Copyright © 20012, John W. (Jack) Carter. Scripture quotes
Choices. Life is full of choices as we make hundreds each day while we pass through its experiences. We choose what we will wear. We choose what we want to eat. We choose who we will associate with. We choose how we will spend our time, money, and resources. Our lives are one long sequence of decisions, many of which have subtle but dramatic influences on our future, and all of which tend to shape who we are. This set of choices is determined by our world view and the set of priorities that we establish for ourselves.
Our choices are also influenced by outside forces that may conflict with our own desires when their authority supersedes our own freedom to express our own will. This can also happen when we make bad choices and find ourselves having to deal with their consequences. Our choices also impact others as they shape the nature of our relationships and interactions with one another.
If there were no purpose or pattern to our choices, our lives would be characterized by chaos and conflict. Consequently, the basis for our choices is one of the most significant influences in our lives. What is it that shapes that set of our choices that so defines us?
The Christian has a very distinct and special answer to that question. God created us for one purpose: to love Him. God's ultimate will is that we would turn to Him in faith and trust. God has promised a secure, eternal life with Him for all who place their trust in Him; a life that is abundant in love, peace and joy. However, many who claim to have placed their faith in God still experience the chaos and conflict that are the consequence of poor choices when those choices are not brought fully under the authority of the Holy Spirit. Many who claim to place their trust in God still hang on to ungodly influences in their lives that contribute to the chaos and rob them of the love, peace, and joy that God promises.
God's promise was given to ancient Israel as they were brought out of Egyptian bondage and were settled in the promised land of Canaan. God's command to the Hebrews was simple: love and obey Him. If they would obey Him, God would lead them into Canaan where they were to take over the entire country and destroy or chase out all who are there. The battle would belong to the LORD as He would cleanse the land of all other inhabitants. However, the Hebrews made some bad choices that compromised God's intended plan for them.
Joshua 24:1. And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.
At this point Joshua is about 110 years old. It appears that it has been about 25 years since the nation crossed the Jordan and took Jericho. A quick summary of those years: Joshua set up a stronghold by taking Ai, dividing the defending nations into a northern and southern group. He set up the religious center at Shechem. Recall that it was here that Abram heard from God concerning the details of his promise, and Jacob heard from God concerning his fears over meeting Esau. Because of its rich history for the Israelites, this was already considered a sacred place. Joshua made a pact with the Gibeonites, those in the central region, and did not destroy them. He moved south against the coalition of kings there, then attacked the northern kings and their forces. Israel did not conquer all of the land, and rather than treat the nations as cursed, they often left of their surrendered enemies alive (who would rise another day to create military and spiritual conflict). They did, however, divide the land among the tribes, leaving them the responsibility of finishing the job.
The last two chapters of Joshua describe the messages, or sermons, that Joshua delivered to the people. They are a summary of Joshua's understanding of God's will concerning His people. It is the equivalent of a "death-bed" statement and carries with it not only God's truth, but also the priority placed upon that truth by their circumstance. It may be the most important lesson taught in the Old Testament book of Joshua.
Joshua 24:2. And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.
Joshua was known as a military leader, but he was also their patriarch and religious leader. When he spoke to the people, he did so with an authority that comes only from the LORD. God had called Joshua to serve in this capacity and had empowered him to serve faithfully. Joshua never forgot the source of his authority and power, continually pointing the people to God, rather than using his position to take authority upon himself.
Joshua 24:3-11. And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac. 4And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt. 5I sent Moses also and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to that which I did among them: and afterward I brought you out. 6And I brought your fathers out of Egypt: and ye came unto the sea; and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers with chariots and horsemen unto the Red sea. 7And when they cried unto the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them, and covered them; and your eyes have seen what I have done in Egypt: and ye dwelt in the wilderness a long season. 8And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, which dwelt on the other side Jordan; and they fought with you: and I gave them into your hand, that ye might possess their land; and I destroyed them from before you. 9Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and warred against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you: 10But I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he blessed you still: so I delivered you out of his hand. 11And ye went over Jordan, and came unto Jericho: and the men of Jericho fought against you, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I delivered them into your hand.
