"The Lord Fights for You" Joshua 23
Updated: Mar 26
Remember What the Lord Has Done (vv. 1-5)
Joshua’s Last Words (vv. 1-2)
Nothing is more depressing than an old unbeliever, who has nothing meaningful to share before he stands before the Lord to be condemned and sent to hell. But a saint’s parting words, especially a faithful old soldier of the cross who exhorts us in the Lord’s name, are an occasion for attention and rejoicing. Old age is coming to us, and by listening to last words, we are encouraged to seek and serve the Lord so that we are ready when our time comes to depart and be with Christ. These two chapters are the closing scene in Joshua’s public life. His words in chapter 23 were likely spoken at the same time as the covenant renewal in chapter 24. Joshua was very old, about 110. He called for the elders of the people, the heads of all the notable families, the judges, and the officers. God’s people did not then know it, but this is the last time they would have a national leader for four centuries. These words must guide the faithful remnant through centuries of compromise, foreign occupation, and other calamities. Joshua’s words will sustain us also, and we may be sure that they were recorded for our instruction and comfort (Rom. 15:4). Joshua’s parting words and blessing show us the way to die well – exhorting those around us to walk with the Lord and love him with all their hearts.
Success Because the Lord Fights for You (vv. 3-5)
Joshua gave them a one-point sermon – the Lord fights for you. All the victories you have enjoyed – the Lord has fought for you. The inheritance you now enjoy – the Lord has fought for you. A bright future if you will be faithful to the Lord and occupy the whole land he has promised – the Lord will fight for you. Joshua’s message is that the Lord is our strength. Negatively, we can do nothing without him. In ourselves, we have no wisdom to think and live righteously, no strength to fight and overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. Positively, if the Lord fights for us, the largest giants in our lives and in the world can be progressively defeated. The Lord will defeat them. He will defeat them as we use the weapons he has placed into our hands. Nothing can stand against his strength (Eph. 6:10-12). We know the Lord fights for us not because the battle is easy but because the Lord has bound himself to us in the covenant of grace. This is the same covenant and promises that his people of old possessed in figures and types pointing to Jesus Christ. Therefore, this is our history, and these are our promises!
The Lord Jesus is now exalted to the right hand of the Father, where he exercises universal dominion, an availing priesthood, and a powerful prophetic ministry. He has armed us with weapons to turn back the devil and overcome the world by faith (Rom. 16:20; 1 John 5:4). Therefore, we should believe that he alone is our strength (Phil. 4:13). This must control everything we think, the way we pray and live, and our expectations about life. Jesus Christ our strength must be our foundation for family life, personal piety, church witness and light, societal faithfulness, endurance of trials and persecution, youth and vigor, weakness and old age. We should undertake nothing without coming to him and asking his aid, for he fights for us. He is the captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). All the church’s victories in the past – over the Beast of Rome, Pelagianism, Romanism, and Atheism – are his pledge of victories in the present and future over Secularism, Technocracy, and Statism. He is our strength. O Christian, believe this and act upon it. Undertake nothing without calling upon him for help. Learn to seek him in all issues and needs, however small you think they are. He is our Shepherd, and sheep are only safe if they are following their Shepherd, hearing his voice, and submitting to his rod and staff.
Obey Him Unconditionally and Separate (vv. 6-10)
Be Courageous and Obey (v. 6)
All the commands that follow assume promise and grace. Courage is faith’s response to God’s promise to fight for us and never to leave us. “Out of weakness were made strong” (Heb. 11:34) does not describe men transforming themselves but faith laying hold of God’s promises. He says “keep and do” to emphasize that the Lord’s strength in us by his word and spirit bears fruit in obedience. It is not “courage to follow our dreams” but “courage to follow the Scriptures.” Joshua directs them back to God’s written words. Copies were precious and not widely available. Public readings were critical, as were memorization, meditation, and Levitical ministry. Our path is plain. Walk by God’s word. Do what he says and do not turn to the right or left – keep your eyes on the path of his word. For this generation to obey the Lord in this, it must put away its voluntary slavery to electronic devices that may be needed tools for some work, but they are pits of sin and waste to most.
