The fourth sermon in a summer series
on Joshua and the Judges
Joshua 23 & 24
A time of farewell for one leader and the transition to a new leader is a time fraught with anxiety. Moses had brought Israel out of Egyptian captivity through the wilderness of Sinai to stand on the shores of the Jordan River and the Promised Land.
But, as he told them, that’s where he would be stopping. For 40 years of incredible successes and some terrible failures Moses had led Israel. The future lay before them, but Moses would not be part of it. The Book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell to Israel.
Now, for about 25 years Joshua has led Israel following the death of Moses. God had directed Moses to appoint Joshua as his successor. And in all the anxiety and uncertainty of the people, and of Joshua himself, Moses had said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread…, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” And for 25+ years God did not leave or forsake Joshua.
Now Joshua is old, 110 years old. He has been at the front of Israel’s wars in Canaan for two and a half decades. He has conquered the tribes of the south and of the north. He has established the tribes of Israel in the land, each in their own territory. And as chapter 23 begins, “The Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies.”
But…“Joshua was old and well advanced in years.” As he says in v14, “I am about to go the way of all the earth.” The curtain is coming down on Joshua. There is anxiety over this transition and in all that still lay ahead for Israel in this Promised Land.
So first thing…very first thing, v3, “You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all the nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.”
First thing, Joshua points to God, just as Moses had done many years earlier. Regardless of Israel’s anxiety about this season of change; regardless of Israel’s anxiety over what yet lay ahead without Joshua, Joshua tells them to remember the Lord your God and what He has done.
And that’s exactly what Joshua proceeds to do in these closing chapters of the book, the very same thing Moses did when his tenure was coming to an end. “Remember the Lord your God and what He has done.”
Joshua goes back before Israel’s beginning, 24:2, “Long ago…” 500 years earlier, telling the story from God’s point of view. V3, “Then I [that is, the Lord God] took your father Abraham…and led him through all the land of Canaan… I gave him Isaac.” V4, “And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau…” Then the history goes down into Egypt. V5, “…and I brought you out.”
Vv6-7, Out of Egypt, and the spectacle of the Red Sea is recounted. Then, v8, Israel meets the Amorites, “And I gave them into your hand.” Vv9-10, Moab. “So I delivered you out of his hand.” V11, across the Jordan and it’s the tribal people, Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites. God says, “And I gave them into your hand.”
So, v13, the Lord concludes, “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.” Right down through history, God says, “I,” “I,” “I,” “I,” “I.” Gift. Pure gift!
So in this anxious time of transition, Joshua calls the people to remember the incredible gifts of God throughout their history. Why? It’s the only way forward. Only faith in the promises of God will carry Israel ahead, just as Abraham’s faith set his foot to following when this whole saga began, and Joshua’s faith had led them along the path the Lord laid out up to this point! The Lord God, His promises, and faith in those promises. The way ahead.
This was how Moses prepped Israel for his departure. Ultimately, this is how Jesus prepares us for what lies ahead. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”
“I,” “I,” “I,” “I.” A promise. Faith in that promise. It is the only way ahead. Otherwise, we turn this whole enterprise on its head and make it about us! And as soon as it’s about us, we get Joshua’s words wrong. We even get Jesus’ words, wrong!
For Joshua does what his predecessor Moses had done. He lays out two roads ahead of Israel. 23:9, “The Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations…” V10, “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. Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God!”
But, then, there is the other path. V12, “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, 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.”
And it is so easy to turn faith into a work. God has done His part, now it’s up to us to do our part. We are the ones who have to stay on the right road. We are the ones who have to avoid the wrong path. We are the ones who have to get ourselves to the Promised Land and keep ourselves there.
And like pious people in every generation, us today as well as Israel of old, we vastly overestimate our abilities! We can do this! We have faith! We are strong!
Joshua sounds a lot like Jesus in the Upper Room responding to the disciples’ bravado—“We will never forsake You!” Joshua says to Israel, v19, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God.” And in the coming episodes of the Judges, we will see how Joshua was right!
That’s why it is essential in any time of transition among God’s people…whether it was Moses laying down the mantle of leadership or now, Joshua…ultimately Jesus preparing His own for His departure into death, resurrection and ascension…and for anyone who serves in that calling of making Jesus known…when the time comes for one to depart and another to begin, with all the uncertainties which accompany such a time, certainty is NOT found in what we do or can do or will do or will not do. Not us! Certainty is only with God!
So when Joshua makes his famous declaration—v15, “If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River [that is the Euphrates back in Mesopotamia], or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”—it is essential to know what stands behind those words. Not Joshua and his faith! What stands behind those words are the promises God made to Joshua.
“I am with you wherever you go.” “I will give them into your hand.” “I have given them into your hand.” “I have fulfilled what I promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Those promises have shaped Joshua’s faith, and in his promise-shaped faith, Joshua makes his bold declaration. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” A promise from God. Faith in that promise from God. It’s the only way ahead.
And for a time, Israel knows this! V29, “After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being 110 years old. And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.”
As long as God’s promises were held before the people, they believed, they served, they walked the good path. But in the coming weeks we will see how Israel departs that good path…for they turn from the Lord their God…because they forget His many promises, and they trust in other things…mostly, themselves.
Yet though the people are faithfulness, God remains faithful. In grace He will send One to speak the promises anew. And in the darkness there will be light. In the midst of death there will be new life. In the very place of an ending, there will be a whole new beginning. Because God has promised, “I am with you wherever you go!”