Joshua 24:16-18 “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 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. 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.’”
If this is a day to choose then choose they will. They will worship and serve YHWH. He brought them out of Egypt. He freed them from their slavery. He did great signs in their midst. He drove out the Canaanites and gave them the land upon which they now live. They vow not to forsake YHWH, and they vow that they will not return to the pagan “gods” of their fathers.
But as Joshua points out, the people had better consider this vow carefully. “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. 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.’” In these two verses Joshua not only reiterates the blessing-curse principle upon which the entire Sinai covenant is based, but he gives Israel a powerful hint as to the true purpose of the law. According to the testimony of Paul, God gave the law to expose our sins and drive us to seek both forgiveness for our sins and a righteous which is grounded in perfect obedience to the law of God–namely the righteousness of Christ himself.
While one commentator calls this the most shocking statement in the Old Testament, these words make perfect sense if we keep the Mosaic covenant distinct from the Abrahamic covenant. The covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai is a national covenant based upon the blessing/curse principle. Joshua is warning Israel of the solemn nature of the oath the people have just taken. When they say that they will “serve the LORD” they are stating that should they disobey the covenant, the covenant curse will come upon them. Their sins as a people will not be forgiven and Israel will be cast from the land. And yet, the covenant God makes with Israel at Sinai does not annual the former covenant God made with Abraham. Under that covenant (the covenant of grace) God will forgive the sins of his people, if they believe his promise to save sinners. And so, if we keep these two covenants distinct (and we must), Joshua’s words are not shocking. In fact, they make perfect sense. The law condemns. That is what is was designed to do. While in this case, Joshua is not giving Israel a lesson in law and gospel, he is reminding the people of the gravity of renewing the Sinaitic covenant. If they say “we will serve the LORD,” then God will hold them to that confession. He will bless them if they obey, and he will curse them if they don’t. Those are the terms of the Sinaitic covenant, grounded in the blessing-curse principle….
…..Christian worship is largely based upon the fact that when we gather together on the Lord’s day, we too are participating in a covenant renewal ceremony, just as Israel did at Shechem. And yet the New Covenant promises are vastly superior to those of the Sinaitic covenant. The New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant of grace and Jesus is the greater Joshua. On each Lord’s day we affirm (confess) that the covenant curses have been removed by Christ’s death upon the cross. We affirm that we will serve the LORD, when we confess our sins, receive the promise of forgiveness, and then with one voice confess our faith publicly in the words of the Creed.
And just as Israel gathering together at Shechem was a witness to all the pagans around them that Israel was in covenant relationship with YHWH–the true and living God–so too when we gather together in this place on the Lord’s day, we are affirming that “Jesus is Lord,” that no one else is, and we do so as a witness to the pagans around us. And just as Israel affirmed “we will serve the LORD,” so too do we. Beloved, we too must confess that “we will serve the Lord,” and we do so confessing that Jesus is Lord and believing in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.