Joshua 24:19-22 “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. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make and end of you, after he has been good to you.’ But the people said to Joshua, ‘No! We will serve the Lord.’ Then Joshua said, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.’”
Pleasing God is a simple thing, but it is not an easy thing. If we want to please the Lord, his one command, really, is, “love.” Follow this one principle in all you practice, let love drive all you do, and the Lord will be pleased.
Simple, but not easy. In fact, Joshua says, “Impossible.” God is holy. He is pleased with nothing short of absolute perfection. God is jealous. When love which we should direct to him is directed to other gods, when first place in our hearts is given to the very gifts with which he has blessed us, he will not tolerate it.
Such rebellion and sin is not hard to find. Sometimes it comes right on the heels of God’s goodness. Israel heard God’s voice at Sinai. They received his assurance that he was making them his very own people. Yet just a month later they were worshiping the golden calf. The Lord delivered them from Balak, king of Moab, in the wilderness. Then they turned around and worshiped the Moabite god and committed adultery with the Moabite women. Israel grumbled and complained against the Lord every time the journey became a little difficult. They forgot to seek the Lord in faith and ask for his help. Their weakness was easy to see.
Remember ours? Our Old Adams are always rebels. Even at our best we live on the precipice, ready to start down the slippery slope toward unbelief. It may not begin with outright apostasy. It begins more subtly with first place in our hearts going to something other than our Lord. Our secret idol could be anything–treasure, family, prestige, some noble earthly cause. That may proceed to a quiet preference for personal ease and comfort over a life lived in actively loving and giving to others. Or perhaps faith dims after working hard and fighting the good fight for years and years. Finally, we feel like we have been wandering in the wilderness too long, and losing too many battles. “I’ve had it! I’m not going to fight this any longer.” We slowly lose our love for the word. The gospel becomes boring. We have no more heart for sharing the good news with the unbelieving of this generation…or our own children in the next.
Would the Lord really refuse to forgive, as Joshua claims? He does so when people remain hardened in their unbelief. He did with so many of the Israelites who died in the wilderness. They insisted on remaining God’s enemies. Joshua explains, “If you forsake the Lord, and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you, and will make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”
Where did that leave these people? Where does that leave us? There is only one conclusion to which this leads. When we have considered what brought us this far, choose God’s service. “But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”
Perhaps you notice that the emphasis in the words “serve the Lord” is not so much on our doing. It is on the Lord we serve. This is foremost a statement of faith. The people were expressing their faith in the true God, in contrast to all the false gods that surrounded them. They knew they could not make it without him. They trusted that the God who saves his people, and the God who keeps his people, would continue to save them and keep them, even when it meant saving them from themselves.
So Joshua concludes, “You are witnesses against yourselves, that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” Could Joshua’s words possibly be right? Did they choose this? Don’t we all learn from the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, nor come to him.” Isn’t faith the work of the Holy Spirit in us?
So it is. But Joshua wasn’t talking to unbelievers. He was speaking to believing children of God, people whose bodies had become the temple of the Holy Spirit. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, who had changed their hearts and made them his home, they chose to serve the Lord who had been so good to them.
Today, let us answer Joshua’s challenge in the same way. Remembering God’s goodness, the forgiveness and the freedom he has given us in Christ, let’s choose to serve the Lord. Remembering our weakness and sin, this God, who has brought us this far, will always be our only hope.