Sermon Notes and Audio
Scripture Focus- Joshua 24:1-28
A story was told about two paddleboats that left Memphis about the same time, traveling down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. As they traveled side by side, sailors from one vessel made a few remarks about the snail’s pace of the other. Words were exchanged. Challenges were made. And the race began. Competition became vicious as the two boats roared through the Deep South. One boat began falling behind. Not enough fuel. There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough for a race. As the boat dropped back, an enterprising young sailor took some of the ship’s cargo and tossed it into the ovens. When the sailors saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal, they fueled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport. They ended up winning the race, but burned their cargo.
God has entrusted precious cargo to us in our families: Husbands, Wives, Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Children. It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget that it’s not about a race. It is about our responsibility by God’s grace, to do our part in seeing that this cargo reaches its destination. In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado Word Publishing, 1991, pp. 97-98.
Rudyard Kipling once wrote about families, “all of us are we–and everyone else is they.” A family shares things like dreams, hopes, possessions, memories, smiles, frowns, and gladness…A family is a clan held together with the glue of love and the cement of mutual respect. A family is shelter from the storm, a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No person is ever alone who is a member of a family.
Family life is not getting any easier. In the midst of extreme moral decay and ethical indecisiveness, maintaining a faithful family is extremely difficult. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is seen as one of many religious choices, and even many Christians are spiritually confused and disoriented. Joshua experienced a similar dynamic in leading the people of Israel after the conquest and settlement of Canaan.
Joshua is best known as Moses’ second in command, who took over and led the Israelites into the Promised Land after Moses’s death. He is considered one of the greatest military leaders of all time, leading the seven-year conquest of the Promised Land. He had rock-solid faith in God. Joshua was faithful in obediently focusing the people spiritually.
It was an exciting time for the people of Israel. They defeated their enemies and took possession of the Promised Land. The tribes of Israel received their inheritance, and were at a point they could settle in. There were great blessings and hope from God.
It was also a very perilous time for the people of Israel. They faced the danger of losing spiritual focus, and forgetting where they had come from and what God had done for them. There was the danger of getting mixed up in the idolatry of the Canaanites who still lived in their midst.
All the tribes of Israel, a huge gathering, met at Shechem. An appeal was given to the prominent men of every tribe, clan, and family. Maybe they came forward and stood with Joshua as he spoke. In the middle of this, Joshua stood up to deliver a message to the people from God. Three geographic points were of crucial importance to Israel during the early years in the Promised Land. Gilgal was the military headquarters of the invasion. Shiloh was the religious center for the people. Shechem was the political cradle of the nation. Shechem was located 35 miles north of Jersualem in the Ephraimite hill country. It dominated a pass and trade route between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.
Joshua delivered was a powerful message there, when he gathered the people. Joshua was at the end of a long, full life having led the people for about 25 years since the death of Moses. His greatest concern was not himself, but the people and their relationship with the Lord. In chapter 23 he called the leaders of the nation together and told them he was “about to go the way of all the earth.” His message was timely for the people. God wanted them to be faithful to Him and carry out His will. He wanted the people to be dedicated to Him.
There is a challenge to remember. Vv1-13
Norman Cousins called history “a vast early warning system” and philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The first part of this message is directly from God, in the first person. A knowledge of their roots was very important to the Jews, because they were God’s chosen people with a destiny to fulfill in this world. God took their father Abraham from beyond the river, led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. God gave him Isaac. To Isaac he gave Jacob and Esau. God redeemed them and delivered them from Egypt. He exercised His power and glory in their midst repeatedly.
God sent Moses and Aaron, plagued Israel and the Eqyptians and made the sea come and cover them. As Joshua talked, the people must have relived in their minds the stories they had heard from their grandparents- the plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the battles with surrounding enemies. God watched over them in the wilderness journey. He brought them to the land of the Amorites east of the Jordan and gave them into Israel’s hands. God delivered them out of the hand of Balaam and gave the seven nations of Canaan into their hand. This is the story of how the promises of God are fulfilled. When God makes a promise He always keeps it. God had forged a covenant of love with His people, and that covenant of love was honored.
Remember the power of God. The people crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The people of Jericho as well as the inhabitants of the land, fought against Israel but God handed them over. The “hornet” mentioned represented the insect whose sting is extremely painful, but it is possible that the word is an image of something else. Invading armies are compared to bees in the Bible. God sent other armies into Canaan to weaken the people and prepare them for the invasion of Israel. When reports came to Canaan of Israel’s conquests, they struck fear in the inhabitants of the land. When Israel came into the land, the people were already terrified because they had heard of the power of God whom these people loved and served. Understand what God can do for you.
Remember the presence of God. God has promised to be with His people and see them through. Remember the provision of God. The phrase “I gave you” is repeated a number of times in this history. God gave them a land they did not labor for, and cities they did not build to live in, and they ate from vineyards and olive groves they did not plant. Everything was a gift of God’s grace- their deliverance from Mesopotamia, the freedom from bondage in Egypt, the provision through the wilderness years, the conquest of the land of Canaan, all of it came from God. We enjoy blessings we do not deserve.
Israel was guilty of being unfaithful to God even though He had been so good to them. Blessing, responsibility, and accountability follow each other. Israel’s great blessings laid upon her great responsibilities toward God. There is a challenge to remember.
