Updated: Mar 26
A Most Solemn Assembly (v. 1)
It seems unlikely that Joshua would have called the nation together twice in the last year of his life, so I take it that chapter 24 is a continuation of what Joshua began in chapter 23. Having finished his more personal exhortations, he addresses the people solemnly in the name of the Lord. To present themselves before the Lord anticipates the very serious business that Joshua intends to conduct with them – renewing God’s covenant. He begins with a declaration of God’s grace to his sinful people. This covenant grace is basic to all the Lord’s dealings with us. His covenants are not equals entering into agreement but the holy God condescending to show grace and mercy to sinners. Unless we get this right, we shall never be led to give ourselves to him joyfully and serve him faithfully. His grace alone melts our hearts. He humbles himself in mercy and love to reveal himself and to save us from our sins. His victorious people stood there in Shechem, at the very spot where the Lord first appeared to Abraham and promised him the land and the seed, as well as where Jacob renewed covenant with the Lord and buried the idols that were found in his household. This is a most solemn occasion, at a storied location, and with serious words. It is likely that the Ark of the Covenant was moved from Shiloh to Shechem, for they met “before God” (v. 1) and his sanctuary was there (v. 26). It is not that they moved the entire tabernacle, for the Ark was the visible symbol of God’s presence.
Grace to a Family of Idolaters (vv. 2-3)
It is a shocking thing for Joshua to remind them at this moment that Abraham had been an idolater. We would prefer to think that God chooses good men and that we are good men. But we shall never stand in awe of his mercy and devote ourselves to serving him carefully and guarding our hearts unless we remember our filthy roots. Even if you were born into a believing home, your roots go back to Adam, and you are filthy because of him, as well as because of your personal sins. Nahor and Terah, Abraham’s grandfather and father, served other gods. The Lord brought Abraham out of Ur and on this very spot five centuries ago promised him the land upon which you are now standing (Gen. 12:6-7). How did Abraham receive this promise? By grace. What had Abraham been before? A servant of false gods. Hearing this may enflame pride, but it humbles true faith. The Lord has done this for me, though I was wicked and served false gods and my own lusts and desires? Yes, and the same is true of us, for when the seed of Abraham came, our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16), he did not die for good men but for God’s enemies (Rom. 5:8). Therefore, if we have any right feeling and true views of ourselves, his grace should humble us so that we attribute even the slightest good and blessing in our lives to his goodness. We deserve his wrath, but he gives us his promises and seals them with the blood of his Son.
All My Mighty Works for You (vv. 4-13)
Even in those days, where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more, with all the limitations of the old covenant, but still God’s kindness to sinners. He preserved Jacob and his seed in Egypt from the famine, then plagued Egypt and brought his people back home. Some of those standing there had seen what the Lord did to Egypt – Joshua’s words rang very true and glorious to them. The Lord brought his people to the land of the Amorites, dispossessed them for their evil, and gave their land to his people. Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel, but the Lord forbade him and blessed his people. He brought his people over Jordan, gave them the promised land, and sent the “hornet” before his people to drive out their enemies. Perhaps it was literal hornets, or simply terror, but the Lord fought for his people. He judged the Canaanites with a paralyzing fear. It was not by Israel’s sword and bow that they stood there – but by the Lord’s grace (Ps. 44:1-3). Whenever we would see true humility and piety flourish, we must be careful to give true descriptions of man, otherwise God’s grace is slighted. His kindness is the greatest motivation to holiness. His goodness, then and now, should lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Put Away Your Idols and Serve the Lord (vv. 14-15)
14 " Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! 15 "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Choose Today Whom You Will Serve (v. 14)
What are we to do with God’s grace? Why does the Lord show kindness to sinners? “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Tit. 3:11-12). Joshua spoke the same truth to them as we now have more fully. Fear the Lord – this is the godliness to which God’s grace tends – to reverence, trust, and adore the Lord. Serve him, therefore, as the Lord of your life, in sincerity and truth – completely and firmly, without reserve or double-mindedness, which is the death of faith and perseverance. Put away your gods that you served on the other side of the Jordan River and in Egypt – what? Yes, even the present generation brought their household gods with them, likely picking up more in Egypt. The human heart is a factory of idols, and only the Lord’s grace renewing us can empower us to “turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). One hindrance to this turning is our double-mindedness. Joshua confronts this directly. After all that the Lord has done for you, it is a hard, evil thing for you to serve him? Do you love your dead idols so much that you will not forsake them to serve Him who has done so many great things for you? The hardness of our hearts is shocking. The Lord gives us life and breath, rain and sun, bread and water, and above all his Son, yet we would prefer the imaginations of our own hearts to him.
