1. Context

1.1. Historical Context

The book of Joshua is a historical work completed either during or shortly after Joshua’s life. Phraseology such as “to this day” (4:9; 5:9; 6:25; 7:26; 8:28, 29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 15:63; 16:10; 23:9) is utilized in a manner only explainable if the book was completed within fifty years of Joshua’s death (e.g. Rahab [6:25]).[1] There is nothing unreasonable with accepting the Jewish tradition Joshua wrote most of this book.[2] Joshua helped lead Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 17:8-13), through the wilderness (Numbers 11:24-30; 13:1-25) and into Canaan (Joshua 3:14-17). The narrative begins after the death of Moses (1:1) and ends when Joshua dies (24:29-33).

1.2. Thematic Context

1.2.1. Joshua as Leader of Israel

God chose Joshua to lead Israel in the absence of Moses (1:1-9). The narrative progresses as Joshua learns to fill this role and Israel learns to trust him (4:14). The redemptive-historical significance of Joshua is the subjugation and settlement of Canaan, which Joshua leads Israel through as a type of the Christ to come. The warrior motif permeates this book, God acting as the great commander of Israel and Joshua embodying His chosen servant (5:13-15).

1.2.2. Promised Land

The great event of Joshua is Israel’s receiving the Promised Land (Canaan) from the Lord as an inheritance. The terms of this historical book sufficiently emphasize this. “The word ‘land’ (eres) occurs 102 times, the word “inheritance (nahala) fifty times, and the word translated “boundary” or “territory” or “border” (gebul) eighty-four times, and the word for “cast lots” or for “allotment” (goral) twenty-six times. Truly the book of Joshua is consumed with the place where Yahweh rules over his people.”[3]

1.2.3. Covenant Faithfulness of God

The central theme of Joshua is arguably the covenant faithfulness of God.[4] God formed (Genesis 12:1-50:26), redeemed (Exodus 1:1-18:27), and covenanted with His people (Genesis 12:1-17:27; Exodus 19:1-Deuteronomy 34:12). Now in Joshua, God will fulfill the promises He made to Israel.[5] Certainly for Israel in Joshua’s day, the events of Joshua were thoroughly eschatological. God’s concern for covenant faithfulness is clear from beginning (Joshua 1:3) to end:

Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Joshua 21:43-45

Whereas Joshua records God’s covenant faithfulness, Judges will chronicle Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness.

1.2.4. Pentateuchal Consummation

In Joshua, threads loosed in the Pentateuch are tied off. Israel receives what was promised them in Genesis, the sons of Abraham return from their long stay in Egypt, and remaining Exodus leaders are laid to rest. With these connections to Moses’ writing in mind, Joshua is also when Israel leaves nomadic life in the wilderness; when communion with God reinstated from the Garden (Genesis) to the tabernacle (Exodus-Deuteronomy) becomes eschatologically contingent upon Israel’s covenant keeping (having left the time of covenant giving behind); when the historical-literary momentum shifts from Moses to Joshua. The book of Joshua, therefore, is thematically linked to but should not be considered part of the Pentateuch.

1.3. Textual Context

In keeping with the “Covenant Faithfulness of God” theme, Joshua can be outlined as follows: God declares to Joshua He is a covenant keeper (1:1-9; introduction), God proves He is a covenant keeper (1:10-22:34; body), Joshua declares to Israel God is a covenant keeper (23:1-24:33; conclusion). God proves His faithfulness by subduing Canaan (1:10-12:24) and settling His people in the land (13:1-22:34). One may emphasis Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land, for example: entrance (1:1-5:12), possession (5:13-12:24), allotment (13:1-21:45), unity (22:1-24:33).[6]

We find our text (24:14-28) in the conclusion, where Joshua is repeating to Israel the lesson he has learned in the conquest of Canaan, which God declared from the beginning (1:1-9). Joshua addresses the matter in the form of covenant renewal. Moses renewed the covenant with Israel at the end of his life (Deuteronomy 1:1-33:29) – Joshua follows suite with a pattern of second-millennium B.C. vassal treaty. The parties involved in vassal treaties were the overlord and the vassal. The content of vassal treaties included five elements: 1) title, 2) historical prologue, 3) stipulations, 4) witnesses, 5) curses and blessings.

