The older we get, the more we think about what we've taught our children. We worry and wonder about them. Will they remember what they've learned? Will they pass it on to their children? Joshua was no different. He was concerned that the children of Israel remember the God who rescued them from Egypt and gave them the Promised Land.
“An Old Soldier’s Farewell”
(Joshua 23, 24)
There is something that is very powerful, very moving, very important, about the last words spoken by an individual. I think of William Carey, a man who was the first missionary to India. The first missionary sent by the Baptist Society who would be the first to that country. In fact, that was over 150 years ago and we still talk about him today and he is called today the father of modern missions. He was the individual who coined the phrase expect great things from God, attempt great things for God. This great missionary statesman how on his death bed spoke to a close associate of his in his final hours and he said to him, when I am gone say nothing of William Carey, but say much of William Carey’s savior.
Think as well of Charles Haden Spurgeon, a man, a young man in his teens was preaching to thousands by the time he reached his early 20s, his church in London had 10,000 people every Sunday coming to hear him speak. He was a master communicator that is still being model today in seminaries. He was a self taught theologian, but yet so brilliant that he is still being quoted today. That this very brilliant man on his death bed talking to an associate said, you know the older I have become the more simple my theology has become. Jesus loves me.
About 3 years ago, my father-in-law taken ill, his heart was failing him, his time unexpectedly short. All of us had arrived in Atlanta from all over. We would take turns going into the intensive care unit in shifts and we were only allowed just a few moments there. One of the times that I happened to be in there, he awoke from his sleep and he was attached to every apparatus available, he had a tube down his throat for breathing and he looked up at me and I looked down at him and I said I love you Pop. And he formed words around that pipe that become his last words to me and he said I love you.
The bible is filled with moving farewells. The first thing that God would include the record. Look at Joseph on his death bed calling his brothers in and saying in his last moments, stay true, basically. God will give you the land and by the way, when you leave here, Egypt, and you go take the inheritance take my bones with you. I want to be buried in the promise land.
I think of Paul who said good-bye to the Ephesian elders there on the dock where they wept and embraced and he said to them, I know that none of you will ever see me again, therefore, in Acts 20 records this moving farewell. But no where in the scripture is more detailed given to a farewell than to that of Joshua’s.
So I would invite you for the last time in our study of this book, Joshua 23:1. His farewell takes 2 entire chapters. Two moving events where he says farewell to the leaders and then he says his final words to the people he loved and had lead for years.
Verse 1, Now it came about after may days, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years, that Joshua called for all Israel, that is for their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers, and said to them, I am old, and advanced in years, other words, here is my farewell speech. I imagine all of the officers heads and clan tribal leaders sort of edge forward to see their godly old leader and to hear his final farewell. This was it.
Joshua’s challenge basically alternated between two points. God’s faithfulness to them and their faithfulness to God, and He will rotate in this what must had been a very well planned speech. We don’t have time to dissect every phrase, but I want to highlight some of the elements of his farewell words. They demand highlighting. If you have notes, let me give you the first. You will find in his farewell the element of humility. This great leader now gives God all the credit.
Look at verse 3, You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has been fighting for you. In other words, do not ever forget Israel why you have been victorious in the land. There isn’t room in Canaan for the self made man syndrome. He didn’t want the soldiers sitting around the campfire years from then challenging each other with their exploits saying I did this and I did that. There would be only 1 entry in Canaan’s hall of fame. God. Now as the leader he set the tone.
Look at verse 9, for the Lord has driven out great and strong nations before you; and as for you, no man has stood before you to this day. One of your men puts to flight a thousand, why? For the Lord your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised. Israel never lose sight of the fact that victory in the land of Canaan is because of God. Canaan representing to us today by illustration the victorious Christian life. It is not so impressive what God in central one what we do for God, but what He will do for us through us and in us. We are far to carried away with what we do for him, far less impressed with what he does in us. That was his point among others.
