Summary: Life is about choices, and God brings his people back again and again to one essential choice: Who will you serve?
A pig and a chicken were walking past a church, and read the pastor’s sermon title on the outside notice board. It read: ‘How Can We Help The Poor?’ The pig and the chicken debated the question as they carried on their way. Then the chicken had a bright idea: I know, she said, we can help the poor by giving them a bacon and eggs breakfast! Oh no you don’t, said the pig angrily. For you, that only means a contribution, but for me it means total commitment.
How much of my life does God have? 100%? 90? 70? 40? 10? God knows what we’re like. And so he time and time again brings us to the point of decision.
1) The Place of God 24:1
Then Joshua assembled the tribes of Israel at Shechem. God has given them the land. This is the third and final assembly of chapters 22-24, chapters that deal with how the land may be kept. Remember the logic of Romans 12:1 Therefore brothers, in view of God’s mercy, I urge you to present your bodies as living sacrifices... If they want to keep living in the blessed land they must keep their spiritual heads screwed on so to speak.
And so here we are, rubbing shoulders with Joshua and the tribes of Israel, at Shechem, on a day filled with solemnity and awe. We are standing in the presence of God. We are standing in Shechem – a place pregnant with historical significance; buzzing with the vibes of days gone by. Around 700 years before, when God had promised Abraham the land, and promised global blessing in and through Abraham, Gen 12 and 34, Abraham moved to Shechem. And perhaps 150 years after that it was at Shechem that Jacob and his household made a decisive response to God by burying his gods under the same great tree as Abraham had known. And so here we are again, standing in Shechem. Something always happens here! What’s going to happen today?
But before we get into the great details of this chapter, let’s get a hold of what’s happening here. As the title in our NIV Bibles suggests, this chapter is about covenant renewal. We know this for 2 reasons. First, in verse 25 we read that Joshua made a covenant that day for the people. Secondly, scholars point out that the story is set in a typical ancient near eastern treaty form. What does that mean? It means that in those times a mighty king would offer a weaker nation the chance to make a treaty – a legal agreement with him. Historical records show that such a treaty typically followed the pattern of preamble identifying the king (2a), a recounting of the kind deeds of that king (2b-13), demands of the king on his new subjects (14-21), rules about the signing and keeping of the document, witnesses to the signing, curses and blessings, etc. Most of this chapter is the story of this ceremony unfolding.
When you think about what’s going on here, you can only agree with Solomon,1 Kings 8:23, ‘O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below – you who keep your covenant of love’. A covenant making, promising keeping God was unknown in other cultures and religions. Here, using powerful and culturally relevant commitment language God is speaking. That’s who he is: God of history; God of covenant; the God who speaks.
2) The Grace of God 24:2-13
In verses 2-13 Joshua takes the tribes on a trip down memory lane. Speaking for the Lord he reminds them of the grace of God in their lives. First, the grace of God in his redemptive initiative, vv2-3. He speaks of how Abraham came from a family of pagan idol worshippers. As a young person growing up in Ur in Mesopotamia it almost certain that he was himself an idolater. Sometimes we like to make Bible people into heroes. And sometimes they were. But their main purpose is to show how great their God was, not how great they were. He and his family were in Ur they were lost sinners, engaged in gross sin that was appalling to God. And yet, v3, in the midst of sins cesspit and mire, God speaks to Abraham’s family. God takes them, leads them and gives them the land. That’s God grace in his redemptive initiative. And that’s how God is with you and me.
Second, vv4-5 we see the grace of God in his gradually unfolding plan. The people of Israel go through hardship for many years, but God hasn’t forgotten them. Third we see the grace of God in his powerful act of red sea salvation, vv6-7. This event was second only to what God did on the cross of Christ. Fourth, we see the grace of God in his protection from harm, vv8-10 – when he turns Balaam’s curse into blessing again and again. How grateful we would be if we saw all the harm the Lord keeps us from! And finally, we see the grace of God in the miraculous Jordan crossing and the giving of Jericho and the rest of the land, vv11-13.