Notes on Joshua Chapter 24:19-33

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

19 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he (is) an holy God; he (is) a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.

Surely they had seen this, with the death of 3,000 of the golden calf worshipers at Mt Sinai (Ex 32:28) and the 24,000 Israelites put to death because of Baal-Peor (Num. 25:9:). Besides, Deut. 13 lists the death penalty for those who sought to lead others into idolatry.

21 And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD. 22 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye (are) witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, (We are) witnesses.

Now they were making a covenant with God to serve Him only.

23 Now therefore put away, (said he), the strange gods which (are) among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel.

Incredible that even after all they had seen and promised, some of the people still had false gods in their possession. These “gods” didn’t have to be large and prominent. Some were small enough to fit inside a saddlebag (witness Rachel’s theft of Laban’s “teraphim” or “gods”, Gen. 31:30). The important thing is that Joshua, under the Lord’s supervision, knew that some of the people of Israel were still holding onto, if not outright worshiping, other gods besides the LORD, God of Israel. The sad thing is that the people never, corporately, renounced these false gods when this could have been the perfect time to do so.

24 And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey. 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.

No doubt that they meant it here. They also displayed faith, in that few of them had ever heard God speak. The exceptions would be those who were maybe teenagers when Israel first stopped at Mt Sinai (Ex 19:9, e.g.) and heard God speak from the mountain itself. Those who were 20 and older, at Kadesh, had all died in the wilderness except for Joshua and Caleb.

26 And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that (was) by the sanctuary of the LORD.

This was not an altar, but just a stone large enough, perhaps, for people to notice. Note that the stone was by (close to?) the sanctuary of the LORD so the people would have had opportunity to see it as they approached the sanctuary.

Also, for this particular stone, Joshua did not seem to write anything on it, as he had done before at Mt Ebal (Josh 8:32).

27 And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.

Israel had either built or established various witnesses in Canaan. The first were the two altars of stones, one in Jordan and the other near Gilgal (this one made of stones from Jordan’s riverbed) in chapter 4. They had built a heap of stones over Achan’s body and the rest of his estate as a witness to the consequences of disobedience (chapter 7). Joshua had built another altar of stones, plastered it or coated it with a white substance, then wrote on it a copy of the Law (chapter 8). The eastern tribes had built a large {“great”) altar to symbolize unity between the tribes on each side of the river (chapter 22).

Now Joshua had taken a “great stone” and called it a witness because it had heard “all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. This is a visual reminder: memories may fade over time, writings may and do disappear, but a “great stone” is something that would last a long time.

Perhaps Joshua was even making one last appeal to the people to put away the false gods in their midst? Idols were made of many things, but “wood and stone” seem to be two of the most often mentioned. The pagans were still making idols of wood and stone as late as Isaiah and Hezekiah’s time. Isaiah 43 and 44 describe the various reactions of a man who cut down a tree to make an idol out of it, and Hezekiah reminded the Lord that the gods of the various nations were only “wood and stone (Isa 37:19)”. So if the people were going to pray or serve gods of stone, Joshua said, “THIS stone heard everything!”

28 So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance. 29 And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, (being) an hundred and ten years old.

The same age as Joseph, father of Ephraim himself, when he died in Egypt (Gen 50:26).

30 And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathserah, which (is) in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash.

Joshua’s own inheritance was probably the last to be given. Like the best commanders, he made sure that everyone was taken care of and received what was theirs before taking anything for himself. Note also that he didn’t ask for anything prominent, just a portion of land in his own tribe.

“Warrior, rest; thy task is done.”

31 And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel.

All of that generation honored the covenant and commitment they made in Shechem. The elders that “overlived” Joshua may refer to those whose lives overlapped the time of conquest, then occupation, to the end of their earthly lives as well.

32 And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.

Jacob’s purchase of the field is recorded in Gen. 33:19. Joseph had requested that his brothers or their descendants would one day return to Canaan and requested they carry his “bones” or earthly body with them. They did so, as recorded here, and gave his body a final resting place in Shechem. Hebron, where Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and Leah were buried, was in Judah’s territory. Rachel, Joseph’s mother, was buried “ . . on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem Gen 35:19)”,

Thus, Ephraim showed honor to Joseph, father of Ephraim, and Joshua, the descendant, who had led all Israel to victory over the Canaanites and had strongly encouraged the nation to follow the God of Israel.

33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him in a hill (that pertained to) Phinehas his son, which was given him in mount Ephraim.

The Levites, descended from Kohath, had received four cities in Ephraim (Josh 21:20-22),and Shechem was one of these. Note that Eleazar, chief of the Levites (Num. 3:32), was buried in the same tribe’s territory where the sanctuary of the LORD had been erected.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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