What do you see when you consider this summary of the Israelites experience over the past years? God was the provider, protector for them during the entire period. In our study of the call of Abraham we learn of why God chose to do this. Why did God choose to treat the nation of Israel in this manner? God did so to reveal himself to man by their witness, and that through them He might be glorified. What should be the response of the Hebrew people if they were to understand the context of their history concerning the choices they make? They would probably have a sincere choice to follow God's direction rather than follow the limited wisdom of their own. After describing what God has done, Joshua is about to reveal to them God's judgments should they turn away from Him.
Joshua 24:12-13. And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow. 13And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat.
The LORD intervened on the behalf of the Israelites as they entered the promised land, and did so in miraculous ways. The word, hornet, could also be translated as panic. What do people usually do when a swarm of hornets comes after them? They run! Resistance is futile. The Canaanites knew quite well the history of this huge mass of people who overran the kingdoms they encountered. So, as long as the Hebrews advanced with the LORD's blessing, the Canaanites fled, and the land and all the spoils thereof were literally handed over to the Hebrews. Why, do you suppose that Joshua mentions this at this point? God is reminding the people that it is He who is accomplishing His purpose for them, and not they themselves. If they will put their trust in Him, He will accomplish His work completely for them. All they need to do is to be faithful and watch the grace of God in action.
A Challenge to Serve God
Joshua 24:14. Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.
Joshua proclaims to the people that we are to relate to the LORD in fear, sincerity and in truty. To fear the LORD does not to mean to cower in anxiety and doom, though this is an appropriate response for one who does not know the LORD. The word that is translated fear in this passage can also be translated “awe” and “respect.” To fear the LORD is to fully and openly recognize who He is, responding appropriately to His authority, acting in obedience to His word. Joshua also states that our response to Him must be sincere or faithful.
To respond sincerely is to respond to Him without any measure of guile or deceit. The Greek words rendered in the New Testament for this form of sincerity is, en sinsera, en sensera, meaning "without wax". Wax was used to polish second-rate pottery, making it look like high-quality pottery. The wax was used to fill small cracks, making the pottery hold water. Once the unwitting customer has purchased the product, filled it with liquid, and waited a while, the wax dries and evaporates and the pottery becomes dull and leaks. High quality pottery had the words "en sensera" etched on the bottom, to identify that there was no wax. It was the real thing, and could be depended upon to retain its quality because it was not something other than what appeared. This concept of sincerity and faithfulness to God has been the foundation of truth through the ages. The Hebrews were told to throw away their gods from beyond the river, in Egypt and in Canaan. What kind of gods do we have to discard? To the faithful, a god can be anything that is given authority over us to the point that it is in conflict with our faithful service to God.
Joshua 24:15. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
The concept of submitting to and “serving” God is unreasonable or undesirable for some people. Those who do not place their trust in God often think of those who do as unreasonable, ignorant, undesirable, or unenlightened. To them, serving God seems wrong, undesirable, or evil as stated here. Joshua is giving the people a clear choice, and the LORD has given each of us that same choice.
Often those in this pagan and secular world will treat a person who has chosen to serve God with disdain; seldom with respect. Even many of those who frequent the doors of the church respond to those who choose to serve God with sincerity and integrity with criticism for being dogmatic, too religious, a “holy roller”, gone over the edge, etc. This can only happen within the church when its members lack sincerity and integrity in their own hearts and feel threatened by the more mature, faithful members of the fellowship. Their faith is weak and cracked, so they polish their faith with wax. They work to disguise the weaknesses in their faith? By waxing it with hypocrisy, loud words and prayers, pushing their own agenda, and expressing baseless commitments and promises.
A Shallow Commitment
Joshua 24:16-21. And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods; 17For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed: 18And the LORD drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the LORD; for he is our God. 19And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. 21And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD.
When faced with the command to choose to either reject God or follow Him, the people, by their testimony, clearly indicated that they understood Joshua’s message, and stated without hesitation or thought that they could easily make this choice to serve God. They clearly understood that God had taken care of them and would continue to do so if they would be faithful and sincere in their obedience to Him. They clearly understood that failure to do so would bring disaster upon them as they would be stepping away from God’s hand of provision and protection.
