When you mention Joshua 24 to most Christians, the verse that pops into mind is, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” Although a great verse, I believe there is a more significant point being made in that last chapter of Israel’s journey: “As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in a piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of silver. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.” (Joshua 24:32). Really? We’re gonna conclude the conquest story with some side note about a dead guy’s bones? Well, what you see as a side note is actually one of the most significant parts of the whole story between Genesis 50 and Joshua 24. In fact, this statement is more of an exclamation point than a parenthetical aside…
You see, as Joseph lay dying on his bed, after being sold into slavery in Egypt and rising to power, he turned to his family and made them swear to him: “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here” (Gen. 50:25). 430 years later, when the people of Israel are enslaved in Egypt (like Joseph), Moses leads them out of Egypt toward the promised land. Yet, 400 years after Joseph’s death, Exodus 13 tells us, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.” Finally, Joshua 24 comes, and the people have returned to the very place where Joseph was sold into slavery…Shechem. There in Shechem was Joseph buried, finally returning from the land of slavery.
Shechem was also the place where the sons of Jacob were called to abandon their false gods, burying them beneath the terebinth tree and recommitting themselves to the covenant of their forefathers. In Joshua 24, the people are brought to the same place, to the same terebinth tree, called again to abandon their false idols and bury them with the same pile of idols their forefathers abandoned more than 400 years ago.
You see, Biblical history is cyclical. The cyclical nature of the God’s Word is what makes typology and prophecy possible–both are intentional tools in the hand of history’s Author. If there is one refrain to characterize the entire Old Testament, it would be “Return”. The promise made to Abraham was that his people would return from Egypt. Joseph clung to that promise. Moses’ mission was to lead the people in a return to the promised land. Joseph came full circle when his bones returned to Shechem.
If we were to sum up the prophets’ message, I believe we would have to use that same word: “Return!” Once the people of Israel were taken into exile in a foreign land, their longing was to return.
Turning the pages to the New Testament, we meet a man named John who serves as a summary of the prophets of Old, and what is his message? “Return, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” In his footsteps, a Messiah comes, Jesus Christ, and what is his message? “Return, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” You see, ever since we were expelled from the presence of God in the Garden of Eden, the refrain of God’s promise has been that one day we will return.
Isaiah and the Apostle John both agree that all of history will come full circle: A New Heavens and a New Earth. May we join with Joseph and cling to this promise. God will bring us back to communion with him in the New Earth, a place where once again God With Us, Immanuel, will dwell with man forever!