Joshua called upon them to make a choice. You must choose to serve the Lord. Do not simply fall into your religion. Do not follow the traditions of your fathers. Choose. Choose now. Choose wisely. Whom will you serve? They had to make a deliberate, determined choice to follow the Lord alone. One need not embrace the mistakes of free will theology to accept fully this same responsibility and make this same call. Yes, we must choose. We must choose to serve the Lord. Being his children is not a passive affair, the whim of a moment, for Satan will shoo away all our whims like gnats. How shall we overcome the world unless our faith is settled, rooted and grounded in Christ? Will we reject the world’s pleasures for self-denial and cross bearing, unless we have made a deliberate choice, like Daniel did, that we will not defile ourselves with the king’s meat? You will not. Too many today made life decisions because they liked the background music, or someone smiled at them, or it felt right at the time. In a war, you cannot quit at noon because you want lunch or walk away from the church because someone looked at you the wrong way. But most treat the most important decisions like this – the devil comes with one temptation, or the flesh makes one little suggestion, and we change religions, or forget our commitments, or kiss the devil on the mouth for a little peace. Joshua is suggesting a different kind of choice – a deliberate, carefully thought out, committed choice to serve the Lord, no matter what happens, how feelings change, the devil attacks, the world laughs, or the flesh suggests.
As for Me and My House (v. 15)
As a good leader and the Lord’s faithful servant, Joshua does not ask of others a commitment that he has not already made. You choose the gods you will serve, but “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This is not equivalent to “we will buy books and strive for religious knowledge.” It does not mean, “We will serve the Lord as long as the feeling fits with our life choices, or until someone prettier comes along, or one of my children wants to marry an unbeliever.” To serve the Lord is Joshua’s way of saying that whatever happens, however hard the road, my house, my family, is devoted to serving the Lord. We will follow him wherever he leads, obey his word whatever the world thinks, and trust him regardless of what we see with our eyes. The Lord Is the head of this house, and nothing but what pleases him will be permitted – no idols, no immorality, no pornography, no time wasting, no Sabbath-breaking, no disrespect to parents, no crazy rules and pouting when you do not get your way, no laziness, no indifference to God’s word or neglect of family worship. As the center of our home, all will revolve around pleasing the Lord and walking worthy of him (Col. 1:11). I pray we make, constantly renew, and humbly keep this same commitment for ourselves and for our families.
Keep Covenant with the Lord (vv. 16-28)
16 So the people answered and said: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 "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, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. 18 "And the LORD drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. 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 nor your sins. 20 "If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good." 21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, but we will serve the LORD!" 22 So Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him." And they said, "We are witnesses!" 23 "Now therefore," he said, "put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel." 24 And the people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!" 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26 Then Joshua 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 that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, "Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God." 28 So Joshua let the people depart, each to his own inheritance.
