Scripture: “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. 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 ESV
Observation: The closing chapter of the book of Joshua ends with a covenant renewal ceremony highlighting Yahweh’s dominion over redemptive history. Amid the narrative, Joshua presents a final charge to the nation to choose God—decide who they will serve (above verses). But even the ability to choose God is by his good graces (v.19). Still, Joshua reminds his audience that they have a part:
- Reverently fear the Lord (v.14).
- Sincerely serve him (v.14).
- Break ties with the idolatrous worship of your ancestors (vv.14, 23).
The people enthusiastically accept Joshua’s challenge by first affirming that God delivered them from the Egyptians and granted them the Promised Land. Thus, they pledge, “we will also serve the Lord, for he is our God (v.18 ESV). But Joshua has his doubts and warns of the consequences of forsaking their God (vv.19-20). So the people state a second time that they will serve the Lord. Still, Joshua commands them again to put away their idols, which provokes Israel to vow a third time to serve the Lord and obey his voice (vv.21-24). In response, Joshua marks the occasion by writing the nation’s covenant commitment in the Book of the Law and placing a large stone by the sanctuary as a witness to their promises to the Lord that day (vv.25-27). So with the covenant’s renewal ratified, Joshua sends his people home to their land inheritances (v.28).
In the last four verses, the author presents an epilogue of the key players that led to Yahweh fulfilling his promise. Starting with the main character and ending with a patriarch, he tells of Joshua’s death at age 110 and burial at his homestead (Timnath-serah), the high priest Eleazor’s death at Gibeah, and the interring of Joseph’s bones at Shechem. Amid these postmortem details, we learn that Israel served the Lord until the elders who outlived Joshua passed away.
Takeaway: Joshua called his people three times to pledge their commitment to the Lord, and they adamantly affirmed their commitment three times. Sadly, hinted by the author’s comment that Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and his surviving elders (v.31), we will learn that the next generation no longer sought the Lord. Instead, they did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6 and 21:25). Indeed, all it takes is one generation to compromise God’s covenant commands and fragment a church or a Christian home.
So how do we combat the erosion of Biblical truth and integrity? First, we must bury the veneer platitudes about our commitment to the Lord. There’s nothing wrong with placing a cross over our door or a plaque of Joshua 24:15 on our wall. But if we truly mean what we advertise, then we better apply the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) to our lives: diligently teaching our children about our God in our sitting, rising, walking, and resting. And, of course, as touched on in previous Daily Focuses, we must model what we preach. It’s a tall order, and grace abounds.
Our passage offers a second takeaway regarding the reality of our spiritual battles. Bob Dylan glimpsed this reality during a short season of sanity searching for spiritual truth when he recorded the song Gotta Serve Somebody. The song’s refrain goes:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes you are, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Dylan likely borrowed from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when he declared, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24 ESV).
But what causes us to knowingly or unwittingly serve the Devil? If we harbor resentment toward God because of the pain and anguish of losses in our fallen world, we will be susceptible to contempt toward our Lord and drawn to the machinations of Satan. But suppose we hunger and thirst for truth and hope, for knowledge of those matters of eternal import. In that case, we will find what we are looking for: abundant life (John 10:10) in our Promised Land overflowing with a redemptive history of grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and covenant renewal. And the deeper we dive into Christ, the more we want to know, love, and serve him—and tell the next generation all about him.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you are a covenant keeper and that we find grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and covenant renewal in you and your Son. So would you please help us to cooperate with your Holy Spirit in learning to love and serve you and our neighbors together as a family and community with gladness and singleness of heart? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling