“A New Creation and Beyond the River”
Introduction to Part 2:
Joshua 24:1 (ESV) — 1 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.
Many scholars speculate that Joshua 23 took place at Shiloh.
- Joshua 24 obviously took place at Shechem.
- This means, of course, that some time elapsed between 23 and 24 to allow for travel.
But why move from Shiloh (the new home of the Tabernacle) to Shechem?
- The answer has to do with covenant.
- Shechem was where God covenanted with Abraham.
- Shechem is where the Israelites previously renewed their covenant with God.
- And our text today has another such covenant renewal ceremony.
We will contend with this covenant renewal as we continue to cover the prevalent themes of Joshua’s Farewell Discourse.
Last week we discussed three:
- (1) The Conquest is the Lord’s
- (2) Exhortation to Remain Faithful
- (3) Consequences for Unfaithfulness
Today we deal with:
- (4) Work of God in History
- (5) Covenant Renewal
Next week we will finish with:
- (6) Depravity of Israel
- (7) God’s Covenant Faithfulness
4) WORK OF GOD
A large chunk of text, Joshua 24:2-13, is dedicated to extolling the work of God on Israel’s behalf.
- Joshua begins by declaring, “Thus says the Lord” (vs. 2).
- He then proceeds to use God’s words to detail God’s work.
What God says – a summary:
- “Long ago…beyond the Euphrates…Abraham…served other gods” (vs. 2)
- “Then I took…Abraham from beyond the River…and led him to Canaan” (vs. 3)
- “I made his offspring many” (vs. 3)
- “Isaac…Jacob…Esau” (vs. 4)
- “Jacob went to Egypt” (vs. 4)
- “I sent Moses and Aaron” (vs. 5)
- “I plagued Egypt” (vs. 5)
- “I brought you out…to the sea…and the Egyptians pursued” (vs. 5 & 6)
- “I made the sea come upon them…you saw it” (vs. 7)
- “Then you lived in the wilderness a long time” (vs. 7)
- “I destroyed the Amorites and gave you the land east of the Jordan” (vs. 8)
- “I delivered you from the Balaam’s curse” (vs. 10)
- “And then You went over the Jordan” (vs. 11)
- “I gave the Canaanites into your hand…it was not by your sword or bow” (vs. 11)
- “I gave you the Promised Land – land you didn’t prepare, cities you didn’t build, vineyards and orchards you did not plant” (vs. 13)
These words are far more than a simple historical rehash of the work of God.
- They reveal God’s continued disposition of Grace toward His creation.
- His unwavering intent to redeem Creation.
- His work to put all things right.
Joshua’s discourse here is also at least two other things.
- (1) A “Creation Story”
- (2) A Right Response
(1) A “Creation Story”:
The phrase “long ago” literally means “out of”/“from” “the world”/“eternity” – TWOT.
- It seems to me to hint at a “creation story”.
- Creation 1 – In the beginning – Adam and Eve called out (“the Lord God formed the man”)
- Creation 2 – The Flood – Noah called out (“God remembered Noah”)
- Creation 3 – Tower of Babel event – Abraham called out (“God took Abraham from beyond the River”)
Abraham’s calling was a seminal event in God’s redemptive history.
- Abraham was no accident.
- God chose him, called him, took him and covenanted with him.
- Even in the midst of his idolatry – “they served other gods” (vs. 2)
He was a planned part of God’s redemptive history.
- He was always to be part of God’s people and God’s future.
- The trajectory of Abraham’s story was always to be through his sons, through Egypt, through the Promised Land, through Joshua, and through the nation of Israel.
Joshua’s discourse in Joshua 24 connects Israel to this “creation” of Abraham.
- To the seminal event of taking Abraham “from beyond the River” – order from chaos.
And by doing this:
- It connects Israel to God’s purposes.
- It connects the Israelites to the Promised Land.
- It connects the Israelites to God’s redemptive history.
- God is doing something and they are part of it.
What an awesome thing to be a part of!
BTW – We must not forget that Christ is in each of these creation stories – including Abraham’s.
- Creation 1 – Christ the Serpent Crusher
- Creation 2 – Christ the Target of the bow
- It would always be by God’s bow (and God’s Son) – “not by your sword or bow” (vs. 11).
- Creation 3 – Christ the Promised Seed
(2) A Right Response:
Joshua’s words are a right response to Israel’s inclusion in God’s redemptive history.
- This response has two angles two it.
1) The first angle is a basic but necessary admission that God is the Agent of creation and redemption:
- God Spoke
- God Decreed
- God Called
- God Chose
- God Covenanted
- God Fought
Or, as the Eastern Tribes put it Joshua 22:20:
- “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God the Lord!” (vs. 20).
- “El, Elohim, Yhwh! El, Elohim, Yhwh!”.
2) The second angle is that a right response to God involves doxology.
- Doxology is worship, praise and gratitude.
- Praise for what God has done.
- Praise for His words, decrees, call, choosing and covenant.
- Praise for being connected to God’s purposes in the past and going forward.
- Praise for being part of Abraham’s “creation story”.
- Joshua is worshipping God.
But going forward in God’s purposes requires an additional right response.
- As Joshua has taught us, we are not our own anymore.
- We must submit to God and His purposes and work.
- This is done with obedience!
5) COVENANT RENEWAL
Joshua 24:14–15 (ESV) — 14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond 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.”
Joshua issues a challenge to the Israelites – “Now therefore” and “Choose this day”.
- In response to God’s work on their behalf, praise isn’t enough; they must obey him.
- Joshua is calling them to covenant faithfulness.
- “Fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (vs. 15)
David Howard describes the significance of this challenge:
“The choice laid out here for Israel was a breathtaking one. The language about choice is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Normally, God was the one who did the choosing, having chosen Israel from among the nations to be his people (see, e.g., Deut 4:37; 7:6–7; 10:15; 14:2). But now, Israel was being asked to choose its loyalties, something the pagan nations did not have to do because they could embrace all the gods” – David Howard.
What does “Fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” look like?
- “Put away the gods served beyond the River” and “the gods of the Amorites” (vs. 14 & 15)
- The Israelites are committing idolatry in the Promised Land.
- Not the response God and His work deserve.
- A right response, in addition to worship, is to reject idolatry and follow after Yahweh in obedience.
Worship is not just a physical act of acknowledgment:
- John 4:24 (ESV) — 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
- Romans 12:1 (ESV) — 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Beyond the River:
Joshua’s use of the language, “beyond the River”, is no accident.
- Remember – Abraham was taken from “beyond the River”! (vs. 3)
- Abraham “served other gods” beyond the River.
Why is this significant?
- The things from “beyond the River” are to be left behind – they are “old creation”.
- As we just saw, bringing Abraham out was a “new creation”.
- Israel has been called out of “beyond the River”.
God’s redemptive history has brought them from “beyond the River”.
- To worship Him
- To obey Him
Joshua even repeats this in verse 15.
- Don’t serve “the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River” (vs. 15).
There is one more reason why this “beyond the River” language is significant.
- Where is it that a disobedient Israel is exiled?
- The Assyrians and the Babylonians take them “beyond the River”.
Joshua has made his choice – “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (vs. 15).
- Joshua expresses his choice to be covenant faithful.
- To refrain from spiritual adultery.
- He expresses his desire to be caught up in God’s redemptive history.
- God’s putting things right.
- He does not want what is “beyond the River”.
Israel says they don’t either.
Israel answered Joshua’s challenge.
- Joshua 24:21–28 (ESV) — 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then 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.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the 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 put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 26 And 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 terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, 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, lest you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.
What do the Israelites say?
- “We will serve the Lord” (vs. 21)
- “We are witnesses” against ourselves (vs. 22)
- “The Lord our God we well serve, and his voice we will obey” (vs. 24)
Following in their fathers’ footprints at Sinai, they affirmed the Covenant of Works with God.
- Again, Moses makes clear in Deuteronomy that this covenant is conditional.
- If they obey – blessings.
- If they disobey – curses.
Joshua then seals the deal and pronounces some ominous words:
- “The covenant was sealed by (1) the recording of the words in a book and (2) the setting up of a stone as a “witness” to it” – David Howard.
- And with that Joshua says the stone “shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God”.
As we saw last week in Judges, the implications of Joshua’s words are soon brought to bear.
- The Israelites “…soon demonstrated that theirs was indeed a shallow, superficial faith” – David Howard.
We will cover Joshua’s final words next week when we cover the depravity of Israel and God’s Covenant Faithfulness.