Joshua 24:1, 14-24
The picture before us, the gathering of the elders and the heads of the tribes of Israel before God prior to the death of Joshua, is somewhat like the gathering which preceded the death of Moses (see Deut. 31:28). The audience is the same. The message is very similar in that both Joshua and Moses expressed doubt concerning Israel’s future faithfulness to the Lord.
In verse 14, Joshua urges Israel to serve God in sincerity and in truth. To serve God is to do what God wants done. God told Israel what He wanted in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Israel was to love the Lord God with all thine heart, soul and might. Israel was to love their neighbors as themselves. They were to do this with sincerity and in truth. Sincerity is free of pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy. Truth is that which is in accordance with that which is known. God had made Himself known to Israel by bringing them up out of Egypt, by sustaining them in the wilderness for forty years, and by driving out the inhabitants of the land before them — the land which He had promised to the seed of Abraham.
“. . . and put away the gods your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve the Lord’ (v. 14b). The gods which the fathers served on the other side of the flood are the gods which Abraham left behind in Ur (see 24:2-3). The gods which the fathers served in Egypt were exposed when Aaron’s rod swallowed up the rods of the magicians of Egypt and the plagues which followed (Ex. 7:12-12:29). Israel was to serve the one true and only God.
“And if it seem evil . . .” (v. 15a). Joshua implored the people to choose between the one true God and the false gods that their fathers had served and the false gods of the Amorites. “. . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15b). “And the people answered . . .” (v. 16). The people answered with all of the right words. The people acknowledged all that the Lord had done. The people said, “. . . therefore will we also serve the Lord” (v. 18).
Joshua answered, “Ye cannot serve the Lord” (v. 19a). Stop! Stop reading! Joshua and his family would serve the Lord. Joshua is speaking the words which God has given to him. Why does God state that the people cannot serve Him? Joshua cites three reasons: God is holy; God is a jealous God; and God will not forgive their transgressions nor their sins.
Israel could not serve God because God is an holy God. Why does God’s holiness prevent Israel from serving Him? God reveals the reason in Leviticus 19:2 — “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” To serve God, one must be holy as God is holy. No one, not even born again believers, can serve God by virtue of their own holiness. New Testament believers are empowered to serve God by the holiness (the righteousness) which has been given to them by grace through faith.
The second reason that Israel could not serve God is because God is a jealous God. Lexicographers equate jealousy with envy. God has a different meaning. Read Exodus 20:5. Israel was not to bow down before graven images or to serve graven images. A graven image is a representation of something which God has created. God requires men to bow down to and serve the real thing. One cannot serve the real thing unless one knows the real thing. New Testament believers know the real thing. Jesus said, “. . . he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). Believers know the real thing because the Son has revealed Him to us.
The third reason that Israel could not serve God is because “. . . he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins” (v. 19b). This statement is NOT contrary to I John 1:9 — “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Why not? God’s word states “. . . by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). God the Father did not forgive our sins. God the Father placed all of our sins upon the Son who suffered death for us. The Son paid the full price of our iniquities. We are cleansed of unrighteousness because God is just. God is merciful; He counts believing for righteousness. Israel could not serve God because Israel believed in their own righteousness, a righteousness that they did not possess.
Israel heard the words which the Lord gave to Joshua but chose not to believe them. Joshua had told them why that they could not serve the Lord. They replied, “Nay; but we will serve the Lord” (v. 21). The people placed trust in themselves over the word of the Lord God. They would become witnesses against themselves. They testified of a righteousness that they did not possess.
“. . . put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel” (v. 23). These are the words which God gave to an unbelieving people through Joshua. God reached out to Israel with these words. God reaches out to men of today in like manner. All who incline their hearts to Him and believe shall be saved.
God would have all to hear and come to repentance.