The Book Of Joshua


Covenant Renewal, Part 1: Joshua 24:1-13

Israel’s covenant renewal at Shechem is a seamless narrative that divides into four main parts. We first read Joshua’s second summons to the assembly in 24:1. This summons is balanced in the end of the book by Joshua’s dismissal of the assembly in 24:28. Between these two, the main narrative consists of Joshua’s second speech and Israel’s responses in verses 2-24, followed by the ratification of the covenant in verses 25-27. Consider first the opening summons in verse 1.

The record of Joshua’s summons to this assembly is both similar to and different from his summons in chapter 23. Like the previous assembly, 24:1 tells us that Joshua brought together “all the tribes of Israel” as well as “the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel.” The most significant difference we see in this summons is that Joshua and Israel “presented themselves before God.” In other words, they assembled before the visible glory of God at the tabernacle. This is the first of several times when our author highlighted the significance of this event by drawing parallels to Exodus 19–24. In these chapters, Israel made a covenant before God’s visible presence on Mount Sinai. So, just as in Exodus, covenant renewal under Joshua also took place in God’s visible presence. 

After Joshua’s summons, our author turned to Joshua’s speech and Israel’s responses in 24:2-24. In general terms, Joshua’s speech here resembled his speech at the assembly in chapter 23 because it drew attention to the basic dynamics of God’s covenant with Israel: It focused on divine benevolence; it called for Israel’s loyalty to God; and it warned of the consequences of disloyalty. Idolatry was also a special focus of chapter 24, much like it was in chapter 23. But unlike the previous chapter, this chapter reports how Israel responded to what Joshua had to say. 

The first segment of this speech amounts to a lengthy rehearsal of divine benevolence in 24:2-13. You'll recall that in chapter 23, Joshua summarized several things God had done for Israel. But here, rather than using his own words, Joshua began in verse 2 saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel …” Throughout these verses, Joshua reported what he had heard God himself say, probably at the tabernacle. Some eighteen times God declared what he had done for Israel using the first-person pronoun “I.” This first-person perspective echoes Israel’s covenant at Mount Sinai where Moses reported things he had heard God say on Mount Sinai. And it drew attention to the fact that God himself was directly reminding Israel of his many benevolences. 

God rehearsed his benevolences to Israel over three periods of history. First, in verses 3, 4, God recalled how he had shown favor to earlier generations in the period of Israel’s patriarchs. Second, in verses 5-10, he discussed his favor in the time of Moses. And third, in verses 11-13, he ended with what had happened to the people of Israel in the days of Joshua. In verse 12, God made it clear that “It was not by your sword or by your bow” that Israel’s enemies had been defeated. And in verse 13, he added that he had given them “a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and … vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.” The main idea is clear enough. The Israelites that assembled before God owed every success to God’s benevolence.