THE BOOK OF JOSHUA
Lesson 10: Chapters 23-24
Part III: Joshua's Farewell Address and
The Great Assembly and Covenant Renewal at Shechem

Almighty Lord,
Joshua's advice to the Israelites in his last public address is good advice for us on this side of salvation history "to banish all false gods from our lives and to cling to You regardless of the personal cost. It is a personal and communal commitment that includes rejecting the false gods of materialism, secularism and the desire to put self-interest above Your will for our lives. Like Isaiah, we confess that we are sinners who live among a sinful people (Is 6:5), but like St. Paul we are committed to working out our salvation with fear and trembling, in reverent fear of offending you but at the same time with hope and confidence that You are in control of our destinies and of the destiny of mankind as a whole. Please send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our last lesson on the amazing account of the mission of Joshua and the Israelites to conquer the land You promised their ancestors. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+ + +

Therefore, what Joshua said to the people when he settled them in the holy land, the Scripture might also say to us. The text reads as follows, "Now fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and righteousness." And it will tell us, if we are being misled to worship idols, what follows, "Destroy the foreign gods which your fathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and worship the Lord"... what must be said of those who by denying make null and void the agreements they made with God, and who run back to Satan, whom they renounced when they were baptized? Such a person must be told the words spoken by Eli to his sons, "If a man sins against a man, then they will pray for him; but if he sins against the Lord, who will pray for him?"
Origen, Exhortation to Martyrdom, 17

Chapters 23-24 are one unit in three parts:

  1. The National Assembly and Joshua's farewell address to the people (Josh 23:1-16)
  2. Joshua's addressed continued at the covenant renewal ceremony at Shechem (Josh 24:1-28)
  3. Conclusion: the three graves of Israel's heroes in the Promised Land (Josh 24:29-33)

Joshua is now the oldest man in the nation of Israel. He has faithfully followed Yahweh all his life, first as a boy who served Moses (Num 11:28) and later as Moses' trusted adjutant (mesharet in Hebrew) and military commander (Ex 17:8-10; 24:13; 33:11; Josh 1:1), and then as the man selected by God to succeed Moses (Num 27:15-20). It was not that Joshua walked in the shadow of Moses but that he made the free will choice to willingly followed Moses' example of complete obedience to Yahweh. It was for this reason that God put His spirit upon Joshua and made him God's Divine instrument in fulfilling the promise to the Patriarchs to give the Israelites victory over the enemies of God in the land of Canaan (Gen 15:7, 16, 18-21; Num 27:18-20; Dt 31:7-8; 34:9).

And yet, there were differences between the two men, not in their commitment to God, which was unwavering in both cases, but in their relationship with the Israelites:

  1. Joshua was a member of the tribe of Ephraim. He was born and raised within the community of Israel (Num 13:8, 16). Moses, although born a Levite, was not raised as an Israelite. Moses was raised and educated as an Egyptian and did not return to his people until he was 80 years old (Ex 2:1-10; 7:7).
  2. Joshua did not experience acts of rebellion from the Israelites during the years of his leadership "the people followed him obediently (Josh 23:8). Moses, on the other hand, had a contentious relationship with the people. Moses' authority and leadership was continually challenged by the Israelites (i.e., Ex 5:21-23; 14:11-12; 16:1-3; 17:2-4; Num 11:10-15; 14:1-4, 10; 39-45; 16:15; 20:2-5, 10-11; 21:4-5).
  3. Joshua never grew angry or discouraged with the people, while Moses' relationship with the people was so contentious that at one time his anger with them caused him to be disobedient to God's command (Num 20:6-13).

Perhaps Moses' Egyptian upbringing to some extent alienated him from his own people who never really saw him as one of them (Ex 2:13-14). The people of the Exodus generation feared and respected Moses, but it appears that the Israelites of the new generation (the children of the Exodus generation) trusted, respected and loved Joshua. In Moses' defense, it must be noted that for the majority of his ministry he led the Exodus generation while Joshua had the benefit of leading the new generation that had been formed in the crucible of the wilderness years.

Question: How were the two generations different and how were they the same? What was the destiny of the adults of the Exodus generation?
Answer: Both the members of the Exodus generation and their children and grandchildren witnessed the miracles of God on behalf of His people. However, in spite of the evidence of God's power and might and His promises of faithfulness and protection for the Israelites, the Exodus generation continually challenged the authority of their divinely appointed mediator, Moses, and continually preferred their own plan for their salvation in opposition to God's plan for their destiny. As a result, God condemned them to die in the wilderness and to never enter His "rest" in the Promised Land. The new generation also witnessed God's miracles, but they submitted themselves to God's plan for their lives and for the destiny of their people. They were obedient to God's Law and to His divinely appointed leader, Joshua. As a result, they were successful in cooperating with God's plan to give His people rest in the land promised to their forefathers.

However, it must be noted that God loved both Moses and Joshua "His faithful leaders who devoted their lives to His service, and it is God's gratitude that matters.

In these last two chapters, the inspired writer continues to make comparisons between Moses and Joshua. The comparisons that are made between Joshua and Moses in the Book of Joshua include:

  1. Joshua is called God's servant in the same way Moses was called God's servant (i.e., Josh 1:1; 24:29).
  2. God spoke directly to Joshua in the same way He spoke directly to Moses (Josh 1:1, 3:7; 4:1, 8, 15; 5:2, 9; 6:2; 7:10; 8:1, 18; 10:8; 11:6; 20:1).
  3. Both men, in cooperation with God, were instrumental in a water miracle in which the Israelites crossed a parted body of water on dry ground to the opposite side (Ex 14:15-16; Josh 3:7-17).
  4. Both men experienced a Divine visitation in which they were told to remove their shoes because they were standing on "holy" ground (Ex 3:2-5; Josh 5:13-15).
  5. Both men held out an implement at God's direction at a critical time during a battle (Ex 17:8-16; Josh 8:26).
  6. Both men built an altar to the Lord for a covenant ceremony (Ex 24:4; Josh 8:30).
  7. Both men erected 12 standing stones at God's command to commemorate a significant event in Israel's history (Ex 24:4; Josh 4:3-9).
  8. Both men gave a farewell address at the end of their lives (Dt 31-32; Josh 23-24).

