Joshua 24:19, 20: Joshua Renews and Intensifies His Challenge to Israel

Verse 19:[1] And Joshua said unto the people, (Matt. 6:24) Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an (Lev. 19:2; 1 Sam. 6:20; Ps. 99:5, 9; Is. 5:16) holy God; he is (Ex. 20:5) a jealous God; (Ex. 23:21) he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.

[Ye will not be able to serve the Lord] This is not to be taken absolute, but with restriction (Serarius). This not a dehortation from the worship of God, God forbid, but a goading even greater than before (Bonfrerius). They understand it in a variety of ways. 1. Augustine determines that here the people’s response is marked by arrogance, just as if it, not rightly considering the righteousness of God, attributed to much to its own righteousness, according to Romans 10:3, and that additionally this is treated, so that, with this so great sanctity of God set forth, they might be all the more stirred up, not only to serve such majesty instead of vile idols, but also to seek help from that, and to place hope in His mercy, according to Psalm 143:2. But I myself do not see any arrogance in the words of the people; for they are the same in word and intention that Joshua speaks, We also (גַּם, which is to say, just as thou and thy house) will serve the Lord.[2] Moreover, they attach the greatest reason of their service, when they say, for He is our God (Masius). 2. That, ye will not be able, does not signify a physical impossibility, but a moral impossibility, or difficulty, with their fragility and proneness to idolatry supposed, and that greatest purity that God wills to be employed in His service. I fear that ye might not be able to serve God as it is fitting; for He is holy and jealous, and He will not bear your scandals (Bonfrerius): whence ye will easily revolt from Him to other gods to whom vices are altogether agreeable worship/service. He covertly touches upon the inconstancy of the people, whereby they had always had the greatest tendency from the worship of God to idolatry; and at the same time, with the difficulty set forthy, he wills to bring this to pass, that their undertaking and profession of Religion might be most deliberate (Masius). Ye will not be able to serve Him, unless ye put on new, great, and constant souls (Lapide), and ye have it decided and fixed to keep all incitements to idolatry far away (Tirinus), and to cultivate holy habits, and to admit no sin (Menochius). This is a vehement exhortation to serve God. Thus a Commander-in-Chief, with soldiers postulating that the strength to invade arises unto the enemy, says, Ye will not conquer, nor resist their strength, etc. Thus he goads their souls unto battle (Menochius out of Serarius). 3. Ye will not be able, understanding, with your images (Vatablus). Ye will not be able, understanding, in retaining strange gods, and in mingling their worship with the worship of God; which is gathered out of verse 23 (Junius, Glassius), and out of verses 14-16, where this member stands forth. This Ellipsis is of the conjoined words, to be repeated out of the preceding member. Thus in Numbers 24:22, they shall waste the Kenite; how long? that is, will thy nest be in a rock? out of verse 21: in Numbers 26:3, 4, saying, (supply, Take the sum of the people) from twenty years old, etc.: in Zechariah 14:18, and not upon them, that is, shall be rain, out of verse 17. Thus in John 9:3, Neither hath this man sinned, etc., that is, that he might be born blind, out of verse 2. Thus in 1 John 2:19, but (supply, they went out from us) that they might be made manifest, etc. (Glassius’ “Grammar” 4:2:12:724).

Ye cannot serve the Lord: he speaks not of an absolute impossibility, (for then both his resolution to serve God himself, and his exhortation to them to do so, had been vain and ridiculous,) but of a moral impossibility, or a very great difficulty, which he allegeth not to discourage them from God’s service, which is his great design to engage them in; but only to make them more considerate and cautious in obliging themselves, and more circumspect and resolved in answering their obligations. The meaning is, God’s service is not, as you seem to fancy, a slight and easy thing, as soon done as said; but it is a work of great difficulty, and requires great care, and courage, and resolution; and when I consider the infinite purity of God, that he will not be mocked or abused; and withal your great and often manifested proneness to superstition and idolatry, even during the life of Moses, and in some of you whilst I live, and whilst the obligations which God hath laid upon you in this land are fresh in remembrance; I cannot but fear that after my decease you will think the service of God too hard and burdensome for you, and therefore will cast it off, and revolt from him, if you do not double your watch, and carefully avoid all occasions of idolatry, which I fear you will not do, but I do hereby exhort you to do.

