We are at the time of the year when many people are giving some last words to their children as they head to school. You might tell the child going to Kindergarten: “Don’t eat the paste”; “Listen to your teacher”; or “don’t ever talk about embarrassing things that take place at home”. For a student heading off to college you might tell them to “work hard”, “make good choices” or “be careful because there are dangerous people out there in the world”. In both cases you would probably remind your child that you love them.
Whether you are talking to a student heading off to school, a bride about to walk down the aisle, a friend getting ready to move away, or sharing with your family who has gathered around your death bed, you try to choose your last words carefully.
As we get into Joshua chapter 23 & 24 we read the last words of Joshua. In chapter 23 Joshua spoke to the leaders of Israel. In chapter 24 he spoke directly to the people. These are words that come after a lifetime of reflection and because of that, they are filled with wisdom.
Years have passed since chapter 22 and the return of the 2 ½ tribes to their land on the east side of the Jordan. Chapter 23 begins with the words: “After a long time had passed”. All we know for sure is that it is the end of Joshua’s life and he is in essence “passing on the baton”. As you read these words you discover that Joshua told the people how they could continue to experience the blessing, rather than the judgment, of God. In his talk to the leaders, Joshua gave five directives.
GIVE GOD CREDIT (vv.3-4)
Joshua began by reminding the leaders that they had been blessed by God.
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 Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God himself will drive them out of your way. He will push them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.
Have you ever heard of a foxhole Christian? It is a person who cries out to God in a time of crisis (usually making promises of a transformed life), who, when the crisis has passed, forgets all those promises. That happens to many people. When we are in the middle of a struggle we are very much aware of how much we are depending on the strength, wisdom, and guidance of the Lord. However, when the struggle is over we forget the Lord’s involvement and feel WE have done a pretty good job handling the situation.
Joshua was concerned that over the course of time the people would start to believe that they had gained the Promised Land through their honed military skills or their brilliant strategists. Joshua wanted them to remember that what they had, and who they were, were results of God’s work in their lives. They needed Him.
When we start to believe that we have experienced God’s blessing because of our goodness, our programs, or our sense of vision, we begin to exalt ourselves rather than the Lord. This moves us away from God’s blessings rather than being open to them.
Notice something else. Joshua does not ask these people to take “a leap of faith”. He doesn’t tell us to believe in God in spite of the evidence. Instead, he tells them to base their confidence in the Lord on the facts of history. Christian belief is not anchored to our beliefs about God . . . it is based on the PAST ACTIONS of God.
At the end of the gospel of John the Apostle tells us,
Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. [John 20:30-31)
John appealed to us to have faith in Christ based on the evidence of His life. Other religions appeal to ideas, slogans and concepts. Christianity appeals to facts. Joshua wants us to remember the facts so that we will have a basis for hope and trust.
I think it is good to look at your wedding pictures and watch wedding videos on your anniversary. It reminds you of where you have been so that you can be refocused on building a strong marriage. In the same way it is good to remember the joy you felt when your child was born, so that you continue to cherish and make time for that child when life starts to become hectic.
It is easy for us to feel overmatched when we face what seems impossible situation. That’s when we need to remember that we serve a God who specializes in impossible situations. It is easy to look at our extremely secular or pagan culture and think that it is beyond hope. However, as we look back on our history we realize that there have been pagan cultures before, and they have been transformed by the power of the Gospel message. Whenever God’s people have dared to trust God fully, communities, countries and societies have been changed. We must never forget that we serve a great God and we have been extended an unfathomable mercy. We must give Him credit for the past so that we will have a basis for trusting Him in the future.
The second thing Joshua told the leaders is found in verse 6,
“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.
These are not strange words to us. Throughout the Book of Joshua we have seen an emphasis on doing what God says. In the very first chapter of Joshua, God spoke to Joshua and said,
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:7-8)
Joshua passed on this counsel because he had come to see the wisdom of these words in his own life. We must not only know the Word of God, we must come to know the God of the Word. The best way to do this is to obey the Word without turning to the right or to the left. We must obey completely.
There is a stop sign out in front of our home. It is interesting to sit on the front steps, especially during the school year, when the road is heavily traveled. I’ve noticed that people respond to the Stop sign in different ways. Some people come to the intersection, come to a stop, look both ways, and then move forward. Others come to what is commonly called a “rolling stop”. Basically they slow down, they are prepared to stop, but when they see that there is no cross traffic, they continue on. Still others barely even slow down. They check for traffic and drive on through the stop sign.
People approach the Word of God in much the same way. Some profess to follow the Word of God but they never stop to hear what it says. Others slow down to read a couple of verses, maybe underline a key verse, and then roll on into their daily schedule. However, the people who gain wisdom, the ones who are most protected from the “accidents” of life, are those who take time to stop and pay attention to what God says. They make time for God. They pay attention to what He says. They adjust their lives to what the Bible says, rather than the other way around.
I am reminded of words attributed to the brilliant pianist Arthur Rubinstein. He said something to this effect: “When I miss practicing one day, nobody knows it. Two days, I know it. Three days, and the world knows it.” It is the same way with the Word of God. Unless we daily give attention to God’s Word we will start to turn to the right or to the left. We will start to suffer spiritually.
LIVE A SEPARATED LIFE (7)
There is a third directive from Joshua that we find in verse 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. 8 But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.
