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Renewal of the Covenant at the National Assembly in Shechem. - Joshua 24:1. Joshua brought his public ministry to a close, as Moses had done before him, with a solemn renewal of the covenant with the Lord. For this solemn act he did not choose Shiloh, the site of the national sanctuary, as some MSS of the lxx read, but Shechem, a place which was sanctified as no other was for such a purpose as this by the most sacred reminiscences from the times of the patriarchs. He therefore summoned all the tribes of Israel, in their representatives (their elders, etc., as in Joshua 23:2), to Shechem, not merely because it was at Shechem, i.e., on Gerizim and Ebal, that the solemn establishment of the law in the land of Canaan, to which the renewal of the covenant, as a repetition of the essential kernel of that solemn ceremony, was now to be appended, had first taken place, but still more because it was here that Abraham received the first promise from God after his migration into Canaan, and built an altar at the time (Genesis 12:6-7); and most of all, as Hengstenberg has pointed out (Diss. ii. p. 12), because Jacob settled here on his return from Mesopotamia, and it was here that he purified his house from the strange gods, burying all their idols under the oak (Genesis 33:19; Genesis 35:2, Genesis 35:4). As Jacob selected Shechem for the sanctification of his house, because this place was already consecrated by Abraham as a sanctuary of God, so Joshua chose the same place for the renewal of the covenant, because this act involved a practical renunciation on the part of Israel of all idolatry. Joshua expressly states this in Joshua 24:23, and reference is also made to it in the account in Joshua 24:26. “The exhortation to be faithful to the Lord, and to purify themselves from all idolatry, could not fail to make a deep impression, in the place where the honoured patriarch had done the very same things to which his descendants were exhorted here. The example preached more loudly in this spot than in any other” ( Hengstenberg). “ And they placed themselves before God.” From the expression “before God,” it by no means follows that the ark had been brought to Shechem, or, as Knobel supposes, that an altar was erected there, any more than from the statement in Joshua 24:26 that it was “ by the sanctuary of the Lord.” For, in the first place, “before God” ( Elohim) is not to be identified with “before Jehovah,” which is used in Joshua 18:6 and Joshua 19:51 to denote the presence of the Lord above the ark of the covenant; and secondly, even “before Jehovah” does not always presuppose the presence of the ark of the covenant, as Hengstenberg has clearly shown. “Before God” simply denotes in a general sense the religious character of an act, or shows that the act was undertaken with a distinct reference to the omnipresent God; and in the case before us it may be attributed to the fact that Joshua delivered his exhortation to the people in the name of Jehovah, and commenced his address with the words, “Thus saith Jehovah.”
But as the true worship of the living God must have its roots in the heart, and spring from the heart, and therefore cannot be forced by prohibitions and commands, Joshua concluded by calling upon the representatives of the nation, in case they were not inclined (“if it seem evil unto you”) to serve Jehovah, to choose now this day the gods whom they would serve, whether the gods of their fathers in Mesopotamia, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land they were now dwelling, though he and his house would serve the Lord. There is no necessity to adduce any special proofs that this appeal was not intended to release them from the obligation to serve Jehovah, but rather contained the strongest admonition to remain faithful to the Lord.
The people responded to this appeal by declaring, with an expression of horror at idolatry, their hearty resolution to serve the Lord, who was their God, and had shown them such great mercies. The words, “ that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” call to mind the words appended to the first commandment (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6), which they hereby promise to observe. With the clause which follows, “ who did those great signs in our sight,” etc., they declare their assent to all that Joshua had called to their mind in Joshua 24:3-13. “We also” (Joshua 24:18), as well as thou and thy house (Joshua 24:15).
But in order to place most vividly before the minds of the people to what it was that they bound themselves by this declaration, that they might not inconsiderately vow what they would not afterwards observe, Joshua adds, “Ye cannot serve Jehovah,” sc., in the state of mind in which ye are at present, or “by your own resolution only, and without the assistance of divine grace, without solid and serious conversion from all idols, and without true repentance and faith” ( J. H. Michaelis). For Jehovah is “ a holy God,” etc. Elohim, used to denote the Supreme Being (see at Genesis 2:4), is construed with the predicate in the plural. On the holiness of God, see the exposition of Exodus 19:6. On the expression “ a jealous God,” see Exodus 20:5; and on לפשׁע נשׂא , Exodus 23:21. The only other place in which the form קנּוא is used for קנּא is Nahum 1:2. “ If ye forsake the Lord and serve strange gods, He will turn (i.e., assume a different attitude towards you) and do you hurt, after He has done you good,” i.e., He will not spare you, in spite of the blessings which He has conferred upon you. חרע is used to denote the judgments threatened in the law against transgressors.
