CONSIDERATION OF COVENANT HISTORY SHOULD PROMPT RENEWAL OF COVENANT COMMITMENT
Trent Butler: Josh 24 completes the book by giving the theological definition of the people of God. “The preceding account of God’s saving acts and election of Israel has made devotion to other gods absurd.” Here we suddenly find highly loaded theological language, defining God and the God-human relationship. Here we find “what is arguably the central idea about God in the Old Testament.” “Joshua powerfully establishes Israel’s identity as a people defined by the decisions it freely makes in response to God’s initiative.” . . .
Joshua forces Israel to understand the difference between their concept of god(s) and the true nature of Yahweh. He is the holy, jealous God who expects his people to be satisfied with nothing less than perfection. He is not a God whom men can bribe. He is not a God who waits around patiently while Israel flirts with other gods. He is not a God who governs one small part of the world while others take care of their shares. He is the only God, the one who has all power and all responsibility. More than anything else, he is the God who loves so much that he seeks the same whole-hearted love and devotion in return. People are incapable of such total devotion, but this is no excuse. God’s people are called to demand such devotion from themselves, to be satisfied with nothing less.
Kenneth Gangel: Joshua reviews Israel’s covenant history, their covenant commitment, and their covenant action. The chapter presents a vivid and dramatic picture of what it means to be in a covenant relationship with God.
(:1-13) Review of Covenant History — The nation of Israel had a history with God—a record of how God had provided and remained faithful to them through the years. In the years ahead they would find it necessary to review that history periodically.
(:14-24) Renewal of Covenant Commitment — Having reviewed the history of Israel in brief form, Joshua calls upon the nation to “fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness” and offers himself and his household as the model.
(:25-33) Recording of Covenant Action — Israel needs more stones with ears to record their private prayers and public promises to God about their national affirmation of faithfulness and purity.
I. (:1-13) REVIEW OF SIGNIFICANT MILESTONES IN COVENANT HISTORY
Gordon Matties: God’s purpose and direction are confirmed. In spite of their worship of other gods, Yahweh has called them into a relationship and acted on their behalf against Egypt, Balak, Balaam, and the Canaanites. Here at the end of Joshua’s story, we have the result of God’s initiative: God has given the land to Israel.
James Smith: Blessings Reviewed
“I brought you out” (Josh 24:5). They were emancipated through blood (Exod. 12:13). So are we (1 Peter 1:18, 19). Once the slaves of sin, now the children of God. Delivered to serve (Luke 1:74).
“The Lord put darkness between you and the Egyptians” (Josh 24:7). The darkness of death still lies between the saved and the unsaved (John 5:24). The Lord doth put a difference (Exod. 11:7). No human power will ever be able to bridge the great gulf fixed between death and life.
“I gave them (enemies) into your hand” (Josh 24:8). All the enemies of the believer are conquered foes. They need not have dominion over you (Rom. 6:14; Micah 7:9). He giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 7:25).
“When Balak called Balaam to curse you he blessed you still” (Josh 24:9, 10). He can turn the counsel of the wicked to naught (Neh. 4:15). “The Lord is thy keeper; He shall preserve thee from all evil” (Ps. 121:5, 7).
“I have given you a land for which you did not labour,” etc. (Josh 24:13). “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” What did the prodigal do for the benefits he received? (Luke 15:22, 23) What have we that we have not received (Eph. 2:7). “Now, therefore, fear the Lord, and serve Him.”
(:1-2a) Preparation for Divine Address to the Nation’s Leaders
“Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,’”
Kenneth Gangel: Joshua had selected the perfect place for this gathering—Shechem—just a few miles northwest of Shiloh where Abraham first received the promise that God would give his seed the land of Canaan. Perhaps he even stood by Abraham’s altar (Gen. 12:6-7). Jacob also stopped at Shechem, and Joshua had built an altar there (Josh. 8:30-35). This was an excellent place for this speech, since the stones on which the law had been written were probably still standing—a vivid visual aid of that significant event.
