The Word Made Fresh
1Then Joshua summoned all the tribes of Israel to Shechem. They gathered before God with their elders, heads of families, judges, and officials. 2Then Joshua spoke to them and said, “The LORD, the God of Israel, has said,
‘Long ago your ancestors, Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates. They served other gods. 3Then I brought your father Abraham through the whole land of Canaan and promised him many descendants. I gave him Isaac. 4I gave Isaac Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt. 5So, I sent Moses and Aaron, and plagues on the Egyptians, and brought you out from there. 6When you came to the Red sea the Egyptians pursued you with chariots and horsemen.
7‘Then they cried out to the LORD and the LORD kept you safe from them and made them drown in the sea.
‘You were witnesses,’ said the LORD, ‘to what I did to the Egyptians. After that you lived in the wilderness for a long time, 8but I brought you to the land of the Amorites on the other side of the Jordan. I helped you defeat them in battle, and you took over their land. 9King Balak, son of Zippor of Moab, came out against you. He brought in Balaam, son of Beor, to curse you, 10but I refused to entertain his curses, and so he blessed you instead, and I rescued you from him.
11‘When you crossed the Jordan and attacked Jericho, the people of Jericho fought against you, and so did the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites, and Jebusites. I handed them over to you. 12I went after them like a swarm of hornets and drove out the two Amorite kings. I did that, not you. 13I gave you land you did not farm and towns you did not build, and you live in them now. You enjoy the produce of vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.’”
14And Joshua said, “Because of all that, you must hold the LORD in highest esteem. You must obey the LORD sincerely and faithfully. You must put away the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and over in Egypt and serve the LORD only. 15If you do not wish to serve the LORD, then today you must choose whom you will serve. Will it be the gods your ancestors served in the land beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in the land you have settled? As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
16All the people answered, “We would be foolish to turn from the LORD to serve other gods. 17The LORD our God is the one who brought us and our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt, and performed those wonders in our sight, and kept us safe all the way and performed amazing things. God protected us every step of the way from all the people we encountered on our journey here. 18The LORD drove out the Amorites before us. We will serve the LORD, for the LORD is our God.”
19But that wasn’t enough for Joshua. He said, “You can’t serve the LORD. The LORD is a holy and jealous God who will not overlook your lawbreaking or your sins. 20If you turn away from the LORD and serve foreign gods the LORD will turn against you and destroy you after having done so much good for you.”
21The people said, “No! We will serve the LORD!”
22Joshua said, “You have said it yourselves, and you are your own witnesses that you have chosen to serve the LORD.”
“We are witnesses!” they said.
23Joshua said, “Then get rid of the foreign gods among you and turn your hearts only to the LORD the God of Israel.”
24They answered, “We will serve and obey the LORD our God!”
25So, Joshua forged an agreement with the people that day and set up rules and regulations for them at Shechem. He wrote an account of their agreement in the book of the Law of God. Then he set up a large stone under an oak tree in the LORD’s sanctuary, 27and told the people, “See, this stone has heard every word the LORD has spoken to us, and it is a witness against you if you fail to keep your promises to your God.” Then he sent them away to the lands they had inherited.
29After this Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died. He was one hundred ten years old. 30They buried him in his own property at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim north of Mt. Gaash. 31Israel served the LORD as long as Joshua was living, and as long as those elders were still living after Joshua’s death who had witnessed the things the LORD had done for Israel.
32Joseph’s bones, which had been brought from Egypt, were buried at Shechem on the property Jacob had bought from the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for one hundred pieces of silver. That land became the inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.33When Eleazar son of Aaron died, they buried him at Gibeah in the hill country of Ephraim, which had been given to his son, Phinehas.
1-13: This appears to be a separate gathering from the one in chapter 23: this time the text emphasizes that all the tribes are gathered to Shechem. Joshua then summons the leaders, but when he speaks in verse 3, he is speaking to all the people. He recites their history all the way back to Terah, father of Abraham, in the city of Ur on the Euphrates River (see Genesis 12). In verse 2 he notes that they had served other gods. He quickly covers the birth of Isaac and Jacob, then moves on into the stories of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, recounting the wilderness wanderings, the battles with the Moabites, the strange intercession of Balaam, and the conquest of the land thus far.
14-15: A famous passage – Joshua “draws a line in the sand.” Notice that he is now speaking as himself, not as God’s voice. Choose, he says, whom you will serve: the God who brought your ancestors out of Egypt and gave you this land, or the gods your ancestors served before they were claimed by the LORD.
16-18: There is something questionable about their response. At first glance it appears that they are agreeing with Joshua. But on second reading it is no longer clear that they will not serve the other gods. They will serve the LORD, yes, but they never say specifically that they will stop serving the other gods, too!
19-28: Joshua apparently picks up on the ambiguity of their response and insists that they cannot forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods. Again, they promise to serve the LORD but also again they do not specifically say they will put away the other gods. Joshua notes that in verse 22, but then in verse 23 he insists once again that they put away the other gods, and in verse 24 they once again dodge the question – they promise to serve the LORD but never promise to put away the foreign gods! And they never put them away, as we shall see.
For his part, Joshua apparently figures enough is enough, and moves on to other business. He reverts back to his habit of setting up stones, and this last Joshuan monument is to remind them of the covenant they have made with the LORD. The sanctuary appears now to have been moved to Shechem.
29-32: Joshua dies at the ripe old age of 110. He is buried at his home, and the text says that the people of Israel were faithful to the LORD as long as there were leaders who were alive during the time of Joshua.
33: The bones of Joseph are brought to Shechem. Remember that Shechem is in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim. Ephraim was Joseph’s youngest son, but Jacob put him above his older brother Manasseh (see Genesis 48:8-20). (Half of the tribe of Manasseh has settled on the east side of the Jordan.)
34: The head priest Eleazar, son of Aaron, dies and is buried at Gibeah. His son Phinehas will succeed him.
So often those who promise to serve the LORD never quite completely put aside the other ‘gods’ that claim so much of their energy and resources. Today is a good time to examine that aspect of your own spiritual journey.