Chapter 23: The Last Discourse of Joshua

Joshua's farewell address to the Israelites in chapter 23, calling for Israel's continuing obedience to Yahweh, is divided into three main sections:

  1. Introduction and a review of Yahweh's promises (23:1-8)
  2. The treatment of pagan neighbors (23:9-13)
  3. A call for acknowledgment of God's faithfulness and conclusion (23:14-16)

In his address, Joshua speaks of God as the Divine Warrior (verses 3, 9-10) who kept His promises (verses 4-5), and Joshua urges the Israelites to do the same (verses 6-8). God's promises have been realized in the covenant treaty blessings in which Israel now possesses the land. These covenant blessings are seen as having been operative in associating with Israel's loyalty under Joshua's leadership (verse 15), and after Joshua urges the people to be grateful in acknowledging God's faithfulness he also warns them to continue being loyal to Yahweh and obedient to His Law or the covenant blessings will become covenant curses (verses 15-16).

Joshua 23:1-5 ~ Introduction and review of God's promises
1 Now long after Yahweh had given Israel rest from all the enemies surrounding them "2 Joshua was old now, far advanced in years. Joshua summoned all Israel, their elders, leaders, judges and officials, and said to them, I myself am old, far advanced in years; 3 you for your part have witnessed all that Yahweh your God has done to all these nations for your sake; Yahweh your God himself has fought for you. 4 Look, these nations still remaining, and all the nations which I have exterminated [cut off] from the Jordan all the way to the Great Sea in the west, I have allotted to you as the heritage [inheritance] for your tribes. 5 Yahweh your God will himself drive them out before you; he will dispossess them before [will send wild beasts against them] you and you will take possession of their country, as Yahweh your God has promised you.'
[..] =
literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 623).

Joshua 23:1 Now long after Yahweh had given Israel rest from all the enemies surrounding them

Not long after the land had been settled Israel had "rest" from all her enemies. This is the 5th and last repeat in Joshua of the theologically significant word "rest" in relation to God's promise to in Deuteronomy 12:10 to give the Israelites "rest" in the Promised Land (see Josh 1:13, 15; 21:44; 22:4; 23:1). Peace in the land of promise is God's gracious gift to an obedient people, and prefigures the promise of eternal rest in the heavenly kingdom for the obedient faithful who claim Jesus Christ as Savior and Divine King.

Joshua 23:2 Joshua was old now, far advanced in years.

According to Caleb's testimony concerning his age in 14:7-10, the conquest took seven years. And now, if Joshua was the same age as Caleb and his discourse is taking place in the last year of his life when Joshua is 110 years old (24:29), it has been 25 years since the allotment and settlement of the land. Joshua knows that his time on earth is coming to an end and has called a National Assembly of the people in order to give his last address to the people. As in the National Assembly at Shechem in 8:33, this assembly includes "all Israel, with their elders, their officials and their judges" (verse 2).

An Assembly that wasn't a religious assembly included all the residents of Israel, tribal members and foreigners living among the Israelites (Josh 8:33).

Question: What four groups of leaders are present that indicates this is a National Assembly?
Answer: Tribal elders, leaders who are chiefs/princes of the tribes, judges and officials.

For other references to chief/princes see Joshua 22:14, 30 and Judges 8:33. The judges and officials were also present in the National Assembly called at Mt. Ebal in Joshua 8:33. God commanded Moses to appoint judges and officials in Deuteronomy 16:18: You must appoint judges and scribes [officials] in each of the towns that Yahweh your God is giving you, for all your tribes; these are to mete out proper justice to the people. The word "scribes" is the same Hebrew word translated "officials" in 23:2.

Question: How does Joshua characterize the Canaanites and Amorites that God and the Israelites have driven from the land?
Answer: He calls them "enemies."

The word "enemies" is significant theologically (Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, page 333). See the same characterization in Exodus 23:22, 27; Joshua 7:8; 10:25 and Judges 5:31. The people who inhabited the land of Canaan weren't just the enemies of Israel; they were the enemies of God because of the sins of their pagan worship and because they stood in opposition to God's Divine plan. See for example Ps 37:20: The wicked, enemies of Yahweh, will be destroyed, they will vanish like the green of the pasture; they will vanish in smoke (also see Ps 68:1 and 79:6). The peoples of Canaan were dispossessed of the land as a Divine judgment for their sins (Gen 15:16, 18-21). Israel was God's weapon of Divine judgment. As their reward the Israelites became the inheritors of the land promised to the forefathers. It was also God's plan that Israel become a light to the pagan nations and the cause of their salvation.

Joshua 23:3 ... you for your part have witnessed all that Yahweh your God has done to all these nations for your sake; Yahweh your God himself has fought for you.

Joshua reminds the Israelites that God has kept His promise to fight for Israel. That God will fight/fought for Israel is repeated seven times (Ex 14:14; Dt 1:30; 3:22; 20:4; Josh 10:14, 42; 23:3).

