Connections 11.12.2017: Give It Some Thought

Joshua 24:1, 14-21, 24

The story in this week’s Scripture passage reminds me of a part of the John the Baptist story.

It’s the scene where “many Pharisees and Sadducees” come to John to be baptized. He doesn’t exactly affirm their decision. “You brood of vipers!” he yells. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt 3:7).

I imagine them saying, “Um—you did.”

But John’s not finished. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance,” he says. “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (vv. 8-9).

In other words, he tells them to live right in the present and not to count on what’s happened in the past.

What would you think if this Sunday a group of your community’s leading citizens came requesting baptism and your pastor responded, “You bunch of snakes! What makes you think I should baptize you! Y’all need to clean up your act. And no, I don’t care that your mamas and daddies were pillars of the church!”

Joshua has a similar reaction to the people’s response to his call to commit to following the Lord.

Joshua: “Will you follow the Lord?”

People: “You bet we will.”

Joshua: “Nah, you can’t do it.”

He didn’t call them a bunch of snakes, but he told them straight up that he wasn’t at all sure they could live up to their words.

Maybe he thought they answered too quickly. This was serious business, after all. He may have wanted them to carefully consider what they were saying. He didn’t want them making promises they couldn’t and wouldn’t keep.

The lectionary’s Gospel text (Mt 25:1-13) makes a similar point. It’s Jesus’ story about the ten bridesmaids awaiting the bridegroom’s arrival. Five of them take extra oil for their lamps; five don’t. When the bridegroom runs late, the five who didn’t adequately prepare have to go buy more oil. The bridegroom comes while they’re at the store, so they miss the party.

It’s one thing to say you’re ready. It’s quite another to do what you need to do to be ready. Words might indicate good intentions, but actions reveal real commitment.

Before we pronounce ourselves ready to serve the Lord, we really should give it some thought.

Discussion

1. Joshua 24 is about a covenant renewal ceremony. Why was such a ceremony necessary? Do we have such ceremonies today? If so, what are they?
2. Why would the Hebrews have considered serving gods other than the Lord? Why would we? What tempts us to do so?
3. Why should we remind ourselves of what the Lord has done for us? How can we do so?
4. What does it mean for the Lord to be “a jealous God” (v. 19)? How do we reconcile this description with God’s love and grace?
5. What does it mean to serve the Lord? We live on this side of the coming of Jesus. How does this influence the way we think about what it means to serve the Lord?

Reference Shelf

Shechem and Covenant Renewal, 24:1-28

The original setting of this chapter is not clear. The LXX READS “Shiloh” both in v. 1 and v. 25 (cf. 18:1 and see Boling 1982, 533; Soggin 1972, 223). Both SHECHEM and SHILOH were important cultic centers in Israel’s history. The tradition of the former was traced back to patriarchal times (Gen 12:6; 33:18-19; 35:4). Also some scholars believe that there is some connection between this chapter and Josh 8:30-35, but that assumes a basic historicity for these stories that seems most doubtful in light of the actual settlement process. More probable is the suggestion of some sort of cultic festival that was carried out here, perhaps on an annual basis that was concerned with the theme of COVENANT renewal. Thus the contents of this chapter may have been independent of its present context.

24:1-13. Introduction and the speech of Yahweh. The chapter begins much like the preceding one with the stereotyped formula of address. This is followed by a reported speech of Yahweh who recites a series of divine acts, beginning with the ancestors, performed on Israel’s behalf. Notably absent from this recital is any mention of Moses and the stipulations of the Sinai covenant. According to this speech, the people of Israel were able to occupy the land of Canaan for one reason only: God’s gracious acts (vv. 12-13).

24:14-28. Joshua and the people respond. It becomes obvious that Israel’s becoming the people of God was not as automatic as the preceding speech by Yahweh implies when we are told that Joshua, not God, reminds them that they must choose whom [they] will serve (v. 15). When they respond that they will serve Yahweh because of divine acts, they are told by Joshua that they cannot serve God because of God’s holiness and righteous demands (v. 19). This addition to God’s words by Joshua illustrates again how, for the DtR, the history of Israel was an exercise in the interpretation, modification and application of the divine will (cf. Polzin 1980).

As has been noted more than once, the theological overlay of the Book of Joshua by the DtR is complex and easily distorted. But perhaps this much can be said. That Israel existed at all was due to God’s gracious acts on Israel’s behalf. But God’s grace is always paradoxical: free, but not cheap. The cost to Israel was understood to be its willingness to live in covenant fidelity to the will of Yahweh. That Israel had not done so was the testimony of both the prophets and the DtR. The consequences of this failure were disastrous: exile! But hope did not die with Israel’s faithlessness. Perhaps now, confronted with this failure Israel would once more face the challenge of Joshua of old and choose to serve Yahweh.

(Note: DtR=Deuteronomic Redactor; it refers to the one or ones who edited the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings according to the theology reflected in the book of Deuteronomy.)

John C. H. Laughlin, “Joshua,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 239-40.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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