96 - An Old Soldier's Farewell (Joshua 23–24)
In God’s sight a great leader not only accomplishes good things for the people he leads but also sets an example of humble obedience, godly conduct, and spiritual priorities. These are the qualities we see in Joshua’s last address to the people of Israel.
As our Wisdom Journey through Joshua comes to a close, we are about to hear a moving farewell speech, as Joshua says goodbye to the nation he has loved and led for many years.
It occurred to me that there are several elements in this farewell speech worth imitating today. The first element is humility. Joshua gives God all the credit for his amazing career. Here in Joshua chapter 23 and verse 3, he says, “You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.”
You could underline thirteen times in this chapter where Joshua repeats “the Lord your God.” The Lord your God is worthy of all praise and glory.
A second element here is obedience. Down at verse 6, Joshua says: “Be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left.”
The “Book of the Law of Moses” is the first five books of the Old Testament. Joshua is telling the people to stick to the Book. This is the key to true success for any individual and any nation. When you stick to this Book, life might not get easier, but you are going to be walking in the right direction.
A third element is caution. In verse 7 Joshua states why obeying God’s Word is so critical:
“That you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them.”
To this day, the greatest threat you face, beloved, is not economic or physical or intellectual; your greatest threat is moral and spiritual compromise.
Now with that, here in chapter 24, Joshua delivers this grand farewell speech to the nation. In the first thirteen verses, Joshua gives a history lesson, retelling how God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and gave them the land of Canaan. Then he delivers that classic statement in verse 15: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Keep in mind that Joshua is now an old man; and this has been his life’s motto: “I am choosing to serve God today.” Beloved, this must be our choice today—not forty years ago, not ten years ago, not yesterday, but today! When I was growing up, my missionary father used to tell me, “Son, if you make the decision to follow the Lord before you get out of bed, all the other decisions you’ll need to make will fall into place.”
I think it’s interesting here that Joshua doesn’t just talk about worshiping God but serving God. He understood that whoever calls the shots in your life, whoever directs your path in life—that’s the one you worship.
If financial success matters most to you, then your job or the stock market is really what you worship. If your girlfriend or boyfriend determines your moral standards rather than God’s Word, then that girlfriend or boyfriend is your god—that’s the one you are really worshiping. Joshua says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
And listen to the people’s response here in verse 18: “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” What a wonderful response.
But then Joshua replies in verse 19: “You are not able to serve the Lord.” Wait. What?
Joshua has just asked who is going to join him in following the Lord, and two million hands go up, pledging their commitment to God. I mean, Joshua has just won the prize for the most evangelistic responses in a single service; but now he says, “Put your hands down because you really don’t mean it.”
We discover what’s really happening here in verse 23, as Joshua says, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The Israelites were pledging with their lips but not with their lives. They still had some “backup” gods just in case.
How many people today stand in church and sing, “My Jesus, I love Thee,” while in their hearts they are thinking, What I would really love is a bigger house or better health or better grades. My Jesus, I love Thee, but not as much as I love those other things.
Joshua effectively says, “No, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, no matter what the Lord does to my house.” That is genuine commitment to God.
Now the book of Joshua concludes with three funerals involving the bones of Joseph, the body of Eleazar, the high priest, and finally, Joshua. Verse 29 reads:
After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being 110 years old. And they buried him in his own inheritance.
This may seem an odd way to end this book, but it’s actually powerful. These funerals prove that God keeps His word. These faithful men were all buried in the land God had promised to His people.
Growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, one of my favorite places to visit in downtown Norfolk was the MacArthur Memorial. We knew every inch of that beautiful three-story building. And right in the center of the first floor is a marble lobby, and down below, as you look over a brass banister, you can see the graves of General Douglas MacArthur and his wife.
If you’re not familiar with this man, he was the five-star general who commanded Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II and was later put in charge of reconstructing Japan after that nation was defeated. MacArthur actually pleaded for one thousand missionaries to come to Japan following the war.
Although I was only four years old, I can still recall his funeral procession through downtown Norfolk, where thousands of people lined the streets. I can still remember the horse-drawn carriage and flag-covered casket.
I remember when I was older going to the MacArthur museum—or memorial—and watching that black-and-white movie footage as the old general stood before Congress and delivered his farewell speech, concluding with these words:
The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.
I wonder if, at the end of our lives, we will be able to say that we did our duty and accomplished God’s assignment for us—whatever it was. Are we passing along to the next generation, not just with our lips but with our lives, that God is worth trusting, that He’s worth following and, above all, worth worshiping?
With that, we say farewell to Joshua, until we meet him personally in the promised land and tell him how grateful we were for his example—that he showed us how to live out that motto for life: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
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