By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 12, 2023
Joshua 24:1–3a, 14-25 (ESV)
1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. 3a Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many.
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” 19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem.
Last week we watched as Israel prepared to enter the land of promise. They were reminded of where they had been, and who they were. They had to face the failures of the generations past and decide if they would continue that path or take a different route along their journey.
A few of us this week attended the Rend Collective concert. If you did not attend, I am sorry you missed it. But one of the songs they played during that concert was the first song we sang this morning.
I can see the Promised Land. Though there’s pain within the plan, there is victory in the end. Your love is my battle cry. When my fears like Jericho. Build their walls around my soul. When my heart is overthrown. Your love is my battle cry. The anthem for all my life. Every giant will fall, the mountains will move. Every chain of the past, you’ve broken in two. Over fear, over lies, we’re singing the truth. That nothing is impossible with you.
Often, we look at the conquest of Joshua in literal terms. We imagine these wars as wars are today. We think of thousands of people packed within the walls of Jericho; we envision columns of soldiers meeting for battle in Ai. The reality was a little different.
The land of Canaan was not the densely populated area Israel is today. It was largely unpopulated. There were a few strongholds or military outposts scattered throughout, like Jericho, but for the most part Canaan was little villages or family-oriented tribes surrounded by land devoted to agricultural production.
During the expansion to the west here in the United States, our government offered people quarter sections of land to anyone that paid the registration fee and construct improvements. This was one hundred and sixty acres of land basically free. My family moved west for this very reason, and as these families moved west, they improved the land. They built a house and started a farm. But life was hard in those pioneering days. Survival was not easy so people would often build their homes where the various quarter sections of property would meet. This formed a little village where the families could live in community helping each other as they made a future for themselves and their families.
This in a lot of ways was what Canaan was, fields surrounding communal structures. Joshua and the rest of the nation of Israel walked across the Jordan and they marched across the fields. The people saw them approaching in the distance and they ran. Most of the conquest that we imagine to be these bloody battles were the people inhabiting the land running away. And archeology proves this. In many of the excavations they have found from the time of the conquest they are not finding signs of battles. They are not finding rubble or ash that would suggest a battle. Instead, they are finding pottery of Canaanite and Israeli origin mixed together in the same structure, appearing as if one group abandoned the structure and another simply moved in.
There were battles that involved weapons of war, but even then, these battles were not like the battles we see being played out on the evening news. Jericho was the first and arguably the largest of the military outposts within the area. It was a walled city meaning it was a fortress. Jericho was the strength of Canaan. How did Israel defeat Jericho? Israel did not defeat Jericho, God did.
I often watch videos produced by a group called The Bible Project. This is a group of self-identifying bible nerds, who make videos and discuss scripture in a deep and interactive manner. Since I aspire to be known as a bible nerd, I love this group. I recently watched a video they produced about Joshua, where they encourage us not to look at the words literally but as hyperbole. Hyperbole is a literary device where they use extremes to tell the story. We use this in our own conversations, “It is so hot outside you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Or maybe your grandmother once told you not to go outside with wet hair because you would catch your death. These are not accurate depictions of the situation, but they are using extreme language to make a point. The scholars of the Bible Project recognize hyperbole in Joshua because in one place it will say Israel destroyed everyone and everything, but later it says something different. Am I saying that scripture is inaccurate? No. And even though I have gone outside many times with wet hair and not died, my grandmother was not lying either. Hyperbole is used in teaching general concepts. And what the scholars of the Bible Project want us to see is that these stories are lessons about trusting God, and not necessarily literal descriptions of ancient battle history. This is seen clearly in between the battles of Jericho and Ai. The battle where God is trusted and the battle where people trusted in themselves.
When Israel united with God, the people were driven into panic, and in the chaos that resulted from the panic they battled with themselves to find safety. God won the battle, and Israel watched as the city seemingly destroyed itself. Shortly after this, Israel began to trust in their own strength and strategy. They trusted in their own ways and their own desires, this is when loss occurred, as in Ai. Then there are stories of a different sort, like the story of Rehab, where they convert and join Israel. We sometimes forget that the destruction of an enemy does not always mean death in a battle, there are times where enemies are destroyed because friendships are built. This is why Joshua can use hyperbole, and still be telling the truth. Israel did enter the land, they did destroy their enemies, they drove out the inhabitants and the giants that once cause their ancestors to fear.
No matter how we look at these stories. There is something that we need to consider. The people inhabiting the land of Canaan were by all intents squatters on claimed land. In Deuteronomy we are told that after the event at Babel, God divided the nations up among the sons of god, and he claimed Israel as his inheritance. I hope by now this language does not scare us. God divided the land, he allowed some of the people inhabiting the earth to live a life according to their own desires. And they followed the deceptive spirits that rebelled against God. God allowed some to drift away, but this does not mean that God no longer cares for them. He left the nations of the world alone, his interaction was distant and seemingly vacant, but he called Abraham to go to the land, and in that calling he promised Abraham that he would become a nation that would become the light to the nations. It was through Israel that the once scattered nations would be drawn back to God to once again be honored as the image bearers they were created to be. This calling included land. And this land of Canaan was claimed by God and deeded to Abraham. In the ancient world view, this cosmic geography was a battle ground between the spirits of rebellion and the Most High God. Those people groups devoted to the spirits of rebellion were opposed to Israel and Israel’s God, and they believed that if they could simply keep Israel out of the land the rebellious spirits would conquer the one true God.
