The Captain’s Last Sermon - Part Four
THEME: The Need to Make the Right Choice
This week’s lessons describe Joshua’s last address to the Israelites, which emphasizes their need to determine to choose each and every day to serve the Lord.
Joshua’s challenge to them is to choose God. I mentioned when we were talking about Joshua 22 and 23 that this has been his challenge all along. "You must make a decision," he’s saying. "You must choose to serve God." For the first time here in chapter 24, the word “choose” occurs: "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether it’s the gods your forefathers served 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" (v. 15).
The word “choose” occurs in the Hebrew text in a tense which grammarians call a tense of continuous action. That's important because it means that when Joshua called upon the people to choose, he wasn't merely calling upon them to choose in this instant and then be done with it as if you never had to make a choice again. But if we could put it this way, he was calling upon them to choose now, and to continue choosing tomorrow, and to continue choosing the day after that, and so on to the very end of their lives. That's the way Joshua himself had operated. If he had expounded upon this last sentence, he might have said, "But as for me and my household, we chose to serve the Lord long ago. During all these long years that have led up to this moment, I have chosen to serve God. And I am choosing to serve God now. And as long as God gives me breath, I am going to continue to so choose."
Francis Schaeffer writes about Joshua’s character at this point:
He chose, and he chose, and he chose, and he kept right on choosing. He understood the dynamics of choice—once-for-all choice and existential choiceas well. Thus his word to the people was not an affirmation puffed up on the spur of the moment. It was deeply embedded in Joshua’s comprehension of what is required of a person made in the image of God, one called upon not to obey God like a machine or an animal, but to obey God by choice.
You ask, "Does that apply to me?" The answer is, yes, of course it does. You say, "Well, I became a Christian two years ago, or five years ago, or ten years ago. I made my choice. The gospel was presented, and I said, Yes, I’ll believe. I’ll follow Jesus Christ." Well, that’s good; you have to begin a journey someplace. But while a journey begins with the first step, it doesn't end with the first step. The choice that is made at the beginning is a choice that must be continued, and which must be made again and again, particularly when we are challenged to go another way or to worship the false idols of the world. You see, there’s no real discipleship if there’s no real choosing. And the very fact that we are called upon to choose is what recognizes us as creatures made in God’s image, who are able to choose Him and serve Him.
You say, "Yes, but I thought God chose us. I thought that’s what election was all about." That is true. But it is precisely because God chooses us that we must go on choosing. You see how Joshua’s sermon goes? He starts at the beginning by saying to them that Abraham didn't choose God; rather God chose Abraham. They didn't choose to leave Egypt, but God chose to bring them out of Egypt. They didn't choose the land; God chose to give it to them. And simply because God has done it, now, Joshua tells them, “You must choose.”
Moreover, it’s a real choice. Joshua doesn't say that all these other choices are impossible. He recognizes that they are quite possible. He spells it out clearly when he says, "There are three kinds of gods that you can worship besides Jehovah. You can worship the gods that were worshipped back in Ur of the Chaldees—that is, the gods of the Babylonian pantheon. Those were the ones Abraham knew, and some of these idols went along with the people even many generations later.
Or he told them they can worship the gods that were worshipped in Egypt. They were quite a different set of gods. These were the gods of the Nile River, the gods of the land, and the god of the sky. The greatest of all gods was the sun god, considered to be impersonated in the reigning pharaoh. God demonstrated His power over these gods in the plagues by which He brought the people out. Each one of those plagues was directed against one or more of the pagan gods of Egypt. It showed God to be all powerful and the gods of Egypt to be nothing.
Thirdly, he said, there are the gods of the Amorites—that is, the gods of the land in which the people now dwell. There was a great tendency in antiquity to worship the local deity, the god of this particular mountain, or that particular stream, or this tree, or whatever it may be. Canaan was full of those gods. They were the worst gods of all. They were horrible gods—gods like Molech, who demanded the sacrifice of newborn infants.
- From the lesson, we learned that the verb “choose” is in the tense of continuous action. What does this mean, and why is it significant here in Joshua 24?
- Besides worshipping the Lord, what were the three other options the Israelites could choose to worship? How did they compare with the worship of the one true God?
The choice that is made at the beginning is a choice that must be continued, and which must be made again and again, particularly when we are challenged to go another way or to worship the false idols of the world. You see, there’s no real discipleship if there’s no real choosing.