Robert Hubbard: Joshua launches the proceedings by addressing the assembled crowd. His first words are the so-called messenger formula (“Thus says X”), the standard phrase invoked to introduce a verbatim message from a third party (e.g., Gen. 32:5; 45:9; Num. 20:14; Judg. 11:15; Isa 36:4). In this case, the formula is (lit.) “Thus says the LORD,” the typical preface to oracles by prophets (e.g., Judg. 6:8; 2 Sam. 12:7; Isa. 29:22; Jer. 2:5). It clearly signals that the sound the assembly hears may be Joshua’s but the voice speaking is in fact that of Yahweh. Indeed, this marks Yahweh’s lone, personal, direct address to assembled Israel in the book.
Literarily, the effect is to portray God not as an aloof commander-in-chief speaking from offsite through his field commander, but as a personal participant in the proceedings. On this occasion, God himself personally engages his people “on the ground” and in their midst, a party to the relationship at stake in the present proceedings. He speaks as the “God of Israel”—the God with a long-standing, unique relationship with the people he is addressing. He speaks as someone who wants that long history of relationship to continue and to thrive. . .
The driving theme of the speech concerns Israel’s exclusive devotion to Yahweh alone.
Jerome Creach: The first portion of the covenant ceremony is a recollection of the Lord’s gracious acts towards Israel, told in order to evoke Israel’s response of obedience and complete devotion. This section resembles Deuteronomy 26:5–9; Psalms 78; 105–106; and 136. . .
This section is unique among the historical summaries in the Old Testament in the way it focuses on the choice between the Lord and other gods. . . This emphasis on the Lord’s initiative in forming Israel provides the foundation for the larger argument that it would be foolish to worship other gods, since this God is completely responsible for Israel’s existence. Verses 2–13 provide a powerful prelude to the charge that follows, “[C]hoose this day whom you will serve” (v. 15).
Van Parunak: His title emphasizes
- his eternity (“LORD,” YHWH, the great “I Am”)
- his authority (“God”)
- his personality (“of Israel,” the one who has chosen Israel above all the other nations of the earth to be his own peculiar people)
A. (:2b-4) History of God’s Gracious Dealings with the Patriarchs
- (:2b) Background of Idolatry
“From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.”
Kenneth Gangel: Joshua goes all the way back to Terah and Abraham to remind them that just as God provided for the patriarchs he provides for Israel out of their sin and into his grace.
- (:3a) Calling of Abraham
“Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River,
and led him through all the land of Canaan,”
Jerome Creach: The implication is that Abraham would have continued to worship the gods of his father if God had not urged him towards a singular devotion. Hence Israel could not boast even of Abraham’s piety; that also was due to God’s graciousness.
- (:3b) Multiplication of Descendants Beginning with Isaac
“and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.”
- (:4) History of Jacob and Esau
“And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau, and to Esau I gave Mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.”
B. (:5-7) History of God’s Deliverance in the Exodus from Egypt
- (:5) Deliverance Via Miraculous Plagues
“Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt by what I did in its midst; and afterward I brought you out.”
Trent Butler: Moses and Aaron are introduced as representatives of the two sources of authority for the Israelite community, the priesthood and the Torah of Moses. The emphasis of the historical review is not on human authority but on divine action. Any authority derived from Moses and Aaron is secondary. God himself is the sole source of primary authority. He sent out the humans from whom authority is secondarily derived.
- (:6-7a) Deliverance Via Crossing of the Red Sea
“And I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and Egypt pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 But when they cried out to the LORD, He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them and covered them; and your own eyes saw what I did in Egypt.”
Robert Hubbard: In Israelite memory, these kinds of events epitomized Yahweh’s awesome and overwhelming miraculous power. Here they rhetorically display Yahweh’s unquestioned superiority over both mighty earthly kings and would-be rival deities, all in support of the central appeal to Israel that soon follows.
Helene Dallaire: After 430 years in Egypt, the Israelites cried out to the Lord, who then raised Moses and Aaron up to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. God afflicted the Egyptians, destroyed their chariots and horses in the sea, and brought Israel out on dry ground (Ex 12:31–39) to a desert region, where they lived for the next forty years.