Joshua was concerned about the corrupting influence of the nations and peoples that still exist in their midst. There were strict laws about intermarriage (see verse 12). These laws were not about mixing races . . . it was about mixing religious loyalties. We would say today that it is the danger of conflicting worldviews.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14, 15 Paul told the people of Corinth,
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
17“Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord
Paul was concerned about the same thing that Joshua was concerned about. When we become “yoked” (either through marriage or other situations) with an unbeliever, we are in danger of a serious compromise of our faith. This is why a Christian is not to marry a non-Christian. Such a union inevitably leads to spiritual compromise.
In James 4:4 we read,
don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
We see this compromise in many areas. I have been haunted by an on the street interview done by evangelist Ray Comfort. He was in Hollywood and he stopped people and asked them if they were “Christians”. To the believers he asked, “Do you go to R-rated movies?” Almost everyone said, “Yes, sometimes”. Comfort then asked them, “Does it bother you when they blaspheme God by taking God’s name in vain; or using God’s name as a cuss word?” The answer again was, “Yes, but it is the way the world talks”. Then Comfort asked a penetrating question: “Would you go to a movie where they were using your mother’s name as a cuss word?” They answered “No”. “Then why” He asks, “would you watch a movie where God’s name is used in that way?” Each person realized they had compromised with the world.
This last week on Fox News they reported about a Catholic cleric, who suggested Christians should start calling God “Allah” in an effort to build a bridge with Muslims. Joshua said, “Do not invoke the name of their gods”. Such compromises erode the faith beneath us. Before long our “Christianity” will bear no resemblance to the faith of the Bible. This is the kind of compromise Joshua is warning us about.
How different is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3. King Nebuchadnezzar made a law that said when the trumpets sounded all the people had to bow in worship to a ninety foot statue. Those who refused would be thrown into a fiery furnace. The three Jewish men knew that to bow before the statue would go against what God had commanded. The Lord alone was worthy of worship. The men were arrested and threatened with the furnace and their response was this,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” [Daniel 3:16-18]
These men refused to compromise and God protected them in the furnace! Later in the same book, King Darius issued a decree that made prayer a capital offense. Daniel went home and prayed to the Lord. He was arrested, and thrown into the lions den. Daniel refused to compromise. God shut the mouth of the lions.
Joshua encouraged us to resist the press of the world. He challenges us to live like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and like thousands of others who have gone before us. He calls us to boldly serve the Lord without wavering.
LOVE THE LORD (v. 11)
The fourth directive is pretty simple, “be very careful to love the Lord your God.”
It’s a familiar command. The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is “to love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” We are to love God because He is worthy of love. He is excellent. He is praiseworthy. He has given us life both physically and spiritually. He has proved His love again and again.
This positive command contains a negative warning. It is possible to be married and have a misplaced love.
- We can love how someone looks
- We can love how they make us feel
- We can love the way they take care of us
- We can love what they provide for us
But that is not the same as loving the person. One kind of love is focused on what we are getting the other is focused on who the person is. The first kind of love is selfish. The other is not.
Joshua calls us to love God. We must do a careful evaluation and make sure that our love is pure. It is easy to love other things.
- We can love the world God has created
- We can love the life God has given
- We can love the blessings God has bestowed
- We can even love the church or the study of God
It is great to love and appreciate the blessings of God, but that is no substitute for truly loving the Lord.
COUNT THE COST (15-16)
The final directive is in verses 15-16
just as every good promise of the Lord your God has come true, so the Lord will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he 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 was telling the people to count the cost. They needed to realize that there are consequences to their choices and their actions. If they chose to follow the Lord by esteeming Him, obeying Him, loving Him, and honoring Him by living lives that are different than that of the world around them; they would continue to know God’s blessing. If they chose not to do those things, they would experience God’s judgment.
We need that same reminder. There are practical consequences to the life we chose to live. So let me ask: Is life hard right now? Do you feel that God is far away and that nothing seems to be working the way it should be working? Do you lack His blessing in your life? It could be that you have ignored Joshua’s counsel.
- Is your heart divided? Have others things become more important to you than the things of God? If so, realign your priorities and put God first in your life.
- Are you taking a casual approach to God’s commands? Are you “rolling through” the “stop signs” in the Bible? Are you justifying your disobedience? Are you doing something you know is wrong? Disobedience is like a pipe that has sprung a leak in your home. It makes a mess. No matter how much you bail, no matter how hard you work, you will not make things better until you fix the leak in the pipe. If your life is “leaking” then find the place of disobedience and do what is right.
- Have you forgotten the greatness of God and started taking Him for granted? Is it possible that you are experiencing a “spiritual power outage” because you have disconnected from the power source? Remember who God is. He is our strength. He is our fortress. He is the One who brings blessing. Stop putting your hope in your schemes and put your confidence in His grace, mercy, and power. The God who has been faithful in the past, will be faithful in the present.
- Is it possible that you aren’t even a part of God’s family yet? Have you given up all hope of being “good enough” for Heaven? Have you put your trust and confidence in the work of Jesus on your behalf? Have you received the forgiveness that He paid for at the cross and the new life that comes from the resurrection? If you haven’t done this, then that’s the place the start.
I know in some respects Joshua’s words sound like the same old thing you’ve heard many times before. Instead of dismissing these words with a wave of the hand as you hear “blah, blah, blah”, maybe it is time that we truly listen. Perhaps the reason these commands are repeated over and over is because these words really are the key to living a life that is blessed by God.