Stephen Caswell © 1999
Judah Ben Hur
In the movie Ben Hur, there is a place where Masallah asks Judah Ben Hur to give him the names of citizens opposed to Rome. Judah said that he couldn’t betray his countrymen. Masallah said it is either them or me. You have to make a choice, you are either for me or you are against me. Judah Ben Hur chose against him. Judah and his family suffered a good deal because he made this decision. Often in life we have to make choices for one side or the other. Sometimes the consequences can be great. In the same way, Joshua places a choice before Israel in today’s text. Israel's choice also had great consequences.
Last Sunday we saw Joshua give words of praise and challenge to the 2 1/2 tribes from Transjordan. We also saw him address a leaders summit where he challenged them to faithfulness. Today he issues a similar challenge. But this time he asks them to make a choice. Whom will they serve. The word serve is used 15 times in the chapter and is the key word. Joshua asked Israel to choose whom they would serve. They had to make a choice. A good servant remains faithful to his master for life. A true servant serves only one master.
The National Assembly
Joshua 24:1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.
a. The Place
Shechem is in the centre of the land between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Shechem also had spiritual significance for Israel. The lord appeared to Abraham here in Genesis 12:6-7 and promised the land to his descendants. After this Abraham built an altar to the Lord. Jacob dwelt there and built and altar to the Lord there after returning from his uncle Laban. He also buried the idols that his family had brought back from Padan-aram. This is the same place where Joshua renewed the covenant with Israel in ch 8. Joshua wrote the law out on large stones in this same place. Joshua desired to build on the past remembrance of this place!
b. The People
To this assembly Joshua summoned the entire nation, not just the leaders. The leaders were present and described with the same titles as in chapter 23. He gathered the 12 tribes together for this solemn occasion. All Israel needed to hear this.
c. The Purpose
Joshua knew he had only a little time left. So he summoned all the people for one last address. He wanted them to choose whom they would serve. Moses lead Israel to make such a commitment twice before. Firstly at Mount Sinai, and then on the plains of Moab. Since entering the land Joshua had lead them to renew the covenant at this same place. This was because each new generation must make their own choice. Joshua gave Israel a history lesson reminding them of God’s past faithfulness. Then he asked them to make a choice this day, whom they will serve. Finally he renews the covenant with Israel at Shechem. Joshua speaks here as God's prophet by using the pronoun I.
God is speaking through Him as he reviews God’s past faithfulness. God says, I took, I gave, I plagued, I sent. The personal pronoun I is used 17-18 times by Joshua, showing God’s personal involvement on Israel’s behalf. Joshua divided his final address into these 3 parts.
1. The Past - He Remembered Their Calling
2. The Present - He Required Their Choice
3. The Future - He Renewed Their Covenant
Firstly, Joshua Remembered Their Calling
a. God Formed The Nation
Joshua 24:2-4 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. ‘Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. ‘To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.
The Lord called Abraham and Terah out of Ur in the Chaldee’s to create a special people, a holy nation. He called them from serving pagan gods on the other side of the Euphrates River to serve Him. Then the Lord worked miraculously to give Abraham a son, Isaac in his old age. God multiplied his seed, and lead Jacob down to Egypt where He made them into a great nation. He called them out from idolatry to be different, to be holy. God chose Israel for a special purpose. The sovereign call that God gave Abraham was totally based on His grace. God kept His promise to Abraham even though he had to wait for it. God formed the nation.
b. God Freed The Nation
Joshua 24:5-7 ‘Also I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to what I did among them. Afterward I brought you out. ‘ Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. ‘So they cried out to the LORD; and He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, brought the sea upon them, and covered them. And your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. Then you dwelt in the wilderness a long time.
After Israel had become a great nation, the Lord delivered them from slavery to the Egyptians. He sent Moses and Aaron to lead them out. God plagued Egypt so that Pharoah would let His people go. He redeemed His people Israel from Egypt with a strong hand. He delivered them from Pharoah’s army in the Red Sea. Probably only a few of the nation had seen this happen, since it took place about 70 years earlier. However all knew of it since the Passover reminded them of God’s great deliverance. The Passover was Israel’s great day of salvation. God was still keeping His promise by bringing Israel out of Egypt as a great nation.
c. God Fought For The Nation
Joshua 24:8-13: And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and they fought with you. But I gave them into your hand, that you might possess their land, and I destroyed them from before you. ‘Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose to make war against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. ‘But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you. So I delivered you out of his hand. ‘Then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you — also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand. ‘I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow. ‘I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’
Joshua then speaks of God’s deliverance from their enemies. He gave them the land of Canaan. Firstly He helped them to defeat the Ammorites on the other side of the Jordan. The 2 1/2 tribes possessed the country of Gilead on the east of the Jordan. Then He delivered them out of Balaam’s hand who was hired by Balak to curse them. But God turned the curse into a blessing. Then He delivered the 7 Canaanite nations into Israel’s hand. The word deliver is used many times through out the Book of Joshua and is a key word. God delivered Israel from the enemy’s hand. Then God delivered the enemy into Israel’s hand. Joshua sums this up by saying that God delivered the land to Israel, but not by their sword or bow. This is not say that Israel didn’t fight in the battles. It just means that it was God’s resources that obtained the victory, not Israel's. Israel received an inheritance which they had not laboured in. They dwelt in cities built by others, they ate from orchards and vineyards planted by others. God gave them all of this. God fought for Israel’s inheritance.
