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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 24

 

 

Verse 1

1.And Joshua gathered all the tribes, etc He now, in my opinion, explains more fully what he before related more briefly. For it would not have been suitable to bring out the people twice to a strange place for the same cause. Therefore by the repetition the course of the narrative is continued. And he now states what he had not formerly observed, that they were all standing before the Lord, an expression which designates the more sacred dignity and solemnity of the meeting. I have accordingly introduced the expletive particle Therefore, to indicate that the narrative which had been begun now proceeds. For there cannot be a doubt that Joshua, in a regular and solemn manner, invoked the name of Jehovah, and, as in his presence, addressed the people, so that each might consider for himself that God was presiding over all the things which were done, and that they were not there engaged in a private business, but confirming a sacred and inviolable compact with God himself. We may add, as is shortly afterwards observed, that there was his sanctuary. Hence it is probable that the ark of the covenant was conveyed thither, not with the view of changing its place, but that in so serious an action they might sist themselves before the earthly tribunal of God. (196) For there was no religious obligation forbidding the ark to be moved, and the situation of Sichem was not far distant.


Verse 2

2.Your fathers dwelt on the other side, etc He begins his address by referring to their gratuitous adoption by which God had anticipated any application on their part, so that they could not boast of any peculiar excellence or merit. For God had bound them to himself by a closer tie, having, while they were no better than others, gathered them together to be his peculiar people, from no respect to anything but his mere good pleasure. Moreover, to make it clearly appear that there was nothing in which they could glory, he leads them back to their origin, and reminds them how their fathers had dwelt in Chaldea, worshipping idols in common with others, and differing in nothing from the great body of their countrymen. Hence it is inferred that Abraham, when he was plunged in idolatry, was raised up, as it were, from the lowest deep.

The Jews, indeed, to give a false dignity to their race, fabulously relate that Abraham became an exile from his country because he refused to acknowledge the Chaldean fire as God. (197) But if we attend to the words of the inspired writer, we shall see that he is no more exempted from the guilt of the popular idolatry than Terah and Nachor. For why is it said that the fathers of the people served strange gods, and that Abraham was rescued from the country, but just to show how the free mercy of God was displayed in their very origin? Had Abraham been unlike the rest of his countrymen, his own piety would distinguish him. The opposite, however, is expressly mentioned to show that he had no peculiar excellence of his own which could diminish the grace bestowed upon him, and that therefore his posterity behooved to acknowledge that when he was lost, he was raised up from death unto life.

It seems almost an incredible and monstrous thing, that while Noah was yet alive, idolatry had not only spread everywhere over the world, but even penetrated into the family of Shem, in which at least, a purer religion ought to have flourished. How insane and indomitable human infatuation is in this respect, is proved by the fact that the holy Patriarch, on whom the divine blessing had been specially bestowed, was unable to curb his posterity, and prevent them from abandoning the true God, and prostituting themselves to superstition.


Verse 3

3.And I took your father Abraham, etc This expression gives additional confirmation to what I lately showed, that Abraham did not emerge from profound ignorance and the abyss of error by his own virtue, but was drawn out by the hand of God. For it is not said that he sought God of his own accord, but that he was taken by God and transported elsewhere. Joshua then enlarges on the divine kindness in miraculously preserving Abraham safe during his long pilgrimage. What follows, however, begets some doubt, namely, that God multiplied the seed of Abraham, and yet gave him only Isaac, because no mention is made of any but him. But this comparison illustrates the singular grace of God towards them in that, while the offspring of Abraham was otherwise numerous, their ancestor alone held the place of lawful heir. In the same sense it is immediately added, that while Esau and Jacob were brothers and twins, one of the two was retained and the other passed over. We see, therefore, why as well in the case of Ishmael and his brother as in that of Esau, he loudly extols the divine mercy and goodness towards Jacob, just as if he were saying, that his race did not excel others in any respect except in that of being specially selected by God.


