Tag Archives: covenant faithfulness

Romans 3:1-8 – God Is Faithful

Romans 3:1–8 (ESV) — 1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” 5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.


The last few weeks Paul dismantled any hope of finding privilege/righteousness in the Law.

  • The “Boast in” Law – 2:17-23
  • The “Circumcision” Law – 2:24-29


In today’s text, Paul asks a fair question that any Jew would have at this point.

  • What “advantage has the Jew” and his circumcision (vs. 1)?



Verses 1-2:

1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.


What does he mean by advantage?

  • T. Wright says Paul is simply asking what then is the “point of being Jewish”.
  • Tom Schreiner says it means “saving advantage”, so Paul is asking does the Jew really lack a “saving advantage”.
  • Paul will go into much more detail about this in Romans 9; we will deal with it then.


To his advantage question, Paul’s answer is “much” (vs. 2).

  • He then spells out what he means by the “much”.
  • He says, “to begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (vs. 2).


What are the oracles of God?

  • This is the only time in all his letters Paul uses the word for “oracles”.
  • It’s pretty clear that Paul is referring to the OT Scriptures and the truth and message they contain – Tom Schreiner.
  • But many ask why did he use this word.


N.T. Wright takes a stab at a reason:

“…perhaps to recognize the fact that, whereas the Gentiles were not expecting anything like the Jewish law, they were often eager for ‘oracles’ from some divinity or other” – N.T. Wright.

  • In other words, he used it as a way to relate to Gentile sensibilities.


And crucial to the understanding our text, Paul says the “much” is not just the “oracles”…

  • It is also the fact that Israel was “entrusted” with the “oracles”.


What does it mean to be entrusted with the “oracles”?

  • Again, the meaning here is crucial for our text!

“The point about being ‘entrusted’ is that the thing that’s been given to you isn’t actually for you; it’s for the person to whom you are supposed to deliver it” – N.T. Wright.

  • This is a massive point to get!


God’s work in redemptive history (Creation, Scripture, Spirit, etc.) was channeled through Israel.

  • It was given to them so that they might care for it and pass it on; spread it.
  • This means that the “entrustee”, Israel, isn’t the most important part.
  • The thing entrusted – God’s Work – is the important part.
  • It is the message that is the thing, not the messenger – Israel.


BTW – it is interesting that though Paul seems to begin a list in verse 2 of the advantages…

  • He says, “to begin with”…
  • He never gets to the second thing on his list.
  • Its as if he was distracted.


Most think, however, that the rest of Paul’s thought can be found in Romans 9.

  • Romans 9:4–5 (ESV) — 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.



Verses 3-4:

3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”


Paul cuts off his thought about the “much” with a rhetorical question concerning two facts.

  • (1) God chose Israel from among all the nations and gave them “much” (vs. 2).
  • (2) Yet, the Israelites were failures with the “much” – Paul calls it “their faithlessness” (vs. 3).


Given these two things, Paul raises a question.

  • Does Israel’s unfaithfulness “nullify the faithfulness of God?” (vs. 3)


First we need to understand, in context, what Paul is saying.

  • We saw earlier that Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God.
  • It is here that the importance of the entrusting comes in to play.
  • For now Paul is making it clear that in their capacity as “entrustees” they have failed.
  • They became “entrustee” focused instead of message focused.


They failed to properly care for and deliver to the world the “oracles” of God.

  • Remember, in 2:24, Paul stated that the name of God was “blasphemed among the Gentiles” because of Israel’s unfaithfulness.
  • This is a description of this failure.


Paul continues his train of thought with his answer to the nullification of God’s faithfulness question…

  • By no means!” is God’s faithfulness nullified (vs. 4).


Israel’s failure does not mean God failed.

  • Paul says God is “true” even if “every one were a liar” (vs. 4).
  • Meaning, God will fulfill all of His promises made through Israel in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness!
  • God is covenant faithful!
  • God is righteous!


Paul then quotes Psalm 51:4 (LXX) to show that history will bear out God’s faithfulness.

  • You may be justified in your words” and you will “prevail when you are judged” (vs. 4).


Paul is citing a Psalm of David.

  • “Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, in order that you might be justified in your words and triumph when you judge” – Tom Schreiner.
  • In other words, King David is saying that God’s faithfulness isn’t in jeopardy because of David’s failure.
  • In fact, God is justified and triumphs in King David’s failure.


So what is Paul saying here?

  • How is God justified and how does He triumph when Israel is unfaithful?
  • How does this show that God’s faithfulness isn’t nullified?
  • Paul unpacks this in verses 5-6.



Verses 5-6:

5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world?


Paul alludes again to King David’s words from Psalm 51 (LXX).

  • …our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God” (vs. 5).
  • Israel’s failure, like David’s, magnifies God’s righteousness!
  • And then Paul goes on to answer all the questions we just raised.



  • Paul rhetorically says that God is certainly not unrighteous to “inflict wrath on us” (vs. 5).
  • If God were unrighteous, “how could God judge the world?” (vs. 6)
  • The implication here is that God’s judgment is righteous and no Jew would deny that God will judge the world.
  • God is creator and He rightly judges His creatures.


To dig into the “how” more, we need to remember what Paul has been teaching thus far in his letter about God’s righteousness.

  • As we learned some weeks ago, God’s righteousness is expressed as both a saving righteousness and a judging righteousness.


Therefore God’s covenant faithfulness – His righteous divine activity – can take two forms.

  • (1) Redemption in His saving righteousness.
  • (2) Condemnation, judgment and wrath in His judging righteousness.


So therefore for the unfaithful Jew to come under God’s judging righteousness is an expression of God’s faithfulness and righteousness.

