The Significance of Ceremony – Joshua 24

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In Joshua 24 you have a renewal of Israel’s covenant with God just prior to Joshua’s death. Some covenants in the ancient world were done in a very specific way. We see that pattern reflected in Joshua 24. The Hittites (who are mentioned in the chapter) had a form of covenant called the Suzerain-Vassal treaty (sounds like some kind of dread disease). The treaties followed this order:

  • Preamble – Included the names the parties involved, invoking the names of their gods  (24:2)
  • Historical prologue – lists the benevolent actions of the suzerain on behalf of the vassal (24:2-13)
  • Stipulations – Listed the obligations of each party, especially the vassal (24:14-15 & 22-23)
  • Deposit – Instructions for the recording of the treaty, a schedule of how often it should be read, and where it was to be deposited (24:25-26)
  • Witnesses called – These witnesses might be the gods or might be a third party (24:26)
  • Blessings and curses – What the results of obeying or disobeying the treaty included (24:19-20)

These agreements were surrounded in ceremony. Ceremony is important in culture because it shows just how important something is. Ceremony shows significance. What is more, each of these elements provide leverage for the parties involved to have motivation to keep their end of the deal. While it is not intended we read this into the text, I do think it is interesting that these same elements are still present in modern weddings:

  • Preamble – We see this in the vows – “I _________ take you _________ to be my wife.”
  • Historical prologue – We typically here this when the minister tells what he knows about the story of the couple he is marrying or any special stories or background he has with them or they have with each other.
  • Stipulations – We see this in the vows, “for better or for worse…richer or poorer…sickness and health.”
  • Deposit – Wedding rings serve this role. The deposit of the record of the covenant in the ancient world was to serve as a reminder of what had been agreed to. It was to be present and visible to the parties involved in the covenant. Maybe a couple keeps around their unity candle as a reminder or has the dress in a special place.
  • Witnesses – weddings are full of witnesses. Covenants are community events and community agreements. When we hear things like, “Before God and these witnesses” at a wedding, that is a very ancient practice of invoking the witnesses of divinity in order to highlight the necessity of maintaining faithfulness to the covenant agreement.
  • Blessings and curses – Wouldn’t that be exciting to see this section on the order of events handed out at the next wedding you attend, “Next the father of the bride will present the couple with their formal blessings and curses” Most weddings don’t include the formal “blessings and curses” section.

Couples today could just say, “I do” and “I do”, husband and wife, kiss the bride and be married. But most people don’t do that. Most people want something they will remember. People value ceremony. It is important we really make ceremony meaningful so that the real underlying meaning of what is happening is not missed.

Do you think ceremony is still valued today or have certain ceremonies, like weddings, become such a tradition that most people don’t even realize the significance of it all?

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