Verse 4

4.But Jacob and his children went down, etc After mentioning the rejection of Esau, he proceeds to state how Jacob went down into Egypt, and though he confines himself to a single expression, it is one which indicates the large and exuberant and clear manifestation of the paternal favor of God. It cannot be doubted, that although the sacred historian does not speak in lofty terms of each miracle performed, Joshua gave the people such a summary exposition of their deliverance as might suffice. First, he points to the miracles performed in Egypt; next, he celebrates the passage of the Red Sea, where God gave them the aid of his inestimable power; and thirdly, he reminds them of the period during which they wandered in the desert.


Verse 8

8.And I brought you into the land, etc He at length begins to discourse of the victories which opened a way for the occupation of their settlements. For although the country beyond the Jordan had not been promised as part of the inheritance, yet, as God, by his decree, joined it to the land of Canaan as a cumulative expression of his bounty, Joshua, not without cause, connects it with the other in commending the divine liberality towards the people, and declares, not merely that trusting to divine aid, they had proved superior in arms and strength, but had also been protected from the fatal snares which Balak had laid for them. For although the impostor Balaam was not able to effect anything by his curses and imprecations, it was, however, very profitable to observe the admirable power of God displayed in defeating his malice. For it was just as if he had come to close quarters, and warred with everything that could injure them.

The more firmly to persuade them that they had overcome not merely by the guidance of God, but solely by his power, he repeats what we read in the books of Moses, (Deuteronomy 7:20) that hornets were sent to rout the enemy without human hand. This was a more striking miracle than if they had been routed, put to flight, and scattered in any other way. For those who, contrary to expectation, gain a victory without any difficulty, although they confess that the prosperous issue of the war is the gift of God, immediately allow themselves to become blinded by pride, and transfer the praise to their own wisdom, activity, and valor. But when the thing is effected by hornets, the divine agency is indubitably asserted. Accordingly, the conclusion is, that the people did not acquire the land by their own sword or bow, a conclusion repeated in Psalms 44:3, and apparently borrowed from the passage here. Lastly, after reminding them that they ate the fruits provided by other men’s labors, he exhorts them to love God as his beneficence deserves.


Verse 15

15.And if it seem evil unto you, etc It seems here as if Joshua were paying little regard to what becomes an honest and right-hearted leader. If the people had forsaken God and gone after idols, it was his duty to inflict punishment on their impious and abominable revolt. But now, by giving them the option to serve God or not, just as they choose, he loosens the reins, and gives them license to rush audaciously into sin. What follows is still more absurd, when he tells them that they cannot serve the Lord, as if he were actually desirous of set purpose to impel them to shake off the yoke. But there is no doubt that his tongue was guided by the inspiration of the Spirit, in stirring up and disclosing their feelings. For when the Lord brings men under his authority, they are usually willing enough to profess zeal for piety, though they instantly fall away from it. Thus they build without a foundation. This happens because they neither distrust their own weakness so much as they ought, nor consider how difficult it is to bind themselves wholly to the Lord. There is need, therefore, of serious examination, lest we be carried aloft by some giddy movement, and so fail of success in our very first attempts. (201) With this design, Joshua, by way of probation, emancipates the Jews, making them, as it were, their own masters, and free to choose what God they are willing to serve, not with the view of withdrawing them from the true religion, as they were already too much inclined to do, but to prevent them from making inconsiderate promises, which they would shortly after violate. For the real object of Joshua was, as we shall see, to renew and confirm the covenant which had already been made with God. Not without cause, therefore, does he give them freedom of choice, that they may not afterwards pretend to have been under compulsion, when they bound themselves by their own consent. Meanwhile, to impress them with a feeling of shame, he declares that he and his house will persevere in the worship of God.


