This message is part of a series entitled, “God Tries His Children”. To see all of the messages in this series, please click here.
Last week was Father’s Day. I had a wonderful day and I pray all of you had equally as encouraging a day. We discussed fathers’ responsibilities to teach our children and families about the glorious God we serve. We see encouragement to rear children wisely in the counsel of God’s word. The beginning of that wisdom is a healthy reverence, a good fear of God. We also saw how encouraging we can be to our families, and how much God encourages us. Our children will be the next generation of national leadership. Where we fail them, they will fail God. Our Lord is gracious though and is there with us every step of the way to help us in our responsibilities. What a wonderful promise. God always encourages us to glory in Him as we encourage our children to glorify Him. Finally, we thought about the reminders we have today as compared to Israel. We have the whole of scripture and the patterns of success and failure in scripture. We remind our children of both God’s glory and judgment as it applies to serving Him or forsaking His will, respectively.
Above all things, God is glorious, loving and intimately involved. He is here during every encounter we have, during every failure we endure and during every success we rejoice in. Our Lord Jesus Christ rejoices with us when we do well. He is there to strengthen and support us in trying times. What a joy to know we have a God who loves us enough to be with us in good times, and in bad. He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb 13:5).
Please turn to Joshua 24:13. Today, we look at the final challenge of a great Israelite leader to his nation. These words tell us much about the people of Israel’s attitude. After all they have been through, God has done for them and above all the attitude of their leader Joshua, there were obviously great temptations Israel faced and succumbed to at this point in their history. Joshua sets the attitude and course for His family and recommends the right course for Israel. It is up to them to walk the path set forth by the Lord through Joshua.
When Jesus saves us, we begin a new life in Christ (Rom 8:11). Our old person is swept away and replaced by a completely new one (Col 3:9-10; Eph 4:22-24). We are the same person with whatever flaws, bumps, bruises, scars or temptations we had. However, inside a change is taking place more glorious and precious than gold. When you first accept Christ, God creates a new heart in you (Ps 51:10). Our new heart is able to overcome sin; where we had no defense before (Jn 8:44; 1 Jn 4:4).
Still, as a new creature in Christ, God does not make us obey Him (2 Cor 5:17). We do not become robots. We retain our will and we still live in an evil world. Salvation does not produce a creature that automatically does all things pure, righteous and heavenly. Many of Satan’s minions try their best to make us question our salvation because we still sin. We’re saved because we know we’ve sinned and have a Savior. We can rejoice in Jesus’ forgiveness and atonement for our sins, but we are neither perfect nor better than any other individual. We live suffering daily temptations to sin just like the rest of the world. Nevertheless, we glory in God’s Son who covered our sins with His blood! We live a forgiven life and rejoice in that forgiveness.
We have a picture of the challenges to holy living in Joshua 24:13-15. God prepared the way and told Israel it is their choice to honor His gift or take it for granted. We receive much instruction in the Old Testament concerning pictures of salvation. Joshua 24 is one such picture.
The Israelites walk into Canaan where God displaced the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and the Jebusites with a hornet. These tribes represent idolatry, wickedness, incest and the bestial life in the flesh. God removed them from before Israel’s path and gave them homes and provision for life, a land full of milk and honey.
God blessed Canaan with buildings, crops and lands. He planned to turn these blessings over to His chosen people. Regardless who the tribes of Canaan worshipped, they would have been successful. God’s plan for their success was not for their edification, but for Israel. God’s plans for their success were plans for His people.
Just as God gave Israel Canaan, we too are given a specific place to dwell. God freed us from sin in our lives. We can choose to dwell in His will, or stagger on the line between His will and ours. We can choose to be humble, seek His face and His word, or try to balance both the world and Him. Joshua says, it is one way or the other. Choose the Lord or choose the ways of all those the Lord has defeated. Regardless, any success we have is given us for God’s glory and purpose. Where we seek His will, we glorify Him all the more. “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose“ (Rom 5:8).
The land given to the Israelites in these passages fulfills the promises in Deuteronomy 6:10-11 and the prophecy in 7:20. When we consider God’s promise to provide a home for us in His kingdom, we should reflect on these fulfilled promises to Israel. Just as His chosen people entered Canaan, we will enter His Kingdom to heavenly mansions and a feast fit for the Bridegroom of God’s Kingdom.
I. The Gift (Joshua 24:13)
God gave Israel these lands, homes and crops. The vineyards and olive groves grow at the hand of God. The homes were erected by skills given to other men by God. All things provided are by God’s hand for the blessing of God’s children and to His glory. Throughout scripture we find that any greatness Israel achieved was not by her own hand, but by the grace, mercy and benevolent power of God. He enables and He provides for His chosen children.
God alone drove out the enemy (v12) and did so without destroying the properties. God conducted war using an insect as a weapon to preserve all the spoils in such a condition that they were immediately usable. All the buildings, houses, wells, shops and even the fruits of the land were left intact. There was no burning, no pillaging, no destruction. The people of Israel were literally given fully developed cities to live in. What a glorious way to show His adoration and power. God did not have to wage war to provide, He simply unleashes a hyper-antagonistic hornet. This is not the only time God will do these things either. In Revelation 9:3-5 we read of a little locust-like creature with a tail of a scorpion with a sting so painful people would seek death to escape it’s agony. The tribes in Canaan must have suffered much the same plight but they were able to flee.
This passage should seal the covenant promises between the Lord and Israel. The people of Israel should rejoice over the provision knowing full well the promises in their history and this specific fulfillment of prophecy written 40 years earlier. They have a choice though. They can choose to submit to God and appreciate His provision. Alternatively, they can try to reason things through by looking around them and considering the state of other people and how they were successful. This takes advantage of His grace and ignores His power, majesty and love. We have these same choices in life.
II. The Challenge (14)
As the Israelites see their immense treasure, there is a sense that they want to thank the Amorites, Perizzite, Canaanite, Hittite, Girgashite, Hivite and Jebusite gods for these treasures. It is difficult to believe, but after all God’s provision and miracles in the wilderness, they are still easily deceived. This is as if to say Israel wants to show their appreciation for all that was built and left behind to those who were conquered. This somewhat seems logical, but God provided Canaan technology, wisdom and skills for the benefit of Israel. Joshua tells them to fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth. Put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the river and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! The Israelites still do not see God for who He truly is. No human provides a single thing that was not first given by God.
For them to believe in God was not a blind leap of faith. They saw God’s works and experienced His blessings, so it made sense for them to exclusively serve a God who had done so much for them. These people saw their fathers perish after denying God’s power when they first came to Canaan. There are men and women in their 50’s, 60’s and older among them that would remember the Exodus from Egypt. They knew God’s works; they were here because they were supposed to believe. Joshua is encouraging all the younger ones to understand God’s greatness and rest in it where they plainly saw His goodness. The younger needed to see God’s ability to stretch across time and affect great things for them. God began preparing the Canaanite lands long ago for this very moment so Israel would walk into them unopposed.
Joshua repeats to them that they need to serve the Lord! For every human being this is the difficult part, staying faithful to God after we have received much blessing from Him (Deut 6:10-13). Why it is so difficult is multi-faceted. Much of it has to do with our natural view of things.
We see things on this horizontal plane and gravitate toward that understanding. If we can see it and touch it, we tend more to believe it. The ease that can come with blessing can be a subtle enemy of serving God in sincerity and truth. It is sometimes much better for us to work hard to achieve something than to have it given to us. Jesus Himself said that even if people are raised from the dead, people will still not believe (Lk 16:31). This prophecy is proven true because the whole of Israel was not converted at Christ’s resurrection, the resurrection of Lazarus, or at other resurrections Jesus performed (Matt 28:6; Jn 11:44-46). As much as we struggle to believe it, miracles will not create converts. Only the power of God in each individual does so.
Israel is encouraged to renew the covenant with God, obey Him, serve Him. Israel is to reject all other alliances and covenant only with their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph. Israel must reject all other gods, or beliefs and choose between Him and the gods of Ur or those followed by the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites or the Jebusites. There is indication here that even Egyptian gods are being discussed. Ten plagues, a hornet and miraculous provision had summarily defeated all these false gods! These new lands are pure and free from idolatrous influence.
