Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Joshua 24:1–27

Joshua 24:1–27: Renewal of the covenant

Synopsis

In the last passage, Joshua gave a farewell speech to the Israelite elders/leaders. In this chapter, he turns his attention to the entire nation of Israel, to renew their covenant with the LORD. But first, as is usual for these speeches, he reviews with them all that the LORD has done for them so far; he mentions:
  • Abraham, who used to worship other gods, before God took him out of his land, and gave him many descendants.
  • Moses and Aaron, and the LORD’s affliction of the Egyptians, which allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. (Along with the incident where the Red Sea swallowed the Egyptian army.)
  • The Israelite defeat of the Amorites, East of the Jordan.
  • Balak hiring Balaam, to curse the Israelites, but God forcing Balaam to continually bless them, instead
  • The battle of Jericho, and subsequent battles with the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites.

    Because of this, God tells the Israelites:

    So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant. (verse 13)
So Joshua urges the Israelites to serve the LORD. And then there’s an interesting dialog between Joshua and the people:

[“]But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the LORD.”

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.”

And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.”

(verses 15–24)


I notice that Joshua tells them to throw out any foreign gods that they have, but there is no mention of them doing so; I assume that this is because they don’t have foreign gods at this point. The Israelite nation will fall into idolatry very soon, and continue in its idolatry for hundreds of years, but in terms of spirituality, I believe they are at a high point in the book of Joshua, so I’m comfortable with making this assumption.

So Joshua renews the covenant between the LORD and the people. He draws up decrees and laws for them, records the event in the Book of the Law of God, and sets up a large stone as a reminder to the people of this covenant. More to the point, the stone will serve as a witness against them if they ever break the covenant.

Thoughts

This passage contains a very famous phrase, by Joshua, in verse 15b: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

I find this exchange with the Israelites very interesting. I’m sure there are some cultural nuances that I’m not getting, being a 21st Century Christian instead of a B.C. Israelite, but still, it’s fascinating.

“Obey the LORD.”

“Okay, we’ll obey the LORD.”

“No… on second thought, I don’t think you’re capable of obeying the LORD.”

“No really! Seriously! We’ll obey the LORD! Honest we will!”

And of course we know that the nation of Israel will break the covenant with the LORD, later on. But I believe that the people really mean it, when they tell Joshua that they will follow the LORD. It’s true that they haven’t fully destroyed the nations who were living in the Promised Land, like they were supposed to, but on the whole, I think they’re trying to follow God.
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