Joshua 24:1, 14–24
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe the renewal of the covenant by Israel in the last days of Joshua’s life.
2. Evaluate the benefits that come from regular reviews of commitments to God.
3. Make a plan for periodic reaffirmations of faithfulness to God.
How to Say It
Gerizim. GAIR-ih-zeem or Guh-RYE-zim.
Shechem. SHEE-kem or SHEK-em.
Sinai. SIGH-nye or SIGH-nay-eye.
Timnath Heres. TIM-nath HEE-reez.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Sept. 18—Pray for Renewal (Psalm 51:1–12)
Tuesday, Sept. 19—Be Strong and Bold (Deuteronomy 31:14–23)
Wednesday, Sept. 20—God Commands Joshua (Joshua 1:1–9)
Thursday, Sept. 21—Recalling God’s Mighty Acts (Joshua 24:1–7)
Friday, Sept. 22—God Gives a Land (Joshua 24:8–13)
Saturday, Sept. 23—Choose Whom You Will Serve (Joshua 24:14–18)
Sunday, Sept. 24—The People Renew Their Vows (Joshua 24:19–24)
The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” —Joshua 24:24
Why Teach this Lesson?
The morning worship service had been inspiring and uplifting. Afterward, two couples decided to go out to eat together, as was their usual practice. Sitting at their table in the restaurant, they proceeded to complain about every perceived fault: the service was too slow, the portion sizes were too small, there was a dead fly on the windowsill—nothing seemed to be quite to their liking. One wonders what others thought about them as Christians and about the Christian spirit as those four sat, dressed in their “Sunday best,” complaining about everything in loud whispers!
While we’d like to think we wouldn’t forget the truly important aspects of our lives so quickly after a worship service, the truth is we are all too easily distracted. In today’s lesson the people of Israel recount God’s faithfulness. Then they recommit to obey God. Yet most of us know how easily the Israelites were distracted afterward!
God allowed his chosen people to have the right to do just that. This is true for us as well. To be true to our relationship with Christ, we each need to remember God’s goodness to us. We also benefit from periodically setting aside time for a brutally honest spiritual inventory, then recommitting our life to God and his purposes.
A. Seeing the Potential
A very ordinary, jagged piece of marble may seem as nothing in the eyes of the average person. It can, however, become an elaborate, detailed statue when shaped by the hands of an experienced sculptor. A rough-hewn block of wood may seem fit only to be burned. However, it can be carved into a thing of polished beauty by a master craftsman.
A conscientious teacher or youth worker cannot look at a group of students as immature and time-consuming. For there may be one or more in that group who, with careful teaching, can become great leaders for God and humankind. A slave people in a foreign land may appear to be nothing, but they may be chosen by the God of Heaven and earth to receive a special covenant. Despite their many failures in being faithful, in the fullness of time that nation can have the Son of God as one of its offspring—the long-awaited Messiah who offers salvation to all.
The potential within each person obviously is different. If, however, each person’s resolve to fulfill his or her potential is combined with God’s discipline and love, that potential can be realized.
B. Lesson Background
The biblical accounts are usually interpreted to show that the Israelites spent 11 months and 20 days at Sinai, from the first day of the third month (Exodus 19:1) to the twentieth day of the second month of the second year (Numbers 10:11). At that time the cloud lifted from the tabernacle, and the journey to Canaan continued.
While at Sinai, other details of the law were given. The Israelites were instructed how to build the tabernacle, and it was constructed according to the pattern given. The incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32) was a sobering event during Moses’ 40 days on the mount. The intricacies of the sacrificial system and the priesthood are given in the book of Leviticus. Numbers 1:3 tells of a military census of all men who were age 20 and older. The total was 603,550 (2:32).
As the nation of Israel approached Canaan, 12 spies were sent into the land. Ten of the spies brought back a negative message of fear, and they prevailed over the minority report of Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 13). The punishment was announced by the Lord: the people were to spend a total of 40 years as shepherds in the desert (one year for each day the spies were gone; 14:33, 34); all the men of war except Caleb and Joshua were to perish in the wilderness (14:38). This means that 603,548 did not reach Canaan. That is an average of more than 40 deaths per day if we count only men age 20 and over!