In verse 4 Joshua reminds the Israelites of the Divine allotment of the tribal lands that is the "inheritance" God promised them (see Dt 32:8; Josh 1:6; Ps 16:5). In verses 4-5 Joshua also reminds the Israelites that the conquest is not completed: Look, these nations still remaining, and all the nations which I have exterminated from the Jordan all the way to the Great Sea in the west, I have allotted to; you as the inheritance for your tribes. Yahweh your God will himself drive them out before you; he will send wild beasts against them; and you will take possession of their land, as Yahweh your God has promised you (literal translation, IBHE). These verses repeated God's promises in 1:6, 10 and 15. There is more land to be won, and God will continue to drive out their enemies so they will possess all the land He promised them. How will He drive them out since the conquest has come to an end and the land has been allotted? Verse 5 gives the answer. It is unclear if the wild beasts are to be understood literally or figuratively; however, as in the Egyptian plagues, God has all kinds of natural manifestations at His disposal (also see the use promised use of hornets in Ex 23:28 and Dt 7:20). See a literal fulfillment of this promise in 2 Kings 17:25.

Question: What is the promise that God will continue driving out their enemies dependent upon? See verse 13.
Answer: The Israelites must continue to be God's partners in the conquest by maintaining faith in God and obedience to the Law.

Joshua 23:6-13 ~ The treatment of pagan neighbors
6 So be very firm [be strong] about keeping and doing everything written in the Book of the Law [torah] of Moses, not swerving from that either to right or to left. 7 Never mix with the peoples who are still left beside you. Do not utter the names of their gods, do not swear by them, do not serve them and do not bow down to them. 8 On the contrary, you must be loyal to [cling to] Yahweh your God as you have been till now [today]. 9 Yahweh has dispossessed great and powerful nations before you, and no one so far has been able to resist you. 10 One man of you was able to rout a thousand of them, since Yahweh your God was himself fighting for you, as he had promised you. 11 Be very careful, as you value your life, to love Yahweh your God. 12 But should you in any way relapse, if you make friends with the remnant of these nations still living beside you, if you intermarry with them, if you mix with them and they with you, 13 then know for certain that Yahweh your God will stop dispossessing these nations before you, and for you they will be a snare, a pitfall, thorns in your sides and thistles in your eyes, until you vanish from this fine country [good land] given you by Yahweh your God.'
[..]
literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, pages 623-24).

In verse 6 Joshua urges the people to be "very firm" or literally "to be strong" in their obedience to the Torah (instruction) of Moses. In the Anchor Bible commentary on Joshua, the authors translate torah "the Book of Mosaic Treaty-teaching" (Boling and Wright, Joshua, page 519, 523-24). The wording in verse 6 is an echo of God's instructions to Moses in Deuteronomy 3:28, Moses' instructions to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:1, 6-7, and God's instructions to Joshua in Joshua 1:6-9. Joshua's next point is that Israel's continued possession of the land is conditional upon Israel's complete obedience to the Torah and in not departing from it "either to right or to the left," an echo of Moses' homily to the Israelites on the Plain of Moab when he told them concerning the instructions of God's Law: Keep them and put them into practice: such is Yahweh's command to you. Stray neither to the right nor to the left. Follow the whole way that Yahweh has marked for you, and you will survive to prosper and live long in the country which you are going to possess (Dt 5:32/29-33; emphasis added).

In verse 7 Joshua gives instruction on how to treat the pagan peoples who are their neighbors.

Question: What kinds of interaction are forbidden? Also see verses 12 and 16 (the same instructions are given in Ex 20:24; ; Dt 6:13; 10:20 and 12:3).

Answer:

  1. Do not marry or have social interaction with them.
  2. Do not invoke the names of their gods or swear an oath using their names.
  3. Do not offer worship to their gods (bowing down and serving them).

Question: If the Israelites violate actions 2 and 3 what sins have they committed? See Ex 20:3-5 and Dt 5:7-9.
Answer: They have violated the first three commandments and have been unfaithful/disloyal to Yahweh their God and Divine King.

Also see the warning against "bowing down" other gods in verse 16. The prohibition against "bowing down" (offering worship) to false gods is in the Ten commandments (Ex 20:5; Dt 5:9) and is also repeated four other times in the Pentateuch (Ex 23:24; Dt 8:19; 11:16; 29:25).(1)

Swearing an oath was a religious act. Invoking the name of a pagan god was equivalent to recognizing the power and authority of that deity. Swearing by Yahweh's name, however, is an expression of true religion (see Ps 63:12).

Question: Why was it important that the Israelites observe a separation from their neighbors?
Answer: The Israelites are to observe a strict separation from their pagan neighbors in order to maintain their loyalty to the covenant and to establish their own unique identity as the people of Yahweh.

After these negative statements, Joshua adds a positive statement in verse 8, urging the Israelites to continue to "cling" (dabaq) firmly to Yahweh as the do "today" (also see the use of this expression in similar admonitions in Dt 4:4; 10:20; 11:22; 13:4; etc; also Josh 22:5).

That the enemy nations were "great and powerful" (verse 8) emphasizes the greater power of God in giving Israel victory over their enemies and His power over their enemies' false gods.

Verses 9-13 contain Joshua's second call to obedience:

God's promise to drive out their enemies (see Dt 7:1; 11:23, 25 and Josh 1:5) has been fulfilled. Joshua emphasizes the strength of their enemies, which makes God's deliverance even more impressive and should encourage the loyalty of the Israelites.

