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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Joshua 24

Verses 1-28

Second Concluding Address and the Covenant

Ceremony at Shechem (24:1-28)

The Book of Joshua comes to a dramatic climax in an impassioned address by Joshua to all Israel assembled at the sacred city of Shechem, in a call to decision for or against the God of the fathers, and in the entering into a solemn Covenant with this God by all the people. A brief section at the very end (vss. 29-33) records the death and burial of Joshua and the interment of Joseph and of Eleazar, the son of Aaron. The effectiveness of Joshua’s leadership is noted in the statement that "Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua" (vs. 31).

Chapter 24 impresses the careful reader as duplicating (in part at least) both chapter 23 and 8:30-35. Chapter 23 seems to round off the book and would form an excellent conclusion to the whole, as it summarizes admirably the major themes the writer has been emphasizing throughout. The contents of chapter 24 are not dated to the end of Joshua’s career, as is the case with chapter 23. The events described in chapter 24 could thus have occurred earlier in Joshua’s life. The strong similarity of the narrative concerning the institution of the Covenant here with that to be found in 8:30-35 and in Deuteronomy 27 leads to the possibility that Joshua 24 contains an alternative version of that ceremony. It may have been added here because it was thought to be a more effective conclusion to the book than chapter 23. It affirms that Israel wholeheartedly accepted the Lord God and vowed eternal loyalty to him.

Deuteronomy 27-28 deals with the great Shechem Covenant ceremony (see comment). Only the striking features of the record in Joshua 24 will be indicated here.

That Shechem was an old city is evident both from the Book of Genesis and from archaeology. Abraham is said to have built an altar there by a sacred oak (Genesis 12:6-7). An Egyptian official of the nineteenth century B.C. refers to the capture of Shechem by an Egyptian king. Recent archaeological investigation of the site has revealed that Shechem was long a sacred city (that is, it contained a shrine). The excavators found a large temple area which had passed through many rebuildings between about 1800 and 1100 B.C. Around 1650 B.C. a massive fortress-temple of unique type was constructed there on the stumps of earlier temples. Following a destruction of the city in the sixteenth century B.C. by the Egyptians and a period of ruin, yet another temple was built on the spot in the fifteenth century. A huge sacred pillar of white limestone, carefully smoothed, set up somewhere between about 1450 and 1200 D.C. not far from the altar of the temple, was recovered by the archaeologists. In Canaanite religion such stone pillars seem to have symbolized the presence of the deity, probably the male deity.

The fact that the Old Testament records no Israelite conquest of Shechem may mean that people were living there who were known to be relatives of the Hebrews. They may have joined Israel in Covenant relationship with Israel’s God (which may have been identified with the traditional god of Shechem). How-ever it be explained, Shechem seems from the first days of the conquest of Canaan to have been regarded as a legitimate place of worship.

Joshua’s address recites the gracious deeds of God in the call of Abraham, the migration to Canaan, the deliverance from Egypt, the victory over the Amorites, the deliverance from the machinations of Balak and Balaam, the capture of Jericho, and the defeat of many Canaanite nations. On the basis of God’s mighty deeds the people are challenged to be loyal to him and to put away all false gods. Joshua here preaches for a verdict: "choose this day whom you will serve" (vs. 15). Like Elijah in a later time (1 Kings 18:21), he seems to be pushing for a clear-cut decision. Double-mindedness cursed the Israelites through most of their history. Both Joshua and Elijah knew that part-time service of God is no service at all.

Joshua’s psychology here is noteworthy. He knew the power of example: You can do as you will, he says, "but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (vs. 15). This evokes from the people a burst of enthusiasm for the worship of the God of Israel. Now Joshua drives their decision deeper. He seems to be saying that no superficial choice will be of any significance. God is a holy and jealous God; he will tolerate no vacillation. Breaking the Covenant after it has once been entered into will be a serious offense which may bring destruction on them. Think twice, he seems to say. The caution had its desired effect, for the people affirm, "Nay; but we will serve the LORD" (vs. 21). This is followed by Joshua’s demand that they act immediately in harmony with their decision by casting away their false gods. Joshua knew that decision must be implemented by action if it is to have any permanent results. False gods tucked away for the time being are sure to reappear later on the mantel of the home or on the throne of the heart.

The Covenant ceremony is not described here (see Deuteronomy 27 and Joshua 8:30-35). The part that the stone plays in this passage is of interest (vss. 26-27), especially in view of the archaeological recovery of a sacred stone at Shechem. It is obvious that the stone here is regarded as representing the Deity, as if the Deity were actually present in the stone and a witness to the people’s solemn declarations and actions. Jacob is said to have set up a stone at Bethel and poured oil on it as a testimony to God’s presence in that place (Genesis 28:18). For Joshua, not only was the stone at Shechem a symbol of the Deity’s presence but it was probably also a monument—visible to all for the days ahead—of the Covenant which had been entered into that day. The condemnation of the sacred stone and the sacred tree in Deuteronomy 16:21-22 probably reflects the attitude of a time later than that of Joshua, for both are considered legitimate in Joshua 24:26.

Verses 29-33

Joshua’s Death and Burial and the Interment of Joseph and Eleazar (24:29-33)

The sacredness of Shechem to the Israelites at this period is further evidenced by their burial of the bones of Joseph there. We are told that Jacob had bought land at Shechem; Joseph was thus laid away on family property. The burial of Joseph’s bones in the land of Canaan is said to have been in accordance with his dying request (Genesis 50:25).

The death of Joshua is doubly recorded: here (vss. 29-31) and in Judges 2:8-10. Both passages record the fidelity of the people during the days of their great leader’s life and those of the eyewitnesses of the stirring events of the Conquest. Thus indirectly is the power of personal experience and eyewitness testimony disclosed.

The influence of Joshua on Israel’s history cannot be fully assessed until one takes into consideration the work of another "Joshua" ("Jesus," whose Hebrew name was "Joshua" or more accurately "Yehoshua"). Both of these Joshua’s abundantly demonstrated the truth signified by their name, which means, "the Loin [Yahweh] is salvation."

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Joshua 24". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/joshua-24.html.