Summary: Christians need to be constantly recalled to their first love, and churches to the rudiments (first principles) of the faith of a better generation.
RENEWING OUR COVENANT WITH THE LORD
The choice of Shechem as the site for the renewal of the covenant after the conquests under Joshua is significant. This was where the LORD had promised Abram both ‘this land’ and ‘a seed’ to occupy it, and Abram had ‘built an altar to the LORD’ (Genesis 12:6-7). It was also the site where Jacob’s household forsook their idols and Jacob buried the offending items ‘under the oak which was by Shechem’ (Genesis 35:4).
Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, descendants of both Abraham and Jacob, and there they presented themselves before the LORD (Joshua 24:1). Joshua recited the history of the dealings of the LORD with their nation thus far: beginning with the call of Abram, right up to their present possession of the land by the grace of the LORD (Joshua 24:2-13). It may take a while, but the LORD always keeps His promises!
After this recital, Joshua called for a response. “Because of all this, give reverence to the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the idol gods which your fathers served before the call of Abraham, and even more recently in Egypt, and serve ye the LORD” (Joshua 24:14). In this way both our references to Abraham and to Jacob are called to memory: forsake the moon worship which Abraham left behind and forsake the impotent ‘gods’ of Egypt which the Almighty LORD so convincingly defeated just one generation ago.
The call of Joshua is not so much an evangelistic appeal, as we might be inclined to interpret it, as a call to recommitment on the part of those who are already recipients of the benefits of the LORD. The choice presented by Joshua is not so much, ‘choose the LORD or these other gods’ as “IF you will not choose the LORD, then choose which of these non-deities you will serve: the gods of the past, which failed - or perhaps the gods of the Amorites, who you have dispossessed.” Put that way, the choice is ridiculous: “As for me and my house, we WILL serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15)!
When it is put like that, the people respond accordingly: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods” (Joshua 24:16). However, the wording of their argument seems to take only utilitarian considerations into account (Joshua 24:17-18). It is easy to make recommitments when all seems to be going well: but what about those other times which may yet befall us?
Perhaps they resented the suggestion, but Joshua stood his ground: “You CANNOT serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:19-20). Remember, it is not just Joshua, but the LORD Himself who is so insistent, for the whole discourse begins: “Thus says the LORD God of Israel” (Joshua 24:2). It is the duty of evangelists and preachers not only to ‘get decisions’ for Christ, but to warn people that they cannot even begin to go forward in the Christian life if they intend to go on in their own strength!
It is in terms such as these that Jesus turned back some of His would-be disciples (Luke 14:25-28). Still, people will persist, and sometimes we must take their professions of faith on face value. It was when the people insisted: “No, but we WILL serve the LORD!” (Joshua 24:21) that Joshua reaffirmed the covenant with them (Joshua 24:22-25).
There are echoes here of the people’s readiness to do as the LORD would command them, even before their receiving of the Law at Sinai. They said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken, we will do’ (Exodus 19:8). When Moses came down the mountain, there they were, dancing around an idol (Exodus 32:19)!
Joshua’s generation fared a little better, but the writing was already on the wall. ‘Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua’ (Joshua 24:31). What then?
Then there follows the book of Judges, in which ‘every man did what was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25). A bit like our own days?
After one mass desertion (shortly after the feeding of the 5000), Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Will you go also?’ Simon Peter replied on behalf of us all: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life’ (John 6:66-68).