We were last reading in Exodus chapters 19 and 20 and this week we have jumped over Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy to land at the very end of Joshua. Let’s take a moment to see how we get here. After God gave the covenant at Mount Sinai, and the people said they would do everything the Lord had spoken, the Israelites went on their way…and soon found that actually doing what they had committed to do was much harder than saying it. As they travelled, learning how to put God’s word into action, how to live as the community God called them to be, and how to trust God, the whole generation that had come out of Egypt died, and the new generation grew up in the wilderness. After forty years out there, God brought the people into the promised land, and the book of Joshua tells of battles and conquest, claiming this violence was done in God’s name. Today we hear about the gathering of the elders and other leaders of the people at the end of this time, when everyone was settling down and living somewhat peaceably for a time. At the beginning of our reading Joshua gives an account of the history of the people until this point in time. Some things are glossed over, some things are remembered slightly differently from what we’ve been told, and some things are given slightly more importance then when we first hear about them in earlier tellings. This is a testimony to God in the life of the people and as such it is an important passage. Joshua gathers the Torah traditions together in retelling the story of his community. After doing so, Joshua presents a simple question to those gathered in Shechem: “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Will it be the Lord God or the gods beyond the river or in Egypt? Joshua does not sugar-coat the decision. He is crude in his depiction of a jealous, vindictive God. All this goes to highlight the importance of the covenant with God. It is not to be taken lightly. It is serious stuff.
Walter Brueggemann says of it, “This act of testimony… requires a purging of all competing loyalties and a resolve for obedience. Testimony is not easy talk; it is rather an elemental decision to reorder the life of the community with an entirely different set of risks and possibilities. This community, set in motion that day at Shechem by Joshua, continues wherever this decision for loyalty is undertaken.”
This challenge requires the people to think about the celebrations and confessions they need to make. It helps them know their collective story – remember this is a new generation who have only known a life in the wilderness. It is important that we know and understand our own narrative, that we continue to share the stories both good and bad of our journey and witness in this place.
What stories of celebration and confession can we tell and share this week?