I remember hearing a testimony of a guy came to college I attended, Solomon Albalwaly. Right out of the bush. He never been to America before. He left Africa and flew into Chattanooga. Never having seen the conveniences that we just expect. I heard his testimony as a college student and he talked about arriving at the airport and while following the crowd to the baggage claim and he had everything that he had everything that he had owned with him. The person who was supposed to show up and to help him and take him to college had not arrived yet and he was confused and a little frightened. Committed believer. He got all of his bags in his arms and he starts looking around to where he was supposed to go and he sees what looks like to be an exist or a door. So he starts walking toward them. As he walks toward with his hands loaded down, he wonders how was he going to ever get through those doors and he sort of prayed, Lord, I need some help here. At about that time his foot hit the rubber mat and the doors flew opened. He says I walked through and said Lord, thank you. Of course he learned later there was a source of power behind the door as it opened and as cute as it was what a lesson to us today. Because we see doors open as a result of prayer, we see opportunities taken and we see achievements done and the spirits powered, but our natural inclination is to stop and get on the other side and say Look what I did.
Joshua said I never want any of you leaders to ever forget that your victory is a result of God, the power who fought behind you. In fact, 12 times in this chapter he will say the phrase, the Lord your God, the Lord your God, the Lord your God, he gave, he delivered, he fought. Don’t ever forget that.
The second element is: Challenge. That is to obey the word. Look at verse 6, be very firm, and to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left. The book of the law of Moses was the penetue that we study chapter by chapter. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, they had that informed. They had that to follow. Joshua says you stick by the book and you as a nation will succeed. Going back to the challenge of God and him in chapter 1. You follow it and you will live as a nation. I read of a court ruling just recently that banned a high schooler reading his bible in study hall on his own. I also read a quote from the LA Times, a syndicated column had the guts to write these words and I want to read them to you, I don’t want to insensitive with the content but you will get the picture.
He says in the Times, the bible is America’s most banned book. Ask yourself why condoms are now distributed freely in the public schools and why the bible is banned. And you will begin to understand why our cultural fabric is unraveling. Well said.
If Joshua was alive today in America, I have no doubt in my mind that he would say, America you have become a technical, logical giant but a moron spiritual infant. Why? Because we have abandoned the challenge he gave to that nation. Stick by the book and you will live.
Now he also gives them caution as he carries the idea further in verse 7, in order that you may not associate with these nations, these which remain among you or mentioned the name of their gods or make anyone swear by them or serve them, or bow down to them. You notice that these descending order from the first peaceful fellowship to ultimately pagan worship. Look at that verse again, don’t associate with them, what fellowship has light with darkness, we are in the world to win the world, but they are not to be our interment associates.
But if you don’t follow that advice you’ll begin to mention the name of their gods. This is dialogue. This is the possibility that they may exist. If you do that, more than likely you will begin to swear by them, that is you will contract business upon the ethics of the pagans who swear by their gods in contractual form. And then you will be led into serving them and ultimately you will bow them to them. What began with very innocent fellowship can led to pagan, idolatrous worship. So he warns, he cautions and the greater threat to Israel was spiritual and moral compromise. By what would begin with initial fellowship that seems so innocent.
In the early church I was reading recently I admired the works of early church leaders, like Turtuely and North Africa who led the early church in the 2nd century. They had troubled there. The people who were believers, especially the craftsmen had gotten caught up in actually making the idols the pagans were worshipping. They crafted them, they polished them, and they sold them. And in Turtuely the church leaders, by the way, he was the one who coined the phrase the trinity, the great theologians. He confronted these craftsmen on one occasion as to why they were making the idols and they basically fluttered, they logically expounded their reasons somebody going to do it, this is our craft besides we have to live here and we need the money. And Turtuely responded whey they said we need the money with the question, Why? Well they thought and said because we need to buy food. Why? Well we must live. Why?
You see, ladies and gentlemen, we have only one must in our lives. We must serve the Lord. That involves honor and worship and love. And everything else is a result of that decision. We are going to look at that a little bit later.
