Joshua began to rehearse Israel’s history in Shechem, for that’s where the nation got started. It’s the spot where the father of Israel first entered Canaan (Gen.12:1-5). So this history lesson marked a fresh start, a chance to begin again after all their rebellion against God, and this time get it right.
Abraham’s kindred worshipped other gods (Josh.24:2), so God called him away from them (v.3cf.Gen.12:1,2). God chose him to make this fresh start after the tower of Babel (Gen.11) because he had a faithful heart (Neh.9:7,8), a heart like David’s (Acts 13:21,22), that never messed with idols. No wonder God called Abraham to make this fresh start! And now, 500 years later, God was making another fresh start with Abraham’s seed in Shechem, the place where Abraham got his fresh start. God gave him Isaac (Josh.24:4), but Isaac let his wife worship idols (Gen.31:19). Then they went to Egypt (Gen.24:4) and were surrounded by idols.
After “a long season” (Josh.24:6,7) of 40 years in the wilder-ness, you’d think they’d forsake idolatry, but no (Ex.32:3,4). God wanted to kill them all for this and make another fresh start with Moses (Ex.32:10). He was testing Moses to see if he remembered that He’d promised to make a fresh start with Abraham, and Moses passed. So Israel remained God’s people, and He fought for them (Josh.24:8-10). When Balaam couldn’t curse Israel, he taught Balak how to curse them by enticing Jewish men to worship his pagan women, and Jews were soon worshipping their gods. God slew 24,000 of them because of it, and only Phinehas stopped Him from killing them all (Num.25:1-10). God continued to fight for Israel when they got to the Promised Land (Josh.24:11-13).
Once in the land, you’d think they’d finally be free of idolatry, but Joshua wouldn’t have had to tell them to forsake their idols if they had (Josh.24:14). And there was no better place to bury their idols and make a fresh start than in Shechem,
where Isaac buried his wife’s idols & all others (Gen.35:4).
The Jews swore they could serve God (Josh.24:15-18), but Joshua kept telling them they couldn’t (v.19), because to serve God you had to keep His commandments (Josh.22:5; IKi.9:6,7) perfectly (James 2:10,11) or be cursed (Gal.3:10).
When Moses gave the law, the Jews said they could keep it (Ex.24:3). God let them try—and they failed! Joshua tried to get his Jews to admit they couldn’t serve God by keeping it by pointing out they couldn’t get past the very first commandment (Josh. 24:20 cf. Ex.20;2,3). They ignored their history and so were doomed to repeat it. It didn’t take long (Judges 2:11,13). Even after 70 years in captivity, we know the Jews still thought they could keep the law, for they were “cursed” when they agreed to it again (Neh.10:29). Here in Joshua 24, they insisted they could keep it (24:21-23).
The law was a covenant, a contract that required “witnesses” (24:22), like Moses had when he gave the law (Deut. 31:12-26). God told them to incline their heart to Him (Josh. 24:23), knowing they didn’t have a heart in them that could (Deut.5:27-29). God later told them to make themselves a new heart (Ezek.18:31), knowing He’d have to do it for them in the kingdom (36:26,27). That’s the fresh start that’ll stick!
Moses gave the law in the beginning of his rule to see if they could keep it, then again at the end of it after they proved they couldn’t. Joshua gave it in Joshua 8 to see if they could keep it, then here after they proved they couldn’t. God gave it in the Old Testament to see if they could keep it, and will give it again in the kingdom with the power to do it.
Joshua ends by talking about Joseph (Josh.24:32) because Joshua and Joseph were types of Christ. Both died at 110 (Josh.24:29 cf. Gen.50:26). Joshua was Israel’s savior, Joseph was the world’s savior. Eleazar (Josh.24:33) was to Joshua what Aaron was to Moses. Moses and Joshua were lawgivers, Aaron & Eleazar saved them from the law’s curse