So, the people “vowed” to serve God. Again, let's look at how this applies to our time, in our churches. It appears that most church members maintain that membership somewhere around the perimeter of activity. Their commitment is marginal at best, attending services at will, taking little or no responsibility, and refusing to be obedient in giving of their resources, time, or abilities to God. However, when in attendance what is their response to God's word? How do they usually respond when it is time to vote on an issue? Usually, their response is "We will do it..." Just as the Hebrews often did. And, just as the Hebrews did not have enough faith to fulfill their insincere vows, those marginal Christians fail to fulfill theirs also. What is the consequence of these baseless promises? How does God respond to hypocritical faith?
Joshua 24:22. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses.
Joshua knew these people well: he had spent his entire life with them. He observed the level and context of their commitment to the LORD by the way that they had behaved up to this point. Consequently, he clearly understood that their vow of service was shallow and false, subject to the priorities in their lives that come before the LORD. Stating that their vow would serve as a witness against them Joshua knew their hypocrisy and knew what would be its result. In the midst of choice, in order to look good before all the others, they put their faith on the line, waxing it with the best words they could find. However, words are meaningless when they do not represent the truth. Soon the wax would dry and their faith would become dull and crumble. Their testimony would leak, and sin would win the victory Joshua realized that there was no base of sincerity or integrity in their promise. The best he could do is to continue to preach God's word to them, trying to persuade them to turn from their worldly ways and follow the LORD “in spirit and in truth”.
Joshua 24:23-24. Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel. 24And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.
Here, Joshua got very specific. He described the greatest hindrance to their faith: their propensity to give authority to created things rather than the creator. Things have not changed much: we still have a tendency to do the same thing today. We give authority to all manner of things by allowing them to guide, inform, and even dictate behaviors that keep us from wholly surrendering our lives as a living sacrifice to God. What is it that keeps us from completely giving all to God? What causes us to hold back? God has called us to share His love with the world, ministering in His name. What is keeping us from that ministry? If you have not turned your life over to God completely, you are not receiving all of the blessing that God has for you. You are also under a judgment similar to what the Hebrews experienced. Granted, as a child of God, you have the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you in being obedient, and it is actually easier for you than it was for them. How much greater have we sinned when we ignore the Holy Spirit? Still, when challenged, we often say, "We will serve the Lord our God and obey Him." But when we are called upon to act on that statement we find excuses.
Joshua 24:25-28. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. 27And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God. 28So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.
Knowing the shallow commitment that was common for most of those who responded to Joshua’s words, he established a mechanism to help them to remember the covenant that they had made. It was a common practice to stack stones or place them in an unusual place to make it obvious to the passersby that its placement was deliberate. Their custom was that when one would pass such a stone or stack of stones, they would question its purpose for being there. In this case, the stones would serve to remind the people of the covenant that they have made to the LORD. Its second purpose would be to serve as a testimony against those who break the covenant.
The people had heard the Word of the LORD. They knew who He is, they knew of His nature and purpose, and they knew that God was calling them to obedience to Him and Him alone. Still, as it is today, the choice to honor the LORD by giving our hearts to him is ours. The tribes are ready to disband as a central community and disperse into the land, spreading out into the areas that they received either by choice (the Transjordan tribes), by blessing (Judah), or by lot, (the remaining tribes, less the Levites who did not receive an inheritance of land.).
Would they take their commitment to serve the LORD with them to their new homelands? Would they remember the covenant that they just agreed to? Many Christians have made a commitment to serve the LORD as they learn of Him and come to love Him as He deserves and requires, yet once the decision is professed, they often return to their “homeland,” largely unchanged. Like the seed that fell on rocky soil and among the weeds, the commitment to the LORD never takes root when the original commitment is shallow.
The LORD is not calling us to a shallow commitment, but rather to come and join Him in His kingdom purpose as His heirs, as His own children, just as He illustrated through His call to Israel. Still, the choice is ours.
A Breach of Loyalty
Joshua 24:29-33. And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old. 30And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathserah, which is in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash. 31And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel. 32And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph. 33And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him in a hill that pertained to Phinehas his son, which was given him in mount Ephraim.