Now lets turn to chapter 24, we are going to move the 2nd in the sake of time, following Joshua’s historical review in the first 13 verses, he now summarizes his farewell speech and like a good preacher he moves for the verdict and he tries to point them toward the conclusion. You will notice as we go along. Verse 14, Now therefore, he is coming down to the end, he is landing his plane, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in truth and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. Now will you notice the next verse that is frequently misinterpreted. Verse 15, And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites. We usually think of that verse with choose you this day of whom you will serve. Either the Lord or these gods. Look what he said there, look again, He said serve the Lord, if you don’t you need to make a choice with the remaining Gods. Which one do you want? Well you got the gods beyond the River who are proven impotent by the power of God during the plagues, if you don’t like them, what else do you? Well you have the gods, the Amorites, Molites who demand you to sacrifice your children to them. In other words, he is making his point. If you don’t serve God, what do you have left? What rotten choices remain if you don’t serve him?
Now let me break this phrase down a little bit closer. Lets look at the word choose. Interesting, it is in the continuous or the tense is continuous action. You know, he isn’t saying here, choose one time that will last the rest of your life time to serve the Lord. Actually what Joshua is saying here, is to make a choice everyday of your life. You get up in the morning and you have one primary question, Who’s slave am I? You have one question, Who am I going to serve today? Yesterday’s choice may not work today unless it is reiterated into your heart that today I am going to serve God. And here is a 100+ year old man saying, As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. Do you think of a little 25 year old or 30 year old newly married guy. No, this guy is over 100 years old, saying by the way, I am choosing to serve God today. Press the old general.
Then he goes on to say, choose for yourself, the KJV says choose you. I like that, the emphasis is on the personal, the you. You can’t have someone make your choice for you. You have to choose. Are you here today because your husband wanted you to be? Are you here today because your parents made that choice for you? Do you say grace before the meals because it is good for the children to see? Good for them. Do you want a bible, because every good American owns at least one? See how personal is your choice to serve the Lord. Choose you this day whom you will serve. That is the last phrase. At least he didn’t say who you worship. Why? Because Joshua understand that whoever you serve, whoever calls the shots in your life, whatever you are living for, that is your god. So choose today.
This is really a good speech making here. So them he draws the net. And look at the people response in verse 16, and the people answered and said, far be it for us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods. Verse 18, we also will serve the Lord for He is our God. Boy this has been great. He has delivered this message and all the people says yes we will serve the Lord. The next phrase is verse 19, then Joshua said to the people, you will not be able to serve the Lord, now wait a second here. He just asked all those who want to serve the Lord raise your hand, and 2 million hands went into the air. And then he said, put those hands down. Looks like he is trying to lose his chance to win the prize for most evangelistic responses in one single service. What is he doing here? I think you will discover as you read a little further.
Look at verse 20, if you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He had done good to you. And the people said to Joshua, No, but we will serve the Lord. And Joshua said to the people, you are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the Lord to serve Him. And they said, Okay, we are witnesses. Now here comes the clue, verse 23, this is what lets us know why he is acting the way he is acting. now, therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your heats to the Lord, the God of Israel. That makes sense now. They are pledging with their lips but they were lying with their lives. We will serve the Lord, He is the only God in their tent, they had the little rain idle just in case it did not come through. They had a little sunshine god, in case they did not get enough sun. They had backup gods in their tents. But before Joshua, we will serve the Lord. Joshua says, Oh yea! Then burn all the other bridges behind you.
And fortunately we do the same kind of thing. We stand in church and we sing, My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou are mine for thee for all the follies of sin, I resign. My gracious redeemer my savior art thou if ever I love thee, my Jesus it is now. Only send rain when I need it. Only give me that promotion. Only cause my children to be healthy. My Jesus, I love thee, but you will need to earn it.
Joshua pulled the mask off their lip service and said if you mean it, then live by it. No alternate god is here. No backups if God doesn’t pull through like you want.
