Editor’s Note: Below is another topic from the “phone-based” Sunday School lesson prepared for August 9, 2020. This principle struck me as pretty compelling, as I was preparing the lesson.
In Joshua 24:2-13, Joshua relates a message from God, about God’s faithfulness to His people. The account includes Abraham being called out of his land (“beyond the Euphrates”, verse 3), and Jacob moving to Egypt. It recounts God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, the success He granted them over the Amorites (including Balaam being forced to bless, rather than curse, them), and how God gave them victory over multiple groups in the Promised Land. God had given His people a land that was already developed and ready to use (see verse 13).
Through all of this, a key message here is that the Israelites didn’t achieve freedom and a land of their own through their own actions. They were only here, residing in the Promised Land, because of what God had done for them. The idea that they had somehow accomplished success on their own, or with the help of other nations, was fairly well disassembled by these facts.
Then, in verse 14, the narrative switches to Joshua’s own message. In light of God’s faithfulness (of which only a small part had been summarized here), the Israelites still had a choice whether or not to serve Him.
“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River 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.”
Joshua 24:14-15 NIV
The alternative to serving God was serving idols. Notice that this wasn’t meant as an alternative to serving just any “god”. The capital letters in the excerpt above (small caps in the NIV) indicate that this is the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We can uniquely refer to him (in contrast to the other gods in this world) as “Jehovah”, among other names by which He is referred to in the Bible.
When there aren’t a lot of traditional “graven images” in my country today (although some parts of the world still have plenty of them), the principle still applies: if we don’t serve God, we will serve someone or something else. As the great philosopher Bob Dylan said, you “gotta serve somebody”.
Take another look at verse 14, though. Does it surprise you that Joshua still had to tell the Israelites to get rid of idols? Weren’t the previous examples of redemption, victory, and success – events that many of them had lived through – enough to show them that God was enough?
In fairness, the history of the Israelite nation had been one that was surrounded by idols. Abraham left a land that worshiped other gods, and Jacob’s family would have seen them all over Egypt. Even the nations that the Israelites had just defeated (to take over the land of Canaan) would have had idols.
Unlike people today, whose “gods” are less tangible or obvious – like causes, political parties, worldviews, social media platforms, or even other people – Joshua’s audience clearly understood what it meant to choose who you would serve, because they could see the evidence of what someone worshiped in the form of an idol.
So, Joshua gives the Israelites a choice, point-blank. They could serve God or they could serve their pick of idols. In the context of all that God had done for them, it would seem both rude and illogical to follow anyone else. Still, if it wasn’t what they wanted, they still had that choice.
If they chose to serve God, though, they were expected to make that relationship exclusive. Serving the true God meant getting rid of other idols. There was no room for compromise or sharing the glory with other gods. After all, that principle showed up in the first commandment (Exodus 20:1-3).
While the leaders to whom Joshua was speaking in this chapter agreed to serve God, and the nation followed that path for a generation, we find in the next book of the Bible (see Judges 2:6-15) that a subsequent generation chose differently.
In the same way, there are those today who, even after seeing all the good that God has done and learning the truth about His love for us, still don’t want to serve God. Maybe they value their current gods (including leisure, entertainment, power, privilege, and money) more than what it would take to serve God, or maybe they are just rebellious. Regardless, God lets them make their own choices. Those choices have consequences, but God doesn’t force people to follow Him, even after He created them, blessed them, and taught them.
If, on the other hand, we choose to follow God, though, that will mean saying goodbye to other gods. We must get rid of things that take priority over Him in our lives (whether physically, mentally, or spiritually), since our goal is not to just “sort of” serve God, but to completely give our lives over to Him.
I wonder if there is significance in verses 23-24. Maybe I’m reading too much into the text, but note that Joshua gave them two instructions in verse 23: throw away idols and turn their hearts over to God. Then, in verse 24, the response of the leaders is that they will serve and obey God. While it may be implied, I don’t see here that the leaders said they would actually get rid of their idols. Whether or not they meant that they would do so (even if it’s not recorded here), the reality is that idols caused ongoing disaster for the Israelite people in future generations. In the same way, we must get rid of what blocks us from loving and serving God wholeheartedly.
I hope that no one reading this, after seeing and learning about everything that God has done, still chooses to serve other gods, especially after knowing the truth about Him. I hope that you will review the history and testimony about God, including the message of Jesus Christ, and consider your choice carefully.
If you have chosen to follow Jehovah, though, never forget that He insists on an exclusive relationship. His jealousy doesn’t come from of sinful pride (since He has none of that in Himself), but rather in knowing that life with Him is the best for us, and He loves us so much that He doesn’t want us to spend life serving an inferior god.
- Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 8, pages 79-80. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The Reformation study Bible, English Standard version, by R C Sproul, © 2015 Reformation Trust, Orlando, Fla.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. Volume 2, 1706.
- Asbury Bible Commentary. Copyright © 1992 by The Zondervan Corporation.