Joshua 23:10 One man of you was able to rout a thousand of them, since Yahweh your God was himself fighting for you, as he had promised you. Joshua's description of the success of the Israelites in fighting their enemies alongside God the Divine Warrior is a curious reversal of the warning Moses gave in his last homily of the Israelites' utter failure if they becomes unfaithful to God. In that event, Yahweh their "Rock" will desert them and one of the enemy will be able to rout a thousand Israelites (Dt 32:30). So long as they remain faithful, the reverse of Moses' dire warning will take place.

Joshua 23:11 Be very careful, as you value your life, to love Yahweh your God.

The message is clear "loving Yahweh and being loyal to His covenant is the way of life. Any other path is the way of death (see Moses' warning in Dt 30:15-20).

Question: In Joshua's stern warning in verse 12, what does he say will happen to the Israelites if they apostatize from their faith by intermarrying with their pagan neighbors (meaning those who remain pagan; not those who convert)?
Answer: God will not continue to drive out their enemies and the Israelites will lose what they have gained.

When Joshua gives the Israelites a stern warning in verse 13, he says: ... then know for certain that Yahweh your God will stop dispossessing these nations before you, and for you they will be a snare, a pitfall, thorns in your sides and thistles in your eyes, until you vanish from this fine country [good land] given you by Yahweh your God.'

Joshua's warning is an echo of the warning God told Moses to give the Israelites in Numbers 33:55 ~ If, however, you do not drive out the local inhabitants before you, the ones you allow to remain will be thorns in your eyes and thistles in your sides and will harass you in the country where you are living, and I shall treat you as I intended to treat them.

Question: Of what covenant curse does the figurative language of "thorns" and "thistles" remind you? See Gen 3:18-19.
Answer: The language is similar to the language of the covenant curse on Adam for his rebellion and disloyalty to God in eating the forbidden fruit just before he and Eve were banished from the garden Sanctuary where God communed with man in Eden.

Question: What is the symbolic comparison between Adam and Israel?
Answer: Canaan is to be a new Eden where man communes with God in His holy Sanctuary "the first Sanctuary where God dwells among men since the loss of Eden. If the people become unfit for worship because of their sins, as Adam became unfit for worship because of his sin, they will be driven out of the land by God just as He drove Adam and Eve out of the Edenic Sanctuary after the Fall.

Joshua 23:14-16 ~ A call for acknowledgment of God's faithfulness and conclusion
14 Today, you see, I am going the way of all the earth. Acknowledge with all your heart and soul that of all the promises made to you by Yahweh your God, not one has failed: all have been fulfilled "not one has failed. 15 As every promise [all good] made to you by Yahweh your God has been fulfilled for you, by the same token Yahweh will fulfill all his threats [all bad/evil] against you, even to exterminating you from this fine country [good land] given you by Yahweh your God. 16 For if you violate the covenant which Yahweh your God has imposed on you, if you go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then Yahweh's anger will be roused against you and you will quickly vanish from the fine country [good land] which he has given you.'
[..]
= literal translation (IBHE, vol. I, page 624).

The expression Joshua uses of his impending death is the same wording that will be used by King David (1 Kng 2:2).

Question: What is Joshua's warning in verse 14b?
Answer: If God kept all His promises concerning the Israelites taking possession of the land of Canaan, then the Israelites must expect that He will be just as vigilant in imposing the judgments He has promised for covenant failure.

Joshua 23:15 As every promise [all good] made to you by Yahweh your God has been fulfilled for you, by the same token Yahweh will fulfill all his threats [all bad/evil] against you, even to exterminating you from this fine country [good land] given you by Yahweh your God.

The reference to "all good" versus "all bad" recalls the sanctions of the covenant treaty: covenant blessings for obedience and the covenant curse/judgments for covenant disloyalty. Keeping the good land is determined by Israel's continuing goodness in covenant obedience and loyalty.

Chapter 24: The Covenant Renewal Ceremony at Shechem and the Graves of the Heroes

When Yahweh has brought you into the country which he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would give you, with great and prosperous cities you have not built, with houses full of good things you have not provided, with wells you have not dug, with vineyards and olive trees you have not planted, and them, when you have eaten as much as you want, be careful you do not forget Yahweh who had brought you out of Egypt, out of the place of slave-labor. Yahweh your God is the one you must hear, him alone you must serve, his is the name by which you must swear.
Deuteronomy 6:10-13

Chapter 24 is a continuation of chapter 23 and is divided into parts II and III:

  1. Joshua's addressed continued at the covenant renewal ceremony at Shechem (24:1-28)
    1. Joshua calls a National Assembly (24:1)
    2. The review of Israel's history (24:2-13)
    3. Exhortation to faithfulness and Israel's response (24:14-24)
      1. Joshua's call to obedience #1 and Israel's oath #1 (24:14-18)
      2. Joshua's call to obedience #2 and Israel's oath #2 (24:19-21)
      3. Joshua's call to obedience #3 and Israel's response (24:22)
      4. Joshua's final warning and Israel's oath #3 (24:23-24)
    4. Completion of the covenant renewal and documentation (24:25-28)
  2. Conclusion: the graves of Israel's heroes in the Promised Land (24:29-33)
    1. Joshua (24:29-31)
    2. Joseph (24:32-32)
    3. Eleazar (24:33)

Chapter 24 has many of the elements of a formal covenant treaty but with some variation (Fr. Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, page 148). The five parts of the document of a biblical covenant treaty include:

  1. The preamble (identification of the Great King)
  2. Historical prologue (recounting what the Great King has done)
  3. Ethical stipulations (necessary obligations of the vassal people)
  4. Sanctions (blessings for loyalty and curses/judgments for disloyalty)
  5. Succession Arrangements

(Secular Near Eastern covenant treaties had a 6th section where the two party's pagan gods were named as witnesses to the covenant treaty).

