The Covenant Renewal at Shechem
1 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. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. 3 Then 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. 4 And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5 And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out.
6 “‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 And when they cried 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 in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8 Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9 Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’
Choose Whom You Will Serve
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, 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, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 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.”
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 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.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 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.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.
Joshua’s Death and Burial
29 After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being 110 years old. 30 And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash.
31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.
32 As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.
33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.
Five hundred years after God appeared to Abraham, his descendants numbered around two million people. They were oppressed in Egypt, and their outlook seemed bleak.
But God had not forgotten His people or His promise to give them their own land. After four hundred years of silence, the God who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob intercepted the life of a man called Moses.
God’s hand had been on Moses from his earliest days. Moses’ mother hid him in a basket on the banks of the River Nile to save him from the slaughter of Hebrew babies; Pharaoh’s daughter found him and raised him as a prince in the palace, but later Moses fled from Egypt to begin an anonymous life in the desert.
The Self-Sustaining Fire
That was where God stepped in. Moses saw a fire resting on a bush, but it did not burn the bush on which it rested. The fire was self-sustaining. All other fires go out when they have exhausted the available fuel. A candle only burns until the wax is gone, and then the flame goes out. But this flame was unlike any other. It sustained its own life. God is self-sustaining. He does not depend on anyone or anything.
As Moses drew closer, God spoke to him out of the fire: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). Then God revealed the name by which He wanted to be known: “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14).
Then God commissioned Moses to bring His people out of Egypt (3:10). Moses confronted Pharaoh with God’s command: “Let my people go” (5:1). But Pharaoh refused. But after a series of plagues had devastated his kingdom, Pharaoh finally agreed to God’s demand.
Reflecting the Character of God
Two months later, God’s people set up camp at Mount Sinai. They remained there for ten months, and God used that time to turn a confused crowd into a disciplined nation.
The first priority for the people was to understand their unique calling. They were God’s people, the heirs of God’s promises to Abraham. God confirmed His commitment to them in a covenant: “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:12).
Then God gave His people the Ten Commandments. This is not an arbitrary list of rules or a culturally conditioned set of values. These commandments are a direct reflection of the character of God. When God says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” it is because He is the only God. When God says, “You shall not commit adultery,” it is because He is faithful. And when He says, “You shall not covet,” it is because God is at peace in Himself, and He calls His people to be like Him (Exodus 20:3, 14, 17).
Keeping the law does not make us God’s people, but being God’s people means that we are called to reflect His character by living according to His law.
Plunged into Crisis
A few weeks later, God’s people were plunged into crisis. While Moses was away from the people, they made an idol and indulged in all kinds of depravity (Exodus 32:5–6). Their behavior was a contradiction rather than a reflection of God’s character.
God told His people that He would give them the land of Canaan, but because of their sin, they would not enjoy the gift of His presence (Exodus 33:3). When the people heard this, they were brokenhearted. They understood that the gifts of freedom and prosperity would mean little without the presence and blessing of God, and they longed for their relationship with God to be restored.
A Place to Meet with God
God gave Moses detailed instructions for a mobile worship center called the tabernacle. At the center of this tent-like structure was the Most Holy Place. The ark of the covenant was placed there. It was a wooden chest covered by a lid with statues of cherubim, the angelic figures that had guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden.
This was where God would meet with a representative of His people called the high priest (Exodus 25:22). When the high priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed animal between the cherubim, a cloud representing God’s immediate presence filled the tabernacle.
God was showing how His presence would return to His people. The cherubim were a visual reminder that sin always brings death. But the blood of the sacrificed animal spoke of God’s readiness to accept a substitute.
Moving Forward with God
God’s people moved forward from Sinai and headed for Canaan. God’s presence was with them, and He was ready to give them the land He had promised to Abraham. But the land was already occupied, and God’s people lacked the courage to fight. Without faith they could not enjoy the fulfillment of God’s promise, so they wandered in the desert for forty years until a new generation was ready to step forward in obedience.
God’s people entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses’ successor, Joshua. In this one event, God accomplished two purposes: fulfilling His covenant promise and bringing judgment.
God had told Abraham that there would be a long delay before his descendants would inherit the Promised Land, because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Genesis 15:16). Five hundred years later it had. God had seen their persistent atrocities, and so He brought about their downfall.
A View from the Third Mountain
When the land was settled, Joshua called the people to renew their covenant with God. In less than fifty years, God had brought His people from slavery in Egypt to prosperity in Canaan. “We too will serve the LORD,” they said (Joshua 24:18).
It was a great moment. But it would not be long before God’s people found their way into another dark valley.
- God’s presence came down to the tabernacle. Where can we look to find God’s presence in the world today? Why?