Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve
Topic: Default Passage: Joshua 24:1–24:33
I said this last week, but given what we know about what happens to Israel two chapters later in the Bible, we have the feeling that Joshua, who is about 110 years old at this point might see the writing on the wall. He sees something that makes him call all of Israel together now for the third time where he says very famously,”Choose this day whom you will serve.”
What would be some of the most important decisions you have ever made? Maybe it’s a school or a job. Maybe it’s a spouse. I doubt when Angela chose to marry me she knew that would entail preparing for a category four hurricane. She called me on Friday concerned that she could only find 45 bottles of water. I’m like, “I think we’re good through Christmas then.” That water will pair well with all our cans of spaghetti-os and hotdogs.
The difference between small decisions and large ones is how long that decision is going to impact your life and no decision will impact your life longer than who you will serve. In this chapter, Joshua, likely seeing some things he doesn’t like in Israel, is calling his people to a decision. And not just a mental decision, he wants them to put their money where their mouth is and renew their covenant with God who has taken them so far. So, let’s walk through this story.
- The reasons they should make this covenant 2-13
The reason they should make this covenant is pretty simple: because of who God is. From what I read about ancient near east covenants, it is pretty standard to begin with the why. So, that is what Joshua does.
But it’s interesting to note that Joshua isn’t only speaking about God, he is speaking for God. Do you see how he starts off? Thus says the Lord. This is a prophetic formula. This is how the prophets begin what they say. Not only does Joshua use this formula, but he goes on to speak for God in the first person. You better be sure before you speak for God in the first person. I wouldn’t recommend any of us doing that or writing books like that, but Joshua can and does and he says four things about God.
Then I took your father Abraham. What did God take Abraham from? A life of paganism. Abraham was the father of all Israel, but he wasn’t chosen because of his morality or spirituality, he was chosen because he was chosen. They can’t look back down their line and make any kind of moral argument for their possession of the land. They can’t say that they deserve it in any way. They can only look back and see God’s grace. Grace to Abraham, grace to his son Isaac, and grace to his son Jacob who becomes
Second, Joshua seems to give a nod to the fact that God’s ways can seem mysterious. Look at verse 4: And to Isaac I gave m kJacob and Esau. lAnd I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. - Joshua 24:4 You may remember, Isaac had Jacob and Esau, but only Jacob received the blessing of the promise which makes what happened a bit strange. Esau, the one who didn’t get the blessing, he got the hill country of Seir in the promised land and Jacob’s people would go down to Egypt where they would be slaves for 400 years. Does that seem fair?
And this is one of those places that increases my confidence in what I read. There are so many things in the Bible that if humans were creating this document would have been erased. David was an adulterer, Solomon was a womanizer, and Paul was a murderer, but the Bible doesn’t try and hide this. When the resurrected Jesus came back, Matthew admits that while many believed, some doubted. If Matthew came up with this book trying to make people believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, I don’t think he would have admitted that some doubted. But, Matthew’s goal isn’t to create the story, but to relay the story.
Angela and I were in a taxi in New York City once and the driver was a Muslim and found out that I was a Christian and he began to take us to task on our faith saying, “How can you believe stories with such sin in them?” To which I answered, “Because there is such sin in them.”
Does it seem fair that Esau got the land in the short term? No, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Whose people does the promise follow? Not the Edomites, that is Esau’s people. It follows the Israelites for the long haul. God’s ways can seem mysterious to us and even unfair at times, but they are His ways and they are best for His people.
Third, Joshua says that even though God’s pace can seem slow, He finishes what He
sEgyptians saw what I did in Egypt. And when they cried to the LORD, uand made the sea come upon them and cover them;w And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Joshuathe put darkness between you and thev and your eyes
I love that line, “And you lived in the wilderness for a long time.” I feel like that would really resonate with the crowd. Nothing more needed to be said. They all experienced it together. It might be like us one day saying, “Remember Dorian?” Now, increasing, I’m thinking that is going to mean, “Remember all that stress for nothing?” Whatever happens though, nothing more will need to be said. We will know what ‘Remember Dorian?” means. They lived for a long time in a place they should have only been for a few weeks. But, they are being reminded of this as they stand in the promised land and they are seeing once again that God finishes what He starts.
