Joshua Imperative



Joshua 24:14-15

14 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.

15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.


Three thousand years ago, give or take a couple of centuries, Joshua asked his people to vote. “Choose this day,” he said. A few days ago, Americans went to the polls to make a choice. For the first time we elected an African American to be President of the USA. In this country and around the world, Obama’s election was greeted with euphoria and jubilation. So last Tuesday, November 4, 2008, was a significant day in history. Tomorrow, November 10, is also a significant day in history.

On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress created the United States Marine Corps — which is remarkable if for no other reason than that there was no United States in 1775. On November 10, 1928, Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne delivered the most famous locker-room speech in history. “Win one for the Gipper,” he pleaded, rallying his underdog team to an unlikely defeat of Army. On November 10, 1969, Sesame Street debuted to criticism that it was too entertaining to ever be educational for children. Thirty-nine years later, our kids are still counting with the Count and learning that “C is for Cookie.” On November 10, 1989, Berliners began dismantling the Berlin Wall.

But, from a spiritual viewpoint, none of those events compares with another decision that was made on November 10. I refer to a decision made by Samuel Hill, John Nicholson, and William Knights. Together they formed the Gideons, and November 10, 2008 is the one hundredth anniversary of the placement of the first Gideon Bible in a room at the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana.

The three men were all traveling businessmen with the shared vision of reaching other traveling businessmen with the gospel. That first Bible placement has since expanded to include more than 180 countries with more than 1.3 billion Bibles. Research from the hotel industry reports that approximately 25 percent of travelers read the Bibles in their hotel rooms. The average Gideon Bible lasts for six years in a hotel. If we do the math then, that means that 2,300 people will read the average Gideon Bible. Now, they do not read the whole Bible, but at least they open the book and read a few verses. Some verses are read in each Gideon Bible by an average of 2300 people. That is amazing.

Lonely travelers in cities from Vegas to Venice can reach for one book that brings inspiration, guidance, admonition, and encouragement. The stories of how Scripture has interacted with the lives of people often start with what seems like a dead-end and end with following Jesus. The Gideons use first names only in their testimonies for reasons of confidentiality. “Elliot,” for example, checked into a hotel to commit suicide, stumbled upon the hotel Bible, and met Christ that night. Today he is a pastor. “Kevin” was a staunch evangelist for atheism who, to his shock, met Jesus through a Gideon Bible that he keeps with him today.

That is what the Bible does. It confronts us with a choice. It demands that we make basic decisions about our lives. Scripture confronted three men in a Montana hotel room a 100 years ago, and they made choice—to start putting Bibles in hotels.

In Joshua 24, the old general Joshua confronts Israel, and us, with a choice. Our text shows us a Joshua who was able to bring magnificent clarity to the issues that lie before us in life. He says, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (24:15).

Let us back up a little bit. In Deuteronomy 31, Moses passed the mantle of national leadership on to Joshua. The amazing life of Moses is summed up in Deuteronomy 34:10: “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”

Imagine that you are Joshua and you are supposed to replace Moses. It cannot be done. Succession is always a tricky business. Sometimes it is almost impossible. In sports, think about the guys who had to follow John Elway or Dan Marino or Joe Willy Namath. Not easy. Who fills the gap for a Billy Graham or a Mother Teresa? No one. These are “one-of-a-kind” personalities.

So was Moses. Joshua was never going to be Moses. He must have known that. What he did not know was that he was also a one-of-a-kind personality. God had to remind Joshua, as God has to remind us, that we, too, are “one-of-a-kind” personalities. We have our own legacy, ministry, life to build, and in order for that life to be successful, it is going to need a relationship with God. That means that we need to be confronted by the Word.

In Joshua, chapter one, as soon as Moses dies, God starts advising, counseling, the new guy. Joshua 1 reads like a Knute Rockne Gipper speech from God to Joshua — “You’re the man! Be strong and courageous because I go out with you!” And the linchpin is verse 8: “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth.”

God had called Moses. Now God calls Joshua. For his part, Joshua needed to forsake fear and embrace courage. God has a plan and it involves the word of God. Now we imagine that during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness the Israelites wrote down, at least in some preliminary form, the law they had received on Mount Sinai, not just the 10 cmdts, but what we now call the Torah, the first 5 books of the OT. That would have been all the scripture that Joshua had as a written word of God--if they had that, we do not know that he had that. But primarily Joshua’s confrontation with the Word is not literary. It is not through a book. God’s Spirit directly communes with Joshua. And God’s spirit directly communes with us.

