Going Deeper 08.18.2021

The first reading for Pentecost 13... Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

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. 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… 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.”

What is happening here is a "Covenant Renewal Ceremony."  Joshua is leading this 2nd-generation of people whom God had powerfully and dramatically rescued from abusive slavery in Egypt to renew their understanding of their relationship with their Rescuer.  This Covenant relationship was absolutely foundational to all that happens throughout the Old Testament... and even into the New Testament!  (NOTE: "Testament" can also be understood as "Covenant.") We do well to remember and learn from it, too.

The "Sinai Covenant" followed a model prevalent in the world at that time called a "Suzerainty Treaty."  This 6-part format was established by the king who had power over a lesser king and started with a "Preamble" in which the lead king reminded his subordinate who he was.  One particular treaty unearthed by archeologists showed that the suzerain tended to speak very highly and eloquently of himself.

In the second part of these Suzerainty Treaties or Covenants, the king in authority gives some background.  This is called the “Historical Prologue,” and it contains a summary of what the Suzerain and his people have done for the lesser king and his people.  

The third part consisted of the “Stipulations.”  These are basically the expectations that the King in authority is placing on the other party.  This can all be summed up as: Part 1: This is who I am; Part 2: This is what I have done for you; and Part 3: This is what you are to do in response to who I am and what I have done for you. 

The last three parts included instructions for the Covenant to be written down and copied, and for the lesser king and his people to re-read it and teach it to their children from generation to generation, followed by a call for witnesses to the establishing of the covenant, and finally a summary of how obedience to the Covenant Stipulations would be rewarded and disobedience punished.

We see the first three elements of the Covenant in our text, with Joshua reminding the people that their God was the one true God, who had rescued them from slavery, and that they were to remember and respond with obedience to the Commandments God had given at Sinai.  Sadly, their memory and their commitment would prove to be short-lived throughout the rest of the story!

Summary... God continues to call His children to REMEMBER AND RESPOND.  Of course, our remembering is focused on the "rescue event" brought about through the Passion of Jesus, whose command is that we learn to love as He loved!

Remembering with You,

Mark Gabbert, Pastor

Zion Lutheran Church, Wellington

"Gratefully Growing Servants"