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Joshua 24: You Gotta Serve Somebody Print E-mail
Joshua
Sunday, 27 April 2008

At one point in Bob Dylan’s long career, he professed faith in Christ and released what could only be called a ‘gospel’ album entitled Slow Train Coming.  One of the more popular songs from that album was a track called “Gotta Serve Somebody.”  The verses of the song are filled with descriptions of all types of people: famous and unknown, rich and poor, civil servants, criminals, doctors, lawyers, and the list could go on.  Then, in the chorus of the song, Dylan states: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Yes, indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Well it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  The point that Dylan is seemingly making with the song is that it does not matter who you are or how much money you make, at the end of the day, you are either going to be serving the Lord or serving the Enemy.  In other words, nobody is not serving someone (I am not sure if that is correct English, but you get the point).  We all are serving somebody.

This morning we come to the close of the book of Joshua.  We have seen the conquering of the land along with the division of the land in this book.  We have seen the Lord keep His promises over and over again and we have seen Him call His people to obedience just as much.  In the last couple of weeks, we have seen Joshua addressing the people as they settle in the land and calling them to remain faithful to the Lord.  We find in chapter 24 what many call a covenant renewal ceremony.  The main point of this covenant is to call the people to serve the Lord.  As Dylan’s song echoes, Joshua knows that Israel will either serve the Lord or they will serve the Enemy.  Thus, the book closes with Joshua entreating the people to serve Yahweh.  As we look at this together, I want to ask three questions about serving the Lord: why, how, and when should we serve the Lord?  The passage will give us an answer to all three.

First, why should we serve the Lord?

The Bible gives us many answers to this all important question, but I want to focus on the answer that is highlighted in Joshua 24: We should serve the Lord because of all that He has done for us.  After telling us that the people are now in Shechem (which is where the other covenant renewal ceremony takes place in the book, see 8:30-35), the author quickly moves to Joshua’s speech.  Look again at verses 2-13. 

The Lord begins the ceremony by reminding the people (through Joshua) of all that He has done for them.  He reminds them of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and how He chose them and their offspring to be His people.  He reminds them of the time spent in Egypt and how He rescued them from the Egyptians by drowning their army in the Red Sea.  He reminds them of the victories that they had on the east side of the Jordan, particularly the victory over Balak, the king of Moab, who tried to get Balaam the prophet to curse Israel, but could only bless them.  Then He reminds them of the victories that they have had since they crossed over the Jordan and how they have defeated all of the peoples who were dwelling the Promised Land.  He closes by reminding them that the very cities that they are living in and the food that they are enjoying were given to them by Him.  This brief history of Israel reminds the people of all that the Lord has done for them.  After this, Joshua begins his charge to them in verse 14a with Now therefore…  In other words, Joshua is saying to them, ‘Because of all that the Lord has done for you, you should serve Him faithfully.’ 

The call to serve the Lord because of all that He has done is a repeated theme in the book of Joshua.  Likewise, it is a repeated theme throughout the Bible.  As Christians, we are called to constantly remember all that God has done for us in Christ and to serve Him in light of such grace.  What God has done for us in Christ motivates our service to Him.  I was thinking this week about Church covenants in light of Joshua 24 and I see here the need for beginning our covenants with stating what God has done for us in Christ.  Since God has redeemed us in Christ, we covenant together as a local Body.  This is what is being modeled for us in this chapter.  Joshua begins by reminding of all that the Lord has done for them and on the basis of that, calls them to serve the Lord and to covenant together to be faithful to Him.  Any covenant that a local Body of believers would enter into would do well to follow this model.

Second, how should we serve the Lord?

Once we have heard all the reasons we have to follow the Lord, we must be instructed on how we should follow Him.  The answer that Joshua gives us here is simple: We should serve the Lord with our whole heart.  Look at verses 14-18.  The terms that are translated in sincerity and in faithfulness in verse 14 communicate the idea of serving the Lord with our whole heart.  The Lord does not accept half-hearted devotion.  The Lord demands that we serve Him with all that we are.  Joshua goes on to call them to make their choice.  He knows that they will be tempted to serve the gods that some of their forefathers served or the gods that the people still remaining in the land serve, so he calls them to make their choice. 

He warns them even further against half-heartedness in verses 19-24.  Look at those with me.  After they tell him that they are going to serve the Lord in verses 16-18, he comes back with hard truth concerning the Lord.  Essentially he is telling them, ‘If you think that you can play games with God, you are sadly mistaken.  If you think that you can serve Him when it fits you and serve the other gods when they seem more appealing, then you are wrong.  You must understand that you cannot mix service to Yahweh with service to the other gods.’ 

It could be argued that Joshua is being prophetic here, for it is this temptation that ultimately the next generation of Israel will give in to (see Judges).  He knows that we are half-hearted creatures.  Sure we’ll serve God, but we also want to serve whatever else we think will meet our needs.  We are constantly hedging our bets.  We are constantly trying to serve God and something (whatever that something may be).  But the call that Joshua gives to Israel in such strong language is the same call that comes to us: either serve the Lord with your whole-heart or serve something else.  Jesus, while teaching against serving money, makes the point clear: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13).  If we are going to serve the Lord, then we must not be divided in our service.  No, true service to the Lord is done with whole hear or it is not done at all

Third, when should we serve the Lord?

So we know that we should serve the Lord because of all that He has done for us.  And we know that we should serve Him with our whole heart.  Yet, when, or how long, should we serve the Lord?  Joshua’s answer, as might be expected, can be stated: We should serve the Lord all our days, both now and always.  We have already discussed this verse, but look again at verse 15.  Joshua tells them to choose this day whom you will serve.  He does not say, ‘Whenever it is convenient, serve the Lord,’ or, ‘Whenever you get around to it, serve the Lord.’  No, he tells them to make their choice today.  And just so you know, you cannot put off choosing to serve the Lord.  If you do, you are actually choosing to serve the Enemy.  There is no in between.  You either choose to serve the Lord today or you choose to serve the Enemy today.

Not only should we choose to serve the Lord today, but we should continually serve Him all of our days.  Look at verses 25-28.  Here is where the people actually make the covenant.  They have repeatedly told Joshua that they were going to serve the Lord and so Joshua has them say this formally by making a covenant with them.  Joshua wants them to know that this is not a decision that you make today and change your mind tomorrow.  No, he tells them that they are witnesses against themselves that they have committed to serve the Lord (v. 22).  This could be what has led some to actually sign their Church covenants.  They agreed to being witnesses against themselves.  Not only this, but Joshua goes even further and sets up another stone of remembrance.  The stone will also serve as a witness to the people’s commitment to serve the Lord.  Do you think Joshua wanted the people to take this seriously?  Do you think that he wanted them to ever give up serving the Lord?  No, they are witnesses against themselves, the covenant is a witness against them and the stone is a witness against them.  All of these were there to keep their commitment to the Lord ever before them.  Joshua called them to serve the Lord now and always.

Joshua’s own life was a good example of this type of service.  Look at verses 29-33.  These verses wrap up some of the loose ends.  We are told that Eleazar the priest died and was buried in his families land.  We are told that Joseph’s bones were buried among his families land (a promise that goes all the way back to the end of Genesis).  We are told that the generation who was actually involved in taking the land was faithful to the Lord.  They kept the covenant.  Likewise, we are told that Joshua was faithful to the end.  This is the only time in the book that he is called the servant of the Lord.  In the other places that that phrase is used in the book it refers to Moses.  Yet, here at the end of the account of Joshua, he is given the lofty title of ‘servant of the Lord.’  This is one of the high points in all of the Old Testament.  The people are following after the Lord and the leader of Israel is a shining example of faithful service to God.  As believers in Christ, may it be said of us at the end of our days that we were faithful servants of the Lord!!

Well, we have finished our look at the book of Joshua.  We have repeatedly seen God’s faithfulness to keep His promises to His people.  We have seen His call to obedience.  We have seen what happens when we choose to go our own way.  We have seen the necessity of faith and perseverance.  So then, it really comes down to one exhortation: choose this day whom you will serve.  Will you believe in all that God has accomplished in Christ at the cross?  Will you stop trusting in yourself and your own ‘goodness’ and place all of your faith in Christ?  Will you follow Him with all that you are, refusing to be distracted by the gods of our culture (money, ease, security, comfort, physical pleasure, etc.)?  Will you choose this day, by His grace, to follow Jesus Christ with everything you are, no matter what the cost?  My prayer for you individually and us as a Church is that God’s grace will lead us to such a choice.  Amen. 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 07 May 2008 )

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