The people adhered to their resolution. לא , minime , as in Joshua 5:14, i.e., we will not serve other gods, but Jehovah.
Upon this repeated declaration Joshua says to them, “ ye are witnesses against yourselves,” i.e., ye will condemn yourselves by this your own testimony if ye should now forsake the Lord, “for ye yourselves have chosen you Jehovah to serve Him;” whereupon they answer עדים , “ witnesses are we against ourselves,” signifying thereby, “we profess and ratify once more all that we have said” ( Rosenmüller). Joshua then repeated his demand that they should put away the strange gods from within them, and incline their hearts (entirely) to Jehovah the God of Israel. בּקבּכם אשׁר הנּכר אלהי might mean the foreign gods which are in the midst of you, i.e., among you, and imply the existence of idols, and the grosser forms of idolatrous worship in the nation; but בּקרב also signifies “within,” or “in the heart,” in which case the words refer to idols of the heart. That the latter is the sense in which the words are to be understood is evident from the fact, that although the people expressed their willingness to renounce all idolatry, they did not bring any idols to Joshua to be destroyed, as was done in other similar cases, viz., Genesis 35:4, and 1 Samuel 7:4. Even if the people had carried idols about with them in the desert, as the prophet Amos stated to his contemporaries (Amos 5:26; cf. Acts 7:43), the grosser forms of idolatry had disappeared from Israel with the dying out of the generation that was condemned at Kadesh. The new generation, which had been received afresh into covenant with the Lord by the circumcision at Gilgal, and had set up this covenant at Ebal, and was now assembled around Joshua, the dying servant of God, to renew the covenant once more, had no idols of wood, stone, or metal, but only the “figments of false gods,” as Calvin calls them, the idols of the heart, which it was to put away, that it might give its heart entirely to the Lord, who is not content with divided affections, but requires the whole heart (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).
On the repeated and decided declaration of the people, “ the Lord our God will we serve, and to His voice will we hearken,” Joshua completed the covenant with them that day. This conclusion of a covenant was really a solemn renewal of the covenant made at Sinai, like that which took place under Moses in the steppes of Moab (Deuteronomy 29:1). “ And set them a statute and right at Shechem,” sc., through the renewal of the covenant. These words recall Exodus 15:25, where the guidance of Israel to bitter water, and the sweetening of that water by the means which the Lord pointed out to Moses, are described as setting a statute and right for Israel, and then explained by the promise, that if they would hearken to the voice of Jehovah, He would keep them from all the diseases of Egypt. And in accordance with this, by the renewal of the covenant at Shechem, there were set for Israel, a חק , i.e., a statute, which bound the people to a renewed and conscientious maintenance of the covenant, and a משׁפּט , or right, by virtue of which they might expect on this condition the fulfilment of all the covenant mercies of the Lord.
All these things ( האלּה הדּברים are not merely the words spoken on both sides, but the whole ceremony of renewing the covenant) Joshua wrote in the law-book of God, i.e., he wrote them in a document which he placed in the law-book of Moses, and then set up a large stone, as a permanent memorial of what had taken place, on the spot where the meeting had been held, “ under the oak that was in the sanctuary of Jehovah.” As בּמקדּשׁ neither means “at the sanctuary,” nor near the sanctuary, nor “in the place where the sanctuary was set up;' the “sanctuary of Jehovah” cannot signify “the ark of the covenant, which had been brought from the tabernacle to Shechem, for the ceremony of renewing the covenant.” Still less can we understand it as signifying the tabernacle itself, since this was not removed from place to place for particular sacred ceremonies; nor can it mean an altar, in which an oak could not possibly be said to stand; nor some other illegal sanctuary of Jehovah, since there were none in Israel at that time. The sanctuary of Jehovah under the oak at Shechem was nothing else than the holy place under the oak, where Abraham had formerly built an altar and worshipped the Lord, and where Jacob had purified his house from the strange gods, which he buried under this oak, or rather terebinth tree (Genesis 12:6-7; Genesis 35:2, Genesis 35:4). This is the explanation adopted by Masius, J. D. Michaelis, and Hengstenberg (Diss. ii. p. 12). In Joshua 24:27 Joshua explains to the people the meaning of the stone which he had set up. The stone would be a witness against the people if they should deny their God. As a memorial of what had taken place, the stone had heard all the words which the Lord had addressed to Israel, and could bear witness against the people, that they might not deny their God. “ Deny your God,” viz., in feeling, word, or deed.
