Joshua 24 – The Covenant Renewed
A. Joshua remembers God’s great works on Israel’s behalf.
1. (1) Joshua speaks to the nation again, through its leaders.
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.
a. Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem: This was a dramatic last gathering of Israel before the passing of Joshua. It may or may not be part of the same farewell described in Joshua 23. No specific place of gathering is mentioned in Joshua 23, so it could have been part of this same meeting at Shechem.
i. Shechem is modern Tel Balata. “This ancient city was situated on the floor of a valley near its entrance, Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal forming the respective walls. The contour of the land resulted in a natural amphitheater, the acoustics of which were so good that the human voice carried to exceptional distances.” (Pink)
b. To Shechem: Shechem was a place of rich history for Israel. There were at least four notable events there in the lives of the patriarchs. In the first two instances, we see Shechem was a place of calling and commitment. In the second two, we see Shechem was a place of shame.
i. Abraham came into the Promised Land and first camped at Shechem. There God appeared to Abraham and confirmed His promise; Abraham built an altar to the Lord there (Genesis 12:6-7).
ii. When Jacob came back into the Promised Land, he first camped at Shechem. He purchased land at Shechem and built an altar there, calling the place, El Elohe Israel (God, the God of Israel, Genesis 33:16-20).
iii. Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi deceptively lured the men of Shechem into a massacre, murdering all the men of the city (Genesis 34).
iv. In a season of recommitment to God in Jacob’s life, God told him to go to Bethel. Jacob did so and commanded all in his household to put away their idols. Jacob took those idols and buried them at the terebinth tree near Shechem (Genesis 35:1-5).
c. Called for the elders of Israel…their heads…their judges…their officers; and they presented themselves before God: This was an impressive gathering. The leaders of the nation met together at this significant place, meeting in the conscious presence of God.
i. There are some people who believe that they presented themselves before God means that they did this before the tabernacle, which seems at this time to have been at Shiloh (Joshua 18:1). Either they presented themselves before God without the tabernacle, or it was moved to Shechem for this occasion.
ii. The people also presented themselves to God for the making of the covenant in Exodus 19:17.
2. (2-4) God’s faithfulness to the patriarchs.
And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.’”
a. Thus says the Lord God of Israel: We don’t often think of Joshua as a prophet, but here he spoke as an inspired messenger of God. Prophecy is not necessarily a prediction of the future. It can simply be a uniquely direct and spontaneous word from God.
b. Your fathers… dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods: Through Joshua, the Lord reminded Israel that their forefathers came from the other side of the Euphrates (the River) and worshipped pagan gods there.
i. There are ancient legends (only legends) that say Abraham [Abram] served the LORD God among the idol worshippers that he was raised among. One legend says that Abraham’s father Terah was an idol maker and seller with his own shop. One day Terah had some business to do, so he left Abram in charge of the idol shop. While his father was gone, Abram took the biggest idol and set him in the middle of the shop floor. Then he put all the other idols in a circle around the biggest idol. Then Abram took a hammer, smashed all the smaller idols and put the hammer in front of the one big idol that was still standing. When his father came home, Terah was angry and asked Abram why he smashed all his idols. Abram explained that it wasn’t he who did it; it was the one large idol with the hammer in front of it. Terah became even more angry and said, “Abram you know that that idol is nothing but a statue and can’t do anything like that.” Abram answered, “Yes father, that is true. If they cannot do anything, why do we make and sell them for people to worship as gods?”
ii. It’s worth noting the truth – that Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and the first Jew, was not born a Jew. He grew up in a pagan, idolatrous home.
iii. “We know that Ur and Haran were centers of moon worship. Joshua was telling the people, ‘Your past heritage is a people that were not God’s people.’” (Schaeffer)
iv. Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.” (Ezekiel 16:3)
c. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River: Before God challenged Israel, He reminded them of His faithfulness. His goodness was shown at the very beginning of His dealings with Abraham and Abraham’s descendants.
3. (5-7a) God’s faithfulness in the escape from Egypt.
“‘Also I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to what I did among them. Afterward I brought you out. Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. So they cried out to the LORD; and He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, brought the sea upon them, and covered them. And your eyes saw what I did in Egypt.’”
a. Also I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt: God did not leave Israel in slavery in Egypt forever. When the time was right, He sent a deliverer to His people.
b. Your eyes saw what I did in Egypt: There were still many among the leaders and elders of Israel who were children when Israel came out of Egypt, and who saw God destroy the Egyptian army at the Red Sea.
4. (7b-10) God’s faithfulness in the wilderness.