This is at work within the texts of scripture. This is why the ten spies sent by Moses came back with a report of Giants in the land. Those ten spies were afraid, they did not trust that their God could overcome the powers at work within the world, because these powers were devoted to war, wealth, and hubris. How could their God overcome these established powers?
For forty years Israel paid for that lack of trust. But last week Israel entrusted their future to their God. They took steps into the wild and raging waters of the flooded Jordan, and they walked across on dry ground. They filed in. They made their camp. They filled the fields and the people inhabiting the land ran to their fortified city, Jericho. The God of Israel brought the walls of that city down and the great stronghold was handed over to Israel.
The fortress was taken by God in the beginning of the conquest. The war was over before it began. The rest of this testimony of Joshua is just a description of Israel’s trust in their God, or in some cases lack of faith.
Today we meet Israel at the end of the conquest. Joshua leads the people to Shechem. He begins by reminding the people of their history saying to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many.’”
Nahor was Abraham’s brother, and the father of Isaac’s wife Rebekah. When Jacob fled from the hand of his brother Esau, it was to Nahor’s son’s house he ran. And Laban’s became Jacob’s father-in-law as he married Leah and Rachel. Jacob again fled, this time from the house of Laban and he re-entered the land promised to Abraham. On that return, he stopped at this very place Shechem. Laban’s daughter Rachel had stolen the family idols and brought them with her on the journey. And at Shechem as they reentered the land Jacob took those idols and buried them in the ground. He buried the gods of his ancestors as he began his journey back to the God of his father Abraham.
Joshua brings Israel back to the place of their historic beginning. The place their common father dedicated himself and his house to God. Where Jacob began that journey away from his past. Away from his heel grabbing and scheming, toward his new future Israel. He began that journey by burying the old gods.
Joshua takes them to this place. They had just driven the nations devoted to those old gods out of the land under the direction of the God of Abraham, and they again remember their story. This is who we were. We were once a people deceived by rebellious spirits. We were once people devoted to the influences of beings opposed to the very creation of humanity who influenced and deceived us to turn from our place within the Garden of God. We were once.
“Now therefore fear (or revere) the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” Sincerity and faithfulness. Joshua is urging this infant nation to consider what they had experienced. He urges them to remember what they had seen and heard, what they had tasted in the wilderness, and witnessed on the fields of battle. Joshua is asking them to reflect on their history and make a choice.
They had seen what God will do to those rebellious nations that opposed him. They have seen the mighty power of God reduce the central stronghold of Canaan to rubble with the sounding of worshiping trumpets. Revere God whole heartedly. Honor God completely and with peace and stability. Entrust yourselves to God entirely and with constancy.
Revere God and put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River. Bury them here at Shechem, just like Jacob. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve.
I want us to imagine this scene in your mind. I want you to imagine the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I want you to remember Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers. Remember the famine that brought them back together in Egypt. Remember enslavement, the order to throw the sons of Israel into the Nile, and how out of the river Moses was saved. Reflect on the bush that burned but was not consumed, the plagues, the exodus. Remember mountain from which God spoke, and the manna from heaven. Remember.
Remember the life that this God was calling this people to. A life that honored God, and the image of God that resides in all people. Remember. Reflect.
I ask you to close your eyes now and just listen.
These are the words attributed to Solomon. Words of wisdom, justice, and liberty which are attributes of God from a feminine perspective.
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12–25 (NRSV)
12 Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. 13 She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. 14 One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate. 15 To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, 16 because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought. 17 The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction, and concern for instruction is love of her, 18 and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality, 19 and immortality brings one near to God; 20 so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom. 21 Therefore if you delight in thrones and scepters, O monarchs over the peoples, honor wisdom, so that you may reign forever. 22 I will tell you what wisdom is and how she came to be, and I will hide no secrets from you, but I will trace her course from the beginning of creation, and make knowledge of her clear, and I will not pass by the truth; 23 nor will I travel in the company of sickly envy, for envy does not associate with wisdom. 24 The multitude of the wise is the salvation of the world, and a sensible king is the stability of any people. 25 Therefore be instructed by my words, and you will profit.
The wisdom of which Solomon speaks is the lessons we learn from those ten words or lessons of God. Wisdom comes when we devote our entirety to those lessons which can be summed up with the words of Jesus as he describes the greatest commandment or the greatest lesson of wisdom, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Love God with everything. This is the very thing Joshua is calling Israel to do there at Shechem. Revere and serve God wholeheartedly. And service to God is to love your neighbor, to honor that of God within you, and those around you.
We can twist the words of scripture and use them to justify anything we want. We can use the words found in Joshua to justify the slaughter of the people of Ukraine or Palestine. We can use the words of Paul to promote the subjection of various people groups. We can use these words to do the vilest things. But when we do that, we have not listened to the words of lady wisdom. We are not listening to the words of Jesus or of God from the mountain. We are missing the point.
God is calling us to become a people loving him, embracing his Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. Those are the lessons God wanted Israel to learn in the wilderness. Those are the lessons that Joshua is calling them to at Shechem. That is the lesson I hope we learn in our Meeting.
“If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
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