Lessons from the Life of Joshua (Part 12): Leaving a LegacyAs for Me and My House
Leslie Basham: Here is Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You can’t have one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom of God. You can’t be a follower of Christ and be a follower of the lust of your flesh. You’ve got to make a choice.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, June 9.
A lot of people have sung the words to a popular Gospel song: “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.” I wonder how many realized what a radical commitment they were singing about.
We’ll look at the commitment to follow with no turning back in a series called Lessons from the Life of Joshua (Part 12): Leaving a Legacy. Here’s Nancy:
Nancy: My friends know that Joshua and I have been friends for some time now. Somebody asked me recently, “How’s Joshua?” and I said, “He’s getting old.” And he is. We’re in chapters 23 and 24 over these last few sessions, hearing Joshua’s farewell, and we come in today to chapter 24 where Joshua is having a final meeting with the leaders of God’s people. This time the meeting is at Shechem. We saw he had one meeting; we don’t know where the meeting was, in chapter 23, with the leaders of God’s people, and here’s another one in chapter 24, which is at Shechem.
Shechem is an important place in the history of Israel. It’s the place where Abraham met with God in Genesis chapter 12, and God gave him some wonderful promises which are now being fulfilled for the Children of Israel 500 years later. Shechem is the place where Jacob met with God in Genesis chapter 35. So God had manifested Himself to His people in some significant ways at this location.
Shechem is also the place where the Children of Israel built an altar at the beginning of the conquest. You remember that Shechem was a city that was built between two mountains—Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal—the mount of blessing and the mount of cursing. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can go back and retrieve that lesson from the archives. But at that meeting, this is years earlier, Joshua inscribed the law of God on some stone pillars that they erected there between the two mountains near Shechem.
So this was an appropriate place to convene this final meeting with Joshua—this revered, loved leader of God’s people—in this valley between the two mountains. Undoubtedly those stones with the law of God written on them were still standing and were a vivid reminder to the leaders of what their anchor was.
I don’t know what I would say as the one major lesson out of the life of Joshua, but certainly one of the major ones would have to be the love for God’s Word, the respect for God’s Word, the fear of God’s Word—I mean fear, reverential awe, and the centrality of God’s Word in our lives as believers. You really see that coming through loud and clear in the life of Joshua.
So now Joshua is at this significant place again, a place where there were so many memories for the Children of Israel. Now he’s creating, or there is being created, another very special, important memory, as this is really the farewell speech that Joshua gives to the people.
I think about that passage in Psalm 71, which is a passage I have always loved because I had the privilege of growing up in a Christian home. I came to know the Lord as a young child and have been walking with Him since my childhood—not flawlessly by any means—but over a period of many years now. I love this passage where the Psalmist says in Psalm 71:17-18,
O God, from my youth you have taught me. [Joshua could say that. He started in this work being Moses’ attendant when he was a young man.] From my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.
That was Joshua’s desire. That’s my desire. When you realize that for a number of years, and for some of us from our youth—that God has poured into our lives, then our heart needs to be, “Oh Lord, now when I’m old and gray headed, don’t leave me until I have the chance to tell the next generation how great You are, how faithful You are, how good You are. I want those to come to know. I want to leave a legacy. I want to pass the baton of faith on to the next generation.”
So with that heart in mind, in verses 2 through 13 of chapter 24, Joshua rehearses (I wish we had time to read this whole passage. I want to encourage you to do this) the history of God’s dealings with His people. It’s a history lesson. We need history lessons.
I was not into history when I was studying it in high school and some in college, but now I really wish I had paid more attention because I’ve come to realize how important it is to see how God has moved and worked in the past.
So it’s a history of:
- God’s power
- God’s goodness
- God’s generosity
- God’s grace
- God’s guidance
- God’s faithfulness in dealing with His people
Then as we move into the second part of this message, beginning in verse 14, the tone I catch here (and again, you need to read the whole passage yourself, and more than once, to really get this feel) is there’s an earnestness. There’s a sense of urgency. Here’s a man who knows he is soon to die, and so he’s earnestly pleading with God’s people to listen to what he has to say and to take heed to it.
It reminds me of Richard Baxter who was the Puritan pastor centuries ago. He was very sickly throughout his life and multiple times almost died, so he always thought that he was dying. Even from the time he was a young pastor, he wrote that he preached as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men. He had that sense in his ministry, “I may never get a chance to speak to these people again, and I think I’m a dying man.”
In a sense we’re all dying men or women, but Joshua knew that he was a dying man. Baxter said, “I preach as a dying man to dying men.” Realizing that, “I’m getting ready to step into eternity, but the people I’m speaking to are also going to have to face eternity, and I want them to be prepared for it.”
Joshua 24, verse 14, Joshua says,
Now therefore [in light of all God has done, and in light of what he’s just said in the last couple of paragraphs how God has demonstrated His power, His grace, His love toward you] fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Based on everything that has proceeded, the only reasonable response is to fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness.
It reminds me of Romans 12, verse 1, where the apostle Paul says, "I urge you . . . in view of God’s mercy." My brothers and sisters, in view of all the things I’ve just taught you about the way of salvation, the sinfulness of man and the grace of God and the substitutionary death of Christ—in light of all that God has done in showing you His mercy I urge you “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your reasonable act of worship” (NIV).
It’s the only logical thing to do. It makes sense in light of who God is, in light of what God has done, that we should serve Him with all our hearts. Joshua is calling the people to cling to the Lord, to hold fast to Him, serve Him, love Him, and put away all false gods.
As I read that passage, I thought about the old-fashioned wedding vows. You don’t hear them very often anymore. Do you remember the old ones where the minister says to the bride, “Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband? Wilt thou obey him and serve him; love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others keep thee only unto him so long as ye both shall live?”
Marriage is intended to be a picture of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and our relationship with Christ is the same vow, it’s the same covenant as a bride makes when she’s asked, “Will you forsake all others and will you cling and keep only to your husband?” And she says, “I will.” When you become a Christian, you say, “I will,” to your Heavenly Bridegroom. “I will cling to You; I will forsake all others as long as we both shall live.”
Then verse 15, Joshua says to the people,
If it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD [If you think, "This is too hard; this is unreasonable. I don’t know if I want to. This isn’t comfortable." If you think it’s evil to serve the Lord—if this is not the choice that you want to make] choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.
"You’re going to serve some gods, so if you don’t want to serve Jehovah—if that doesn’t seem reasonable to you; if that seems to be more than you want to commit to, then just tell me who you will serve, because you will serve somebody. You’re going to have to serve somebody."
But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
Joshua is the kind of preacher I like because he preaches for a response. You don’t hear a lot of that kind of preaching today. You hear a lot of good information, but Joshua said, “I don’t want to just lay the facts before you. I’m going to give an invitation. You’ve got to respond. You’ve got a choice to make.” His preaching required a response. He’s saying, “It’s not enough to hear what I’m saying. You’ve got to do something about what you’re hearing. You need to know what your choices are. Choose you this day.”
The verb there, by the way, is a verb that suggests not just past action but continuous action—past, present, future. Always be choosing. Keep choosing. You have to always keep choosing who you will serve. Each generation has to choose. Each individual has to choose. You can’t ride the spiritual coattails of previous generations and other believers.
So his message is: “Who are you going to serve? Everybody has to serve somebody. Is it going to be Jehovah, or is it going to be other gods?” He’s saying, “This requires a conscious, deliberate choice. There’s no middle ground. You put away the foreign gods and serve the Lord alone, or you forsake the Lord and serve the foreign gods. There is no middle ground. You cannot hold onto both.”
That flies in the face of post-modern thinking, which essentially says, “You can believe it all, or none of it, or some of it, or whatever you choose.” There’s this smorgasbord approach to religion today. Whatever suits you, whatever you want to believe. “No,” Joshua says, “God is an exclusive, jealous God. You’re going to serve somebody. It’s going to be the one true God Jehovah, or it’s going to be false gods.”
