(watch here: https://youtu.be/7jThJBFu1Nw)
1Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; 4and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness for a long time. 8Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9Then King Balak, son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. 11When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. 12I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13I gave you a land on which you had not laboured, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.
14‘Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
16Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’
19But 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 or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.’ 21And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, we will serve the Lord!’ 22Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ 23He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ 24The people said to Joshua, ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.’ 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. 26Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord.
There’s a funny one about a journalist who was assigned to the Jerusalem bureau of his newspaper. He gets an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall. After several weeks he realizes that whenever he looks at the wall he sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. The journalist wondered whether there was a publishable story here. He goes down to the wall, introduces himself and says: “You come every day to the wall. What are you praying for?” The old man replies: “What am I praying for? In the morning I pray for world peace, then I pray for the brotherhood of man. I go home, have a glass of tea, and I come back to the wall to pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.” The journalist is taken by the old man’s sincerity and persistence. “You mean you have been coming to the wall to pray every day for these things?” The old man nods. “How long have you been coming to the wall to pray for these things?” The old man becomes reflective and then replies: “How long? Maybe twenty, twenty-five years.” The amazed journalist finally asks: “How does it feel to come and pray every day for over 20 years for these things?” “How does it feel?” the old man replies. “It feels like I’m talking to a wall.”
We laugh at the absurdity of that old man’s commitment and yet it is precisely the commitment that God asks of you and me as we heard in our reading for this morning. Joshua had taken up the mantle of leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. Moses miraculously brought them through the Red Sea, gathered them at the foot of Mt. Sinai, bestowed upon them God’s Ten Commandments, and led them through the wilderness for 40 years. Just as he was on the brink of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land of Canaan, God called him to Mt. Nebo along with his righthand man, Joshua. It was there that God allowed Moses to look into the land but nothing more. Moses died on that mountain and Joshua went on to lead the people into that land.
Naturally, after 40 years of wondering through the wilderness and several years of comfortable living in Canaan, the Israelites had forgotten both where they were going and where they had come from. They had forgotten how God had been with them through their great exodus out of slavery in Egypt and their 40-year wanderings. But Joshua hadn’t forgotten. No, Joshua remembered quite well how God was with them through their exodus and wanderings as we heard in the first half of our reading. Joshua saw how the people had forgotten and, as their leader, took it upon himself to remind them. Why? To encourage them to reconnect with the one, true God who made their easy living even possibly. To encourage them to stop worshipping false idols and false gods just as they had done way back at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Evidently 40 years of wilderness wanderings wasn’t enough to correct bad habits! The Israelites needed to be reminded of who saved them if only so they might have appropriately appreciative hearts. The Israelites had become ungrateful and unworthy in their forgetfulness, not a good thing to become. Lest they lose God’s favor, Joshua tries to persuade them to give God the praise and honor He deserves as their true redeemer and benefactor.
After giving the Israelites (and us!) a quick recap of God’s continual guidance and protection, Joshua takes a couple unusual approaches towards convincing them. First, he throws his hands up in the air and makes his famously bold statement, “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Not only does he lead by example but he also reveals a commitment that is far more convincing than simply recounting the exodus and wilderness wanderings. It’s as if he was saying, “Look, I don’t really care who you worship or how you live your lives but I’m going to live for the Lord and worship him alone because it is the right thing to do.” Such commitment, such resolve, is powerfully convincing: “If he’s that committed, than maybe I should be too.” The Israelites try to feign Joshua’s level of commitment but he sees right through it and uses reverse psychology. In verses 19-20 he says, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” Joshua and the Israelites go back and forth until Joshua is finally convinced they are truly committed to serving and worshiping God alone.
Now Joshua’s commitment to serving and obeying God was no more absurd than that old man’s at the Wailing Wall. True commitment can come across as absurd. Doing the right thing, doing what God wants us to do, can come across as absurd. Why? Because we live in a world that is rife with sin. Because we live in a world that is filled with false gods and false idols. Because we live in a world in which we are constantly tempted to do the wrong thing. This is God’s world but the devil has a strong presence here as well. Which makes commitment to God and God’s will all the more important. We need God to resist temptation. We need God for life to flourish. We need God to protect us from the evils of this world. Plain and simple, we need God! Commitment is about survival…our survival. God will survive with or without our commitment to him but we won’t survive without a commitment to and from him. God is our deliverer. God is our provider. God is our rock. Proverbs 16:3 assures us, “commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” When we commit to God, He commits to us, going to work in our lives created new and wonderful opportunities and blessings. Psalm 37:5 proclaims, “commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” God will act and for the good of those who love him! Of this we are assured!
It is true, a commitment to God does produce hardship. He is a jealous God that refuses partial commitment which means we have to give him our whole hearts if we are to receive his good blessings. All those false gods and false idols will work even harder to earn our love and trust. Resisting temptation is hard, not because of what it does to us bodily but because it denies us immediate gratification and pleasure. It is hard at times to distinguish our immediate bodily needs from those less than immediate needs. We must serve our bodies only so far as to allow them to bring glory to God. And we are assured by passages like 2 Timothy 1:12, “…and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” A few verses later Timothy writes, “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2:15) Satisfy the needs of the body but do so with integrity. Stay committed to bringing God glory in all that you do! Only then can we make the same claim as Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (4:7)
Commitment IS absurd and hard in a world like this one. God understands this and empowers leaders like Joshua to boldly claim and proclaim his commitment. It is good to be committed to God. Heaven knows He’s committed to us! He is a faithful God so we ought to be faithful to him. Let us boldly commit ourselves to him just as Joshua had done. I’ll leave you with another joke about a couple who, on their 50th wedding anniversary, summed up the reason for their long and happy marriage. The husband said, “I have tried never to be selfish. After all, there is no ’I’ in the word ‘marriage.’” The wife said, “For my part, I have never corrected my husband’s spelling.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.