Print this page

Joshua 24:1-25

Joshua 24:1-25

Background to the Book of Joshua
Historical Situation:

The history within the texts tells about the journey of the people of Israel as they pass from the wilderness and begin to infiltrate the land of Canaan. Joshua has become the leader who was designated as such before Moses died and has been commissioned by God in Joshua 1. He is to lead the people across the Jordon and begin the invasion and appropriation of the land as has been promised by God. It is difficult in our time to read this book without some abhorrence about what is deemed to be done under God's guidance and blessing. It is well to remember this story reflects what has been the norm in history for centuries and it is only in recent time that we are realising that the invasion of land and killing of its inhabitants is no longer acceptable.

After several battles in the West, North and South, Joshua distributes the land among the tribes (Joshua 14-19). Some towns are designated as towns for refuge and special towns with pasture are given to the Levites. The final chapters of the book are similar to those in Deuteronomy in which Joshua has farewell speeches with further warnings about possible loss of land, a renewal of the covenant followed by his death and burial.

We talk about history within the text because when we examine the names of the places in the Book we find that many of them would not have been there in the time before the monarchy according to archaeological evidence. This suggests a gradual composition which took place over time and began with oral tradition before any commitment to writing. Many of the features reflect a time within the Davidic monarchy (Coote: 556-7).
Literary Comments:
The book contains many different genres: set speeches, folk tales, aetiological saga, lists and excerpts from ancient sources (Coote: 556). This suggests that it has had a long oral tradition before its final composition as a written document. The book separates into two main parts plus a transcript (1-12, 13-21, 22-24): the conquest on the west side of the Jordon (the East side had been conquered under Moses), the distribution of the land to the twelve tribes and the last days of Joshua (Curtis:12).

Certain features demonstrate a design by the final author; for example, the first and last chapters are hortatory (teaching) in tone. The burials of Joshua, Joseph and Eleazer all come in the conclusion and serve to underlie a major purpose of the book which is the fulfilment of the promise. There are connections between the promise of 1:3,6 and the summary in 11:16ff (Woudstra:15). A number of other examples are listed by Woudstra.

Although the story reads as though the whole of Canaan was defeated we find a concentration of material on Gilgal, Jericho and Ai which is related to the territory of Benjamin. So it could be, that we what we have in Joshua are mainly traditions from the tribe of Benjamin. We tend to ignore the lists which follow in chapters 13-21 because they are boring to read. However, they perform a very important theological point as mentioned below in the Purpose of the Book. The lists appear to be a mixture of boundary lists, city lists and some notes on Canaanites who remained in the land.

Joshua 23 and 24 are two versions of the same event. Many scholars suggest Joshua 23 and 24 are later Deuteronomistic additions with no certainty about dating (Curtis: 28). Joshua 24 has an interest in Schechem and may represent a group or author who wanted to add their focus to the story of Joshua.
PURPOSE of the Book:
A major purpose is to confirm that the promises made to Abram about land and many descendants has indeed come true (Genesis 12:1-3). The Book of Joshua is the practical outcome, the reality that this is the land promised to their ancestors. The book demonstrates that obedience to God's commands brings victory and if the people are unfaithful to God it brings punishment. Indeed, Joshua is the ideal model of obedience because he acts only after receiving instructions from Yahweh, unlike David who acts after his initial anointing quite independently at times.

This book gives authority for the designation of lands to the various tribes. If there are claims outside of the these boundaries in later times this book provides the basis for or against any claimants. It establishes the Levites and priests in their designated areas. In response to the fulfilment of God's promises the people are expected to remain faithful and obedient to God. Later in the books of the Deuteronomic History (Deuteronomy - 11 Kings) the writer will demonstrate that it is because the people and kings have failed to be obedient is spite of all that God gave them that they have ended up in exile (587 BCE). One can see how important the book is within the structure of the Deuteronomic History.

A brief note on the Deuteronomic History:
Martin Noth's publication of his book (1943) in which he proposed that the body of material from Deuteronomy to the end of Second Kings was called the Deuteronomic History has been accepted, in some form, by most people. He suggested that early in exile an author/group created this history using many different sources and traditions to compose this body of work in order to explain to the people in exile why that were there. It begins with the laws given to Moses (Deuteronomy) and demonstrates in the stories following the Book of Deuteronomy how the people, priests and especially kings disobeyed the law with the consequence that they lost the land and ended up in Babylon. They gained the land (Joshua & Judges) because it was given by Yahweh and lost it because they went after other gods and were generally disobedient in their religious and ethical practices.

