“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.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD!’”Joshua 24:19-21
Joshua was approaching the end of his life and knew he would soon die. One last time his love to his people drove him to exhort them make a definite decision about serving God or not: “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” (Joshua 24:15). And then he utters the familiar words: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
When the Israelites protested that they would follow and serve their God who had brought them out of Egypt, Joshua countered with the astounding words: “You cannot serve the LORD!” Why would he make such a negative assertion in his last words to his people?
You cannot serve the LORD
Joshua knew his people. He saw that many of them hadn’t even cared enough to seek their own inheritance in Canaan. He thought back to their constant lack of faith, to their many disobediences and deviations from God’s law. Repeatedly they had turned from God and troubled Him. And now, when they publicly promised to serve God, Joshua maintained that they wouldn’t be able to!
Imagine that someone would have said to you before you became a Christian: “Don’t even bother seeking salvation. I know you won’t be able to serve God!” Would we have taken the step, or would we have just given up? “If a pastor already tells me that there is no hope for me, why even try?”
Why did Joshua make such a harsh statement? Did he want to discourage the Israelites? Was he a bitter old man who couldn’t stand to see them succeed, or for whom the people could never do things well enough? No, he looked at their spiritual stance, at their desires and practices, and he knew that in this condition they would not be committed or faithful.
“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” (Joshua 24:20). Joshua knew they weren’t ready to serve such a holy God. “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” (Verse 19). “And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve the LORD!’” (Verse 21).
Joshua wanted to bring them to the point where they would serve the Lord with all their heart, with total commitment, and with all their strength. There could be no carelessness or compromise. They needed to be consecrated and sold out to God once and for all. Only then would they succeed, and only then would the following generations be faithful to God.
Joshua was so concerned about his people! He would no longer be there to show them the way. He, who had so often been called into the presence of God with Moses and had even been commanded to keep watch in the Sanctuary when Moses returned to the people, now had to abandon his people to their fate. And yet, God was there! What could he, as a man, even do to protect God’s people? Again and again he had had to realize that all his efforts to turn the hearts of the people to God had been in vain! And therefore, with his last words to them, he sought to compel them to an irrevocable decision: “We will serve the LORD!” Joshua knew that God had to be among them. God needed to work on and in their hearts. They needed to have his own “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” engraved in their hearts as their passion and watchword.
“We will serve the LORD”
What about us as church of God in the 21st century? Is that also our firm assertion? Is that our irrevocable commitment, come what may? “We will serve the Lord!”
What does that entail?
1. To serve God will all of our heart and all of our soul. In Israel’s story, they often served God and idols! God and Baal! God and Moloch! God and the world! Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be different in the lives of many “Christians” in our time. But it is not possible to serve God in this manner. Jesus proclaimed that no man can serve two masters, and we will not manage it either. Only if we, our young people, our children, all of us, serve the Lord with all our heart and with all our love will we continue as God’s people!
2. As a result of the Israelites’ commitment to serve the Lord, Joshua brought them into a covenant with God. They entered into it with a promise to remain in it forever: “The LORD, our God, we will serve and Him we will obey.” Then they set up a large stone under an oak tree next to the Tabernacle as a witness to their words. It was to always remind them of their commitment: “We belong to God! We are in a covenant with Him, to serve Him and be His alone.” Dear Reader, won’t you also covenant with God to be His completely and unconditionally forever?
3. Along with the covenant, Joshua included terms and laws for Israel to honor. If we want to serve God, His Word must be integrated into our daily lives. It must become as much a part of us as breathing and eating. We live in a time where great efforts are made to discount all rules and designate them as legalistic. But God gave His people laws in order that they could serve Him. In the New Testament it has become the law of Christ, which remains a law of holiness and love. If it is truly our desire: “We will serve the LORD,” then our love to Him will drive us to find His holy will for our life. Only in holiness is it possible to truly serve God.
4. “We will serve the LORD” also means being faithful to Him. Faithful in great things and small things. Faithful unto death, come what may. Faithful, when all others forsake Him. Also faithful in prayer, faithful in church attendance, faithful in tithing, faithful in commitment and in our love to Him.
May things could added here, but if it is our heart-desire: “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD,” God will surely help us succeed. And we will never regret having lived such a life, with such a commitment: “We will serve the LORD!”