Updated: Feb 3, 2021
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. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and 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.
“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 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.”
But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 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.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 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.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
This is the Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for Year A, Proper 27, the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost. This will next be read aloud in church on Sunday, November 12, 2017. This is important as it clearly states that a Christian must serve only the LORD, totally, and there can be no variation in that service.
This selection begins by stating, “Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem.” This was a very special place, as Abram reached “the great tree of Moreh at Shechem,” where Abram built an altar and made a sacrifice to the LORD. (Genesis 12:6-7) This was where the LORD promised Abram’s descendants the land of the Canaanites.
The word “Moreh” is believed to mean “teacher” or “oracle.” The word “elon,” which is translated as “tree,” can mean specifically an “oak tree,” or generally a “tall tree.” As such, the site of Shechem (from shékém), indicates a “Saddle” or “Shoulder,” which sat between two ridges – Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. That resting place, situated between figurative shoulders and hips, is then important as the “Saddle” that was at a holy “tree.”
This makes Shechem similar to the place where Moses found the “burning bush,” on Mount Horeb. Moses was told to take off his sandals, because that was holy ground. The prophetess Deborah was said to get insights from God between two hills (near Beth-el, in Ephraim), under a palm tree. Shechem must also be seen as where a tree of prophecy invoked the voice of the LORD, making that place be holy.
A mighty oak tree and the Kabbalah Tree of Life
Shechem was in the land given to the Manasseh tribe, which was split into two parts, on both sides of the Jordan River. Western Manasseh was between the far northern and southern reaches of Israel. Joshua was a member of the Ephraim tribe, whose land was just south of the western half of Manasseh. Because Manasseh was in a central location in Israel, and because it was the holy ground where God promised Abraham that his descendants would possess that land, and it was a place that Abram built an altar and offered sacrifices, it makes sense that Shechem was chosen for purposes that are not clearly stated in the Book of Joshua.
It is also worthwhile to realize that this reading from chapter 24 comes well after the Proper 26 reading, from chapter 3. Chapter 23 states that Joshua is getting old and is about to turn the leadership reigns over to the leaders of each tribe. This is why Joshua “summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel” to Shechem. Twenty-eight years (give or take a few months) had passed since the crossing of the Jordan, and many wars had been fought (and won), which had then secured all the lands that were subsequently divided among the tribes.
With this setting understood, the reading today is under the heading “Joshua’s Farewell Address” (Chapter 23, NASB), while this specific text falls under the overview entitled “The Covenant Renewed at Shechem” (Chapter 24, NIV). This review of the history of the Israelites, from Abraham being called by God out of Ur, to that holy ground in Shechem, where the land of Canaan was promised, to being back in Shechem again, symbolizes the history of the Israelites had come full circle. Thus, it was a time of transition, where the cycles of time repeat.
As a time of transition, Joshua said, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” That led to him saying, “For me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
What do you seek? I seek the Holy Grail. Who does it serve? It serves You.
That additional statement is a powerful statement to grasp.
Joshua had told the leaders of the twelve tribes that they came from ancestry that had worshipped many different gods in the past. He basically said, “Your flesh and blood calls you as a distraction. It takes your eyes off YaHWeH” and lets your brain think, “If it was good for ole granpappy, it ought to be good for me.”’
It is the common ancestry of all human beings, since God had elohim create animal men and animal women in their likeness. Man will always find a way to do what Man wants; and knowing the difference between Good and Evil will never keep Man from being tricked into serving little-g gods: gods of harvest; gods of fertility; gods of buildings; gods of property; gods of money; and all the gods of pride, envy, lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, and greed.
It’s what Man does.
So, serving the LORD goes beyond the oral promises made to men long since gone. It goes well past physical agreements written or etched into stone; and it exceeds belief that someone died on a wooden cross, two thousand years ago (give or take a few decades). Serving the LORD is not what someone else did for you, so you could benefit without having to help anyone but yourself.
The cycles of time means the old is done and the new has begun. Holding onto the past means you have an imaginary deed to a Promised Land. It is the epitome of “What have you done for me lately?” The past is a dream that dissipates when reality wakes you up in the present.
“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”
Joshua said, “For me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The use of “we” means the plural pronoun indicating only those whom Joshua could influence via teaching [i.e.: his family]. The power of that says the history of the world is the illusion – the dream – that is as fleeting as is mortal life on earth. The future is imagination of that which one wishes for, but has no foundation in reality.
The Lord makes the reality of NOW be known, when one is awake and alive with promise fulfilled, through being in touch with YaWHeH’s Holy Spirit. NOW lasts forever, when one’s soul loves God with its whole heart and the dream state of the world becomes the holy ground upon which one walks, which others cannot detect.
Thus, each individual has to be like Joshua said and: “Choose this day whom you will serve.” There is no better time than the present.
