Here, I. Joshua directs them what to do, that they might persevere in religion, Josh. 23:11. Would we cleave to the Lord, and not forsake him, 1. We must always stand upon our guard, for many a precious soul is lost and ruined through carelessness: “Take heed therefore, take good heed to yourselves, to your souls (so the word is), that the inward man be kept clean from the pollutions of sin, and closely employed in the service of God.” God has given us precious souls with this charge, “Take good heed to them, keep them with all diligence, above all keepings.” 2. What we do in religion we must do from a principle of love, not by constraint or from a slavish fear of God, but of choice and with delight. “Lord the Lord your God, and you will not leave him.”
II. He urges God’s fidelity to them as an argument why they should be faithful to him (Josh. 23:14): “I am going the way of all the earth, I am old and dying.” To die is to go a journey, a journey to our long home; it is the way of all the earth, the way that all mankind must go, sooner or later. Joshua himself, though so great and good a man, and one that could so ill be spared, cannot be exempted from this common lot. He takes notice of it here that they might look upon these as his dying words, and regard them accordingly. Or thus: “I am dying, and leaving you. Me you have not always; but if you cleave to the Lord he will never leave you.” Or thus, “Now that I am near my end it is proper to look back upon the years that are past; and, in the review, I find, and you yourselves know it in all your hearts and in all your souls, by a full conviction on the clearest evidence, and the thing has made an impression upon you”--(that knowledge does us good which is seated, not in the head only, but in the heart and soul, and with which we are duly affected)--“you know that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord spoke concerning you” (and he spoke a great many); see Josh. 21:45. God had promised them victory, rest, plenty, his tabernacle among them, etc., and not one thing had failed of all he had promised. “Now,” said he, “has God been thus true to you? Be not you false to him.” It is the apostle’s argument for perseverance (Heb. 10:23), He is faithful that has promised.
III. He gives them fair warning what would be the fatal consequences of apostasy (Josh. 23:12, 13, 15, 16): “If you go back, know for a certainty it will be your ruin.” Observe,
1. How he describes the apostasy which he warns them against. The steps of it would be (Josh. 23:12) growing intimate with idolaters, who would craftily wheedle them, and insinuate themselves into their acquaintance, now that they had become lords of the country, to serve their own ends. The next step would be intermarrying with them, drawn to it by their artifices, who would be glad to bestow their children upon these wealthy Israelites. And the consequence of that would be (Josh. 23:16) serving other gods (which were pretended to be the ancient deities of the country) and bowing down to them. Thus the way of sin is down-hill, and those who have fellowship with sinners cannot avoid having fellowship with sin. This he represents, (1.) As a base and shameful desertion; “it is going back from what you have so well begun,” Josh. 23:12. (2.) As a most perfidious breach of promise (Josh. 23:16): “It is a transgression of the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and which you yourselves set your hand to.” Other sins were transgressions of the law God commanded them, but this was a transgression of the covenant he commanded them, and amounted to a breach of the relation between God and them and a forfeiture of all the benefits of the covenant.
2. How he describes the destruction which he warns them of. He tells them, (1.) That these remainders of the Canaanites, if they should harbour them, and indulge them, and join in affinity with them, would be snares and traps to them, both to draw them to sin (not only to idolatry, but to all immoralities, which would be the ruin, not only of their virtue, but of their wisdom and sense, their spirit and honour), and also to draw them into foolish bargains, unprofitable projects, and all manner of inconveniences; and having thus by underhand practices decoyed them into one mischief or other, so as to gain advantages against them, they would then act more openly, and be scourges in their sides and thorns in their eyes, would perhaps kill or drive away their cattle, burn or steal their corn, alarm or plunder their houses, and would be all ways possible be vexatious to them; for, whatever pretences of friendship they might make, a Canaanite, unless proselyted to the faith and worship of the true God, would in every age hate the very name and sight of an Israelite. See how the punishment would be made to answer the sin, nay, how the sin itself would be the punishment. (2.) That the anger of the Lord would be kindled against them. Their making leagues with the Canaanites would not only give those idolaters the opportunity of doing them a mischief, and be the fostering of snakes in their bosoms, but it would likewise provoke God to become their enemy, and would kindle the fire of his displeasure against them. (3.) That all the threatenings of the word would be fulfilled, as the promise had been, for the God of eternal truth is faithful to both (Josh. 23:15): “As all good things have come upon you according to the promise, so long as you have kept close to God, so all evil things will come upon you according to the threatening, if you forsake him.” Moses had set before them good and evil; they had experienced the good, and were now in the enjoyment of it, and the evil would as certainly come if they were disobedient. As God’s promises are not a fool’s paradise, so his threatenings are not bugbears. (4.) That it would end in the utter ruin of their church and nation, as Moses had foretold. This is three times mentioned here. Your enemies will vex you until you perish from off this good land, Josh. 23:13. Again, “God will plague you until he have destroyed you from off this good land, Josh. 23:15. Heaven and earth will concur to root you out, so that (Josh. 23:16) you shall perish from off the good land.” It will aggravate their perdition that the land from which they shall perish is a good land, and a land which God himself had given them, and which therefore he would have secured to them if they by their wickedness had not thrown themselves out of it. Thus the goodness of the heavenly Canaan, and the free and sure grant God has made of it, will aggravate the misery of those that shall for ever be shut out and perish from it. Nothing will make them see how wretched they are so much as to see how happy they might have been. Joshua thus sets before them the fatal consequences of their apostasy, that, knowing the terror of the Lord, they might be persuaded with purpose of heart to cleave to him.