There is a command to choose. V14-15
In vv14-15 Joshua speaks in response to being reminded of the greatness of God in their midst. Joshua issued a command to the people. It is in the form of a challenge to Israel to decide for or against exclusive devotion to God. Joshua urges the Israelites to make a choice between serving the true God and serving idol gods. Joshua’s own life represented a wonderful contrast to the unwillingness of many Israelites to make the defining choice to wholeheartedly follow God. He had earned the right to issue this command, that ultimately came from God.
The majority of people stayed true to their faith, because in chapter 23 they are commended for faithfulness, loyalty, and consistency in their relationship with God. However, Joshua noticed a drift that was taking place, toward idolatry. If you look at the whole history of the people of Israel, you find they continually struggled with being drawn back to the idols of their forefathers, generation after generation.
Joshua wanted them to make an informed choice. He wanted them to think through the situation, and thoughtfully choose to serve and follow God. They could return to the Egyptian gods. They had lived there for four hundred years when it was at the height of its power- culturally, economically, militarily. They could choose the Canaanite gods in their midst. Worship of the fertility gods was sensual, emotional, and attractive. So Joshua contrasted these gods with the covenant God of Israel. He wanted them to follow the one true living God. We have to beware of idols in our own lives- people, power, position, possessions, pleasure. We have the same idolatrous attractions that the people of Israel did, all around us. What are the idols in your life that may be preventing you from serving God with your whole heart?
Choose to fear God. Fear the Lord- The Lord is Yahweh. It is the name He used to introduce Himself to Moses and to the people saying “I AM WHO I AM.” He is a God who is involved with them, who is for them. He is also identified as the God of Israel back in v2. In Hebrew this is the name Elohim. Israel was married to God and He would not tolerate any rivals in their hearts. He is a jealous God and a holy God, and He could never permit them to be divided in their loyalty. “Fear” means to be afraid, to stand in awe, to have a deep sense of honor and reverence. Respect the judgment and justice of God.
Choose to honor God. Worship Him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods. . . Anything in their lives that came ahead of the Lord needed to be put away forever. Joshua warned them of what would happen if they didn’t get rid of their idols: they would eventually forsake the Lord, and then He would have to chasten them. The results of disobedience are terrible. The ravages of sin are seen all around us in broken lives and families. They were to clean up their lives by putting away other gods, and serve the Lord. This would enable them to put God back in the forefront of their lives. To fear God is to reverence and honor Him for who He is.
Choose to serve God. This is to be done wholeheartedly, completely, with integrity. The word “sincere” comes from two Latin words that mean “without wax.” It was used to refer to scrupulous pottery dealers who sold first class pottery that did not have cracks patched with wax. When patched pottery was held up to the light, the wax patch was easy to spot. It is the same with people who live insincere lives. When they are held up to the light, their insincerity shows.
Choose who you will serve and get to it. Choose for yourselves today the one you will worship. . . Joshua set the example for the rest of the people by stating his clear intention to serve God. As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh! We have to make a decision for the Lord, a decision to believe and follow Him wholeheartedly- a decision to serve the Lord with all that we are and have. There is no room for neutrality, a decision has to be made. There is no room for delay. Have you chosen to honor God wholeheartedly? There is a command to choose.
There is a commitment to follow. Vv16-28
Resolve to follow. Vv16-18 The people considered all the Lord had done for them and they declare their allegiance to Him alone! They wanted to respond to the Lord with faithfulness and loyalty to Him. The people confessed their faith in God. We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods!
They recalled what God had done- how He brought them and their fathers out of the land of Egypt, out of bondage, and performed great signs before their eyes. He also protected them along the way. The Lord drove the people out before them. If God has to compete for your time, your attention, your resources, and your love, it calls your profession of faith into question!
Realize God will bless obedience. Joshua took the opportunity to remind them that God is holy and righteous. If they served Him, He would bless them. If not, there will be consequences. If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, He will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you. This was not about religious reformation, it was about spiritual transformation. We cannot transform ourselves. We can’t just try harder and it happen. In faith we trust God to do this work in us.
Respond to God in faithfulness. The people set out to serve the Lord- we will worship the Lord our God and obey Him. They and Joshua set up a memorial stone, a record of their decision. It would be used to hold them accountable. Joshua told them, you can’t do these things. God Himself is the only one who can do them. God transforms lives. God takes our commitments seriously. No commitment made to God can be seen as superficial. The commitment is very serious in God’s eyes.
Deuteronomy 4:9 Only be on your guard and diligently watch yourselves, so that you don’t forget things your eyes have seen and so that they don’t slip from your mind as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your grandchildren.
Joshua understood that it is easy for people to promise obedience to the Lord, but it is something altogether different to actually follow through. He essentially gave them a warning against easy-believism and cheap grace. He is saying- don’t make this decision lightly. Understand what is involved. Three times in this section, the people affirmed their desire to serve only the Lord and Joshua takes them at their word. This is a wonderful opportunity for each of us to re-examine our own commitment to God.
Examine and evaluate the path your family is on.
We are called to. . .
Treasure God supremely.
Serve each other faithfully.
Reach the world purposefully.