As for Me and My House
Rev Brian Norton
Durham Presbyterian Church, July 27th 2003
Joshua 24:14 & 15
“Choose you this day whom you will serve.”
That was how Joshua confronted the nation gathered to him in his old age. Challenges have often been made by national leaders, or made from pulpits, to make choices, but not all of them have had the solid biblical basis that Joshua’s had. What I want to do is to consider the thinking that led to this ringing challenge. So I want to examine the two verses, which follow the “history lesson” of the first 13 verses. We must not read these two verses without being clear what has preceded them. The whole passage follows a pattern which we find in other parts of the scripture where God explains the various aspects of his relationship with his people.
Not only do we have the term “covenant” used in the Bible to describe the relationship between God and his people, but also the same term was widely used in the ancient world. The pattern, we know from scripture, was a pattern used by rulers in the ancient world as they laid down the terms of rule over their subjects. The first thirteen verses of Joshua 24 identify who is speaking and then present a historical prologue typical of such a covenant. The words of verses 14 and 15, which we are considering start with, Now. So what he says there follows on from his history lesson that had gone before.
The first thing that follows is a command. If God has done all that he has for us, what must we do in response? The biblical answer is always that we should serve him. It is typical of the pattern of covenant and it is followed again in the New Testament. How does Joshua put it here? He tells them that in the light of what God has done, they must fear the Lord. Fear is not one of terror, but the fear of respect. Behaviour is to arise out of respect and awe for God. It means we are not simply to please ourselves, but rather ask what God wants. He then goes on to make clear that to fear the Lord must lead us to serve him. How we serve is all-important.
We are to serve him in sincerity and truth. Sincerity means, of course, without pretence. It is wholeheartedness. Joshua also speaks of serving God in truth – not simply telling the truth, but, rather, being true, being faithful. It means there will be exclusive service. It means not trying to serve two masters; it means not limping between two lords or halting between two opinions. It is of the nature of covenant commitment that there is a command to give up all service to other lords. Joshua spoke of not serving the gods of the Mesopotamians or the Egyptians.
For us it means that we stop serving the gods of secularism or hedonism; that is, we do not pursue the standards of this world or the pleasures which dominated our lives before we knew Christ. We are to enjoy God’s good gifts but not serve them. Joshua’s command was to exclusive service of the Lord God, which followed from all that God had done for his people. The counterpart to God’s goodness and grace to us is our service to him. It is also part of the loving relationship between God and his people. God acts in grace toward us and we are to respond in being his servants. This is what it means to be God’s people. Let me ask all of us whether we serve God in sincerity and in truth.
That brings us to Joshua setting before them a choice. His aim is for them to see what commitment to the Lord involves – but the choice is not directly between other gods and the Lord God. He tells them that if they fail to respond to the command and have no desire to serve the Lord, then what follows is indeed a choice. He is not afraid to offer them a choice but at this point the offer is an ironic one. If they don’t want to serve the Lord, they have a choice. What is it? They can go back to the gods of Mesopotamia, which Abraham left or take up the gods of the Amorites in the Canaan, which they have now come to. They can go back to the traditions of the past or take up the new ways of their contemporary society. “The choice is yours,” he says. The implication is clear – that it makes little difference, for neither of these gods is true and neither will save them.
Are you wriggling with a sense of not wanting to serve the Lord? You have been brought up with certain patterns, which you begin to find restrictive. The ways of the Lord are not appearing as delightful to you. If that is the case, then you have an open choice: the ways your parents left behind them or the ways of your contemporaries all round you. What is sure is that there is no neutral position in front of you as an option. One or the other will claim you. What a tragically foolish statement is that of the poet who said, “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.”
Sometimes what people yearn for is the possibility of choice. So make your choice, but it will get you nowhere. Joshua says to us is, “Yes, by all means, choose!” He doesn’t go on to spell out the results of their choice if they do not choose to serve the Lord, but the implications are clear enough. What good will it do you? What sort of masters are these to serve? There are ugly and evil forces whichever way you turn. The same is true for all the lifestyle choices that our world so much delights in. There are plenty of choices if you do not want to serve the Lord, but in reality there is nothing to choose between them.