  • Faithfulness both to His promises (which included judgment) and Himself – His holiness.
  • In the words of King David, God’s judging righteousness justifies God and shows that He prevails.


Paul affirms this in verse 6.

  • He asks rhetorically – does God’s judging righteousness on the unfaithful Jew with his “boast in” and “circumcision” law make God out to be unrighteous?
  • His answer, “by no means!” (vs. 6) for the reasons we have just seen.


So, God shows His faithfulness both in His wrath (judging righteousness) and in his promise and covenant fulfillment (saving righteousness) in the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

  • In fact, “The only explanation for any Jews being included in the covenant is God remaining true to his promises despite the sin that plagues the Jews” – Tom Schreiner.
  • Paul can affirm “that Israel is still guilty for its sin, while affirming that the promises of their salvation will still be fulfilled” – Schreiner.


Importantly, Paul speaks from personal experience.

  • He was an unfaithful Jew.
  • And now he is a faithful “entrustee” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the new covenant.
  • Paul is participating in God’s promise and covenant fulfillment.
  • Paul is extolling the name of God to the world!



Verses 7-8:

7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.


Paul then tells us that all of this – Israel’s failure and God’s condemnation of it – also means that “God’s truth abounds to his glory” (vs. 7).

  • Again, in agreement with King David’s take on God’s judging righteousness.


Paul then indicates that some have apparently sought to twist this truth to justify their unfaithfulness.

  • The twisters of truth ask, if God is shown to be faithful then why condemn us “as a sinner” (vs. 7)?
  • In fact, “why not do evil that good may come?” (vs. 8)
  • Wright paraphrases it this way, “why not simply do what is wrong, so that God, in putting it right, can be seen to be all the greater?” – N.T. Wright.


Paul tells us this is not the truth he has been teaching; it is slander.

  • And those that have twisted the truth this way deserve judgment – “Their condemnation is just” (vs. 8).


This is directly related to the grace in which we stand from Romans 5:2 and the freedom it gives us.

  • Does grace mean obedience is nullified?
  • Absolutely not!




As we read Romans, we need to understand that Paul has layering important truths upon one another.

  • I love how Wright puts it:

“Romans is like a great symphony. The present passage is a little flash of music which looks ahead to a much fuller statement for which the themes that come in between will have prepared the way” – N.T. Wright.


Finally, we also need to understand what Paul is not doing as he plays us his great symphony.

  • Paul is not throwing Judaism under the bus!

“The whole point, as we shall see later on in this chapter, is that in the Messiah, Jesus, God has found the way to be true to his original promises. Jesus, as Israel’s representative, has offered the faithful obedience which Israel should have offered but did not. The Messiah is the messenger who finally delivers the message” – N.T. Wright.



Romans 1:16-17 – Righteousness of God

Romans 1:16–17 (ESV) — 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”



Significant Verses:

Concerning these verses, N.T. Wright says…

  • They are “a short summary of some of the most important truths ever heard by human ears.”
  • Douglas Moo calls them “theologically dense”.


And because of their importance Tom Schreiner points out…

  • “Virtually all scholars acknowledge that these verses are decisive for the interpretation of Romans.”
  • We will see why soon enough.



The Text:

So with these two verses, Paul begins to segue into the meat of his letter.

  • He does so with an acknowledgement of the awesome power of the Gospel – “the power of God” (vs. 16).
  • Something he has seen first hand.


Acts bears witness to this fact.

  • Acts 13:42–43 (ESV) — 42 As they went out [the synagogue at Antioch], the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
  • Acts 16:14–15 (ESV) — 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
  • Acts 17:2–4 (ESV) — 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.


N.T. Wright sums up the power Paul is talking about.

“Paul has discovered, through years of actually doing it, that when you announce Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord of the world something happens: the new world which was born when Jesus died and rose again comes to fresh life in the hearts, minds and lifestyles of the listeners, or at least some of them. This isn’t magic, though it must sometimes have felt like that. It is God’s power at work, through the faithful announcement of his son” – N.T. Wright.

  • “The proclamation of the gospel is so powerful that it effects salvation in those who believe” – Tom Schreiner.


BTW – When Paul speaks of salvation he is referring to the fulfillment of the “the saving promises made to Israel in the OT” – Tom Schreiner.

  • Fulfillment taking place in Christ!


Paul goes on to say that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” (vs. 16).

  • The reason – “it is the power of God for salvation” (vs. 16).


We need to consider that “ashamed” here is not primarily the psychological experience of shame.

  • It is that Paul is “prepared to confess the gospel publicly and bear witness to its saving power” – Tom Schreiner.
  • He is faithful to speak it without thought for himself.


This meshes with Wright’s speculation as to why Paul would find it necessary to say that he is “not ashamed by the gospel” (vs. 16)?

Paul may have had in mind a passage like Psalm 119:46: ‘I will speak of your decrees before kings, and I shall not be ashamed.’ That was what he intended to do. ‘At the name of Jesus,’ he wrote in another letter, ‘every knee shall bow’ (Philippians 2:10). That included Caesar” – N.T. Wright.


And remarkably this power that saves extends to Jew and Greek alike – “everyone who believes” (vs. 16).

  • T. Wright points out…
  • “One of the most explosive things about Paul’s gospel, rooted as it was in the Jewish scriptures and traditions, is that it broke through the barrier between Jew and Greek and declared that the saving love and power of the one God was available equally to all. That is central to this little passage, and it remains central throughout the letter” – N.T. Wright.


Then Paul, in one profound sentence, reveals a powerful connection that flows out of the Gospel.

