What would you tell your spouse or children if you knew you only had a short time live? Would you make small talk? Would you discuss the weather? Probably not, but you’d make sure you said what was most important to you. You’d choose your final words very carefully in order to express the depth of your love or give needed guidance. Our last words have a lasting impact.
As a pastor I’ve done plenty of funerals and have been around many families in their times of loss. As a loved one is getting close to death, the family and friends of the loved one will gather. They are hoping for chance to say good bye and more importantly to hear the last words of their loved one. Sadly I have seen instances where there was not time to gather and there was a lot of guilt and grief because the last words were a quarrel. I’m thankful that my mom taught me to always make my last words count by saying, “I love you.” I talked to my dad a few days ago, who is over 70 years old and our last words to each other were, “I love you.” When my son Kaleb was about to leave for work on rainy day Saturday our last words were, “I love you.”
If there was not a chance for formal last words, then family members and friends will try to recall their last verbal exchange, sifting through the memories of their conversations with them like miners panning for gold. And we all do this. When someone dies we cling to his or her final words. Those words are very special, very precious to us.
We cling to last words for two reasons. First, we know that even as Christians it may be a long time before we hear our loved one speak again. But we also cherish those words because an individual’s final words are often filled with a special depth of wisdom, especially if the individual knows that death is near. Most people don’t engage in chit chad when they know they are about to breathe their last.
In our passage today in Joshua 24, Joshua gives some powerful last words. Joshua is 110 years old. And knowing that he will soon to pass from the scene, he gathers the leaders and the people together to give them his final charge. He’s about to finish a long life of service to God’s people; forty years as Moses’ assistant, 25 years as his successor leading the people to conquer and settle in the promised land. So his final words are precious, indeed, because they come from the perspective of someone who has hung in there for the long haul, someone who has decades of accumulated wisdom gleaned from faithfully, humbly following God. It’s like Billy Graham gathering everyone to hear one last sermon.
I’m sure everyone came and everyone listened. I would have! His message is in chapters 23 and 24. We won’t read all of it but let’s look at an excerpt. Joshua says,
14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Joshua 24:14 (NIV)
Joshua’s Farewell reminds us that our commitment is God is to be Exclusive.
Faithfulness is a word that is also referenced in marriage. Would I be faithful to my wife Niki if I was only half faithful? No, half faithful is not faithful at all. Joshua uses the term “ALL faithful.”
When Niki and I were engaged she discovered that I had a box of letters from old girl friends. I wanted to hold on to these for some crazy reason! Luckily common sense prevailed and I threw them out. Joshua has similar advice for us as followers of God. Throw away anything that competes with our commitment to God.
He used his precious final words to charge them with the responsibility to move beyond indecision and restlessness to a clear-cut, exclusive commitment to God.
Joshua went so far as to remind them of the four options they had to select from. First, he said they could serve the gods of forefathers. This is what the phrase “beyond the river” refers to because the river is the Euphrates and the gods served beyond that river were the same gods the Babylonians would worship. A second option would be for them to choose to serve the gods of Egypt…the gods of the Nile, the land, and the sky, like Ra-the sun god for example, gods who seemed attractive in their memories because when they left Egypt, it was at the height of it’s power culturally and militarily. It looked like those were good gods to follow. And then, a third choice would be to serve the local gods, fertility gods who were worshiped by cultic prostitution. The temples in which these gods were worshiped were sensual, emotionally fulfilling, and attractive. In contrast, the worship of Yahweh seemed word-oriented and austere, which leads to their final choice. Joshua said, they could choose to serve the true god, the God Who had made Israel into a people, the God Who had given them His Word, the God Who had brought them out of Egypt and established them in their own land.
These were the choices that faced the Hebrew people in this hour of decision, and Joshua was saying, “It’s time to quit straddling the fence. You have to choose. But remember, this is an exclusive choice. God will tolerate no rivals. Just like your spouse! A choice to follow Him, to serve Him, is an exclusive choice.”
Let’s ask ourselves, what idols compete with the One True God in your life? As a reminder, idolatry is moving God out of His rightful place in our day-to-day lives-and replacing Him with something or someone else. These days there are so many ways that we replace God with other things. In the 21st century, we so often sacrifice our best time, energy, and attention not to God, but to the idols of entertainment, wealth, relationships, fashion, sexual indulgence, stock portfolios, cars, and personal power. We especially bow down to our careers or our families, and through His servant Joshua God says we can’t do that and choose to follow God. Our God is a jealous God. He is jealous, or as some have translated the word, God is zealous for our complete devotion. As Joshua says, when it comes to choosing to serve Him it’s all or nothing! So, let me ask, what about it? Have we given our exclusive allegiance to God? What do you need to throw away? Pornography, shopping ads, a hobby, an unhealthy friendship, a boat, car?
Here’s some questions to help us in our answer: What preoccupies or rules your heart? Your thoughts? Your time? What compels you? Controls you? Drives you? Motivates you? To what does your heart cling? What takes first place when it comes to your schedule? Spending? What gives you a sense of worth? What defines your identity? What do family or close friends think may be idols in your life? This last one is a good question to ask because you see the object of your worship shows. People will notice what it is that is first in your life. Joshua’s last words are powerful words.
I’ve noticed that as people get ready to die, they don’t ask to see their trophies, stock portfolios, or boats, but want to be with their loved ones. They also reflect on their standing with God. Why not do that now?
In our next post we will look more of what Joshua says and how our commitment to serve God should also be based on what God has done in our past.