The People’s Choice: We Will Not Forsake the Lord (vv. 16-18)
That generation was truly committed to the Lord (v. 31), but they needed warnings and encouragements. Family sins die hard – only God’s gospel of grace firmly believed can slay them. And the Lord uses warnings – the negative sanctions of his covenant – to keep his true children walking in faith and hope. This is what we find here. God forbid that we should turn away from the Lord and serve other gods. We have seen what he did to Egypt, the great signs he did, the victories he has given us – and though they did not mention it here – we have no parents. We are all orphans because the Lord killed our parents for their unbelief and idolatry. Joshua, we have no intention of turning from the Lord. He is our God, and we will serve him (v. 18). And would that their grandchildren had kept that same commitment! If only they had prayed more fervently and spoken more passionately about their idolatry – the family sin of the whole human race – and of God’s great promises and grace to sinners. We cannot guarantee the faith of future generations. We can and must affirm our faith in the Lord, voice it without qualification or hesitation, and hold fast to the Lord for strength to make good upon our commitment to serve him, and then pray that our children and grandchildren will follow our faith.
Joshua’s Warning: You Cannot Serve the Lord (vv. 19-24)
This did not satisfy Joshua, not fully. He did not feel that his work was finished. He was not like many dying men who are satisfied with a few kind words from his family and smiles all around. He warned these faithful men and women. You cannot serve the Lord – what a strange thing to say at this moment. He says in effect, “Do you know what you are saying? Do you know who he is?” He is holy and hates sin. Moses was terrified of his glory – what will you do? He is jealous. He demands your absolute allegiance. He will not forgive you. This means that if they forsake him, he will not forgive them (v. 21). Their pledge to serve him is not the whim of a moment but the covenant of a lifetime. Do not bring your idols into his holy church and nation. He will not tolerate rivals, especially dead and lying idols. The people are insistent – “No! We will serve the Lord.” It was a good confession they made, and they kept it. Joshua was not trying to make it hard for them but to confront them with their own sins and weakness, as well as the Lord’s highness. Serving the Lord is a heart and soul commitment to walk with him, forsake all idols, and love him with all the heart. Joshua accepts their confession. They have sworn and given a witness against themselves, against future apostasy. Put away your strange gods and incline your heart to the Lord. Even at this moment, Joshua tells them that the Lord wants their heart, not simply their sacrifices and words.
The Covenant under the Oak at Shechem (vv. 25-28)
Then and there, at the same oak – how old and gnarled it must have been – where the Lord made a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:6-7) and renewed the covenant with Jacob (Gen. 35:2,4) – Joshua renewed the covenant of grace with God’s people. How faithful is the Lord!! How eternal his word and unchanging his promises! Hundreds of years pass, but his word, being his living word, is as a fresh and relevant as if he spoke it one minute ago. The people have made a pledge, and Joshua formalized it. A covenant is a solemn engagement to be the Lord’s, to walk in obedience to him, and to depend upon his grace and promises. We do this, in effect, each time we take the Lord’s Supper – we renew covenant with the Lord to forsake our idols and serve him with all our hearts. Joshua wrote the words he had spoken and the people’s words in the “book of the law of God,” the Scriptures such as they then possessed. These are the words we are now reading in Joshua. Under the oak, Joshua set up a great stone and described it as a witness. This stone has heard your words. Do not deny the Lord. Having completed this work, Joshua let the people return to their inheritance. Soon thereafter, Joshua died.
Three Burials End an Era (vv. 29-33)
29 Now it came to pass after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being one hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Serah, which is in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash. 31 Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel. 32 The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph. 33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died. They buried him in a hill belonging to Phinehas his son, which was given to him in the mountains of Ephraim.
Serve the God of our Fathers: Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar
The book of Joshua ends with three burials. Joshua died at 110 years old, the same age as Joseph when he died. He is no longer “the servant of Moses” (1:1), but the servant of the Lord. He did all the Lord asked of him – a patient soldier, a brave general, a humble successor to Moses, a bold witness for God’s truth – not a prophet, a great scholar, or preacher, but faithful in the office to which the Lord called him. The fruit of his faith and life was the faithfulness of the generation and the elders that outlived him. They kept the charge, the covenant. They served the Lord and did not forget what the Lord had done for them. Let us aspire to the same – to live and speak so faithfully for the Lord and to seek him so sincerely that he will honor and bless us by having those around us and our children after us live faithfully after we depart to be with the Lord. Do not die with regret at having done little to set an example for the next generation and urge them to seek the Lord.
