The book of Joshua finishes as it began,with Israel poised on the brink of an uncertain future.What’s going to happen next? It’s like the story of our lives. We just don’t know how things are going to pan out!
There used to be a song we used to sing when I was a youngster in an Anglican church in Sheffield. I’ve forgotten most of it but these lines have stuck in my memory.
“I do not know the road ahead, the way I cannot see;
But one stands here to be my guide; he’ll show the way to me.”
According to Joshua 1, the “guide” who stood by him was the God who had spoken through Moses, and inspired the words of Torah, and encouraged the most careful adherence to it.
“Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:7,8)
With a reasonable measure of success, that has been the story of Joshua’s leadership. There have been a few glitches, a bit of compromise here and there, but by and large he has kept the pledge. And the people have prospered.
But now a new chapter is beginning: it’s a different kind of story that doesn’t require a general leading troops. The day of the pioneer is done, and now the settlers must develop their various areas.
And it’s Joshua’s task in chapter 24 to ready them for this new phase after his own death. He anticipates trouble ahead because of what was happening already. One of the areas of compromise had been to allow some of the hostile tribes to remain undefeated.
It was like leaving an open wound and hoping it would clear up without treatment. The infection just got worse, bit by bit.
But Joshua made his plea:
‘Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the River Euphrates 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.’
He starts out by telling them to “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness… But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.” And then comes Joshua’s great pledge of faith and faithfulness, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The people are given a choice by Joshua and by God. Are you going to serve the God who has been so faithful to you or are you going to get caught up in your surroundings and follow other paths. They go for God!
But… a big but.
But the story goes on: Joshua doesn’t believe the people. He knows how fickle they can be. He continues on, “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”… “God is not mocked.” (Gal 6)
The people respond even more vehemently, “No! We will serve the Lord.”
Joshua responds to this by basically saying, “God’s going to hold you to this. You claim a lot in this time of joy, but God is going to remember your promises in times where it is harder to follow him.”
Lord, I want to respond to you.
I want to choose you,
but I don’t want my declaration to be facile and glib.
I realize that without your Holy Spirit’s enabling power, I can’t achieve anything.
“Apart from you I can do nothing” (John 15).
And yet if I abide in you, my fruitfulness is guaranteed! Make it so, dear Lord!
An easy faith struggles in hard times, doesn’t it? There are seasons when it seems easy to follow the Lord, and others when it is definitely not so! There are times when you doubt and times when you slide back, when God seems distant, unreal. The trouble is: that’s the time when faith and fellowship is really needed. Remember the poem Footprints: “It was then that I carried you…” God has promised to always be with us but we don’t always experience that! And when you feel that dark moment, Joshua’s choice comes before you: Do I serve God whether or not I feel like it? Or do I serve the distractions that this world puts around me?
Joshua calls for us to serve God even when it is not easy. He encourages us to be faithful to God even when the going gets tough. But there is something more to Joshua’s choice as well. Faith and service…
How do you answer Joshua’s choice? Are you ready to serve God? There is joy when you commit to serve God. There is peace when you find yourself serving God in whatever way you can. I remember a song by the Celtic band Eden’s Bridge: “What if I am too small? What if I am too weak? What if I should lose my way? What if I cannot serve? What if I cannot give? If I fail, who will be there for me?” Exactly, said Paul: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27).
The point is that you cannot depend on feelings to determine whether or not God is here and active on your behalf. And you cannot depend upon your own resources to follow him either. Ultimately, the choice that Joshua was offering to the people of Israel was the choice between works and faith. It’s one that is continually offered to us, too.
You may have powerful reasons not to serve! You get busy and the commitments upon your time are real. You may also feel that you cannot make it as a follower of Jesus. But that is feeling…and not faith talking. “Faithful is he who called you and he will do it”. And “God who begins a work in you will see it through”, right to the end. “He is able to keep that which you have committed and present you before God without fault and with great joy.” But we start right here, at this choice, by putting God centerstage, and there is a real joy in that submission and the duties and service that follows it. I am so blessed to discover that God is strong enough to make up for my inadequacies. “My power is made perfect in weakness “(2 Cor 12:9). And the opportunities expand as my commitment develops!
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And the choice you make sends out ripples and changes your self, your “house”, your culture, your world. So choose wisely and you will find a joy that you did not know existed.
I desire to stake my claim upon the promises of God.
Open my heart to serve You, and to walk with You.
Change my world through my choices.
And let Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
This is a clip from Ken’s What do these Stones Mean? (Joshua) which is available here.