Then, lastly, Joshua is reminding them that God provides the power they need. God plagued Egypt, God took Israel out of slavery, God parted the Red Sea, and God covered over the Egyptians as they pursued. God gave them the land of the Amorites. God spoke through a donkey. God dried up the Jordan, God brought the walls of
Jericho down, God delivered all these other people over into their hands. And if there
13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored
cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’ - Joshua 24:12b, 13
Israel doesn’t deserve what they have, God’s ways are always best, He finishes what He starts, and only He has the power to deliver them so they must choose this day, whom they will serve. This is true for all of Israel and true of us today. None of us merit God’s favor. Paul makes this abundantly clear saying, And you were kdead in the trespasses and sins 2 lin which you once walked, following the course of this world, following m the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in n the sons of disobedience - Ephesians 1b,2
God’s ways might not always make sense to us and they might not even seem fair, but they are best. Bad things will happen to Christians. Good things will happen to non-Christians. Like Jacob, the fact that the promise has come to us means that we will walk. It may be across the office, it may be to our Egypt, but to be a promised people means that we will be a sent people and that will be hard.
So, we like the Israelites are not asked to choose blindly, we are asked to choose wisely. Now, Joshua lays out the options.
- The options in front of them 14,15
There are three options in front of them. Two are bad and one is good. First, the bad options: choose this day whom you will serve, whether k hthe gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. - Joshua 24:15
The first option is the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River. Remember, Abraham was brought out of paganism, but if they want to be super traditional and devoted to their heritage, the gods of their fathers would certainly be an option. I call this the conservative option because it conserves your heritage.
Depending on your culture, your conservative option will look different. If you come from an eastern culture or a Muslim background, the gods of your fathers are pretty clear. But, what if your heritage is more like mine? I could go all the way back to the Anglo-Saxon paganism, but some form of Christianity has been in my heritage for so long, I think the consevative option for me is just a bit different. I think the conservative option is more nationalistic.
Now, please don’t hear me hating on the US. I’m so thankful to be an American. In the
20th century, the US literally saved the world. Seriously, the whole world would be Russian speaking commies or German speaking fascists if it weren’t for our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. And this is why I think nationalism is our conservative option. We can begin to see the US as this second type of Israel. There was so much overlap between our nationalism and our religion that it became hard to distinguish the two.
God has only ever made a covenant with one country and that was ancient Israel. I think the US is truly remarkable, but we are still in our infancy. Rome was around for 1500 years. And even if our country were around for 3000 years, and was able to cure starvation, our love for it should never rival our love for Jesus. Let’s make sure that our nationalism is never given the same level of importance as our Christianity. We have a greater citizenship in heaven.
The second bad option though is the God of the Amorites. This is what I call the progressive option. This is the new religion of the people who live in the land. They have a more progressive sexual ethic, they are freed from all the confinements of the Mosaic law. Yes, they practice child sacrifice, yes, women are abused and oppressed, sure, their marriages are in shambles, but if feels so liberating!
When you really try and listen to what Joshua is saying, he’s setting these choices up as absurd options. He’s not actually suggesting them at all. And in the same way, neither of our conservative or progressive options compare in any real way to the One True God Joshua is speaking for. No political party is really going to substantively fix the deepest problems of this world. No progressive worldview is going to bring us the freedom and happiness we seek from it. Only the One True God will do that.
And it’s in this context that Joshua says, “Choose!” And the Hebrew word used here doesn’t just mean a one time choosing, it means choose and continue to choose the God of Israel for the rest of your life.
What Joshua does here is not only in line with ancient near east covenant practice, but it’s also in line with New Testament practice. Paul’s letters tell us first who God is and what God has done before ever asking us to do anything. The best example of this is Romans where Paul writes eleven chapters without a single command. Then, you arrive at chapter twelve which starts out with the word “therefore” and then the fire hydrant of commands opens up. God’s grace was on display for eleven chapters and THEN Pauls says, ‘now go live like children of God.’
The choice is clear and compelling. lBut as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” - Joshua 24:15 The True God of the universe or something made up. The God who is for you and has delivered you or the gods who have done nothing for you. It’s not even close. So choose and continue to choose. Now, let’s look at the decision the Israelites make.
III. The decision they make 16-24/25-29
Initially, the peoples’ response is very encouraging. “Far be it from us that we should forsake theLORD to serve other gods, 16 Then the people answered,17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and ourfathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in 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.”
But we see that Joshua doesn’t fully buy their answer. Look at how Joshua responds:
Kind of a weird response. “We will serve the Lord!” “No you won’t.” Most commentators agree that this is strange. “You have to serve God! You have to obey Him! You must give Him your full heart!” “But, God is a jealous God and you’ll never do it.”
Joshua likely has two things in mind here. It could be that he doesn’t think the people are sincere in their devotion and he needs to call them out on it. Or, it could be that he thinks they are too sure of their own ability to carry out the task at hand not knowing that it is God who keeps us faithful for the long haul. I think there is a bit of both going on here.