Of course, in the now, as one hears these words be read aloud in church or as one reads them here or in the Book of Joshua, chapter 24, as a Christian or a Jew (reading in English translation or in Hebrew on scrolls), the easy and fast answer is the same as Joshua heard shouted in unison by the leaders of the twelve tribes: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
“I hear you, brother Joshua!”
“I agrees with the brother!”
“Amen to that!”
Forty years later … … prayers would go out from some last vestige of those who so gladly agreed to serve the Lord, when Joshua was old and gray (or grey). “Help us Lord,” someone cried, “for we have gone astray!”
That cycle of history repeated every 80 years: 40 years serving God, followed by 40 years serving themselves (little-g gods). They needed Judges to bail them out. They wanted a king, then two; and then they lost everything.
You cannot serve the Lord by edict, where someone says, “You must do this or you must do that.”
Governments do that, and all government-fearing citizens do the true patriotic thing, year in and year out: They hire a lawyer, and an accountant, and a financial advisor (or adviser) that recommends their actions, where all the letters of the laws are bent every which way. Governments purposefully write laws in gray (or grey), between the official looking black and white of legal legislation, because everyone knows the people love ways to get around the Law. The high and mighty are selected from among the low and feeble, so it is proclaimed okay to serve as many little-g gods as your heart desires. That way one is still (legally) able to say, “I am a Christian!” or “I am Jewish!”
“I have the receipts to prove it, dang it!” some say.
Jesus said it best: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) However, Joshua said the same basic thing, well before Jesus.
Adolf wasn’t the only one not filled with the Holy Spirit to misuse Scripture. How many Americans today (NOW) would sacrifice the State or the Party, as a master destroyed? I say few, if any.
Joshua told all those Israelites, the leaders who had seen a few things firsthand over the prior 70 years (give or take a couple of years), from Egypt to Shechem: “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 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.” Joshua said, “I know you guys. I’ve been there and seen how stubborn you can be.”
That says that you can only serve YaWHeH by being holy [i.e.: righteous; sanctified; saintly]. There can be no “two- hours sitters” (give or take a couple of hours), as those who sit in a church or synagogue pew for that long each week, who can call themselves “servants of the Lord.”
That goes for “the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel,” which translates in modern times (forevermore) as also going for “priests, pastors, ministers, rabbis, bishops, cardinals, archbishops, popes,” and anybody and everybody who is a leader of some religious tribe that professes complete devotion to the One God.
If you take 30 minutes off to make sure your tax receipts are in order, so you don’t miss out on any deductions; or if you take a couple of hours one day, shopping for the finest clothes to be seen wearing in church; or if you take a week off to look at exclusive properties near the beach, as an investment; or if you take 30 minutes to abuse a child sexually, or take the same 30 minutes to look the other way while that happens; or if you take a few hours to plan some political demonstration, because your fav politician-lawyer thinks your presence will have an impact on others; and so on and so on … then you are under the misconception that God does not see you serving yourself, over God.
Joshua, having been a common human being prior to becoming holy and righteous, prior to being able to hear the LORD, after being touched by Moses. He knew where the hearts of commoners (and their leaders) lay. Hearts are fleshy muscles pumping blood, before they become spiritual reservoirs that flow forth living waters. Joshua understood where the Israelites were bound and determined to go, whether they would admit it or not.
Joshua clearly said, “[YaHWeH] is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.”
But … but … but … Jesus said … didn’t he …?
This is because rule number one has been broken, “You shall not wear the face of any other gods before My face.” God will not forgive part-time believers or those of come-and-go faith. It means that you cannot have a drawer of godly faces that you decide are okay to wear, interchangeably, depending on the special occasion. By thinking it up to you to decide when it is okay to take off the face of God and slide on another face of your choosing, you just made mistake Number One.
God don’t like that.
This means the moral of this story of old Joshua renewing the Covenant (the Holy Agreement, which came with legally binding words) with the Israelites (and thereby all of their spiritual descendants, Christian and Jewish) can be summed up with this statement: “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
I have underscored and made bold the pronouns “you” and “your.” Please make sure you read those in the singular, as if old Joshua were having a face-to-face with you, individually. After all, nobody else in this world matters.
You think, therefore you are.” Everyone else – past, present, or future – is imaginary. Joshua wore the face of God, as His servant. Therefore, Joshua was speaking as if God where here NOW, telling you this.
This means that when we read the conclusion above: “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem,” it was like when God spoke to Abram many years before. Abram built an altar and made sacrifices after the covenant of his descendants was made. Keep in mind that Abram had no – nada – zero – zilch – children then, meaning the agreement was based on the imaginary, not the real. Likewise, Joshua made the leaders of Israel throw their egos on the altar he made that day, as immediate acts that sealed that agreement (with new statues and ordinances spoken). Those leader sacrificed themselves on the altar built by Joshua, burning their egos in the flesh, so the smoke of their spiritual blood plumed towards heaven.
How would you like your ego cooked?