[He is an holy God, אֱלֹהִ֥ים קְדֹשִׁ֖ים ה֑וּא] Verbatim: Holy Gods is He (Munster, Lapide). It is a mystical expression, as in Jeremiah 10:10[3] (Junius). The plural number, either, 1. to indicte Trinity with Unity (Munster, Lapide); or, 2. for comparison with other gods, that is to say, strange gods are impure, but our Gods are holy (Lapide out of Masius); or, 3. to denote the most absolute holiness of God (Lapide). Thus in the ancient Commentaries that are entitled Tanhuma[4] (Masius).

[He is holy, etc.] Hebrew: He is a holy God, He is a jealous God, etc.,[5] that is to say, If ye worship images together with the Lord, ye pollute His holiness: He is a God that does not suffer a rival in love (Vatablus).

He is a jealous God; he will not endure a co-rival or partner in his worship; you cannot serve him and idols together, as you will be inclined and tempted to do.

[He will not forgive your evil deeds, לֹֽא־יִשָּׂ֥א לְפִשְׁעֲכֶ֖ם] He will not bear your defection, that is, unpunished. Thus Exodus 23:21 (Junius). He will not send away, etc. (Munster), will not spare your evil deeds (Pagnine).

He will not forgive your transgressions; if you who own yourselves for his people and servants, shall wickedly and wilfully transgress his laws by idolatry or other crimes, he will not let this go unpunished in you, as he doth in other nations; therefore consider what you do when you take the Lord for your God; weigh your advantages and inconveniences together; for as if you be sincere and faithful in God’s service, you will have admirable benefits by it; so if you be false to your professions, and forsake him whom you have so solemnly avouched to be your God, he will deal more severely with you than with any people in the world.


Verse 20:[6] (1 Chron. 28:9; 2 Chron. 15:2; Ezra 8:22; Is. 1:28; 65:11, 12; Jer. 17:13) If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, (Josh. 23:15; Is. 63:10; Acts 7:42) then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.

[He will turn, and afflict you, וְשָׁ֙ב וְהֵרַ֤ע לָכֶם֙] He will turn, and do you hurt (Munster, Pagnine, Montanus); having turned back, He will afflict you with evil (Junius and Tremellius, similarly Arabic, Syriac, Tigurinus). Then He will be turned away, that is, with His thought changed, He will destroy you (Vatablus). He will change His mind, or, He will turn Himself: It is spoken according to the opinion of the common people, from diverse outcomes of matters shaping some and other affections of God; which He otherwise governs by the level tenor of His eternal counsel, being subject to no perturbations of soul (Masius). Others more correctly, from a most well-known Hebraism, that is, again and again He will afflict you with evils (Malvenda).

He will turn, that is, he will alter his course and the manner of his dealing with you, and will be as severe as ever he was kind and gracious. Consume you, after that he hath done you good; he will repent of all his former kindness, and his goodness abused will be turned into fury.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֙אמֶר יְהוֹשֻׁ֜עַ אֶל־הָעָ֗ם לֹ֤א תֽוּכְלוּ֙ לַעֲבֹ֣ד אֶת־יְהוָ֔ה כִּֽי־אֱלֹהִ֥ים קְדֹשִׁ֖ים ה֑וּא אֵֽל־קַנּ֣וֹא ה֔וּא לֹֽא־יִשָּׂ֥א לְפִשְׁעֲכֶ֖ם וּלְחַטֹּאותֵיכֶֽם׃

[2] Verse 18.