In Joshua 24:1-28, we find all five elements of a vassal treaty: 1) title (v.2), 2) historical prologue (vv.2-13), 3) stipulations (vv.14-24), 4) witnesses (vv.26-27; cf. 22), 5) curses and blessings (v.20).[7] Joshua renewing the covenant with Israel in the form of a vassal treaty is only significant in so far as it communicates the relationship between God and His people. God is lord, master, and ruler; Israel is vassal, servant, and subordinate.

Joshua renewed the covenant with Israel at Shechem (v.1). Shechem was an important place in Israel’s history, particularly with respect to the land promise.[8] The city was an ideal center for pagan worship during and after Abraham’s day.[9] At Shechem, God showed Abraham the land He had promised, and Abraham built an altar there by a tree (Genesis 12:6-7). At Shechem, decades later, Jacob built an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel – “God, the God of Israel” (33:19-20). He forced his household to abandon their idols, which he hid under the tree Abraham worshiped beside (35:4; cf. 12:7). Jacob said that day, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments” (v.2). At Shechem, centuries later, Joshua said to his people, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel,” (Joshua 24:23) and place a memorial stone under the terebinth [tree] that was by the sanctuary of the Lord (v.26), the exact place where Abraham and Jacob had renewed their faith in God. Shechem was an appropriate place for Israel to renew their covenant with God, a place where the patriarchs had consecrated their households to the Lord and abandoned all other gods.

2. Word Studies

2.1. Fear // Now therefore fear the Lord. (v.14)

“Fear” (yr’, יָרֵא) is an imperative occurring in verse 14, meaning “fear, be afraid; shudder at, be in awe of, hold in deference.”[10] Of the 316 occurrences, ESV typically translates “fear” or “afraid,” though sometimes “awesome.”[11]Fearing God in Scripture means to revere Him appropriately, which is supremely, and to give Him what is due. Fear of God comes before obedience (Ecclesiastes 12:13) and blessing (Proverbs 14:26-27). Where there is no fear of God, there is godlessness (Romans 3:18; cf. 10-17). Fear of God appropriates covenant with God.

Fear of God is also associated with worship. LXX translates yr’ (יָרֵא) in Joshua 4:24 as sebo (σέβω) (reverence, worship, honor), a term denoting worship in the New Testament. Sebo (σέβω) refers to reverence in The Shepherd of Hermas, M VIII, 10 and to worship in The Letter of the Smyrnæans, 17.2.[12] This establishes the semantic range of sebo (σέβω) as considering “reverence” and/or “worship” before (LXX) and after (apostolic fathers) the writing of the New Testament. Titius Justus is described as a worshiper (sebo, σέβω) of God in Acts 18:7. Occurs most in the Psalms (forty-five times), our divine psalter for personal and corporate worship.

Finally, fear of God is associated with covenant renewal. The Hebrew yr’ (יָרֵא) occurs most frequently in Deuteronomy (25% more often than Psalms).[13] Deuteronomy is the covenant renewal Moses rehearsed with Israel, which is precisely Joshua’s task in Joshua 24. Joshua rehearses the wonderous deeds God had accomplished to their benefit (vv.1-13). God’s redemptive-historical, miraculous acts should compel Israel to fear God, because when God is feared nothing else need be. “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Genesis 15:1 ESV). Fear of God, therefore, propels God’s people towards continual faith and obedience.

