Proper 15 • Joshua 24:1–2, 14–18 • August 19, 2012
By Kyle Castens
The Choice is His
There is nothing more non-descript than a plain white Styrofoam takeout container. As it sat on our counter, it went unnoticed. My wife had to bring it to the attention of our sons. They opened the lid and found something unexpected: desserts! Cookies and brownies, big and small. The ordinary container had revealed its content of choices, too many choices. Which should they choose? The little brownie or the fruit filled cookie? One or two? Who knew such a simple package could offer such difficult choices.
Choices. Your life is filled with them. The little brownie or the fruit filled cookie? Pepsi or Coke? Chevy or Ford? One piece of pie or six? Go out to dinner or stay home? Paint the front door blue or white? Start a new job, or stay with the one you currently have? Some choices are great; some are small. Some make a big difference and some are not significant. Some are heart wrenching and some barely make a dent in your daily awareness.
Since your life is filled with pathways of choices, it is very easy to extend your familiarity with choices to areas where a choice is not yours to make. For instance, what about God? Is he your choice? Did you sit down in your easy chair one afternoon and come to the conclusion that you would choose God to be a part of your life? Did you make a conscious choice that your commitment would be to him? Isn’t that what is going on in Joshua 24, after all?
Joshua assembled the twelve tribes of Israel to give them the word of the LORD. “Thus says the LORD,” said Joshua, and the word of the Lord comes to the people. What does the LORD say? He reminds the people of their fathers who lived beyond the Euphrates, the fathers who served other gods. He reminds them that he took one of those fathers, Abraham, out of that foreign land of foreign gods and gave him the land of Canaan. The LORD reminds them of Isaac and Esau and Jacob and the descendants of Jacob, and what he did for them. He reminds them of Moses and Aaron, his instruments that he used to bring his people out of slavery in Egypt. He reminds them that he drove the peoples out before them and he told them “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Jo 24:13).
Joshua delivers to the people of Israel this imperative: serve the LORD; put away the gods! Serve the LORD, the LORD who speaks these words, who rescued them, and who delivered them into a land he has promised. If this for some reason, some odd reason, seems evil, displeasing in their sight, Joshua demands that they choose which god they will serve. How about the ones beyond the Euphrates? How about the ones down in Egypt? Joshua, however, declares, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Jo 24:15). See, one may say, this looks like another illustration of a world full of choices! See, one may say, these words of Joshua prove the world of choices extends to God. Choose the gods your fathers served, or serve the gods of the Amorites, or serve the god that brings you pleasure, or serve the god that tells you that you are always right, or choose a combination, or choose the one true God. Is Joshua really suggesting to the tribes and to you that they and we have the right to choose God? Absolutely not! One who thinks that Joshua 24 is about making a choice for the LORD has sadly misunderstood this word. Choose for yourselves amongst the gods that your fathers worshiped, sure. Choose one of the gods of the Amorites, yeah you could do that. That is no different than choosing between a blue door and a white one or between ham and turkey. Making the LORD just another choice, no way!
The people respond adamantly that they will not follow any other God than the LORD. They seem appalled by the very suggestion itself. “Far be it from us!” Never! Never! Let it not be! They say they will follow no one other than the LORD who saved them and showed them great signs (Jo 24:17). Is it simply that they didn’t want to bite the hand that fed them? Is it just a matter that these people made a good and educated choice? Joshua bursts that bubble straight away. “But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God’” (v. 19). Joshua recognizes the sinful condition of this people and their lack of power and authority to do any choosing. Freedom of choice just failed them.
The confession that Joshua and the people make is bold: my household and I will serve the LORD, and far be it from us that we would serve anyone other, for the LORD is the one true God. This response, however, has nothing to do with their choice but everything to do with God’s choice. God took Abraham from beyond the river. He chose Abraham. God delivered his people from Egypt. He chose them. Now this word of the LORD has come to the twelve tribes. Their response? To serve and follow him. Their response flows from faith, which is never a choice of man but always a work of God. God has done his work on them through his word!
Always a work of God! So it is in your life. As neither Joshua nor the twelve tribes chose the LORD, so we have no ground for choice. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (Jn 15:16). Choose for yourself this day whom you will follow (Jo 24:15). Who you will follow is Jesus who has already chosen you and leads you to himself by faith. The one you follow is Jesus who has drawn you to his cross through the waters of your Holy Baptism. The one whom you follow is Jesus who finds you dead in your trespasses and brings you to himself—to life—even when we had no intention to follow. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). God’s choice for you is no accident or afterthought: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the very foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:3-4).
So what does the LORD’s work mean for Joshua? What does it mean for the twelve tribes? What does it mean for the disciples? What does it mean for you? It means being chosen by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who sent his Son to be your salvation, the promise fulfilled. It means receiving that gift by a faith that is his work alone. It means living a confession that looks like these words: As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD, the LORD, who is the true God. It means confessing with our lips and lives that we follow none other than the LORD. He is our Savior who came after us and rescued us on the cross.