A life and death decision

At the end of his life, Joshua summoned all Israel and challenged the people to make a commitment to the LORD. The central point of Joshua’s argument was the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai which stipulated their “total consecration to the Lord as His people (His kingdom) who live by His rule and serve His purposes” (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p.16). When Moses told the people of Israel all the words of the LORD and all the rules, the covenant was confirmed by them. “All the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do’” (Exodus 24:3-4). Because God had kept his promise and had given the people of Israel all the land that he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Joshua 23:9); Joshua said, “Now, therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14). Fearing and serving the LORD meant that the people worshipped God by living according to his Ten Commandments and the other laws that were recorded in Exodus 20-23. The Hebrew word that is translated serve, ʿabad (aw-badˊ) means “to work (in any sense)…When the focus of the labour is the Lord, it is a religious service to worship Him. Moreover, in these cases, the word does not have connotations of toilsome labour but instead of a joyful experience of liberation (Exodus 3:12; 4:23; 7:16; Joshua 24:15, 18)” (H5647). Joshua instructed the people to worship the LORD in sincerity and in faithfulness. Both of these words have to do with living by faith, or more specifically, living consistent with the truth of God’s word. “To walk in truth is to conduct oneself according to God’s holy standards (1 Kings 2:4; 3:6; Psalm 86:11; Isaiah 38:3)” (H571).

Joshua’s challenge eluded to the fact that the people were free to worship whatever gods they wanted to, but they could not serve God and others at the same time. Joshua instructed them to:

“Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

“This challenge was similar to that issued by Moses to the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Joshua summarized the options that were open to the Israelites: (1) They could return to serve the gods of their ancestors. The expression ‘beyond the River’ refers to the Euphrates. ‘The gods that your fathers served’ is a reference to the ones worshipped by Terah, Abraham’s father (Joshua 24:2). They may have been similar to the images in Laban’s home (Genesis 31:19, 30, 34). Apparently there were some Israelites who privately worshipped these false gods (Joshua 24:23). (2) They could serve the gods of the Amorites. Although the term ‘Amorites’ often refers to a specific people, it was also used in a generic sense for all the people living in Canaan. (3) They could follow the example of Joshua and his family in serving the Lord” (note on Joshua 24:14, 15).

Joshua realized that not everyone in Israel was committed to the LORD. Joshua presented three options to the people as a way of acknowledging their divided interests. The Hebrew word that is translated choose in Joshua 24:15, bachar (baw-kharˊ) “denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). Bachar is used in Deuteronomy 7:6 and 7:7 to signify God’s selection of the people of Israel as his treasured possession. Deuteronomy 7:6-11 states:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.”

Moses pointed out that God’s selection of the Israelites was based on his love for them and that he was a “faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him” (Deuteronomy 7:9). The Hebrew word ʾaheb (aw-habeˊ) “means ‘to love; like.’ Basically this verb is equivalent to the English ‘to love’ in the sense of having a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or to be in the presence of the object” (H157). The expected extent of the Israelites’ love for God was expressed in what Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment, which stated, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

When Moses presented the Israelites with the choice to serve God or not, he made it a life and death decision. Moses said:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Moses indicated that life must be chosen and equated life with “loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him.” And then, Moses told the Israelites emphatically that God is “your life and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). At the end of his ministry, Jesus encouraged his disciples by telling them, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and then went on to say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”

The Apostle Peter connected followers of Christ with the covenant that God made with Israel on Mount Sinai in his letter to the exiles of the Dispersion. Echoing God’s statement to his chosen people in Exodus 19:5-6, Peter said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus also made it clear that his ministry was meant to bring to fruition what God had initiated on Mount Sinai when he gave the Israelites his Ten Commandments. Jesus told his followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

Jesus’ interpretation of the law was often challenged. When he was confronted by a rich young man about the way to get to heaven, Jesus explained that God’s standard was beyond what could be humanly attained by him. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:16-30)

Jesus’ statement, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” indicated that salvation was a divine act rather than a human one. The Greek word dunatos (doo-natˊ-os), which is translated possible, is derived from the word dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee). “Dunamai means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances” (G1410). According to Jesus, no one has the power; whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources, or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances, to save himself, but God can save anyone that he chooses to.

The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Philippians that righteousness can only be achieved through faith in Christ. Paul told the Philippians:

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:1-11)

Paul said that as to righteousness under the law he was blameless, indicating that he had done everything that was required of him according to the law; and yet, Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Paul understood that it was not his own righteousness that mattered, but the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9, Genesis 15:6).

The Israelites response to Joshua’s challenge was favorable. It showed that they were willing to abandon their false gods, but Joshua didn’t believe that their decision to serve God was sincere. Joshua 24:16-23 states:

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

Joshua’s cynical attitude may have been due to his experience wandering in the wilderness with the Israelites. Joshua’s statement, “You are not able to serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:19) was true in the sense that the people of Israel did not have the spiritual strength within themselves to obey God’s commandments; but the key to the Israelites’ success was not their spiritual strength, it was their continual pursuit of a relationship with God (Joshua 22:5).

Jesus’ parable of the ten minas revealed that Israel had actually rejected God because they hated him and that the people didn’t want to be subject to Christ. Luke 19:11-27 states:

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas,and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

The wicked servant in Jesus’ parable characterized the Lord as a severe man that took what he had not deposited with him and reaped what he had not sown. Even though the wicked servant wasn’t faithful in his service to the Lord, he wasn’t punished, he merely lost out on his reward. Jesus’ concluding statement, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” (Luke 19:27) indicates that only those who have refused to serve him will be put to death when he returns. “No matter how much or how little one has, it must always be remembered that it has come from God. Each person is responsible to him for the way he uses what the Lord has given” (note on Luke 19:11-27).

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