Joshua and a Call to Commitment

The Narrative Lectionary this week points us to Joshua 24:1-15 [16-26]. We are at the end of Joshua’s colorful life. The most familiar verse in this text is in verse 15:

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

This text serves as a recommitment to the task of serving God only.  

We could begin our sermon with a lame preacher riddle about which Bible character was the son of Nun (which sounds like none). But please don’t. I digress.

A couple of preaching points occur to me on an initial reading, centered around commitment.

Commitment to God leads to a life God blesses. Joshua has lived a life of commitment to God. This text is at the end of his life, giving a retrospective. The faith of Joshua is amazing. One could begin with the amazingly brave faith he and Caleb had as they reported to Israel what they had found in Canaan. Both Joshua and Caleb were lifelong unmovable servants of Jehovah. In this text Joshua speaks on behalf of God to Israel’s leaders (Joshua 24:1, 2). He reminds them of God’s faithfulness to Abraham (whose father was an idol worshiper), Moses, Aaron.  I find some humor in verse 7, “Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.” Boy did they!  

Joshua 24:13 “ 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.’

Commitment to God is challenged by the presence and appeal of other gods. This was the biggest struggle of Israel, and it’s ours as well. Joshua counters this by lifting up the power and faithfulness of God and asking for a commitment:

Joshua 24:14-16 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua is issuing a challenge to consider that there are other gods, and we are free to make the choice to live for them. It seems clear, though, that God demands that a voice be made. He won’t tolerate sharing our hearts with inferior gods. The false gods of our time are attractive, alluring, captivating even. If you want to get in trouble you can start naming the gods of our time, but be aware that everyone has ‘gods’ nearby that are asking for head/heart space. So if you want to tell how evil someone else’s gods are, include your own. But are we willing to lose our connection with God in order to serve them? Joshua affirms you can make that choice, but as for him and his house, they will serve the Lord.

Commitment to God influences family systems. This chapter begins with Abraham taking a different path from his family. Terah evidently served idols, but God removed Abraham from that setting and sent him on a new journey. We have to wonder what this says about…

*Leadership in the Family

*Religious unity in the Family

*Willingness of a family to be different from the world around it

Joshua is committed to leading his family in love and service to God. Are our families today united in devotion to God? Or are we torn in our various pursuits of other gods?

Commitment to God requires strength and courage. Reading through Joshua it is hard to miss the theme of courage. “Be Strong and Courageous” is found at least five times.  Joshua heard this admonition both from Moses and the Lord in Deuteronomy 31. Perhaps this is where Paul is inspired to write in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.”

Commitment to God is a testimony to the world about what is really important in life.  In Clarence E. Macartney’s The Greatest Men of the Bible, he points out that Joshua is the equivalent of the New Testament name Jesus. He writes, “Joshua is the Great Heart of the Old Testament.” He recounts Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5) and writes, “Back of his heroic achievements was a deep acquaintance with the holiness and the majesty of God. It cannot be otherwise with us in the battle of life.” He concludes, “The world needs men who can preach like Joshua; not only rehearse and describe the great things of God and of Christ, but persuade men to choose them, and to choose them now.” Also, “There are plenty of gods won you can serve, aside from the true God and his Son Jesus Christ. Among these gods are business, society, money, power, fame, appetite, pleasure. But what are all these gods compared with Jesus Christ? … Who ever chose God and lived to regret that choice?”

Commitment to God provides a powerful example. God’s final testimony about Joshua:

Joshua 24:31  Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

Commitment to God leaves behind a legacy of faith. These are some of the last words of Joshua, from the previous chapter:

Joshua 23:14-16 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lordyour God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

I’m sure my sermon will take on a form I can’t quite picture at this moment. This are some initial thoughts as I look at the text for next Sunday.

John

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