Joshua then dismissed the people, each one to his inheritance. He had done all that was in his power to establish the people in fidelity to the Lord.
Death and Burial of Joshua and Eleazar. - With the renewal of the covenant Joshua had ended his vocation. He did not formally lay down his office, because there was no immediate successor who had been appointed by God. The ordinary rulers of the congregation were enough, when once they were settled in Canaan, viz., the elders as heads and judges of the nation, together with the high priest, who represented the nation in its relation to God, and could obtain for it the revelation of the will of God through the right of the Urim and Thummim. In order therefore to bring the history of Joshua and his times to a close, nothing further remained than to give an account of his death, with a short reference to the fruit of his labours, and to add certain other notices for which no suitable place had hitherto presented itself.
Soon after these events (vv. 1-28) Joshua died, at the age of 110, like his ancestor Joseph (Genesis 50:26), and was buried in his hereditary possessions at Timnath-serah, upon the mountains of Ephraim, to the north of Mount Gaash. Timnath-serah is still in existence see at Joshua 19:50). Mount Gaash, however, has not been discovered.
Joshua's labours had not remained without effect. During his own lifetime, and that of the elders who outlived him, and who had seen all that the Lord did for Israel, all Israel served the Lord. “The elders” are the rulers and leaders of the nation. The account of the burial of Joseph's bones, which the Israelites had brought with them from Egypt to Canaan (Exodus 13:19), is placed after the account of Joshua's death, because it could not have been introduced before without interrupting the connected account of the labours of Joshua; and it would not do to pass it over without notice altogether, not only because the fact of their bringing the bones with them had been mentioned in the book of Exodus, but also because the Israelites thereby fulfilled the promise given by their fathers to Joseph when he died. The burial of Joseph in the piece of field which Jacob had purchased at Shechem (vid., Genesis 33:19) had no doubt taken place immediately after the division of the land, when Joseph's descendants received Shechem and the field there for an inheritance. This piece of field, however, they chose for a burial-place for Joseph's bones, not only because Jacob had purchased it, but in all probability chiefly because Jacob had sanctified it for his descendants by building an altar there (Genesis 33:20). The death and burial of Eleazar, who stood by Joshua's side in the guidance of the nation, are mentioned last of all (Joshua 24:33). When Eleazar died, whether shortly before or shortly after Joshua, cannot be determined. He was buried at Gibeah of Phinehas, the place which was given to him upon the mountains of Ephraim, i.e., as his inheritance. Gibeath Phinehas, i.e., hill of Phinehas, is apparently a proper name, like Gibeah of Saul (1 Samuel 15:34, etc.). The situation, however, is uncertain. According to Eusebius ( Onom. s. v. Γαβαάς ), it was upon the mountains of Ephraim, in the tribe of Benjamin, and was at that time a place named Gabatha, the name also given to it by Josephus (Ant. v. 1, 29), about twelve Roman miles from Eleutheropolis. This statement is certainly founded upon an error, at least so far as the number twelve is concerned. It is a much more probable supposition, that it is the Levitical town Geba of Benjamin, on the north-east of Ramah (Joshua 18:24), and the name Gibeah of Phinehas might be explained on the ground that this place had become the hereditary property of Phinehas, which would be perfectly reconcilable with its selection as one of the priests' cities. As the priests, for example, were not the sole possessors of the towns ceded to them in the possessions of the different tribes, the Israelites might have presented Phinehas with that portion of the city which was not occupied by the priests, and also with the field, as a reward for the services he had rendered to the congregation (Numbers 25:7.), just as Caleb and Joshua had been specially considered; in which case Phinehas might dwell in his own hereditary possessions in a priests' city. The situation, “upon the mountains of Ephraim,” is not at variance with this view, as these mountains extended, according to Judges 4:5, etc., far into the territory of Benjamin (see at Joshua 11:21). The majority of commentators, down to Knobel, have thought the place intended to be a Gibeah in the tribe of Ephraim, namely the present Jeeb or Jibia, by the Wady Jib, on the north of Guphna, towards Neapolis (Sichem: see Rob. Pal. iii. p. 80), though there is nothing whatever to favour this except the name.
With the death of Eleazar the high priest, the contemporary of Joshua, the times of Joshua came to a close, so that the account of Eleazar's death formed a very fitting termination to the book. In some MSS and editions of the Septuagint, there is an additional clause relating to the high priest Phinehas and the apostasy of the Israelites after Joshua's death; but this is merely taken from Judges 2:6, Judges 2:11. and Joshua 3:7, Joshua 3:12., and arbitrarily appended to the book of Joshua.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Joshua 24". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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