Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
1Then 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.
• Intervening verses 3b-13 narrate from Abraham to Isaac, Jacob, and Esau; to Egypt, Moses and Aaron; then to deliverance in the Red Sea to Exodus wanderings through the desert; finally entry into Canaan with the gift of the land with its bounty along with many descendants. God's actions. God's faithfulness. This history with God's grace-filled provision forms "why" for Israel continuing to trust Yahweh as their real god.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."
16Then 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."
19But 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.
Prayer: Psalm 70
Make haste, o God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord. Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt. Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha. Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified. But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying.
King James Version
This alternate first reading for today from the book of Joshua pairs well with the designated first reading from Amos 5:24 that concludes, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
Joshua, the sixth book of the OT chronicles Israel's actual entry into the Promised Land of Canaan forty years after leaving Egypt. Canaan already was occupied with people who worshiped many other gods of various types. Joshua 24:15 includes the famous "…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." This is another covenant text; here's the covenant handout from Lent 2019 again.
Before Joshua asks the people whether or not they will serve the real God of heaven and earth, "The Lord," he gives them reasons for trusting God by retelling substantial portions of the people's centuries-long experiences with God. This God hears and heeds, acts and cares; God rescues, protects, frees, and redeems. This God of signs and wonders is powerful enough to annihilate enemies. This God reliably comes through for the people every time.
19But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. … 24The people said to Joshua, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey."
After the people affirm they will serve God, Joshua tells them they cannot serve this holy God, yet again they insist they definitely will. What does it mean to put away other, "foreign" gods (we all have them now and then—a god is anything we put before and above God at any time) and serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God of Israel, God of Jesus Christ?
Holy God, Holy People
What does it mean to put away other gods and put the real God first before anything or anyone else? What does it mean to serve a holy God? What does it mean to be holy people in the image of that Holy God?
In Leviticus 19:2 God instructs Moses, "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." The chapter then summarizes the commandments and even includes love your neighbor as yourself in verse 18b. We know the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant call us to righteous lives of justice, love, and mercy.
Most likely everyone has some acquaintance with the worldwide United Methodist Church that's probably the largest church body in the tradition of John and Charles Wesley, and you may know about holiness churches that later derived from that tradition. Historically members of those churches don't drink alcohol or smoke nicotine; recreational drugs are off limits, too. (Some don't dance socially… just like some midwestern Lutherans and Scots Presbyterians?) Those practices and prohibitions help keep head, heart, and body clear and clean for lives of service to God and neighbor, because true holiness in God's image is both inward and outward.
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."
Although the people agreed to testify to their choosing to serve God, chapter 24 continues,
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.
• Stones and other objects that serve as witnesses (seeing or hearing) in the Hebrew bible would make a interesting standalone study if someone would like to prepare and present one when we begin gathering in person again.
• You might enjoy Joshua 16-17-18-19 where Joshua portions out those inheritances of allotments (land plots and cities) to the different tribes.
• No questions this week! Please be well, stay well, and continue praying for our country and our world.