Verse 16

16.And the people answered and said, etc Here we see he had no reason to repent of the option given, when the people, not swearing in the words of another, nor obsequiously submitting to extraneous dictation, declare that it would be an impious thing to revolt from God. And thus it tends, in no small degree, to confirm the covenant, when the people voluntarily lay the law upon themselves. The substance of the answer is, that since the Lord has, by a wonderful redemption, purchased them for himself as a peculiar people, has constantly lent them his aid, and shown that he is among them as their God, it would be detestable ingratitude to reject him and revolt to other gods.


Verse 19

19.And Joshua said unto the people, etc Here Joshua seems to act altogether absurdly in crushing the prompt and alert zeal of the people, by suggesting ground of alarm. For to what end does he insist that they cannot serve the Lord, unless it be to make them, from a sense of their utter powerlessness, to give themselves up to despair, and thus necessarily become estranged from the fear of God. It was necessary, however, to employ this harsh mode of obtestation, in order to rouse a sluggish people, rendered more lethargic by security. And we see that the expedient did not fail to obtain, at least, a momentary success. For they neither despond nor become more slothful, but, surmounting the obstacle, answer intrepidly that they will be constant in the performance of duty.

In short, Joshua does not deter them from serving God, but only explains how refractory and disobedient they are, in order that they may learn to change their temper. So Moses, in his song, (Deuteronomy 32:0) when he seems to make a divorce between God and the people, does nothing else than prick and whet them, that they may hasten to change for the better. Joshua, indeed, argues absolutely from the nature of God; but what he specially aims at is the perverse behavior and untamed obstinacy of the people. He declares that Jehovah is a holy and a jealous God. This, certainly, should not by any means prevent men from worshipping him; but it follows from it that impure, wicked, and profane despisers, who have no religion, provoke his anger, and can have no intercourse with him, for they will feel him to be implacable. And when it is said that he will not spare their wickedness, no general rule is laid down, but the discourse is directed, as often elsewhere, against their disobedient temper. It does not refer to faults in general, or to special faults, but is confined to gross denial of God, as the next verse demonstrates. The people, accordingly, answer the more readily, (202) that they will serve the Lord.


Verse 22

22.And Joshua said unto the people, etc We now understand what the object was at which Joshua had hitherto aimed. It was not to terrify the people and make them fall away from their religion, but to make the obligation more sacred by their having of their own accord chosen his government, and betaken themselves to his guidance, that they might live under his protection. They acknowledge, therefore, that their own conscience will accuse them, and hold them guilty of perfidy, if they prove unfaithful. (203) But although they were not insincere in declaring that they would be witnesses to their own condemnation, still how easily the remembrance of this promise faded away, is obvious from the Book of Judges. For when the more aged among them had died, they quickly turned aside to various superstitions. By this example we are taught how multifarious are the fallacies which occupy the senses of men, and how tortuous the recesses in which they hide their hypocrisy and folly, while they deceive themselves by vain confidence. (204)


Verse 23

23.Now, therefore, put away the strange gods, etc How can it be that those who were lately such stern avengers of superstition, have themselves given admission to idols? Yet the words expressly enjoin that they are to put away strange gods from the midst of them. If we interpret that their own houses were still polluted by idols, we may see, as in a bright mirror, how complacently the greater part of mankind can indulge in vices which they prosecute with inexorable severity in others. But, as I do not think it probable that they dared, after the execution of Achan, to pollute themselves with manifest sacrilege, I am inclined to think that reference is made not to their practice but to their inclinations, and that they are told to put all ideas of false gods far away from them. For he had previously exhorted them in this same chapter to take away the gods whom their fathers had served beyond the river and in Egypt. But nobody will suppose that the idols of Chaldea were treasured up in their repositories, or that they had brought impure deities with them from Egypt, to be a cause of hostility between God and themselves. The meaning, therefore, simply is, that they are to renounce all idols, and clear themselves of all profanity, in order that they may purely worship God alone. (205) This seems to be the purport of the clause, incline your heart unto the Lord, which may be taken as equivalent to, rest in him, and so give up your heart to the love of him, as to delight and be contented only with him.