The Gospel unites “the righteousness of God” with the believer through faith.

  • This is the “important truth” Wright spoke of.
  • This is the bit that Schreiner says is so “decisive” for understanding Romans.


Paul spells it out like this – something we have to unpack.

  • He says that, in the Gospel, “the righteousness of God” is “revealed from faith for faith” (vs. 17).
  • And then claims that the OT, through Habakkuk, has said as much.
  • Habakkuk 2:4 – “the righteous shall live by faith” (vs. 17).



Diving Deep:

What exactly does Paul mean in verse 17?

  • It is no wonder that Peter said…
  • 2 Peter 3:16b (ESV) — 16b There are some things in them that are hard to understand…


In order to understand Paul we need to understand at least a couple of things.

  • What does Paul mean when he speaks of “the righteousness of God” is revealed (vs. 17).
  • What does Paul mean when he says “from faith to faith” (vs. 17).



Righteousness of God:

What is the righteousness of God?

  • Guess what…“Defining the righteousness of God is crucial and intensely controversial” – Tom Schreiner.
  • But just about all agree that, “God is the one who has revealed his righteousness—the righteousness in question is his” – Tom Schreiner.
  • It is not ours – it is alien to us.


In answering the question we will oversimplify two main views.

  • I am including N.T. Wright’s view as a subset of the second view.


(1) Divine Gift or Forensic View

  • Forensic refers to something admissible in a court of law – in this case God’s law court.
  • On this view, “the ‘righteousness of God’ refers to the believer’s status before God” in His law court – Tom Schreiner.
  • This status consists of God’s righteousness, which has been given to us.


In other words, God as judge can legally declare that we are not guilty but are righteous.

  • The righteousness we have – our new status – is not our own; it is alien to us.
  • It is a free gift from God – the “righteousness of God” given (imputed) to believers.
  • This is justification – the most common view among evangelicals.


With respect to our text…

  • “On this view, Paul is asserting that the gospel reveals ‘the righteous status that is from God’” – Douglas Moo.


Importantly, this view holds that the “righteousness of Godis just “a matter of judicial standing, or status, and not of internal renewal or moral transformation” – Douglas Moo.

  • In other words, it is very narrow and reductionist.
  • Which leads us to the second view.


BTW – The forensic view came into it’s own with Luther and the reformation – why?



(2) Divine Activity View

  • “God’s righteousness is revealed in history as a divine activity in which God vindicates his people” – Tom Schreiner.
  • This activity is in the “the dynamic sense of ‘establishing right’” – Douglas Moo.


This view accepts that the individual has a new status, but says that is not enough – Schreiner.

  • It says that God’s righteousness is the active transforming of all His creation.


In other words, God is actively “righteousing” creation.

  • God is inaugurating a new reality – D.A. Carson.
    • A Kingdom of God reality.
  • This is why the Gospel has power to transform.

God’s righteousness then, is all of God’s saving work and activity – calling, regeneration, promise fulfilling, covenant faithfulness, status giving, etc.


N.T. Wright might help us here.

  • He calls the righteousness of God “God’s covenant justice”.
  • And frames it around God’s covenant faithfulness – a divine activity.


Wright says…

“God’s covenant with Abraham was always intended as the means by which the creator God would rescue the whole world from evil, corruption and death. God intends to keep to this purpose and this promise, so that he can bring his restorative justice to the whole world. That is, in the end, what ‘God’s righteousness’ or ‘God’s justice’ means. I have translated the word as ‘God’s covenant justice’ here in order to hold all these ideas together. As it’s one of the central themes in the letter, it’s vital that we get it straight” – N.T. Wright.


He then applies this idea to our text.

“When the gospel of Jesus is announced, then, Paul declares that through it we can see at last how God’s ‘justice’, his ‘covenant faithfulness’, or in older language his ‘righteousness’, have been unveiled. This is how God has put the world to rights, declares the gospel message about Jesus, and this is how God will put you to rights as well!” – N.T. Wright.


Summing up this view with respect to our text…

  • Paul is asserting that the gospel reveals the saving, transforming activity of God through the fulfillment of His OT promises in Christ.
  • Something far more than just the giving of a new status.


This makes even more sense given the parallel in verse 18.

  • Paul says, “the wrath of God is revealed…
  • The wrath of God is clearly not a gift, but a divine activity of God involving judgment, etc.
  • Likewise, God’s righteousness is a divine activity breaking into the world and setting it right.



Which One:

The forensic view, as we said, seems overly reductionist.

  • It constrains the “righteousness of God” to be only that which revolves around humans and their individual salvation.
  • It confines it to the concept of justification.
  • And it doesn’t appear to account for the OT’s use of God’s righteousness.


The transformative view seems to better accommodate the entire scope of the “righteousness of God“.

  • Douglas Moo puts it like this…

The transformative view, i.e., “God’s saving activity—receives strongest support [from the OT]. When ‘righteousness’ is attributed to God, it has this meaning more than any other; and it is God’s ‘righteousness’ in this sense—a saving, vindicating intervention of God—that the prophets say will characterize the eschatological deliverance of God’s people” – Doug Moo.

  • He goes on to say, “we would expect this notion of saving activity to be included when he announces the revelation of ‘the righteousness of God’” – Doug Moo.


And yet, Moo and Schreiner, at the end of the day, say both.

“Could we not take ‘righteousness of God’ here to include both God’s activity of ‘making right’—saving, vindicating—and the status of those who are so made right, in a relational sense that bridges the divine and the human?” – Douglas Moo.

  • Answer – Yes!


So what is the relationship of the “righteousness of God” to faith/faithfulness?