2.2. Serve // Fear the Lord and serve him. (v.14a; cf. 14b [x2], 15 [x4], 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24)

“Serve” (’bd, עָבַד) is first used as an imperative in verse 14, meaning “work; till, cultivate; serve; work.”[14] Of the 287 occurrences, ESV typically translates “serve.”[15] The word is typically used in relation to either worship (Exodus 3:12) or servanthood (Exodus 14:5). When referring to worship, the signification of servanthood remains present: service which is either the means or substance of worship. Every occurrence of “serve” in Joshua 24:14-28 is a translation of ‘bd (עָבַד), appearing fourteen times (vv.14 [x3], 15 [x4], 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24). Nine uses refer to serving God, five to serving other gods.

“Tilling” and basic labor is a central theme in its semantic range. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate (’bd, עָבַד) it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15 NASB). The root occurs 1312 times, insinuating the popular use of the word. Deeper meaning than our English “serve” should be gathered from ‘bd (עָבַד) with great caution. However, we can say with confidence hard work and worship are two frequent meanings communicated. The passage at hand (Joshua 24:14-18) probably has in mind the concept of worship, similar to Paul: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1 ESV).

LXX translates ‘bd (עָבַד) latreuo (λατρεύω) which in the New Testament means “to perform religious rites as part of worship,”[16] but in the LXX us used in a slightly broader to include basic ideas of service. Even so, LXX translates ‘bd (עָבַד) in Exodus 3:12 as latreuo (λατρεύω), where the Hebrew clearly denotes worship. Therefore, we should see the Greek translation of Joshua 24:14-28 only as condoning and encouraging our understanding of “service” in this passage to refer to a service of worship or which is worship. Latreuo (λατρεύω) is also related to covenant in Hebrews 9:1, “Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary” (NASB).

2.3. Put Away // Put away the gods that your fathers served. (v.14b; cf. 23)

“Put away” (swr, סוּר) is an imperative in verse 14 and 23, meaning “turn aside, off; go away, leave; fall away, desert.” The basic meaning is to “turn aside in one’s direction.”[17] Occurs 296 times in ESV, most of which are translated turn, removal, depart, or take.[18] The ESV only translates swr (סוּר) as “put away” in two other passages (Job 27:5; 2 Kings 3:2). Typically carries a sense of either removal or turning aside. The action is to stop a particular trajectory, typically in favor of another. The emphasis may be placed either on what is turned from or to, yet the significance is equivalent: stop what you’re doing and come a variant way. Jael called out to a retreating Sisera, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me” (Judges 4:18 NASB, emphasis mine). Godliness is never to be put away (1:7). The principle is always to put away (swr, סוּר) whatever path or item is not congruent with God’s prescribed will.

In Joshua, swr (סוּר) is also used to signify leaving commands undone (11:15), yet the import is the same as 23:7, “Do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside (swr, סוּר) from it neither to the right hand nor to the left” (emphasis mine). Can be used in reference to the putting away of habits (Proverbs 4:24; 27:22) or judicial decrees (Zephaniah 3:15).

LXX translates swr (סוּר) as periaireo (περιαιρέω), meaning “to do away with, to remove, to eliminate.”[19]Usually refers to taking off clothing or separating from something (e.g. Genesis 38:14).[20] Periaireo (περιαιρέω) occurs five times in the New Testament, thrice concerning the work of sailors: hope abandoned in a storm (Acts 27:20), casting off anchors (v.40), sailing a circuit (28:13).[21] Paul uses it in reference to the removal of a veil (2 Corinthians 3:16) and Hebrews to the taking away of sins (Hebrews 10:11).

2.4. House // As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (v.15; cf. 17)

“House” (bayit, בַּיִת) is a singular noun in verses 15 and 17, occurring 2034 times in the Old Testament. Bayit (בַּיִת) may refer to a dwelling (e.g. Judges 11:31; 1 Samuel 5:2; 2 Kings 23:7) or simply a place to stay (e.g. Job 17:13), the latter often used for abstract or poetic concepts (e.g. Ezekiel 1:27; Job 8:14). It may also refer to the interior of a building (e.g. Genesis 6:14; 1 Kings 7:25). Lastly, bayit (בַּיִת) may refer to a household or family (e.g. Genesis 7:1; 17:27).[22] Due to the commonality of this Hebraic term, over analyzation should be heavily guarded against. The main interpretive choice is deciding between these four categorical uses.

