And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24: 14-15)
Joshua is a wonderful human character, a kind of ‘what you see is what you get’ fellow with whom it’s easy to identify. He is both a hero-figure – the mighty general, raised and prepared by Moses to be his worthy successor as leader of the Israelites – and a very human character – enthusiastic, confident, bold, and known to make mistakes along the way. It may seem strange that God chose two such very different men to lead His people, but each was perfect for the particular time and task before them.
Moses knew the Eqyptians, having been raised as Pharoah’s grandson. He had also had plenty of time in the wilderness with his goats to learn the humility needed to make him what God needed to bring the people out of slavery, and to teach them what they needed to know. Moses had the boldness, born out of his trials, to meet with God on the mountain, because he had learned both the glory and the absence of God and nothing less would satisfy him.
Joshua, though no less committed, was a military man – some historians even regard him as a military genius – and God raised him up as the general Israel would need to take the Promised Land. He knew nothing of either goats of Pharoahs, and his assurance came from a deep, abiding certainty of the faithfulness of God. He had learned this through the wilderness and the teaching of Moses, his mentor.
There was one thing, however, that both men had in common: a kind of obstinate, determined faith in God’s love, His power and His faithfulness. And both were required to choose and made the choice willingly. Joshua’s words, from today’s verse, come after Israel has largely taken the land promised and were settling into occupancy and ‘normal’ life. It’s significant that Joshua chooses this moment to make his declaration.
What he’s in effect saying is, “Okay, chaps. God brought us through the desert, to this land as He promised, and He’s helped us to make it ours. He’s been faithful, and from here on out we’ve got all we could ask for. But now it’s time for you to take a look at God and who He is, and what He’s done, and decide how you’re going to live from now on. Will it be by His will or by yours? You have to choose.’
Remember that Joshua was no stranger to the Israelites muttering and grumbling and hankering after the ‘good things’ they’d left behind in Egypt. He was also one of only two spies Moses sent to spy out the Promised Land who returned enthusiastic and ready, with God’s help, to take possession of it. The rest saw only giants. But Joshua knew, very clearly, that at some point a choice has to be made.
He no doubt remembered God’s admonition in Deuteronomy 30: 19: I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants… something he would have been taught by Moses. He knew that the future of the people, and of the nation, depended on the choice they made, and was quick to remind them while the taste of victory was still fresh and God’s faithfulness still vivid.
They had reached a spiritual ‘fork in the road,’ and needed to find the right direction. They had ‘arrived,’ and Joshua recognised that this might present a greater danger. Sometimes is much easier to decide when ‘danger’ or adversity is clear cut. Going through the wilderness, the people knew they had to get to there. Having arrived at their destination, they faced the danger of complacency and comfort, often the times of most temptation and challenge.
Jesus Himself reminded us of this when He said: ‘whoever is not for Me is against Me.’ Not making a choice is in fact making the wrong one. Sitting on the fence may feel the only choice sometimes, but it’s very uncomfortable, and sticking on the white line in the middle of the road basically means going nowhere at all, neither forwards nor backwards. Both represent a spiritual no-man’s land, a place which is, ultimately, both barren and lonely.
Aside from the obvious choice we all have to make between accepting or rejecting God’s call to repentance and salvation, the choice is ongoing. It’s a ‘life choice.’ We will encounter a fork in the road all along our spiritual journey, and we’ll need to make a choice for God or against Him over and over. Perhaps it’s an issue of forgiveness. Perhaps it’s something at work, or in the family, that pressures us to compromise or ‘go with the flow,’ even though we know it’s not what God would want. Perhaps it’s a temptation, or a resistance to something God wants us to do, either because of fear or because we feel it doesn’t fit with our plans or dreams or desires.
The little choices are no less important than the big ones. Perhaps they’re more dangerous, because they seem small and insignificant and actually quite harmless. but think about it. If we were to turn the rudder of a boat even the itsy bitsiest bit to the left, sooner or later we’d go full circle and end up heading back the way we came. We just wouldn’t notice it like we would a big and sudden yank to port or starboard.
A fork in the road is significant. It’s a place of choice. Even when it’s vague, we have the Holy Spirit and God’s faithfulness and love to guide us and teach us. Psalm 100: 2 says: Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. We can do this when, like Joshua, we look back on what He has done, on what He is able to do, and on His grace, mercy and faithfulness. He has already made the ultimate choice for us. In giving us free will, He allows us to make the ultimate choice for Him. It’s not something we do by ‘default.’ As politicians are quick to remind us, a ‘no vote’ is actually a vote for the opposition.
Free will is both a God-given privilege and a God-required responsibility. How gracious He is to remind us of this. And, when in doubt, we should look for the cross. It’s the only signpost we’ll ever need to show us the ‘right road.’
Gracious Father, thank you for raising up men like Moses and Joshua who remain in Your Word as living examples. Help me to learn from them, both their successes and their mistakes. I pray, Lord, that I will always hear your voice along my road. Guide me and empower me to take the right path, for I know that when I choose You, I choose life, in all things, great and small.