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The Tribes Renew the Covenant


Then 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. 2And 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. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; 4and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. 11When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. 12I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.

14 “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. 15Now 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.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for 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; 18and 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 cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 22Then 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.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

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1. And Joshua gathered all the tribes, etc He now, in my opinion, explains more fully what he before related more briefly. For it would not have been suitable to bring out the people twice to a strange place for the same cause. Therefore by the repetition the course of the narrative is continued. And he now states what he had not formerly observed, that they were all standing before the Lord, an expression which designates the more sacred dignity and solemnity of the meeting. I have accordingly introduced the expletive particle Therefore, to indicate that the narrative which had been begun now proceeds. For there cannot be a doubt that Joshua, in a regular and solemn manner, invoked the name of Jehovah, and, as in his presence, addressed the people, so that each might consider for himself that God was presiding over all the things which were done, and that they were not there engaged in a private business, but confirming a sacred and inviolable compact with God himself. We may add, as is shortly afterwards observed, that there was his sanctuary. Hence it is probable that the ark of the covenant was conveyed thither, not with the view of changing its place, but that in so serious an action they might sist themselves before the earthly tribunal of God. 196196     Latin, “Terrestre Dei tribunal.” French, “Le siege judicial que Dieu avoit en terre;” “The judicial seat which God had on earth.” — Ed. For there was no religious obligation forbidding the ark to be moved, and the situation of Sichem was not far distant.

2. Your fathers dwelt on the other side, etc He begins his address by referring to their gratuitous adoption by which God had anticipated any application on their part, so that they could not boast of any peculiar excellence or merit. For God had bound them to himself by a closer tie, having, while they were no better than others, gathered them together to be his peculiar people, from no respect to anything but his mere good pleasure. Moreover, to make it clearly appear that there was nothing in which they could glory, he leads them back to their origin, and reminds them how their fathers had dwelt in Chaldea, worshipping idols in common with others, and differing in nothing from the great body of their countrymen. Hence it is inferred that Abraham, when he was plunged in idolatry, was raised up, as it were, from the lowest deep.

The Jews, indeed, to give a false dignity to their race, fabulously relate that Abraham became an exile from his country because he refused to acknowledge the Chaldean fire as God. 197197     One of the fables here alluded to is, that Terah was not only a worshipper but a maker of idols, and that Abraham, convinced of the absurdity of idolatrous worship, destroyed all his father’s idols. After doing so he labored to convince his father of the propriety of his conduct by a series of arguments which are gravely recorded, but not having succeeded in his pious endeavors, was forced to flee, and thus became a wanderer. — Ed. But if we attend to the words of the inspired writer, we shall see that he is no more exempted from the guilt of the popular idolatry than Terah and Nachor. For why is it said that the fathers of the people served strange gods, and that Abraham was rescued from the country, but just to show how the free mercy of God was displayed in their very origin? Had Abraham been unlike the rest of his countrymen, his own piety would distinguish him. The opposite, however, is expressly mentioned to show that he had no peculiar excellence of his own which could diminish the grace bestowed upon him, and that therefore his posterity behooved to acknowledge that when he was lost, he was raised up from death unto life.

It seems almost an incredible and monstrous thing, that while Noah was yet alive, idolatry had not only spread everywhere over the world, but even penetrated into the family of Shem, in which at least, a purer religion ought to have flourished. How insane and indomitable human infatuation is in this respect, is proved by the fact that the holy Patriarch, on whom the divine blessing had been specially bestowed, was unable to curb his posterity, and prevent them from abandoning the true God, and prostituting themselves to superstition.

3. And I took your father Abraham, etc This expression gives additional confirmation to what I lately showed, that Abraham did not emerge from profound ignorance and the abyss of error by his own virtue, but was drawn out by the hand of God. For it is not said that he sought God of his own accord, but that he was taken by God and transported elsewhere. Joshua then enlarges on the divine kindness in miraculously preserving Abraham safe during his long pilgrimage. What follows, however, begets some doubt, namely, that God multiplied the seed of Abraham, and yet gave him only Isaac, because no mention is made of any but him. But this comparison illustrates the singular grace of God towards them in that, while the offspring of Abraham was otherwise numerous, their ancestor alone held the place of lawful heir. In the same sense it is immediately added, that while Esau and Jacob were brothers and twins, one of the two was retained and the other passed over. We see, therefore, why as well in the case of Ishmael and his brother as in that of Esau, he loudly extols the divine mercy and goodness towards Jacob, just as if he were saying, that his race did not excel others in any respect except in that of being specially selected by God.