Revealed From Faith For Faith (vs. 17):

The Greek in verse 17 is “ek pisteos eis pistis”.

  • It literally means “out of” or “from” faith “into” or “unto” faith.


There is a lot of debate over the meaning of this text.

  • This is why there are some interesting differences between translations.
  • The NET says “revealed in the gospel from faith to faith”.
  • The NIV says “is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last”.
  • The NLT says “is accomplished from start to finish by faith”.


Both Schreiner and Moo discount most attempts to understand this text.

  • Some examples of what they see as failed attempts are…
  • “From the faith of the OT to the faith of the NT; from the faith of the law to the faith of the gospel; from the faith of the preachers to the faith of the hearers; from the faith of the present to the faith of the future; from the faith of words we hear now to the faith that we will possess what the words promise; from the faithfulness of God to the faith of human beings; from the faithfulness of Christ to the faith of human beings; from smaller to greater faith; from faith as the ground to faith as the goal” – Tom Schreiner.


Because of all the diversity Schreiner advises caution.

  • “The radical diversity of interpretations in a phrase containing ambiguity should give us pause” – Tom Schreiner.


Schreiner and Moo opt for what they see as the simplest interpretation.

  • “The [phrase] is rhetorical and is intended to emphasize that faith and ‘nothing but faith’ [as opposed to works] can put us into right relationship with God” – Douglas Moo.
  • The phrase simply declares that “the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel by means of human faith” – Schreiner.


This “simpler” view, then, emphasizes human faith.

  • The NIV picks up on this view.
  • Romans 1:17 (NIV) — 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith [whose faith? – our faith] from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”


However, there was one view sandwiched within Schreiner’s list that is advocated by N.T. Wright.

  • The view – that the phrase means “from the faithfulness of God to the faith of human beings”.
  • This view emphasizes God’s faithfulness and the necessity that we be part of it.


The following question highlights the value of this view.

When one is dependent upon the righteousness of God to be put right – both His divine activity and His giving status – upon whose faith do we count on to consummate the whole deal – God’s or ours?


BTW – This reminds me of Jesus’s statement in John 2 to unbelievers.

  • He said He did not entrust Himself to them.
  • If you are not the part of God’s faithfulness expressed in Christ you are doomed.


N.T. Wright spell is out for us.

  • Paul is telling us “to have faith in [God’s] faithfulness” – God’s divine activity.
  • Something God Himself advocated throughout the OT every time He reminded Israel that He brought them out of Egypt.


For Wright, the phrase plays out like this.

  • The “from faith” is God’s “faithfulness [revealed] in Jesus to the promises he made long ago” – N.T. Wright.
  • The “to faith” is the faith and trust we have in God and His divine activity – His righteousness; His faithfulness; His Son.


The two go together like this:

“God has been faithful to his purposes and promises; if you want to benefit from this, you must have an answering faithfulness, that ‘believing obedience’ he spoke of in verse 5” – N.T. Wright.


Paul’s use of Habakkuk, Wright suggests, bears this out.

  • “Habakkuk…was faced with a great catastrophe coming on Israel and had to learn to hold on and trust God, to have faith in his faithfulness” – N.T. Wright.


D.A. Carson’s view of Habakkuk seems to back up Wright’s take:

“Paul sees the call of the Lord upon the prophet to ‘live’ by the Lord’s faithfulness in the face of the Babylonian invasion as a pattern of the Lord’s saving work (or type) that has come to fulfillment in the gospel, which imparts faith in the face of the eschatological wrath of God, which is already present in the world” – D.A. Carson.


Carson fleshes this out further.

“The ‘faithfulness’ of which Habakkuk writes is the faithfulness of the Lord to fulfill the promise of salvation given in the ‘vision’ [vision from Habakkuk 2:2]” – D.A. Carson.

  • Carson even translates the Habakkuk text…
  • “But the righteous one shall live by the faithfulness of the vision/Yahweh” – D.A. Carson.


Carson sums it up like this:

  • The believer “participates in the Gospel” by faith – Carson.


In other words, we participate in God’s faithfulness (His activity) by our faith!

  • The focus, then, is on God’s faith/faithfulness!
  • Carson and Wright don’t agree on much, but they seem to agree on this.




Paul, setting up the rest of Romans, has thus far declared in his letter…


Jesus is the Son of God.

  • This means that the standing before God of both Jew and Gentile depend on being joined to God’s Son.
  • And, to what God is doing in history through His Son.
  • For only in Him do we find the ultimate expression of both Israel’s faithfulness to God and God’s faithfulness to Israel.


Moreover, it has always been (see OT) that God’s divine activity – His righteousness…

  • Consists of both God’s faithfulness and promise keeping.
  • And that we can count on the promises of God through Christ because of God’s faithfulness.
    • A faithfulness we are joined to/participate in by our faith.
  • So that those who receive the revealed righteousness of God – His divine activity – by faith are given a free gift of alien righteousness – a righteousness that is not ours.
  • So in God’s law court they are justified; they are found not guilty – an act that is itself evidence of God’s faithfulness.
  • So the Gospel is primarily about God and His faithfulness – not about us, ours and going to heaven.



Joshua 23 & 24 – Joshua’s Farewell Discourse – Part 3

“Trauma of Holiness and God’s Faithful Word”



Last week we covered three more themes from Joshua 23 and 24.

  • In so doing, we encountered two significant ideas –
    • Abraham as a new creation metaphor
    • The “Beyond the River” concept


Today we finish both the final two themes of Joshua’s Farwell Discourse and the book of Joshua.

  • The Depravity of Humanity
  • God’s Covenant Faithfulness





Joshua 24:19–20 (ESV) — 19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”


The Israelites had just affirmed in verses 16-18 all that Joshua had declared.

