IV. Serving God in the Promised Land (Joshua 22:1–24:33)

22:1-8 With the land acquired and at rest, Joshua sent the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh back to their homes on the east side of the Jordan (22:1-5). They had faithfully crossed the Jordan with their brothers to help them conquer the land (see 1:12-15). Now that the work was done, Joshua blessed them and sent them on their way (22:6). But he challenged them to carefully obey the command and instruction that Moses the Lord’s servant gave them (22:5). In other words, he said, “Even though you’re departing from your brothers, you hold tight to God.”

In saying, I gave you a land you did not labor for (24:13), God reminded the Israelites that they were living in homes they hadn’t built, eating food they hadn’t grown, and sitting under shade trees they hadn’t planted. Now that doesn’t seem like a big deal at first given the way our culture buys and sells houses and ready-made meals. But in Bible times, if you wanted a home, you built it. If you wanted to eat, you grew or raised it. And if you wanted a luxury like a shade tree, you couldn’t just transplant a sapling from the local nursery. That God gave his people a land so well-equipped was a big deal.

Importantly, he used the unrighteous to get all this ready for them. The Canaanites did all the work, enjoying the fruit of their labors up until the day God evicted them for their wickedness. This reminds us that even the ungodly are God’s ungodly—not by relationship but by sovereignty. Similarly, even the devil is God’s devil, because he can only do what God permits. Israel needed to remember that they were like turtles on fence posts, which hadn’t gotten to their safe place by their own power.

What should believers in Jesus Christ learn from this? Whatever blessings we have received, we should give him all the thanks and praise.

24:14 So how was Israel to respond to this gracious provision from God? They were to Fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and truth. To “fear” God means to take him seriously, rather than having a mere casual relationship with him and trying to keep him on the periphery of life. They were also to Get rid of the gods [their] fathers worshiped. While this was likely a reference to the false gods mentioned in the Old Testament story to this point, an idol isn’t merely a statue before which someone bows. An idol is any unauthorized person, place, or thing that a person looks to as a source of purpose, promise, or provision. Therefore, an idol can be money, power, popularity, sex, influence, or a person, and the list goes on. You have only one ultimate source to meet your needs—God. Look to nothing else, take him seriously, and serve him.

24:15 In this verse Joshua laid all his cards on the table. He said, Choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship? . . . As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord. Joshua spoke like a kingdom man. He couldn’t control the hearts of the people of Israel, but he knew whose agenda he himself would follow and who would lead his home. He was determined to serve the Lord. He called the Israelites to make the same crucial decision.

24:16-20 In response to Joshua’s bold declaration, the people replied, We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods! . . . We too will worship the Lord, because he is our God (24:16-18). To this, however, Joshua responded, You will not be able to worship the Lord (24:19).

Now that response may seem a little odd. Why challenge them to follow the Lord and then call them liars when they promise to do it? Joshua said this because he recognized the danger of not putting your money where your mouth is. Talk is cheap, but actions prove our words. Frankly, Joshua didn’t believe they were serious, so he doubled down. He warned, He is a jealous God. . . . If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you (24:19-20). Indeed, God is jealous—righteously jealous—for his people, just as an honorable husband would be righteously jealous if he saw his wife acting inappropriately with another man. It isn’t enough to agree with truth; you must act on that truth.

24:21-22 The people responded to Joshua and insisted that they got the point: No! . . . We will worship the Lord (24:21). Therefore, Joshua told them, You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship the Lord. To this Israel replied, We are witnesses (24:22). So be it. By publicly vowing to worship God, the people of Israel had made a self-maledictory oath. If they were to fail in their pledge of fidelity, their own words would call down a curse on them and justify the judgment of God. They had testified against themselves in advance.

24:23 Since the people had promised to walk the talk, Joshua admonished them: Get rid of the foreign gods . . . among you. This tells us that Joshua was aware of inconsistencies between what the people claimed and how they lived.

God will not tolerate idols. If you have an idol in your life that you are unwilling to renounce (see commentary on 24:14), then you have, in effect, rejected God’s help and blessings in your situation. Many people ask God why he’s not working in their circumstances, while they’re hugging their idol of choice at the same time. They don’t stop to consider that God’s inactivity may be a result of the fact that like many in Israel, they aren’t willing to lay down the competition.

24:24-28 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people (24:25). A covenant is a divinely sanctioned bond. It’s a declaration of legal relationship in the spiritual realm. Through a covenant, God provides a “covering” for individuals, families, and nations. For example, when a husband honors his marriage covenant with his wife, God provides a covering—an umbrella—of blessing. So Joshua recorded this agreement in the book of the law of God (24:26). He also set up a large stone as a witness (24:26-27). Previously, Joshua had set up memorial stones to remind Israel of what God had done for them (see 4:1-9) and to remind them of the seriousness of sinning against God (7:26). This time, however, the memorial stone was to point them to their agreement to worship God. Every time they passed by it, the stone would silently whisper, “Do not deny your God; practice what you preach” (24:27).

24:29-31 After challenging Israel to follow their God, Joshua died at the ripe old age of 110. How would he be remembered? As the Lord’s servant (24:29). And as a testimony to his faithfulness, we are given this insight: Israel worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime (24:31). Unfortunately, as the book of Judges will reveal, that pattern would soon change.

24:32-33 Many years before, when Joseph was about to die in Egypt, he made the sons of Israel—his brothers—vow to carry his remains to the land God swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and bury them there (see Gen 50:24-26). So, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he “took the bones of Joseph with him” (Exod 13:19). But now that Israel was in the land that God had promised, they buried Joseph’s bones (24:32).

Though he would not live to see the outcome of the promise, Joseph believed that God would keep his word to his family. And if you think about it, Christians are essentially called to do the same thing. We wait for entry into the divine promised land where God will dwell among his people forever. So with that truth ever in view, walk with God and trust him for what he has planned for your life. Because none of his promises fail.

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