remaining among you, and if you intermarry with them, 13 then know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive them out of your land. Instead, they will be a snare and a trap to you, a whip for your backs and thorny brambles in your eyes, and you will vanish from this good land the Lord your God has given you.
14 “Soon I will die, going the way of everything on earth. Deep in your hearts you know that every promise of the Lord your God has come true. Not a single one has failed! 15 But as surely as the Lord your God has given you the good things he promised, he will also bring disaster on you if you disobey him. He will completely destroy you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you break the covenant of the Lord your God by worshiping and serving other gods, his anger will burn against you, and you will quickly vanish from the good land he has given you.”Joshua 23 NLT
Joshua 24 – The Lord’s Covenant Renewed
Then Joshua summoned all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, including their elders, leaders, judges, and officers. So they came and presented themselves to God.
2 Joshua said to the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River, and they worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your ancestor Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him into the land of Canaan. I gave him many descendants through his son Isaac. 4 To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir, while Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.
5 “Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I brought terrible plagues on Egypt; and afterward I brought you out as a free people. 6 But when your ancestors arrived at the Red Sea, the Egyptians chased after you with chariots and charioteers. 7 When your ancestors cried out to the Lord, I put darkness between you and the Egyptians. I brought the sea crashing down on the Egyptians, drowning them. With your very own eyes you saw what I did. Then you lived in the wilderness for many years.
8 “Finally, I brought you into the land of the Amorites on the east side of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I destroyed them before you. I gave you victory over them, and you took possession of their land. 9 Then Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, started a war against Israel. He summoned Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to him. Instead, I made Balaam bless you, and so I rescued you from Balak.
11 “When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. 12 And I sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. 13 I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.
14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
16 The people replied, “We would never abandon the Lord and serve other gods. 17 For the Lord our God is the one who rescued us and our ancestors from slavery in the land of Egypt. He performed mighty miracles before our very eyes. As we traveled through the wilderness among our enemies, he preserved us. 18 It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites and the other nations living here in the land. So we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.”
19 Then Joshua warned the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.”
21 But the people answered Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!”
22 “You are a witness to your own decision,” Joshua said. “You have chosen to serve the Lord.”
“Yes,” they replied, “we are witnesses to what we have said.”
23 “All right then,” Joshua said, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.”
25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day at Shechem, committing them to follow the decrees and regulations of the Lord. 26 Joshua recorded these things in the Book of God’s Instructions. As a reminder of their agreement, he took a huge stone and rolled it beneath the terebinth tree beside the Tabernacle of the Lord.
27 Joshua said to all the people, “This stone has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness to testify against you if you go back on your word to God.”
28 Then Joshua sent all the people away to their own homelands.
Leaders Buried in the Promised Land
29 After this, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. 30 They buried him in the land he had been allocated, at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
31 The people of Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him—those who had personally experienced all that the Lord had done for Israel.
32 The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought along with them when they left Egypt, were buried at Shechem, in the plot of land Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor for 100 pieces of silver. This land was located in the territory allotted to the descendants of Joseph.
33 Eleazar son of Aaron also died. He was buried in the hill country of Ephraim, in the town of Gibeah, which had been given to his son Phinehas.Joshua 24 NLT (bold emphasis mine)
Going through the Old Testament in semi-chronological order helps us understand not only God’s Story, but the story of humankind. How did we get from the Garden of Eden to today? Interestingly enough, the Bible answers that question exactly. So, what’s next for the Israelites?
As it turns out, the generation that heard Joshua’s final speech kept their part of the covenant with God. See, a covenant is an agreement between two parties, like a contract. In this case, the agreement was if the Israelites obeyed ALL of God’s commandments, He would make sure they were safe, secure, happy, prosperous and they would multiply and fill the earth. Sounds great and easy, right?
Unfortunately, once this generation dies, the future generations start mingling and mixing with the pagans that were not driven out. As we saw in the past few chapters, not all of the people who occupied Canaan were destroyed. As a result, the Hebrews started adapting their pagan worship practices and abandoning the covenant with the One True God. By the way, that’s exactly what the Catholic Church did in 300 AD.
We’ll see that in the upcoming books of Judges, Samuel and Kings. The Israelites faithfulness only lasts for a little while. They’ll fall in love with lust, wealth and power. The later generations will violate the solemn oath of their ancestors. They won’t care what God thinks. Consequently, it leads to disaster!
I was born Catholic to Catholic parents in a Catholic Island (Puerto Rico). However, being “born Catholic” is not like being born Jewish. Judaism is an ethnicity. Jews can trace their lineage back to Abraham. Catholicism is a religion. There’s a huge difference.
Jews who come to the realization that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, don’t become Christians. They consider themselves “believers” or Messianic Jews. They are still Jews, but “completed” Jews.
Because of Paul’s and Peter’s work in the Book of Acts, we Gentiles also have the opportunity to know Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. We, too, get a chance to have eternal life and get the gift of the Holy Spirit as our comforter and counselor while we are still here on this earth. We are citizens of Heaven!
A Clean and Pure Heart
Jesus can send the Holy Spirit only into a person whose heart is clean and pure. That means like Joshua, you need to say, “But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.“ Likewise, when we commit and surrender our lives to Jesus, we cannot worship or venerate anything or anyone else. GOD IS FIRST!
King David wrote in Psalm 139…
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;Psalm 139:23-24 NTL
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
We all need to pray that prayer every day! If you really mean it, God will keep His promises to you!
Jesus told us…
33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.Matthew 6:33 NLT
One thing’s for sure: GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISES! If you obey His commandments, you will be blessed, you will prosper, you will have everlasting life. If you disobey, you will suffer the consequences. Look back at what happened when the Israelites disobeyed! Look forward to what will happen to unbelievers in the Book of Revelation!
Jesus didn’t suffer torture and die so we could have religion! He died so He could have a Relationship with YOU!
It’s time to get right with God!
What are you waiting for?!
Believe. Repent. Be Baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit.
- Believe — have Faith — that Jesus is the Christ and He died taking your sins away forever and that He rose from the dead 3 days later.
- Repent of your sins — stop sinning! Do a complete 180 degree turn in your life and surrender your life to Him.
- Be Baptized by water baptism — show the world and yourself that you have died to your old life and are born again in Christ.
- Receive the Holy Spirit in your heart.
Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone Be the Glory!
Spoken Gospel: Joshua
Spoken Gospel: Judges — get a sneak peak at our next lesson…
Top image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org, (CC BY-SA 3.0)