Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (Nov 12th)

Pastoral Summary of Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

The people of Israel are now residents of Canaan. According to this book, the conquest is complete. The land has been divided among the tribes. We leap forward to the final chapter of the book. The people gather at Shechem, on the eastern edge of the hill country, some 30 miles north of Jerusalem. Shechem was the site of a pagan shrine. Here Abraham built an altar to commemorate his meeting with God; here Jacob, returning from Haran, set up camp, bought land, and erected an altar; here Joseph was buried. Our reading describes a treaty between God and his people, in the general style of treaties between a victorious king and a vanquished people, vassals. Such treaties say: in return for protecting you...you are obligated to... But what really matter to us are the differences from a typical treaty, what makes this an agreement between God and Israel.

In v. 2, God's titles are given. ("Terah" ws Abraham's father, who "served other gods".) Vv. 2-13 is the whereas section: the background, the reason why the parties wish a treaty. V. 14 states Israel's obligations: "to revere the LORD...". V. 22 speaks of witnesses, but it is odd that the witnesses are parties to the agreement. This treaty, unlike others, is light on the curses: what will happen if either party breaks the oath; v. 20 says "if you forsake the LORD..." But this verse is discordant with the rest of the reading and with Israel's experience during the Exile, so perhaps it was inserted later, as a lesson for people of a later age who were straying from worshipping God. V. 25 says that the treaty was ratified, together with subsidiary documents.

Vv. 14-20 are really separate from the treaty. The people have a free choice as to whether they worship God or the local gods, but Joshua and his household elect to serve God (v. 15). The people, recognizing all God has done for them, do choose to serve him. (Beyond the River": the river is the Euphrates, so this refers to Aramea, the land to the north. The "Amorites", vv. 15, 18, appear to be an indiginous people of the Promised Land.)

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