Thirteen times in this passage reference is made to serving Jehovah or serving the false gods that we worship. The clear implication is that we will either serve the one true God or we will serve other gods. What are those other gods? There are a lot of them. It may be:
- the god of success
- the god of money
- the god of work
- the god of self
- the god of food
- the god of peer approval
- the god of relationships
- the god of lust
- the god of hobbies
- the god of recreation
- the god of addictions
- the god of pleasure
- the god of entertainment—novels, movies, computer games
Any of those things can be gods, and Joshua says, “If you don’t want to serve the Lord, then just tell me who you are going to serve, but make a choice. Get off the fence and realize that you are serving some god. You’re not just this free agent you think you are. You are serving some god. You are swearing allegiance to someone.”
No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other [none of this middle ground]. You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).
It’s interesting that money is what Jesus says in that situation is the opposite of God, because I think money is one of the chief gods—false gods—of every age, including ours. We’re all servants of some master.
The apostle Paul says in Romans 6:16,
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.
So Joshua says, “Make a choice. You don’t want to serve the Lord? You don’t want to go after Him with all your heart?” I would say this to young people. I would say it to middle-age people. I’d say it to old people. “If you don’t want to lay down your life to serve Christ with all your heart, then just tell me who are you serving. But you are serving somebody. Just be honest about it; none of this middle-of-the-road stuff.”
“Oh, I want to just keep going to church and keep being a member in good standing, and just kind of have God as a compartment in my life.”
Joshua says, “No. It can’t be that way. As we look to the future, you’ve got to choose who you will serve.”
In verse 16, the people respond, they answer:
Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land [which is just their repeating what Joshua had just told them in the history lesson. They said, "We see the point. We see what God has done."] Therefore, we also will serve the LORD, for He is our God (Joshua 24:16-18).
Then Joshua says to the people in verses 19 and 20, and I think this is interesting, because today if people say, “I want to follow Christ,” we’re quick to say, “Okay, sign up here. You’re a Christian. You’re a believer. You’re a committed Christian.”
You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. ["He will not trifle with sin," is what he’s saying.] If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good (verses 16-18).
This was a lesson they had yet to learn: They didn’t have the power to serve God. At that moment they thought they wanted to, but they were caught up in the emotions. It’s Joshua. He’s the old man. He’s talking to them. He’s very moving. They love him. They followed him. They trusted Him. “Oh, sure, we’re going to follow God,” and Joshua’s going, “You don’t know what you’re saying. You may mean well. You have good intentions, but you don’t have the power to serve God.”
I’m so thankful for the new covenant that gives us, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, the power to do what our hearts want to do as believers in Jesus Christ, but we realize that it’s only through the death of Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit that we are able to stay faithful to God. We cannot keep ourselves. He keeps us.
The people said to Joshua, "No, but we will serve the LORD." Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses." He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you" [get rid of the idols] (Joshua 24:21-23).
You say, “They had idols?” Yes, even at this point when they were so fresh in their walk with God, there were still some idols from the old country that were being held on to. They weren’t publicly worshiping idols, as I’ve read the commentaries, but in their homes, hidden away where nobody could see and nobody knew, they had these little pockets of idolatry.
Joshua says, “I want you to know I know about your idols. I know the things you’ve got hidden away. I know this big public profession you’re making, but I know the reality is you’ve got some hidden idols. Put them away. If you mean to serve the Lord, get rid of them, and serve the Lord with all your heart.”
“Incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel." And the people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey" (verses 23-24).
I think Joshua feels, “I’ve said all I can say. I don’t know how to say this any other way.” So he takes them at their word, but I think, as a wise man, he knows that they’re going to have some hard lessons to learn, and there’s going to be some failure along the way. But he calls upon them to renew their covenant relationship with Jehovah.
This wasn’t the first time that the Children of Israel had done this. They’d done it earlier in Shechem where they had built an altar and had those stones erected with the Word of God written on the stones, but it’s important multiple times in our lives, and in each new generation, to renew our covenant to the Lord, to remember that we are a covenant people and to acknowledge and verbalize our covenant, which helps us to be more accountable for keeping it. He wanted them to be accountable.