Four No’s of Separation from the World (v. 7)
To direct our obedience to the Lord and define “not turning aside to the right or left,” he says, first, that we must not come among the unbelieving nations. This does not mean we have to leave the world and live in caves (1 Cor. 5:10). It is moral and spiritual separation that is required, “no fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness,” no partaking of them (2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:11; 1 John 1:6). Second, we must not make mentions of the names of their gods – the sins and deities of the world must not be mentioned. Closely related to this is not serving their gods or bowing to them – the idea is that we do not receive our emotional, mental, spiritual, religious, aesthetic, or cultic marching orders from the world. Separation must be fundamental and systematic. Not that we must refrain from taking a job for a computer company or eat at restaurants staffed by unbelievers or attend university classes taught by unbelievers – but we cannot imbibe their philosophies, worldviews, gods, and morals. We must come out from among them and live separated unto the Lord. This is exactly what Israel in the following generations did not do, and “evil company corrupts good morals.” We are not able to serve the Lord and be strong in him if the world rules our hearts and minds. We must be transformed and separate (Rom. 12:1-2), not unfriendly or arrogant but intentional and committed to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Hold Fast unto the Lord…He Fights for You (vv. 8-10)
But men and women have proven unable to do this in their own strength. It is the prevailing lament of every age that God’s people, the church, have grown worldly. Shall the world of sin and Satan finally prevail over God’s kingdom? He tells us here something vital about our being strong and overcoming the world. It is not more principles or mental tricks we need but more of the Lord. We must “cleave to the Lord.” It is the same word the Lord used to describe the husband’s commitment to his wife – stick closely to her (Gen. 2:24). Stick closely to me, he says. Do not let a day, half a day, an hour go by without drawing near to me. Ask me for strength constantly. I am not a clockmaker God but a covenant Lord who walks with you. And I will not give you victory unless you walk with me. That generation did so, and the Lord tells them – “See what happened! I have driven out before you nations far stronger than you are. One of you chased a thousand. Why? I fought for you.” This is a very personal view of God as our Father, of his Son as our Covenant, and the Spirit as our Helper and Strength. This relationship was known and encouraged in those days, but it was under types and shadows. Christ had not yet come, as he has now, so that we can see how much the Lord wants us to follow him and walk closely to him. If we hold fast to him, he will fight for us. Try him. “See if he will not pour down a blessing” (Mal. 3:10). He will prove himself just as faithful and near to us, for he has given us his beloved Son, and with his Son all else we need (Rom. 8:32; 2 Cor. 1:20; Eph. 1:3).
Love the Lord and Do Not Turn Back (vv. 11-13)
Be Careful to Love the Lord (v. 11)
To make his charge even more personal, Joshua tells them to be careful to love the Lord your God. “Take heed” is to guard to love the Lord. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind is the first and greatest commandment. How can we be careful to obey him without swerving unless we love him? How can we love him alone as he has revealed himself in his word unless we separate from the whole tribe of philosophers, idolaters, and cultists? We cannot. He will be the first and only love of our hearts, for he is jealous for us. This idea of guarded love, consecrated love is a thread that leads to Calvary, for there the Lord revealed his love for us (Rom. 5:8). The thread is interwoven in our new nature, for the Lord is jealous over us (2 Cor. 11:2). We must not provoke him, for we are not stronger than he is (1 Cor. 10:22). We must guard our hearts against everything that diminishes love for him, obscures the glory of his love for us, or inclines us to love the world of sin and the flesh. We shall follow our loves, love our loves, bow before them, and cling to them. The Lord has taken us to be his chosen people and special possession because he loves us and invites us to walk with him in a relationship of love and obedience – just like our Lord Jesus walked before his Father (John 15:9-11). If we would be courageous in following the Lord and faithful in obeying him, it must be in the final analysis for the simple reason that we love him. This is the work of the Spirit in us (Rom. 5:5). It is the seal that we are the Lord’s – we love him and desire to please him.
If You Turn from Him…Disaster (vv. 12-13)
But our flesh, the old sin nature in us, while crucified with Christ, is like a lazy, stubborn mule. It is always trying to bring us back into bondage. And thus, we need warnings. Some do not like the warnings, for they assume that the Lord is simply trying to scare us. Since we cannot lose our salvation, we need not get so worked up about religious matters. But if serving the Lord is worth anything, it is worthy of everything. Joshua therefore warned them, as we are warned to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). If you turn back from the Lord, if you stop loving him and follow the world, the Lord will not fight for you any longer. If you start dating and marrying unbelievers, you are like Samson allowing Delilah to cut off his hair. The Lord will allow sin and the world to be snares to your soul and thorns in your eyes, until you perish. Other nations could freely enter Israel and become proselytes, but they had to leave their false philosophies and idols at the border. We must heed this warning. When we find our hearts growing cold to the Lord and friendly to the world, when we no longer blush at sin or tremble before the Lord’s word, we are in grave danger. If we fall asleep, should the Lord come, he will appoint our portion with the hypocrites (Matt. 24:51). Therefore, let us “beat our flesh” (1 Cor. 9:27) and keep drawing near to the Lord (Heb. 10:22), so that we may not be cast off but obtain the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls (1 Pet. 1:9). We belong to Christ if we hold firmly to the end and do not draw back from him (Heb. 3:6; 10:39).
