COMMITMENT Joshua 22–24
“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).The first half of the Book of Joshua revealed what it took to conquer the land of Canaan. These chapters tell us what it will take to hold the Promised Land.
Definition of Key Terms
Joshua frequently called on Israel to serve God. The Hebrew word suggests a servant or slave. Its basic meaning is to perform tasks according to the will and direction of another. Serving God in Old Testament times did mean to worship Him. But it also meant to obey Him in all things.
The three eastern tribes erected an altar symbolizing solidarity with the Israelites in Canaan (22:1–34). Joshua addressed the leaders (23:1–16) and challenged the assembled tribes to serve God (24:1–27). Joshua died and was buried (vv. 28–33).
Understanding the Text
“You have not deserted your brothers” Josh. 22:1–9. Three tribal groups had asked for and received land east of the Jordan River. They had, however, promised Moses that their fighting men would join the other tribes for the war in Canaan. These tribes served faithfully, and were then sent home. This concluding section of Joshua is filled with exhortations. The admonition given the eastern tribes is typical: “Be very careful . . . to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” “An imposing altar there by the Jordan” Josh. 22:10–34. This story shows how easy it is to misunderstand another person’s actions. When the returning tribes built an altar by the Jordan, their brothers interpreted it as an act of apostasy. God had commanded that sacrifices be made only on the altar that stood before the tabernacle. The Jordan altar seemed to the other tribes to be an act of rebellion against the Lord, and they were ready to go to war with their eastern brethren rather than risk divine punishment (vv. 19–20). The eastern tribes explained to the delegation sent to them. They did not intend to use the Jordan altar for sacrifice. It was symbolic of the common racial and religious heritage they shared with the people west of the Jordan. By building the altar according to specifications given in the Law, the distinctive construction would provide evidence of the common heritage. Both groups acted wisely in dealing with this issue. The western tribes decided to talk before acting. The easterners didn’t take offense, but instead humbly explained what they had done. It’s good to remember the example of both groups when we become upset by something another person or group has done. Before we accuse, we need to go to the persons involved and talk about what has happened. And if anyone misunderstands an act of ours, rather than be upset, we need to be humble and willing to explain. “Elders, leaders, judges and officials” Josh. 23:1–16. Joshua spoke separately to Israel’s leaders, who would be most responsible to see that God’s people continued to serve the Lord. Note the pattern of Joshua’s remarks. He begins with a promise, moves on to exhortation, and then concludes with a reminder and warning. The promise: God who had driven out the enemy would continue to push them out before them. The exhortation: Be strong, be careful to obey God’s Law, do not associate with pagan nations or their gods, and hold fast to the Lord. The reminder: God has driven out the enemy, just as He has promised. The warning: If you turn away from God, the Lord will no longer drive them out. What is more, “the Lord’s anger will burn against you.” These four functions aptly sum up the responsibility and the ministry of most in spiritual leadership today—including parents. We are to live by and to communicate God’s promises. We are to be faithful and to exhort faithfulness. We are to remember what God has done and to remind others. We are to be aware of and to warn others of the consequences of turning away from the Lord. “The Lord drove out before us all the nations” Josh. 24:1–18. Joshua then spoke to all the people, and in essence made a case for commitment. He reviewed all that God had done. In one of the most famous of Old Testament affirmations of faith, Joshua expressed his own commitment: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). Joshua could make this commitment for himself. He could not make it for others. But Joshua could and did confront, making sure that each family in Israel realized that commitment was necessary. The people recognized the validity of the case Joshua had made. The Lord had “brought us . . . up out of Egypt, from the land of slavery.” And God had driven out the enemy. “We too will serve the Lord,” the people said, “because He is our God.” “He is a holy God” Josh. 24:19–27. Joshua has made a case for commitment. Now he makes clear the cost of commitment. A person who commits himself or herself to the Lord must make a total commitment. We can make no halfway covenant with the Lord. Even when confronted with the cost of commitment, the people insisted that they would serve the Lord. Verse 23 indicates two ways that complete commitment is demonstrated. (1) “Throw away the foreign gods that are among you.” We are to keep nothing in our lives that might compete with God for our loyalty. (2) “Yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” We are to willingly surrender to the Lord everything we have and are. “This stone will be a witness” Josh. 24:27. A witness is one who can testify to what he or she has seen and heard. At times inanimate objects were commissioned as witnesses to words of commitment (cf. Gen. 31:52; Deut. 31:21). Spoken words are binding. They are as permanent as the place in which they are spoken.
The Present Time (Josh. 24)
There’s a wonderful epitaph for Joshua recorded here. “Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him.” Joshua made his case for commitment. Joshua clarified the price of commitment. Joshua provided an example of commitment. And throughout his lifetime the people of Israel faithfully served the Lord. About this time someone is likely to object and point to what happened after Joshua died. It’s true that after these few bright decades God’s people deserted Him. For some 400 years during the Era of Judges, Israel knew cycles of brief revival and deepening apostasy. Yet what happened during those centuries had nothing to do with Joshua. The New Testament puts it this way. “The present time is of the highest importance” (Rom. 13:11, PH). What that verse points out is that the only time you or I have is the present. We can’t change the past. We can’t control the future. But we can live for God in our today. That’s just what Joshua did. He served God as long as he lived. And, in his day, Israel served God. You and I have no guarantee of what will happen to our children, our grand-children, or our great grandchildren. Actually, that isn’t our concern. We can’t control the future. All you and I can do is follow Joshua’s example of personal commitment and so influence those who are alive with us now. Probably no one who reads this will be memorialized by some institution that lasts through the generations, as Luther was by the Lutheran Church, or as D.L. Moody was by the Moody Bible Institute. Probably we won’t even be remembered two or three generations hence. Even if we were, that wouldn’t be important. What is important is summed up in the epitaph Scripture gives to Joshua. All the days of his life, Israel served the Lord. Joshua was faithful to God as long as he lived. As long as he lived, Joshua influenced the men and women of his day.
Touching just one life for God is the most significant thing any human being can achieve.