So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words [all that they had just said, he wrote these words] in the Book of the Law of God (verse 25).
He then makes a final memorial. I think there were nine memorials in the book of Joshua, markers, reminders. “This is where we drove a stake in the ground; we settled this issue; we dealt with this; God met with us. Look at this pile of stones and remember what happened here.”
He took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, "Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us" (verse 26).
Stones can’t hear, but he’s saying, “This is a silent memorial. This is a silent marker. This stone has been a witness, so to speak, figuratively speaking, symbolically speaking. This stone has been a witness, and every time you see this stone, you’re going to remember: This is where we pledged to be faithful to God, forsaking all others, clinging only to Him for as long as we shall live.
"Therefore, it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God." [If you deal falsely with your God, you’re going to have to contend with this stone. You’re going to have to be reminded: We broke our covenant.] So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance” (Joshua 24:27-28).
What’s the take away here for us? I think there are a couple of them.
First, parents, leaders, Sunday school teachers, teachers, any circle of influence that you have; plead with those who will listen to you to choose this day whom they will serve, to make a choice. Make it clear to them. Don’t go along with this wishy-washy, gobbledygook of our contemporary, post-modern age that says, “Oh, you can just drift; you can have it any way.”
You’ve got to tell those and keep reminding those who are under your influence that you need to make a choice. You can’t have one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom of God. You can’t be a follower of Christ and be a follower of the lust of your flesh. You’ve got to make a choice.
We can make a choice to follow the Lord and still sometimes fall back into old ways. But I tell you what, I made a choice years and years ago, which I have renewed many times since, to follow Christ, to be a disciple of Christ, to love Him, to cling to Him, and God has me on a short tether.
There are times when I fall back. There are times when I do step into the world. There are times when I fail miserably, when I allow those little secret idols of my heart to surface, and I serve them and worship them. But because I’ve made that basic covenant with the Lord, and, more importantly, because He’s made a covenant with me, He keeps drawing my heart back. So to say you’ve made a covenant with the Lord is not to say you will never fall or you will never fail, but it’s to say you’ve established the course of your life to follow Christ.
I think in the body of Christ today we need to be calling one another, calling those under our influence to choose who they’re going to serve. Everybody is going to serve somebody. We want to say, “You choose this day whom you will serve.”
And then not only those under our influence, but our own hearts—the call to us is: fear the Lord. Put away all the foreign gods. Prove the sincerity of your claim to follow Christ.
The very last verse of 1 John chapter 5, verse 21, what does the apostle say? “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
I think it was John Calvin who said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” We keep making new ones. We keep thinking of new ways to serve something or someone other than God. That’s why John said, “Keep your heart from idols.” Keep your heart weeded. Keep the garden of your heart. Keep the weeds out. Keep the idols out. Do constant vigilance and diligence to keep your heart from idols.
Serve the Lord. Cling to Him. Choose this day. We will serve the Lord by God’s grace and the power of His Holy Spirit. We need to set our hearts and say, “Lord, I’ve decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.”
Leslie: Surrendering everything to the Lord is a huge commitment, but it’s truly the only way to live.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss has shown us two paths and has been convincing us to choose the path of life and wholeness. As an old man, Joshua encouraged the nation he loved to make the same choice. He led Israel by courageous words and actions, and each parent is called to do the same.
Holly Elliff has written a booklet called Turning the Tide that will challenge you to the vitally important task of parenting. You’ll finish this booklet and be ready to agree with Joshua who said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Find out why passing on faith to your children is so important, and hear how this mother of eight does it. We’ll send you the booklet by Holly Elliff when you make a donation at ReviveOurHearts.com. You choose how much to give. It’s our pleasure to send the book as our thanks, and we’ll also include Nancy’s current series, Lessons from the Life of Joshua (Part 12): Leaving a Legacy on CD. Contact us at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call at 1-800-569-5959.
Are you living a purposeful life? God may have a grander purpose than you realize. Nancy will help you discover what that might be tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.