A Fulfilling Job
Usually the happiest employees are those who really love their job. They probably have natural abilities in this field and have been trained in it. To them work is a real joy because they are interested in this pursuit. They are fulfilling the role they are suited to. Therefore they give it their best. Their boss appreciates them too. Israel had been called by God for a special purpose. Joshua reminded them of this in his address. Their role was to serve God.
We may well look at Israel and say, ” Wow God blessed them so much, how could they ever forget Him or forsake Him? “ God had called Israel for a special purpose. Through Israel all the families of the earth would be blessed. But with privileges come responsibilities. Israel must serve the Lord faithfully. God has been just as merciful to us. He called us to Himself when we were dead in trespasses and sins. He saved us and gave us new life. He fought for us to deliver us from Satan, sin and death. He has provided a rich inheritance for us in heaven. Some times we forget just how rich we are. But the Lord has also called us for a purpose. We are to serve God by making known His salvation to others. God has made us for Himself. We will never be fulfilled or satisfied in life until we serve Him. God called you for a purpose. Are you fulfilling this purpose? It does us good to remember our past, and God’s deliverance.
Firstly Joshua reminded Israel of the purpose God had called them to.
Secondly, Joshua Required Their Choice
a. The Choices
Joshua 24:14-15 Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, 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. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
1. The Command - Serve The Lord
This verse starts with therefore. Joshua told them because the Lord had been so good to them. Because he had been so faithful, Israel should serve Him in sincerity and in truth. Why does Joshua tell them to put away the idols that their fathers served in Egypt or in Ur of the Chaldee’s? There are probably two options to this. Firstly, Perhaps this is a command to remove the idols in the land set up by the Canaanites. Secondly, Joshua may have told them to choose this day to put away the idols their forefathers served. Perhaps a few of the Israelites had started to become involved in idolatry again. Jacob buried the idols that his sons brought back from Padan aram at this same place. His point is clear. You cannot serve the Lord in sincerity and truth while you worship pagan gods. Israel must not keep any idols.
2. The Choices - The Lord, or other gods
Perhaps some of Israel wanted to serve the pagan gods. So Joshua challenged them to make a choice. They were to choose between the gods from over the River, the gods of the Amorites, or The Lord. The gods from the other side of the river refers to the gods that Abraham and Terah served back in Ur. These other gods hadn’t helped Israel, only the Lord had. Israel must choose between the Lord and the pagan gods. Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
3. Joshua’s Choice - The Lord
Joshua then stated that as for himself and his house they would serve the Lord. Joshua knew without doubt whom to serve. He pledged allegiance to the Lord setting a good example.
4. Israel’s Choice - The Lord
After reminding Israel of God’s faithfulness to them, Joshua asked them to choose whom they will serve. They all promised to serve the Lord. In fact the thought of serving pagan gods was abhorrent to them. They then stated how God had saved them from bondage in Egypt and led them to Canaan. He provided for them along the way. They recalled how the Lord drove out the people of the land. They said, We also, like you, will serve the Lord, for He is our God.
b. The Cost
However Joshua wasn’t looking for a shallow commitment made at an emotional time. He wanted them to count the cost. So he told them that they couldn’t serve the Lord. It was too hard for them. He wanted them to be certain of their commitment first. So that they would count the cost. To serve the Lord was something they should not take lightly.
Joshua 24:19-20 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. ”If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.“ For Israel to serve the Lord they must first count the cost.
1. Consecration - God is holy. He will not forgive your sin.
Israel must live in a holy fashion if they were to serve the Lord. This meant avoiding sin at all costs. Joshua said He will not forgive your transgressions or sins. Joshua knew that God made provision for sin through the sacrifices. But there was no forgiveness for high handed sin or rebellion through sacrifice. Achan experienced the consequences of this. Because God is holy, His people must be holy too. They must be consecrated to serve only Him.
2. Separation - God is Jealous. He will not tolerate idolatry.
Israel must be totally loyal to the Lord. God is jealous and will not tolerate rival gods. If Israel broke the covenant by serving other gods, the Lord would turn on them and consume them. Although God had blessed their obedience, he would curse them if they forsook Him. God is jealous, so Israel must be totally separated unto Him.
A Marriage Ceremony
Weddings are very joyful occasions. They are also very serious occasions and should not be rushed into lightly. For a start the two people getting married have chosen to be loyal to each other. They cannot change their mind a few years down the track. In the vows they promise to forsake all others, whether in sickness and in health. They forsake others who are richer or poorer. They commit themselves to be faithful to this one person all the days of their life. It is a serious covenant. The choice they make must stand. Israel had to choose for life. There could be no changing mid stream.
