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Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

The book of Joshua is a book of transition. The Torah tells the story of the birth of a nation—from creation to a righteous man who became the father of many to a people led out of slavery to the establishment of the moral code of that people. Throughout the Torah, they are wanderers, nomads, slaves, and wanderers again. The book of Joshua opens with the miraculous crossing of the Jordan into the land of Canaan (last week’s text). It ends with this renewal of the covenant at Shechem. As the Israelites struggled against the inhabitants of Canaan to gain a foothold in the land God promised them, they also learned in greater depth what it meant to be God’s chosen people, a holy nation.

The promise to Abraham that he would be blessed in order to be a blessing was a high calling for his descendants. The Israelites were called to demonstrate the character of God to the world—through their faithful obedience to God, through their purity, and through their character. The book of Joshua tells us how the Israelites deepened in this call. For example, Joshua 7 tells the story of Achan. Traditionally, “To the victor go the spoils.” However, when Achan took some of the “devoted things” from the city of Jericho and put them among his own possessions, he violated the purity of Israel. Joshua and the people acted quickly and decisively, removing Achan and his family from Israel and stoning them. While this punishment may sound extreme to us, it is an example of the contrast between conquering for wealth and power versus the Israelites’ call to purity. This was a nation unlike any other, and the members of this nation had to learn how to live unlike any other nation on earth—which meant the death penalty for allowing the presence of foreign gods into the Israelite camp.

As the Israelites continued their way through Canaan, we read stories of deception, intrigue, and miraculous victories. It sounds like Joshua and his army can do no wrong. They were a force sweeping through Canaan, striking fear into the hearts of the inhabitants. However, it is worth noting that many of Joshua’s victories came with the aid of divine intervention. Israel did not miraculously transform from a nation of nomads and slaves to a highly disciplined military machine. They did not sweep through Canaan leaving a wake of destruction in their path. In fact, archaeological evidence tells us quite the opposite. Many of Israel’s neighbors throughout the Old Testament had more organized militaries, more advanced fighting technology, greater numbers, and more resources at their disposal. Even though we read of the systematic defeat of kings and nations in Joshua, this was still a people highly dependent on a miracle to defeat anyone.

These two points are important to keep in mind as we approach Joshua 24. First, Israel was established as a people with one job: to demonstrate the character of God to the world around them—through their obedience, righteousness, and holiness. Second, Israel only found a home in Canaan because of God’s divine intervention on their behalf. These two things set the stage for the call to renew the covenant that ends the book of Joshua.