The Bible’ Covenant Story. 7. Joshua 24:1-27 Covenant renewal at Shechem

Joshua 24 is a moving chapter.  After a lifetime of faithfully leading Israel, including the entry into the Promised Land, Joshua knows that the end of his life is near.  The initial stages of the conquest are over and Israel enjoys a measure of peace.  Now a great test is looming as the leader the people have known for so long is about to depart.  To strengthen their resolve to follow the Lord, Joshua leads them in a renewal of their covenant with the Lord.  In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 7. Joshua 24:1-27 Covenant renewal at Shechem.

1. Divine mercy

Joshua speaks the word of the Lord to the gathered Israelites (v2ff).  Much of what he says surveys key events of the history of God’s people.  All are recounted in terms of God’s actions: ‘I took…I sent…I brought’ (v3,5,8).  The focus is on the sovereign working of the Lord.  The events chosen by Joshua are all tokens of the mercy of God to an undeserving people.  The blessings Israel received were not due to their own goodness, but to the Lord’s keeping covenant with Abraham’s descendants.  As in Exodus 2:24 ‘he remembered his covenant’.  God’s covenant is always the fruit of his love and grace.  Our position is no different.  The gift of a Saviour flows from the love of God (John 3:16).  Note also 1 John 3:1, where our being ‘children of God’ is rooted in the Father’s great love.  We enter the Covenant of Grace through Christ’s shedding his ‘blood of the covenant’ (Mark 14:24).

2. Sincere commitment

In the light of what God has done, what is the response of his people to be?  In v14 Joshua applies the lesson of history.  The gratitude of Israel should compel this response: ‘Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness’.  It is a summons to a sincere covenant commitment to the Lord.  They are to give themselves to the Lord’s service, as in Genesis 17:1 ‘walk before me and be blameless.’  Their response is to be free, not forced – ‘if choosing the Lord seems undesirable, then choose…whom you will serve’ (v15).  Joshua leads by example – ‘as for me and my household’ (v15).  Commitment cannot be given in our own strength – ‘You are not able to serve the Lord’ (v19).  It is a vivid way of stressing our need of the grace of God: ‘it is God who works in you to will and to act’ (Philippians 2:13).  Love demands our whole heart (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Israel’s response – ‘We will serve the Lord’ (v21) – should be the resolve of every believer.

3. Thorough reformation

Covenant commitment is not something to be taken lightly.  Our whole life is to be lived in total dedication to the Lord.  The call of Romans 12:1 is ‘present your bodies a living sacrifice’.  Covenant renewal simply reminds us of how we should live.  In particular there must be a definite turning away from everything that is contrary to our commitment to the Lord or that would draw us away from him.  In practice that means throwing away anything that has become an idol, that takes the place due to God alone.  Even good and worthy things can become idols.  God alone is to be the centre of life.  We should pray, ‘Search me, O God’ (Psalm 139:23) so that all idols can be rooted out and God acknowledged as supreme.

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