- (:7b) Deliverance Via Sustenance in the Wilderness for a Long Time
“And you lived in the wilderness for a long time.”
David Howard: A great number of people in this generation had actually witnessed and experienced many of the mighty deeds God had done for his people. They would have been the people who were under the age of twenty when the nation had left Egypt (see Num 14:29–33). Indeed, the major part of the review of the past in vv. 2–13 focuses on what God had done for those now alive and present with Joshua at Shechem. This shows that God did not just make himself known in ages past; he also worked mightily and graciously for the people being addressed. The impact of God’s words was greater because of this focus on them. Christians today are still part of that great spiritual heritage (see, e.g., Rom 11:11–24; Hebrews 11).
Trent Butler: The Pentateuch pictures the wilderness as the period of Israel’s murmuring and God’s punishment, even while depicting miraculous acts of God that preserve Israel’s life. Our writer suffices with a brief mention, letting the audience fill in the details and interpretation. His focus is on God’s guidance and victories.
C. (:8-10) History of Victory in Transjordan Territory
- (:8) Victory over the Amorites (Og and Sihon)
“Then I brought you into the land of the Amorites who lived beyond the Jordan, and they fought with you; and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land when I destroyed them before you.”
- (:9-10) Victory over Balak and Balaam
“Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel, and he sent and summoned Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. 10 But I was not willing to listen to Balaam. So he had to bless you, and I delivered you from his hand.”
Kenneth Gangel: Instead of cursing Israel, Balaam was forced by God to bless them. Once again God took what someone intended as evil and turned it into something good for his people.
Robert Hubbard: The theme of divine rescue marks one of the speech’s key themes, another of a string of divine deliverances from hostile enemies over the centuries (Ex. 18:8–10; Judg. 8:34; 1 Sam. 17:37). The implication is that had Yahweh not intervened, there would be no Israel for him to address on this or any other occasion. Enemies would have overwhelmed them long ago.
D. (:11-13) History of Conquest of Canaan
- (:11a) Crossing the Jordan
“And you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho; “
- (:11b) Conquering Jericho and the Formidable Adversaries
“and the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Girgashite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Thus I gave them into your hand.”
- (:12) Conquering the Two Renowned Amorite Kings
“Then I sent the hornet before you and it drove out the two kings of the Amorites from before you, but not by your sword or your bow.”
Van Parunak: We can recognize this as a summary because it returns to the “two kings of the Amorites,” Sihon and Og, in Transjordan.
“the hornet” — Perhaps best is Garstang’s observation that the Hieroglyphic sign for lower Egypt (from Cairo north, including the delta region; staging area for any foray into Canaan) is best recognized as a hornet, and that regular Egyptian campaigns into Canaan, notably from the time of Thutmose III (15th century) would have weakened the area and facilitated Israelite conquest. TIII is the best candidate for the Pharaoh of Exodus 1, who slew the Israelite babies and from whom Moses fled. He led at least 16 campaigns into Canaan and further north over a 20-year period, beginning with one that led to the fall of Megiddo and the subjugation of over 100 cities. For the next 200 years and more, campaigning through Canaan was de rigeur for Egyptian Pharaohs; Merneptah about 1229 mentions Israel among the people he finds in Canaan. Thus in the providence of God the same Egyptian dominance that thrust Israel out of Egypt to send them back to Canaan also softened up the nations of Canaan in preparation for their invasion.
David Howard: It is usually understood as a metaphor representing the terror or panic that an encounter with Israel’s God would engender. Passages such as 2:9–11, 24; 5:1; 6:27; Exod 15:14–16; 23:27 all show this terror, speaking of it using different terminology (cf. also Gen 35:5). . .
Therefore, God’s statement that it was not “with your sword or your bow” must be understood as saying that it was not by their own power, by the might or ferocity of their own weapons, that they had success. Only by God’s power did they accomplish what they did, something the book affirms over and over again.
