Joshua 23/24: New Beginnings
“ After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then old( 110) and well advanced in years, summoned all Israel, – their elders, leaders, judges and officials and said to them, “ I am old and well advanced in years.”
Thus begins the farewell speech of Joshua. Not unlike, a great general, giving a farewell address to armies, or a president making his last address to congress and the nation. Joshua will talk about the accomplishments, but in doing so a picture of what makes a leader great emerges, Joshua shows his humility. He gives God all the glory. He had been but a humble servant. Our Joshua, the Lord Jesus, although ‘he was in his very nature, God, made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.’ “And being found in appearance as a man, humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2) How can this be, a king who willingly dies for his servants? The mark of a godly leader- humility.
Joshua in these two addresses in chapters 23 & 24 will remind the nation it is the Lord your God who fought for you. Let’s listen to his first address to the nation’s leaders and the advice and warning he gives them. Joshua has a God-given insight, the rest from the wars with the external enemy is over for now and God is the One who fought for them and drove out the enemy. But in his parting words of wisdom, Joshua warns of the future where the battle continues as we fight the internal battle of the old nature influenced by the world and society around us. We must be even more diligent. Joshua knew the more dangerous battles lay ahead- the tests of prosperity, wealth, and a time of peace and plenty.
America fought a great war in the 1940’s against an external enemy. It was a hard fought war and after the victory from such a great war, America entered into a period of unprecedented growth, and optimism. It was a time of plenty, good jobs, opportunities and a generation who had been hardened during a 10 year long depression begin to feel their time had come. But lurking beneath the surface, was a greater enemy, and the test was one of handling prosperity and the time of plenty. God allows us to be tested in many ways and one of them is in prosperity. With prosperity comes pride, materialism and idols of different types in our lives, with the time and the money to enjoy them.
Here is Joshua’s advice and admonition and it applies to us today. “Be very strong and courageous to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses without turning aside to the right or the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord Your God, as you have until now.” (It is easy to hold fast to the Lord when you are in a battle against an external enemy. Joshua is warning them to stay alert and guard their heart with all diligence, for now was the time to be on alert to the internal, subtle attacks of the enemy)
“The Lord your God fights for you, just as He promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God.”
We are today in the 21st century to be careful to obey all the commands from God to us. Our goal is to stay on the straight and narrow- not turn to the right or left. Do you see how the enemy has divided us into the right and the left? He does not care which way you go, just not the straight and narrow. This is where Christians must not be led astray. We have denominations and we have individual Christians, or at least those who profess to be Christians, who are questioning the accuracy of the Word of God. They question its accuracy, its authorship and its application in today’s society. This is the very method the enemy used in the Garden of Eden. “Has God really said?”
We live in a time in which the Word of God and those who believe it is absolute truth- have been told to stay out of the public arena and not to bring our Christian faith and beliefs into our multi-cultural society. We must not speak of Christianity as exclusive, the only way to God. We must be tolerant of other belief systems.
But Joshua warns the people and since the Word of God and the God of the Word are everlasting- we believe this also applies to us as much as ever in the 21st century. WE must obey all the commands of the Lord our God. We must not turn to the right or left. God’s moral law has not changed. We are being told to be strong and courageous to obey the Word of God. And in the 21st century it is becoming obvious one needs God-given courage to take his or her’s stand on the Word of God and say- The Word of God says________________. We must not just know the Word of God, we must obey the Word of God if we want to stay on the straight and narrow road.
Joshua warns them not to associate with these nations. Not to swear by them, to serve them, or bow down to them. Question arises- are we not to be witnesses to the lost of the world? Yes. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. James said, “Friendship with the world is hatred toward God.” (James 4) We do witness to the world, but remain apart from the world. To recognize any other religion as good and worthwhile is to serve it with your acceptance, and bow down in recognition to it. We are a chosen people, a holy nation, and a peculiar people belonging to God. I am not talking about America- I am talking about the Church, the Body of Christ, and the Bride of Christ.
“But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.” We hold fast, because the enemies of our soul, the world, the flesh and the devil are trying to pry loose our grip. Its goal in trying pry loose our grip is to conform us to the world around us of which the enemy is the prince of this world.