God points out to Israel the perfect, ready provision, the purity with which they can enter their new lives. God purified the land of wicked people, powerless gods and senseless toil. God made all things new again so Israel could enter from a purifying state in the wilderness, to a more pure life in the Promised Land. In these passages, God simply challenges Israel to forsake the world’s temptations and strive to maintain this pure environment.
A severe warning is contained in this verse. Just as every good and great thing is given, great judgment and tribulation can immediately befall those who forsake God. God’s anger would eventually burn against Israel (Judg 3:8; 10:7; 2 Kgs 13:3, et al). Joshua did not want that for his people. We do not want that for our people today. Joshua knew that this was a turning point; the people of Israel must make a choice. God warns that a wrong choice could bring great tribulation.
III. The Choice (15)
Some people actually think that serving God is wicked in itself. After all, God had Israel murder men, women, children and animals in scripture (Deut 7:2–13:15-18). It seems extreme to man that a whole tribe of people should be destroyed. We think of ethnic cleansing and count it as pure evil. Some might think Israel is akin to modern day Serbo-Croatian religious genocide. Other pictures come to mind such as the Holocaust, Hitler’s attempt to exterminate Jewish existence. These are purely evil efforts perpetrated by madmen. Regardless of the differences, many people will never see anything but hate in God’s actions. Still, there are significant differences between current day efforts and those of the Old Testament. First, God has a right to do these things (see link here) where man has no right. Second, most times Israel was a weaker, smaller force acting in a supernaturally empowered fashion defeating enemies of vastly superior forces by number and training. The instances of Serbian and Israelite extermination and expulsion of current day are the bully “taking advantage of the war conditions and at a suitable moment seiz[ing] the territory marked on the map, cleans[ing] it before anybody notices…”[i]
The truth is, especially in this instance, deliverance from the inhabitants was through miraculous control of His creation (ordering the hornet to torment the inhabitants). Further, it was a specific act of God in order to provide a pristine existence for His people. Though not the Garden of Eden, it was certainly prepared and ready to support them. This is where Joshua asks
“choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.”
God wants us to begin anew in our lives with Him. We are given to begin a new life of purity, and He asks us to maintain purity in our new lives. He does not force purity, or even Himself upon us, but gives us the best circumstances with which to begin and an opportunity to grow from that point. What’s even more glorious is that He is willing to help us, encourage us and forgive us our failures through all these challenges, even when we do fail (Rom 5:8-11; 1 Cor 5:10).
Some might ask, “Why couldn’t Israel live in harmony with the people of Canaan?” We don’t know, but God does. God knows we will bend our hearts toward them. It is hard to stand steadfast against others. It is not always an intellectual problem. We reason and lose or win. It is more the heart that will allow the discussion in the first place. For God there is no compromise. There is either purity, or not. Once a crack in the surface of the heart lets in any possibility of corruption, Satan takes full advantage. God takes steps to protect us from ourselves. God knows we are incapable of purity on our own and there are times He engineers it for us. He shows us what it looks like and encourages us to keep that purity.
Joshua is hardened against sin. He knows its failure and the 40 years of destruction it wrought on Israel. He had to suffer for the sin and faithlessness of others. He states emphatically, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua takes a stand directly aligning himself with God, forsaking all else.
When we serve the one true God, we have the blessing of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. We dedicate ourselves to our God first and all else second. God does all the wonderful work in our lives, for our families and for our nation. We simply dedicated wholly in faith all things unto the Lord.
What is ultimately glorious is that the faith we exhibit also comes from God. As we ask for more faith, we receive it and glory in our provider all the more. Ladies and gentlemen, we serve a great and glorious God. He saves us. He gives us all things. He loves us. He provides us a home in His Kingdom. He even gives us the faith we need to believe in Him. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord of Heaven and Earth. We pray you will choose Him as well and strive to maintain the initial purity from your salvation. He is loving, He is gracious, and He is forgiving even when we fail Him. That is why He gave us His Son.
[i] This is a reported strategic quote from a Moljevic Memorandum in a Bosnia report of 2005. http://www.bosnia.org.uk/bosrep/report_format.cfm?articleid=3025&reportid=169 New Series No. 47-48 September-November 2005, The Moljevic Memorandum by Dragoljub Todorovic.