Verse 25

25.So Joshua made a covenant, etc This passage demonstrates the end for which the meeting had been called, namely, to bind the people more completely and more solemnly to God, by the renewal of the covenant. Therefore, in this agreement, Joshua acted as if he had been appointed on the part of God to receive in his name the homage and obedience promised by the people. It is accordingly added, exegetically, in the second clause, that he set before them precept and judgment. For the meaning is corrupted and wrested by some expositors, who explain it is referring to some new speech of Joshua, whereas it ought properly to be understood of the Law of Moses, as if it had been said that Joshua made no other paction than that they should remain steadfast in observing the Law, and that no other heads of the covenant were brought forward; they were only confirmed in that doctrine which they had formerly embraced and professed. In the same way, Malachi, to keep them under the yoke of God, demands nothing more than that they should remember the Law of Moses. (Malachi 4:4)


Verse 26

26.And Joshua wrote these words, etc Understand that authentic volume which was kept near the ark of the covenant, as if it contained public records deposited for perpetual remembrance. And there is no doubt that when the Law was read, the promulgation of this covenant was also added. But as it often happens, that that which is written remains concealed in unopened books, (208) another aid is given to the memory, one which should always be exposed to the eye, namely, the stone under the ark, near the sanctuary. Not that the perpetual station of the ark was there, but because it had been placed there, in order that they might appear in the presence of God. Therefore, as often as they came into his presence, the testimony or memorial of the covenant which had been struck was in their view, that they might be the better kept in the faith.

Joshua’s expression, that the stone heard the words, is indeed hyperbolical, but is not inapt to express the efficacy and power of the divine word, as if it had been said that it pierces inanimate rocks and stones; so that if men are deaf, their condemnation is echoed in all the elements. To lie is here used, as it frequently is elsewhere, for acting cunningly and deceitfully, for frustrating and violating a promise that has been given. Who would not suppose that a covenant so well established would be firm and sacred to posterity for many ages? But all that Joshua gained by his very great anxiety was to secure its rigorous observance for a few years.


Verse 29

29.And it came to pass after these things, etc The honor of sepulture was a mark of reverence, which of itself bore testimony to the affectionate regard of the people. But neither this reverence nor affection was deeply rooted. The title by which Joshua is distinguished after his death, when he is called the servant of the Lord, took away all excuse from those miserable and abandoned men who shortly after spurned the Lord, who had worked wonders among them. Accordingly, attention is indirectly drawn to their inconstancy, when it is said that they served the Lord while Joshua survived, and till the more aged had died out. For there is a tacit antithesis, implying lapse and alienation, when they were suddenly seized with a forgetfulness of the Divine favors. It is not strange, therefore, if, in the present day also, when God furnishes any of his servants with distinguished and excellent gifts, their authority protects and preserves the order and state of the Church; but when they are dead, sad havoc instantly commences, and hidden impiety breaks forth with unbridled license. (209)


Verse 32

32.And the bones of Joseph, etc The time when the bones of Joseph were buried is not mentioned; but it is easy to infer that the Israelites had performed this duty after they obtained a peaceful habitation in the city of Shechem. For although he had not designated a particular place for a sepulchre, they thought it a mark of respect to deposit his bones in the field which Jacob had purchased. It may be, however, that this is expressed as a censure on the sluggishness of the people, to which it was owing, that Joseph could not be buried with Abraham, that locality being still in the power of the enemy. Stephen (Acts 7:0) mentions the bones of the twelve patriarchs, and it is not impossible that the other tribes, from feelings of emulation, gathered together the ashes of their progenitors. It is there said that the field was purchased by Abraham; but obviously an error in the name has crept in. With regard to sepulture, we must hold in general, that the very frequent mention of it in Scripture is owing to its being a symbol of the future Resurrection.

END OF THE COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK
OF JOSHUA.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 24:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/joshua-24.html. 1840-57.

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