“‘Then you dwelt in the wilderness a long time. And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and they fought with you. But I gave them into your hand, that you might possess their land, and I destroyed them from before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose to make war against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you. So I delivered you out of his hand.’”
a. Then you dwelt in the wilderness a long time: Through Joshua, the LORD summarized most of the Exodus journey with this one sentence.
i. Notably missing from this review of Israel’s history is any mention of Israel’s sin, rebellion, and failure. Though God recorded those things at the time (in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), when He reviewed their history through Joshua He made no mention of them. Later, God said their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:34). Here, it was as if He had “forgotten” Israel’s past sin.
b. Arose to make war against Israel: Numbers 22-25 makes it clear that the war Balak made against Israel was spiritual in nature. He wanted to destroy them either through Balaam’s curse (which did not work) or through the seduction and idolatry of the Moabite women (which worked somewhat). Though it wasn’t a war fought with swords and spears, it was a war nonetheless.
5. (11-13) God’s faithfulness in the land of Canaan.
“‘Then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you; also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand. I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow. I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’”
a. You went over the Jordan and came to Jericho.… But I delivered them into your hand: Speaking through Joshua, God linked the ancient history of Israel (all the way back to Abraham) to their current history. This is what God had done among them in their own lifetime.
b. Not with your sword or with your bow. I have given you a land for which you did not labor…vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant: There is a sense in which every blessing is undeserved, but some are more obviously so. When Israel enjoyed vineyards and olive orchards in Canaan, it should have made them especially grateful for undeserved blessings.
i. They should also have remembered that those who planted the vineyards and orchards were removed by God’s righteous judgment, and if they disobeyed and rejected God, they might also be so judged.
B. Choosing to covenant with the LORD.
1. (14) The challenge: serve God exclusively.
Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!
a. Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth: This was not a blind leap of faith. They saw God’s works and experienced His blessings, so it made sense for them to exclusively serve a God who had done so much for them.
i. “Joshua gave a promise for the future which was rooted in a space-time past. He did not ask the people to make a Kierkegaardian leap of faith. This stress on God’s action in history recurs throughout his farewell.” (Schaeffer)
b. Serve the LORD: In the review of Israel’s history, we might say that God contrasted His great work with three sets of gods, associated with three bodies of water.
· Joshua 24:2-4 shows that on the other side of the Euphrates were the gods of Sumerian and Babylonian culture – gods of heritage.
· Joshua 24:5-7a shows that on the other side of the Red Sea were the gods of ancient Egypt – gods of upbringing.
· Joshua 24:7b-13 and 24:15 shows that as they crossed the Jordan there were the gods of the Amorites – gods of the culture
i. Joshua applied the principle. The Lord God of Israel is greater than all these idols; therefore, serve the LORD!
c. Serve Him in sincerity and truth: Joshua boldly called for a deep commitment and a true commitment.
i. “The best test of sincerity is not always the open hostility of foes, for this often braces up the energies of combat, while at the same time it makes the path of duty clear. Still less is it at the hour of triumph over our foes, then there is no temptation to rebel. The real test of our faithfulness to God is in most cases our power to continue steadfastly in one course of conduct when the excitement of conflict is removed, and the enemies with which we have to contend are the insidious allurements of ease or custom amid the common place duties of life.” (Spence in The Pulpit Commentary)
2. (15) Choose God or choose your alternative.
And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
a. If it seems evil to you to serve the LORD: Joshua just gave a strong exhortation to serve the LORD! (Joshua 24:14) Perhaps some among them did not want to serve the LORD. What of them?
b. Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve: If they chose not to serve the LORD, they were then responsible to choose which deity they will serve. They might choose to serve the gods of their heritage (the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River) or they might choose to serve the gods of Canaan (the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell). Yet they had to make a choice. Everyone serves some kind of god (or, God).
i. Our choice for God is made in clear mind of the alternatives. Some feel a life lived for God is a bad choice, but to what do they compare it? The other choices are far worse. As Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
c. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD: Joshua offered an alternative for those who did not want to serve the LORD as he encouraged in Joshua 24:14. Yet his course was clear and sensible – he chose to serve the LORD.
i. “The English uses a future tense here, but the Hebrew tense has a fuller meaning. It expresses continuous action. It involves the future, but it can also point to the past. Joshua was undoubtedly affirming, ‘I have chosen, and I will choose.’” (Schaeffer)
ii. Joshua could make this statement because he had lived a life that continuously chose to serve the LORD.
· Joshua chose to fight against the Amalekites – choosing when it might have cost everything.
· Joshua chose to reject the golden calf – choosing when the flesh might have been satisfied.
· Joshua chose to serve the Lord by serving Moses – choosing a humble place.
