Sunday, March 29, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "Serve the Lord"

“Serve the Lord”

Possessing the Promises: The Book of Joshua
March 29, 2009
Joshua 23:1-24:33

In only 3 months, 11 messages, we’ve marched our way through the entire book of Joshua, and here we are at the end.

We’ve reached what we called last week, “The Farewell Section” of the book of Joshua. Last week, it was farewell to the Transjordan Tribes and a call to hold fast to the Lord together.

This week, it is farewell to Joshua himself. And actually two farewell messages from Joshua to the people.

On two different occasions, probably fairly close together at the end of his lifetime, Joshua called the leaders and the people together and gave them his last messages.

And in those messages, Joshua has one major overriding call for them–for the people of Israel to keep their side of the covenant with the LORD. To “Serve the Lord.” That’s what Joshua calls Israel to do: “Serve the Lord.”

Just like Joshua was concerned last week that the Transjordan Tribes would forsake the LORD, he is concerned that all of the tribes of Israel will turn away from the Lord and no longer serve Him.

And so, Joshua preaches these two messages, which I think, we’ll find apply to us today.

Joshua is now old. But he still has some spunk in him.

And he’s got a message for the leaders of Israel. Chapter 23, verse 1.

“After a long time had passed and the LORD had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then old 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. You yourselves have seen everything the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the LORD your God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain–the nations I conquered–between the Jordan and the Great Sea in the west. The LORD your God himself will drive them out of your way. He will push them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the LORD your God promised you.”

Chapter 24 will tell us that Joshua dies at the ripe old age of 110. So, it probably been about 25 years since chapter 22. There has probably been about 25 years between chapters 22 and 23.

Israel is at rest. The land has been divided up and possessed. Joshua is old and about to die.

However, there is still work to be done. Israel has not yet driven out all of the Canaanites.

But Joshua is confident that God will do it if they trust him.

And so he tells the leaders that they need to hold fast to the LORD their God.


Look at verse 6.

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to 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.”
Hold Fast to the LORD Your God.

Yes, this is what Joshua said last week (25 years ago) to the Transjordan Tribes.

Hold Fast!

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses...”

Sounds like chapter 1 again, doesn’t it?

“...without turning aside to the right or to the left.”

Hold Fast.

Don’t go left, don’t go right. Go straight ahead.

Isn’t hard to do? Aren’t we prone to wander?

Don’t we want to veer this way or that way?

That’s why we need these kinds of reminders.

Hold fast! Don’t ride on the rumble strips. Go straight ahead. Verse 7.

“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.”

Aha. Now we see what Joshua is most concerned about.

He’s most concerned about false worship. The worship of other gods, false gods.

There are still false worshipers in Israel, and as long as they are there, there is always the temptation to follow after their false gods.

Why? Lots of reasons. One big one is that false gods often promise big things and are visible, tangible, and seem powerful.

But they are false.

And the LORD is true.

And so, Joshua calls Israel to hold fast. V.9

“The LORD has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised. [We’ve seen that again and again and again in the book of Joshua, haven’t we? So? V.11] So be very careful to love the LORD your God.”

Hold fast and love the Lord your God.

Do you need to hear that this morning?

Maybe you are tempted to swerve to the left or to the right.

Maybe there is something that’s caught your attention–something that promises you big things and is visible, tangible, and seems powerful–what amounts to a false god.

You wouldn’t call it that, but that’s what it is.

Is it an illicit relationship? A juicy bit of gossip? A bad habit? A possession that’s got you possessed?

An extra plate at the dinner table?

Maybe you’re thinking about chucking the whole thing.


Don’t turn aside to the left or to the right. Hold Fast [Glue Yourself!] to the Lord Your God. Be very careful to love the Lord your God!

Why? One reason is because of how dangerous it is to turn away. Look at verse 12.

“But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes [ouch!], until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you. [God gave it to you and He can take it away!]”

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. [He’s dying.] You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”

“But just as every good promise of the LORD your God has come true, so the LORD will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD's anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

Wow. That’s a strong warning, isn’t it?

Israel needed to hear that.

If they turned away from the Lord–apostasized–and took up with the false gods of the land, it was going to hurt.

With disobedience comes danger. This is as sure as the facts that with obedience comes blessings and God always keeps His promises.

What seems to visible, tangible and powerful becomes “whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes.”

I love the way that the Bible talks to us. It’s so real.

Don’t turn aside to the right or to the left.
If you do, you’ll get “whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes.”

So, instead, Hold Fast to the Lord Your God.

Here’s the bigger reason. And it’s one to not forget.


In chapter 24, Joshua calls the entire nation, not just the leaders to Shechem where he’s going to give his last message before he dies.

Why Shechem? Does anybody know?

Shechem is where Abraham was first told that his descendents would inherit this whole land!

This is where it all started.

This is where the Promised Land was promised! And now it is their possession.

And Shechem is where Joshua gives his last and most prophetic speech. Chapter 24, verses 1 through 13.

I want you to listen for the most important and repeated word this passage.

“Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. Joshua said to all the people [imagine the crowd!], ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. When I brought your fathers out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. But they cried to the LORD for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the desert for a long time. I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand. Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you–also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’”

What is the key word in those 13 verses?

