Series: Joshua, by Rosie Moore. (Final part)
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14:15).
It’s common to find the final excerpt of Joshua’s inspirational words printed on coffee mugs. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I confess that I have one of those mugs in my own kitchen. But if we take the time to read Joshua 23 and 24 in its entirety, we get the full benefit of Joshua’s wonderful message.
Joshua’s final words to Israel remind me of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:13-38, ending with these words, “What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.” (Acts 20:38).
Likewise, I doubt that there was a dry eye among the Israelites as they listened to Joshua’s final words and renewed the covenant with the Lord at Schechem. It was the same spot where Abraham had first camped when he arrived in Canaan 500 years before, the place where God had appeared to him, reminding him of the promises He had made to bless him, his descendants, and all the nations on earth.
Joshua’s farewell reminds us that spiritual leaders will come and go, but God’s purpose and his kingdom go on. Each new generation, each era of Church history, each family and each individual must face the same choice:
Choose this day whom you will serve. Will it be the one true God? Or the gods of tradition and upbringing? Or the gods of the surrounding culture—the spirit of the age? Either God is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. You have only one life, so choose wisely. Serve the LORD!
- A Rehearsal of Grace.
First Joshua catalogues Israel’s history, speaking the very words of God. Lest the Israelites think that they live in the Promised Land by their own brilliant effort, God gives them an accurate history lesson (Josh 24:1-14). He rehearses centuries of God’s sovereign grace that brought them to Canaan. Seventeen times, God says “I” did it!
As Joshua’s name suggests, “Yahweh saves!”
By grace, God called their forefather Abraham. God doesn’t airbrush the nation’s Patriarch. Abraham was an idol worshipper who served the Babylonian gods of sophistication and intellect. Abraham did not choose God, nor was he a righteous man who was worthy of God’s favour. No, it was by God’s grace that Israel became a great nation.
The history lesson continues into Exodus and Numbers. It was by Yahweh’s grace that the Israelites were rescued from slavery in Egypt and delivered at the Red Sea (Josh 24:5-7). It was the Lord’s grace that provided for the Israelites in the wilderness and brought them protection and victory over all their enemies (Josh 24:8-10). Moses and Joshua were just instruments of the Lord’s grace.
And, it is only by God’s grace that they now enjoy the goodness of the Promised Land (Josh 24:8-12).
“So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13).
If God rehearses history in this way, surely it’s important for us to record history accurately too, instead of re-writing the past to suit the thoughts, ideas and values of our own times? The Christian faith is based in history, not mythology.
From start to finish, Israel’s chequered history and God’s grace are woven together. And so it is with us. It is an awesome wonder that God saved us by his grace! It is totally unmerited, unexpected and unsolicited. God owes us nothing less than judgment for our sin.
In light of His amazing grace, there is only one reasonable response: Total devotion to Him.
- A reasonable response.
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14).
A believer’s life is a ‘reasonable’ response to God’s grace to us. Grace is why we serve, evangelise, study, pray, work, teach, share, encourage, disciple and love each other. Holy service to Christ is a reasonable response to God’s grace to us, not the means by which we gain His favour. That’s why God rehearsed his grace to his people for twelve verses before Joshua draws the logical conclusion of verse 14.
It makes me think of Paul’s “therefore” in Romans 12:1-2, which appears after eleven chapters of Paul proclaiming the riches of God’s grace:
“I plead with you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”.
But what about Joshua’s instruction to “fear the Lord?” We don’t hear much about fearing the Lord these days, but it is an appropriate fear.
- An appropriate fear.
Christians often shy away from talking about the “fear of the Lord,” as if it’s an outdated idea that will somehow confuse people. After all, aren’t we a society plagued by fears and anxiety? Shouldn’t we become fearless instead?
But at many times throughout Scripture, we are told that God’s mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation (Luke 1:50; Deut 5:29). Fear of the Lord is linked to a holy life.
Here are just a handful of Scriptures which commend an appropriate fear of the Lord: Deut 8:6; Deut 10:12; Heb 11:7; Ps 34:11; Job 28:28; Mal 3:5; Prov 1:72; 2 Cor 7:1; 2 Cor 5:11. Moreover, Jesus Himself commands us to fear God who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28).
In fact, it is fear of people and circumstances that produces chaos and confusion in the mind, not fear of the Lord. Sinful fear creates irrational thinking and cripples us. It leads us to compromise, to be fainthearted or hypocritical, to give in to despair. As Solomon explains, “The fear of man brings a snare” (Prov 29:25).
Sinful fear can destroy our relationships and neutralize our Christian witness. Sometimes we don’t do what’s right because we are afraid. Sometimes we are controlled by the opinion of others, or we become controlling of others, because we are driven by the wrong kind of fear.