Perhaps you have never made this choice for yourself. It may be that you have always gone to church because it was the thing to do, or your parents told you to. Today the same choice lies before us that Israel made, whom will we serve? Will you serve the Lord and receive His blessings? Or will you serve the gods of this world and be damned? There is a cost involved in serving the Lord. He requires us to be holy and faithful. But the blessings are so great. The choice is yours. Who will you choose? After Joshua had laid down the cost of serving God, Israel again promised to serve the Lord.
After Israel Chose to serve the Lord, Joshua Renewed Their Covenant
Joshua didn’t doubt the sincerity of the people when they said this. But he wanted them to remember their choice to serve the Lord.
Therefore he put in place three witnesses to remind Israel of their covenant with God. Israel renewed their covenant with God at regular intervals. This was because each new generation must choose to serve the Lord. It was almost 30 years since they last renewed the covenant at this same place. A new generation must choose.
a. The Witness of Spoken Words
Joshua 24:21-24 And the people said to Joshua, ”No, but we will serve the LORD!“ So Joshua said to the people, ”You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him.“ And they said, ”We are witnesses!“ ”Now therefore,“ he said, ”put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.“ And the people said to Joshua, ”The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!“
The first witness was an oath. Joshua told them that they were witnesses against themselves that they would serve the Lord. Israel replied, we are witnesses. They had bound themselves before God. He heard their words and would hold them accountable. Joshua again challenged them to put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel. The people again promised to serve the Lord and obey His voice.
b. The Witness of Written Words
24:25-26a So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God.
The second witness was the Book of the Law of God. Joshua wrote down the words that the people bound themselves to in the book of the law. He renewed the covenant with Israel at this time. This would provide a record for future generations. Joshua was wise in doing this. Israel bound themselves to the covenant blessings and cursings recorded in the law.
c. The Witness of Stone
Joshua 24:26b-28 And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ”Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God. So Joshua let the people depart, each to his own inheritance.
The third witness was a large stone. Joshua may have written on the stone like he had 30 years earlier. We are not told. But the stone would be a lasting reminder of the covenant that Israel made that day. It would stand long after Joshua’s death.
These three witnesses gave testimony to Israel's choice the covenant had now been ratified. Therefore Israel was obliged to keep it.
A Wedding Ceremony
There are witnesses at wedding ceremonies. This is why they are such solemn occasions. The two people vow before God and the witnesses present to remain faithful. God hears and is a witness, so are the guests present. The wedding certificate is signed by both the bride and groom along with other witnesses. The rings exchanged are a visible witness of the covenant. The marriage has been witnessed and is binding in the court of law. It is now official.
In the same way, Joshua encouraged Israel to make a public declaration of their loyalty to God. This was wise since it helped them to realise how serious a matter it was. Our eternal destiny is no small matter. Have you committed yourself to the new covenant Jesus Christ has made to save you? Have you received Him as your Saviour? If not can I encourage you to do so today! If you have, are you serving Him faithfully? Are you living a godly life? Have you been true to your word? Are you keeping the covenant by serving only the Lord?
By providing these 3 witnesses Joshua helped Israel remain faithful to the Lord. Did it work? Yes and No! It helped the first generations, but unfortunately their children forsook the Lord. Joshua 24:29-31: Now it came to pass after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being one hundred and ten years old. And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Serah, which is in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash. Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel.
Notice in verse 29 that Joshua is called the servant of the Lord. He served the Lord all the days of his life. He gave a good example for the people to follow. The next generation also served the Lord. All those who had the witness of the elders that had seen what God had done for Israel. Judges 2:10-15 says, After this their children arose who didn’t know the Lord and turned to serve idols. How tragic that their parents didn’t teach them about God. They grew up not knowing Him.
Firstly Joshua Remembered Their Calling
God has called us to be a holy nation. He saved us at great cost to Himself. Do you appreciate the cost that God has paid to save you? Do you thank Him for this? But He saved us that we might serve Him instead of the gods of this world. Are you fulfilling the purpose that God has in saving you? Are you serving the Lord out of love and thankfulness?
Secondly Joshua Required Their Choice
Have you chosen to serve the Lord? If so have you put aside the gods of this world? A god is anything that has first place in your life.The Bible says we cannot serve two masters. Joshua encouraged the people to count the cost before renewing the covenant. Are you prepared to serve the Lord all of your life?
Thirdly Joshua Renewed Their Covenant
It is great when people commit themselves to serve the Lord. They ask Jesus to save them and be their Lord and master. But it is also good to make a public testimony of this fact. We need to make a decisive stand for the Lord, lest we take it too lightly. Writing down the day of our salvation in a family Bible is good. These witnesses can challenge us to remain faithful during our Christian life. They also provide us an opportunity to share these things with our children. Have you given public testimony of this to others? Have you been baptised? Do you witness for the Lord? Do they know of your covenant relationship with God? Today we are confronted with the same choice. Who will you serve?
Hebrews 13:20-21: Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.