THEME: Loving God and His People
This week’s lessons recount Joshua’s charge to Israel’s leaders, which teaches us how we should respond to God in light of what he has done for us in the past, as well as what he promises to do in the future.
Yesterday we looked at the first obligation in response to God’s past actions. The second obligation of the people is in verse 11, where Joshua says, “So be very careful to love the Lord your God.” That hasn’t been emphasized much until now. The need for obedience has been there all along; but now Joshua is stressing, as he talks to them, that they really must love God. The clue to interpreting what Joshua means here in chapter 23 is the way he talks about love in chapter 22. It’s interesting that each of these chapters throws light on the other.
In chapter 22, the way Joshua talks about loving God is expressed clearly in the language of Deuteronomy 6:5. This is the verse that the Lord Jesus Christ referred to later when He was asked what the first and great commandment was. He said, “It’s to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind.” This is what Joshua refers to. This is his definition of love. And as he talks about it in the twenty-second chapter, he spells it out a bit more fully. He says, “Be careful to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.”
You ask, “What does it mean to love God?” The answer is what Joshua says: to walk in His ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul. In other words, obedience and love go together. We should know that, of course, because Jesus said to His disciples, “If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.” Obviously, if you don’t keep His commandments, you don’t love Him. It’s as simple as that. We would like to say, “Oh, yes, I love God. But, of course, I want to do what I want to do.” And the Bible tells us that that is just blatant hypocrisy or self-deception. It’s not true. If you are not obeying God, you are not loving God. On the other hand—and it works this way as well—if you really strive to obey His commandments and try to walk in His ways carefully, then you’ll find that you will come to know Him because God reveals Himself in special ways to those who obey. And you will grow in your love for Him as well. Obedience and love go together.
The third part of Joshua’s charge has to do with the future intermarrying of the people of Israel with the people of the land. In verses 12 and 13 we read: “But if you turn away and ally yourself with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive these nations before you. Instead they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs, and thorns in your eyes until you perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you.”
This is a relatively new thing. So far as we can tell by the history of the people that we have up to this point, this matter of ruinous intermarriage had not been a problem. But it does become a problem after this, and Joshua, who was obviously a keen observer of human nature and who saw the danger of the people who remained in the land and their idolatrous ways, anticipated what grows to become a tremendous problem. It becomes exactly what he says: a snare for the people as the years of their history roll on. We know that it was a problem in the time of the judges. It became a great problem even through the period of the kings. Even after the exile, after the people had gone into Babylon and had been brought back, it is still a theme in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The very last chapter of Nehemiah, for example, is given almost entirely to this problem.
I think this problem can be misunderstood at times. It’s not a problem of mere racial or ethnic intermarriage. The reason I say that is that there had been racial and ethnic intermarriage among the Jewish people, and nothing bad is said about that at all. For example, we’re told several times that the people who came out of Egypt were a mixed body of people of different nations and different backgrounds. There was nothing wrong with that. Moses himself married a Cushite—that is, a woman from Ethiopia, and he’s not condemned in the slightest for that. Rahab was a Canaanite who was incorporated into the Jewish people, and even became an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The problem rather is what we call in our terminology, “the marriage of a believer with an unbeliever.” That’s what’s really involved here. The reason Joshua warned the people against marrying with the Canaanites is that the Canaanites were unbelieving pagans who had a most corrupt morality. It’s because of the perversions of their culture and morality that the Jewish people were instructed to wipe them out in the first place.
This is the kind of problem we have today. We have Christians marrying non-Christians, and so compromising their faith and destroying the spiritual heart of the home with all of the bad consequences for the children and the church at large. The devil knows that if he wants to detach people from God, he has to begin by destroying the spiritual value and heart of the home. We certainly see that happening in large measure in our day. So what Joshua says here, as well as what he says in the earlier parts of the chapter, are a very contemporary challenge to us as well.
What is the second obligation in response to God’s past actions? How is it defined? And how does it relate to what Jesus teaches?
What is the third part of Joshua’s charge to Israel’s leaders? Why was this such a serious threat?
Perhaps you know someone who is struggling because of their marriage to an unbeliever. Pray and ask God to give you opportunities to be an encouragement to him or her, and also pray for the salvation of the unbeliever.