But God rehearsed Israel’s history to remind them of who He was, so that His people would fear Him rather than the surrounding nations and their false gods. As an old Puritan explained: “The fear of God will swallow up the fear of man. A reverential awe and dread of God will extinguish the slavish fear of the creature” (Flavel, The Works of John Flavel, 244). The Puritans have much to teach Christians today on how to serve Christ in the family, the church, and the world.
Thinking about who God is, what He has done and still does, produces great courage in a believer. It’s the antidote to fearing all the wrong kinds of things. The Lord still calls Christians today to fear Him, especially when our faith is tested in the furnace of real life.
Peter encourages believers not to fear those who persecute and intimidate them, but rather to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
Joshua was a strong and courageous leader, not because he was fearless, but because he feared the Lord. He feared God when he chose to reject the golden calf and fight the Amalekites, instead of following the majority. He feared the Lord when he believed God’s promise about the Promised Land, against the opinion of the majority. And he feared the Lord when he chose to follow the Captain of the Lord’s army into battle. Joshua urges us first to fear God, then to make a decisive choice.
- A decisive choice.
God has created humanity with a capacity to choose. We have volition. And the Bible teaches that we can choose God or not choose God; choose Christ or reject Him; choose good or choose evil; choose to obey or disobey. And we live with the consequences of our choices.
In 2020, just before Covid hit, we were on holiday with extended family at the coast. One night during family devotions, our children asked their grandpa to give them the most important advice he could think of. I’ll never forget the rapt attention of the children when my father landed on Joshua 24:15, drawing a line in the sand that would come to all of them. He explained that the line in the sand is the point beyond which you will not go, or the point of no return as a Christian. It is the point at which you are faced with a choice and must take decisive action either way.
Giving examples from his own life, my father explained that at some point the children’s faith would be tested. They would need to choose to go the way of the cross and the Bible, or go the way of the world.
In fact, since that pivotal evening, all our children and many of their cousins have spoken of the many difficult choices that have come to them in the last two years. For some, their choice to serve the Lord has cost them dearly, but they recognized the line in the sand when they saw it.
Joshua spells out Israel’s choices to them (Josh 24:14-15): Either they will choose the Lord and serve him with wholehearted devotion. Or they will choose to serve the gods of heritage and tradition. Or they will serve the Egyptian gods of power. Or the Babylonian gods of enlightenment, education, philosophy, and science. Or the Canaanite gods of lust and child sacrifice. Or the gods of contemporary culture and the spirit of the age (the surrounding nations).
As spiritual head of his household, Joshua didn’t dabble in false gods. He took a firm stand for the Lord, personally and on behalf of his household. But each Israelite would each need to choose for himself or herself—willingly and decisively.
Joshua asks us today, “Which god will you serve? Whom will you fear?” This is an inescapable choice for each of us, because we are born worshippers. There are immense consequences attached to our choices, both for the present life and for future generations.
Similarly, decades earlier Moses had summoned the people of Israel to make a choice, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, that both you and your seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
And five centuries after Joshua, Elijah would go before the people and say, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing (1 Kings 18:21).
And a millennium after Joshua, Jesus put the same choice to people, “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and money (Matt 6:24). If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
The world presents a morally neutral buffet of choices with no consequences. As for Christians, the choice is not always easy but it is clear. This is our moment in history to choose:
- Will we choose to follow Christ, or to chase the deceptive ideas and values that influence of our culture?
- Will we put our resources at Christ’s disposal, including our time, money, work, spiritual gifts and opportunities? Or will we choose to use them for ourselves?
- Will we lead our households to serve the Lord with sincere and faithful hearts? Or will we abdicate our parental responsibilities to others?
- Will we keep the Lord and His Kingdom number one? Or will we cling to our own kingdom and power?
The choice to serve the Lord exclusively is never an easy one, but it’s a reasonable response to his grace.
May we lay down our own commitment stone just as Joshua did (Josh 24:27), saying:
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
Lord, today we are reminded that although you are incredibly gracious with us, you are also a holy, jealous God who tolerates no rivals. As we ponder the story of your amazing grace, help us choose life over death, your blessings over curses. Help us to respond to your grace by forsaking everything that displeases you in our lives. Show us what we are holding onto that keeps us from serving you wholeheartedly. Empower us to deal with particular sins in our lives which we have been overlooking for too long. Thank you that our inheritance is the same as Joshua’s, and the same inheritance as the thousands of God-fearing men and women who have faithfully served you in the past. Thank you for the Promised Land which our Lord Jesus is keeping for us in heaven. We look forward to the day of final conquest. Amen.