  • “One could hardly have asked for a more gratifying and orthodox response than what Joshua received from Israel in verses 16–18” – Dale Davis.
    • We won’t “forsake the Lord”
    • We won’t “serve other gods”
    • Because we know what God has done on our behalf.


Given this affirmation, Joshua’s follow up comes as quite a shock – “a deep paradox” (David Howard).

  • This has got to be one of the biggest “buts” in Scripture!


But…you are not able to serve the Lord” (vs. 19).

  • And the reason – “He is a holy God” (vs. 19).


The words of Joshua demand to be unpacked a bit.

  • It is not an exaggeration to say that the shock waves of this “J-Bomb” reverberated through 1400 years of Israelite history.


His statement says loads about:

  • (1) Who God is.
  • (2) Who the Israelites are.


His statement also raises some very important questions about the law – Sinai.

  • If a holy God can’t be served and His Holy law obeyed then –
  • (3) What is the point of the law?
    • We have covered Calvin’s (3) uses of the law some weeks ago.


We will explore all three.


(1) Who God Is – He Is a Holy God:

What does it mean to say that God is holy?

  • We can’t begin to address this here – books must be read to begin to appreciate what this means.
  • However, we will use a simple definition from R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God.


Holiness –

“When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be “other,” to be different in a special way” – R.C. Sproul.


How significant is the holiness of God?

  • Only once in “Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree” – R.C. Sproul.
  • Isaiah 6:3 (ESV) — 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
  • Luke 1:49 states that God’s name his holy, “holy is his name”.


Trauma of Holiness (Sproul):

A good way to understand God’s holiness is to understand what it does to His creatures.

“When we are aware of the presence of God, we become most aware of ourselves as creatures. When we meet the Absolute, we know immediately that we are not absolute. When we meet the Infinite, we become acutely conscious that we are finite. When we meet the Eternal, we know we are temporal. To meet God is a powerful study in contrasts” – R. C. Sproul.


An example of this is Isaiah’s encounter with God’s holiness in Isaiah 6:

  • Isaiah 6:5 (1901 ASV) — 5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.
  • How does Isaiah know he is “undone”?


God’s holiness had a certain effect on Isaiah.

  • “To be undone means to come apart at the seams, to be unraveled. What Isaiah was expressing is what modern psychologists describe as the experience of personal disintegration” – R. C. Sproul.
  • Isaiah was no longer whole.


It was because of the holiness that disintegrates that Joshua said the Israelites would be unable to serve God.

  • And yet, Isaiah was able to serve God.
    • “Here I am Lord, send me.”
    • How do we account for this?


(2) Who the Israelites Are – Not Able to Serve the Lord:

First we need to do some quick background.

  • Joshua was not the only one making this claim.


Joshua was not alone:

God said –

  • Deuteronomy 31:16 (ESV) — 16 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them.
  • Deuteronomy 31:20 (ESV) — 20 For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant.
  • Deuteronomy 31:21b (ESV) — 21b For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.”


Moses said –

  • Deuteronomy 31:27 (ESV) — 27 For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death!
  • Deuteronomy 31:29 (ESV) — 29 For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.”



So why was a prophet like Isaiah able to serve a holy God, but the Israelites apparently could not?

  • God, Moses and Joshua seem clear that Israel is unable to.
  • Yet Isaiah is part of Israel.
  • Is this a contradiction?


The answer has to do with a right response to God’s holiness.

  • A theme we talked about a couple of weeks ago.


Isaiah fell to his knees and cried out “woe is me!”.

  • I am a man of unclean lips.


The Israelites, on the other hand, said to Joshua, “We got this”.

  • But worse than that, even as Israel agreed with Joshua about the call to be holy and obedient, they did so as idolators.
  • Joshua 24:14 (1901 ASV) — 14 Now therefore fear Jehovah, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt; and serve ye Jehovah.


Do you see the difference between Isaiah’s response to God’s holiness and Israel’s?


It is this fact that led Joshua to say:

  • Joshua 24:19–20 (ESV) — 19b He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”


So what we have is not a contradiction, but simple math.

  • Holiness of God + Israel’s carelessness and idolatry = judgment.
  • Holiness of God + Isaiah’s brokenness/repentance = forgiveness


BTW – The forgiven, because of their “connectedness” to the judged, also suffer exile, famine, drought, etc.

  • The Isaiah’s of the OT are not exempt from God’s dealing with the body of Israel.
  • They are part of that body.


All of this leads us to our third sub-point of Joshua’s “But”.

  • Why did God, Moses and Joshua continue delivering the law and expect obedience?


(3) Why the Law:

We raised the question earlier.

  • Why demand obedience from the Israelites when everybody knew…
    • (1) They couldn’t obey.
    • (2) God was holy and they couldn’t measure up.


The answer to this question has already been given.

  • We saw the answer with Isaiah and the trauma of God’s holiness.
  • Isaiah 6:5 (1901 ASV) — 5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts.


God’s law is an expression of His holiness.

  • Its purpose is to undo us and disintegrate us.
  • Its purpose is to drive us to our knees in acknowledgment of the facts.
    • One such fact – We are creation; God is Creator.
    • “Here I am, send me” in broken and repentant humility is the purpose of the law.
      • Not the careless yes from a bunch of idolators.


Paul Also Answers this Question:

Paul puts the reason for the law as follows:

  • Galatians 3:19a, 24–27 (ESV) — 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made… 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.