Joshua is calling them into a covenant love relationship with God. But, God is jealous and Joshua seems to know that we are just going to break God’s heart. How in the world is God going to keep in a relationship the people who are constantly trampling on His heart?
The answer to that is in the New Testament. There is such a thing as godly jealousy and sinful jealousy. Sinful jealousy leads to hate and, in its most extreme form, murder. We have all heard stories of a jealous woman or man killing their lover. If I can’t have you no one can! I’m listening to a true crime podcast from Mississippi now where that exact scenario seems to be playing out.
But, godly jealousy, that doesn’t lead to hate, but to more love. Godly jealousy is more akin to a parent watching a child go astray. In some strange way, their straying deepens the love. You get to the point where you would do anything, give anything to see them come back. And Godly jealousy, in its extreme form doesn’t lead to murder, but sacrifice.
And this solves the problem. In spite of our infidelity, God can stay with us because He has received the penalty Himself in the form of Jesus Christ. God has died to preserve the relationship. Do you see what is happening? Jesus fulfills the covenant for us and then He chooses us again and again and again, so that we can choose Him again and again and again.
After Joshua’s pushback, the people stand firm and say, “No, but we will serve theLORD.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against
yourselves that witnesses.” incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 23 He said, “Then ryou have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said,“We ares put away the foreign gods that are among you, and24 And the people said to
Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” Joshua 24:21b-24
That’s the decision they make so they proceed with the covenant renewal. I was speaking at a marriage conference a couple years ago and I was eating breakfast in the hotel and my waitress was a sweet lady a good bit older than I was. I mean, I was only in my thirties back then. She knew about my role in the conference and she said, “I’ve been married for forty years and last month my husband and I renewed our vows.” I said, “Wow! Congratulations. What was that like?” She responded, “Well, I knew what the heck I was getting into this time.”
That’s the beautiful thing about a covenant renewal. You know what you’re getting into. That’s true of renewing a marriage covenant and it’s true here in this story as well. And we see all the elements of a covenant here. There seems to be a sacrifice. Most of you read that Joshua ‘made’ a covenant, but the literal translation is that he ‘cut’ a covenant which indicates a sacrifice. Then, in verse 26 we see that Joshua vwrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. - Joshua 24:26a. So it’s written down.
Third, in the same verse, we see the sign of the covenant. and set it up there And he took a large stone27 xunder the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, y this stone shall be a witness against us, for zit has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us.Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with yourGod.” - Joshua 24:26b,27
It might seem weird to have a stone bear witness to the covenant, but in that day, it was standard for pagan gods to bear witness, so a stone under a terebinth tree would have to do. But, there is something extraordinary happening here that would not have been lost on any of the Israelites.
Do you remember where Abram was when God promised him the land in Genesis 12? Schechem. And 600 years later, here they are! Do you remember where Jacob was after he wrestled with God? Schechem. And what was it that Jacob was commanded to do that day at Schechem? Bury the foreign gods, that is their trinkets they used for worship, under a terebinth tree. Now, hundreds of years later, Joshua is standing in the promised land at Schechem under a terebinth tree making the exact same command.
So, they make the covenant and then Joshua sends all the people back to their own land for the last time and we see the close of an era.
- The end of an era 29-33
These last four verses mark the end of this incredible era with three funerals. First, we see the death of Joshua at 110 years old. Joshua the prophet who spoke for God. I can’t help but read these verses and hear Paul’s words in the back of my mind. I have fought the good fight, xI have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth
Not only do we have Joshua’s funeral, but we also have the bones of Joseph buried in the land of his people. Joseph who was as close to a king as Israel had had up to this point. Then, lastly, we have a funeral for the priest Eleazar the son of Aaron. Can you see what is going on now? The funeral of a prophet, a priest, and a king.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that these three funerals are recorded at the end of this book. These are the most important roles in Old Testament life and it firmly marks the close of an era. The Bible doesn’t record these three types of funerals again until the death of the only man who would ever comprise all three of the roles: the Prophet, Priest, and King, Jesus Christ.
Who will you choose this day and every day after? We live in an age of decisionism where every time we make a decision to choose Jesus we walk an isle again or get baptised for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time which isn’t what Joshua intends for us. But, we can’t over react and not continue to push ourselves and others toward recommitting themselves to God.
So, God has given us a way to publicly renew our covenant with Him on a regular basis by giving us the Lord’s supper. In God’s providence, we have had to push communion back a week due to Hurricane Dorian, but maybe He’s giving us all a gift. Maybe He’s giving us a week to consider whom it is that we will serve. And if the answer is Jesus, then we will come all the more prepared for that celebration next week.