Trent Butler: God, not man, has acted. Israel’s blessings, Israel’s entire identity, is a result of divine choice and action, not human power. The point is made in the language of Deut 6:10–11, another context centering on the service of other gods.
- (:13) Crowning the Conquest with the Gift of Undeserved Productive Land
“And I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built, and you have lived in them; you are eating of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.”
Helene Dallaire: God has been generous with his gifts to Israel. But with gifts come responsibilities.
David Guzik: 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.
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.
II. (:14-24) RENEWAL OF COVENANT COMMITMENT
Van Parunak: Application.—The query-answer form reminds us that God’s covenant is something that we must either accept or reject. It is not imposed unilaterally. There is a natural tension between this reality and the equal reality of God’s sovereign election, and perhaps in glory we will understand how the two fit together. Our responsibility now is not to diminish either, and this passage reminds us of the importance of making a decision and committing ourselves
A. (:14-15) Call for Decision
- (:14) Demonstrate Covenant Allegiance
a. Positive: Fear the Lord – Demonstrated by Service
“Now, therefore, fear the LORD
and serve Him in sincerity and truth;”
Robert Hubbard: A subtle, seamless shift from the divine “I” to the third person signals that Joshua speaks from here on. Syntactically, “now” shows that Joshua will draw out the logical implications of Yahweh’s historical review. A shift from indicative to imperative mood also occurs: Two pairs of imperatives confront Israel with a decision to make in response (v. 14).
Van Parunak: The common requirement, “serve the Lord,” is modified the first time with two phrases that emphasize this need for consistency, “in sincerity and in truth.” This is an amplification of Deut 6:5-8.
- “in sincerity,” lit. “completeness,” “integrity,” internal consistency. Focuses on the matter of internal divided allegiance. They are not to let part of their personality follow the pagan gods, while yielding another part to the Lord. All must belong to him, according to Deut. 6:5.
- “in truth,” consistency between inward commitment and outward expression. Their inward service to him and their outward expression must coincide, according to the mechanisms recommended in Deut 6:6-8. This condition precludes two errors: not only public worship in spite of a pagan heart (hypocrisy), but also a private love for the Lord that is restrained in its outward expression (“undercover Christian”).
b. Negative: Reject Idolatry – Demonstrated by Public Repudiation
“and put away the gods which your fathers served
beyond the River and in Egypt,”
Robert Hubbard: Verse 14 mentions two places where Israel or their ancestors had lived long enough to put down roots, Mesopotamia (“beyond the River” [the Euphrates]) and “in Egypt.” Since polytheism (the worship of many gods) dominates both, Israel’s ancestors were polytheists, adding gods to their worship roster wherever they went. But with Yahweh, Joshua says, the logic of exclusivity applies: Israel may serve Yahweh or their ancestors’ gods, but not both; polytheism is no longer an option.
Jerome Creach: Joshua 24:14 suggests that devotion can be more meaningful if it is made concrete in ritual; the act of burying idols not only enacts faith, it also gives public proclamation to one’s commitment.
c. Summary: Serve the Lord – Demonstrated by Exclusive Allegiance
“and serve the LORD.”
Gordon Matties: Similar to 23:7-8, Joshua’s requirement includes three responses: revere the Lord (often translated fear the Lord (NIV; cf. Josh 4:24; Deut 6:2, 24; 10:12, 20; 31:12-13), put away the gods, and serve the Lord (v. 14). These three motifs are hallmarks of Deuteronomic theology and of the book of Joshua (cf. Deut 6:13-14). In chapter 23 the motif of service to Yahweh or to the gods stands out as central (23:7, 16), just as it stands out in Deuteronomy (cf. 4:28; 7:4, 16; 8:19; 13:2; 17:3; 28:14, 36, 64; 29:18; 30:17; 31:20). Reverence for and serving the Lord is first and foremost expressed in an exclusive loyalty that says no to the gods and yes to Yahweh. “Service” is the response that is required as an act of loyalty because of what God has done for Israel. Therefore Joshua’s invitation includes both a negative (put away the gods) and a positive (serve the Lord).
