Moses had led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. Due to some disobedience on his behalf, he could not lead Israel into the Promised Land after shepherding these obstinate people in the wilderness for 40 years. Moses died on the border being able to see in the distance the goal for which he had been striving.
After Moses’ farewell speech, Israel entered the Promised Land with a new leader, Joshua. Following behind the leadership of Moses was no small task, but Joshua rose to the occasion due to God’s affirmation (Josh 1:8-9). This military commander led the people to retake the land by force. After years of struggles and wars, they were finally ready to settle in their new land.
The General Becomes a Pastor
Once they had procured the land, Joshua delivers a final word of instruction. In light of all that Israel has experienced, Joshua challenged Israel to determine if they would follow Yahweh exclusively (Josh 24:14-15). At this pivotal moment in their history, Joshua decided to lead the nation no longer as a fearless commander facing Israel’s international problems but as a bold preacher combating Israel’s spiritual problems. Before he presented the ultimatum, Joshua appealed to God’s work in the past among the Israelites.
As Joshua relived Israel’s history (Josh 24:3-13), he quoted Yahweh’s voice and reminded the people that every victorious battle was due to Yahweh’s intervention and not the Israelites’ strength.
Joshua 24:14 “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.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers 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.”
Get Rid of Those Gods
This passage reflects a covenant in which most often the higher authority would promise something and the vassals would promise something in return. In this covenant, Yahweh appealed to what he has already done, provoking loyalty from the Israelites based on the mere mentioning of his previous involvement in Israel’s history.
Israel’s proper response to this list of divine activity is unwavering allegiance.
Joshua did not appeal to Israel’s past commitment or accomplishments; instead he reminded the people of their constant idolatry and exhorted them to fear Yahweh.
To fear Yahweh was to possess a deep reverence that led to allegiance and submission.
As the Israelites comprehended the massive works of Yahweh and the enormity of his commands, the only proper response was to fear him. In addition to fearing Yahweh, the people were also commanded to serve Yahweh (Josh 24:14). Joshua utilized the word “serve” nine times in this lone section (Josh 24:14-18). He thus informed the Israelites that their level of service to Yahweh was expected to be exemplary.
Joshua urged the people to “throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt” (Josh 24:14, 23). Generations removed from Israel’s beginning, these people were still bent on following other gods. Regardless of how many times they had seen the superiority of Yahweh compared to other gods, Joshua revealed that these gods were still a permanent presence in the religious life of Israel.
When Joshua referred to the gods “beyond the River,” he was referring to the gods Israel had acquired during their travels and the gods of other nations. The gods that the Israelites worshiped in Egypt were the numerous Egyptian gods associated with the land, the sky, the Nile River, and many other elements in Egyptian life.
Israel obviously venerated other gods while in Egypt (Ezek 20:7; 23:3, 8), and Joshua implies that Israel had never been able to purge themselves completely from idol worship.
More than just a removal from the heart, Joshua urged the people to remove the idols physically because this act would serve as a public statement concerning their declared devotion.
Choose This Day
When Joshua urged the Israelites to “choose this day” whom they would serve (Josh 24:15), he implied an ongoing action rather than simply a onetime decision.
Even though this decision had constant implications, he did call on them to make a specific decision for that moment in Israel’s history. In this pivotal moment of decision, Joshua did not include any divine threats; he simply asked them to choose.
Due to the serious nature of this choice, future generations would be affected.
Other nations followed whichever god seemed best suited for each individual crisis, but Israel had a relationship with Yahweh who had proven his mighty capabilities repeatedly.
Due to Yahweh’s jealousy, he would no longer allow his people to continue to divide their loyalties.
Because Joshua could not decide for the entire nation, he instead declared that he and his household would maintain exclusive commitment to Yahweh.
While God was normally the one choosing, he now demanded that the Israelites choose to whom they would be devoted.
Once Joshua delivered the ultimatum and proclaimed his family’s stance, he then demanded an answer from the people. The people respond positively, but Joshua turned on them and stated that they would be unable to follow Yahweh (Josh 24:19-20). Joshua’s unexpected response is “perhaps the most shocking statement in the OT.”
Yahweh’s expected level of commitment was for the Israelites to serve him in every arena of life; due to this standard and Israel’s spotted record, Joshua told the people that this task is impossible for them.
The people disagreed with Joshua and promised to commit themselves to Yahweh only (Josh 24:16-18). From their words, it appeared they were genuine in their intention, though history would reveal their unwillingness for follow through.
Joshua apparently believed their intention and established a covenant to remind the people of their commitment to Yahweh.
This covenant is similar to Near Eastern covenants which reflected the monarchy’s protection and provision for the vassals with corresponding allegiance.
Joshua commanded the people to serve as their own witnesses, implying they would receive the consequences if they did not fulfill their end of the covenant.
The Book of Judges reveals that the Israelites verbally committed to Yahweh, but they did not keep their promise (Judg 2:11-13; 6:10). Joshua’s family proved to be an exception in a country turning from its God.
Joshua’s example reveals a leader resolved to commitment regardless of what his followers decided.
Like Joshua, no follower of God can make a commitment for an entire nation. But in the same passion of Joshua, a father can and should stand up and make that decision for his household.
For so long, Joshua, in his role as Israel’s leader, had decided how the nation would respond. Settling into the new normalcy for Israel as they reached the Promised Land, he knew he could not make that decision for the entire nation anymore, but he could make it for his family. No one knows for sure what Joshua’s family’s spiritual climate was. We don’t know if he was dealing with a rebellious teenager or a selfish toddler. No one knows the spiritual devotion of his wife or his children.
All we know is that Dad decided that he would choose for his home. Since every home had a god to follow, his would set their hearts to follow Yahweh.
Even if one’s culture is choosing to follow every god but Yahweh, the leader of the household must dedicate his or her home to serving the one true God.
Joshua’s final purpose must have been the establishment of this covenant, as the next scene recorded is Joshua’s death (Josh 24:29-30).
Joshua’s commitment serves as a steadfast example.
Children desperately need committed parents who will stand up and decide to follow God no matter what direction the culture is heading.
If parents commit their homes to God in speech and in deed, children will reap spiritual benefits. There is a god in your home. Your spouse knows it. Your children know it.
Are you content with the who receives your allegiance?
Time to take back your home.