Joshua 24:2: History of Idolatry in Terah’s Family

Verse 2:[1] And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, (Gen. 11:26, 31; Judith 5:6, 7[2]) Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and (Gen. 31:53) they served other gods.

Unto all the people, that is, that people which were present, to wit, to the elders, etc., by whom it was to be imparted to all the rest, and to as many of the people as came thither.

[Thus saith the Lord] That is, through me (Vatablus).

[The God of Israel] This exordium[3] is perfectly suited to the following narration, since the whole of it is taken up in explaining the goodness of God toward the family of Israel (Masius).

[Across the river] That is, Euphrates; which Jonathan and the Syriac have here. [All interpreters agree.]

The flood, or, the river, to wit, Euphrates, as all agree; so called by way of eminency.

[Your fathers…and they served strange gods] He shows that he speaks of their near ancestors, not of the more remote, of which sort were Shem and Noah. This is done, so that it might be evident that they were graciously adopted by God for a people, not only freely, but even while they were enemies (Masius).

[Terah, the father of Abraham and Nachor] He names these, because from these the entire stock of Israel was descended. For from Nahor the maternal lineage is traced through Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel (Masius). Question: Whether Abraham also worshipped idols? Response: Some deny this (thus Lapide, Tostatus and Cajetan in Serarius, Pererius in Lapide). Some affirm that he, when he was younger, was an idolater (thus Masius, Serarius out of the Rabbis). And there are those that think that for that reason Abraham was called ἀσεβῆ/ungodly, Romans 4:5 (Serarius). I am not able to heed those that with great effort seek to vindicate Abraham from this sin, I know not with what arguments. But, supposing that to be the case, the grace of God, with which He embraced him, would not be the more illustrious, the more sinful he was; and not for the admirable kindness of God would the Sacred History commemorate and inculcate so many times in our souls, that He rescued him, as if taken by the hand, from his homeland and the company of idolaters, as we called them (Masius, similarly Malvenda). Concerning this question see what things we have on Genesis 12:1 (Bonfrerius).

They served other gods, that is, both Abraham and Nahor were no less idolaters than the rest of mankind. This is said to prevent their vain boasting in their worthy ancestors, and to assure them that whatsoever good was in or had been done by their progenitors, was wholly born God’s free grace, and not for their own merit or righteousness, as the Jews were very apt to conceit.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֙אמֶר יְהוֹשֻׁ֜עַ אֶל־כָּל־הָעָ֗ם כֹּֽה־אָמַ֣ר יְהוָה֮ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַנָּהָ֗ר יָשְׁב֤וּ אֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ מֵֽעוֹלָ֔ם תֶּ֛רַח אֲבִ֥י אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַאֲבִ֣י נָח֑וֹר וַיַּעַבְד֖וּ אֱלֹהִ֥ים אֲחֵרִֽים׃

[2] Judith 5:6, 7:  “This people are descended of the Chaldeans:  And they sojourned heretofore in Mesopotamia, because they would not follow the gods of their fathers, which were in the land of Chaldea.”

[3] That is, the introduction.

2 thoughts on “Joshua 24:2: History of Idolatry in Terah’s Family

  1. Augustine’s “City of God”: ‘Let us now survey the progress of the city of God from the era of the patriarch Abraham, from whose time it begins to be more conspicuous, and the divine promises which are now fulfilled in Christ are more fully revealed. We learn, then, from the intimations of holy Scripture, that Abraham was born in the country of the Chaldeans, a land belonging to the Assyrian empire. Now, even at that time impious superstitions were rife with the Chaldeans, as with other nations. The family of Terah, to which Abraham belonged, was the only one in which the worship of the true God survived, and the only one, we may suppose, in which the Hebrew language was preserved; although Joshua the son of Nun tells us that even this family served other gods in Mesopotamia. The other descendants of Heber gradually became absorbed in other races and other languages. And thus, as the single family of Noah was preserved through the deluge of water to renew the human race, so, in the deluge of superstition that flooded the whole world, there remained but the one family of Terah in which the seed of God’s city was preserved. And as, when Scripture has enumerated the generations prior to Noah, with their ages, and explained the cause of the flood before God began to speak to Noah about the building of the ark, it is said, “These are the generations of Noah;” so also now, after enumerating the generations from Shem, Noah’s son, down to Abraham, it then signalizes an era by saying, “These are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.” This Iscah is supposed to be the same as Sarah, Abraham’s wife.’

  2. Jonathan Edwards’ “History of Redemption”: ‘Another thing I would mention in this period, was God’s preserving the true religion in that line from which Christ was to proceed, when the world in general apostatized to idolatry, and the church was in imminent danger of being swallowed in the general corruption. Although God had lately wrought so wonderfully for the deliverance of his church, and had shown so great mercy towards it, as for its sake even to destroy all the rest of the world; and although he had lately renewed and established his covenant of grace with Noah and his sons; yet so prone is the corrupt heart of man to depart from God, and to sink into the depths of wickedness, darkness, and delusion, that the world soon after the flood fell into gross idolatry; so that before Abraham the distemper was become almost universal. The earth was become very corrupt at the time of the building of Babel; even God’s people themselves, that line of which Christ was to come. Joshua 24:2, “Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor; and they served other gods.” The other side of the flood means beyond the river Euphrates, where the ancestors of Abraham lived.

    We are not to understand, that they were wholly drawn off to idolatry, to forsake the true God. For God is said to be the God of Nahor: Genesis 31:53, “The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us.” But they partook in some measure of the general and almost universal corruption of the times; as Solomon was in a measure infected with idolatrous corruption; and as the children of Israel in Egypt are said to serve other gods, though there was the true church of God among them; and as there were images kept for a considerable time in the family of Jacob, the corruption being brought from Padan-aram, whence he fetched his wives.

    This was the second time that the church was almost brought to nothing by the corruption and general defection of the world from true religion. But still the true religion was kept up in the family from which Christ was to proceed. Which is another instance of God’s remarkably preserving his church in a time of a general deluge of wickedness; and wherein, although the god of this world raged, and had almost swallowed up God’s church, yet he did not suffer the gates of hell to prevail against it.’

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