Sometime after Israel came to Shechem – perhaps even at this time – they buried Joseph’s bones in the family plot near Shechem. You will recall that upon his death, Joseph directed his brothers to take his bones with them when the Lord led them back to Canaan. He might have directed them to return his body to Canaan upon his death, but he, not his family, could obtain such a favor from Pharaoh. Joseph was aware that after his death, his family must do nothing to provoke suspicion and arouse Egyptian prejudice. Moreover, his coffin in his own palatial home or burying place would have been, to those who saw and remembered it, a constant reminder that Egypt was not their final home. Over two hundred years after Joseph’s death, his body finally reached its promised inheritance. God is faithful to his promises. The Lord brought all his people home. Would they serve him faithfully in their inheritance? Ah, when Eleazar, Aaron’s son died soon after Joshua and was buried, that was the great question of the day. As Aaron had been Moses’ right hand man, Eleazar was to Joshua. The covenant and kingdom of God paused to draw breath. The Lord had done great things for his people. The men who shepherded them through those years departed. Would their children remain faithful to the Lord? They had his word, his priesthood, the ministering, teaching Levites settled throughout the land, and the Lord’s many promises. Each generation of God’s people must determine to serve him, then teach their children and grandchildren to do the same, praying earnestly all the while for the Lord to remember his promises and turn the hearts of the children to him. He is our hope, the God of our salvation, the great and covenant-keeping God.
The Way We SERVE the Lord
If we are to walk with him, the conclusion of Joshua teaches us, first, that we must (1) serve the God of our fathers, assuming they are Christians. The way we honor and obey our parents, and therefore keep the fifth commandment, is to follow their faith. That generation did this by honoring Joshua’s example and heeding his words. They also buried Joseph’s bones, which honored his faith and obeyed his direct command. Children, adult children, and grandchildren are doubly accountable to the Lord, if he gives them godly parents and grandparents. Not only does he call you to choose to serve him, but he has laid upon you the example and command of your parents. (2) We must exalt God’s grace, never forgetting from what he has saved us, our unworthiness of the smallest of his mercies, and his amazing love and mercy now revealed in Jesus Christ. Nothing keeps the heart tender as being planted in the soil of Calvary – no pride or presumption can grow here. First, we are so low that we deserve to be crucified and judged forever for our sins in hell. Second, despite our criminal demerits before the holy, holy, holy God, in his Son, he has justified us by his blood and exalted us to be his children. Our corruption and his elevating grace are a double stake to the rotting corpse of pride and forgetfulness of all the Lord’s mercies to us.
Third, we must reject and forsake all idols. This age in the church has forgotten this – corrupt worship, religious pluralism, political polytheism, personal idols – we have so many gods before us that we lack enough oaks to bury them under. But we can begin by confessing again – we have no God but Yahweh, the Lord of the covenant, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore our God and Father, for we believe in his Son. Then, in union with Christ and by his strength alone, personal idols – food and drink, convenience and comfort, entertainment and impurity – must be carried outside the camp of our homes and churches, burned in the fire, and forsaken. We do this not as self-purgation but to honor the Lord and obey him. We must have no other gods before him – not other people’s opinions, not our fleshly desires and cravings, not the state and its promises. Yahweh alone is God. And, (4) we must voice our choice to serve him. Joshua did not tell them to bow their heads and close their eyes, as charlatan preachers do, and then to make a private commitment to the Lord. No, they must confess Christ before men, in public, out loud, for he is not an idea, a private little deity, a spiritual rabbit’s foot. Daily in our prayers, in our public witness, in our church confessions, we must say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And, (5) since we have no strength, we gladly entrust ourselves to God’s promises to us in Jesus Christ. He will never break this covenant, for it is sealed with the precious blood of his Son.