- (:15) Decision Time
a. Only One Choice Makes Sense
“And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD,”
b. Only You Can Make the Choice for Yourself
“choose for yourselves today whom you will serve:”
George Bush: Not implying that it was previously a matter of indifference, whether they served God or no, or that they were really at liberty to refuse his service if they saw fit. He adopts this rhetorical mode of speech, in order to impress upon them more forcibly a sense of their duty, and the utter absurdity, as well as impiety, of devoting themselves to any other than the true God. It is a striking way of bringing the matter to an issue. His aim is to bring them to a decided stand; to a free, intelligent, firm, and lasting choice of God as their portion. In effecting this he makes use of a style of address which evidently implies that the service of idols compared with the service of God is so irrational, absurd, and brutish, that no man in the calm exercise of his understanding could hesitate which to choose. If reason and conscience could but be allowed to speak, they would not fail to speak on the side of God. A similar course, having the same object in view, was pursued by Elijah, 1 Kings 18:21, who ‘came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The grand inference to be drawn from this mode of address is,—that the service of God is matter of voluntary choice, and that it is his will that we should all seriously and solemnly make this choice. He would have us weigh the matter well, compare the respective claims of his service and the service of sin and the world, and if our candid judgment, as it surely will, pronounces on the side of that which is good, and true, and right, and saving, to resolve at once to embrace it, and adhere to it with a constancy stronger than death. As the evidences in favor of religion are so clear and indisputable, and its infinite advantages so obvious, the man who declines making the choice here enjoined must be considered as deliberately preferring Satan to Christ, death to life, hell to heaven. He who acknowledges the paramount claims of God and his Gospel, and yet does not act accordingly, does not sincerely and solemnly choose his service, as that better part which cannot be taken from him, must stand self-condemned both here and hereafter.
c. Options of Idolatry Abound
“whether the gods which your fathers served
which were beyond the River,
or the gods of the Amorites
in whose land you are living;”
Robert Hubbard: Given Joshua’s expected death (cf. 23:1, 2, 14), at stake is whether the exclusive devotion to Yahweh—the kind typified by Joshua and Moses—will continue into the next generation. In demanding a choice, Joshua mirrors the pattern of Moses, who made a similar passionate plea before Israel entered Canaan (e.g., Deut. 30:19–20; cf. Josh. 23). Here Joshua asks for commitment from the present generation, the first one in Israel’s history to occupy the Promised Land. But his words also confront readers today with a similar choice: Is Jesus your Lord or not?
d. Only Option for Me = Serving the Lord
“but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
B. (:16-18) Commitment Affirmed
“And the people answered and said,”
- (:16b) Apostasy and Idolatry Rejected
“Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD
to serve other gods;”
- (:17-18a) Allegiance to the Lord Has Yielded Historic Blessings
a. (:17a) Deliverance from Bondage in Egypt
“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,”
b. (:17b) Preservation along Our Journey
“and who did these great signs in our sight and preserved us through all the way in which we went and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed.”
c. (:18a) Conquest of the Promised Land
“And the LORD drove out from before us all the peoples,
even the Amorites who lived in the land.”
- (:18b) Affirmation of Loyalty
“We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.”
C. (:19-24) Commitment Dialogue – Pledging Allegiance to the Lord
“Then Joshua said to the people,”
Kenneth Gangel: But the verses which follow seem to suggest that they were unable to convince Joshua by this great acclamation. What they said should have pleased him. But it seems as if Joshua were stopping them as they rushed to the altar to make their commitment and sending them back to rethink it. He appears to say, “You don’t know what you’re committing to. You’re not serious enough about this. You don’t realize how holy God is and that he won’t just ignore your sin and idolatry. You haven’t yet counted the cost of serving God.” He actually told them that this jealous God… will not forgive your rebellion and your sins.” But they persisted and repeatedly said, “We will serve the LORD.” They were willing to be witnesses against themselves to this covenant commitment.
