As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
It’s one of the great, virtuous statements of the Old Testament– one of those tacked onto Thomas Kinkaide paintings or carved into an ornamental piece of wood and hung over the mantle. But when Joshua said this to his fellow Israelites, it wasn’t just so he could have famous last words. It was because he meant it– and he was challenging them to make it their sincere motto, too.
In Joshua 24:14-25, we read Joshua’s farewell address to his people, men and women he watched grow up in the wilderness because of their parents’ disobedience, who had accepted him as their leader after Moses’ death and followed him across the Jordan River and into battle against the Canaanites. He knew this was their time– to settle in and make the promised land their own. They would begin to form their habits and decide how they would live their lives. But they had to make a choice– would their habits be formed out of obedience and their lives be lived with devoted love? The Lord was the one who had brought them this far. Would they abandon him now that they’d reached their destination?
The people’s response seems almost scripted, but it was the right response. They would not forsake Yahweh. They would not worship the pagan gods of the peoples around them. They would continue to trust the one who brought them to this point.
Perhaps Joshua knew they had a tendency to give lipservice without actually following through. He reminded them that if they were going to follow God, they had to do it wholeheartedly. It’s not that God wouldn’t provide forgiveness if they messed up from time to time (we see his extravagant mercy toward them throughout Scripture), but Joshua knew God would hold them to their commitment. Later in the Old Testament, we see that after breaking their covenant time and time again, there were extreme consequences for the Israelites(the destruction of Jerusalem, exile, etc.).
Joshua also knew that the people already weren’t wholeheartedly worshipping God. In verse 23, he tells them to get rid of the idols that were already among them. As the words, “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods!” were coming out of their mouths, there were idols in their tents.
Thankfully, the Israelites did not let Joshua calling out their sin stop them from committing to serve God and making a covenant with him. They said, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey Him.”
Later on, we see that they at least lived up to the first part. In Judges 2:7-13, we see that this generation “worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua. They had seen all the Lord’s great works He had done for Israel.”
But, “After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel. The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshiped the Baals and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them.”
How could this younger generation not know the awesome things God had done for them? The only explanation: their parents didn’t tell them. Their parents had seen all God had done with their own eyes and they worshipped him, but they neglected to obey him when he told them to be constantly talking with their children about their love for God and the miraculous works they had witnessed him perform (Deut. 6:4-9). And what happened as a consequence? Their children were evil in the Lord’s sight.
While they got the worship part of their response to Joshua and their commitment to God, they failed in obedience (at least in the whole don’t-forget-to-tell-your-kids regard). While their devotion to their commitment goes far beyond that of many generations throughout Israel’s history, their failure to obey as well as worship brings other questions to mind:
1) Isn’t obedience part of my worship?
2) Do I tend to forget or leave out parts of my commitment to God?
1) Yes. When I worship God but decide to do things my way instead of his, I’m basically telling him that I’m going to build myself an altar on the side. Obedience is worship (Romans 12:1). While I’m not saying that this generation of Israelites were always worshiping falsely (the Bible says they did, in fact, worship God– and I think the Bible would know), it stands to reason that their disobedience did somehow affect their worship at some point. How thankful they and we must be that God forgives and still allows us, as sinners, to approach his altar with broken and contrite hearts.
2) And yes. I do conveniently forget or deliberately neglect certain things I know Christ commands us to do. It’s tough to speak to friends about the reality of hell. It’s hard to turn the other cheek. It’s impossible not to be a hypocrite. It’s difficult to let go of the pet idols I’ve been hiding in my tent.
But our commitment to God isn’t cut and paste. You can’t follow the parts of what Jesus says that you like and then ignore the rest. You can’t expect a Savior who gave his whole life for you to be satisfied with half of yours. It is wonderful to worship him, yes, but our obedience is also part of that worship. It doesn’t allow us to approach the throne– grace does that– but it does allow us to keep worshiping him with our actions.
If we read Jeremiah 35, we see a contrast– perhaps what the Israelites would have looked like had they passed on the stories of God’s marvelous works. The Rechabites were not Israelites, but they were followers of Yahweh. Nearly two hundred years before the events in Jeremiah 35 took place, the ancestor of the Rechabites, Jonadab, had made a specific commitment to God. And what do ya know… two hundred years later, his descendants were still keeping that commitment. Why? They worshiped, they obeyed, and they passed it down.