In other words:

  • “The law of God is the mirror of true righteousness [holiness]. When we set our works before this mirror, the reflection in it tells us of our imperfections” – R. C. Sproul.
  • And the guardian, the tutor, the mirror of the law (God’s holiness) reveals our need to look outside of creation for a solution.
  • And from the beginning that solution was God in Jesus Christ.
    • The Serpent Crusher
    • The Promised Seed


And this is a perfect segue to our final theme.





Joshua 23:14 (ESV) — 14 “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.


Joshua’s endorsement, just before his death, of God’s faithfulness is both inspiring and uplifting.

  • Remember, the early Israelites had a much different view of life after death.
  • They didn’t say things like – “I’m going to heaven”.
  • And yet Joshua praises God for all He has done.
    • not one word has failed
    • All have come to pass
    • not one of them has failed


We can go a couple of ways at this point.

  • We could review the fulfilled promises.
  • Or, we could examine the means that God used to express His covenant faithfulness.
  • We will do the latter.


Dabar of God:

Joshua previously cited all the work God had done on behalf of the Israelites.

  • All of which were promise fulfillments.
  • But here he hones in on the “thing” that conveys God’s “CF”.
  • The “dabar” of God.


It is strange that some translations of verse 14 actually leave out or gloss over this Hebrew word in their English translations (yet another reason to read multiple translations).

  • NLT – “one” (left out “word” or “thing”)
  • NIV – “one” (left out “word” or “thing”)
  • NASB – “one of them” (“word” as “them”)
  • YLT – “one thing” (“word” as “thing”)
  • ASV – “one thing” (“word” as “thing”)


So why go with “word” and not “thing” in verse 14?

  • There are two reasons.


(1) God’s promises didn’t come to Israel in “things” or “ones”.

  • God’s promises came to Israel in “words”.
  • Joshua is referring to the promises of the covenant – the words – not the “thing” of the covenant act itself (the victory over the Canaanites, for example).


(2) Importantly, the LXX translates “dabar” in verse 14 as…“logos”.

  • “Dābār” is the OT’s “logos”.


Significance of Dabar:

The importance of what Joshua is saying here can’t be overlooked.

  • God’s promises, His covenant, His “things” are all communicated with His words.
  • And as John makes so clear in John 1, this was never more true than in Jesus Christ –  the Word of God.
  • It is God’s Word that is the ultimate expression of His covenant faithfulness.


For this reason, the TWOT calls the use of the word dabar “a most important declaration”.

  • It is used about 400 times to communicate God’s “CF” to His creatures.


Some Examples:

  • Psalm 33:4 (ESV) — 4 For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.
  • Psalm 119:89 (ESV) — 89 Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
  • Psalm 119:105 (ESV) — 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
  • Psalm 119:160 (ESV) — 160 The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
  • Isaiah 55:11 (ESV) — 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
  • Jeremiah 23:29 (ESV) — 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
  • Jeremiah 15:16 (ESV) — 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.


How is it that we can fully encounter the “fire”, “hammer”, “joy and the delight”, the “truth”, the “light”, the certainty, and the “faithfulness” of God’s dabar/logos in our lives?

  • Stay tuned.



Joshua 10 & 11 – God’s Sovereignty and Conquest

Our text today documents the remainder of the Southern campaign and the whole of the Northern campaign.

  • There are some apologetic concerns about the completion of this Conquest we may address at the end.
  • But before that, our text reveals something remarkable…


Canaan’s devotion to destruction and Israel’s obedience to this devotion are intricately woven around God’s Will and Sovereignty.


This all comes together in one verse in Joshua 11 –

  • Joshua 11:20 (ESV) — 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction [DTD] and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.


This text links God’s Will and Sovereignty to Israel’s obedience and Canaan’s “DTD” in a causal chain.

  • God’s Will – “The Lord commanded Moses” and Joshua that the Canaanites are to be “DTD”.
    • This command to Moses expressed the Will of God.
    • It was to be obeyed.
    • God’s Sovereignty – To this end, “it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts”.
      • God’s act of hardening was to ensure they would “come against Israel in battle”.
      • This would then lead to their being “devoted to destruction”.
      • The very thing God Willed in His giving of the Promise Land to Abrahams descendants.


God’s Will:

God had made it clear to Moses and Joshua His Will concerning the Canaanites:

  • Deuteronomy 7:2 (ESV) — 2 and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
  • Deuteronomy 20:16–17 (ESV) — 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded,


Why was this God’s will?

  • We do have some clues as to why God would will Canaanite destruction.



  • Genesis 9:22 & 25 (ESV) — 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside… 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
  • Genesis 10:15–20 (ESV) — 15 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. 19 And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20 These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.


Might the curse have had a present and future connotation or at the very least been a foreshadowing?

  • Especially if “curse” here refers to the consequences of one’s sin/disobedience.
  • This connection becomes all the more acute with the description of Ham’s offspring and their territory.
  • The very peoples and land under Conquest in Joshua 10 and 11.



Covenant Faithfulness

  • Genesis 12:6–7 (ESV) — 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
  • Exodus 3:16–17 (ESV) — 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” ’
  • Exodus 13:11 (ESV) — 11 “When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you,
  • Leviticus 25:38 (ESV) — 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.


God’s promise and faithfulness to –

  • Bring” His people (His elect) out of exile
  • To return them to the Promised Land
  • Are themes that carry forward all the way through the NT
    • The church, resurrection, new creation, etc.



  • Genesis 15:16 (ESV) — 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
  • Exodus 22:20 (ESV) — 20 “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction.
  • Leviticus 18:24–25 (ESV) — 24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, 25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.
  • Deuteronomy 18:12 (ESV) — 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.