Joshua knows the history of his people. He demonstrates that in the opening verses of chapter 24, and he has been an eyewitness to God’s mighty works of deliverance during the Exodus. This is the Word of God which he has. He was told to take this word of God and meditate on it, and live by it. In this way, he would not only extend the blessing that had been given to Moses but achieve it in an even more spectacular fashion. Moses got the Israelites through 40 years of wandering in a desert; Joshua would take them to the Promised Land.

Now in Joshua 24, this is all history. Now Joshua is about to depart this life. What we have here is Joshua’s deathbed speech.

Verses 3-13 summarize the history of Israel from Abraham to Joshua. Joshua is saying, this is God’s word to you. What are you going to do with it? “Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region 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).

This verse shows us how the Word confronts us. The word comes from the past. It confronts us about our future. We look back so we can look forward.

I remember talking with an unbeliever once, and I quoted something from the Bible, and he said, “Well, the Bible is just about a bunch of stuff that happened a long time ago”—implying that because it happened a long time ago, we should not take it very seriously. Actually, I have heard that putdown of the Bible several times. The Bible is about a bunch of old stuff, so it is not about me.

Actually, the putdown is partially correct. The Bible is about things that happened a long time ago. It is the distilled wisdom of our past, and because of that, it is the most important book that I can ever open.

The past speaks to me the word that I need for my life, for my future. Joshua is like the father of Proverbs 3:1-2: “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you.”

Let the word permeate your being, fill your life, and God will lead you and be with you, and that is a successful life. Having said that, that implies, first of all, that we know what the word is. What is this word that comes from the past that confronts us? For us, today it takes the form of the Bible. God can speak to us outside the Bible, God can speak to us in many ways, but the framework through which God speaks is what we call the scriptures of the OT and NT. The Westminster Confession calls it “the rule of faith and life.” That means then that we should know our Bibles. The word cannot confront you if you do not know the word.

Unfortunately, everything we hear today indicates that biblical literacy is on the decline. Mark Hanson is the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He tells the following story. “I was sitting on an airplane where we were stuck for a while, without so much as water for thirsty passengers. A flight attendant spotted me seated, wearing my clerical collar. I jokingly said to her, ‘Maybe you could bring me some of those little bottles of wine you sell to passengers and I could turn them into water.’”

Hanson said, “The young woman, perhaps in her 30s, looked blankly at me and said, quite transparently, ‘I’m sorry, Father, but I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.’”

Now that is just one anecdote, but the statistics pretty much back up the anecdote. Teachers everywhere lament the fact that you can no longer assume that students know even the most common, or what was once the most common, biblical stories. Mention Noah and the flood, and they say, “What flood?” “Who was Mr. Noah?”

Now it is customary today to blame the school system for this, or we blame the parents, or we blame the church. However, I blame the student.

As you probably know, I came to the faith as an adult. As a teenager, I probably did not know a whole lot more about the Bible than most of today’s teenagers. The only time I thought about the bible was when I attempted to ridicule it. But as a young adult, when the Holy Spirit came to me, the Spirit confronted me with Jesus Christ, through this book. And having received Jesus, I was consumed with a desire to know the book. So I read it and I am still reading it.

People say to me all the time, I wish I knew more about the Bible. I have the answer. Read it. Let me show you what a Bible should look like. This is a Bible that I have used a lot. The cover is falling apart, the binding disintegrating, pages are falling out. I taped the covers back on. Did not do a very good repair job. I have written notes in the margins, underlined verses. This Bible has been used. This is the way your Bible should look. When God confronts us with his Word, we should find out about that word.

So that is the first lesson. Read your Bible. Learn what is in the word. You do not have to know every verse. You do not need to learn everything in the Bible. But you need to come to the written word with a willing heart, with an attitude that desires to know what the word says.

That is part of it, that is not all of it. A Christian should know the Bible, but knowing the Bible does not make you a Christian. When we open our hearts and minds to God, the spirit comes to us and uses the word from our past to confront us with Jesus Christ and we choose to accept Christ as God’s way for our lives.

So the confrontation is not just the Bible. The confrontation is the word and spirit coming together in our hearts and minds and souls to challenge us to accept the communion with God we find in and through Jesus Christ.

Joshua said, choose. What have you chosen?


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 01/14/12