Joshua's Final Appeal to Israel
We now come to the end of Joshua's ministry to the nation of Israel. For the past several years Joshua has had the responsibility of leading the nation in the task of taking hold of the inheritance God has promised her—the land of Canaan. To be sure, there still remained some pockets of resistance. For example, the ancient city of Jebus (later to be called "Jerusalem") would not be vanquished for another 200+ years by David. Moreover, the Philistines of Greek descent were taking root along the shores of the Mediterranean to the southwest; however, for the most part, Israel has claimed her inheritance. You would think that since Joshua has completed the task of claiming the inheritance that he would be content to return to his own apportioned spot of land and live out the rest of his days in peace. Joshua knows, though, that his ministry is not complete. One final task remains: solidifying the relationship of the Israelites with the Lord.
Why this sudden emphasis on the relationship of the Israelites to the Lord? Had they not served Him faithfully for the past several years as they were invading Canaan? Why make such a big fuss right now? First, because the situation facing the Israelites was changing and they needed to be sure that they were bringing God into this new situation. Each believer is confronted with the real danger of gliding through life and not bringing God into the new situation which enters their lives. We get a new job, we get a new wife or new child, we have some terrible illness—whatever the situation may be, we fail to bring God into the situation. Then we wonder what went wrong whenever the job didn't quite work out or when we wake up one morning to discover that our spouse has left us. The same applies to our corporate life as a church. We face major decisions and only bring the Lord into the situation to support our side, not to promote His—and then we wonder why there is so much turmoil in the church. Or we go out on a limb without consulting Him and then cry out to Him to save us from the mess we as a church created. Morganna Harwood has convinced me that most of us respond naturally to the events in our lives. It takes a real conscious effort to seek the Lord; however, being a Christian means exactly that—bringing the Lord into each situation we face.
The second reason Joshua makes this appeal is closely related to the first but somewhat different. Remember that they had only seen God in action upon the field of battle. To be sure, God was a great warrior on behalf of His people, but now the situation is changing. No longer would the Israelites be doing battle but instead would be harvesting the earth. Although the Lord was a great God who had proved Himself mighty in battle, agriculture and war were 2 different commodities. Could the God of war and of the wilderness take care of his people in agricultural matters, or would they need the gods of the Canaanites who had "proved" they could help the Canaanite produce abundant harvests? (You would think that if God could win battles and help them survive the scorching wilderness, He could do anything.) Would the Israelites desert the Lord and go after the Canaanite gods who happened to be a whole lot more fun any way? Joshua preaches this sermon to prevent this from happening.
BASIS FOR THE APPEAL (24:1-13)
Joshua assembles the major representatives from the nation to meet him at Shechem. Shechem had played a major role 2 other times in the history of the Israelites which relate to the present situation. First, after God had called Abraham to leave his home in Ur to follow Him, God led him through the land of Canaan. On this journey, Abraham stops off at Shechem where God addresses him, promising to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan. Second, Jacob—the grandson of Abraham—forces his family to give up and bury at Shechem all the idols that they had collected as a family. There Jacob renounced once and for all idolatry in favor of the worship of the true Lord. Well, in this sermon Joshua is going to focus on God fulfilling His promise to Abraham to give him this land and also on the people putting away every vestige of idolatry.
God's Goodness to Abraham (24:2-4)
First, Joshua recites the goodness that God had shown to the patriarchs, especially Abraham. God had led them from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan. To one of Abraham's descendants, Esau, God had given the land of Edom around Mt. Seir. To the descendants of Jacob, God had delayed the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham by leading the people to Egypt.
Note the emphasis on the word "I" in this entire section and on the following sections: "I took your father," "I gave Jacob," and "I gave Mt. Seir." The emphasis on the word "I" is for the purpose to show that it was God and God alone who initiated all these proceedings. We have a real tendenc6y to assume credit for all the wonderful things that God does on our behalf. The exact reverse, though, is true. Left to our own devices, we will be like Abraham in the city of Ur. Before God called him, Abraham along with the rest of his family had served other gods; he was probably content with his life in Ur. It was by the sheer grace of God that Abraham was able to be free from the futility of idolatry and enter into the life of the worship of the true God—and to embark on the incredible venture God had in store for him.
God's Goodness During the Exodus (24:5-7)
The next period in Israel’s history that Joshua focuses on is the time of the Exodus. God had not simply freed the Israelites from the Egyptians but had done so by a great and mighty powerful hand. He had forced Pharaoh into letting his people go by "plaguing" Egypt (24:5). Not only that, He had destroyed the Egyptian army after it had foolishly pursued the Israelites up to the Red Sea. By a strong and mighty hand God had shown His goodness to the Israelites.
God's Goodness During the Period of the Wilderness Wanderings (24:8-10)
The third time period is that of the wilderness wanderings. For 40 years God had shown great kindness to the Israelites first by defeating the enemies they encountered along the way (the Amorites) and second by preventing the holy man Balaam from cursing the Israelites.
God's Goodness During the Conquest of Canaan (24:11-13)
The fourth and final time period is that of the conquest of Canaan. The 2 events Joshua highlights are (1) the destruction of Jericho and (2) the destruction of the Amorite kings Sihon and Og who had lived in Gilead and Bashan respectively. It was not because of their military prowess that the Israelites had achieved victory over these 2 great kings. It was because God had sent "the hornet" before them to terrorize the nations so that they would fight with faint hearts and thereby lose.
The attack of the hornet really strikes home with me. Over a year ago, I was mowing our back lot when all of a sudden I felt sharp pain throughout my legs. I had run over with the mower a nest of hornets and they had attacked me with great vigor. The worst part was that I could not see them. I ran like crazy swatting at the air. Nancy looked out the window and thought I was exercising! I don't remember a time when I was in so much pain. I ran inside thinking that I was about to die. Jeff Fitzhugh who was helping me on a computer project was inside with Nancy. When I ran inside, they calmly started examining my legs, while I was thinking, "What the heck are you doing? Call 911!" All this is to say that at that point in time I was in so much agony that I was vulnerable to an attack by anybody. Anybody could have easily taken me out at that moment. The same applied to the Israelite nation. God had so terrorized the nations that even a weak army could have defeated them, much less the powerful Israelite army.
Moreover, once the Israelites had conquered Canaan, they did not have to begin the operations of farming and cultivating the land. They inherited a land already rich with farms and homes. They received blessings for which they had not worked. This point really touches me. God has blessed me with Nancy; I didn't make her into the wonderful person she is—God did! So many of us at work or in ministry tend to claim credit for some results which is not justifiably ours. We walked into churches which already had a core group there wanting to follow the Lord. We did not put that core group together; God had already used somebody else before us to accomplish that. We get to lead some people to the Lord, forgetting that some other people in their past had already cultivated them. We just simply got to enjoy the blessing of leading that person through the final step—a necessary step but nevertheless the final one, not the first, second, etc., which are just as important and which must be taken before the final step can be taken. Taking credit for all the good things in our lives is as ludicrous as me taking credit for running the screen on Sunday mornings. All I do is punch a button on the computer. I didn't create the computer. I don't know the first thing about microchips, much less about electricity, etc. The projector—all I know how to do with that is turn it on! That's the way it is with the blessings God has placed in our lives. Our only appropriate response should be that of gratitude and nothing less.