The abominations included (Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 18):

  • Incest
  • Homosexuality
  • Bestiality
  • Child sacrifice
  • Divination
  • Fortune telling
  • Interpreting omens
  • Sorcery
  • Necromancy (speaking to the dead)
  • Idolatry


Was God’s will done?

  • Joshua 10:28 (ESV) — 28 As for Makkedah, Joshua captured it on that day and struck it, and its king, with the edge of the sword. He devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. And he did to the king of Makkedah just as he had done to the king of Jericho.
  • Joshua 10:35 (ESV) — 35 And they captured it on that day, and struck it with the edge of the sword. And he devoted every person in it to destruction that day, as he had done to Lachish.
  • Joshua 10:37 (ESV) — 37 and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword, and its king and its towns, and every person in it. He left none remaining, as he had done to Eglon, and devoted it to destruction and every person in it.
  • Joshua 10:39 (ESV) — 39 and he captured it with its king and all its towns. And they struck them with the edge of the sword and devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. Just as he had done to Hebron and to Libnah and its king, so he did to Debir and to its king.
  • Joshua 10:40 (ESV) — 40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.
  • Joshua 11:11 (ESV) — 11 And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire.
  • Joshua 11:12 (ESV) — 12 And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured, and struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded.


And the author of Joshua makes clear that this “DTD” was done in accordance with God’s will.

  • Joshua 11:15 (ESV) — 15 Just as the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.


BTW – Understanding God’s will here demonstrates that God was not planning as history unfolded.

  • He always knew exactly the who, what, and when.
    • All of which were preparing the way for Christ.
    • And this leads us to the how.


God’s Sovereignty:

What is God’s Sovereignty?

  • “The fact that God is free and able to do all that he wills; that he reigns over all creation and that his will is the final cause of all things” – Martin Manser.
  • “By his sovereignty we mean the authority of his power over creation” – Michael Bird.
  • Psalm 135:6 (ESV) — 6 Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.


We noted earlier an expression of this sovereignty, “it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts”.

  • This language is similar to God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus.
  • And it parallels God’s stirring of Cyrus’ spirit.
  • Ezra 1:1 (ESV) — 1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom…
    • Cyrus went on to “allow” and fund the rebuilding of the Temple.


God’s power over earth’s rulers is expressed well in Proverbs.

  • Proverbs 21:1 (ESV) — 1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.


Judicial Hardening:

In the case of the Canaanites and Pharaoh “it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts”.

  • This action of God’s sovereignty is often called “judicial hardening”.
  • God is exercising His sovereignty over a “king’s heart” to accomplish His will.


BTW – “Don’t think you can escape this God by running into the New Testament; you will meet the same God there (Heb. 3:12–13)” – Dale Davis.


The topic of God’s Sovereignty raises some important questions.

  • Did God leave the fulfillment of His will for the Promised Land up to His creatures?
  • Or, did He sovereignly predestinate events, outcomes and behaviors?


God’s Action:

In one sense, the Bible understands the Conquest as God’s work and His predestination.

  • His direct and personal causative action in the details of the Conquest.


Scripture puts in this way –

  • Exodus 23:23 (ESV) — 23 “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out,
  • Exodus 23:29–30 (ESV) — 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land.
  • Exodus 33:2 (ESV) — 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
  • Exodus 34:11 (ESV) — 11 “Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
  • Joshua 1:2–3 (ESV) — 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.
  • Joshua 10:8 (ESV) — 8 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.”
  • Joshua 10:11 (ESV) — 11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.
  • Joshua 10:12 (ESV) — 12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”


Yet, God’s Sovereignty and predestination operates in the context of man’s actions.

  • Man’s natural ability (different from moral ability) to be causative somehow compliments God’s Sovereignty.


The two come together in the following verses:

  • Joshua 10:25–26 (ESV) — 25 And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” 26 And afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees. And they hung on the trees until evening.
  • Joshua 10:42 (ESV) — 42 And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.
  • Joshua 11:6 (ESV) — 6 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.”


Man’s Actions:

The writer of Joshua also explicitly attributes Conquest to the actions of man.


Scripture puts it this way –

  • Joshua 10:34–35 (ESV) — 34 Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Lachish to Eglon. And they laid siege to it and fought against it. 35 And they captured it on that day, and struck it with the edge of the sword.
  • Joshua 10:40 (ESV) — 40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining…
  • Joshua 11:16 (ESV) — 16 So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland
  • Joshua 11:18 (ESV) — 18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings.
  • Joshua 11:23 (ESV) — 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments…


BTW – though God hardened the Canaanites’ hearts, Scripture also shows their causative actions as well.

  • Here is but one example –
  • Joshua 11:4–5 (ESV) — 4 And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. 5 And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.


It is clear that God uses means to accomplish His Will.

  • And along with His Sovereign actions in creation – including hardening the hearts of the Canaanites – He also uses the actions of His creatures.
  • God gave the Promised Land but Joshua took the Promise Land.
  • God hardened Canaanite hearts but the Canaanites allied together to fight Israel.
  • The two, God’s Sovereignty and man’s action, mysteriously go together.
  • This is no different in the NT.


Dale Davis has some wise words about this mystery.

“Divine sovereignty does not negate human activity but stimulates it” – Dale Davis.


“God’s sovereignty is not a doctrine that shackles us but a reality that liberates us, not a cloud that stifles but an elixir that invigorates” – Dale Davis.



Joshua 8:30-35 – Covenant Renewal




The writer tells us that the events in our text took place “at that time” (vs. 30).

  • Scholars are unclear if this happened right after Ai or at some other time.
  • The LXX (after 9:2) and a Dead Sea Scroll (between 5:1 and 5:2) have the text in a different part of Joshua.


