Joshua’s Farewell Challenge audio (10MB)
The land has been conquered. The people are beginning to settle into their new life in the promised land. Joshua is coming to the end of a long life. So he calls the people to come and hear his final words of encouragement and challenge. What he has to say is critical for their life together and, may I suggest, critical for our life together.
A Review of Covenant History
He calls together the whole nation, to remind them of all the things that God has done for them so far in their history. Listen to what he has to say.
The Surprising Grace of God
He begins by focusing on Abraham - the father of the nation. Notice his origins. His family worshipped other gods beyond the river Euphrates. Just like you and me, Abraham came from a culture that was basically pagan. Like many of us here today his family worshipped other gods. But God, in his grace took him out of all that and led him to a new land.
The Gradual Pace of God
You may have seen the cartoon you sometimes find in repair shops with people laughing their head off and saying “You want it when?” One of the frustrating things we humans find about God is the way he seems to take his own time to do what we’d like to see happen yesterday. I love the way our writer expresses this: “The Lord says ‘I led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, 4and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.’” You can imagine Abraham at the end of his life looking at his family tree and thinking “One son! So much for the stars in the sky!”
But of course Joshua and his listeners know that God’s promise has now come to fruition.
The Mystifying Ways of God
Still it wasn’t all plain sailing was it? “4I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.” Do you ever ask yourself why it is that God’s people seem to suffer while unbelievers seem to flourish? Esau gets to inherit his bit of land while Jacob and his offspring end up in slavery. It’s a mystery isn’t it? But notice that the Scriptures don’t brush over the reality of life in a fallen world. Sometimes bad things happen to God’s people and all we can do is to continue to trust God to keep his promises as he works out his plan his own way.
The Manifest Power of God
And that’s just what God has done. He lists the ways his power has been shown in rescuing his people out of Egypt and bringing them to the promised land.
He called Moses and Aaron to lead the people. He sent plagues on the Egyptians. He saved them through the Red Sea. He showed his sovereign power by destroying the chariots of the Egyptians. He destroyed the Amorites on the other side of the Jordan. Then Jericho and the rest of the land.
Notice that in this long list of conquests, it’s God who’s done it all. He’s driven out their enemies before them. “12I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you”. Then he reminds them that they were in the wilderness a long time. Why? To remind them that he’s protected and provided for them when they were unable to provide for themselves.
So why is he telling them all this? For two reasons. First he wants them to remember that it wasn’t their own efforts that did all this. “13So 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.” They haven’t done it. The praise is entirely God’s. There’s no place for human pride in what we accomplish for the Lord. It’s the Lord who brings the victory. It’s the Lord who brings people to conversion. It’s he who brings people to growth in their faith.
But secondly he wants to encourage them to keep going. They still have a big job to do to get rid of the pagan influences in the land. So he reminds them of what God has done so far so they’ll persevere in following him alone.
The Demand for Covenant Commitment
And then comes the crunch. If this is your history, what are you going to do next? He says “14Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness.”
A Logical Commitment
The “Now” says “if you think through what I just said it’s only logical that you’ll continue to serve the Lord.” You occasionally hear people talk about ‘blind faith’. It’s as though to believe in God you have to give up your reason, your intelligence. But those are the thoughts of people who have denied their history; who no longer believe what’s been passed down to us; who see the Scriptures, not as authoritative records of what’s gone before, but as the wishful thinking of religious zealots who didn’t know any better.
But notice in v26 we’re told that “Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God.” Joshua recorded what happened so we’d have a record of it. So his people would remember. Why? So they’d continue to make the rational decision to follow God. When you think about what we just read it’s compelling isn’t it? How could you not follow a God who calls, delivers, protects and provides?
When we come to the New Testament we find just such a call to rational faith. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 12 after spending the previous 11 chapters outlining God’s saving plan: “1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The call to commitment is always a ‘therefore’ call. It’s a rational call to follow the God who’s made the first move, in time and space, to save us and call us to follow him.
An Exclusive Commitment
But notice that it’s also a call to an exclusive commitment.
He says “Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.”
Again he’s reminding them of their own history. He tells them they need to turn away from their ungodly heritage. The temptation for all of us is to hang on to our pagan heritage. Whether you’ve grown up in Australia with its a hedonist and consumerist culture or in Asia surrounded by Buddhist or Hindu culture or some other part of the world where worldly values predominate, there’s always a temptation to want to enjoy the benefits of the world around us. In the English speaking services last week Garrett talked about the dangers of trying to live “Holy worldliness”; wanting to enjoy the good things of the world while claiming to live a life of faithfulness to God. But you can’t do it, can you? In the end it’s one or the other. We need to put away the gods of our culture and serve the Lord alone.
But then Joshua does something strange. He tells them they need to choose this day whom they’ll serve. But it’s not what we expect. He isn’t saying choose between the Lord and these false gods. He’s saying if you won’t make the logical choice then who will you choose. Will you choose the ancient gods of your ancestors or the contemporary gods of the surrounding culture? Will you side with the conservatives who want the well tested traditions of the fathers, or with the modern liberals who want relevance, who want to keep in step with the times.
Can you see what he’s doing? He isn’t seriously suggesting they turn to these pagan gods. He’s pointing out how absurd it would be to do anything but worship the Lord.
And that’s what he and his household have already decided. “15But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
A Cautious Commitment
Well the people respond immediately. They’ve understood what Joshua has said and they too declare: “18We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”
But then Joshua issues this stern warning: “19Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.’”
Too often in our evangelism we offer salvation without mentioning the cost of commitment. God’s grace is given freely but it’s given exclusively. God expects his followers to remain faithful. If they turn away from him after he’s saved them he gets angry. He describes it as being like the anger of husband whose wife has an affair. So when you choose to follow him make sure it’s an exclusive commitment.
When we come to the book of Judges, just over the page, we find account after account of the failure of the people to remain faithful and the disastrous outcomes for the nation that result from their unfaithfulness. They remain God’s chosen people but the success and happiness that might have been theirs is destroyed. Time and time again God removes his protection from them in order to bring them back to him.
The Continuity of Covenant History
Finally notice the continuity of Salvation history that comes out as we read through this story. First of all these events take place in Shechem. Shechem is where God promised Abraham he’d give this land to his offspring. (Gen 12:6-7)
At the end of the chapter we see Joseph’s bones being buried here in land that Jacob had bought from the Canaanites.
We see Joshua writing in the book of the law so those who follow after would be able to understand all that we’ve seen today.
And the beauty of all this is that we too stand in this line of covenant history, though for us it’s the new covenant given to us by Jesus through his death and resurrection. But the lessons that Joshua taught his people this day apply to us as well. We have a God who has called us to be his people. We have a God who save, protects and provides. We too are called to faithful commitment; to have no God but the Lord.
What’s your response to God’s call to commitment today? Is it the same as the people of Israel? “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him”? Let me suggest that we all stand and those who agree with those words can pledge our commitment to the Lord: “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.”