- (:19b-20) Consequences of Apostasy
a. (:19b) Demand for Exclusive Allegiance
“You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins.”
Ben Reaoch: The key lesson for us is to acknowledge that we cannot serve the Lord in our own strength. We are incapable of doing what God commands of us. We can only do so by His power. So we need to ask for His help. Don’t be overconfident in your own abilities. It seems like Joshua detected a bit of overconfidence in the Israelites’ response. So he had to remind them of their true condition.
Robert Hubbard: At first glance, Joshua’s reply (“You cannot serve the LORD”) sounds like an irritated rebuttal (v. 19; in modern terms, “In your dreams!”). But his seeming rejoinder in fact dispenses to theologically naive Israel a strong dose of divine reality in order to dispel a dangerous delusion. Probably Joshua senses in Israel’s response (vv. 16–18) a mistakenly narrow preoccupation with Yahweh’s ability to protect. The danger is that they fail to reckon fully with Yahweh’s unique character compared to the gods they have known. His audience viewed the latter as so easy to please that they could serve several of them at the same time. They would, thus, assume they could easily get along with Yahweh in a mutual back-scratching relationship: They protect Yahweh and he protects them. Rhetorically, Joshua’s reply underscores that two unique character traits of Yahweh—his holiness and his jealousy—make serving him all-demanding. Those traits also make the present moment a deadly serious transaction, not a simple, casual formality to be endured and then ignored.
b. (:20) Danger of Incurring Divine Judgment
“If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you.”
Trent Butler: The issue at stake in the entire chapter is the service of other gods, presented as a present reality for Israel. Their experience is that of the service of gods who make fewer demands than does Yahweh. Israel has been able to serve such gods. She could build images for them, dress them, perfume them, build a house for them, bring sacrifices to feed them, carry them in processions, even bury them in appropriate moments (Gen 35:4; cf. 31:34). The scholarly theology of the priesthood of these gods might have denied the possibility; but for the common worshipers, it was certainly within their possibilities to serve the gods they knew, indeed, to serve several of them simultaneously.
Joshua has detected this in the response of the people. They see God as the one who is bound to protect them along their way, so they can protect him by serving him. Joshua demands a service with deeper motivation. He wants service based on the nature of God himself. Joshua has described this nature in the acts of gracious election, creating a people through salvation history. Now he defines this nature with two theologically loaded terms, terms that explain why Israel cannot serve Yahweh.
First, God is holy. This is, aptly enough, language taken over from the Canaanite tradition itself. It is in a category all by itself in describing an attribute belonging to deity, namely, the numinous, mysterious element that separates him from all creation and creatures. In its earliest tradition Israel understands this holiness both as a saving and as a destructive power. The demonstration of the destructive power of holiness is not simply an impersonal, automatic entity in itself, however. It must be understood as the power of a God who feels himself personally insulted by the unimpressed. The holiness of God impresses the worshiper to imitate the purity of God, acting in accordance with the demands of God (Exod 22:30 [22:31]; Lev 19:2). The true worshipers of Yahweh are impressed by the numinous holiness of God, so impressed that they know they cannot meet the demands of such a god. We cannot serve such a god. As Creach phrases this situation, “Israel cannot fulfill its covenant obligation to God by simple adherence to a legal code. Rather particular stipulations were illustrative examples of Israel’s larger obligation to express God’s holiness in every word and deed.”
Similarly, God is jealous and zealous. Here again, terminology is taken from Israel’s environment, where the gods are jealous among themselves. Yahweh’s uniqueness lies precisely in his jealousy over against his worshipers. He loves them so much that he wants their undivided love in return. He will not share them with any other god. God turns his jealous indignation against the unfaithful worshiper, not against the rival lover. He punishes the people who try to serve him along with some other god. God’s jealousy cannot tolerate this. He has given undivided love and wants the same from them (cf. Exod 20:5; 34:14–16). Thus Eichrodt can call the jealousy of God “the basic element in the whole Old Testament idea of God.”