Most agree it can seem out of place in its current location.

  • (1) Military Standpoint
    • David Howard suggests that “as a military strategy” this journey “does not make good sense” if it happened right after Ai.
    • A twenty-mile journey North through the hill country.
  • (2) Literary Standpoint
    • Another reason it seems out of place is because of what Dale Davis calls a “literary jolt”.
    • He describes it as being “wrenched from conquest to covenant”.


So could there be a good reason for the “jolt” given by its current location?

  • If, in fact, the events happened at another time in the Conquest would there be good reason for the editor of Joshua to move it to here?

“By placing this covenant renewal ceremony here, the writer is saying that Israel’s success does not primarily consist in knocking off Canaanites but in everyone’s total submission to the word of God” – Dale Davis.


BTW – “Such arrangement of historical material would not be out of accord with the principles of biblical historiography…one must recognize that the biblical narrative performs  a function beyond that of the chronological recording of history” – Marten Woudstra.


Covenant is foundational to Conquest!

  • Israel had, by the power and presence of Yahweh, crossed the Jordan, destroyed Jericho and defeated Bethel and Ai.
  • But, by the covenant breaking of one man, they also lost the first Battle of Ai.
  • We cannot run from the fact that Covenant is central to Israel’s success and to the book of Joshua.
    • The elect of God – Israel – were to act a certain way.
  • So the location of this ceremony in our text is saturated with covenant significance.



Do Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim have any special significance?


(1) This is the place that Moses told Joshua and the Israelites to have a ceremony.

  • Deuteronomy 27:4 (ESV) — 4 And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster.
  • Deuteronomy 27:12–13 (ESV) — 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.


(2) This is the location of Shechem.

  • Shechem is where Abraham first came into the land and received a covenant word from God.
  • Genesis 12:6–7 (ESV) — 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
  • Jacob also built an altar at Shechem and called it “God – the God of Israel”.


BTW – the location is also evidence of God’s covenant faithfulness.

  • How so?


So along with the text’s location, even the geographical place is saturated with Covenantal significance.

  • This leads us to the main point of our text – Covenant Renewal.





The covenant renewal in our text finds its impetus in Deuteronomy 27 and 28.

  • Deuteronomy 27:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. 2 And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. 3 And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you.


And the purpose Moses gives for this covenant renewal?


Blessings for Obedience –

  • Deuteronomy 28:1–3 (ESV) — 1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.


Curses for Disobedience –

  • Deuteronomy 28:15 (ESV) — 15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.


Before we dig deeper into this, we need to take a look at what Joshua did to acknowledge, affirm and commit to the words of God through Moses.

  • They erected “an altar of uncut stones” – vs. 31
    • Why are the “uncut stones” significant?
    • “It is a denial of the thought that human beings can add anything at all to salvation” – James Boice.
  • They offered “burnt offerings” and “sacrificed peace offerings” on the altar – vs. 31
    • Burnt offerings “entirely consumed the animals”; were an aroma pleasing to God; and it was to atone for sins (Lev 1:4) – David Howard.
    • Peace offerings were also know as “fellowship offerings”; some of the animals sacrificed were eaten together in fellowship – David Howard.
    • Both were offered at Sinai and so allude to the Mosaic Covenant – Woudstra.
  • Joshua “wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses” – vs. 32
  • All Israel” participated – sojourners, native born, women, little ones, elders, officers, judges, priests – vs. 33 & 35
    • “sojourners” were foreign converts to Yahweh – like Rahab.
  • The “ark of the covenant of the Lord” was present – vs. 33
    • Representative of the presence and promises of God
  • Joshua “read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse” – vs. 34
    • We don’t know if this was the 10 Commandments or the specific B&C from Deut. 28.


So what covenant were the Israelites renewing by their actions at Shechem?

  • Marten Woudstra provides great insight into this question.

All of Israel “is confronted with the demands of the Lord of the covenant as they enter upon a new phase of their existence in the land of promise. If these demands are responded to in covenant obedience, Israel’s future happiness will be secured”.


And the meaning behind the covenantal acts in our text is expressive of two necessities.

  •  Woudstra says “…the right of possessing the promise land is tied to the proclamation of, and subjection to God’s covenant claims upon his people (and the world)”.
  • So the two necessities are:
    • (1) Proclamation of God’s Covenant Requirements
    • (2) Subjection to God’s Covenant Requirements


So we don’t take the importance of the Covenantal blessing/curse motif in the wrong way, we need to keep something very important in mind.

  • Though it is true that “blessing and cursing are the two poles around which the history of the covenant revolves” – Woudstra.
  • The B&C of the Sinai Covenant as revealed in Deuteronomy “presupposes the unconditional covenant of God with Abraham by which the Jews were chosen to be God’s people”.
    • Remember, along with His commands, God also gave the concept of atonement.
    • “Thou shalt not” but “I know you will” – James Boice.
  • As we said in our OT Gospel lesson, we are speaking about the conforming use of the law for the Elect – Israel.


God’s elect are not their own.

  • They are to live in obedience to Him and His covenant requirements.
  • But not simply for their own sake and the blessings that come from obedience.
  • But also because they have been given a greater purpose than just their own history.
  • They are the recipients of a global redemptive history.
    • (1) Through them the promised seed will come.
    • (2) Through them the Davidic king will come.
    • (3) Through them the covenant claims of God on His creation are made known – Woustra.


So to proclaim and submit to Covenant is to participate in the greater purposes of God for the world.

  • Including, but not limited to, Israel receiving the Promised Land.
  • This is definitely something worth proclaiming and subjecting oneself to!