Chapter 24 a number of covenant treaty elements:

  1. A preamble identifying Yahweh (24:2a)
  2. A historical prologue recounting what Yahweh has done for the people (24:2b-13)
  3. A list of ethical stipulations that demonstrate Israel's obedience to Yahweh (24:14, 19, 23)
  4. Sanctions: judgments for covenant disloyalty (24:20)
  5. The people in one voice swear obedience to Yahweh 3 times (24:16-18, 21 and 24) and declare themselves witnesses to the covenant with Yahweh (24:22).

Note that in the Hebrew text Joshua is named 7 times in the chapter (24:1, 2, 19, 21, 22, 24, and 25). There are also 7 references to the people (24:2, 16, 19, 21, 22, 24, and 25).

Joshua 24:1-13 ~ Joshua calls an assembly of Israel at Shechem and a gives a review of Israel's history
1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together at Shechem; he then summoned all the elders of Israel, its leaders, judges and officials, and they presented themselves in God's presence. 2 Joshua then said to all the people: Yahweh, the God of Israel, says this, "From time immemorial, your ancestors, Terah, father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River, and served other gods. 3 I then brought your ancestor Abraham from beyond the River and led him through the length and breadth of Canaan. I increased his descendants and I gave him Isaac. 4 To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave possession of the mountainous country of Seir. Jacob and his sons went down into Egypt. 5 I then sent Moses and Aaron, and plagued Egypt with the wonders that I worked there; finally I brought you out. 6 I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, and you came to the Sea; the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen, to the Sea of Reeds. 7 They then called to Yahweh, and he spread a thick fog [cloud] between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea go back on them and cover them. You saw with your own eyes what I did in Egypt. Then, for a long while, you lived in the desert. 8 I then brought you into the country [land] of the Amorites, who used to live on the further side of the Jordan; they made war on you and I put them at your mercy; after which, you took possession of their country, since I destroyed them before you. 9 Next, Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, rose to make war on Israel, and sent for Balaam son of Beor to come and curse you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam; instead, he had to bless you, and I saved you from his power. 11 You then crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho, but the inhabitants of Jericho made war on you: Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I put them all at your mercy. 12 I sent hornets ahead of you, which drove out the two Amorite kings before you; this was not the work of your sword of or your bow. 13 And now I have given you a country [land] for which you have not toiled, towns you have not built, although you live in them, vineyards and olive groves you have not planted, although you eat their fruit."'
[..] = literal translation (IBHE,
vol. I, page 625-26).

The National Assembly Joshua called was at Shechem, near to where he held the first National Assembly in the Promised Land (8:30-35). In this momentous national event, the people are called as one body into the presence of Yahweh, their king. It may be that this is a continuation of the Assembly called in chapter 23. No location was given in chapter 23. Now we are told the Assembly is at Shechem and the Sanctuary has been moved there from Shiloh, since the Assembly is in Yahweh' Divine Presence (verse 1). The Septuagint (LXX) has Shiloh instead of Shechem.

Question: What is the difference between a National Assembly (i.e., see the description of those present for the covenant renewal ceremony in Josh 8:33, 35) and a Sacred Assembly (see Lev 23:1-2, 4, 7-8)? Also see Ex 12:43-49; Acts 21:27-29.

Answer: National Assemblies included everyone living in Israel: native born Israelites from the 12 tribes and the foreign aliens living among them who are subject to God's Law and who acknowledged Yahweh as the sovereign Lord of the state. Sacred Assemblies, on the other hand, were religious assemblies to which only Israelites and any Gentiles who had converted to the faith of Israel by ritually submitting his/her life to Yahweh (males through circumcision) had the right to attend and take part in the religious services associated with the Sanctuary. No non-Israelites were admitted to the Sanctuary or to Yahweh's sacred meals associated with His Sacred Assemblies/religious festivals.

Question: What is significant about Joshua's historical survey? See verse 2.
Answer: These are not Joshua's words but Yahweh's words spoken by Joshua.

The announcement "Yahweh, God of Israel," identifies the Great King who is renewing the treaty with his vassal people. The following speech is typical of the historical prologue section of a Hittite covenant treaty document in which the Great Kings actions on behalf of his covenant people are recounted in detail. "The River" refers to the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia. In verse 2 we learn that the descendants of Shem (righteous son of Noah) had so fallen away from God that they worshiped false gods. See Genesis 31:19 and 35:2-4 where, coming back from Haran in Syria, the home of Terah and his descendants, Jacob commanded his wives to dispose of their pagan images. The historical prologue extends from events Genesis 11:27 to the completed conquest in the Book of Joshua.

Verse 7a: You saw with your own eyes what I did in Egypt. This statement echoes the command in Exodus 13:8-10 that every generation of Israelites is to remember the Exodus experience as though they had lived it.

Joshua 24:12 I sent hornets ahead of you, which drove out the two Amorite kings before you; this was not the work of your sword of or your bow.

In Moses' homily to the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan River before his death, he told them God would fight their battles for them "And what is more, Yahweh your God will send hornets to destroy those who are left and who hide from you (Dt 7:20; also see the same promise by God in Ex 23:28). But this is the first time we have heard that God intervened in Israel's battle against the Amorites on the east side of the Jordan River with hornets. Next Joshua, still speaking Yahweh's words, repeats what Moses said in Deuteronomy 6:10-13 concerning the land on the east side of the Jordan River that the Israelites possess and for which they did not work to create.

