Summary: This Old Testament account of Joshua and the Israelites reflects what Jesus teachings in his Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:13-20
You had such good intentions, BUT… fill in the blank. Good intentions to exercise more regularly, to stick to that diet, to save more money, to be more patient, to study more for that upcoming test, to go to Bible study. You had such good intentions, BUT… fill in the blank with whatever it was that derailed you from doing what you had planned on. Good intentions are only as good as the actions that follow them.
In our reading from Joshua 24 today, we heard how Joshua listened to the good intentions of the people that he had helped lead for nearly the last 60 years. It was around the year 1400 BC and the nation of Israel was finally living in the land of Canaan, the small piece of land about half the size of Wisconsin, that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants nearly 600 years earlier. As a much younger man, Joshua was one of the 12 men who had been sent by Moses to inspect this land called Canaan after Moses led the nation of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. Unfortunately, Joshua was one of only two men who believed that God had the power to give the Israelites the land of Canaan. So for the next 40 years, the nation of Israel wandered in the desert until God was ready to lead them into Canaan. Joshua served as one of Moses’ right hand men, helping to lead God’s chosen people throughout those for 40 years. When Moses died, the Lord chose Joshua to take Moses’ place. Joshua was the man who led the military of Israel across the Jordan River to conquer the land of Canaan, and eventually to lead the nation of Israel to occupy the land that God had promised to his chosen people Israel.
Joshua had been through a lot with the people of Israel over these last 60 years. He had seen them at their best at places like Jericho where they trusted God and followed his commands. And he had seen them at their worst, wanting to kill Moses and go back to Egypt. Joshua knew these people all too well. As Joshua came to the end of his life, he gathered the elders of Israel for one final message of encouragement. He simply says to them, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14). How did the people respond? They responded in the way you would expect. They had great intentions! “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods… We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God” (Joshua 24:16,18). Joshua even tells them how to carry through on these good intentions. He tells them, “Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped” (Joshua 24:14). Joshua tells them to get rid of any of those gods they had secretly held on onto, anything that could possibly lead them into sin and away from the Lord. Get rid of anything that might prevent and derail them from carrying through on their good intentions to serve the Lord. Get rid of them! You can almost imagine the Israelites standing there listening to Joshua and shaking their heads in agreement, determined to do what he said. They had such great intentions!
Sound familiar? All too familiar, right? We have good intentions. I don’t think that any of us wakes up in the morning thinking, “You know what? I am really going to sin a lot today!” I don’t think that you walk out of church thinking, “I am going to be selfish, angry, greedy, bitter, jealous and impatient this week!” I don’t think that is any of our intentions. No, like Joshua and the Israelites, our intentions are to, “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14). Like Joshua and the Israelites, God calls us to identify and get rid of those things that we’ve been secretly, or maybe not so secretly, holding onto instead of the Lord, things that lead us into sin, that lead us away from the Lord. The greed that effects our decisions, the anger that effects our attitudes, the pride that effects our views of others, the lust that leads our minds and eyes to wander. We hear God say, “Get rid of them!” and we nod our heads in agreement. “You’re right, God!” Like Joshua and the Israelites, we have such good intentions to “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14).
But did you notice Joshua’s response to what the Israelites said? He says, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God” (Joshua 24:19). That doesn’t seem very encouraging does it? It almost seems like Joshua is discouraging the people from even TRYING to serve the Lord, like, “Why even try because you’re never going to be able to do it anyways!” But these words are not a discouragement to serve the Lord. Instead, they are the reality of our service to the Lord. Joshua knows all too well that our intentions to be faithful to the Lord and serve him are not always acted on. He knows that the sins we have every intention of getting rid of, that we convince ourselves, “I will never do that again!” are the very sins that all too often pop up in our hearts and lives again. Our intentions to do better, to be better, repeatedly fall short. We cannot live up to God’s standards of holiness. Our faithfulness to the Lord cannot gain his blessing or his forgiveness of our sins. So why even try? Why try to do what Joshua and the Bible makes clear is impossible for us to do?