Consider your faith journey and times of public commitment you made. Maybe baptism, confirmation, an affirmation of faith. Thank God for the way that he has sustained you since and the people who have supported you.
The covenant renewed at Shechem
24 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.
2 Joshua said to all the people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River Euphrates and worshipped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt.
5 ‘“Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. 6 When I brought your people out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. 7 But they cried to the Lord for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.
8 ‘“I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. 9 When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
11 ‘“Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. 12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you – also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. 13 So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.”
14 ‘Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the River Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
Joshua’s final speech to the people is a call to stay on track. They have worked hard to occupy the land. They have won many battles. But what next?
The speech is a masterpiece. Note in his retelling of the story from God’s perspective the focus is on what the Lord has done: ‘I took… I gave… I sent… I brought you out… I destroyed them… I gave you a land’ (vs 3–13). Israel’s identity as a people is completely bound up with the work of their God.
The challenge that Joshua gives is singular in focus. ‘Whose servant will you be?’ he enquires. The word ‘serve’ is used six times (vs 14,15). There is no place for Israel to sit on the fence.
Like all good leaders Joshua leads the way (v 15). He nails his colours to the mast and calls for them to make a decision: ‘choose for yourselves’ (v 15). Whose side are you on? It is time to take a stand.
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles … let us run … fixing our eyes on Jesus’ (Hebrews 12:1,2). Use today’s reading to renew your decision to follow Christ. What do you need to throw off? Pray for grace to persevere.
Deeper Bible study
‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God … so that no one can boast.’1
Joshua begins with a review of covenant history. It is a prophetic word spoken in the first person, cataloguing God’s actions in history. History truly is His Story. The words ‘other gods’ (v 2) repeat the wording of the first commandment.2 The 18 ‘I’ statements leave the listeners in no doubt that all the blessings they have enjoyed have come not through their actions but from ‘the surprising grace of God’.3 One can speculate about what is included and what is omitted from the account of salvation history. Jacob and Esau are in; Sinai and Ishmael are out. The phrase ‘you lived in the wilderness for a long time’ (v 7) neatly sums up half of Exodus and all of Numbers!
Joshua follows the Lord’s words with a challenge to the people to commit to follow God (vs 14,15), including his famous ‘choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve’, in which it is easy to miss that the choice he gives them is not between God and idols but between the gods of their ancestors and the gods of the Amorites. The implication may be that Israel has always harboured local gods and never fully trusted and served the Lord. Covenants are all well and good, but they need to be renewed and Joshua calls on the people to throw away their idols and pledge themselves to serve the Lord exclusively and faithfully, as a confirmation of their covenant relationship with God.
William Johnson suggests that proper conversion is in three stages: religious conversion, beginning to love God; then moral conversion, resulting in a change of values and priorities; and intellectual conversion, leading to a new worldview.4 That is what following the Lord faithfully implied; the same requirements are placed on us if we are to be disciples of Jesus.
Reflect on how you have seen God work in your life. What idols do you need to get rid of, to serve the Lord faithfully?
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: 2 Samuel 6,7; 1 Corinthians 4
Pray for Scripture Union
The Families Together holiday at Great Wood would have taken place this weekend, led by Steve and Judy Hutchinson. Please pray for all families at home together, for grace and peace, good relationships and for the love of God to be evident to them.