Joshua 24:14-18 ~ Joshua's 1st call to obedience and Israel's 1st oath of allegiance
14 So now, fear Yahweh and serve him truly and sincerely; banish the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve Yahweh. 15 But if serving Yahweh seems a bad thing to you, today you must make up your minds whom you do mean to serve, whether the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose country [land] you are now living. As regards my family and me, we shall serve Yahweh.' 16 The people replied, Far be it from us to desert Yahweh and to serve other gods! 17 Yahweh our God was the one who brought us and our ancestors here from Egypt, from the place of slave-labor, who worked those great wonders before our eyes and who kept us safe all along the way we travelled and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And Yahweh has driven all the nations out for us, including the Amorites who used to live in the country [land]. We too shall serve Yahweh, for he is our God.'
[..] = literal translation (IBHE,
vol. I, page 626-27).

In his first call to obedience, Joshua makes the declaration: As regards my family and me, we shall serve Yahweh.' A righteous parent cannot secure his children's salvation "that is a personal decision each individual must make. However, parents can nurture their children by providing a climate of righteousness and establishing a pattern of godly obedience within their household that will set their children on the narrow path to salvation. This is the pledge that Joshua has made for his family.

Question: How do the Israelites respond in two parts in verses 16-18?
Answer: They make a profession of faith in Yahweh in verse 16-18a and an oath of obedience in verse 18b.

The first part of the people's response in verses 16-18a is a profession of faith reciting in a concise summary God's intervention in their history, in a way similar to which we summarize our belief in God's intervention in the history of mankind in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. Our creed ends with a profession of what we believe God will do for us in the future if we serve him "the promise of life everlasting. The Israelites end their profession of faith with an oath to serve God.

Joshua 24:19-21 ~ Joshua's 2nd call to obedience and Israel's 2nd oath of allegiance
19 Joshua then said to the people, You will not be able to serve Yahweh, since he is a holy God; he is a jealous God who will not tolerate either your misdeeds or your sins. 20 If you desert Yahweh and serve the foreigners' gods, he will turn and maltreat you anew and, in spite of having been good to you in the past, will destroy you.' 20 The people replied to Joshua, No! Yahweh is the one we mean to serve.'

Question: In verse 19 what challenge does Joshua make to the people in answer to their declaration in verse 18 that they will "serve Yahweh."
Answer: They have sworn to serve Yahweh (verse 18), but Joshua tells them they cannot serve a holy God unless they are a holy people.

That God is jealous for Israel's love and obedience and is not willing to share His people with false gods has been repeated 5 times in the Pentateuch (Ex 20:5; 34:14; Dt 4:24; 5:9 and 6:15). Joshua's warning is probably meant to be an echo of Moses' warning in Deuteronomy 6:14-15: Do not follow other gods, gods of the peoples round you, for Yahweh your God among you is a jealous God; the wrath of Yahweh your God would blaze out against you, and he would wipe you off the face of the earth.

Joshua then speaks of God's temporal judgments if they apostatize from their allegiance to Yahweh as their One True God and sovereign Divine King. All God's temporal judgments are meant to be redemptive. Temporal judgments are the way God lets us experience the destructive consequences of sin so that we will reject sin and turn back to fellowship with Him.

Question: If the Israelites repeat the same sinful practices of the Canaanites and do not respond to His temporal judgments, why will He dispossess them from the land?
Answer: Having dispossessed the inhabitants of Canaan because of their sins, the God of justice cannot let His own people fall into the same sins without suffering the same punishment.

Question: What is the people's response?
Answer: They swear a second time to serve only Yahweh.

Joshua 24:22 ~ Joshua's 3rd call to obedience and Israel's response
22 Joshua then said to the people, You are witnesses to yourselves that you have chosen Yahweh, to serve him.' They replied, Witnesses we are!'

The people are the witnesses "the living stones of the covenant treaty.

Joshua 24:23-24 ~ Joshua's final warning and Israel's 3rd oath of allegiance
23 Then banish the foreign gods which you have with you and give your allegiance [incline your heart] to Yahweh, God of Israel!' 24 The people replied to Joshua, Yahweh our God is the one whom we shall serve; his voice we shall obey!'
[..] =
literal translation (IBHE vol. I, page 628).

Notice that Joshua doesn't say "if you have foreign gods with you"; he knows his people, both their strengths and their failings. He calls upon them to commit to Yahweh with their hearts. For the ancients the heart was the decision making center and the true essence of a person, expressing a person's mind and will. Hence the command to "love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength" and to "let the words" "stay in your heart" (Dt 6:5).

The National Assembly's 3 oaths of allegiance:

  1. "...We to shall serve Yahweh, for he is our God." (24:16-18)
  2. "No! Yahweh is the one we mean to serve." (24:21)
  3. "Yahweh our God is the one whom we shall serve; his voice we shall obey!" (24:24)

Joshua 24:25-28 ~ Covenant renewal and documentation
25 That day Joshua made a covenant for the people; he laid down a statute and ordinance for them at Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. He then took a large stone and set it up there, under the oak tree in Yahweh's sanctuary. 27 Joshua then said to all the people, Look, this stone will be a witness to us, since it has heard all the words that Yahweh has spoken to us: it will be a witness against you, in case you should deny your God.' 28 Joshua then dismissed the people, everyone to his own heritage.

