Scripture: “Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the LORD your God just as you have done to this day. For the LORD has driven out before you great and strong nations.” Joshua 23:6-9a ESV
Observation: Chapter 23 comprises Joshua’s farewell address to Israel’s leaders, knowing his end is drawing near. In the opening line, the author tells us that a long time has passed, most likely dating back to when the nine and a half tribes settled in Canaan (which would date to Caleb requesting his promised track of land at age 85). Based on this assumption, scholars surmise about a quarter of a century has passed from the historical narrative of chapter 22 to chapter 23, given that Joshua, a contemporary of Caleb, would soon pass away at age 110 (24:29).
After the introduction, as theologian Donald Madvig summarizes, the author quickly moves to the point of the chapter: “to be faithful to the Lord and to obey his law. This would be the secret of victory for Israel over the pockets of resistance that remained” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Joshua). Hence, Joshua presents a three-fold charge to the elders to be “very strong” and:
- Obey all God’s laws (verse 6 above), echoing Yahweh’s command to him at the beginning of the conquest (1:7).
- Avoid mixing, mentioning, swearing, and bowing down—describing the slippery slope to adopting the idolatrous worship practices of their pagan neighbors (verse 7 above).
- Cling to the Lord just as they have done up to this point in the conquest (verse 8 above).
Joshua then reminds Israel that Yahweh drove the “great and strong nations” out before them (verse 9a above). And, likely reflecting on Israel’s history of wanderlust, Joshua emplores them to nurture their love for the Lord (v.11). Otherwise, Israel will “cling” to the remnant of these pagan nations (v.12), whom Yahweh will permit to persecute them (v.13). The remainder of the chapter reiterates the consequences of unfaithfulness.
Takeaway: The Hebrew word dāḇaq, translated as cling above, appears four times in Deuteronomy (4:4, 10:20. 11:22, and 13:4) to describe Israel’s close relationship with Yahweh. It also appears in our Creation Story about the oneness of a husband and wife (Genesis 2:24). Thus, to cling to God, we must pursue an intimate connection with him, borne in faith and obedience. Otherwise, because we cannot serve two masters, we will cling to sin’s allure, ultimately leading us to sorrow and regret. Hence, we must seek intimacy with our Lord and Savior first and foremost. Anything less, and we will squeeze the life out of our relationships with others who will never meet our hearts’ deepest longings. But something much better awaits us when we pursue the Lover of our souls who takes delight in us (Zephaniah 3:17) and has given his all for us (Hebrews 12:2).
Then how do we faithfully foster an intimate relationship with our Lord? Follow Joshua’s three-point strategy:
- Obey his commands by seeking profound knowledge of and love for our perfect Lover through hearing, reading, and reflecting on his Word and putting what we learn into practice by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
- Avoid “mixing” with a self-indulgent, idolatrous culture that seeks fleeting pleasures.
- Cling to him as our only hope for the resurrection of the dead to soul-satisfying everlasting life with him.
So cling to the Lover of our souls, for he will drive out the remnants of evil before us.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your incarnate Son who perfectly obeyed and loved you, and we are deeply grateful for your perfect love for us. So would you please help us to cooperate with your Holy Spirit to walk by faith, obey your commands, avoid sin’s snares, and cling to you, the Lover of our souls? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling