Joshua 24:15 — “Choose this day. . .” (UPDATE 2)

 

The Taking of Jericho by James Tissot, 1896-1902 (click to enlarge)

UPDATE 2: So many threads on the socionet about the current U.S. presidential elections. The big question that evangelicals are struggling with is this: Shall we vote for the “lesser evil” between a liberal or a Mormon? One commenter illustrates this dilemma: “I still feel it is a contradiction to say, this person/religion, etc., is leading people to hell… yet because they don’t believe in abortion and other conservative opinions, they should be voted in.”

Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites as they were about to enter the Promised Land resonates in this current discussion. Notwithstanding surveys saying that 3/4 of all Americans believe in God, the American culture is prevalently un-Christian. The challenge in this election then for them is similar to Joshua’s challenge: Since “it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord,” then whom do you want to be your leader: a liberal or a Mormon?

But we as Christians, together with our families, are to “serve the Lord“—in the home, church, and society—whoever God places as president over us. Let the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith guide us:

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger…

It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less hath the pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretense whatsoever.(Westminster CoF 23:3-4).

UPDATE 1: I put a survey on this website about this very popular verse to see what people will do with it. On the right is a screenshot as of August 4:

The question about Joshua 24:15 is straightforward. It’s about one verse, and even without reading the context, the answer is obvious. Here’s what verse 15 says:

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 was asking the Israelites to choose. Choose between what? Between these:

the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River

OR

the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell

Between what? The first choice is the gods their “fathers” served in the region beyond the “River.” The second choice is the gods of the Amorites in Canaan. So it’s obvious that the Lord God of Israel, the God of Abraham, is not even a choice put forth by Joshua. Going back one verse, this is what he tells the people:

Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord (v. 14).

Joshua says to them, “Forget about the false gods of your forefathers and serve God.” It is in verse 14 where the gods of the Egyptians are mentioned. So in verse 15, Joshua tells them that if they didn’t want to serve God—”And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord“— decide now which gods to worship.

However, from the above survey image, the trend is about 60 percent think that—in verse 15—Joshua was asking the people to choose between the God of Abraham and pagan gods. And 14 percent say the choice is between the gods of the Egyptians and the gods of the Canaanites (Amorites). Where is the God of Abraham and the gods of the Egyptians (read verse 14 instead) mentioned in the two choices?

Now if you’re curious as to who their “fathers” were, and what “River” Joshua is referring to, go all the way back to verse 2:

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.’”

The “fathers” were Abraham’s father Terah and grandfather Nahor, who were pagans who “served other gods.” And where did they live? The lived “beyond the Euphrates,” the great “River” east of Canaan, the area which is called Mesopotamia. How about the Amorites? They’re the pagan people living in Canaan whom the Israelites dispossessed, “in whose land you dwell.”

So it seems that 60 percent of those who voted on the survey either did not read the verse, thinking that they already know what it really says; or they read it, but because of its popularity among revivalistic evangelicals, they have preconceived ideas of what it is saying, and then put their blinders on. Most evangelicals were raised in churches where this verse is laid out, being told that the “choice is yours” to make: choose God.

If Joshua 24:15 made Israelites choose between the true God and false gods, then we are to choose God too. But, as we have seen, this is not what Joshua is saying to the Israelites. Using this verse for this purpose is an out-of-context misapplication. But at the end of the day, whatever the people do, Joshua’s choice is clear: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

§

Joshua 24:15 is a very popular verse used in evangelistic tracts and crusades to call people to “choose” God, to make a personal “decision” for Christ.

Chapter 24 tells us that Joshua gathers God’s people Israel at Shechem before his death for a renewal of God’s covenant with them. Going back just one verse sheds much light on verse 15. In verse 14, Joshua asks them to make a vow of obedience to the Lord and put away pagan gods,

Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.

He calls them to worship God only, and put away the gods of their fathers when they were still pagans: the gods of Abraham’s fathers in Ur of the Chaldees (“beyond the River”); and the gods of their fathers in Egypt. So in verse 15, Joshua tells them that if they did not want to worship God, then choose between whom?

Read the verse—Joshua 24:15—then vote on the poll on the right sidebar. Then, if you please, tell me in the comment box below if your understanding of this verse changed.

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