How do we do hold fast? Here is the three step process described by Paul in Romans 12: 1, 2. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies as living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” There is actually a formula here: P + T = R.
Presentation of your body plus transformation of your mind equals the revelation of God’s will for your life. We must commit to obeying God, knowing God knows what is best for you. Paul and Joshua are a lot alike and as both entered the last days and knew the end was in sight, they fought the good fight, they kept the faith, and they finished the course. They wanted to remind the nation of Israel and the church of what was important.
“Be very careful to love the Lord your God.”
We are to saturate our minds with the Word of God. We must be doers of the Word of God and not hearers only. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.” (Col. 3:16) “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119)
Elijah said in I Kings 18” If the Lord is God follow Him.” Jesus said follow me. I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes the Father except by me. “An exclusive route- an all inclusive offer!
The challenges which Israel would face are the same challenges we face. The challenge to be conformed to this world. We are worship our King Jesus. There are to be no others. WE cannot serve two masters. The enemy wants more than anything to disarm us. To take away our armor, to take away the Word of God. WE must worship the Lord Jesus. We must serve Him, work for Him and live for Him. He is our Lord and there is no other.
Joshua then warns them what will happen if they turn away from the Lord and ally themselves with the enemy. “You may be sure the Lord your God will no longer drive out your enemy (the nations) before you. Instead they will become snares and traps and whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from the good land.” Has the good life in the good land of America become our snare, trap and whips on our backs? We are a nation whose economy runs on consumerism- with over 70% of our GDP coming from consumers buying stuff. Credit was created to increase our buying power. Now debt has become our way of life- it has also become our snare, our trap and a whip to our backs and thorns to our eyes. Our nation is a debtor nation- owing what will soon be 19 Trillion dollars- an amount we can never pay. And if our lenders foreclosed on us – they would own us.
Joshua reminds them, he is about to go the way of the earth. He is about to die. Joshua tells them, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. But just as every good promise of the Lord your God has come true, the Lord will bring on you the evil which He has threatened you, until He has destroyed you.”
Our old man, our old nature will continue to come back and we must continue to put off the old nature and put on the new by being renewed in the spirit of your mind. If we do not do this we give place to the devil. We give him a foothold in our lives and we grieve the Spirit.
In chapter 24, Joshua begins his 2nd part of his farewell address. The address we are told is given at Shechem. Remember Shechem means ‘shoulder.’ And as it happens, Shechem had become the center of the government of Israel at this time. (We are reminded the government shall be on His Shoulders)
Joshua knows the country will be facing a defining moment. A faithful God-fearing, strong, courageous leader is leaving. A leader who obeyed the Word of God and did not turn from it. This is Joshua’s last speech. Watch how it starts:
“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: …..”
What follows is an account of the history of Israel going back to Abraham. Joshua knows the Word of God for he has meditated on it day and night. He was chosen by God to succeed Moses and Moses had been his mentor for 40 years. We all need a mentor and we all need to be mentors. Abraham, by the way, was 70 years old when he left the Ur of Chaldees and set out on an adventure and life of faith.
His son Isaac would father twins- Jacob and Esau. Through Jacob he would start the fledging nation of Israel. Then comes the story of Joseph and when Jacob is reunited with his son, Joseph in Egypt, we are told when he went down to Egypt his household, numbered 66 souls.
But the nation of Israel was forged on the anvil of slavery as Israel became a nation in the brickyards of Egypt. God always takes us through the fire to burn off the dross, to shape us and conform us. He then sent Moses, an 80 year old, who had been prepared for this time in his life with 40 years as a sheep herder working for his father-in-law.
Then another 40 years of wandering in the wilderness to prepare Israel to take over the Promised Land. Always a time of hardship to prepare us for what lies ahead. Or forefathers, the Pilgrims who came to this country in 1600’s faced great hardships. It was through these hardships for the next 150 years, we grew into the nation of America.
Joshua saw what lie ahead. His life and experience had taught him the ways of God. He knew Israel would face a time of testing and the prosperity and peace and time of plenty would be their test.