Now the last paragraph of the book of Joshua is rather odd. What a way to end it, it mentions 3 burials, but I believe it is here for a powerful reason. Look at verse 29, it came about after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, verse 32, now they buried the bones of Joseph which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor, verse 33, the third burial, and Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him at Gibeah of Phinehas his son, which was given him in the hill country of Ephraim.
Why is this so powerful? It is proof that God keeps His word. Joshua, God promised that if you would obey His word and meditate on it day and night you would have good success and you would inherit the land. Where is Joshua buried in the land? Joseph, you told your brothers one day that if they would remain true to God, according to God’s own promise to his fore father Abraham that they would one day would leave Egypt and inherit the land. Take my bones with you, where is Joseph buried? In the land. Jacob one day bought a little piece of ground from a foreigner in the land that did not belong to him at that time only by promise but where now is this preachly son buried? In the land. Each one of those funerals declared God keeps His word.
Growing up in Norfolk, VA, with all of the other missionary kids, we used to run around in the streets because my father worked with the military there. That was in the days when the navy boys wore their blues and whites and their funny oreo looking hats he called them not to their faces. We would run around that town and scamper here and explore there and I mentioned several years ago in fact some people told me later that they went on vacation. One of our favorite haunts downtown Norfolk was the McArthur Memorial. We knew every inch of that place. In fact, right in the center of this huge marble lobby was a large round hole that where they had laid the bodies of McArthur and his wife. There was a brass banister at the top and you could come to the banister and look down there. When no one was looking one time, I jumped down there and touched the grave so I could say I had been there. I carried that secret for 20 years, but I confess it before you.
For those of you who are not very familiar with this man, he was the 5 star general who commanded the Southwest Pacific fleet in that theater in W.W.II. He was also put in charge of reconstructing Japan after that nation had been beliterated by war. On one occasion, McArthur actually plead for evangelical missionaries. He said send me 1,000 missionaries to this country. It is a ripe harvest field.
I remember as a kid, not even barely four, but I can still recall it with vivid detail his funeral procession downtown Norfolk. Thousands of people lined the streets along with my brothers and I and our parents and I can still remember the horse drawn carriage and his casket overlaiden with flags and flowers and the rows of soldiers behind it, and the jets flying over head and the guns salute. He was a great soldier. I also remember in that memorial watching this black and white movie, a thousand times that showed him and all of his conquests and it ended with his farewell speech to Congress, April 19, 1951. He stood before that August body and etched in my memory are his words, some of them will be familiar to you as well. He said, the world has turned over many times since I first took the oath on the plain of West Point and my hopes and dreams have long since vanished away. But I still remember a popular barrack ballad whose refrain we would proudly proclaim, Old soldiers never die, they just fad away. But like the old soldier in that ballad, I now close my military career and just fad away. An old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty? I bid you farewell.
I remember as a kid, the goosebumps as the Congress of the United States stood gave him a standing ovation that lasted for minutes. I wonder if we will be able to stay like that man, like Joshua at the end of our lives we like a good soldier have done our duty, have accomplished our mission, have grasped the opportunity, have seized the ministry that God gave us to do, whether it is rearing children, watching dishes, being an executive, fixing cars, studying. What we need are more soldiers whose lives are marked with humility and perseverance and courage. Who come to the end of their lives and say, I have done my duty and who have pass on to the next generation the power testimony that God is worthy of our trust. He is faithful and to challenge that next generation to be faithful to God. Are you one of those soldiers.
Stand with your heads bow and your eyes closed, I want you to listen to the words of this song that will form the fitting conclusion, listen carefully. . .
We are pilgrims of a journey of the narrow road, and those who have gone before us line the way, Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weak, they line us and stirring testiment that God is sustaining grace. Around the vines the great cloud of witnesses. . .
Father, we do pray that the testimony of our lives to those around us to be marked by faithfulness to you for we have chosen this day to serve the Lord. You are worthy, You are deserving, You are faithful to us. May we be like Joshua when we come to the end of our lives for we will know our choice has been the right one. And the generation behind us will see that their trust in faith in you brings a conquer land, a victorious life in the name of our savior Jesus Christ. And all the people said, AMEN.