The Israelites ultimately were successful in conquering the lands east of the Jordan. Two and one-half tribes were granted permission to settle on that side. Moses died at the age of 120, and the leadership fell to Joshua.
The miraculous crossing of the Jordan when it was in flood stage validated Joshua’s role as the new leader (Joshua 3). The conquest of Jericho was offset in part by a temporary reversal at Ai (Joshua 7:3–5), the second city to be conquered. The victories continued in the central cities of Canaan (including the miracle of the long day as given in Joshua 10), southern Canaan, and then against the northern coalition. These primary battles consumed several years, ending in approximately 1400 b.c. The land was divided among the remaining nine and one-half tribes. Cities were assigned for the Levites, with six of the cities designated as cities of refuge (Joshua 20).
Each of the last two chapters of the book of Joshua depicts national gatherings for covenant renewal. It is the second such event that is the background for today’s lesson. There are no chronological references for these events. They are often assumed to be as early as 1390 b.c. but probably are later.
I. Convocation (Joshua 24:1)
In one sense you cannot go back to where special events took place in the past and expect to find things as they were. Even so, there is value in returning—not to try to “live in the past,” but just to reminisce and to walk among the monuments of memories. To visit again the place where a person was baptized or married, or other locations of special interest, can produce a nostalgia that is good for the soul. The last major event in the book of Joshua takes place in a special location. It has special meaning to those assembled, for it produces memories of their spiritual heritage.
1. Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.
Two things prompt Joshua to gather the principal persons of all the tribes of Israel. First, as indicated in Joshua 23:1, his advanced age moves him to request that the nation again experience a formal covenant renewal. In this action he has the example set by Moses. Moses, just before his death, called the nation together to renew the covenant (Deuteronomy 29–34).
Second, Joshua is fully aware that this nation needs to be reminded again of its special relationship to God. Moses had commanded that the law be read to the nation every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:10–14). This occasion may be one of the fulfillments of Moses’ command. A commitment on a national scope should be followed by continued and regular instruction in each community and home.
The first verse of the chapter specifies that Shechem is the location where Joshua chooses to have this ceremony. Since Joshua’s hometown is Timnath Heres (also known as Timnath Serah; Joshua 19:49, 50; Judges 2:9), his selection requires him to make a full day’s journey to the northwest.
Shechem is an appropriate site for several reasons. First, it is the first place in Canaan where Abraham built an altar to the Lord. It is here that the promise of this land was made for Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:6, 7). It may be assumed that since Joshua had been commanded by God to meditate on the law (Joshua 1:8), that Joshua was fully aware of this historical background.
Second, a part of the heritage of Israel is that Jacob also built an altar at Shechem upon his return to the land with his family (Genesis 33:18–20). When Jacob left Shechem, he led his family in a spiritual housecleaning. This rededication involved burying all the accumulated household gods (Genesis 35:2, 4).
Third, this is the place where Joseph’s bones are buried (Joshua 24:32). Joshua is of the tribe of Ephraim (1 Chronicles 7:20–27), so Joseph (Ephraim’s father) is an ancestor. Joseph’s exemplary life could be cited for anyone who comes to Shechem.
Fourth, Joshua had assembled the entire nation in this vicinity immediately after conquering Jericho and Ai. Joshua 8:30–35 records that the nation divided itself into two groups in accord with the command that Moses had given toward the end of his life (Deuteronomy 27:12, 13). One group stood on Mount Ebal and responded with “Amen” when the curses of the covenant were read, and the other group stood on Mount Gerizim and answered in the same way when the blessings were read.