4. But Jacob and his children went down, etc After mentioning the rejection of Esau, he proceeds to state how Jacob went down into Egypt, and though he confines himself to a single expression, it is one which indicates the large and exuberant and clear manifestation of the paternal favor of God. It cannot be doubted, that although the sacred historian does not speak in lofty terms of each miracle performed, Joshua gave the people such a summary exposition of their deliverance as might suffice. First, he points to the miracles performed in Egypt; next, he celebrates the passage of the Red Sea, where God gave them the aid of his inestimable power; and thirdly, he reminds them of the period during which they wandered in the desert.

8. And I brought you into the land, etc He at length begins to discourse of the victories which opened a way for the occupation of their settlements. For although the country beyond the Jordan had not been promised as part of the inheritance, yet, as God, by his decree, joined it to the land of Canaan as a cumulative expression of his bounty, Joshua, not without cause, connects it with the other in commending the divine liberality towards the people, and declares, not merely that trusting to divine aid, they had proved superior in arms and strength, but had also been protected from the fatal snares which Balak had laid for them. For although the impostor Balaam was not able to effect anything by his curses and imprecations, it was, however, very profitable to observe the admirable power of God displayed in defeating his malice. For it was just as if he had come to close quarters, and warred with everything that could injure them.

The more firmly to persuade them that they had overcome not merely by the guidance of God, but solely by his power, he repeats what we read in the books of Moses, (Deuteronomy 7:20) that hornets were sent to rout the enemy without human hand. This was a more striking miracle than if they had been routed, put to flight, and scattered in any other way. For those who, contrary to expectation, gain a victory without any difficulty, although they confess that the prosperous issue of the war is the gift of God, immediately allow themselves to become blinded by pride, and transfer the praise to their own wisdom, activity, and valor. But when the thing is effected by hornets, the divine agency is indubitably asserted. Accordingly, the conclusion is, that the people did not acquire the land by their own sword or bow, a conclusion repeated in the 44th Psalm, and apparently borrowed from the passage here. Lastly, after reminding them that they ate the fruits provided by other men’s labors, he exhorts them to love God as his beneficence deserves.

15. And if it seem evil unto you, etc It seems here as if Joshua were paying little regard to what becomes an honest and right-hearted leader. If the people had forsaken God and gone after idols, it was his duty to inflict punishment on their impious and abominable revolt. But now, by giving them the option to serve God or not, just as they choose, he loosens the reins, and gives them license to rush audaciously into sin. What follows is still more absurd, when he tells them that they cannot serve the Lord, as if he were actually desirous of set purpose to impel them to shake off the yoke. But there is no doubt that his tongue was guided by the inspiration of the Spirit, in stirring up and disclosing their feelings. For when the Lord brings men under his authority, they are usually willing enough to profess zeal for piety, though they instantly fall away from it. Thus they build without a foundation. This happens because they neither distrust their own weakness so much as they ought, nor consider how difficult it is to bind themselves wholly to the Lord. There is need, therefore, of serious examination, lest we be carried aloft by some giddy movement, and so fail of success in our very first attempts. 201201     Latin, “Atque ita inter primos conatus nos successus destituet.” French, “Et qu’ainsi entre les premiers efforts nous nous trouvions n’estre pas bien fournis pour rencontrer ainsi qu’il faut, et tenir bon;” “And that thus among the first efforts we may find ourselves not well furnished for encountering as is meet, and standing firm.” — Ed. With this design, Joshua, by way of probation, emancipates the Jews, making them, as it were, their own masters, and free to choose what God they are willing to serve, not with the view of withdrawing them from the true religion, as they were already too much inclined to do, but to prevent them from making inconsiderate promises, which they would shortly after violate. For the real object of Joshua was, as we shall see, to renew and confirm the covenant which had already been made with God. Not without cause, therefore, does he give them freedom of choice, that they may not afterwards pretend to have been under compulsion, when they bound themselves by their own consent. Meanwhile, to impress them with a feeling of shame, he declares that he and his house will persevere in the worship of God.

16. And the people answered and said, etc Here we see he had no reason to repent of the option given, when the people, not swearing in the words of another, nor obsequiously submitting to extraneous dictation, declare that it would be an impious thing to revolt from God. And thus it tends, in no small degree, to confirm the covenant, when the people voluntarily lay the law upon themselves. The substance of the answer is, that since the Lord has, by a wonderful redemption, purchased them for himself as a peculiar people, has constantly lent them his aid, and shown that he is among them as their God, it would be detestable ingratitude to reject him and revolt to other gods.

19. And Joshua said unto the people, etc Here Joshua seems to act altogether absurdly in crushing the prompt and alert zeal of the people, by suggesting ground of alarm. For to what end does he insist that they cannot serve the Lord, unless it be to make them, from a sense of their utter powerlessness, to give themselves up to despair, and thus necessarily become estranged from the fear of God. It was necessary, however, to employ this harsh mode of obtestation, in order to rouse a sluggish people, rendered more lethargic by security. And we see that the expedient did not fail to obtain, at least, a momentary success. For they neither despond nor become more slothful, but, surmounting the obstacle, answer intrepidly that they will be constant in the performance of duty.

