by J. Randal Matheny, editor
I have yet to hear a preacher get it right. I’m sure there’s one out there who’s on target, but every time a speaker uses the passage, he misses the point.
Not that he’s preaching false doctrine. By no means. The point he makes is valid, except that’s not exactly what the passage is saying.
Here’s the offended text:
“14 Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and worship the Lord. 15 If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!” Joshua 24:14-15 NET
In gospel meetings I often heard preachers use the phrase, in KJV language, “choose you this day whom ye will serve,” but they never seemed to get around to reading the rest of the verse or, if they did, glossed over it.
The choice, according to these preachers, was between God and whatever stood in the way of exclusve service and full obedience to him. (Excellent point, and Joshua was getting to that. He wanted the Israelites to serve God with “integrity.”) But the oft-quoted phrase, used in that sense, wasn’t Joshua’s point.
Joshua wanted to show the absurdity of serving any God but the Lord.
So say you don’t want to serve the Lord. That option sticks in your craw? Who’s left? Those gods that Abraham and company chunked when they left Ur? Or the Egyptian deities who got trounced with plague after plague? Or the Amorite gods who were helpless to keep the people of God from taking their land?
Joshua’s point: if you don’t want to serve the Lord, take your pick; they’re all worthless.
At first glance, the people would see a multiple choice of gods, from all over, of all stripes, shapes and colors. Like a kid in Baskin-Robbins. So hard to choose, so many good flavors.
But once you started looking up close, you’d discover none of them lived up to the media hype. The claims were flat, the gods false.
The only true choice, therefore, was to serve the Lord who had rescued the people out of Egypt.
But it is still a choice. Joshua’s words echo what were called suzerainty treaties, conditions imposed by a conquering king upon his vanquished enemies. This is the way it’s going to be from now on. You serve me, and I’ll take care of you.
No, God was indeed the conquering king, but he wanted willing subjects. He left them a choice. And he wanted to show them the only true choice, but it was still theirs to make.
Rebellion would be punished, faithfulness would be rewarded. You could chose your god, but you couldn’t choose your consequences. Each choice brought its unfailing results.
So they actually had two choices: If they refused God, they could take their pick among the abandoned and ineffective gods of the pagans. None of those would get them anywhere.
So what does that mean for me?
It’s not likely I’ll set up some wooden, stone or metal images. (There are lots of people out there who still do, however.)
Our gods are of a different stripe. Greed. Ambition. Money. Power. Envy. Jealousy. Resentment. Pleasure. Gods that infest the heart, twist the mind, warp the will.
If we don’t want to serve the Lord exclusely, what’s left? Merely these dinky deities that can never deliver on their promises. These (in)human idols that constantly tip over when the Spirit breezes by.
Don’t want God? Take your pick from this motley mix of no-good, washed-up idols. Paw through this junk-pile of broken images, ground-up golden calves, incinerated icons and see if you can find some fragment to fire your passion and feed your need.
On second thought, there’s not much there, is there? We watch stupid celebrities bow down to popularity. We follow power-hungry politicians who make their deals with the devil. We read of exhausted executives sacrificing family and health for for upward climb. We hear next-door neighbors neighing lustily after pleasure. It just doesn’t add up.
“So we too will worship the Lord, for he is our God!”
The right choice, the best choice, the only real choice.
And we’ve got the history to prove it.
If we refuse God, we can take our pick: all the options fail.