What are your greatest joys in following Jesus? And challenges?
16 Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we travelled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.’
19 Joshua 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. 20 If 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.’
21 But the people said to Joshua, ‘No! We will serve the Lord.’
22 Then Joshua said, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.’
‘Yes, we are witnesses,’ they replied.
23 ‘Now then,’ said Joshua, ‘throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’
24 And the people said to Joshua, ‘We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.’
25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.
27 ‘See!’ he said to all the people. ‘This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.’
28 Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to their own inheritance.
Buried in the promised land
29 After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 30 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
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.
32 And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants.
33 And Eleazar son of Aaron died and was buried at Gibeah, which had been allotted to his son Phinehas in the hill country of Ephraim.
What an enthusiastic response to Joshua’s speech: yes, we too will serve the Lord (v 18)! Yet Joshua will not allow a quick answer (v 19). Perhaps he recalled the generation of Moses’ day who had said similar words but soon afterwards worshipped the golden calf (Exodus 19:8; 32:1–4). Israel needed reminding that the Lord was a jealous God who would brook no rivals (vs 19,23).
Three times Israel state their willingness to serve the Lord (vs 18,21,24) before Joshua sets up a stone of witness (vs 26,27). More than words were needed. Idols had to be put away and hearts yielded to the Lord (v 23).
This ceremony of commitment is a fitting end to the book of Joshua. But there is more! The book concludes with Israel’s leaders being buried in the land (vs 29–33). God’s promise to Abraham centuries before (Genesis 12:7) is finally realised. A new chapter for God’s people is about to begin.
Yet there is a hint of dark days to come. Verse 31 indicates that the generation who lived in Joshua’s time ‘served the Lord throughout’ (v 31). But what of those to come? And what of us today?
Imagine hearing a recording of your own funeral service. What might others say about you? Is it a true reflection of who you really are? Ask God for help to live a life of costly discipleship.
Deeper Bible study
‘I have decided to follow Jesus. / No turning back. / No turning back.’1
It is like a scene from a pantomime. In yesterday’s reading Joshua challenges the people to decide whether they will follow the Lord or not. When they declare their desire to serve him, Joshua replies ‘Oh no, you won’t’ and the people respond ‘Oh yes, we will’. Trent Butler calls Joshua’s negative response ‘perhaps the most shocking statement in the OT’.2 Joshua seems to be warning the people not to enter lightly into a covenant that they would be unable to keep. He stresses that the Lord is a holy and jealous God, in the sense that he will not tolerate worship of other gods (v 19),3 whose demands for total devotion and pure worship the people are incapable of meeting. One can see in verse 20 a parallel with Jesus’ teaching about the sin that could not be forgiven,4 the sin of ascribing to the evil one the deeds done by the power of God. We might also see a parallel with Luke 14:25–27, where Jesus makes the hyperbolic statement that unless we hate parents, spouse, family and even our own lives, we cannot be his disciples. The meaning seems to be the solemn warning that if the people attribute God’s actions to idols, there can be no forgiveness and restoration for them. That Joshua has raised the stakes makes the people’s response the more significant.
Joshua is mentioned in the first verse of the book; his death is recorded in the final section. In 1:1 he is described as ‘Moses’ assistant’ but by 24:29 he has become in his own right ‘the servant of the Lord’, the title previously given to Moses. His epitaph is ‘Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him’ (v 31).
When and why do we find ourselves in danger of representing God as a ‘cuddly Santa in the sky … a cellophane Christ’5 rather than Joshua’s holy and jealous God?
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: 2 Samuel 8–10; 1 Corinthians 5
Pray for Scripture Union
Local mission partner Lighthouse in Crawley asks for prayer for the team as they face staff changes, with new team joining and another going on maternity leave. Pray for good, creative and productive relationships.