Joshua 23: The Charge
March 27, 2011 Series: Joshua: Lord's Army
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Joshua 23:1–23:16
Scripture Reading: Joshua 1.1-9
V. 1-2 – The Final Words
In these last two sermons, on the last two chapters, the narrative ends with Joshua and two different farewell addresses. Many of the great leaders in the Bible have had final speeches shortly before their deaths: Jacob, as he and his family settled in Egypt, prayed over each of his sons with a view of the Promised Land (Genesis 48). Similarly, Moses gave a blessing over each of the tribes just before God showed him the Promised Land he would not enter. And now, Joshua gives his own farewell address to those now living in the Promised Land.
Joshua has been leading, or helping to Moses to lead, Israel for well over 50 years—first as Moses’ right hand-man and then as his successor. Following Moses death, and just before entering the land of Canaan, God promised Joshua success as a leader if he followed God’s Word as he led. Now, many years and many battles later, all God’s enemies have been subdued, the leaders have been appointed to protect the God-given geographic boundaries of the land, and the priests (worship warriors) have been established to protect the God-given spiritual boundaries in the land. The land is at rest but the old faithful leader is somewhat restless as he considers the future faithfulness of the next generation. A long time afterward, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, 2 Joshua summoned all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years…
Our mortality, our final words
Joshua gathers the leaders of Israel and tells them, I AM OLD and later, in verse 14 he says, I AM GOING TO DIE. Unlike Joshua, when I consider my own mortality, my thoughts are fairly self-centered. I think about how I might LIVE differently in the short time I have, which makes me wonder how I would have LIVED differently given more time. Then there is the “kick-the-bucket list” of things to do, places to go, and wrongs to right so that life can be “complete.” There is nothing inherently wrong with a bucket list; until these lists tempt us into believing satisfaction, meaning, and true joy in life comes from anything this world can offer. Joshua doesn’t have a bucket list because Joshua’s measure for what is desirable, meaningful, and successful is not of this world. He is content. He is successful. He is fully satisfied with who God made him, with what God gave him to do, and with all that God blessed him with. The only thing he has left to do is impart what he believes is the key to his success to the next generation. How many of us think that way?
A Funeral Farewell
Most of us will not get the opportunity to give a farewell address as death seems to surprise us all. I recently officiated a funeral for a man I never met who died in a motorcycle accident. I don’t know if he knew Jesus or not. Funerals are always strange experiences because almost without fail, the deceased individual is made out to be a saint—believer or not. And while I appreciate the celebration of life, often the person ends up sounding like the most amazing person that ever lived. And if you listen closely, through the words and stories of friends and family, you can hear the “farewell address”, the last words of the deceased, those things which they REALLY considered the most important bit of wisdom; that essential truth they would entrust given the opportunity. It was that thing they are known for, that thing they oriented their life around, that thing sacrificed for, that thing they spent their time and money on, that thing they worshipped.
What’s your one thing? What would be in your farewell address to teach entrust to the next generation? Consider this for yourself and not for anyone else. What I mean is, don’t try and make yourself sound “spiritual” by saying something that isn’t true to make yourself feel better or impress any of us. What is true? How is our life oriented? How is it lived out? What do you genuinely believe is the key to success in all areas of life? What would you tell your children? Your friends? Your co-workers? A sobering truth is that all of us are living our farewell address right now. You are already preparing and saying something about what is of most importance in your life by how you live.
V. 3-8 Remember what God has done
And unlike a lot of us, Joshua is no hypocrite. His farewell address is about God’s faithfulness and man’s responsibility. And unlike a lot of leaders, pastors, fathers, and other men, it packs power because it matches his life. His address begins in verse 3: 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you. 4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you.
Be a witness
The first thing that Joshua wants his people to do is to REMEMBER what God has done. Joshua reminds a generation of WITNESSES to pass on the story of how God fought to next generation so that they will continue to fight. Remember, he says, “How he has fought for you” (3b.) there is new work to do, new battles to fight, new families and churches to build EVERY GENERATION. We faithfully follow because God has proven himself faithful to those who came before us. Chrsitianity is not some wild leap of faith divorced from history or reason. On the contrary, our very faith in Christ is rooted in history, having been passed on from men who witnessed real historical events. We are not eyewitnesses, but we are witnesses of the record of those who were. 1John 1.1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. Joshua charges them to remember what God has really done for “YOU” because he knows that remembering God’s specific faithfulness protect us from unbelief, from pride, from despair, especially when our faith is tested through trials of suffering and we are tempted to find other saviors. Our HOPE rests on what has happened in Jesus, not in a person, not in a title, not in fame, not in power, not in education, not in a lottery ticket, not in a job, not in a cure, but in Jesus.
- Jesus, the Son of God, taking on human flesh
- Jesus living a perfect sinless life in a town called Nazareth for 30 years
- Jesus dying on the cross to forgive sins
- Jesus freeing us from slavery to sin and conquering death
- Jesus raising from the death and giving me new life
- Jesus sending his Spirit to comfort, empower, teach us
- Jesus building His church family until He returns
*The first truth Joshua shares, REMEMBER WHAT GOD HAS DONE. This is where we must set our HOPE.
Remembering and preaching what God has done is not only for a witness to the world, it is for a witness to Israel. There is still much more work to do, more lands to conquer, more battles to wage. In verse 6, Joshua says, THEREFORE, or since you know that God has proven himself to be a faithful husband, BE A FAITHFUL BRIDE TO HIM. 6 Therefore,be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall CLING to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. Translated, God does what he says; THEREFORE, you do what he says. The standard of obedience is God’s Word and success is dependent on obedience. I hate that every time I talk about obedience, red lights and legalism alarms go off, as if believers are expected to do nothing. I believe that salvation, a right position with God, comes through faith in the sinless life that Jesus lived and the death that he experienced for me. That truth changes me, or it should. Having been saved by Jesus, do I align myself with God’s Word; do I delight in it; do I fight the temptation to turn away from it? IF this is not my disposition, if this is not desirable to me, if God’s Word is not the standard by which I govern my life then I do not worship God.
Cling to God
We worship something, either the God who made us or a creation we’ve made into god. And an old, dying Joshua warns them to resist idols and “CLING” to the LORD. This is the same word used for a man who CLEAVES to his wife, it is a term that describes something that is joined together and is inseperable, the most intimate of relationships. We cling to God. It is an act of devotion to his Word. More than singing songs, more than preaching sermons, more than feeding the homeless, our obedience is worship. Worship is not simply emotional feelings that we passively experience. Joshua understood it as obedience. It is worship to align your life with God’s Word. You worship God by honoring his ways in marriage, in parenting, in how work, in how we love, even in how we eat and drink.
*The second truth Joshua shares, CLING TO GOD by DEVOTING YOURSELF TO HIS WORD. This is where we find success, joy, and contentment.
V.9-13 Remember to NOT CLING to IDOLS
In verses 9-13, Joshua clarifies his call for obedience, as a simply charge to LOVE the LORD. 9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.
12 For if you turn back and CLING to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.
Love the LORD
The call to faithfulness, the command to obey, is a charge to LOVE the LORD, to delight yourself in the LORD, to be most satisfied in the LORD. If you don’t strive to obey God’s Word, if you’re just not “religious” like that, if you’re not careful or intentional (didn’t say perfect) about knowing God and His Word, then it’s not because you don’t love God’s Word…it is because you don’t love God. A love for God and His Word is not the benchmark to strive for, itis the essential characteristic of God’s people.
The SHEMA is the most important prayer for the Jews. It is usually the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns. It’s recited in the synagogues, posted on doorposts, and many Jews recite it at least twice daily: once in the morning and once in the evening. It is found in Deut. 6 (read with context):
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. God’s people remember what God has done, devote themselves to God’s Word, because they love God.
Do you LOVE the LORD more
That seems like a strange thing to say, “be careful” to love God. But NOT when you consider how tempting it is to fall in the love with the world’s wisdom whom God personifies as an adulteress. And though theologically we may not be able to fall out of a covenanted relationship, we can certain;;y grow closer or further apart INTIMATELY within that covenanted relationship. How does this happen…we love other things more. Joshua here uses the same word, “CLING” to describe how we often become intimately involved with, and devoted to the world. Even if we are a bride, we are unfaithful one. And so we must be careful to love God. Are you careful to love God more than everything else? Do you? Could you as Paul says, in Philippians 3.8-11 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…
*The most important truths Joshua wants to share before he dies….REMEMBER WHAT GOD HAS DONE…DEVOTE YOURSELF TO WHAT HE SAYS….LOVE HIM MORE THAN YOU LOVE ANYTHING ELSE.
V. 14-16 Remember the Blessing & Cursing
Clos this down…Up to this point, Joshua’s farewell speech has been very uplifting—GOD HAS FOUGHT FOR YOU, GOD SPEAKS TO YOU, GOD LOVES YOU, GOD IS FAITHFUL TO YOU. In these last three verses, Joshua emphasizes another aspect of God’s faithfulness…14 “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. 15 But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.”
God brings good AND evil things
Unlike some of today’s pansified pastors, Joshua intends his last sermon to include both PROMISES and blessing AND PROMISES of Cursing. And make no mistake about it, God is faithful…to both! His Words echo back to the experience at Shechem between the mountains of Ebal and Geizim where every blessing and every cursing were read aloud to everyone, young and old.
In other words, Joshua says very plainly that the blessings of God depended whether or not people kept God’s commands. If they fight to love the LORD, they will experience blessing, if not in this world, than the next. But if they fight for their lust, they will be judged by God, if not in this world, than the next.
These are the last words of a leader with a deep concern for legacy, with a commitment to make sure EVERYONE hears EVERY WORD before he dies. And so, I stand before you as if this is my farewell address. There is one true God. And this one true God made a good world and gave this world to men. And men rejected God and His Word. But God sent Jesus of Nazareth to save sinners. He really died. He really rose from the dead. And it is his name along through which men will be saved. Loving the world, loving anything more than God, has eternal consequences. It does matter how you respond to Jesus in this life. So I am going to call it like it is. No more theological gymnastics to make yourself feel better about that fact that you cling to everything but God in this world, that you really don’t care about God’s Word. Repent and believe, receive eternal life through Lord Jesus or experience eternal death from Judge Jesus.
And at my funeral, it better NOT be a celebration about how nice a guy I was, how many good things I did, how many foolish things I said, not even how much I loved Jesus, RATHER, please someone preach terrible, undeserving, and broken sinner I knew I was, and yet how much Jesus loved me.
Not all of us will get 110 years like Joshua. Some of us may only get a few more days. But the thief on the cross demonstrated the power of even a moment of faithfulness. That one moment of faithfulness outweighs years of rebellion.