The town of Shechem is immediately to the west of the pass between the two mountains. To be at this site again undoubtedly brings back many memories to the older leaders. It is very probable that the plastered stones, with the law written on them, are still visible as reminders of that earlier occasion (Deuteronomy 27:2, 3; Joshua 8:30–32). The large altar of uncut stones that Joshua had erected on Mount Ebal was a part of the earlier covenant renewal ceremony. It may be assumed that it is still in place at the occasion before us.
The Necessity of Godly Leaders
In the mid-nineteenth century, European Christians were awakening in their faith. The natural result was a desire to spread the gospel of Christ around the world. Dutch and German missionaries worked to gain access to the tribes of Indonesia. The first missionaries were rejected and many were killed. By the 1860s only 50 members of the Batak tribe had become Christians.
But then the missionaries, led by Ludwig Nommensen (1834–1918), turned their focus to reaching the tribal leaders in an attempt to create a church that was culturally Indonesian rather than European. The church mushroomed. By 1911 the number of converts had reached more than 100,000. Over the next half-century, ever-larger numbers of Western missionaries worked to create indigenous churches in Indonesia and other countries. The result is astounding: today there are more Christians in the developing nations than in the Western world.
When Joshua gave his final exhortation to Israel, he used this principle of focusing on the leaders. He challenged Israel’s tribal leaders to be faithful to God. He knew that without godly leaders the nation would be lost. This principle would be proven true numerous times in Israel’s history over the next few hundred years. The principle is still valid today. Seldom do people rise above their leaders. —C. R. B.
II. Choices (Joshua 24:14–18)
There is a dramatic change in the emphasis between the first part of the book of Joshua and these final chapters. The early chapters of the book stress the faithfulness of God in helping Israel to conquer Canaan (Joshua 1:9; 3:10; 4:23, 24). In the last chapters the continued faithfulness of the people is emphasized (Joshua 23:6–8). To express faithfulness and thankfulness is one thing; to live it is much more demanding.
A. Proposals by Joshua (vv. 14, 15)
14. “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.
The historical review like the one in Joshua 24:2–13 (not in today’s text) is a standard part of the covenants of the second millennium bc. Following that review, Joshua now begins to assert the foundational requirements that the Lord expects to receive from his covenant nation: the people are to fear and to serve him. Jesus makes a similar statement in Matthew 10:28. It is more logical to worship the creator instead of what he created (compare Romans 1:25). That is why the Israelites are to throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt.
That second part of Joshua’s statement is intriguing. After experiencing all the mighty miracles of God, does this covenant nation still have idols in its midst? The text makes it clear that they did—both in Egypt and also over the 700 years prior to that time when Abraham and his family crossed the Euphrates River.
This command by Joshua to give up their idolatry is similar to Jacob’s command in Genesis 35:2. The people of Israel seem to maintain a fascination for idolatry until after the Babylonian exile in 586 b.c. It will take a 70-year captivity before they are more or less cured of this spiritual weakness.
15. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
This is considered one of the greatest verses in the entire book. It presents the choice in vivid language. The Israelites must choose whom they will serve: the gods that some of their ancestors worshiped before Abraham entered Canaan, or the gods of the Amorites where they now live, or the Lord!
Joshua boldly announces his own decision. As Joshua looks back over his life, this choice is the only one that makes sense. He is able to recall the many miracles that he has witnessed—from the plagues in Egypt to the battle of the long day. In Joshua 23:14 he states that not one promise of the Lord has failed. With these things in his mind, he can make what is now that famous declaration: as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. Many Christian homes have this saying posted on a wall in the form of an embroidery, etc.
Visual for Lesson 4
Ask for a show of hands: Who among your students has this famous passage displayed somewhere in the house?
B. Preference of the People (vv. 16–18)
16. Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!
Prompted by the power of Joshua’s reason and example, the people are moved to make the same choice. At this moment it is preposterous to think of serving other gods.
17, 18. “It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
Sometimes the choices of the past are ignored when tough decisions are made. This time the vibrant review of the nation’s history (vv. 2–13) moves the leaders to express their own account of days gone by. They are compelled to remember where they had been (in Egypt), where they are now, and what it took to get there. Faced with this evidence, they affirm again that they will serve the Lord.