Context of Joshua 24:1-25
Joshua chapters 2-12 tell the story of Joshua leading the people to defeat the Canaanites and take over the land. Chapters 13-22 give details about the distribution of the land among the tribes. Josh 23 is Joshua's good bye speech reiterating the need to keep from intermarrying and worshipping the gods of the nations with whom they are living. He affirms that Yahweh has given them all that was promised and they are warned that if they worship other gods there will be consequences in the future. The lectionary reading is a renewal of the covenant made between Joshua and the people on behalf of Yahweh. It is followed by a record of the death of Joshua and the place of his burial. He is ten years younger that Moses when he died. We are told also that the bones of Joseph which had been carried up from Egypt were buried at Shechem. Furthermore, Eleazar the son of Aaron died and was buried in Ephraim.

Insights/Message of Joshua 24:1-25

Literary:The unit is vv.1-28 and can be structured as follows. The tribes are summoned to Shechem, the place where Joseph's bones will be buried (v.1) Up to now Joshua's role has had a focus on leadership and taking the land. This chapter has reminiscences of Moses who was the great lawgiver and Joshua is following in his footsteps here. After the summons we have a historical prologue which emphases the grace of God who lead them them from the very beginning of their journey ( vv.2-13). This is followed by the consequences for the people in that they have a choice to follow this God who has been with them from the beginning or choose to follow the gods in the land of their dwelling. The people respond to this challenge affirming that they will worship the Lord and repeat some of the past history. However, Joshua doesn't accept their glib response and challenges them reiterating that they will suffer consequences for their apostasy (vv.19-20). There follows a dialogue in which Joshua pushes them hard to make sure they really understand what they are saying (vv.21-24). In response Joshua makes a covenant and this covenant is written down and the stone under which the written document is placed becomes the witness.

Elements of Treaty Form used by the writers of Joshua to emphasis the covenant.

1. Preamble Josh 24:1

2. Historical prologue Josh 24: 2-13

3. Statement of General Principles Josh 24:14-15

4. Detailed obligations on the people Josh 24: 16-24

5. Directions as to future reading and depositing of treaty Josh 24: 25-26

6. Witness of stone Josh 24: 27

7. Curses and blessings (none in this case)

The treaty form is being used as the medium to emphasize the message of covenant. The references to Balaak and the prophet Balaam are unusual in this context. We find very few references to this particular incident in the other historical prologues.

Message: I found it interesting that Joshua was not convinced by the people's affirmation that they would serve only the Lord. He really pushed them to repeat their response as though this will help them to embed it within them. Many people are unaware that many covenants are made or renewed in the Hebrew Scriptures, we sometimes speak as though there are only a few. Joshua obviously thought it important to remind the people about their relationship with God at the point they were settling into the land. Shechem plays a very important role in the worship life of the northern tribes especially, and has many previous connections: Abram passed through Shechem (Gen12:6), a sanctuary with sacred stones and tree (Gen 33:20, 35:4), and a place where the gods of the fathers were put away (Gen 35:4). The commands in v.19 appear contradictory, but it is the way by which Joshua to confronts the people about their apostasy (worshipping other gods). Basically they cannot worship Yahweh and other gods for God is jealous and demands total loyalty. The repetition of the verb "to serve", seven times in vv.14-15 indicates how strongly the call to serve God alone is the only way for these people. This emphasis on the need "to serve" Yahweh continues through vv.16-24. We need to realise that the verb "to serve" includes worship as part of its mandate. Butler suggests that Josh 24 is one of the most important in the whole of the Old Testament because it sets itself up as having validity for Israel for all time (Butler:278). It demonstrates how the identity of the people is dependent on two factors. One, is the action of God in delivering them from Egypt by God's choice and not because they deserved it. Second, is the call on their lives to recognise how different this God is from the gods around and demands total loyalty. We can take this forward into our Christian call in which God alone can give life in all its fullness and we choose to go our own way. We suffer the consequences for failing to give total loyalty and the it is the work of the Holy Spirit which confronts our failures.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 25:1-13: there are a number of references to Goad as a bridegroom in the OT (Isa 54:4-6, Ezek 16:8, Hos 2:19), however there is no parable about the 10 maidens and the dividion between the wise and foolish.

Resources/Worship for Joshua 24:1-25
The service can be modeled on the covenant service above or there is a Covenant Service in the UCA Worship Book, pp. 66ff.

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Joshua (A.H.W.Curtis)

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Boling R.G. Joshua. AB. Garden City, NY,: Doubleday, 1982.
Butler, Trent. Joshua, WBC. Waco: Word Books, 1983.
Coote, Robert B. The Book of Joshua. NIB 11. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.Creach, Jerome. Joshua. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003.

Curtis, Adrian H.W. Joshua. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield ACademic Press, 1994.
Gray, John. Joshua, Judges and Ruth. NCB. London: Nelson, 1967.

Pressner, Carolyn. Joshua, Judges & Ruth. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002.
Soggin, J.A. Joshua. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1972.
Woudstra, M.W. The Book of Joshua. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:

Previous page: Joshua 5:9-12
Next page: Ruth 1:1-18