Joshua’s plea – a challenge to us
Chapters 23 and 24 of the book of Joshua give us the record of the final address of an aged servant of the Lord just before he leaves this scene. It is a touching appeal addressed to God’s earthly people of old and is at the same time a challenge to all of us who belong to the Lord Jesus and want to follow Him today. If we read it carefully we are reminded of the last words Paul addressed to the elders from Ephesus in Acts 20.
Among many other important aspects which mainly deal either with the grace of God or with our responsibility, I would just like to highlight three vital points which are found in chapter 23.
The first point is obedience. It is found in verse 6: ‘be ye very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left’.
We, as Christians, are no longer under the law of Moses but the whole Word of God (the Bible) is given to us. It is a wonderful blessing that the great God comes down into our very circumstances in order to let us know His will. We should be ‘filled with the full knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding’ (Col. 1:9). But let us remember that it is one thing to know the will of God and another thing to love His word and to do (or to practise) it. Both things are essential and imperative.
Joshua challenges us to keep and to do the will of God as we find it manifested in God’s Word. We are unlikely to be faithful in keeping the Word of God if we do not value it as important. And we can only practise something if we first of all know what to practise. That shows us the extreme importance of the Word of God in our lives (personally and collectively). James tells us not to be only ‘hearers’ of the Word but ‘doers’, and he adds that someone who only hears and does not practise what he hears is someone who deceives himself. Practising the Word of God is obedience. The Word of God gives practical instructions for our different everyday situations, be it private (personal) life, family life, professional life or assembly life. The simple question that remains is whether or not we obey.
Joshua adds that the people of God should by no means turn aside, neither to the right hand nor to the left. This means that we are neither allowed to add something to the Word of God (our own opinion, our traditions, our self-made unwritten rules) nor to remove anything (e.g. things that we don’t like so much or things that we regard as no longer up to date). The danger is always an ongoing challenge. So we should pay attention to keeping and to doing the whole Word of God.
The second point is perseverance. This is expressed in verse 8: ‘but ye shall cleave unto Jehovah your God, as ye have done unto this day’. To cleave to someone means to cling to him and to not let him go. In the language of the New Testament, it is dedication, devotion and commitment to the Lord Jesus. A striking example is found in Acts 11 when Barnabas comes to Antioch and sees the work of divine grace in the comparatively young believers from the heathen world. In verse 23 we read: ‘Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord’.
In order to practise perseverance a ‘purpose of heart’ is needed. It is the purpose that Daniel had when he came to Babylon as a young man and did not want to get influenced by all the strange things he saw in that sinful city full of idolatry. A purpose (an intention) normally has to do with our head. But here, it is said to be a purpose of heart. To cleave to the Lord has indeed to do with our will, but so much more with our heart (the centre of our will). It is true that the heart is the centre of our decisions. Out of it are ‘the issues of life’ (Prov. 4:23). But it is more than that. Our heart also speaks of our affections. And that brings us back to the three expressions I used, namely dedication, devotion and commitment. It is with ‘head’ and with ‘heart’. Our understanding is never excluded but perseverance always includes our affections too.
Let us just briefly notice that we are exhorted to abide with ‘the Lord’. It is not just ‘Jesus’ but it is ‘the Lord’. To keep on going with ‘Jesus’ (as our Saviour) is comparatively easy. But to cleave to a Lord whose Lordship is widely rejected and ignored in this word (including the Christian world) is much more challenging. But it is exactly what we should do.
The third point is love. We can easily see that verse 11 speaks of this: ‘Take great heed therefore unto your souls, that ye love Jehovah your God’. Joshua underlines the personal responsibility we have and the importance of loving our Lord Jesus. It is true that we like to be occupied with the divine love towards us. The fact that we are ‘beloved ones’ (loved by the Father and the Son) is indeed something that surpasses every human understanding and imagination. But the Bible speaks in the Old as well as in the New Testament of our love to God and to the Lord Jesus. David put it in black and white one day when he made that wonderful love declaration: ‘I will love thee, O Jehovah, my strength’ (Ps. 18:1). Peter, after having been asked by the Lord Jesus Himself whether he loved Him, speaks more than once about his love to the Lord Jesus and in his first epistle he writes: ‘whom, having not seen, ye love’ (1 Pet. 1:8). Is there any child of God who would not love God the Father and the Lord Jesus?
Now, what does it mean to love the Lord? Does it simply mean to speak or sing about our love to Him and to praise Him? Is it a confession we make in prayer? All this is of course not excluded but it is not the main point. To love someone does not first of all mean to tell about it but much more to show it. To really love someone means to love to experience fellowship with him and to be at his disposal whenever needed, to offer one’s service. When God loved us He proved His love by giving us His beloved Son. In His divine love He did not spare Him. When the Lord Jesus loved us He gave Himself for us. If we really love our Lord this will be seen in what we do. The Apostle John puts it this way: ‘Children, let us not love with word, nor with tongue, but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:18). To love the Lord Jesus has to do with our service to Him. He Himself is the perfect example. When down on earth He declared: ‘but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father has commanded me, thus I do’ (John 14:31). True love is proved by obedience. And that brings us back to our first point. Christian obedience in its true character is motivated by love. That is the highest level of obedience.
May we all be encouraged and motivated by the call of Joshua to obey and to cling to the Lord and to love Him!