Joshua 24:15 – “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua’s very famous and very public declaration of faith provides a powerful closing scene to the book that bears his name. It effectively rallies all of Israel to a renewal of their covenantal promises to YHWH. But it’s interesting to see how Joshua leads up to his appeal in the preceding verses.
Start with v1 – the scene occurs at Shechem, which is significant. There’s a story there. Shechem is an appropriate place to gather the people for this kind of speech. It was at Shechem that God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land in Genesis 12:6-7. For Israel, Shechem represents the oldest promise God made to their great forefather. This is also the location of the altar Jacob built in Genesis 33:20, an altar Jacob called “mighty is the God of Israel.” So Shechem also represents the place where God demonstrated his mighty strength to Israel’s namesake.
History is important to Joshua. You can tell that by the fact that he assembles the people at Shechem. Joshua knows from whence he came.
Then, look at how he makes his appeal: he tells the story of Israel. Joshua starts in v2 and says, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says…” What follows is the story God is telling, the story God is speaking, the story God is authoring. It includes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; Moses and Aaron. But Joshua doesn’t stop there. He keeps telling the story, bringing it right up to the present to include his own story and the stories of his audience. Joshua sees his story within this wide swath of God’s activity. The Story of God gives him the context for this moment.
Storytelling is an effective tool for covenant renewal.
Who are the storytellers in your family? Do you have someone in your family that always tells the stories? Maybe you start telling the story, but then they defer to them, saying, “Oh, you tell it better anyway.” Telling a good story is something of a lost art these days.
When Sunny and I were first married, we lived in East Tennessee for three years. We hadn’t been there long when we heard about the National Storytelling Festival held in Jonesborough, TN. This festival started back in 1973 when a high school journalism teacher and his students were driving in his car, listening to the Grand Ole Opry. Jerry Clower came on the radio telling stories about going coon huntin’ in Mississippi. And this teacher, named Jimmy Neil Smith, had a thought: Why not have a storytelling festival in East Tennessee?
That fall, the Story Telling Festival began with 60 participants; now more than 10,000 attend every year. It ranks as one of the Top 100 Events in North America. People come from all over to hear these master storytellers spin their yarns. L.A. Times says, “What New Orleans is to jazz, Jonesborough is to story-telling.”
The success of events like this shows us just how hungry people are for good stories. We literally can’t get enough of good stories. We’ll watch them on our TVs, pay to see them on the movie screen, read them over and over. We find meaning in these stories.
The question we ask is: Why? Why are we always drawn to good stories? Why do we remember stories someone told us years ago, but we can’t remember any of the points from the preacher’s sermon last week?
It’s as if we think in terms of story.
It’s as if we’re wired for story.
That’s really interesting.
Well, Joshua understands this, and so he gathers the people together and he tells the story as a way of renewing the covenant between Israel and YHWH.
As parents and grandparents, I believe it’s our responsibility to be the storytellers in our families. I want to encourage you to tell your stories to your family members. Tell all kinds of stories. Funny stories. Ghost stories. Stupid stories. Meaningful stories. No matter who you are, you have a story to tell. But especially if you’re a parent or grandparent, I think we need to be telling the stories of Scripture and the stories of our family — and weaving the two together like Joshua does.
Those of you who are the older members of our families, you’re the link to our roots; you know the stories of where we’ve come from. You’re the ones who recognize the Shechems in our lives; you’re the ones who know why Shechem should be important to us. They say, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Well, we can’t remember it if you don’t tell us.
And if you’re part of the younger generation, you need to sit down and listen to these stories. You need to respect these storytellers. Because you’ll miss them when they’re gone. You don’t get them back. I believe we miss this too often in our days. It is the height of arrogance for any generation to believe that they don’t need the wisdom of their elders. We need to restore some generational order as a people.
Joshua tells the story as a way of renewing the covenant with the people and God. Here we see the power of storytelling as a means of grafting new generations into the Story of God. When my children were born, I was adamant about being the first one to tell them about Jesus. It wasn’t just my responsibility; it was my privilege. Our twins spent significant time in the NICU after their birth. In fact, we couldn’t hold them at all that first day. But when the nurses weren’t looking, I’d open up the door to their isolettes and take their little hands in mine and I told my twins the story of Jesus. I wanted them to hear his name from my lips first. And I did the same thing with Jackson on the night of his birth. They’ve heard the story of Jesus many times since that day. But I wanted them to hear The Story from me first.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Joshua ends with this climactic declaration of faith.
The question put before Israel is the same question put to us: whom will you choose to serve?