Joshua 24

Joshua 24,
Friday, April 28, 2018 

Here goes another farewell speech – this time at Shechem, not Shiloh (or Bethel, or Gilgal, or Beer-sheva). This time the pecking order of leadership, probably dating to one of the later edits.
 
Joshua acknowledges that our own ancestors were once ‘them’ to us.  They lived elsewhere, and service other gods.  That struck some of you this week as recognition of progress, of evolution, that we can learn from experience about divinity.  I agreed – but warned that we are equally liable to degeneration and regression into barbarism.
 
Abraham ‘begat’ many offspring, throughout Canaan.  Surely this is post-exilic, using ‘beyond the River’ as reference point in Persia.  One line of Abraham is Isaac, Jacob and Esau.  Surely we are to recall Ishmael, and that Arab tribes are our cousins, just as we are reminded that the Edomites to the south of Israel are Esau’s people.
 
Just as we were reminded of our Persian and Asian roots, then we are reminded of our African roots.  Out of Egypt is repeatedly part of our story.  This is not a parochial vision, but a unifying mythmaking exercise, reminding of our connection to common humanity in Nahor and Noah, to the empires and worlds of the east and the south.
 
Back to competing gods, as those of our ancestors, we get to those of our neighbours.  The divine legitimacy of Balaam is acknowledged, and the vying of God’s miracles through Moses and Aaron with those of the Egyptian magicians.  God simply trumps it, and vanquishes the other rather than asking Israel to do so.
 
We enter the promise from the east, crossing the Jordan.  We are reminded to distinguish our fright and flight, and our freeze the first time we approached the land with spies, from this deliberate plan of occupation of space cleared by God providentially for Israel.  Whether by hornet or by trumpet, the others were scared off, not by the military weapons or strength of Israel.
 
Finally, Joshua reminds the people that providence, not their own prudence, got them prosperity.  Grace got them more blessings than they earned, and mercy gave them less punishment than they were owed.  They should put away their ancestors’ gods, to serve Yahweh.  Joshua reviews the promise, and the threat – and leaves the choice.
 
Joshua will choose – for himself and his household.  When the others say ‘me too’, he challenges them that they will fail.  Does that remind you of Jesus’ response to the optimistic disciples?  We know the future for this people, and get the touch of irony.  It is marked at Schechem, and remembered forever.  
 
We recalled ‘As For Me and My House’, Sinclair Ross’ novel about a United Church minister’s disillusionment from that early optimism.  Buried at Schechem are the bones of Joseph, and the reminders of Joshua’s covenant.  What is your reference point, glory or shame?
 
 
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem,
 and summoned the elders,
 the heads,
 the judges,
 and the officers of Israel; 
and they presented themselves before God.
 
 2And Joshua said to all the people,
 ‘Thus says the Lord,
 the God of Israel: 
Long ago your ancestors
—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—
lived beyond the Euphrates
and served other gods.
 
 3Then I took your father Abraham
from beyond the River
and led him through all the land of Canaan
and made his offspring many.
 I gave him Isaac;
 
 4and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.
 I gave Esau
 the hill country of Seir to possess, 
but Jacob and his children
went down to Egypt.
 
 5Then I sent Moses and Aaron, 
and I plagued Egypt
with what I did in its midst;
 and afterwards I brought you out.
 
 6When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt,
 you came to the sea; 
and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors
 with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea.
 
 7When they cried out to the Lord,
 he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, 
and made the sea come upon them
and cover them; 
and your eyes saw
what I did to Egypt. 
 
Afterwards
you lived in the wilderness
for a long time.
 
 8Then I brought you
to the land of the Amorites, 
who lived on the other side
of the Jordan; 
they fought with you,
 and I handed them over to you, 
and you took possession of their land, 
and I destroyed them before you.
 
 9Then King Balak, 
son of Zippor of Moab,
 set out to fight against Israel. 
 
He sent
and invited Balaam son of Beor
to curse you,
 
 10but I would not listen to Balaam; 
therefore he blessed you; 
so I rescued you out of his hand. 
 
 
11When you went over the Jordan
and came to Jericho,
 the citizens of Jericho fought against you,
 and also the Amorites, 
the Perizzites,
 the Canaanites,
 the Hittites,
 the Girgashites, 
the Hivites, 
and the Jebusites; 
and I handed them over to you.
 
 12I sent the hornet ahead of you, 
which drove out before you
the two kings of the Amorites; 
it was not by your sword
 or by your bow.
 
 13I gave you a land
on which you had not laboured, 
and towns that you had not built, 
and you live in them; 
you eat the fruit of vineyards
 and olive groves that you did not plant.
 
14 ‘Now therefore revere the Lord,
 and serve him in sincerity
and in faithfulness;
 put away the gods that your ancestors served
beyond the River and in Egypt, 
and serve the Lord.
 
 15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, 
choose this day whom you will serve,
 whether the gods your ancestors served
 in the region 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.’
 
16 Then the people answered,
 ‘Far be it from us
that we should forsake the Lord
 to serve other gods;
 
 17for it is the Lord our God
who brought us and our ancestors up
from the land of Egypt, 
out of the house of slavery, 
and who did those great signs
 in our sight.
 
 He protected us
along all the way that we went, 
and among all the peoples
through whom we passed;
 
18and the Lord drove out before us
all the peoples, 
the Amorites who lived in the land.
 
 Therefore
we also will serve the Lord,
 for he is our God.’
 
19 But Joshua said to the people,
 ‘You cannot serve the Lord,
 for he is a holy God.
 
 He is a jealous God; 
he will not forgive your transgressions
 or your sins.
 
 20If you forsake the Lord
 and serve foreign gods,
 then he will turn
and do you harm,
 and consume you, 
after having done you good.’
 
21And the people said to Joshua,
 ‘No, we will serve the Lord!’
 
 22Then Joshua said to the people,
 ‘You are witnesses against yourselves
that you have chosen the Lord,
 to serve him.’ 
 
And they said,
 ‘We are witnesses.’
 
23He said,
 ‘Then put away the foreign gods
 that are among you, 
and incline your hearts
to the Lord,
 the God of Israel.’
 
 24The people said to Joshua,
 ‘The Lord our God we will serve, 
and him we will obey.’
 
 25So Joshua made a covenant
 with the people that day, 
and made statutes and ordinances for them
at Shechem. 
 
26Joshua wrote these words
 in the book of the law of God; 
and he took a large stone,
 and set it up there
 under the oak
 in the sanctuary
of the Lord.
 
 27Joshua said
to all the people,
 ‘See, 
this stone shall be a witness
against us; 
for it has heard
 all the words of the Lord
 that he spoke to us; 
therefore it shall be a witness
against you,
 if you deal falsely
with your God.’
 
 28So Joshua sent the people away
 to their inheritances.
 
29 After these things Joshua son of Nun,
 the servant of the Lord,
 died,
 being one hundred and ten years old.
 
 30They buried him
 in his own inheritance
at Timnath-serah, 
which is in the hill country of Ephraim,
 north of Mount Gaash.
 
31 Israel served the Lord
all the days of Joshua, 
and all the days of the elders
who outlived Joshua
and had known all the work
 that the Lord did for Israel.
 
32 The bones of Joseph,
 which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, 
were buried at Shechem,
 in the portion of ground
that Jacob had bought
from the children of Hamor, 
the father of Shechem,
 for one hundred pieces of money;
 it became an inheritance
of the descendants of Joseph.
 
33 Eleazar son of Aaron died; 
and they buried him at Gibeah,
 the town of his son Phinehas, 
which had been given him
 in the hill country of Ephraim.