Audio Chanting and Summary of Chapter 24
The Book of Yehoshua concludes with a final address delivered by
Yehoshua to the entire nation, leaders and laypersons alike. This speech
was given at Shekhem, and begins with a description of the pre-history
of the Jewish people, starting with Abraham’s father Terah who served
idols and charting the development of the nation of Israel through
Avraham, Yitschaq, Yaaqov and Yaaqov’s descendants. Yehoshua mentions
the highlights of the Exodus from Egypt, the dramatic salvation at the
Sea of Reeds, the period of wandering through the desert and the
miraculous military successes and conquests that Hashem orchestrated for
the benefit of the Jews.
Yehoshua first exhorts the nation to serve Hashem in purity and to
reject all other gods. However, he then presents them with the option of
changing their minds and reverting to the gods of Terah or of their
Canaanite neighbors, saying only that “as for myself and my household,
we will serve Hashem”. The Jewish people responded to this offer with an
unequivocal affirmation of their intent to serve only Hashem, the God
Who has been the source of their salvation from the beginning, and to
reject any other mode or object of worship.
Yehoshua responds that Hashem is too holy and too demanding;
committing to His service is a significant and risky challenge! The Jews
rebuff Yehoshua and again insist that they will remain true in their
dedication to Hashem. Yehoshua makes an official covenant between the
Jewish people and Hashem, and places a large rock under an oak tree
beside the sanctuary of Hashem as a memorial to that covenant.
Yehoshua dies at the age of 110 and is buried in his territory in
Timnat-Serah; the bones of Yosef are laid to rest in Shekhem, in the
portion of land that Yaaqov had purchased centuries earlier in that
area. The final verse of the Book of Yehoshua tells us that Elazar son
of Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, passed away and was buried as well.
Several questions can be raised regarding this chapter. First of all,
what is the need for two speeches – one directed to the leadership and
one addressed to everybody? Couldn’t Yehoshua consolidate his remarks in
Second, we know that at this time the Mishkan was positioned in
Shiloh, not Shekhem. Why does Yehoshua deliver this final address in
Shekhem rather than Shiloh and why does the text imply that they were
standing beside the Sanctuary of Hashem nonetheless?
Third, why did they wait so long to bury Yosef’s bones in Shekhem?
Finally, why does Yehoshua chart Jewish history all the way back to
Terah’s time, and why does he raise the possibility that the Jews might
want to give up the Torah and revert to the idolatrous traditions of
their distant past? Doesn’t the first speech insist that the Jews must
keep their commitment to Hashem no matter what?
Several modern commentators and scholars have grappled with these
problems and none has provided a fully satisfactory explanation for
them. I would like to offer a suggestion of my own that I believe is
persuasive and meaningful in its own right even if it doesn’t resolve
all the difficulties.
The Book of Yehoshua can rightly be understood as the “postscript” or
epilogue to the Torah. It describes the fulfillment of all of Hashem’s
promises to the Jewish people and is the conclusion of the historical
saga that began with the enslavement in and Exodus from Egypt. In that
way, the Book of Yehoshua is the conclusion of a national narrative, the
final stage of the founding of Israel as a community in its own land.
The first closing speech of Yehoshua, which presupposes the
inviolable nature of the covenant made at Sinai and is directed to the
LEADERSHIP alone, is a fitting end to the Book of Yehoshua insofar as it
is the history of a nation that was first introduced in the Book of
At the same time, however, the dramatic departure from Egypt and
conquering of Israel is not only the story of a newly founded polity; it
is also the fulfillment of the promises made to the Patriarchs and is
the final chapter of THEIR complex and dramatic story. When Avraham
arrived in Canaan, he pitched his tent in Shekhem and was there informed
that his descendants would inherit the land. When Yaaqov returned from
“exile” in the house of Lavan, he immediately purchased a parcel of land
in Shekhem, and before departing, he instructed his household to rid
themselves of any foreign gods and buried them “under the oak tree in
Shekhem”. When Yosef is seized and sold by his brothers into slavery, it
is because he went to check on them in Shekhem. When Yaaqov blesses
Yosef at the end of his life, he tells Yosef that he has bequeathed to
him “Shekhem ahad al ahekha”, meaning one parcel of land more than his
brothers – this parcel of land is Shekhem.
Seen from this angle, then, the Book of Yehoshua is not only a sequel
to the Book of Devarim, it is the conclusion of the Book of Beresheet –
the life stories of the Patriarchs – as well. In that context, Shekhem
is clearly a critical location at which all of the dramatic turning
points took place, and it is therefore fitting that Yehoshua would
deliver his final speech there.
The last speech begins from Terah and focuses on the individuals
whose progeny became the Jewish people; it deals with the Abrahamic
covenant that we are members of INDIVIDUALLY and as FAMILIES, not
nationally as citizens (Berit Milah is an expression of this aspect of
our covenant with Hashem). And while the national covenant would
naturally be reaffirmed at Shiloh, home of the national sanctuary, the
individual/familial covenant between the descendants of Avraham and
Hashem would be best renewed at Shekhem, the location that is emblematic
of the Patriarchs and their physical and spiritual journeys – even if
that meant having to bring the Ark over to the exact place in Shekhem
where Yaaqov originally commanded his household to dispose of any idols
in their possession.
Unlike the national covenant, maintenance of which is incumbent upon
the leaders of the nation as a whole (addressed in the first speech),
the Abrahamic covenant is a matter of personal choice, participation and
commitment on the part of each individual, hence Yehoshua’s statement
in the second speech “as for me and my household, we will serve Hashem!”
Yehoshua is a descendant of Yosef and dies at the age of 110 just
like Yosef himself did. Their burials are juxtaposed, with the burial of
Yehoshua symbolizing the end of the era of the Exodus and the burial of
Yosef in Shekhem representing the end of the saga of Beresheet – keep
in mind that the final verse of the Book of Beresheet describes Yosef
being placed in a coffin above ground in Egypt; he was waiting for his
return to Israel and proper Jewish burial for centuries!
We need not assume that the Jews actually delayed the burial of
Yosef’s bones all this time, although it is possible that Yehoshua did
this for the thematic effect. What is important is that CONCEPTUALLY the
link between the burial of these two key figures interconnects and ties
up all of the loose ends in the Torah narratives of the Patriarchs of
Beresheet and of the Jewish nation of Shemot-Devarim, making the Book of
Yehoshua the proper integration and resolution of the plot lines of
both of these grand and rich narratives. Beresheet precedes
Shemot-Devarim and here the conclusion of Shemot-Devarim precedes the
conclusion of Beresheet – on a literary level, this A-B-B-A structure
indicates the ultimate intertwining and interconnecting of the two
stories into one complete, unified and indivisible narrative.