The nature of God himself prevents Israel from serving him. His holy purity and jealous love both tie him in total devotion to his people and tie them off from fulfilling his demands. This has drastic consequences. God will not forgive Israel’s sins (cf. Exod 23:21). His expectations of them are too high. His love for them is too great. He cannot easily ignore their wrongdoings, their casual flirtations with other gods. The gods of the neighbors would simply wait for the worshiper to come back. Yahweh goes out to discipline the errant lover until she returns.
As Nelson summarizes the situation,
“To be Yahweh’s people is to be caught in the vortex of Yahweh’s holiness and jealousy, intolerant divine qualities which demand that they serve Yahweh and Yahweh alone ‘honestly and faithfully,’ a demand impossible to accomplish. Yet impossible or not, they are the people who have obligated themselves by solemn covenant to serve and obey, and they are responsible for doing so.
- (:21-24) Reaffirmation of Allegiance
a. (:21-22) Interchange of Reaffirmation
1) (:21) Pledge
“And the people said to Joshua,
‘No, but we will serve the LORD.’”
Gordon Matties: Whatever Joshua means by his rhetorical challenge, the people deny his hypothetical option and affirm that they will serve the Lord (v. 21). Joshua has accomplished what he has set out to do. So he seals their commitment with his response: You have chosen the Lord, to serve him. The verb “to choose” in Deuteronomy is found mostly in phrases depicting the Lord’s “choosing” of Israel on account of love, or a place for God’s name to dwell. Almost all uses of the verb “choose” have God as the subject. Here, however, Joshua assumes that the divine choice also requires a corresponding human choice. And in that assumption he echoes the rare Deuteronomic call to “choose life” (Deut 30:19). The people respond by affirming that they are both testifiers and witnesses (Josh 24:22). They will vouch for their own word. “Let your yes be yes” (cf. Matt 5:37).
2) (:22a) Warning
“And Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the LORD, to serve Him.’”
3) (:22b) Witnesses
“And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’”
b. (:23-24) Interchange of Reaffirmation
1) (:23) Two Essential Components of Allegiance
- Turn Away from Foreign Gods
“Now therefore, put away the foreign gods
which are in your midst,”
- Incline Your Hearts to the Lord
“and incline your hearts to the LORD,
the God of Israel.”
Jerome Creach: God’s zealousness requires people of faith to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). This message is at the heart of the book of Joshua, and at the heart of the gospel.
2) (:24) Pledge of Allegiance
“And the people said to Joshua, ‘We will serve the LORD our God and we will obey His voice.’”
III. (:25-28) RATIFICATION OF COVENANT AFFIRMATION
A. (:25) Summary Statement of Covenant Ratification
“So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.”
B. (:26-27) Two Actions of Ratifying the Covenant
- (:26a) Recording the Words of Commitment
“And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God;”
David Howard: What is clear is that the people were binding themselves to serve and obey him. The writing down of the decrees and laws and the calling of the great stone as a witness against them both served to seal their solemn commitment to this.
- (:26b-27) Raising a Stone Pillar to Memorialize the Commitment
“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 for a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us; thus it shall be for a witness against you, lest you deny your God.’”
David Howard: The stone itself was now a witness of the covenant (as were the people in v. 22). It had “heard” everything that the Lord had said to Israel. The text only claims that the stone had heard what God had said (i.e., vv. 2–13), not the rest of the ceremony (vv. 14–24). So its presence would serve as a testimony to God’s faithfulness to his people, just as the twelve stones that Joshua erected on the bank of the Jordan were to serve as testimonies to what he had done at the Jordan (4:9, 20–24). Such a reference to the stone’s “hearing” is obviously a literary metaphor, in the same way that references to rivers clapping their hands and mountains singing for joy (Ps 98:8) or to the trees of the field singing for joy (Ps 96:12) are metaphors.
C. (:28) Dismissal of the People to Possess Their Inheritance
“Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to his inheritance.”