ESV almost always translations bayit (בַּיִת) as “house.”[23] The term occurs twenty-three times in the book of Joshua. Eleven times bayit (בַּיִת) refers to a dwelling (2:1, 3, 15, 18a, 19 [x2]; 6:17, 22, 24; 9:12; 20:6), seven times to a household (2:12, 18b; 6:25; 7:14, 18; 22:14; 24:15), and five times to a defined macrocosm (9:23; 17:17 [note the grandeur of the use distinguishes it from 7:17 & 18]; 18:5; 21:45; 24:17). The translation “house” in 24:15 (ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, RSV) is not favorable: “household” (NIV, NRSV, LEB) is correct.[24] These two uses of bayit (בַּיִת) are familiar to Joshua, as 2:18 demonstrates: “You shall gather into your house (bayit, בַּיִת) your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household (bayit, בַּיִת).” The household use of bayit (בַּיִת) is illustrated in chapter 7:14 where, in the context of distinguishing people, a household (bayit, בַּיִת) is the next-size-up from a man.

LXX translates bayit (בַּיִת) as oikia (οἰκία), meaning “house, home, dwelling, residence.”[25] Oikia (οἰκία) occurs 220 times in the LXX, almost always a translation of bayit (בַּיִת). Six of these occurrences are in Joshua: four designate dwelling (2:1, 3, 19; 6:22), two designate household (2:18b; 24:15). In the New Testament, oikia (οἰκία) typically refers to a dwelling but sometimes signifies a household (e.g. John 4:53; 1 Corinthians 16:15) or macrocosm (e.g. Matthew 10:13). Josephus and Philo utilize the term extensively (153 and 232 times respectively) utilizing the senses explained above.

[1] Richard Hess, “Introduction to Joshua” in NIV Zondervan Study Bible, 379. The timeframe of events which take place in Joshua will depend on whether a late or early Egyptian exodus is preferred: ca. 1406/1220 B.C. I prefer an early date for the Exodus, so my choice is 1406 B.C. This places the Book of Joshua firmly within the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1500-1200 B.C.). Joshua and the Elders ruled Israel, in a time of prosperity, 1407-1350 B.C. These years were historically pivotal for many peoples, for reasons which include the following: Hittites discovered iron smelting at Anatoliaca, thus ushering an end to the Bronze Age (ca. 1400 B.C.); Minoan civilization fell (ca. 1400 B.C.); Hittite constitution and laws have been codified and established (ca. 1400 B.C.); Kassites become respectable (ca. 1400 B.C.); last palace at Knossos destroyed (ca. 1400 B.C.); Ugarit rises in prominence (ca. 1400 B.C.); Middle Assyrian Period in Mesopotamia begins (1400-1050 B.C.); Phoenician linear writing comes into use (1400-1000 B.C.).

[2] In the Talmud, see Baba Bathra 15a. See Arnold and Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament, 169. Though probably not original, one MSS tradition reads “until we were pass over” (emphasis mine) at Joshua 5:1. Assuming this reading is not to be preferred, the historical persistence of “we” (see Keil-Delitzsch, “Joshua” in Commentary on the Old Testament Vol,. 2, 16) demonstrates there is considerable weight behind the tradition Joshua wrote this book. In the final analysis, I am convinced most of the book of Joshua was written by Joshua himself and additions (including the conclusion) were made shortly after he passed (within several decades).

[3] Thomas Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 107.

[4] A narrower scope may be taken, such as Childs’ suggestion Joshua intends to demonstrate God’s land promises were fulfilled (Old Testament as Scripture, 244). I heartily agree, yet maintain the larger issue of God’s reliability and faithfulness is at stake in this promise and others relevant to this period of Israel’s history.