God had promised the land to the Hebrews if they would just take it. Joshua was not able to complete the task, both because of the length of the campaign, and his penchant to retire to comfort in his last years. The task to conquer the remainder of the land was left to Caleb and to the other tribal leaders. And, for a time they did succeed in maintaining their allegiance to God. As long as Joshua lived, the people remembered their commitment to the LORD. The wax had not yet dried out, but it was beginning to evaporate. Following the death of Joshua, each of the tribes of Israel became satisfied with their state of security and failed to follow God's command. Things changed dramatically after Joshua died.
Judg 1:28-36. And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out. 29Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer; but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them. 30Neither did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, nor the inhabitants of Nahalol; but the Canaanites dwelt among them, and became tributaries. 31Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Accho, nor the inhabitants of Zidon, nor of Ahlab, nor of Achzib, nor of Helbah, nor of Aphik, nor of Rehob: 32But the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: for they did not drive them out. 33Neither did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, nor the inhabitants of Bethanath; but he dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land: nevertheless the inhabitants of Bethshemesh and of Bethanath became tributaries unto them. 34And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley: 35But the Amorites would dwell in mount Heres in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of Joseph prevailed, so that they became tributaries. 36And the coast of the Amorites was from the going up to Akrabbim, from the rock, and upward.
God’s command to Israel was to take the land and completely destroy or drive out its inhabitants. Only by obedience to this command would Israel ever receive the land, for to disobey would be to leave the land under the power (and authority) of the Canaanites. Some of the Israelites dominated the Canaanites by subjecting them to slavery (tribute), but all slavery is temporary. Some chose to simply dwell among the Canaanites who did not take up arms against their advances into their land. Still others, like Dan, did not confront the inhabitants and found themselves unable to take the land at all. Israel was about to fail to receive all of the blessing that God had intended for them because they simply chose to disobey His commands, wise commands that were intended to bless them.
Judg 2:1-3. And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. 2And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? 3Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.
God had commanded the Hebrews to rout all of the people from the land so that there would be no pagan influence within the nation. That pagan influence would be a thorn in their side that would nullify any attempts for the Jewish leadership to lead the nation in faith and godliness. The people simply enjoyed the pagan and godless things of this world rather than desiring the blessings of the LORD.
For how long did the Hebrews experience this thorn in their side? Israel never did drive the people out of the land, and is still in continual conflict with the Canaanites. Did Israel receive the promised peace and use of the land? Recall that Israel lost the land when it was taken by the Assyrians and Babylonians between 500 and 700 BC. Why did they lose the land? They failed to honor God with their choices. The took just enough of their God and their faith to justify their self-righteousness, keeping the rest of their lives outside of God's influence. Rather than trust God, they placed their trust in the leaders of the warring nations around them, nations who would eventually destroy them. For those Israelites who remained, faith was replaced with a religion. Love for God was replaced by a system of rules that made them think they were good. The writer of Judges would later note that each did "what was right in their own eyes" as the nation turned farther and farther away from God. When the period of the Hebrew kings came to an end, the nation had turned entirely away from the LORD. They lost the protection that God provided to His faithful. They had broken the covenant with their bad choices. They most certainly forgot the stone under the large Oak.
Is your life in turmoil? Are you not receiving the peace that God's Spirit has promised? Take a real look at your choices. Are they self-centered or God-centered? Do they seek to satisfy your own desires, or do they seek to bring your life more in line with God's plan and purpose for your life? God has given us plenty of human experience to draw from, testimony to the truth of His word. Seek God's guidance in removing the insincerity, the wax, from your life. Let your life be without the shallow embellishment of falsehood as you grow closer to the LORD, continually in prayer, and continually listening to the still-small voice of the Holy Spirit for guidance concerning every choice of life. The reward is fellowship with God in peace. The alternative is alienation from Him and a life that misses His promised blessings, a life that can be unguided, confused, and filled with turmoil. Still, the choices are up to us and we will have to live with the consequence of those choices. Truth or Consequences. Choose Truth as Joshua did when he stated, "Choose you whom you will serve this day ... as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."