[3] Jeremiah 10:10a:  “But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king (וַֽיהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ אֱמֶ֔ת הֽוּא־אֱלֹהִ֥ים חַיִּ֖ים וּמֶ֣לֶךְ עוֹלָ֑ם)…”

[4] There are three midrashic collections called Tanchuma.  Although these collections bear the name of Rabbi Tanhuma (a Palestinian Amora of the fourth century), they are compilations, and contain material, of a much later date (fifth to ninth century).  Their explanations of a text often include Halachic (legal) material, poetry, and Messianic prophecies.

[5] Hebrew: אֱלֹהִ֥ים קְדֹשִׁ֖ים ה֑וּא אֵֽל־קַנּ֣וֹא ה֔וּא.

[6] Hebrew: כִּ֤י תַֽעַזְבוּ֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֔ה וַעֲבַדְתֶּ֖ם אֱלֹהֵ֣י נֵכָ֑ר וְשָׁ֙ב וְהֵרַ֤ע לָכֶם֙ וְכִלָּ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֔ם אַחֲרֵ֖י אֲשֶׁר־הֵיטִ֥יב לָכֶֽם׃

1 thought on “Joshua 24:19, 20: Joshua Renews and Intensifies His Challenge to Israel

  1. Matthew Henry: ‘He brings them to embrace their religion resolutely, and to express a full purpose of heart to cleave to the Lord. Now that he has them in a good mind he follows his blow, and drives the nail to the head, that it might, if possible, be a nail in a sure place. Fast bind, fast find….

    In order to this he sets before them the difficulties of religion, and that in it which might be thought discouraging (Joshua 24:19, 20): You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God, or, as it is in the Hebrew, he is the holy Gods, intimating the mystery of the Trinity, three in one; holy, holy, holy, holy Father, holy Son, holy Spirit. He will not forgive. And, if you forsake him, he will do you hurt. Certainly Joshua does not intend hereby to deter them from the service of God as impracticable and dangerous. But, [1.] He perhaps intends to represent here the suggestions of seducers, who tempted Israel from their God, and from the service of him; with such insinuations as these, that he was a hard master, his work impossible to be done, and he not to be pleased, and, if displeased, implacable and revengeful,—that he would confine their respects to himself only, and would not suffer them to show the least kindness for any other,—and that herein he was very unlike the gods of the nations, which were easy, and neither holy nor jealous. It is probable that this was then commonly objected against the Jewish religion, as it has all along been the artifice of Satan every since he tempted our first parents thus to misrepresent God and his laws, as harsh and severe; and Joshua by his tone and manner of speaking might make them perceive he intended it as an objection, and would put it to them how they would keep their ground against the force of it. Or, [2.] He thus expresses his godly jealousy over them, and his fear concerning them, that, notwithstanding the profession they now made of zeal for God and his service, they would afterwards draw back, and if they did they would find him just and jealous to avenge it. Or, [3.] He resolves to let them know the worst of it, and what strict terms they must expect to stand upon with God, that they might sit down and count the cost. “You cannot serve the Lord, except you put away all other gods for he is holy and jealous, and will by no means admit a rival, and therefore you must be very watchful and careful, for it is at your peril if you desert his service; better you had never known it.” Thus, though our Master has assured us that his yoke is easy, yet lest, upon the presumption of this, we should grow remiss and careless, he has also told us that the gate is strait, and the way narrow, that leads to life, that we may therefore strive to enter, and not seek only. “You cannot serve God and Mammon; therefore, if you resolve to serve God, you must renounce all competitors with him. You cannot serve God in your own strength, nor will he forgive your transgressions for any righteousness of your own; but all the seed of Israel must be justified and must glory in the Lord alone as their righteousness and strength,” Isaiah 45:24, 25. They must therefore come off from all confidence in their own sufficiency, else their purposes would be to no purpose. Or, [4.] Joshua thus urges on them the seeming discouragements which lay in their way, that he might sharpen their resolutions, and draw from them a promise yet more express and solemn that they would continue faithful to God and their religion. He draws it form them that they might catch at it the more earnestly and hold it the faster.’

Leave a Comment