Robert Hubbard: With no designated human leader, Israel must now directly follow the guidance of God himself. As with any leadership change, the issue for Israel concerns their unswerving loyalty to him—whether or not they will “serve” him.
Thomas Constable: Each tribe was to proceed now to exterminate the Canaanites in its own inheritance territory, trusting in Yahweh and obeying His covenant. God would raise up local tribal leaders (called judges), as He saw the particular need for these, to provide special leadership in difficult situations. Committed as the Israelites were to their God, at this time, there was no reason they should fail to possess and experience all that God had promised them in the years ahead.
(:29-33) EPILOGUE – ASSOCIATION OF JOSHUA’S BURIAL WITH THOSE OF JOSEPH AND ELEAZAR –
ALL IN THE PROMISED LAND AS A TESTIMONY TO THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD
David Howard: The Book of Joshua ends on a satisfying, peaceful note, giving the accounts of Joshua’s death and burial (vv. 29–31) and of the burial of Joseph (v. 32) and of Eleazar the priest (v. 33). Fittingly, the motif of land inheritance is the common thread in the three burial notices: the bodies of all three men were buried in land that belonged to the inheritance of their families. The burials of these three men signified the ends of eras: Joshua the leader and Eleazar the priest were the last recent links with Egypt, whereas Joseph represented a more distant link with Egypt and with the promises to the patriarchs. God’s promises to give his people the land were now indeed fulfilled: every tribe had received its inheritance, and Israel’s leaders died peaceful deaths and were buried in land that was finally their own. This peaceful ending to the book gives little hint of the troubles in that land that were to come shortly, in the Book of Judges. However, the Book of Joshua has already given hints of these troubles. The point here is that Joshua’s and the people’s obedience was rewarded and especially that Yahweh is a God who keeps his promises.
Donald Campbell: Recording three burials is a strange way to end a book like Joshua! But these three peaceful graves testify to the faithfulness of God, for Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar once lived in a foreign nation where they received God’s promise to take His people back to Canaan. Now all three were at rest within the Promised Land. God kept His word to Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar—and to all Israel. And this encourages God’s children today to count on God’s unfailing faithfulness. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)
A. (:29-31) Land Inheritance for Joshua Finalized
- (:29-30) Death and Burial of Joshua
a. (:29) Death
“And it came about after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died,
being one hundred and ten years old.”
Gordon Matties: Deuteronomy ends with the death of Moses, and Joshua begins with After the death of Moses. Similarly Joshua ends with the death of Joshua, and Judges begins with “After the death of Joshua.” Joshua’s ending, therefore, makes an explicit link forward to the book of Judges and rounds out the narrative by referring back to the transition between the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua.
Helene Dallaire: For the first time, Joshua is called “the servant of the LORD.” Until now, only Moses had carried this epithet (Dt 34:5; Jos 1:1, 13, 15; 8:31, 33; 11:12; 12:6; 13:8; 14:7; 18:7; 22:2, 3, 5). Joshua’s faithfulness and dedication to the mission of Yahweh has won him the honor.
b. (:30) Burial
“And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim,
on the north of Mount Gaash.”
- (:31) Testimony of Effective Leadership
“And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua
and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua,
and had known all the deeds of the LORD
which He had done for Israel.”
David Howard: This verse forms a fitting epitaph for Joshua: the people under his leadership served the Lord for many years during his lifetime and after his death. They evidently followed his example when he challenged them to choose whom they would serve and when he asserted that he and his household would serve the Lord (vv. 14–15).
B. (:32-33) Land Inheritance for Joseph and Eleazar Finalized
- (:32) Transfer of Bones of Joseph to Canaan from Egypt
“Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons.”
Helene Dallaire: Years earlier, Joseph had asked his brothers to swear that they would bring his bones to the Promised Land (Ge 50:25–26). The promise is fulfilled here when those bones are buried at Shechem, in the tract of land Jacob had purchased for his family during the time of the patriarchs.
- (:33) Death and Burial of Eleazar
“And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him at Gibeah of Phinehas his son, which was given him in the hill country of Ephraim.”