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We come in our study of Joshua to the end of the book. We are going to look at the last two chapters of the book. This passage contains “The Joshua Challenge” (“choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve”). It contains one of the most famous verses in the Bible. It is often quoted by families: But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15 NIV).
These chapters contain ONE sermon, TWO farewells and THREE funerals. Joshua preaches a little sermon in these chapters. Not too many people are still preaching when they get past a hundred. Joshua has an exhortation and the exhortation applies to us today. Everything he says to the Jews is just as relevant to Christians today.
Joshua also says goodbye to the leaders and goodbye to the nation. Joshua 23 is a farewell address from one leader to another leader. Chapter 23 is addressed to leaders. It is like a leadership conference for the “elders, leaders, judges and officials” (Joshua 23:2 NIV).
Chapter 24 is addressed to the whole nation and he did it at Shechem (Joshua 24:1). Shechem was the first place Abraham visited in the Promise Land. It is where God promised him the land of Canaan. The last chapter of Joshua is spoken directly to the people. He spoke that farewell to “all of the people” (Joshua 24:2 NIV), including the leaders.
The book ends with three funerals: the funeral of Joshua (Joshua 24:29-30), of Joseph (Joshua 24:32) and of Eleazar (Joshua 24:33). Two of those men were current leaders. One of the three was a former leader (Joseph). At the end of the book, Joshua is gone, and the high priest is gone. Joshua replaced Moses and Eleazer replaced Aaron. Joshua dies (Joshua 24:29) and is buried (Joshua 24:30).
The amazing thing is that we know where Joshua’s tomb is located. You can visit it today. It is in the West Bank in an Arab village named Kifl Hares. We also know where Joseph’s tomb is located today in Shechem (Nablus). The Book of Joshua ends with the death of two of the leaders of the nation. Let’s look at the setting of these chapters.
After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then a very old man, 2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am very old. (Joshua 23:1-2 NIV)
Joshua’s Last Words
Joshua 23:1 says that a long time has passed. Joshua was old in Joshua 13. God said in Joshua 13:1, “Josh, you are VERY old.” Joshua was very old in that chapter. By the time we get to Joshua 23:1, we are told that “a long time had passed” (NIV).
Joshua now is not just very old but very, very old. Twenty years have gone by. Joshua was around eighty-five in Joshua 13. Now, he is close to a hundred and ten (Joshua 24:29). He is old. He is feeble. He is frail. He was not like Caleb. Caleb was old but was just as strong as he was forty years earlier. Most of us are not like Caleb. We are more like Joshua. War had taken its toll on Joshua’s body. Stress had taken its toll on this old military general.
Age has an effect on our bodies, and it had an effect on Joshua’s body. Joshua says, in Joshua 23:2, “I am very old”. He agrees with God. He also says, in Joshua 23:14, “I am about to die” (NET Bible). Joshua says, “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth” (NIV).
The last two chapters of the book give us Joshua’s last words before he dies. Someone called this “an old general’s final orders.” A man’s last words are often very important. We have a lot of famous last words in the Bible. This is an interesting topic. The last words of the thief on the cross were “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 NIV).
The Bible records Stephen’s last words. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60 NIV).
The Bible records Jacob’s last words. Jacob gathered his sons together and gives his last words in the Book of Genesis before he dies (Genesis 49). The Bible records Moses’ last words before he died (Deuteronomy 33). Paul’s last words are found in the Book of II Timothy. II Timothy is Paul’s last word. It was the last letter he wrote. What did he say in that book?
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (II Timothy 4:6-8 NIV)
II Timothy was written from a cold, dark prison cell just before his death in 67 AD. He was executed by Nero. He was beheaded. Paul talks about his life, his impending death here and what he had to look forward to. He looked forward to life after death. He looked forward to seeing Jesus in the next life. He looked forward to receiving rewards in heaven.
The Bible records Jesus’ last words. Before Jesus died, he had a Last Supper with his disciples. After that supper, he gave more teaching to them. It is called the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-17). It was his last teaching to His disciples.
In the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus told his disciples that He would be leaving them, and they would not see him, but he told them not to be afraid but to take heart. He was not leaving them orphans. He was sending them the Holy Spirit, but He also told them that after a little while they would see him again which they did after the resurrection.
What were Jesus’ last words on the cross? They were a prayer to God. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46 NIV). What were Jesus’ last words in the Bible? He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:20 NIV) or as the KJV reads, “Surely, I come quickly.”
What would be on your mind as you leave this life? If you could say anything to anyone before you died what would it be? What would you say to your wife, if you are married? What would you say to your kids? What would you say to your friends?
Many last words are apologies and a series of regrets. We wished we did much more that we did while we were on earth. Some die angry. Joshua is not bitter or angry. He is not mad at God. Joshua says, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed” (Joshua 23:14 NIV)
God at Work
As Joshua says goodbye to the nation, as he ends his ministry and is about to end his life on this earth, he doesn’t talk a lot about himself. He talks about God. Both of these chapters begin talking about God and what He has done.
After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then a very old man, 2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am very old. 3 You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. 4 Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you. (Joshua 23:1-5 NIV)
“The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. (Joshua 23:9-10 NIV)
Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.
2 Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt.
5 “‘Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. 6 When I brought your people out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. 7 But they cried to the Lord for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.
8 “‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. 9 When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
11 “‘Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. 12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. 13 So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’ (Joshua 24:1-13 NIV)
The focus at the beginning of the farewell is on God. It is about what God has already done in the past and what He will do in the future. The phrase “the Lord Your God” is found fifteen times in the chapter. Joshua does have some accomplishments, but he does not take the credit for them. He says God was the one who fought for them.
Joshua 24 begins with a little history lesson. It covers about five hundred years of Jewish history but, when we study history in school, we learn what people have done and all of their great accomplishments and achievements. We look at history from a human perspective.
This is history from a divine perspective. This is inspired history. It focuses on what God is doing in history. Notice how many times we see the word “I” in Joshua 24. The “I” refers to God. He is talking. He says, “I took…I gave…I assigned…I sent…I afflicted…I brought…I destroyed…I delivered.”
Joshua’s Five Exhortations
As Joshua is ready to leave this world and as he looks at his nation, he has some concerns. They are not fears for himself. Joshua is not afraid to die. He looks at the future of the nation. A good leader sees down the road and does not just look at the present. Based on these three concerns, he gives the nations, five exhortations.
Joshua’s first concern was that they would stop following the Lord. It is one thing to make a profession of faith. It is another thing to live out that profession all of your life. It is much easier to conquer the Promise Land militarily than it is to live in the land faithfully all of your life in obedience to God.
Joshua’s first concern is that after he leaves, the nation will not continue to follow the Lord and he gives a very serious warning to the nation. As a matter of fact, they did follow the Lord, but their kids did not. We know that from the Book of Judges. Joshua’s concerns were not exaggerated. He must have had the gift of prophecy. He knew what would happen in the future.
After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to their own inheritance. 7 The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.
8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. (Judges 2:6-13 NIV)
Joshua exhorts the Israelites to obey God, to serve God, to fear God and to love God. He exhorts all of us to do this as well.
“Be very strong; be careful to obey ALL that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. (Joshua 23:6 NIV).
We talked about this idea before. Many think there is only one way to go off. This verse says that there is more than one way to go off. Some go off on the left side. They are too liberal. Some would never do that, but they go of another way. They go off on the right side and become too strict. They become too conservative. How do we avoid both extremes?
Follow the Bible. Follow the whole Bible. Some just preach half of the Bible. We need to preach the whole counsel of God. If we read the Word, meditate on it and do it, we will be in the center of the road and we will not go off to the right or to the left. Are we obedient to the Lord or are we living in open disobedience to God?
But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Joshua 22:5 NIV)
Psalm 100:2 says, “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Do we serve the Lord? What are we doing to serve the Lord? We are the hands and feet of Jesus on the earth. Do we do it with gladness? Deuteronomy 11:13 says that we are “to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (NIV). We are to serve him enthusiastically. Psalms 2:11 says, “Serve the LORD with fear” (NIV). That is another thing Joshua says.
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. (Joshua 24:14 NIV).
One of the characteristics of the unsaved is that they have no fear of God at all (Romans 3:18). The truth is that very few churches have any fear of God either. The problem in the church today is that people see God as their friend or their buddy. Some people in church think that God is their hommie. They do not see him as the eternal holy all-powerful Creator of the universe.
The problem is that we have watered down that word in the church today. Fear does not mean fear. Are they right? When God showed up in a theophany on Mount Sinai and spoke audibly to two million people in a loud voice, they were terrified. They moved back.
They knew if they even touched the mountain, they would drop dead. Joshua talks about fear. Do they have anything to be afraid of? God has just blessed them. He put them in the Promise Land. They are in the place of prosperity but notice what else Joshua says.
“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you.
16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.” (Joshua 23:14-16 NIV)
Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” (Joshua 24:19-20 NIV)
These are difficult verses for some. Many think God ONLY brings good things on people. God would never bring bad things on people. He would never bring disease or sickness or suffering on people and yet this verse says that God can bring GOOD THINGS on people.
He can bring EVIL THINGS on people. Many think that God is just a God of love. He doesn’t get angry. Here Joshua talks about God’s anger burning on His own people.
Of course, if we are saved, we do not have to fear the wrath of God. We do not have to fear going to Hell. Jesus bore the wrath of God FOR US. Paul said that there is NO CONDEMNATION to all those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
That is true but we should still have a fear of God today. God is still holy. He is still a jealous God. His nature has not changed. He still judges sin. The NT says to believers “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 NIV). We should not have a light view of sin. To fear the LORD is to hate evil (Proverbs 8:13 NIV).
But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Joshua 22:5 NIV)
Be very careful to love the Lord your God. (Joshua 23:11 NIV)
That is strange. How can you fear someone and love him at the same time? Apparently, you can. The Bible tells us to do both. We are commanded to fear God and we commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We should not serve God because we have to but because we want to and because he is a good God.
2. Don’t worship idols
Joshua’s second concern is that after he died, the nation would worship idols.
7 Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. (Joshua 23:7 NIV)
That is why the Jews were not allowed to intermarry with the Canaanites. It is not because god is against interracial marriages. They were both Semitic peoples. Moses had an interracial marriage. He married an Ethiopian. It is because intermarriage with pagan men and women led to idolatry. That is what happened to King Solomon. They were to have NO connection to idolatry. Joshua told them not to even say the name of these false gods.
We are given the same exhortation in the NT. We are told to flee from idolatry (I Corinthians 10:14). We are told to keep ourselves from idols (I John 5:21). We are also told in the NT not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (II Corinthians 6:14). Everything Joshua said applies to us today. Are we guilty of idolatry today? Are we unequally yoked with unbelievers?
3. Don’t try to worship God and idols
Joshua’s third concern is that after he died is that the nation would compromise their faith. The biggest concern that Joshua had is that people would try to worship BOTH God and idols. It is the biggest problem in the church today.
“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…. “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods THAT ARE AMONG YOU and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Joshua 24:15, 23 NIV)
What is going on here? The Jews wanted to worship the Lord but they also had some idols. Joshua told them to get rid of the idols. He said, “Get rid of the foreign gods among you.” Do we have anything we need to get rid of in our lives?
Joshua’s Altar Call
At the end of Joshua’s sermon, he has an altar call. A good preacher has an altar call.
“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. 15 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)
This altar call involves a personal decision. Joshua draws a lie in the sand and tells people to make a decision. It is the hour of decision. Joshua tells people to make a choice. It was a clear choice. There was no sitting on the fence. What type of choice was this?
1) This choice was PERSONAL (choose this day whom YOU will serve).
2) This choice was SPIRITUAL (choose this day whom you will SERVE). It was about who they would worship. It was a religious choice.
3) This choice was IMMEDIATE (this day).
It was something they were to do right away and not put off.
4) This choice was EXCLUSIVE.
They were to choose to worship the Lord or idols. They could NOT worship both. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24 NIV).
5) This choice involved ACTIONS (put away the gods of your ancestors).
They were to actually do some things, not just believe some doctrines in their head. They had to throw their idols in the fire. He does this at Shechem. That was the very place where Jacob got rid of the idols in his family (Genesis 35:2-4).
6) This choice was to be AUTHENTIC.
It was to be genuine. It was NOT to be rash. It was NOT to be impulsive. When Joshua asks for a choice, they said that they want to serve the Lord. He says, Are you sure? We almost never do this today in evangelism. Evangelists today do the exact opposite. Many today use high pressure sales tactics to get a decision. He uses a large stone as a witness of their oath to the Lord.
Joshua 24:15 & Calvinism
Joshua 24:15 is an important verse on human responsibility and on free will. Life is a series of choices that we make every day. God gives people the ability to make choices. We can choose to worship God. We can choose to live for God. We can choose to become an atheist.
Some use this passage to prove that Calvinism is wrong. Some say that this one verse completely refutes Calvinism. This verse says that people have a choice who are worship? Are they right? Keep in mind that Joshua 24 is not addressed to Canaanites. It is addressed to Israelites. It is dealing with the people of God choosing to worship God.
The truth is that the Bible teaches that people choose God (Joshua 24:15. It also teaches that God chooses people. It teaches BOTH. In fact, it teaches that in Joshua 24. God chose Abraham. He chose the nation of Israel. Abraham was an idol worshiper (Joshua 24:2). Calvinists believe that we need to make a choice but they also believe that prior to our choice, God also made a choice, so there is no contraduction between the two.