Summary: 25th in series on Joshua. This is about avoiding evil, but still being near unbelievers. Somehow Jesus was holy, even though He was near unholy people. It must be possible for us too.
Joshua 23:1-16 – Close to Sinners, Far From Sin
There’s an old story about a man who tried to save the city of Sodom from destruction by warning the citizens. But the people ignored him. One day someone asked, “Why bother everyone? You can’t change them.”
“Maybe I can’t,” the man replied, “but I still shout and scream to prevent them from changing me!”
This morning I am not going to be talking specifically about Sodom, as in the Sodom and Gomorrah from the Bible, but I am going to talk about how Christians are to relate to the world around us. I have a few definite things, but a lot of what I will say will be an attempt to help people see the other side of things, too. But first, we must read our passage for today. Joshua 23:1-16.
Now, here’s the picture. As we wrap up our series on the book of Joshua, we’re also coming to the end of Joshua’s life, as well. By the time chapter 23 comes around, Joshua is now “old and well advanced in years.” And he wants to speak to the people in charge of the nation of Israel: their “elders, leaders, judges and officials.”
Joshua’s message to the nation’s leaders has 2 main points: 1) Remember all the Lord’s promises to you about this land that He gave you, and 2) Remember not to be like the nations that God drove out from around you. Joshua tells them to remember God’s strength, and remember God’s standards.
It’s this 2nd point I’d like to spend time with today. Some of the verses jumped out at me as I studied this passage, and I’d like to comment on them. In particular, there is one verse: v7 – “Do not associate with these nations that remain among you.” V12 carries a like meaning: “If you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them…”
There are other verses that carry similar meanings. In fact, this whole passage is a warning not to fall into the sins that the nations driven out had committed. V7 also says, “Do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them.” V16 says not to “violate the covenant of the LORD your God,” nor to “go and serve other gods and bow down to them.”
But again, I go back to v7: “Do not associate with these nations that remain among you.” What does that mean? What did it mean for the nation of Israel? Were they supposed to take it at face value? And what does it mean for us, if anything? Do we take it at face value, as is?
Well, to the Israelites, it was a clear command. They were not to fraternize with the enemy. They would allow the cultures and traditions of the foreign nations to run off on themselves, and would eventually be carried away into apostasy. And God wanted this not to happen.
God’s method of evangelism in the OT was more of an inward focus. That is, if He could get His people to look like His people, then the surrounding nations would look in at them, want what they had, and would turn to Judaism.
The NT changed all that. It changed because it didn’t work. In theory, it was fine. Like a moth attracted to a light, nations would be attracted to follow the God of the Jewish nation. But it didn’t work because the people never acquired an inner light. They might have looked the part, but too many of them lacked the internal qualities God wanted them to have, like compassion, mercy, righteousness, and faith. The NT changed that by the arrival of Jesus, who is able to make external rules get written on our hearts.
So, rather than moths attracted to a light, rather, the NT says we should be wandering into the darkness with flashlights. The OT says, “Come in.” The NT says, “Go out.” The OT says, “Come to us.” The NT says, “We’ll come to you.” The OT is an eat-in. The NT is a delivery shuttle.
But these mental images that are not perfect descriptions, either. Even as the OT said how a child of God should live, so does the NT. The NT has very clear standards about how a person is meant to live godly lives.
Which actually makes things harder. To get the message of salvation to sinners, but at the same time stay away from sinners. I mean, people quote all kinds of verses that tell us to stay away from evil.
Psalm 1:1 is a popular one: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” That is, do not stand around with sinners. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Avoid every kind of evil.” How can a person avoid evil in the middle of going out into it? 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” Well, that clearly means we are not to go near people who are being sexually immoral. Right?