God Is Faithful…Do Not Break Covenant with Him (vv. 14-16)
The Lord Will Never Fail to Keep Even One Promise (v. 14)
We might be tempted to think that Old Testament religion was external, ethnic, and ritualistic, concerned more with full bellies than with godliness, but this was no truer then than now (John 4:24-25). Almost with his dying breath, Joshua tells the people that they know in their “heart and soul” that the Lord is faithful. All their victories, their rest in Canaan, and the peace they enjoyed were on account of his faithfulness. Nothing he had promised had failed to come to pass. Nothing. And it is the same with us. Will our obedience be rewarded? The faith that overcomes the world must in the process resist the world, be ridiculed by the world, and face some uncomfortable moments. Is it worth the sacrifice? In the light of God’s love in Christ, Christ’s love on Calvary (John 13:1), and the love we shall enjoy in heaven, we have never made a sacrifice. The Lord will keep his word. Trust him.
Parents will pass through some hard battles with their children – will God be their God? Is the Christian education, the discipline, the long conversations and explanations for our separation from the world worth the effort? Are the pleasures of sin worth forsaking for the uncertainties of heaven? Is self-denial really virtuous – or would we not be healthier and happier to gratify our desires? Should we not simply embrace the world rather than trying to convert it? Faith has an answer to each of these. God is faithful. Trust him. Remember his faithfulness. Know the histories in the Bible, in the lives of God’s people since our Lord ascended to heaven. Look back over your own history, child of God. You will see many instances of his faithfulness. We must rehearse them constantly, venerate the Lord for keeping his word to us, and expect him to keep his promises in the future. Do you doubt it? Look at the cross. There, the precious blood of the Word made flesh was shed to seal every promise of God (2 Cor. 1:20).
No Future Unless Keep Covenant with the Lord (vv. 15-16)
Hearing about God’s faithfulness is a delight, but we are sluggish and must see this about ourselves. Otherwise, we shall not appreciate the function of the Lord’s honest warnings to us. It has been said we would prefer for everything in our religion to be sweetness and light – nothing too hard, too serious, or too confrontational. Speak all you want about how bad the world is, but go easy upon God’s professing friends. Have you noticed that the Lord takes the opposite view? None of the warnings we find here were ever given to the Canaanites. They had the light of nature, some dim remnants of fragmentary testimony from Abraham, Lot, and Melchizedek, but that is all. The Lord righteously destroyed them all. He handles his children differently. He warns them quite seriously. If you transgress my covenant, if you turn away from me and serve other gods, you will ignite my anger against you. As I have watched over you to do you good, so I will bring upon you evil (v. 15). It is terrible, but what is the alternative? Canaanite religion. Superstition, impurity, hell. What is the alternative today? Americanism, statism, cheap pleasures, easy credit, then an eternity in hell to pay the bill for trying to buy heaven on earth with the coinage of sin and unbelief.
I know we do not like to put it in these terms. I like the warnings no better than you, but I have come to see how much I need them. Why did our Lord tell the parable about the five foolish virgins who went to sleep? Why did he rebuke his disciples so strongly for sleeping in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:41)? Why did he spend so many nights praying after days of constant labor? He took the warnings seriously. He learned obedience. He knew that presumption is fatal to faith. And this is the reason he instructed his apostles to fill their preaching and writing with warnings – warnings against unbelief, warnings to persevere in holding fast to Christ, and warnings against worldliness. It is the same in both Testaments. “For if we go on sinfully willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10:26). “He that despises Moses’ law died without mercy under the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment do you suppose he will be thought worthy who has trodden the Son of God underfoot, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing” (Heb. 10:28-29). Faith receives these warnings as so many stripes of discipline from a loving and very concerned Father. Faith holds and caresses the hand that strikes, embraces the love that corrects. “We are not of those who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39). And by God’s grace, we shall be. We shall heed his warnings, hold fast to his covenant, plug our ears to the world, deny our fleshly desires, and continue seeking Jesus Christ as our life.