There are a few lessons for today:
1. The choice is a continual process.
Moses laid before the people a choice between life and death. Now Joshua stands before the people and says, “choose this day whom you will serve.” Just because the people had obeyed God and followed Joshua into victorious battle, doesn’t mean that they were automatically going to do right for the rest of their lives. As the blood on the swords was beginning to dry and the crops in the fields were beginning to grow, Joshua knew that the people would have the tendency to forget about the miraculous deliverance of God in their lives. Joshua knew that the only way they would be able to stay within the guardrails of God’s plan was if they made a conscious choice to do so. The same is true for us. Each day we must wake up and choose to live in the Kingdom of God.
2. You can’t choose the Kingdom!
What? One of the most perplexing verses in this passage is Joshua 24:19-20. After Joshua told them to choose, he said, “you are not able to serve the Lord.” Why would he say that? Was he messing with their heads? The key to this is found in v. 23. Joshua said that the people must throw away their foreign gods and “yield your hearts to the Lord.” That is the key to living in God’s Kingdom. God does not ask you to work harder to obey His commands. He does not ask you to wake up every morning and say, “by the power of my own will I will not steal, not lie, not lust, etc.” That mentality will drive us into burnout and idolatry faster than anything. What God asks of us is to wake up every morning and say, “God, I give up. I am not strong enough to follow you. I die to myself. Please fill me up with you and lead me in the paths that you would have me to follow.” The key to the kingdom is to yield your heart.
3. Parenting is a key to the Kingdom of God.
When we move into the Judges passage, notice that Joshua’s generation followed God’s laws. But as soon as that generation died off, the next generation quickly strayed and began to follow the baals of Canaan. How can this happen? While the point I’m making is not explicitly in the passage, it is one that can be drawn from simple observation in our own culture. Many times one generation can find an external pattern of worshipping God that flows from an authentic desire to know God, and they can follow that pattern of worship their whole lives. The problem is that they bring their children up in that pattern of worship and believe that by “taking their kids to church” their children will learn to love God as well. There’s the fatal flaw. That pattern of worship may be authentic for the older generation because it flows from their heart for God, but for the children it is nothing more than an external behavior. God has not yet gripped the heart of the child. The best place for the Kingdom of God to be authentically and effectively transferred from one generation to the next is in the home. The parents need to love God with their whole self, and serve the Lord in everything they do. If God is real at home, then the children will meet God and come to know Him. But if God is just something that is talked about at church then “God” will be nothing more than an empty concept, one idea among many, that will potentially get swept away when the child enters into the whirlwind of competing worldviews in the adult world.
4. The battle is healthy.
It was not God’s desire to have Israel spare the nations around them. In the same way, it was not God’s desire for Adam and Eve to turn away from Him. God’s desire and His purpose for us is to live in perfect unity with Him. Yet, He knows the poor choices we continually make and He makes concessions for us, as good parents do. Notice in v. 22-23 what attitude God takes towards the nations that were left behind because of Israel’s disobedience. He says, “I will use them to test Israel…The Lord had allowed those nations to remain.” The fact is that the struggle is good for us because it makes us stronger. That is what exercise is for the physical body; it’s a struggle. When you lift weights you put your muscles under stress that actually tears them down a little. As the body heals the micro injury it becomes stronger and more resilient. In our spirit it is the same way. I believe that is what James meant when he said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) Stay strong, and thank God for the struggles that you face. Keep your eyes on Him and remember that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)