"That day" refers to the same day the Israelites swore their oath of allegiance to Yahweh. The covenant referred to in verse 25 is not a new covenant "it is a new commitment to the covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai. Many years have passed since the covenant renewal ceremony at Shechem between Mounts Ebal and Gerizim (see Josh 8:30-35). A new generation is coming to adulthood and it is time to renew the covenant vows made at Mt. Sinai and to record the events in the Book of the Law of God, also called the Book of the Law of Moses. The renewal ceremony is similar to the covenant ratification at Mt. Sinai in which Moses read from the same book (see Ex 24:3-7). The Sanctuary has been moved from Shiloh to Shechem for the event, since sacrifices will be offered for the community (24:26b). The large stone that is erected will stand as a public memorial to the oath the Israelites swore in the covenant renewal ceremony. It will be a reminder to those who had themselves become witnesses (verse 22).

Question: It what two ways will the stone be a witness?
Answer: It will be a positive witness to their oath of allegiance if they are faithful and a negative witness if the fail in their loyalty of God.

Question: When does the covenant community in Christ renew its sworn covenant vows?
Answer: We first took our covenant vows (or our parents and godparents took them for us) in the Sacrament of Baptism. Those vows are repeated in the Sacrament of Confirmation. We renew those vows annually during Easter week in the Renewal of Baptismal Promises and whenever we recite the Creed.

Question: What other events in the history of the old covenant people took place at Shechem? See Josh 8:30-35; Gen 12:6-7; 33:18-20; 34:1-31; 35:2-4.
Answer:

  1. The covenant renewal ceremony after entering the Promised Land.
  2. Abraham built an altar to God there when he first came to Canaan.
  3. Jacob bought land there.
  4. The covenant between Jacob and the people of Shechem and the tragedy of Jacob's daughter and the Prince of Shechem ending with the murder of the men of Shechem.
  5. Jacob made his wives bury the idols brought from Mesopotamia there.

Joshua 24:29-35 ~ Conclusion: the graves of Israel's heroes in the Promised Land
29 After this, Joshua son of Nun, servant of Yahweh, died; he was a hundred and ten years old. 30 He was buried on the estate which he had received as his heritage, at Timnath-Serah which lies in the highlands of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 31 Israel served Yahweh throughout the lifetime of Joshua and throughout the lifetime of those elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the deeds which Yahweh had done for the sake of Israel. 32 As regards the bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought from Egypt, these were buried at Shechem in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor father of Shechem, and which had become the heritage of the sons of Joseph. 33 Eleazar son of Aaron then died and was buried at Gibeah, the town of his son Phinehas [on the hill of his son Phinehas], which had been given to him in the highlands of [in mount] Ephraim.
[..]
literal translation (IBHE, vol. 1, page 628-29).

Joshua is buried on his ancestral land within the lands allotted to his tribe of Ephraim. It is significant that it is noted that the conquest generation remained faithful to the covenant with Yahweh. It is a testament to the leadership of Joshua, Eleazar, Phinehas and chieftains like Caleb. Joshua lived to be 110 years old; it was the same age as his ancestor Joseph (Gen 50:22).

Joshua 24:32 As regards the bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought from Egypt, these were buried at Shechem in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor father of Shechem, and which had become the heritage of the sons of Joseph.

Question: Joseph son of Jaocb-Israel, the Israelite Vizier of Egypt who brought his people to live in the land of Egypt during a famine (Gen 45:16-46:7), died and was buried in Egypt. When the children of Israel left Egypt they took his body with them (Ex 13:19). Burying Joseph in Canaan fulfilled what promise? See Gen 50:24-26.
Answer: Joseph made his kinsmen swear to take his bones with them when they returned to Canaan.

Joseph's bones were placed in a grave on land his father Jacob-Israel had purchased near Shechem (Gen 33:18-20). Jacob-Israel also died in Egypt. He made Joseph swear not to bury him in Egypt but to take his bones back to Canaan and bury them in the cave Abraham purchased as a burial site near Hebron (Gen 23:17-20; 47:29-31; 50:12-13). Thus, with the internment of Joseph's bones, the return of the Israelites to Canaan is completed.

Verse 33: The High Priest Eleazar, third son and successor of Aaron, died and was buried on a hill near the town occupied by his son Phinehas. A town name Gibeah was allotted to the chief priests in the highlands of Judah (15:57) not Ephraim; there was no town of that name allotted to Ephraim "no chief priests were settled in the lands allotted to Ephraim. There were two towns with similar names, Gibeon and Geba, which were priestly cities within the tribe of Benjamin. It is possible that this is a scribal error or it is another Gibeah within the tribe of Benjamin that was known by another name since "gibeah" simply means "hill" in Hebrew. The cities of Gibeon and Geba are in the tribal lands of Benjamin on the border with Ephraim where Mt. Ephraim is located.(2)

Joshua having dismissed the people, the Israelites then went away, each one to his own heritage, to occupy the country. The people served Yahweh throughout the lifetime of Joshua and throughout the lifetime of those elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the great deeds which Yahweh had done for the sake of Israel. Joshua son of Nun, servant of Yahweh, was a hundred and ten years old when he died. He was buried on the estate which he had received as his heritage at Timnath-Heres in the highlands of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. And when that whole generation had been gathered to its ancestors, another generation followed it which knew neither Yahweh nor the deeds which he had done for the sake of Israel.
Judges 2:6-10

God kept His sworn oath to the Patriarchs "their descendants were in possession of the Promised Land and the course of salvation history had taken a tremendous leap forward. The land bridge that had been Canaan was now established as the "House of Israel" "meaning the nation of Israel " a united confederation of the tribes of Israel, ruled by the Law of He who was the one true God and Divine King "Yahweh the God of Israel. The land of Israel was to become both a bridge and a launching point from which God's plan for mankind's salvation would become a light radiating out to a world of men and women stumbling in darkness but longing for a God of love and salvation. God's plan would continue to unfold during the passing centuries until the moment in time upon which the whole course of human history turned "the birth of mankind's Go'el Haddam, a new Joshua "Jesus the Messiah (Christ), son of God and son of a daughter of Abraham from the tribe of Judah.