[5] “Joshua features, then, the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises…. What he swore to the fathers becomes a reality under Joshua’s leadership” (Thomas Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 108). Keil-Delitzsch correctly roots the promises in the patriarchs, “The purpose of the book is rather to show how, after the death of Moses, the faithful covenant God fulfilled to the children of Israel, whom He had adopted as His people of possession through the mediation of His servant, the promise which He had made to the patriarchs” (“Joshua” in Commentary on the Old Testament Vol. 2, 15).

[6] Richard Hess, “Introduction to Joshua” in NIV Zondervan Study Bible, 383. “Conquest (ch. 1-12) and division (ch. 13-24)” is an appropriate, simpler outline (Keil-Delitzsch, “Joshua” in Commentary on the Old Testament Vol. 2, 13.

[7] Philips Long, “Joshua” in ESV Study Bible, 429.

[8] Keil-Delitzsch, “Joshua” in Commentary on the Old Testament Vol. 2, 226.

[9] Philips Long, “Joshua” in ESV Study Bible, 429.

[10] Holladay, William Lee, and Ludwig Kˆhler, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 142-3.

[11] Other translations include the following: awe, revere, terrifying, frighten, be, cautious, terrible.

[12] Also “worship” in The Epistle to Diognetus (2.7; 3.2). Sebo (σέβω) certainly refers to “worship” more often, but my point is the semantic range includes clear shades of fear and reverence, which we find in Joshua 24:14. LXX reads phobethete (φοβήθητε; “terrify, fear, frighten”) in Joshua 24:14, which is a typical term for “fear” in the LXX. This indicates the translators may have distinguished between the “fear” of 4:24 (cf. 22:25; Job 1:9; Isaiah 29:13) and that of Joshua 24:14 (cf. 4:14; 8:1; 9:30; 10:2, 8, 25; 11:6). This also indicates the translators may have considered the concepts of “fear” and “worship” closely related, which is my argument here. Friedrich seems to concur with my conclusion: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Vol. VII, 169.

[13] Occurs once per 949 words in Psalms, once per 766 words in Deuteronomy.

[14] Holladay, William Lee, and Ludwig Kˆhler, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 142-3.

[15] Other translations include the following: work, do, worship, slave, worker, till, labor, servant, subject.

[16] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains V1 (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.), 532.

[17] Holladay, William Lee, and Ludwig Kˆhler, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 254.

[18] Less popular translations include the following: put, took, taken, away, turn, etc.

[19] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains V1 (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.), 152. The root aireo (αιρεω) means “execute; destroy.”

[20] Philo uses periaireo (περιαιρέω) in reference to concealment, putting something out of sight (Let II 63). Also in reference to ending habits: “Put an end (Periaireo (περιαιρέω) to your wine-bibbing” (Ebr 146; cf. 1Kgdms 1:14 LXX). Philo’s use of this word is congruent with what has been stated above.

[21] Because I believe Luke wrote Hebrews (recording a Pauline sermon), I see periaireo (περιαιρέω) as a particularly Lukan term in the New Testament. Luke’s writing is the most sophisticated in the New Testament, which may suggest this term was somewhat formal or rigid when beside slang and basic speech. Interesting how Luke uses it thrice in succession (Acts 27:20, 40; 28:13) in reference to the work of sailors, which may give slight emphasis to their plight (e.g. storm of ch. 27). However, Paul also uses periaireo (περιαιρέω) in 2 Corinthians 3:16, Hebrews is not without doubt Lukan, and the New Testament is not an exhaustive collection of koine terms. Therefore, I admit this is all conjecture.

[22] Holladay, William Lee, and Ludwig Kˆhler, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 38-9.

[23] Other translations include the following: household, temple, home, palace, prison, etc.

[24] “Family” (HCSB, NLT, NET) is too specific, likely excluding slaves. Bayit (בַּיִת) in reference to persons undoubtedly has in mind every human in the economy of the home, under the headship of a patriarch (see also Bratcher and Newman, A Translator’s Handbook on The Book of Joshua, 308). The translation “house” in 24:17 is suitable.

[25] Louw and Nida, 80.

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