Summary: Joshua’s final words to the nation of Israel is don’t allow the world around them to infiltrate their lives but cling to the Lord. They are sound words for Christians today too.
These two chapters can be summed up very simply: God won a great victory for you - a victory you could never have won on your own - so stick with the Lord and you will be continually blessed. But if you abandon Him you leave the source of blessing and life will be hard.
Chapters 23 and 24 contain some of the most famous words uttered in the Bible - words that create a dividing point in the lives of the nation of Israel and in ours as well.
I always find it instructive to look at people’s last words. You know, things like: "boulder, what boulder?" or "doesn’t look like its gone bad to me." Some famous last words:
BT Barnum: "how were the circus receipts at Madison Square Garden?"
Billie the Kid: "Who is it?" (Pat Garret in a dark room with a gun)
Thomas Edison: "It’s very beautiful over there."
Joshua, at 110, wasn’t thinking about box office receipts, but of his people when he uttered his last recorded words. He knew the future that awaited them if they failed to follow the Lord and his last statements are a warning and a challenge that we should heed as well. As we have studied Joshua, this section could be titled: How to Secure Long Term Victory.
Chapter 23 Verses 1 - 2
25 years have passed since the end of the conquest for Canaan. He knows his time has come so he gathers representatives of the people to pass on his final wisdom and challenge.
Verses 3 - 5
God made the promise, God performed the promise. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that Joshua must continually mention this? I think the reason is that our human nature naturally wants to take credit for things. And the further away we are from actually being in the overwhelming situation where God comes through, the more selective our memory becomes. The less we remember of God winning battles for us in the past the less likely we are to look to Him winning victory for us in the future.
Why is this important? Because if we don’t seek God’s promise and God performing the promise then the forces against us will continually push back until they overcome us.
Verses 6 - 13
Do you know what osmosis is? I’m going to give you a somewhat technical definition and then explain how it operates here:
Osmosis: "passage of a solvent, such as water, from the dilute side to the concentrated side of a membrane, filter, or other semi permeable border. Without added pressure, a solution divided in this way will undergo osmosis, in order to equalize the concentration of the two sides"
Osmosis is all about reducing differences. If you put a cucumber in a salt solution the water (lower concentration) in the cucumber will move out into the salt solution (higher concentration) and the cucumber will turn into a pickle.
Joshua is basically saying that Israel is in grave danger of becoming a pickle if it doesn’t cling to the Lord. You see, pressure against the osmosis is the only thing that keeps it from happening. That pressure is the presence of God in their lives, their love for Him, their loyalty to him.
Unfortunately we see the effects of spiritual osmosis in our society all around us. There is a great tendency to equal everything out. If you stick to the Lord then your life will reflect a very different character (concentration) than the world around you. The world will want to equalize that and the only way to do it is to force you to compromise your values - to allow the world’s values to mix with God’s. Why do you think we have so many "religions" that are a mixture of supposedly godly values and worldly values?
That’s why Joshua says in verse 7 not to "mix" with the cultures around them. He even tells them not to make mention of the names of their gods. It’s a process - they start talking about them and what they are like and their benefits, then they do some experiments of seeing if that god can do anything for them and sooner or later they are bowing before them and not Yahweh.
This happens to us as well. We see what the god Mammon is doing for other people. We do some experiments into serving money as a god and sooner or later we are serving it and not the Lord.
In verse 8 Joshua says you have to "cling" to the Lord. It’s not that we’re hanging off a cliff and God is reaching down and if we let go we’re going to fall (though I suppose there is some truth to that). It’s more like we’re holding hands with our daddy as we’re walking along at the fair. There are a lot of dangerous things going on around us - dangerous rides, dangerous people. We’re holding on tight because we’ll be safe but the lights and sounds begin to draw us and our grip begins to falter and sooner or later we are dropping that hand and going off on our own.