Lesson: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2a And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:
14 “Now therefore revere the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the LORD. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
The authors of the Book of Joshua (called “the Deuteronomists”) were also the authors of the books of Deuteronomy, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. These books were given their final form around 550 BCE – long after the events they described.
The Deuteronomists used the stories in these five books to make the case that it was the failures of the people and the Kings of Israel and the Kings of Judea to worship YHWH and obey God’s commands that led to the conquest of Northern Israel in 722 BCE by the Assyrians and the conquest of Judea by the Babylonians in 597 BCE. (The conquests were not seen as the result of the Assyrians’ and Babylonians’ greater wealth and more powerful armies.)
The Book of Joshua is part of this “Deuteronomic History.” It covered the entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land by crossing the River Jordan (around 1225 BCE, if the account is historical), the swift conquest by Joshua of the people that were in the land (starting with Jericho), the allocation of the lands among the tribes, and concluded with the “Covenant at Shechem” by which the people swore (acting as their own witnesses) to be faithful to YHWH.
In today’s reading, Joshua assembled the tribes in Shechem (an important religious and political center in what became Samaria) and challenged them whether they will serve YHWH. The people promised to serve YHWH and put away foreign gods in this Covenant at Shechem.
The Deuteronomist used this Covenant at Shechem to “convict” the Israelites of their own later failures to worship YHWH as the cause of their conquests by foreign powers. YHWH was presented by the Deuteronomists as faithful to YHWH’s promises (such as the promise to Abraham of the land and the promise that David’s “house” would rule forever). The later failures of the people (and their kings) to worship YHWH were breaches of their own Covenant.
Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-20
10 Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Ephesus was a large and prosperous city in what is now western Turkey. In the Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians, Paul is said to have visited there. In Ephesus, there were Jesus Followers who were Jews and Jesus Followers who were Gentiles, and they did not always agree on what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Because the letter contained many terms not used in Paul’s other letters and gave new meanings to some of Paul’s characteristic terms, most scholars believe that this letter was written by one of Paul’s disciples late in the First Century. The letter was intended to unify the Jesus Follower community in Ephesus. The first three chapters are theological teachings, and the last three chapters consist of ethical exhortations.
Today’s reading is the last of the six portions of the Letter to the Ephesians that have been presented in recent weeks.
Today, the author portrayed life as a Jesus Follower as a struggle against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and the spiritual forces of evil. He urged that believers put on the armor of God, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness (appropriate behavior and being in right relation with God, others, and the world), the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and use one offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit (which the author says is the word of God).
Gospel: John 6:56-69
56 Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who is described as “the Lamb of God”) died at the time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held that night.
Today’s reading is the conclusion of the Bread of Life Discourse in Chapter 6. It is not surprising that some of Jesus’ followers found the sayings “difficult” (v.60) because (taken literally) the eating of flesh of a human is cannibalism and drinking blood (the life force in all creatures) belongs to God and was therefore forbidden to humans (Lev. 17:15).
The reference to the Son of Man ascending is a reference to Daniel 7:13 (“I saw one like a human being [son of man] coming with the clouds of heaven.”)
In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is presented as omniscient, and therefore knows who will believe and who will betray him (v. 64). Faith, which is God’s gift (v.65), is what enables one to know that Jesus is the human embodiment of God.
Calling Jesus “the Holy One of God” (v.69) does not appear elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel. Other ancient texts substitute the words “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The only prior references that are similar to “Holy One of God” are references in Judges 13:7 and 16:7 to Samson as a “nazirite to God.” A nazirite was a person who took a vow to dedicate their life to YHWH’s service. In Psalm 106:16, Aaron (Moses’ brother) is called “the holy one of the LORD.”