It is “I.”

Joshua prophetically recounts the entire history of Israel. It’s like a 13 verse summary of the Pentateuch!

From the Abraham, a former moon worshiper from Ur, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, to the plagues, to the Red Sea Rescue, to the Transjordan victories, to Balaam, to the book of Joshua–crossing the Jordan, down came Jericho, conquering Canaan.

Who did all of that?

Who is the Main Character of the Pentateuch?

The Lord is.

Over and over again He says, “I did that. I delivered you. I blessed you. I gave you.”

And He ends with verse 13 where they now sit: “So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.”

Remember Who Got You Here! God did!

If you have any blessing, it’s because God gave it to you.

God is incredibly gracious!

He gives good gifts.

And He deserves all of the glory.

I can’t read these verses without thinking about our salvation.

Our salvation is a gracious work of God.

We were dead [dead!] in our trespasses and sins.
We couldn’t have saved ourselves if we’d tried.

But God saved us by His own power. The power of the Cross! And the power ofthe resurrection.

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead worked in us to bring us to faith.

And to give us new life.

If you are saved, remember how you got there! God did it.

And give God the glory.

Hold Fast to Him.
Love Him.


That’s what Joshua says to Israel. V.14

“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Wow. Joshua is, I think, almost taunting them. He’s just told them how God got them to this place by His grace.

And now he calls them to fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. The King James says, “in sincerity and truth.” The New Living Translation says, “serve Him wholeheartedly.”

And then he gives them a choice. Choose today. But choose. Are you going to go with the God Who got you here? Or go back to the old gods or find some new ones?

As for me and my household, for those whom I speak for–we will serve Yahweh. We will serve the LORD.

What an example!

What a declaration.

We are on the Lord’s side.

He has gotten us here and we’ll go with him.

But Joshua is saying, “Love Him or Leave Him!”

We will love Him.

And that’s Israel says, too. V.16

“Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. [He got us here.] And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.’”


And Joshua says, “No.”

Look at his shocking reply. V.19

“Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.’”

Wow. That’s almost totally unexpected isn’t it?

First he says, “Serve the Lord!”

And then they say they will.

And he says, “No you won’t. You can’t!”

He’s not saying that they shouldn’t try. They should.

But they don’t seem to know how fickle they really are.

They answered too quickly. Too glibly. Too facile.

They didn’t seem to have counted the cost of discipleship.

Or think about what they are promising.

Joshua knows them.

He knows that they are fickle. He saw how they followed (or didn’t follow) Moses.

He led them for many years.

He looks out and see how they have not yet possessed the land as fully as they should have.

And he suspects that they have brought foreign gods with them even to this great assembly.

And he knows (v.19) that God is holy and God is jealous.

If they rebel and they fall away and they serve foreign gods, God will bring judgment on Israel. V.21

“But the people said to Joshua, ‘No! We will serve the LORD.’ Then Joshua said, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.’ ‘Yes, we are witnesses,’ they replied. ‘Now then,’ said Joshua, ‘throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.’”

This was a flashback in many ways.

Not only was Shechem the place where Abraham was told that he would inherit the Promised Land. It was also the place where Jacob buried his family’s false gods from across the Euphrates River.

It is time to do it again. V.23.

“Throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.’”

Serve the Lord. It’s a call to complete commitment. To give the Lord our whole hearts.

To bow before Him alone and own Him as our god.

I love that phrase in verse 23, “Yield your hearts to the LORD.”

That’s what God is asking from us. He wants our hearts.

He doesn’t want us to worship other things that will never satisfy.

He wants our hearts.

That’s what it means to serve Him–to give Him our whole hearts.

Have you yielded your heart to the LORD?

He’s done so much for you. He’s brought you to this place. He’s give you the gifts that you have.

Have you yielded your heart to Him?

Israel says that they do. And Joshua holds them to it. V.25

“On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD. ‘See!’ he said to all the people. ‘This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.’ Then Joshua sent the people away, each to his own inheritance.”
Fear the Lord and Serve Him with All Faithfulness.

What does that mean to you today?

Does that describe you?

Are you a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Fear the Lord and Serve Him with All Faithfulness.

That’s what Joshua did. And then he went to his reward. V.29

“After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD [same title as Moses had!], died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.”

They DID serve the LORD! At least for a time. Unfortunately, Joshua was right and after he died the book of Judges begins! And we’ll see there that what he predicted came horribly true.

But for a time, at least, Israel did serve the Lord. And they had so much to be thankful for.

Point number four (and last this morning).


The people were called to be faithful, and they were only so-so at it.

But God is always faithful. God always keeps His promises.

I love this last part (v.32). Remember Joseph’s bones?

Joseph believed the promises of God so much that he refused to be buried in Egypt.

And he made them promise to take his bones back to the Promised Land and bury him there. He knew it was going to happen.

So, they’d carried his bones for over a hundred years.

And now, verse 32, “And Joseph's bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem (Genesis 33). This became the inheritance of Joseph's descendants. And Eleazar son of Aaron died and was buried at Gibeah, which had been allotted to his son Phinehas in the hill country of Ephraim.”

God always keeps His promises.

We can be thankful for God’s unswerving faithfulness!

And because He’s been faithful, we can be faithful to Him.