Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Then Josh gathered all the Israelite clans for a spiritual retreat at Shechem: the clan leaders, the executives, the judges, and the bureaucrats. There, Josh said to the people, “This is what God, your God, says:
Long ago, your ancestors Terah with his sons, Abraham and Nahor, lived on the other side of the Euphrates and served other Gods. But then, I took your ancestor Abraham from there and led him here to Canaan. And I made his descendents a multitude.
“So now, have respect for God, and be faithful and serious about doing what God says. Get rid of those other gods your ancestors worshiped back in Egypt, and worship this God. If you’re not willing to do this, figure out right now which gods you’re with, the gods of your ancestors, or the gods they had here before you came here. As for me and my family, we’re with God.”
The people answered, “It wouldn’t be like us to forsake God to serve other gods. God brought us and our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt. God did miracles. We saw them! God protected us from enemy nations all the way here. God helped us take this land from the Amorites. So, we’re with God. God is our god.”
Josh said, “I don’t believe you’re up to it. God is so pure and so jealous that, if you rebel, if you do wrong, if you leave God for foreign gods, then in spite of everything God has done for you God will destroy you.”
But the people said, “No, we’re with God.”
Josh said, “Fine, you’re blood is on your own hands. You’ve chosen God.”
They said, “Fine.”
Josh said, “Ok then, get rid of the foreign gods you have all around here, and get with God’s program.”
And the people told Josh, “We’re with God. We’ll do what we need to do.”
So Josh made a contract that day between the people and God, and sealed the deal along with all the terms of the agreement at Shechem.
Of course, if you read the whole story from the Exodus up to this point, their assertion that “It wouldn’t be like us to forsake God” is utterly laughable. And, if you read the whole story, you also know that Joshua’s threats about God wiping the people out are also unsubstantiated. Because as often as the people screw it up (which happens on every other page) God forgives them.
So the truth of the matter is that people aren’t generally as committed as they want to be, and God isn’t as hard-ass as people represent God to be.
But the other truth of the matter is that there seems to be this blank check deal between people and God. People, in spite of their history of waffling, want to be committed to something great and extraordinary, something beyond themselves. They want this and will affirm this even while the clinging to the destructive habits from their past, and the addictions of their present. People, it seems, are hardwired to hope that they can be better. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s what makes progress possible.