Instead of going into detail about the consequences of their actions Joshua returns to the basic command and requirement for those who have known God’s mighty acts in their lives – the requirement to serve. He deals with the foolish choice before them by setting out his own example. Joshua cries out, “but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” He says that God has done such mighty things for them that he, Joshua, will serve the Lord. He doesn’t say that now he has decided to choose the Lord, because in fact he has been conscious all along the way that the Lord has been dealing with him. In a sense he is more conscious that the Lord has chosen him. Of course, he did choose the Lord but that is not what his mind is fixed upon. His point is that those who might be discontent with serving the Lord, and are foolishly thinking about which other way to go, need a better example. They need to grasp that complete commitment is required, and so he would give them such an example. He declares his own commitment. See how definite it is: “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord”. There is such determination here – we will serve the Lord.
There is one very obvious part of this ringing statement that I have to draw attention to. He does not say, “… as for me I will serve the Lord.” He says, “… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” He does not speak just for himself but for all his family.
That tells us, as the scriptures do elsewhere, that there is a high place given to God’s dealings with families and the collective responsibility of families to the Lord. God said of Abraham, “I know my servant Abraham that he will command his family…” Parents were to train their children in the way of the Lord and were rebuked if they did not restrain them. The same is true in the New Testament where parents are commanded to bring up their children, not just to be good children, but in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). How seriously do we take that command? How seriously do we take Joshua’s example with regard to our own children or in how we view those who have children? At the very least we should see this as another example of how important the family is in God’s dealings with men.
But I want to ask why Joshua spoke as he did? Was it a natural thing – a theologically natural thing – for him to say, “we will serve”? The answer lies in how he perceived this occasion. He is appealing to them to serve God in the light of the history of God’s actions towards them. Why? Because he sees this as a covenant renewal. He wants them to grasp the grace of their relationship to God in terms of God’s own commitment and promises. He remembers the covenant made with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And because of that, he remembers also that the promise was to Abraham and to his seed. He sees that as the promises cover him and his seed, so his responsibility does also. So when he cries, “as for me and my house” it was a natural thing to do, for those who remembered the terms of God’s promises. If the promise was to Joshua, it was to his seed as well; and if the promise was to them, so the responsibility for their service was his also. He did not say that he hoped they would serve God. While they were in any way his responsibility, he said, “we will serve the Lord.”
What bearing does this have on us now? It helps us develop a theology of families. How tragic that so often in the evangelical community there is no theology of the family. We have to remember that the same promises and responsibilities that Joshua, as much as Abraham and Paul, was conscious of, are laid on us. How are we to view our children? You who are parents are to teach them to serve the Lord. You lay down that this is what we do as a family. So you don’t wait until they decide to serve the Lord; you tell them that this is what we do. After all, you do not wait for your children to do other good and safe things. You instruct them. Of course nothing is automatic. They may rebel. Many did in Israel. Your children may think it evil to serve the Lord. However, as children are taught and then face life’s trials for themselves they often find that what they were brought up to believe is indeed precious to them and that they do love the Lord and want to serve him. They know, of course, that it is all of grace and not of their works because they have been taught the scriptures from childhood, as Timothy was. We have to remember as a church that the children in our midst have a place here. We have to remember that there is a, “we will serve the Lord,” that applies to them. They are part of this serving community.
What is this glorious chapter about? It is a covenant renewal. It is a renewal of the marriage vows between Israel and God. But the challenge of Joshua to the people in these verses was about being faithful in serving the Lord. The chapter is therefore about serving the Lord. We see in it that, in terms of our relationship to the Lord, we have the privilege of bringing up our children to serve the Lord as well as serving him ourselves individually. That is part of what our own service to him involves.
This service follows as a logical outcome of what God has done for us. That is why Paul’s definitive statement in Romans sets out what God has done for us and then follows it in Romans 12:1 with a “therefore” – that we present our bodies a living sacrifice, which is our reasonable service. It is the same pattern as here in Joshua. God has been faithful to us in what he has done for us and we are to be faithful to him. Surely we must delight to serve him. God had brought them out of Egypt delivered them at the Red Sea and fed them in the wilderness. God had defeated Balak and the kings of the Amorites. He has brought us out of sin and delivered us from Satan’s hold. He has kept us from that day until this. What faithfulness!
Service is the proper response as we take in the history lesson of God’s faithfulness. In Joshua’s case it was a response of enthusiasm and commitment. What then is your response? Will you not serve such a king?
“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”