The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday, the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, is from the book of Joshua. The text is Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and takes place after the Israelites have received their inheritance in the land and occupied their spaces. The setting has Joshua, who is approaching the end of his life (23:1), calling everyone to gather at Shechem for his final address before he dies at 110 years old (24:29).
Verse one says they presented themselves before God which seems to indicate the Tabernacle had been brought to Shechem from Shiloh for this gathering. A. Harstad writes in his Joshua Concordia Commentary:
“Joshua 24:1 states that the Israelites “presented themselves before God” here at Shechem. That clause indicates that the ark of the covenant, and probably the whole tabernacle, has been brought from Shiloh (18:1), twelve miles north, to Shechem for this special ceremony.”
Here is Joshua’s third and last farewell sermon to the people of Israel. In this sermon he delivers what is the most well-known and popular verse of the entire book: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Unfortunately, many have adopted the language of this verse in an improper way making it the “decision to follow Jesus.” The truth is this is NOT a matter of human choice, but rather the LORD has covenanted with His people and they walk by faith in His covenant (their identity). This is not of our own doing, lest any man should boast!
I have attached a short sermon on this text I recently preached at our church’s annual “Hymnfest.”
The truth is this is NOT a matter of human choice, but rather the LORD has covenanted with His people and they walk by faith in His covenant (their identity).
24:1 וַיִּקְרָא לְזִקְנֵי (vai-yik-Ra le-zik-Nei) literally: “He called to the elders...”
וּלְשֹׁטְרָיו (u-le-Sho-te-Rav) from: שׁטֵר (sho-tare) “official; officer; administrator”
וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ (vai-yit-yatz-tze-Vu) root: יצב (yaw-tsab) Hithpael: “to take one’s stand; to present oneself”
24:2 אֶל־כָּל־הָעָם (el kol ha-Am) “to all the people” This phrase indicates more than just elders, judges, and officers—this is a more comprehensive group of Israelites.
24:14 בְּתָמִים (be-ta-Mim) from: תָּמִים (taw-meem) “complete; blameless; worthy; whole” This is actually a singular term although it seems to have a masculine plural ending. The masculine plural is תְמִימִים (te-mi-Mim). As time goes on this is the term used to describe a proper animal sacrifice; “without blemish or spot; whole; perfect”
24:15 רַע (ra) “unacceptable,” or from the root: רעע (ra-ah) Qal: “to be displeasing”
מֵעֵבֶר (me-E-ver) from: עֵבֶר (ay-ber) “beyond; area on other side; across”
24:16 חָלִילָה (cha-Li-lah) “be it far from (us)”
מֵעֲזֹב (me-a-Zo) root: עזב (aw-zab) Qal, Infinitive: “to forsake; abandon”
24:17 הַמַּעֲלֶה (ham-ma-a-Leh) root: עלה (aw-law) Hiphil, Participle: “to go up” Hiphil has the causative sense, “to be brought up” The LORD is the causing agent.
הָאֹתוֹת (ha-o-Tot) from: אוֹת (oth) “signs; miracle; miraculous sign”
24:18 וַיְגָרֶשׁ (vay-Ga-resh) root: גרשׁ (gaw-rash) Piel: “to drive out; drive away”
SERMON: Forward in Faith
“Who will you follow? Who will you serve? Who will you chose?” Or, the New Testament version, “Who do you say that I am?” These are the questions Joshua addresses to the people of Israel as they prepared for his departure from them. God has already chosen them. God has rescued them from slavery in Egypt. God has brought them into this broad and fertile place. God has driven out their enemies before them. God, through His chosen instruments, Moses and Joshua, has been busy being faithful. Now, Joshua asks, “Who will you follow? Who will you serve?”
God has already covenanted with this people... and He has been faithful to the covenant. He has rescued them from their enemies. He has lead them safely through the wilderness. He has brought them into the Promised Land. He has fought the battles for them and driven out the nations. Who will they follow? As they go forward, will it be in faith—faith in the One True God? The Covenant has not been completely fulfilled. There remains the hoped for, the promised Messiah to come. This Messiah will rescue them from more than physical, earthly enemies, He will also rescue them from sin and death. He will deliver them from the clutches of the evil one forever and ever. He will save His people—but, will they still be His people? Who will they follow? Will they go forward in faith?
This would be no more than a biblical history lesson except that we too have been covenanted with. We too have been called out. We too have been asked to go forward in faith. We, the Church of God, the Body of Christ, have been called out of the dark land of our slavery to sin. We were unable to free ourselves, unable to save ourselves, but God heard our cries. God heard and He sent His Son. With great love and mercy, Jesus came to save us, and we are those delivered from the land of slavery by Christ Jesus and renewed in our covenantal relationship with God. Once we were no people, but now we are the people of God! All this by the blood—given and shed on a cross. So today, I ask, “Who will you follow? Who will you choose? Will we go forward in faith?
With great love and mercy, Jesus came to save us, and we are those delivered from the land of slavery by Christ Jesus and renewed in our covenantal relationship with God.
So many distractions—so many false and foreign gods—so many side paths and rabbit trails. What choice, what decision? Who will we follow? False gods of money and power, goddesses of pleasure and self-fulfillment, invented gods who do as we instruct them, there are so many choices, so many distractions. Who will we follow forward?
The path forward will not be easy, the path forward in faith. Joshua knew the distractions the false gods surrounding them would provide... and they did... and they do. There are other paths which are a siren call to the people of God. Our neighborhood, our city, our world is full of these voices, crying out, calling to us. Which path? Which way forward? “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua’s promise to the children of God, “I will go forward in faith—faith in the One True God.”
...and so will we! On the surface there may be easier paths and stronger voices, but we will go forward in faith. And we will not go alone! The One, the Holy One has called us, rescued us, redeemed us, and has set us on this path. He has covenanted with us and remains with us in Word and Sacrament. We go forward in faith with eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. This is the path before us, and we, the children of God, will walk with Jesus all the way! In His Name. Amen.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18.
Text Week-Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18.