III. Challenge (Joshua 24:19–21)
Is the affirmation of verses 17, 18 enough for Joshua? Apparently not!
A. Presentation by Joshua (vv. 19, 20)
19, 20. Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”
Joshua’s reply seems to be out of place, for the affirmation by the people was certainly the desired result—or was it? Do his words You are not able to serve the Lord simply reflect Joshua’s previous experiences of this fickle nation? Does he discern a hollow mockery in their affirmation?
Joshua’s charge that they are unable to serve the Lord in the long run is based on two reasons. First, God is a holy God, and Joshua doubts that the Israelites are able to be faithful for an extended period. Second, God’s jealousy demands absolute loyalty. There is to be no spiritual adultery, no going after other gods.
B. Priority of the People (v. 21)
21. But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”
This reaffirmation by the people produces the result that Joshua’s challenge desires. It also makes their priority even stronger in that they can be reminded in the future of what they have said so emphatically.
IV. Commitment (Joshua 24:22–24)
Now we come to the climax. Things have reached a fever pitch!
A. Pronouncement by Joshua (v. 22a)
22a. Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”
Joshua reminds the people that their commitment to the Lord is quite serious. What they have said cannot be taken lightly. They have become their own witnesses before God and people in their declaration.
B. Proclamation of the People (v. 22b)
22b. “Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.
In short, pithy statements the dialogue goes back and forth. The people testify to their commitment for the third time.
C. Distinctive Reminder (v. 23)
23. “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
Joshua says that the first test of the covenant’s renewal by the Israelites is to discard the foreign gods, which they still had. These gods could be items of value or located in special places of devotion. Sometimes it costs to serve the Lord, but it costs even more not to serve him.
Alcoholics Anonymous (also known simply as A.A.) was founded in 1935 by a New York stockbroker and an Ohio surgeon. Both men admitted to having been hopeless drunks. Their goal was to stay sober themselves and help others to overcome their addiction to alcohol. Today there are over two million A.A. members in 150 countries.
The success of A.A. has led to the founding of other “anonymous” groups. These groups are for drugs addicts, compulsive shoppers, overeaters, and even for those who cannot seem to control their use of profanity! The literature of these “anonymous” groups often recognizes that the source of the cure is a Higher Power. That may be a little vague for those of us who think the reference should be specifically to God, yet therein lies the genius of the whole “anonymous” movement.
It would not be far off the mark to state that Joshua was, in effect, trying to start an “Idolaters Anonymous” movement. He knew the power idolatry had over Israel; the people seemed incapable of helping themselves. He also knew that trust in God was the only source of a cure. The same can be said for any sin that besets us. Without the intervention of the cross of Christ, our sin problem can never be finally solved. —C. R. B.
D. Definite Rejoinder (v. 24)
24. And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”
For the fourth time the people affirm their intention to serve and obey the Lord. The entire scenario is almost a preview of Jesus’ challenges to Peter after the resurrection (John 21:15–19). Joshua 24:25–27 is not part of the lesson text, but provides the close of the covenant’s renewal.
Joshua is to be admired in calling this assembly as he tries to instill faith in the generation to follow. It is extremely important that this be done. If the second generation sees compromise in the first generation, then the second generation will deviate even more. And the third generation, with these examples, will essentially abandon the faith.
Until 1998 the phrase Most Favored Nation Status was used to designate nations that received equal treatment by the U.S. in trading relations. The term was discontinued because most nations were in this category, and it seemed deceptive. The newer term is Normal Trade Relations. The nation of Israel, however, definitely was a nation with a “most favored” status before God. Yet, as has been expressed many times, there is peril in privilege.
The teaching of the New Testament is similar. The individual who becomes a member of the body of Christ enjoys the privileges of sins forgiven, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of Heaven. Yet Hebrews 6:4–6 warns about those who have enjoyed the privileges of the gospel and then fall away. There is peril in privilege.
New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati