Passing the Torch - Part Three
THEME: The Obligation of Obedience
This week’s lessons recount Joshua’s charge to Israel’s leaders, which teaches us how we should respond to God in light of what he has done for us in the past, as well as what he promises to do in the future.
The second part of Joshua’s address is that on the basis of what God has done, you have present obligations. There are a couple of them. One obligation is the obligation of obedience. It's what he talks about in verses 6 to 8: “Be very strong. Be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you. Do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God as you have until now.”
It's significant that this great soldier who knew the importance of obedience should stress obedience when he talks to people. It’s even more significant in his case because that is precisely what God urged upon him. As a matter of fact, these verses in chapter 23 echo verses 6 through 8 of Joshua 1. At the beginning of the book we saw that Joshua was apparently timid and afraid, and certainly feeling inadequate to the great responsibility that had been placed upon him now that Moses had died. God encouraged Joshua by urging him to be strong, and challenging him to obedience. God said to Joshua back then, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant, Moses, gave you. Do not turn from it to the right or to the left.”
Now in Joshua 23, all these many years after Joshua had received and obeyed that command from God, he turns to those who are to follow him and says, "Look, obedience is the secret to God’s blessing." He wasn't talking about something that he’d read in a textbook. He was talking about something that he had lived out over those many dangerous and trying years of the conquest that followed.
I notice a number of interesting things about this. One is that the command to obey is linked to the remembrance of what God has done. That is always the way it is in biblical ethics. You think, for example, of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments begin with a brief rehearsal of what God has done, telling Israel that it is the Lord their God who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Therefore, they were to have no other gods before them. You see how it goes? God reminds us of what He’s done, and as a consequence of that, we are to live for Him. This is precisely what Joshua was saying to the people. Joshua knew the law of God, and he lived it out. Like David, Joshua made it his meditation day and night. So when he comes to challenge the people, he tells them to remember what God has done, and to be careful to obey Him because He is their God.
The second interesting thing I notice about this is the emphasis upon the written law of God. Even at this early point in Jewish history, there was a canon, that is, a rule or written set of books by which they were to order their lives. Joshua does not in some vague, general way tell the people to live moral lives because it will be good for them and for their society. That means nothing at all when you get right down to it, because people’s personal views of morality do not always agree. But if you’re going to be a follower of God, it must be according to the written law that He has given. Your morality must be that which God has recorded in His Word.
It’s very important that the people had this Book of the Law of Moses. As a matter of fact, when we turn over to the next chapter we find in verse 26 that Joshua added to the canon: “Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God.” What does that mean? It means that Joshua provided us with the book that bears his name. Up to this point, there had been the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Joshua then came along, God spoke to Joshua, and Joshua wrote it down. Consequently, the book of Joshua is added to the canon and so on throughout Old Testament history. Book after book was added as God inspired men in the writing of those things which God wanted to reveal. His work of inspiration then continues to produce the New Testament, which gets added to what he revealed in what we now call the “Old Testament.” This is our Bible, and it is the standard for the people of God. Joshua is saying, "If you are going to be God’s people, you must order your lives according to what is revealed here in the Bible."
- How does the theme of obedience connect Joshua 1 and 23?
- Why is it significant that the command to obey be linked with the need to remember what God has done?
- What does Dr. Boice say is the second interesting thing he notices about the need to obey?
Even among professing Christians, what are some other things that seem to get placed alongside the Bible as of equal importance for living the Christian life and doing God’s work in the world?
The Bible “is the standard for the people of God. Joshua is saying, ‘If you are going to be God’s people, you must order your lives according to what is revealed here in the Bible.’”