Today we finish the book of Joshua. Our reading begins with the completion of the allotments of land as chapter 21 records the assignment of the Levitical cities. The Levites – called by God to serve Him as ministers – were to be spread throughout all of Israel. This is a fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy, as we have seen (Gen 49:5-7), but it is also a practical necessity for a nation whose life is to revolve around the worship of YHWH. The Levites were taken by God in order to redeem the firstborn sons of all of Israel (Num 3:12), which represent those saved from death at the first Passover (Ex 13:2). So the Levites are a reminder of God’s salvation for all of Israel. And the Levite’s inheritance is not the land, but God Himself, and were given the blessing of ministry. They would be spread throughout the land to be leaders in daily worship now that the Tabernacle would have a permanent home. The Levites were not given their cities as a tribal inheritance, but were given places to dwell in that belonged to the other tribes, as the people of God were commanded to provide for the ministers of God through these lands and the tithe. The Levites would even come to be known by the tribe to which they ministered (see Judges 17:7). The Levites are given 48 cities. Each of the other 12 tribes each give four cities to the Levites.
The chapter ends with a summary of what has happened in the book of Joshua. The Lord fulfilled His promises to physical Israel. They had the land, they had rest, and God defeated their enemies. 21:45 says plainly that God fulfilled every last promise. Everything that Israel now had was purely of God’s grace. They were now to respond in obedience.
Chapter 22 records the return of the two-and-a-half tribes to their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan. This is another indication that God had completely fulfilled His promises (see Num 32:20-22). Verse 4 again asserts that the promises of God have been fulfilled, and verse 5 that obedience is now required of Israel as a response. When they get back to their inheritance, they build an altar as a witness between them and the western tribes that they will always be included in the worship and life of Israel (22:27). The western tribes interpret it as an act of disobedience to God (v. 12 – see Lev 17:8-9). They remind their brothers of the sins at Peor (v. 17) and of Achan (v. 20) and how it brought guilt on all of Israel. Because a little leaven leavens the whole lump. But the eastern tribes know that God knows their hearts (v. 22).
Chapters 23 and 24 record Joshua’s farewell address to Israel. He begins by pointing them to the grace of God (23:3) and His faithfulness in keeping His promises (v. 4) and those He is yet to fulfill (vv. 4-5). As we have seen, the covenantal order of action is always God’s grace, God’s promises, then man’s obedience. And that is what Joshua calls the people to: obedience (vv. 6-8). Note in verse 1, though, that this is “a long time afterward” and in verse 4 that the nations have yet to be driven from the land. Joshua exhorts Israel to take the rest of the land (vv. 9-13). After telling the Israelites that he is about to die (v. 14), he warns them again that the cost of disobedience will be removal from the land that God has given them (v. 16).
Joshua then reviews briefly the story of God’s grace to Israel, beginning with the call of Abraham (24:3). The promise passed through Isaac to Jacob (v. 4). Then, in their captivity in Egypt, God provided Moses and Aaron as instruments of deliverance, and then Himself worked their salvation (vv. 5-7). God then provided for Israel by defeating the Amorites and the Moabites on the eastern side of the Jordan (vv. 8-10). He then provided the land on the western side (vv. 11-12). This was all of grace (v. 13). Now, Israel had to choose obedience to retain what God had given them (vv. 14-15). Israel commits to obedience (vv. 16-18). But notice what Joshua says in verse 19: they are not able to obey. In verse 23 we see that they are not whole-heartedly committed to God. Yet Israel insists that they will obey (v. 24). So Joshua renews the covenant (vv. 25-27), and Israel returns to their homes (v. 28).
God has fulfilled His promises. Everything that has happened thus far has been only by His grace. Under the Mosaic Covenant, keeping the blessings God bestowed required obedience to the Law (which nobody can keep – see 24:19). Beginning with the book of Judges, we will see how obedient Israel is to the Law. And the point is that they aren’t, and they can’t be. It will take another act of grace – the ultimate act of grace – for God’s people to fulfill the Law. And this ultimate act of grace is the focal point of the rest of the Old Testament history of redemption.
The book ends with the record of Joshua’s death. He is buried within his own inheritance (v. 30). We see that while he was alive, and while that second generation of the redeemed people of God remained, Israel kept faith with God (v. 31). In verse 32 we see that Joseph is buried in Shechem (which his father bought – see Gen 33:19), according to Joseph’s request back in Egypt (Gen 50:24-25).