He told them what all the Lord had done and they knew their history. He also told them:
“Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the river and in Egypt and serve the Lord. Joshua told them to choose for yourself this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household we will serve the Lord.”
The book of Joshua as we have said before has as its counterpart in the New Testament, the book of Ephesians. Both are about claiming our inheritance and understanding the enemy will fight to keep us from taking possession of what God has given us. In fact, I believe we are seeing an enemy who knows his time is short and is filled with fury.
But here is what we do not want to miss in the bigger story of Joshua. Joshua is about a time of a new beginning, a new leader, a new land, a new life. They had just wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, and had changed leadership.
When we got saved, Jesus became our New Leader. He told us He came to set us free from captivity, just as Moses had been used by God to set the people of Israel free from the Egypt. In fact, Moses is a type of redeemer. We see the blood of the Lamb as that which led the enemy to let the captives go free. Egypt is a picture of the world, Pharaoh a picture of the devil, and the slave masters in the brick yards, a picture of the sins and sin which held us captive.
He came to set us free and take us to a new land- the Promised Land of Joshua’s time is the abundant life Jesus came to give us. He is our new leader taking us into a new land and to a new life.
If Jesus is your leader- then you must follow Him.
He tells us to be strong and courageous. The way we do it is the same way Joshua did it- we meditate in the Word of God day and night and are careful to do whatever He commands us to do. He tells us if we do this -–we will be successful in the battles. We will be victorious
We are entering new lands. Taking possession little by little as we confront the enemy in many different guises. He may appear as a roaring lion, a military, political or economic power. Today, the President of United States has addressed the nation to tell us we have entered a new phase in the battle against the enemy. An enemy who is in our land.
We must remember, we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness. We have received the general command from our new leader, Jesus. Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. We are told very specifically the pieces of armor we are to put on and also the weapons we have which are mighty and have divine powers, not carnal, to the pulling down of strongholds and taking captive thoughts which sets itself up against the knowledge of God.
This new land and new life we are to live is summarized in the four locations of Israel’s history.
- Egypt- a place of death and bondage. How was Israel delivered? They were saved from death by the blood of the Lamb, and they were saved from bondage by the power of God who opened the Red Sea. This is a picture of salvation we have through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ at Calvary. John said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Through his death, burial and resurrection, Jesus Christ delivers the sinner from bondage and the judgment of death. As Israel was transported from Egypt to the Promised Land. We have been delivered from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Light of His Son.
- The Wilderness- God led Israel into the wilderness. And the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism and before he began his ministry. God has a wilderness experience for each of us, its purpose is to teach us how to live life depending on Him. It is contrary to the ways of the world. For we must learn to live by faith and not by sight. The length of time we spend there is dependent on how long it takes us to learn to trust the Lord with all our heart and not lean to our own understanding. From this story, we learn (I believe) it is possible to spend your parts of your life as a Christian wandering around in the wilderness, resisting Jesus’s full control of your life. Living with areas of rebellion and unbelief in your life is what creates areas of wilderness in your life.
- Canaan the Promised Land- a land which flows with milk and honey; but also with battles which we will continually have to confront. Victorious living is a series of new beginnings. There will continue to be battles and times of rest. The Lord has promised never to put more on us than we can bear. The abundant life is the Spirit filled life which Jesus came to give us. This is our Promised Land
- Babylon- is where Israel ends up living for 70 years because they disobeyed God and worshipped the idols of the pagan nations around them. Are we headed for Babylon or are we already there?
- Know this as surely as God told Israel, whom God loves- He chastens.
If you are a believer, you have experienced a new beginning which began when you asked a New Leader to come into your life. He promised you an abundant life. In this new land. It will be a series of new beginnings as you take possession step-by-step of all that has been given to you. This new life is the life of Christ Himself within you.
We are about to enter a new year. It will be an important year, as they all are, but more important because we will elect a new leader. It will mark a new beginning.
Joshua said- choose you this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household will serve the Lord. Worship Him. Love Him. Serve Him. Work for Him and with Him- a new year a new beginning.