· Joshua chose to believe God’s promise about the Promised Land – choosing against the majority.
· Joshua chose to recognize the leadership of the Captain of the LORD’s army – choosing surrender to God.
· Joshua chose to take leadership of Israel and lead them into the land – choosing faith instead of unbelief.
iii. God gives us choices. God is a choosing God; we are made in His image. He wants us to also choose.
d. But as for me and my house: This shows that Joshua also understood that he, as the priest of his family, was charged with the responsibility to see that his whole house served the LORD. He had the job of representing his whole house before God.
i. The sense is that Joshua would do whatever was right and godly to make sure that his household did serve the LORD. They would serve Him together; it was we will serve the LORD.
e. But as for me and my house: The contrasting word “but” gives the sense that Joshua was determined on this course no matter what anyone else thought. His relationship with God was not based on any man, but on the LORD alone, and he would serve God no matter what anyone else did.
· Joshua’s decision meant hesitation was gone.
· Joshua’s decision meant he lived above the evil influence of others.
· Joshua’s decision was deep, calm, clear, fixed, well-grounded, and solemnly made.
· Joshua’s decision was openly made.
· Joshua’s decision was earnestly carried out.
· Joshua’s decision was kept throughout his whole life.
f. We will serve the LORD: Inherent in Joshua’s declaration is that he would serve the LORD only; he would not serve the LORD and someone or something else. There was one God in his life, and that God was the LORD.
3. (16-18) Israel responds: they also will serve the LORD.
So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.”
a. For the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt: Significantly, their declaration is based on God’s past dealings with them. How could they not serve such a great God?
b. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God: This is essentially the same attitude reflected by Jesus’ disciples in John 6:66-69: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. If serving God sometimes seems hard, think of the alternatives.
4. (19-21) Joshua cautions against a lightly made commitment.
But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD!”
a. You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God: Joshua is not trying to discourage their faith but trying to discourage a light commitment to following the LORD. They need to be reminded that they are serving God under a covenant that promised they would be cursed for disobedience.
i. Jesus expressed the same kind of warning, explaining that following Him took total commitment (Luke 14:25-33). It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t want followers, but He did not want lightly made and easily broken commitments.
ii. “So it becomes us to speak very reverently and leniently of our ability to obey. We are probably overestimating our powers.” (Meyer)
b. No, but we will serve the LORD: This was the response Joshua wanted: a commitment but made with full understanding of the consequences.
5. (22-28) A covenant renewed.
So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses!” “Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.” And the people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.” So Joshua let the people depart, each to his own inheritance.
a. You are witnesses.… this stone shall be a witness: Joshua required that the covenant be confirmed by the testimony of two witnesses, the people and the stone. Therefore, this was a binding covenant before God (Deuteronomy 19:15).
i. As Hess notes, there are some points of similarity between this covenant and the normal practice of making covenants in the ancient world between a king or ruler and his people, especially among the Hittites.
b. Now therefore…put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel: They said they were willing to enter into and obey God’s covenant. Joshua immediately called them to act upon their words.
i. “As you have promised to reform, begin instantly the work of reformation. A man’s promise to serve God soon loses its moral hold of his conscience if he does not instantaneously begin to put it in practice. The grace that enables him to promise is that by the strength of which he is to begin the performance.” (Clarke)
c. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day: “Literally, Joshua cut the covenant, alluding to the sacrifice offered on the occasion.” (Clarke)
C. The death of Joshua and Eleazar.
1. (29-31) A beautiful epitaph for Joshua.
Now it came to pass after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being one hundred and ten years old. And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Serah, which is in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash. Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel.
a. Being one hundred and ten years old: Joshua died at a ripe old age and was buried in the land of his inheritance. There seemed to have been no great funeral or mourning for him, as was surely his wish – to simply be known as the servant of the LORD.
b. Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua: This was the greatest tribute to Joshua. His godly influence was effectively communicated to and through the whole nation.
2. (32) The burial of Joseph’s bones.
The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph.
a. The bones of Joseph: This may seem like an inconsequential point, but it fulfills Genesis 50:25. God likes to tie up loose ends. This is also mentioned in Hebrews 11:22 as an example of Joseph’s faith.
3. (33) The death and burial of Eleazar.
And Eleazar the son of Aaron died. They buried him in a hill belonging to Phinehas his son, which was given to him in the mountains of Ephraim.
a. And Eleazar the son of Aaron died: Eleazar’s death meant that another link with the wilderness generation had passed. Now Phinehas was high priest.
b. They buried him: As the generations pass, they are each challenged to conquer the land of blessing and promise that God has for them – and we will do it, as we pay close heed to our Joshua, to Jesus Christ.