Lord God,
Make us holy warriors like the faithful Israelite generation of the conquest, and give us leaders like Joshua to guide us in our mission to spread the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth!

Questions for reflection or group discussion:

Question: What lessons can those of us in the current generations of the Church take away from the Book of Joshua?
Possible Answer:

  1. Strong leaders, like Joshua, are necessary for the spiritual health of the Church and for the Church to fulfill her mission in the world. Our leaders must be as firm as Joshua and must not be swayed by secular movements. Nor can they remain silent against abuses, or turn away from denouncing sins within and outside the Church, or from making culturally unpopular decisions that uphold the teachings of Scripture and Tradition. Like Joshua, they must be totally committed to the Law of God and must seek out sins within the community like Joshua sought out and punished Achan for the sake of the covenant community as a whole.
  2. The community of the faithful must fear offending God more than they fear criticism for adhering to the Church's teachings that are not popular with the secular world. We must be obedient to our leaders as the holy warrior generation was obedient to Joshua. And, as Joshua warned the Israelites that tolerance for sin and tolerance for the pagan practices would harm Israel's relationship with God, we must understand that tolerance for sin will damage us individually and the Church as a whole, and we will also suffer God's divine judgment, individually and collectively.
  3. The conquest of the Promised Land was not a one-time event. It was a process that was to continue. The Israelites were promised continual victories so long as they were obedient to the covenant with Yahweh (Josh 13:1-7). The same is true of our individual journeys to salvation and our commitment as a corporate covenant people of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. Our journey to the Promised Land of heaven is also a process. We are promised victory over sin and death though the sacrifice of Jesus Christ so long as we remain obedient and true on our journey to salvation. Joshua warned the Israelites not to veer to the right or to the left in obedience to the Law; it is a warning we must heed as well. When God punishes us for the sins that we are too stubborn to confess or to reject, His judgments are meant to be redemptive "calling us to turn away from the harm caused by our sins and to turn back to fellowship with Him before the day of Judgment dawns and it is too late to repent.
  4. Joshua stressed to the covenant community that God is faithful in fulfilling all His promises - His promised blessings for faithfulness and His covenant judgments for failures in obedience. Joshua told the people "Be very careful, as you value your life, to love Yahweh your God" (Josh 23:10b), and "If you desert Yahweh and serve the foreigners' gods, he will turn and maltreat you anew and, in spite of having been good to you in the past, will destroy you" (Josh 24:20). Joshua's warning is also valid for us. God is faithful and He is just. He will not punish the sins of some and let the sins of others go unpunished. If those of us who profess faith in God and claim the promise of eternal salvation through Christ Jesus fall into sin and fall away from God, we must expect that He will also punish us as He has promised (see for example Mt 13:41-43 and 25:31-46).

Question: Are today's Christians like the Exodus generation or are we more like their children and grandchildren of the Old Covenant Church who followed Joshua to victory in taking possession of God's promises in the Promised Land?
Possible answer: Today's Churches are filled with Christians who follow the example of the Exodus generation led by Moses and the example of the Israelites of the new generation led by Joshua. Some Christians profess belief in God and belief in salvation through His Son and yet insist on forging their own path through life, viewing the Law of love of God before all else, the love of neighbor, and the teachings of mother Church more as a suggested guide rather than a plan that leads to eternal life. They are like the Exodus generation who fondly remembered their past life in Egypt and found that more enticing that the sacrifice of covenant obedience. In their persistent rebellion, these professing Christians continually challenge the Church on the issues of abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of women in addition to other social and religious issues, while rejecting regular participation in the Sacraments as not necessary for their earthly and eternal happiness and fulfillment. They profess what they do not understand; they do not head the consequences of their actions, and; they do not fear offending God or His divine judgment. Their fate will mirror the fate of the Exodus generation that was condemned to death outside the "Promised Land." But the hope of the Church and future generations rests in the obedient "faithful remnant" of believers who submit their lives to God's Law of love and His plan for their salvation as revealed in the mission and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ. These Christians offer up their lives as a holy sacrifice to God every time they process to the altar to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Savior in the Eucharist. In their obedience to Jesus (Yahshua/Yehoshua) in the conquest against sin in the world, in the same way the new generation of Israel was obedient to Joshua (Yahshua/Yehoshua) in the conquest of Canaan, they will take possession of God's promises, they will see the "Promised Land" of heaven, and they will receive the gift of eternal "rest" God promised to the faithful.

Question: Joshua declared to the Israelites: "As regards my family and me, we shall serve Yahweh" (Josh 24:15b). Do you have the courage to make the same declaration to your neighbors and to your family? How can such a positive stand have an impact on your community and on your children? What can you do to demonstrate your commitment to the New Covenant in Christ Jesus? What does Proverbs 22:6 and Sirach 6:17-20 teach us about raising godly children?

Endnotes:

1. For other passages that forbid "bowing down" see Judg 2:19; 1 Kng 9:9; 22:54; 2 Kng 17:35; 21:3, 21. Bowing down in adoration is appropriate for the Yahweh alone.

2. Gibeon was an important city of Benjamin that is now identified with modern el-Jibl located 8 km northwest of Jerusalem. The village is located on a small limestone hill. Geba is mentioned in close connection with Gibeah in Judg 20:10, 33; 1 Sam 13:3, 16; and 14:5 and Is 10:29. It is possible that Geba is another name for Gibeah in Benjaminite lands. It has been suggested that Gibeah is the older Israelite name for the city known later as Geba.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

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