In short, Joshua does not deter them from serving God, but only explains how refractory and disobedient they are, in order that they may learn to change their temper. So Moses, in his song, (Deuteronomy 32) when he seems to make a divorce between God and the people, does nothing else than prick and whet them, that they may hasten to change for the better. Joshua, indeed, argues absolutely from the nature of God; but what he specially aims at is the perverse behavior and untamed obstinacy of the people. He declares that Jehovah is a holy and a jealous God. This, certainly, should not by any means prevent men from worshipping him; but it follows from it that impure, wicked, and profane despisers, who have no religion, provoke his anger, and can have no intercourse with him, for they will feel him to be implacable. And when it is said that he will not spare their wickedness, no general rule is laid down, but the discourse is directed, as often elsewhere, against their disobedient temper. It does not refer to faults in general, or to special faults, but is confined to gross denial of God, as the next verse demonstrates. The people, accordingly, answer the more readily, 202202     Latin, “Liberius.” French, “Plus hardiment et franchement;” “More boldly and frankly.” — Ed. that they will serve the Lord.

22. And Joshua said unto the people, etc We now understand what the object was at which Joshua had hitherto aimed. It was not to terrify the people and make them fall away from their religion, but to make the obligation more sacred by their having of their own accord chosen his government, and betaken themselves to his guidance, that they might live under his protection. They acknowledge, therefore, that their own conscience will accuse them, and hold them guilty of perfidy, if they prove unfaithful. 203203     French, “Leur propre conscience les redarguera comme coulpables et conveincus de desloyaute, et d’avoir fausse leur foy, s’ils ne tiennent leur promesse;” “Their own conscience will condemn them as guilty and convicted of disloyalty, and as having broken their faith, if they do not keep their promise.” — Ed. But although they were not insincere in declaring that they would be witnesses to their own condemnation, still how easily the remembrance of this promise faded away, is obvious from the Book of Judges. For when the more aged among them had died, they quickly turned aside to various superstitions. By this example we are taught how multifarious are the fallacies which occupy the senses of men, and how tortuous the recesses in which they hide their hypocrisy and folly, while they deceive themselves by vain confidence. 204204     The French adds, “Comme s’il n’y avoit rien a redire en eux;” “As if there was nothing to gainsay in them.” — Ed.

23. Now, therefore, put away the strange gods, etc How can it be that those who were lately such stern avengers of superstition, have themselves given admission to idols? Yet the words expressly enjoin that they are to put away strange gods from the midst of them. If we interpret that their own houses were still polluted by idols, we may see, as in a bright mirror, how complacently the greater part of mankind can indulge in vices which they prosecute with inexorable severity in others. But, as I do not think it probable that they dared, after the execution of Achan, to pollute themselves with manifest sacrilege, I am inclined to think that reference is made not to their practice but to their inclinations, and that they are told to put all ideas of false gods far away from them. For he had previously exhorted them in this same chapter to take away the gods whom their fathers had served beyond the river and in Egypt. But nobody will suppose that the idols of Chaldea were treasured up in their repositories, or that they had brought impure deities with them from Egypt, to be a cause of hostility between God and themselves. The meaning, therefore, simply is, that they are to renounce all idols, and clear themselves of all profanity, in order that they may purely worship God alone. 205205     The words meaning literally, “The gods which are in the midst of you,’ would rather seem to indicate that even at this time some of the Israelites were addicted to the secret practice of idolatry. — Ed. This seems to be the purport of the clause, incline your heart unto the Lord, which may be taken as equivalent to, rest in him, and so give up your heart to the love of him, as to delight and be contented only with him.

25. So Joshua made a covenant, etc This passage demonstrates the end for which the meeting had been called, namely, to bind the people more completely and more solemnly to God, by the renewal of the covenant. Therefore, in this agreement, Joshua acted as if he had been appointed on the part of God to receive in his name the homage and obedience promised by the people. It is accordingly added, exegetically, in the second clause, that he set before them precept and judgment. For the meaning is corrupted and wrested by some expositors, who explain it is referring to some new speech of Joshua, whereas it ought properly to be understood of the Law of Moses, as if it had been said that Joshua made no other paction than that they should remain steadfast in observing the Law, and that no other heads of the covenant were brought forward; they were only confirmed in that doctrine which they had formerly embraced and professed. In the same way, Malachi, to keep them under the yoke of God, demands nothing more than that they should remember the Law of Moses. (Malachi 4:4)